HC Deb 16 March 1903 vol 119 cc941-78

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Main Question [16th March], "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

Main Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.

MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)

The Motion which I put upon the Paper, and which I should have been glad to move if there had been an opportunity of doing so, was couched in language used by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer in September last in an important speech which he made at Bristol. In the course of that speech Sir Michael Hicks-Beach said that, having regard to the expenditure during the last seven years on the Navy, he saw no need for the large expenditure for construction this year. That was advice given to the Government by a great authority, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, advice to which the Government might well defer, and the Estimates which we are considering to-night are the reply to that advice. Those Estimates are £34,500,000 against £31,000,000 last year. The Estimates this year are the largest that have ever been presented to the country. For years past we have been increasing the Navy, but never were there such rapid strides as during the last six years. Every year there has been an increase; in 1898 the increase was 1.8 millions, in 1899 2.5 millions, in 1900 2.2 millions, in 1901 2.1 millions. In 1902 there was practically no increase, but this year the increase is 3.2 millions, so that the reply of the Government to the advice given by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer is the largest increase they have ever made. This is another illustration of what I might almost call the defiant attitude of the Government with regard to the advice of its friends, and the feeling of the country. At the present moment the country is in need of a little rest and economy after the great efforts which it has been making, but the Government, instead of giving it that rest and economy, cast about to discover what heavy burden they could put upon it. The only standpoint from which T desire to look at this question is the stand point of economy. I consider, looking at all the circumstances of the nation, that it is not fair on the part of the Government to ask the country to make this great sacrifice on their invitation.

On one or two things we are agreed. One is that we must have a strong Navy. I believe everybody both inside and outside this House is agreed upon that, but that agreement does not carry us very far. We may all agree that the Navy must be very strong when making speeches outside with regard to it, but when we come to this House and attack this problem it becomes a question of figures, and we must discuss how much we can afford to pay. It is my right hon. friend who represents the Forest of Dean who, amongst others, has urged on the Government to make a heavy expenditure for the Navy. My right hon. friend made a very interesting speech on this matter last week, when he said he would vote for this increase with the greatest possible pleasure, and would vote also for those larger Estimates to which he looked forward in the future. But there must be a point, Mr. Speaker, at which this miserable struggle will have to stop, and as we are the leaders in this matter—as we are the great spending Power—I say it is for us to try and discover some point at which this strife with other nations may be brought to an end. The hon. Gentleman who has charge of the Estimates said he looked forward to the time when somebody on the Continent I would speak the word which would stop this vast expenditure. Who can speak that word so well as we? We have a most magnificent Navy and are the strong Power in this matter, but the Government has shown no disposition of that kind, and so this extraordinary situation has arisen.

Now on this situation I wish to make three remarks. First of all, the Government has departed entirely from the two-Power standard which, has been the traditional policy of this country for many years. The meaning of that standard is that we should build as much as, and make as much naval preparation as, the two strongest Powers may, and if we make that much preparation that argument implies that there it should stop. There has never been a discussion in this House upon that question, and it is time, if that standard is to be departed from, that the question should be discussed and decided. We are departing entirely from the two-Power standard now. I try to look at this matter in the best way possible and with the best authorities I can get, and I find from the Naval Annual this year that we have 226 effective fighting ships, as compared with France with ninety-five, Germany with sixty-five, the United States of America with sixty-two, Russia with sixty-four, Italy with thirty-seven, and Japan with thirty-two. Those are the whole of the great naval Powers, and upon the strength of those ships the House will see that we have been maintaining the two-Power standard, and rather more, because if the House will add these figures together they will see that our Fleet is as large as the joint Fleets of any three Powers. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will say that we must have regard to what other nations are doing at the present moment, so I have taken pains to ascertain the total naval expenditure of the three great Powers, France, Russia, and Germany, as compared with our expenditure. Our Estimates last year for naval expenditure were £31,255,000, those of France £12,271,000, Russia £10,341,000, and Germany £10,454,000. So that, ac cording to this test also, we are spending practically as much as these three great Powers against whom we are building. In now construction last year we spent 9.1 millions, France spent 4.4 millions, Russia 3.0 millions, and Germany 5.6 millions. So that again last year we were spending as much as any three Powers. In the face of these circumstances, what need is there for this greatly increasing expenditure? I think there is no reason. All these Powers are friendly Powers, and the disposition of the Government, and the House, and the country should be to retain and increase the friendly relations which exist between us. In France there has been a great change in the policy as regards this country. Monsieur Jaurès, the Socialist leader, at the recent elections became President of one of the high offices of the Chamber; the language of France towards us has been of the most peaceful character, and I certainly think that we should respond to this new friendly spirit. We ought to respect this friendly feeling; but when France holds out the olive branch to us, these arrangements we are making seem to me to be shaking our fist in her face in a very unneighbourly fashion. The hon. Member told us that the Mediterranean Squadron was being increased; but is not the Mediterranean a sea in which France must have profound interests I Then why should we not consult the wishes and feelings of our great and friendly neighbours, and not keep on adding in this unpleasant way. Looking at the state of France, I say there is no reason for this constant addition. It is impossible in this regard not to say a word with regard to Germany. In the King's Speech Germany was called our ally, and there are the deepest ties between Germany and this country. Then why not cultivate these friendly relations so far as the Navy is concerned? Some friends of mine attended a meeting held in Westminster some time ago, the object of which was to agitate for the strengthening of the North Sea Fleet. Such an agitation appeared to me to be merely raised to irritate a great and powerful ally. Now they tell us that although they have not got their squadron, they are perfectly satisfied because the Government are going to have a Naval Station on the North Sea. We are taking every step we can that may possibly irritate these Powers, and that is a most foolish thing for this country to do. We should cultivate friendly relations with them.

Now, with regard to Russia, I see no ground for that distrust of Russia. I have travelled over a great part of that country, and I find that she has a great land problem to occupy her for some time to come. I will say nothing about the United States, because I do not think any one will suggest that we are going to build up this immense fleet against anything the United States may do. I have quoted enough to justify me in saying that up to the present moment we maintain fully the strength of the Fleet according to the two-Power standard, and if we are prepared to face the Fleets which any of the two Powers can send against us, we are as safe now as we have been in the past. I would suggest that the Government, rather than spend this vast sum in building ships, might approach these countries and negotiate with a view to economy. Why, then, cannot we, who derive so much more advantage than France or Germany, do something to secure a peaceful solution of this great difficulty? In the speech of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, to which I have alluded, he deals with this point and gives advice, which, coming from his lips, comes with far higher authority than from any one else. He says— The safety of the country depended on our policy with regard to other nations; we should carry out the Golden Rule of doing to others as we should wish them to do to us. Whilst keeping our powder dry, let us be careful to avoid provocation, whether by word or action, and let us estimate at their true value, which was nothing, the vapourings of the sensational Press, whether at home or abroad. I commend those words to the Government as a solution of this great difficulty and avoiding this great expense. Large as these Estimates are they do not contemplate efficiency. They involve larger Estimates in the immediate future. If any one examines them they will find these Estimates open up a vista of extravagance such as this country never contemplated. Take Vote A. I am familiar, I am sorry to say, with the Estimates of the last forty years, and I find an established principle is laid down with regard to Vote A, which is that it shall be roughly one third of the whole of the Naval Estimates. In the year 1892 it was 34 per cent, of the whole, and in 1896 it was about 36 per cent., but this year it is no less than 51 per cent. £17,500,000 of the Estimates is devoted to this purpose of building new ships. Now we are going to construct a Naval base in Scotland, and when we have carried out that we cannot help seeing that that new expense opens up a vista of expense from which the country might well shrink before it is too late.

