HC Deb 20 March 1912 vol 35 cc2005-22

Considered in Committee.

[Mr. WHITLEY in the Chair.]


Postponed proceedings resumed on Question, "That 136,000 officers, seamen, and boys be employed for the Sea and Coastguard Services for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1913, including 17,200 Royal Marines."

11.0 P.M.


I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he is perfectly satisfied with the numbers which he is joining? In 1909 we were 20,000 men short in the Navy. Since then we have joined 3,000 in 1910–11, and 3,000 in 1911–12. That is only 6,000. Can the right hon. Gentleman hold out any hope to the Committee that if there is a Supplementary Estimate there will be more men added to the Fleet? The Committee will remember that if the men had been joined in 1909 we should have had the advantage of 15,000 additional men with three years' training, and, as it takes five years to train, the advantage of joining early is obvious.

Mr. FRED HALL (Dulwich)

I could not help feeling that some of those congratulations which have been showered upon the right hon. Gentleman should have been showered upon hon and right hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House. Those who fought with regard to this matter from 1906 to 1910 always put forward the idea that everything possible must be done to strengthen the Navy. The First Lord of the Admiralty has taken the advice that has been tendered to him from this side of the House. I was particularly pleased to see in the Memorandum of the First Lord of the Admiralty that in the event of increases in the existing pro[...]grammes of other naval Powers His Majesty's Government will be prepared to adopt a similar course. During the Debate I have noticed that the majority of the remarks have been directed to Germany and Great Britain. I can understand that Germany should have been referred to in the consideration of this question to a somewhat large extent. We must not overlook the fact that as far as we are concerned our Navy has to be distributed over all parts of the world for the protection of oar trade routes and our Colonies, whereas Germany keeps her Navy more or lees closely at hand. The House will agree that if Germany finds it necessary to increase her Navy we must, on our part, take the greatest possible care to see that under no circumstances whatever shall we go below the standard, which is one of the fundamental principles of the Unionist party. Hon. Members below the Gangway opposite have suggested the possibility of making some agreement with other Powers to reduce armaments, but it will not do any harm, in view of that suggestion, to state what took place at the annual meeting of the German Navy League held at Kiel in 1909. Admiral Von Weber, manager of the League, said:— With the defences of our trade and our coasts, the task of the German Navy is not exhausted. Recent events in the south-east of Europe, and the grouping of the Powers which was then exhibited, make it perfectly clear that in the future a strong Navy will be indispensable to the political prestige of the German Empire and for the assurance of peace. We should be tying our hands for all time to come if we enter into an agreement with the great Powers which prevented us, as the peace at Tilsit once prevented a dejected Prussia regarding her own interests. I think that is perfectly plain as far as Germany is concerned. They consider it necessary that under no circumstances will they enter into any agreement whatever for a reduction of armaments. What Germany intends to do with her fleet we cannot say, but we have to consider what she will be able to do with such a force as she is building. I think it may be reasonably inferred from a recent visit to Berlin by a Member of His Majesty's Government that he went, he saw, but he did not conquer. Anybody who knows anything with regard to shipbuilding knows perfectly well that ton for ton one has to take the question of the fighting value and machinery of old ships as against new ships. It is therefore of the utmost importance that the House should consider the expenditure that has taken place on new ships during the past few years. Looking at the reports which have been issued by the First Lord of the Admiralty, I find that the estimated expenditure for construction in 1911 was £17,566,000. According to the Paper recently issued, the actual expenditure for 1911–12 was £15,063,000, or £2,500,000 below the amount that it was estimated should be expended. I can perfectly understand that under certain circumstances the amount estimated would not be expended, but I cannot help thinking that that is a very considerable difference. Last year, in Germany, the Vote for construction alone was £11,710,859, which comes very measurably within the amount that has been expended during 1911–12 on construction of ships in our own country.

