HL Deb 10 May 1901 vol 93 cc1281-97

My Lords, I rise to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty whether the Board of Admiralty have decided to take charge of certain coaling stations now garrisoned by five regiments of the Army; and, if so, what are the stations which will be thus affected, and how the arrangement will be carried out? I have no hesitation in asking this question, which has been for some time on your Lordships' Paper, of the noble Earl the First Lord of the Admiralty. It has reference to a subject of very great importance to the nation; it affects the policy which is to be pursued by both the Services, the Army and the Navy, in time of war, and therefore it is of the utmost importance to have a clear and sound principle laid down. Now, my Lords, my attention was first called to the necessity of having some explanation from the First Lord of the Admiralty on this subject after reading the speech in another place of the Secretary of State for War. I hope it may not be considered out of order if I quote the words of that speech. They are very important and are really the text of the speech which I am about to make. These were the words to which I refer— I come now to a subject upon which I have a very strong feeling myself, but on which I cannot give an absolute decision or pronouncement to the House. The War Office view is that the time has come for the smaller coaling stations to be taken over by the Admiralty. I do not mean fortresses like Malta and Gibraltar, but the smaller stations, like Singapore and Colombo and others, which are not attackable from the land, and in regard to which, therefore, you would have this gain—that you would not have two authorities in the island, but one. You would have the Admiralty supreme in their domain and you would not lock up our infantry, and with a constant change of ships you would give the Admiralty a chance of relieving some of those men and providing others as the exigencies of the Service might demand. But the subject requires a great deal of examination, and the First Lord of the Admiralty has not yet seen his way to give a final decision. But if I am able to prevail, and I trust I may, we shall then have five more battalions, making eighteen in all available to be added for home service. I may remark on the somewhat singular fact of a Minister of the Crown, responsible for an important Department, making remarks bearing upon another equally responsible Department. I shall not dwell upon that, and I will only say that it is somewhat unusual for a Minister responsible for a great Department to make a statement referring to his own opinions, which opinions apparently were not shared by the First Lord of the Admiralty and other members of the Cabinet. Later on there was some comment—on March 18th, the statement having been made on March 8th—and the Secretary to the Admiralty made these remarks— There remains one matter of great interest to the House in connection with the personnel, and a statement has been made in the House which if carried into effect would largely touch the question of the personnel of the Navy, and that is the question of furnishing protection for coaling stations. This matter has been mentioned by my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for War, and my right hon. friend has stated that in his personal view it is desirable that the Navy should undertake to find the men for garrisoning certain coaling stations. I think he made it clear to the House, and if he did not I desire to do so, that the view expressed by the Secretary of State was, to a certain extent, a personal view. The view expressed by a Secretary of State for War is, of course, of very great weight, but it is also fair to state, as he said, that this matter has yet to receive the careful consideration of the Admiralty authorities. The Board of Admiralty is most anxious in this, as in all other matters, to co-operate with every other Department for the service of our country, but they feel entitled, and indeed bound, to consider whether they can effectively contribute to the service of the country in this particular manner. I know I am correct in stating that the Lords of the Admiralty have not up to the present moment been able to examine with the minuteness so important a project deserves the whole of the bearings of this very grave proposition. It will be the duty of the Admiralty to review the subject in all its bearings, and I hope the House will accept my promise that when it is so reviewed they will be informed of the result: but I ask them not to anticipate the view of the Admiralty at the present stage. I thought it only fair, in referring to these somewhat unusual statements in another place to give both extracts, on behalf of the War Office and on behalf of the Admiralty. After reading that statement I postponed my question, as I did not wish to press the Board of Admiralty, but now a considerable time has elapsed and, apparently, no decision has been arrived at; therefore, as I do not like to postpone this question any longer, I should like to say a few words on the general policy which is affected by this proposal. Of course, that might involve a very long speech. It is one which has been very much discussed at various times, and it is rather hazardous, perhaps, to attempt in a few sentences to say what that general policy has been considered to be. But I will try, shortly as I can, to state generally what the general policy is that regulates, in the time of war, the Navy and the Army. Everyone will, I think, agree that, in the rather hackneyed phrase, the first line of defence is the Navy. Every Government, of whatever party or policy it might be, has of late years endeavoured to make the Navy as powerful and efficient as it could possibly be. When I had the honour to be in the Admiralty I was happy to be able to be the medium of the Government in increasing very considerably not only the number of ships of Her Majesty's Navy, not only the number of men who served it, but also—and I consider this of the highest importance—in making secure and enlarging the harbours both abroad and in other places. Well, I believe that the noble Viscount (Viscount Goschen), whom I am happy to see opposite, and on whose presence in this House we may congratulate ourselves, carried out with, if possible, greater vigour—at all events with as great vigour—the same policy which I was able to carry out when I was head of the Admiralty under the last Administration of Mr. Gladstone and Lord Rosebery, and I think it is a most happy thing that the policy of the Admiralty has been guided in no sense by a party spirit or by party motives.

