HC Deb 21 February 1902 vol 103 cc738-9

With regard to output, hon. Members may say that we are not entering on a sufficiently ambitious programme of new construction. I have been looking back to past programmes, and I find that it is fully equal to some of those which have been previously presented. I do not believe that the Admiralty would be faithfully discharging its duties if it were to come down to the House in normal circumstances and ask for a large increase in the naval construction vote. It would indicate that the Admiralty where proceeding on no known plan, and in deference to no known principle. If the country believe, and I believe that the country is safe in believing, that year after year the Admiralty is building in pursuance of a definite and reasoned plan, and that the ships added one year are the complement of those added last year, and that they are to be added to in due sequence by other ships next year, then I think it will be understood that it is reasonable to make your production proceed, not by leaps and bounds, but by equal measure from year to year. We talk of small programmes, but I may remind the House of what we are actually doing. We are taking £15,000,000 sterling and spending it at the present time; and during the current year we shall have put on the water 49 ships ready for sea. Next financial year we shall have under construction 60 ships, or if you add to them the 27 ships we propose to lay down with the sanction of the House under the new programme, 87 ships under construction. We hope during the current financial year to add 18 new ships to the commissioned fleet. I think any hon. Member will see that that programme, if it be not a startling one, is a large and worthy programme even for a country which depends so entirely on its maritime supremacy as ours does. I think we have no right to complain that this country is not entering upon an adequate new construction programme. Last session much attention was called to the need for the addition to the Fleet of certain special ships and special appliances, I said then what was the fact, that all those matters were receiving the attention of the Admiralty. Our pledges are now in course of being fulfilled. We have in the Mediterranean a hospital ship, we have taken steps to provide all the material for two other hospital ships which can be commissioned in the event of war, and we are taking steps to provide material for a considerable number of additional ships in case of war for the purposes of hospitals. We have bought and hope to complete in three or four months, a vessel which will accompany the Fleet for the purpose of repairing injuries, which will be fitted with suitable machinery. We have started an additional depot ship for the training of stokers, and we have fitted or are fitting out three vessels for the very important purpose of serving as depôts for the destroyers in home waters. Another ship, the "Leander," is now having her boilers replaced in order that she may contribute the very important and valuable service of supplying a torpedo base for the Mediterranean.

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