HL Deb 07 May 1894 vol 24 cc425-46

*LORD HOOD OF AVALON called attention to the very large increase which has been made in the strength of Foreign Navies since the passing of the Naval Defence Act, and is still being rapidly proceeded with; and asked whether, under these conditions, the increase in the materiel and personnel of the Navy, provided for in the Naval Estimates, is sufficient to ensure the command of the sea to this country in time of war, and adequate protection to the vast interests of the British Empire. He said, it could not be denied that the maintenance of the British Navy at such a standard of strength as would ensure to this country the command of the sea in time of war, and provide adequate protection to the vast interests of the Empire must be recognised as a subject of the very highest national and Imperial importance, and as one on which the very existence of this country as a first-class Power must depend. The late Government, being deeply impressed with the extreme importance of this subject, and having in view the very large increase being made to the strength of Foreign Navies, decided after full consideration to raise the strength of the Navy to a standard which should make it equal to a combination of the Navies then existing and projected of any two Foreign Powers, a project of naval defence which was to be carried into effect by April, 1894. The allotted time had now expired, and that the programme had been completed in the most satisfactory manner had been acknowledged on all hands. It was a far wiser policy to establish and maintain a reliable standard of strength for the Navy than, through false economy, to allow it to fall into a weak condition inadequate to protect the vast interests of the Empire, the result of which must be, as former experience had conclusively shown, the creation of a state of panic whenever a scare of war arose, and an excessive expenditure of money in the endeavour to provide hastily and, therefore, inadequately, for what should have been ready at hand. The increase made by the late Government in the strength of the Navy was not intended to be a mere spurt; but it was decided that this established standard of strength should be maintained in future, that a very careful watch should be kept upon any projected increase in the strength of Foreign Navies, and that provision should be made for increasing the strength of our own Navy to such an extent as would maintain the established standard. Opinions no doubt differed considerably whether the standard of strength established by the Naval Defence Act was sufficient to meet the requirements of the Empire; but his own opinion was that, provided our cruisers were maintained in sufficient numbers to thoroughly protect our vast commerce, and provided the personnel of the Navy was maintained at such a strength as would secure the rapid manning of our War Fleet in an emergency the country might be satisfied. But under no condition whatever should any decrease in this strength be allowed. A great increase had been made in Foreign Navies, especially in the case of France and Russia. In France the increase in vessels built and building up to the end of 1893 consisted of nine battleships, five very powerful first-class armoured cruisers, 13 other powerful cruisers, and five exceedingly fast torpedo gun-vessels—a total increase of 32 vessels. In Russia the increase consisted of seven battleships, four very powerful armoured coast-defence vessels, two of the most powerful first-class armoured cruisers in the world, and six exceedingly fast torpedo vessels—total 19. For France and Russia combined the increase was 51 vessels, of which 16 were battleships, four very powerful armoured coast-defence vessels, and seven first-class armoured cruisers. In view of that very large increase it had been expected that in our Estimates for last year provision would have been made for such an increase to the strength of the Navy as would have ensured the maintenance of the standard established by the Naval Defence Act; but that was not done, and the result had been that during the last 18 months the Navies of France and Russia had been rapidly increasing, while ours had been almost standing still. What had been done to increase the strength of the Navy during the last 18 months, beyond what was provided by the late Government? In the Estimates for 1892–3 provision was made by the late Government for building three first-class battleships. Those three vessels would have been commenced in 1892 had the late Government remained in Office; but a change of Government took place, and the first of those battleships was not commenced until April, 1893. The other two were not commenced until last December. It was stated in the Navy Estimates that the sole reason for this delay was the expediency of considering all the circumstances in connection with the loss of the first-class battleship Victoria before those two new battleships were commenced. That appeared to be a very plausible reason for the delay; but, as a matter of fact, 14 months had elapsed between the date at which provision was made for commencing those battleships and the loss of the Victoria, consequently it was difficult to see how the delay in the commencement of those two battleships could be attributed to that terrible event. The only real increase which had been made in the strength of the Navy during the last 18 months beyond what was provided for by the late Government consisted in the building of five cruisers—of which the two most powerful were not put out to build by contract until last December, although the money had been provided for them eight mouths previously—two sloops, and a considerable number of torpedo-boat destroyers. In June last the country sustained the grievous loss of the first-class battleship Victoria with her gallant admiral and some 350 officers and men. The loss of that ship should have been replaced with as little delay as possible. But the noble Earl the First Lord of the Admiralty, in answer to a question by himself in that House