§ 1. Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £9,571,500, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of the Contract Work for Shipbuilding, Repairs, &c., which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1904."
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON (Dundee)
reminded the Committee that this was almost certainly the last occasion in the present session, and possibly in the present Parliament, on which there would be an opportunity of discussing the Navy Estimates, and naturally he had been anxious to obtain the full figures of the naval expenditure for the year. He had to thank the Civil Lord of the Admiralty for supplying him with information to enable him to arrive at the complete figures for the current financial year. The total amount of the Estimates, including appropriations in aid, was £35,836,000, to which must be added an expenditure under the Naval Works Bill estimated 1192 at something over £4,000,000. Deducting the annuity of £500,000 payable this year in respect of past expenditure, he found that the total naval expenditure comprised in the ordinary and extraordinary Budgets amounted to about £39,500,000. That was the sum which the people of the United Kingdom were this year called upon to pay for the maintenance of the Navy. The only part of that expenditure which was properly before the Committee was the third section of Vote 8. Attention had been called before to the gross amount of Vote 8 and to the large amount provided in that Vote for the purpose of new construction. New construction had gone up by more than £1,000,000, and curiously enough it happened that more than that excess fell upon the contract portion of the present Vote. The excess on new construction provided for in that portion of the Vote was £1,204,000. He did not, however, propose to discuss that now. In order to remove any misapprehension he would remind the Committee that hon. Members on his side had not challenged the naval expenditure of the Government. But they were entitled to ask for explanation and justification—more particularly for justification on the ground of policy. He had never blamed the Admiralty for these Estimates, which depended on the foreign policy of the country at large, for which the Government as a whole was responsible. There was, however, some danger lest the Government and the House should mistake the opinion of the country. What had happened in the case of the Army? A little while ago there was a tremendous wave of military enthusiasm. What had become of it? A reaction had set in, and great changes were being demanded in our military system. He had no desire to see a similar reaction in the case of the Navy, but he feared that an expenditure such as was now being incurred might be followed by a revulsion of public feeling on the subject of the Navy, and that, he thought, would be a misfortune. Was it wise, statesmanlike or patriotic, to acquiesce without explanation or justification in these increasing demands for naval purposes. There was a very pressing financial danger to be faced. 1193 They had to consider not merely the amount asked for in the Vote, but they had also to bear in mind the consequential expenditure. For instance, the increase in the Fleet was accompanied by a demand for an increased number of men, and that in its turn was followed by a call for additional housing accommodation. He reminded the Committee that the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the Second Reading of the Budget expressed the wish that foreign countries would enter into a sort of league with us to keep down the enormous expenditure which was being incurred in naval matters.
At this point MR. DILLON drew attention to the fact that fewer than forty Members were present. He considered that the naval affairs of this country were sufficiently important to require the attendance of forty Members. House counted and forty Members being found present—
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
, continuing, said the Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking with great courage and candour, said—Nothing would give us greater satisfaction than to reduce our naval expenditure if we could do so in company with other countries.Was that the policy of the Government of to-day—was it the policy of the Government as a whole or only of one part of it? He had hoped to get from the Prime Minister an answer to a Question as to the Hague Conference, which three years ago recommended that the question of the diminution of naval expenditure should be taken into consideration. Unfortunately, however, the Question had had to be postponed. In the year 1898 the then First Lord of the Admiralty, Mr. Goschen, said his original Estimates were too small, as Russia, he understood, was laying down new ships. We had had no such information on this occasion. Mr. Goschen said that if he received an assurance from Russia that the report on which he had acted was not well-founded, he would not proceed with the Vote. The answer of Russia on that occasion was an invitation to a conference with a view to considering means for diminishing naval expenditure. 1194 The invitation was accepted by the Government of the day. The conference was held, but the proposal of the Russian delegates on the matter was deemed impracticable, and a Resolution only was carried declaring it to be the duty of the Powers to take the matter up. What was His Majesty's Government now prepared to do? The Chancellor of the Exchequer had said he would be glad to enter into a league to reduce naval expenditure. Would the Government invite a conference of the Powers with that object? There was reason to believe that Russia would not be unwilling to respond to such an invitation. He expressed a hope that the hesitation of the Prime Minister in answering the Question put to him earlier in the day meant that he, at all events, was turning over in his mind the possibility of doing this. Let them follow the example of Russia and invite the Powers to another conference. That was all he wished to say on questions of general policy. But there were one or two matters concerning Admiralty responsibility on which he wished to make a few remarks. He desired to direct attention to the statement of appropriations-in-aid. He noticed that credit was taken for £95,000 as contributions from the colonies. For the first time there appeared in the Estimates a table of colonial and Indian contributions. The contribution of the Australian Commonwealth was put down at £240,000, and there was a note attached to the effect that the amount was subject to the approval of the Legislatures concerned. He thought he was entitled to ask if any Colonial Legislature had ratified the contributions proposed, or what prospects there were of such ratification. Then, in reference to merchant cruisers, he believed that the attack on the system was to be led by the hon. Member for King's Lynn, and he would wait and see what the hon. Member had to say. But he would like to ask what were the extra expenses for fittings and so on other than the subsidy provided for in the Vote? He noticed that the Vote had increased from £63,000 to £77,000, and the Committee should have an explanation of this increase in the subsidy. Some information also he desired in reference to the new contract with what was called the White Star Line. There was, too, the contract with 1195 the Cunard Company, but as to that he believed a special day was to be set apart for its discussion. Finally he would like to draw attention to the large increase in the Vote for reconstruction and repairs. It represented a jump of nearly 50 per cent. in that particular item, and certainly called for fuller explanation than had yet been given.
§ MR. YERBURGH (Chester)
thought, on examination of the circumstances in which the country was placed, that the naval expenditure was not more but less than what was required to maintain our position. If this opinion provoked the question whence the money should come, he would suggest that economies should be effected in Army expenditure, a large proportion of which should be transferred from the Army to the Navy Votes. The Navy League was not responsible for what had been called the Russian scare. The details of the new Russian programme appeared in a Russian newspaper in December last, and the league had only repeated comments which had appeared in the Press since December. He asked the Secretary to the Admiralty whether, when the Estimates were produced, and when he told the House the real way to arrive at the expenditure necessary, he had taken into consideration the fact, announced in answer to a Question, that Russia was going to lay down two new battleships, and that the programme for 1904 included six battleships. The hon. Gentleman had told the House that the instructions to the Admiralty were to allow a good working balance over the naval strength of two Powers combined. Did he take the new Russian programme into consideration? When, in 1898, Lord Charles Beresford asked question after question of the then First Lord of the Admiralty as to why a larger rate of progress was not made, the answer always was that there was no information. But afterwards there was a discovery made that the Admiralty was quite wrong, and it was found that further money was needed. He wanted to know why, if in 1898 it was found necessary to ask the House for more money because Russia had put forward a new programme, it was not necessary now. He denied altogether that the plea put forward in 1898 that they could 1196 build faster than Russia held good; it was an argument which had no force when applied to the money to be asked for. He believed, in fact, that it was only put forward some years ago in order to reassure the public mind. He should like to ask whether the Admiralty had no information with regard to the new Russian programme at the time the Estimates were put forward, and, if not, why not? He knew that attention had been directed to the amount spent on the Intelligence Department, which was not, he believed, more than £10,000. The sum appeared to be ridiculous considering the enormous part which their Navy played in the National Defence. He thought he was right in saying that certainly up to a very recent time they had only one naval attaché in St. Petersburg and in Rome.
§ SIR WILLIAM ALLAN (Gateshead)
said the first question he asked from a business point of view was why there was such a large amount for alterations and repairs in new ships. In the Estimates before them they had a sum of no less than £881,543 as an increase on that head this year. That was, approximately, nearly a million of money, especially it they took into account all the other items brought in under that head. They had a total of £3,156,000 for reconstruction and repairs on an expenditure of £10,500,000 for new construction. Now he put it to the House, was that business? Would any shipowning firm in Great Britain or anywhere else spend a third, of the value of their vessels in twelve months for repairs and reconstruction? There was no getting over the fact of terrible waste, terrible squandering of public money by the Admiralty Department. That had been proved up to the hilt. They were spending hundreds of thousands of pounds and did not know what it was spent on. The question to be asked was what was the reason for this large expenditure? Why were they driven to such enormous expenditure? When they looked at the figures he had given from the Estimates none need wonder at their increase. Could the repair bill be reduced? Were ships so constructed that they were always to be under repairs and refitting, and could they not be made to do their 1197 work for twelve months without incurring such grave expense to the taxpayers of this country? The reason for such expense was not far to seek. The ships were all wrong. He said that because he knew it. They would not do their work continuously without coming to grief. Out of the sum of £881,000, roughly speaking, half-a-million of money went to outside dockyards for repairing the vessels for twelve months. That was because the new ships would not do their work. If they would not do their work he unhesitatingly asserted that it was because they were badly designed, and that they were vessels which were not worth the money spent upon them by the country. He was going to use a much stronger phrase—he contended that it was almost criminal of them to waste public money on such ships. He was fully aware that the Secretary to the Admiralty knew the cause of all this, but the policy of the Admiralty was to miminise everything—to keep everything from the public Press.
