§ VISCOUNT SIDMOUTH
asked Her Majesty's Government, What progress has been made towards carrying out the additions to the Navy which were announced by the First Lord of the Admiralty last autumn; and whether the Admiralty still intend to adhere to the terms of that announcement, or to proceed at once to still further increase the strength of the Naval Forces? The noble Lord complained that no progress had been made in the interval in the Dockyards. If the Admiralty Constructor was unable to execute the work required, it could easily be done in private yards. Had the Government at once given an order, 50 torpedo boats of the new type could have been completed in nine months. Three months had now gone, and nothing whatever had been done. He ventured to think that the march of political events, and the clouds even now looming in the East, rendered it absolutely necessary 230 that the whole of the Government programme should be immediately carried out. Comparing our Navy with that of other countries, it appeared that we had in the Mediterranean six first-class iron-clads, and a large number of well-armed smaller vessels. France had also a large Naval Force there, and the Fleets of the Italians and other nations were powerful. Whether or not our Fleet taken altogether was superior to that of France was a debateable matter; but, at all events, it was on such an equality as it had never been the practice of this country to permit. On the East Indian and China Stations we had only two iron-clad ships, while the French had five partially-armed frigates and nine gun-boats, besides four iron-clads and a number of small vessels. It was most inconsistent with the practice of this country and the national safety to leave our vast Possessions and enormous trade in the East so totally unprotected, as it would be with such an inadequate Naval Force, in the event of war suddenly breaking out. Referring to the proposed increase in the Navy, the noble Lord expressed the opinion that the provision of torpedo boats was utterly inadequate. With a much greater coast line than other European countries, we had a far less proportion of 4 torpedo boats. A large number of these vessels should be ordered at once. He would ask what provision we had for docking vessels of the first class on foreign stations? There were docks in the hands of private firms in Bombay, and a small dock at Trincomalee; but really the only dock we had in that part of the world was at Hong Kong, and in the present state of intercourse between France and China considerable difficulties might arise at that port, which would prevent our making use of it. Such a state of things ought to be thoroughly considered by the noble Earl. It was true that there were some docks in the Colonies"; but they did not belong to this country, and we should not be able to claim the entire use of them at any time. The noble Earl at the head of the Admiralty had made no addition personnel of the Navy. In 1814 this country could muster 140,000 sailors; but at the present time, with all our Reserves, we could not muster more than 80,000, many of whom were untrained, whereas France had an enor- 231 mous Reserve Force in every port, and, besides her Navy, had a Reserve of 70,000 trained men. The men were to be had in this country, and we ought to be able to lay our hands upon a much larger proportion of men than were attached to Her Majesty's ships at present. Then there was the question of the Intelligence Department. Last year, replying to the noble Earl (the Earl of Camperdown), the noble Earl had told them that the Intelligence Department of the Navy were doing good work. He hoped that they had considered the work which the Russians were doing at Vladivostock, where they were making a Naval Station of the first class. With reference to the Colonies, he thought it was a great pity that at the present time, when the Colonies were showing their patriotism, nothing was being done by the Admiralty to encourage them in their gallant efforts to protect their shores. They were left to themselves, while this great Empire was so much indebted to them for their gallant conduct. With regard to our ships themselves, he contended that some of the vessels given forth as fighting ships could not possibly be considered safe to fight in, although he would not now go into the question of the danger or safety of ships with unarmoured ends. In conclusion, he begged to ask the noble Earl the Questions of which he had given Notice.
§ THE EARL OF CLANWILLIAM
asked Her Majesty's Government, What guns above 43 tons weight had been ordered by the Admiralty, and which of them had not been supplied, with the cause for any delay? The noble Earl said that nothing had been done by the Government to redeem the promise made by the First Lord of the Admiralty last December. There was only a small increase shown in the totals for shipbuilding. Guns which had been ordered in 1879 were not even now all furnished. The Benbow, with two 110-ton guns, the Rodney, Howe, Camper-down, and Anson, with four 63-ton guns each, the Edinburgh, with four, and the Hero, with two 43-ton guns, and the Impérieuse and Warspite would all be kept waiting for their guns. The Returns that had been placed before the House were misleading. In those Be-turns the Colossus was stated to have been finished, whereas the fact was 232 she had no guns; they were not finished. What was the use of ironclads without guns? The arrangements for furnishing guns to the Navy were solely due to the want of the necessary plant at Woolwich for making guns. If they had the necessary plant they would be independent of the private trade. He did not object to private firms getting orders for guns; but he thought that we ought to be able to make our own guns if the private trade could not make them. The whole Service was disgusted with the state of affairs. He only spoke as a Naval Officer, and felt sure he was expressing the feelings of all his brother officers, who knew how behindhand they were, and that in case of war they ought to be twice as strong as at present.
