HC Deb 21 February 1902 vol 103 cc759-85
(6.10.) MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)

In moving the Amendment standing on the Paper in my name, I desire to say for myself that I dissociate myself from any spirit of hostility to the Navy. There is no man in this House who has greater admiration for that great service than I have, but I desire to draw the attention of the House to an important question in connection with it. That is the question of cost and the burden which it brings on the inhabitants of the nation. I adopt the old standard as to the amount we ought to, spend on the Navy. The old standard was that we should spend as much on our Navy as any other two Powers, spend on their fleets.

*SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)

The standard was that our Fleet should be equal to, those of any two Powers.


Well, I think I state it fairly when I say that the old standard was that our Navy should be as strong as those of any other two Powers. I think the best way to secure that would be to spend as much upon our Navy as any other two Powers spend upon theirs. I find that we have departed from that old standard, and that we have not established any other standard which has been accepted by this House and the nation.

The total amount asked for in the present Estiinates is £31,250,000, showing an increase of £380,000 on the Estimates of last year. In comparison with the increases of previous years this growth, is moderate, but it cannot be looked at apart from what has been done in the immediately preceding years. To this, however, must be added an expenditure of about £3,000,000 on naval works. This great sum has also grown up recently, so that the total expenditure for the coming year with which we have to deal is £34,250,000. Let us compare this expenditure with what it was eight years since. In February 1894, the Navy Estimates were only £14,000,000 odd, so that in this short period they have grown from this modest figure to the huge amount which I have mentioned. It will be said that this figure of 1894 was totally inadequate. It was the largest amount that had ever been spent in one year up to that time, and when we look back on the eight years preceding 1894, we find that the estimates had increased more than in any previous period of the same length. For 20 years before 1885 the naval expenditure had not exceeded £10,000,000 odds, but in that year the first of the five great steps upward was taken by Lord Northbrook, who increased them by 1.5 millions. In 1888 the Hamilton programme added another £2,250,000 per annum, and from that year till 1894 the total expenditure rested at the amount I have mentioned. In the spring of 1894 the third great step was taken in the Spencer programme which added £3,000,000 to the outlay, raising it to some £18,000,000, and the House was induced to adopt that Estimate by the statement that it would "Make a full and adequate provision for the requirements of the Navy." After the election of 1895 Lord Goschen became responsible, and in the five years during which he was at the Admiralty £9,000,000 odd were added to the annual bill. In the first year for which Lord Selborne was responsible, the total was increased by £3,000,000, and thus in the five steps I have named, during the short period of 16 years, this branch of the national expenditure increased from £10,000,000 to £34,000,000.

The House may well ask what reasons have been submitted to the country for this great increase in one arm only of the national defence. The first reason was that other Powers were making preparations. We had our attention directed to the great efforts France was alleged to be putting forward. I cannot go into past years, but we have had a paper distributed in regard to the preparations of other Powers. It is in a convenient form, and ought to be very useful to us in the present discussion. We find that, so far as France is concerned, the total expenditure is £12,000,000 odd per annum. France makes the largest preparations of any naval Power on the Continent of Europe. So far as I know there is no disposition on the part of France to greatly increase these preparations. Next to France the largest expenditure on the Continent is that of Russia, which amounts to 8.7 millions; next we have Germany with 7.4 millions, and then Italy with 4,000,000, so that it will will be seen that our Estimates of this year are greater than those of the four largest European Powers. No doubt, recently, the United States have come into the field, and their expenditure in the last year that is given amounts to 13.3 millions, but this is a quite new figure, and two remarks may be made with regard to it. First, that it will take America some time to get a navy constructed that would compare with those of the great European Powers, and there is no certainty that she would pursue such a policy, and, secondly, we might reasonably expect from her more friendly dispositions toward ourselves. If, however, we include America, our expenditure this year is as great as that of any three Powers, so that so far as the question of the outlay of other Powers is concerned there is nothing in the facts to justify the great figures which have been reached.

Then the second argument that has been used in defence of the outlay is that the commerce of the country is insufficiently protected, and that nothing would tend more towards its development than increased naval expenditure. We are also able now to look at this argument. The expenditure has gone on for 16 years on the scale I have mentioned, and the figures I have quoted show that it is three times as great as it was at the beginning of that period. How about Commerce? No doubt this, too, has shown some increase, but it is of a modest character. It must also be borne in mind that the population of the country has considerably increased, and this must be taken into account in making any comparison. The total imports and exports per head of the population in 1885 were £17 16s. 9d., in 1901 they were £21, so that this is an increase of about 20 per cent. against 230 per cent. in the cost of the Navy. I have looked back through the naval and commercial statistics to see whether we might find a period of 16 years during which the expenditure on the Navy diminished, and I find that this was the case between 1857 and 1873. Between these two periods, the cost of the Navy declined nearly four millions, yet the total of the imports and exports expanded from £11 17s. to £21 4s. 9d. per head, and this total of the year 1873 has not been exceeded in any year since that time. I think these figures are a remarkable comment on the argument that increased naval expenditure assists commerce. They show that the tendency is exactly in the other direction, and probably nothing could be done at this moment that would so much assist the commerce of the country as to reduce the outlay, both in this and in other respects, with a view of lightening the burdens of the people. The prosperity of commerce depends on the abundance of free capital, and there is nothing which tends so much to interfere with this as sudden and large increases of the taxation of the country, which have all to be met by immediate cash payments.

