HC Deb 29 June 1915 vol 72 cc1768-70

Considered in Committee.

[Mr. WHITLEY in the Chair.]

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That an additional number, not exceeding 50,000 officers, seamen, and boys, be employed for the Sea and Coastguard Services for the year ending on the 31st March, 1915, beyond the number already provided in the Navy Estimates for the year."


In asking for authority to enrol and embody 50,000 more officers and men for the Royal Navy, making the number for the year 300,000, I should explain that we are at one and the same time satisfying Parliamentary procedure and looking ahead. These men are not, of course, required because of any immediate manning needs of the Fleet. We have under arms and under training all the men we want at present, and we do not expect any difficulty whatever in supplying all our future needs. We are now asking authority to have men ready as and when the future may require them. As I said the other day, in reply to a question put to me as to the present needs by the hon. Member for the Brentford Division (Mr. Joynson-Hicks):— Ample provision has been made in the current Estimates, and the hon. Member may rest assured that no difficulty has been experienced, and none is expected, in meeting the large requirements due to the expansion of the Fleet. The number fixed by Vote A of the current Estimates, is 250,000. So keen has been the desire to join the Navy, and recruiting has been so good, that we have, I must tell the Committee, enrolled more than that number already. Apart, therefore, from any other consideration, from a purely Vote A point of view, if I may so put it, we are bound, as the Committee will see, by Parliamentary procedure to come and ask for further authority to cover the additional numbers recruited. That we now do. And, looking ahead, we think we ought to avail ourselves of the occasion which thus presents itself to ask authority to bring the additional number to be voted up to 50,000, and thus early take power to put that further number under training. Of course, I may assure the Committee that if requirements, as the War progresses, should demand something more we shall promptly come for authority to join whatever further numbers may be necessary. The additional numbers we are now taking power to enrol will be recruited for the Royal Navy proper, for the Royal Marine, the Royal Naval Reserve, and the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserves, as our discretion and judgment as to naval needs, working in conjunction with the recruits' preference for service, seem to render desirable.


I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon his statement that the Admiralty are making and will make provision for the naval security of the country. I think it is a matter for congratulation that the Navy has proved itself to be well worthy of the confidence which the nation has reposed in it. The Navy is a great silent service. It is not the silence of secret importance, but rather of conscious power. There are no bulletins to bring to our notice the doings of the Navy; but somewhere there is a great Armada, which, vigilant and ready, enables us to sleep comfortably in our beds. I am not sure whether the sacrifices made by this country have not been somewhat minimised. I observed an article in a leading organ of the Press a few days ago in which it seemed to be suggested that the British nation was not making the sacrifices which the writer considered necessary for the prosecution of the War. I would like to ask any pressman, or any pessimist, where would the Allied cause be to-day were it not for the British Navy? If the German Fleet were supreme, the French coast would be open, and the Russian supplies would be in danger. The British Fleet has protected our commerce and our transport, and it has protected us against invasion by sea.

Speaking as an old Member of the Board of Admiralty, I hope I may be pardoned for saying that I believe the Navy to be the master-key of the situation, and that it will exercise the predominant effect in ending this War. I hope I shall not be giving any information to the enemy when I say that I know that the Navy has an ample supply and adequate reserves of ammunition. I hope that, although the Admiralty are called upon to do all sorts of duties in all parts of the world—and there may be many attractive enterprises—no call, however imperious, will detract them from the maintenance in all its strength of the grand Fleet upon whch the security of the country depends. It takes one or two years to build a battleship, but it takes years to produce a trained seaman, and the most precious British possession to-day is, in my judgment, the officers and men of the Royal Navy. I welcome with the utmost pleasure the right hon. Gentleman's statement. I am glad that the Admiralty, if they err at all, will err on the side of national safety, and that they will take every possible precaution to maintain inviolate the strength and security of our naval supremacy.


Does the right hon. Gentleman propose to take any of the 50,000 men for whom he is now asking for that section of the Navy which is largely being used as Infantry—the Naval Brigade; or are these men primarily for naval purposes?


The additional 50,000 will be recruited for the Royal Navy proper, the Royal Marines, the Royal Naval Reserve, and the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, as our discretion and judgment as to naval needs, working in conjunction with the recruits' preference for service, seem to render desirable. I think my hon. Friend has at the back of his mind the thought that we might conceivably recruit men in such a way as not always to have full regard to the manning necessities of the Fleet. I can assure the hon. Member that those who are responsible for the manning of the Fleet—that is, the Second Sea Lord and the other members of the Board—as in duty bound, take the greatest care always to see that the requirements of the Fleet are fully met.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolution to be reported To-morrow; Committee to sit again To-morrow.