§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That 129,000 officers, seamen, and boys be employed for the Sea and Coast Guard Services for the year ending on March 31st, 1906, including 20,211 Royal Marines."
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON (Dundee)
said they were entitled on that Vote to discuss the whole naval policy for the current year. That policy was one of unusual importance, and after the Answer given him by the First Lord of the Treasury that afternoon he need not offer any excuse for calling attention to the entirely unsatisfactory conditions under which they were invited to approach the debate. In the forefront of these Estimates stood a new proposal with reference to the distribution and mobilisation of the Fleet, and in the forefront of that in turn was to be found a sweeping proposal to throw out of the Navy List, as the Prime Minister had stated, some 130 vessels. These were to be abolished or removed. As soon as he found that to be the intention of the Government he put down early in the session a Motion for two Returns. In the first he asked for a list of the vessels to be struck out, showing their names, date of building, cost of repairs, and the cost of the last substantial repairs; and in the second he asked to be supplied with the number of cruisers which had not been struck off. He admitted that the second Return had been fully given, but he did wish to point out that there were sixteen vessels the names of which appeared on both lists. He had honestly tried to work out the information from the material given them, but he had been unsuccessful; and there was ample justification for their insisting on further information before the debate was proceeded with. For instance, he found in the list of vessels struck off the "Pallas," completed in 1891, of 7,500 h.p., 19½1 knots, cost 1232 £151,000; yet in the Estimates for this year there was a proposal to spend a sum of nearly £8,000 on her for repairs. On another vessel of the same class, built in 1892, and costing £160,000, it was proposed to spend this year £8,450. Then in regard to two other vessels, the "Medea" and the "Medusa," both of which originally cost £164,000, having been completed in the year 1889, only two years ago the sums of £75,000 and £70,000 were spent respectively on them, and yet these vessels were to be relegated to the llama class, from which nothing more was to be expected. He was not now challenging the policy of the Government, but he was submitting that the Committee could not proceed to consider these Votes, and to pronounce any judgment upon them unless it had before it all the information relating to these ships. He therefore proposed to move formally, so as to give the Secretary to the Admiralty an opportunity to explain, to report Progress.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress; and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Edmund Robertson.)
§ *THE SECRETARY TO THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. PRETYMAN, Suffolk, Wood-bridge)
said he thought the hon. Gentleman had taken a line of argument which rather defeated his own object. He had stated certain specific facts in regard to ships, and he had indicated that those ships were on the Navy Estimates for the present year, and, therefore, it was quite evident that in regard to those particular matters and the expenditure on these individual ships there would be ample opportunity of discussion.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
I was not referring to this year, I was referring to the year just completed.
§ *MR. PRETYMAN
said he had certainly understood the hon. Gentleman to refer to repairs to be carried out in the coming year, but he would like to point out to him that the whole policy of the Government could bediscussed on Vote 12. He would further put it to him on higher ground, and he would submit 1233 to the Committee that the question of expenditure in past years on individual ships really did not affect the main question of the policy which the Committee had under discussion. His view was that this was a great question of policy—a policy of which there were three parts, the redistribution of the Fleet, the nucleus of the crews, and the, laying-up of particular ships. The Committee had information on all these points. It had been given the actual names of the ships which were to be laid up, and the only point which remained open and on which the House had not information was the actual amount of money which had been spent in past years on these particular vessels. But on that, surely, did not depend the question whether the policy they were pursuing was right or wrong, and even if hon. Members opposite were able to prove entirely to their own satisfaction and to the satisfaction of the Committee that more money had been spent upon these ships in past years than was necessary, he did not think it would alter their policy, or could convince them that it was an undesirable one. Each one of the three branches of the policy to which he had referred was interdependent, and he asserted that it was impossible to carry out their plans unless the three parts were carried out together. Therefore, the whole thing narrowed itself down to this, could the hon. Member succeed in proving that the Admiralty in past years had not sufficiently anticipated the policy which was now being adopted, could he prove that money had been wasted? That surely was the whole object in view. [Cries of "No, only one object."] That, at any rate to his mind, was the issue, and he submitted that in order to prove that they would have to show that the expenditure was unnecessary, not merely under the circumstances which existed at the time the money was spent, but also under the circumstances as they existed to-day. He maintained that the question of expenditure upon particular vessels, even if the figures asked for in the Return were forthcoming, would not affect the opinion of the Committee or of the hon. Member upon the general question of the policy now proposed.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
A full examination of the complete Returns would affect and determine my opinion.
§ *MR. PRETYMAN
Then we are to take it that the question whether more or less money was spent upon a particular ship will affect the opinion of the hon. Gentleman as to the present policy of the Government?
§ *MR. PRETYMAN
said he was afraid that some hon. Members always attached more value to the lost sheep than to the ninety-nine that remained in the fold, and, therefore, they seemed to attach more importance to information which it had been found impossible to give than to that which had been given. He submitted that the information before the Committee, which gave them the names of all the ships, was sufficient to meet the case, especially as details of their original cost were easily available. He would like to explain that a large proportion of the ships now struck off had not for a long time been in the fighting line. Many of them had been withdrawn for some time, and had not been regarded as fighting ships, so that the number actually withdrawn from the fighting line was not so large as had been stated. Taking all the facts into consideration, he did not think that the hon. Gentleman had made out a case why the House could not perfectly well continue the discussion on the general question of the policy of the Admiralty.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said he was a strong advocate of the new policy of getting rid of obsolete ships, but he thought there was something in the contention of hon. Gentlemen opposite that they had not got the information they had asked for. He thought much of it could have been obtained by the Secretary of the Admiralty. For instance, the hon. Gentleman had omitted to give a Return of the complement of men to each of the ships to be laid up.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said the Return asked for the cost of the ships and the complement of men, and there could have been no possible difficulty in giving those particulars. He, therefore, thought the hon. Member for Dundee had some cause for complaint. But he was personally a strong advocate on general grounds of this new policy of getting rid of useless ships, and it would be convenient, if possible, to do without the information which had been asked for and to discuss the policy on its merits. He, therefore, hoped that the Motion would not be pressed to a division. Let hon. Members come forward manfully and tackle the new policy, and show, if they could, that it was a bad policy. His own conviction was that it was an extremely good policy, and he rejoiced that so strong a man as Sir John Fisher had been found able to impose at on Lord Selborne. His only regret was that the policy was not adopted years ago.
§ *LORD GEORGE HAMILTON (Middlesex, Ealing)
said he was entirely in favour of the policy of getting rid of obsolete and useless ships, and if they were all agreed upon that it really did not seem that there was any necessity whatever for postponing the discussion. If the hon. Gentleman who moved to report Progress would look at the Return he would see that page 1 was entirely occupied with the names of vessels which it was not intended to sell, and in the first category of which were included the "Medea" and the "Medusa." Their armaments were not to be taken out of them, they were to be retained, and, therefore, if money had been spent upon them in
§ past years they would be all the more efficient in case of emergency. The only point which seemed to be doubtful was in regard to the ships that were to be sold and those which were not for sale, and he would suggest that on that subject further information might be given, and that the Prime Minister should give an undertaking that no ship should be sold until hon. Members had had an opportunity of expressing their opinions as to the advisability of getting rid of individual ships. That would be, in his opinion, a more business-like proceeding, and if, as he believed, the majority of the House were in favour of the general policy of the Admiralty—the policy of getting rid of old and obsolete vessels—surely it would be well for them to proceed to take the discussion on that policy and leave details for a future occasion.
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)
agreed that they ought not to report Progress because they had insufficient information. It appeared to him that this question of removal of ships might well be dealt with on the Construction Vote. He was entirely in accord with the policy of removing ineffective, inefficient, and obsolete vessels. It was no doubt an important matter that the House should be given reasons why certain ships were retained and why others were to be sold, but he could not see anything whatever to hinder a full discussion on the Naval Estimates on these points, and therefore he did not think they would be justified in postponing the whole consideration of the general naval policy of the Government.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 160; Noes, 181. (Division List No. 42.)1239
|Abraham, William (Cork N.E.)||Bryce, Rt. Hon. James||Condon, Thomas Joseph|
|Ainsworth, John Stirling||Buchanan, Thomas Ryburn||Craig, Robert Hunter (Lanark)|
|Allen, Charles P.||Burke, E. Haviland||Crean, Eugene|
|Ashton, Thomas Gair||Burns, John||Cremer, William Randal|
|Benn, John Williams||Buxton, Sydney Charles||Crombie, John William|
|Black, Alexander William||Caldwell, James||Crooks, William|
|Blake, Edward||Cameron, Robert||Cullinan, J.|
|Boland, John||Campbell, John (Armagh, S.)||Dalziel, James Henry|
|Brigg, John||Channing, Francis Allston||Davies, Alfred (Carmarthen)|
|Bright, Allan Heywood||Cheetham, John Frederick||Davies, M. Vaughan, (Cardigan|
|Broadhurst, Henry||Churchill, Winston Spencer||Delany, William|
|Brunner, Sir John Tomlinson||Clancy, John Joseph||Devlin, Charles Ramsay (Galway|
