§ Order for Committee read.
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. EDMUND ROBERTSON, Dundee)
I am sure the whole House regrets the circumstances which have led to the alteration of our arrangements for 1326 to-day, and nobody has more cause to regret them than I have, because at a few hours notice I am called upon to propose the Navy Estimates for the coming year. The whole Board of Admiralty, too, have been put upon short notice. We have only been in office a few weeks. But there are some mitigating circumstances. The Navy Estimates, although they are usually the largest, most complicated, and, I think, the most important of all the Estimates, are usually the most non-contentious. There are special features in the present year's Estimates which the House will allow me to allude to briefly. On coming into office a few weeks ago we found the Estimates for the coming year practically complete, and the result of them had been made public in an Admiralty Memorandum. That is the first fact to which I would call attention. In the second place we found ourselves in the presence of a new policy, also complete, also made public and already actually in operation or only waiting formal sanction. The third fact upon which I would lay special stress is that we found ourselves allied with four naval colleagues who had been members of the late Board, and, as such, responsible both for the Estimates and for the naval policy which those Estimates expressed. The four Sea Lords were continued in office by my noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty, according to tradition, which I think ts a good tradition, ensuring thereby hie continuity of naval policy and advice. The Sea Lords form a sort of nucleus crew at the Admiralty. These facts justify. I think, the attitude of the new Board which I am now about to describe both as to the Estimates and the policy. With the exception of a few minor adjustments, we have accepted the Estimates as they came into our hands from our predecessors. There are one or two points of detail in which we made some slight alteration. One of these is Rosyth. The item for Rosyth has been struck out of these Estimates, but I do not want anybody to run away with the idea that the Rosyth scheme has been abandoned. On the contrary, there is no intention of abandoning or of departing from the scheme; but, in view of the requirements of the new type of vessels and possible 1327 modifications in designs, it has been decided to give some further consideration to the details of the scheme. For this reason, and for this reason only, no definite sum can yet be set down as the total amount required. The sum still remaining to be spent under the loan is quite sufficient for the preliminary work now going on. There are also certain new proposals with regard to Portsmouth. As to these, I may say on behalf of the Admiralty that we consider it undesirable that the closed repairing basins should have only one entrance. It is most undesirable that any important closed repairing basin should have only one access, and it is equally important that one of these should be in the nature of a lock, so that vessels can enter or leave the basin at all times independently of the state of the tide. The entrances to the basins at Portsmouth at present, with one exception, are not of sufficient width to take vessels like the "Dreadnought," and the locks are not long enough to take several of our armoured cruisers or the "Invincible" class. The alterations therefore, are intended to get over these disadvantages, which are not such as should be allowed to remain in our most important dockyard. The lengthening of the building slip at Portsmouth is also necessary, as longer vessels than the "Dreadnought" are contemplated, and a re-arrangement of the buildings in the vicinity is necessary for more economical production. The only other point that I need dwell upon here is as to the new ship-building programme set out in Vote 8. It is a considerable programme, but it will be observed that only a comparatively small sum of money is to be taken for the new shipbuilding which is to be absolutely begun in this coming financial year. The building of the four large vessels will not commence until quite late in the year, and as to these vessels we do not propose to ask the House to tie its hands at present. It has been the regular practice for many years past to defer the consideration of Vote 8 to a comparatively late period of the session. In respect of that portion of the Estimates, therefore, I claim a certain amount of freedom, and I hope the House will be content on this as on former occasions to leave the considera- 1328 tion of the details of Vote 8 until some where about June.
Now I come to our attitude towards the policy which underlies a great portion of these Estimates. I have described it as a new policy. It is a policy which is the result of much patient study, and it is a policy which demands much patient study from us. Want of time alone would prevent us from declaring now that we disagree with any portion of that policy, considering by whom it was originated and considering the responsibility of our own naval colleagues in regard to it. The very limited time we have had at our disposal, while it makes it impossible for us to say that we disagree with any portion of this policy, is also a good reason against our committing ourselves irrevocably to it. As to the various items of policy set forth in the Cawdor Memorandum, I may say that the Government will accept it and act upon it. Where a formal Order in Council is all that is wanted to carry the new policy into effect we shall allow that Order to pass. We shall put the proposals of the Memorandum into execution without prejudice, without any unfavourable suggestion with regard to them, and watch and wait. That is all we can be called upon at the present moment to do. Perhaps there is one point on which I ought to make a reservation. All the items contained in the Cawdor Memorandum are not in operation, and there are some—one I have in my mind—to which my observation would not apply. A new scheme of training is in operation. It is a fact, and we propose that it should go on and be watched carefully. But there is a proposal in the Cawdor Memorandum which is a development of the original scheme, which will not come into operation for three years or more, and to which, therefore, my observations would not apply. I mean the new proposal with reference to the non-specialisation in future of the various ranks of offices. I do not, however, say anything against or in favour of that alteration. The Cawdor Memorandum will no doubt be discussed a great deal in this House. I am sure we regret the absence of the late member for King's Lynn, but his place is taken, I am glad to hear, by several naval experts, and I am sure no one will listen with more interest 1329 or with greater desire to learn from their expert knowledge than I shall.
Another matter I want to refer to is the question of the Naval expenditure involved in these Estimates. We ought to take the gross figure, the whole amount called for by the Estimates, including the sum voted for appropriations in aid which the Admiralty is allowed to use on its own responsibility. I intend also to count in some other items. Accordingly this year, instead of the net expenditure of £31,865,000, I ask the House to take the estimated expenditure on the Navy at the sum of £33,573,000. That is the real expenditure. To that I must add the comparatively small sum of £369,000 which is expended on behalf of the Navy by other Departments of the State. Account should also be taken of the sum which is being expended or will be expended under the Naval Works Loan Act. I am informed that the anticipated expenditure out of the loan for the year 1905–6 is somewhere about £3,500,000. The amount which we are likely to expend under the loan in the coming financial year is, I am told £3,200,000. If you add all those items together you have a large and quite misleading figure, because it is necessary you should deduct an amount in connection with annuities. After making the necessary allowance, the entire Naval expenditure for the present year is not less than £36,000,000. That may seem to some new Members, and some Members who have only been in the habit of looking at the net Naval Estimate, a very large sum; but let me remind you that only two years ago the Naval expenditure of this country estimated in the same way would have turned out to be not less than £42,000,000. At one time it seemed likely to be £43,000,000. We have this consoling fact, that, taking the gross expenditure all round, we are spending £6,000,000 less this year than we were spending two years ago. We anticipate an expenditure under loan in the new financial year amounting to £3,200,000. The borrowing power as it stood under the la t Act, passed last year, will not be exhausted by the expenditure of next year. There will be a margin of over £1,000,000. That is to say, if our ideas are realised, on March 31st, 1907, there will remain unexpended a borrowing 1330 power under the Act amounting to about £1,000,000. Then this has to be considered also—the Acts as they stand do not create borrowing powers to the full extent of the estimated cost of the works authorised by this House. There is a balance unprovided for in connection with the cost of works authorised amounting to about £4,613,000. That is the difference between the estimated cost of works authorised and the amount of borrowing power provided by the Act. It has nothing to do with £1,000,000 which remains over under the existing borrowing powers. I may be asked how it is proposed to provide for the works which are unprovided for. Last year there was a general consensus of opinion on both sides of the House that the regime of loan works should, as soon as possible, be brought to an end. What is to be done at the end of the year 1907? The question was not really settled in the House last year, and there has not been time to deal with it yet this year. It is a question which must be left over for consideration. More than a year must elapse before any new policy can come into effect.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN (Worcestershire, E.)
May I take it that the right hon. Gentleman adheres to the policy announced by the late Government that no new works should be introduced into the works loan?
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
Most assuredly. The only doubt I ventured to insinuate is really only because of my own ignorance. No decision has been come to as to old loan work for which sufficient provision has not been made. I should like to ask the House to listen to a statement of the growth of expenditure dealing with the gross Estimate of the year. Some eleven years ago, at the beginning of the year in which I last had anything to do with the Navy—the year l895–6—the gross expenditure on the Navy in the Navy Estimates was £20 700,000. It rose the next year to £23,000,000. It stood there for a year, and then bounded up in 1898–1899 to £25,000,000. In the following year, 1899–1900, it rose to £27,000,000, in the following year to £31,000,000, and again 1331 in the year after to £32,000,000. It stood there for twelve months, and then bounded up again to £37,000,000. We now come to the great culminating year of expenditure, the year 1904–5, when the gross Naval Estimates rose to no less a sum than £38,327,000. Last year they were reduced to £35,000,000, and this year they are down again to £33,000,000. The Estimates I am now proposing to the House show roughly a reduced expenditure amounting to £1,500,000; but it is not for us to claim the credit for that. This reduction was an essential feature of the Estimates which came from the hands of right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I think it is only fair and honest that that should be stated. I think it should also be stated that this reduction may be regarded by some financial experts as perhaps more apparent than real. For instance, some part of it is undoubtedly due to using money belonging to this financial year for the purchase of armour which would otherwise have fallen on the next financial year. In the now expiring financial year, 1905–6, a sum amounting to £289,000 will be taken and applied to the purchase of armour, which purchase would naturally have fallen on the new Estimates, which are correspondingly lower by that amount. This enters into the £1,500,000 reduction which I have stated to the House. There is another item which also affects the diminution. A considerable part—I should think as large a part as I have referred to—of the reduction this year is due to the use of stores without replacing them. I am now speaking financially and not in any way in regard to policy. I do not believe that the efficiency of the Navy or the sufficiency of the stores will be found to have suffered in the least by this operation. The credit of all that, the amount of the saving and the mode by which it has been accomplished, belongs to our predecessors in office, and we take it over from them. The only difference we make is this. According to the practice of the House, I apprehend that we might have applied this money to the purchase of armour, intending to reduce the Estimates, without presenting a supplementary Estimate, but we thought that a subsequent application of money such as this should be put into a supplementary Estimate.
