- 1. "That 128,000 Officers, Seamen, and Boys be employed for the Sea and Coast Guard Service for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1908, including 18,595 Royal Marines."
- 2. "That a sum, not exceeding £6,869,700, be granted to His Majesty to defray the Expenses of Wages, &c., to Officers, Seamen and Boys, Coast Guard, and Royal Marines, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1908."
§ First Resolution read a second time.
§ *Mr. ARTHUR LEE (Hampshire, Fare ham)
said that it would be remembered that when these two Votes were in Committee there were certain questions addressed to the Secretary for the Admiralty which at the time he was unable to answer. The right hon. Gentleman said, in replying to the Leader of the Opposition, who addressed the particular questions to him, that he could not be expected to give full answers to all questions without due notice. The right hon. Gentleman, however, said that if he failed to give satisfactory answers to the questions at the time he would supplement them at a later date. He hoped that as the later day had arrived the right hon. Gentleman would be in a position to give the answers he had promised. For example, several questions had been put about the Home Fleet, but before calling attention again to those very important questions he wished to assure the right hon. Gentleman that he had no desire to criticise the Board of Admiralty adversely in this matter. He did not think that anyone who had had the privilege of serving on that Board would wish to do otherwise than 258 support it generally when continuity of policy was being maintained. But he was sure that the right hon. Gentleman would wish them to give it intelligent support, and they were only anxious for certain definite information. He did not wish to ask for any information which could be classed as confidential, but there were certain points which he ventured to think it would be in the interests of the Admiralty to clear up as well as in the interests of the country generally. There was one question which the right hon. Gentleman had not yet answered, with regard to the proposal to draft the newest and best ships, he meant ships of the "Dreadnought" and later classes, to the Home Fleet as soon as completed, rather than to draft them to the first fighting line—in other words to place those newest and best ships in the second line or reserve. He was well aware that it had been proposed to maintain the Nore Division, which had been described as the "fighting tip" of the Home Fleet, in the same state of efficiency as the sea-going fleets, and if that was intended he would not be inclined to press the point, because it would then perhaps come under the head of mere strategic distribution of the ships which were available; and that, of course, must be left to the discretion of the Board of Admiralty. But it had been said in the course of the debates that the Nore Division was not intended to be as efficient as the sea-going fleets, and it had been admitted that it would have only 70 per cent. of their sea time. And a very important question, as he thought, was put by the Leader of the Opposition, when he asked whether the ships of the Nore Division would cost as much per annum as the corresponding ships of the sea-going fleets, with the exception of the expenditure on coal. They knew that they were only to have 70 per cent. as much sea time. The question, therefore, arose whether the economy to be effected on the one item of coal was sufficient to compensate for the loss of efficiency of those ships as compared with those of sea-going fleets. He would like to put this further question—as he could not possibly see that the economy in money was intended to be for coal only—whether it was intended that there should be economy 259 in the matter of ammunition also. Then he would like to put a question with reference to the ships of the Fifth Cruiser Squadron, which consisted of six first-class cruisers, and would be attached to the Nore Division. If hon. Gentlemen looked at the statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty for the present year they would see that those six cruisers, like the six battleships of the Nore Division, were especially referred to as belonging to the Home Fleet, and the statement was added that they would not leave home waters. That was of course to give the public confidence in the constant presence of the Home Fleet. A little further down, however, it stated that the Nore cruisers would exercise with the Channel and other Fleets, as was thought desirable. If that was so, they could not always be kept in home waters and also be detached to operate with the Channel Fleet and other fleets, which, as they knew, were frequently absent from home waters. Of course, if the right hon. Gentleman made it clear that the Fifth Cruiser Squadron would never operate with the Channel or other Fleets when absent from home waters, then he thought the provision became of very little use at all, because the operations of the Channel and Atlantic Fleets caused them to be generally absent from home waters. When operating together the other day they were three days steam from home waters, and there was not a single battleship at home. If they operated with the Channel Fleet, what became of the responsibility of the Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet when his cruisers were taken away from him to operate under another commander-in-chief?
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The Vote under discussion is as to the number of men, and the distribution of the fleet does not arise on this Vote. The hon. Member is at liberty to discuss the number of men.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (City of London)
said he desired to know exactly the effect of the ruling. When the Chairman of Committees was in the Chair, it was understood that the question of general policy could be raised on Vote A or Vote 1, but not on both. He himself had understood, broadly 260 speaking, that to be the rule. He would ask whether a similar rule did not apply on Report, or what were the precise limitations under which they were to guide the course of the discussion.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The rule in Committee is not applicable on Report. In Committee on Vote A or Vote 1, possibly by arrangement on both, a general discussion may take place on the Navy Estimates. But on Report the discussion must be limited to the number of officers and men on Vote A, and, on Report of the Second Vote, to the expenses and wages of officers and seamen and boys. Hon. Members can make observations on those subjects.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I think I understand your ruling, Sir. There is this inconvenience resulting, that the promised answers of the right hon. Gentleman cannot now be given.
§ *THE SECRETARY TO THE ADMIRALTY (MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON Dundee)
said no answer was promised on Report. He had said that at some later day he would endeavour to answer the questions, if he could not answer them on that day; but he had not said that he would answer them on Report, because he knew quite well that they could not be answered on Report, except so far as they were relevant to Votes A and 1.
said that in view of Mr. Speaker's ruling, it was impossible that they could expect the answers which the right hon. Gentleman had promised at a later day, and it was quite obvious that the later day could never arrive. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman had secured for himself immunity from answering questions as he had promised. The right hon. Gentleman had said that he could not be expected to give full answers to questions without notice, obviously showing that he recognised that he had to give full Answers. It would be in the recollection of the House that as a matter of fact on that occasion he did not answer the questions put to him by his right hon. friend. In view of the ruling they were reduced to the extremely narrow question of the reduction of Vote A by 1,000 men. He had no observations whatever to offer 261 on that subject, and he would imagine it to be extremely difficult for any debate to be conducted on that extremely narrow point.
§ *MR. BELLAIRS (Lynn Regis)
said that, in view of Mr. Speaker's ruling restricting the discussion to the number of men, he begged only to call attention to the large number of collisions and groundings as the result of the employment of officers being so restricted in consequence of the redistribution of the fleets. The Secretary to the Admiralty some time ago, in answer to a Question of his, stated that in 1902 only 17 per cent. of the commanders were in command of sea-going ships. After the lapse of five years, and before the new redistribution scheme came into operation, he found that there were only 10 per cent. of commanders in command of sea-going ships, or the very large reduction in five years of 7 per cent. Turning to the captains' list, the official answer told him that in 1902, 44.4 per cent. of captains were in command of sea-going ships. That 44.4 per cent. had been reduced in five years only to 32.5 per cent. Those were ships that were exercising in sea-going fleets; he did not refer to nucleus crew ships, which went to sea for the day, and the bringing in of nucleus crew ships only confused the issue. Taking the case of the Portsmouth Division of battleships, it only went to sea one night in the whole of last year; the Chatham Division only went to sea by day. During the grand manœuvres the Chatham Division went to Portsmouth by daylight, and remained at anchor in the Solent the whole of the time of the manœuvres, and then proceeded back to Chatham. On the way two ships rammed each other. The "Resolution" ran into the "Ramillies" and the "Ramillies" ran into dock. For two years the average of collisions and groundings of men-of-war had been three a fortnight, or seventy-eight in one year, and the effect of the number of officers for the command of ships being so few would be that they would get more collisions and groundings. He did not wish to enlarge upon the training scheme, because he hoped that the Prime Minister would grant an in 262 quiry into the whole subject. The feeling of dissatisfaction in the Navy was becoming very intense. The Marines believed that they were to be abolished under that scheme of service. He did not know of a single officer in command of the fleets, except the two officers in command of the Mediterranean Fleet, who was in favour of the scheme. All the admirals were against it, and yet they had, so far, absolutely failed to get from the Admiralty any form of inquiry, showing that they had no confidence in the scheme, because if they had confidence in it, they would be willing to submit it to investigation. The effect of an inquiry would be to allay the sore feeling in the Service, and stop all criticism in that House. They would, however, bring the matter up until they had some form of inquiry, because they would sooner bore the House than see a Navy that was not fit for war owing to the deterioration which would come if the scheme were proceeded with.