It may be asked, What has our Fleet to do with this motion? Our Fleet has to defend our shores from the danger of invasion, if such a danger should arise. It has to defend our Indian Empire and our colonies from attack, and it has also to keep safe the great trade routes over which our great fleets of merchantmen pass. It is very important, not only that this country should have its food supplies, but that it should have those raw materials which furnish such a large amount of our trade. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance that we should have a sufficient force, not only for the defensive purposes of our ports at home and abroad, but for the safeguarding of the great trade routes. This has always been the duty of our Navy, and it has been successfully carried out. In order that it may do this, there have always been at various parts of the world bases to which our Navy might resort. This, perhaps, has been more important of late years than it was in the great wars where we have had such splendid records. In those days we had no steam. Now that our Navy is entirely moved by steam, the necessity of coaling stations has become all the more important. I do not say that we ought to multiply to a great extent these stations. I believe that if we did that we should hamper a great deal the movements of our fleets. This matter was looked into some years ago by a Royal Commission over which a distinguished friend of mine—Lord Carnarvon—presided. That Commission laid down principles and rules which have been very much adopted. It has never been attempted to have large fortifications at all these places; it has always been conceived that it is the case—as it ever was before—that if a coaling station or any of these harbours abroad were attacked by a great fleet, as long as we had command of the sea our admirals could always meet and stop the attack. But these coaling stations have been defended for this purpose—in order that they might be able to ward off the attacks of what are called casual cruisers. That has been the general policy we have pursued. The defence of these stations has, almost without a break, been entrusted not to the Navy but to the Army. Why has that been done? I daresay civilians who have joined the Board of Admiralty have sometimes been somewhat surprised when they have visited our great ports here or abroad, and have asked to be shown the submarine defences of these ports, to be told that the submarine defences were not under the command of the Admiralty or the captain of the port, but under the command of the Engineers and military officers. I remember myself being somewhat startled with this. That is done to carry out the general policy of the Navy, which is that the admirals commanding fleets shall not have on their minds the responsibility of the work that would be entailed upon them by the garrisoning and managing of the defence of the ports.