He would tell the House why the vessels had turned out so badly. At this moment vessels were being constructed which were badly engined and badly boilered and under-gunned. They were actually at the present time spending money on repairs of new ships that should never have been necessary. That policy had been continued, and was being continued, in the face of what had happened in the past. The very instruments which they were putting into the new ships were being taken out of others. There was the case of the American cruiser the "Raleigh," a brand new cruiser belonging to the United States, which was fitted with Babcock and Willcox boilers and sent to the Philippines. She broke down at Aden, and he did not believe she had yet been able to crawl to Bombay. Those were the instruments they were putting into valuable ships and to which they were entrusting the lives of men. The other day one of those boilers burst in Birmingham and killed some men, and yet these were the boilers they were putting into new ships. So long as they continued to use the Belleville and Babcock and Willcox boilers, so long would they continue to spend large sums in repairs, and the amounts would increase every 1198 year, with the result that nearly every engine factory in Great Britain would be called upon to repair their ships, because at the dockyards there would not be accommodation to execute all the repairs. Do not let them think that these large sums of money spent on the Navy were spent wisely. They were only evidence of the ineptitude of the Admiralty and the fact that they did not know their work. He was not exaggerating, but was looking at the cripples. Take the case of the "Good Hope," in which the other day four men were boiled. He did not know whether there was any hon. Member who had ever been in a boiler explosion. He had, and he knew what it was to be half steamed, and he could therefore understand the terrible sufferings the men must have endured in the stokehold of the much-lauded cruiser the "Good Hope." Look at the expense attending the repair of that vessel, and that would be required by the vessels which were now being fitted with boilers which had been condemned. Take the case of the "Buenos Ayrean," one of the Allan Line of steamers, where the Babcock and Willcox boilers were taken out. The Admiralty were putting in Niclausse boilers, while there was not one merchant ship with such boilers. At the Admiralty they had men, who were called engineers, who were adopting a boiler they had no experience of. These were the causes of the great expense of the Navy, and the cost of nearly a million more for repairs, if not more than that. It was difficult to take out the figures from such a complex volume as the Estimates, but by careful search he made out that the total increase for repairs alone was £1,065,663. But that was not all. No doubt many hon. Members were getting frightened at the growing expenditure, and he did not wonder at it. He would endeavour to show how these increases arose.
It was part of the policy of the Admiralty to spend money ad lib. and then to get the worst job after all. There was an increase of £14,000 for inspection of contract work. How was that? But there was a greater increase—viz., in the cost of coal for the Fleet—£223,000. That ought to be added 1199 to all the collateral increases due to nothing else than the bad boilers which had been put into the vessels of the Navy. He insisted that had these men-of-war been rightly boilered, there never would have been these enormous sums for repairs, for coal, and inspection. He had listened with pleasure to the hon. Gentleman who represented Chester, who always had the good of the Navy at heart, only the hon. Gentleman took a different view of it from himself. The hon. Gentleman went in for quantity; he went in for quality.
§ SIR WILLIAM ALLAN
Well, he had never heard the hon. Gentleman express himself in favour of quality, but only of quantity. He would like the hon. Member to tell the Committee the number of vessels that had come to grief since he was in the Navy; and the reason why so many of our first-class ships had come to grief, and how many were under-gunned. What was the use of coming to the House and crying out "Give us more ships!" if, when these ships were built they could not do their work. He said: Give me one good ship, that can safely steam out to sea with the least possible expense in coal and stores, with the least number of men, but these well trained, and well gunned, and I will sink any ship afloat. It was time that the House and the country were waking up to the fact of the absolute inefficiency of the Navy. A ship could not be sent away to sea for three months but she had to come back to a dockyard for repair. Why, during the whole time of the South African War merchant steamers ran backwards and forwards to the Cape and never a one was in the ship-builder's hands for repairs. Why should not that be the case with the ships of the Navy. There was an influence at the Admiralty which nobody could get hold of. It was an influence which continued fitting ships with boilers which caused a waste of money for repairs, for coal, for more men, and which endangered human life. This influence put into new ships steam generators which had 1200 already been condemned. If that influence continued, the cost of repairs was bound to increase, and the Estimates would rise year by year. His honest conviction was that in the ships which were boilered with one-fifth circular boilers, and four-fifths water-tube boilers the circular boilers would be running while the water-tube boilers would be rotting. It was time that a Department which was squandering millions of money and giving the nation such vessels should be inquired into; that a Royal Commission should be appointed to see how money could be saved and the Empire provided with efficient war vessels.
§ *MR. REGINALD LUCAS (Portsmouth)
said that the hon. and learned Member for Dundee was desirous that this country should initiate some sort of an arrangement or inquiry with the foreign nations into the possibility of the disarmament of the naval forces. The hon. Gentleman took Russia as the basis of his argument because Russia was instrumental in organising the Hague Conference. He thought that was a false analogy, because the hon. Gentleman assumed that we could bargain with one country in order to come to an arrangement with all other countries. As an illustration of this he found in a German paper that German naval reformers expressed dissatisfaction that on the Eastern station they were at a disadvantage as compared with Russia, France, or America, putting aside altogether Great Britain. If they came to terms with Russia or France, or Russia were to come to terms with France, even then there was so much suspicion and want of confidence that he did not see any hope of arriving at a satisfactory solution of the question. The hon. Member for Chester had touched on a point to which reference had frequently been made—viz., the increase in the ordinary naval attachés. As a general principle he urged that they should have as much reliable information as possible, whether by naval attachés or by some other method. That must be done. It was very difficult for anyone who studied the Papers which 1201 were issued to arrive at a correct conclusion. He had examined the document published by the German Emperor comparing the British with the German fleet; the Reports issued at the instance of the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean and the Brassey Annual but in many respects all those documents were contradictory. In these circumstances it was impossible to make any comparisons. Whether or not the Navy League were right in trying to raise a scare, he thought the Admiralty should have as much correct information as was required. He desired to ask a question on one point, and that was why they had left off building torpedo-boats. It was quite true that we had more torpedo-boat-destroyers than other naval Powers. He was surprised that the hon. Member for Gateshead had not told them more about boilers; but it might be because they had some reassurance in the Paper recently issued as to the reliability of the water-tube boilers in regard to the recent trials between the "Hyacinth" and the "Minerva." The Report of the Controller of the Navy stated that—The 'Hyacinth' left the anchorage at 9.26 a.m., or twenty-six minutes after the signal, and the 'Minerva' at 10.4 a.m., or sixty-four minutes after the signal, the 'Hyacinth' having obtained a lead of thirty-eight minutes.He would only quote further the last paragraph in the Report of the Chief Inspector of Machinery—All other working parts reported upon for the 136 hours trial acted similarly and satisfactorily for the twenty-two hours trial, and there is no reason to doubt that the boilers would have worked efficiently for the passage to England, and developed a mean I.H.P. of quite 9,500.
§ SIR WILLIAM ALLAN
asked if the hon. Member was aware that the "Hyacinth" was specially doctored for that trial.