§ THE EARL OF NORTHBROOK
said, that he would answer the Questions put to him by the noble Viscount (Viscount Sidmouth) as well as he could, although they had extended much beyond the scope of the Notice given, and travelled over almost every subject connected with the Navy. However, he would take the Questions as they came. In the first place, the noble Viscount asked what progress had been made in carrying out the additions to the Navy which were announced last autumn. Not a moment had been lost in carrying out the programme that was announced in December last. Some persons seemed to think that ships could be built almost as quickly as a speech could be made; but that was, of course, out of the question. In the first place, the decision had to be come to as to the type of ship to be built. He had explained in December that the Board of Admiralty had considered, with the greatest possible care, the different type of ships to be laid down. Having arrived at their conclusions, orders were given, before the statements were made on the 2nd of December in both Houses of Parliament, to prepare the detailed designs for the different classes of vessels. The designs were completed in the following order:—For the new Scouts on December 31; for the belted cruisers on February 27; and for the iron-clads on February 28. He could assure their Lordships that the time taken for preparing the drawings and specifications of those ships, so far from being long, had been exceptionally short; and it 233 was to the very great credit of the Constructors' Department of the Admiralty that so short a time had been taken in preparing the specifications and elaborate drawings that were necessary for the contracts for those ships. The Committee that was presided over by Lord Ravensworth went out of its way to make a representation to the effect that the specifications and drawings for ships which the Admiralty put out to contract should be much more complete and elaborate than was formerly the case; and, accordingly, the designs to which he was now referring had been prepared in the most complete and elaborate manner, and there had been no waste of time at all in regard to them. Unless the designs and drawings were most carefully prepared when the contracts for the ships were taken, there would be constant applications for explanations and otherwise, so that the construction of the ships was delayed. Therefore, he had no hesitation in saying that anyone who had any practical knowledge of shipbuilding would tell them that the Constructors' Department deserved great credit for the rapidity with which they had prepared the designs and specifications of the different classes of 'ships. Extra draftsmen had been employed, and every possible pains had been taken that not a moment should be lost. The Admiralty, also, had lost no time in approving of the invitation of tenders as soon as the drawings were made. They approved of the invitation of tenders for the new Scouts on the 31st of December, and the tenders were invited on the 5th of January, to be delivered by the 24th of February. This allowed the firms making the tenders a longer time than usual, and was done in consequence of the recommendation of the Committee to which he had before alluded, to the effect that plenty of time should be given to the shipbuilders to inspect the designs before they prepared their tenders, with the object of inviting them to make any suggestion that occurred to them in respect to the designs before the contract was actually made. The tenders for the Scouts were received on February 24, and they were accepted on February 27. The Scouts were to be built in 18 months. The tenders had not yet been received for the iron-clads and the belted cruisers. The designs 234 for the belted cruisers were completed on the 27th of February, and those for the iron-clads on the 28th of February. The tenders for the belted cruisers and iron-clads were invited some time before the drawings were absolutely complete, and they were due on April 16 and 17. Nothing, then, could be more unjust than to blame the Constructors' Department of the Admiralty for any delay whatever. He must say he thought that before making the statement he had made, that nothing had been done by the Admiralty to carry out the programme explained last December, the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Clanwilliam) might have taken the pains to look into the Navy Estimates and see whether his statements were accurate. The noble Earl, who had himself been a Lord of the Admiralty, said he found no proof in the Estimates of the programme that was announced in December being carried out. Now, there was no less a sum than£800,000 taken in the Estimates for this year for the carrying out of that programme. He had himself mentioned in December that a sum of £800,000 would be spent this year in building ships by contract. The whole of that appeared in the Shipbuilding Estimate for this year; and if the noble Earl had taken the pains to look he would have seen it there. He regretted that the noble Earl should, considering his position, have given an impression that was