|Devlin, Joseph (Kilkenny, N.)||Lewis, John Herbert||Runeiman, Walter|
|Dilke, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles||Lloyd-George, David||Russell, T. W.|
|Doogan, P. C.||Lough, Thomas||Samuel, Herbert L. (Cleveland)|
|Douglas, Charles M. (Lanark)||Lundon, W.||Schwann, Charles E.|
|Duffy, William J.||Lyell, Charles Henry||Scott, Chas. Prestwich (Leigh)|
|Duncan, J. Hastings||Macnamara, Dr. Thomas J.||Seely, Maj. J. E B. (Isle of Wight|
|Edwards, Frank||MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Sheehan, Daniel Daniel|
|Elibank, Master of||M'Crae, George||Sheehy, David|
|Ellice, CaptEC(S. Andrw'sBghs||M'Hugh, Patrick A.||Shipman, Dr. John G.|
|Emmott, Alfred||M'Kenna, Reginald||Sinclair, John (Forfarshire)|
|Fenwick, Charles||M'Laren, Sir Charles Benjamin||Slack, John Bamford|
|Ferguson, R. C. Munro (Leith)||Mitchell, Edw. (Fermanagh, N.)||Soames, Arthur Wellesley|
|Fitzmaurice, Lord Edmond||Mooney, John J.||Soares, Ernest J.|
|Flynn, James Christopher||Morgan, J. Lloyd (Carmarthen)||Spencer, Rt. Hn. C. R. (Northants|
|Foster, Sir Walter (Derby Co.)||Morley, Rt. Hon. John (Montrose||Stanhope, Hon. Philip James|
|Freeman-Thomas, Captain F.||Murphy, John||Stevenson, Francis S.|
|Fuller, J. M. F.||Nannetti, Joseph P.||Strachey, Sir Edward|
|Furness, Sir Christopher||Nolan, Joseph (Louth, South)||Sillivan, Donal|
|Goddard, Daniel Ford||Norman, Henry||Tennant, Harold John|
|Harmsworth, R. Leicester||Norton, Capt. Cecil William||Toulmin, George|
|Hayden, John Patrick||O'Brien, James F. X. (Cork)||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Hayter, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur D.||O'Brien, Kendal (Tipperary Mid||Waldron, Laurence Ambrose|
|Healy, Timothy Michael||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)||Wallace, Robert|
|Hemphill, Rt. Hon. Charles H.||O'Brien, P. J. (Tipperary, N.)||Walton, Joseph (Barnsley)|
|Higham, John Sharpe||O'Connor, James (Wicklow. W)||Warner, Thomas Courtenay T.|
|Hobhouse, C. E. H. (Bristol. E.)||O'Dowd, John||Wason, Eugene (Clackmannan)|
|Horniman, Frederick John||O'Kelly, Conor (Mayo, N.)||Weir, James Galloway|
|Hutchinson, Dr. Charles Fredk.||O'Kelly, James (Roscommon. N.||White, Luke (York, E. R.)|
|Jacoby, James Alfred||O'Malley, William||White, Patrick (Meath, North)|
|Jones, David Brynmor (Swansea||O'Shaughnessy, P. J.||Whiteley, George (York, W.R.)|
|Jones, Leif (Appleby)||Partington, Oswald||Whitley, J. H. (Halifax)|
|Jones, William (Carnarvonshire||Paulton, James Mellor||Williams, Osmond (Merioneth)|
|Kearley, Hudson E.||Pirie, Duncan V.||Wills, Arthur Walters (N. Dorset|
|Kennedy, Vincent P. (Cavan, W||Power, Patrick Joseph||Wilson, John (Durham, Mid.)|
|Kilbride, Denis||Rea, Russell||Wilson, J. W. (Worcestersh, N.)|
|Kitson, Sir James||Reckitt, Harold James||Woodhouse, Sir J T (Huddersf' d|
|Labouchere, Henry||Reddy, M.||Young, Samuel|
|Lambert, George||Redmond, John E. (Waterford)||Yoxall, James Henry|
|Lamont, Norman||Reid, Sir R. Threshie (Dumfries|
|Law, Hugh Alex. (Donegal, W.)||Rickett, J. Compton||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Mr.|
|Lawson, Sir Wilfred (Cornwall)||Robertson, Edmund (Dundee)||Herbert Gladstone and Mr.|
|Layland-Barratt, Francis||Roche, John||Causton.|
|Levy, Maurice||Rose, Charles Day|
|Agg-Gardner, James Tynte||Campbell, Rt Hn. J. A. (Glasgow||Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn Edward|
|Allsopp, Hon. George||Campbell, J H. M. (Dublin Univ.||Fergusson, Rt Hn. Sir J (Manc'r|
|Anson, Sir William Reynell||Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edw. H.||Finch, Rt. Hon. George H.|
|Arkwright, John Stanhope||Cavendish, V.C.W.(Derbyshire||Finlay, Sir R. B (Invern'ssB'ghs)|
|Arnold-Forster Rt. Hn. HughO.||Chamberlain. Rt Hn J. A (Wore.||Firbank, Sir Joseph Thomas|
|Arrol, Sir William||Chapman, Edward||Fisher, William Hayes|
|Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John||Clive, Captain Percy A.||Fison, Frederick William|
|Bailey, James (Walworth)||Cochrane, Hon. Thos. H. A. E.||Fitz Gerald Sir Robert Penrose|
|Bain, Colonel James Robert||Coghill, Douglas Harry||Flannery, Sir Forteseue|
|Baird, John George Alexander||Cohen, Benjamin Louis||Flower, Sir Ernest|
|Balcarres, Lord||Colomb, Rt. Hon. Sir John C. R.||Forster, Henry William|
|Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J (Mane'r||Corbett, T. L. (Down, North)||Gardner, Ernest|
|Balfour Rt Hn Gerald W. (Leeds||Craig, Charles Curtis (Antrim S.||Gordon, Hn. J. E. (Elgin & Nairn)|
|Barry, Sir Francis T. (Windsor)||Cripps, Charles Alfred||Gordon Maj Evans-(Tr'H'mlets|
|Bartley, Sir George C. T.||Crossley, Rt. Hon. Sir Savile||Gore, Hon. S. F. Ormsby-|
|Bathurst, Hon. Allen Benjamin||Cubitt, Hon. Henry||Gouliding, Edward Alfred|
|Beach, Rt Hn. Sir Michael Hicks||Cust, Henry John C.||Gray, Ernest (West Ham)|
|Bignold, Sir Arthur||Dalkeith, Earl of||Greene, Sir E W (B'rySEdm'nds|
|Bill, Charles||Dalrymple, Sir Charles||Greville, Hon. Ronald|
|Bingham, Lord||Davenport, William Bromley||Halsey, Rt. Hon. Thomas F.|
|Blundell, Colonel Henry||Dickson, Charles Scott||Hamilton, Rt Hn Lord G (Midd'x|
|Bond, Edward||Disraeli, Coningsby Ralph||Hamilton, Marq. of (L'nd'nderry|
|Boulnois, Edmund||Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers||Harris, F. Leverton (Tynem'th)|
|Bowles, T. Gibson (King'sLynn||Dyke, Rt. Hon Sir William Hart||Heath, Sir James (Staffords. N W|
|Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John||Egerton, Hon. A. de Tatton||Heaton, John Henniker|
|Bull, William James||Fardell, Sir T. George||Helder, Augustus|
|Hoare, Sir Samuel||Maxwell, W. JH (Dumfriesshire||Rutherford, John (Lancashire)|
|Hogg, Lindsay||Moon, Edward Robert Pacy||Sackville, Col. S. G. Stopford|
|Hope, J. F. (Sheffield, Brightside||Moore, William||Sadler, Col. Samuel Alexander|
|Houldsworth, Sir Wm. Henry||Morgan, David J (Walthamstow||Samuel, Sir Harry S (Limehouse|
|Howard, J. (Midd., Tottenham)||Morpeth, Viscount||Sharpe, William Edward T.|
|Hozier, Hon. James Henry Cecil||Morrison, James Archibald||Shaw-Stewart, Sir H. (Renfrew)|
|Hudson, George Bickersteth||Morton, Arthur H. Aylmer||Skewes-Cox, Thomas|
|Hunt, Rowland||Mount, William Arthur||Sloan, Thomas Henry|
|Jessel, Captain Herbert Merton||Mowbray, Sir Robert Gray C.||Smith, Hon. W. F. D. (Strand)|
|Kerr, John||Murray, Charles J. (Coventry)||Stanley, Hon. Arthur (Ormskirk|
|Kimber, Sir Henry||Myers, William Henry||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Lanes.)|
|Laurie, Lieut.-General||Nicholson, William Graham||Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)|
|Law, Andrew Bonar (Glasgow)||Palmer, Sir Walter (Salisbury)||Talbot, Rt Hn. J. G. (Oxf'd Univ-|
|Lawson, Hn H. L. W. (Mile End)||Parker, Sir Gilbert||Taylor, Austen (East Toxteth)|
|Lawson, John Grant (Yorks. N. R||Peel, Hn. Wm. Robert Wellesley||Thorbnrn, Sir Walter|
|Lee, Arthur H. (Hants, Fareham)||Pemberton, John S. G.||Tollemache, Henry James|
|Lees, Sir Elliott (Birkenhead)||Percy, Earl||Tomlinson, Sir Wm. Edw. M.|
|Legge, Col. Hon. Heneage||Pierpoint, Robert||Tuff, Charles|
|Leveson-Gower, Frederick N. S.||Pilkington, Colonel Richard||Tuke, Sir John Batty|
|Llewellyn, Evan Henry||Platt-Higgins, Frederick||Turnour, Viscount|
|Lockwood, Lieut.-Col. A. R.||Plummer, Sir Walter R.||Walrond, Rt Hn. Sir William H.|
|Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine||Pretyman, Ernest George||Warde, Colonel C. E.|
|Long, Col. Charles W (Evesham||Purvis, Robert||Welby, Lt-Col. A. C. E. (Taunton)|
|Lowe, Francis William||Pym, C. Guy||Welby, Sir Charles G E. (Notts.)|
|Loyd, Archie Kirkman||Randles, John S.||Wharton, Rt. Hon. John Lloyd|
|Lucas, Col. Francis (Lowestoft)||Rankin, Sir James||Wilson, A Stanley (York, E. R.)|
|Lucas, Reginald J (Portsmouth)||Reid, James (Greenock)||Wilson, John (Glasgow)|
|Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. Alfred||Rasch, Sir Frederick Carne||Wilson-Todd, Sir W H. (Yorks.)|
|Macdona, John Gumming||Remnant, James Farquharson||Wodehouse, Rt Hn. E. R. (Bath)|
|MacIver, David (Liverpool)||Renshaw, Sir Charles Bine||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart|
|Maconochie, A. W||Ridley, S. Forde||Yerburgh, Robert Armstrong|
|M'Calmont, Colonel James||Roberts, Samuel (Sheffield)|
|Majendie, James A. H.||Rollit, Sir Albert Kaye||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Sir|
|Malcolm, Ian||Rothschild, Hon. Lionel Walter||Alexander Acland-Hood and|
|Marks, Harry Hananel||Round, Rt. Hon. James||Viscount Valentia.|
|Maxwell, Rt Hn Sir H. E (Wigt'n||Royds, Clement Molyneux|
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
said that the Committee having decided by a majority of twenty-one that they must proceed with the discussion of the Estimates on the meagre material before them, he would proceed to speak on the point with which they were more immediately concerned in this Vote. He was tempted to go back to the debate of Monday last, but he would not follow his instinct. He thought it was useless now to pursue the controversy about the size of the Navy. His belief was that the international competition which resulted in large navies could only be ended by international negotiation on the line suggested by his hon. friend behind him. One consoling feature of the present situation was the determined attitude of that growing naval Power, the United States, to put an end to the rule by which private property at sea could be captured by belligerents. That, he thought, caused the danger to commerce which had demanded and tolerated large naval expenditure. The hon. Gentleman 1240 opposite had, following the example which was set in this House a year ago, attributed to one official much of the extravagant administration which had taken place. That was a dangerous course to take. He associated himself with what was said on the other side of the House the other day, that in the Navy administration continuity of policy was essential. To single out one official for special praise or special responsibility was a gross injustice to previous Boards of Admiralty. It was unfair to existing naval officers in or out of the Admiralty, and he ventured to say that it was specially unfair to the officers themselves who were singled out for praise or invidious distinction. In recent times he deplored the too frequent appearance of the Admiralty Department in the province of advertising. The Admiralty had never been an advertising Department, and the less they heard of it in advertising circles the better.
That led him to the few words he wanted to say about the new distribution of officers, and the new role that was to be 1241 played by the First Sea Lord. The Committee had now full information on that point, and he did not think the change amounted to so much as some newspapers would have them believe. He read in one paper the other day that they had constituted a Commander-in-Chief for the Navy, the sort of thing which the noble Lord the Member for Ealing on the occasion of the debate ten years ago denounced on the ground that we must not have a naval autocrat to rule. He did not know that it had come to that, but the sting of the new system was contained in the tail of the Memorandum, which assigned to the First Sea Lord the position that all the other Lords and all other persons were to communicate with him on everything of importance. That was a large extension, and if it meant more than that which the Admiralty system allowed ten years ago he should withhold his assent to it. On that occasion ten years ago he was authorised on behalf of the Admiralty to state that the position of the First Sea Lord was that of a primus inter pares—the first among equals—without special responsibility for the disposition of the Fleet. If anyone shared hisdoubts as to the new system he would point out that whatever disposition might be made by Lord Selborne or his successor, the part assigned to the First Sea Lord was personal to the present holder and might be altered. That was all he would say about the distribution of the business.
