§ Second Resolution—Navy Estimates, 1908–9. "That a sum, not exceeding £2,306,700, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of Works, Buildings, and Repairs, at Home and Abroad, including the cost of Superintendence, Purchase of Sites, Grants-in-Aid, and other Charges connected therewith which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1909."—read a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ *MR. BELLAIRS (Lynn Regis)
said that this Vote, when in Committee, went through with about an hour and a half's discussion, and as it involved two very important new items it was very desirable that it should be discussed on the Report stage as well. The Vote itself used to have a great deal more discussion in previous Parliaments, but last year certainly there was very little debate, and there was all the more reason now, with the two new items of the lock at Portsmouth and the Rosyth scheme, that something should be said about the matter. It was a Vote with regard to which they had undergone great disillusionment. They had seen many schemes introduced to the House, paid for by Works Bills, and then abandoned. In the last four years, four dockyards and three coaling stations had been abandoned by the Government, and expenditure had been incurred on them right up till the last moment. The Civil Lord of the Admiralty told them last year that no less than five docks had been paid for in the Loans Bill, for which they would go on paying interest for twenty-five years to come, and those five docks would not take "Invincibles." There was the 802 Dover expenditure of three and a half millions which was begun by the right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary for the Admiralty, who introduced the scheme thirteen years ago, and that harbour, on which they had spent a colossal sum, had never yet accommodated a single squadron or fleet, and he did not know when it was ever likely to. If the House would do as he had done, and read all the various Works Bills introduced, and the discussions on Vote 10, they would find that it had never been proved that such schemes were vital to the safety of the country. He would take as an example one of the ablest speeches delivered in that House in support of a Works Bill, by the Civil Lord of the Admiralty in 1899. He ranged ever the whole Vote, and came to Bermuda, and said that our Colonies and our trade were very great in that part of the world. That was held to be a justification for an expenditure of £600,000 on a dock which had never yet accommodated a single armoured ship unless in the last few months. He said that another place was Simon's Bay, whore a new dock was required, at a cost of £3,600,000, because the harbour there was so crowded. That had since been reduced to £3,100,000, and he had no doubt the present Government would like to have lowered the whole lot off. That work might easily have been brought about by subsidising a dock extension. At the same time, they incurred a small expenditure of £159,000 for a dock at Colombo by means of a subsidy. Whereas they were going to spend £3,600,000 to obtain the services of a dock and basin at Simon's Bay, they resorted to the method of a subsidy of the small sum of £159,000 at Colombo, and that was the method he would particularly commend to the attention of the House as preferable to any Rosyth scheme. Finally, the Civil Lord of the Admiralty got to Hong Kong, and 803 said that our interests in the Far East were very great and increasing. Bang went £1,250,000. They had a magnificent private dock at Hong Kong. He himself was there when this expenditure was first proposed, and he knew that the private establishment was well able to cope with the work required. He had no doubt the Admiralty now regarded the dock accommodation provided at Hong Kong as a bit of a white elephant. He did not quarrel with the provision of more docks, but said we ought to have many more docks; it was perfectly obvious to everybody. In ten years we should have forty or fifty "Dreadnoughts" and "Invincibles" clamouring for dock accommodation, and he thought there were now six Government docks, including Haulbowline, and ten private docks, available for them. He was not quite sure of the figures, because if the Civil Lord would examine his speech he would find that he and the First Lord differed considerably in their statements as to the numbers of docks available for "Dreadnoughts" in May of last year. The contention had been advanced in the House that we had only one dock available in the North Sea, and that a private dock, with only 26½ feet over the sill, and that, since the "Dreadnought" drew two or three feet more water than she was designed to do, she would not be able to use that dock. It was obvious that as this Parliament got older they would never be satisfied with one dock at Rosyth. The demand would be for more, and in fact the scheme provided room for two more docks. It would be advanced that the Germans had seven docks built and building in the North Sea, and one projected, and if it were to be regarded that a dockyard on one side of the North Sea was an answer for a dockyard on the other side, it was certain that people would demand more on our Fast Coast. He did not agree with that contention, and it had proved to be utterly erroneous strategy. It was the sort of strategy that plunged us into the waste of money at Alderney when Parliament eventually stopped the works. What he contended was that the Government, in listening to their Naval advisers in reference to Rosyth, should not be content with being told that the Rosyth scheme would be useful. They should ask whether it was vital to the safety of the country, and he did not believe any expert 804 could really get up to say that it was. The Civil Lord had not yet told them anything about the alternatives to the Rosyth scheme. He had not told them whether the Admiralty had tried to inquire amongst the shipping ports as to whether they were willing to provide docks if they were subsidised. There was Grimsby, and there was the Thames. If a dock was provided under the President of the Board of Trade's scheme for the Thames, they would obtain a few miles off the resources of the Thames shipbuilding works. The Government were not allowing the Thames works to tender for "Invincibles" and "Dreadnoughts," because there was no dock available on the Thames for ships of that size. Judging by the experience of Colombo, where for a small subsidy of £159,000 they obtained one dock, they ought to be able to obtain the services of four or five private docks round the coast, and three or four at any rate on the East Coast, by the subsidy method for a very small sum as compared with the Rosyth expenditure. That these docks would be catering for the mercantile marine was a positive advantage as it kept them in practice and extended their resources. His next point was that the Civil Lord of the Admiralty had told them nothing about floating docks. He believed one sufficient to accommodate a "Dreadnought" would cost about £200,000, but he did not know, and at any rate it was quite feasible for the Admiralty to station one at Sheerness, and one at Rosyth if they wanted one there, and at the latter place to build engineering workshops on shore, and then the expenditure would be one-seventh or one-eighth of what they proposed to incur now at Rosyth. Finally, there was the alternative of the old Chatham scheme. The late Civil Lord of the Admiralty, the hon. Member for Fareham, wanted to proceed with Chatham as well as Rosyth, he believed.