The hon. Member deals with another matter. He has given me the Return of casualties which I asked for, and in thanking him for that I would ask whether it is not possible to grant the other Returns I desired. We have only received the Return of casualties for 1901, and what do we find? We had at sea in 1901 200 ships, and the casualties amounted to 43 per cent.; we had twenty-six collisions, of which eleven were between our own vessels. That seems to me to prove that we have too many ships in these narrow seas, where they have not room to manœuvre, and where manœuvres cannot be carried out with success. In that year we lost 102 lives, and the total losses amounted to one second-class cruiser, a torpedo boat destroyer, two coast guard cruisers, and a vast amount was expended on repairs.

The last remark I wish to make in regard to the Estimates is, that they give no sense of security in the Navy. That is a point which the House might well consider. We have for ten years been urged by many hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House, as well as by hon. Gentlemen opposite, to pursue this furious and extravagant naval expenditure. The Estimates have gradually grown up during the past ten years from something like £14,500,000, which they stood at in 1893, to £34,000,000 this year, but does anybody feel that we are secure? Has the nation a more restful feeling with all this expenditure? On the contrary, the nation gets more and more distrustful as the expenditure goes on, and we have not reached any harbour of safety. Some people say that this naval expenditure is an insurance of our commerce. I have already pointed out that we had twenty years of experience of the Navy during which we made no increase. It was between 1863 and 1883 that our commerce increased from £13 per head of the population to £21; but in the last twenty years we have raised our naval expenditure from £12,000,000 to £34,000,000, and our commerce has only increased £1 per head. These remarkable statistics prove that this huge expenditure has not facilitated or given any security to commerce, but on the contrary, that it strikes a blow at and puts difficulties in the way of commerce.


It is now a good many years ago, at least six or seven, since I told the House that the naval expenditure would increase greatly every year. My reasons for doing so at that time were satisfactory to myself, although perhaps not obvious to my listeners. However, we are face to face with an expenditure of £34,000,000, and it will be my duty to-night to show how that expenditure is increased up to that amount. Before doing so, I would like to glance at the Statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty concerning the Navy Estimates for 1903–4. One half of that Statement is hope, the other half despair! I will not deal with the administration of the Navy, or the personnel, but with the construction, reconstruction and repairs, which will in a few minutes lead me on to show why and how this extra amount of money is wanted this year. Perhaps at the risk of being considered a little irregular, I will take the points as they come up in the pages of the First Lord's Statement. I take first the clause where it is said— Owing to the great pressure of work in the dockyards, it has been decided to allow the contractors who are building the ships to complete them in all respects ready for commission, by which means all the shipbuilding films who-construct war vessels will gain further experience, and be better prepared to undertake naval work. And again, it is said that— The policy of relieving the congestion of repairs in the dockyards by sending ships to be repaired by the private firms which built them, has been largely followed. Now, here are two statements made by the First Lord of the Admiralty, and he has given no reason whatever as to what has occasioned this great pressure of work in the dockyards, or the congestion of repairs in the dockyards. Immediately before these clauses we get a statement of re-construction, as announced in the First Lord's Statement of last year. He says that the Admiralty has completed the re-construction of— Battleships ('Royal Sovereign' Class)—'Empress of India,' 'Resolution,' 'Revenge,' 'Royal Oak.' First-class Cruiser—'Powerful.' Second-class Cruisers ('Talbot' Class)—'Doris,' 'Venus,' 'Dido,' 'Isis.' In hand (Battleships)—'Barfleur,' 'Centurion.' First-class Cruiser—'Terrible'. Now I hold that this is a statement of the facts which are not put down here in such a way that any Member of the House can understand what they mean. Here is the first class cruiser "Powerful," a brand-new boat that cost the country £1,400,000, and now she is reconstructed. Then there is the first-class cruiser "Terrible," which cost the country the same amount of money, and she is being reconstructed, as are also the brand new battleships "Barfleur," and "Centurion." I have said that this statement is hardly correct; I do not want to use a stronger term. The First Lord says— I have never attempted to minimise the difficulties which have been caused to the Fleet by the adoption of Belleville boilers; these difficulties were due partly to the faulty manufacture of the first series of such boilers, partly to the great increase of pressure, and partly to the initial want of training of the personnel in their management. I deny that. These boilers were built under Government inspection by Admiralty inspectors who were paid big salaries. I say that they were good jobs, and were considered good jobs, and lauded in the papers, which sang of these mighty cruisers and what they were going to do. Here again is a statement which I say is not correct— As each of the earlier Belleville boiler ships conies in for refit on the termination of her commission she is being placed in thorough repair and made absolutely efficient for service/' I deny that. They are not absolutely efficient for service. There is not one of them which has been repaired that can steam what she could steam when new. Then the statement goes on— Owing to the experience gained no further difficulties ought to occur with these ships. Indeed, no further difficulties! The "Russell," the "Canopus," the "Glory," "Ocean" and others could not do their work, and, forsooth, it is written in this paper that "No further difficulties ought to occur with these ships." Then the statement goes on— Although the Board agree with the Boiler Committee in considering other types of water-tube boilers to be much preferable, they also share the Committee's view that to replace these boilers by others in the ships which already have them would be an unjustifiable, because an unnecessary, expense. I deny that phrase; I say that a seeming prodigality in that case would be economy in the end. You cannot keep down your Estimates every year by having such repairs arising out of this factor alone. We are told it would be unjustifiable. Is it unjustifiable to make an efficient warship? What is a warship for if not efficient? The cry of efficiency has risen like a storm from the Admiralty, and yet the First Lord comes here and hands us a Statement that it would be unjustifiable to-make these ships fit to fight! I think such a Statement is unworthy of the Board of Admiralty, and ought not to have been issued to the House of Commons. Again the First Lord says— I warned Parliament that the cost of repairs for the boilers of the earlier ships fitted with the water-tube boilers would prove to be very heavy. Oh yes! it was very easy to warn Parliament when the ships were broken own by the dozen; but the First Lord should have taken the warning given ten years ago, and he would have had less Estimates to-day. How amusing it is to me to see the phraseology of this statement— At the same time I pointed out that the history of the experience of the use of any new invention generally proceeded on similar lines. Why, whoever advised the First Lord to use such phraseology did not know his business! The water-tube boiler is not a new invention; it never was an invention; it is a contrivance. It has been before the engineering world for over a hundred years, and, forsooth, to call it an invention is playing with words. I have known the water-tube system for fifty years, and call it nothing but a contrivance. Then the First Lord says— In my opinion, the water-tube boiler has come to stay. Well, if that is his view, it is probable that it has come to ruin his Fleet, and increase his Naval Estimates year by year. "The water-tube be her has come to stay! "Why, the new Admiralty Yacht, the "Enchantress," now building at Belfast, is to be fitted with Scotch boilers! Are the Lords of the Admiralty afraid to trust themselves with water-tube boilers? If water-tube boilers are good enough for men-of-war, surely they are good enough for the Admiralty yacht. For ways that are dark, and for tricks that are vain, The Admiralty Lords are peculiar. Now I come to another phase of this wonderful production, and my comments thereon will tend to cast light on the great amount of money required for what I call Admiralty follies. The First Lord says— The trials of the 'London,' 'Venerable,' and 'Russell,' as well as those of the 'Duncan' and 'Exmouth,' were carried out with successful results. The speeds obtained on trial were slightly in excess of the estimated speeds as designed. I deny that; they were not carried out to a successful result. The "Russell" tried to do it three or four times but could not. Then again it is said— That the 'Montagu's' trials are not jet complete. This Grand new ship, which cost £1,250,000, came round from Birkenhead to do a trial, and ought to have been able to get up steam and go outside fit to fight an enemy. But what happened? The boilers could not hold water! I see she is crawling outside just now, after lying in port for six or eight months.