He now came to the scheme of distribution and mobilisation of the Fleet. He was sorry that the First Lord of the Treasury had left the bench, because that right hon. Gentleman was responsible, by the statement he had made, for a great deal of what might be called the misunderstanding. He hoped that the representative of the Admiralty would be able to defend the right hon. Gentleman's words. He wished to deal with two points of the new scheme; one relating to the distribution of the Fleet, and the other to the elimination of ships from the active list. By distribution he meant the location of the ships, the settlement and composition of the squadrons, and the determination of the number and classes of ships which constituted these squadrons. All of that he had always held to be the special and particular business of 1242 the Admiralty acting on its own responsibility. Four years ago this question was discussed in the House in connection with what was called the Mediterranean scare. A most deplorable agitation arose, fomented by letters circulated in the House, stated as having been received from distinguished naval officers actually in high command. The Admiralty of that day did not show the courage which they ought to have done, and condemn the scare. He was content to abide by what Lord Selborne said in another place on this subject of the distribution of the Mediterranean Fleet. He said that if Parliament or the Press intended to take out of the hands of the Admiralty the distribution of the British Fleet, he for one should cease to be personally responsible. It would be for the Admiralty acting on its knowledge, on the knowledge of the Foreign Office, and on the responsibility of the Government, and for no one else to settle the distribution of the Fleet. That was good enough for him, and he was surprised that anything more should have been said about it by the Admiralty on this occasion. What had happened? The new scheme of distribution had been announced with much parade, but with very little information. Any one who took up the two documents—the Memorandum of the First Lord of the Admiralty issued in December last, and the Statement explanatory of the Estimates, would find a pseudo-scientific system which they had chosen to adopt. They rang the changes on devolution and decentralisation; they bandied names about; changed the name of one Fleet, and gave high-sounding titles to certain Admirals. It was very much a question of names, and he defied any one who read the two State Papers to say what had actually taken place. For instance, he found in the Memorandum of December a reference to the China squadron and its proposed distribution, but in the Statement, so far as it contained any reference to the China squadron, it was to the effect that there was no change at all. As to this new scheme of distribution, what was wanted—if they wanted anything at all—was a sort of diagram showing the stations, the ships, and the strength of the squadrons last year and 1243 this. Such a diagram ought to be easily made, and he hoped the Admiralty would prepare one and lay it before the Committee before the discussion went much further.
The new distribution was said to be founded on strategical principles; but he did not find the strategy explained at all. On his theory the question of strategy was for the Admiralty, and the less they said about it the better; it would have been better if they had said less than they had done. He did not like the references in the papers to foreign navies. In so for as they were not truisms, they were not necessary and certainly not tac ful. Did any one think there was any good in telling Germany that she could keep her navy at home, or in telling Russia that her fleet was decreasing, or in telling the Committee that the navy of the United States would soon reach a limit that would only be bounded by the willingness of the American people to pay for it. These things, he thought, need hardly have been said, but having been said, the Committee should have had a little further information. The hon. Gentleman the Civil Lord of the Admiralty had been much criticised for a statement he had made during the recess. He was not going to quarrel with the words in the first report of the hon. Gentleman's speech. By some unfortunate accident the words which got into the condensed report were not those which the hon. Gentleman actually used; but in the authorised version which appeared in The Times the hon. Gentleman summed up as the views of the Admiralty that the British Fleet was now prepared, strategically, for every conceivable emergency, and we must assume that all foreign naval Powers were possible enemies. If that was so, we were in a very happy position, although he failed to grasp the kindly disposition shown in the remark that we should be able to meet all conceivable emergencies.
Finally, on the scheme as a whole, he wished to call the attention of the Committee to what, as he had said already, added to the confusion in the public mind as to the consequences on the public finances of the Memorandum issued by the First Lord of the Admiralty 1244 in December last and the Statement now submitted to the Committee. It was alleged that the new scheme of distribution, including the scheme of eliminating certain ships from the active list, would lead and had led to great financial economy. Undoubtedly that was the belief of the Press and the popular belief; but he held it was a popular delusion that the £3,500,000 by which the naval expenditure was reduced was attributable in any appreciable degree to the new scheme of distribution. The saving of £3,510,000 took place almost entirely on Votes 8 and 9. The amount of money to be spent on ships in course of construction or about to be built was cut down by £2,200,000; on armaments £660,000, on repairs £540,000, and on sea stores, £110,000, or a total of £3,510,000, almost exactly the amount of the net saving. What part of this was attributable to the new scheme of distribution? Certainly not new construction or armaments. His belief was, from what he knew of the present state of affairs in the dockyards, that the reduction of armaments was not a permanent or real reduction; and that instead of being reduced it would go up in future years. The saving on sea stores was 12 per cent. and he hoped the hon. Gentleman would explain how the reduction came about, and whether any portion of it was attributable to elimination. Repairs had gone down £540,000. Was any portion of that attributable to the new scheme? His belief was that very little of it would be. He would remind the Committee that in the First Lord's Memorandum it was stated that all the great repairs undertaken in the last five years had been completed, and that the Fleet was now in a more complete state of repair thin it had been for many years. If so, that would account for the reduction in the Repairs Vote.
Passing to the subject of elimination of the ships from the Active List, it was said that we were now in a condition to deal intelligently with that part of the scheme. The proposal was that certain ships were to be sold and others laid up; but the Committee were not told what the value of the ships involved was, what the ages of the ships were, or what the opinion of the Admiralty on this part of the case was last 1245 year. On two of the ships which were to be laid up—the "Medea" and "Medusa"—the Government had spent on maintenance or repairs within the past two years sums equal to 50 per cent, of the original value of the ships. The First Lord of the Treasury stated at Glasgow that the Government had abolished 130 vessels; but that the Navy had not been weakened in the process, On that occasion, there was a voice, "Good riddance of bad rubbish," and the right hon. Gentleman remarked that that observation put the position more correctly, more concisely, and more pithily than he could. The right hon. Gentleman added that the ships would not only be useless but worse than useless if in time of war they did not possess fighting power and speed; and that with one courageous stroke of the pen, as it were, they had been struck off and the cost of their maintenance and repair removed from the Navy Estimates. The right hon. Gentleman also declared that the strength of the Navy had been increased three-fold; but of that the Committee had not been given any particulars. He would ask the hon. Gentleman whether he adopted the language of the First Lord of the Treasury at Glasgow. Was it a correct statement of the policy of the Admiralty to say that 130 vessels had been abolished? He did not think it was consistent with what the hon. Gentleman himself had stated. He confessed he had some difficulty in realising what the policy of the Admiralty was. The hon. Gentleman stated that the key-note of the scheme was that current expenditure should only be incurred on ships which could be instantaneously ready for war; and he added that no fewer than eighty-four ships had been placed on the scrap heap.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
said that there was a discrepancy between the two statements of the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman stated that there would be no more expenditure on what he called the llama class; which, however, would be extremely useful for subsidary purposes, in war; and that in the course of three months they could be fitted 1246 up for active service. In his opinion, however, that would not be possible. Did this policy mean that these ships were to be in the hands of caretakers, and that no attention was to be paid to their maintenance and repair? That would be a dangerous policy. Deterioration would be certain to occur. Therefore, the Committee should be given a farther explanation. He himself did not believe that it would be possible to fit out these ships in three months after they had been lying idle for perhaps two or three years. A fallacy which ran through all the Admiralty statements on the subject was that they compared the minor vessels with the best vessels. Here were a few facts. Germany in recent years had established a class of cruiser of the "Pearl" type. They were built possibly in answer to, certainly in imitation of, the "Pearl" class. That class was now condemned to the scrap heap under the new policy. The United States were also building a class in answer to the "Apollo" class, which was now condemned to the llama class. Then the "Warspite" was to be sent to the scrap heap, although the type was regarded as of some consequence in the Russian navy. He was not condemning the policy of sending these ships to the scrap heap; but the Committee ought to be informed how much money had been expended on them. No less than four first-class cruisers had been condemned; and it was incumbent on the hon. Gentleman to show how he reconciled the present policy with the policy which had prevailed during the last few years of repairing these ships at great expense, when, as a matter of fact, they should have been condemned to the scrap heap.
As regarded new construction, he desired to direct the hon. Gentleman's attention to a discrepancy. On page 91 the figure was given as £9,566,000, and on page 184 at £9,451,000.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
said that there must be a mistake somewhere. The two figures could not be correct. The analysis of new construction showed that dockyard-built boats had 1247 gone up by £648,000 and contract-built ships had gone down £2,700,000. Eliminating small vessels the total gave a net reduction of £2,200,000 on the Vote for building new ships this year. His first observation upon that was, that this was not the great reduction that it appeared to be. The Committee had to remember what happened in the previous year with regard to the Chilian ships. It was idle now to go on with the pretence kept up by both sides of the House with regard to the purchase of the Chilian ships and to speak of the purchase of those ships, a purchase made in breach of the law, although it was set right afterwards by a Supplementary Estimate, as anything but a special transaction. He struck off, therefore, £960,000 as the amount paid last year as the second instalment of the price of those two Chilian ships, so that the real reduction in new construction this year was only £1,250,000. The First Lord in his Memorandum had made a statement to the effect that new construction should, the bulk of it at all events, be given out to contract, and that less should be taken by the dockyards, which should be devoted mainly to repairs. He did not find that reflected in the First Lord's figures, because he found the Vote for wages of the personnel for building new ships in the dockyards reduced by 5 per cent., whilst the reduction in the corresponding item in the contract yards was not less than 25 per cent. That seemed to be somewhat contradictory to the First Lord's Statement that the main work should be given to the contract yards.
There was one thing to which he should like to call attention, and that was the depreciation table, which, if it meant anything at all, meant that our present efficient fighting Fleet could be replaced by an expenditure at the rate of £5,000,000 a year. Therefore if our present Fleet was adequate to the needs of the nation, instead of our paying £9,500,000 as we were going to do this year, we ought to be spending only £5,000,000.
With regard to new construction there were several gaps in the Estimate. The Committee was asked to vote £1,330,000 for ships not yet laid down, which were to be began in the 1248 coming year. When they were asked to vote large sums like that, the better plan would surely be to have an estimate of the total expenditure on that construction. They got the total amount for the next twelve months, but they ought at this stage to have, not the estimate for twelve months, but for the whole expenditure. There was another item not for ships not laid down, but for submarines. There were on the Estimates twenty-four submarines in course of construction, and there was not a single particular or detail given in the Estimates. No doubt there were some details which could not be given, but none of the details which were given with regard to other ships, such as dimensions, etc., were given with regard to submarines. Was there any reason why these particulars, which were known to the Board of Admiralty, and which must be made known to the country by and by, should not be put upon the Estimates now. They ought to be able to fill in the gaps in the Estimates with regard to these submarines, and the Committee ought to be given all the details which might properly be given. They did not know the average cost! He put a Question to the hon. Gentleman recently as to what was the average price of the submarine, and the hon. Gentleman replied about £50,000. He hoped the hon. Gentleman would be able to give some further details with regard to this. He complained also that there was not more information with regard to the "Scouts," of which there were eight. They were in course of construction and had been for some time. They were introduced under conditions of some alarm, and he would invite the hon. Gentleman to say now when the orders for the "Scouts" were placed—the first one had not been delivered yet—as he wanted to know the amount of progress made. The history of the "Scouts" was not consistent with the promise of acceleration which had been made with regard to them. Acceleration was a very important thing, but he doubted whether the hon. Gentleman would get up and say that the Admiralty Board of to-day could do any better than the Board of ten years ago did in the case of the "Majestic" and "Magnificent." That was a record of acceleration then, and it was the record now 1249 His complaint in the main was that in this matter the Committee had not before it the sort of information which was necessary to enable it to carry on a discussion of this kind: that there had been unnecessary concealment of material facts.
A great point had been made of the institution of the Designs Committee. A whole page of the First Lord's Memorandum was given to the constitution of it! He, however, did not intend to say anything about its constitution except that it was too largely official and too little independent in its character; that it was composed too largely of persons to whom the Admiralty had easy access. He thought the proper tribunal would have been one of greater independence—a tribunal of outsiders so to speak—before which the present Committee ought to come as expert witnesses. What he complained of most was the determined secrecy under which their proceedings were carried out. Why should not the Committee know something about the reference to this Committee, and something of its Report. Did the hon. Member justify his not giving the information by precedent?
