HC Deb 27 November 1914 vol 68 cc1593-5

I beg to move, "That this House, at its rising this day, do adjourn until Tuesday, the 2nd day of February."

In making this Motion I beg to say that if circumstances should arise making it advisable that Parliament should meet before 2nd February, the House may be specially summoned at any time on six days' notice.

5.0 P.M.


Before the House adjourns I want to bring before Members and the country some matters connected with the Royal Navy. It would be impossible for me to speak of anything in connection with the Royal Navy for the moment without referring to the terrible disaster which occurred yesterday. A similar catastrophe has never before occurred in our Navy, because we do not know the cause of it. In the case of the "Royal George," which capsized in 1781—a somewhat similar case—the cause is well-known. All I would say about it is this: that I deprecate most strongly any conclusions being formed at present either in the House or the country as to the cause. My brother officers on the Court of Inquiry are endeavouring to find out the cause of the disaster. I would particularly ask that nobody in the Press or in the country in the present state of excitement about alien enemies, should think that this case is one of treachery. It is much better to wait with a dignified calm until by the constituted authorities we find out really what occurred. The loss to myself is most painful. The "Bulwark" was one of my own flagships. Every seaman has a natural affection for his ship, and of all the ships I have had I never had more affection than for the "Bulwark." But the thought of the loss of the ship is eclipsed by the thought of the loss of the officers and men, and our sympathy is with the dependants of those who have lost their lives. I would ask the House to consider that these officers and men have lost their lives in the service of their country quite as much—and the sympathy should be quite as great—as if they had lost them by shot or shell.

What I particularly want to speak about is this: It has come to my knowledge, and I think many hon. Members will concur in what I say—that there is a doubt in the public mind, and a want of confidence in the Navy to carry out its duties. Things have occurred which have caused that doubt. But without a doubt the Navy is really stronger now than before we went into war both in ships, trained men, and in organisation. The Navy is not in sight, but we sometimes hear or read of what it is doing. The Navy has done everything! The Navy, with its silent vigil, its attention to duty, to discipline, and the loyalty of its officers and men has enabled us to carry out this War at all. It has enabled us, with a certain amount of luck, to do this. The German military bureau hurried the War to such an extent that the naval bureau was not consulted, or we might have had a very serious time if the German naval bureau had got their armed cruisers into our trade routes. But we do not want to discuss what might have been, but what has happened; and to ask what is the Navy doing is not to give those officers and men credit for having enabled us so far as it goes at present to carry on the War. So far as invasion goes, in my humble opinion, people need not be the least alarmed, but every precaution should be taken against what may occur. My opinion is that the invasion of this country at the present time, now that we are organised for war, is more or less impossible. With regard to the loss of confidence which I have described, if it exists, as to the Navy not being able to carry out its duties in all and every way, that loss of confidence, in my opinion, is absolutely unwarrantable. The Navy will be able to carry out its duties in every way and in every point for which it is instituted to carry them out. The reason why that sentiment exists is this. A lot of incidents occurred which were more or less disasters, but the officers and men of the Fleet are in no way responsible for any of these incidents. There was a leading article in the "Times" of Monday, which rather conveyed the sentiments of the Fleet, and certainly conveyed my sentiments. I am not here to discuss or criticise what occurred in any way whatever. This is not the time. We have got to support authority with all the energy and ability in our power. My only point is to exercise whatever influence I possess to see that our confidence in the Fleet, which ought to exist, and does exist, is in no way removed. The incidents to which I referred are these: There was first the three "Cressy's." There, again, the Navy had nothing whatever to do with that. I am not going to ask why or wherefore, or who is to blame. This is not the time to criticise, if mistakes were made. We must back up authority as well as we can. I am only referring to these incidents in order to say that the men of the Fleet are in no way responsible—

[See col. 1597.]