§ *MR. BELLAIRS (Lynn Regis)
rose to call attention to the Admiralty administration, and to move: "That this House, while recognising the services rendered by the Admiralty, regrets to observe evidence of ill-considered changes vitally affecting the war readiness of the Navy; the House is of opinion that its control over the Navy in recent years has been, and is being, weakened by the absence of the First Lord of the Admiralty from the House of Commons, by undue secrecy, by sudden changes of policy, and by Admiralty officials resorting to novel methods for the purpose of influencing public opinion." In moving this Resolution, he desired to state that he had not the slightest personal hostility to the Board of Admiralty, though he had been informed that feelings of hostility had been imputed to him. If that charge were really true, he would be guilty of great ingratitude after the kindness, courtesy, and consideration with which he had been treated by the Board. Because he had asked a Question about Sir John Fisher it did not follow that he was prompted by hostile feeling towards that distinguished Admiral. He objected to the Admiralty resorting to secret methods, and had the House been asked to vote a salary of £5,000 a year to Sir John Fisher he would gladly have supported it; but he was opposed to the secret method by which an Order in Council was passed which did not appear in the London Gazette, and about which they knew nothing in the House, until he happened to find out by accident what had been done and asked a Question over a year after the event. This secrecy was very detrimental to the House's control over 1067 the proceedings of the Board of Admiralty. The method of secrecy was being extended, for naval men were giving less and less information. During 1905 there was as care about the guns, and they were therefore interested in getting all the information they could about guns from the Government in 1906. The Admiralty had replied by removing all information about the guns ordered from the Estimates of 1906. Then the question of training was raised last year, and they wanted all information in the Estimates as to how the nucleus crews were distributed and trained. In 1907, on opening the Estimates, he found that this information was removed, and he believed that, the Admiralty had only done that because of the general belief that the sea training of the Navy was suffering. The official reason given was that it was impossible to give the usual information, as the nucleus crews of the Home Fleet had not been settled when the Estimates were framed. But surely the Secretary to the Admiralty might have given him a more frank assurance in answer to the question which he had put to him that day, that he would have all the information reinserted in next year's Estimates—information of such great value. That policy of secrecy had been condemned by previous First Lords of the Admiralty. It was strongly condemned by the First Lord of the Admiralty in 1902. The policy, as far as he could gather, was to shelve discussion as much as possible in that House and in the country. At the same time another process went on, of giving one-sided information to favoured newspapers. The result had been that in the Royal United Service Institution, the official debating place, there had been no naval discussions at all, except one lecture by a retired officer; no officer on the active list got up there at all. He regretted very much this want of discussion in the United Service Institution. Sir John Colomb, a very able member of the Conservative Party in the last Parliament, once read a paper which led to the formation of the Naval Intelligence Department and the Admiralty at the time did everything they could to stop his doing so. He thought any attempt to suppress discussion was most mischievous. He had two quotations, 1068 one from the late Lord Salisbury, and the other from a Cabinet Minister of that time. Lord Salisbury said—The defence of the country is not the business of the War Office or the Government, but the business of the people themselves.The Cabinet Minister said—speaking at a dinner in 1902—If the Government had made mistakes it was largely because the people of the country had failed to impress on Governments what they ought to do.He submitted that it was absolutely impossible for the people to exercise any control over Imperial defence unless the fullest possible information was given; they could not criticise mistakes when they lacked full information. He believed that secrecy was only used to conceal the poverty of the defence. He remembered the story told by the present First Sea Lord, Sir John Fisher, when Admiral superintendent at Portsmouth. He took the French Naval officers round the dockyard on the occasion of their visit. There was an empty store, and when the superintendent came to it, after having shown the party the places of interest, he pointed to the locked door, and the sentry stationed near, and said to the French Admiral, Admiral Gervais—I have shown you everything, but I have the most imperative orders not to show you what is going on in that store.That illustrated the value of secrecy; it was an empty store. But he was afraid that the policy of empty stores was one which had been liberally applied for some years past. They had never had a thorough investigation, for instance, of the personnel of the Navy, or of what Lord Selborne called the far-reaching reforms which he carried out in 1902, and which had since been developed. There had been various methods of justifying the changes, and they had been asked by Lord Tweedmouth to wait seven or eight years to see the result of the experiments which were being carried out. Personally he was not prepared to wait for eight years if the changes were bad changes. If the changes were good changes he thought the Government could very well grant the prayer of the 225 Members who had asked for an inquiry into the whole of those changes, without any executive authority asked for, but simply that the 1069 House might be informed as to whether the changes were good or bad. In reference to the scheme of changes effected in 1905 by Lord Cawdor, they were told for a long time that the Douglas Committee were making a very full inquiry and a very full Report. It turned out to be practically a Departmental Committee, and the Report was first of all refused to them by the Secretary of the Admiralty, but subsequently granted in the House of Lords in response to an appeal by Lord Goschen, who pointed out that the Report had been quoted in official documents. That Committee lasted exactly six weeks. Its inquiry was supposed to be in regard to this great revolution in the training and distribution of officers of the whole Navy. It sat once a week, and it devoted two days to the engineers, one day to the marines, and one day to an artificer and a stoker. This artificer was hostile, and the stoker said that he would like to see the position of the stokers improved. It was a very perfunctory inquiry. The one day devoted to the marines elicited the fact that all the marine witnesses thought that under this scheme they were to be abolished. The inquiry was really a bogus inquiry altogether, and the fact that they were refused this Report, and that it was a bogus inquiry, he thought justified their demand for a very full inquiry into these changes. He should add that the evidence submitted to the Committee was very conflicting, and that there was a minority Report of which they had never heard, this condemnation of the scheme being signed by the representative of the Royal Marines. It was very unfortunate, as showing the atmosphere of suspicion which existed. An officer who signed that minority Report, after being a few months at his billet in the Intelligence Department, a post which he ought to have held three years, was sent to a cruiser on the China station, immediately after signing that Report. That created a bad effect That was in 1905. He did not say that it was done as a punishment, but he could not ignore the belief of the service that the officer had dared to express an opinion differing from the opinion of those in authority who had formed that Committee, and therefore 1070 he was sent out by the Admiralty to me China station. He was by no means contending that many useful reforms had not been carried out by the Board of Admiralty. The introduction of the French nucleus crew system was decidedly good, but it was being carried too far when nucleus crews were put in charge of practically new ships; they were never full crews, but partly-manned crews which were called nucleus crews. The nucleus crews system was creating a great deal of discontent. They had officers devoting themselves for six or seven months to the training of men, and it was heart-breaking at the end of that time to see those men sent away to another ship. Not long ago he asked how many captains and crews the "Barfleur" had had, and he was informed that she had had six captains and five crews during a period of two years. Would any business man change the manager of his works six times and his staff five times in two years and call it good business? It was very bad business, and it was creating a good deal of discontent in the Navy. There was no doubt that the reason so many men were deserting from the Navy was that they objected to being shifted about so much; they did not get a chance of knowing their officers. He thought the improvement in the gunnery was very much to the credit of the Admiralty. It was only fair that if they blamed the Admiralty when things went wrong and harm was done they should praise them when good work was done. He had been told that this was due to the zeal of the sea officer and improvements in the telescope. One of the service papers which acted as a sort of semi-official organ for the Government, the Naval and Military Record, stated that with the new telescope, which possessed 23 magnifying power, they could see the dimple on a fair girl's cheek 2,000 yards away. The Board system, as it existed, had received very high praise from the Esher Committee. The essence of the Board system was that the Prime Minister