HL Deb 16 February 1899 vol 66 cc1059-61

My Lords, I beg to ask Her Majesty's Government if directions could be given that Her Majesty's ships, or at least some of the smaller ones, should visit the Channel Islands more frequently. Before putting the question I should like to say a few words in explanation. Your Lordships are doubtless aware that the Channel Islands are surrounded by one mass of rooks and Shoals, and that there is a tremendous rise and fall of the tide. This renders the navigation of the seas and the channels around these islands very intricate and dangerous. Now, my Lords, though our Admiralty charts are as good and correct as you can possibly find, and although there are no men in the world better able to use them than our naval officers, still, the knowledge obtained from charts and from sailing directions is not in any way to be compared to that gained by cruising round the coast and acquiring a personal acquaintance with the position of the various dangers of the channels, the sets of the tide, the land-marks and the sea-marks. This knowledge, my Lords, I am afraid our naval officers have had very little chance of acquiring in the Channel Islands. The French naval officers have had every opportunity, and they have made the most of it. Our war vessels have been very seldom seen round the islands, whereas the French warships are constantly cruising there, and they have been noticed going through these very intricate channels steaming at a speed which proved that those on board must have had a most intimate knowledge of all the dangers in the vicinity. I was talking to the master of a Jersey vessel a short time ago, and he told me when he was in Boulogne last summer, one of his crew, a Frenchman, got into trouble with the authorities through not having his papers, authorising him to ship in a foreign vessel, correct. The French official spoke to the master on the subject, and commenced to find fault with him for not seeing that this man's papers were in order. The master said, "Oh, that is no business of mine. You forget that where I come from we are free." "Oh, yes, I know that," said the French official, "but, all the same these islands ought to belong to France." Now, my Lords, I think that will show you the feeling in France as regards these islands. So far as the islanders themselves are concerned, their feelings are just the other way; they have no wish to belong to France. But during the last uncertainty there was a strong feeling of insecurity experienced by the islanders. In fact, one Jersey man told mo that he wrote to his wife, telling her, in case war was declared, to at once leave Jersey and come over to England, and let their goods and belongings take care of themselves. This state of uncertainty, my Lords, I think was mainly due to the islanders seeing so very much of the French vessels and so very little of the English vessels. I would remind your Lordships that the islands are close to one of the principal French naval ports—namely Cherbourg. They are facing a whole lot of small harbours in the Gulf of St. Malo. The French put a great deal of faith and dependence in their torpedo boats, and it is only a matter of a few hours for them to reach the French shore at Poole, Guernsey. Unforunately, the islands have not good harbours, with the exception of Poole, where the small vessels I have in my mind—the torpedo boat destroyers —could easily and safely lie. Our torpedo boats would also be able to lie in the swatchway in St. Heliers. I think, had war unfortunately been declared last year, our naval officers would have been under serious disadvantages had they been required to operate in those waters against a foe who, in addition to having very excellent charts, possess good local knowledge of the vicinity. I think we ought at least to give our naval officers a chance of acquiring that local knowledge which our neighbours on the other side of the Channel have enabled their naval officers to obtain, and with that view I beg to ask the Question of which I have given notice.


My Lords, in reply to the question of the noble Lord, I regret I am unable to follow him in that technical knowledge and geographical knowledge which he has displayed with regard to the Channel Islands. I can only answer the question which he has placed on the Paper. I am instructed, on behalf of the Admiralty, to inform the noble Lord that Her Majesty's gunboat, "Raven," is stationed in the Channel Islands permanently. Moreover, in 1896 the Training Squadron, consisting of four ships, paid a visit extending from the 9th to the 18th of June, and have paid annual visits since. The noble Lord expressed some regret that torpedo boat destroyers were not seen frequently in the neighbourhood of the Channel Islands. I beg to inform him, on behalf of the Admiralty, that torpedo boat destroyers atached to the Portsmouth command have paid the following visits to the Channel Islands: two in June, three in August, four in September, and six in October; and that further visits will be arranged for in due course.