whether it was intended to take a Supplementary Estimate to replace the Victoria, stated that the loss of a single battleship was not of such extreme importance as to render it necessary to take a Supplementary Estimate for replacing her at once, and thus many months had been lost. The next point was the relative strengths of the British, French, and Russian ships built and building up to the end of 1893, the figures which he would quote were from his own personal knowledge and he believed them to be absolutely correct. Of battleships—which are essentially the class of vessels by which future naval wars must eventually be decided—we had 45, of which the two most powerful were only commenced last December. France had 34 and Russia 15. We were therefore at the end of 1893 in a minority of four battleships. Of armoured coast-defence vessels we had 17, 8 of which were stationed permanently abroad as harbour defence vessels. Consequently we had only nine available for service in European waters. Against those France had 14 and Russia 16— total 30—all available for service in European waters. In that class of vessel we were, therefore, in reality, in a minority of 21. But, in his opinion, if our battleships were maintained in sufficient strength, it would not be necessary to build more vessels solely for coast defence. Of first-class powerful armoured cruisers we had 18, France nine, and Russia 11. We were, therefore, in a minority of two. But in other cruisers we had a large majority (40), i.e., 111 against 54 French and 17 Russian. However, the interests which our cruisers would have to protect in time of war were infinitely greater than those of France and Russia combined, the total tonnage of our Mercantile Marine being not less than eight times as great as that of France and Russia combined; and the value of our cargoes afloat at any one time was estimated at £150,000 sterling. We therefore required an additional number of cruisers in order to afford adequate protection to our vast mercantile interests. In torpedo-boat destroyers we had at present a large superiority, but we required still more of those valuable vessels in order to protect our harbours and shipping in time of war from the attacks of the swarms of the enemies' torpedo-boats, which had been organised and stationed at posts opposite our coasts, from Dunkirk to Brest; and also in the Mediterranean. With regard to the increase in the strength of the Navies of France and Russia provided for this year, the figures were: France, three first-class battleships, eight very powerful cruisers, and a considerable number of smaller vessels; Russia, three battleships, one of by far the most powerful armour-plated cruisers in the world; of which class she had already two built or building, and several smaller vessels. Therefore, any new building programme for this country, if we were to maintain the standard of strength established by the Naval Defence Act, must start by providing 10 first-class battleships; next, a certain number of second-class battleships to compensate for the large deficiency in coast-defence vessels; and, thirdly, two first-class armoured cruisers. We also, in his opinion, required an increase of 25 second-class cruisers of the best type, and 20 more torpedo-boat destroyers. That was the smallest addition, in his opinion, which would meet our present and immediate future requirements. Now, what was the increase provided for in matériel in the Estimates? It consisted of seven first-class battleships, on two of which only very little work was to be done this year; six second-class cruisers, and two smaller sloops. This programme of increase, they were told by the Admiralty, was the result of a carefully-considered programme extending over five years; but, as battleships take a much longer time to build than cruisers, they were to be commenced in the earlier years, and the cruisers of different types would be commenced in the later years covered by the programme. From the wording of that statement it appeared that seven battleships were the total number included in that programme. Perhaps Lord Spencer would state whether that was correct or not. But, as a matter of fact, the programme, as far as disclosed, left us in a deficiency of three battleships, 13 armoured coast-defence vessels, and two very powerful first-class armoured cruisers. Of course, it might be intended in the later years to commence more battleships; but, at the same time, who was to know that the naval strength of France and Russia would not also be increased according to carefully-considered programmes extending over a term of years as in our own case? The next important point to call attention to was the expenditure on ship construction. In France last year it was £2,800,000; in Russia, £2,670,000; in this country £2,937,000. If those two countries consequently continued to spend these large sums in new ship construction, it would be absolutely necessary for our annual expenditure on that head to be increased to £5,500,000. Provision, he was glad to see, had been made for constructing a dock at Gibraltar, a want which had been urgently felt for many years. Having at last decided upon it, the Government might have been expected to complete the work as soon as possible. The total estimate for the dock was £366,000, and the amount taken in the Estimates for rapidly proceeding with that important work was £1,000. That did not give hope of a very speedy conclusion. Next, he would consider the present state of the personnel of the Navy and the increase provided for it in the Estimates. Upon that, the all-important question for consideration was —were our resources at present sufficient to meet our requirements for manning our War Fleet rapidly in case of an emergency? Without the slightest hesitation he said they were not, and he would prove it by figures. Vessels without a sufficient number of trained officers and men to man them were of but little use in an emergency. Our total requirements in officers and men for manning our War Fleet during the present year