§ *MR. REGINALD LUCAS
said that that was an allegation for the Secretary to the Admiralty to answer; all he knew was that the "Hyacinth" went through her trials and came out very well; and inasmuch as the hon. Gentleman was always attacking these boilers, whenever other hon. Members found that the boilers did well he thought they were entitled to point to that without pre- 1202 summing to dictate to the hon. Gentleman on a matter on which he was an expert. They were encouraged by the trials of the "Hyacinth" in spite of the hon. Gentleman's energy and denunciation. He was curious to know what the expense of a trip of that kind would cost, and it would be interesting also to know to what extent the cost of repairs could be obviated. He was anxious to avoid bringing in the question of the dockyards, because, although naturally interested in it, he believed, when methods of policy were being discussed, personal matters which concerned their own constituents should not be obtruded. He should like to know, however, what the Admiralty's policy was as regarded dockyards. What ships were to be laid down in them? It was of the utmost importance to his constituents to have some assurance that there should be no great change in regard to Portsmouth dockyard; that it was still to be maintained as a great building yard; and was not to be relegated to the position of a repairing yard He should be grateful if he could have some information as to what the intentions of the Government were in that respect.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)
said the Committee had had an interesting debate on the general policy which underlay the whole cost of the Navy. There had been far less difference of opinion expressed that afternoon than on previous occasions, owing to the moderation with which hon. Members had spoken on both sides. His hon. friend the Member for Dundee and his hon. friend the Member for Chester spoke on what were virtually the same lines; and his hon. friend the Member for Chester expressed the warmest commendation of the proposals of his hon. friend the Member for Dundee. There was no doubt that the matter had advanced since the last discussion. As for the principle which many of them thought ought to guide the Government with reference to an understanding with certain Powers, that was shown to have distinctly advanced to-day by the manner in which the Prime Minister answered the Question of his hon. friend the Member for Dundee. He was certain that the Prime Minister would not ask for a 1203 postponement of the Question unless he had a real intention of consulting his colleagues on the subject. His hon. friend the Member for Chester had put certain Questions to the Government with regard to the programme on which the whole naval system was based. As to the expenditure on repairs, few hon. Members were in a position to discuss that question but they were able to form an opinion of the naval programme and as to the basis of that programme. His hon. friend the Member for Dundee used only one word in the course of his speech with which he had to express dissent. He spoke of Russia as having returned to the position of the naval bogey. The word "bogey" was the word with which he had to express dissent, and for this reason. His hon. friend was a party to, and constantly explained and defended the principle in this House on which naval programmes had been based for many years. It was the principle upon which the Spencer programme was based; and his hon. friend then defended the necessity of taking into consideration the building programmes of other Powers. They could not justly use the word "bogey" with reference to a new programme of such a Power as Russia. One of the Questions which his hon. friend the Member for Chester put to the Government was what was the nature and extent of the new Russian programme, how far it was commenced, and how far it was likely to go; and no matter deserved the attention of the Committee more than the answer to that Question. The hon. Member for Portsmouth cast some doubt on the figures on this subject. The reason for that doubt was obvious. It was a well-known fact that the French in making a list of the ships of the British Navy—although they did not want to diminish the naval strength of this country—constantly attributed to it fewer ships than the Admiralty themselves calculated, because the French struck out several ships as valueless before they were officially struck off by the Admiralty. A comparison could only be instituted by taking the new ships which were being laid down or launched. That was the only real solid test.
1204 They were told in the summer of last year by a Russian dockyard newspaper, which usually received information of that kind first, that there was a new Russian programme of eight ships. The hon. Member for Chester naturally asked when that programme came to the knowledge of the Government; and how far it could be called a real programme. Of course, that affected some of the speeches in former debates, because the late Chancellor of the Exchequer was quoted as saying that he saw no reason for an increase in the Shipbuilding Vote. That speech was, however, made long before the new foreign programme with which they were now acquainted came into existence; and when the present Estimates were prepared in the autumn of last year this Russian programme was not known to the Government. His hon. friend the Member for Chester threw some little doubt on the fulness of the Government information on this point. He believed that in the last few days a naval attaché had been appointed at St. Petersburg who would have only naval duties to perform; and although his salary was not on this Vote no doubt the Secretary to the Admiralty would be able to say whether such an appointment had been made or not. With reference to the great Russian programme of 1898—regarding which he agreed that it was unfortunate that they did not give more serious consideration to the proposals of the Russian Government at the time of the Hague Conference—that programme had come to an end, all the ships having been launched. But many of the ships had been built to the order of the Russian Government in Germany, France, and the United States, although they had not yet heard of any ships being laid down by Russia in foreign dockyards in connection with the new programme. Mr. Goschen was quite right when he said that this country had an advantage over Russia as regarded shipbuilding; but in France and Germany ships had been built to the order of Russia with extraordinary speed, and they had all done exceedingly well in their trial trips. At present they had not heard of any new ships being laid down by Russia in foreign countries; but they had heard of two or three battleships being laid down on the slips vacated by the ships of the 1898 programme. Therefore, if he might enforce the argument of his hon. friend the 1205 Member for Chester and slightly vary his Questions, he should like to ask the Admiralty if they had any knowledge of the new Russian programme; when they became acquainted with it; whether they knew of any ships being laid down by Russia abroad, or was Russia merely filling up slips at home which had been vacated by the launch of the ships of the 1898 programme? With regard to the knowledge possessed by the Admiralty, the only foundation he had been able to find for the statement that the Admiralty were misleading the House had reference to what was called projected ships.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE
said, of course he did not mean wilfully misleading for a moment. Undoubtedly they were in the habit of counting projected ships, even when they were merely drawings. However, the appointment of a naval attaché in St. Petersburg would probably meet that difficulty. With regard to the general question, on the facts before them, and the defence of the programme made by Lord Selborne in another place, and in the face of what was known with regard to the shipbuilding programme of Russia, no Government of any Party in this House would take the responsibility of proposing a smaller shipbuilding programme this year. He fully concurred with the hon. Member for Dundee and with the sense of the Question addressed to the Prime Minister to-day in spite of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Portsmouth, and by the remarks of the hon. Member for Yarmouth the other day. They could obtain the assent of certain of the Powers to a policy of reduction. They need not obtain the assent of the whole; if they obtained the assent of some it would be sufficient justification for the Government to commence reducing the programme of this country, but it was unsafe to do so in the face of the figures known to us, and doubly unsafe in the face of the figures of the Russian programme which they had just heard.
§ *MR. JAMES HOPE (Sheffield, Brightside)
called attention to the fact that one part of the shipbuilding programme of the year 1901–2 was not put in hand for sixteen 1206 months after the beginning of the year, and he asked whether it was not possible for the designs to keep pace with the Estimates. The Estimates were prepared in the autumn, and submitted to the House in the following February, and he ventured to think it would be an immense advantage if the designs could be got forward with the Estimates, so that the work should be put in hand immediately and not towards the end of the financial year. It would prevent attempts being made to rush the work, and would be also of the greatest advantage to the men who lived by our naval programme, to whom any dislocation and irregularity of employment was of serious consequence. He trusted his hon. friend would see if this could not be done before the next programme was issued.
§ MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
said he desired to enter a protest against the way they were proceeding. Most Members had been surprised by a scrap of newspaper cutting which had been circulated to Members this morning. Directly he received it he knew the line the debate would take. The right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean had intimated that they should do something to meet the new Russian programme, and had said that if three weeks ago there had been a crisis on another question, and another Government had been formed, this great swollen Estimate would have been just as large. The right hon. Gentleman had mentioned two or three names in that connection. He said the late Chancellor of the Exchequer would have brought in as great and as swollen an Estimate as that which they were now considering. The late Chancellor of the Exchequer, last October, went down to his constituency and said that with all the information he possessed he would not countenance an increase in the Naval Estimates this year, and if any increase did take place it ought to be questioned in this House in a way in which these Estimates had not been questioned before. Yet the right hon. Baronet now put this opinion in the mouth of the right hon. Member for Bristol. He protested against the whole proceeding. He thought hon. Members who had addressed the House had overplayed their part; if they were so cautious of our naval strength they 1207 ought to be more cautious in their remarks. They had never alluded to the figures. The Committee had not been able to worm out the figures of this Vote, and it was not until they were given by the right hon. Member for Dundee a short time previously that they knew they had reached the enormous total of £40,000,000; yet hon. Members would lead, if they could, the Government into further extravagance. The principle of our Navy was that it should be maintained at what was called the two-Power standard; but it had been pointed out that as regards battleships we were considerably above the two-Power standard, and in regard to other vessels we were above the three-Power standard. It was absolutely settled in a recent debate that we had attained proportionately a much greater strength, and worked on a much higher standard than ever had been worked upon before. He had merely intervened to ask why hon. Members could not be satisfied with an expenditure larger than that of any two or three Powers. He supported the suggestion of the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean that they should take some wise step to enable them to reduce this enormous expenditure. The hon. Member for Dundee had pointed out that Russia responded in the most courteous manner in 1898, and practically suggested that the matter should be reasoned out to see whether a satisfactory conclusion could not be arrived at. He hoped the Prime Minister would shortly have something to say with regard to those negotiations. But if such negotiations were pending, surely the Committee might have been spared the speeches urging still greater expenditure. The expenditure had exceeded all reasonable bounds, and those Members who desired to see the strength of the country maintained ought to caution the Government against this present rate rather than urge them to still greater extravagance.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said that while he shared the desire that something should, if possible, be done in the way of coming to an agreement with other Powers, he was afraid nothing would be achieved in that direction for many generations yet, and, in the meantime, he believed the Government had done the very least it was right for them to do in the programme of this year. As to 1208 whether they ought to have done more, he did not share the doubts which had been expressed. Ships were very difficult to compare, whether by size, tonnage, or number of guns. The only person competent to compare ships and programmes was such a person as would probably be in the Admiralty, who was cognisant of the different kinds of ships, their qualities, and their arrangements for ammunition supply. The last-named point was extremely important. But the matter to which he particularly desired to call attention was the item of £77,813, under Sub-head I., allocated to subventions for right of pre-emption or hire as armed cruisers or transports of a number of vessels. According to a return granted in 1902, the total amount of the subventions then was £103,750, and as all the ships therein named were under agreements which would be in force this year, they would presumably still be entitled to subsidies. Possibly, however, the hon. Gentleman could explain the discrepancy between the two amounts. The first three ships named in the Estimates were the "Oceanic," the "Majestic," and the "Teutonic," belonging to the White Star Line; and the second three were the "Campania," the "Lucania," and the "Umbria," belonging to the Cunard Co. The amount of the Estimates in respect of each of those groups was £28,000; in other words, it was proposed to vote, as subventions, £28,000 for three ships belonging to the Morgan Combine, and £28,000 for three ships belonging to the Cunard Co. He would not trouble the Committee with regard to the rest of the ships, although some of them belonged to these two companies also. First of all, with regard to the £28,000 to be paid professedly to the "White Star Line, but really to the Morgan Combine. Those three ships were absolutely owned, and all dominion over them was exercised by an American corporation, and, therefore, were in a somewhat different position from those belonging to an English company. He would say at once that he intended to move a reduction of £28,000, representing the subvention proposed to be paid to Mr. Morgan. While he strongly objected to the whole of this item of £77,000, he particularly objected to the £28,000 for the first three ships.