§ MR. BELLAIRS
Yes. The only argument he had heard advanced against the Chatham scheme of docks was that the river wanted dredging. Finally, he found that four or five miles dredging of the Medway would be sufficient. When he found that the Thames was 805 being dredged to the depth of 31 feet for a distance of twenty-one miles, at a cost of £200,000, and that the Medway had exactly the same nature of bottom and a less distance to carry the mud than in the case of the Thames, he could see no insuperable objection to adopt a scheme for Chatham. He recalled to mind that one of the best First Lords of the Admiralty, Lord Spencer, had said that it would be far better to incur double the expenditure on an old dockyard than to build a new one; and that in the long run, the expenditure would be less owing to the demands for equipment in the new dockyard. That criticism applied to Rosyth. Moreover, the cost of equipment, personnel, and forts, inevitably led to a much fuller expenditure beyond the estimates of the engineers. The Admiralty themselves acted on the principle of preferring an old dockyard to a new one, whenever anything happened to a ship abroad. They did so with the "Hood" who lost her rudder near Malta, where there was a very fine dockyard. They sent her home under convoy 2,500 mile; for repair past Gibraltar as well as Malta. The "Hibernia" was docked at Gibraltar and was strained in docking because they lacked experience in new dockyards, and so she was brought home afterwards for a thorough overhaul. The "Dominion" was docked, at Bermuda, but she was only patched up there, and subsequently brought to Chatham to be thoroughly done up. It was, therefore, perfectly evident that in order to get efficient repairs it was infinitely better to go a considerably greater distance to an old-established dockyard, as compared with a new one. He did not propose to go again into the history of Rosyth, but the hon. Member would admit that the forecast of the Berthing Committee of 1902 were not verified, but absolutely falsified. The terms of reference to the Committee were exceedingly limited. They never investigated the question of the bad administration of dockyards. They had improved the administration considerably of late years. They never investigated as to the number of obsolete ships that were in the dockyards, or the relief that could be afforded by building in the private dockyards. There was quite enough 806 accommodation at Plymouth for shipbuilding to provide sufficient competition to keep down contracting expenses and so Portsmouth could spe ialise on repair work. The only dock available for the "Dreadnoughts," the two "Lord Nelson's" and the eight "King Edwards" at Portsmouth was occupied by to "Dreadnought" when building for 124 days in 1906. Did that arise from the system or policy? His main point was that the only evidence before the Berthing Committee was that on. 31st March, 1900, there was a congested state of the dockyards as regirds the berthing of ships. Now the whole of that congestion was gone, and it was only when their forecats proved utterly erroneous that the strategical argument was invented. Under that argument the assumption was that Rosyth was immediately opposite the German coast. It was at the end of a coast-line, lying at right angles away from the German coast, so that Wilhelmshaven was distant from it 450 miles, as compared with 230 miles to Sheerness, and therefore, a disabled ship running at 10 knots an hour, would find Rosyth eighteen hours steaming further off. The distance to Portsmouth from the German naval port of Wilhelm haven was exactly the same as to Rosyth. As regarded the strategical argument they would have in the case of Rosyth the main line of communication which presented a great broad front of open sea, whereas in the line for Plymouth, Portsmouth, Chatham, Sheerness, to the south, they had narrow seas, and an easily defended front which would be difficult to break through. Moreover, they had at Rosyth two lines of communication—from the Baltic as well as from Wilhelmshaven—which weakened concentration, and gave less ability to defend the line of communications to the base than was the case on the southern line. The way a line of communication, was defended was not by patrolling, but by blockading the enemy's coast; and generally speaking, a line of destroyers would be stretched across the channel, but the blockade in the front of the line of communication at Rosyth would be much wider owing to the greater stretch of open sea. Nobody could doubt that we should have to give as perfect a defence 807 as we could devise to the southern line and all the vast trade to the Thames, and to add a northern line of communication stretching along 450 miles to Wilhelmshaven simply meant dispersion of effort and weakening of forces. His right hon. friend the Member for the Forest of Dean was very fond of referring to mines. There were four elements of luck to a German mining ship in order to drop mines in the tides off Portsmouth, which was his favourite instance. In the first place that ship would have to leave Wilhelmshaven on a dark night; on the second night it would have to break through the Straits of Dover; on the third night it would arrive at Ports mouth, because Portsmouth could not be approached in open day; and the fourth piece of coincident luck was to arrive when the tide suited in order that the mines might drift in with the tide. But if the Admiralty would only allow a sufficient number of cruisers and torpedo craft they would be able to stop these operations of an enemy's fleet. In addition, a great naval Power like ourselves, having full communications, could draw upon all the resources of the country, and it was a far simpler matter for us than for the Russians at Port Arthur to use ordinary trawling vessels to sweep channels clear of mines ahead of our warships. He was not one who believed in nursing a Navy; and most of the brick and mortar projects involved nursing and a provision of things behind the Navy. That was what occurred to the Russians at Port Arthur. He believed that they could demoralise a Navy just as easily by bricks and mortar and by going beyond the necessities of the case as they could demoralise a boy by too much nursing. There was a disease of over-cleverness. Why should they try to meet all the possible incidents of a war in advance? Such a policy had lost us many campaigns. The Russian Baltic Fleet was overloaded with coals and stores so as to take them 2,500 miles beyond Vladivostock. The Japanese did the opposite and stripped their ships for the day of battle of all superfluous gear. The result was that the armour belt of the Russian ships was under the water-line and the Japanese easily sunk them. He believed that over-cleverness was at the bottom of the 808 Rosyth scheme, and that we were diverting money essentially required for the Navy to mere bricks and mortar which would avail nothing on the day of battle.