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
said then if he did not, he would ask the hon. Gentleman how he justified his departure from precedents. The Committee was aware that there had been previous Committees of this kind. There was one in 1871, and before the Naval Defence Act programme was completed a Committee of Naval Designs was called in to assist the noble Lords. He submitted that those were precedents which should not be disturbed, but which ought to be followed in a matter which was of public interest. He did not know whether his hon. friend behind him would agree with him, but he believed there was also a Dockyard Committee and his remarks would also apply to that. He saw no reason why the reference to that Committee should be suppressed and its Report concealed.
He absolutely repudiated the suggestion that the Opposition were as responsible as the Government for these large Navy 1250 Estimates. The responsibility rested solely upon the Government of the day. Year after year Estimates of naval expenditure had been laid on the Table without a word of explanation or defence. He had never admitted the expenditure of last year or the year before to be justifiable upon any recognised standard of naval power, nor had that expenditure ever been adequately defended or explained. He took up the same position with regard to the present Estimates. The Opposition took no more responsibility for them and no more admitted their necessity than in former years; the responsibility for them rested entirely upon the Government who proposed them, and at the same time refused to give the full information for which the Opposition were entitled to ask.
§ *MR. PRETYMAN
thought it desirable that he should reply to the hon. Member at once, especially as there were a number of Questions asked while Mr. Speaker was in the Chair to which he had not yet had an opportunity to reply. As to the general criticisms of the hon. Member for Dundee, he did not at all complain of the tone of his remarks with regard to the Board of Admiralty. The Committee would doubtless agree with the hon. Member's deprecation of any discussion which would tend to differentiate between the individual personal responsibility of the various members of the Board of Admiralty. No principle could be of greater value to the Navy than that of the collective responsibility of the Board of Admiralty. As long as they had the collective responsibility of four of the best officers in the Navy, it was clear that the best brain of the four, whether it belonged to the first, second, third, or fourth Lord, would impress itself upon the whole body. That was the real advantage of the Board—that, while there was no individual responsibility outside, the Navy got the full value of the individual knowledge and brain inside.
He hardly followed the criticism of the hon. Member for Dundee with regard to the distribution of the Fleet. The responsibility for the distribution of the Fleet must, doubtless, rest with the Admiralty, and he agreed that the local issues as between one station and 1251 another could not profitably be discussed in the House. But the question had to be looked at as a whole. The last thing the Board of Admiralty themselves would think of doing was to discuss such a question in compartments. They could not take this or that particular sea, this port or that base, and discuss it by itself. The question must be discussed with reference to the whole available force of the Fleet. The essence of naval force was extreme mobility, and that consideration alone made it impossible to discuss in the present debate the particular issues of the distribution of the Fleet.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
said his point was that as the Admiralty had chosen to lay this matter before the country, the Committee might as well know what the changes really were.
§ *MR. PRETYMAN
said that while the particular considerations which influenced the Admiralty could not profitably be discussed in the House, it was most right and proper that the results should be placed before the country. It was necessary to lay before the House and the country the general effect of the new policy in the distribution of the Fleet, and the hon. Member would have been the first to complain if the change had been carried out and nothing said to the House about it.
§ MR. RUNCIMAN (Dewsbury)
asked whether it was not intended to give in outline the principles which had guided the Admiralty in the distribution of the Fleet.
§ *MR. PRETYMAN
said he had made a statement on the general policy which had guided the Admiralty, and he did not think it necessary to add to or repeat the statement.
§ MR. RUNCIMAN
did not wish to press the hon. Gentleman if he thought it improper to give the information, but he would mention one specific point, A large number of small vessels had been called in from distant stations and a considerable amount of policing work given up. Could he give any information on that point?
§ *MR. PRETYMAN
said that was a matter of detail to which he would come in due course, but he did not propose to discuss further the general policy. The police work was of great value not only to the country, but also to the crews engaged, but the first necessity of a Navy was instant readiness for war. That involved the maintenance of Fleets in commission, and the maintenance or an efficient Reserve in instant readiness for war. After the men, stores, equipment, and so on necessary for those ships had been provided, if it could be afforded it would be very nice to have small ships scattered all over the world performing the useful, and, to some extent, important functions discharged by those ships to which the hon. Member had referred. But the country had to bear an enormous burden of naval expenditure, and if there was superadded to what was absolutely necessary for war that which was only desirable in peace, the burden might become unbearable. The efficiency of the Navy demanded the concentration of the existing personnel upon ships in commission and in the first line of defence, and tint had involved the withdrawal of these ships from policing duties. The question of the bases was connected with the same principle. Every base was a source of expenditure, and, unless absolutely necessary, a source of weakness to a fleet in being. The increased mobility of the Fleet to which he referred last week enabled squadrons to command a much larger area without the multiplication of bases.
That brought him to the question of finance raised by the hon. Member for Dundee. The Admiral y had never claimed that the whole of the reduction in the Estimates was due to the new scheme. The hon. Member took the view that because the expenditure on the Chilian warships was exceptional it could not be counted in the reduction. But last year he complained of it as part of the increased expenditure on the Navy. He could not have it both ways. What the Admiralty contended was that at one and the same time they had increased the fighting efficiency of the Fleet and reduced the Navy Estimates by £3,500,000. The hon Member had referred to the reduction on stores. 1253 The reduction of £110,000 for stores arose directly from reduction of bases and the setting free of stores there laid up, so there was not the necessity to purchase so largely in the coming year. Of course a very large proportion of the reduction of over £500,000 in the cost of repairs was due to the fact that the llama class would not require to be repaired in future. That was a very large direct saving. With regard to what had been said as to deterioration, he would remind the Committee that all the machinery would be painted so that the deterioration would be as little as possible, and he did not think the injury under this head would be very great. There would be caretakers on all these ships, and they would be gradually passed out of the class, because every year there would be a certain number of ships fall out of date from the first line of defence, and they would pass into Class 1b, which included ships with armaments which might be used for actual fighting. Ships in Class 2a could not be used for actual fighting, but only for subsidiary purposes in time of war. As other ships now in commission, or in commission in reserve, became less up-to-date, they would be removed into Class 1b., and the older ships would go down either into the sale list or into Class 2a., so there would be a constant interchange in this matter. It was quite true that these ships would deteriorate, but the only other alternative was to spend large sums keeping these ships actually in commission, and of the two courses the Admiralty had deliberately chosen the one which, while it was not absolutely costless, was far better viewed from the point of view of economy and efficiency, because it allowed the men and the money which would otherwise be spent on those ships to be devoted to the first line of defence. As to the large expenditure on repairs of particular ships, to which the hon. Member had referred, it would be better to deal with that subject on a later Vote; but in regard to the "Medea" and "Medusa" it was to be remembered that a large part of the expenditure was in the nature of experiment and was not purely for repairs. The ships were in commission, but they were also experimenting with new boilers, and the Admiralty had good value for the money in the results. 1254 As to other ships mentioned, of course it was necessary that ships in commission should be kept efficient, though, of course, it was competent for the hon. Member to say they should not have been kept in commission. It could not, however, be said that while in commission they should not be efficient for the service required from them.
As to the policy of new construction, the hon. Member would remember that the new construction already allocated could not be interfered with; but it would be seen that, of the figure of £1,370,000 for the new programme, £401,000 only was to go to the dockyards, and £968,000 was to be contracted for in the coming year.
§ *MR. McCRAE (Edinburgh. E.)
asked what part of the saving was due to the new scheme of distribution.
§ *MR. PRETYMAN
said this was a question a little difficult to answer. The main reductions in Votes 8 and 9 were due to the swelling of the Votes last year. An additional reason was the omission, in view of changed conditions, of a fourth cruiser and certain additional destroyers. This was part of the general policy of the Admiralty, having regard to probable requirements, and the demand, on general grounds, not being so large for the coming year. In reply to the Questions put by his hon. friend the Member for Dundee, he wished to point out that on page 184, referring to the programme of ship building there was an item, "net value of stores issued." On page 91 the whole sum provided for new contraction is given, including material actually put into the ships, the labour, and contract work, but in addition sums for steamboats and transferable gun mountings not put into the ships before the end of the year. It also includes advances on such of these articles as are in course of manufacture. The new policy of concentration was partly responsible for it not being necessary to lay down so many ships as would have been necessary under the old scheme.
He disagreed entirely with the proposition laid down that it would have been better that the designs of the ships should have been dealt 1255 with by a tribunal of outsiders. As to the question of designing warships, he would most strongly urge that the greater part of the technical knowledge was within the walls of the Admiralty, and that there also the greatest experience was to be found. It was very desirable and important that by means of a Designs Committee of this kind the Admiralty should be able to draw in and to use some of the very valuable experience outside, and that was what had been done. But that was a very different thing from the Admiralty admitting that outsiders were competent to sit in judgment on the designs drawn up inside the Admiralty. The hon. Member had quoted the precedent of the Designs Committee appointed in 1871. He himself did not pretend to be familiar with all that occurred then, but what he had heard of that Committee would lead him to say that it was a precedent not to be followed, but rather one to be avoided. The reference to the Committee now proposed was drawn up by the Commanders-in-Chief of the Navy, in consultation with the First Sea Lord, and it necessarily included considerations regarding some of the most delicate points in naval strategy, which, after all, governed the designs of the ships which were to be built. It was obviously undesirable that these particular considerations should be laid before the public. [An HON. MEMBER: Why?] He was afraid he could not say more if the hon. Gentleman could not understand what he had said.
The hon. Member for Devonport had raised a point in regard to night firing. He might tell the hon. Member that very great attention had been paid to that point, and that a new form of night sight had been adopted for which money was taken in these Estimates. The hon. Member had experience enough to know that real accuracy in night firing was not obtainable. With a search-light some approach to accuracy could be obtained, but without it any approach to accuracy was hardly possible. Practice at night with the Morris tube was going to be initiated. The difficulties in connection with firing at night were exceedingly great. Several hon. Members had raised the very important question of gun 1256 sights, and reference in this connection had been made to the "Centurion" and the "Barfleur." It was not so much a matter of sights as the fact that the gearing and the mountings of these ships were of such a character that, at the time they were designed, it was not realised the important effect they would have on the sights. It was impossible absolutely to prevent back lashing. The arrangement in connection with sights was a matter of difficulty, but he was glad to be able to assure the hon. Member that a new system of sighting and gearing had now been devised which was much simpler, and which, in the new ships, was giving great satisfaction. Another new system of gearing was being tried in the "Dominion," which could be fitted to the ships now in commission. It promised extremely well. In regard to the "Drake" sights, to which reference had been made, he had to say that they were being altered to meet some of the new improvements, and steps had been taken to have the work done quickly.
As to the administration of the dockyards, he would point out that it was stated in Lord Selborne's Memorandum that a Committee was to be appointed on that subject. Hon. Members would agree that it would be premature for him to discuss the question of dockyard administration, but any criticisms that might be made by hon. Members would be noted by the Admiralty, and all the points would be carefully considered. For him to lay down any policy before that Committee had reported would be absolutely useless. He would content himself with stating that the members of the Committee were—the First Sea Lord, Sir John Fisher, the Controller, Admiral Henderson, the Superintendent of Devonport, the Permanent Secretary of the Admiralty, the Director of Dockyards, the Accountant-General, and the Superintendent of the great Fairfield Yard.
§ *MR. PRETYMAN
said the Superintendent of Fairfield Yard was the only one outside the Admiralty. As to the policy with respect to repairs, the hon. 1257 Member for Islington had asked what was the change. It was stated at the time that the policy of having repairs executed in private yards was a temporary one, and that it was undertaken to overtake arrears which were due to the introduction of Belleville boilers. These arrears had now been entirely wiped off. The hon. Member for Dewsbury had frequently pointed out in the House the costly nature of the policy of resorting to private yards for repairs. He was perfectly ready to admit that experience had shown it was a costly policy, and that the hon. Member's criticism was perfectly justified. The hon. Member would be glad to know that it would not be needful to resort to it again. He did not admit, however, that the Admiralty were not justified in resorting to it as a temporary expedient.