1332 We have accordingly taken that course, and the Estimate will be laid before the House before many days are over. There is only one other item in connection with expenditure to which I should like to refer briefly, and herein I am pursuing the same course in office as I pursued in opposition. I have always insisted on the supreme importance of Vote 8, the great shipbuilding Vote, and especially that portion which refers to what is called new construction. Perhaps I may explain that. By new construction we mean the money expended on the building of new ships of any kind whatever, no matter when commenced. The new programme is that which commences this year. New construction is the running programme which may have been commenced one, two, or three years ago. Vote 8 dominates all the Navy Estimates. If you allow that to rise, every other Vote is bound to rise, and I would ask leave to give the House some figures showing the progress of the provision made for new construction in the last eleven years. In the first of these years, 1895–96, the provision for new construction—and here I include everything voted by supple-men ary as well as by the orginial Estimates—was £5,393,000. It rose the next year by £2,000,000 to rather more than £7,000,000. Then it dropped again to £6,641,000, but bolted up again the next year to £7,600,000, and in the following year to £8,855,000. It fell a little the next year, to £8,460,000, rising again in 1901–2 to £9,000,000, standing practically at that amount in 1902–3, and rising again in 1903–4 to £10,136,000, or nearly double what it was in 1895–96. Then comes the great culminating year of 1904–5, when the provision for new construction rose to the prodigious total of £11,654,000. Last year, however, the provision was only £9,500,000, and this year it is a little less—that is to say about £9,250,000. But I am afraid, in spite of the reduction, this year it will fluctuate in the neighbourhood of £9,500,000. I take it that the present provision carries us back pretty much to the years 1901, 1902, and 1903. It is a reversion, at all events, to something very near the figures of that period. Assuming it is a reversion to the two-Power standard—I used to think that 1333 the two-Power standard had been exceeded in some of the years in which the high water mark of the figures was reached—assuming that that is so, and that the new construction Vote this year invites the House to provide a normal and not an abnormal figure, I want to put the House in possession of my forecast of the naval expenditure of the future on that basis. Assuming that new construction is to stand about where it is now, assuming that Vote 10, which is a very speculative and uncertain Vote, will not greatly exceed the provision made this year—making these two great assumptions, the rest becomes a calculation which is practically automatic. We have the sum of £9,500,000 for new construction and a reduced expenditure for the present year of something like £1,500,000. I am assuming that that state of things is to continue, and that no advance is to be made in new construction and works. Then you will see what the effect of the automatic process will be. By automatic process I mean this. There are certain Votes which must rise in consequence of what we have done in the past, and one of them is Vote 10 for works. The annuity for the payment of loans is this year, in respect of principal and interest, something like £1,000,000. I propose to take payment for five years only. By the end of five years that provision will have risen to £1,500,000. And there are other non-effective Votes which will rise in the same way. An increase in the number of ships, an increase in manning, carries with it at no very distant date an increase in the non-effective charges. Taking this year the gross Estimates at £33,575,000, next year, 1907–8, we may calculate that the Naval Vote would be £34,240,000. In 1908–9, I am told, on this calculation, we shall be close upon £35,000,000; the next year, 1909–10, £35,226,000; and in the year 1910–11, £35,400,000. There is no increase in Vote 10 and Vote 8, and assuming the result will be what I have already described we shall be committed to Navy Estimates exceeding the present Estimates by £2,000,000 or £3,500,000. I do not wish to indulge in these speculations with a view to challenging the past policy, but I have always thought it right that the House 1334 of Commons should know, and if possible that the country should know, what it is paying for this great and most important of our public services. I have always dwelt upon the growing expenditure of the Navy, and have always said that we were always obliged to go on increasing that expenditure, but that it was possible to aim at some lower figure.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
I want the House to consider by way of justification, if you like, by way of fair play, if you like, what the increase in the world's naval burden has been in the last ten years. These figures have no official authority; they are estimated figures, not actual expenditure. I have taken three years. In 1894 the naval expenditure of Europe and America—I leave out Japan—amounted to £48,500,000, including Great Britain. In 1899 that expenditure had risen by £20,000,000—to £68,500,000. It then began to alarm the world, and the consequence was the summoning of the Hague Conference, which had for its main, its capital, its prime purpose to reduce by agreement the growing and colossal burden of naval expenditure. The Hague Conference expired with the pious expression on its lips that the greatest service the nations could render to humanity would be to combine together to carry out this reduction. Those were the last dying words and testament of the Hague Conference. What has happened since? In the succeeding five years the Naval expenditure of Europe and America has risen from £68,500,000 to £101,500,000. In other words, since the Hague Conference made its suggestion there has been an addition of 50 per cent. to the naval burden of the world. I am not saying that by way of blame. All those who contributed to that expenditure—and all the world pretty well was in it—must share the blame equally.
§ MR. HIGHAM (Yorks, Sowerby)
asked whether it was not the fact that this 1335 country was responsible for more than half of the increase.
§ SIR HENRY KIMBER (Wandsworth)
Did you not say that the increase in our Naval expenditure was £11,000,000 in eleven years?
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
Our increase was a great deal more than that. Our expenditure rose from £20,000,000 gross in 1895–96 to £38,000,000 in 1904–5, not counting the expenditure on new loan works at all. Perhaps I may be allowed, in conclusion, to read two or three sentences which, I believe, express the feeling entertained by both sides of the House as to the evil, it may be the necessary evil, of these great armaments. They are the words spoken by the Prime Minister at the great meeting in the Albert Hall. He said—I hold that the growth of armaments is a great danger to the peace of the world. A policy of huge armaments keeps alive and stimulates and feeds the belief that force is the best, if not the only solution of international differences. It is a policy that tends to inflame old sores, and to create new sores. And I submit to yon that as the principle of peaceful arbitration gains ground it becomes one of the highest tasks of a statesman to adjust those armaments to the newer and happier condition of things. What nobler role could this great country assume than at the fitting moment to place itself at the head of a league of peace through whose instrumentality this great work could De effected?With these words of the Prime Minister I shall conclude what I have to say, and beg to thank the House for the patient hearing which they have given to me.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ MR. ARTHUR LEE (Hampshire, Fareham)
said that the right hon. Gentleman commenced his speech by asking the House to sympathise with him in the difficult position in which he was placed by having to defend these Estimates at such short notice. He hoped the House would also extend a share of its sympathy to him for having to deal, at equally short notice, with the Statement 1336 which the First Lord of the Admiralty had circulated with the Estimates. Although he was, it was true, at the Admiralty when these Estimates were framed in bulk he had only had an opportunity of seeing them in private within the last few hours. That difficulty sprang from causes over which neither side of the House had any control, and therefore he hoped the indulgence of the House would be extended both to the right hon. Gentleman and to himself. If he understood the Secretary to the Admiralty aright he appeared rather to wash his hands of responsibility with regard to these Estimates, and desired to throw the burden of expounding and defending them upon those who were associated with the late Admiralty Board. He thought that was a somewhat novel and unconstitutional position. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about having been in office only a few weeks or days, but his impression was that he had been in office a little longer than that—in fact, it was nearly three months.
§ MR. ARTHUR LEE
said that electioneering work was not usually considered to be any excuse for not doing the business of the Admiralty, but he did not wish to press that point. But the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues were responsible for these Estimates. Their signatures appeared upon them, and therefore he did not think they had any right to throw upon their predecessors the burden of expounding them.
§ MR. ARTHUR LEE
said they were prepared to share it. If the Estimates for which the late Government were responsible were attacked, he should be glad to co - operate with the right hon. Gentleman in defending them, if he was in need of his assistance. At any rate they would wait until the attack developed. Their position on the Opposition Benches with regard to Naval policy could easily be 1337 defined, for they regarded it as non-contentious and non-Party, and in this particular case they would naturally be only too willing to support Estimates and a policy which they had themselves initiated and elaborated, and the main structure of which was completed before they left office. When the right hon. Gentleman pleaded want of time as an excuse for not committing himself or his colleagues to an approval of a policy which the late Government initiated, he perhaps might be allowed to express a wish that another State Department, namely the Colonial Department, had shown similar prudence in dealing with problems of vast importance in South Africa, of which the Prime Minister had said they were wofully ignorant. If the Government proposed to continue and maintain the broad outlines of naval policy which had been handed over to them by their predecessors, they would receive from the Opposition every possible support and assistance. But there was a somewhat ominous note in the right hon. Gentleman's speech, when he rather went out of his way to disclaim any responsibility for continuing the policy of the late Government in the future. Of course he was entitled to do so if he liked. When the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the advantage of continuity of Naval policy at the Admiralty, and mentioned as an illustration that the Sea Lords had been continued in office, describing them as a "nucleus crew," he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would remember that the nucleus crew consisted of the skilled ratings, and that their advice should be followed accordingly, This would necessarily involve continuing the policy which the late Government handed over to their successors. If, on the other hand, the Government decided to modify or to depart from that particular policy, he and his friends would be entitled to ask the reasons, and after having those reasons explained they would of course reserve full liberty of action. There was one point to which the right hon. Gentleman referred in the nature of a change in the Estimates. He was very glad indeed to hear the right hon. Gentleman's statement with regard to Rosyth, because the absence of that item, or rather its excision 1338 from the original Estimates, naturally caused some anxiety to those who believed that a naval base at Rosyth was an absolute necessity. He understood from the right hon. Gentleman that there was no intention whatever on the part of the Government to abandon the Rosyth scheme; that, on the contrary, they still regarded it as a feature of vital importance, and that they only found it necessary to reconsider some of the details of the scheme, in view of possible changes of design in warships.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
said his words were that the Admiralty had no intention of departing from the scheme of repairing and docking accommodation at Rosyth, because it was of imperative necessity that this should be provided on the East coast, where at present no such accommodation existed.
