HL Deb 16 March 1885 vol 295 cc1205-11

in rising to move for Correspondence between Her Majesty's Government and the Governments of any of the Australasian Colonies relative to the formation and maintenance of a Colonial Naval Force, said, he understood that a great deal of Correspondence had passed between the Colonial Office and the Admiralty on this subject. He wished to point out how very essential a Navy was almost to the existence of our Colonies. The Naval Force which we now sent out to the Colonies was totally inadequate at present, and we had done very little indeed towards helping the Colonies to establish a Naval Force of their own. The First Lord of the Admiralty seemed the other night to be under the mistaken impression that he had charged the Admiralty with being hostile to the establishment of a Naval Force in the Colonies. He had not the slightest intention of making any accusation of that kind against the Admiralty; but he did maintain that the effort made by the Colonies in providing themselves with ships did impose on the Admiralty some obligation to meet the natural wishes of the Colonies. The noble Earl the First Lord of the Ad- miralty had, he believed, said that some kind of assistance had been already given to the Colonies, and that several naval officers were already there. He did not want to underrate that assistance; but it had never been definitely stated by the noble Earl, and the information he possessed on the subject had been picked up piecemeal here and there. The Colonies were extremely anxious for their selfdefence, and were more or less waiting for the Admiralty to make some proposal to them. The noble Earl was of opinion that the initiative should come from the Colonies; but for his own part he ventured to think that they had already taken a step in advance, and it was therefore now open to the Government to make some proposal which would lead to the formation of a Colonial Force. It appeared to him that two courses lay open to the Admiralty. They might either send out an experienced officer to organize the whole of the local Marine—and it so happened that an officer who would command the highest respect had been named as quite willing to go out and organize a Naval Force, and if he were to do so it would not be long before there was a Force in existence—or they might name a certain number of officers to serve in the Colonies for a limited number of years, their pay being defrayed by the Colonies and their promotion being allowed to go on in the same way as at present. The latter course would be acceptable to many naval officers who were now in a state of enforced idleness. Looking at the Navy List, he found that there were 70 captains, about 75 commanders, and between 80 and 90 lieutenants at present unemployed. As to the first proposal, there was a precedent for it, as in former days, when the East India Company maintained a Navy of its own, the Admiralty used to send out a distinguished naval officer who had the sole management of the Bombay Marine. What the Colonies now required was a body of trained naval officers to enable them to form a Navy. The Colonies had a certain number of men who might easily be trained to the management of torpedo vessels to be used for the protection of their harbours. Such a torpedo force would be of the greatest value in protecting the local commerce of those Colonies, which amounted to some 10,000,000 tons per annum, and their enormous coast-line. If the noble Earl would take the initiative for the purpose of forming a federation of the Colonies in the matter of defence, he would find the Colonies most ready to receive any suggestion he might make. He urged the Admiralty to place cadetships at the disposal of the Colonies with the object of developing the maritime spirit of the Colonists. In conclusion, he begged to submit the Motion of which he had given Notice.

Address for— Copies of or extracts from Correspondence between Her Majesty's Government and the Governments of any of the Australasian Colonies relative to the formation and maintenance of a Colonial naval force."—(The Viscount Sidmouth.)


My Lords, I have been requested by my noble Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies (the Earl of Derby) to answer the Questions of the noble Viscount opposite. The noble Viscount asked whether applications had been made by the Australian Colonies of Victoria, Queensland, and South Australia, for advice and assistance as to manning vessels of war. I have to state in reply that such applications have been received, and that they have been in every case freely and fully complied with. I may further say that the Admiralty have received warm thanks from the Agents General for the way in which they have acted in the matter. I can assure the noble Viscount that many officers of merit in Her Majesty's Navy would be glad to go out to the Colonies in the capacity of training officers, and if any applications are made from the Colonies for further assistance your Lordships may be satisfied that the Admiralty will give them every assistance. I can also state that suggestions have been made by the Government as to the general scope of the Naval Force in the Colonies, and much assistance has been rendered by the Construction Department of the Admiralty in the supervision of the ships which have been built for the Colonies. During the last few years there have been constant communications between the Agents General for the Colonies and the Admiralty on the subject, and the Naval Commander-in-Chief in Australia has also been in frequent communication with the Governments of the Colonies in reference to their Naval Forces. In reply to the next Ques- tion of the noble Viscount, I have to state that there have been proposals made by the Admiralty as to a scheme of organization of a Colonial Naval Force; but the Admiralty are of opinion generally that it is not desirable that they should initiate any such scheme, but should leave the Colonies themselves to initiate it. In order, however, to facilitate the initiation of such a scheme, Bear Admiral Tryon, before he left this country as Commander-in-Chief of Her Majesty's vessels in the Australian waters, had communications with my noble Friend the Colonial Secretary and myself, in order that he might be able to lay before the Australian Governments the views of Her Majesty's Government on this matter, which has been very carefully considered by Her Majesty's Government during the last three years. The next Question of the noble Viscount, being based upon the supposition that nothing has been done in the direction it indicated, falls to the ground, inasmuch as the Admiralty have already stated that they will be most happy to assist in every way those Colonies who wish to form a Navy, if their Agents General will be so good as to communicate with them upon the matter; and I now publicly invite such communications to be made to us. As to the Question referring to nominations to cadetships in the Navy, I have to say that a certain number of nominations have been thrown open to the Colonies for many years, and the Colonial young gentlemen are admitted to the Navy upon passing a qualifying examination. These cadetships are annually given on the recommendation of the Colonial Secretary, so that the noble Viscount's suggestion upon this matter has been met by anticipation. With regard to the Motion, I assent to it, with the qualification that such Papers as can properly be given shall be laid on the Table.


