HC Deb 16 March 1903 vol 119 cc873-5

It has been already stated in this House, and any hon. Member who is familiar with our dockyards knows that the congestion in the dockyards has become very serious, and that the work of repairing our ships has become, I do not say more than the Royal dockyards can undertake, but more than they can effectively undertake in addition to the other work that is thrown upon them. It has now become the accepted policy of the Admiralty to send out a very large number of ships to be repaired in private or contract yards. That is a policy which I foreshadowed last year, and which, since last year, has come into active effect. I believe we are being repaid amply for the step which we have taken. In the first place, we are creating in the great contract yards a knowledge of work in connection with warships—a knowledge which we believe will be invaluable if ever we should be involved in war. There is much to learn, even by the most skilled contriver of vessels and appliances for mercantile use, when he comes to deal with the equipment and of a warship; and this knowledge is now being disseminated amongst our great private dockyards. We have committed ourselves to the system, which is not altogether, but almost, new in the Navy, of allowing these ships to be repaired on a schedule of prices—that is to say, not too closely estimating beforehand the nature of repairs, but taking care,—relying partly on our own inspectors and partly on the good faith and self-interest of the contractors, to get a correct estimate of the amount of repair work which is to be done, at the contractor's yard itself. Hon. Members will see at once that there is an advantage in that system. You may take a ship in the dockyard and you may make an estimate of what repairs she will require by an inspection of the outside; but it requires something in the nature of a post-mortem examination to get at the real facts of the matter. The result is that, if you do not have some such system as we have adopted, you will get the dockyard authorities estimating for every kind of eventuality that may be conceived in regard to the ship, and, naturally, the contract is given for the carrying out of the whole of that work, which may or may not be necessary, and when she gets into the contractor's yard more work, or less, may become necessary than that which has been stipulated for by the dockyard authorities. That is, undoubtedly, an expensive and cumbrous system. But now we are sending ships to the contract yards, they arc examined then and there, the defects which actually exist are reported upon by the contractors, and those defects are remedied under the eye of our inspectors by the contractors themselves. It is too early as yet for me to be able to give the House the result of this experiment; but I believe, from the information which I already have, that the experiment is one which is going to be justified economically, and that we shall have no addition to the expense which would have been involved had the work been done in the Royal dockyards. I am already quite certain of this, that it is amply justified by the ease it has given us in our dockyards, and by the rapidity with which the work is done in the contract yards, but I am not yet in a position to give all the details the House has aright to ask for, and which it will in due course receive.

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