HC Deb 13 August 1904 vol 140 cc532-4


Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a third time."

MR. CALDWELL (Lanarkshire, Mid.)

said that this Bill was promoted with three objects in view, first, to provide the Admiralty with two ships superior in speed to anything they at present possessed; secondly, to provide as far as possible for the transfer of these ships to the British flag; and, thirdly, to uphold the prestige of the British flag in the matter of speedy communications on the Atlantic route. These were Imperial objects of the first importance. The speed of the Atlantic steamers had very greatly increased of late years. In 1887 it was eighteen knots an hour, a speed then looked upon as remarkable; it was now twenty three knots and there was no reason why in the ordinary development of commerce the speed should not be increased. There was no difficulty in building vessels which would make the Atlantic trip in five days; the only reason it was not done was that it suited the shipbuilders to increase the speed gradually. Germany now had ships going at twenty-three knots an hour, and the Government proposed by this agreement to go one better and get ships which would go twenty-four and a half knots. If they accomplished it, Germany would build still faster boats, and the only result of this high-speed subsidy would be to create a rivalry in the building of fast boats which would leave us no better off than we were now. In Germany it had been found out that these high speeds could be attained on commercial lines. Foreign vessels were only subsidised in certain cases, as for instance, when they opened new routes, not yet developed, where but for the subsidy it would be impossible to run, but even in those cases those vessels were only subsidised for ten years, the subsidy decreasing year by year. The Government was going to enter into this agreement, and get this line to build ships with a speed of twenty-five knots and give them a subsidy for naval and Admiralty purposes. That was a new policy which Germany would follow, and the ultimate result to us would be nothing. Take the case of the "Campania." She was now out of the Admiralty list, because she could not do twenty-one knots; when first built she could do twenty-one knots, and if the Government had come down to the House in 1887, and made such a contract with regard to the "Campania," we should be paying now for a vessel that was of no use to us. That was what he predicted would be the fate of this agreement. Either it would fail, or if it did succeed it would bring about rivalry which ultimately could be of no benefit to this country. All the Post Office contracts for the carriage of mails were made for the vessel to com- plete the voyage in a certain time, in a certain number of days. In the case of the Peninsular and Oriental contracts a certain number of hours were allowed for the ships to get from port to port, and there were penalties for being out of time. But in the agreement with the Cunard, that matter was left quite open; it was left in a general way; they were to go as fast as possible subject to safe navigation. The Post Office paid by weight and not by subsidy, and so far as this contract with the Cunard was concerned, if it was a me e contract for the carrying of letters, this country had no more interest in carrying letters to America than America had in bringing letters over here, We had hitherto refused to subsidise vessels running between this and foreign countries; the only subsidy we gave was to vessels going to our own Colonies. He warned the Government that this agreement would not be ultimately to our benefit, and that they would find, when it came to a question of building ships capable of a high rate of speed, that the Germans could build vessels to go quite as quickly as any we could build.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time and passed.