HC Deb 16 March 1903 vol 119 cc863-4

There is in the first place an addition to the Royal Fleet Reserve. This reserve, as hon. Members know, is a recently created force, which is composed of men who have served and received their training in the Royal Navy. Class B, which is the important class in the Fleet Reserve, is to be increased, we hope, by 2,300 men. We have not fully realised our expectations with regard to the creation of a Fleet Reserve in the first two years, but the shortage is under 300. We are inclined to believe that before the year passes, and even before any part of the scheme becomes compulsory, we shall have a regular and satisfactory contingent of men who have served in the Fleet passing into the Fleet Reserve. The Royal Naval Reserve is also to receive a slight addition. I am glad to say that, the firemen of the Royal Naval Reserve—a very important branch—are already over 300 in excess of the number being voted. But there is another addition to the personnel of the Navy which is peculiar to the present year. I do not want to anticipate legislation which the House has not yet had an opportunity of considering or sanctioning, but we owe it to the labours of the Committee presided over by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Berwick, that we are able to present to the House a Bill for utilising a new force for the Navy. We are taking steps, if the House permit, to introduce the principle, very carefully safeguarded, of short-service for the Navy. That is to say, we are going to take a certain limited number of men to serve for a short period, who, on taking their discharge from active service in the Fleet, will pass into the Fleet Reserve. I believe that if that principle is safeguarded—and lam quite sure it will be as long as Naval officers are at the Admiralty and as long as they are sensible of the value of long-service trained men,—it will be of very great value in adding to the personnel of the Fleet in time of war. I have no hesitation in saying, and I think the great majority of the House will agree, that to add an unlimited number to the active ratings of the Fleet is a step that requires very serious consideration and very strong justification. The numbers now are very large, far larger than those in any Navy in the world, and if we can, without any sacrifice of efficiency—as I believe we can, and as I shall show that without any sacrifice of efficiency we can—add to the number available, without adding to the enormous cost and the enormous burden of an increase of the active service ratings, it will be of great advantage to the Navy. The measure which I have already spoken of also abolishes the limit of the Royal Naval Reserve of which the Fleet Reserve is a part.