amounted approximately to 91,000 men, of whom 6,100 were officers. Our total resources in active service officers and men to meet those requirements amounted approximately to 68,600, leaving a deficiency of 22,400. Dealing first with the officers we were fairly supplied with captains, com-manders, and even engineer officers, but the deficiency in lieutenants and navigating officers was very serious, amounting at present to no loss than 390. That was a very difficult matter to deal with, and the deficiency could not be made up by merely increasing the naval cadets. Difficulty would arise in finding occupation for a very largely increased number of lieutenants at sea in time of peace, and they would gradually lose their efficiency. The only way of meeting this large deficiency at present was by largely promoting our sub-lieutenants and employing our retired officers and officers of the Royal Naval Reserves and warrant officers in the performance of lieutenants' duties. Every inducement should be held out to officers in the Naval Reserve. As to the naval pensioners, the important point was how many of them would be found fit for sea service if called out? What number of the Naval Reserve could we reasonably rely upon obtaining at short notice, say in a fortnight? He considered that if 3,500 pensioners were found fit for sea service, and 7,000 Royal Naval Reserve men were obtained in a fortnight, we should be very fortunate. Suppose that we could obtain from these two sources 10,500 men, this would be all we should have to meet the deficiency of 22,500. Extreme difficulty would be experienced in times of emergency in obtaining the necessary number of men in the engineers' department. And we must not forget the 5,000 additional officers and men who would be required in 1896 to man the new vessels commenced last year. He thought he had said enough to show that, in order to provide for our requirements in the present year and the immediate future, it was absolutely necessary that a very considerable increase should be made both in the number of active service officers and men, and in the Royal Naval Reserve. He had considered this question very carefully, and his opinion was that the very least increase which would meet our requirements during the present year and the immediate future must be 6,800 active service officers and men in addition to the so-called automatic increase of 1,600 young ordinary seamen who were our boys a few months ago serving in ships, but had now, having reached 18, obtained their rating of ordinary seamen. Of the increase of 6,S00 active service men 3,500 should be in the engineers' department, and an increase of 3,000 in that most valuable corps—the Marines. By this addition to the corps of Royal Marines we should get a large number of trained gunners in half the time and at half the cost of obtaining them in any other way. The cost of a Marine's training during 14 months while he was passing through was £48 against £102, the cost of a boy for two and a-half years before he became an ordinary seaman at 18. With regard to the present strength of the Royal Naval Reserve, the first-class numbered, approximately, 10,700; the second-class, 10,600; and the stokers about 1,200. The first-class were a most valuable body of men; they were employed in our large vessels of the Mercantile Marine, and were more suitable for service in the Fleet than were the second class, who were ordinary seamen —principally fishermen. It was most desirable that the number of the first-class should be gradually increased up to 14,000, the second-class up to 11,000, and the stokers up to 3,000, giving a total reserve of 28,000 men, as compared with 22,500 at present. This would give the country a really efficient Naval Reserve. The increase in personnel provided for in the Navy Estimates comprised 6,700 active service officers and men and 400 Royal Naval Reserve men; but the details of this increase when examined were not so satisfactory as they appeared to be. The existing deficiency in the engineers' department exceeded 6,000, and therefore the addition of 2,800 would still leave a large deficiency. There was also an increase of 500 Marines, but that was, in his opinion, far too small. There was what was called an automatic increase of 1,600 young ordinary seamen; but, as a matter of fact, these were a few months ago boys who, having now reached the age of 18, had become ordinary seamen. He did not see how this could be treated as a numerical increase of 1,600 in the personnel. It was further proposed to take 800 seamen from the Merchant Service and to send them direct to our sea-going ships; but this was not in time of peace a desirable transfer. The men had not been accustomed to the discipline of the Navy; they had not received instruction in gunnery and torpedo work; they were not accustomed to the duties they would have to perform in our sea-going ships, and it would be a very unwise thing to send them to those ships. If the men could be induced to leave the Merchant Service, and if it was finally decided to take them, the better course would be to send them for six months to our naval barracks, where they would get the instruction they needed to fit them for service in the Fleet. He had endeavoured to set forth the smallest increase in the active service men and in Royal Naval Reserve that would meet our requirements for the present and the immediate future. The number both in materiel and personnel in the Navy provided for by the Estimates fell far short of his recommendations. The command of the sea was not a Party question, but was one of the highest national and Imperial importance, and one on which the very existence of the Empire as a first-class Power must depend in time of war. He had carefully considered all the facts and figures, and the conclusion he had arrived at was that the provision made in the Estimates was not sufficient to ensure to this country the command of the sea in time of war, and was, therefore, inadequate for the protection of the vast interests of the British Empire.