§ *MR. PRETYMAN
said he did not deny it. They had not the results before them in individual cases, but experience had shown that it was more costly to have the work done in private yards. If the work could have been done in the Royal dockyards it would have been cheaper.
The question as to what was to be done at Rosyth was more appropriate to the Loans Bill which would be introduced at a later date. He would only say that nothing had occurred since this date last year which in any way reduced the value of Rosyth in the opinion of the Admiralty. On the contrary, recent changes had rather accentuated the eventual value of Rosyth as a naval base, but, whether the reduction of the number of ships which would now require to be berthed would enable the Admiralty to some extent to postpone expenditure he was not prepared at that moment to say. It would not be finally decided until the Loan Bill had been introduced whether they would be able to carry out large works there as early as they had expected, but the value of Rosyth was clear and undoubted in the view of the Admiralty.
§ GENERAL LAURIE (Pembroke and Haverfordwest)
asked what the Admiralty proposed to do in regard to the establishments at Halifax and Jamaica which were to be abolished.
§ *MR. PRETYMAN
said the establishments would remain without men or stores; but, should the necessity arise, they could send men and stores out there. There was no expense proposed to be incurred except for caretakers.
§ *MR. PRETYMAN
said there was no specific charge. They did not put a special item in the Dockyard Vote for caretakers. The function of the Naval Volunteers was to learn as far as possible the duties which they would have to perform on board ship, and when necessity required mobilisation they would be drafted to ships of war and would perform a part, and a very useful part, in the general working of the ships.
The hon. Members for King's Lynn, Dundee, and Great Yarmouth had raised a point as to the redistribution of duties within the Board of Admiralty itself. There had been rather a misapprehension on the subject. The hon. Member for Dundee was quite accurate in saying that there had been undue importance attached to it. So far as there was any alteration, it lay in the sense of relieving the First Sea Lord, as far as possible, of detail duties. It would be remembered that the First Sea Lord was necessarily an important member of the newly created Committee of Defence. This involved constant attendance on that Committee, and the whole object of the change had been to relieve the First Sea Lord of duties which could be as well performed by others, leaving him with the sole care of the efficiency of the Fleet and its instant readiness for war. The note at the end of the Vote implied that if any proposal were made by any other member of the Board of Admiralty which would have some effect on the instant readiness of the Fleet for war, it would 1259 not be desirable that that member should exercise his authority to carry out the change without having first referred it to the First Sea Lord. The whole principle of the working of the Board of Admiralty was that ordinary minor departmental matters were dealt with by the individual members of the Board, and if any matter was of great importance there was joint responsibility by two, three, or four members of the Board. But where the matter was of a character which affected the particular province of the First Sea Lord that must be brought before him.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
said that, assuming a naval Lord brought forward a matter from his department to which the First Sea Lord objected, would that prevent the matter going to the First Lord of the Admiralty?
§ *MR. PRETYMAN
said no, clearly not. Exactly the contrary would be the case. The First Sea Lord had no power whatever when that matter was referred to him to decide. There was joint responsibility between him and the member whose department had referred it to him. If they were agreed on the point, it might not be considered necessary to refer the matter further; but if they were not agreed, the matter was referred to the First Lord of the Admiralty or to the Board of Admiralty as a whole. As to comparing the First Sea Lord to the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, he hoped the present practice would long continue. When the First Sea Lord went down to a dockyard he wore a top hat; and the wearing of a top hat marked that he was there as an administrative and not as an executive authority. The mark of the executive authority was the wearing of a uniform.
A discussion had been raised as to the position of the new Inspector of Target Practice in relation to the First Sea Lord. The appointment of that Inspector was solely and entirely made with reference to the improvement of the gunnery of the Fleet. The Inspector would have no executive authority. When he visited the Fleet he would be under the Commander-in-Chief of the Fleet, and every report that he made would be made through the Commander-in-Chief. 1260 He would be able to do something to assist in co-ordinating the methods of shooting and introducing the very latest improvements in one part of the Navy to all parts. He was not an Admiralty officer; his salary as an ordinary Admiral would be on Vote 1, and his headquarters would be at Portsmouth. His name had not been attached to any particular ship. As the Naval Ordnance Department was specially in the province of the First Sea Lord, it was perfectly clear that his immediate chief would be the First Sea Lord.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said that in order to elucidate the point, might he ask if the Inspector of Target Practice would not be an Admiralty officer.
§ *MR. PRETYMAN
said that the Inspector was not an Admiralty officer in the sense that he was not domiciled at the Admiralty, and would not be borne on Vote 12, which was the Admiralty Vote. He was an executive officer of the Admiralty and as such primarily under the Admiral commanding the particular Fleet with which for the time being he is connected.
§ *MR. PRETYMAN
said that the Board of Admiralty could dismiss any naval officer and this one not more than any other.
§ MR. KEARLEY
said that the Secretary to the Admiralty had stated that the sending of ships for repairs to private yards was only a temporary policy. That was not what was said last year. The plan was that of Admiral May, who held that it would be a saving to send ships for repair to the yards where they had been built. That seemed a sensible course, but it had been very costly. The hon. Member for Dewsbury had called attention to the extraordinary waste of money going on for repairs, not because the repairs were done in private yards, but because the Admiralty did not take the ordinary business method of calling for estimates, but had allowed the private yards to 1261 work at schedule prices. A Committee had been appointed to overhaul the dockyard administration, bur it consisted entirely of Admiralty men with one notable exception. No fresh ideas were likely, in these circumstances, to be imported from the outside, and the vision of the Admiralty in that respect was rather narrow. A larger proportion of the Committee should have been appointed from the outside. The system of the Government dockyards being controlled by naval men was not a good one. There was no continuity of policy. One man came who was a reformer, and then another would be appointed who liked things to go on pleasantly. That was not the system which prevailed in private yards. He went over a Government dockyard the other day with the admiral-superintendent, and saw some of the reforms that had been introduced. He was shown a sawing-mill, and was told that when that superintendent first went there he found the timber was stacked three-quarters of a mile from the mill, and had to be brought there at a great waste of time and money.
As regarded the llama class, he did not like the word. Both officers and men called this Fleet the "forlorn hope fleet," which was a more comprehensible and intelligible title. It was not to be called into being until the first line had been exhausted. That really meant until the first line was beaten. It would, nevertheless, involve an enormous amount of wasteful expenditure. The hon. Gentleman mentioned that this "forlorn hope fleet" could be got ready in three months. He was assured it could not be got ready under four or six months, especially as the light armament would be removed from the vessels. But what use would these ships be if the first line were exhausted. He did not believe that the first line would ever be exhausted; and, therefore, to maintain this policy would be very wasteful, and involve expenditure to no purpose. If steps were only to be taken when the first line was exhausted to get the "forlorn hope fleet" ready, that would not be much security for the country to depend on. There would naturally have to be a weeding out of this decaying materials very year. He 1262 was not condemning the policy; but there appeared to be an extraordinary lack of foresight on the part of the Admiralty in spending thousands of pounds on the repairs of these ships while this policy was maturing. It could not have been arrived at at twenty-four hours notice. It was pretty notorious that it had been settled upon; yet the Admiralty continued to spend thousands of pounds on repairs which they might have spared. For instance, the "Retribution" was reboilered and refitted, and soon afterwards sent to the scrap heap. It was only a question of time when the ships in the "forlorn hope fleet" would be superannuated and not worth the water on which they floated from a naval point of view. Then a new sloop which was only commissioned in 1902 was sent to the scrap heap, and he understood that fifteen other vessels of the type had been constructed at a cost of between £60,000 and £80,000. Reference had been made in the First Lord's Statement to more rapid construction; but, curiously enough, it was mentioned that a vessel of the "Lord Nelson" class had been given to the Palmer Company to build and that it would be completed in three years. That was not a good illustration of rapidity of construction, especially as the Government yards were able to complete a ship in two years.
As regarded torpedo boats, it was stated that the Board of Admiralty had decided to combine speed and sea-keeping power. Last session, he called attention to the danger of the policy the Admiralty were adopting in diminishing the speed of torpedo boats, whereas every other nation of naval standing was increasing their torpedo boat speed. The Japanese boats which were built in England had a speed of thirty-one or thirty-two knots, whereas the speed of our boats was reduced from thirty knots to twenty-five. The Committee was aware of the cause. Defects were developed in some of the torpedo boats, notably in the "Cobra" class. They were badly designed and of inferior workmanship and material. That was well known. The Admiralty had not admitted it; but they had appointed a Committee to inquire into the matter. Last session the hon. Gentleman denied that there was 1263 any comparison to be drawn between our torpedo boats and those of Japan; yet the Japanese boats travelled thousands of miles of ocean and arrived safely in the Far East, and were engaged in the early part of the war against the Russian Fleet with a considerable amount of success. Last session he suggested that it would be possible to have in torpedo boats sea-keeping power combined with considerable speed; and the hon. Gentleman replied that the most eminent experts declared that they could not design a boat of greater strength and greater speed.
§ MR. KEARLEY
said that cost did not enter into the question. He was glad that the Admiralty had changed their policy. He did not object, as the change was in the right direction. It was strange, however, that he should be told on August 4th, 1904, that great firms had stated their inability to construct vessels of sea-keeping power and high speed; and then to read in the First Lord's Statement that this very class of vessel was being ordered. They were always told when it was a question of getting the most effective weapon that it was a question of cost. Cost did not enter into the question. Surely they were not to be told now that last year we could not afford thirty-two-knot boats. That was what the hon. Gentleman was saying now. When confronted by his own words of last year, the hon. Member turned round and said the cost was too great. The real reason why we could not get the best boat last year was because the specification was limited by the length of the boat, and the Admiralty specified for an excessive thickness of the hull. What was this new type of "sea-keeping quality and greater speed?" He would be glad if the hon. Gentleman could give some further particulars with regard to it. In the First Lord's Memorandum he saw we were to have one boat as an experiment of "great speed and sea-keeping qualities."
§ *MR. PRETYMAN
No, no! One experimental boat, but there are to be five 1264 other boats of high speed and sea-keeping qualities. One is an experimental boat, but there are to be six boats in all.
§ MR. KEARLEY
No, it is not what I please. There is some point in my question. The five boats of last year were to be 25-knot boats.
§ *MR. PRETYMAN
Those five boats are eliminated altogether, and there are to be five boats of high speed and sea-keeping qualities in their place.
§ MR. KEARLEY
said he was glad, at all events, to have elicited that fact. The Government had now abandoned those old slow-going boats. The 25-knot boat had passed away, and we were now going to have boats of high speed which could compete with the fleets of the world.
