MR. YERBERGH (Chester)
To ask the Secretary to the Admiralty whether, in view of the fact that on 23rd July next, there will be two slips vacant at Devonport, both suitable for building a battleship, he will explain what is the necessity which compels the Admiralty to defer the laying down of the battleships of this year's programme until April, 1904.
(Answered by Mr. Arnold-Forster.) The battleships for the current year, 1903–4, will be commenced at an early date, and will be built by contract. The ships which it is expected will be laid down in the dockyards will belong to a later programme.
§ MR. YERBURGH
To ask the Secretary to the Admiralty whether all the battleships of the 1902–3 programme† See (4) Debates, cxxi., 647.61 have been laid down, and what was the earliest date on which any one of such ships was laid down; and whether any of the battleships of the 1903–4 programme will be laid down before April 1904; and what is the average time that elapses from the date of the preparation of any one year's Estimates before any of the battleships proposed in the said year's Estimates are laid down.
(Answered by Mr. Arnold-Forster) Both the battleships of the 1902–3 programme have been laid down, the "Hindustan" on the 25th October, 1902, and the "New Zealand" on the 9th February, 1903. It is anticipated that the battleships of the 1903–4 programme will also be laid down well, before the conclusion of the financial year. The average time that has elapsed in recent years between the date of the announcement of the Naval programme to Parliament and the laying down of any of the battleships comprised in that programme has been about ten months; but, as I have stated on other occasions, the Board of Admiralty consider it is not desirable that these long intervals should continue to occur, and it is their desire to return to the system under which the laying down of vessels proposed in any year shall follow closely upon Parliamentary sanction being received. If the hon. Member will refer to the dates on which vessels have been laid down during the past three years and those on which it is proposed to lay down vessels now sanctioned, or in contemplation, lie will observe that great progress has already been made in the direction described.