Matters of personnel and the question of ammunition have been very concisely placed before the House, but there is one matter which I should particularly like to draw attention, and that is the question which I consider, next to "Dreadnoughts," the most important point in Navy construction. I refer to the question of cruisers. Nobody knows more about this than the Noble Lord the Member for Portsmouth and the utmost importance there is in that branch of the Service. What is the duty of the cruiser? The first duty is to act as scout and the second is to protect our mercantile marine in case of war. According to the statement that has been issued recently by the First Lord of the Admiralty I acknowledge, and willingly acknowledge, that this branch of the Service has been improved, but there is an enormous amount to be done in this way. I find that the addition in cruisers since 1st April, 1911, was four protected cruisers and two unarmoured cruisers, and on 1st April of this year, I believe I am right in saying, that there will be under construction six battle cruisers and eight second-class protected cruisers and also two unarmoured cruisers. My right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary will, I think, remember that of those under construction four will be located in Australia and New Zealand. With regard to this matter we naturally have got to take into consideration what other countries are doing as to the construction of what is the most important part of our war programme. I would like to take the figures, and I find that Germany has a distinct advantage in this way. I am not going simply and solely on numerical strength, but also into the question of the age of those cruisers. I think the Committee will agree with me that that, at all events, is one of the important points. I find from a Parliamentary Paper, issued on 20th May, 1911, Great Britain had sixty-eight afloat and Germany thirty-five. That might be taken as representing a two-Power standard, but, on being looked into, it cannot be so regarded. Last year my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool (Mr. Ashley) asked how many completed protected cruisers launched not more than twelve years there were in the British and German Fleets, respectively, on 31st March, 1904, and 31st March, 1911. The figure's given by the First Lord were, in 1904, British 48, German 18; and in 1911, British 24, and German 24—plainly showing that Germany had gone ahead in the construction of this class of vessel, while we had unfortunately got more or less behind. The answer to another important question in July proved how this class of ship had been neglected by the present Government. The First Lord then stated that the number of protected cruisers launched by Germany and Great Britain since 1907 was nine in each case. If we are to be satisfied with carrying on our construction at the same rate as other Powers we cannot possibly expect to maintain the supremacy and preponderance we have hitherto had. Take the question of "Dreadnoughts" and ships of that character. Our effective battle units number fifty-six. I have been assured by those who are thoroughly capable of judging that five cruisers should be allocated as the necessary appendages of every two "Dreadnoughts." That means that we require at least 140 of these cruisers. What is our position? On 31st March, 1911, the total number of unarmoured cruisers actually ready was seventy-nine, including eight scouts. We could not expect to have them all available at one time, so that we have barely more than half the number of cruisers required for the necessary complements of our battle units. I am very glad to find that the First Lord has agreed to the construction of eight of these important ships, which I consider the very eyes of the Fleet. Let me call the attention of the House to the fact that we in this country are placed in a totally different position in relation to the protection of the vast supply of our foodstuffs to any other country. The figures of our exports and imports of foodstuffs clearly demonstrate the absolute necessity that we should at all times take the greatest possible care to see that not only our "Dreadnoughts," but the units required by them for the full security of this country, are arranged for, so that the supremacy that we on this side have always advocated should be safeguarded to the fullest possible extent.


There is a word or two that in my judgment ought to be said before this series of Debates on the Navy and Army close. Perhaps my few observations may not be acceptable to the Committee, but I shall ask hon. Members to believe that they express the sentiments and opinions of a considerable number of people in this country. At the beginning of the Debate this afternoon the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Chelmsford in a very interesting speech complimented my right hon. Friend upon the statement that he made to us yesterday. He rejoiced to find that there was what there ought to be: Continuity of naval policy. I do not want continuity of naval policy if that policy is wrong. Naval expenditure is going up year by year, our Navy is growing bigger and bigger, our ships more numerous; and that is a policy that the hon. and gallant Gentleman doubtless thinks it is desirable should be continued. But I want an opposite policy to that. I want some attempt to be made to reduce the enormous magnitude of these Estimates which are presented to us year after year. One or two things of great importance have happened since last year. From these I certainly had hoped that we might get some relief in regard to the Naval Estimates. There was the visit of the Secretary of State for War to Berlin: it awakened many hopes in the minds of some of us who have been eager to bring about more friendly relations with Germany.