§ CAPTAIN HERVEY (Bury St. Edmunds)
said that on page 5 of the Statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty he noticed a statement that the present number of seamen was in excess of requirements. He would like to know what were the requirements of the Service? He took it that they had 1,000 seamen in excess of requirements for manning the Fleet at a two-Power standard. Then there was the statement that as far as stokers were concerned the number was under the necessities of the Fleet, and he understood that the full number of stokers required would not be provided until the number of seamen had been reduced. He could not see any connection between the two. Were the surplus seamen going to be used to supplement the stokers in the stokehole? When a ship was commissioned as it would be for war it would be necessary to have full control of the men on board working the ship. They wanted all the seamen drilled in order to bring them up to the efficiency of a ship in commission. He wished to refer to the reduction in the number of boys for shipwrights and coopers. In the report of the Douglas Committee for the year before last, on page 157 there was an article upon the future 263 development of the scheme of training. The House would remember that it was intended that all the workshop business of the stokehole department should be done by a special class. The engine-room artificers were to be entered as boy artificers and trained to carryout the workshop business. When a survey was taken of the Navy Services it was found that they had two separate sets of workshop people, one employed under the carpenters of the Fleet and the other under the engineers of the Fleet. In the Douglas Report it was suggested that in future the carpenters, as far as a great many of their trades were concerned, more especially in regard to shipwrights and blacksmiths, might very usefully be trained as boy artificers and so come under the engine-room department in future. He noticed in the scheme before them a rednction in the number of shipwrights, and he asked whether it was in the carrying out of the recommendation of that Report that that reduction came in. If so, he was not averse to the scheme at all, because it was only a natural sequence of the new system of training that had been introduced. He would like to know whether it was to be considered as the beginning of the development of the scheme for shipwrights.
§ MR. G. CROYDON MARKS (Cornwall, Launceston)
thought the inability to obtain a sufficient number of stokers in the Navy was due to the unfavourable conditions under which the men had to work. Instead of being given duties which they could do without any special skill they were now to be trained for six and a half years in order to do work which could be done by men upon whom the nation had not spent anything. Men were taken from the stokehole to learn a trade in three months, and after that they were to be sent to sea to take charge of engines. Then they were to be taken back again and educated for two years. If at the end of six and a half years they were found to be incompetent they were to be sent back to the stokehole after the money spent upon them had been wasted in trying to replace men who at present fulfilled all the purposes required from experience gained outside the Service. The number to be promoted 264 from the stokehole every year was 100 There were 30,000 men in the Navy, and 100 men every year were to have the opportunity of promotion. They were to be made into skilled tradesmen, and they had to be twenty-five years of age before they started. Everyone knew it was almost impossible to teach a man a trade after he was twenty-five years of age. They were taking a man who had had no previous mechanical training, and it was perfectly certain that he would prove to be incompetent to take charge of the engines. The man in the engine-room must be a man of resource, because difficulties would crop up which only engineers could deal with. The boy who had been through the workshop would obtain engineering knowledge which would enable him to foresee what might be a trouble and remedy it before it became serious. The man taken from the stokehole to the engine-room would not understand the little difficulties, and they might reasonably expect more breakdowns, and consequently more repairs would be required when such men were in charge of the engines. The plan had been tried in the American Navy and had failed. With regard to the stokehole being undermanned and the number of stokers short of requirements, it was not at all surprising when the avenue for promotion amongst stokers was limited to an educational service which they had to take up and in regard to which they had had no previous experience. The same with the boys. The artificers who joined the Navy came fully armed with five years experience of the workshop acquired at no expense to the country. They were about to train up men at great expense to take the place of those who under the present system came in already trained at their own expense, and what was more, they would not get such good men trained under Navy conditions. The men they were about to introduce into the engine-room would be less efficient than the same service in the mercantile marine. The Board of Trade were being pressed to make the period of service five years before a boy should be considered to have learned his trade, and fit to go into the engine-room. In the Navy they were going to give them three months training and then turn them into 265 the engine-room. If that sort of thing went on they might expect more trouble with the engines than they had had in the past. They would at the same time be eliminating from the service the most practical men and placing in the engine-room men who had not been trained as engineers. The system of common entry was good in breaking down prejudices between one part of the service and another, but it was extremely bad for producing a good engineer. To produce a good engineer a man must have a desire and an aptitude for the work. When at Dartmouth he asked 100 boys what part of the service they proposed to go into, and less than ten expressed a preference to become engineers. Those were the officers who would by-and-bye mann our ships. As a matter of fact, out of every eight officers in the service three would have to be engineers, and in future those three would not be specially trained. There were a number of artificers detached from their ordinary work to train stokers who by-and-bye would take the places of those who were teaching them, and consequently the feeling between the artificers and the stokers was very acute indeed. The discontent existing in the ranks of the stokers was due to the fact that all avenues of promotion had gone, and they had no possibility of advancement except by becoming tradesmen and mechanics, and then after six and a half years they might be sent back again into the stokehole if they were not competent. He was sure such a system was not in the interests of His Majesty's Navy.
§ MR. COBBOLD (Ipswich)
said it was to the personnel of the Navy as well as to the Army that they should really look if there was to be any reduction in armaments. He regretted to say he did not find from the First Lord's Memorandum that there was any desire on the part of the Government to reduce our bloated armaments so far as the Navy was concerned. His hon. friend behind him had suggested when this question was formerly before the House that there might be a reduction of 8,000 men, but great anxiety was shown to get Mr. Speaker out of the Chair and they were requested not to make any remarks then. He did not say that 266 things were hurried through Committee, but the questions which came up for discussion on the Navy Estimates and also on the Army Estimates were such that he did not think too long time could be spent on their consideration. The Prime Minister had stated that we, having such an enormous Navy, had above all other Powers an opportunity of playing a noble rôle in leading the way in the reduction of armaments. The first way to reduce the Navy was to reduce the personnel. It was generally admitted that we were to have a two-Power standard with a margin over. The Government had not said that we ought to have, as we had at present, a three-Power standard. The French and German navies had a personnel, according to the Secretary to the Admiralty, of under 100,000—it might be 94,000 to 98,000—while we had 128,000. We were therefore far beyond the two-Power standard in personnel. It appeared to him from the First Lord's Memorandum that we had too many men altogether, though we had not enough stokers. He would be glad to hear from the Secretary to the Admiralty the number of seamen and stokers living in barracks. He believed there were a good many thousands of so-called sea-faring men who lived a land life in barracks. That pointed to the fact that we were already over-burdened with personnel. Second thoughts were often better than first, and he hoped that the Government would find before the Navy Votes for the year were finally passed that it would be a very good thing to go into The Hague Conference with a considerably reduced personnel, in order to show to other nations that we had really made an important step forward and to ask them honestly whether they could not see their way to make similar reductions in their personnel. If a substantial reduction were made in the personnel of the Navy it would be seen that the Ministry were really in earnest in trying to reduce these bloated armaments and in trying to provide the means by which reforms in connection with domestic policy could be forwarded—reforms which were so dear to the Labour Members. He would like to see those hon. Members, one and all, doing their best 267 to get reductions in the Army and Navy, and first of all in the personnel of the Navy.
§ SIR F. BANBURY (City of London)
said the hon. Member for the Launceston Division had stated that this country should play a "noble part" in the reduction of the armaments of the world. That sentiment was cheered, though faintly, by hon. Members on the other side of the House. It might be a great thing to play a noble part, but it might also be extremely dangerous, and he thought the majority of the inhabitants of these islands would be inclined before they played that noble part to ascertain that the other countries in the world were also going to play a noble part and reduce the number of men in their navies. As far as he could see there was not a single country in the world which was prepared to follow us in that particular work. He was inclined to think that the Government had reduced the number of men too largely. It should be remembered that though it took a considerable time to build a ship, it took a longer time to provide trained men to man the ship. It was, therefore, most essential that there should be a reserve of trained capable men. What nobler service than the Navy could men enter? It might to a certain extent solve the question of the unemployed, because the larger the number of men in the Navy the smaller would be the number of men seeking employment in other directions. He understood the hon. Member for the Launceston Division to say that because the artificers and stokers learned their work the one from the other there was friction between them. All had to learn from somebody; no one was born with a knowledge of any particular subject. He failed to see how the fact that one man learned his business from another should cause discontent either to the man who was taught or to the man who taught, unless, of course, the lesson was badly given. The hon. Member had also said that those men were under the impression that all avenues of future promotion would be closed to them. He was informed that the reverse was the case, and that stokers would be able to rise to the rank of warrant officers, a position to which they had never been 268 able to rise before. If that were true, where was the foundation for the hon. Member's complaint? As to the artificers, he understood that instead of being imported from the outside after learning their business they would be taken in as boys and taught their work in the Navy. Everybody knew that the younger a lad entered the Navy the better it was for him and for the Navy. And so it was in every walk of life. He did not know whether to congratulate the Civil Lord of the Admiralty on having made this alteration, because he did not, as a rule, view with any great favour anything which emanated from that bench; but if he had really made this change, he and the hon. Members behind him were to be congratulated on having done the right thing for once. The only fault that could be found with this particular Vote was the reduction of the number of men in the Navy. The reduction was of the wrong sort: a reduction of the number of boys who entered the Navy and looked forward to take the place of older men who were discharged or left. One of the reasons why it had been so much easier to obtain recruits for the Navy than for the Army was that they were taken into the Navy as boys. The boys liked the profession and they remained there; and therefore it was a great thing that that excellent beginning should be continued. He hoped that when the Conference at The Hague took place and, as everybody knew would be the case, bore no result, the right hon. Gentleman opposite would remember that.