absolutely without foundation in fact. The noble Viscount (Viscount Sidmouth) had asked him whether the Admiralty still intended to adhere to the terms of the announcement he had made last autumn, or to proceed at once still further to increase the strength of the Naval Forces. Now, the announcement he made in December last referred to a particular point; and to one only—namely, that of shipbuilding. The whole of the discussion was confined to that particular point, and he was far from saying then that there were no other calls upon the Admiralty—no other calls for the expenditure of money on the Navy, and that the Naval Estimates should be confined strictly to the sums that had been spent during the last three or four years, or that no other increase should be made in the Naval Estimates than an increase in shipbuilding. He had just said that in the Naval Estimates for this year there was an increase of 235 £800,000 for building ships by contract and carrying out the programme which he announced to their Lordships in December, and which he thought at the time was received with general approval. Besides that, the Naval Estimates this year showed a further increase of £700,000 over the Naval Estimates of last year, in addition to the £800,000, making, on the whole, comparing the Naval Estimates of the year to come with those of last year, omitting Supplemental Estimates from the comparison, an increased' about £1, 500,000. The noble Viscount did not seem to be satisfied. He was sorry for that. All he could say was that the Board of Admiralty had carefully considered the whole case to the best of their ability, and they came to the conclusion that it would be desirable to make a very considerable increase in the provision for the Navy. The noble Lord had referred to the question of the personnel of the Navy. The late Board of Admiralty had, he thought, unwisely reduced the number of boys admitted into the Service. The effect of that had not been altogether satisfactory; and, therefore, the present Board had been obliged to increase the number to remedy the defects of the previous injudicious reduction. That was one reason why they had this year to make an increase of the personnel. Besides that they had thought it right to increase the number of Marines in consequence of some of that gallant force being employed in the operations in Egypt. There would be an increase of 1,000 seamen and Marines besides boys to keep up the proper numbers. In addition to the shipbuilding by contract, the Admiralty were pushing on with the ships that were building in the Dockyards, and they hoped in the course of the year to complete four iron-clad ships. They thought—and everybody who had attended to the matter thought so, too—that it was very desirable not to delay the completion of the iron-clads. That had been the policy of the Board of Admiralty. The noble Viscount had alluded the other night to a Return moved for last year, and now in the hands of their Lordships. The noble Viscount would see from the Return that the policy of the Board of Admiralty had been to increase considerably year by year the expenditure for the construction of ships. On page 12 of that 236 Return it would be seen that the increase had been from £1,500,000 in 1880–1, to £2,000,000 in 1883–4, and that increase had been sustained during the coming year. It had been thought right and necessary to increase the number of iron-clad ships, and therefore the Admiralty had increased the number very considerably. This had been done for the reasons which were explained last year, and which he need not repeat now. Besides that increase, however, it was considered desirable that at the present time, and in the existing circumstances of the country, a further increase should be made in the shipbuilding of the Navy, so that there should be a still greater superiority in the Navy of this country than at present existed. He entirely dissented from the view of the noble Viscount in reference to the position of the British Navy. The Board of Admiralty held that our Navy was largely superior in power to the Navy of France, or that of any other Power, as it ought to be, and as it must be, in the hands of any Government responsible for the safety of the country. There was no justification, therefore, for such statements as those which had been made in their Lordships' House or elsewhere. This was the opinion of the responsible advisers of the Government, and it was the opinion which he maintained, and which he believed would be maintained by anyone who impartially and quietly investigated the matter. The noble Viscount compared the Fleets in different parts of the world. He (the Earl of Northbrook) held that the strength of the Navy of a country was not to be weighed by a comparison between the number of ships nations might have in different parts of the world at the same time. At the present time the French had a war with China. Would the noble Viscount say that in consequence of that war it would have been right that the English Admiralty should have raised the strength of the China Squadron to the same strength as that of the French?