§ *MR. MACKARNESS (Berkshire, Newbury)
said he would like to support the hon. Gentleman who had demanded fuller information on the subject of Rosyth. He had heard reasons against the Rosyth, scheme from a distinguished sailor outside the House similar to those urged by the hon. Member for Lynn Regis, who himself was an expert. He had heard the making use of private dockyards on points, on the East Coast advocated as far less costly than building a great dockyard at Rosyth, and he asked why that was an impossible solution of the problem. But. apart from all technical arguments, the fact that struck the ordinary layman was that this project was never thought of until the year 1904. ["Oh, yes."] He was not aware that it was ever advocated publicly either inside or outside the House until about the year 1904; and from 1904 to 1908 it had been allowed by successive Governments to remain in a state of suspended animation. Why should the Government have all of a sudden come to the conclusion that it was necessary to build as a matter of urgency this dockyard at Rosyth? He could think of no reason except it were the German scare. If Rosyth was to be taken in the nature of a threat to the German nation, he and his friends would protest again it. If there was any other reason he was sure his right hon. friend would tell them what it was. It had been suggested to them by naval experts, whose opinions were well worth listening to, that in the event of war, if we had a great naval base at Rosyth, the result would be that our Fleet would be divided, and in case of an engagement it would be necessary for the two divisions of the Fleet to unite, and that would not be a good thing in the face of a he stile fleet. He was not, however, competent to judge of these things as an expert, but from the common-sense view there seemed to be something in that. The Government were asking them to embark upon a project which would lead every year to what' was called an automatic increase, and his right hon. friend had warned them in almost brutally frank. 809 language that they must be prepared next year for a larger Estimate in view of that automatic increase. Therefore, he thought if was desirable that they should be satisfied as to the necessity of this project, and he had ascertained by inquiry himself from many experts that they were by no means convinced upon that point.
§ *MR. W. PEARCE (Tower Hamlets, Limehouse)
called attention to the necessity for deep water docks being provided on the Thames near London. The Board of Trade was chiefly concerned with this matter, but he would suggest that the Admiralty should join in order to find a solution of the problem. By general consent it was admitted that they wanted two new large docks on the Thames—one in the neighbourhood of Tilbury, and one nearer London, in the vicinity of the Victoria Docks. If the Thames had docks capable of accommodating large battleships, it would enable the Admiralty to make use of the great resources of the Thames Ironworks Company. This would then give another competitor with regard to shipbuilding. Lately, the Thames Ironworks Company had been precluded from tendering for battleships because there were no docks on the Thames large enough to receive battleships of modern type. He would, however, remind the Admiralty that in the past they had built some of the most famous battleships in the world, including several for the Japanese Navy. He was delighted that the hon. Member for King's Lynn had called attention to this matter, and urged that it should have the attention of the Admiralty.
§ *MR. NAPIER (Kent, Faversham)
said that like his hon. friend the Member for Newbury he did not claim the attention of this House because he knew anything of the matter from the experts' point of view. He rose not for the purpose of criticism, but in order to elicit a little information from the Government. He represented a constituency which bordered the Midway, and they had always wondered why it was necessary to go so far north as Rosyth for the selection of a port of repair for the large new ships. He had little doubt that 810 it was essential that there should be new docks in order to meet the new improvements in construction. He thought everyone was agreed that it was necessary to have docks for vessels of the "Dreadnought" and "Invincible" type, and it occurred to him that Sheerness might possibly be—he did not speak with certainty—a suitable place. As had been pointed out, Sheerness was not only very much nearer the German naval bass than Rosyth, but it was well protected by land defences, whereas in the case of Rosyth such defences would have to be constructed. It was generally admitted that the only possible danger to this country was a sudden raid. If that were to happen in the case of Sheerness, the fact that London was within short distance would be an advantage, which in the case of Rosyth was wholly lacking. There were always some 50,000 to 60,000 troops in the neighbourhood of the capital, whilst a regiment or two at the most was all the help Rosyth could look to in an emergency. He was told that it would be quite easy to deepen the channel so as to afford an entrance to Sheerness, and that to do so would not necessitate very extensive dredging. All that was required was to deepen the channel for about two and a half miles by, on an average, five or six feet. He believed that a channel 100 feet wide would probably be sufficient and dock accommodation would no doubt be necessary. If a graving dock were too expensive, probably a floating dock would answer the purpose. It was said that the dock at Rosyth would cost £3,000,000, and he could not think that the cost of deepening the channel of Sheerness to the necessary extent, together with the provision of a new floating dock (which would cost about £200,000) would exceed that sum, whilst it would adequately meet the needs of the situation. He hoped they should have some explanation as to why the Government had considered it necessary to adopt the Rosyth—and he was sure the more expensive—scheme.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN (Worcestershire, E.)