Our great naval arsenals at home are not at the present moment mentioned as being likely to be handed over to the naval authorities. At the same time, I cannot help thinking that if the principle is carried out, our large arsenals may follow. A naval commander ought to be able to strike at the enemy without having to think of his bases or of his coaling stations. That is a principle which has been long advocated at the Admiralty, and it is a principle which is almost universally adopted by all the highest opinion among naval men. I certainly in my experience at the Admiralty never came across a different opinion among my advisers, nor among the many able men whom I consulted on this matter. I cannot do better, to emphasise this part of the question, than read part of the Report of the Royal Commission on Coaling Stations. What do they say? The Royal Navy is not maintained for the purpose of affording direct local protection to seaports or harbours, but for the object of blockading the ports of an enemy, of destroying his trade, attacking his possessions, dealing with his ships at sea, and, we may add, of preventing an attack in great force against any special place. It is by the efficient performance of these duties that our commerce and colonies will be best protected. Our seaports must rely for their immediate defence on local means, leaving your Majesty's Navy free to act at sea. I do not think you could have a clearer or more precise statement than that. Then another authority, opposing the employment of marines for the garrisons of coaling stations, says— The marines are enrolled for sea services; they are, with the coastguard, our only really reliable trained reserves, and to lock up a number of marines as garrisons for coaling stations would in war time have a serious effect on the efficient manning of our vessels when many men would be required. If this proposal was to be complied with it would not only necessitate a considerable reduction in the number of marines now available for sea service, in order to provide garrisons for coaling stations, but a considerable number must also be retained on shore to meet the reliefs of the garrisons of coaling stations. The coaling stations should certainly be defended by land, and not by naval forces, as are all other land defences. I need not say more on the general policy of naval strategy. I should like to turn to the question of the marines. I am sure everybody who knows the Navy will agree with me in saying that no more efficient, no braver, no more splendid force exists in this or any country in the world than the Royal Marines. They are divided into two forces—Royal Marine Artillery and Royal Marine Light Infantry. The efficiency of these men cannot be questioned; their efficiency is so great that they have been demanded for many services. I remember very well a very splendid service which they on one occasion gave to the Government over which I then presided. It was a service about which very little has been said, but I venture to say that no more splendid service or greater proof of their discipline, efficiency, and trustworthiness can be found. When I was in Ireland there was a period—during my last viceroyalty—when matters there were in a very serious state, when there was almost a panic in Dublin, and the police were overburdened with work. The Irish Government were at a loss to know how to restore the confidence of the public, and maintain order in Dublin. What did they do? They applied for and obtained the services of a large force of marines, who were placed under a very distinguished officer who, I am proud to say, I at that moment had as one of my chief aides-de-camp the late Sir Herbert Stuart. These marines strengthened the police, gave them confidence, and rendered the country splendid service. This was hardly spoken of at the time, and probably very few people read the Blue-book which gave an account of the services of these marines—services which did infinite credit both to the men and the distinguished officer whose name I have mentioned, and whose loss in South Africa everyone regretted. Wherever the marines have been they have always done their duty. They have been to Australia and to Canada, but I venture to say that on no occasion have so great a number been asked for as are contemplated in the statement of the Secretary of State for War, which I have read to the House. The Admiralty have strongly opposed the demand made upon them by the War Office, who have desired to get such excellent allies, and in almost every instance the Admiralty have carried the day. I attach enormous importance to maintaining the efficiency of this splendid corps. We hear of the Navy consisting of "handy men." I am sure the marines are also handy men. And how is it they are handy men? It is because their service is not confined to the land or the sea, but is carried out on both. I believe I am right in saying that in old times—perhaps it has been somewhat modified now—it was always the practice that marines should serve half their time on land and half their time on sea. It is this combined practice that makes the marines the admirable force they are.