chose a broad-minded and capable administrator who could estimate the value of evidence and choose good advisers, and under those circumstances the Board had always worked well. If on the other hand they chose a First Lord who was a fool and did away with equality in regard to the advisers, 1071 that was the way to wreck the Board. Many evils had resulted from the fact that the equality of the Naval advisers had been done away with by the Order in Council issued under Lord Selborne in regard to the distribution of business on October 20th, 1904. There had been one necessary change by which the First Sea Lord for the first time, through the Committee of Defence, had access to other Cabinet Ministers besides the First Lord of the Admiralty. This extra power should, however, have made Lord Selborne more careful not to extend further the primacy of the First Sea Lord. Instead of this course being taken the First Sea Lord had been made Chairman of the Designs Committee and the Dockyards Committee, giving power over the matériel of the Navy such as Moltke never possessed over the equipment of the German Army; and Chairman of the Estimates Committee. Lord Selborne had also introduced this distribution of business by which all the other Sea Lords and the Civil Lords were ordered to submit any important changes to the First Sea Lord, who had the power of deciding whether those important changes should come before the Board. That change was carried out when Parliament was not sitting. He had detected a tendency to carry out changes at a time of the year when Parliament was not sitting. He thought the tendency of the First Lord's being in the House of Lords was to make the representatives of the Admiralty in the House of Commons quite irresponsible. For instance, the Secretary to the Admiralty on 24th May last year had expressed himself as decidedly hostile to the early entry of officers, whereas early entry lay at the root of all the changes in naval training to which he objected, and if it were abolished then all Lord Selborne's and Lord Cawdor's changes in naval training would go with it. If a First Lord was in the House of Commons and had made that criticism he would have immediately been called upon to justify his views. If he were in that House he would have to stand the whole racket of debate, of answering Questions and Motions, and defending the Estimates, and then Members could find out whether he was a capable administrator or not. Again, they could not in the least bring to book the First Lord's statements in another 1072 place. By way of illustration he referred to the statement of the First Lord that the nucleus crews had diminished the number of ships out of repair in the most extraordinary manner, a statement which the First Lord based on a comparison between January 1904 and 1907, which left out material factors so as not to spoil the percentage of 1907. He would take that statement as a test case. The statement had gone forth in the First Lord's speech in the other place and also in the explanatory statement of the Navy Estimates, that in the third week of January, 1904, out of sixty battleships, thirty-eight were unavailable owing to the need of repairs, or 63 per cent, of the whole, and that on the 21st of January, 1907, out of fifty-one battleships only eight, or 16 per cent., were unavailable. Let the House mark the words "unavailable owing to the need of repair." After that Lord Tweedmouth said—The Admiralty took the official returns from the dockyards, which gave the dates of taking in hand, completion, etc.Hon. Members would know the difference between ships needing repair and taking those repairs in hand. Complaint had been made that the Admiralty were not taking the repairs in hand to the extent they were leading them to believe. The "Goliath" was put down for £48,000 and the "Canopus" for £25,000, and neither of those ships figured in the eight ships which the First Lord of the Admiralty included as needing repair. He had been furnished through the kindness of the First Lord with a list of the thirty-eight battleships needing repair in 1904, and he found amongst them the "Monarch" which was simply a depot ship being used to house the crews of ships. Amongst others he also found the "Rupert," which never in her history had been a battleship. No officer of the Admiralty could possibly have made the mistake of putting the "Rupert" in the list of battleships needing repair, and it looked very much like hoaxing the public. It had been acknowledged that ten ships in 1907 were utterly out of repair, and yet they were included in the list of first-class battleships in order to swell the strength statistics. In the First Lord's list of ships needing repair they were, however, excluded as they would spoil the percentage. 1073 In 1904 there was a very extensive policy of reconstruction in progress by which ten battleships and fifteen cruisers were being reconstructed. All those ships which were being reconstructed in 1904 were included in the First Lord's list as needing repair, whereas no ships were being reconstructed now. It was one of the complaints against the Admiralty that whilst rival Powers were reconstructing the Admiralty were doing nothing in the way of reconstruction, because it made no show and enabled them to use obsolete ships to swell the statistics. Another instance of a misleading statement was the First Lord's reference in another place to the mobilisation of the ships on 14th June last year and the wonderful rapidity with which it was carried out. The First Lord insisted that it was a surprise mobilisation, whereas if he had consulted The Times he would have seen that the mobilisation was fully anticipated. Lord Tweedmouth, in the same speech, said—These ships responded to the test put upon them. There was no necessity for a proclamation to call out the Reserves or anything of that sort. They went to sea with full crews with the extreme rapidity I have indicated.If Lord Tweedmouth would consult The Times he would find:(1) that on 7th June, seven days before, the Admiralty issued the appointments of officers; (2) that on 9th June the arrival of reserve men at the ports took place; (3) that on June 12th a complete official list of vessels for the manœuvres appeared in The Times, and also the order that all leave in the ships was to be stopped, and all offices concerned with mobilisation to be kept open day and night; (4) that on 13th June The Times contained the intimation that the reserve squadron would be mobilised the following day. The Times added—The numbers required to bring the vessels up to war strength are held in readiness at the naval bararcks, with steam-boats in attendance to embark immediately the order to mobilise comes to hand.Such manœuvres might be called Zanzig manœuvres, because every officer knew that they were coming off. There was another hoax which had been played off on the House, namely, the distribution hoax. They had been told that the new distribution was going to increase the fighting efficiency of the 1074 Fleet. If that statement had not been made it would not have been necessary to attack it. The statement was most misleading. Lord Cawdor's Memorandum of November, 1905, stated that there were seventeen battleships in the Channel Fleet. Lord Tweedmouth had met the increase in the German Fleet by reducing the number of battleships in the Channel Fleet to fourteen. It had for some days been cruising with only eleven battleships. Lord Cawdor's Memorandum stated that there were thirty-three battleships in full commission in 1905. The number had now been reduced to thirty-two. In 1905 they were distributed over three Fleets, whereas now they were distributed over four Fleets, and he had yet to learn from any historical teaching that dispersion was better than concentration. Of the thirty-two battle ships in full commission, six were only nominally under the new arrangement of the Nore Division, having only two-fifths of their complements, who were to be assisted by boys, youths, and second-class stokers. To say that such methods increased the fighting efficiency of the Fleet was most misleading. The only real increase in efficiency which he had been able to trace had been in the torpedo flotillas. They were undoubtedly increased. He deprecated the concentration by which so many men were employed on torpedo craft, which, as experience had shown, was only secondary work in actual warfare. He would like to see the concentration work devoted to battleships and cruisers rather than to destroyers. On the question of shipbuilding he was not going to deal with matters which could be discussed on the Estimates, but he protested against the enormous fluctuations which occurred in the shipbuilding programmes of this country. The House hardly realised how enormous these fluctuations were. In the Estimates of 1899 they laid down fourteen armoured vessels, while this year the number was three. In the two years 1889 and 1890 thirty-six protected cruisers were laid down, while for the years 1905 and 1906 there were none. In the three years 1894 to 1896 seventy-nine destroyers were laid down, and for the three years 1905 to 1907 the number was eleven. These enormous fluctuations from abnormal 1075 programmes to programmes which were very small were very detrimental to the country, and very bad for all the shipbuilding interests. There were similar variations of policy in regard to the types of ships. One year they built enormous cruisers, and in another year very small cruisers. He was told that Lewis Carroll used to compose his humorous books by writing sentences on little strips of paper, then putting all the bits of paper into a hat, shaking them up, and letting the sentences run on just as they chanced to come out. The Admiralty might just as well make up their ship-building programme that way—put a number of types into the First Lord's bowler, and let the Secretary to the Admiralty take out the first that came. In that way they might arrive at a programme like the present year's—three battleships, one scout, five destroyers. There had been too little consistent policy, too much experimenting in the Navy. He begged to move.