I had hoped that that visit might in some way be connected with another event, namely, the transference of the late Home Secretary to the Board of Admiralty. There was a series of changes in the Government, the most important of which was that my right hon. Friend left the Home Office, where he was showing an enlightened spirit of reform; I regretted his loss to that office and I regretted particularly that he had gone to what seems to me a work that should have been distasteful to him. But he did go to the Admiralty, and I had hoped his transference there would have meant a change of policy in the direction of retrenchment. Such is not the case. The Estimates presented to ns are the same as last year. Huge expenditure is proposed for building or proposed building, and I do not think these sums of money should pass the House of Commons without protest from those who feel they are excessive. I dare say it is a feeble protest that I make. I am like a voice crying in the wilderness; it has become an annual protest, but nevertheless it ought to be made. I want to know what it is that induces this House to spend such vast sums of money upon the defence of these shores by these "Dreadnoughts."

What is the pressure upon a Liberal Government which induces it to spend more than has ever been spent by this country upon munitions of war and preparation for Imperial defence1? It surely must be evident to any thoughtful person that there are great influences behind the Government. The hon. Member to whom I have referred rejoiced that my right hon. Friend had so quickly acquired the spirit of the Board of Admiralty. He said no one could enter the Admiralty, surrounded as he would immediately be by the influence of great naval officers and so forth, and breathing the atmosphere which always obtains in the Admiralty, without imbibing that atmosphere, and he congratulated my right hon. Friend, who had imbibed it so well. He is pressed, of course, by the Navy League; he has to submit to the pressure of the Service Members, Naval officers, and the rest in the House. There are some constituencies that are interested in this great expenditure, constituencies such as that represented by the Noble Lord opposite, whose speeches I always listen to with so much interest. The great armour-plate constituencies like Sheffield are pressing for this expenditure. The great clothing factories all over the country, and all they represent, are bringing pressure to bear, and also all the various Army and Navy contractors; and then there are the crowd of inventors and men of science bringing pressure to bear upon the right hon. Gentleman, perhaps unconsciously. All honour to the men of science, but they are all eager for pay and fortune. There are hundreds of bankers and financiers interested, and they all come down every Spring in order to pick up the millions which an indolent and too subservient House of Commons is far too ready to vote for the Navy, just as when you throw a plate full of broken pieces of bread and crumbs on the lawn the sparrows and the chaffinches all swarm round it. This movement has a paid Press behind it, and these newspapers preach the gospel of swagger and talk about supremacy, bigness, and material strength as if those things were great national ideals. All these vested interests have to be fed up every year with Votes and when any other country builds a ship a fright is started and the German bogey is trotted out just as Bonaparte used to be trotted out in my nursery days.

I know it requires a very strong Minister to resist all these influences, and I can quite understand how hard it is for my right hon. Friend to resist them, surrounded as he is by a hierarchy of naval experts and highly-paid clerks, every one interested in spending money on ships. I had hopes that our new First Lord would have been the man to withstand the pressure of those influences. At any rate the right hon. Gentleman showed in that interesting statement which he made on Monday how perfectly easy it would be for the two nations in question to mutually disarm without altering their relative strength. I want to say, in all seriousness, that I do not believe that England's greatness or her security against her potential enemies lies in the size of her ships or guns or the size of the Navy, but in her upright behaviour to other nations, in a foreign policy which is sympathetic as regards the interests of others, and in a diplomacy which is honourable, frank and fair.