§ THE EARL OF NORTHBROOK
said, he believed no one would seriously advocate such an opinion, for the reason that for a nation to immediately raise its Forces because another Power happened to be at war to the same strength as that other Power would be the most certain 237 way to create jealousy, and in all probability to lead to hostilities. Therefore the Board of Admiralty did not think it necessary, in consequence of the French war in China, to raise the strength of the China Squadron to the same strength as that of the French. The noble Viscount gave his view of the merits of the different ships the Admiralty had laid down. All he could say was that, with great respect to the noble Viscount and his experience at sea, he held that the responsible advisers of the Admiralty, and the Naval Members of the Board of Admiralty, were better judges on the whole, and were more likely to secure the confidence of their Lordships and the country, than the simple dictum of the noble Viscount. He could not himself pretend to judge of the technical merits of ships; but he had, as a civilian, the best advisers that this or any other country could possess in such a matter. He did not believe that there had been any abler men engaged in the construction of ships of war than Mr. Barnaby, the Chief Constructor of the Navy, and his staff. An instance was afforded the other day of the reputation of that Department of the Admiralty. Sir William Armstrong and Co wished to add to their other business that of shipbuilding. "Where did they go in order to obtain a head for their shipbuilding department? They went to the Admiralty and engaged Mr. White, of Mr. Barnaby's Department, as head of their shipbuilding department. At the present moment the Board of Admiralty had Naval Constructors second to none in the service of any other nation. The designs of the ships referred to had been produced by those officers, and they had been brought to him on the responsibility of the Controller of the Navy, Rear Admiral Brandreth, an officer who possessed the confidence of the Navy, and had been in charge of one of the most important Dockyards. They had met with the approval of the Naval Members of the Board of Admiralty, and he put authority against authority on this matter. He did not himself profess to have any technical acquaintance with the construction of ships. He relied entirely on authority, and he said that the authority the Admiralty had as to the merits of the different classes of ships they had ordered was, to his mind, sufficient 238 to justify the confidence of the country. That was his answer to the noble Viscount's criticism as to the ships being of a worthless character. In regard to the noble Viscount's remarks on the number of torpedo boats, he desired to point out that the noble Viscount had misunderstood some observations made by him last December on the value of torpedo attack. In placing before their Lordships certain views on this point, he said that the value of torpedo attack was likely to increase. In saying that, however, he did not mean alone, or even principally, attack by torpedo boats; but that instead of placing so much confidence in large iron-clad ships, it might be preferable to see ships of a smaller class—ships of the ram class firing torpedoes—in substitution of the very large and expensive ships which were now built. He entirely agreed, however, with the opinions expressed by the French Minister of Marine that it would be premature at present to give up building iron-clads, because so long as they were built by other nations, so long as the protection given by the compound plates was sufficient to keep out the fire of the best guns now made, those large ships must probably constitute the most important element in the Fleets of the world. On that occasion he also stated that he quite understood nations of very inferior naval power to Britain—Russia and Germany, for example—spending large sums of money in buying and building a great many torpedo boats, for the reason that torpedo boats were mainly a defensive weapon. That was the reason why he explained to their Lordships that the Board of Admiralty thought it desirable to build a good many ships of the Scout class—which were sea-going vessels—to carry torpedoes, and also the torpedo rams. He explained, on that occasion, that this was the reason why the Board did not attach so much importance to the torpedo boats as the noble Viscount appeared to do, for the torpedo boats could not be considered as sea-keeping vessels, and would not be able to accompany fleets to sea for long voyages. As part of the extra provision for 30 torpedo boats, the Government had ordered 10 already. They desired, moreover, to get more firms to undertake their manufacture than was at present the case. At present there were but two or three 239 firms accustomed to build torpedo boats; and it would be a great advantage to the Admiralty and the country if they could induce other firms to take up the building of torpedo boats. Besides the 10 boats referred to, the Government had, therefore, invited other firms to build five at their own risk, so that they might become accustomed to the construction of this class of boat. The noble Viscount also made observations in regard to machine guns. The reason why the Admiralty had deferred ordering shell guns of this kind was that by a little delay they expected to get a much better pattern of gun. This, he was glad to say, they had succeeded in doing; and in the Army Estimates for the coming year provision would be made for a considerable number of guns of the description to which the noble Viscount alluded. The Admiralty already had a number of machine guns, but not machine guns that fired shell. The noble Earl (the Earl of Clanwilliam) had asked a question as to the supply of large guns for the ships now building. Eight 63-ton guns had already been ordered, four for the Rodney and four for the Howe, to be delivered in June, 1886, and 63-ton ton guns for the Camperdown and Anson would be ordered in the autumn. Three 110-ton guns had been ordered for the Benlow, and would be delivered in the course of the present year. There was no doubt that there had been a most regrettable difficulty in supplying breech-loading guns for the Navy. When Mr. Smith left the Admiralty in 1880 he expressed his regret on this point. It was unnecessary to discuss whose fault this was. Certainly, we had been behind other nations in this respect; but we were now rapidly remedying this defect. Lastly, the noble Viscount had asserted that the Board of Admiralty were hostile to the efforts of the Australian Colonies to increase their Navy. That was quite an error.