The realities of the position may be brought home to the House when I say that when within the last six years the national expenditure has been doubled, or to use in this wider sphere the formula we have been using for some time about the war, it has increased from a rough average of 2,000,000 a week in 1896 to an average of 4,000,000 a week at the present time. The great bulk of this increased expenditure has been in the additional cost of the Navy and Army. If we take the Estimates that have been laid before the House for the coming year, the sum asked for these two Services amounts to no less than,£2 10s. per head of the population. We will better realise the weight of this rapidly-growing burden for warlike preparations if we contrast it with what other nations have to bear. The cost per head of population in Russia is 5s. 9d., in America 6s., in Germany 13s. 7d., in France 19s. 6d. against £2 10s. in the United Kingdom. These are the nations with which we have to compete.


I do not think the hon. Member is in order in discussing the total expenditure for war preparations in different countries.


I accept your ruling, Mr. Speaker, but, I wanted to make good, if I could, that these great and growing Estimates are throwing an undue burden on our population. I ask House whether I have not said enough to satisfy hon. Members that, so far as commerce is concerned, there is no certainty that this rapid and spasmodic increase of expenditure is of any use to the country but the contrary. But apart from the burdens of the taxpayer, a great objection to this policy is that it is calculated to create a feeling of alarm abroad. Can we blame the Continental Powers if they want to know the reason why we persist in making such extra- ordinary preparations? No adequate reason has ever been alleged for them. There is nothing to make us think that agression against us is intended in any part of the Empire. Would it be any cause for surprise if this huge expenditure should prove to be largely the cause of the ill-feeling against us which has grown in recent years among foreign Powers? If so, then we must recognise that the pursuit of this policy is calculated to promote the dangers which it is designed to avert.

Sir, I appeal to the Government to consider the matter from a somewhat new standpoint. Is it too much to ask that 34,000,000 a year should not he stereotyped as a reasonable sum to be spent on one of the Services. The longer such figures continue the more difficult it will be to alter them, yet it must be recognised that it is quite impossible for us to go on at the same rate as we have been doing during the past eight years. If we do so, in eight years more we would be spending 80,000,000, and in 16 years we would be spending 160,000,000. Of course it seems incredible to us that any such progress can be fairly anticipated, but eight years ago who would have conceived that we would have reached such figures as we are discussing today? The strongest argument against the present huge figures is that their maintenance seriously threatens the efficiency of the Navy. Public attention is now devoted so much to the Army that the Admiralty during these important years has almost escaped any serious criticism. Yet the efforts of one or two Members of this House, and a few sad disasters which have recently occurred, are well calculated to make us ask whether this branch of national defence is in any better condition than the other. From the statement of the First Lord I see that the wrecks of the "Viper" and the "Cobra" have put a stop to the turbine system of machinery, and another sentence reads—"that the Board have often been urged to build large numbers of destroyers at the same time," but this advice he does not believe to be sound for two reasons. First, because the type is in process of rapid evolution, and, secondly, because it is a short-lived type. Yet we turn from this severe criticism on this class of vessel and find that no less than 22 of them were completed and carried into the Fleet Reserve in the present year, and ten more are contemplated in the Estimates for the coming year. Surely this is extravagant procedure with a type of vessels which the First Lord himself admits to be unsatisfactory. The question of boilers has been constantly brought before the House by my hon. friend the Member for Gateshead, and I think I correctly represent the general feeling which his efforts have produced when I say that no one is satisfied that the great question he has raised has been effectively solved. The present Estimates provide for 122,000 men against 61,500 which were provided for in 1885. It is useless to hope that the larger number can be of such good material as the smaller number, the population of the country is not sufficient to furnish them I am glad to see that the royal yacht is classed amongst the ships that have now been passed into the reserve. The mistakes and difficulties experienced in her construction have been very disquieting. The First Lord's statement is very inadequate in the slight attention which it draws to the naval disasters, casualties, and accidents of the year. It is almost impossible to worm information on this point out of the Admiralty. On the 31st of January I wrote to the Financial Secretary, asking for some particulars, but I have got, practically, no satisfaction. This secrecy, quite as much as the painful calamities, the occurrence of which cannot be concealed, have suggested to the country that we have not secured efficiency by our great outlay.

