HL Deb 07 July 1893 vol 14 cc1033-42

asked whether, in view of the large additions now being made to the Naval Forces of other countries, the Government proposed to take any steps for strengthening the Royal Naval Reserve, and increasing its efficiency? He said, this subject of the Royal Naval Reserve and the general question of manning the Navy was undoubtedly one of the most important questions which could be raised in relation to the Navy. At the present moment great strides were being taken by all foreign nations to increase their Fleets. It had lately been shown that the French and Russian Navies had determined to increase their Fleets and their shipbuilding programmes, and, as far as he had been able to ascertain, it was proposed by these two countries to spend the enormous figure of about £6,000,000 sterling a year on shipbuilding. He had ventured on one or two occasions to point out to their Lordships the terrible significance of this and the absolute necessity for our taking very strong steps if we were not to be left behind in the race. Our normal shipbuilding programme, independently of any special Naval Defence Act, was only from £2,500,000 to £3,000,000; and as the great naval experts and authorities were agreed that this country ought to have a Navy equal to any two nations combined, especially to France and Russia, it was a self-evident fact that before very long a greatly increased naval programme in this country must be undertaken to keep to the £6,000,000 of Russia and France if we did not wish to sink into a very different position to that which we had occupied. It was of the utmost importance that this country should maintain her position of influence at sea, and woe to that Admiralty or Government that should allow England to fall below the position she now held! The fearful catastrophe which had lately happened in the loss of the Victoria at a time of profound peace, in broad daylight and in smooth water, had shown what might be expected in time of war when our enormous battleships came into actual warfare, and that unless we had ample reserves both of ships and men we should be in a very uncomfortable position. Unfortunately no Government, and no Admiralty, could incur a greater expenditure on the Navy unless the country put pressure upon them and enabled them to ask for further moneys. It was true that of late years we had considerably increased the number of our ships, and to a certain extent we had slightly increased the number of our offiecrs and men. It was, however, of common knowledge that those numbers were far below what they ought to be, and that our reserves were by no means adequate or able to bear comparison with those of foreign nations. In the Estimates for this year he was glad to see that the numbers were to be brought up to 76,000 men, of whom 1,800 were pensioners. Those numbers included 14,800 Royal Marines, which was an increase this year of 500 men. It was perfectly true that during 10 years this showed a large increase; but during this period our Navy had been considerably augmented, and he apprehended that it was generally understood the numbers were far short of the mark. The boys in training amount to 3,700, and he was told that this was the outside number our training ships could hold; but that only meant that a larger number of training ships was required. He should like to know whether it was proposed to make any addition to these numbers? In 1891 an Admiralty Departmental Committee was appointed to consider fully the question of the present position of the Royal Naval Reserve and how it could be enlarged. The late Admiral Sir George Tryon, whose loss was so deeply deplored, was Chairman of that Committee. In their Report they stated that the number of the First Class Reserve might be increased to 3,000, possibly to 4,000, men with very great ease, and that there would be no difficulty in largely increasing the Second Class. In 1859, when the Royal Naval Reserve Force was formed, the Admiralty were empowered to raise the Force to an amount not exceeding 30,000. We had at the present moment only 23,000 at the outside, and it was of the utmost importance that we should have the number brought up to the full extent. What was really wanted, however, was that the efficiency of the Service should be much improved. Taking for granted that the Reserve comprised the cream of the Merchant Navy, it was essential that they should be well drilled in their duties in time of peace. Every man in the Reserve should have a certain amount of time at least on board sea-going men-of-war, instead of being drilled only in batteries and hulks, and should be trained to the use of the modern class of guns. There was a great deal too much time wasted in drilling men with obsolete guns. We had in this country a splendid source of supply which no other country possessed in our Merchant Navy, numbering about 80,000 seamen and 70,000 fishermen, but that raw material required to be well trained during peace time. The question of the reserve of officers was most serious. Altogether, it appeared that we had only about 900 officers in our Reserve. That number was far too small, and efforts should be made to encourage officers to train in larger numbers. In war-time we should require for gunboats, torpedo boats, and such vessels, a large number of lieutenants who might come from the class of mates in the Merchant Navy. The great desirability of making our Naval Reserve thoroughly efficient was brought home most clearly by a consideration of the position occupied by the