§ *MR. F. E. SMITH (Liverpool, Walton)
said it was with very considerable hesitation that he accepted the invitation of his hon. and gallant friend to second this Motion. It might easily be supposed that he did not possess any of that expert and strategical knowledge which alone could qualify any Member of the House to take part in debates on this particular subject with authority, and the reasons which had induced him to accede to the request made to him were the reflection in the first place that all Members of the House, and indeed the whole community, were under obligation to the hon. Member for the time and industry which he had devoted to naval questions; and in the second place, he was influenced by the consideration that if, after all, the question of naval policy was to be left entirely to the discussion of experts who claimed to have particular knowledge, the number of those who could take part in a debate must be strictly limited. It would be admitted that those who were not experts were under obligation to form the best judgment they could on the extremely important question involved in Motions such as that before the House, and there was no more obvious method of resolving doubts than that of asking 1076 the Secretary to the Admiralty, when occasions for doing so were presented, questions such as made it difficult for the hon. Gentleman to avoid giving an answer. He ventured to think that very few of the questions which had been addressed to the Secretary to the Admiralty in the last few months would have been necessary, and that the greater part of the debates on the Navy would have been avoided, if it had not been for certain extremely ambiguous references to the maintenance of the two-Power standard made by the Prime Minister last year, and also the Secretary to the Admiralty during the present session. Every unprejudiced observer would agree that, whether or not at a given moment there had been apprehension that the two-Power standard was being deviated from, persons of all political views had until this Parliament held that the two-Power standard should be maintained as the criterion of our naval strength. The Prime Minister was the first to give rise to serious doubt as to the view which the Government entertained on the two-Power standard, when in July last year he said—When you talk of the two-Power standard after all you cannot keep out of your mind what the two Powers are. I do not object to the two-Power standard as a rough guide, but this is a two-Power standard of almost a preposterous kind.The definition of the two-Power standard admittedly was not dependent on any strictly logical principle, and among the different definitions which had been offered, the one which had held the field premised that there should be no inquiry as to what the two Powers were. The Secretary to the Admiralty speaking on 5th March said—Originally the two-Power standard meant two specified European Powers. It was not a standard in the abstract, but at best it was only a rule of thumb—a rough and ready test. There might be conceivable circumstances in which the two-Power standard was too much, and imaginable circumstances in which too little.
§ *MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
explained that what he had said was that while under certain circumstances a two-Power standard might be too much, there were conceivable circumstances in which a three-Power standard would be too little.
§ MR. F. E. SMITH
said he meant to say that, and he entirely agreed with the right hon. Gentleman. Did or did not the right hon. Gentleman adhere to the statement of the Prime Minister that they should not keep out of their mind what the two Powers were? Even last month the Prime Minister used this expression—Supposing we were at any time to be in close alliance with the two Powers with the largest navies, however close that alliance may be, should we rigidly adhere to the two-Power standard?He would ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell the House explicitly whether it was the view of the Government that the two-Power standard might vary according to the view the Government formed at a given moment in regard to our alliances with other Powers? The preamble of the German Navy Bill might possibly supply some assistance in answering the question what a two-Power standard ought to be. The words were—Germany must have a fleet of such strength that a war even against the mightiest naval Power would involve risks threatening the supremacy of that Power.The debate was a strictly non-Party one, and he did not desire to make any attack on the Government. But he would remind the Secretary to the Admiralty that in 1904–5 the expenditure on the Fleet was £42,000,000, while in 1906–7; it was £36,000,000, or a reduction of £6,000,000. [MINISTERIAL cries of "Hear, hear."] He did not in the least quarrel with the cheers with which those figures were received. He was rather disposed to think that the temporary paralysis of shipbuilding abroad, which had been occasioned by the building of the "Dreadnought" might be sufficient justification for that reduction. Yet it should be remembered that in 1904–5, when the expenditure of the Navy was higher than in any single year of our history, the present Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said at a meeting of the Eighty Club—I want to see the British Navy still stronger than it is, a fighting instrument always ready to strike, for then, it is almost certain, it will not be called upon to strike.He had listened with interest to the explanation of the Secretary to the Admiralty as to the relative strength of the great maritime Powers to-day. At first 1078 sight it appeared that his explanation was a complete and persuasive one; but there were one or two points, not clear to his mind, on which some further information might be given. It was stated that if they took battleships less than eighteen years old, Great Britain had fifty-two as compared with forty-nine possessed by France and Germany. Great Britain had thirty-seven battleships less than thirteen years old, and France and Germany had forty-one. Great Britain had nineteen battleships less than eight years old, as contrasted with twenty-eight possessed by France and Germany. He asked the Secretary to the Admiralty what difference in the judgment of his advisers the comparative age of our battleships and those of France and Germany made in estimating the relative strength. As he understood, at the present time the total number of battleships in our Navy was sixty-three, if those built, building, and projected were counted. Of these, forty-seven were unarmoured over the portion of the water-line, while in the Fleets of France and Germany, none of the battleships were unarmoured over the water-line. What deductions did expert opinion allow under this head in the consideration of relative strength? Of our sixty-three battleships, he understood that two were building, that nine were admittedly obsolete, thirteen were to have no more repairs bestowed upon them, and six were at the present time under repair. That left thirty-three battleships in full commission. The statement was very frequently made, when a comparison was drawn between the battleships of this country and France and Germany, that we built, or had facilities for building, vessels better than any other country in the world. He wished to know whether that statement was accurate in the opinion of those who to-day advised the Admiralty? The Cawdor Memorandum laid it down that every ship ought to be completed in twenty-four months, yet the "Minotaur" and "Defence" would take three years and two months. Why was the time so greatly exceeded in these instances in relation to the time mentioned in the Cawdor Memorandum? Was there any similar instance in Germany? He did not propose to ask any questions as to the 1079 strategical distribution of the Fleet, but he would put one or two in regard to the non-strategical distribution of the Fleet. He understood that when the late Government left office, there were thirty-two battleships always at sea, and fourteen battleships in reserve with nucleus crews, or forty-six in all. At present, there were six battleships in the Mediterranean instead of eight as before; in the Channel fourteen, instead of sixteen; and in the Atlantic, six instead of eight. In the result, there were at present only twenty-six sea-going battleships, instead of thirty-two. If however, the hon. Gentleman said that the Nore Fleet was a fully sea-going Fleet, then as against fourteen vessels in reserve at that date there were only seven in reserve now. In the words of Admiral Sir W. May—What the sailor needs is the sea, the sea and manœuvres at whatever cost, and they are very expensive. But it is useless to have a Navy unless we are prepared to pay all the expenses of training at sea.In 1904 the right hon. Member for Dundee stated that the Admiralty formed the view that the strength of the sea-going Fleet was greater than strategy demanded, but his hon. friend the Member