§ SIR F. BANBURY
said that he had always found throughout his life that it was a great advantage to be practical. He hoped, as he had said just now, that, if the result of The Hague Conference was nil, the Government would take their courage in both hands, disregard the advice of their supporters below the 269 gangway, and endeavour to keep up the strength and the personnel of the Navy to the level at which they had received them from their predecessors.
§ *MR. BRAMSDON (Portsmouth)
said he wished to ask for an assurance from the Secretary to the Admiralty with regard to the carpenter warrant officers in the Navy. He understood from the "Douglas" Report that they were to be done away with altogether. These men were very much concerned as to their future. They were an admirable body of men and would like to know whether they could qualify for the position of "Warrant Artificer." As to the seamen, he trusted that the Admiralty would take into consideration what they considered a serious grievance. They were the only class in His Majesty's service who had to find their own kit. The Government provided the kit for the men employed in the Army; the Post Office, the Police, and the County Councils, for their employees; and if a man employed a footman or a coachman he provided him with a uniform. It seemed to him, therefore, hard that seamen should be compelled out of their meagre pay to provide their own kit. He wished to call attention to what was called short or special service men employed in the Navy. These men entered as seamen as well as stokers up to the age of twenty-two years; they were employed for five years in the service, and then passed into the reserve, where they remained for seven years, and afterwards got a small pension. What could these men learn of seamanship in five years? During that time they were mere apprentices, and the worst of it was that they could get practically no promotion whatever. These short-service men were only entitled to reach the position of leading seamen in the Navy. He had, moreover, not been able to ascertain that there was a single man under the short-service system who had ever reached the position of leading seaman in the Navy. He had made diligent inquiries among officers and men, and he found that the system was condemned root and branch by everybody he had spoken to about it. Would the Secretary to the Admiralty let them know whether the question had been considered seriously by any Com- 270 mittee or any competent body of persons? The short-service system was a weakness to the Navy and he would like to see it discontinued. It had no doubt been instituted for the sake of cheapness. But we did not want cheapness in the Navy unless it were accompanied by efficiency. So far as he could ascertain, these short-service men, although perhaps cheap, were not efficient. He hoped therefore that something would be done either to make them more efficient or to abandon them altogether.
§ MR. T. L. CORBETT (Down, N.)
heartily congratulated the Member for Ipswich upon being the only consistent Member of the Radical Party. The expression "bloated armaments" occurred over and over again through his speech. The hon. Gentleman had seemed to feel that the Prime Minister was falling short of the ideal of the Radical Party in respect to reduction in armaments. He imagined that various groups of the Radical Party were beginning to find out that the Prime Minister was falling short of their ideals in more than one respect. The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on the Front Bench had at all events some little idea of the responsibility attaching to their office; their followers had absolutely none. They were inebriated by the exuberance of their own virtue. They had got hold of a catch phrase that they used largely at election time about "bloated armaments," but they altogether forgot that a powerful Navy was not only the best and surest means of preserving our Empire, but one of the greatest instruments for peace. During the Japanese War it was because we had a powerful Navy at our disposal that Europe was preserved from the general conflagration of war. He heartily contratulated one Member of the Radical Party at all events upon being consistent in using the term "bloated armaments" and in the desire apparently of handing the defence of the Empire over to the steamboats of the London County Council.
§ *MR. REES (Montgomery Boroughs)
said that he profoundly disagreed from the hon. Member for Ipswich, whose arguments, if carried to their logical conclusion, would apply equally well 271 not only to the reduction of the Navy but to our having no Navy at all. The hon. Member had forgotten that ours was a voluntary service, as was also that of America, and yet the cost was not more in proportion to ships and men than that of Germany. In regard to the question of Naval insurance, it was the duty of every Member of the House to see that we were on the safe side. He had read with the greatest care the articles in The Times and he had come to the conclusion that the reduction recommended by the Government was such as could be properly accepted; although he believed that more men were required in certain parts of the Empire rather than less men. The hon. Member for Cardiff had stated that 300,000 men could be placed on our Indian frontier. He did not believe that we could send so many men, and his hon. friend had forgotten that the policing and guarding of India would need greater not less attention while there was war on the frontier. Nobody who studied the question ever believed that India could be invaded by land across the Hindoo Koosh except the Emperor Paul of Russia who was mad, and Napoleon the Great who was a genius, and indeed perhaps himself overstepped the "thin partition." The danger to be anticipated was invasion through the Persian Gulf. For the object of Russia was to come down through Seistan to a port on what was in fact a British lake. Therefore we should always require a ship in the Persian Gulf and in the Arabian Sea, and it was absolutely essential that our flag should be flying in and that our ships should be sent to those waters. At the present moment the reduction with regard to the old ships which had been scrapped would mean, he believed, the disappearance of our flag from the Persian Gulf, towards which two powerful nations, Russia and Germany, were trending. We had for a number of years policed that Gulf and we had destroyed a system of slavery there,—he meant a system of real slavery in which unwilling men were seized and held against their own wishes and were taken from one place and deported elsewhere. He hoped the size of the fleet would be sufficient to provide for a war-ship's being kept on that station. His hon. friends behind him 272 thought that the number of men in the Navy was too large, and the hon. Member for Falkirk, on the last occasion upon which these questions were under discussion, suddenly proposed a reduction of 8,000 men. Why the reduction should have been fixed at 8,000 he did not know; it might have been 18,000, or 80,000 so far as any argument went, or any considerations of the needs of our world-wide power and commerce were concerned. In his view of the necessities of the nation what we needed was paramount naval and sufficient military armaments, and the proposed reduction of the number of men in the Navy seemed to him to be a most irresponsible and reckless Motion. He could only attribute it to the fact that secretaries of the Cobden Club were too logical for life. He had always noticed that every principle was ridden to death by them. It was the only fault in the otherwise perfect character of his hon. friend the Member for Preston that if he got hold of a logical idea he rode it to death. On the same principle the Member for Falkirk moved the reduction of 8,000 men; but he was glad that he had had the grace to withdraw the Motion. It was said that we could reduce our men wholesale because of the present condition of alliances, but alliances were fugitive, and the position might change any day, and at that very time there were proposals to close the Baltic, a step which would require us to keep more men and ships than we had now. If his hon. friend said he moved his reduction in order to further peace he would ask how it was that President Roosevelt, the greatest peacemaker in the world, proposed to call the biggest battleship which the United States were now building, "The Pacificator," and that he had also said that the best way of securing peace among the nations was to learn to shoot straight. How was it possible for us to keep all the fairest spots on the world's surface unless we were so strong and redoubtable that nobody would dare to attack us? Our Navy was our only form of insurance, and if it were reduced it would lead to the ruin of the country, the consequences of which would first of all fall upon the working men, whose cause hon. 273 Members on the Labour Benches championed. Those who lived on interest on their capital might survive the disaster; but what would become of the wage-earning class he could not imagine. He challenged anybody to give any reason why at this period of the world's history we were able to cut down our armaments, while everybody else was increasing theirs. He did not see how The Hague Conference could affect the question, because we could not expect other nations to remain still while we were relatively superior in strength, and it would be folly for us to remain inactive while they were creeping up to our standard. He would like to know how the programme of building ships compared with the annual wastage. He felt that there was difficulty in discussing such a matter from the position where he stood, but he thought that any suspicion of cutting down the Navy, or any idea of reducing it below the limit which was incontestably safe, would mean the destruction of the Party at the polls. He thought the English electorate was against any risky reduction of the Navy; and when they looked at the round world and the great power we had in it he could not understand how any hon. Member could think of imperilling that power by making rash reductions in the very force which was necessary for the salvation of the country. He had some reason to think that a Welsh Member was allowed to quote poetry, and if he might do so he would, with the indulgence of the House, quote the English poet who wrote—Time and the ocean, and some fostering star,In high cabal have made us what we are.He hoped the spirit of those lines would enter into the minds of his hon. friends on that side of the House rather than the ideas of the hon. Member for Ipswich who had just spoken. When he saw these Motions for reduction of thousands of sailors as he thought foolishly, and without sufficient reason, recklessly moved, and saw supporters of the Government who would rather lead it than follow it—when he noted the attitude adopted towards the Government at home, and towards Governors abroad, men, who like Lord Clive, had rendered great and 274 meritorious services to their country, a feeling of fear came over him, lost some poet in some future years might add—False sentiment, suspicion and distrust,Have levelled that fair fabric with the dust.