I come now to the heading "Submarines," where it is said that— At the commencement of the year there were live vessels of the 'Holland' type under construction, and they have all been delivered. And they are going to lay down nine or ten others. On February last I said in this House: Why could not this great and glorious Admiralty of ours give any encouragement to British engineers in designing sub-marine boats? They had sent instead over to America, bought their drawings, and put the construction of these sub-marines into the hands of Maxim, Vickers & Company, under the superintendence of a Yankee. And with what result? They could not trust them, because they did not know the moment they were going to have an explosion. There had been explosions, and the men blown through the manhole, while the crew were nearly asphyxiated by the gasoline. Yet the Admiralty are going blindly ordering more submarine boats when they have I had no experience of those already built. I would ask those at the Admiralty responsible for this to go down in a submarine boat under the water, and not sit complacently in the Admiralty Office. They would then get some knowledge of submarine requirements. Apart from patriotic principles, I am sure that if the Admiralty go on ordering more foreign boats of which they have had no experience they are bound to come to grief with great loss of life. Now, as to the re-boilered ships. The "Hermes" came to grief before she got to the West Indies. The boilers burned out, and her men were in danger of their lives, and almost in a state of mutiny. She was sent to Belfast for repair, and is now being fitted with Babcock and Wilcox boilers. I ask, partly with regret, and partly with sorrow, what experience has the Admiralty got of the Babcock and Wilcox boilers? None whatever. This is another American contrivance, not British, and that is how the money goes. There is no mystery about the increase of expenditure when we find in the "List of repairs" no fewer than seventeen boats not yet three years old. I do not believe a single one of them has done a twelve months steaming.

What are we coming to? I may be wrong, but I see before me an array of broken-down vessels that cannot be trusted to steam full power without coming to grief, and which would in an engagement be assuredly sunk because they could not be manœuvred by the admirals or captains either full speed or slow. What is the reason? I will show the Secretary to the Amiralty what is the reason why you cannot steam your ships at full speed. The reason is in a nutshell. You cannot synchronise your feeding, firing and steaming. You never will get them to synchronise with water-tube boilers, because you have too little margin of safety. The scientific aspect of the question therefore hangs on three points, namely, feeding, firing, and steaming, and these must all synchronise or they are bound to come to grief. I wish to direct the attention of the House just for a moment to this peculiar fact. A Return was asked for by Lord Charles Beresford of casualties in regard to marine boilers extending over five years in the mercantile marine. I have here a copy of the Return, and I would like to give some of the figures. The total number of Scotch boilers in use through-out Great Britain is given at 22,000, while the total number of water-tube boilers is placed at 58. Of the 58, 11 gave out and failed, and that reduces the number to 47, and yet in the face of that practical fact the Admiralty are retaining Babcock and Wilcox boilers for ships costing £1,500,000. Whoever heard of such blindness? The numbers of persons killed and injured per thousand in the ships using Scotch boilers is 4.32 casualties, 1.36 persons killed, and 1.5 injured. In boilers of the water-tube modern type the figures are 120.6 casualties per 1,000, 86.2 killed, and 103.4 injured. On the face of that Return, issued by a Government Department, you are still putting into your valuable vessels boilers which at the present time are endangering hundreds of lives.

Again, how do these boilers compare with regard to cost? I am going to show how you are mounting up your millions every year. With the old type of Scotch boiler vessels of the "Majestic" class, after five years and five months of working, cost £2,319, but vessels of the "Diadem" class, which is the new modern ship costing £1,000,000, and is only two years old, cost £9,048. Take the "Powerful" class, which after three years and seven months of water tube-boilers cost £16,184, and compare it with a similar class fitted with Scotch boilers, which for a similar period cost only £1,823. What does that tell this House and the country. There is a voice in these figures that ought to re-echo throughout the country. In two years and three months there was £194,000 spent on twenty-nine ships fitted with water-tube boilers, or an average of £6,700 per ship. With Scotch boilers over fifty ships in four years and eight months cost £101,420, or about £2,000 per ship, showing that your water-tube boiler ship is running up your bill very heavily. I must complain bitterly of the way these Estimates are got up, for the items are not put down on business lines. Every ship ought to have attached in the Estimates the original cost and the cost of repairs every year. Under Sub-head D I find recon- struction, repairs and alterations for 1903–4 represents £3,156,008. Last year it was £2,195,528. That shows you have a repairing increase of £1,065,663. But that is not all we have paid for, there is still the material and other things which are not shown in these Estimates in a businesslike way.

We are now brought face to face with this fact, that we have from sixty to eighty vessels fitted with water-tube boilers, every one of which you cannot trust. What is the Admiralty doing? When vessels require new boilers they are still putting in water-tube boilers. Are you going to have your warships useless, and what can your ships depend upon if they cannot steam properly? I would have stood up here and defended the clearing out of the whole of these water-tube boilers and the putting in of the same boilers in all your ships as you have put into the "Enchantress." Instead of putting in a mixture of water-tube and cylindrical boilers in your ships, I would have put in all cylindrical boilers, and made the ships safe for the men. Water-tube boilers burn twice the quantity of coal, and you require more men. You require more artificers, and consequently not only is the cost increased but also the pay. But these figures will rise even more than that, because as these boats are tested they are bound to go into the hospital for repairs, and you will never really get to the bottom of the expense. I am sorry that I have spoken so long, but this is a matter in which I have always taken great interest. No one would be more ready to defend the Admiralty when they are pursuing a sane and safe course than I should be. No one would be more ready to defend the Admiralty if they were getting one pound's worth for every pound spent. But when I see the ships absolutely being turned to no ships at all, that is no fighting ships, would I be doing my duty if I did not speak my mind and express my convictions in this House? Take as an example the case of your "Good Hope," the vessel that was to indicate 30,000 horse-power, and steam twenty-three knots. She has recently been to the Cape, but I would like to know if she can steam twenty-three knots to-day. She cannot do it, for she would be sure to come to grief, and she would be lying a cripple before long. She is almost one now. The Admiralty are not spending the nation's money upon ships, but upon repairs; and, although millons of money have been spent in this way, the vessels have done no real genuine ocean steaming work, and so far as their fighting qualities go they are a disgrace to the Admiralty.