I need scarcely say that I do not rise to support the observations made by previous speakers. I entirely 811 dissent on this occasion from the views expressed by the hon. Member for King's Lynn, and I have no desire and no expectation like that entertained by the last two speakers who have taken part in the debate, that if a dock is to be built I can get that dock in my own constituency.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
It is not in the hon. Member's immediate neighbourhood, but it is in what I may call his sphere of influence.
§ MR. W. PEARCE
My hope in intervening was that of getting some advantage for the whole of London, which I think is often neglected by this House.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
I suppose not excluding Limehouse. But we need not waste time about that. My view, of course, is the direct opposite to that of the hon. Member for King's Lynn. I believe that the creation of this establishment, at least the minimum establishment contemplated by the Government, at Rosyth to be a matter of the most urgent public importance. I think that there has been much too great a delay about it already, and my one desire is that now that they have decided to carry it out the work shall be executed as expeditiously as possible. I made a suggestion to the hon. Gentleman when the Vote was under discussion before, that in calling for tenders for the execution of the work the Admiralty should indicate to the contractors that they would take into consideration, not merely the amount of the tender, but the time within which the contractor would undertake to complete the work, and the hon. Gentleman was good enough to say that he would bring that suggestion before his colleagues on the Board of Admiralty, and I hope that he will be 812 able to give us an exact account of the Admiralty's intentions when he speaks to-day. My reason for pressing this is, in the first place, that I believe this work to be one of peculiar urgency, and that we may have great need for this dock before, under any circumstances, it can now be completed. But even apart from that, it is of course obvious that when you are expending great capital sums like this it is more economical to proceed expeditiously than to dawdle over the work. The moment you begin to spend, your money is standing at a loss until you have the use of the work, and, therefore, the quicker you can complete the works the sooner you have the use of your money, and the more economical is the use of your expenditure. I am aware of what happened in another place yesterday. It was there stated that it is impossible for the Admiralty to spend more money or to make more progress than they have allowed for in the Estimates within the next financial year, because, it was stated, the Director of Works and his staff could not, until September, finish the plans which were necessary. I should like to inquire what exactly the meaning of that is. Does the making of the plans there alluded to mean the getting out of the quantities or not, because if you have only the plans finished by September then you have to get out the quantities. I am afraid the work will not be done till this next financial year, and I should very much hope that the work will be let out to tender in September at the very latest. I cannot set myself against the opinion of the present Director of Works as to the time that it will take him to complete his preparations. I know he is an admirable and indefatigable officer, and if he has the directions of the Admiralty he will proceed with all rapidity. But if that is so I regret the more the time that has been allowed to pass without this necessary preliminary having been carried out, and how much we have wasted during the last two years whilst the Government has been chewing the cud of this question over and over again. Now I come to the question of expediting the work, when you actually come to tendering and letting 813 the contract. The other day it was stated in another place by the First Lord of the Admiralty that he hoped to get the work done in seven years—I believe, I hope, we shall be able to do the work, not in ten years, but in seven years. I want to make it quite clear that the small sum put down for Rosyth this year does not indicate any slackness on the part of the Admiralty in pushing the work forward. The Director of Works at the Admiralty has informed me that it will take the whole of his staff until September, working overtime, to finish the plans which are necessary. I am also advised that under the contract itself a clause which would suggest a higher rate of tender if the work is completed in a short time is not a desirable condition. We think a better plan is one I propose to adopt. I am going to propose that a bonus shall be given to the contractor who takes the work if he completes it within the time he tenders for. Something of this character I am advised is a better plan than the other.Now I confess I do not understand what that means. What is the time which he will tender for? Is it the time named by the Government or will the contractors be allowed to say what is the earliest time in which they will be able to compete? I should hope the latter. I cannot see why that should not be. The practice in great industrial undertakings is to proceed in that way. In the case of a railway, for instance, where the company desire to earn dividends at the earliest possible moment or where the execution of the work interferes with the working of the line, it is a common thing to call attention to the fact that contractors who offer to do the work expeditiously will be favourably considered. If the Government are not going to do that, then I want to know what time the Government are going to indicate, and if it is to be as Lord Tweedmouth stated, seven years, does that mean for the completion of the whole of the work or only the completion of the dock and basin, so far as and in such a manner as to enable the Admiralty to use them in time of emergency. If it is for the completion of the whole work it is a very reasonable time, but if it means that the dock and basin will not be available for the use of the Admiralty until seven years are gone, then I cannot conceive why that should be so, except that there is a desire to spread the Estimate over a longer period.