§ *MR. HAROLD COX (Preston)
was sorry if his hon. friend thought he carried logic too far, because on that occasion he was in general agreement with him. He regretted that some of his hon. friends, by means of a Motion for reduction, should seek to censure the Government for proposing what their advisors thought to be a sufficient naval strength. He thought all sides would agree that we wanted a strong Navy, but we did not want a stronger Navy than was necessary for our needs. That was common ground. The Government, acting upon the advice of the Admiralty, came down and said that such and such a Navy was necessary for our needs, and it seemed to him impossible for the House to go behind that, without asking the Government to produce material which he thought most Governments would refuse to give. He did not see how it was possible for them to argue for a reduction of naval strength without discussing matters which could not be judiciously debated in the House. He would point out to his hon. friends behind him that we could not get a reduced Army unless we had a supremely powerful Navy. The Navy was our one strength which defended not only these islands but the Empire. So long as we had a strong Navy not only was our commerce safe but our shores and our Empire were safe, and therefore they ought to insist that the Navy should be maintained at the standard of strength necessary for our needs.
§ MR. C. DUNCAN (Barrow-in-Furness)
called attention to the case of the engine-room artificers who, he believed, had in the past given every satisfaction in regard to their work. They were trained in workshops throughout the country, and in that way they gained a large experience of the engineering trade, and a greater knowledge of attending to the engines of a war vessel than they would if they were trained in one particular ship. To substitute stokers for those men seemed to be to fly in the 275 face of the argument of the Member for the City of London that they should train the child up in the way he should go. In the mercantile marine the man who took charge of the engine was a man who had served his time in an engineering shop, and then joined his ship as fourth or third officer. Then gradually, by study and by passing examinations of the Board of Trade, he might rise in his profession until he became chief engineer in one of the largest and costliest vessels afloat. The artificers in the Navy were the same class of men as were to-day running the engines of ships in the mercantile marine, and what was good enough for the latter was good enough for the Navy. It appeared to be thought that because a man had served his time in the engineering trade he could not have the capacity to take a high place in the Navy. It seemed easier to become a Member of Parliament than to obtain a high position in the Army or Navy. It ought, however, to be the business of the nation not to choose the sons of rich parents for high positions in the Army or Navy simply because they had been given an expensive education, but to select young men of mental capacity and initiative, and, in that way, to get better value for the money expended on the services than was at present obtained. They were told that one of the great sins which the men for whom he spoke had committed was that of joining a trade union. That, surely, ought to be the last thing to complain of in that House, at any rate. He thought that if the men engaged in the Navy as engine-room artificers had shown any evidence of good sense it was in joining a trade union. It might be argued by some that that was a dangerous, element to have in the Navy, but he disagreed entirely with any such argument. It was an evidence of a man's capacity to think, and there was no reason to fear that the body which he had joined would ever use its intelligence and influence in such a way as to bring harm to the Navy. It seemed to him disloyal and unfair that those men should be broken and young men trained to take their place. Knowing as he 276 did that there was a considerable amount of feeling between the various sections of men in the Navy, and that the artificers strongly objected to being used as catspaws to teach other men their trade in order that they themselves might be displaced, he hoped the Government would reconsider the matter. If the engine-room artificers possessed sufficient intelligence to become the teachers of others, that was surely sufficient evidence of their capacity to remain in the Navy. And if the Navy was to be such a great element in the defence of the country, if the blue-water school of thought was to prevail in the House, and the Navy was to be strong, it would require men who had served their time as engineers and knew their business. He ventured to say that the Navy would have to depend more and more on the efficiency of its machinery. It was no use to have good guns, good ships, and good sailors, if the ships would not move, and therefore it was necessary to have a staff of men who, if anything happened to the machinery, could put it right in the shortest space of time. The men who had workshop experience were the men to do that, and therefore he hoped the Admiralty would see to it that those men were not displaced in the future.
*DR. RUTHERFORD (Middlesex, Brentford)
expressed his surprise that it should have been suggested by the hon. Baronet opposite that if the Government reduced the personnel of the Navy they would increase the numbers of the unemployed, because in the first place, as he understood, the reduction in the personnel would take place in those to be recruited, and by such a reduction no increase whatever could be made in the numbers of the unemployed. He had always understood that increased and extravagant taxation always led to depression in trade and to a number of men being thrown out of work, and, after all, large armaments had always tended to increase the numbers of unemployed. One argument used for a large Navy was that the Navy was the great factor in the insurance of the country. But there was such a thing as over-insurance, as dipping too deeply into capital. He might for 277 the benefit of hon. Members opposite quote what Mr. Disraeli said in 1867—You may have your garrisons at foreign ports and your fleets of commanding power, but if you have also omitted the principal cause of your power, viz., a sound state of finance, you may find that you have omitted one of the most important elements of your influence abroad.Were they bold enough to suggest that we had "a sound state of finance," with expenditure of £70,000,000 a year on armaments, an income tax of 1s., taxes on sugar, tea, etc.? One of the great indictments at the last general election, brought by the Liberal Party against the late Government, was the reckless extravagance with which they had dealt with the national finances. It was then said that it was essential and necessary for the well-being and prosperity of the country to produce employment and stimulate trade, and to cut down the vast expenditure on the Army and the Navy. We had only got a snowdrop from the Army and a dew-drop from the Navy, which was not the principle upon which the people of the country desired to go. They had been told that no sufficient reason had been given for a great reduction, but he would remind the House that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty had stated that the Navy was equivalent not to a two-Power standard but a three-Power standard, and that so far as tonnage was concerned we had 240,000 tons afloat in battleships more than any other three countries. They were further told that so far as the new type of battleships was concerned we were quite safe for another three years. The Prime Minister had concurred in those facts, and had said we were far beyond a two-Power standard. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition practically agreed and said that—Owing to a pause in foreign shipbuilding the two-Power standard does not come up at present.The right hon. Gentleman could have gone further and said it would not come up for a considerable time to come. According to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean, our Navy was three to one in superiority to any Navy in the world. We therefore had a Navy equal to those of three or four Powers, and he thought it was high time 278 we placed ourselves in a satisfactory and reasonable position. So far as rapidity in building was concerned we could beat any other nation in the world, and therefore it was only natural that the Government should be asked why they had not reduced more than they had the expenditure on armaments. The Prime Minister at the Albert Hall said—We want relief from the pressure of excessive taxation, and at the same time we want money to meet our own domestic needs at home, which have been too long starved and neglected owing to the demands on the taxpayers for military purposes abroad. How are these desirable things to be secured if in the time of peace our armaments are maintained on a war footing?Could any member of the Ministry honestly say that what they had to do was not to put our armaments on a peace footing? As to the decrease of cost, the treatment by the Government was in the right direction, but what he complained of was that that treatment was only given in homœopathic doses. He did not know what position the Prime Minister was in with regard to the Cabinet, but they knew that in 1893 Mr. Gladstone had a severe trial. Lord Spencer had introduced large Estimates, and Mr. Gladstone tried his best to reduce them, but unfortunately failed. Mr. Morley in his "Life of Gladstone" used these words with regard to that—He laboured hard at the task of conversion, and though some of his colleagues needed no conversion, with the majority he did not prevail.He trusted that the Prime Minister, in whom they had the greatest confidence, was not in the same position as Mr. Gladstone in 1893. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would use the great powers and capabilities he possessed to secure reductions; he would have the support of the vast majority of his Party in every effort he made in that direction. We were going to The Hague Conference, but he feared not in so happy, strong, and powerful a way as we should do, though he rejoiced that this country was going to take the initiative at that Conference with regard to the question of the reduction of armaments. He thought it was our duty, to use the phrase of the Leader of the Opposition, to see that the "balance 279 of criminality" in the mad race for armaments was not upon this country, and that we should try to lead the nations of the world to peace and righteousness. He felt that if we went to The Hague Conference with, so to speak, one battleship up our sleeve, it would not be good enough. He thought the Government should say that they were prepared not to stop at one battleship, but were ready to cut off two or more "Dreadnoughts" if other nations of the world would cut down their shipbuilding in proportion. He thought the suggested proposals for The Hague Conference were not brave enough or bold enough to command the respect of the nations of the world, and he trusted that they would go into it with greater confidence and greater faith in their own ideals. He trusted that instead of rivalry in the science of destruction, they would find among the nations rivalry in the arts of peace, manufacture, commerce, and the intellectual and moral development of peoples.