*MR. REGINALD LUCAS (Portsmouth)

I am sorry that I must now ask the House to postpone for a short time the naval discussion. My excuse for raising another question is threefold. In the first place, the question I have to raise is a grievance which is felt very keenly by seamen in the Navy. It one which is felt by hundreds, almost thousands, of old seamen, and by all those who sympathise with the men of the lower deck. In the second place, this question has not been raised here since 1898; and in the third place, if I do not take this opportunity of saying a few words on the subject, it is very doubtful whether I shall have another chance, because the Votes for purely naval matters are sure to come first. I desire as briefly as possible to explain the circumstances connected with the history of Greenwich Hospital. I shall avoid figures as much as possible, and I will try and arrive at my conclusions by general statements. Hon. Members familiar with the history of Greenwich Hospital will be aware that in the year 1694 William and Mary gave Greenwich Palace as a hospital for the relief of seamen and their widows and children. There had been a fund, known as the Chatham Chest, instituted in the reign of Elizabeth for granting pensions to disabled seamen. This was amalgamated with the Greenwich Hospital funds in the year 1814. These funds had been variously estimated at a sum between £7,000,000 and £70,000,000, but when the chest was opened, like the Humbert safe, it was found to be practically empty. All that is known with regard to this fund is that the sailors for whose benefit it was intended never got the money. In the year 1834 the contribution of 6d. per month by all seamen was stopped, and a grant in lieu thereof of £20,000 per annum was made by Parliament to the Greenwich Hospital fund.

In 1865 a Bill was introduced disestablishing the hospital as an asylum and substituting out-pensions for old seamen at 5d. per day at fifty-five years of age, and 9d. per day at seventy years of age. In the year 1869 the hospital was finally closed. In the year 1875 the seventy years age limit was reduced to sixty-five, and in the year 1878 the pensions were limited to 7,500 in number for the first time. Before 1878 every man got his pension at fifty-five as a matter of course, but since then only so many get pensions as the funds available permit. All those who have joined since the year 1878 know what their position is, but I do not think this decision ought to affect those who joined or re-engaged in the Navy before 1878. In 1885 the Committee known as the Duke of Edinburgh's Committee was appointed. In the year 1892 a Select Committee of this House was appointed, and three things happened. In the first place, in 1869, when the hospital was closed, the Government paid £100 per annum as rent for the building. This Committee recommended that instead of £100 they should pay £5,000 and in the year 1897 this was augmented to £6,500. Consequently these funds have been poorer all these years by the difference between £100 and £6,500. In the second place, I have shown that in 1834 Parliament made a grant of £20,000 a year to this hospital, and in 1869 they made the hospital funds pay the Government £16,000 a year. The Committee to which I have referred which sat in 1892 restored the full £20,000 to the hospital, so that for all these years the hospital has been out of pocket to the extent of £16,000 a year. In the third place, the limit of 7,500 pensions was abolished. Until 1890 the funds had been charged with what was known as the Seamen Pensioners' Reserve. It was admitted that this ought to be a public charge, and consequently the funds were relieved, and this charge was put upon the Imperial funds. The argument I am basing my case upon is that if the funds had not been drained all these years by the money which had been taken away in the manner I have indicated there would have been so much more money to go round now. The injustice of this draining has been admitted by subsequent action, but no compensation has been paid for the large sums of money which have been taken away from the hospital. A former Member for Woolwich, Colonel Hughes computed the arrears of compensation due to the hospital at £851,000. I do not give any particular figures, for all I am anxious to do is to endeavour to establish a principle.

In the next place, if a soldier or sailor is killed on action, his widow gets a pension from the Government. If a sailor is killed on duty and not in action, his widow gets a pension and a smaller one not from the Government but from Greenwich Hospital. This was illustrated the other day by the instance of the "Cobra" and the "Viper." The point I submit is that where men lose their lives in operations not entirely distinct from operations of war the money given to the widows should not be a charge to the institution but on the Imperial fund. In 1898 the Postmaster-General denied there was any right. It is quite true that one cannot produce any official document which would validate and establish this claim in a court of law, but it is also true that a recruiting bill was once issued. It was withdrawn and cannot be produced. In 1865 Mr. Childers brought in a Bill, and he then said pensions would be given to all out pensioners. In 1875, when the age of seventy was reduced to sixty-five, Mr. Ward Hunt, explaining some re arrangements, said— This would give the pensioners a claim to pension at sixty-live instead of seventy. I have a letter from an old chief petty officer, who says his memory is sufficiently good to remember the exact wording of the clauses in the Circular issued by the Admiralty to the Fleet in 1865. It ran thus— Clause 3, Section 2. If he is fifty-five years of age, and has been a pensioner for five years (whether in the hospital orout), he will be paid 5d. per day, that is, £7 12s. 0d. per annum. If he is seventy years of age, and has been a pensioner ten years (whether in the hospital or out,) he shall receive 9d. per day, that is £13 12s. 0d. per annum. Then in the Committee of 1892 the Report contains the words— Your Committee are of opinion that the men who joined the Navy before 1878 have a strong claim to special consideration. My right hon friend the Member for Wigtonshire observed to Lord Welby— I understand you to say, that if the justice of this claim were established you would recognise the obligation of the public to bear the charge of these Greenwich age pensions. Lord Welby replied— Certainly, I anticipate that if the justice of the cause was established, Parliament would wish what it thought justice to be satisfied. I referred a little while ago to the Duke of Edinburgh's Committee. In answer to a question as to the inducements of this pension, Sir Richard Awdry replied— I have no doubt that in recruiting, the most rosy view of the circumstances is put before the man in order to induce him to recruit. The same gentleman in 1892 admitted that there was nothing to prevent the recruit from believing that the pension would come to him at fifty-five. As a matter of fact, every man who joined or re-engaged before 1878 did so in this implicit belief. As for the use to which these funds were put, there is a debate-able point as to whether officers pensions should be chargeable to the fund. Mr. Childers admitted this was a disputed point, but it was not one put in the forefront, and I do not press it. A most important observation appearing in the Duke of Edinburgh's Memorandum is this— To my mind the age pension is the most legitimate mode of applying the funds of Greenwich Hospital. In the last Report issued, the capital expenditure of the Hospital was put at £198,400, and among the items were £7,000 pensions to officers, £5,500 pensions to widows of marines or seamen drowned at sea, £500 as gratuities to widows and relatives of seamen or marines drowned at sea, and £100,000 as age pensions to seamen or marines. So that for those whom the Duke of Edinburgh said had the best claim to the funds of this Hospital, only about one-half of these funds were allocated to the purpose. The only system by which it can be administered at present is that of selection, and no better system can be found. The Admiralty with perfect propriety and justice choose the men best entitled to have the first claim on these pensions. That, however, is obviously unsatisfactory at times. For example, I know a pensioner well over sixty who has not received a pension. He is a man of industry and energy, and is a bandmaster in a Volunteer corps. He pointed out that his energy and industry have enabled him to make a provision against old age, whilst some of his old shipmates who had not taken such pains to provide for themselves had received the pensions in priority to him, although they were younger men. The point is, that there ought to be more money available. As time goes on, with the inevitable increase of the Navy, there will be more widows to provide for, and on the other hand there will be fewer seamen of ante-1878. Meanwhile, I submit that we ought to make some provision for these old seamen whose claims, even if they cannot be established by law, have a very strong recommendation on grounds of equity. Lord Welby said— If Parliament recognises the justice of the claim they will not refuse to grant the money. That justice I am trying to establish, and I do most earnestly urge the Admiralty to settle the question and remove a grievance which soft words will do very little to remedy.