§ MR. ARTHUR LEE
said he thought that assurance was satisfactory. When the late Government went out of office the policy was to press on Rosyth with all possible speed, and it was indeed anticipated that the main contract would be let by about the 1st June. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman had given reasons for modifying that policy, but so long as the scheme was to be vigorously proceeded with he had no objection to offer. The only other large scheme of new Naval works was at Portsmouth, and he was glad to see from the Estimates that the scheme of the late Government providing for increasing shipbuilding and docking facilities at Portsmouth had been completely adopted, and that provision would be taken for it in this year's Estimates. With regard to the new shipbuilding programme they had been told that the ships would not be laid down till late in 1906. He would like to have an assurance that the delay was not due to any considerations merely of economy, but that it was a question of design.
§ ME. ARTHUR LEE
said the designs were very far advanced when he left the Admiralty, and he was surprised to find 1339 so great a delay considered necessary, but if he was told the delay was due to difficulties of design he had no more to say.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
I said I did not think anything would be proceeded with before June, and that I inferred from the amount taken for them in the Estimates we are proposing. I think I am right in saying that the whole provision for the new programme is only £645,000.
§ MR. ARTHUR LEE
said that as long as the new programme was not being delayed for the cause he had suggested he had no objection to offer. The right hon. Gentleman said it would be possible later on to give fuller information as to the details of the new programme. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not adopt the policy of giving too much information in regard to the details of designs to the House, and consequently to the outside world. He was aware that last year for the first time the House was asked to accept the principle that it was not desirable that new and novel designs should be made public more than was necessary, and the House assented to that proposition. He hoped that that would constitute a precedent for the future. The right hon. Gentleman expressed a reserve in his mind with regard to the new scheme of education on the point of non-specialisation. He had suggested that the system of non-specialisation was something new, which had not been contemplated when the system was introduced. He assured him that that was not the case. The original scheme distinctly contemplated that there should be non-specialisation, and it was both the intention and the confident hope of its framers that non-specialisation would be ultimately adopted. As regards the general situation, they on the Opposition Benches were of course both earnest and enthusiastic advocates of a strong and indeed an invincible 1340 Navy. While in office they translated that advocacy into a definite policy and, a practical realisation. He thought the right hon. Gentleman in reviewing the question of expenditure had not given due weight to what had been accomplished by that expenditure. It had been a unique period of naval development, particularly during the last two years, when a great naval war—the first great naval war of our time—had taught practical lessons which could not possibly have been learned by any other means, and which must necessarily make the mere theories on which they had been bound in the past to proceed of comparatively little value. As the result of that war many of the accepted theories—when he said accepted he meant accepted not only by the Admiralty of this country but accepted by the Admiralties of all countries—had proved to be wrong, and our Admiralty had not been ashamed to own that they had been wrong in some matters, and as the result it had been necessary to effect a practical revolution in naval affairs. The main structure of these great reforms was completed, and the late Government handed over to their successors a Navy which was greater in strength and efficiency, better manned and equipped, better trained and educated in every way, and more ready for instant service than this country had ever in the past had at its disposal. He thought this must be set against the increased expenditure which the right hon. Gentleman, from the purely financial point of view, so justly deplored. The right hon. Gentleman went on to draw his moral that it was highly desirable, not only in the interest of this country, but of the world at large, that this naval expenditure should be reduced, and that we should endeavour to come to an arrangement with foreign countries by which some system of disarmament could be accepted. The right hon. Gentleman had quoted the speech of the Prime Minister at the Albert Hall on that subject. Every sensible individual in this and in other countries was in favour of such an arrangement if it could possibly be effected, but he could not suggest too strongly that it was not the business of this country, which depended for its very existence on its naval 1341 supremacy, to commence any such policy of disarmament; but if other countries which did not depend for their existence and for their daily bread on the command of the sea chose to initiate a policy of this kind or make proposals, he was sure that the Government, from whichever Party it might be constituted, would be only too glad to listen to such proposals. But the proposals must come from them, and not from us in the first place. He had no doubt that in the course of the debate there would be many criticisms made on points of detail in these Estimates. No one, he presumed, would contend that there were no opportunities for criticism in such an extended series of proposals; but, after all, what was the true test as to whether the policy which was expressed in the Estimates was a good and right policy and one which ought to be approved by the House of Commons? The only true test of success in naval policy was in the answer to the question, How many ships of complete efficiency according to modern requirements, and manned by thoroughly trained crews, can be put into line of battle at a moment's notice? That was the only true test, because naval war, they had reason to suppose, in future would generally come like a thunder-clap from a blue sky. Applying that test to the present condition of affairs, he asked the House to remember that under the new scheme all ships of any fighting efficiency in the Navy—every ship rated as being of fighting efficiency—was now always ready for active service, and instant battle if necessary. In time of war they would all be manned by active service ratings without any necessity for calling upon the Reserve at all, and the available fighting strength of the Navy had not only been enormously increased but practically doubled in the last few years. That was what the country had got for its money, and he believed it was good value He might conclude by quoting a very striking and Impartial opinion upon our new naval policy by a distinguished French statesman, M. Hanotaux, late French Foreign Minister, who, though not recognised particularly as an Anglophile in other directions, was an authority whose 1342 opinion carried great weight. He wrote—Hardly had our Government ratified the Anglo-French Agreement than the English Admiralty issued an order for the general re-organisation of the British Fleet and the redistribution of British Naval Forces all over the world. Nothing to compare with it has ever been seen in history. Neither the Romans nor Napoleon ever conceived anything equal to it. England now dominates everywhere. Peace and war are equally under her control. Our neighbouring Power can now calmly await any complications that may arrive. By her recent measures she has set the seal upon her power and greatness.He thought that was a very high tribute indeed to the Admiralty policy of the late Government, and one which was well deserved. It was on these grounds that he wished to express his satisfaction that the right hon. Gentleman had told the House that the Government did not propose to depart from that policy, or at any rate that that was not their present intention. And if that policy was continued in the future, he could give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance that, from the Opposition Benches, he would receive not only no hostile criticism, but every possible assistance and support.
§ MR. MCCRAE (Edinburgh, E.)
congratulated his right hon. friend on the very clear statement he had given to the House that afternoon. The right hon. Gentleman was the first Minister who had, on such an occasion, given a complete estimate of the Naval expenditure for the year. It had always been a subject of complaint that the Naval Estimates had hitherto been presented piecemeal, and that they did not get all the particulars of the expenditure under the Naval Works Loans Acts. He had had the honour of moving last year an Amendment in which regret was expressed that the then Government had not by negotiation with foreign Powers brought about a still further reduction on the Naval Estimates. That Amendment was thought rather out of place, seeing that they were then having a reduction of £3,500,000 on the previous year's Estimates. But the Estimates before the House justified the attitude then taken by him, for they had now, in round figures, a further reduction of £1,500,000, or, altogether, a reduction in 1343 two years of £5,000,000. That showed that mere expenditure was no guarantee of efficiency. It was very interesting to consider the expenditure on the Navy since 1899. He did not go farther back than that year, because it was the year before the South African war; and the Estimates for that year were £27,000,000. In six years that amount had increased to £38,000,000. Those who then sat on the Opposition side of the House criticised the expenditure as unnecessary. Well the result had been a reduction of £5,000,000, while the Navy had been rendered more efficient. This reduction had been brought about by a redistribution of the Fleet, with increased efficiency. He noticed in the Statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty a paragraph showing that the system adopted last year had got rid of every obsolete vessel and all obsolete ammunition. He did not know whether it had been said in a sarcastic spirit by the First Lord of the Admiralty, but he did say that a large quantity of ammunition which had become obsolete for Naval purposes had either been disposed of or had been handed over to the War Office. He understood that this ammunition might be suitable for War Office purposes; but the principle adopted of getting rid of everything obsolete was the right principle. He must confess that he could not follow the right hon. Gentleman in his proposition to deal with the very large expenditure for the completion of the naval base at Rosyth. He had witnessed with some amusement the extreme virtue of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer when the Secretary to the Admiralty stated that there was to be no more expenditure under the Naval Works Loans Act. The late Chancellor of the Exchequer took all the advantage of that system by postponing payment and making his Estimates for the year appear really less than they were; and now the right hon. Gentleman posed on the floor of the House as the apostle of financial purity. His right hon. friend the Member for Dundee was to be congratulated on his determination to carry out in office the views he had expressed in Opposition. However, he put it that even the present Estimates of £33,000,000 for the Navy were excessive, and he would urge that 1344 the Government ought, by negotiation with foreign Powers, to endeavour to come to some understanding in regard to naval expenditure. He had been rather disappointed at the statement of the hon. Gentleman opposite, the late Civil Lord, who said that it was not the business of this country to initiate negotiations for a general arrest of naval armaments.
§ MR. ARTHUR LEE
said he meant that this country should not initiate a policy of disarmament—not initiate negotiations for disarmament.
§ MR. MCCRAE
said he would accept the hon. Gentleman's correction. But Great Britain was the greatest Naval nation in the world, and it was essentially our part to take the initial step. The hon. Member would remember that Lord Goschen made a statement to that effect some years ago; and he asked whether the late Government had ever made any attempt whatever to enter into negotiations with foreign Powers. Subsequent to the discussion on the question in this House, there was a debate in the French Chamber, in which the members of that great assembly reciprocated a wish for the initiation of negotiations for the purpose indicated. He hoped his right hon. friend would initiate his new period of office by making an attempt to bring about some reduction n the Naval armaments of all the Great Powers.
