HC Deb 16 March 1903 vol 119 cc865-9

Now, I come to the question which I know will be probably the principal matter of contention with regard to our proposals this year; and as I know it is to be a matter of contention, I do not desire to detain the House very long now in discussing these proposals in detail. I allude to the new scheme of training which we propose to introduce into the whole of the Fleet. I think it would be unprofitable for me to occupy the time of the House by explaining in advance that which will be attacked I am sure with great ability and knowledge after I have spoken. Probably it will be more satisfactory if I endeavour to reply to the points which may be raised rather than to anticipate them before they are brought before the House. But at the same time think I must make some explanation of what is a very important and very far-reaching, and, what I venture to believe, will be a very salutary change in the organisation of the Navy. It is a remarkable circumstance in regard to the new scheme, that in the Estimates I am about to present to the House it figures for a very small sum of money indeed, and the changes contemplated are in no sense represented by the amount of the sums involved by their adoption. The changes, as I have stated, are very important. I should rather like, at the outset, to remove one misconception—namely, that this new scheme applies exclusively I the officers of the Navy. It is of the essence of these changes that they recognise one great and overmastering fact in regard to the whole of the Naval Service, and constitute an honest endeavour to recognise the change from the old method of sailing to the new method of machinery, a change which has affected not only the officers but every rating in the Navy from top to bottom. It would have been a very incomplete and unsatisfactory scheme if it had been confined to the system of training of naval officers only. I do not know whether some hon. Members have exercised their imagination, or brought their imagination to the assistance of their knowledge to the same extent that I have been compelled to do. I have endeavoured to realise what the magnitude and extent of this change has been. I trust that the House will bear with me if I read what I believe to be a very illuminating presentment of the change, written by a distinguished naval officer, which puts the matter in its true light. That officer says— Everything in the modern Fleet is done by machinery, be it steam, hydraulic, compressed air, electricity, to which will probably he added, in the near future, explosive oil and liquid air. Not only are the ships propelled solely by machinery, but they are steered by machinery. Their principle arms—gun and torpedo—are worked by machinery. They are lit by machinery, the water used by those on board for drinking, cooking, and washing, is produced by machinery; messages which were formerly transmitted by voice-pipe, low go by telephone. The orders which the Admiral wishes to give to the Fleet could formerly only be made by Hags in the day and lamps at night: they are now made by electricity, that is, wireless telegraphy and electric flashing lamps. Orders which were formerly written out by hand are now produced by typewriter or by the printing machine. Formerly the Admiral visited another ship in his pulling barge; now he goes in a steam-boat. The anchor, formerly hove up by hand, is now worked by an engine. The live bullocks which were formerly taken to sea are now replaced by frozen carcasses maintained in that condition by machinery. If a fire breaks out in the ship the steam pumps drown it. If the ship springs a leak, steam pumps keep down the water. The very air that those on board between decks breathe is provided by a fan driven by machinery.

I make no apology for quoting that passage, for it is a very striking illustration of what has taken place. Now, what we want to do in view of that new state of things is to bring back that homogeneity in the ship's company which existed in the time of sails. In the old days there was a military element on board ship, which had nothing to do with navigating the ship. The naval officer then assumed the military duties. There was also a separate navigating class. Afterwards the duty of the navigating officer was made part of the duty of the executive officer of the ship. That is the kind of transformation we wish once more to effect. To do that, we believe that there is only one way, and that is to give a common training, a common entry and a common instruction to all the officers who have to take a place in the command of a ship. There is much more in these matters than the mere introduction of competent mechanics into the ship. I do not underrate the value of machinery, or the men who drive it or understand it; but above all that, when you have got these competent machinists, and these engineers, something very important is lacking, and that is the naval officer. The naval officer, who, like every other officer, is compelled to take his life in his hands in the presence of the enemy, is a special creation involving the possession of very high and exceptional qualities. You may find men who, though masters of the engineering art, may fail most lamentably in many of the circumstances in which a naval officer may expect to find himself placed. It is no blame to the engineer or the machinist that that portion of his training necessary for service in the Fleet in the time of war, has been neglected. We are therefore brought to this conclusion, that we must combine the training of all the officers in a manner which will retain those great qualities of the naval officer which we, in this country, have so much reason to appreciate.

Then there is another question. Having determined on this sound principle, we have to decide whether we will take your officer young or old—and when I say old I mean after having completed his education on shore. That is a point on which there may be very just difference of opinion. There are continental countries where the system of education on shore is exceedingly complete, and where the latter principle is adopted. For instance, in Germany a naval officer passes through an ordinary school, and passes his leaving examination before he enters on his work as a commissioned officer in the Fleet. The other alternative is one that has always commended itself to the people of this country, and to which I am inclined to think there is a vast amount of favourable consideration to be given. That is to inure your naval officer to the sea from the earliest moment. I am not going to argue the matter, but the Admiralty in the exercise of its judgment have arrived at the conclusion, which, I believe, is shared by almost every naval officer, that the method of entering our officers young is best for the service of the Fleet. Given these two principles—first, that you must educate the naval officer to make use of his powers; and second, that you must enter him young—I think that a great portion of the scheme now presented to the country is the natural outgrowth of these two principles. It will, I believe, be felt by lion. Members of the House very much interested in the engineering branch in the Navy that, by coming to that conclusion, we have done much to meet the views they have expressed in this House. We hope we have done this; but I am bound to say that that has not been the prevailing motive for this change. It has been dictated by other and even more important considerations. However, I do ask of them to refer to the pledges which I gave at this Table last year on behalf of the Board of Admiralty, and I think they will admit that we have borne in mind those pledges and have given effect to the promises I made that the professional career of the officers entering the Navy in the engineering branch would receive consideration and would secure to them the same opportunities of a career as are open to all other officers serving the King. I will not now pursue this matter beyond stating that I am quite confident that whatever criticism may be raised in regard to this new scheme of entering officers, everything will depend upon the scheme of education which we adopt finally for the instruction of these young entrants.

It is a very great responsibility for the Board of Admiralty to take a boy at the age of twelve and to undertake his education. Of this I am certain, that unless we do our best by consultation with the wisest heads and the most competent authorities outside the walls of the Admiralty—for, after all, the general education of a gentleman is not a specialty of the Admiralty, although we think we could give a very good education—if we do not take every step to secure the best opinion as to the course of education we ought to give these young officers, we shall fail in our duty. But I can give the House this assurance that we are so conscious of the importance of this educational side that we are taking every measure within our power to develop all these courses, from the preliminary course to the last and most advanced course of the education of the engineer officer, by the guidance, and with the good will, of experts in educational theory and of those who are actively engaged in the practice of education throughout the country. Above all, I believe that the final course for the engineers is the one which will have to be considered with the very greatest care. We are told that the time will come when officers will be called upon to differentiate between the two branches of the service—between the more popular service on deck and the engineering service—and that there will then be a distaste for the engineering branch. I do not believe it. I believe that those who speak in that way view the future condition of things through the spectacles of to-day. I believe that if we give, as we intend to give, to these young officers an engineering education second to none which can be given at their age; if we accustom them to the practice of the theory and practice of engineering between the ages of twelve and nineteen, and if we give them a distinguished profession in His Majesty's service, we shall have no difficulty whatever in inducing these young officers to select this branch of the service. On the contrary, I am quite certain that there will be a readiness on the part of these young officers to avail themselves of the enormous advantages which we shall offer them. But a great deal will depend upon the character of the education which we give them; and I should like to tell the House on some other occasion why it is so important that the last stage of the education of the engineer should be such as will put him on an equality with engineers in other ranks of life.