In his belief, all these subsidies to merchant vessels were a profound mistake. 1209 The purposes for which they were professedly given were the right of preemption, the right of hire, the right of using the ships as transports, and the right of using them as armed cruisers. Not one of those was really a sound reason. The Government already had the most complete right of pre-emption without paying anybody a farthing for it. In time of war they had an absolute right not merely to buy, but to take ships, and not only ships of their own subjects, but ships of the subjects of other Powers. In 1871, the Germans seized six British ships that were lying in the Seine, and, being at war with France, sunk them under this right. They then offered money for them which was accepted by the then Foreign Minister, and the incident was at an end, it being recognised that the Germans were completely within their right. The right of pre-emption was therefore worth nothing. As to the right of hiring, the Government could hire any ship at any time they liked, even if they had not the right of taking them. In connection with the South African war they hired practically the whole of the mercantile marine. There were always a number of ships that could be hired; it was only a question of price, and there was no necessity to pay anything in advance for the right. The question of using the ships as transports was the same as the right of hiring. The most important point, however, was the right, in time of war, to use the ships as armed cruisers. Were they likely to be of the slightest use as armed cruisers? They were built for mercantile purposes, the carriage of passengers, and the development of a high rate of speed. They had not one of the qualities required in a fighting ship, except that of speed. The vessels were built with extremely thin plate; all their engines were above the water-line; and they were at the mercy of any small craft that could bring a three-pounder gun to bear upon them. Consequently, they were completely unfitted for the protection of trade, or for any other purpose except where speed was the only requisite. For the Government to pay large sums in order to create rights which they already possessed over such vessels as these was really to waste public money. To 1210 pay those unnecessary subventions was really the most crazy plan that ever entered into the mind of man. Under those circumstances was it desirable that this £77,000 should continue to be voted. Upon this point he had fortified himself with a very short extract from the Report of that excellent Committee presided over by his hon. friend sitting below the gangway. Upon pages 10 and 11 of that Report the Committee would see that there was very considerable authority to cite in support of his view. The subsidy was paid simply as a retaining fee in time of war, but the Committee presided over by his hon. friend below the gangway had declared that they did not think such a subsidy was of any use for that purpose. That was the sole ground upon which this subsidy was paid. The whole of this contemplated war and nothing else. The Government had the right to lay hands on its own ships in time of war, and in an emergency he believed that vessels would be offered without any retaining fee. If a retaining fee were to be paid at all, it should be paid at the time, and they should not go on paying thousands of pounds year after year to create rights which they had got already, and which he thought it would not be proper to exercise except in time of war. In addition he wished to remind the Committee that in the case of the White Star Line, which was an American line lock, stock and barrel under the dominion of an American corporation, they were asked to subsidise vessels which had passed completely under foreign control. They were absolutely owned in America, and nevertheless, in consequence of the most regrettable weakness and negligence of duty, in consequence of misfeasance on the part of the Government, they were allowed to fly the British flag. They were giving those vessels the right to carry the British flag, which meant a 20 per cent. advantage to them in competition with British ships, and in addition to that they proposed to give them a subsidy so that they might use them in time of war. This was an absurd proposition. For the use of those vessels they were asked to pay £28,000.
He had another very strong argument. The agreement that had been made with the International Mercantile Marine Association of Mr. Morgan, of which 1211 these first three vessels formed apart, had been made since September, and the Prime Minister had said that the matter was not open to reconsideration. If that were so, the Committee ought not to be asked for the subsidy, and, if asked, they ought to refuse it. How should we be able to exercise such rights as we thought we were buying either in time of peace or in time of war? In time of peace they were giving those ships a subsidy to compete with British ships, but in time of war could they use any one of those rights which they were supposed to be purchasing by this subsidy? If we were at war with the United States we could not take one of those vessels because the United States would keep them for their own purposes. If we were at war with another country, he doubted whether the United States would allow this country to use those vessels against a country with which they were at peace, because he thought that would be a breach of international law. In no kind of war could those lights as provided by the subsidies the Government proposed to give possibly be of any use. He thought he had shown first of all that all these subsidies were wrong in principle, and secondly, that they were unnecessary. For those reasons he felt it his duty to move a reduction of this Vote by £28,000, which represented the proposed subsidy to the vessels mentioned which would be allowed to fly the British flag and compete with British ships.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That Item 1 (Royal Reserve of Merchant Cruisers) be reduced by £28,000."—(Mr. Gibson Bowles.)
§ *THE SECRETARY TO THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. ARNOLD-FORSTER,) Belfast, W.
did not think his hon. friend the Member for King's Lynn would find it necessary to carry his Motion for a reduction to a division. His hon. friend had stated the case against the principle of subsidies as at present carried out with so much knowledge that it was not necessary to deal with that subject at length. It was perfectly true, as his hon. friend had pointed out, that the Committee presided over by the hon. 1212 Member for Aston Manor made recommendations of an important character with regard to this principle of subsidising merchant cruisers in time of war, and the Admiralty had long been considering very carefully the wisdom of that policy. Their deliberations had been made easier by the strong and clear recommendations of the Committee to which he had referred. In the exercise of their own judgment, and fortified by the recommendations of the Committee, the Admiralty did not propose, when the time came for renewing these agreements, that they should be renewed. He did not, however, ask the Committee to take it as admitted that there were no circumstances under which subsidies ought to be paid, and no circumstances in which public interests could not be conveniently served by such a plan as that which had hitherto been adopted.
§ SIR FORTESCUE FLANNERY (Yorkshire, Shipley)
made an inquiry regarding the subsidies to which the (Secretary to the Admiralty had referred. Did he mean the Morgan subsidies? What kind of subsidies were not renewable?
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said he was speaking of those contained in Section 3 of Vote 8—namely, subsidies for merchant cruisers.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
No, Sir. The time has not arrived when notice can be given. The final decision resulting from the deliberations of the Board of Admiralty and the recommendations of the Committee has only recently been arrived at.
§ MR. WINSTON CHURCHILL (Oldham)
Is it now admitted that all this money we have been paying year after year has been altogether useless expenditure?