VISCOUNT SIDMOUTH said, he would, with the permission of the House, at once ask the First Lord of the Admiralty the question of which he had given notice as to the cost of the proposed dock at Gibraltar; and what proportion of the work was intended to be executed during the current year? He said, there was but little for him to add to the speech of the noble and gallant Lord, whose authority on the subject was very great, for not only had he distinguished himself afloat, but he had had experience for many years as First Sea Lord of the Admiralty. The noble Lord bad laid before them facts which demanded attention, and which ought to sink deeply into the minds of the noble Earl opposite and of all Englishmen. He was glad the noble Lord had dwelt so strongly on the importance of increasing the number of battleships. After all, the proportion of our cruisers to our merchant vessels was far less than that in Foreign Navies. More battleships were required, because the result of future naval contests must depend on the number of that force employed. The conditions of naval warfare had been entirely altered. Formerly, a shot might kill a few men, disable a gun, or destroy a mast, but now, as we un- fortunately knew from collisions between our own ships, a blow from one ironclad might send to the bottom at once another, with her armament and crew. We must always remember Napoleon's axiom about possessing "les grands bataillons" and that the only way to provide for such losses was to have a large reserve ready to take the place of vessels sunk by accident or by such a blow as he had described. The French Government, in the event of war, could lay their hands on 170,000 men more or less trained; but we had no such resource. As to the subject of his question, we were about to spend from £300,000 to £400,000 on a dock at Gibraltar, winch had long been declared to be an absolute necessity; but the Estimates provided only a paltry £1,000, which would only lengthen the mole by a few yards. Far less would it construct a dock. He hoped the noble Earl would be able to give a satisfactory answer to the question which stood in his name.

*THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Earl SPENCER): I am sure your Lordships always listen with pleasure to the remarks on the Navy of the noble and gallant Lords who have just addressed us. Lord Hood has a wide experience at the Admiralty, and what falls from him must command attention. I do not think it necessary on the present occasion to make a general statement as to the necessity of maintaining our Navy in a condition to command the sea, because that has been repeated over and over again, both in this House and in another place. Only this I will say: that in both political Parties in this country there is practical unanimity that it is essential we should maintain a Fleet so strong and powerful at sea that we may be independent of all nations whatsoever. Having said that, I must claim on the part of Her Majesty's Government and of the Admiralty that we areas anxious to carry that policy out as the noble and gallant Lord who has been finding fault with us in such severe terms. I am glad to find, at all events, that the noble and gallant Lord has retreated from opinions which he formerly held, when he stated — in 1888, I think—that very little indeed was required to make our Navy efficient. Since then we know he took part in the Naval Defence Act of the late Government. Notwithstanding the criticisms of the noble and gallant Lord, I maintain that the scheme which Her Majesty's Government have put forward is one which will meet the requirements of the country fully and satisfactorily. I quite admit that we are not following the lines of the late Government by propounding at the outset the whole scheme, and tying the Government down to it by an Act of Parliament. We deliberately declined to follow that precedent. There are various reasons why we took that view—some Constitutional reasons and others as to the grave inconvenience which has occurred owing to the binding terms of the Naval Defence Act. In some respects the Naval Defence Act has worked well, but in others it has hampered and tied the hands of the officials to such an extent that it is one of the most laborious Acts to carry out, and we are indisposed, even if we had not graver and weightier objections to it, to bind ourselves down by another Naval Defence Act. At the same time, I quite admit that in looking at this matter it is impossible to confine our view to one, or two, or three years. We have prepared and approved a scheme extending over five years, but we think it most desirable not to announce beforehand what the expenditure and what the shipbuilding will be for succeeding years; and to that policy I sincerely trust we shall adhere most rigidly. If you proclaim in an Act of Parliament the whole programme of shipbuilding you are going to earn-out in five years, you make a stupendous list of ships and you draw the attention of everyone to the enormous expenditure you are going to incur with regard to ships. I conceive that the effect of this in the past has been to bring about the very state of things to which the noble and gallant Lord referred—namely, the great increase of late years in the shipbuilding of foreign nations. I maintain the proper policy is to frame your whole scheme and year after year to produce it to Parliament. A scheme of five years will be produced and known to the country in the first three years, for in the first three years you must lay down all the ships, or very nearly all the ships— there may be some torpedo and other smaller vessels not included—you intend to build in the five years. I maintain that our scheme, which I am not going to be