HL Deb 18 June 1896 vol 41 cc1302-4

asked the noble Earl who represented the Admiralty in that House, whether Her Majesty's Government would lay upon the Table copies of the Resolutions passed at a public meeting in the Guildhall, Bristol, and forwarded to the Admiralty last April, the purport of which was to ask for naval protection in the Bristol Channel; and whether the Admiralty would place a gunboat there under the charge of a naval officer? Another Resolution which was passed at the same meeting was in favour of the re-organisation of the Volunteer Naval Artillery. He might remark in respect of the first Resolution, that at the present time the only man-of-war stationed in the neighbourhood of Bristol was an old hulk, which was entirely obsolete as a fighting ship, and which was only used for drilling purposes, no opportunity being given for firing or for practising with great guns. The forts now upon the two islands which commanded the entrance to the Channel were armed with muzzle-loading guns and were without search lights which would enable them to distinguish an enemy from a friend passing up the Channel at night. It must be remembered that in consequence of the rise of tide being some 40 ft. in the Channel, it was absolutely impracticable to defend the entrance to it by means of submarine mines. With regard to the proposal to reorganise the Volunteer Naval Artillery, the people of Bristol were in hopes that the Admiralty would accede to their request that a gunboat should be stationed near that port, having a naval officer in command and manned with a skeleton crew of trained sailors. He approached that part of the subject with some diffidence, because he remembered that some four or five years ago the Admiralty thought fit to abolish that corps against which action he then, as he did now, ventured to protest. It certainly seemed strange that having such a large seafaring population, and such an extensive coast-line as we had, we should not avail ourselves of the services of men who were anxious to give their services as Naval Volunteers in the same way that our Rifle Volunteers gave their services for military purposes. No doubt the late Lord Elphinstone had caused much amusement in that House by describing the various avocations of the members of the Royal Naval Volunteers, but, at the same time, it must not be forgotten that when some years ago a naval officer in command of a frigate found himself short of his complement of men he made up the numbers of his crew with Cornish miners, and after training them for a few weeks he went out to sea and captured a French frigate much larger than his own vessel. He hoped that the Admiralty would look into this matter, and see what could be done in the way of carrying out the proposals contained in the Resolutions to which he had referred. He had further to ask the noble Earl whether there would be any objection to lay the Papers upon the Table, with any correspondence that they might have given rise to. [Hear.]


said that the noble Lord had directed a considerable portion of his remarks to the fixed defences of the Bristol Channel. Those defences were not under the control of the Admiralty, and therefore he hoped that the noble Earl would forgive him if he expressed his inability to answer that part of his question. The noble Earl had also asked whether Her Majesty's Government were prepared to supply a gunboat, manned by a skeleton crew of bluejackets, to be stationed in the Bristol Channel. In reply to that part of the noble Earl's question, he had to state that Her Majesty's Government were not prepared to supply ships to take up fixed positions near any of the ports of the United Kingdom. The policy of the Admiralty had always been to reserve to themselves absolute freedom to deal with their ships in the manner most calculated to defeat the enemy wherever he might come from, and, whilst they fully recognised the importance of the commercial ports in the Bristol Channel, they felt bound to deal with them in connection with the larger question of the defence of the Empire. The noble Earl had further asked whether Her Majesty's Government were inclined to assent to the reorganisation of the Royal Naval Volunteers. In reply to that question he had to remark that, after a very careful Inquiry before a Committee, the various corps of the Royal Naval Volunteers were disbanded by an Order in Council. The subject of the revival of that force was receiving the very earnest attention of the authorities, but in view of the great difficulties that were disclosed in the course of the evidence taken before the Committee, Her Majesty's Government were not very sanguine that it was possible to re-establish the corps upon anything like the original lines. He had further to state that Her Majesty's Government were prepared to lay upon the Table the Resolutions which were passed on this subject in Bristol, and which were forwarded to the Admiralty, with any correspondence that might have arisen out of them. [Hear, hear.]

House adjourned at a Quarter before Five o'clock, till To-morrow, a Quarter past Ten o'clock.