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
No; I do not think that would be a fair assumption. The circumstances of naval warfare have been changing almost every year, and it is quite possible that what our predecessors at the Admiralty thought it advisable to do may have been very proper at the time when it was done.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said that was the case. There were other purposes which might be served by a system of subsidies. What the Admiralty felt was that the principle which ought to govern the application of a subsidy was that by that payment they should obtain something which they would not get in any other way. He would add a word to show that they had not been unmindful of the recommendations of the Committee to which he had referred. They felt as strongly as that Committee that it would be a great advantage in the administration of any sum voted by Parliament for the purpose of subsidising shipping that it should be administered under some central authority. He did not know whether the Committee realised how large those sums were. They amounted to many hundred thousand pounds. He was not prepared now to discuss whether the principle was right or wrong, but he was quite sure that the Committee would agree with him that if these subsidies were to be paid it was much better that they should be paid in pursuance of a national and uniform policy rather than expended by various Departments without consultation.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
said the Secretary to the Admiralty had made a 1214 most important and unexpected announcement. Speaking for himself, and for hon. Members sitting on the Opposition side of the House, they would concur in the new policy which had been announced. The hon. Member for Oldham had talked of these subsidies as a waste of money. Both parties had been responsible for this expenditure in the past. He himself had said in public on a former occasion that he believed this merchant cruiser policy had not been cordially accepted by any Board of Admiralty for many years past. It had been acquiesced in rather than accepted and approved by successive Boards of Admiralty. He was extremely pleased as well as surprised at the announcement the hon. Gentleman had made. He took it that this item for merchant cruisers was to disappear from the Estimates in future.
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
On the present basis of payment. It may be necessary to pay subsidies for high speed or special qualifications.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
At all events this particular Vote was coming to an end. The last White Star agreement was made some time in the end of last year; and, as he understood, it was an agreement for three years. He took it that that would be terminated at the end of the three years.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
said his information was that it was an agreement for three years. He was not aware of any clause in the agreement that would bring it to an end earlier than the close of these three years. The Admiralty now told the Committee that the principle, at all events, of this Subsidies Vote was abandoned, and that if there were to be subsidies at all in regard to merchant cruisers in future Estimates they would be based on another kind of policy from the present.
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
To make it clear I will read the Clause:—This agreement shall be deemed to have come into force except as regards the 'Oceanic' as and from the 1st day of April, 1900, and for the 'Oceanic' from the 1st day of October, 1215 1900, and shall continue until the expiration of twelve calendar months notice in writing expiring on the 1st day of April in any year given by either party provided that no such notice shall be given so as to expire at any earlier date than the 1st of April, 1905.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
said he understood that the White Star contract would have to run for three years, but that was immaterial. The real point was that the Merchant Cruiser Vote was to be abandoned at the earliest possible time, and what was to take its place need not now be discussed. He did not know how this would bear upon another most important question, to which he could not do more than allude, and the most extraordinary arrangement ever made outside an Irish Land Bill, involving enormous payments to one or two shipping companies.
§ SIR FORTESCUE FLANNERY
said he had listened with very great regret to the speech of his hon. friend the Member for King's Lynn, and with still greater regret to the announcement made by his hon. friend he Secretary to the Admiralty. If the policy of the Admiralty in future was to be to dissociate our naval preparations from questions of construction in connection with the mercantile marine, then it was a most regrettable announcement from the point of view of naval preparations. But if his hon. friend merely meant by the announcement that the Naval Votes in future should not bear the subsidies, and that their place would be taken by some harmonious arrangement for the construction of merchant ships that would be useful in an emergency for war purposes, then, perhaps, the announcement had not the importance that had been attached to it. Upon this point the answer of the Secretary to the Admiralty had not been quite clear. The advantage that would accrue to our naval preparations by having available in time of need merchant ships fitted with arrangements for guns and warlike purposes would be enormous. He hoped the change was rather in the form of Estimates than a change of policy, and that vessels of high speed, and with special attention to details, would continue to be built, so that while their utility for merchant service would 1216 not be impaired they would at short notice be ready for Admiralty purposes.
§ MR. CALDWELL (Lanarkshire, Mid)
said he had heard with considerable satisfaction the announcement made on behalf of the Admiralty with regard to the subsidies for cruisers. He brought this matter up before in connection with the mail contract. For instance, there was the case of the Canadian Pacific service which received a subsidy for three cruisers. These vessels were absolutely worthless for cruisers, because they did not steam above fourteen knots an hour, and would not be of any value to the country in time of war. Obviously that was a contract that should be terminated at the first opportunity. The present arrangement was mixed up with the mail contract, which he thought was to run for five years from April 1901. The amount received was, he thought £7,000 a year, and that was absolutely wasted money, so far as the Canadian Pacific was concerned. With regard to the P. & O. Company, there were separate contracts with the Admiralty, and, therefore, the Secretary to the Admiralty would know the terms on which they were made, and when they would expire. There again he thought the Admiralty should take the first opportunity of terminating the contracts. The P. & O. boats practically did not steam more than fourteen or fifteen knots an hour, and could not compete in speed with foreign boats. They could not catch another boat or run out of the road themselves. He had always heard that the policy of mixing up the mail contracts with the giving of subsidies for cruisers was a wrong policy, and that the question of cruisers should stand entirely by itself. The Government should do what they could to induce the owners of merchant vessels to provide speed qualities, and it was all-important that any contracts entered into should be for a short period, so that they could at any time take advantage of the quickest steamer belonging to the British merchant service. In that way they would encourage the owners of British merchant vessels to build ships which would be able to compete in crossing the Atlantic with German vessels. He was glad that this matter had now got some prominence.
§ *MR. EVELYN CECIL (Aston Manor)
congratulated the Admiralty on the decision arrived at in reference to this particular matter. It was a source of great satisfaction to himself, as chairman of the Committee that gave this matter a great deal of attention, that the recommendations of the Committee had not been set aside, but that it had been taken seriously into consideration. The more they enquired into the matter, the more it appeared that the subsidies paid as retaining fees for the use of vessels in time of war were absolutely money thrown away. It was very desirable, in view of the retrenchment which the country demanded in many quarters, that these subsidies as now given should no longer be paid. The subsidies, however, could only be terminated on the expiry of the existing contracts. The hon. Member for the Shipley Division should realise that the Admiralty, in coming to this decision in regard to subsidies, did not discard paragraph 21 of the Committee's Report, in which they recommended the Admiralty to give subsidies for a limited number of vessels of the highest speed.
§ SIR FORTESCUE FLANNERY
said if the Secretary to the Admiralty would make it clear that they were not departing altogether from the policy of subsidies he would be perfectly satisfied, but the hon. Gentleman had not made that clear.
§ *MR. EVELYN CECIL
said he had wanted to point out that paragraph 22, which recommended the discontinuance of subsidies which were merely retaining fees in time of war, was not antagonistic to paragraph 21, which stated that the Admiralty should subsidise a limited number of merchant ships of the highest speed for national defence. He warmly congratulated the Board of Admiralty on their good work and the admirable administration of his hon. friend the Secretary to the Admiralty.
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said he wished to make this matter quite clear. His hon. friend the Member for Shipley and the hon. Member for Aston Manor had correctly interpreted the intention of the Admiralty, but in subsidising merchant vessels for military purposes they put the standard of speed higher—22 knots instead of 20. He was not to 1218 be taken as stating that no subsidy would be paid by any other Department for reasons other than military. He spoke only for the Admiralty.
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)
said he was heartily glad to hear the announcement made by the Secretary to the Admiralty that afternoon. He was the more glad because he trusted it would be a warning to the Admiralty to pay more attention to the observations and facts given in this House. When the Vote for subsidising merchant steamers was first suggested he objected to it and had opposed it every year since. The Admiralty had, however, gone on paying these subsidies year after year, although it had been shown that the money might as well have been thrown into the sea. And now they had had it from a late Secretary to the Admiralty that in his time the facts were well known, and the Admiralty hardly believed in the policy, but acquiesced in it.
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB
That is the hon. Gentleman's impression—that the Admiralty brought down a Vote for money year after year for a policy in which they never believed but in which they acquiesced! He was glad that the policy had received its quietus from the painstaking report of the Committee presided over by the hon. Member for Aston Manor He congratulated the hon. Member on his good work. He was glad that they had now an Admiralty that had been able to do something more than acquiesce in expenditure, but had the courage to stop a particular policy which they believed to be bad.
§ *SIR CHARLES CAYZER (Barrow-in-Furness)
said that as a Member of the Subsidies Committee he could say that there was abundant evidence that the payment of this £77,000 a year had been entirely wasted money. With one or two exceptions the vessels were not of the highest speed. The majority did not exceed 15 or 16 knots, and therefore they could not be used as effective scouts. Then except one or two, they had no gun platforms, and none of them had guns, although the Committee were told that the guns were in 1219 store. He was very glad that these payments were to be discontinued. The hon. Member for Shipley said he would like to see merchant vessels of the highest speed subsidised by the Admiralty for service in time of war. He had his doubts about the utility of that. It was well known that few steamship lines could employ vessels of 22 or 25 knots; and he believed that those lines which had steamers of a less high speed would offer their services in time of war for the high payment they would then get for them. For his own part he would rather prefer to see the Navy complete in itself, and not dependent on the merchant service either for ships or men.