drawn by the noble and gallant Lord to divulge, will be amply sufficient, alike with regard to battleships and cruisers and torpedo-boat destroyers, to meet the requirements of the country. It would be impossible to carry out and give orders for the whole programme in one year. Nor is it desirable. At the present moment, if we compare our naval strength with that of foreign nations, we should find that we stand exceedingly well in regard to battleships and cruisers, but that there are other branches of the Fleet where we do not stand so well. We therefore conceive that it is necessary to develop the scheme gradually, and by the time that other countries have the new ships they are building completed, we shall have the ships completed that we have in hand and propose to build in the next five years. It must always be remembered that this country by its skill in naval construction is able not only to build ships at a cheaper rate, as we believe, than foreign nations, but with much greater rapidity. The Royal Sovereign was built in the short space of two years and eight months, a very remarkable performance and one that does infinite credit to the construction department of the Admiralty and to the dockyards, where the building of these ships is carried out. We believe, however, that even without the Naval Defence Act we shall almost rival that record in some of the ships we are now building. But that greater rapidity of building is of importance in considering what it is necessary to lay down at the outset of a programme. I admit that if we see foreign nations rapidly increasing their shipbuilding we may have to increase our programme, but I sincerely hope that will not be the case, and there are indications already that almost the reverse may take place. Another advantage gained in not laying down at the beginning your whole programme is this: that any improvements that are made in the formation of ships, or in the disposition of the armour or guns, can be adapted much more readily if you are not tied down by a Naval Defence Act. I quite admit that even in that Act there were certain means taken to alter the ships; at the same time, the whole arrangements in the clauses of that Act were so complicated that they materially increased the difficulty of adapting, or changing the designs. The noble and gallant Lord says we have not laid down a sufficient number of battleships, and that we ought to have ten. At the present moment, subject to any increase of shipbuilding operations abroad, we have ordered seven. I maintain that, taking the test which the noble has himself taken, that number is sufficient for our present needs. I am forced by the speech of the noble and gallant Lord, though I always regret to do so, to compare the strength of the Navy with that of the two countries to which he has referred. With regard to first-class battleships, which the noble and gallant Lord said are our most important ships of war in case of an emergency, I find that we have now built and building 22, the French have 18, and Russia 10. That will leave first-class battleships in a deficiency of six at the end of 1898–99. But now I come to another test, which always presents a difficulty—and that is the test of taking second- or third-class battleships and coast-defence ships. That is a most complicated and difficult question. There is always a dispute as to the classification of particular ships. In a recent article in The Quarterly Review — and certain expressions of the noble and gallant Lord led me to think he has read it—there is an example of how strange classification may be. In that article the reviewer attributed 17 cruisers to Russia, while, according to our Return, Russia has not more than five. No doubt the writer in The Quarterly Review brought into his calculation certain smaller vessels, perhaps of 1,200 tons, and others. I have looked through the article, and I find the writer is only able to get his figure 17 in that way—a figure which certainly looks very well for his argument. The same article refers to armoured vessels, and gives us an inferiority. Our first-class armoured cruisers are given at 18. In that catalogue the reviewer leaves out altogether all the first-class new cruisers under the Naval Defence Act. I quite understand what may be said on that subject. I think the noble and gallant Lord himself was responsible for the way in which these armoured cruisers were protected by the protective deck instead of side armour. We at the Admiralty, certainly my advisers, all declare that these ships of the Royal Arthur and Edgar class are quite as powerful with their protective decks, and in some respects more powerful than some of those armoured cruisers to which the article refers. I have given those two examples to show how very difficult it is to come to any common ground of agreement with regard to those ships, for classification opens out endless disputes. With regard to the classification of the three classes of battleships, built and building, if we take into account the vessels now classed in the new Return as first-class cruisers— and we may well do so if we compare them with some of the ships of our neighbours—we bring out the number of seven to which the noble and gallant Lord refers. Then, with regard to the coast-defence vessels, the noble and gallant Lord compared our numbers with the numbers of foreign nations. With regard to that, we have never thought it a desirable policy to build special coast defence vessels. We have thought that there would always be vessels which could no longer be classed in the first or second or even in the third class, but which would be available and very efficient to take the position of coast-defence vessels. That is the policy of