for Fareham, who had considerable opportunity of ascertaining what was the opinion of the Admiralty at that time, denied that and said that he had never heard at the Admiralty the opinion that the strength of the sea-going Fleet was too great. He wanted to know if there was any truth in statements which had been made that to some extent at least the complements of the Fleet at the Nore were made up of boys, and that the ships were going to be used as training colleges? If the change was dictated by economy, what was the economy likely to be obtained? He would like to ask the hon. Gentleman whether or not it was the view of the Admiralty that 70 per cent, of sea-going time of the men at the Nore would make them effective? An extremely interesting discussion had been raised by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Forest of Dean, as to the policy of the Government in regard to cruisers. The right hon. Gentleman said it was ancient history now to build cruisers, as far as the protection and destroying of commerce were concerned and that we could 1080 hold our hands in that respect. The right hon. Gentleman said the whole policy of naval experts had been revolutionised as far as the building of cruisers was concerned. He would like to know if that view was shared by the Government, and whether the Secretary to the Admiralty had reason to believe it was shared by foreign Powers.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE
said that he founded his statement entirely upon the action of foreign Powers and on the estimates of foreign Powers.
§ *MR. F. E. SMITH
was obliged to the right hon. Baronet and had no doubt the Secretary to the Admiralty would tell him whether he was right in gathering from the German naval estimates that that Power intended to build two new fast cruisers annually. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would say whether that view was correct or whether the view the right hon. Baronet had brought forward was well founded. But there was a more important consideration in reference to this question of building cruisers, as to which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty might be able to give some information to the House, and that was the proposals which the Government were likely to lay before The Hague Conference, or rather what was the position which the representatives of this country were likely to take at that Conference in regard to the proposal to forbid the capture of private property at sea. He asked what the position of our representatives would be and what effect the proposal would have, if adopted, upon the shipbuilding programme of the future. It was an extremely important question whether it was the intention of the Government to support that proposal. In conclusion there was one further branch of his hon. friend's Resolution upon which he wished to make a few observations. It was that part in which he complained of the methods of secrecy which had been adopted by the Admiralty. He did not think his hon. friend limited that complaint to the present Government or to the last twelve months or was desirous of treating the question as a Party one, nor did he wish to treat it as such, 1081 but he would recall the words of Mr. W. H. Smith who, he believed, was formerly a very capable and clear-sighted First Lord of the Admiralty. Mr. Smith said—There was nothing in the objection that inquiry would give information to foreign Powers. For those who had the management of their navies knew a great deal more about our Navy than many of us did. The Government might suppress printed documents, but if he wanted information on the Navy he could get, it at Berlin, Copenhagen or Paris if he chose to pay. The only effect of withholding information from England was to create the impression that it could not be given without damage to responsible, officials.The observation was profoundly true, and he therefore urged upon the right hon. Gentleman that he should be more communicative to hon. Members in all parts of the House. On 18th July 1906, the hon. Member for King's Lynn asked the Secretary to the Admiralty—What reserve of heavy guns was maintained by the German navy for battleships carrying four heavy guns each; and whether the guns in German fortifications generally corresponded to the guns on board the ships.The Secretary to the Admiralty replied—So many questions have recently been addressed to me on the subject of foreign navy estimates, programmes and policy that I am constrained to ask my hon. friend and other hon. Members to excuse me from making statements on subjects as to which the Board of Admiralty have no official knowledge and can take no responsibility.He would have thought, in the first place, that the Board of Admiralty ought to have official knowledge, and he was glad to call to his aid as a formidable ally in this contention the right hon. Gentleman himself, who when in opposition delivered a telling indictment of the Admiralty because they were not able to give him information as to the Russian Admiralty's policy. To take another Question which had been asked, and, in his judgment, had not been sufficiently answered, on 19th February, 1907, the hon. Member for Ludlow asked the Secretary to the Admiralty—If he has received any official report from Admiral Lord Charles Beresford as to the sufficiency of the Channel Fleet; and, if so, whether he proposes to take any action in consequence of the report.The Secretary to the Admiralty replied—The Admiralty must, in the interest of the public service, decline to allow their confidential 1082 communications with the officers of the Fleet to be the subject, of Parliamentary inquiry.He quite assented to that in so far as the declaration in reference to Parliamentary inquiry was concerned, but he thought it could hardly have been very injurious either to admit or to deny the receipt of a report. Again, on 21st February 1907, the hon. Member for King's Lynn asked—How many skilled and how many unskilled ratings are embraced in the two-fifths complement of nucleus crews, and how many will there be in the new skeleton crews; and how many battleships and cruisers which, on 1st March 1906, were fully manned or partially manned, will, under the new scheme of distribution, be degraded to ships with skeleton crews.In answer the Secretary to the Admiralty said—It has been the practice of the Admiralty to treat details of complement as strictly confidential, and I regret, therefore, that I cannot give my hon. friend the information asked for.To be perfectly candid with the House, after he had read the Answer about Lord Charles Beresford he came to the conclusion that that was an instance in which the Secretary was justified, but what he complained of was that while information was refused to the House it was given to the Press to whom inspired communications were made. There was another Question to which, and the Answer to it, he would call attention. On 17th July 1906, the hon. Member for King's Lynn asked the Secretary to the Admiralty—Whether he can give an approximate estimate of the relative cost of eight battleships in full commission, such as the Atlantic Fleet, and eight battleships with nucleus crews on board ready for mobilisation, under the system established by Lord Selborne's Memorandum, 6th December, 1904.The Secretary to the Admiralty replied—The Board of Admiralty are of opinion that it is not in the interests of the public service to give the information for which the hon. Member asks.There was no question of strategy there, and it was eminently one for men of business in this House to consider, yet they were told that the information could not be given. Another Question, asked on 21st December, 1906, by the hon. Member for King's Lynn of the Secretary to the Admiralty, was—How many armoured cruisers during the present year have been in collision; how many 1083 have grounded with or without injury; and how many have been put out of commission in order to enable engine-room or gun defects to he taken in hand.The Secretary to the Admiralty replied—It does not appear to be in the public interest that the information asked for by the hon. Member should be published.In his opinion it had a ways been in the interests of the Navy that any errors or alleged errors of seamanship should be ventilated in the House, but on this occasion the information necessary for them to form a judgment upon the matter had been refused. On Wednesday, 27th March, 1907, the hon. Member for King's Lynn asked the Secretary to the Admiralty—How many signatures are required to make an order of the Admiralty executive in reference to the removal of an officer in command of his fleet, ship or barracks, or whether this power can be exercised by the First Lord of the Admiralty without the concurrence of the Sea Lords forming the Board of Admiralty; and whether he can state in what respects the practice is a variation, and under what Patent or Order in Council, from that pursued in April, 1795, when the decision of Lord Spencer to supersede Admiral Lord Hood