§ MR. KEARLEY (Devonport)
said he would remind the hon. and gallant Member for Yarmouth that when Lord Spencer went to the Admiralty he found the policy which had been introduced shortly before by Mr. Forwood in the previous Conservative Administration.
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB
said he could assure the hon. Member that he applied his observations equally to both Conservative and Liberal Governments.
§ MR. KEARLEY
said he wished to ask the Secretary to the Admiralty what really was the particular policy of the Admiralty? In the First Lord's statement, issued with the Navy Estimates, it was said that—Before the current agreement in respect of subsidised merchant cruisers with the various steamship companies expires two years hence, the Board will have to reconsider their policy in respect to ships of no special speed in the light of the Reports of the two Committees already mentioned—viz., the inter-departmental Committee presided over by Lord Camperdown and the Committee of the House of Commons of which the hon. Member for Aston Manor was chairman. But since that statement was made the Admiralty had entered into what was known as the Cunard agreement. They knew that under that agreement the Government were to make large advances to the Cunard Company to build large ships of great speed, and that when the ships were completed the Admiralty were to pay large subsidies for their use in time of war. It was of extreme importance 1220 that the hon. Gentleman should tell the Committee what they were to look forward to as the new policy of the Admiralty. Was it to be on the lines of the Cunard agreement?
§ MR. WINSTON CHURCHILL
said he wished to emphasise the financial aspect of the case revealed to the House. Here was a naval policy which a good many years ago was decided upon on the advice of experts of very high authority. In pursuance of that policy, year after year, under various Administrations, they had expended large sums of money. Over and over again protests had been made by private Members of the House against that policy. Nevertheless, year after year Ministers of both Parties, supported by experts, who were never wrong, defended that policy; and now in the end they were told that that policy had been altogether mistaken, that all the money had been absolutely thrown away, and that the policy was to be discontinued in the future. How was it that this decision had been arrived at? It had been arrived at by the criticisms of his hon. and gallant friend the Member for Yarmouth, and by the work of private Members sitting on the Shipping Committee; and the final death-blow had been given to it by the Gentleman who moved the reduction of the Vote. These facts ought not to be lost sight of, because they showed that the criticism of private Members sometimes provoked a useful economy in the public service.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said that the hon. Member had called this a naval policy; he called it a policy of naval waste. He had protested not only against these subsidies, but against every item in the Naval Estimates. For twelve long years he had protested against one Government and another paying these large sums of money as subsidies to merchant steamers; and he congratulated the hon. Gentleman that he had at last opened his eyes to the naval waste. In these twelve years they had squandered in subsidies about £500,000. [An HON. MEMBER: More.] He always liked to be moderate and put things low, but say £600,000. He did 1221 hope that the Secretary to the Admiralty and the First Lord of the Admiralty would no longer so absolutely believe in their naval experts, and that they would look into every item of the Naval Estimates and take off about £10,000,000 per annum, while leaving the Navy quite as efficient.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
said he was not concerned to defend the Admiralty of the Government with which he was connected ten years ago, but when they came into office they found the system in existence, and of recent creation. He had given his own impression of what his colleagues thought of it. Allusion had been made by the hon. Gentleman below the gangway and the hon. Member for Northampton to the delusions of naval experts, but he only rose for the purpose of emphasising the question put by the hon. Member for Devonport as to what was the nature of the new policy. They were entitled to know what was the nature of the new policy adumbrated in the First Lord's statement, and also whether the Cunard agreement was to be taken as a type of the new cruiser contract to replace the contract which had been abolished. He hoped the hon. Gentleman would give an answer before the Motion was withdrawn.
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said that the Cunard agreement was not now under discussion; but every agreement made with shipowners with regard to subsidies in the future would be on the condition that they would be paid for something in addition to that which the Admiralty could obtain in the ordinary course by a mercantile arrangement. He was not prepared to make any statement as to the terms of future agreements with shipowners.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
aid that before withdrawing his Amendment he might be allowed to express his gratificacation, and also his surprise, that the step which he took with the expectation that he should be called a mutineer had been followed with such satisfactory results. The Admiralty, however, having come to the conclusion to abolish those agreements, found they could not do it for two or three years.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said that all who were connected with the Admiralty were tarred with the same brush; but if the hon. Gentleman opposite when he was at the Admiralty had given notice to terminate those agreements, he himself should not have been obliged to force the Government to accept dictation as to their policy from King's Lynn. Repentance had now followed the evil doing; but he was still afraid. If the Admiralty had made up their minds to give up this policy, they should give up the Cunard and Morgan agreements. He would be compelled to move a reduction later if any new agreement were entered into with the Cunard Company or the Morgan Syndicate on account of speed, as that was now more attainable by the Admiralty themselves. He therefore urged that instead of a day being given to discuss the Cunard and Morgan agreements, the agreements should be abandoned. If not, he could promise the Government would have serious trouble in the future. He was much obliged to his hon. friend for the way in which he had reconsidered his proposal, and he asked leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said he would now endeavour to make some reply to the many hon. Members who had spoken in regard to this section of Vote 8. He did not propose to reply on the question of general policy which had been raised in almost identical terms on four occasions. He could add nothing to what he had said on those former occasions. His views on the question of an international arrangement were perfectly well known, and as far as his voice was concerned, his hon. friend the Member for Dundee knew the sense in which his opinion would be given. He would confine himself to matters which were strictly germane to that section of the Vote. With regard to the insertion in the 1223 Estimates for this year of the contribution in aid by the Colonial Governments, his hon. friend seemed to imply that the Admiralty should be censured.
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
At any rate his hon. friend criticised the matter. But he thought the Committee would see that when the representatives of these great colonies had given undertakings in the names of their Governments, so far as they were able to do so, it would have been a grave discourtesy, to say the least of it, on the part of the Board of Admiralty, if they had taken no notice of those undertakings and had made no reference to them in the Estimates for the year. The Admiralty therefore inserted these figures and also a statement, which could leave no doubt as to the conditions on which they appeared, pointing out that in certain cases the contribution was dependent upon the constitutional confirmation of the undertaking of the Prime Minister by the Parliament of the colony concerned. His hon. friend the Member for Gateshead referred to the increase in the amount for repairs; but he thought his hon. friend had indulged, to say the least of it, in a slight exaggeration. His hon. friend said that nearly £1,000,000 of the additional amount required for repairs was due to the policy of putting water-tube boilers into ships. He was not going into the question of water-tube boilers now; but he should like to point out that whereas the whole number of ships with water-tube boilers to be repaired, including three or four small sloops, was only eighteen, the number of ships which had cylindrical boilers was fifty-three. Therefore, it was an exaggeration of a very extreme kind to suggest that the addition to the Repairs Vote was due in any large proportion to repairs to water-tube boilered ships. He thought the Committee ought to be informed of the proportion. He frankly admitted that the amount for repairs was very high indeed, but he was prepared to justify it. The Board of Admiralty had adopted a policy which had already commended itself to the House and the country, of 1224 striking a large number of ineffective ships off the Navy List every year. Pari passu with that procedure they had adopted the policy of making every ship which they retained on the List effective for war. He believed they would all agree that it was no use keeping ships on the List if they were not effective for war. Whether certain ships should have been more frequently repaired or not he did not say; but the policy of the present Board of Admiralty was that no ship should be retained on the List which was not prepared to go to war. They had adopted this system of large repairs with a definite object and aim, and they believed that they were within measurable distance of accomplishing it, and that by the end of twelve months from the present date they would have a larger proportion of ships in perfect repair than they had ever possessed before. They would then be in a position to make unhindered progress with the new building programme. Therefore, he did not apologise for the magnitude of the Repairs Vote. The hon. Member for Chester had made a sharp attack on the Admiralty under an entire misapprehension. The hon. Member represented that the Admiralty were lamentably uninformed in regard to what was going on in other countries, and that they required to be told by the newspapers what was taking place in foreign dockyards. There was no foundation for that statement. The hon. Member had called attention to the omission from the Return, which had been presented to the House on the Motion of his right hon. friend the Member for the Forest of Dean, of any of the projected Russian ships. The explanation was perfectly simple. They had followed the precedent which had been followed on previous occasions. Ships were inserted in the List which were actually announced as projected in the way in which such announcements are usually made in constitutional countries, or for which money had been voted, or with which progress had been made. None of those conditions applied to these Russian ships, and for those reasons they were not included. But the Committee must not suppose that the Admiralty were not as well informed as the hon. Member's informant 1225 as to what was contemplated in regard to Russian shipbuilding. All the facts and all the rumours to which the hon. Member had referred were perfectly well known to the Board of Admiralty. With regard to the large programme which the hon. Member attributed to Russia, these ships had not been laid down, and he might be certain that when any progress was made the Admiralty would be informed.