the Admiralty, and it is, I believe, right and just. Taking all these matters into account, I must assure the House and the noble and gallant Lord that, fully sharing his view that we are bound to keep our battleships in sufficient strength, we believe that, at the present moment, the seven first-class battleships which we have ordered will be amply sufficient to meet the requirements of the country. Now, my Lords, with regard to our cruisers I am not quite sure that he was perfectly satisfied on that point—or perhaps it was the noble and gallant Lord who succeeded him. He justly dwelt on the enormous extent of our Mercantile Marine, and I think everybody must: feel the vast importance of our great Mercantile Marine in every part of the world. I freely admit that this enormous marine requires greater protection than the marine of other nations. At the same time, I cannot agree to the doctrine that we must have cruisers in exact proportion to the number of our merchant ships. What we do want is to have a sufficient fleet of battleships and cruisers to deal with the fleet of any enemy opposed to us. That is the way in which we must properly meet the difficulty. In war we must attack our enemies wherever we can find them, and if we can keep them in check and destroy their battleships and cruisers then there will be, practically, safety for our merchant vessels throughout the world. But I do not wish to be misunderstood. I quite admit that the increase in the number of our cruisers is necessary, and we have begun already in our programme by entering into contracts for six second-class cruisers, which will be very nearly equal to the first-class cruisers of the Edgar class. I am very glad to find that the noble and gallant Lord is in favour of increasing the number of our torpedo-boat destroyers. Certainly I gathered from speeches in another place that that part of our policy was very considerably criticised by very distinguished persons who sat at the Admiralty with the noble and gallant Lord. I confess I attach the very greatest importance to the development of what is called our torpedo flotilla. There is nothing, to my mind, more important than that, and I have, I confess, always been rather surprised at the hostile criticisms which wore made upon the present Government for perhaps having gone a little further than they ought to have done, according to the Estimates they have laid before Parliament, in order to effect this great object. The noble and gallant Lord said we had been dilatory in the past year. I deny that entirely. When the late Government went out of Office, a Minute was left which said that the late Board of Admiralty did not consider it wise to carry out strictly the programme of new shipbuilding in 1892–93. They thought it was desirable to concentrate their efforts on the completion of the Naval Defence Act ships and to defer, at all events till towards the end of the year, the laying down of the new ships. The present Government and the present Board of Admiralty have followed out that policy. They thought it was of far greater importance promptly and rapidly to complete the ships of the Naval Defence Act than to begin at that time with new warships. We, therefore, were merely carrying out the spirit of the proposals of the late Board by deferring the commencement of these vessels. With regard to the further delay which took place, I do not think we can be charged with dilatoriness last year withregard to the new construction in the dockyards. With regard to the Naval Defence Act ships, we spent somewhat more than we put in the Estimates. In regard to the further programme of new construction in the dockyards, we spent E447,511, as against the Estimate of £433,430. I have thought it right to read these figures because the present Board feel it rather hard upon them that they have been accused of wasting time in laying down ships and in not carrying out even the modest programme which they had last year. With regard to the other matters to which the noble and gallant Lord has referred, I still maiutain that there were sound and good reasons for not hurrying forward the laying down of these ships. When that terrible disaster, the loss of the Victoria, took place, it was impossible to be certain to what cause the loss of that ship would be laid. We thought it was quite possible that the whole principle of naval architecture and construction might be impugned, and we thought it would be most imprudent if we did not wait until we had an authoritative statement and considered most thoroughly the import of that great disaster. I maintain that that was a thoroughly sound and legitimate decision of the Government, and nothing that the noble and gallant Lord or others have said on that subject has shaken me in the belief that we did perfectly right in not hurrying on the construction of the Majestic and the Magnificent until we knew the result of the inquiry into that disaster. Now, my Lords, I will come to what the noble and gallant Lord has said with regard to the manning. The present Board admit that nothing can be more important than the sufficient manning and officering of the Navy. We heard in old days that there were ships without guns, and the Admiralty of the day was much attacked for it. We should be blameable if we had ships without men as former Boards were blameable for having ships without guns. Now, I claim that, although there have been and are difficulties with regard to the officering and manning of the Navy, we are taking the right steps to obtain a sufficient number of men for every branch of the Service. What the noble and gallant Lord said with regard to the numbers required for manning our War Fleet in the future was entirely conjectural.

