HC Deb 16 March 1903 vol 119 cc861-3

I hope I am consulting the convenience of the House in following precedent by making my statement on the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair. I do not wish to dogmatise, but I do think it is most convenient that I should say what I have to say as to the general proposals of the Board of Admiralty, leaving particular portions of those proposals to be reviewed by lion. Members who have given notices of Amendments. I have to present to the House Navy Estimates of a magnitude, I believe, unparalleled in peace or war. I do so as the official representative of a great Department; but I do not forfeit my position as a private citizen; and as a citizen I cannot help sharing the regret, which I am sure every Member of the House must feel, that the bitter competition and rivalry among the nations continues, and makes this enormous, unproductive expenditure a necessary burden. I think we shall all agree in feeling that if the word of power could be spoken which would call a halt, and cause a discontinuance of the rivalry among the nations of Europe, we and they would benefit in the highest degree. Perhaps I have said more than I ought to say as representing the Admiralty on this subject; but I desire to make it clear to the House that which is my opinion, and I believe that of every member of the Board of Admiralty, that we take no pride in, that we profess no exultation over, the magnitude of these Estimates; and I think the depth of our feeling in the matter may be taken as the measure of our conviction, that these Estimates, large as they are, are necessary in the circumstances in which we live; and the only way in which we hope to commend them to the House of Commons is by proving, as we can, that the money voted so lavishly in the past has been satisfactorily and effectively expended for the purposes for which it was voted, and by showing that the money which may be voted will be so expended in the future. That, I think, is the only satisfactory justification we can put forward for this enormous expenditure; we must prove that it is necessary; we must show that it has been, and will be, well spent. I know that the system has not been tested. It is true, as is often said, that the expenditure and policy of the Admiralty have never been put to the test and trial of a great naval war. I am sure it is the fact that the Board of Admiralty are under no illusion as to the depth and the intensity of the responsibility that rests upon them; and I can assure the House that the spirit that prevails there is not alien to that existing in the country. They are united in the endeavour to meet future exigencies and deeply conscious of the responsibilities they have to bear. I have to call the attention of the House to the figures that make up this enormous Estimate. The total Vote shows an excess over the Vote of last year of over £3,000,000 sterling. The personnel, which is of first importance, shows an increase of 4,600 over the Vote of last year, and the Votes by which we can best measure the amount of actual addition to the strength of the Navy—Votes 8 and 9 for material, shipbuilding, guns, and gun mountings—have been increased by no less than £2,000,000 sterling, or if we add, as we ought to add, the appropriation of grants-in-aid, the gross increase is £2,271,224. Hitherto, as has been pointed out, a very small amount has been devoted to what is technically known as the "new programme" as apart from new construction, and a very small part of the cost of entirely new ships has come into the financial year. It has become the practice of successive Boards of Admiralty to defer expenditure on the new programme to a late date in the year in respect of which it is voted, and to a certain extent the amount has become illusory in respect to that particular year. I do not know that when the practice is understood much harm is done, for it is pretty clear we are voting a year in advance; but I am not sure that it is altogether an advantage that the practice should continue, and during the present year we are adding £451,430 to the Vote for the new programme, thus showing that we are taking steps to do away with the practice of making the Vote for the now programme in any particular year an illusory Vote. We are taking £1,151,430 for new programme work during the coming year, and I hope this will be the amount we shall spend.

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