§ *THE CIVIL LORD TO THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. LAMBERT,) Devonshire South Molton
The right hon. Gentleman asked, and I think quite legitimately, that we should expedite the work at Rosyth as much as possible, and with that I quite agree. He then asked whether we would give the contractors who would undertake to complete it in the shortest period of time, preference. We have carefully considered that question. I promised the other day to bring it before my colleagues and the result of my doing so is shown in the speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty in another place yesterday. We were advised that to give preference to any contractor who promised to complete the work expeditiously would not be advisable, but that a reasonable time should be fixed by the Admiralty for the completion of the work, that the contractor should be penalised for all the time he took beyond that period to complete, but that if he completed before the time he should receive a bonus. I cannot promise that that will be done, but that is what we have in our minds. I hope the House will not bind me to that statement, because, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, it is desirable in these matters to keep the Government in a safe position. We believe that it is not an unreasonable condition that the works themselves should be completed in seven years, but I do not include in that the necessary workshops which will probably take a year longer or perhaps a year and-a-half. I think the right hon. Gentleman was a little harsh on the Admiralty when he complained that they had wasted time. I can assure him that the careful preliminary preparations that have gone on will, in the long run, save both time and money. Rosyth is of rather a peculiar formation. At one point you have rocks, and close to them you have 60 or 70 feet of mud. It has been used as an argument against Rosyth as a Naval base. But the Admiralty do not propose to build their lock and docks on the places where there is this 60 or 70 feet of mud, and the project could not have been carried out economically but for the preliminary borings. I am informed that some docks have had to have 15 or 16 feet of concrete on the bottom, but we do not think 815 that will be necessary in this case, because the situation for the docks has been chosen where the rocks jut out and there will only be about 2½ feet of granolithic concrete required on the bottom. We hope the contract particulars will be got out about the time the right hon. Gentleman suggests.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
May I ask the hon. Gentleman one question before he passes away from this point? I presume that the Admiralty will consider the time not only for the completion of the whole, but for each item.
§ *MR. LAMBERT
It will be one contract, but I will bear that suggestion in mind. The hon. Member for King's Lynn went into the question of whether Rosyth was necessary for a naval base or not. Surely it is a little late in the day now to argue that question. But I think if hon. Members really look into the matter, and see how few docks we have on the East Coast they will recognise that it is necessary to provide some place at all events to accommodate these large ships of war. The hon. Member tells us we might with greater advantage have floating docks. Floating docks are all very well in places where there are no tides. But if there are tides the docks are apt to float with the tides. Moreover floating docks cannot be moored at sea; they must be in a basin somewhere. There was a suggestion that there should be a large scheme at Chatham or Sheerness as an alternative to Rosyth, but we have found that the cost of dredging necessary to convert Chatham into a naval base for these big ships would be prohibitive. Although we can dredge the Channel to the necessary depth the moment dredging takes place the mud silts in from the sides so that there would have to be continuous dredging. At Sheerness we are dredging to the depth of 26 feet at low water to enable ships of the "Dreadnought" class to get in end out at certain states of the tide. Then there is the question of sub idising private docks. The Admiralty would be glad to see built on the East Coast by private enterprise docks which would accommodate these big ships, but I would point out that a private dock has not the same advantages as a Government 816 dock for battleships. It is in the first place built for commercial purposes and is not equipped in the same way. A battleship might require to have a new section of armour plate put in, and there are none of the appliances in a private dock necessary for such a purpose. More than that, it is in the time of peace that docks are wanted as well as in time of war, and if in a private dock you have a private ship it would be a difficult thing to say that the ship must come out in order that a battleship should go in. Of course that could be done in time of war, but not in time of peace. I have been informed that after careful investigation it has been decided that this policy of sub idising private docks would not be satisfactory because in the first place we could not have the first use of the docks and they have not the necessary appliances; and, secondly, we should have to pay large subsidies towards the building of these docks and probably large annual subsidies in addition for their use. There is another matter about private docks, that they have only about 20 feet 6 inches on the dock sill, while the dock and lock at Rosyth will have about 36 feet minimum. My hon. friend will see that these new Rosyth docks in times of emergency will accommodate ships of the new type which require more water than is available in a private dock.
§ MR. W. PEARCE
pointed out that it was proposed to spend two to three millions at once on deep water docks, and asked whether anything could be done by the Admiralty joining with the Board of Trade in considering the provision of deep water docks on the Thames.
§ *MR. LAMBERT
We have been getting the plans ready, and we are prepared to go on. The late Chancellor of the Exchequer complains that we have not gone on fast enough, and I think I must leave the two critics to answer one another. As regards the question of my hon. friend the Member for Lime-house, I am not very well acquainted with the question of the Port of London, 817 but my right hon. friend is on the Committee which is dealing with this very point, and I am sure that if the Admiralty by any means in their power can get more dock accommodation in the neighbourhood of the East Coast, they will certainly bear in mind my hon. friend's suggestion. I confess I am not conversant with the question of the Port of London, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the suggestion made here this afternoon will be very sympathetically considered by the Admiralty having regard to the various interests concerned.
§ MR. ARTHUR LEE (Hampshire' Fareham)
The Civil Lord has dealt with the subject of Rosyth, but he made no reference to a work of almost equal importance and certainly equal urgency, and that is the new lock at Portsmouth. He has told us that special arrangements will be made under the contract for Rosyth by which to effect the completion of the work in the shortest possible time. The principle, not by any means a new one, is to be followed of offering bonuses to the contractors in the event of the time assigned by the Admiralty being shortened, and inflicting fines where it is exceeded. What I wish to ask is whether a similar practice will be followed in the case of Portsmouth lock. It is unnecessary to detain the House by again urging the immense importance of this work. The fact is that the only available dock for the "Dreadnought" is practically unapproachable at the present time, and will be until the new locks are completed. I venture to express the hope that the Admiralty will adopt the same policy with regard to the work at Portsmouth which they have adopted in reference to Rosyth. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell us whether that is the case; and whether he can give any answer to the question which I addressed to him on a previous occasion with regard to the two other docks at Rosyth which are marked out in the plans which he has placed in the Tea Room? I think it must be obvious to anyone who has studied this problem of docking, that long before the Rosyth works which are now sanctioned have been completed three extra docks will be a necessity. 818 asked the hon. Gentleman on a previous occasion whether he would not represent that matter to the Admiralty, in view of the fact that it is enormously cheaper to build docks all at one time rather than spread them over several contracts, or delay and hamper the use of the new docks while further docks are being built. I should like an answer to that point, and I certainly hope the Government will turn a deaf ear to the criticism of the hon. Member for Newbury, that there is no special urgency for this year. There is not only special urgency for this year, but there was special urgency for last year and the year before. The reason for urgency is that the present Government, of which the hon. Member is a supporter, has decided to maintain in the North Sea. a fleet of ships of the "Dreadnought" class. There is no docking accommodation for that fleet, and docking accommodation must be provided, in view of the fact that it takes quite as long to build a dock as to build a battleship. The fact that the Government has already decided to build those big ships makes the matter one of the utmost urgency. I think the urgency comes to be apparent to everyone, and I hope the Admiralty will not be in the least deflected from. their decision, but will proceed even now, at the eleventh hour, with all due speed, disregarding any representations of the hon. Member opposite.