§ *MR. G. H. FABER (Boston)
said that fifty years had passed since we were last engaged in a European war, and in the interim, as the chances of war had diminished, pari passu the cost of armaments, military and naval, had increased. Fifty years ago opposite our own shores was a great military Empire based on military tradition, and resting on the Napoleonic legend. That had passed away, and in its place we had a democratic Republic, and where the power rested with the people the danger of war was minimised. Some years ago he returned from India with an eminent Frenchman who showed him how changed the conditions of France were since 1870. Before that time the articulate classes of France had no vital interest in the question of peace or war, seeing that the well-to-do could buy a substitute for a few thousand francs. Now everyone had to serve, and they had to figure to themselves their children dying of thirst and misery on the field of battle. The old Jewish Talmud told them, "The soldiers fight and the Princes are heroes;" but now the soldiers were the people themselves. They would find that throughout all the world, as the power of the people increased, so war would cease. The world 280 prospered under democratic government. He was not there that night to vote against the Government. He believed they had a good Government, which was doing all it could to reduce armaments; and when that was done, then no longer would any great scheme of social reform, involving immense expenditure, be an impossibility. Little by little they would reduce their debts, increase the comfort of the people, and raise a store of money. He hoped the Government would continue in its good work, and decrease the expenditure and increase the prosperity of the poorer classes of the country.
§ SIR GILBERT PARKER (Gravesend)
thought every Member of the House must recognise the sincerity of the hon. Member who had just sat down. They who perhaps took a different view from his recognised that he and many of his colleagues believed in an era of universal peace and prosperity, and that they could go to The Hague Conference and receive to their appeal for reduced armaments a response which would mean that other nations would agree that we should have a preponderance of power. But did they think that Germany and the United States and all the other countries of the world, who were desirous of placing themselves in a strong position, would consent that we should continue to have our present preponderance of power? Those who shared the views of the hon. Member for Boston apparently did not realise the risks we should incur by arresting our naval development under any such arrangement with foreign Powers. One war ship had been cut off the Estimates this year, owing to the fact that foreign Powers had arrested their naval development. But the Secretary to the Admiralty knew that it was only for the moment. The right hon. Gentleman shook his head. He thought that most naval experts held the opinion that foreign Powers were only waiting to lay down a type of ship which would best compete with the new ships which we had built. He believed that the majority of the Liberal Party outside the House, as well as the vast majority of the Unionist Party, did not want to see our armaments decreased unless they knew positively 281 that other nations were arresting their armaments for the purpose of peace. But, they did not know that. Might he call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the reduction of a thousand men in the Navy? He thought that was a very serious thing. They could arrange for delaying repairs, they could arrest building without any great disturbance of the national position, but they could not get trained men at a moment's notice in a time of crisis.
§ SIR GILBERT PARKER
said it was not for him to suggest. He was only putting the point to the right hon. Gentleman. Of course, everyone acquainted with naval matters knew that men were hard to get, and when got were slow to train. In a time of stress they could get their men, but they would be obtained with greater difficulty than increasing the Navy, bringing in ships with nucleus crews and building up the war strength. The right hon. Gentleman in one of his previous speeches, and also in answer to a question, had rather led the House to suppose that the question of sending a ship, or two or three ships, to the West Indies was not beyond the reconsideration of the Admiralty.
§ SIR GILBERT PARKER
wished to know if it was the intention to send to the West Indies ships with nucleus crews taken from the Home Fleet. If that were so more men would be required.
§ SIR GILBERT PARKER
said that if ships were sent to the West Indies he understood that they would be taken from the Home Fleet and would require to have their full complements made up. Of course, if there was nothing in that point he would not press it. The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues knew that the reductions which had been made were such as had 282 followed from the natural and logical policy which the present Leader of the Opposition had initiated. He did not suggest that the Secretary to the Admiralty and his colleagues ought not to have full credit for any reductions they had made which were not of a cheeseparing character, but it should not be overlooked that it was the policy of the Leader of the Opposition which had made such reductions possible. The saving had been made by the co-operation of both sides of the House, and hon. Gentlemen below the gangway must not take too much credit to their Party for those reductions, or believe that any violence was going to be used towards the naval policy which was inaugurated five years ago. One thing was certain—that there never would be any violent reduction in the Navy unless there was absolute co-operation on both sides of the House. No matter how small might be the body of Unionist opinion in the House, he believed that so far as the Navy was concerned it represented the bulk of the opinion of the people of the country.
§ *MR. HAVELOCK WILSON (Middlesbrough)
desired to say a word or two with regard to the Royal Naval Reserves. They had heard a good deal about the personnel of the Navy, but his opinion was that they might dispense with a large number of those 127,000 men. He thought 100,000 men would be quite sufficient for the Royal Navy if they established a Naval Reserve of 50,000 men. It was only about fifteen years ago that a Parliament voted that the strength of the Navy should be 100,000 men, but the total was now 127,000. If they could strengthen the Royal Naval Reserve and make it 50,000 men it would be quite sufficient for all the requirements of the Navy in time of emergency. At present the Royal Naval Reserve was only 26,000 men, and he wished to know if it was the intention of the Admiralty to dispense with the Royal Naval Reserve altogether. It appeared from what had taken place that some effort was being made to do away with the Naval Reserve. For the last twenty-five or thirty years in almost every port of the United Kingdom a Royal Naval Reservist had been able to 283 perform his drill on board a drill ship, but the Admiralty had now dispensed with those ships and established batteries instead, and now frequently the Reservists had to travel 200 or 300 miles in order to perform their drill. Many were married men, and they could not afford to do the month's drill and pay board and lodging, and the result was that many of them were leaving the Reserve. What policy did the Admiralty intend to pursue, and why was it that they had only got 6,000 stokers belonging to the Royal Naval Reserve in the mercantile marine? This country had the largest mercantile marine of any country in the world, and no nation ought to possess a better reserve of stokers. Let the House note what a saving it would be to the nation. A Naval Reservist stoker would receive £6 or £7 a year, and as far as efficiency was concerned he would be superior to the naval stoker in every sense of the word. He did not say that the naval stokers were not good enough for the duties required of them, but the mercantile marine stokers had had more experience of different kinds of boilers and they were better men by far. They would cost about £6 or £7 a year, and in case of emergency they could be called upon to make up the complements on board the warships. As a fighting force he knew that during the late war in South Africa thousands of the Naval Reserve men deserted merchant ships and joined the different regiments at the Cape, and did a great amount of fighting. They were a body of men who would be available in all parts of the Empire for the Royal Navy in time of emergency, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would be able to give him some assurance that the Admiralty did not intend to reduce the Royal Naval Reserve.
§ *MR. VERNEY (Buckinghamshire, N.)
said the hon. Member for Gravesend had warned them against taking too much credit to themselves for the reduction which had been made in the Navy Estimates. He wished to point out that the very strength of their position lay in the fact that they were not inaugurating but continuing a policy of reduction. Who inaugurated that policy? Surely it was inaugurated by a statesman who was acknowledged by the whole of 284 Europe to be one of the most far-seeing Ministers they had ever known, Lord Salisbury. The question of the reduction in the Navy was brought to the front in August, 1898, when they first heard of that celebrated Memorandum drawn up by the Emperor of Russia which was sent to all the foreign representatives attending at St. Petersburg. What was the gist of that Memorandum? It began in this way—The maintenance of a universal peace and a possible reduction of excessive armaments which weigh upon all nations represent, in the present condition of affairs all over the world, the ideal towards which the efforts of all Governments should be directed.How did Lord Salisbury receive that Memorandum? He accepted it in the most sympathetic spirit, but not in a hurry, for he waited practically until the beginning of the following year. It was true that in October Lord Salisbury wrote a letter to Sir Charles Scott, the British Ambassador at St. Petersburg, in which he said that careful consideration had been given to the Memorandum of the Emperor suggesting that some limit should be put to the increase of armaments, and then he went on to say that the cordial sympathy of the Government would be given to the objects and intentions of His Imperial Majesty. In that letter to Sir Charles Scott, Lord Salisbury said that the sympathy was not confined to the Government, because there had been very remarkable proof given of it by popular opinion by meetings held and resolutions passed all over the country in favour of that reduction. Lord Salisbury went on to say—Unfortunately it is true that there has been a constant tendency on the part of almost every nation to increase its armed forces, and to add to an already vast expenditure on appliances of war. His Majesty's Government will gladly co-operate in the proposed effort to provide a remedy for this evil.On February 14th in the following year, 1899, after certain correspondence had passed they found that Lord Salisbury definitely said to Sir Charles Scott in a letter which our Ambassador was instructed to lay before the Russian Government that—Her Majesty's Government will gladly accept the invitation which Count Mouravief contemplates for a conference to discuss the best method of attaining the two objects specified in His Excellency's note, viz., the diminution of armaments by land and sea, and 285 the prevention of armed conflicts by pacific diplomatic procedure.He wished to remind the House that the reduction of armaments of which the Prime Minister spoke the other day, with the enthusiastic sympathy of his supporters and of many who could not perhaps be placed in that category, was a proof that the Government desired a policy of continuity in the matter. That was the strongest possible position they could take up. It was not the wild dream of some visionary who talked of the millennium and universal peace. It was the heritage handed on to us by the most far-seeing statesman, in regard to foreign affairs, who had been seen in Europe within the memory of living man—a statesman who maintained the dignity and honour of the country under very difficult circumstances. Lord Salisbury's foreign policy was not always admired by members of the Liberal Party, but they recognised that he was the last man in the world to speak rashly of the reduction of armaments if he did not mean to carry out the proposal. There could be no doubt that the Conservative Party, at the time referred to, had in their mind a reduction of military and naval armaments, and that would necessarily include a very considerable reduction in personnel. Considering the origin of the policy of reduction, there ought to be no difficulty whatever in securing the support of, at all events, a large majority of Members on the other side of the House.