§ MR. BELLAIRS (Lynn Regis)
said he regretted that the Statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty and the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty had been somewhat colourless, especially in regard to the training of the future officers for the Royal Navy. It had been pointed out that there had been considerable reductions in the Vote for new construction. But the right hon. Gentleman had insisted that new construction ruled the whole of the rest of the Vote, including personnel. Now, in war time he waste of material was in excess of that of personnel and it was not, therefore, necessary to man all the ships built. There was an idea that we should initiate negotiations in regard to 1345 the reduction of Naval armaments. He believed that there would be no success in these negotiations. In fact, the result of the last negotiation for that suggested purpose had been a considerable increase in Naval armaments all round. Great Britain would lay herself open to some such retort as had been given to her by Napoleon III., who said—You ought to be twice as strong as I am; and each of us can look after our own business.If a Committee or Commission was formed to negotiate for the reduction of Naval armaments this country would be liable to put her maritime policy under the domination of foreigners. They were all indignant at putting our sugar policy under the domination of foreigners by the Brussels Convention; but that resentment would be stronger were we to put our Naval policy under the domination of foreigners. The present Admiralty scheme for training officers was issued just forty-eight hours before the late Government, left office, and therefore the present Government was in no way responsible for it. The change involved a revolution in the officering of our Navy. The Selborne scheme provided for a common source of supply; a common system of entry; a common system of training up to twenty, and then permanent separation. But one did not make a scheme democratic, as it had been called, by making it have a common system of entry. If that were so they would have to allow that the House of Lords was a democratic institution, because there was a common avenue of entry into it. The scheme, so far from being democratic, went quite in the other direction and made the conditions very much worse. The education of engineering cadets cost a father about £50 a year and entry was by open competition. He had a question on the Paper addressed to the Secretary to the Admiralty, and he should be very much surprised to hear if the expenses of the cadets at Osborne under a system of nomination were less than £120 a year, a price which was very undemocratic, because it excluded nine-tenths of the nation from being Naval officers, Under such a scheme no Nelson and no St. Vincent could have entered the service, because their fathers could not have afforded the fees. The system was like 1346 the Royal Yacht promotions, inconsistent with democratic ideals, and it was something which the Liberal Party ought to do away with. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee denounced the scheme when it was introduced, in strong terms, and so also did the Prime Minister, in very strong language indeed, for he said it was a state of things "not to be contemplated for a moment." He had had letters form schoolmasters and Admirals from which he gathered that their experience led them to be dead against the scheme. One schoolmaster wrote—From the experience I have had so far I can only assume that social position and political influence have far more to do with the granting of nominations for general ability or fitness for the service.The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon pointed out that there would I be no lack of engineer candidates, but two and a-half years later they found Lord Cawdor stating that—It can hardly be expected, nor is it right to expect, that even a small proportion will volunteer for a specialist engineering branch.Therefore, a change was made by which if the occupant of the bridge was killed, the engineer who had been below came up and took charge on the bridge. This was the case although he might have been ten years below decks. So we got the officer who was going to be able to do everything. He was to be the fighting officer with guns or torpedoes, the signalling officer with flags and wireless telegraphy, the navigating officer, the tactician, the judge on Courts martial, the engineer with turbines, reciprocating engines and a multitude of water tube boilers. Now it was added that he was to be marine officer, able to direct troops on shore as well as to take charge of ships afloat. Was it to be wondered at that the Navy afloat was in a large majority against this scheme. This was accounted for by the fact that in the first place the Board did not pretend that they had consulted the man of experience afloat. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon said on March 4th, 1903—The first Lord sent a copy of his memorandum at the time of issue to all the Admirals 1347 in command of foreign stations. There was no necessity to consult them on the new scheme before its adoption, as the Board of Admiralty, from the nature of its constitution, is fully competent to act on its own initiative.He would, however, point out to the House that a few months before the right hon. Gentleman introduced that scheme he said that the Sea Lords had no time to think out the problems connected with this work. Lord Selborne, only a few months before the introduction of the scheme, had inquired of officers, amongst whom must have been Sir John Fisher, whom the noble Lord met in the Mediterranean, and then he made a speech in which he said he acted on—The authority of admirals and captains fresh from the sea,is saying that—So far as the personnel goes, it is scarcely possible to improve the officers or the men. They say with extraordinary unanimity that subject to some improvements in detail, the general system of training young officers and seamen leaves nothing to be desired.If that was the case, why revolutionise the whole system under which the Navy was officered? Yet the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon said—The changes are being made not spasmodically, not as the result of a whim or sudden inspiration or in the individual opinions of any individual member, but as the result of the combined counsel of the Admiralty.The Times said that Lord Selborne's change was carried unanimously by the Board of Admiralty, but as he understood it there were one naval and two civilian members against three naval members. He did not believe it would be possible to get a statement from the other naval members of the Board of Admiralty that they were in favour of the scheme—at any rate in favour of the scheme as it stood now. The one naval member was Sir John Fisher, who was only saved from compulsory retirement by the regulations being set aside by a special Order in Council. If that had not been done the chances were that they would have another naval officer on the Board reversing the policy which was being carried out. As it was, however, they had this policy of Lord Cawdor, and the House would note the difference of treatment Sir John Fisher meted out to himself and to others, as 4,000 artificers were ruth- 1348 lessly, remorselessly, and relentlessly swept out of what they were entitled to and deprived of their best positions as the watch keepers of the Navy. The Admiralty had one law for the artificer and another for the Admiral. They had had a flag list two-thirds of the members of which were doing nothing and it was increased by an addition of one Admiral of the Fleet in order to give Sir John Fisher a fresh lease of life. There appeared to be one law for the quarter-deck and another for the lower; one law for the Admirals and another for the artificers. Although the latter were doing their work excedingly well they were to be remorselessly swept out. The Admiralty had justified this last reversal of the law of specialisation by certain statistics. They said—Since the first two years of the training of cadets under the new system has now been completed, an estimate can be formed of what the attainments of these officers will be at the end of their sea training as midshipmen.And again they said—Now that sufficient experience of the working of the new system has been obtained, it is desirable that, definite regulations for future procedure, with regard to the allocation of officers, to the various branches of the service should be formulated and promulgated at the earliest possible moment.The experience they had obtained was two years in regard to boys between twelve and a-half and fourteen and a-half years. The Admiralty, which was Sir John Fisher, did better than Cœsar. They taught these children mechanics for four and a-half months, and then said that they knew they were going to be able to handle ships as engines in war twenty years hence. They had heard to-day that they could watch and wait, but he denied that that was the case, for all this time the officers who were going to be placed in responsible positions ten years hence were being trained to be jacks-of-all-trades and universal experience showed that they would be masters of none. Why was it undesirable that men who understood machinery should run engines and that men who understood navigating ships should go down and run engines? One reason he believed why the Admiralty had carried out this step was that there was a very strong engineering agitation to which about sixty Members of the House subscribed 1349 some years ago, and it seemed to him that this hostility to the artificers was an attack upon the trades unions which the artificers had the wisdom to join before they entared the Navy. An admiral who was well informed had written a letter of which he had a copy. It ran—The ships are certain to go back and have defects increased enormously by this new plan, first, the engine-room artificer will not be in a position to prevent wear and tear which he would by keeping watch, and secondly when the ship goes into harbour there will be only half the engine-room artificers to undertake artificers' work. The whole thing is ludicrously theoretical and absolutely unworkable.In answer to a question the other day they were told that protests had been received from officers of the Fleet. It was a long time since in the Navy we had had protests addressed to the Board of Admiralty about its policy. There was a protest about 114 years ago, addressed by Lord Hood about Admiralty policy and lie was superseded. No action had been taken in this case, and he found that Lord Selborne in his annual statement for 1902–3, writing of the old system, said that, judged by its results and the excellence of the officers turned out under it, it was a good one. Why change it? The change was introduced when Sir John Fisher joined the Board of Admiralty, and then changes were brought in which Lord Selborne described as "far-reaching and in some respects sweeping." In his view the gentlemen who were associated with Sir John Fisher on the Board were simply there for ornamental purposes. The fact was that the Admiralty had been for some time past a one man show with Sir John Fisher running it. The present state of things showed room for improvement. Neither engineers nor executive officers knew their job. We had now numerous collisions and other catastrophes. A return which had been issued showed that there had boon three collisions and groundings per fortnight in 1904. Were they likely to diminish that number of collisions and groundings by sending officers down to do engine-room duties? Again, when right hon. Gentlemen opposite were at the Admiralty, we had numer- 1350 ous breakdowns in the engine-room. That was when we had the water tube boiler scare, of which the House heard a great deal. The only way the Government got over the water tube boiler business was by training the officers for their proper job. That was what we should do now. The present scheme was being hotly opposed by engineers and by the engineering Press. Such papers as Engineering had gone strongly against the scheme, and at the conclusion of one of his leading articles the editor of the last-named journal had to go back to the days of his childhood for a simile. After riddling the scheme with shot and bursting shell words failed him, and he said of this "wonderland" scheme—Mother, I want to learn to swim,Oh yes, my charming daughter;Hang your clothes on a gooseberry bush,But don't go near the water.It, was impossible to train officers in engineering by teaching them seamanship. One had to teach them to take their coats off and to do their work in the engine room. The practical experience of the whole world was against this idea of making officers jacks - of - all-trades and masters of none, which they all knew was the result of any such attempt. All over the globe every thoughtful person was in favour of specialisation. In the mercantile marine the man who navigated the vessel was quite distinct from the man who worked in the engine room. The Japanese Navy tried the experiment for four and a half years and abandoned it as impracticable. This system was introduced in the United States Navy about eight years ago, and the result had been an utter failure. Three years ago Admiral Melville, engineer-in-chief, reported that officers who had been trained in professional engineering work would lose interest, aptitude, confidence, and even efficiency in engineering duties, if they were allowed to specialise in other directions. He said that engineering efficiency was "rapidly decreasing." But thorn was even a more recent verdict of the engineer-in-chief of the United States. The new engineer-in-chief reported last-year that so long as the older officers of the former engineer corps remained available for service at sea, supplemented by the new body of officers styled machinists, the engineering duty of the Fleet 1351 was satisfactorily performed. He, however, rubbed in a good deal of candid criticism. He said—So few officers of the line are taking up engineering seriously that the situation is becoming alarming. That the Department must do something to relieve this situation, and do that something at once, is only too obvious to the most casual observer of present conditions. Were the country suddenly plunged into war, the Navy would find itself in no condition to win battles. As necessary as good markman-ship is the ability to carry our guns to the firing line, and to keep them there amidst the havoc created by modern ordinance, and this will never be done with amateurs in charge of the machinery.He wanted to know whether this House was willing to sanction a scheme, without further inquiry, which was likely to bring about the same state of affairs in the British Navy as now existed in the United States Navy. The admirers in the United States of the scheme which he was criticising were falling away one by one. Mr. Long, who was at the head of the Navy when this scheme of a fighting engineer was introduced, now prophesied that the machinist—that was our engine-room artificer—would become the future engineer officer. Because some of them who wrote for the Press did not believe in these changes and stuck to the old fashioned belief that a jack-of-all-trades was master of none they were called antediluvians, and were told they ought to be scrap-heaped by a masterly stroke of the pen, and that the great Sir John ought to put them in the Yarmouth naval lunatic asylum. But if that were attempted he was afraid that Sir John Fisher would have to sweep away most of the flag list of the Navy. They wanted continuity of policy. Sooner or later they would have to recruit their Board with fresh blood, and then what happened to their policy? Because he wanted continuity of policy, he advocated inquiry. In his opinion, therefore, the best thing this House could do was to order a Committee of Inquiry, consisting of three impartial men, who would examine into the precise scope and effect of these revolutionary memoranda which had been introduced by Lord Selborne and Lord Cawdor. If such a Committee saw any advantage in the scheme then hostile critics like himself would cease to oppose it.