As to the more general questions arising out of the speeches to which we have listened, I feel that anybody who endeavours to study naval problems and interests must see that the subject is obviously surrounded by the mists of uncertainty. We can never tell what it is we may have to contend with some day. There are some matters connected with the Navy which we shall never solve except by experience—and experience is the very last thing we desire. No one can tell us the effect of lyddite shells on armoured ships. The best judges cannot agree on the probable effect of shells on protected ships, the superiority of big battle ships and heavy guns over a swarm of destroyers and torpedo boats, or the right proportion of cruisers. It is not like a game where the qualities of the two sides are pretty well known, but the whole prospect is enshrouded in gloom which can only be lifted by the light of experience, and that is exactly what we want to avoid. Moreover, there are additional discoveries which revolutionise the circumstances and requirements of all nations, and for which the Government cannot be held more responsible than for the change of weather. But there are certain things about which there need be no uncertainty. We cannot see whether or not we are working on the right lines, building the right ships, and getting the right guns, but it is easy to determine whether those we have are perfect and whether we have an adequate supply of men in the service to work them.

Another point is often ignored. I do not admire very much the word efficiency. People who have no definite principles to advocate often use the word "efficiency" with a comfortable feeling that if they say it often enough things will turn out all right somehow. I think efficiency as a principle is inadequate, but in its special application it is very pertinent indeed, and therefore I rejoice that in the Memorandum of the First Lord the importance of efficiency in gunnery is dwelt upon. That is the more gratifying because there is much room for improvement. I have here figures giving the result of recent prize firing in the Navy. They show the need for improvement, and it is satisfactory to know that the weak spot in our artillery has been realised. I find that with twelve guns the following results were obtained, viz.—

"Illustrious" with 18 shots hit 6 times

"Jupiter" with 22 shots hit 5 times

"Albion" with 11 shots hit 4 times

"Hannibal" with 29 shots hit 3 times

or out of a total of 80 shots there were only 18 hits, whilst the "Ocean" obtained 17 hits out of 25 shots. Then, in the case of six guns I find that the—

"Illustrious" with 83 shots hit 40 times

"Aboukir" with 103 shots hit 28 times

"Prince George" with 100 shots hit 40 times

making a total of 108 hits out of 286 shots, whilst the "Ocean" hit 108 times out of a total of 163 shots. My point is that if one ship can do so well there is no excuse for the other ships doing so badly, and we can at all events demand the same satisfactory result. I should like to ask incidentally whether all the ships in these fleets have been provided with telescopic sights. Then there is another point on which we need have no uncertainty at all. (The hon. Member read an extract from page 12 of the Report of the Manœuvres of the Combined Fleets, 1902, showing that certain vessels broke down when the attempt to keep up a high speed was made). This is my point. A speed of fifteen knots was maintained for four hours, but the "Repulse" had difficulty in keeping this up, and the Commodore reduced to thirteen. We may reasonably require that our ships shall not break down in that manner. There should be a reasonable probability of a gun hitting the target aimed at, and of a ship arriving at its destination punctually without breaking down on the way. Another matter is the difficulty of distinguishing between friends and enemies. Hon. Members will be aware that the ships of the Navy have recently been painted a certain colour which is not pleasant to look at, although that does not matter if it makes them difficult to see, but I do not know that that helps us to distinguish our friends from our enemies, because if all the ships were painted the same colour I believe it would be quite impossible to distinguish between certain of our own ships and those of the German "Kaiser" class, the Russian battleship, "Borodino" or the French "Jena." I hope our Intelligence Department is considering whether anything can be done to assist our sailors in time of war to distinguish our enemy's from our own ships.

On the matter of general policy, as to what this country is going to do in the way of augmenting our Navy, I greatly deprecate the inclination or desire of amateur associations to dictate our policy. I say this without any disrespect to my hon friend the Member for Chester, but I believe such a course of action to be wrong in principle and dangerous in its tendency. Such associations are responsible to nobody; they cannot possibly be well-informed in the sense in which the Government is informed, and they may be carried away by the fads of a section, or even an individual among their Members. Their object is a good one—that of making the country wake up—but there are many ways of waking up, and the methods of these associations suggest rather a child waking up in the dark and screaming with fright, with the result that there is a danger of panic and scare legislation. A recent meeting at Westminster Palace Hotel was noteworthy for several reasons. It was prefaced by a curious exordium in the form of a letter written, not by a naval officer or a recognised authority on naval matters, but by a very distinguished author whose only connection with the Navy is that he once wrote an admirable novel, the hero of which was a sailor. I wish to point out that these amateur associations are very apt to be carried, away. In 1899 there was a marked tendency to force our Government into armed conflict with Russia over China. In 1901 we were told that the French had given up their defensive policy and embarked on an offensive policy and were about to attack us in the Mediterranean. But what happened? So far from attacking us they reduced their fleet in the Mediterranean. We are now told that we are in imminent peril of assault from Germany. All over the world we must be prepared for German competition and rivalry, but I should like to point out that this accession of German naval strength is no new thing. As far back as 1848, when the Danes blockaded Ger' man ports, it was found that German commercial and maritime interests suffered so much that for the first time there was a demand for a fleet. This was afterwards accentuated, and in 1868 Bismarck took up the question, and we had his first naval programme. This feeling is still growing in Germany. Their interests are growing; their ambitions and aspirations are growing; and, accordingly, their Navy is growing. I maintain that it is a mistake for an association suddenly to declare that you are in danger of attack from Germany, because Germany is carrying out a policy which seems to me to be an obvious policy, one which we could not prevent if we desired to do so, and one which in the natural course of events they were bound to adopt. Greater sobriety of expression would be more suitable to the case and more appropriate to our self-respect.

It has been said that there is a tendency in Germany and France to curtail expenture in this direction. I am encouraged to hope that a reaction has set in, and that both in Germany and in France there is a growing disinclination for the terrible burdens imposed by such expenditure, and that we may hope by-and-bye to see a slowing down in the process. If that be so our burden will be proportionately lighter.

But whether it be so or not, I maintain that on no account must we fall below the standard we have set before us. That standard may be too low, but it certainly is not too high. Of course we may wish for many reasons that we could rely on a more substantial contribution from our Colonies, but manifestly we cannot press that point very strongly. Moreover, if the Colonies do not choose to help us more, the fact remains that for our own sake, as well as for theirs, we must keep the Navy up to its present state of efficiency. Although the Colonies share the advantages of their connection with the Empire, we need make no sentimental mistake; we have to provide for the security of the Empire, and the charge will remain with us. I apologise for trespassing so long on the time of the House, as there are many other Members desiring to speak; it is most desirable that they should do so, because it is here and not at the Westminster Palace Hotel that the true responsibility rests.