As to the remarks of the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth in regard to the Colonies, it is impossible to deal with this subject without thinking of the nature of the duties which the Navy has to perform. It is only on the ground of the extension of the Empire, with its great new fields of wealth and commerce, that any outlay like the present can be justified. But the question may be asked—if our rich Colonies lead to the increase of the Navy, should not the inhabitants contribute something adequate towards the cost I Another section of the Return which I have already quoted gives the facts with regard to this matter. From it we see that Canada, Newfoundland, and Natal make no contribution whatever towards the cost of the Navy, except in the case of Natal there is a small contribution of coal. From the Australian Colonies and New Zealand a small contribution amounting to £126,000 is received, but in return for this, I understand that there is an obligation that a considerable fleet shall be maintained in Australasian waters, so that the amount paid is far from meeting the expenses incurred in that particular service. A fleet is also necessary for Canada, yet no contribution whatever is received. The Return gives the aggregate imports and exports by sea of these great Colonies, and this figure amounts to £256,000,000, or considerably more than one-fourth of that of the United Kingdom, and yet their total contribution for naval defence is £156,000 against our £34,000,000. So far as I can gather from the Return, the full cost incurred in India is paid by that country, and considering the contrast which its sufferings present to the prosperity of the other parts of the Empire, there is food for reflection in this fact. I am glad to see by the statement of the First Lord that some negotiations with regard to the Australasian Colonies are to take place this year. Should they not be opened up also with Natal, the Cape, and other places? The need is pressing, and until a far more adequate contribution is received, it is not too much to say that an undue burden rests on the people of the United Kingdom. It is impossible to refrain from contrasting these meagre contributions from our richer Colonies with the heavy impost that is levied on Ireland. The total of her exports and imports is concealed, but it is safe to say that they do not amount to half as much as those of the Dominion of Canada and Newfoundland, which pay nothing, nor as much as New South Wales alone amongst the Australian colonies. Yet Ireland will pay this year something approaching to £3,000,000, and no small part of the discontent and suffering in that country may directly be traced to this intolerable addition to the burdens which have already been declared far too heavy.

Has not the time come when it would be desirable to find some definite standard in accordance with which our Naval Estimates might be increased or diminished? Would not the same proportion of increase as takes place in population or trade be a reasonable standard to adopt? Neither of these has increased more than 20 per cent. during the last sixteen years, and this must be compared with an increase of 230 per cent. in the naval expenditure. The naval expenditure is the greatest that has ever been proposed, and it has grown up with extraordinary rapidity in recent years. Heavy obligations have to be met for other requirements of the nation. There is nothing in our relations with other countries to justify the action we are taking, and when we look at our great dependencies we find that they are making a totally inadequate contribution towards the outlay which is largely incurred on their behalf.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word 'That,' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words. 'The growing expenditure on the naval defences of the Empire imposes under the existing conditions an undue burden on the taxpayers of the United Kingdom.'"— (Mr. Louah.) Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

*(6.38.) COLONEL DENNY (Kilmarnock Burghs)

said that in common with other Members of the House, he had felt extremely gratified at the able, clear, and business-like speech, in which the hon. Gentleman had brought forward the proposals of his department. The Secretary to the Admiralty was never optimistic, but on this occasion he had a great deal to congratulate himself upon. In everything he said he was amply justified. There were several most encouraging statements in the statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty, perhaps the most encouraging of which was in the opening paragraph, in which he recognised the claims of the younger men in the Service to promotion to higher ranks. In every other Navy in the world youth was coming more to the front, and in our Navy that matter ought not to be neglected. On the question of additional ships, he had nothing to say, but when he came to the addition of the personnel that was a different matter. We were notoriously short of stokers, and if hon. Members looked at Page 10 of the First Lord's statement, they would find that even now the stokers employed in cleaning and attending ships in the Reserve were being taken away and put on board ships and steamers on active service, and their places being filled with civilians. It was no doubt a wise proceeding, but it pointed the moral that we were very short of officers, and that the engineering side had never been efficiently treated by the Court of Admiralty.


Order, order! I would remind the hon. Member that any observations he desires to make on the personnel would be more in order on the general discussion which will follow. This Amendment does not refer to the personnel of the Navy; it simply raises the question whether an undue burden is placed on the taxpayers.


But it tends to show that there is not an undue burden, because there are not enough persons to do the work. But as your ruling is against me, Sir, I prefer to wait until the general discussion.


said it was idle to pretend that the question raised by the Amendment was one on which they all agreed either on one side of the House or on the other. There were the gravest differences of opinion between the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Islington, and himself and many others who sat with him, and very grave difference of opinion among hon. Members on the other side with regard to the programme of construction and with regard to the standard the hon. Gentleman wished to see adopted. This was the one question on which they might avoid anything like party recrimination. The matter was of the deepest interest to everyone present, and ought to be discussed without reference to any party. In regard to the contribution from the colonies, he submitted that it was a question which they could not discuss with prudence or much advantage. No one could deny that the fact that the great Colonies either did not contribute or contributed very little was a matter which was to be borne in mind; but although everyone agreed that a strong case might be made out by Great Britain why a contribution should be made, an equally strong case against it might be made by the Colonies, and it would be extremely dangerous if we were to attempt to impose our will upon them. By so doing we should only cause resistance in the minds of their statesmen. The only way to deal with that matter was to point out our case. The hon. Member had complained of spasmodic increases which he thought had taken place in the expenditure of this country. In the present Estimates there was practically no increase and a great diminution of the new programme. The increase as to new construction was an increase which must go on to some extent for some years, but the general effect of the Estimates looking towards the distant future was a decrease rather than an increase. The proposal to regulate expenditure on the Navy by a rule-of-three proportion to population wealth or commerce must always be fallacious. The only test was safety, in an Empire situated like ours.