Given these things I do not think there is any need for nations to quarrel with one another any more than than there is need for neighbours or householders to quarrel. Let us direct our efforts and spend our money, not in building great monsters of destruction and menace, for they are nothing else, which produce only angry feelings and suspicion between nation and nation, but in building up cordial relations between nations. [Laughter.] Those are not sentiments which hon. Members opposite ought to laugh at because they must believe it is a desirable thing to cultivate cordial relations in our commercial intercourse with other nations, for that is the only way to promote solidarity. That is all I have to say. I suppose it is no good. Year by year these horrid warlike bloated estimates come before us until the hope of those who think as I do dies. Twenty years ago when I entered this House England was defended by an expenditure of £33,000,000. Now it is over £70,000,000. Ministers responsible for these enormous demands made upon us are always uttering sentiments about the evil of this expenditure and the importance of some method of reducing it. Three years ago the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Sir E. Grey), whose words are always, carefully chosen, and who is I think I may say, revered on all sides, made a speech which impressed the House. What did he say on that occasion? I will only quote one sentence— I would like the people of this country to consider the consequence to which the growth of armaments has led. The great countries of Europe are raising enormous revenues and something like half of them is being spent on naval and military preparations. Half the National Revenue is being spent on preparations to kill each other. The extent to which this expenditure has grown has become a satire and a reflection on civilisation. It is because I feel the truth of this sentiment so strongly that I have ventured to detain the House even at this very late hour to express my sympathy with it. Does the House realise that the great Christian nations of Europe are spending £600,000,000 a year upon these warlike preparations? Does the House realise this country alone is spending £6,000,000 a month upon preparations for war? That is not far short of five shillings per week for every family of five in the land. This system of militarism, as I call it, is the enemy of democracy, and I believe it is an instrument of tyranny. Holding those views, I cannot see how I can possibly vote for these Estimates.


The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down wanted to know why we spend so much on the Navy. Surely, he must know it is because we cannot help it. We are obliged to spend it. If we did not spend it we should not have any country or any empire on which to spend anything. The hon. Gentleman talked about the German bogey. Germany is a rising nation, determined to expand, and if she makes war upon us, as very nearly happened last summer, if we cannot defend ourselves we shall be wiped clean out of the great nations of the world. There is no way of getting out of it. Unless you are strong enough to defend yourself you are sure to be attacked. Nations act on the old principle that the weak must go to the wall, and that will never be altered, either in our time or in the time of our great grandsons, because human nature is as it is. It is the same with nations as with men.

The hon. Member for Falkirk (Mr. Murray Macdonald) agrees with the last speaker that we ought to reduce our Navy, and another hon. Member suggested we ought to come to an understanding with Germany. We have tried to come to an understanding, but Germany will have nothing to do with it. We have also tried reducing our Navy, and the result was that Germany increased her Navy enormously. The First Lord of the Admiralty has been praised in all quarters for his speech. No doubt it was a magnificent speech, but no matter how magnificent the speeches may be in this House they will not defend us in the day of battle. It is beyond doubt that we are weaker now in our naval position than we were when the present Government came into office —so far as our Navy compares with those of other Powers. Hon. Gentlemen should remember when talking about our Naval forces that in 1906 we had fifty-five battleships to Germany's eighteen—three to one in number and four to one in strength. In 1914, if I understand the right hon. Gentleman aright, instead of being four to one it will be a case of three to two in "Dreadnoughts." The Government dropped four "Dreadnoughts" in the first three years, and while we have been cutting down our Navy Germany has been enormously increasing hers. So much for the big ships of the Navy.

When you come to the seamen, what do you find? Our seamen are poorly paid. The Admiralty allow them to get married but do not pay them enough to support their wives and families. They are overworked, for they are too few in number. No wonder they are inclined to be discontented. Even when they are wounded in war the Admiralty will not continue their miserable pensions of 1s. 1d. per day. I have done my best to get them to continue the pension of one man who admittedly has been permanently injured by wounds received in war, but they have actually stopped his miserable pension of 1s. 1d. per day. The answer given to my application was that the man could get just enough to keep himself going. But surely, if he had been under a civil employer and had been injured in the course of his employment that employer would have had either to pay a lump sum or continue the pension. Hon. Gentlemen vote themselves extra thousands of pounds, but here is a poor sailor admittedly permanently injured whose pension of 1s. 1d. per day they take away! It may be Liberal policy, but I do not think it is just. I want to say something about destroyers, to show how the Government have been cutting down the ships of various sorts. They only laid down two destroyers in 1906–7, and only five in 1907–8.