§ *LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
said the Estimates laid before the House and the country this year were of abnormal interest. He had read very carefully the Papers issued and had studied the Estimates for the coming year, and was glad to find himself in a position of almost unqualified agreement with the proposals which the Board of Admiralty had made. Last year he expressed the opinion that the expenditure might be reduced without diminishing the efficiency of the Fleet, and he was glad to find that the Government had reduced the Estimates by £3,500,000, and that that had been done without any detraction from the fighting efficiency of the Fleet. It had been effected by the new disposition of the Fleet and the placing out of commission of a certain number of vessels which were not necessary to our security. He would like to give his hon. friend one hint with regard to this reduction. When 1265 a reduction of this kind exactly hit off a large round figure, it rather smacked of a prior arrangement. Strongly as he was in favour of economy, he disliked the policy of attempting to enforce it by reducing aggregates without having regard to the amount appropriated to each item. That was the policy which was pursued wish great detriment to the Navy many years ago, and which resulted in millions of money being sacrificed for the want of a few thousands of pounds. A great deal of exaggerated language had been used about the distribution of the Fleet. What had been done was simply to give effective development to the principles which had been in force in the Admiralty for many years. Where the present Board of Admiralty had the advantage over preceding Boards was that they had effected large expenditure during recent years, which had given them the benefit of a properly equipped dock at Gibraltar and had enabled that to be made a base of considerable magnitude. They also had the advantage of a large number of armoured cruisers, and they could supersede the fleets of small cruisers which were scattered over the world. He objected to the British Navy's doing police work for the rest of the world. There was no need whatever for us to lock up capable officers and men in obsolete vessels in out-of-the-way stations of the world, and the Admiralty were now able to utilise lieutenant commanders for separate commands in torpedo boats rather than in policing distant parts of the world. He thought the more these proposals were looked at the more they would be liked.
The Admiralty had also made it clear that it was essential in modern warfare that fleets should be concentrated. Our Fleet had first to assert its fighting superiority, and then it could give adequate protection to commerce. We could go to distant parts of the world and assert our presence with one or two of these big vessels with much greater effect than three or four little gun-boats. There was an illustration of that some years ago. We sent two vessels with four funnels each up the Persian Gulf and they created a very great impression, until some ingenious Russian discovered that Russia had a vessel with five funnels 1266 which was then sent up the Gulf, and he was told made a much greater impression. A large number of persons thought that because we commanded the sea, merchant vessels would be as immune from attack in time of war as in time of peace, but although we had numerous vessels it was absolutely essential, if we were fighting for naval supremacy, that our Fleet should be concentrated at certain places, no matter what happened to our commerce. The Admiralty deserved credit for getting rid of a considerable number of small and detached bases and naval dockyards abroad. It was a delusion to suppose that the more naval bases we had the better would it be for our Fleet. If we looked at the lessons of the Russo-Japanese War we might fairly say that if Russia had only had one naval base instead of two in the Pacific the Japanese would not have got the command of the sea as soon as they did.
With regard to the vessels which it was proposed to place on the scrap heap, the Admiralty, on further consideration, might decide to preserve one or two of them. If they desired to combine efficiency with economy it was absolutely necessary to pay great attention to designs. In some cases the hasty adoption of new designs had led to terrible waste of money. He could give an illustration of this. There were two vessels designed twenty-five years ago; they each cost about £700,000 for their armament. Neither of those vessels, so defective was their design, had been in active commission except for naval manœuvres. For many years they had been detached for use as tenders to the gunnery school at Devonport where any wooden vessel would have done just as well. He thought we were bound to admit that we had adhered too long to the large unarmoured cruisers, and that we had not given sufficient attention to giving them armaments in proportion to their displacement. Therefore, he welcomed the idea of a Committee of Designs to apply the lessons of the recent naval war. He hoped that great benefit would be derived from this Committee, and that the Admiralty would consider the propriety of forming a small permanent Committee to which designs should be referred. He did not wish to impair the responsibility of the Chief Constructor of the 1267 Navy, but it practically meant that the safety of the whole British Empire was upon one man, and he thought it was more than one man could do to be responsible for an expenditure of £10,000,000 a year.
With regard to the distribution of business there seemed to be an impression that the status of the Naval Lords other than the Senior Lord would be modified under the present arrangement. Sir John Fisher was a man of immense initiative, great energy, and an unbounded capacity for work, and Lord Cawdor, he was confident, would develop into a most efficient First Lord. But the circumstances were peculiar. The Senior Naval Lord alone of the Naval Lords had a seat on the Committee of Defence, so that he was no longer primus inter pares, Lord Cawdor might have been singularly successful with the management of a great railway, but it would be a profound mistake ever to attempt to manage the Navy on the principle of the general management of a railway. The Board of Admiralty had done extraordinarily well when left alone, but twice within his experience it had broken down. One occasion was when Mr. Childers got rid of the old Board and tried to work the Admiralty himself with two assistants; the other was in 1885, when Lord Northbrook, the then First Lord, had to go abroad on a diplomatic mission. Sir Cooper Key, the Senior Naval Lord, a man of exceptional ability and extraordinary power of work, who undertook the duty of practically managing the whole Admiralty, gave the go-by to the other Naval Lords, and tried to work the Admiralty through civilian officials. It went on till the country was on the verge of war with Russia, and then the whole fabric broke down. He (the speaker) was suddenly appointed First Lord; the Admiralty was in a state of chaos; a special Committee, of which Lord Goschen was chairman, was appointed to examine into the matter, and made certain suggestions. He was fortunate enough to have the assistance of a singularly able body of officers as Naval Lords, and the first thing they did was to put the Naval Lords back into their old position. That position was a somewhat peculiar one. Each Naval Lord was responsible for the 1268 executive work of the department of which he was the head, and had civilian assistants to help discharge the work. The Board of Admiralty met for consultation and advisory purposes, and the Naval Lords were in a position of perfect equality. He attached the greatest importance to that equality of status. It was that which had made the Board of Admiralty efficient, and it was the lack of that equality which had rendered the War Office inefficient. There were in the Navy two schools—a young school and an old school—and the probability was that the old school would be more represented by the Senior Naval Lords than by the Junior Naval Lords. If the First Lord were a sensible man and had free access to the inner mind of the Junior Lords, he would very often get hold of some ideas of the young school which if Put forward in his name, the Senior Lords would at once accept while they might dislike to take them up if the ideas originated primarily from the Junior Lords. At the War Office, on the other hand the moment a military officer, was put in the position of Commander-in-Chief, or in a position of dominance over others, the sense of loyalty was such that the junior officers would never give an opinion contrary to that of their seniors. That was a state of things which should be prevented at the Admiralty. He did not Say there was any likelihood of its happening, but when changes were being made it was as well to take care that they did not drift into a system which nobody desired.
With regard to dockyard administration, he was surprised by the statement in Lord Selborne's Memorandum that new construction could be carried out more cheaply in private yards than in dockyards. He fully agreed that with so large a Fleet in commission it was advisable that the dockyards should do the greater part of the repairs, but he submitted that dockyards would never be thoroughly efficient unless they were given a considerable amount of the new construction. Dockyards ought to be able to build more cheaply than private yards. They had to find no interest on capital, they could buy materials when prices were lowest, and they had a most efficient body of workmen. He would like his hon. friend to explain 1269 how it was that dockyards had gone back while private yards had gone forward. He hoped a large portion of the work in the yards would be new construction, as it was very discouraging to first-class establishments to find themselves confined to mere repairing work.
It was stated to be the desire of the Admiralty to derive as much benefit as possible from the lessons taught by the war between Japan and Russia. There was one lesson which he hoped the Government would take seriously to heart. Our fighting sea-going Fleet was, from the point of view of efficiency, stronger than it had ever been, but it was no use having that strength and efficiency if there was associated with it an ineffective system of harbour defence. It was through the inefficiency of harbour defence at Port Arthur at the commencement of the war that the Japanese were able to go in to torpedo the Russian fleet and to prevent it ever again fighting on terms of equality. He unhesitatingly declared that our system of defence of our naval bases was inefficient and indefensible. It was in the hands of the military authorities. At Portsmouth there was an aggregation of the most powerful ships in the world; there were a number of officers who in ability of knowledge could not be surpassed in the world, and yet in time of war the movement of ships in and out of the Solent would be controlled not by naval officers but by the military officers who for the moment happened to be in command at Portsmouth. There was not another nation in the world who would dream of having so ridiculous a system, and yet our Navy was of far greater importance to us than the navy of any other nation was to them. The Admiralty admitted that submarine warfare was being rapidly developed and that it was by submarines that harbours would be defended and attacked. How was it possible for military officers or engineers to know anything about submarines? Nor was that all. We had a magnificent force in the Marines. The officers were a most capable body, but their prospects were poor, and the country got very little benefit from their ability and talents because they were never employed after they had attained a certain rank. In Portsmouth, Plymouth, and 1270 Chatham there were numbers of Marine officers who understood the movements of ships and the management of heavy guns; they alone of officers on shore had that double knowledge, and yet they were the one class who were never allowed to go inside the forts. Was that common sense? When at the Admiralty he effected a change which became the foundation of the present system of naval reserves. They found a number of ships in reserve tumbling to pieces for want of attention, and men on hulks doing nothing but clean decks. They brought the men to the ships which wanted attention, and that principle had been greatly amplified and developed by successive Boards of Admiralty. In the same way there were these Marine officers and the forts, and he hoped the matter would be borne in mind. He did not press the Government for an answer now; he knew the difficulty of the matter. He himself had tried to effect a change by getting the duties transferred to the Navy, but he was opposed by both military and naval experts. The system, however, was indefensible, and he intended to raise the matter on the Army Estimates, when he hoped to be able to convince the Committee that it ought not to be allowed to exist any longer. Meanwhile he hoped the Secretary of State for War, who had many problems to solve, would not in his future alterations of the Army take such steps as would preclude any reform of the kind he had suggested. In conclusion, he congratulated the Secretary to the Admiralty on having presented to the House a Statement and a document combining with a higher degree, than any other Naval Statement of recent years the attributes of efficiency, progress, and economy.
§ MR. BENN (Devonport)
desired to associate himself with the protest of the noble Lord against the policy of reducing the Royal dockyards to repairing shops. In Lord Selborne's Statement there appeared a passage of serious import, viz.—The first business of the Royal dockyards is to keep the Fleet in repair, and accordingly the amount of new construction allotted to those dockyards should be subordinated to this main consideration.He should like to learn the true import of those words. The following sentence 1271 went on to say that in the United Kingdom they had a splendid national asset in the numerous private yards; that new construction could be as cheaply executed in them as in the Royal dockyards; and that repairs were more economically effected in the Royal than in private dockyards. That statement gave him surprise and alarm. He agreed that they had in their private dockyards a magnificent national asset, but if the Admiralty pursued the policy of starving the Royal dockyards that would be fatal to national efficiency. He hoped they would receive some assurance that whilst giving every encouragement to the private yards the Government would maintain a fair proportion of shipbuilding in their own dockyards, which in the past had contributed so much to the strength of the Navy. The testimony of the noble Lord the Member for Ealing was very remarkable. They were all aware of the inadequacy of the machinery and the red tape which impeded work in the Royal dockyards, but it was a fact that they could build cheaper there than in private yards, and he hoped the Royal dockyards would receive the first consideration when new ships were laid down.
Since he had had the opportunity and the honour of looking into dockyard matters he had been very much distressed at the cumbersome way in which those associated with the lower grades of labour had to make their wishes and wants known to the authorities. The Department received once a year curious documents known as "humble petitions." They were given a more or less considered answer, and those in the lower walks of labour were constantly in a condition of doubt and disappointment. One of the duties of the new Committee, which was to see to the organisation of our dockyards, would be to provide a suitable and proper way of enabling the workers to state their case, and he should like something in the nature of a trade council established. He could, if necessary, cite different rates of pay for identical labour, and all sorts of grievances and anachronisms existed in the service which could be settled by such methods as he had indicated. He hoped that some means would be found of getting rid of this old-fashioned method 1272 of petitioning, and of giving the men an opportunity of coming before those who employed them in order that the rates of pay might be made fair all round. He had nothing to say against the new naval policy, for he had always been in favour of a strong and an efficient Navy, but these sudden strokes of the pen meant a great deal of suffering to some of those who served the State in the humbler ranks of the Civil Service. It was a serious business to have in midwinter in Devonport something like 450 men discharged. In this introduction of a new policy more consideration should be shown to those who had served under the State in the lower ranks of labour. Speaking from the labour point of view, he hoped that this new programme would lead not only to efficiency in naval affairs, but also to a greater consideration for those who worked in the Royal dockyards.
