HC Deb 21 February 1902 vol 103 cc733-5

Passing from the question of personnel to that of matériel, we come to a very important side of naval administration. The total amount of the two votes which principally concern matériel—that is, Vote 8, which is the Shipbuilding Vote, and Vote 9, which is the Ordnance Vote—is £18,500,000. I have already explained that Vote 9 has been reduced by over £500,000; and even those most anxious for large expenditure on the Navy will be able to congratulate themselves on this reduction when I tell them exactly what it means. This House, under the guidance of Lord Goschen, consented most wisely to provide large amounts of money for the ordnance matériel which modern conditions of warfare have made absolutely imperative for the service of the Navy. Large quantities of armour-piercing projectiles were needed, and immense stores in reserve were considered necessary to fill up our ordnance stores to the position in which they ought to be on the outbreak of war. The House was most generous in the appropriation of money for this purpose; and I am glad to say that the manufacturing resources of this country have in this, as in many other respects, proved adequate to the demand. The whole, or nearly the whole, of the armour-piercing projectiles have been produced, and are now in store; and the whole reserve of ammunition which it was in contemplation to acquire has also been produced. It will be understood therefore that both these items may be treated as capital expenditure. We do not use armour-piercing projectiles for the purpose of practice, but reserve them for the realities of war. There is no expense for these projectiles from year to year except for new ships, and there is no need to renew the large initial vote required to put these projectiles into our magazines. Not to the same extent, but to a large extent, we have completed our supply of reserve ammunition, and we shall complete it absolutely within the time that is contemplated. It is these two circumstances which explain the very large reduction in the total of Vote 9. I would like to point out, however, that there has been, and there will be, no cessation at all in the production of guns and projectiles for ships being commissioned, and ships actually in commission. With regard to Vote 8, I call the attention of the House to a rather important fact. Last year I ventured to give a pledge to the effect that the very large sum then voted for ship construction would be spent. It is a singular circumstance, but I think it is a fact, that in the memory of the oldest inhabitant of the Admiralty, during the period since iron shipbuilding has been undertaken, there has been no instance of the whole of the Vote being absolutely spent in construction. I speak subject to correction, but I have been told that it is a fact. It is not a fact for which any blame could be attached to the Admiralty, but circumstances have not always allowed of the whole of the Vote being spent. The House will be glad to know that the pledge which I ventured to give, on the testimony I received from those who advise me, has been fulfilled, and that the whole amount voted by the House for construction has not only been expended, but that we are compelled to ask for an additional sum of £191, 000 in a Supplementary Estimate in order to pay for work done during the year.