The hon. Gentleman had made a curious admission; in the beginning of his speech he had said he was prepared to accept what he called the old standard, that was to say the standard of equality, laid down by the authorities of 1888, with the fleets of the two next Powers. Sometimes they were told superiority and sometimes equality; a very great difference because superiority might mean bare superiority or sufficient superiority which in the minds of the Naval authorities was a very different thing. The hon. Gentleman had then proceeded to mistake the old standard, because he had stated that he was prepared to support a Navy as large as that of France and Russia who were not at the present time the two next great naval Powers. But in the standard of equality or superiority to the two next Powers, as laid down in 1888, there was nothing about equality of expenditure, which obviously could not be observed. Our long service system was infinitely more costly and we paid more to all ranks. There were facts which told both ways. Personally lie had never been committed to the old standard, in fact, he had always been against it. The hon. Member he thought had also mis-stated the expenditure of this country at the present time. He had several times said that to the expenditure in the Estimates had to be added a sum of £3,000,000 for works. He would like to know what that "expenditure for works" was obtained from.


said that in the previous year the House had voted £6,000,000 in the Naval Works Bill, which the House was told would be expended in two years.


said it was apparently a guess on the part of the hon. Member. He imagined that the expenditure this year would be very far short of £3,000,000, but no one could tell for a long time, in fact, until the bills came in. But, putting all that on one side, the speech of the hon. Member for West Islington had for its main burden the very dangerous doctrine of retrenchment apart from efficiency. That was not a Liberal doctrine, and it was open to the objection that those who clamoured for retrenchment at one time demanded all sorts of changes involving great expenditure at another time. The hon. Member had failed to point out extravagance or to suggest in what direction economy could be effected.


I pointed to the boilers and destroyers.


said the difficulty with regard to the boilers was a difficulty with which all the other Powers were equally afflicted, it was not peculiar to ourselves, the particular class of boiler to which the hon. Member so strongly objected was largely used in foreign fleets. It was largely a question of training the men to work these boilers, and that in itself was largely a question of expense; but though it was a question of expense now it would be far cheaper in the long run if these men were trained. Then the hon. Member advocated economy with regard to the building of destroyers, did he mean to suggest that he would build no more destroyers because one or two had been lost.


said that twenty-two of these unsatisfactory destroyers were put into the Fleet last year, and twelve more were to be added this year. He suggested that experiments should be made more economically.


said that there were very strong reasons for supposing that our building of destroyers had been altogether short of our requirements. Our average output had been ten destroyers a year for many years past. It was true that twenty destroyers had been passed into the fleet this year, but one must not look at the number passed into the fleet, but rather the number constructed in a year, and the average number for many years had been ten, and that had been so insufficient that when the Admiral in command of the Mediterranean Fleet had to ask for more and said that he wanted them soon, they could not be supplied at once. The Admiralty promised to increase the destroyers in his fleet by a large number, but it was some months before they were largely increased, and even now they were insufficient. If the hon. Member wished the House to support his Motion he must show the House that there had been extravagance in the Navy, or, if he could not do that, he must show where it was, either in matériel or in personnel, that we could reduce the expenditure. It was no use coming to the House with a general grumble against expenditure without being able to point out to the House where extravagance was or where great reductions might be made. The hon. Member said that he accepted the old standard, but he would find if he accepted that standard that it would and ought to involve the country in a steadily increasing charge. It was impossible to keep the Fleet in the same condition in which it was at the time the old standard of 1888 was made without looking forward to a steady and constant increase in the personnel.

When they turned to construction, he for one differed quite as strongly from the Government as the hon. Member for West Islington, but he differed in exactly the opposite direction. The hon. Member found fault and complained that the building programme was too large. He (Sir Charles Dilke) complained and found fault with it because in his opinion it was wholely and grotesquely insufficient for the necessities of the case. It was inconsistent with the standard which the hon. Gentleman accepted, but which he never had accepted and never would accept, of "equality with the next two Powers" and he was strongly of opinion that any reduction would not be attended with safety to the country. The hon. Member for West Islington had alluded to France and Russia; he apparently saw no reason for Germany being considered by the Admiralty in their preparations; he had only the old France and Russia standard in view. But, of all the possible two-Power combinations, a combination of those two particular Powers, there being no allies on either side, was the most unlikely. It was impossible to keep out of view, in considering the naval programme from year to year, a more distant future. Ships could not be built in a hurry. The country would have to go into a naval war with its programme of four or five years before. Ships were not being built more ripidly now than formerly, and the First Lord of the Admiralty stated the reasons in Parliament last year. It seemed to be supposed in recent debates that the country would be blockaded, and that in six months, while the blockade was on, ships could be built which would conquer the blockading fleet and raise the siege. The whole thing was an absolute delusion. While at one time it seemed as though ships could be built in two years, the more usual period now was four years. The ships now taking the water and being commissioned were the ships of the 1897 programmes, ships which were "built in a hurry," being, as Mr. Goschen stated in February and July of that year, vitally necessary for the safety of the country. Many of the ships of the 1897 programme were not yet in commission: that would show how long it took to finish ships. Therefore it was necessary to remember that the country would go into a naval war with ships according to the programme of four or five years before war was declared. Mr. Goschen was a careful First Lord of the Admiralty; he felt the responsibility of his statements to the House, and was most anxious to avoid the use of language which could in any way irritate feeling abroad. Yet Mr. Goschen, in his programme year after year, alluded not to France and Russia alone, but to the necessity of maintaining—not at the present moment, but for the permanent safety of the country—a fleet which would cause not two, but three Powers to pause before they attacked us.