§ MR. J. M. ROBERTSON (Northumberland, Tyneside)
said that, after the speech of the hon. Member for Preston, he felt bound as a lay Member to enter his protest. If criticism on the Navy Estimates was dangerous because it could not properly be put forward, save on the basis of information which the Government would naturally not give, he did not see why they should have any time devoted to the discussion of the Estimates at all. When the hon. Member spoke of criticism being excluded he expected he was disposed to "compound for sins he was inclined to" by, for the moment, "damning those he had no mind to." He was bound to say that there had been no justification offered of the general objections made to the reasonable proposal that there should be a further limitation of the personnel of 286 the Navy, which was obviously the means of reducing the general expenditure. There had been nothing but general and vague considerations, taking sometimes the form of menace as to the danger we ran if we did not remain the supreme naval Power. We were supreme at the present moment. There never had been such a navy as that which we now possessed. They were sometimes told from the other side of the House that the greatest necessity for the security of peace of mind in the country was the possession of great power. The country appeared to get no security for its peace of mind from the fact that it was in possession of an enormous superiority of sea power, and at present there was raging around them propaganda for conscription. No amount of naval preparation had ever secured to the nation any sense of security whatever. What was the reason of the crusades for naval expansion which worked on the minds of those who did not calculate? He once before described some of the crusaders as monomaniacs. He used that word not in a physiological but in a purely sociological sense. They were men who sought blindly to increase the Navy without any sense of its proportion to other navies. He did not suppose that there ever was got together any body of naval men who would admit that at any period of our history our Navy was sufficiently strong. When he heard naval experts say that our Navy was far below the ostensible power of other navies, and that it was insufficient to cope with them, he turned to the newspapers of the continent and saw that the experts there gave exactly the same criticisms in regard to their navies. The suggestion that the House must just vote what the Admiralty asked as necessary for the naval strength of the country, without comparing our strength with that of other nations, had nothing to justify it at all. The Admiralty always desired to have as strong a Navy as possible, and he did not believe that the Estimates at any time represented what was asked for; it was the resistance of men with some sense of proportion which kept the demands within approximately reasonable bounds. The excuse always made was that other Powers were increasing, but the fact was that we were still increasing faster than any other Power. The hon. Member for King's Lynn had argued for increasing the strength of our 287 Navy by referring to the projected shipbuilding in connection with foreign navies. Because Germany was doing something at the present moment, that was to him a reason why we should also do something.
§ MR. BELLAIRS
said that, while there was a reduction in the British Navy, there was an increase in that of Germany. The only other country except ourselves which had reduced her Navy was Russia.
§ MR. J. M. ROBERTSON
said the Russian Navy had been to a large extent annihilated either by being sent to the bottom of the sea or by passing into the hands of the Japanese. Had we acquired nothing from the entente cordiale with France that we should still go on increasing our Navy? The Leader of the Opposition had said that the making of an ally was no justification for a reduction of armaments, because the ally would expect us to remain as strong as before, or to make ourselves stronger.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (City of London)
said that what he stated was that the making of alliances could be no justification for a reduction of armaments, because our allies would expect us to keep up our strength. If the hon. Member had said that alone, he would have had no quarrel with his argument, but he went on to say that his argument was that the making of alliances was a ground for increasing armaments. That was putting an illegitimate load on his argument.
§ MR. J. M. ROBERTSON
said it was a legitimate inference. Armaments could not always remain at the same point of strength, and it followed from the argument that there could not be reduction, and the more allies the closer the approach to bankruptcy. The increase of foreign navies was a consequence of the increase of the British Navy. Only one Power talked of supremacy on the sea, and that was taken as a perpetual menace. There was much to be said for the opinion expressed by the Prime 288 Minister, that many people had reason to know that our aspirations were not hostile; but still a great many people, seeing our Navy increasing, and hearing our national song setting up dominion of the sea, would feel that our naval strength was a menace, and would increase their own navies. The Power to begin to set some pause, some check, to the mad expansion of armaments was the Power with the greatest naval armament, and which could most easily stop the increase. He remembered that the Leader of the Opposition did once offer a demonstration which accounted for much at the time of the peace of Europe. There was a kind of panic among his friends as to the risk of landing a raiding force on our shores, and the right hon. Gentleman showed that it was so idle a risk and so idle a fear that such an event could not happen without our knowing beforehand what a foreign Power was going to do and without our taking precautions. The right hon. Gentleman showed how unreasonable were the the fears on which the panic mongers were constantly preceeding; but as soon as we came to any practical measure in the way of inducing other Powers to restrain the growth of their armaments, the right hon. Gentleman immediately allowed the spirit of Party to dominate him, and he exclaimed: "What a danger it is to propose to cut down our Navy!" The right hon. Gentleman played upon the two words "efficiency" and "strength"; but it was possible that the strength as well as the efficiency of the Navy might be increased by reducing the number of ships. Surely, after all, the practical question was the reduction of cost all round. He had tried, during the past year, to think out some reasonable, businesslike basis on which the Powers might come together and agree to reduce their outlay on armaments. He thought there was a very general feeling now that the fairest test was the test of cost, and that a beginning should be made in the reduction of the cost of armaments from year to year. He believed that hon. Gentlemen below the gangway opposite, (the Labour Members) had a clearer vision on this subject than the occupants of the benches above the gangway. Old-age pensions could never be obtained so long as we had this enormous expenditure on the Army and Navy.
§ *MR. HUNT (Shropshire, Ludlow)
said that the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken had forgotten that our very existence depended upon our supremacy at sea. We apparently had got only fourteen battleships really ready at any moment to fight a possible enemy, which possible enemy would in six months time have sixteen to eighteen battleships instantly ready for immediate war. He asked the Secretary to the Admiralty whether the dockyards were not short of several thousand men at the present time, and why it was that the plumbers and blacksmiths at sea got only about half the wages which were paid to the similar class of workmen in the dockyards? Was not that also the case with the carpenters' crew and joiners? He might remind the right hon. Gentleman that that was especially hard on married men who, when at sea, had to keep an establishment on shore and had to pay rates and taxes, whilst for their own food and drink on board the Admiralty only allowed the magnificent sum of 10½d. a day, while they had also to pay for the upkeep of their uniform, which cost from £3 to £5 per year.
§ *MR. LUPTON (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
said that the navlconstruction in the last year for which they had the figures of the United States and France combined was £17,000,000, as against our expenditure of between £11,000,000 and £12,000,000 for the same year; so that it was a vain aspiration that this country should maintain a Navy of equal strength to any other two Powers. We had never entered into a naval combat without alliance with other Powers, though it was true that we had once engaged in a successful land campaign in South Africa—an Empire of 400,000,000 against 400,000 people—1,000 to 1. He thought that in the future we should make sure that when we went to war we should not do so without allies. It was an altogether vain idea that we were for ever to rule the sea. We could be very happy if we were a little humble. Holland, Norway, Sweden had not a two-Power standard; nor had France and Germany, and yet they were happy! The two-Power standard was a barbarous idea, contrary to all the teaching of modern philosophy. [Interruption 290 and laughter.] Hon. Members might laugh, but the two-Power standard took money out of their pockets in the shape of taxes. An hon. Member had spoken about a warship's being sent to sea, in 1897, under a Conservative Government, short of fifty officers, and with a crew partly made up of 300 boys of nineteen years of age and under. The hon. Member for King's Lynn had referred to the number of collisions and groundings; that showed that our Navy was still inefficient, because we had more men and ships than we could effectually manage; and he was told that the guns in the Navy were not properly sighted.
§ *MR. LUPTON
said that if they reduced the Estimate for men and ships they would have more money to spend in making the Navy efficient. There was a battleship which ran ashore on Lundy Island. How did that happen?
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member must confine himself more closely to the discussion of the Estimate before the House.
§ *MR. LUPTON
said that owing to the excessive number of men and, consequently, of ships, proper care was not taken, and so a great battleship was ordered to steam at night and in a fog direct for Lundy Island. The expenses on the Navy should be cut down to £20,000,000.