French. In their Inscription Maritime all their seafaring men were liable to serve in the Navy between 18 and 50, and they all had to be trained in the Fleet for three years. No less than 157,000 men were enrolled, and of this number 114,000 were able-bodied. After deducting the men serving, the men abroad, the men who were sick, and the men unfitted, there remained a splendid Reserve of 53,000 men, thoroughly drilled, who had served three years in the Navy, and thoroughly available for going aboard men-of-war at once. The French had thus 30,000 more men in their Reserve than we had, and no one could say this was satisfactory. In Germany very much the same system was adopted, and every man of the seafaring population served seven years in the Fleet. A very important suggestion had lately been made by Admiral Sir Geoffrey Hornby in a paper appearing in the Naval Annual. It was that a much larger number of boys should be trained with a view of allowing a certain portion at the end of seven years to go into a special Naval Reserve. He trusted the noble Lord at the head of the Admiralty might see his way to give this scheme a trial. In this matter of the Reserves, as in the increased programme of ships, additional money was, of course, involved; but he was absolutely certain that no one in this country would ever regret, or would ever make any objection to increasing the Navy Estimates if the Admiralty would only boldly say the increase was essential to maintain Great Britain's sea power. Surely, if ever there was a moment when the necessity of large Reserves, both in ships and men, had been made prominent, it was at the present time, when one of our largest battle-ships and 400 officers and men had been destroyed in peace time. What must be expected in time of war? A powerful Navy in this country was absolutely essential to our still remaining a first-class Power, whereas France and other foreign Powers, even if their Navy was absolutely destroyed, would remain Powers of the first-class, as they were not to the same extent dependent upon their Navies, whereas if England had her Navy even crippled she would cease to hold that position. He trusted the noble Lord at the head of the Admiralty would be able to give a satisfactory answer to the question.


said, the maintenance of a Naval Reserve of sufficient strength and thoroughly well-trained was a matter of the first importance to this country. In time of peace it was impossible to maintain the number of officers and men of a certain class—seamen and stokers—which would be absolutely indispensable for manning the whole of our Fleet in time of war. Hence the necessity of providing in time of peace a sufficient Reserve of trained officers and seamen. By the end of April, 1894, the whole of the vessels being built under the Naval Defence Act would be completed, and by that time, in the event of this country being engaged in war, we should require, in addition to the officers and men provided for in the Naval Estimates, no less than 320 lieutenants, 230 sub-lieutenants, 11,000 seamen, and 4,500 stokers for our War Fleet. The deficiency in officers could be supplied by employing Royal Naval Reserve officers who had already served some time on board men-of-war at sea, by promoting sub-lieutenants and employing warrant officers, and chief officers of Coastguards to perform duties usually in peace time performed by lieutenants. But to fill the deficiency in men and stokers recourse must be had to the Royal Naval Reserve. At present in the First Class Reserve there were 10,800 men; in the Second Class, 10,600; in the Third Class, 300; and of stokers, 1,200. Of these the total number enrolled was 22,337, and of the 1,200 stokers only 717 were enrolled. The First Class Reserve men were all able seamen, and most efficient. They underwent an annual training of 28 days, and were mostly engaged in the Mercantile Marine, or, first-class hands in fishing vessels in the Channel and the North Sea. They received an allowance of 3s. a day while training, an annual payment of £6, and a pension of £12 on reaching 60. It was on these men that the Navy must rely, and he would advise that the number should be increased from 10,000 to 16,000, because in the event of war many of them being at sea would not be immediately available. The Second Class Reserve was composed mostly of fishermen. They also had an annual 28 days' training in gunnery, rifle, and cutlass exercise. He thought most unwise the new Regulation that they were to have, instead, 16 days' training in the coast ships once in five years. A training of that kind was simply ridiculous for such a body of men to be relied on in time of war. It could not render them efficient, and the least period of training for them should be 16 days annually. A large body of reserve stokers was also an absolute necessity. In view of requirements in time of war the Government should endeavour in every way to induce officers of the Naval Reserve to serve one year in sea-going ships; they should also gradually increase the numbers of the First Class Reserve to 16,000, limit the Second Class to 10,000, and give 16 instead of 28 days' annual training, the force of stokers being increased to 4,500. That would give a total Reserve Force of 30,000 men, exclusive of officers, thoroughly efficient for the requirements of the Navy. It could not be too deeply impressed upon the Government of the day that a Naval Reserve insufficient in numbers and imperfectly trained must in war time be a Force on which reliance could not be placed.


