§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £2,781,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of Naval Armaments, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1911."
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
I should like to ask if the sum of £400,000 increase is the proportion for armament of the £1,429,000 put down for building the thirty ships supposed to be in this year's programme, but which really will be in next year's? I would also like to ask if the gun-mounting manufacture is satisfactory? Are the Coventry works in full swing with Vickers and Armstrong? I believe that the Coventry Works were not allowed to tender for two years and six months, and I would like to know if they are now working, as well as the other great firms I have mentioned? I also want to ask the hon. Gentleman whether these new battleships—so-called "Dreadnoughts"—have an auxiliary armament, and if they have what is the character of it? Would he also tell the Committee how far the 13.5 gun has got through its experiments if it is satisfactory, and what proportion of rounds can it fire per minute? I should also like to know what is the reserve of heavy guns now for the main arm of the Fleet? Is it one in four, or has it been reduced? I should be glad also if he would tell us whether the Admiralty are making any reserve in regard to the 13.5 guns with the others they have got under construction.
§ The SECRETARY to the ADMIRALTY (Dr. Macnamara)
The hon. Gentleman will see the increases of the Vote under the different sub-heads, and be will be 1141 glad to know that under this particular Vote we are not using any stores without replacement, as we have done up to last year. The cash Vote will not be augmented at all by this means.
§ Lord CHARLES BERESFORD
My point was not quite clear evidently. The total increase of this Vote for the first item is £400,000; in another item for guns it is £292,300. What I wanted to know is if those sums of money represent the proportion of the £1,400,000 for new ships, and if that is all that is voted for armaments?
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
Of course, that depends upon the instalments which are payable. I will tell the Noble Lord that under the item F for guns he will see a provision of £1,003,300, which is very considerably above the figure for 1909–10, which was approximately £819,000, while in 1908–9 it was £554,211, and in 1907–8 it was £690,972, so that we have a very considerable increase in the provision made over previous years, and, although I cannot answer his question, because I do not know the extent of the instalments which will be paid, obviously we have made a very much larger provision for guns than has been made in any Estimate for the last six or seven years. I am just informed that there are no instalments becoming payable within this year for guns for the ships in the new programme. The Coventry Company is tendering. With respect to 13.5 guns, about which the Noble Lord enquires, perhaps, as the First Lord of the Admiralty is here, he will reply.
§ Mr. LEE
The hon. Gentleman has not given us as full information as we desire. I think that the main point of the question which my hon. Friend wished to put is whether the Coventry Ordnance Company is now being admitted to full competition with other ordnance-producing firms in the way in which it has not been admitted for many years past, and whether they are permitted to tender on precisely the same terms as Vickers, Maxim and Company and Armstrong, Whitworth and Company. That is the question which the Noble Lord wished to put, because an uneasy feeling has been growing up that there has been no real competition in this matter, as the two other firms were in combination. Therefore it was thought there was no real competition, and the country was not getting the benefit it should get.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I wish to assure the hon. Member that the Coventry Ordnance Works are competing with the two other great gun manufacturers for gun-mountings of all kinds.
§ Mr. McKENNA
No. We have made arrangements with the Coventry Ordnance Company that they will not make any arrangements with the other two firms, and therefore they are a competing firm, an independent body who will not join the others.
§ Mr. ASHLEY
I should like to ask one question with reference to the submarines and torpedoes. Of course one knows that the submarine goes through its ordinary course of firing torpedoes every year, but it has occurred to me to ask whether, as a matter of fact, the submarine does fire a live torpedo; that is to say, the kind of torpedo fired in time of war, or whether their only practice is aiming at a target in time of peace. I understand it is not like a destroyer, inasmuch as the submarine must fire its torpedoes from the bow or stern. Therefore it is obvious when it is going to attack a ship which it wishes to hurt it must either fire the torpedo when brought to a standstill or when it is going forward or backward. If it is going forward it obviously must have some time before the torpedo is fired to get out of harm's way. I do not pretend to be an expert in naval warfare, but I have inquired from many naval officers, and they tell me that they have never known torpedoes fully charged to be fired from submarines, and therefore I put the question because it appears to me that submarines may, in time of war, suffer considerable danger from their own torpedoes.
§ Mr. McKENNA
The life of a gun is determined not by the number of years, but by the number of rounds that are fired
§ Mr. HUNT
I am perfectly aware of that. It does not take much to know that, but may I ask the right hon. Gentleman can he give us any idea how many rounds one of these big 12-inch guns will fire, and from that can he tell us when these 12-inch guns can fire no more rounds has he got any guns to replace them, or are we going to be in the case I understood him to be in on the question of cordite—that in six months' time all those guns may be worn out, and we have no more guns to fire. If the reports are true, the German guns will shoot a great many more shots accurately than ours will, and can he give us some idea of how many rounds these 12-inch guns will shoot, and continue to be moderately accurate, because if they will only shoot from eighty to 100 rounds, or whatever it may be, after some time unless we have got a good reserve, which I understand not to be the case, we shall be in difficulties? Do I understand that the reserve is one in four?
§ Mr. HUNT
Will he tell us what the guns are, and will he tell us what the reserve is, because if all these guns are put to shooting fast it does not seem to me that they will last six months? It is not a laughing subject, and the right hon. Gentleman will laugh the other side of his mouth if we are not prepared.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I can only make the same reply as I made with regard to cordite. We had the same reserve of guns that existed in the time of the late Government. There has been no change of policy in that respect. Those who were responsible for the Admiralty of that day were quite satisfied, and the Admiralty of this day are also quite satisfied. It is not in the interests of the public service to publish our reserves. We never do publish them, and I can see no possible reason why we should give information to foreign 1144 nations which no foreign nation would dream of giving to us, and which cannot serve any public purpose. The maintenance of reserves of guns and cordite has had the support of both parties continuously, and I cannot see why any suspicion should be thrown upon the policy of the Government at the present time which was not thrown upon the policy of the late Government.
§ Mr. HUNT
The point I put to the right hon. Gentleman was that the right hon. Gentleman himself said he did not know how long the guns might last. It might be six months or a year. What we want to know is whether we shall have enough to go on with when the guns and ammunition have been used for six months or a year.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I have explained to the hon. Gentleman the state of things, and it does not require very much intelligence to understand what I said. It is impossible to say whether the guns will last six months or a year, because it depends upon the number of rounds fired. But, whatever the number of rounds fired is, we have got the requisite number in reserve, whether you fire those rounds in six months or five months or a year. That period it is impossible to say, but, at any rate, we believe that we have enough guns and cordite to last us longer, and more than longer, for us to be able to supply ourselves with new guns and new cordite when required.
§ Mr. STANIER
In order to clear this matter up, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us if the reserve of guns is now in the same proportion or if it is not better than it was in 1905 or 1906?
§ Mr. MACNAMARA
I understand the point is this, that a submarine following in the trail of her own torpedo might ultimately get so close to the objective of the torpedo as to be the victim of the explosion caused by the torpedo. I cannot answer that question. But, at any rate, submarines, although they fire forward, and not on the beam, go through the same practice as destroyers. Whether the point the hon. Member has raised has been considered by those who go into these high technical matters, I cannot say, but I will make inquiry.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I ought to correct one statement I made. Our reserve of guns, I said, was the same as in 1905, but it is better. The proportion is higher.
§ [VOTE 10.]