§ *THE CIVIL LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. Lambert, Devonshire, South Molton)
said he was sure the House would forgive him if he did not follow his hon. friend the Member for Sleaford in his discussion of the two-Power Standard, which was not relevant to this Vote. Numerous references had been made to the forthcoming Hague Conference, but all he desired to say in regard to that was that they, on that side of the House, were loyal and devoted to the Prime Minister in his efforts to arrest the growth of European armaments. He wished to bring the House back to the various criticisms that had been made on the Admiralty policy. The hon. 291 Member for King's Lynn commenced by calling attention to the excessive number of groundings and collisions which had taken place in the Navy. He was sorry that his hon. friend should have made that reference, which really implied that our Naval officers had a lack of executive ability.
§ MR. BELLAIRS
said that what he implied was that the existing system providing for the training of officers and their distribution was at fault.
§ *MR. LAMBERT
said that he could not help thinking that the words used by the hon. Member, taken logically, implied a lack of executive ability on the part of the officers. He believed that he would be unworthy of the position which he occupied if he did not defend British officers against such a charge. From his experience at the Admiralty he did not think any body of men could be found in the Empire who were more devoted and loyal or who served their country with more ability than Naval officers and men. The Admiralty would watch with the greatest possible interest the development of the new system of training of officers; if it could be improved they would have an open mind; but so far as they had been able to ascertain, the new system at Osborne and Dartmouth was giving every satisfaction. As to the complaints about the reduction of men, they had sufficient to meet the requirements of the Navy. The explanation of the fewer boy shipwrights who were being enlisted was very simple; it was that the modern battleship was becoming more and more a complex machine, and therefore there were not so many shipwrights; but more mechanicians and such like were required. It was not the fact that they were getting insufficient stokers; indeed, this year they were estimating for 1,227 stokers more than last year. The growing increase was called for by the greater machine power of the battleships. In 1895 in the old "Majestic" class there was one stoker to three seamen; in the "Invincible" class there would be three stokers to two seamen. Taking another criticism he could not but think that to give some avenue of advancement to the 30,000 292 stokers in the Navy was a very laudable object. Nor could he admit that the new rank of mechanic an would be a failure. Up to now the reports did not bear out that prophecy; but, on the contrary, the experts' opinions had been universally favourable. He defended the system under which boy artificers were trained to do mechanical repairs in the ship. It was essential that engine-room artificers should be trained in the use of marine engines when young. Hitherto, they had had largely to pick up their knowledge in the ship. Out of seventy-two engine-room artificers entered from October, 1905, to May, 1906, eighteen only had any knowledge whatever of marine engines. They had to be taught, therefore, by the officers on board ship. There was not the smallest idea of crippling or aiming any blow at the trade unions. All they wished to do was to add to the efficiency of the Navy. Of course, as they got more efficient artificers to repair the ships at sea there would be fewer repairs to be done in the dockyards, and that must add to the efficiency of the Navy. On that subject too, however, the Admiralty would keep an open mind, but in the meantime the opinion was that the experiment would prove a success. With regard to the kit of seamen and other matters connected with the lower deck, they were matters on which the Admiralty would be prepared to have an informal conference with dockyard Members. A free kit would cost about £350,000 a year. With regard to the short-service men, of whom there were about 2,000, he reminded the House that the best of those men might be selected for continuous service, and anything calculated to improve their condition the Admiralty would be glad to consider. Recruiting for the Naval Reserve had been reopened. The fact that the Estimates had been attacked on both sides—on the ground that the reduction was too much and, on the other hand, that it was not enough—showed, he thought, that the Admiralty were pursuing a safe middle course. They had in this matter special responsibilities. He did not believe the country or the House of Commons would begrudge the Admiralty any money essential for the defence of the country, and their duty was to give the country full 293 fighting value for the money which was entrusted to them to spend.
As is customary on occasions like these, the debate has varied between questions of rather minute administrative detail and those of the largest national policy. I propose to touch upon both branches, although the comments I have to make upon administrative matters are not of a very elaborate description, nor are they urged against the Government in any hostile sense. The first question I have to put is with regard to the nucleus crew. The hon. Member for King's Lynn told us that the ships with nucleus crews did not as a matter of fact have that kind of sea training which would make them thoroughly competent to deal with any emergency. He told us specifically that they seldom went, out except by day, and did not have those navigating opportunities and responsibilities which are, of course, essential elements in the efficiency of any fleet which may be called on active service. I should hope the criticism is ill-founded. I had always understood that the nucleus crew differed only from the complete crew, not in the absence of practice in essential matters of navigation and so forth, and not in the absence of really skilled and expert members of the crew, but chiefly in the fact that the less skilled members of the crew were not kept on board—that the skilled ratings, not for a long voyage, but for the purposes of a short voyage, were adequately filled, and that to all intents and purposes a ship with a nucleus crew was as efficient for a short spurt as a ship which is completely manned. The second question relates to economies in the matter of repairs. It was always held by the Board of Admiralty when we were in office that in the matter of repairs nucleus crews are often far more economical than the system for which the nucleus crew was substituted. I am quite disposed to accept that view. The only thing that makes me hesitate is that the argument used in the First Lord's Memorandum appears to be a fallacious one. The argument I am now going to present is one which my hon. friend would have presented had he been able to make the speech this afternoon which he desired to make. On page 8 of the 294 First Lord's Memorandum there is an argument showing the economy in matters of repair due to nucleus crews based on a comparison of the repairs required now and the repairs that were undertaken in 1904, just before the new system came into operation. My hon. friend points out to me that that comparison is very unfair, because in 1904 under the old system a great and costly effort was made by the Admiralty to put the existing ships of the Fleet as it then stood in a state of complete repair The cost was undertaken. That makes the year 1904 a very bad standard year of comparison, a very insufficient ground for thinking that nucleus crews are really more economical in the matter of repairs than their predecessors. The new system is not shown by that argument to be better in this respect than the old one. I should not have felt disposed to ask the question at all except that when an argument is advanced in favour of a course which you are predisposed to believe good, and that argument appears to be bad, suspicions are excited which might not otherwise be aroused. These are the only two points of detail on which I ask for enlightenment. The more general question I cannot avoid, though I shall treat it briefly. It is inevitable that on Vote 1—the strength of the Navy—the different schools of thought in this House as to the strength of the Fleet we ought to maintain should give voice to their respective opinions. I am rather surprised at the number of hon. Gentlemen below the gangway on the other side of the House who seem to think the Government are erring in the direction of extravagance. I think the attack made upon them by four or five speakers on those benches was begun by the hon. Member for Ipswich. He made a brief speech, in which he used the old argument, or the old rhetoric it would be more accurate to say, against what he called bloated armaments. By bloated armaments I suppose he means armaments in excess of our requirements. I do not think "bloated" expresses that. It was evidently a term originally used for purely rhetorical purposes, and I daresay that when it was first used it was a good one. I think by constant wear and tear it has become a bad one; at any rate, it conveys no precise or 295 clear meaning. It is open to any one to say we have too large a fleet, but we do not help the matter by saying that the fleet is not only too large, but bloated. It is a matter of the first importance for us to come to sound and clear views. Let us argue the question as a business matter. It should be capable, I do not say of mathematical demonstration, but of fairly clear proof, whether we have or have not the Army or Navy required to meet the accidents, difficulties, and dangers with which every country, be its policy as pacific as you please, may find itself face to face amid the changes of this changing world. But you must not count on being able to increase those armaments to meet a necessity unless you can show that that necessity is so far off that you can build ships, enlist the men, train the officers, and go through the elaborate processes required to augment the fleet till it can meet the particular contingency you have in your mind. When hon. Gentlemen glibly say we ought to reduce our fleet, on what arguments do they base that statement? Two hon. Members who made speeches said the magnitude of the armaments under which the world now suffers was due primarily to the fact that this country insisted on taking up the arrogant position of being mistress of the seas. I daresay the phrase is more suited for home consumption than foreign use. I daresay it may be used in a provocative sense. I myself never use it; I think it is open to misinterpretation. But what is the vital truth that lies behind the phrase? It is that we depend as no other nation in the world depends, not for offence, but for defence and safety, upon having a Navy which is so preponderant that we need not be afraid of any alliance of two Powers against us. Will anybody say that that proposition, stated as I have stated it, is aggressive or untrue? If it is neither, is it not folly for us to hold that we are able materially to diminish our Naval Estimates when we know there are other countries who are building or have building programmes and intentions which certainly seem to imply that they do not mean to leave that position wholly unchallenged? One hon. Member, criticising the Member for King's Lynn, said that that hon. Member based his calcu- 296 lations not on what foreign nations do, but on what they say they are going to do. If the hon. Member for King's Lynn does that, I think he is open to some criticism. I, for my own part, would not advise the Government to take that course; I believe they are right in doing