To his mind it was infinitely more important to the country that its expenditure should be shaped not towards meeting a sudden attack by two Powers—which was not going to occur—but towards meeting, not immediately, but in time to come, the possibility of an eventual joining together of three Powers, one of which was very rapidly building a magnificent fleet. From that point of view the programme of the Government this year was a beggarly programme. A great many ships were now taking the water and being commissioned, but the Secretary to the Admiralty said nothing whatever about the programme of next year and the future new construction. That great three-volume novel of the First Lord of the Admiralty—the statement ac companying the Estimates—which every year became more and more bulky, and more and more "pappy" and vague, said nothing, as Mr. Goschen used to do, as to the reason which had animated the Government in the preparation of a particular programme. Probably the hon. Member for West Islington thought the standard of the present programme too large; he himself thought it too small. It was a programme which would fail in the future to keep tip even the limited standard, to which personally he objected. It consisted of two battleships and two armoured cruisers only. The Admiralty had got into the unfortunate habit of putting off the commencement of the new construction, as it was called, for a very long time; and that habit was an extremely bad one. The ships that would be begun in March of this year were the ships of the programme of February of last year. Ships were begun thirteen months after they were announced to the House. The effect on the money was very strange. The Government would involve the House in no additional cost as regarded this year if they increased their programme. Their programme of construction this year was a programme of completion of ships nearly finished. If they had a larger programme of new construction for the future, it would mean, under the present system, ships to be begun thirteen months hence. But the Government had not announced such a programme. It was not the financial necessities of the year that had prevented them doing so. It was not the strength of the country during the next four or five years which would be affected by their not having done so. What would be affected was the strength of the country after five years hence; and he confessed that so far from supporting his hon. friend, he should be prepared to go into the lobby against the Government in the opposite direction—for not having looked sufficiently ahead or contemplated what was to happen to their country in the future. The House could not discuss this matter of Naval expenditure without considering one fact which the Speaker would probably feel was sufficiently in order to be referred to. The hon. Member had spoken of England being in opposition to two other Powers.


said he mentioned two Powers.


said the hon. Member spoke repeatedly of "the standard." When that standard was last defended in the House, Mr. Goschen again and again said England would not fight alone, alluding to an understanding between this country and Italy as regarded an alliance between the Italian fleet and our own. Mr. Goschen consequently defended the two-Power standard by the consideration of the assistance of the Italian fleet and the even greater assistance of the Italian ports. But the Notes exchanged in 1888, which formed a virtual alliance between England and Italy, had been replaced by something entirely different. There could be no doubt that the recent arrangement between France and Italy made the neutrality of Italy in a contest the best this country could hope for. The present, therefore, was not a moment in which to propose to cut down the expenditure on the Navy.

The hon. Member the Secretary to the Admiralty had asked the House to remember that stimulus was not needed by that Department. That was almost the phrase to which the hon. Gentleman objected when Mr. Goschen said they must not spur the willing horse. Mr. Goschen was a willing horse, and the Secretary to the Admiralty probably sympathised with those who were pressing him to remember the necessities of five years hence. That was the view the hon. Gentleman had always held, and he was not one to change his views. But while stimulus was not needed by the Admiralty, protection was. The Admiralty needed to be protected against even its own colleagues in the Government, and the temptation to cut down estimates. When the expenditure on the Army and the general expenditure of the country was as large as at present, the temptation to cut down estimates was very great, and the Admiralty, so far from needing to be protected by the hon. Member for West Islington in the one direction, rather required to be protected by the House of Commons and the country in the opposite direction. The Admiralty needed support in the keeping up, at a time when it was difficult and politically dangerous, of that permanent view of the naval requirements of the country. It was not the expenditure of this year, next year, or the year after next, that was in question; it was the standard of four or five years hence, and from that time forward. In the present condition of Europe and of the world generally, it would be madness on the part of the country to listen to the suggestion of the hon. Member for West Islington; if the Government was to be blamed at all, it ought rather to be for the smallness of its programme of new construction.