The Germans in those two years laid down twenty-four. The present Home Secretary told us last June that in 1904 we had 116 destroyers to Germany's thirty-seven. On 31st March, 1911, after six years, of this Government, we had only seventy-eight destroyers and Germany had seventy-nine. Destroyers are just as necessary to a Navy, to protect big ships, as outposts and advance guards are to the Army. Without them our big ships could not stay out at night. The Government spent nothing on Rosyth during 1906–7, and only about £10,000 in 1908. It was in consequence of that policy that I understood the First Lord to say that we have not got a single dock in the North Sea that will hold a crippled "Dreadnought," whereas Germany has seven Government docks and two private docks. That advantage must be enormous. If there is war it is pretty sure to come in the North Sea. Germany has her docks handy, and guarded by the Frisian Islands. Our "Dreadnoughts" will have to go either to Portsmouth or further on. It must be an enormous disadvantage to have to send crippled "Dreadnoughts" that distance, while Germany has plenty of docks quite handy. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us that he was going to try to find the money for social reform by reducing the amount spent on the hideous mechanism for human slaughter. That is how we find ourselves in the present dangerous position.

The most dangerous thing of all is that we have not anything like enough cruisers for commerce protection. Outside European waters we have only twenty-seven, while in 1904 we had sixty. There are vast areas of the sea, over which our merchant ships travel, which have no protection whatever. From Vancouver to Cape Horn, a distance of 7,000 miles, there are only a couple of sloops of 1,000 tons, with a speed of about ten knots. That is a most dangerous position. In Sir Arthur Wilson's Memorandum he said that our greatest danger was the interruption of the trade routes. That means the stoppage of our food supplies and raw material without which our people cannot get wages. These are by far the greatest dangers that we have to contend with at present. Germany has distinctly told us she is going to turn her merchant vessels into cruisers at any time in any part of the world. You have these facts about the difficulty of commerce protection I think admitted. You cannot build cruisers in time if we have war in the near future, and I cannot help thinking that far the best plan is to put guns and ammunition on our own merchant vessels. I understand there are something like 100 ships that fly the flag of the Royal Naval Reserve. They have at least one officer and ten men on them. Surely these are the ships which should first be armed. If you do not do that you will have this country, till the cruisers are built, exposed at any time to starvation in time of war which you will not be able to prevent, because half a dozen grain ships sunk coming here would put food up to famine prices; you would have food riots, and you would be driven into surrender before your sea power had time to come in. The Government ought to have the whole food supply of the country in time of war, and they ought to set up a committee to ascertain the best way of organising the food of the country. We know how near we were brought to starvation by the railway strike. In my part of the country there was no bread to be got in the nearest town, and we had to send six miles to get half a bag of flour, and that was only given as a favour.


It has been done long ago.


Do I understand that in case of war the whole food of this country would belong to the Government?


The hon. Member said the Government ought to set up an inquiry to examine the question. That has been most searchingly gone into.


Has the Government come to any conclusion as to how it is going to be done? The Government are full of inquiries but nothing seems to come of them. I am very glad to hear what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and I hope that as soon as possible the thing will be organised so that if we do have war the Government will be able to own the whole food of the country and to distribute it to the rich and poor, because we shall be a beleaguered city, and unless you manage it properly some will have too much to eat and others will have nothing at all. I would impress upon the right hon. Gentleman that he should put guns and ammunition on our merchant ships to give us a chance with Germany.


And the ships manned by lascars.


I do not know anything about the ships being manned by lascars. I believe that the ships flying the white ensign do not have that class of sailors. I do not think that has really much to do with it, but in any case that would be better to have guns on ships manned by lascars than no guns at all. That is the only way you can save the country. This is not only the most serious question before the country at the present time, but it is the bounden duty of the First Lord to take advantage of these suggestions, which he can do at comparatively small cost, until there has been time to build the cruisers that ought to have been built in years gone by.

