HC Deb 16 March 1903 vol 119 cc877-8

With regard to the distribution of our Fleets, we have had many mentors, and we have been told a great deal as to how we ought to distribute our Fleets, and what they ought to be composed of. One of the most pressing recommendations was that we should send to the Mediterranean a great many ships which did not exist, and it was my duty to represent to the House that we could not deal with non-existent vessels. But we stated that in due course we should send the new ships. We have carried out that intention. We have never faltered, and I am sure the House will be glad to know that, as the new ships came on, we have utilised them for strengthening the squadrons throughout the world. We have, moreover arranged for a redistribution of those squadrons which will be, I believe, in the interests of efficiency. We have actually added, not only to the numbers, but undoubtedly to the quality, of these great Fleets. The Mediterranean Fleet has now two additional battleships, an additional cruiser, and an additional destroyer. But the addition in numbers by no means represents the addition to the value due to the homogeneous character of the squadrons which we now have in the Channel and the Mediterranean, and which we shall have shortly in the Home Fleet. The constitution of the Home Fleet itself, I think, is a measure which is calculated to give confidence to hon. Members, who have felt, perhaps justly felt, that the attribution of the Channel Fleet to other duties might sometimes impair the value of the defence force in home waters. There is no doubt that the constitution of the Home Fleet is a notable addition to our Naval force.