said, that his noble Friend might congratulate himself upon having elicited from the Government a very important statement, and one which was well worthy of the attention of the House, and their Lordships would read the Papers moved for with very great interest, because he understood that many applications had been made, and that they would show what it was that the Colonies wanted and what the Government were willing to do. It seemed to him, however, from the statement of the noble Earl opposite, that the whole burden of initiating a Colonial Naval Force had been thrown upon the Colonies instead of Her Majesty's Government taking it upon themselves. It was in the memory of many Members of that House that some few years ago an Act was passed for the purpose of establishing a Colonial Navy, and it was a question of no small interest why that Act had failed to answer the expectations and intentions of those who desired that it should be passed. That Act had, however, failed to secure that amount of naval discipline which was not only desirable, but absolutely necessary, in a Colonial Force, and to bring it into close connection with the British Navy. One objection was that the Australian Colonies were either unwilling or, at all events, unprepared to accept joint liability for the defence of the Empire. The facts had disproved this, and there could now be no doubt as to what the disposition of the Colonies was. But there was also another objection which claimed great consideration, and that was that Australian ships must never be removed from Australia for Imperial purposes. He was bound to say there was great reason in that objection. His own view, however, was that, first, they should be able to secure that any ship or ships created by Australian expenditure should be maintained on the Australian Coast; and, secondly, that those ships should be brought into connection with the Empire, and, where practicable, interchanged, becoming part and parcel of the Imperial Naval Force. He owned he was disposed to go a step beyond his noble Friend. He thought there would be no harm in arranging that every Australian officer in the Australian Naval Service should directly hold the Queen's commission; secondly, that they should give to the Australian Government or Colony the same number of commissions as would be represented by ships which they established and maintained. These ships should be placed—and he would admit of no compromise on this point—under the direct control of the English Admiralty. Nothing short of this would secure the incorporation which they wished to see effected between the Colonial and Home Naval Forces of this country. Either these Colonial ships whould be maintained on the Colonial station or rendered available and interchangeable in time of extreme peril. It had been his lot to watch the growth of feeling in the Colonies on this subject. In 1878 he made proposals to these great Colonies with regard to incurring joint liability with the Mother Country in various matters, and, among others, in naval matters; and if his proposal had been adopted much of the trouble which had since arisen in the South Pacific would have been prevented. Still later he was Chairman of a Colonial Commission; and there was then much more practical co-operation than before. That was four or five years ago. Since then they had advanced nearer to a common ground. He deprecated the conduct of the Government in not taking the initiative in this matter; and he sincerely trusted that the result of recent communications between the Imperial Government and the Colonies would be to further advance that most desirable of objects—a closer co-operation between those great Colonies and the Mother Country.


said, everybody was agreed as to the desirability of the object referred to by the noble Earl. It was the wish of the Colonies as well as that of the Imperial Government. They were also all agreed that it was desirable the Colonies should assist in providing for their own defence; but there would be no disposition on our part to drive a hard bargain. On the contrary, the disposition would be to deal liberally with the Colonies. But he was free to say that he went further than this, and that he agreed with his noble Friend that the time was very auspicious for the consideration of these questions. There was no doubt various circumstances had arisen to develop a stronger feeling of self-defence and desire to co-operate with the other parts of the British Empire than had existed before. He did not, however, think they could bring forward any plan of naval defence until after the creation of a Federal Authority, which should be able to represent and speak in the name of the Australian Colonies collectively. They could not deal with a question of this kind with several divided Authorities. Then his noble Friend said that this was a question as to which the Imperial Government ought to take the initiative, and that the Government ought not to leave the matter to merely local action. The question of securing joint action between the Australian and Imperial Navy was one that had been carefully considered by Her Majesty's Government; and he was able to say that the Admiral who had lately gone out to that station was in possession of a plan carefully prepared and considered by the Admirality in concert with the Colonial Office. He hoped that the result would be to create an arrangement which, whether permanent or not, would, at any rate, meet the necessities of the time. He was unable at a moment's notice to pronounce any opinion upon the plan sketched out by the noble Earl opposite; but, to show that the subject was not one easy to dispose of, he might point out, on the one hand, that the Colonies had a right to ask that the funds locally raised, should be expended for the purpose of local defence; while, on the other, it was obvious that local defence could not be effectually provided unless it was dealt with as part of a general plan. How to reconcile these apparently conflicting requirements was the problem to be solved. It would be much simplified when they got a Federal Authority to speak in the name of all these Colonies; in the meanwhile, he could only assure their Lordships that the matter was not neglected, and that Her Majesty's Government were making overtures on the subject, and that Papers on the matter would be laid on the Table without unnecessary delay.

Motion agreed to.