§ *MR. LUPTON (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
said, in reference to the answer given, by the Civil Lord of the Admiralty as to dock accommodation and the Admiralty's acting in conjunction with the Board of Trade, that the fact of the hon. Gentlemen's not fully understanding the question of the Port of London was a very good reason for further delay in proceeding with this matter, because it was one of the vexed questions whether the Thames or the-Forth was to be our great naval base. The Thames had been our chief naval base. Now it was proposed to remove it right away to the Forth. Surely one of the principal elements in that decision was the suitability of the Thames for deep-water docks. The Civil Lord said he really had not considered that question, and did not understand it. When 819 a man of his great capacity, with his knowledge and experience of the work of the Admiralty, said he did not fully understand all the work that would have to be done in the Thames in connection with this matter, then it was safe to say that nobody else did—that it was a matter still to be thoroughly studied, and one still subject to proper inquiry. He certainly thought, in these circumstances, that to proceed with the construction of a new naval base, before the suitability of the Thames had been thoroughly threshed out, would be taking a leap in the dark. He hoped that the Admiralty for another year or two would pursue the policy of reflection and con-sideration—that they would chew the cud, as an hon. Member had remarked, of wise and sober reflections for a year or so longer. The urgency of this change of base to the River Forth was not so great as it appeared. It was quite true that the right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Opposition Bench had given the Government the very friendly and patriotic advice to push on with this expenditure; but he could not help seeing that hon. Gentlemen opposite were exceedingly anxious, as far as possible, that this expenditure should be completed by this Government, so that they themselves, if they came into office, would not have to find the money. Hon. Gentlemen opposite thought it better that the present Chancellor of the Exchequer should find the money for this great expenditure, and that they should be relieved from finding several millions to deal with Rosyth. They would then be able to show the country how much better financiers they were than the present Government, and how they were able to avoid taxation. If the Government followed the advice of hon. Gentlemen opposite the expenditure would increase to probably £5,000,000. They had far better take advice from their own supporters, from those who would and could keep them in office for a very long time if they chose, than from gentlemen opposite who would turn them out at the first opportunity. It was proposed to place these new docks where there was alternating mud and rock. He had himself had some experience of mud and of rock. He could build on mud, and he could build 820 on rock, but he could not build on half mud and half rock, and the man who tried to do so would find that his building would come to grief. He thought the contractor would be very careful, if he was to be put under penalties and a time limit, to include in his contract a great many provisions for extras in case of the foundations subsiding, and he had to carry out the drawings submitted to him. This was a very small sum of £30,000, and if it were only that perhaps it would not be worth while to say 30,000 words about it. But if they let the contract and if they followed the advice of the Front Opposition Bench, they would stand committed to an expenditure of £3,000,000. He made the practical suggestion that they should not let the contract at all, but that the Admiralty should proceed with the work in the same way as works were proceeded with by the County Council in London, namely, under an official who would employ men and buy material as it was wanted. If difficulties arose when the work was started in the northern river they could stop it, and, with a little reflection, find whether the money could not be spent in other ways. They should not be in a hurry. If once they let the contract the would be in for it, and they would be actually voting £3,000,000, which he ventured to think would be a great misfortune. Perhaps they would get a white elephant, or worse than a white elephant. The hon. Member for Fareham had said the other day that there was to be a great dock at Rosyth, and one of the advantages of the situation was that it was not so far from Glasgow, and that it could be connected with that city by canal. Everybody who had heard anything of engineering had heard of a ship canal between the Forth and the Clyde all his life. It was a very ancient project, hardly revived but to be dismissed because of the immense cost. Anyone who knew the ground was aware that they had to cut through a level very nearly 160 feet above the sea. There were two types of canal, one with locks and the other on the sea level. The latter was the only suitable kind of canal to let the British Navy through—big ships and little ships. He did not think a lock canal would be a good thing. 821 How much less than £100,000,000 would a canal from Grangemouth to Glasgow cost? Rather than spend that in order to have the canal for possible problematic use at some future date would it not be better to have the interest on the money—say, £4,000,000 a year—spent on the Navy? They might dismiss that ship canal. The Royal Commission had a scheme for a lock canal, but it was only for merchant ships. If they had a lock canal to take "Dreadnoughts," the cost would approach £50,000,000. The Manchester Ship Canal was no longer, if as long, and had no great works, and yet it had cost nearly £25,000,000. If Rosyth was selected because it was a suitable place for connecting by canal with Glasgow, let the House pause before it entered on a scheme which was certain to cost before it was finished, £100,000,000. He thought he had suggested reasons why the First Lord of the Admiralty should pause before he took a step on the road to ruin. Surely on the East Coast facilities could be got at a much cheaper price than they were now proposing. The Great Central Railway Company were building a great dock at Grimsby. Had the Admiralty approached them and considered what the extra cost would be of making that dock suitable for "Dreadnoughts" and putting in one or two graving docks? They would find it very much cheaper than going up to the Forth. Then there was the Tyne. He understood there was a dock in the Tyne that would take a "Dreadnought." The object of special dock accommodation was to get a dock which would take a ship at all stages of the tide. Was it absolutely essential to spend all this money to get in ships at all stages of the tide? The only objection to Sheerness and the Medway was that ships could only be got in at a certain state of the tide. Quite