§ VISCOUNT SIDMOUTH
My Lords, I wish to ask my noble Friend who represents the Admiralty in this House whether it is the intention of the Board to permanently station a surveying vessel in the Mediterranean. I anticipate the answer that he will give me. He will most likely tell me that there is already a vessel, the Stork stationed there; but the Stork as I understand—my noble Friend will correct me if I am mistaken—is not hi the same position as the former surveying vessels used to be; and in former days, as my noble Friend remembers, there was a permanent staff of surveying vessels stationed in the Mediterranean; they never left the station, they were not under the orders of the Commander in Chief except in a general way, and they had a complete staff of scientific officers with all the usual appliances for survey, which I very much doubt are to be found in the same value on board the Stork and other surveying vessels. And the whole duty of these ships was to survey in all parts of the Mediterranean during the summer, and during the winter they did not go home, but they mostly went to Malta, where they were employed in correcting the charts and preparing for the next summer's cruise. My Lords, we shall be told I have no doubt that for the ports of the Mediterranean there existed excellent charts from foreign nations. Well, my Lords, I do not think it is quite becoming a great country like ours to be dependent for charts upon other Naval Powers, and in the event of war it would be quite within the power of any neutral country to withhold its charts from both the belligerents; and if an objection should be taken that we should be offending Foreign Powers by surveying on their shores, I can only say that during the long period when I knew the Mediterranean where the vessels to which I allude used to traverse the coast all along, and at some parts of the Mediterranean where there was most likely to be a sensitive feeling, they were not interfered with; and I have no doubt in the present instance the diplomatic ability of the noble Marquess would remove any difficulty of 1655 that sort that would be likely to arise. Another reason why I think the survey of the Mediterranean should be very exact is that the large vessels we employ there draw a great deal more water than flag ships and line of battle ships of former days; and I need hardly ask the House to remember that the two most recent and most disastrous accidents which have arisen in the Navy have been due—I will not say to the absence of proper surveying precautions, but certainly to the existence of rocks where they were least suspected. In addition to this your Lordships must remember—I do not venture to impugn the action of the Admiralty—but it is by direction of the Board of Admiralty that all torpedo experiments are to be carried on in shallow waters, and our ships now visit portions of the Mediterranean for that purpose which used not to be visited, and I think were excepted from the surveys of former days. I allude principally to the Adriatic and some portions of the coast of Spain, and the northern part of the coast of Africa, in the neighbourhood of Morocco. My noble Friend will correct me if I am wrong, but I think I am right in saying that there is no thorough elemental survey of any of those portions of the Mediterranean waters; and that we are certainly dependent upon the survey of foreign Powers for the knowledge we possess of those coasts. I venture to ask my noble Friend whether the Admiralty will consider the great importance of the question and will station, as was formerly done, permanent surveying vessels in the Mediterranean such as are I believe at present stationed in other parts of the globe, and such as formerly existed there; such also as were employed by the East India Company permanently in the East Indies and the Persian Gulf, of which we have a most complete survey. Let me just say before I sit down that from personal knowledge I am aware that charts do require frequent correction. Some years ago I was supplied with a series of charts by one of the most distinguished officers in the Service—they were old charts, and, sailing by them I was enabled to observe—I am speaking of a yacht—the great difference that 1656 there is between those charts and some of more recent compilation. My Lords, I wish to say no more upon the subject; but I hope my noble Friend will give a satisfactory answer upon the point.
§ LORD ELPHINSTONE
I cannot help thinking, my Lords, that my noble Friend is under some misapprehension in this matter. The question he asks is whether it is the intention of the Admiralty to restore the Surveying Department of the Navy formerly stationed in the Mediterranean. Now we never have had a Surveying Department of the Navy formerly stationed in the Mediterranean or in any other station. The only Surveying Department is the Hydrographer's Department of the Admiralty. We have surveying ships—we have seven at present belonging to the Government and three others that are hired; but we send our surveying ships wherever the circumstances of the moment require them to be sent. It is perfectly true that we have had no surveying ships in the Mediterranean for some years. The general surveys of the Mediterranean extend over a period of about fifty-six or fifty-eight years, and during the last four years we have had no surveying ships there at all. The Stork, to which the noble Viscount refers, has been surveying on the East India Station—she is expected now in the Mediterranean in the course of a few days, and her first duty will be to re-survey the Maltese Islands; after that it is possible she may be sent to the Greek Archipelago; but we have to obtain the sanction of the Greek Government to make any survey there. We have already asked permission, but have not yet received their authority. Then the noble Viscount refers to foreign coasts. He is perhaps not aware that we cannot send our surveying ships either to the coast of France, the coast of Italy, or the coast of Spain; they all make their own surveys. The Turkish Government do not allow us to go anywhere near their coast for the purposes of survey. The consequence is that a very large portion of the Mediterranean is unsurveyed at the present time. The coast of Asia Minor is unsurveyed, but we are not allowed to go there, and cannot send our ships there. With regard to the torpedo arrangements, the Admiralty never 1657 interfere with that matter. The whole of the local arrangements with regard to where torpedoes are to be run is left entirely in the hands of the commanding officers at the different stations. The general instructions are not to run torpedoes in deeper water than twenty fathoms—that is in the event of a torpedo being lost, to enable a diver if possible to recover it, twenty fathoms being the extreme limit in which diving operations can be carried on. Under some circumstances we do allow torpedo practice to be carried on in deep waters, but then again it is only under exceptional circumstances, where we are not able to carry it on in shallow water; but there again every precaution is ordered to be taken for the recovery of a stray torpedo. I do not know whether the noble Lord has seen the Hydrographer's Report which is presented to Parliament every year; it contains very interesting information. I have here the Report for 1890, if it is of any use to him. The Report for 1891 was laid on the Table of the two Houses of Parliament two or three days ago, giving all information as to what ships there are, what they are doing, and where they are.
§ VISCOUNT SIDMOUTH
Do I rightly understand my noble Friend to say that there is a positive prohibition on the part of the Turkish Government against our surveying ships visiting the coast?
§ LORD ELPHINSTONE
On the part of the Turkish Government, yes; on the part of the others they have all of them intimated that they do not expect us to go about surveying.
§ House adjourned at twenty-five minutes past Six o'clock.