in the command of the Mediterranean Fleet could not be carried into effect until he obtained the signature of two of the Sea Lords.The Secretary to the Admiralty replied—The Board of Admiralty are not prepared to discuss their present methods of administration of Admiralty business, and the methods practised by their predecessors in 1795. The hon. Member may rest assured that provisions contained in the Letters Patent under which the Lords Commissioners exercise their authority are duly observed.He could not see why that Question should not have been answered. The utmost importance was attached by the Select Committee of 1861 to the question of signatures in order to prevent an individual acting for the whole Board in any important matter that was not of the, most urgent character. He thought the right hon. Gentleman would have been well advised to answer it with the greatest frankness. What made the matter more galling and annoying was that, as he had indicated, side by side with deliberate and repeated refusals to give information in the House, there had grown a system under which inspired communications had been made not only to the Press but to persons organising agitation. The Financial 1084 Secretary to the Treasury, asked for an explanation of the increase in the Vote for Naval literature from £73,299 in 1901–2 to £117,774 in 1904–5, said it was due to the expansion of the "intelligence publications." No one who had read the publications of the Admiralty during the last four or five years would be in any real doubt as to what was meant by the "intelligence publications" which had been expanded. It was common knowledge amongst those who had been reading these publications that there was a most deplorable change of tone in them some four or five years ago—that they were now marked by great levity, and that documents had been circulated at the public charge which had no claim to be paid for by the nation. These documents, some of which had come into his hands, were marked "Private and confidential." No one had a right to mark documents "Private and confidenttial" and then send them to the Press in the hope that, by so marking them, one might be discouraged in that House or elsewhere from discussing their contents. In one of these publications a deliberate request had been made that outside agitation should be conducted. It was written—The Board of Admiralty would welcome outside pressure to enable them to nominate to Keyham as you suggest; but the outcry would be tremendous. We should be glad of the support of the engineering associations of the country, as doubtless we shall have to face much hostility, but we do not fear anyone. Do right and damn the odds.In a letter on this subject obligingly supplied in an official memorandum an illustrious person wrote—The Frenchman's Fleet appears now by the Gods,We'll fight them as of old, and damn the odds.Of course distinguished persons might be guilty of levity, but their utterances of that character ought not to be printed and sent round at the public expense. The result of these publications had been that for the last four years Press cuttings had been printed and published by the Admiralty which should never have been printed and published by a Department of the State. There had recently appeared an extremely controversial pamphlet called 1085 "The Truth About the Navy;" and of this the Admiralty had bought a great number of copies at the public expense and distributed them through every vessel in the Fleets. The Admiral of the Mediterranean Fleet, in response to the representations of his captains, refused to circulate the pamphlet on the ground that such publication was not in the interests of the service. As to the "Dreadnought," when he asked for certain information it was refused in the public interest. But very shortly afterwards a document was circulated to the Press, "not for official publication, but to serve as a guide to members of the Press, and not to be quoted verbatim." This document contained the very information which he had desired to obtain, information much in advance of any that had been published. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would persuade the Admiralty neither to allow their controversial methods to degenerate into a species of gasconade, nor to continuo their gratuitous contributions to an economical Press.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House, while recognising the services rendered by the Admiralty, regrets to observe evidence of ill-considered changes vitally affecting the war readiness of the Navy; the House is of opinion that its control over the Navy in recent years has been, and is being, weakened by the absence of the First Lord of the Admiralty from the House of Commons, by undue secrecy, by sudden changes of policy, and by Admiralty officials resorting to novel methods for the purpose of influencing public opinion."—(Mr. Bellairs.)
§ *THE SECRETARY TO THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. EDMUND ROBERTSON,) Dundee
admitted that this was an embarrassing Motion, for it was moved by a supporter of the Government, and seconded by one of their determined opponents. It was at once a Motion of confidence and a Motion of censure, and he accepted it for what it was worth. The second dubious characteristic attaching to the Motion was that it was an attack on two Administrations. Personally he was only responsible for one Administration. The Leader of the Opposition had laid down the sound proposition that the responsibility for acts done by officials 1086 rested not on them, but on the Government of the day; and, though the Government and the Admiralty were responsible for all that the officials did in their departments, they could not accept responsibility for what had been done by their predecessors. There were four charges contained in the Motion. The main charges made were to be found in the second part of the resolution. The question of the House of Commons' control over the Navy and the absence of the First Lord of the Admiralty from a place in the House was one really for the Prime Minister; but he might point out that the present First Lord of the Admiralty and his two immediate predecessors had enjoyed long experience in the House of Commons, and knew the House of Commons point of view as well as any Member sitting in it. In the last twenty-five years out of nine First Lords six had been Members of the House of Lords and three Members of the House of Commons; but really this particular point might be more properly raised on Vote 12 of the Estimates. The second charge made was one of undue secrecy, amounting to a want of veracity on the part of the Admiralty and its representatives. The hon. Member for King's Lynn had been permitted to say in the columns of the Spectator that " we do not got the truth; we seldom do in regard to Naval matters," and at the United Service Institution the hon. Member permitted himself to use language calling in question the good faith of the Admiralty. His hon. friend was the last man in the world who ought to complain of want of information or of attempts at secrecy. In the short time his hon. friend had been a Member of the House the amount of information that he had extracted from the Admiralty was incredible. In the one year and a quarter he had been in office the hon. Member for King's Lynn had asked 196 Questions altogether. As the representative of the Admiralty, he was, of course, dependent upon official assistance. He instructed those who assisted him to give to every specific Question a specific Answer, without evasion, without argument, and in the fewest possible words. He appealed to the House whether the whole tenor of his replies had not been consistent in that respect. He could only charge himself, on looking back on the Questions which had been asked, with three important categories 1087 in which secrecy had been maintained. The first was as to the reserve of guns. He had refused altogether to give information about that, and he still adhered to that resolution. In the opinion of the Admiralty it was not desirable that our reserve of guns should be made known to the whole world. The necessity for that secrecy had increased since the Russo-Japanese war. Other nations also observed secrecy in this matter, and if the information was given we should be giving them a benefit which they took care not to give to us. He had also refused to answer certain Questions about foreign navies. They were apt to be invidious Questions. He had answered them as far as he could, but he ought not to be asked to give information about facts of which he had no official knowledge. Nor had he given Answers to Questions relating to the Home Fleet. The Home Fleet was experimental; it was still growing, and to make statements at this early stage as to future developments would only be to tie the hands of the Admiralty. He did not gather from the hon. and learned Member opposite that he complained of secrecy which had been maintained with regard to the "Dreadnought" and "Invincible."