LORD HOOD OF AVALON stated that the number he gave, 91,000 men, would be found by the noble Earl to be correct according to the Admiralty Returns.

*EARL SPENCER: I maintain my position that the opinion of the noble and gallant Lord is conjecture; and I shall certainly not add to the conjecture of the noble and gallant Lord by making any representation on the part of the Admiralty as to the number of men that would be required for manning our warships in the future. But I will tell your Lordships what the Admiralty have done. It is not the work of the present Government; it is the work we found in operation when we came into Office, and we took it up. A very influential Committee was appointed for the consideration of the manning of the Navy. Its Reports are made in the strictest confidence, and it would be iniquitous on my part to divulge what is contained in those confidential Reports for the use of the Admiralty. That Committee is still sitting, and we are acting strictly in conformity with the recommendations of the Manning Committee. We believe that the steps we are taking will in a short time provide the necessary men for manning our Fleet in time of war. We have this year taken means to considerably increase the number of our men. I was not quite sure when the noble and gallant Lord said we required 6,800 officers and men to complete our strength whether that was in addition to the new number for which we are asking this year or whether it includes that number. At all events, the number we are asking for is 6,700, and of these a very largo number are stokers and engine-room artificers. We ask for 2,445 additional stokers, besides engine-room artificers. I believe that we could not have safely asked for more. It is a very large increase, and I gather from speeches in another place, to which I listened with great interest, that those who had been colleagues of the noble and gallant Lord thought we had been liberal in our proceedings with regard to what we asked for on the subject of manning. Certainly I heard my predecessor in Office say so myself. The noble and gallant Lord criticised us for having asked for 800 men to be entered from outside our own training ships. Our asking for 800 men outside our own training ships does not mean in the slightest degree that we disparage or undervalue the great merit of the men trained in our training ships. They are, I believe, as good men as can possibly be found, and I do not believe that there is any country in the world that has any sailors or blue jackets equal to the men we turn out from our training ships. But we consider that we are short of that complement of trained men required to man our ships in time of war in conjunction with our Naval Reserve. We thought it was desirable, therefore, to try this experiment of getting men from the outside. I have not asked the question of my naval advisers, but I feel certain it was never their intention that these men should be started off to the Mediterranean or other stations abroad the moment they were enlisted, but that they should be sent to the depots—the very thing to which the noble and gallant Lord refers. I attach very great importance to the Royal Naval Reserve, and we claim that we are doing a great deal this year to increase the efficiency of that force. We are inviting more officers than we have done before to take part in the training in our ships, and we ask for 50 more lieutenants and 50 sublieutenants. We have increased the number who may serve on board ships for 12 months training. We are also, which is a perfectly new thing, giving six months' training afloat to 700 men of the Naval Reserve. We consider this to be of the highest importance, because without that training such as men-of-war afford we know that the men of the Royal Naval Reserve, however good they may be, would not be equal to the men we have trained ourselves. We have therefore held out inducements for them to train in this way. We are not able at this time to say how far the experiment will be successful, but I assure your Lordships that we will do everything we can to make it successful and arrange that those men should receive this additional training. I come now to a point which has been referred to by the noble Viscount, and as to which a question has been placed on the Paper. He very kindly at my request made his reference to the question after the speech of the noble and gallant Lord, as I thought it would save your Lordships' time if I made my reply to both together. Now, my Lords, I attach the utmost importance to the question of public works. We have our new ships of greater size and weight than any ships that have existed before. We have a new naval attack in case of war—the torpedo attack—and that devolves upon us immense responsibilities with regard to our ships in time of war. We know now that we must have protected anchorages for them, in order that they may lie safely at night, unless we are able by our torpedo-boat destroyers to close the ports from which the torpedo boats issue to attack us, therefore, this year we made a great effort to get Parliament to affirm the principle of certain necessary works. We have very nearly doubled the Vote which was taken for works last year, and which has been taken for works in previous years. We require larger docks, and we need to dredge out our harbours for the safe anchorage of men-of-war. We also require protection against torpedoes by moles, and other forms of protection as well. In order to meet this requirement we have made great efforts to get the sanction of Parliament. The ease of Gibraltar has been mentioned. I attach the utmost importance to the dock at Gibraltar. Though nothing was done with regard to it upon the Committee's Report which was made some time ago, I know that something was done with regard to the mole. We think, however, that what was ordered then