HC Deb 21 February 1902 vol 103 cc739-40

In addition to the ordinary building programme, we are embarking on a somewhat large policy of reconstruction of existing ships, a step which I think will commend itself to hon. Members. There is reconstruction and reconstruction. There is reconstruction which is so costly and so extensive that when you have spent the money the problem will invariably arise whether you could not more effectively have spent it on new ships. But there is also reconstruction which can be undertaken on a moderate scale, and the result of which will be a very considerable addition to the fighting efficiency of the ships concerned. It is to this class of reconstruction that we have turned our special attention, and I believe there is no one who will not agree that we are wise in undertaking it. The whole of the ships of the "Royal Sovereign" class are of very great power, but are lacking in protection for the crews, as far as secondary armour is concerned. We are giving protection to the whole secondary armament of these ships by means of casemates. We hope that four of these ships at least may be completed during the coming year. The "Barfleur" and "Centurion," which are battleships of a smaller size, have been hitherto armed with guns inadequate I think, to that class of battleship, and they are to receive 6-in. guns instead of the present 4.7 guns. The "Terrible" and "Powerful," which seemed to many to be inadequately armed for their great bulk and cost, are to be strengthened by having four more casemated guns put into each of them. Those excellent cruisers of the "Arrogant" and "Talbot" classes, which are good steamers and fine sea boats, are to be materially strengthened by having the present 4.7 guns taken out and 6-in. guns put in their place. These vessels have hitherto been fitted with five 6-in. guns and six 4.7 guns. We are now going to remove the whole of these eleven guns and to replace them with eleven 6-in. guns of the latest and most powerful type, and when that is done we shall have a type of second-class cruiser as good as is made.