§ THE EARL OF NORTHBROOK
said, if the noble Viscount, or anyone else, would point out how the Admiralty could assist the Australian Colonies in their patriotic efforts to strengthen their Navies, Her Majesty's Government would be only too happy to co-operate. The Admiralty had assisted them already, 240 both in the purchase of ships and by lending officers; and he could assure their Lordships that no effort should be wanting on his part to assist these Colonies in their most praiseworthy efforts. For reasons that he explained last December, Her Majesty's Government had determined to make certain additions to the Navy, and measures had been taken for the purpose of carrying out the scheme then submitted to Parliament. He could assure their Lordships that the Board of Admiralty were quite as anxious as the noble Viscount could possibly be to maintain the superiority of the British Navy.
THE EARL OF CARNARVON
remarked that, in reference to the speech which had just been delivered by the noble Earl opposite, he desired to say that, assuming the national necessity for a greater increase in the rate of shipbuilding for the Navy than was represented by the sum of £800,000 which the noble Earl opposite had mentioned, he saw no reason why that sum should not be increased to £1,600,000. With regard to the question of delay, he was bound to say that from the Papers which had been laid on the Table he had come to the conclusion that no steps whatever had been taken by the Admiralty with a view of giving effect to the proposals of last autumn. A Return had been laid on the Table within the last few days which was so instructive that he wished to call attention to it. It was a Return of the ships that had been laid down during the last five years; and he found from that Return that there were no less than 61 ships, large and small, comprised in it, and of those no less than 30 remained uncompleted. This did seem a very serious condition of things. Among the latter, leaving out of consideration the smaller vessels, were the Collingwood (9,150 tons), the Arethusa (3,750 tons), and the Phœton (3,750 tons), which were laid in 1880–1; the Rodney (9,700 tons), the Warspite (7,390 tons), the Impérieuse (7,390 tons), the Amphion (3,750 tons), the Calliope (2,770 tons), and the Calypso (2,770 tons), which were laid down in 1881–2; and the Benbow (10,000 tons), the Camperdown (10,000 tons), and the Howe (9,700 tons), which were laid down in 1882–3. Of those vessels which had been laid down during those five years, it was uncertain when the Camperdown, the Howe, 241 the Anson, of 10,000 tons, and the Hero, of 6,000 tons, would be completed. This uncertainty was fraught with great danger in comparing our Navy with that of foreign countries. In the same Return the speed of the different ships was given. He found that, with regard to the 61 ships he had referred to, of those having an estimated speed of 17 knots none were completed; of those having an estimated speed of 16 knots the Leander alone was completed; of those having an estimated speed of 15 knots or of 14 knots none were completed; while of those having an estimated speed of 13 knots four partially protected sloops were completed, and two others were nearly ready. On this point, therefore, this Return disclosed a very unsatisfactory state of things. With regard to torpedo boats or ships no mention was made in the Return; but the Scout, of 1,430 tons, would be completed in June of this year, and the Fearless, of the same tonnage, would be completed in February next; while two gun and torpedo ships, of 785 tons, were to be completed at a period which was uncertain. What was the Admiralty programme for 1885–6? There would be commenced in the Dockyards two armour-clads, the tonnage and type of which had not yet been decided upon; while it was intended that there should be built by contract, although they had not yet been ordered, two armour-clads, five belted cruisers, and six new Scouts. There was an absolute blank in the programme with regard to the 10 first-class torpedo boats which it was intended should be built. With reference to what the noble Earl opposite had stated as to the strength of the English Navy, he had understood it to be generally admitted in all recent discussions on the subject in the other House of Parliament that the English Navy was not in the condition in which it ought to be—namely, equal in force to that of France joined to the Navy of any other Foreign Power. Our expenditure on torpedoes was entirely inadequate. It was a remarkable fact that, while we were not spending this year £100,000 upon torpedo boats, Germany was devoting £840,000 to that arm of the Service alone. As regards guns, he did not know that anything had been done which altered the position in the autumn. The guns made were good 242 enough, provided only they had plant enough and were not dependent on private resources. He regretted that he had not heard anything said in reference to our coaling stations. He had before urged their paramount importance to this country; and it was impossible for any First Lord of the Admiralty to dispute how essential they were to our