12.0 M.


I wish to refer to a matter arising out of the Report of the Committee on Canteens and Victualling which reported in 1907. A number of the recommendations of this Committee have been carried out with very great advantage to the men in the Service. One important suggestion which has already been submitted to the House has not yet been dealt with, namely, the suggestion with regard to temperance in the Navy. The daily ration includes an item for rum, which costs the State three-sixteenths of a penny, no duty being charged, and which the men may or may not take. Those who do not desire to take the rum can have a money allowance of nine-sixteenths of a penny instead. The Committee was a strong one, consisting of a number of naval experts, and they reported that the following changes would do much to promote temperance: that the money allowance in lieu of the spirit ration be increased to a penny per ration in the case of temperance men, and that the system under which men who do not wish to draw the spirit ration in kind are marked "T," or "temperance," in the ledger should be discontinued, and in place thereof men who do wish to draw their ration in kind should be marked "G," "grog." in the ledger, thus making a payment of money the rule and the issue of spirit the exception. In conclusion the Committee expressed the opinion that the adoption of these suggestions would do much to promote temperance in the fleet. The Admiralty has already considered these proposals sympathetically on two occasions, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would not now be prepared to put them into operation. At present well over 25 per cent. of the men in the Navy are temperance men, and the number is growing rapidly. The opinion of the highest naval authorities is strongly in favour of some alteration, and I am quite sure the Noble Lord (Lord C. Beresford) agrees that something might be done in that direction. It was suggested that the increasing of the money allowance to 1d. would cost £15,000, but in 1908 the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty stated that the amount was estimated at only £12,500 a year. I think it would be money well spent, as it would lead to a larger number of the men becoming temperance men.


It would be well saved in other ways.


I quite agree with the Noble Lord. It has been suggested that if the penny were given the men would spend it on drink which they would get ashore. I do not think so. It would be very easy to ascertain exactly those who took the allowance as bonâ fide temperance men, and as they already have an inducement by having a premium of six-sixteenths of a penny if they take the money allowance the same argument would apply at present as it would to the increased allowance. With regard to the suggestion that the rule should be altered in reference to the entries in the ledger I believe that if it were carried out that suggestion would lead very rapidly to a large increase among those who do not desire to ask for the spirit or to consume it.

The result would be that in a short time a large number of temperance men would be added to the Navy. We are not dealing here with a committee of teetotalers, but a committee of naval experts. We are also asking to give effect to a view which has grown largely of late years in both Services, and which has been supported by the highest authorities. For a number of years the Japanese Government have abolished altogether the allowance for spirits in their Navy, and the United States Government as far back as 1862 abolished the spirit ration and gave a money allowance. I think that in the interests of efficiency in our Fleet, and of securing a high degree of nerve and physical efficiency amongst the men of the Service, it is very desirable that further steps should be taken in this direction, and I do hope the right hon. Gentleman will give sympathetic consideration to the suggestions which have been made and be able to let us have some definite assurance as to the future.


The matter to which my hon. Friend has referred is one of real importance, and I can promise him that we will give it our most sympathetic consideration during the forthcoming year. I know that the view the hon. Member puts forward is shared by a very large number of naval officers of distinction, and it is quite true that the extra cost would be more than compensated by the diminution of expenditure which would arise under other heads. I have not been able to come to any conclusion on the matter so far, because so many other subjects have pressed for decision. Of course all expenditure of money must be thoroughly scrutinised. I do not think I have heard anything from the hon. Gentleman that I do not feel very strongly drawn into agreement with. I would appeal to the Committee whether we might not now draw our proceedings to a close. We have a very important day before us to-morrow, when we may sit late, and I trust that we may now be permitted to bring our proceedings to a close.