§ SIR FORTESCUE FLANNERY (Yorkshire, Shipley)
said he did not think any previous Board of Admiralty had shown itself so practical as the present Board, and he did not think the Admiralty would ever adopt any other policy than one which contained a proper intermixture of building and repairing in the Royal dockyards. He would not like this discussion to conclude without placing upon record his humble testimony to the satisfactory progress which had been made in naval affairs, and also his high appreciation of the services of one who had just retired from office. Lord Selborne took charge of the supreme direction of the Navy at a time when it was in an admittedly efficient condition, and perhaps the difficulties of Lord Selborne's task were rendered all the greater because of that efficiency; therefore the praise to be given to him ought to be increased because Lord Selborne commenced his term of office with the Navy in a high state of efficiency, and he had left it in a still higher state of efficiency, particularly as regarded personnel, the change in the arrangements for executive and engineer officers, the creation of a new section of reserves, an enormous increase in the number and efficiency of the reserves, and very little increase in the expenditure in time of peace. Besides this there had been the inevitable increase in the 1273 amount of new construction. For all these things the greatest credit was due to Lord Selborne, and they would form a permanent monument to the wisdom with which he had administered the affairs of the Navy. He only hoped that the new First Lord of the Admiralty would be equally successful. The appointment of Earl Cawdor formed quite a new departure in the system of selection of First Lords of the Admiralty, because there had been in the past no sort of connection beeween Lord Cawdor and the Navy. Nevertheless, the selection of the noble Lord who had been so successful an administrator for some ten years in one of the largest railways in the Kingdom, during which time that railway had prospered exceedingly, was a very excellent omen for his success in dealing with the Navy. They all hoped on the Ministerial side of the House that Earl Cawdor might have a lengthened time in which to show his ability to confer some benefits upon the Navy, but whether that time was long or short he believed there were many hon. Members who sympathised with the system which the First Lord of the Treasury had inaugurated of selecting a man who had a successful business career behind him for directing one of the most important offices of Stale.
The Naval Budget was remarkable chiefly for one thing, and that was the economy of so large a sum as £3,500,000. The hon. Member for Dundee, opposite, sought to belittle this economy, and pointed out that it arose from a reduction of Vote 8 for naval construction. The First Lord of the Admiralty in his Memorandum stated that that reduction was principally due to economy. That economy was possible on account of recent events in the Far East, which had rendered it unnecessary for this country to lay down so many ships as were necessary in former years, and would have been necessary again but for the fact that a very large proportion of one of the fighting fleets of the world had been crippled and destroyed. He thought the Government deserved sympathy and support, and a definite expression of support, from the Ministerial side of the House, and particularly from those who had urged in former years the necessity of taking advantage of the very first opportunity possible of economising in the new construction 1274 programme when the balance of the British Fleet with other fleets made it possible to do so. There was no doubt some economy in the llama, system of laying up ships, and he understood that there was no intention of departing from the system that where ships were absolutely useless, with no reasonable prospect of ever coming into the, fighting line again, they would be sold and broken up. In respect of ships which had some reasonable prospects of being usable in the future, he thought the system which the Admiralty had inaugurated for the first time of laying up a large number of ships at a comparatively small expenditure for maintenance was a new system which would work well and assist in making adequate naval preparation, and in providing them with vessels which might be used in times of emergency and maintained at a minimum cost in time of peace.
There were one or two items in the explanatory Statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty to which attention had not, as yet, been very fully called. The first of these was the statement that the Special Committee upon Dockyard Administration was intended to bring about, if possible, a full decentralisation, so as to make the admirals superintending the dockyards more responsible for the work of the particular yards under their charge. That was to say, that each dockyard was to be more self-contained and to enter into competition with the other dockyards in regard to economy and speed of construction, and generally as regarded efficiency. If that object could be carried out he believed it would be a very desirable thing, and the object which the hon. Member for Devonport had in view of securing greater efficiency in the dockyards would be promoted by a healthy rivalry between the rival dockyards. He thought in this way that the Committee would ultimately do an excellent service.
There was another equally important statement on page 4. in which reference was made to the steady increase in respect of the Royal Naval Reserve and of the Royal Fleet Reserve. That was the direction which had been so often urged in that House by his right hon. friend the Member for Great Yarmouth, namely, that every effort should 1275 be made by the Admiralty to bring about more co-operation with the Colonies in regard to naval defence. This contribution differed considerably from what had been advocated by his right hon. friend, but it was one which had not been forced from them in any way, and that, to his mind, was much more valuable, because, besides being a contribution of men and some of the expense, it was a manifestion of patriotism in the Colonies.
The noble Lord the Member for Ealing had referred with approval to the establishment of the Committee of Designs by the present Board of Admiralty. He himself could not wholly support the appointment of that Committee, because he believed it would have the effect of largely reducing the responsibility of the Director of Naval Construction. That would be a great calamity. When that Committee was brought in to share with the Director of Naval Construction the responsibility for carrying out the duties of his office, they lowered the importance of his office and created a precedent which might be extremely dangerous. Reference had been made to a Committee which was formerly appointed, but he would point out that that was done under entirely different circumstances. There had been attacks made on the designs for naval construction and the Committee, which consisted of independent experts, was called in to report. In the case of the Committee now appointed there would be no Report, or, if there was, it would be kept secret. As to the Royal yacht, on whose style of construction so many attacks were made in that House at the time it was built, it was now an established fact that it was a great success in yacht building, and he thought the utmost prominence should be given to that statement because Sir William White, who had been particularly attacked in connection with the matter, took the full responsibility on himself at the time in the most chivalrous manner. There were some, indeed, who thought that he showed undue generosity in taking full responsibility on himself. The fact that the yacht had proved an entire success showed, after all, that little or no weight was to be attached to the criticisms of those who formerly commented adversely on Sir William White's scientific work.
1276 The First Lord's Memorandum referred to the importance of oil fuel. It was destined to play a very important part in the future of the Fleet, because it practically doubled the range of a vessel's operations. In other words, if a ship was capable of carrying sufficient coal to steam across the Atlantic, and then required to re-coal for the return voyage, by substituting liquid fuel for coal the ship would be able to cross the Atlantic and come back again without renewing its supply. One great difficulty which attended the adoption of oil fuel in the British Fleet was that we had not under the British flag any territory which produced petroleum. [An HON. MEMBER Yes]. Perhaps his hon. friend referred to Burma, where there was petroliferous territory, but so far the power of production had been limited, and the full extent of that source had not yet been proved. He urged that the Admiralty should co-operate with the Foreign Office and the India Office in increasing to the fullest possible extent the area from which liquid fuel might be obtained. The restriction which had recently been imposed on Burma was not in the best interests of the Navy. Certain British corporations were ready and willing to explore the liquid fuel resources of Burma, but, unfortunately, the Admiralty had not shown them the encouragement they might have done. Taking the Statement of the First Lord as a whole and the speeches of the Secretary to the Admiralty, they should create confidence in the House and country that whatever might be the difficulties at the War Office, we had at the Admiralty an organisation; amply prepared for the discharge of all the duties of naval administration.
§ MR. RUNCIMAN
said he did not wish to follow the hon. Gentleman, who had just sat down, into the question of the use of oil for the Navy, or into that general and unbounded praise of the Admiralty and all connected with the Admiralty with which he concluded his speech. It was remarkably that throughout the debate—one of the most important epochs in the history of the Navy—they had had nothing like an epoch making speech from any representative of the Admiralty. He freely acknowledged 1277 that the Secretary to the Admiralty had, with his usual courtesy, answered all the smaller points which had been put to him; but on the general policy which underlay those changes he had refrained from giving them anything like the requisite amount of information which would enable the Committee to form a clear judgment on the problems presented for their consideration. We were now in a time of great revolution. We had re-grouped our fleets. We had discarded something like 160 ships from our fighting line. We had relieved the congestion of our dockyards. We had altered the system, under which we repaired and rebuilt our ships. Those changes were described, on high authority, as of the greatest moment. And yet the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty thought it inadvisable, in the House to which he was answerable for the policy of the Admiralty, to lay down the principles which had guided the Admiralty in the changes they had instituted. Here, he fancied, the hon. Gentleman was legitimately afraid of the charge of inconsistency. In the first place, he was afraid of the charge of inconsistency as regarded Rosyth, for whenever that subject was referred to be shirked it judiciously. The story of Rosyth had been told very well by the hon. Member for King's Lynn. In 1903 a statement was made by Lord Elgin, after an interview with the Admiralty, that when the naval base at Rosyth was completed there would be 30,000 or 40,000 bluejackets stationed there, and he went on to say that he had had a conference on the previous afternoon with the officials at the Admiralty, and was informed that it would not be wise to lay down pipes for a water supply for a population of less than 30,000 in the next thirty years. Only as late as December last, Lord Selborne, in writing to a Member of that House, said that since the scheme was sanctioned in 1903 much had happened which had accentuated the future importance of Rosyth in regard to the Navy. It was really absurd for the hon. Gentleman to say that the views of the Admiralty with regard to Rosyth had not undergone very serious changes. He had no doubt the hon. Member was rather nervous of the charge of inconsistency.
1278 He came to another question. It was only a year ago since the South Atlantic squadron was formed under the present arrangement; a separate squadron, then, would be no longer required. He had no complaint to make of these changes of policy. He thought they were good; but the hon. Gentleman should have the courage to say that they had changed their minds, and that they were justified in doing so, and should have also given the Committee the requisite reason for the change. The hon. Gentleman occasionally talked about continuity of policy, but he supposed he did not refer to such items as he had mentioned. It was very remarkable that the policy which the Admiralty advocated last year, and held up to last autumn, had suffered a complete change immediately Sir John Fisher was appointed. Those changes had been put down to the genius of Lord Selborne. He did not wish to detract from the ability of Lord Selborne; but it was apparent to the world that those changes were coincident with the appearance of Sir John. Fisher once more at Whitehall. Year after year the Admiralty had always resented any criticism of the total amount spent on the Navy. They had occupied a position of great privilege in the House. They had been to a large extent free from criticism. The danger that was run by withholding information was that the faith in the Admiralty's judgment had been seriously damaged. The one thing he should deplore would be that the faith of the country in the Admiralty should suffer the same shock that people's faith in the War Office suffered during the South African War. One of the matters which he had urged was that we might quite advisedly drop one of the battleships of the "King Edward VIIth" type. Nothing would have been wiser than to have waited until the war in the Far East had proceeded for some little time in order that we might have benefited from the lessons to be learned there. And yet we were told that to drop one of these battleships would have been a dangerous expedient! They urged that it would be unwise to accelerate the pace of the shipbuilding, first, because we had bought two Chilian battleships; secondly, because the Russian navy had been considerably weakened; and thirdly, because 1279 we could build better in 1905 than in 1904. They were told that there was no time to be lost. The Admiralty even embarked on building two more ships of the "King Edward VIIth" type when they had decided to build more ships of the improved "Lord Nelson" type. He understood that these latter had not yet been commenced. He wanted to know why, if no time was to be lost last year, these ships were not only deferred from August to January, but even now were not under construction. Then they urged also that the amount of money spent on repairs was far in excess of the value received. When they raised that point the hon. Gentleman said that the reason for repairing vessels in private yards was not merely that the dockyards were overcrowded, but that they wished to send the vessels back to the yards where they had been originally constructed. The ground for that apparently was bad, the expedient was extravagant, and he was glad the policy had now been dropped. The reason why they objected to these vessels going into private yards was not to deprive private yards of the work, but that the "time and material" basis was an extravagant one, and that it bound the Government to a certain extent to the private yards, and that it was bound to work out extravagantly. Nothing had been said as to what was to be done with the new Cunarders. They would like to know if the present Board of Admiralty had the same high opinion of the value of those vessels in time of war as their predecessors. This was one of those things in which there was room for criticism. He believed the original reasons which prompted the Admiralty to embark on this scheme were not naval reasons at all, but were the result of the great trade revolution on the Atlantic, at which some hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House had been bold enough to smile.