apart from expense it would be a strategical mistake to move our Naval base from Chatham to Rosyth. London was really the heart of the Empire. So long as London was safe the country and the Empire were safe. They were going to move the Naval base away from London and close the establishments at Chatham and Sheerness—they were not going to keep establishments idle at great expense—for London was going to be protected from 822 Rosyth. London could be as well protected from Portsmouth as from Rosyth. They had to consider the moral effect on the nation. All these preparations were for the supremely unlikely event, which he believed would never occur, of some nation in the North Sea wishing to attack us. They were going to sail down and shell the City of London, and it would be said they could not do that because, there was a Fleet 500 miles away in Rosyth. Would that calm the public mind, or would the First Lord immediately telegraph to Rosyth to send the Fleet to the Thames because London was in a funk? London would naturally be in a funk if the great Fleet, for which it had paid so many millions, was not there. What would happen would be that the Fleet would be divided, just as in the Russo-Japanese War the Russian Fleet was destroyed because it was in four parts, one at Vladivostock, one at Port Arthur, one in the Black Sea, and the other at St. Petersburg. The Japanese Fleet destroyed them all in detail, one by one, though it was inferior to the whole Russian Navy if concentrated in one Fleet. That was very likely what would happen to us if a great part of our Fleet was moved away from Rosyth. A powerful, fierce, and clever foe, with the biggest ships and guns and the best men, would sail for the Forth and find our Fleet at Rosyth. It must either keep under the guns of the forts or go out and fight, and then it would meet the whole of the enemy's fleet in the Forth and, as the part was less than the whole, so our Fleet would be destroyed by this enormous German Fleet which was going to crush us, because the greater part of our Fleet was in the Thames, or at Portsmouth, or Plymouth, or in the Mediterranean or the Irish Channel. It seemed to him that they were just paving the way for destruction. Let them take the alternative and suppose the biggest part of the Fleet was at Rosyth and the rest at the Nore. Down came the German Fleet to attack us at the entrance of the Thames. He took it they would go out to fight. We had not learnt the lesson of cowardice yet. When they went out they would find the whole German Fleet coming upon 823 them. Could anything be more absurd or a more reckless waste of money than this partition of the Fleet by building a new base at Rosyth? He had listened with such ears as he possessed, but had found no argument in favour of this change of base. The only argument was that we were going to have more "Dreadnoughts" than docks, but that was no reason for changing the base. He had heard the suggestion from the Civil Lord that there was some difficulty in dredging the Medway. Was that all? He most solemnly and sincerely advised the Government as one of their friends, not one of those who wished to see them done for and ruined and turned out of office because they were extravagant when they had said they would be economical, to reconsider their decision. It was said that the Scottish came down south and got most of the good things, and now they were going to get the naval base. With regard to the dredging of the Medway, they might get reports and estimates from engineering firms, as to whether the running in of the sides of the dredged channel could be averted by making the slopes of the dredged channel a little more gentle. He did not pretend to possess the knowledge of an engineer who had specially studied the bearings of the question, and it might be that the right hon. Gentleman had other information on the subject, but he had looked at the map, and the appearance on the map was of a wide waterway where it would be possible to get a gradual slope, and they all knew that there was an angle at which most sorts of mud would not run. If they could dredge the channel they would save many millions of money by utilising the old docks and the old establishments, and what he thought was more important still, they would keep our forces more concentrated. They did not know that it was Germany—it might be France or a combination of Mediterranean Powers with France, that was going to attack us. How did they know? Yet they were going to send the Fleet right away to Rosyth to resist an invasion that might come from France. They knew very well that Germany had never attacked us. We had never been at war with Germany. She had always 824 been our ally. He himself, although for the sake of argument he had adopted the hypothesis of a mighty German fleet, did not believe in its existence either now or in ten years time. We wished to be friends with France, but we had not always been so, unfortunately, and we were far more likely to come into collision with France than with Germany. But it was proposed to establish a naval base at Rosyth, far away from the South Coast, because certain newspaper writers had tried to get up a scare. Let this expense be incurred, if at all, by people who honestly and sincerely believed, as Gentlemen opposite did, that the scheme was necessary for the Navy. Ministers, whilst they were going to do it, were doing it in a sort of half-hearted way. They thought it was a thing that had to be done, but were very sorry for it, and did not quite like it. But Gentlemen opposite would do it gaily and gladly. The more millions they spent the more they would be pleased, while the more the present Government spent, the worse their supporters would be pleased. He asked them, before they abandoned the Thames and the Medway, to let their supporters have the advantage of seeing some Reports on the question, by which they might know whether it was true or not—he had been told it was not true—that there was difficulty in making good waterways, and deep water docks, at all states of the tide. He earnestly hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not let the contract for Rosyth, but would hold his hand and obtain reports from civil engineers, and consider whether it was safe or not to divide the Fleet, because that could only be done on the hypothesis that we had a superabundant strength—more than enough for any reasonable purpose. If we had such superabundant strength, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman, before starting on Rosyth would alter his shipbuilding programme and reduce his other expenses to some reasonable limit. It had been said that Rosyth was adopted as a base for strategical reasons. How could they formulate a plan of strategy before they knew their enemy? He asked the right hon. Gentleman to hold his hand at least 825 for another year. If the Opposition next year abused him, he did not need to trouble, because they would abuse him whatever he did.