I believe—and the officers of the Navy whom I have consulted agree with me—that the efficiency of the marines, and the particular character of the marines, would be very strongly affected if a large number of them were put into permanent garrisons in the coaling stations. In the extract which I read there is some reference to the possibility of a constant change of ships giving a chance of relieving some of the men and providing others as the exigencies of the service might demand, but I doubt exceedingly whether that is a possible way of carrying this out. Take, for instance, the garrison of Sierra Leone. Is it proposed that the marines who would be stationed there are to be relieved by the Admiral on the West Coast of Africa? I am quite certain the Admiral would be very unwilling to make his fleet a sanatorium for the marines who may have to be relieved from Sierra Leone. The efficiency of the marines and of the ship's company who depended on the marines would, I am certain, be very materially impaired if this change took place. Then as to the question of cost. The old practice was to have the marines serve half their time on land and half their time at sea, and I believe that, if this change was made, you would require to raise not 5,000, but 10,000 men to carry out this work efficiently. Therefore I cannot understand why, if you take it on a question of cost, the Army cannot recruit a few more men rather than that they should call on the Navy for this extra work, quite independent of the great questions of policy to which I have already referred. The cost to the Navy of carrying out this work would be twice as much as the cost to the Army. I believe it is correct to say that the Germans garrison their seaports and fortresses with seamen, but they do that in order that the army, on which they principally rely at present, whatever they may do in the future, may be as mobile as possible. I turn that argument in favour of the view I have been urging, and I say that, as we require most mobility from our Navy, let us abide by the old traditions of having our arsenals and coaling stations defended by the Army. There is then the question of dual command. I believe myself that there is no practical difficulty between officers of the Army and officers of the Navy with regard to dual command in foreign places. I know there have been difficulties between other Departments than the Navy and Army. I remember years ago, when I visited Colombo, that there was such a want of unity that, notwithstanding the fact that the Army had gone to great expense in constructing a battery, harbour works were set up in front of it and the battery had to be removed. Even if the proposed change were carried out, there always must be duality of management; but I am not afraid myself of this dual authority. I believe the two forces have always pulled together, and I sincerely trust they always will do so. I appeal to the noble Earl to consider very carefully what I have said, and I challenge him as to the opinion of distinguished naval men. I quite admit there may be some who take a different view—on what question in the world is there perfect unanimity?—but I challenge the noble Earl to say whether the general opinion in the Navy of experts on this subject is not, I was going to say almost violently, but certainly strongly and strenuously, opposed to any change in the system and principle which have actuated this country during the many years when both Navy and Army have successfully defended the rights of the country both at home and abroad.


My Lords, the noble Earl who has just addressed the House has covered the ground so completely that I need trouble your Lordships with but few remarks. I may say at once that I entirely endorse the line of argument which has been taken by the noble Earl, and there is scarcely a word—I know there is not a single opinion—in his speech with which I do not most heartily concur. I should be prepared to leave the matter with that speech if I had not myself so strong a conviction of the inadvisability of the change which is proposed, that I should not like to be entirely silent on the subject. The noble Earl adverted to what passed in the House of Commons, and I must say that it did strike me as a somewhat unusual proceeding that a Minister, the Secretary of State for War, should, on a question so vitally affecting another Department, give his personal opinion, at all events without ascertaining that the personal opinion of the Admiralty might be stated contemporaneously, and in that case we should have had one Minister answering another in the House of Commons. It is clear that it would be most undesirable that those proceedings should form any precedent, and it is lest it should be a precedent, and because I hold so strongly to the view that all important decisions should carry the whole of the Cabinet with them, that there should be absolute solidarity, that I venture to make these comments on what passed.

There are certain general fallacies, I think I may say, which surround this question about the garrisoning of the coaling ports by Marines, and it is to them that I propose especially to address myself. I should not be surprised if a large number of the hearers of the Secretary of State for War, when he announced his opinion on the matter, believed that there would be a saving of 5,000 men by coaling stations being garrisoned by Marines. Certainly there was not a single word which would point in the direction that if he were relieved of five regiments it would be necessary for an equal or a larger number of Marines to be immediately recruited in order to take their place, and whatever decision the Admiralty may arrive at—and I hope it will be in the direction which naval opinion has always held from the first—I hope they will not consent to part with a single Marine to garrison coaling stations unless those Marines are replaced at once in the Navy Estimates by a larger number than the country will be asked to vote. I would wish your Lordships to thoroughly understand that we have not got a single Marine to spare—though the number is adequate in the event of an outbreak of war—and to ask that the Marines who are wanted should be locked up, to use the expression of the Secretary of State for War, in the fortified coaling stations would be a state of things which the public itself would resent. I wish to emphasise the point that we have no Marines to spare. Gentlemen who visited the ports during the South African difficulty, and saw the large number of Marines there, continually asked why we did not send out a couple of thousand of them. They would be ready at once, it was said, to take their place as seasoned troops with the Regular Army. The Marines were, I say almost regretfully, most anxious to go to take their part side by side with the soldiers at the Cape. But why did they not go? Because, if all those Marines told off for the ships in reserve, or for the harbour ships, or for the various relief ships, had been sent to South Africa, mobilisation could not have taken place satisfactorily supposing if, in their absence, in the disturbed state of Europe at that time, mobilisation had been necessary. Therefore, I lay down this first proposition, that you must recruit the Marines in order to perform the duties which would have to be performed if the Navy took over the coaling stations. But, even if we wish it, can we continue to recruit the Marines and keep up the high standard which we are all so proud to see they possess?