The whole of the ships which were contemplated had been taken into account by the Admiralty in framing the programme which they had submitted to the House. It was conceivable that the programme which they were led to believe was contemplated by Russia might be accelerated in a way they did not anticipate. There might be some great development in the rapidity of Russian shipbuilding, there might be some expansion of the Russian yards—of which at present they saw no signs—which would upset their calculations; but he could assure the hon. Member that the House of Commons would not be left long in ignorance of the fact if such a fact did arise. He could assure the hon. Member for Portsmouth, who had discussed a matter of great importance to his constituents, that the policy of entrusting a large amount of Admiralty work to contractors outside the dockyards was one followed with a full appreciation of the desirability, he might say the necessity, of keeping the royal dockyards full of work. If his hon. friend desired to prove the sincerity of that intention, and the ability of the Admiralty to give effect to that intention, he had only to look at the wages bill in the great dockyards, and especially in that which he represented, to see that there had been no falling off in the activity of the Admiralty in respect of dockyard work. He did not think he need discuss now the question of subsidies raised by the hon. Member for King's Lynn. If at some future time the hon. Member found it necessary to move further in the matter, he had no doubt there would be some one in his place who would be competent to deal with the subject. He should like to say, in passing, that he did not make the admission which had been attributed to him, that the prede- 1226 cessors of the present Board were in error in what they did in this matter. It was, he thought, the inevitable law of naval progress that the time must come for a change of policy. At the time these merchant cruisers were first adopted as part of the Royal Navy they were the fastest ships afloat. Our own cruisers could not have beaten them, nor even have touched them, either in endurance or in speed. There were then no armoured cruisers, or practically none, in existence; but with the improvements in armaments and projectiles, especially in the quick-firing gun, and the use of high explosives, which had been introduced since this policy came into effect, there had been a radical change from the conditions which then existed. It was not, however, his business to deal with that aspect of the case. He only stated the fact to explain the view taken by the present Board of Admiralty. He agreed with the hon. Member for Sheffield that it was desirable that everything should be done to meet the convenience of the private trade with regard to armour, and the Admiralty were doing, and in the past two years had done, what they could to meet that convenience. But his hon. friend knew very well that there were conditions which over-rode any desire of that kind, that the course of ship-building was the prevailing factor in the situation, and that they must order the armour with some relation to the building progress. He thought his hon. friend had no reason to complain, because he believed he was correct in saying that the practice of deferring ships in a particular programme for twelve and eighteen months after the date at which they were mentioned in that House had been departed from during the present year, and he thought the Board of Admiralty would make a still further departure from that practice in the coming year. His hon. friend had referred to the delay which had taken place, but he thought he ought to have confined his statement to the armoured cruisers of the "Devonshire" class.
§ MR. JAMES HOPE (Sheffield, Brightside)
said he only referred to what happened last year; he did not make 1227 a general statement. He merely said some of the work of the previous year was sixteen months in arrear.
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said though there was an initial delay in laying down those ships, he had reason to believe that the rate of progress was now very rapid, and that, barring that initial delay, amounting to two-and-a-half months in some cases, the anticipations which had been formed with regard to the completion of those ships would be realised. Before he concluded his remarks he would like to mention that there was a slight alteration in the Naval Programme as announced to the House. A small sum, £17,000, was taken in the original programme for building three third-class cruisers. The Board of Admiralty, in view of the experiments—and they were experiments—which were being made with the new scouts, preferred to postpone the commencement of these three ships and to and to devote that small sum of money to accelerating other work, reserving to themselves the decision of whether this particular design should be completed in the light of the experience they hoped to gain.
§ SIR WILLIAM ALLAN
said the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty had stated that he (Sir William) had exaggerated. If that were so he could not help it as the Estimates appeared to be quite plain. He would, however, clear up the matter from the Estimates. The increase in the repairs, if the amount for the armour was deducted in the two items for 1902–3, and for this year, would be found to be £1,000,663. Therefore it could not be said that his statement was an exaggeration.
§ SIR FORTESCUE FLANNERY
said the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty had not, so far as he had seen, replied to the question of whether it would be advisable in place of one naval attaché for Rome and St. Petersburg to have one in each country, having regard to the announcements that had been made in the House that Russia was building ships in excess of her published programme. He thought 1228 such a change would be of great benefit to this country. Another omission of his hon. friend was that he had dealt in only a single sentence with the point raised by the hon. Baronet the Member for Gateshead, who had for the last two years steadfastly retrained from repeating the allegations which he had made for the last eight years as to the policy of the Admiralty of boilering the fleet. The reason he had refrained from referring, to that well-worn subject was that he desired the Admiralty to have the experience of all the experiments of the Boiler Committee. What had been the conduct of the Admiralty in regard to the recommendations of their own Boiler Committee? Those recommendations might be summed up in a single sentence. They were that the Admiralty should seek to find an efficient water-tube boiler by investigations and experiments. What had they done? Every new ship, first-class battleship, cruiser and vessel of smaller size, had been fitted as a matter of course with water-tube boilers of one kind or another, and to-day there was not a ship under design at the Admiralty or under construction in the dockyards or in private yards that was not for the most part fitted with this type of boiler. Having regard to the history of the boiler question, and having regard to the fact that Lord Goschen appointed the Boiler Committee, he thought more respect should have been paid to the recommendations of the Committee.
The matter could not be dismissed by a mere allusion to the reiterated statements of the hon. Member for Gateshead, while the Admiralty continued to fit His Majesty's ships, as a matter of course, with this type of boiler. The hon. Member had attempted to defend the policy of the Admiralty in connection with the "Hyacinth." The matter of thirty-eight minutes referred to might be important in strategy, but, in his opinion, endurance, reliability, and increased range were much more important. At one having responsibility in similar matters, he was convinced that the Admiralty were pursuing a foolish and dangerous policy in boilering new ships with a type of boiler of which the experience had been very unfavourable. The reasons urged in favour of such 1229 boilers were mainly considerations of weight, and the increase of offensive and defensive power made possible upon a given displacement by reason of the saving in weight. But the fact that these boilers were less economical with coal completely disposed of those reasons, because the extra coal required was at least equivalent to the saving of weight in the boilers. The Admiralty, when they determined a year or so ago to fit new vessels with one-fifth of the old and well-known type of boiler, and four-fifths of these new, and comparatively experimental, boilers, took a step in the right direction, but they had not gone far enough. He pleaded with the Government to consider whether they had really given effect, in letter and in spirit, to the recommendations of the Boiler Committee, those recommendations being substantially to the effect that the Admiralty should hold their hands before irrevocably committing His Majesty's ships to propulsion by boilers which had hitherto not proved themselves capable of the necessary endurance.
§ MR. KEARLEY
said the policy laid down by the Secretary to the Admiralty, of at once clearing off the 1st all obsolete ships, and bringing the remainder up to an efficient condition for war, was one with which they all cordially agreed. A single glance at the Estimates, however, revealed the fact that there had been an enormous increase in the expenditure for repairs, most only in the Government yards, but also in the yards of outside contractors. Under Section E last year the amount voted for repairs in contractors' yards was £175,000, this year it had increased to £722,000. As he had before stated, the Admiralty had pursued a very wise policy in regard to ships built by contract in insisting that they should be finished at the contractor's yard, instead of being brought round to the dockyards, as was the old practice—a course which occasioned a great waste both of time and money. With regard to the repairs, he desired to direct attention to the principle on which the Admiralty were working. The working basis was that, when these ships were sent to the 1230 contractor's yard for repairs, no contract price was asked for, but the Admiralty guaranteed a profit of 20 per cent. for wear-and-tear expenses, and, in addition, a clear profit of 10 per cent. to the contractor. He did not now intend to argue whether the 10 per cent. or the 20 per cent. was excessive or not, but he wished to emphasise the fact that in this new departure of sending ships in such numbers to contractors for repairs the Government should adhere to the policy that they had exercised in their own dockyards for so many years—viz., that, prior to any repair being undertaken an estimate was asked for and was expected to be adhered to, and in the majority of cases the estimate was not exceeded. He was informed that the policy in the contract yards was altogether different, and he thought they ought to have an assurance from the Government that they would insist on contractors giving estimates in the same way as their own yards. There had been rather a newspaper agitation on behalf of contractors with a view to inducing a great proportion of work to go their way instead of to the dockyards. Aspersions had been cast upon the quality and quantity of work turned out in the Royal yards, and suggesting that the Admiralty sent work to contractors' yards because they could get better results and at better prices. He denied that, but he would like to have the opinion of the Secretary to the Admiralty on the point. Was it a fact that the quality, quantity, and price of the work was inferior in any shape or form to that produced by contract work?