§ MR. F. E. SMITH
I did complain that at the time information was not given to the House it was given in the Memorandum.
§ *MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
said he would only say, that so much did he desire to give the House all the information that could possibly be given that he put in last year's Estimates rather fuller information about both the "Dreadnought" and the "Invincible," and he had not been asked to give more. He had not refused to give more, and he did not say that to give more was impossible, but so far it was rather fuller than had been asked for. He was sure that both hon. Members would accept what he said, when he stated that it was the belief of certain Naval authorities that the secrecy which had been maintained with regard to the "Dreadnought" and the "Invincible" resulted in a postponement of building by foreign Powers, which was a casual benefit to this country. He was not prepared to say more than that.
§ *MR. ARTHUR LEE (Hampshire, Fareham)
reminded the right hon. Gentleman that when in opposition he had himself complained because this very information was refused to him.
§ *MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
said he had asked for details which had been refused to him, but which had been given to Engineering. He had not made that a complaint. All he asked, if he remembered rightly, was whether the details published in the Engineering newspaper were correct. There was one occasion on which he had given the hon. and gallant Gentleman an inaccurate Answer, and he wished to be allowed to explain it away. It was a curious story. In August the hon. and gallant Member put a Question to him as to the number of German ships that were projected for the next two years. It was an unstarred Question, and in the official reply, prepared by an official at the Admiralty, instead of the figure "6," which was the correct figure, the figure "5" was inserted. By a pure clerical error "5" was given instead of "6." The hon. Member for King's Lynn called his attention to it and asked whether it was correct, and he told the hon. Member that it was wrong—that a wrong figure had been inserted by a slip of the pen; it was a pure blunder on the part of one of the subordinates. The hon. Member sent this correspondence to the newspapers, and one of them — he would content himself with calling it a Tory paper—received the explanation with derision and suggested that it was a false explanation. He could not correct the Answer because, as it happened, it was not printed in "Hansard"; and the incident passed out of his mind. To his surprise, four months later, a Question was put to him by a Tory Member, asking him whether he had not made an erroneous statement, why he had made it, and whether he proposed to correct it? On inquiry he found that this accidentally erroneous statement, made in August last year, which at the time was not printed by the official reporter at all, had actually made its appearance as an official Answer three months afterwards. He asked the official reporter how that had come about without any consultation with him. The reply of the official reporter was that he had been asked to print it by the hon. Member for King's Lynn; and the hon. 1089 Member took that step, knowing that by a clerical slip the Answer was erroneous, and without giving him the opportunity of correcting it.
§ *MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
said that disposed of the charge of undue secrecy. Then he came to the other head of indictment—about the changes. It was said that changes had been made vitally affecting the readiness of the Navy for war. But no allegation had been made that the present Government had introduced any changes at all, good or bad, except in the case of the Home Fleet, which had already been discussed, Reference had been made to changes in the training of officers and men. As to these changes, the present Government continued the system they found in operation, or about to come into operation, as devised by their predecessors in office. They were not absolutely committed to these changes, but they determined to give them a full and fair trial and were watching and waiting as to the result. He was bound to say, speaking for himself, that in connection with Naval matters he was a good deal conservative. His own belief was that, after the very serious and important changes which had taken place, what the Navy wanted now was a period of rest and reflection during which the experiments might be left to work out their own development. He came to the last head of the indictment on which the hon. and learned Gentleman who seconded the Motion had spoken in a tone to which, seriously and frankly, he took no exception whatever. The greater part of his speech was a discussion of Vote 8, but he preferred to stick to the text of the Motion, and defer answering all those questions. He preferred to confine himself to the very important observations which the 1090 hon. and learned Member made, as he supposed, in justification of the last head of the indictment, as to the novel methods pursued by officials of the Admiralty in order to influence public opinion. Some of the statements made about these methods came to him for the first time. As to the document marked "private and confidential" he had never heard of it; and with regard to the pamphlet, "The Truth About the Navy," he was sure the hon. and learned Gentleman would accept his statement when he said that he had never read a line of it. He preferred to get his information officially. He did not know what the contents of the document were, but all he knew about it was that he had been told inside the office that, on the whole, with one exception, it was a fairly accurate account of what had taken place. He was asked if it was written by an Admiralty official, and had given the answer "No," and he did that upon information volunteered to him by a gentleman, who was certainly not an official, that he was the author. "The Truth About the Navy" was circulated to a certain extent among the Fleet by order of the Admiralty at a cost of £25. He might say also that their action in this matter had not been all on one side, because he found to his astonishment and disgust that the money for which he was responsible had been expended upon similar publications and that a publication in quite a different direction, "The Naval Annual," containing a long article attacking the policy of the Government by the hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved the motion, was circulated at a cost of £127. There was also the Royal Naval List, which contained, not only an attack on the Admiralty, but a partisan attack on the Government of the day, and that was circulated at a cost of £11 18s. Again the United Service Institute—or Institution—had afforded a platform for attacks against the Admiralty, and that body was subsidised by the Admiralty to the extent of £375 a year. Looking at the matter seriously, he really thought it would be better to ignore all such publications and all journalistic writings, whether in attack or defence of the Admiralty. One other matter he wished to refer to in reference to the Motion, and he called the attention of the House to the terms. First, "ill-considered 1091 changes" were condemned, and this must refer to the action of the late Government, for the present Government had made none; but the allegation he wished to come to close quarters with was that these changes—ill-considered or sudden they might be, he would say nothing about that—had impaired the readiness for war of his Majesty's Navy. That was the imputation, and if that was not its meaning he did not know what meaning it could have. That was a grave statement to make, but did the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite concur in the statement, the more serious as coming from an hon. Gentleman who had been connected with the service? If he intended to say that, it was a most dangerous statement to make. He believed he was justified in saying that never in the history of the British Navy had it been so ready for war as it was at the present moment. Some allusion had been made to the question of repairs. On that point he might be permitted to say that the Admiralty increased the provision for repairs last year to the extent of more than a quarter of a million—£266,000—beyond the sum originally provided for by the Estimates, and they had increased the provision this year to the extent of £200,000 over last year. That provision was considered by the naval advisers of the Admiralty to be ample. Then as to the two-Power standard, let him say—he believed it had been already stated elsewhere by his noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty—that it was the determination of the Government to maintain our Naval supremacy as it stood now, and, in the event of The Hague Conference proving abortive, to hold themselves ready to take steps to maintain our relative position. That was all he would say on that point, and, in conclusion, he thanked the House for the hearing they had given him, and invited them to reject the Motion.