*MR. KEARLEY (Devonport)

Three years ago I raised the question of the Greenwich old age pensions, and I must briefly recapitulate the claim which these pensioners make. When Greenwich Hospital was closed to pensioners in 1865, an undertaking was given that pensioners at fifty-five years of age should receive an augmentation of 5d. per day. There was no mention of any limit until 1878, when the number was fixed at 7,500. Therefore the men argue, and I agree with them, that all who joined prior to 1878 are fully entitled to receive the augmentation on reaching the age of fifty-five. The sole justification alleged for the action of the Admiralty, so far as I have been able to follow their contention, is that the funds are inadequate to enable them to give pensions to all these men. In this connection I would put two points to the House; first, that there is an actual breach of contract with the men, and, secondly, that funds which really belong to the men have been unjustly diverted. The undertaking given in 1865 was a contract. Recruiting bills have been issued since then repeating the promise that on reaching the age of fifty-five the men would become entitled to the augmentation of 5d. per day. Reference has already been made to the evidence of Admiralty officers, and one of them stated— Although you cannot look upon these recruiting placards as legal contracts, enforceable in a court of law, they are moral contracts. When we discussed this matter in 1898, I was challenged to produce one of these recruiting bills. In 1900, the question having aroused some interest in the country, a bill was produced. A recruiting officer wrote to a Member of this House saying he had a bill which he himself had issued, and I have that bill here. This bill was issued at Bristol, and these words appear upon it— After completing his term, or attaining the age of fifty-five years, he receives in addition to his pension five pence per day. This bill was issued under the auspices of Her late Majesty, and is no doubt an authentic document. The ingenious gentleman, if I may use the phrase without offence, the present Postmaster-General, who preceded the present Civil Lord, produced a bill on which that clause was omitted, and made the extraordinary justification for not admitting the validity of this bill that he did not see why he should be bound more by one bill than by the other. Referring to this particular bill, the Postmaster-General said— It was printed on the order of the marine recruiting officer at Bristol, without any instructions from the Admiralty, and without the Admiralty having seen it. It was the regrettable practice in those days for the recruiting officers to be allowed to publish their own literature without submitting it to the Admiralty. Surely the Government ought not to be allowed to ride off on any such plea as that. These recruiting officers are men in their own service, and the Government are responsible for the doings of their servants. These men do not ask for this money in a begging way. These particular Greenwich funds were built up out of the compulsory levy not only on seamen of the Royal Navy, but on all seamen in the British Marine; indeed, the levy applied to all seamen in the Colonies, including the Colonies of America, now the United States. That compulsory levy ceased only in 1834, and the men claim that Greenwich Hospital and its belong are really their own property. There have been serious diversions of these funds, and I mention this to meet the point of the Admiralty that they have an inadequacy of funds to satisfy this demand. In 1878, the seamen pensioners reserve was formed, and, as an inducement to join, the men were promised the augmentation at the age of fifty instead of fifty-five. Instead of charging the cost of thus hastening the augmentation on the Navy Vote, it was made a charge on the Greenwich funds. The service was a national service, and the charge was protested against at the time, but it was continued until 1893, when the Government of the day saw the justice of the complaint, and the charge was put on the ordinary Votes. £50,000 was thus taken away, and no restitution has been made.

After the closing of Greenwich Hospital the building was taken over by the Admiralty, mainly for their own purposes, and they paid the monstrously inadequate rent of £100 a year, although it was rated at £8,500. This continued from 1865 to 1893, when again justice was done, and a rental of £6,000 a year was paid by the Government. The difference in the rental for the twenty eight years amounted to £170,000, and again no restitution has been made. Then there is the arrangement made in 1834, when the compulsory levy ceased, that the Consolidated Fund should give £20,000 a year to Greenwich. Some years afterwards the Chancellor of the Exchequer appropriated £16,000 of that money, and succeeding Chancellors of the Exchequer continued to do so, until 1893, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouth, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, saw the justice of the case and restored the £16,000 for the benefit of Greenwich. The loss Greenwich had suffered meanwhile amounted to £400,000, and again no restitution has been made, so that on those three items there has been illegally diverted from Greenwich funds £620,000. If this money had not been so diverted there would have been plenty of money to pay the augmentation, at all events to the men who joined prior to 1878. My hon. friend has mentioned many cases of charges being made, even to-day, on Greenwich funds which ought to be borne by the State. The men feel that they have a great grievance, and the reputation of the nation is at stake. So long as the Admiralty continue in the attitude they have taken up it will be a bad thing for the Navy. These old pensioners are scattered all over the country, and their constant complaint is that they have been denied that to which they have a legal right, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will hold out some expectation of there being meted out to these men the justice which their case deserves.

*MR. PRETYMAN (Suffolk, Woodbridge)

The question of the Greenwich Hospital funds has been so often debated that I do not think I can add a great deal to what has been said before. The whole matter really turns on the point of equity and is, whether these pensioners are only eligible for or actually entitled to these pensions. The hon. Member for Devonport asserted that there had been a breach of the contract made in 1865, and that the funds which are clearly the funds of the Hospital had been diverted. Everyone is aware that the matter was most carefully investigated by the Committee of 1892, and that the Committee made a very clear statement with regard to it. They said they were unable to recognise that this misapprehension—and I may say here that the misapprehension was a very natural one—established the right to claim a pension, but they thought there was a claim to special consideration. Now really the whole point of the defence which has to be made to this matter is that these men really have no right to claim the pension. I desire to correct the hon. Member for Devonport on another point. He said that prior to 1878 no limitation of pensions was ever proposed. Now the original Committee, by which the plan for the re-organisation of the funds of Greenwich Hospital was carried out in 1865, said— It will be equally necessary to limit the number of extra pensions to be granted so as to afford a fair margin. We think provision should be made for 5,000 extra pensions. It was clearly intended, therefore, that there should be a limitation, and that was enforced by a Minute of the Board of Admiralty, although it was not promulgated in the form of a published order. That limitation was on the original recommendation of the Committee on whose report the re-organisation was based. Any charge of breach of faith that can be laid against this Government or successive Governments is solely based on the fact of insufficient promulgation, and that is not a very strong ground to go upon. Then as to the defence made by the Postmaster-General the hon. Member alleges that it was that some particular paragraph was not included in the Recruiting Bill. I can find no such defence. The defence he made was not based on the existence or omission of any particular paragraph, but in a bill that was issued by one particular recruiting officer in one particular locality. The words of the defence were these, The bill can only apply to Marines in the Bristol district who entered between October 1887 and the completion of the circular in 1878. Therefore the only persons who could have been deceived by that bill—and it was issued by a recruiting officer without authority—were those in a limited area who in 1887–78 entered as Marines.


The bill went all through the country.


The only bill that has ever been traced or referred to in this House is that particular printed bill. If the hon. Member can produce evidence that there was any other bill than this—


No, of course I cannot. I cannot produce recruiting bills from all over the country. You challenged me to produce one, and I have produced it.