§ MR. MUNRO FERGUSON (Leith Burghs)
said he hoped the advice which had been given by the hon. Member for Sleaford would not carry weight on the Ministerial side of the House. It might be possible to save a million or two for some years by the postponement of these works, but that policy would be accompanied by a growing public danger. Not only expert opinion, but the country at large, had determined that a strategical port in the North Sea was necessary, and ought to be constructed without any undue delay. He was glad to hear that the time fixed for the execution of the works at Rosyth had been expedited, and that they were likely to be completed in seven years instead of ten. There was no part of Admiralty policy which required to be pushed forward so much as the completion of this undertaking at Rosyth. If London or the Empire was to be defended from the North Sea, it could only be done with a naval base on the East Coast. He cared very little where the site was, but it had now been settled and he hoped no further delay would arise in the carrying out of the works. In the past, investigations had been carried out at Rosyth in a somewhat leisurely fashion, but he understood that they had now been concluded. He felt sure that the Admiralty had been well advised in securing that the work should not be begun except under the most favourable conditions.
§ SIR F. BANBURY (City of London)
said the hon. Member for Sleaford had stated the Government had been extravagant, although they promised to be economical, and he quite agreed with him. The hon. Member had also advised the Admiralty to follow the example of the Works Department of the London County Council, and send down a certain number of men headed by an officer, who should buy materials and employ men, and after enough money had been spent the men were to do nothing.
§ MR. LUPTON
said he did not say they were to do nothing. What he said 826 was that they should be set upon other work.
§ SIR F. BANBURY
asked where would the other work be found? He had listened with interest to the speech of the hon. Member for King's Lynn, who had stated that in his opinion it was a mistake to spend money upon fortifications because the money would be better spent upon ships. He believed, however, that the balance of opinion was that these dockyards were necessary, and that they should be completed as soon as possible. To buy a site, spend money upon it, and then stop, could only result in obtaining no advantage for the money spent. That was a most uneconomical proceeding. He hoped matters would be so arranged that instead of taking seven years, the docks would be finished in four years. The remarks made by the hon. Member for Limehouse about London and the Thames appeared to have been misunderstood. His hon. friend was not suggesting large docks that would take a "Dreadnought," but merely advocating that certain work should be given to the Thames Shipbuilding Company, and that had nothing whatever to do with the completion of the work at Rosyth. He wished to ask whether the Government could give to the House any information about the docks at Gibraltar. Not many years ago, they used to have interesting discussions upon those docks, and the predecessor of the hon. Member for King's Lynn used to speak by the hour on them. They had heard nothing about them in this debate, and although Gibraltar appeared in the Estimates, nothing like full information was given. He would like to know whether those works had fulfilled the expectations of the Admiralty. He understood from what the hon. Member for King's Lynn said, that repairs could not be done at either Gibraltar or Malta.
§ SIR F. BANBURY
said it seemed to him that the money which had been spent at Gibraltar had been wasted if the ships had to be brought home for large repairs. The idea of a dock at Malta was that it should be capable of taking the largest 827 vessels, and he would like to hear from the Admiralty what answer they had to give to the criticisms of the hon. Member for King's Lynn upon this point.
§ *MR. LAMBERT
I assume that the hon. Baronet opposite refers to the Loan works at Gibraltar. All that has been completed and there are only in this Vote small items such as dredging. There are two docks at Gibraltar capable of taking a vessel of the "Dreadnought" type. I understand that the point raised by the hon. Member for Lime-house was not an alternative to Rosyth, but something additional. I can promise him that his point will have the consideration of the Admiraity. As an alternative to Rosyth, what he suggested is impossible, because we could not get up the Thames. The hon. Member for Fareham asked me if the new lock at Portsmouth could be expedited. I can assure him that we realise very deeply the inconvenience that will be caused at Portsmouth while this lock is being made, and we shall take every means in our power to expedite the work. I may say that it is to the contractors' benefit to finish the work as soon as possible, because the Admiralty only pay for work completed. With regard to additional docks at Rosyth, we are now considering whether it is wise to put into the main contract a provision asking for alternative tenders, so that if required those docks could be carried out by the same contractor. I have been asked whether double docks long enough for two "Dreadnoughts" can be made at Rosyth. I am told that such a dock would necessitate having an entrance at both ends and that is impossible at Rosyth. Otherwise you have to take out the ship nearest the basin before the ship inside can be taken out. That might lead to considerable delay, and I am informed that this practice has not been adopted except in the case of very small ships. It is essential, if you put two ships in one dock, that you should have an entrance at both ends so that the ship which is ready should be able to come out at once. I would ask the House to let us have this Vote now.