§ MR. BELLAIRS
in making a personal explanation, said he thought that every Member of the House who asked a Question and got an Answer had the right to have the Question and Answer printed in The Parliamentary Debates. Finding his Question was not printed, he went to to the official reporter, who consented to print it. He told the official reporter at the same time that the Answer was 1092 erroneous, and that it ought to be six battleships instead of five. He asked him whether he should make the correction, and he said no, as he had no right to edit the right hon. Gentleman's replies.
§ *MR. ARTHUR LEE (Hampshire, Fareham)
thought that this Motion amounted to a vote of censure on the Board of Admiralty, and would, if carried, lead to their resignation. He wanted to give the reasons why he found himself unable to support the Resolution. The right hon. Gentleman had said it would be the height of presumption for him to attempt to defend the late Board of Admiralty, but he hoped it would not be considered presuming on his part if be attempted to deal with the question of the continuity of policy of the two Boards, and gave that as his chief reason for not committing himself to the support of this Motion. He hoped, however, that the right hon. Gentleman would realise that dissent from this Motion did not commit him and his friends in any way to a general support of the policy of the Admiralty, or preclude them from embarking on serious criticism of Admiralty administration on many points of detail when the proper occasion arose. But if they had grave doubts on certain recent developments of naval administration, he thought the attack should not be directed so much against the Board of Admiralty as against the Government itself, and particularly against the Prime Minister, for tampering with the shipbuilding programme in a fit of sentimentality and in the desire to assist The Hague Conference. He thought they had plenty of justification for attacking the Government along that line, but this sweeping condemnation of the Board of Admiralty was, he thought, not politic, and he would remind some of his hon. friends that the resolution, as a weapon of attack, might prove to have some of the peculiar and inconvenient qualities of the boomerang. What they ought to strive for was continuity of naval policy. They did not mean that kind of continuity which was now favoured by the Secretary of State for War, which consisted apparently in repudiating all the acts of his predecessor and in claiming that continuity of policy should only be prospective, and built only on the foundations which he 1093 himself had laid. They meant that the present Board of Admiralty should maintain generally the naval policy initiated by Lord Selborne and developed by Lord Cawdor, and handed on to Lord Tweedmouth. He wished he could say that the Government had lived up to its duty in that respect, quite as much as the right hon. Gentleman had suggested. The Opposition would like to take a non - Party view of this matter, and to give a general support to the Board of Admiralty that evening, but such a course was made very difficult for them by the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman on previous occasions. The Opposition had been denied proper and reasonable Answers to important Questions. They were, however, unwilling to join in a direct vote of censure on the Admiralty. One naturally hesitated to give a verdict in the absence of the full and authoritative information which alone could enable a competent judgment to be formed. He thought the right hon. Gentleman would have been better advised if he had made a clean breast of it in answering the Questions put to him by the Leader of the Opposition in the recent debate. As he was apparently unwilling to do so, an early opportunity would betaken in another place of asking the Government to reply on the points which had been raised. Those inquiries would be made under circumstances which would make it impossible for them to be evaded by the rules of debate. Meanwhile the Opposition were anxious to give the Board of Admiralty the benefit of the doubt. They were willing to assume that, subject to the financial restrictions imposed upon it by the Government, it had endeavoured to carry out in its broad outlines, at any rate, the general policy bequeathed by its predecessors. He did not wish to differentiate between the Civil and Naval members of the Board, for each member must bear the full responsibility for all Admiralty policy. He was sorry that the hon. Member for King's Lynn should have stated that the quality of the Naval advisers of the Admiralty had greatly deteriorated during the last few years.
§ MR. BELLAIRS
said he did not remember making such a statement. What he said was that the First Sea Lord Was no longer the first among equals, but was superior to others.
§ *MR. ARTHUR LEE
said he accepted the hon. Gentleman's explanation, but he strongly deprecated the singling out of any Member of the Board for special attack or denunciation as the hon. Member had in the case of the First Sea Lord.
§ *MR. ARTHUR LEE
admitted that the hon. Gentleman had come before them to-day more in the guise of a sucking-dove than of a roaring lion; but he thought that when the hon. Member read on the morrow his remarks he would see that he had singled out the First Sea Lord for attack.
§ MR. BELLAIRS
said he had never singled out the First Sea Lord for consideratian. What he had said was that the First Sea Lord had been conceded too much power.
§ *MR. ARTHUR LEE
said that the impression of the hon. Member's remarks made upon his mind was as he had stated. But he did not think it was necessary for him, or anyone else to take up the cudgels on behalf of the First Sea Lord. He would do that for himself when, and if, his opponents appeared in the open. But that was a digression. What the Resolution invited the House to do was to attack, not an individual, but the Board of Admiralty in its corporate capacity. He had already explained why he personally was not prepared to join in an attack of that nature. He could only say that in the absence of definite and authoritative information he felt bound to refrain from giving a hostile vote and to suspend judgment on the latest developments of Admiralty policy. But, looking at the results as a whole, and mainly owing to the reforms introduced by the late Government, he was certain that the right hon. Gentleman was justified in saying there had been a great advance in the general efficiency of the Navy, and in the readiness of the Fleet for purposes of war. That was the true test after all, and perhaps the best critical summary of the present position of the Admiralty was that made by The Times Correspondent, who had been writing a series of articles during the last few months, wherein he said that 1095 the real question was what had been done not how, and that they might overlook some eccentricities of method if, on the whole, the right thing had been done strenuously and faithfully. Some mistakes had no doubt been made, and some steps had been retrieved, but the country would judge the Admiralty not by occasional mistakes, but by solid and substantial achievements. That was friendly, shrewd, and, he thought, reasonable criticism. He wished the hon. Member for Kings Lynn's Motion had been couched in a similar strain, but it contained within it several propositions to which the Opposition could not possibly agree. The hon. Member had also spoken of the demand pub forward by 225 members of the House, for an inquiry into the administration of the Board of Admiralty; but if even 670 members had petitioned the Government of the day for such an inquiry, he hoped they would refuse it. [Laughter.] Well, perhaps he had exaggerated the numbers; but he appealed to both sides of the House that it was altogether out of the question that an outside body should inquire into the policy of the Admiralty.