I do not wish to put the case unfairly, nor do I think my hon. friend wishes to exaggerate it. Having narrowed the area down to the point of expectation created by the bill, I have shown, I think, the measure of breach of faith that can be charged. Next, with regard to the question of the funds having been diverted, there was a most careful investigation by the Committee of 1892. That Committee suggested that certain increases should be made to the Greenwich funds in order to cover the growth in the pension list, and that moneys should be granted by Parliament. They were so granted, but owing to the steady and continuous increase in the Navy there are not nearly sufficient pensions to allow one to be granted in all cases, and approximately sixty years is the age to be reached before a pension can be obtained. My hon. friend quoted the case of a bandmaster who had not been given a pension, although he was older than some of his fellows who were in receipt of one. It is not a question whether a man is entitled to a pension, but rather of whether men who are not entitled and are only eligible for it are actually in want. That fact has to be considered in dealing with these pensions. The Admiralty has taken every possible means within its power to increase and develop the funds of the Greenwich Hospital charity; it now amounts to £200,000 a year, and that has enabled the number of pensions to be largely increased. Instead of a 5,000 limit, there are now over 10,000, which result has been obtained by a judicious investment and by improvement of the various properties held by the fund. If the State at any time take a burden off the charity and provide by means of State funds for the widows and children of soldiers and sailors who may lose their lives, that would be a sensible relief; it would benefit the fund to the extent of £5,500 a year, and would enable the number of pensioners to be increased. All the Admiralty can do is to distribute the pensions in the fairest way and make them go as far as they possibly can. The Admiralty share the desire of my hon. friend to see that every seaman shall have a pension on attaining the age of fifty-five years. We have already heard a protest against the size of the Naval Estimates, and it is quite evident that those Estimates would have to be largely increased if the pension list is enlarged, as it would open up a rather large question of pensions in all directions. All that we can say is, if the House grants more money we will do our best to apply it in the most beneficial manner.

MR. CALDWELL (Lanarkshire, Mid.)

I have always felt that Scotland had two grievances in connection with the Navy Estimates. In the first place, while Scotland pays 11 per cent, of the Imperial expenditure, only an infinitesimal part of that expenditure is spent in Scotland. The Fleet is moored in English waters, whilst the great Government dockyards are in the South of England, notwithstanding that Scotland has excellent harbour accommodation both on the East and West Coasts, and that the Clyde, with its shipbuilding industry, with its supply of workmen, and with its proximity to coal and iron, is pre-eminently suitable for a Government dockyard. No doubt the Government have given large orders for warships to be built on the Clyde, but whilst such contracts are an undoubted present benefit to the Clyde, I doubt very much whether they will prove to be an ultimate advantage. It is to be hoped, for the sake of the taxpayers, that warship-building will not increase in the future as it has done in the past, but with a cessation or decline in war-ship building considerable trade depression may ultimately set in which may seriously, and for a considerable time prejudicially, affect the Clyde.

The second grievance Scotland has is that whilst both on the East and West coasts there are large shipping ports and interests, up to the present there has been no naval base in Scotland, no rendezvous for the Fleet, no setting apart of special war vessels to take up their positions in defence of certain specified ports and harbours with the intricacies of which they have made themselves specially acquainted, and no arrangement for convoys, so that the traffic to and from the ports may not be interrupted in the event of war suddenly breaking out with a first-class sea power. The new naval base at St. Margarets' Hope, in the Firth of Forth, will undoubtedly to a large extent mitigate, if not entirely remove, both of these grievances so far as the East coast of Scotland is concerned. It will provide a Government dockyard in proximity to the coal and iron industries of Scotland, whilst it will provide an excellent harbour for a fleet of any size watching and protecting the harbours and ports on the East coast of Scotland. It will enable ships of war operating on that coast to be repaired and refitted and to be replenished with ammunition without requiring them to proceed to the South of England for that purpose; but under existing circumstances this will not help the harbours or shipping industries on the West coast in the event of war. The whole complexion of matters, however, would be changed by the formation of a canal between the Forth and the Clyde, enabling ships of war freely to pass from the one sea to the other. Such a canal would be only thirty miles in length, and would be capable of being traversed in from five to six hours. In this way the naval base at St. Margaret's Hope would operate as a naval base for the defence of the West coast of Scotland. It would be in direct water communication with any fleet operating on the West coast, and would be able to replenish it with ammunition, whilst vessels damaged on the West coast could proceed through the canal to St. Margarets' Hope to be refitted and repaired. Similarly the East coast of Scotland would be brought into direct water communication with the Clyde and West coast of Scotland, and with the North of Ireland. The fleet damaged on the East coast would be in direct water communication with the shipbuilding yards and graving docks on the Clyde, and even at Belfast, which might all in a time of emergency be utilised to repair and refit ships of war. There would be no chance of the fleet being at any time hopelessly blockaded at St. Margaret's Hope, because it could always escape by canal to the West coast. Obviously, with such a canal, about one-third fewer warships would be required to protect the inland waters on the East and West coasts of Scotland. The importance of the canal from a national defence point of view is so obvious that I need not refer to that point further.

Equally important would such a canal be in developing the merchant shipping and coasting trade of the United Kingdom, as well as in developing manufacturing industries all along its line of route. The North of Ireland and the West of Scotland would be brought into closer proximity to the Continent, as well as to the East coast of Scotland and of England. From Glasgow to Aberdeen would be 150 miles by the canal as against 590 miles round the Pentland Forth, whilst Dundee would be 110 miles from Glasgow by water. Newcastle would be 190 miles from Glasgow; Hull 310 miles from Glasgow; a saving in each case by the canal of 540 miles; whilst from Glasgow to London by water would be 510 miles, as against 880 miles: by the English Channel, a saving of 370 miles.

All experience shows that the working expenses of railways have reached such a point, and are so irreducible, that carriage by water is infinitely cheaper, and in the case of certain manufactures cheap carriage is absolutely necessary. The Imperial and public advantage being thus apparent, the next question is—Is a canal capable of accommodating ships of war practicable? On the Notice Paper I have mentioned that there at present exists a canal between the rivers Forth and Clyde, which leaves the Forth at Grangemouth and enters the Clyde at Bowling. I have mentioned the fact rather with the view of calling public attention to the practicability of the route than with any intention of utilising that canal. The present canal was completed in 1790, upwards of 100 years ago. The nominal depth is ten feet, the summit level is 158 feet above Ordnance datum. In 1816 the dividend was 25 per cent. The canal was purchased by the Caledonian Railway Company in 1867, and they still own it. According to Lord Kelvin, then Sir William Thomson, the original inventor of steam navigation was a man Symington, who propelled a boat by steam on this same canal in 1789, which Henry Bell went from Glasgow frequently to witness, prior to the construction of the steamer "Comet" in 1811. About twelve years ago a scheme was brought before the public, in a pamphlet written by Mr. l. Law Crawford, for the construction of a ship canal between the Forth and the Clyde. The canal was to be thirty miles in length, twenty-six feet deep, and 100 feet wide at the bottom. The district through which the canal was to pass had been surveyed and the report of eminent engineers and others obtained. The summit level of the canal was to be ninety-five feet above Ordnance datum. That height was to be reached from the River Clyde by means of six locks; thence for seventeen-and-a-half miles the canal would proceed on the level, and descend to the Forth by means of other six locks The locks were to be double locks, one being 600 feet long and 65 feet wide, and the other 400 feet long and 40 feet wide. The land is mainly agricultural, and £500,000 was the estimate for the land.


I rise to a point of order. There is nothing in the Estimates for this canal, and I do not know that this line of argument is in order.


These details are out of order on this question, but references to the establishment of a naval station on the East coast of Scotland, and the possibility of a canal connecting it with Glasgow, may, I think, be allowed without the details.