My Lords, in answering the question put by my noble Friend, I assure your Lordships that I fully admit the great importance of the subject. It has been already referred to on previous occasions. My noble Friend Lord Brassey referred to it, as did also my noble Friend who brought forward this question to-night. I do not deny for a moment that reiteration of necessary facts may be very important. At the same time, I am afraid that those who have to answer those reiterations can only repeat very much what has been said before, and I really hardly know whether any very great good is likely to come of such discussions. Both noble Lords who have spoken have divided the question into two parts—first, whether the Royal Naval Reserve is at present sufficient in numbers; and, secondly, whether the Force is properly and efficiently trained. With reference to the numbers of the Naval Reserve, the Board have gone into the question, and the numbers appear to be sufficient for the scheme which they have before them of manning the Fleet in case of war, when the full strength of the Navy is completed, under the scheme of the late Government, in 1894. Very careful consideration has been given to this subject, and a Committee has gone into the question of the manning of the Fleet. It would be wrong for me to give the figures and proportions which the Committee propose; but as I said on a former occasion it has been considered that in all the seagoing ships that may be put into commission a certain proportion of the crews should be Naval Reserve men, and the other—the larger proportion—should be seamen of the Royal Navy. If, as the Board believe, the present number of Naval Reserve men come forward when the necessity arises there will be an ample number of Naval Reserve men to fill up the complements which may be required for ships in time of war. A great many of these men are probably now serving in sailing ships, and it is reckoned that in time of war the sailing ships will lose their avocation to a great extent, and be obliged to remain at home. A large number of first-class seamen would come from those sailing ships, and it is considered that very little difficulty would be experienced in getting the number necessary, as pointed out in the Report of the Committee. But there is another class of men, the engine-room complement of firemen and stokers. A great deal of importance must be attached to having a sufficient number of Reserve men among this class, and the Admiralty hope this year to increase the number of firemen. We proposed to increase the number by 500, and we have also adopted some of the recommendations of the Committee to give them considerable advantages. In that way we hope to hold out inducements for this class of men to join the Royal Naval Reserve—as regards pension, kit, and other advantages. This was practically done by the late Government; but we have obtained Treasury sanction to this important change, and we hope it will largely increase the number of this all-important portion of a ship's crew. The increase in the Naval Reserve must be a gradual matter each year. I do not say I materially differ from the noble and gallant Lord as to the numbers we ought eventually to have in the Royal Naval Reserve, but it is of no use to ask for more than we think we can get and train. Of late years there has been a gradual increase in the numbers. In 1890 the number of First Class Reserve men was 9,817; in 1891, 10,068; and in 1892 it rose to 10,527. As to the firemen, I admit the numbers are not so satisfactory. In 1890 the number of firemen was 583; in 1891 they went down to 572; but in 1892 they went up to 655. The Admiralty are trying to increase the number, and this year we propose to take, if the men come forward, 500 more firemen. On the question of efficiency, we may compare the old bounty system with the present state of things. If we go back to 1859 what was the system? When we went to war, or required to man a large number of ships, we had to give bounties, and in that year one vessel was sent to sea with a complement of 380 officers and men, of whom only 30 had seen sea service. The officers set to work—to use a common phrase—to lick those men into shape and train them to a high degree of efficiency. But now, though you may say your Royal Naval Reserve men are not quite so efficiently trained as they might be—and I am not denying it in the least—what a change we see! They are not landsmen. The first-class men are what are called "blue-water men"; they are picked men; they are men who habitually follow the sea in mercantile vessels, and when they join the Royal Naval Reserve they have a large knowledge of seamanship. Even of the second-class men it may be said that, though they may not have