is wholly insufficient, and we have therefore obtained this year the sanction of Parliament not only to lengthen the mole at Gibraltar by two stretches, which will make it a considerable length, but we have also obtained the sanction of Parliament to a Vote for expenditure upon the dock. Noble Lords cheered the attacks which were made on the Government with regard to the smallness of the Vote. But it is impossible until a Vote has been sanctioned by Parliament to take any steps whatever with regard to the carrying out of a plan for a perfectly new work. The plans for great works are very costly, and therefore no Government will undertake to forestall a decision of Parliament as to cost with regard to the preparation of works and the plans for those works. Time after time the Government have taken money in the Estimates for those Votes, and time after time it has been found impossible, especially in the first year, to expend the money asked for. This has been made a matter of serious comment by the Controller and Auditor General, and the Admiralty have been much criticised with regard to it. We have not thought it right this year to take more money than we thought we could actually spend, but we thought it was of the utmost importance to get the principle affirmed. Once the principle is affirmed, then we can push on with the works, and there would be no difficulty in getting the money. If money is saved on one estimate it can, with the sanction of the Treasury, be expended on works. It was said in another place that to get £5 voted for works is important, because it establishes the principle. With regard to the enormous Keyham works, we did not think it right to take more than would actually affirm the principle and enable us to make preparations to commence the work. The same thing may be said with regard to Gibraltar dock, though we are pressing forward the mole. It is almost impossible to lay out a large sum the first year owing to the preliminary preparations that have to be made; but I assure your Lordships that I greatly value those works at Gibraltar, particularly the dock and the extension of the mole. If the Government remains in Office we shall push forward the works to the utmost of our power; but your Lordships must not judge that the sum we ask for this year is the measure of what we intend to do with regard to pressing on those works in the future. I assure the House that it is the Government's anxious desire to maintain the Navy in a condition that will sustain our supremacy on the seas, and we believe that the programme we have prepared, of which this year's estimate is the beginning, will be amply sufficient for the purpose.

VISCOUNT SIDMOUTH said, the noble Earl had not answered the question as to what proportion of the work was to be executed during the present year.

*EARL SPENCER said, that in all their preparations they should push it forward as far as they could. They doubted if they would be able to do more than that in the present year.

LORD DE MACLEY thought that the noble Lord who introduced this question had sounded a note of alarm which should re-echo through the country. No doubt they were in a state of jeopardy. Armaments were springing up in all directions, far in excess of the requirements of commerce, which, if not a menace, might become a source of danger. The Navies of the present day were different from those they encountered when they held a superiority both in numbers and efficiency. The French fleet in the impregnable harbour of Toulon was fully equipped for action. They might attack an English fleet, probably, as usual, unprepared. They might choose their own time for doing so. Before many years had elapsed there would be a canal to connect the Mediterranean with the northern portion of their Kingdom. Their fleet, withdrawn from the south, might appear upon our coasts. The prospect was simply appalling. We might be hit right or left, at the convenience of an enemy. The canal was a geographical difficulty we were unable to surmount; but was the Navy such as could be relied upon to cope with the danger? It appeared to be doubtful. Some few months past we read an account of one of our monster ships well nigh unmanageable in a gale of wind; it certainly would have been at the merer of an enemy in a more navigable vessel. The catastrophe which caused the loss of that most excellent officer Sir George Tryon taught that these unwieldy ships would not bear collision; they were forced upon their beam ends, the weight of their armour pressed them down, they shipped a sea, and sunk. They appeared to have no recovering power. It was possible that Sir George Tryon, in practising the gridiron manoeuvre, was thinking of the Dardanelles, a not unlikely spot for an encounter between the allied fleets of Russia and France against our own. The width of the strait would only admit of the turning of one of these unwieldy monsters, and if an accident occurred in what was nothing more than a naval review, the confusion of actual conflict might be imagined. It appeared to be doubtful whether those ships were not more objects of admiration than of use. The destruction of our fleet would be the loss of Egypt, and a peril to our Indian Empire. A Committee should be at once appointed to report upon the state of the Navy, not composed of experts who naturally were enamoured of these works of art, nor yet of yacht-builders, who he admitted were the most scientific class of the day. They did not require a racing Navy, but one to stand the wear and tear of service; but the Committee should be composed of practical seamen, men who might be called upon to serve in these very ships and be responsible for their safety, who from experience in the duties of their profession would be better able than theorists to satisfy the public mind as to the value of our ironclad Navy.

[The subject then dropped.]