The Marines are a corps d'élite, and a corps d'élite cannot be multiplied and augmented indefinitely, and if to the 18,000 or 19,000 men you have now you were anxious to add another 10,000 men, or even another 8,000, the probability is you would have to lower the standard, and that the same number of fine men would not come forward as come forward now to join what I have called the corps d'élite. I therefore lay down this second proposition, that an increase might affect the general standard of Marines, and that you would not be enabled to enrol sufficient numbers of the same class of men that you have now—a result which, I am sure, everyone would deplore. The corps of Marines is a popular service. It attracts, not by higher rates of pay, but through those privileges which the Marines enjoy but which the soldiers do not enjoy, at all events in the same degree, one of the principal ones being that they have their homes at the three great ports—either at Portsmouth, Chatham, or Devonport. Their service now is divided into sea service and land service. Under the change of system which is proposed they would have three kinds of service—service on board ship, service at Singapore or some distant station, and service at home. Out of which of the other two do you propose to take the necessary time for garrison work? Are the men who are to be put into the garrisons to have shorter sea service because part of their time is to be spent in those garrisons, or are they to have less time at home? If they are to have less time at home, you remove one of the popular elements of the Service, and if they are to have shorter time at sea you diminish their efficiency at sea, which is one of the strong points we have to consider.

I have submitted these considerations in some detail because they are not generally taken into account by the public, and because I have felt them so strongly that, during the whole time I was at the Admiralty, I resisted most strenuously, and I am glad to say with success—a success which I hope my successor will enjoy—the onslaughts of the War Office in this respect. There is another popular fallacy which has been touched on by the noble Earl—the fallacy that it is so easy for the Admiralty to undertake this duty because they can move the Marines about so easily from one place to another, and that if the climate is at all trying they can be put on board ship and taken for a cruise more easily than the Army. This is a very plausible argument, to which all importance has been attached. But, as your Lordships are probably aware, this is not a new proposal on the part of the War Office, but it is brought forward at a very critical moment—when there is considerable difficulty, apparently, in raising the whole of the infantry necessary, and so the War Office, with considerable shrewdness, said this is the moment to make the last and they hoped the final and successful onslaught on the Navy. I wish to put before your Lordships this consideration—that if there is one thing to which naval officers, captains of ships, attach importance more than another, it is to have their ships at all times in a full state of efficiency. That efficiency cannot be maintained if there is a constant change of men. It is the ships which have been two or three years in commission without changing their crews which are always the finest ships and the most valuable ships for foreign service. The Marines have their functions on board ship with the sailors—they have to man the guns and drill with the guns—and they have other functions to which they must be accustomed. They ought to know every corner of the ship as well as the sailors; but if they are to be taken on board only for short sanitary cruises their efficiency must certainly suffer. These ships, especially in West African waters and East African waters, in the Persian Gulf, and on the China Station, ought always to be in such a condition that if they are ordered upon another duty they can be sent at once. None of them should be in such a condition that they cannot be sent anywhere without consideration for the crew being necessary. It would have been most inconvenient in these later operations in South Africa if, in selecting the ships to be sent at a moment's notice to certain points, it should be necessary to consider whether they had Marines on board who had been garrisoning some hot station.

Looking at it from every point of view—from that of the training of the men, of the efficiency of the ships, and of the confidence which the officers should have in their men—and officers do not like these interchanges; they like to know their men and how far they can rely on their character—whatever arguments there may be in favour of these proposals, no argument can rest on the facility of interchange of the Marines. I have spoken strongly because my convictions are strong, and I trust that my noble friend and successor will be able to reassure us with reference to the settlement of this question; and that, if no decision has yet been taken, he will assure us that every argument shall be most carefully weighed, and that this change shall not be made unless his naval advisers concur with him cordially that it can be done without detriment to the naval service.