what I believe they do, which is to base their programme not upon paper threats, but upon the realities of the situation. That is why I have not been one of those who criticised the Admiralty last year for dropping two battleships; because I have always understood that the diminution of their programme was due to the fact that other nations had not gone on with the ships they had intended to go on with, and that the actual ships we were building were enough to meet the actual ships of other people. It is only on what other people are doing and not on what they say they are going to do, that our policy should be based. With that qualification I would venture to say that this House could do nothing more fatal to the interests of that peace of the world we all desire to see maintained than to let it at once be understood that with our small Army we were prepared to accept the position of having a Navy which, if not small, was so small that some alliance or other could crush it. In this connection The Hague Conference has been brought up, not I think illegitimately, by more than one speaker. It was brought up in an interesting speech by the Member for Buckinghamshire, who reminded the House that the first proposal for The Hague Conference happened while the late Government were in office and Lord Salisbury was Prime Minister. I remember it well, at the moment I was in charge of the Foreign Office, and it was by me as Foreign Minister at the moment that the proposals of the Emperor of Russia had first to be dealt with. When Lord Salisbury said on behalf of the then Government that we looked with sympathy upon any attempt that could successfully be made to diminish the immense burden which armaments throw on the nations of the world, he expressed no policy which we have abandoned on this side of the House, or to which we attach less value than we did in 1898. We have, indeed, thought a more fruitful direction of 297 diplomatic effort to be in the direction of framing those treaties of arbitration, of so many of which we were the fortunate authors, and which have already done much for the peace of the world which the general public are acquainted with, and much for the peace of the world in matters which have never come before public attention. Though I confess I look more hopefully in connection with the preservation of peace to these treaties of arbitration, I do not deny that the diminution of armaments, if you could effect it, would be an invaluable boon to mankind. But the diminution of armaments must, so far as naval strength is concerned, leave naval strength in the proportion in which it finds it, because if you are going to abandon the two-Power standard and fall below that relative naval strength which we have hitherto maintained and still maintain, then all the evils familiar to the House, all the arguments which I ventured to address to the House, regain their force, and we lose that position of pacific security which we now possess. Therefore, do not let hon. Gentlemen suppose that The Hague Conference can, or ought to be permitted to make us less navally secure than we are at the present moment. The object sought could be attained, no doubt, theoretically—I do not know whether it is practicable, that is another matter—by a pro rata diminution in the strength of the armaments of the great naval Powers, and if other people would abandon their building programme the first thing any Government of this country would do would be proportionately to diminish its programme. But we should be committing a great mistake if we allured anybody in this country to build their hopes of economy upon The Hague Conference, unless it be understood that The Hague Conference can only produce economy in these naval matters by insisting that our security by sea shall not be less, inconsequence of the decision of The Hague Conference, than it is at the present time. Nothing less than that could be tolerated by the inhabitants of this country. If other nations are prepared to concede that, then, but only then, should we be in a position to build anything in the nature of practical hopes on the debates which are shortly to 298 ensue at The Hague. If I may venture to say so, at the present time, we ought to rely on the common-sense view of the matter. There is no use in exaggerating the burden which the Naval Estimates throw upon us. Great as it is, it does not crush us. The Estimates are. heavy, and I wish they could be reduced; but we can bear them, and we must bear them so long as foreign nations insist on bringing their fleets up to a strength which renders it impossible to reduce ours, if we are to maintain, not merely the peace of the world, but the security of our own shores and of our Colonies—so long as they insist on building fleets which require us to see, on our side, that our defensive forces remain at that level which will enable us to feel that the immense responsibilities which our position throws upon us are responsibilities which we are quite able adequately and honourably to sustain.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON,
who was indistinctly heard, was understood to say: The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down raised three questions, with two of which he has invited me to deal. The third question he did not ask me to answer, and I do not propose to deal with it, for on questions arising out of The Hague Conference I do not think I can add anything to what I have said in previous debates or to what has been said by the Prime Minister. Nor will I deal with the large general question of our proper numerical proportion of naval strength in regard to other nations, as that question will be more properly and more effectively dealt with on Vote 8. But with regard to the two specific points arising on Vote A, I ask leave to say a few words. With regard to the nucleus crew system, of which the right hon. Gentleman's Government were the originators, I think they are entitled to the credit of having originally invented it. The right hon. Gentleman has asked me whether it has succeeded, and I might put my answer in this way, that it has fulfilled the intentions of the Government as regards efficiency. The right hon. Gentleman has founded himself on an observation made by the hon. Member for King's Lynn. Let me remind the House what is the history of the nucleus crew system. It is a great 299 improvement on the old system of reserves, under which the ships were of no use at all. It is a great advance on that, but it is not an advance calculated to make the nucleus crew ship equal to the ship fully manned. I cannot say that, but I may reassure the right hon. Gentleman by telling him that, in the opinion of the Board of Admiralty, the nucleus crew system has succeeded and has fulfilled the intentions of those who originated it. I do not know that I can go beyond that point. The right hon. Gentleman asked specifically for assurances as to the efficiency of the system with respect to repairs. The system is only a stage on the high road. As it is a great advance in itself, so it is preparatory and intermediary to the system to be established in the constitution of the Home Fleet, under which the nucleus crew of every ship will be increased to a maximum of three-fifths instead of two-fifths. The nucleus crew system has succeeded, so I am assured by those whose opinion is entitled to consideration. I do not speak on my own authority; but from what I have gathered from official opinion at the Admiralty the system has succeeded. As to repairs, that is a point which might possibly draw me a little beyond the confines of this Vote. I do not look upon the building of new ships as being more important than, if so important as, the securing that all necessary repairs are made good year by year. That is my own personal opinion, in which I think the right hon. Gentleman concurs. The right hon. Gentleman said that the period mentioned by the First Lord in his statement was, accidentally or otherwise, an unfortunate period to select—that it was not a fair period. I do not know that. The period was selected at random. There was no intention of selecting a period more favourable to this system than to any other. It was absolutely a random inquiry made by the First Lord himself, and I am not prepared to deny that there may have been subsequent circumstances which made the period not absolutely accurate in all respects; but I am assured that the general result is that the idea that there should be a provision of skilled hands in the nucleus crews to do the repairs of the ships has worked 300 well, and that the comparison made by the First Lord, though it may not be true of all periods, is generally true for the purpose for which it was made. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be satisfied with what I have said, and that I may now ask that this unusually long debate on Vote A may be brought to a close.
§ First Resolution agreed to.
§ Second Resolution read a second time.
§ MR. J. HAVELOCK WILSON (Middlesbrough)
said he would like the right hon. Gentleman to give some information with regard to the rate of wages of stokers and seamen. The rate of pay for seamen in the Navy had been the same for the last forty or fifty years, and it was time a change was made. The Admiralty could not expect to get men for £2 15s. a month, especially when an able seaman or a stoker had to pay out of that wage 15s. or £1 a month for additional rations. That was bound to cause dissatisfaction, and the matter ought to be put right. If the right hon. Gentlemen did not see his way to clear up the point himself, he might appoint a Committee, but not of experts, of whom he had a dread, to inquire into the subject. It was one of the reasons why men left the Navy at the end of ten years and went into the American Navy, where they got£8 and £9 a month. It cost us £400 or £500 to train a man, and the American Navy got the benefit of the cost of that training. That was a question which should be carefully considered. With regard to the canteens, the right hon. Gentleman had promised a Committee to inquire into the matter. His only fear was that it would consist of naval men. He did not wish to speak with any disrespect of them; many of them were very good men in every way; but they were naval men, and were not likely to give the subject the attention which it ought to receive. He had been told that the canteen system on board ship was altogether wrong. The contractor was paid about £500 to supply the ship with stores, and the sailors, stokers, and petty officers had to suffer in consequence. Why could not the Admiralty do their own contracting? Why should they go to outside people to put stores on board ship to sell again?
I think that the canteen question can be better discussed on Vote 2 than on Vote 1.
§ MR. J. HAVELOCK WILSON
said he had thought to save time by discussing the two questions together; but he would say no more about it, and leave the right hon. Gentleman carefully to consider it. There was also the question of the rate of pay to carpenters. A good way to get the business settled would be to appoint a Committee to meet the different Members who had taken an interest in the matter, in order that they might have the subject discussed, probably next year, when the Admiralty might be in a position to make some changes that would give satisfaction.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
said that a promise had been given on behalf of the Admiralty that the First Lord would be willing to see hon. Members interested in all lower-deck grievances.
§ MR. BELLAIRS
said that upon the wages he would like the Secretary to the Admiralty to give the House a little information in regard to the nucleus crews.
Order, order. We are on the question of wages now, and the question of nucleus crews is not in order.
§ Resolution agreed to.