§ MR. BELLAIRS
said that 225 Members had never signed any application for an inquiry into the policy of the Admiralty, but as to certain changes proposed to be made in Naval training.
§ *MR. ARTHUR LEE
said certainly the impression he had stated was held at the Admiralty some time ago. In conclusion he hoped that he had succeeded in making his position, which was a somewhat difficult one, perfectly plain. Although he thought that the Admiralty during the last twelve months had done many things and shown many tendencies which were causing anxiety to friends of the Navy, yet at the same time many who sat on the Opposition side of the House could not support a direct vote of censure of this kind, which in its form he believed to be both in opportune and unwise, because its main effect, would be to excite sympathy with the Board of. Admiralty, at a time, too, when it was not sympathy they required, but the closest and most vigilant watching.
§ MR. JENKINS (Chatham)
complained that he had received no answer from the
1096 Secretary to the Admiralty in reply to a Question on Tuesday in reference to the sale of obsolete ships that had been scrapped. At all times up to this occasion he had found the right hon. Gentleman very courteous in his replies, but in this instance, although he asked a specific question, no reply was given. If the right hon. Gentleman had not the information at his command at the moment, any hon. Member would be only too delighted to put down the Question and submit it again, because they were all aware that the replies to Questions were drawn up by the permanent officials at the Department. He had no desire to criticise the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman except in that respect, and he thought he should have been asked to submit the Question again. Pertinent replies should in his opinion be given to pertinent questions. He put the case of three ships, the tonnage displacement of which he estimated at between thirty and forty thousand tons. He had been informed that scrapped steel was worth £4 per ton. He estimated that these vessels should have realised £171,000, but they were sold for £57,800. That was a loss of £116,000 to the country. He urged that when ships were about to be sold they should be broken up in the Royal dockyards. There was every convenience, and few tools were required for the purpose. That would to some extent prevent the wholly senseless discharges at Woolwich and our other dockyards, which were national institutions, by giving employment to the men. Those dockyards furnished the stable industry of the places where they were situated, which in many cases like Woolwich were going to wreck and ruin through those discharges. He did not join with the mover and seconder in their criticisms as to the policy of the Admiralty, because on the various Estimates he would have opportunities of bringing forward any points he had to raise; but he protested that when a Member raised a question over which the nation was losing thousands of pounds, he ought to have a reply and if it could not then be given he should be asked to repeat the Question.
§ *CAPTAIN HERVEY (Bury St. Edmunds)
said it seemed to him that of all the ill-considered changes that might vitally affect the war readiness of the 1097 Navy the insane desire of certain hon. Gentlemen opposite to reduce expenditure on the Navy in the interests of economy, without due regard to the interests of efficiency was the worst. He hoped that course of action would not be pursued after the statement of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that it was the settled policy of the Board of Admiralty to keep the Navy in the same condition of preponderance in the future that it was now in. If that was the case, he hoped in the future they would hear no more of any reductions in the number of men belonging to the Fleet, because we could not possibly have the same preponderance and the same efficiency that we had now if the number were reduced. He was afraid they would be going back to the bad old days before 1889 if they made further reduction—the days when the Sea Lords of the Admiralty, instead of making their programme on the basis of what was required for the needs of the service, and stating what money was wanted, only gave consideration to the question of how best to use such money as was doled out to them by the Admiralty. What were the changes that had been introduced in the last few years? First, rapid shipbuilding had been introduced. That did not seem to be a very bad change, and if the present Admiralty were responsible in any degree for that change they were to be congratulated. The building of the "Dreadnought" in so short a time had proved a great success, and he hoped the Admiralty would continue to make that sort of change. The next change was the reorganisation of the Fleet. He disagreed with those who thought it was bad chat our main squadrons should be organised in four fleets instead of three, because so long as the four fleets were effective they were stronger for war purposes than three could ever be. And why? The Atlantic Squadron might be regarded as a reinforcing squadron for either the Mediterranean or Home Fleet in case the political situation abroad altered from what it was now. The formation of nucleus 1098 crews also was a most useful thing, so long as there were not fewer ships kept in full commission. Hon. Members must not forget that before these nucleus crows were organised, ships in reserve were to a large extent allowed to rot, but now, by putting officers and a certain number of men on board those ships, they stood a better chance of being kept in proper condition. It was for such reasons as these that he could not support this Motion. The elimination of old and small ships on foreign stations was also a good thing. He was aware that it was said that the elimination of these ships gave less chance for training officers, but there were other ships, such as torpedo boats and torpedo boat destroyers, in which young officers could be adequately trained, and in which they could attain a high state of efficiency. He therefore did not believe that it would be satisfactory to continue to build these small ships at great cost, and to keep them in commission on foreign stations. He had had a good deal of experience at the Admiralty, and he was convinced that the system of nucleus crews would tend to keep the ships which were in reserve in good condition and not allow them to rot through want of personal attention as they used to do. They wished to have as many torpedo boats and destroyers in commission as possible, so that the officers might get that sea training which was so essential to them, and which they could hardly get in any other way. The hon. Member had referred to the 225 signatories who wished to approach the Prime Minister with a view to getting the Admiralty to reconsider their decision on the question of naval training. They knew by past experience what had happened in regard to the reconsideration of decisions of that sort. It was within the memory of many of them, he dared say, how a reconsideration was come to over the question of water-tube boilers. The Admiralty were foolish enough to accede to the request of those who asked for an 1099 inquiry into that matter. What was the result? The only people who benefited by it were the Committee, who, by the time they had finished, had learned what were the real needs of the service with regard to water-tube boilers. During the time they were sitting they partially humbugged about eighteen of our then newest and best battleships and cruisers, by experimentally putting into them partly ordinary cylindrical boilers and partly water-tube boilers. The Committee was appointed to consider the advisability of the installation of water-tube boilers, and afterwards it was found that there was no necessity for the Committee as everyone was aware now of the efficiency of that class, of boiler. He believed himself that the Committee which was asked for now was not necessary. If they would only allow the rules which were being evolved by the present Board of Admiralty with reference to training gradually to develop, if they would allow the Admiralty a reasonably free hand to see a gradual development in the right direction, he believed that the new system of training would be a thorough success. He did not believe that a Committee sitting to examine into the methods of the Admiralty would recommend anything of practical benefit which the Admiralty would not concede on the advice of their experts, and he did not think it desirable that such a Committee should be granted at all.
§ MR. BELLAIRS
asked leave to withdraw the Motion after the discussion which had taken place. [Cries of "No, no."]
Leave to withdraw being refused,
§ Question put, and negatived.