My Lords, I need not assure your Lordships how greatly I appreciate the truth of the remarks which fell from Lord Spencer as to the importance of this question. I also recognise in the fullest way the courtesy of the noble Earl in postponing this question to meet my convenience. The history of this question, as it has been brought before the public and Parliament, is extremely simple During the course of his work at the War Office the Secretary of State for War made a proposal which, as my noble friend has rightly said, has in one form or another been made often before—that the responsibility for the administration of certain coaling stations should be transferred from the War Office to the Admiralty. Although I have been a considerable sufferer from this proposal, which has added largely to my work, I am bound to say that, coming from a Secretary of State for War who was engaged in the arduous task of reorganising the Army, the request to examine this question anew was a perfectly legitimate one. I cannot pass without remark the allusion of Lord Spencer to the manner in which the Secretary of State for War touched on the subject in the House of Commons. On the face of it what he said was a representation not of anything which had been definitely settled by the Cabinet, but an aspiration, a personal opinion, of his own and of the War Office. Considering how familiar the public are with this question, I can see nothing whatever either to be surprised at in the manner in which my right hon. friend introduced this question or to deserve the strictures of the noble Earl. Having received this request from my right hon. friend, I felt it my duty, and I am perfectly convinced that it was my duty, to promise that his proposal should receive an unprejudiced and exhaustive examination. That examination has been in progress since, but it is not yet complete; therefore I come before your Lordships in this unfortunate position, that whereas both Lord Spencer and Lord Goschen have dealt with subjects which arouse my keenest interest, and which tempt me to follow them at large, it is quite impossible for me to make that presentation of the case to Parliament at the present moment which I should like to do, and which possibly I may have an opportunity of doing at a later time. While the request of my right hon. friend is still under examination it is quite clear that I cannot inform Parliament of what the final decision in the case is to be. But I am not precluded on that account from making some general remarks.

I would allude in the first place to what Lord Spencer said, with great clearness and fulness, as to the duties that we expect to be fulfilled by the British Navy. I think he certainly gave an exhaustive list, and I wish to associate myself in the fullest way with all his remarks on that subject. As to what the noble Lord said on the necessity of naval bases, I am glad again to find myself in complete agreement; and I think the noble Lord will be in agreement with me when I supplement his observations on that matter by saying that it is a cardinal feature of naval strategy that these coaling stations are to be the servants of the Navy, and are not in any sense whatever to deflect or hamper the Navy in its one absorbing and eternal duty of searching out the enemy's fleets and destroying them when it has found them. Both the Admiralty and the War Office equally exist for only one purpose, and that is the national service. As to whether certain coaling stations can, with the greater advantage to the national service, be administered by the Admiralty or by the War Office, it is perfectly clear that nothing that was detrimental to the interests of the Navy could possibly be consistent with the interests of the national service. It is perfectly true that the Royal Marines, and in a much less degree the bluejackets, are trained for service on shore in case of necessity; but that is, if I may so put it, a by-product of naval education. What the bluejacket and the marine alike are really trained for is service in the Fleet at sea. The noble Lord who introduced this subject has told us what tasks in a moment of difficulty the Royal Marine can turn his hand to with success. I can only associate myself in the most ample manner with the eulogy which he passed on that splendid corps. I only wish that both Lord Spencer and Lord Goschen, with the noble Earl whom I see on the bench below the gangway opposite (Lord Rosebery), could have seen 1,500 of these men the other day on parade at Malta. I am sure they would have felt, as we felt, that there could be no finer body of men serving the Sovereign of this country. But as my noble friend behind me has pointed out, the number of bluejackets and the number of marines are very carefully calculated from year to year for the purpose of fully manning all the ships of the Navy in case of mobilisation for war.