commerce and Navy—they could not, in short, keep the Navy afloat, or give adequate protection to our commerce, if the coaling stations were not placed in a more satisfactory condition. He would have been glad to hear that active steps were being taken to make our coaling stations more secure against attacks; but he feared that nothing had been done, particularly to the most important station of all—he referred to the Cape of Good Hope. The real truth was that that which lay at the root of all these and other matters was the great fear—the terror—which haunted all Governments—the spending of money. He had heard the most absurd argument used—"Tell us what the aggregate expenditure is, and if that expenditure exceeds ours you are, protanto, wrong." There could be nothing more absurd than that. With a much larger population, and with an enormously increased trade, they were content to spend at a much lower rate for their assurance, and were, in his view, living in a fool's paradise. His own belief was that the solution of their difficulty lay in the direction of a capital expenditure, whether by loans or terminable annuities. He doubted, failing that, whether there was any other course which would satisfy the mind of the country, and give them that assurance which they desired and to which they were entitled. It had been suggested that a Royal Commission should be appointed to inquire into the adequacy of their naval strength and general means. He had no very great faith in Commissions, and for the reason that, if they really examined properly, they consumed a great deal of valuable time and personal labour, and at the end of the inquiry the Reports were pigeon-holed and became comparatively valueless. He would rather see a Joint Committee of both Houses. The recommendations of such a Committee would be more difficult to set aside than any other species of recommendations. Lastly, he 243 wished the Board of Admiralty would ask for what they wanted, and not for what they thought they could get. He feared it was that system of paring and pruning and cutting down the Estimates in order to meet the supposed temper of the House of Commons which was largely responsible for the mischief. He had more than once urged the creation of a Departmental Body, which would combine effectively the naval, military, and Colonial elements of this question. This would save an enormous interchange of correspondence which now arose, which wasted such a large amount of time, and which, ultimately, would lead to a miscarriage. The present was one of those serious moments when the question could be best pressed upon the attention of the Government. They had their difficulties with France; they had the difficulty as to their Indian Frontier, where a single chance collision of outposts might involve them in hostilities; and they had the extreme tension in their relations with Germany. It was not only in the South Pacific, and in distant parts of our Dominions, that we had cause for anxiety. Blue Books before the House, as well as the singular communication they had that evening had from the Foreign Minister, made it plain how painfully strained our relations with foreign countries were. If anything more were wanted to confirm that view, it would be the fact that Her Majesty's Government had thought fit to call upon the Reserves. This one point should be kept in mind—that any military difficulty in which we might be involved meant the necessity for a great Navy. We should not now be able to act with our Navy as we did during the Crimean War. That state of things was at an end, and any military difficulties in which this country might now be involved unquestionably meant naval difficulties of a very large and complicated nature. He should like to see the naval arrangements of the country carried out in such a manner as to show foreign nations that we were determined to be fully prepared for any emergency; and it should be remembered that, when the arrangements to be adopted had once been decided, delay in carrying them out meant not only additional danger, but, in the long run, great additional expense.
§ VISCOUNT SIDMOUTH
, in reply, said, he did not agree with the statements of 244 the First Lord of the Admiralty (the Earl of Northbrook); and he should be prepared to prove, at any time, that the Navy of France was nearly on a par with that of this country, both as regarded guns and armour-plated ships; and he complained that the noble Earl would not face the difficulty.
§ THE EARL OF CLANWILLIAM
explained that he had referred to the very small increase in the Estimates—only about £800,000 shown in the totals at the end—considering all that was required to be done by the Board of Admiralty.
§ THE EARL OF NORTHBROOK
said, that it would not be in accordance with the practice of the House that he should make a second speech. He wished only to explain that provision was taken in the Army Estimates of this year in respect to the defences of coaling stations, and that at two of those stations the work was actually being carried on.
§ House adjourned at a quarter before Seven o'clock, to Monday next, a quarter before Eleven o'clock.