§ CAPTAIN HERVEY (Bury St. Edmunds)
said that among all the speeches which had been made during the general election by hon. Members he believed that in most cases the Navy was left out in the cold. They had just heard a very able statement from the Secretary to the Admiralty, from which it appeared that no less than £34,000,000 was going to be devoted to the Navy this year. He thought that in English politics it would be very much better that the Navy should hold a bigger place than it did at present. No doubt hon. Members opposite in their platform speeches used that very striking phrase, "Peace, Retrenchment, and Reform." A splendid text to preach upon, from a Naval point of view. The other night the President of the Local Government Board said that what this country really wanted was peace. How was peace to be retained? That which was most likely to ensure peace in this country was a strong Navy. If we had a strong Navy there was not the slightest question but that the nations about us would respect our rights. If we had a sufficiency of force at our back, he was quite certain that we should find our position to be what it ought to be in the Councils of Europe. What did Nelson say when it came to a question of dealing with foreign nations? He said, and his speech was one which ought to be posted up everywhere, that there was no better negotiator in the Councils of Europe than a fleet of English line of battleships. He should like to have heard the Secretary to the Admiralty, in reference to the question of continuity of policy, confirm the principle which had been laid down for a great many years past, that our armoured vessels should be equal in number to the armoured vessels of any two foreign Powers. He believed that at the present moment we stood in a good position, but it was not for us to sit down and simply admire our strength. It was for us to say how in the future we intended to keep that strength up to the standard to which it had been brought in recent years. He understood, however, that the Board of Admiralty had laid it down that they were only going to increase the Navy by four now armoured ships each year. They had 1353 not said whether those ships were to be armoured cruisers or battleships. He did not quarrel with the Admiralty at the present time for not defining the class of ships, but he thought that the number of ships to be laid down and the necessities of the case should be carefully scrutinised. He believed that at the present time we were up to the two-Power standard which had always been laid down as the proper point at which the Navy should be kept. He hoped they should not find that, as time went on, owing to the pressure for economy which was apparently being brought upon the Admiralty, there were attempts to reduce our armaments below the standard he had named. He had calculated the position as far as he could with the assistance of a great many experts. He understood that at the present moment the Admiralty considered that the life of one of our big armoured ships was not more than about fifteen years. If, therefore, we had to consider our position from the point of view of the two-Power standard we must take that consideration into view. Up to 1904 the fleets of two great nations had been considered as the two against whom we should have to calculate our figures, viz., France and Russia. Owing to the great defeat that Russia suffered at the hands of another nation a little time ago, Russia no longer had the naval position that she formerly had. He believed that the fleets we had now to consider to test the two-Power standard were those of France and Germany. If France and Germany carried out their respective programmes of shipbuilding up to the year 1919, and we only increased our fleet by four armoured vessels a year, Great Britain would then have sixty-three armoured ships of not more than 15 years old, France would have thirty-three, and Germany thirty-five. Therefore on that year we should be five ships to the bad. That was not a position which we should contemplate with equanimity. So much for peace. We ought to be strong, and we ought to see that the defences of the country were strong and kept up to the mark. The next point was retrenchment. That was a very excellent thing so long as it did not impair efficiency. Through carefully 1354 building up in recent years we now possessed a fleet in good order; we had the men ready and were in the position at which we had been aiming. It was necessary to see that we did not go down from that position. In order to effect what was called retrenchment and efficiency the late Board of Admiralty brought in a scheme by which 150 vessels, mostly small, old, or of little fighting value, were practically put upon the scrap heap. They had come to the conclusion that, owing to the alteration in fighting arrangements, a number of ships which from time immemorial had done various duties, not always of a strictly naval character, should be removed from the active list and dispensed with. This Act secured efficiency and retrenchment. Those 150 ships had been absorbing the time of many good men and costing an immense amount of money in upkeep and repairs, and in time of war the great difficulty would have been to get them safely into a British port. Diplomatic troubles often came very swiftly, and in case hostilities broke out many of those 150 ships would have had a poor chance in fighting against the improved ships of our enemies, and consequently they were a source of weakness. Besides this they were keeping good men bottled up in them who ought to be manning the vast number of ships in the reserve. What had revolutionised the Navy was that these ships had now been put upon the scrap heap, their crews had been taken out of them re-organised, and all the efficient men in them had been put into ships in the reserve and were now ready at a moment's notice to go to sea. That was a thing which the Navy had been hoping against hope for for years, and now it was an accomplished fact. There were a vast number of ships in commission, and all the ships strong enough for the fighting line were now ready to go to sea. The Board of Admiralty were thoroughly awake, in fact they never had a more efficient Board than at the present time. The hon. Member for King's Lynn said he hoped a Committee would be appointed to inquire into certain subjects, and he suggested that three gentlemen should inquire as to what the Board of Admiralty were doing. Was it right that there should be in this Kingdom three men whose opinions they were ready to take 1355 as against those of the most efficient Admirals in the Navy List? What use would such a Committee be?
§ MR. BELLAIRS
What I said was that there was a strong difference of opinion amongst the Admirals, and therefore a Committee was necessary in order to get their opinions.