In his opinion the reasons given for the redistribution of the Fleet were utterly inadequate to explain the great changes that had been made. It had been said that the real reason for the redistribution of the Fleet was to be found in the reliability of wireless telegraphy. But there was no doubt, whether wireless telegraphy had become reliable or not, the Admiralty was moved in the first 1280 instance by the alteration that had taken place in strategical geography. There had been a great change in the strength of the navies of the world and he had no doubt that that was the main motive in the mind of the Admiralty for the scheme of redistribution. They might also have been moved by the fact that the increase of torpedo stations in the Mediterranean and the introduction of submarines had made dangerous some of our most important stations and waters upon which we thought we were supreme. The hon. Gentleman had truly said that in calling in some of the more distant vessels and dropping a great deal of the police work he had set free a large number of officers and men; but if this revolution was necessary, if it had added to the strength of the Fleet, and at the same time had reduced the money spent upon it, why on earth was it not thought of two or three years previously? Many of the, reasons urged to day were just as applicable then. Those who thought we were building sufficiently fast were prepared to pour scorn on any figures of comparison, and those who thought we were building too slow would always appeal to them. It was only by a study of numerical comparisons that we could gauge our strength. To show the relatively powerful position which we occupied, he would just compare our Fleet with the fleets of Germany, France, and the United States. Taking the battleships under twenty-five years of age ready on January 18th, 1905, Great Britain had no less than fifty-six battleships of 742,000 tons; France had twenty-eight: Germany, seventeen; and the United States, fourteen; i.e., those three great Powers had together fifty-nine battleships, of 1,617,000 tons, whereas we had fifty-six battleships, of 742,000 tons; so that we were almost up to the three-Power standard. Taking armoured cruisers of twenty years of age, the three Powers together had twenty-five vessels, of 202,000 tons, whereas we had twenty-eight vessels, of 258,000 tons, so that we were well up to the three-Power standard. But let them look two or three years ahead, and take the vessels which would be ready on April 18th, 1908. Here they had another very interesting comparison. He found that on that date 1281 Great Britain would hive sixty-one battleships, of 850,000 tons; France, twenty-nine; the United States, twenty-six; and Germany, twenty-three; i.e., those three Powers would have seventy-eight battleships, whereas we should have sixty-one, this being well over the two-Power standard and close up to the three-Power standard. In armoured cruisers we should have seventy-five of large displacement, and they would have fifty-one or fifty-two. With comparisons such as these, it was perfectly obvious that we were nearly up to the full limit necessary for our naval strength. He doubted whether it was necessary oven now to accelerate our building or to go forward with one or two armoured cruisers now in contemplation. The comparative strength of our Fleet was so great that there was no reason whatever for accelerating building, but important reasons why we should economise on the Construction Vote.
The work of purging the Fleet had, no doubt, been wisely conceived. It required a great deal of courage to, within a few months, get rid of every ship in the list that was not necessary to our security, and a greater amount of courage still, to throw something like 160 of those vessels on the scrap heap. The hon. Gentleman, in speaking of the new policy, would appear to have never heard of the introduction of steam into the Navy. That was, of course, a greater revolution than the redistribution of the Fleet. The truth was that the extravagant language which had been used in connection with the changes in the Fleet was totally unnecessary. There had been a re-sorting of the cards which would, no doubt, result in great economies and add to the efficiency of he Fleet. For his own part, he would give the Government all the support he could in endorsing the policy which had been initiated by Sir John Fisher, but he objected, when they offered criticisms on Admiralty matters, to be waved aside as beneath the consideration of Gentlemen in office. During the last few years they had offered many suggestions, and it was gratifying to find that many of them had now been accepted.
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB
said he was spared the unpleasant task of having to 1282 make a lengthy speech as the result of the speech which had been delivered by his noble friend he Member for Ealing. He agreed with the general trend of that speech, although there were some points in it with which he ventured very respectfully to differ. He strongly supported his noble friend with reference to the local defences of our naval ports. He himself had previously brought the matter before the House, and he hoped his noble friend, if he pursued it, would be strongly supported in his endeavour to obtain a rational policy in regard to our ports which would not only be economical but also efficient. The salient feature of the First Lord's programme was a reduction of £3,500,000. Like his noble friend, a round sum of that kind made him rather suspicious. It was remarkable, further, that in the First Lord's Memorandum the reduction was only put at £3,000,000, whereas in the Estimates it appeared as £3,500,000. The First Lord, in his Memorandum, stated that the Navy was never in a more perfect state of preparedness than at present, and he paid a well-deserved compliment to the late Controller, Admiral May. He desired, however, to protest against the secrecy which was to attach to the proceedings of the Committee of Designs. That was a new departure of which they had been given no explanation or justification. What was the use of talking about secrecy when the very first ship of a type that was built would disclose its design and its object to the world? He regarded it as a shelter-trench in which the Board of Admiralty collectively and individually could take refuge from responsibility or even criticism. Any member of the Board might say, "Do not blame me, I merely carried out the design of the secret Committee." He, therefore, protested against the principle of secrecy as applied to the designs of ships. He did not know whether the Committee was advisory or consultative, or how long it was to be in existence, or whether its decisions were to be the collective opinion of the Committee, or whether individual members were to report on the particular part of the ship regarding which they had expert knowledge. The composition of the Committee was somewhat peculiar; and the only two members 1283 on it who appeared to him to be able to adequately deal with the subject were the Director of Naval Construction and the Assistant Constructor. He could not understand why the Controller of the Navy was left off this Committee while admirals, who were mostly at sea on the other side of the Atlantic, were placed upon it. How was the Committee to meet, and what were to be the relations between the Committee and the Controller, or the Controller and the Committee?
§ SIR JOHN COLOMB
said the point referred to by the hon. Member had escaped his attention, and consequently he withdrew his remarks on that head. As to dockyard administration he regretted that the element of business experience and knowledge was not better represented upon that Committee. The Committee was to inquire into the organisation and administration of dockyards: Did that include the finance system—the most important part of all?
While postponing any detailed observations upon construction until the Vote came on, he felt bound to say that he did not regard the construction proposals with unqualified satisfaction. He regretted the postponement of the fourth armoured cruiser, and thought the Admiralty had taken upon themselves a great responsibility by the course they had adopted. He feared that they were drifting far too rapidly towards a by-policy of submarines. Submarines were entirely in an experimental stage, and while nations compelled to contemplate the expensive role in maritime war might find it necessary to develop their submarine policy very rapidly, there was no such necessity in our case. But the feature in the new construction to which he most strongly objected related to destroyers, as it disclosed a tendency of a very dangerous kind. The programme was to build a large number of coastal destroyers because they were cheap, and a small number of ocean-going destroyers because they were dear. That was a most dangerous policy. The deciding factor should be national 1284 maritime necessity. If they commenced building an inferior type of destroyers because they were cheap it was a very short step to a similar policy in other types; in fact, that passage in the Memorandum gave a possible clue to the idea which had prompted a reduction of £3,500,000.
It had always been the policy to weed out obsolete vessels, and, while possibly in the past they had been over-cautious, he was very much afraid they were now acting rather recklessly. There was an uncertainty about the ships themselves. On the first of the month the Navy List was published showing the obsolete ships that were to be sold, and then, ten days afterwards, Parliament was furnished with a list, but the two lists did not agree. That seemed to show that there had been undue haste in the practical application of the policy of weeding out, tending to produce a sensation. He altogether condemned any attempt on the part of anybody connected with, correpresenting, the Admiralty to lend themselves to anything of a sensational character. The mobilisation scheme was a tremendous step in the direction of bringing men from sea to serve in harbours and on shore. The distribution of ships at sea was merely a further step in the development which had been in process ever since the establishment of the Channel Squadron. There was nothing remarkable about that, but it was put forward in a sensational way, and soon attracted great attention. But the great point so far as the personnel was concerned was that it would keep more officers and men in harbour and on shore than ever before. What was wanted to prepare men for war was constant sea experience, but he calculated that there would be rather less than one-half of the 129,000 officers and men on active service at sea, the remainder being comfortably installed on land, or in harbour on stationary ships. The House could not be too careful in watching that in any effort towards economy the sea experience of officers and men should not be diminished. Was it true that under this new scheme naval officers and men would be for a longer time on shore and in harbour than they would be at sea?
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB
said he was quite aware that they would go to sea, but for how long? He knew that a few of these ships would be mobilised and sent to sea during the manœuvres of 1905, but it was no answer to his argument to say that they would go to sea for some three weeks in the summer occasionally. He thought it was a tremendous step, and a very serious step, under the new scheme to gravitate officers and men more towards life in harbours and on shore rather than at sea. The reason why victory went with our Fleet during the Napoleonic Wars was because our vessels were always at sea, and therefore they should watch carefully any scheme that deprived their officers and men of sea training and experience.
With regard to the grouping of the ships in different fleets, very little could be said as far as the Atlantic was concerned, but when they passed to the Eastern Hemisphere a great deal could be said. He confessed that he was disappointed with the First Lord's Memorandum in sketching out this programme. The China Fleet was really the most important area of the other hemisphere, and they were told in December that this would be more fully dealt with in the Memorandum accompanying these Estimates. That hope, however, had not been realised, because the present Memorandum only gave details of the substitution of one ship for another. In the other hemisphere they had the United States flanking one side and Japan in the northern part of it. Those were the two countries that had made the most extraordinary developments in naval strength in recent years. Although the First Lord of the Admiralty told them of increased mobility, he could not see anything in the Memorandum of December 6th last year or in the Memorandum of to-day dealing with the distribution of the Fleet, showing the scheme to be the result of a world-wide look at the naval position, for it absolutely paid no attention whatever to the British position in the Pacific in the very near future, and he protested against that. Much as he hoped that amity with the United States would long continue, he declined to base the British naval policy upon pious hopes. With every hope for continued amity, they could not ignore the development 1286 there, and they must have regard to their own position in the Pacific. Take, for another example, Japan. Did anybody believe that our alliance with Japan was an everlasting covenant. It would be a firm alliance as long as it suited Japan, and as long as both countries had a common interest, but let there be a divergence of interests and that alliance would soon come to end. He asked his hon. friend not to shirk this question of the future of the Pacific. The Pacific formed one-half of the world of water, and British interests in trade and commerce and our hopes and aspirations for the future, were hugely in excess of those of every other nation in the world, and yet they were expected to hold that hemisphere with no primary base. The Power that controlled the Pacific one day, would control the Indian Ocean the next. The new scheme was not a calm review dealing with the whole policy of the Empire in the near future. The policy dealt with one hemisphere under the conditions of to-day, but it took no notice of the developments going on in the world, and the necessity of Britain combining with Australasia and Canada to prepare to hold the Pacific. He asked the House to ponder over the fact that a scheme had been produced apparently to settle the arrangements as to how the British were to command the sea for a long time to come, yet those arrangements ignored the simple elementary facts with regard to the British position in the Pacific, and the developments that were taking place in power of producing locally the instruments of naval warfare in the Pacific. This was, therefore, a small scheme rather of the politician than the statesman. The scheme was admirable as far as it went, because it went a little ahead of what was done before, but it failed as a statesman's scheme. If this Empire of ours was to survive it could only be by securing the assured freedom of the waters of the world, by combining the, resources of all parts of its territories scattered over the world to attain that object.
§ And, it being half-past Seven of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again this evening.