I feel bound to bring under attention one aspect of the Navy Estimates which has not yet had any consideration so far as I have been able to gather, and that is the closer association which ought to exist between the Mercantile Marine and the Royal Navy. Two or three cases have recently come to the attention of the Imperial Merchant Service Guild, and one is the case of the rebellion or civil war in China. The First Lord of the Admiralty told me, in reply to a question that he had not got before him the particulars of the case which I was bringing under his notice. The right hon. Gentleman said:— The exact circumstances of the case of the steamship "Brodmore" are not known to me.' I venture to think that the particulars of the case are extremely interesting, and it is necessary that I should explain what they are in order to show what I ask should be arranged in similar cases. The master of the steamship "Brodmore," which has just arrived from Chinese waters writes:— Early in November last I was in Hankow in command of the above-named steamer ("Brodmore"), loading a cargo of frozen produce. At the time the country was in a state of revolution, and there was severe fighting going on in Hankow and the adjacent country. As the Chinese fleet of warships, which were anchored a few miles below Hankow, were threatening to come up and bombard W[...]chang (just across the river), merchant steamers were under notice to leave the port at once, should this occur. At the time our pilot was taken seriously ill and had to be taken to hospital. Being thus left in a dangerous position, as no pilot was obtainable in Hankow and all telegraphic communication with Shanghai cut off, I applied to Mr. Goffe, the Consul-General, to have a wireless sent from one of the British warships to Shanghai asking for a pilot. My request was refused by Mr. Goffe on the ground that none but Service and Red Cross messages could be sent. After consulting my agents, we applied to the German warship "Liepsig" who at once sent our message, and in three days' time I had a pilot from Shanghai. There were three British warships at Hankow. The First Lord was good enough to say that the rules were not absolutely cast-iron, but I would ask that it should be made clear, in a case such as this, that the duty of the Navy, which, I am sure, would be performed if the Admiralty regulations were so framed, should be to afford protection to merchantmen. The other specific case to which I referred was that of Marconi wireless communication with land stations. I am quite aware of the reasons why wave lengths are different owing to secrecy and so forth. It is admitted that in the case of the "Delhi," the message was not taken by the shore station, and in such a case where there is a Marconi Naval Wireless Shore Station in proximity to a dangerous coast, I would ask that some arrangement should he made, either by duplicating part of the plant, or having another person to receive the message, so as to enable the shore station to act as a protector of merchant vessels which may go ashore or be in other difficulties. The First Lord said it was nothing but a question of expense, but I think that it would be a very good thing if we spent a little more to make those stations applicable not only to naval purposes, but also to the saving of life at sea. With regard to the more general question of the relations of the Navy to the merchant service, I read with the greatest interest the verbatim report of the right hon. Gentleman's speech on Monday, and I could not help noticing that he laid special stress on the eight new cruisers which were going to be built. He said that they were the fastest, cheapest, and smallest vessels protected by armour that have been built. There was not a word in the speech with regard to any cruisers being built for the protection of trade routes. With the expenditure, which we all agree to be absolutely necessary, it seems to me that it is inadequate if it does not provide the necessary cruisers to protect the trade of the country. It is obvious that the merchant service pays a very large proportion of the taxes, and stands in a peculiar position; it therefore has special claims for the protection of the Navy. I feel confident that in the Estimates there is not sufficient spent on this particular department of the Navy. I ask the First Lord to take special note of the two points I have brought before his notice.


I sympathise with the First Lord, but this is the only chance I have of standing tip for the men and stating their grievances. First, with regard to the engineer officers. The Admiralty promised them twenty-four shillings a day, and they are getting only eighteen shillings. I deliberately charge the Admiralty with having broken faith with these officers, and I make the public charge in the hope that the matter will be looked into. The next case is that of the engine-room artificers. Faith has been broken with them. The mechanician is not the man to be placed over the man who originally taught him. The engine-room artificer has been trained to his trade; the mechanician has not. This is well exemplified in the admiral's barge. You have a leading stoker driving the engines, but he does not see the little thing that goes wrong with the machinery, because he does not understand the building of an engine or a boiler. If that little thing, which an artificer would see, were put right it would save laying up the boat for four days, or even a week or two. You want to drive the engine and to be in command of the engine-room a man who understands the make of an engine and boiler, not a man who does not.

