§ QUESTION. OBSERVATIONS.
§ VISCOUNT SIDMOUTH
My Lords I will not detain the House at any length, but the question of which I have given notice is a question that I have repeatedly had the honour of bringing before the House, and I merely wish to refer to the number of times on which promises on the subject have been made by the Admiralty, which promises are still unfulfilled, and which I had hoped by this time would be in course of execution. I think it is now five years since the subject of the dock at Gibraltar was brought before both Houses of Parliament. By the First Lord of the Admiralty in the other House, and by my noble Friend, who I am quite aware is not responsible but who represents the Admiralty in this House, we have been told, first, that plans were under consideration, then that they were matured, then that part of the work was being carried out at private expense, and two years afterwards the noble Lord in this 1256 House gave a complete statement of the plans which were intended to be immediately executed; and he gave very satisfactory assurances that the works would meet the wishes of all those who were interested in naval matters, and also that the harbour, which is one great object I know with the naval authorities, would be greatly improved by the construction of the dock and the lengthening of the pier. My Lords, we have waited and waited, and I own myself, after all these promises, I cannot at all understand what reason there has been for this delay. The sole objection I may have had to the proposed tunnel was for fear it should defer these works; but I will not now at this period, and after so many attempts, dilate upon the immense advantages of it further than to say that I only wish the Prime Minister, both Houses of Parliament, and the country could realise for themselves the immense advantages which would accrue to the naval defences of this country if a dock were constructed at Gibraltar. I need not call to your Lordships' mind the recent occasions within the last few years when vessels of enormous value have been on the point of being lost, and would have been utterly destroyed for the Public Service, if there had not fortunately been the dock at Malta at hand. I allude to the "Sultan" and the "Victoria." Had either of those accidents happened a little further off—for instance where the battle of Trafalgar took place, and there had been no dock at Malta, I think those vessels must have been altogether lost to the Service. Your Lordships are aware that after the accident happened to the "Victoria" she had great difficulty in reaching Malta, a distance only of some six hundred to eight hundred miles; but, if the accident had happened at a distance of fourteen hundred or fifteen hundred miles, and the only resource had been to take that vessel home to England, or to dock her at Malta, I believe she would have been utterly ruined for the purposes of service. I wish the country could understand that when they regard the fleet as an insurance for the navigation of this country, they should recollect also that it is absolutely necessary that we should have a proper assurance for their safety, and that we can only get that by having docks within reach, as all other 1257 nations have who have valuable interests in the Mediterranean. All the other countries have docks spread all over the Mediterranean, and our forces are not so greatly superior to theirs; in fact I believe in one instance they are only equal to those of the greatest Naval Power out there; and, should any accident happen, we should be placed in an inferior condition in case of warfare, which it is utterly impossible to say may not at any time arise. I hope the noble Lord may be able to give some assurance that it is the intention of the present Government, should they, as I hope, continue in office, to resume the works at the earliest possible period.
§ LORD ELPHINSTONE
My Lords, I think the noble Viscount is scarcely correct in the wording of his question in speaking of the promised dock at Gibraltar. This question has been before the House very often and I have answered it very often; but I do not think I have ever committed the Government by making any promise. Indeed the last official utterance in either House of Parliament was by myself in March of last year, when I said—No Vote therefore was proposed in the Navy Estimates for this year, there being so many more pressing, and, as the Admiralty think, more important matters to be considered. As regards next year, we cannot at present forecast what provision should be made for a dock at Gibraltar.That is not a promise. I do not want to lay any stress upon it, but my noble Friend's question would imply that the Government were committed, through me as their mouthpiece, to the construction of a dock. I am not at all prepared to deny that all naval officers fully admit the desirability of a dock being built at Gibraltar; and indeed the Admiralty are quite of that opinion too. They admit the desirability, if not the necessity, of building a dock there; but they are not prepared, and they do not think it is desirable, to commence the work until they are in a position to push it forward rapidly to a conclusion. At present we are engaged in a great number of works of an even more pressing nature, involving very large sums of money; at Portsmouth, for instance, we are constructing two large dry docks entailing very considerable expense. With regard to Gibraltar we have already taken a Vote to extend the new mole for about 600 feet. In all 1258 probability a large gap will be left between the extension and the present mole which will enable the 600 feet to be carried out to perhaps nearly 700 feet; and the object of that mole will be to endeavour to create some sort of circulation to carry off the accumulation of filth which has been referred to and is an undoubted nuisance in connection with Gibraltar, and from which we suffer terribly in the Navy; the filth on both sides of the new mole, where our ships have to lie in hot weather, is something abominable. That work is going to be carried on at once. And the noble Viscount will remember that the Committee appointed in 1889 recommended the lengthening of the new mole as part of the general scheme of the dock. I do not mean by that to commit myself, or to commit the Admiralty, to the construction of the dock; but that part of it, at any rate, must be undertaken at once.
§ VISCOUNT SIDMOUTH
My noble Friend is slightly mistaken, I think, in saying that there has been no promise; I think if he refers to the statement authorised by the Admiralty two years ago, not only was a full description of the proposed works laid before the House, but words were added that the works would be commenced immediately in the current year; and upon those grounds I think I have a perfect right to complain of the delay that has taken place.
§ LORD ELPHINSTONE
I still think the noble Viscount is mistaken in that, and I refer him again to the last official utterance in this House.