I was interrupted at the point where the details had practically ceased. I wish merely to say that the idea of connecting the Forth with the Clyde is one that has received public attention, and that certain schemes have been brought before the public on a commercial basis. The point I was referring to was that the land was principally agricultural. It was estimated to cost £500,000. The total estimate for the works was £6,000,000. During the last twelve years the working expenses of railways have greatly risen, and the advantages of water carnage become correspondingly increased. Then, by the new machinery which has been introduced, chiefly American—


Order! I wish to point out that the lion. Member is referring to the details of a scheme which is not before the House.


Without going into any one scheme, I may be allowed to say that such a canal would be promoted simply from the commercial and paying point of view. It would not concern itself with making provision for warships or the largest class of merchant vessels, which, whilst adding enormously to the cost of the canal, would not draw a revenue from such vessels to meet the extra cost. The size of the vessel to pass through the canal would be limited, and the canal would only benefit war vessels of a limited size. Once such a canal was made it would be practically im- possible to widen and deepen it, so that the present is the time for the Admiralty to take the matter into their serious consideration from the point of view of the utility of a canal in the interest of national defence. I believe that modern science has greatly improved canal locks, largely mitigating their inconvenience. But in the case of a canal between the Forth and the Clyde, it is quite possible to have a canal on the level without any locks at all, and to connect the sea on the Forth with the sea on the Clyde. The two seas were at one time connected and flowed through this very valley. The old channel cut its way through the rocks, and the trough has been filled up with beds of sand, gravel and boulder clay. This has been shown by borings for minerals which abound in this district. On this point I will only make one quotation, that from Professor Geikie, Director General of the Geological Survey of Great Britain. He says— There is a very ancient depression through that part of Scotland, filled up with various drift deposits, so that it would not be difficult to select such a line as would avoid rock cuttings and lie wholly, or almost wholly, in the boulder clay, and overlying gravel and sand. The new excavating machinery would make short work of such material. The greater portion of the excavation would run down, by its own weight, on the one side to the Forth, and on the other side to the Clyde, where it would be deposited in barges, and thence laid out on the shores of the Forth and the Clyde to reclaim and make land. By such a canal, the sea at the Forth would be connected with the sea at the Clyde, and there would be no interruption by locks, so that ships of any size could pass. On the other hand, there would be a certain disadvantage in the canal being in a cutting, and having to be approached at intermediate stages by means of lifts. There are other methods of utilising the canal which, if the Admiralty resolve to go into an inquiry, would be brought forward. The Prime Minister, in answer to a question put by me, stated that the question of a canal had not been before the Committee on National Defence, nor could he give any undertaking that it would be considered by them. The matter, however, is of such obvious importance to national defence that I am surprised that, in resolving to establish a naval base on the Forth, the Committee on National Defence had not considered the matter of a canal. The absence of such consideration makes me entertain serious doubts as to whether and how far the Government intend energetically to proceed with this new naval base.

We are accustomed in these days to have new schemes announced with a great flourish of trumpets to produce a present political effect, but without any serious intention to carry them into effect. The Government seem to be announcing a certain policy without intending practically to carry it out in the immediate future. We would like to know something about this proposed naval base, the announcement of which was kept back. The reason given by the Prime Minister that the announcement had been prudently delayed until the land had been acquired seems rather inadequate. The land is of little or no agricultural value, and it would be interesting to know who was the proprietor? When was the purchase made? What was the price paid? What was the number of acres purchased? What was the valuation at which the subjects purchased stood on the Valuation Roll? Before the sale was concluded did the seller know for what purpose the property was desired? In a matter of this kind the Government would of course have got powers from Parliament for compulsory purchase, and I doubt very much if the country would not have purchased cheaper under a compulsory purchase. It would indeed seem as if the announcement had some relation to some pending matters of diplomacy into which he would not enter. But whether that be so or not, there was no doubt that such an announcement would have considerable effect in leading to a counter-move on the part of Germany and Russia. Germany would find in this new naval base a strong argument for increasing her fleet; whilst Russia might be led to retaliate by some strategical move on land. Certainly there is at the present moment, and for some considerable time past has been, an attempt at rapprochement between Russia and Germany. If that should succeed, then not improbably France and Italy would be drawn into the same combination. But whether that be so or not, it obviously is the duty and interest of this country to make the naval defence of its inland seas as efficient as possible, and towards that end I have suggested the connection of the East and West coasts of Scotland by a canal capable of transferring ships of war. Perhaps the Admiralty are able to announce how far advanced matters are in the way of developing the new base. How much money is to be taken for St. Margaret's Hope in the Estimates of next year? Of course Scotland will welcome anything that will give protection in the event of invasion or the out break of war with a first-class? Power, but if several years are to elapse and no intention is shown of vigorously proceeding with the matter, then I think there will be considerable disappointment, and the effect of an announcement of that kind will not be for the advantage of the Government unless they mean to really carry it out.

MR. J. F. HOPE (Sheffield, Brightside)

I hope that the naval construction policy of the last two years will not be repeated this year. I think I am right when I state that the orders for armour required for naval construction in some cases were not issued until December. I trust that it will be possible to get the designs out in time, and thereby obviate the inconveniences which, to those connected with construction, are necessarily matters of regret. Some time ago some of the leading firms concerned in the production of armour plates for the requirements of the Navy were invited to increase their means of production, and they consequently did so. I would humbly suggest to my hon. friend that when the question of carrying out the new naval programme comes on, these firms should receive specially favourable treatment in consequence of the way they responded to what they were asked to do some time ago.

MR. HARWOOD (Bolton)

I wish to ask the Secretary of the Admiralty one or two questions with regard to submarine boats. Some years ago I called attention to the experiments which were being made with submarine boats, and I invited the Admiralty to make experiments with that class of vessels. I understand that nine are provided for in the Estimates now. I would ask whether I am right in drawing the inference that the experiments which have already been made have been successful. The other point I wish to mention is about the training of officers, which is really the most important part of the Estimates. The Secretary to the Admiralty stated that officers of the Navy would be admitted from all classes of the community; but I think the system, which the hon. Gentleman now proposes is a contradiction of that undertaking Take my own county of Lancashire. It contributes a very considerable proportion of the expense of the Fleet, but hardly any parent in Lancashire would dream of sending his boy into the Navy, although many parents send their sons into the Army. That is because of the principle of non-election, and I am quite sure that if the country really under stood what non-election means, it would have a very short shrift. What it really means is, that it makes the Navy a preserve for naval people. Any person applying for a nomination has to state whether he has any connection with the Navy; and if he has not a connection of that kind, he has a very small chance of even being allowed to compete. The consequence is that the Navy is closed to all except naval people and their relatives. I should like to remind the House that the adventurous spirit of seamanship is not hereditary, but tingles in the blood of all the people, just as much as it does in the sons of naval men. The Secretary to the Admiralty-has pointed out that in the career of officers in the Navy there is a tendency more and more in the direction of engineering, and that a modern ship of war is a huge congerie of machinery. In my part of the country the people have a hereditary gift of engineering, and they have the common love of the sea; yet under this system of nomination they are practically shut out from the Navy.


I would remind the hon. Gentleman that the opinion of the House has already been taken on the question he is now discussing.


I will only say in conclusion that I would ask the Secretary to the Admiralty seriously to consider if he cannot discover some better method than the present one, in order to carry out his own promise of making the Navy open to all classes of the community.

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