§ CAPTAIN HERVEY
said that if the Admirals on the Board of Admiralty were not the best men they ought to get others. It was no good having a Board of Admiralty composed of the best men who had got all the information possible from every source, and then appoint a Committee to set up their opinions against the Board of Admiralty which was supposed to be composed of expert opinion. He thought they were quite safe in trusting the Board of Admiralty to do what was right. As far as continuity of policy was concerned in the future when other officers had to take up this scheme they would find that a master hand had had the running of the show; they would find that it had been started upon right lines, and they would have very little difficulty in carrying out the present policy. There were some other things in connection with efficiency in regard to these Estimates which he should like to see carried into effect. He had heard them described as bloated Estimates, but they were bloated with things which he did not think ought to hive anything at all to do with the Board of Admiralty. He noticed amongst the Estimates such things as cost of [...]r te[...]tion of fisheries, sums of money for astronomical observatories, and Votes for coast-guards. Such things as those ought not to be put upon the Navy Estimates. The highly trained men of the Navy ought not to be employed looking after fisheries; such work could be done by a proper system of merchant ships not under the Admiralty. The same might be said of the astronomical business. It was a good thing to know what the sun and the moon were made of, but such things were of no special practical benefit to the Navy, and therefore they should not be placed on the Navy Estimates. The same argument would apply to the coast-guards, who had to board ships from foreign ports and 1356 perform other duties which might very well be relegated to a totally different department, and thus leave the Navy Estimates solely for what was required for the actual service of the Navy as a fighting machine. With regard to the question of the system of training and entry of officers, criticism had moulded the policy of the Admiralty. They had not tied themselves too rigidly to the position which they had taken up in 1902, and he thought they ought to have a free hand in dealing with a question of this kind, so that they might modify the system in detail if they desired. But why was it necessary to have this alteration in the system in question? Because the necessities of the personnel of the Navy had quite altered from what they were in the olden days. Some fifty years ago steam was introduced, and with that had gradually come engineers of the very highest type whom all respected and admired. They had reasons for wishing certain reforms in their class, but so long as they remained engineers pure and simple it was difficult for any satisfactory arrangements to be arrived at which would grant what the engineers wanted; and consequently the whole system had to be put into the melting pot and a new one evolved. The basis of the new system was that in the Navy of the present day it was essential that every executive officer, no matter what grade he might belong to, should have to a large extent an engineer's training. The ships in the Navy at the present time were a bunch of tricks; there were so many different engines and persons responsible that it was absolutely necessary not that the present engineers should be executive officers but that the future executive officers should all be engineers. There had been the class difficulty to get over, not because of the present engineers, who were such as all officers would be glad to meet on equal terms as well on shore as on board ship, as he knew from practical experience, but there was that difficulty of class—a prejudice much more pronounced in the country than ever was the case in the ship. That prejudice had spread and made difficulties in getting engineers into the service. To obviate this a totally different training had been resorted to for the engineers, 1357 the outcome of which was the new system of training and entry. The difficulty had also been mentioned between the engine-room artificer and the stokers in the Navy, and the question of trades unions had been introduced into the debate. He held most strongly that trades unions were not wanted and ought to have no place on board ship in His Majesty's Navy. A ship was a place where there ought to be a common good feeling between the men, such a feeling as had resulted in the British sailor being called the handy man, because he was ready to take any job in any place wherever he went, and was not afraid by doing that job of taking the bread out of the mouth of the man alongside him. The scheme in working out the naval programme should be to enter these artificers in such a way that from the beginning of their service they should be dependent on the Navy and not on trades unions. The engine-room artificers were a most excellent body of men and a splendid lot of workmen. They were entered for duty in certain specific trades, but not in any way as efficient watch-keepers. The whole of that part of the business was learnt on board ship. There were perhaps two trades—the boiler-maker and the engine-fitter—which had some connection with the running of engines, but the other trades had practically nothing to do with the running of engines. The stokers were a body of men thoroughly good at their job now, and had been highly trained, and they numbered about 30,000 as against about 4,000 engine-room artificers. They had as much right to be considered for promotion as the engine-room artificers and there was no reason why they should not prove efficient for engine-room watch-keeping. It had been stated that the engine-room artificers were to be done away with ruthlessly and remorselessly by a stroke of the pen, but there was no intention of doing anything of the sort. Stokers were to be brought into line by making them watch-keepers, and then they were to take the places, as opportunity came, of the present engine-room artificers. That was the form which this remorseless scheme had taken at the present time. Up to now the stokers had had no opportunity of rising to warrant rank, because there were no 1358 big billets to put them into. The present scheme of the Admiralty was to give them the opportunity, and it was in no way contended that the artificer should suffer in consequence of the stoker getting such promotion. These stokers, after they had been properly trained in the engine-room to run engines and work at boilers, were properly skilled workmen as much as the engine-room artificers, and he could not therefore agree with the objection that had been raised to the scheme that the artificers as a skilled labour class resented being placed under men who were not skilled. He believed the scheme would be for the good of the service, and he hoped nothing would be done which would tend in any way to minimise the good effect of it.
§ MR. J. WILLIAMS BENN (Devonport)
said he did not claim to be a naval expert, but he desired to offer a few commonplace observations as a dockyard Member. First of all as a dockyard Member he felt himself to be under a great obligation to his right hon. friend the Secretary to the Admiralty for the most admirable statement he had made. He was glad that that statement indicated continuity of the Naval policy of the country, and although the right hon. Gentleman did not pledge himself to an endorsement of the new policy, he understood he was prepared to give it a fair trial, and from the figures he gave he gathered that the policy of the new administration was the policy of a strong and efficient Navy. But there was one thing in the new policy which up to now had given grave concern to the dockyard Members. The right hon. Gentleman did not inform the House what proportion would be allocated to the Royal dockyards and what to private yards when he told the House what sum of money would be spent in construction. Documents recently issued seemed to show that the Royal dockyards were to take a second position with regard to this expenditure. They were really to be starved in order that the great private dockyards of the country might be kept going. He had nothing to say against the private dockyards, which he believed to be a valuable national asset, but it was the first duty of the Government to keep their own 1359 dockyards fully employed before considering the question of giving work to outside contractors. Those outside contractors could gather work from all parts of the world. He desired to draw attention to the words in official documents which had caused some of the dockyard Members very grave anxiety. In the Memorandum which Lord Selbome issued a year ago he said—Henceforth it should be borne in mind that 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.That seemed to show that the intention at all events of the last Administration was to turn our dockyards into repairing shops rather than into places of construction. That fear was further confirmed by Lord Cawdor's statement in November last that—the elimination of the older vessels which require most frequent overhauling and repair greatly reduces the work of the dockyards, and therefore allows a reorganisation of the labour conditions.On the top of that there was the Memorandum issued this morning, in which Lord Tweedmouth said—Owing to changes in the organisation of the fleet the amount of repairing work in the dockyards has been substantially reduced.Their concern arose from the fear that the dockyards were to be turned into repairing shops. How were the people they represented to be kept in employment if that was the policy? He thought they would find in this policy the reason for the discharges which had caused so great trouble at the dockyard centres. He asked for information in regard to this policy, and especially what portion of the money was to be allocated to the national workshops. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman that if this was to be the policy of the Admiralty the distress already existing in dockyard centres would be greatly accentuated, because these Government establishments had attracted large numbers of workmen, and if they were to be thrown out of work by a "stroke of the pen," as the late Prime Minister would say, it would be difficult for them to obtain employment, because they did 1360 not happen to be in districts where shipbuilding obtained. By way of illustration he would mention a case that occurred in his own constituency. Prior to the introduction of this policy forty-six trained workmen were engaged in certain parts of the dockyard, and of these eighteen were young men who had been brought up to this particular branch of industry. When this policy was instituted all these men were thrown out of employment. At the present time the eighteen young men, who had secured considerable success in their examinations, were doing labourers' work. Being employed in Government dockyards, they could not take the precaution of joining a trade union—he understood they could not—and therefore if they went to other towns where their services might be required they would have considerable difficulty in finding employment. That instance showed the hardship involved in this change of policy to many of those who had been in the Government employment. With regard to labour, were they to have a declaration that the Government was prepared to abide by the condition that the trade union rate of wages should be paid in the Government departments? He thought it was time that they had a clear declaration on that point.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is now anticipating an Amendment. It is not fair to the hon. Member who has put the Amendment down.
§ MR. J. WILLIAMS BENN
said that under these circumstances he would refrain from any further observations on that point. The dockyard Members heretofore had had the very great advantage of meeting year after year the First Lord of the Admiralty and the leading officials in order to discuss matters of general policy, and he hoped a promise would be given by the right hon. Gentleman that this very useful custom would be continued. Many of the matters which concerned the dockyard employees might be thrashed out in that informal way.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said he would not like to let this debate pass 1361 without saying a word or two with regard to the speech of the hon. Member for King's Lynn. He did not agree with the hon. Gentleman in his conclusions, and he very greatly regretted the arguments by which he thought fit to enforce them He had made an attack upon the members of the Board of Admiralty which was he thought, undeseved, and which he did not believe was in accordance with the general sentiment of the House or the public outside the House. The hon. Member had spoken of the First Sea Lord as an officer who had apparently been unwisely retained in the position he occupied, and he pointed out as a bad example that he should have been allowed to remain on the flag list. He himself did not think that condemnation of that kind was the reward which should be given to an officer who had devoted so much of his time and energy to the service of his country. He found but one note running through the hon. Member's speech. It was a personal one. At the back of every generalisation was a personal note of animosity against an individual. The example had been cited of an admiral who wrote minutes questioning the decision of the Board and was told to haul down his flag. He did not know that that was a very bad example. It certainly had had a very good effect, but, whether that were so or not, he thought the general sense of the Navy would be that it was not desirable or expedient that admirals should make their views known in this House through Members of Parliament when they had a clear course prescribed to them in the regulations, and that was to approach the Board of Admiralty. He did not agree with the matter or the manner of the hon. Member's indictment. The hon. Member told them that great changes were being made, and he invited the House to condemn those changes. He asked why changes should be made at all. The answer was very clear. All was changing in the Navy, and if we did not change the organisation of the personnel the most important part of the Navy must fall behind. Some of these changes had already been made, and we could see their results. One had not yet been completed, and the hon. Member's indictment was against that one. He hoped the House would 1362 judge of the tree by its fruits. Was it not a fair thing to say that a policy which, wherever they had been able to judge by results, had been an extraordinary and undeniable success, was one which should receive their confidence? What had been the result of these changes so-far? They had not only revolutionised the Navy, but had reduced the cost by between £5,000,000 and £6,000,000 by getting rid of that which was not fit for war and making efficient what remained. That was not a bad record, and to that economy they had added an enormous increase in efficiency. He thought they might take it that the Board of Admiralty as now constituted marked a new departure, but the hon. Member had asked the House to condemn that portion of the new policy as a failure. He knew perfectly well that there were some officers who did not believe in bringing the engineer officers into line with the executive officers of the Navy. The country, however, he believed, deliberately accepted the idea that the engineer officer should be given the same chance of promotion as any other officer in the ship. That was the end which the present system contemplated, and which, if let alone, it would effect. The hon. Member had said that we were trying to make an officer into a Jack-of-all-trades. That was a mistake It was not a fact that there was any parallel between the system which existed in the United States Navy and that which had now been introduced into the British Navy; and if it were he would point out that the system in the United States Navy was introduced for the same purpose as our own system, though he thought it less calculated to arrive at that result. To cite the case of Japan as an example was simply to mislead the House. The hon. Member said that every other country was opposed to the view of making an officer a Jack-of-all-trades. As a matter of fact every other country was finding the same difficulty which we had experienced with regard to engineer officers. The difficulties in the French Navy in this matter were known to be very great. When he was in the German harbour of Kiel he found that these same questions were being raised in regard to the exclusion of the engineer officer from the highest command in a navy which 1363 must daily become more and more of an engineering concern. We in this country had been the first to face the problem and try to find a solution of it, but the problem existed elsewhere. In the French Army at the present moment they were reorganising the training of candidates for the general staff and for the high commands. They were making them serve two years in every branch of the French Army, and yet it would not be supposed that the men would be less effective members of the general staff or commanders because they had served in all these branches. He could well understand that if they accepted all the hon. Member had told them the House might be inclined to believe that this training would be superficial. But that was not so. He would tell the House very briefly what these officers had to learn. A boy went to Osborne at the age of twelve and a-half years, and during the whole of his time there, he was largely engaged in studying the elements of mechanics and engineering. He then went t[...] sea or three years, 30 per cent. of which time was spent on the engine-room watch, while the rest of the time he was employed on the engines. Then he went to learn his trade on shore and went through the engineering and training just as sub-lieutenants went through torpedo end gunnery training. After that, for seven years he must help to take charge of the machinery of a seagoing ship before he was allowed to take charge of the engines of a first-class ship-of-war. He did not see anything to prevent a man taking charge of the engines of a ship-of-war after undergoing a training of that kind. The hon. Member had stated that these officers would have to sit on Courts-martial and take duty as deck officers. What was the case now? An executive officer must be, and was, a member of a Court-martial. He had specialised either in gunnery or torpedo work, but did that unfit him for the duty of command?