(7.10.) MR. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)

said he would willingly have left the Motion and the speech of the hon. Member for West Islington to he dealt with by the right hon. Baronet who had just spoken, were it not that he believed that every Member who was in favour of maintaining the efficiency of the naval service of the country, and of supporting the estimates that would attain that end, ought to do what in him lay to defend that service and the expenditure upon it. The hon. Member appeared to have moved his Amendment and delivered his speech without any matured judgment as to the tests to be applied to naval expenditure, or the problems the naval administration of the country had to meet. The hon. Member was prepared to support the two-Power standard, but he at once showed that he did not realise the expenditure that that standard involved, by saying that the naval expenditure of this country ought not to be greater than that of any two other Powers. It would be evident to anybody who understood the Estimates of this or any other country in regard to new construction, that if the expenditure of this country was to be confined to equalling that of any two countries in Europe, England would fall far behind the two-Power standard. He would admit at once that the expenditure in. the Navy Estimates for the current year was equal to the expenditure of three other European Powers. In fact, it was £2,000,000 more than the joint naval. budgets of Italy, France, and Germany. But if the hon. Member examined the progress of new construction in those countries, he would see that that additional £2,000,000 was necessary to enable this country to keep abreast of either two of those three countries. On, this question of naval expenditure, a most interesting and exhaustive Memorandum had been placed before the French Chamber by M. Lockroy, whose name was familiar to everybody interested in naval matters. In that Memorandum the naval expenditure, not only of France, but of Germany, Italy, and this country, was closely examined, and the conclusion arrived at was one that would be extremely satisfactory to all Members of the House, whose principal object it ought to be to attempt to decide whether or not the country was getting full value for the money voted for the naval service.

He would call attention to one or two points made by M. Lockroy, which he hoped would convince the hon. Member for West Islington that the arguments on which he had based his speech were. not tenable if he accepted the two-Power standard, and, at the same time, proposed to reduce the naval expenditure of the country. M. Lockroy had pointed out in this analysis that we were not by any means the first Power in the proportion of the Navy Estimates devoted to new construction. New construction was the most important element which this House had to consider. He might say in passing that this question of new construction entirely disposed of one of the main arguments upon which the hon. Member founded his speech. He held up to the admiration of the House a period which had long since passed by, and which he (Mr. Macartney) hoped would never return, when the naval expenditure, instead of increasing, gradually diminished, a diminution which went on to such an extent that the naval strength of this country was far below that which was required to defend the ever-increasing commerce and wealth of the British Empire. The fact that the expenditure of the United Kingdom upon the defences of the country had been allowed year after year to diminish, was one of the main reasons why, at the present moment, and for the last few years, the expenditure on new construction, and almost everything else connected with the maintenance of the Navy, had been of such large proportions. If, in past years, Parliament and the country had been prepared to support the maintenance of the Navy in an efficient state, the naval budget would not, in contrast with the budget of ten years ago, have doubled itself.

He would now return to the question of the expenditure upon new construction as contrasted with the relative expenditure of their three European competitors. According to M. Lockroy's analysis, the proportion of our Navy Estimates devoted to new construction was about 30 per cent., whereas France was devoting 37 per cent., and Germany 51 per cent. of their naval budgets. The hon. Member opposite must recollect that in order to keep pace with the fleets which Germany and France were keeping up, it was absolutely necessary that the total sum which was devoted to their Estimates should reach not only a proportion equivalent to the total budget of those two ountries, but it should at the present moment exceed the total budget of three European countries. Neither France, nor Italy, nor Germany had to meet in their Naval administration the multifarious duties and innumerable problems which had to be met for keeping the Navy of this country in a state of efficiency, and it was absolutely impossible to arrive at a correct judgment of their expenditure if they merely looked at the totals of certain figures without attempting to solve the problems beneath those figures, and consider what our Navy had to do in contradistinction to the navies of other Powers. The Mentor-andum in the Report which M. Lockroy laid before the French Chamber brought out, to the great advantage of the naval administration of this country, the economy with which the Estimates voted by that House were applied to the strengthening and the administration of the Navy, and his figures were so remarkable that, in view of the charges of extravagance and inefficiency made by the hon. Member for West Islington against the Admiralty—charges which, he thought, were wholly without foundation—he hoped the House would permit him to quote them.

M. Lockroy pointed out that, whereas the establishment charges of the Italian administration amounted to 26 per cent. of the total naval budget, and of the French administration to 33 per cent., the establishment charges of the administration of this country amounted I to only 21½ per cent. The only European country in which the establishment charges were lower than our own, was Germany, and those were 13½ per cent.; but in comparing the charges of Germany with our own, it was necessary to recollect what were the naval establishments that Germany had to maintain, and also the comparative date of their creation. Everybody would admit that where a country had got to deal, as the United Kingdom had got to deal, with a navy reaching back for centuries, with naval establishments created many years ago, which were, no doubt, suitable and adapted to the circumstances of the Navy at that time, the establishment expenses must be considerably larger than those of the absolutely modern naval establishments which had recently been set on foot by foreign countries, and in which those who created them were able to take advantage of the most modern appliances, and all those circumstances which the advantage of science and naval strategy showed would be the dominating influences in connection with naval administration. Therefore, Germany had the great advantage, in the first place, that its Fleet was a new creation, that its dockyards were practically modern as compared with those of the United Kingdom, and that all the circumstances which concerned the life of the Fleet, and the administration of dockyards were fully developed. Consequently this country would be put to considerable expense adopting alterations to dockyards such as the Mediterranean dockyards, which were created years ago, and which, if they had to be established now, would probably be established upon a somewhat different basis.