It follows, therefore, however this question raised to-night may be decided, that there is not any margin in the corps of Royal Marines existing at this moment which could be used for any other purpose. And, to put it shortly, there is no body of men of any sort at present under the administration and control of the Admiralty who could be used for the purpose of garrisoning the coaling stations, because they are all required, and their numbers are based on that requirement, for the manning of the Fleet. I regret very much not to be able to deal with this question fully and finally to night. I recognise in the fullest manner the great importance of the considerations that have been laid before the House to-night, and I can assure my noble friends, not only on my own behalf, but on behalf of all my colleagues, that none of the arguments which they have brought forward, and with which I am perfectly familiar, will have escaped my attention or that of my naval colleagues, and they will all be weighed in coming to any decision on this question.


My Lords, having had the honour of being at the head of the Admiralty, I rise to express my entire concurrence in all that has fallen from Lord Spencer and Lord Goschen on this most important question. I can quote the opinion of a late member of your Lordships' House who filled the office of First Lord of the Admiralty—I allude to my father, Sir Francis Baring, afterwards Lord Northbrook—also against this proposal. In 1859 a Royal Commission on the Manning of the Navy, presided over by Lord Hardwicke, recommended that a force of 5,000 men should be added to the Royal Marines for the purpose of garrisoning the home ports—a proposal, I may observe, far less objectionable than that of placing the marines in coaling stations abroad. Speaking on that subject, my father used these words— No corps is more valuable than the Marines, but if more Marines are required let them be dedicated to naval and not to military purposes. They will be wanted and will be most valuable at the breaking out of war. If they are employed permanently to garrison your naval ports you throw an obstacle in the way of their going afloat when they are most required. The observations of my noble friend Viscount Goschen in respect of the recruitment of the marines deserves the most careful consideration. The addition proposed this year to the Royal Marines of 1,000 men is entirely for naval service. And, as year by year we are increasing the ships of the Royal Navy—and I see no reasonable ground for expecting a diminution of that increase in consequence of the shipbuilding by foreign nations—we must increase our reserves. One of the most important sources of our reserves is the force of Royal Marines, and, in my opinion, it would be most inadvisable to do anything whatever that would be likely to diminish the power of recruiting for the Royal Marines. I entirely concur with the view of Lord Goschen that if a large increase of the force of marines was to be demanded, of 8,000, or possibly 10,000 men, coupled with the knowledge that they would in future be employed to garrison stations abroad, there might be a serious difficulty in raising the number. I cannot see what possible advantage, either financial or administrative, there is in this proposal, and I trust that it will not be long before my noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty informs us that the plan has been abandoned.


My Lords, I have not the least intention of prolonging this discussion, but, as I believe I am the only other member in the House at this moment who has filled the office of First Lord of the Admiralty and has not spoken, I desire to express my entire concurrence with what has fallen from the three noble Lords. I hope I do not misinterpret the speech of the noble Earl the First Lord of the Admiralty in understanding him to say that this question is not yet fully determined.


It is not yet determined.


I am glad to be assured that the matter is still open and under consideration. I confess I must agree with my noble friend behind me (Earl Spencer) in the moderate criticisms which he made upon the speech of Mr. Brodrick in the other House, and I hope we may understand, from what Lord Selborne said, that that speech in no way commits the Government as to its decision. [The Earl of Selborne nodded assent.] It seems to me that the Marines are essentially a naval force under the Admiralty, and as the strong opinion of the great majority of naval officers is that this change would be a mistake, that it would tend to interfere with the efficiency of the Marines, and to diminish their utility as a naval force, the voice of the Navy ought to prevail. Under those circumstances I trust that His Majesty's Government will come to the decision that this is not a step which it is desirable to take. The Marines have proved themselves a thoroughly efficient force. They have recently won high distinction in South Africa at the battle of Graspan; and before sitting down I desire to join to the fullest extent in the praises which have been lavished, not at all unduly, upon them.

House adjourned at ten minutes before Six of the clock to Monday next a quarter before Eleven of the clock.