1364 Fifty per cent. of our captains were specialists. Permanently to exclude the engineer officer from participation in the working of a ship was, in his opinion, a retrograde step of the most unparalleled kind. The hon. Member had spoken of the position of the engine-room artificers and stokers. At the present moment there were 29,000 stokers in the Navy. On the average they had the best character of any class of men in the Navy. They enlisted in the Navy as men, and after fulfilling their time, 20 per cent. of them re-engaged, proving that they were better value than any other class of men. Up to the present there had been no promotion for these men at all. That was not a condition, surely, which hon. Members desired to impose on any man. Every man should have the power to rise in the service to which he belonged. In order to give that power the Admiralty had made a most sensible change. They had said, "We will teach these stokers who have spent their lives in the engine-rooms to run those engines. They are perfectly competent to learn and, if we provide the instruction, they will make themselves masters of the work. When they have so learnt they will be fit to receive warrant rank, and thereby get the promotion to which they are entitled." The engine-room artificers in the Navy numbered about 5,000. Many of them were taken from a great variety of trades which had nothing whatever to do with the driving of great marine engines. They had to be taught as the stokers had to be taught. These men were taken on for the purpose of doing repair work on board ship, and then they were taken away from that work and put on to the engines. What was the most conspicuous feature in the Japanese war? It was that they could repair their ships at sea. Was it not common sense that these men should be allowed to do their own work? They would not be deprived of promotion or of any advantage they might have in the Navy, but they would find that the 1365 work of driving engines would be thrown open to them and that they would reach the rank of warrant officer. He would not detain the House on what undoubtedly was a technical question but one which he thought had beer raised in a way likely to mislead, and if the House adopted the view put forward it would imperil one of the greatest reforms which had been undertaken for the Navy in past years. He urged hon. Members not to be too hasty in their judgment on the Board of Admiralty. The proof of their work was there for every man to see and test for himself; and because one portion of that work had a personal side which was unpalatable to some persons not members of that Board, they were asked to call that Board of Admiralty to the bar, not to judge it for what it had done, but to impugn its judgment because some discontented persons said, "You must stand at the bar of the House of Commons and account to the House, not for what you have done, but for the effect which we believe your policy will have in future."
§ MR. JENKINS (Chatham)
said he wished to call attention to the wages paid and the conditions of employment generally in the Government dockyard and to move a Resolution. For many years representations had been made to the Board of Admiralty by the workmen employed in the dockyards through petition and otherwise in regard to these subjects. He regretted to say, however, that, although many promises had been made—he himself had been present and had listened to the exceedingly pleasant manner in which the chief officials of the Admiralty had replied to the statements of deputations which had waited upon them—nothing had been done in the way of redressing the workmen's grievances. The ordinary labourer in a dockyard at the present time was in receipt of only 20s. a week. He had to pass a 1366 medical examination and must look strong and fit before being employed. It was not for him to paint the picture to this House as to what a man could do on 20s. a week; but he ventured to say, as representing a dockyard constituency, that house rent was very dear there and probably absorbed one-third of the labourer's weekly wage. That left him only 13s. 4d. to provide himself and his family with the ordinary necessaries of life. He did not know why it was that the Board of Admiralty had hesitated to yield to the reasonable demands made by these men, who would not be able to perform the arduous work in the dockyard if they had insufficient food. Taking the average number in a labourer's family—whether by Providence or otherwise—at seven there; was only 1s. 10¾d. per day to feed and clothe them all, or 3¼d. for each member, Yet when these facts had been pointed out, and appeals had been made to the Admiralty, the Board had absolutely refused to consider what was, in the opinion of the workmen, a fair and honest advance in their wages. Then there was the case of what the Admiralty called the skilled labourer. He was old enough to remember the days when the "wooden walls of England" were built and the class of workman who were employed in building these ships. The Admiralty, however, decided that a large part of the work should be let out, and therefore the labourer was taken in and trained to do skilled or mechanical work, and at the present moment they were doing skilled work of all kinds which when done by mechanics received the highest pay. He complained that although the labourer did this skilled work he did not receive the pay to which he was entitled, which was manifestly unfair. What the Government should do was to delete the word labourer, and if a man was a riveter of a sailmaker he should be called a 1367 [...]veter or a sailmaker. There was something undignified in calling a man labourer; he was a ship's carpenter, and every man should be called after the grade to which he belonged, and should receive the proper wage for the work he performed. He had always found, although the rates in various parts of the country were high, that men as public men were very reasonable in the matter of granting a fair day's pay for a fair and honest day's work. Therefore he ventured to hope that the position of these men who received 24s. a week would not only be improved as regards their being called according to their grade, but also by having their pay increased to that which was paid for similar work in private yards which built ships of the Government. It was inconsistent on the part of the Government that they should pay these men such a wage while they compelled contractors, under the Fair Wage Resolution, to pay the union rate of wage of the district in which the work was done. He recently accompanied a deputation to the First Lord of the Admiralty and the indications given then were such that he hoped and believed the Government were prepared to deal honourably and generously with this matter, and were such that he hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty would be able to tell the House that he readily accepted this Amendment. He would not trouble the House with the statistics of the various trades; it was sufficient for him to say that they were prepared to allow the Government to conduct the business in the dockyards in the way best suited to themselves provided they were prepared to recognise the trades union conditions with regard to the establishments concerned. Again, with regard to mechanics they had in the dockyards engineers, boilermakers, shipwrights, joiners, sailmakers, all the trades combined, yet in connection with those 1368 they found the rates of wages far below those paid in private yards all over the country, and here again they asked that the House should consider the very moderate request that the Government should pay the union rates. There was another point. In the dockyards, where the piece-work system was in operation, the system differed very widely from that adopted by private firms. The piece workers in the country had been able, with credit to themselves and the trade, to negotiate with their employers and had secured terms which had been agreed to amicably by both, and the system had operated most successfully. But in the dockyards they found that the schedule of prices had been drafted by the permanent officials of the Admiralty, or some one in the dockyards. The men had no share in the compilation of the schedule, and when the checkers were sent down at the end of the week, and the men were told what was due to them they found, although they had been working very hard under the piecework system, they had not earned a week's wages. He had no desire to suggest that trades unions were required in the Navy, but he ventured to say that this reasonable suggestion should operate in the dockyards, namely, that the men should be permitted to negotiate with the Admiralty for the purpose of scheduling the prices of the work at which they had to earn their living. He wanted to draw the attention of the House to another grievance which arose under the working of the Workmen's Compensation Act. They were told when that Act was passed that there would be no litigation, or at least very little, but some of them found in their own daily work that there had been a great deal of litigation. In many respects the Act was a good one. But he could not understand why a Government which framed the Bill were the first people to contract out of it. What did the Admiralty do? The 1369 Act provided for contracting out, and the Government sent to those workers a carefully prepared scheme which he ventured to say was very bad in every respect. He could give instances where men who had been totally disabled were receiving only a pittance which was unworthy of the Government who gave it. What they wanted was that there should be no contracting out under the Act. There was another grievance from which the workmen suffered. As a workman in the dockyard himself, he felt degraded when on going out of the yard a policeman accosted him, and he had to be searched. There was no private yard in the country which would place a workman in such an indignified position. Then there was the question of overtime. Recently the Admiralty had constructed a vessel in record time. The men were working day and night, though by the order of the Admiralty under the late Government thousands of men were discharged from the royal dockyard. If they wanted overtime let them have relays of men—one set of men working by day and the other by night, or let there be an eight hours day and three shifts. They were told that the dockyard workers received a superannuation allowance. That was granted, but how many men in the dockyard were on the establishment? About 30,000 men were employed in the dockyard, but only 22½ per cent. were on the establishment, so that a great number of the workers were not entitled to receive the superannuation allowance. That should not be considered against them in any way. So far as pensions after retirement were concerned that was only a question of six or seven years, and there were many men who, on the eve of the time when they would receive a pension on retirement, were struck down, and the money which had been stopped from their pay was not handed over to their families or other relatives. He hoped 1370 the grievances which he had brought to the attention of the House would be mitigated. He thanked the House for the manner in which they had listened to him, and he begged to move.