had experience in sea-going ships—for they are mostly drawn from the fishermen—they are at least very efficient boatmen, one of the qualifications required for our seamen; and these men would in six months gain a very considerable amount of discipline and knowledge. Compare that with the old bounty sytem, when most of the men were landsmen who had never been to sea before, and we find a great advantage in our present system. But I am not saying our system is perfect, and it is our business to give the Royal Naval Reserve men as much training within certain limits as possible. With regard to the officers, the Admiralty is doing all it can to give them a training on board ships. If any noble Lord will take up the Navy List and look down the names belonging to any ship in commission, he will see that in nearly all our big battleships and cruisers there are one or two Naval Reserve officers going through training for a year. That system has not been inaugurated by the present Board; it may be due to the noble and gallant Lord opposite; but we value it very much, and that system will be maintained and carried out. As to the training of the men, I hope we shall be able to improve upon that. It is now somewhat unequal, they get better training when they have a drill-ship than when they have simply a drill-shed. Lately we have carried out a change. Formerly there was no inspection of what was done in the gunnery instruction, but there is now an inspection by skilled, trained gunnery officers who belong to the coastguard ships. That, we consider, will greatly increase the efficiency of the men in gunnery. I do not really know that I can say much more upon this point. The noble and gallant Lord has made some criticisms, and he desires a very much larger increase in the first-class men beyond our present numbers. Any suggestion of his, I need hardly say, will be carefully considered, but I do not know that at the present moment we think it desirable or necessary to increase this large body. That increase must come, but it will be gradual, and at this moment we do not desire to increase the number that we are allowed. As to the men being trained with obsolete guns during exercise, we are endeavouring to increase training by modern guns, because we feel that it is desirable that the men should be trained with guns they will meet with on board ship. At present, however, we have not a sufficient number of guns to be able to arm all these drill ships and batteries with them. I think your Lordships will agree that it is more important that our battleships and cruisers should be armed with these modern guns than the drill-ships, and until very recent times we were not able to find guns of modern type even for all the ships which might be put into commission, but now I am glad to say that these difficulties have been, to a great extent, overcome, and ultimately, I hope, we shall be able to have a sufficient number of drill-ships with modern guns for training the Royal Naval Reserve men. As to an increase in the number of boys' training ships, at present we are not anxious to increase them. That would require a heavy expenditure, and at this moment we do not see the necessity for it. I really hardly know whether I ought to go into the proposals which have been put forward in the Royal Naval Annual by a very distinguished and gallant officer. I confess I should rather like to see the plans elaborated more fully than I can find them in the article which has been recently written. It is a very ingenious plan, and one no doubt deserving, on account of the source from which it comes, of very careful attention. But I do not think anything is gained by prematurely discussing a plan of that kind, which involves, no doubt, enormous changes of principle in the enlistment of men for the Royal Navy; therefore, I prefer at present to leave the question without going into its details. In fact, as I said before, I think the details are rather wanting in order to enable us thoroughly to understand the plan. The present Board of Admiralty are fully aware of the facts referred to by my noble Friend as to the great increase which the French are making in their Navy. We shall keep in mind what is required of us to maintain our naval supremacy. The Board, I hope, will in no way neglect their duty in this respect, but I do not think I ought to go more into details as to the future. I have always said we shall have to look forward with a programme for longer than one year. That we are considering even now, and I hope when the time comes for our acts to be reviewed, we shall be found not to have neglected what is wanted for the honour of the country or for maintaining the Navy in a thorough state of efficiency.

[The subject then dropped.]