In regard to the stoker, there are plenty of responsible good billets you can give the mechanician, but I do not think you are-going to get the mechanician to do the work of the engine-room artificer. The Admiralty circular—I do not know who can have written it; it cannot have been an engineer officer—says that they want engine-room artificers to be there to do their jobs of repairs and maintenance. When are they going to do it? You have fewer men who understand engines and boilers than you had before, to do more work. You cannot do anything at sea. You can take off a few covers or ease a few joints, but you cannot do anything in the way of repairs and maintenance of the engines and boilers at sea. You have to do it in harbour. It is a mistake to have those men in that position. I do not say a word against the mechanicians, they are perfectly excellent, but they are not trained to do engines and boiler work. That is my point. There are plenty of billets which they deserve that you can put them into, and you can give them warrant rank more in proportion to their numbers than they have got at present. But do not cause discontent and bad comradeship by putting a class of men—and it was done for cheapness!— over others when they do not know the work as well. Then there is the question of the carpenters and shipwrights, but if the hon. Gentleman tells me that that is still under consideration I will not press it.




There is next the question of a free kit. The soldier, policemen and postmen all get a free kit. The naval man's work makes his clothes wear out much quicker than other hard work. In blacking the rigging or gun drill a man may spoil his suit; his work thus is far more liable to destroy his clothes than is that of any other department in the Service. He does not get a free kit. I have brought this thing forward and even written to the Admiralty about it. I do not want anything done in a hurry, but I want something done. When I joined the Service in 1859 the soldier cleared 2d. a day—that is all he had in barracks—I am only making the comparison, Mr. Whitley, I am not going into the Army Estimates—and the position of the soldier has improved enormously in his pay, rations, and kit—and not a bit too much. But a comparison between the pay of the men of the Army and the Navy reveals an astonishing difference, especially when it is considered that that of the Navy was so enormously better than the Army. Navy pay has not advanced in comparison with every other department of the State.

I know what the argument of the right hon. Gentleman will be, and it will be a sound one in some ways. "You," he will say, "take the comparison of corporals and sergeants who are far less in number to the men than are the petty officers and the subordinate ranks." That is so. But that does not get rid of the question. A recruit gets 1s. 2d.; so does an ordinary seaman. A private gets from 1s. 6d. to 1s. 9d.; an able seaman only 1s. 8d. A lance-corporal gets 2s.; a leading seaman only 1s. 10d. A corporal gets 2s. 8d.; a petty officer, second class, 2s. A sergeant gets 3s. 4d.; a petty officer, first class, 2s. 8d. to 3s. A colour-sergeant gets 4s. 10d.; a chief petty officer 3s. 4d. to 4s. A soldier gets a free kit; a sailor does not. I know these charges will cost a certain amount of money, but the first thing you have to do in any service in the world is to make the lower ranks contented by treating them fairly. This is the only chance any of us have of bringing forward the case of the men. They are disciplined, silent, loyal, therefore it is left to those of us who, like myself, know the feelings of the men, and their case exactly, to put it forward. As I said, I do not want anything done in a hurry, but I want the question of the pay of the officers and men to be thoroughly looked into; and I feel confident that it will be seen, in fairness and justice, that some improvement ought to be made.

Colonel YATE

I appeal to the First Lord of the Admiralty to give us some assurance to allay the anxiety which is felt very largely throughout the country as to the steps taken for the protection of our food supplies in time of war which might be forced upon us at any time. This matter is of vital interest to the workmen of the country; it is they who would first feel the strain, as they would be the first to lose their employment and the price of food would go up. The Royal Commission reported on the question of food supplies but nothing has been done. One question as to the removal of the Fleet from Malta to Gibraltar. Are the garrisons at Malta to be increased to enable Malta to defend itself better in the absence of the Fleet? Will the regular Artillery and Infantry retained there be increased, or will larger garrisons be put in there to enable Malta to hold out when the Fleet is away?

Question put, and agreed to.

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