§ MR. SUMMERBELL (Sunderland)
seconded the Amendment, which he considered was a very reasonable one. It merely asked, in the first place, that the Government should do what all private employers were doing at the present time, namely, pay the trade union rate of wages, and, in the second place, that the men should have a right to represent their grievances through their accredited representatives. In making that request they relied on the precedent created by the Postmaster-General, who had conceded the right to the post office employés to negotiate with the Postmaster-General through their accredited representative, and they simply asked that that principle should be extended to the dockyards. With regard to Portsmouth, he held in his hand a petition which had been presented by the dockyard men there, but up to now no redress had been given for the grievances of which they complained. From that petition he found that the sailmakers had to serve an apprenticeship of six or seven years, yet the men working in the yard at the present time were receiving only from 28s. to 29s. 6d. a week, whilst in private yards men doing the same work were receiving from 31s. 6d. to 42s. In London they received 40s. 6d., in Liverpool 36s., and in other places sums ranging from 33s. 9d. to 36s. per week; and in making the request that they should receive 33s. these men were asking for no more than they were entitled to, having regard to the wages paid elsewhere. It would no doubt be argued that they worked shorter hours than men employed in private yards, but even so, if the amount of the hours worked was taken in relation to the wage paid it would be found that 1371 they were receiving less than the trade union rate. He hoped the Government would concede these two points.
To leave out from the word, 'That' to the end of the Question in order to add the words "This House is of opinion that the Government, as model employers, should pay the workers in the dockyards not less than the standard trade union rate of wages paid for similar work in the district; further, in order to maintain amicable relations between the heads of the respective departments and the employees, the right of negotiation through the accredited representatives of the workmen should be at once recognised."—(Mr. Jenkins.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. NAPIER (Faversham)
said that, as representing the dockyard town of Sheerness, he ventured to intervene in this debate and to associate himself with a large number of the sentiments expressed by other dockyard Members and with the arguments which they had placed before the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty would no doubt be ready to acknowledge that Sheerness had certain characteristics which were not common to most of the dockyard towns of the country. Sheerness was more completely a Government town than probably any other town in the country. It was practically without any other industry than the dockyard. Plymouth, Portsmouth and Chatham all had other industries, and when a man was discharged from those dockyards it was possible for him to obtain other employment in the surrounding district, but when a man was discharged from the Sheerness dockyard he had to migrate. This little town was surrounded on two sides by the sea and upon the other two sides by Government lands which the Government refused either to sell or to lease for business purposes, and beyond those lands were others over which the Government had 1372 certain rights which they exercised in the direction of forbidding any building. Having regard to these circumstances he submitted that Sheerness had some further claim upon the Government than other dockyard towns. The House would hardly realise that during the last year one third of the hands employed in the Sheerness dockyard had been dismissed, which meant that in this small town there was something like £1,000 per week less to be spent, and the distress during the winter had been exceedingly great. It had been perhaps more private than public in character because the people were thrifty and most of them had saved and owned their own houses, but their savings had now gone and their houses were either sold or mortgaged. There was little sign of the sufferings they had gone through because the dockyard men had formed a Distress Committee and had helped their less fortunate fellows, but the town was now at its worst and they wanted to know what the Government were going to do with them next year. Two years ago a deputation waited on Lord Selborne, and the noble Lord told hat deputation that there was no reason to believe that there would be in future years many discharges, because they were going to make the town a first class repairing depot for torpedo destroyers.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said the hon. Member appeared to be dealing with matters outside the scope of the Motion.
§ SIR J. BAKER (Portsmouth)
said he wished to impress on the Admiralty that the rate of wages paid in Portsmouth dockyard was far behind the average rate paid by other employers, and was below the rate absolutely necessary to enable a man to live decently. The wages paid to labourers and mechanics was from 1373 19a. to 22s. a week, or 2s. or 3s. below the current rate in the locality. It was to the discredit of the Admiralty that they should persist in such a course. The same remark applied to every department in the dockyard, and the plea that there was continuity of employment with the prospect of a pension had been shown over and over again to have no foundation whatever. Just as winter was approaching, 1,500 men were discharged in batches week by week. Was that continuity of employment or a model for other employers? When the Admiralty wanted men they sent to the north to the great trades unions. Was it fair to employees that the Admiralty should deal with masses of men in such a summary manner? As to the possibility of a discharged man obtaining employment, once discharged he had to tramp the country and sometimes wander 300 or 400 miles before he could obtain similar employment. In the last five years there had been no improvement whatever, and the Admiralty had made no attempt to meet the demands of the men. Dockyard Members had pressed their arguments without effect. Except for a few small concessions there had been practically nothing during the past five years commensurate with the scale which the Admiralty admitted they should maintain as model employers paying the rate of wages current in the locality. The men had been waiting expectantly, and as they had a new Government with a new policy they hoped that the new policy would be in accordance with the general sentiment of the country.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
said he had no fault to find with what was said by the mover and seconder of the Amend- 1374 ment. He had no hesitation in saying that both propositions in the Amendment were reasonable. He would take the second part of the Amendment first, namely, that which required the Government to recognise the right of negotiation through the accredited representatives of the workmen. The desire was a perfectly fair and reasonable one, and was not likely to meet with opposition. The Government also recognised, in principle, that it was their duty to pay "the trade union rate of wages paid for similar work in the district," but they coupled that with the condition that differences between dockyard and outside work must be taken into account. His noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty met the other day a deputation of the Parliamentary Committee of the Trade Union Congress, and he believed the hon. Member for Chatham was present and was not dissatisfied with what was said by his noble friend. At that interview the First Lord made reference to certain dockyard conditions which might modify to some extent the wages paid in the dockyards as compared with the trade union wages outside. He accepted both parts of the Amendment in spirit and substance, subject to the condition stated by Lord Tweedmouth, to which no exception was taken. The hon. Member for Chatham had alluded to two points which could not perhaps be quite covered by the Amendment. One point was with regard to the Workmens' Compensation Act, which it would require legislation to alter. On the question of overtime, perhaps he might be permitted to say that his noble friend and he, and their colleagues, were in full sympathy with the general dislike expressed with regard to it. He ventured to hope that what he had said would meet with substantial approval 1375 from the mover and seconder of the Amendment, and that they would be satisfied with the discussion. He would add that when he was last at the Admiralty it was the practice for the members of the Board to go down to the dockyards and to hear from the employees their story. He had sat through many of those deputations. They intended to carry on that practice. The Board would visit the yards in turn and discuss in a friendly manner with the workmen or their representatives questions in which they were interested. It was intended, if possible, to make a beginning in the Easter Vacation. Although he accepted practically every word in the Amendment, almost unconditionally, it was impossible, of course, for the Government to accept the Amendment as that would be to defeat the main question, which was that the Speaker do leave the Chair, and before carrying that Motion, they could not, of course, proceed to put their benevolent intention into practice.
MR. KEIR HAKDIE (Merthyr Tydvil)
said he approved of the sympathetic spirit in which the Amendment had been met by the Government. It was satisfactory to know that there was a reasonable probability of an end being put to the scandal of men working for the Government for starvation wages. As he understood the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman it was that, not at once, but as soon as possible, the wages paid in the dockyards would be levelled up to the wages paid for the same work in private yards. He understood, also, that in future not only would the Admiralty receive complaints from a trade union, but that when a Committee of the Admiralty visited a dockyard they would 1376 receive complaints from the men, and that the men might be accompanied by the trade union officials to assist them in putting their case. He was glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman assented to that. He was sure the right hon. Gentleman's statement would be received with very great satisfaction by all Government workers. With regard to the Workmens' Compensation Act he thought the right hon. Gentleman was under a misapprehension. His hon. friend did not argue for an amended Compensation Act, but pointed out that the Government workers were contracted out of the existing Act to their disadvantage. If an improved Workmens' Compensation Act was to become law shortly there might be no reason for interfering with the existing arrangement; but under the new Act it was hoped and expected that the Government would not set the bad example of contracting its own employes out of its operation. He was sure his hon. friend would be consulting his own wishes and those of the Labour Members if he allowed his Amendment to be negatived.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
asked if he might take the opportunity to put a Question and at the same time to congratulate the Civil Lord of the Admiralty on filling an office which he hoped he would find as interesting as he found it. He desired to ask whether the new hospital at Cape Town would be ready for the accommodation of patients during the present year. Anyone who had access to the reports about the old 1377 hospital would be anxious that the new hospital should be ready at the earliest possible time. If, as he had been informed, the work still remaining undone was not in the hospital itself, but in the medical officers' quarters, could not some temporary arrangement be made for the accommodation of the medical officers, so that the patients might have the advantage of the new building at the earliest possible moment? He also desired to know whether the Admiralty had arranged that properly qualified nursing sisters should be appointed to every considerable naval hospital, both at home and abroad; and whether any progress was being made under the scheme adopted some time ago whereby naval medical officers were to be given opportunities of walking the hospitals at home in order that they might keep themselves abreast with the progress in medical science.
§ THE CIVIL LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. LAMBERT,) Devonshire, South Molton
thanked the right hon. Gentleman for the kind references he had made to him. The right hon. Gentleman knew well that the old hospital at Cape Town was not one which commended itself to the Admiralty or the medical authorities. Through the change of policy in regard to the redistribution of the Fleet the proposed accommodation in the new hospital had been considerably reduced. The Admiralty hoped the hospital would be completed in the next financial year. The quarters for the senior medical officers would also be completed in that year. With regard to nursing sisters he was glad to say that in all the considerable hospitals they were employed. In only three cases—Ascension, Cape of Good Hope, 1378 and Yokohama—they were not employed, because these hospitals were so small that it was hardly worth while to send nurses there. As to medical officers being allowed to walk the hospitals here, he was sorry he could not give the right hon. Gentleman a definite reply. He could assure him that the matter would receive the most favourable consideration of the Government.
§ Question put, and agreed to.