But apart from that altogether, if this consideration were borne in mind, it would be found that the 13½ per cent. of Germany was not so very much, if it was at all, less than the 21½ per cent, of this country, because Germany had only three establishments, as against our six establishments in the United Kingdom alone, not to speak of the very large establishments in the Mediterranean and in other portions of the Empire. On this question of expenditure and of the value which we were getting for the money voted for naval purposes, the criticisms of one of the most acute naval experts in Europe, made after close examination of our estimates, and contrasted with his own, show that the naval administration of the United Kingdom was of a most economical description, and gave far the best results so far as the application of the money voted by the House to the necessity and efficiency of the Fleet was concerned. M. Lockroy, in summing up the matter generally, stated that this country, in the cost of direction, the cost of administration, and policing of our great naval establishments, was immeasurably superior to any other country in Europe, and that the cost was far lower than that of France.

The hon. Member who brought this Motion before the House had dwelt upon the argument that in his opinion, the large expenditure which Parliament had granted, and which the country had approved, had led to a lack of efficiency in the Fleet. He thought that was a charge which ought not to have been made, even inside the walls of the House of Commons, without some far more substantial backing and foundation than anything which the hon. Member had laid before the House. The hon. Member had alluded, in a casual sort of manner, to the accidents which had taken place to sonic of the destroyers, but he must be as much aware as any other Member of the House that accidents of this description were common to the Navies of every country in the world, and were by no means confined to the Navy of this country. Accidents of this kind happened in the very best mercantile lines, not only of this country, but of every country in the world, and he thought it was scarcely fair of the right hon. Gentleman to come down to the House and make those charges when the slightest examination of the evidence given in the course of the inquiries held concerning those accidents would have shown him that, in the opinion of those best entitled to form a judgment, the officers in command in every case were absolutely free from any fault of seamanship or anything else for which they were held responsible.

He did not know that it was worth pursuing any further the argument which the hon. Member put before the House, because he could not believe for a moment that, in any quarter of the House, the hon. Member would find any support for the views he had expressed in regard to those accidents. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean said that it was highly desirable that this question should be raised without any Party feeling, but he did not think that any Party spirit had ever been introduced into the discussions on the Navy Estimates. He thought the hon. Member opposite had destroyed his own case by admitting that he was prepared to support the two-Power standard, and unless he was prepared to come down to tins House and show that the money now asked for by, the Government was something largely in excess of what was necessary to maintain the two-Power standard, he had no right to ask for any diminution in the Navy Estimates, or to bring a charge of extravagance or undue expenditure against those responsible for bringing the Estimates before Parliament. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean had expressed deep regret at the fact that his hon. friend had not asked for more money.


My complaint was that the new programme was too small. That does not affect the amount asked for this year, but it may involve more being asked for next year. It does not affect it much this year.


said it was true that the programme did not show a larger number of ships, but he did not know that this was a convenient moment to discuss whether or not the two-Power standard was being maintained. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean had always seemed to him to want more than was required by the two-Power standard. He himself believed in the two-Power standard with a margin. He did not mean a three-Power standard, or a two and a half Power standard. What the margin was, Lord Goschen or Lord Selborne had laid down in another place. From such information as he possessed as an unofficial Member, he did not believe that at the present time the relative position of this country to any other two European Powers had gone back. He fancied we were in a better position, taking the two-Power standard, than we were a year ago or six months ago. He thought it was most satisfactory to see, from the statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty and the detailed Return which his hon. friend had laid before the House, that the shipbuilding resources of this country had completely recovered their full capacity. There had been signs for a considerable time past that we were approaching the period when, both in armour and in everything necessary for the equipment of private yards for naval work, we should be able to utilise to the fullest possible degree the productive powers of this country. He trusted that the hon. Gentleman opposite, before he again attempted to criticise the naval expendi- ture of this country, would devote some time to the consideration of the problems which this country had to meet in naval construction, and of the duties which the Government had to perform. That knowledge could not be arrived at by merely adding up rows of figures and comparing the budgets of other countries with the naval budget of this country; it involved a full and careful analysis of the duties which each of these respective countries had to carry out.

(7,32.) MR. ASQUITH (Fife, E.)

