HL Deb 20 July 1885 vol 299 cc1153-5

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government, Whether the Report of the officer appointed by the late Board of Admiralty to inspect the coast defences and to inquire as to the condition of the Naval Volunteer Corps would be laid on the Table of the House (luring the present Session? The noble Lord said that, whilst the late Government were in Office, he had placed a Notice upon the Paper proposing that a capitation grant should be given to Naval Volunteers. He had taken that course on account of the indisposition which had been exhibited by the late First Lord of the Admiralty through a series of years to do anything to promote the efficiency of the Naval Volunteer Corps. That Notice stood upon the Paper for the very day on which the change of Government was announced; and during the interval, influenced possibly by some feeling out-of-doors, the Liberal Party, who had neglected for so many years the Naval Volunteers, suddenly showed great interest in their favour, and the noble Earl the late First Lord of the Admiralty made a stirring speech, in whichheincited the Government to do something to promote that Corps. He had been very glad indeed to read that speech on Saturday evening, and was sorry he had not been present when it was delivered. It was to be hoped that nothing that was done now would be understood to imply a slur on the corps that had been formed, whose efficiency had been attested by distinguished officers. In London, Brighton, Bristol, and Liverpool Naval Volunteer Brigades existed, and these were capable of performing all the duties which would devolve upon them on shore as well as on shipboard: andhehoped that the Admiralty would not only see that they had the capitation grant, but also that they were properly supplied as far as possible with material for their purpose. One very important part of the duties of these Volunteers broke down last year in consequence of the inefficiency of the vessel given to them by the Admiralty; and he trusted that henceforth the Admiralty would see that the assistance rendered was of a bonâ fide character. In conclusion, he wished to know whether there would be any objection to lay on the Table, in addition to the document referred to in his Question, the last Reports received from the Inspector of these Forces?


said, he would endeavour to answer briefly the two or three points which the noble Viscount had raised. His noble Friend at the head of the Admiralty had not the least intention of throwing any slur whatever on the loyalty of the Naval Volunteer Corps of London, Bristol, and Liverpool. Indeed, he had heard his noble Friend, as well as other authorities at the Admiralty, speak in the highest terms of the patriotic exertions and excellent good work of those Corps. For many years, too, he had been in association with the Naval Volunteer Corps of Liverpool, andheknew how highly they were praised by professional men. Therefore, the noble Viscount might be assured that the Admiralty would not throw any slur upon the Corps, for their wish, of course, was to extend the movement still further. He would not say more thanhesaid on Friday last as to the assistance they hoped to give to the Naval Volunteers of the country generally. His noble Friend at the head of the Admiralty would, he believed, this week take an opportunity of stating what material aid the Government could give to the Naval Volunteers, and consequently he thought he had better leave the matter in his noble Friend's hands. He had, however, committed the Government so far as to say that they felt it was quite necessary to give distinct material aid towards the maintenance of the Naval Volunteer Corps, and his noble Friend would know in the course of this week exactly the form it would take. With regard to the Report of the officer appointed to inspect the coast defences, it was only sent in at the beginning of this month, and it was called a preliminary Report. In these circumstances they could not present it; and, as to the full Report, he was afraid it would not be right to promise at pre- sent to lay it on the Table. A Report on our coast defences must, of necessity, by highly confidential; but if it contained anything which in the interest of the Public Service could be made public they would be happy to lay it on the Table. With regard to the Reports of the Inspector of the Naval Volunteers, he would communicate with his noble Friend, and, if possible, they would lay the document on the Table. The view of the Government on this great subject was that they must see that the Navy was fully up to strength, and that our ports and coaling stations were safe. At present they committed themselves to no opinion as to their condition. They felt that the work had to be done; but how it was to be done the Government could not at present say. It would be foolish and rash if, after having been in Office only about a month, they were to pronounce a decided opinion upon such a subject. His noble Friend was taking professional advice, and in a short time would be able to state the views of the Government. The War Office had long been in communication with the Admiralty as to the defences of this country, and a very important Departmental Commission had been considering the subject. Therefore, his noble Friend might feel well assured that the whole of this large subject of the defences of the country was being gravely considered, and that it would be promptly and effectively dealt with.