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said he was not concerned to reply to anonymous criticisms of which he had not before heard. The Admiralty were satisfied with the work of the Royal Dockyards, and every effort was being made to keep it up to the high standard of the past. The system of sending ships for repairs to contractors' yards had become necessary, because it was not possible, with advantage to the service, to repair all the ships in the dockyards. The practice of proceeding on a schedule of prices greatly commended itself to the Admiralty. He 1231 believed that nothing would be gained, but that a great deal would be lost, by insisting on prices being given in every case where a ship was sent to a contractor's yard for repairs. It was true that provisional estimates were given in the dock yards, but it was also true that if those estimates were exceeded or not attained nothing happened. The ships had to be repaired, and there was no question of profit or loss, although it was desirable, of course, to keep the work as close to the estimate as possible. A contractor was not in a position to make an accurate estimate as to the amount of repairs a ship required. Looking at the outside of the ship, he could not tell the nature of the work that would have to be undertaken. So self-evident was this proposition that it had commended itself to a large proportion of the mercantile firms of the country, and the Admiralty were working on precisely the same terms as were agreed to by the mercantile firms who entered into business arrangements with the same yards. In face of that fact, the hon. Member could hardly sustain the proposition that by adopting this course, which had the approval of expert authorities, and presented the great advantage that it eased the pressure on the dockyards, the Admiralty were losing money and being cheated in a manner which private firms were not. On the contrary, the Admiralty believed they were getting value for their money, and greatly helping the service of the country.
§ MR. KEARLEY
said he did not say there was any question of cheating; he merely contended that it was not business to spend money in that way.
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said he would withdraw the word "cheating". But if it were not a business-like course to pursue, firms which had to strike a profit or loss on the year's trading certainly would not adopt it. In this case the Admiralty were simply doing what had so often been urged upon them—viz., that they should follow the lines adopted by persons working for commercial profit.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ 2. £3,206,100, Naval Armaments.1232
§ *MR. REGINALD LUCAS
reminded the Secretary to the Admiralty of the point to which he drew his attention sometime ago, and that was the desirability of putting a number of hired men in the gun wharf on the establishment. The matter was not a large one, as there were only a few whom the concession would affect, but the principle involved was an important one.
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
replied that the Admiralty were at the present moment engaged in a very careful inquiry into the question, but he was not at present able to let him know the result of it.
§ 3. £69,400, Scientific Services.
§ 4. £116,400, for Educational Services.
§ *MR. REGINALD LUCAS
said there was another case to which he had frequently drawn the attention of his hon. friend—viz., the case of the schoolmasters. Perhaps the Secretary to the Admiralty would take the opportunity of stating when he was likely to be able to give the House any information on the decision the Admiralty had come to.
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
feared that he could not give his hon. friend any information about the schoolmasters.
§ 5. £297,500, Royal Naval Reserves.
§ 6. £409,500, Miscellaneous Effective Services.
§ *MR. REGINALD LUCAS
asked what happened in the case of a naval disaster like the "Condor" and "Cobia," and what compensation was paid to men for loss of kit and private property.
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
replied that if the losses of officers and men were sustained while on duty all the equipment necessary to enable the losers to re-equip themselves for the service was replaced, but in cases where the articles were not necessary they were expected to make their own insurance in regard to them.
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said the hon. Member's suspicions were not well founded, because the increase was due to a transfer of items from other Votes. The item for travelling expenses of civil and military officers had been transferred to this Vote, where it did not appear last year.
§ MR. BUCHANAN (Perthshire, E.)
said there was in this Vote an appropriation in aid from the Australian Commonwealth. He wished to know if since this subject was last before the Committee any decision had been come to in regard to this matter by the Australian Commonwealth. Upon a previous occasion he called attention to the fact that the insertion in the Naval Estimates of these colonial appropriations in aid of Naval expenditure were purely fictitious. No definite binding agreement had been come to with Australia, and yet they found in the various Votes these appropriations in aid definitely credited to the benefit of the British Admiralty. So far as he was aware the Australian Commonwealth had never entered into any agreement upon this point.
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said he was sorry the hon. Member was not present when he dealt with this question. The statement which the hon. Member thought ought to be inserted appeared on the Estimates. In answer to the hon. Member for Dundee he had explained the reasons which induced the Board of Admiralty to insert these sums in the Estimates for the current year. The reason was that it might have been thought discourteous to the Colonial Premiers who had given these undertakings if they made no reference to the matter in the Naval Estimates.
§ 7. £306,400, Admiralty Office.
§ MR. LOUGH
said he should like an explanation of the increase in this Vote. He should like an explanation of the item of £116,000 for travelling expenses. 1234 There was also an increase of £23,000 in the department of the Controller of the Navy, or altogether a net increase of about £30,000. Perhaps the Secretary to the Admiralty would explain why the travelling expenses dropped out this year, and why the expenditure in the department of the Controller had been increased by £23,000. That was a substantial increase, amounting to nearly 10 per cent.
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said he should have thought that an explanation in regard to the travelling expenses was quite unnecessary, because he had already pointed out that those expenses had been transferred to Vote 11, and therefore they could not appear on both Votes. He admitted that the increase in the Controller's department was substantial. The increase of the work undertaken by the Controller to the Navy had been gigantic, and the hon. Member himself, who was constantly complaining of the increase, was the best witness to that fact. The manipulation of these large sums of money and their proper allocation could not be satisfactorily supervised except by a competent staff. Considering the vast amount of work which had been put upon the Controller of the Admiralty he thought his staff was still inadequate for the work.
§ MR. BUCHANAN
asked if this great increase in the work was due to the new policy of doing so much work by contract. He was inclined to think that this new policy had entailed the creation of a new and very expensive sub-department of the Admiralty.
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said he did not think that was quite a justifiable statement, for this was not a new department, but simply an extension of the Controller's office. A large amount of additional work had to be done, and the Admiralty had to decide whether that work could be done at the Government dockyards. It was found necessary to transfer the work to the contractors. He believed that every officer in the Admiralty would bear him out when he said that they had effected considerable economy by taking this course by relieving the congestion of the dockyards, and, besides this, the work would be done in a shorter time. 1235 He would remind the hon. Member that there was nothing peculiar about this matter. There had always been a staff in connexion with the contract yards to supervise the building of ships. With the extension of that system to contract yards for repairing ships, it had become necessary to increase the staff of the Department. This was not the sole reason for the increase, because there had been an increase of the work all round.
§ MR. LOUGH
said they were glad to receive that explanation. These Committees never recommended economy in any shape or form. Their inquiries always led to some additional expenditure. It had been shown in the discussion that the Admiralty were giving out a great deal more on contract than before, and that was the reason why this additional expense was being incurred.
§ MR. LOUGH
Well, a portion of it. Probably within the next year or two more work would be done in the dockyards and less given out on contract. He asked whether this was to be a permanent increase of expenditure, or whether there was any elasticity about it. At a time when it was necessary to give out £3,000,000 more work on contract than formerly it was quite reasonable that there should be £20,000 more spent on the supervision of the work, but supposing this policy should be changed, and that it should become unnecessary to give out so much, had any arrangement been made by which a saving could be effected? He thought the expenses of public Departments formed an element in the general extravagance of the country which they should look after very closely.
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said that if a great change of policy took place in the future there would be no difficulty in reducing the staff employed in connection with the contract yards.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
said he wished to make a suggestion. He thought it would be advisable not to 1236 press on the Report Stage of these Votes at once, because he understood that something was to be said by the First Lord which they ought to have an opportunity of discussing.
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said that neither the hon. Member nor himself had any right to anticipate what the First Lord would say. He did not quite recognise the force of the hon. Gentleman's reason for the suggestion he had made, but, if it was desired, the Report Stage might be allowed to remain over for a little.