This is a question of very great importance, of far greater importance than a superficial spectator might suppose, looking at the state of these Benches and comparing it with their condition last night, when we were discussing such questions as whether we should meet on Wednesdays or Fridays for private Members' business, whether our sittings should begin at two o'clock or three o'clock, and whether we should adjourn for an hour for dinner or stay within the precincts of the House. I shall therefore make no apology to the House if I venture to offer one or two general considerations which appear to me to be absolutely fatal to the proposition which my hon. friend asks the House to adopt in his Amendment.

In one respect, I quite agree with my hon. friend. I hope I am as much alive as he is to the danger due to the fact that in many directions the national expenditure is imposing a dangerous and undue burden upon the shoulders of the taxpayers—that, to use an old phrase, it has increased, and is increasing, and in some directions, at any rate, ought to be diminished. For my part, I think there are two branches of national expenditure in the diminution of which I see no prospect, and for the diminution of which I have no desire. One is the money we spend on national education, the other is the money we spend on our Fleet. I quite agree that, as regards naval expenditure, it is the duty of this House to scrutinize it with the most careful watchfulness. We ought to see that we get full value for every pound, and, if possible, for every penny, we spend. We ought to take all the precautions this House can take, or induce the Executive to take, to avoid improvident contracts, to use the best possible material, to employ the most skilful labour, and to secure the most watchful and the most competent supervision. But, when you have done that, it appears to me that the large question of policy which the House has to consider is the question, What are the needs of the Empire, and how are they to be met? Not, I agree with my hon. friend, by jerky, occasional, spasmodic efforts, but by a constant and continuous policy. What are the considerations to which we ought to look? I cannot in the least degree think this is a matter to be decided by arithmetic. It is not even the number of your population, it is not even the value of your commerce, which you have mainly to consider, but the risks to which the one and the other are exposed. How do we stand in that respect as compared with the halcyon years to which my hon. friend has referred, when the expenditure of the Navy was infinitely less than it is at the present moment? I agree that the wealth of the people has increased, the population has increased, commerce has increased, but the risks to which we as an Empire are exposed have increased in a much greater proportion. How do we stand? We have during that period very largely added to the actual territorial extent of the Empire for which we are responsible; there are an infinitely greater number of points which need protection, which in time of war would have to be protected, and for the protection of which your Navy is your only efficient instrument, than was the case in any previous period of our history. That is one new direction in which the call for additional naval force has made itself felt; but there is another still more important, and that is the one pointed out by the right hon. Gentleman below the gangway and other speakers—namely, the growth of the naval power of other nations. In the days to which my hon. friend has referred, there were for all practical purposes not more than two naval Powers in the world, certainly not more than two naval Powers which could for a moment be compared. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Turkey."] I make my hon. friend a present of Turkey. I say that in the days to which he has referred the possible naval competitors of this country were, as compared with the state of things that exists at the present day, not worthy of mention at all. France was, for all intents and purposes, the only serious naval Power then in existence. What is the state of affairs to-day? The French Navy, as the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has pointed out, has increased. —I do not think it is an exaggeration to say—by leaps and bounds. You have seen the Russian Navy brought into existence you have seen the Italian Navy, which, although it has not grown so rapidly as others, is still a formidable item in the naval forces of the world you have seen the German Navy, —which did not exist at all—become as it is to-day a most formidable element, when you are adding up the offensive and aggressive forces to which—it may never happen, but it is the duty of the Admiralty to make the forecast—we may possibly be exposed. Go further, both to the East and West. In the case of our kinsmen across the Atlantic, in the United States, there is now growing up one of the largest and best equipped Navies in the world; and at the very opposite point of the compass our new allies, as I suppose we must call them under the recent Agreement, the Japanese, are themselves constructing a powerful Navy. It is impossible to ignore these facts when we arc taking into account what preparation the Admiralty ought to make to meet the dangers to which we are exposed.

If there be an actual increase in the territories to be defended, and the number of antagonists we may be called upon to meet—I do not profess to be an expert, and I do not wish to dogmatise—I think that what is called the two-Power standard represents the minimum of safety. I am not an expert, and I do not venture to enter into the question either from an abstract point of view or as regards the actual composition of the existing navies of the world, but. I say the two-Power standard is, at any rate, the minimum to which we ought to conform. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Antrim used a phrase which may be current on the other side of St. George's Channel, when he said that we ought to have the two - Power standard "with a margin." That is an elastic expression, which does not seem to accord with the ordinary ideas of mensuration or mathematical precision. I do not suppose anyone would say that the two-Power standard is anything more than rough rule of thumb. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean thinks that margin is not sufficient. It must vary from time to time according to the exigencies of the case and the altered circumstances of the world, but so long as we are satisfied that the programme of the Admiralty does not exceed that standard, then, given the safeguards to which I referred in the earlier part of my remarks, there is no ground for this House to complain on the assumption that it is imposing an undue burden on the taxpayers of the country. It is far the best form of insurance. This country expends thirty odd millions in connection with the Navy, which is a large sum, I know. I look upon it simply as a premium we pay to insure the ultimate safety, not only of our commerce, but the safety of our shores and the very existence of our population in the face of dangers which we all hope may be remote, but against which it is our business to guard.