HC Deb 21 February 1902 vol 103 cc726-8

Order for Committee read.


The task of presenting the Navy Estimates to the House is rendered easier, and, at the same time, in a sense more difficult, by the circumstance that a great deal of their interest and value has already been made public through the full Statement of the First Lord.† But I think it is due to the House of Commons, and I think they will expect it, that there should also be some statement in this House when so large a sum of money is asked for as is asked for in these Estimates; and I hope I may be able to make that statement without going too closely over the ground that has been traversed by the First Lord of the Admiralty.

The first point to which I should like to draw attention is the absolute amount of the sum which is asked from the House of Commons. The total amount of the Estimates is £31,255,000. I observe that in some quarters there seems to have been an anticipation that there might be a reduction in comparison with last year. I think it hardly conceivable that such a proposition could have commended itself to those who are responsible for the administration of the Navy. I am aware that the Navy has not occupied in the public view, during the past year, a very prominent place; but I believe that in the mind of every thinking man it bas occupied a very important place indeed, and those who remember the words of a great naval writer will have pictured to themselves the power which has been exercised all over the world by those great silent ships at a time when the danger to this country has been considerable, and when the sister service has been engaged in a difficult and prolonged conflict 7,000 miles away from these shores. Sir, I think this is the last moment which would have been considered suitable by any thinking man for a reduction in the Navy Estimates. The apparent increase amounts to £380,000; but I should like to point out to the House that that does not represent the whole of the increase available for the service of the Navy. And I think it is desirable to point this out because, undoubtedly, there are new services which in themselves involve a considerable expenditure of money, and which, if they were to be carried out without any increase corresponding to them in amount, must involve a diminution of the sum available for what I may call the effective service of the Navy—the personnel and construction. There has been an increase on the net Estimate of £380,000; but those who have studied the figures may have observed that there is also a reduction on Vote 9 which is the Vote for guns and ammunition, amounting to £563,000. I shall be able to explain to the House at a later period that the reduction in no way involves a diminution of the supply of all that is necessary for the service of the Fleet in respect of its ordnance, but that the reduction of £563,000 is a reduction of what may be called capital expenditure which was necessary last year and is no longer necessary this year. If, therefore, we add this £563,000 to the increase of £380,000 to which I have referred, we shall have a considerable addition to that sum; and though I do not know whether it is strictly permissible for me to speak on an estimate which has not yet been brought before the House, I would remind the House that in the Supplementary Estimates which it has been found necessary to submit there is an item of £191,000 in Vote which is a most effective expenditure, because it is all to be translated, and is being translated, into additional ships and additional appliances for the service of ships for the purposes of war. There- fore, if we take these three sums of £380,000, £563,000, and £191,000, we get what I take to be the net effective disposable increase for the Navy—£1,134,000 this year alone.

I do not want to detain the House too long, and I particularly want to avoid, if I can, one or two subjects which I know to be controversial. These subjects will be raised at the proper time by hon. Members who have made a special study of the points which they will present to the House, and I should unendurably prolong the remarks which I wish to address to the House if I attempted to approach those subjects now. I want to confine myself as far as I can to a succinct and specific statement of the general points which I believe will be of interest and importance to the House in view of the fact that we are called upon to vote £31,000,000 sterling for the Navy.

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