HL Deb 18 March 1902 vol 105 cc291-309

My Lords, in calling the attention of the House to the subject of Wei-Hai-Wei, I shall endeavour to avoid anything which may savour of political partisanship, because I feel that this is an important matter, and one which ought to be considered fairly and impartially upon its own merits. I need hardly remind your Lordships that the history of our connection with Wei-Hai-Wei is a somewhat curious one. It was taken by the Japanese from the Chinese, and held by them for two years as a security for the payment of the indemnity, and it was then occupied by this country as a setoff to the occupation of Port Arthur by Russia, and, to use the language of the noble Marquess at the head of the Government, who was then Foreign Secretary, "in order to strengthen China in the hour of her despair." I was delighted to hear my noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty tell your Lordships, when this matter was before the House last month, that His Majesty's Government had no intention of giving up Wei-Hai-Wei. It was announced that the Government intended to retain Wei-Hai-Wei, but not to protect it against a raiding squadron. The tenure upon which we hold Wei-Hai-Wei is "for as long as Russia continues to hold Port Arthur," and, I think, we may take it that that will be a very long time, because there is no intention, as far as we know, on the part of Russia, after the large expenditure which has been incurred, to retire from Port Arthur. I am informed by naval authorities that Wei-Hai-Wei is an excellent place in fact, the best place for the health and discipline of a squadron I am quite sure your Lordships will agree that even, in that capacity, it is of considerable importance; but I hope the Government will reconsider their decision not to fortify it against a raiding squadron. I presume that when we took Wei-Hai-Wei originally we were influenced by what is known as the theory of balance of power, and, therefore, I would ask your Lordships to compare our action in regard to Wei-Hai-Wei with the action of Russia in regard to Port Arthur. Russia had the guns, ammunition, and mountings for the fortification of Port Arthur shipped on board the steamers of her volunteer fleet before she seized Port Arthur, and within a few months after Port Arthur fell into the hands of Russia, it was made impregnable against sea attack, and 16,000 troops were placed there to protect it from land attack. I think your Lordships ought to bear in mind that Port Arthur is only eighty-five geographical miles, or ninety ordinary miles, from Wei-Hai-Wei. Russia also has Vladivostock, a first-class naval fortress, which has, I am informed, by the construction of ice-breakers, been made accessible to ships throughout the whole year.

On the other hand, what has been the action of this country? We took Wei-Hai-Wei presumably as a set-off against Port Arthur, and after we had taken it an extremely able man, Colonel Lewis, of the Royal Engineers, was sent to report on Wei-Hai-Wei, and, acting presumably on his advice, we decided upon erecting four forts to keep off a raiding squadron. Two of these forts were finished by the summer of 1901, and ready for the guns, but the guns have never been supplied, and, so far as is known, nothing has been done in regard to the other two forts. So it comes about that we have two forts ready for the guns, and no guns ready for the forts. I think your Lordships would be glad to know what expenses have been incurred with regard to these forts, and whether the Government intend to absolutely waste this expenditure, or whether they will consider the question of putting the forts to some practical use. My noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty said, with regard to this question, that there was undoubtedly a difference of opinion, and that the balance of naval opinion was decidedly in favour of the new policy adopted by His Majesty's Government. I am authorised to say that both Sir Edward Seymour and Admiral Fitz Gerald—the two Admirals who were on the spot when Wei-Hai-Wei was taken over—are strongly in favour of fortifying it against a raiding squadron. I believe that General Dornard, R.E., our first Commissioner or Governor of Wei-Hai-Wei, is of the same opinion. In other words, these distinguished officers adhere to the opinion they originally held and to the policy which the Government adopted in 1898. Wei-Hai-Wei is a perfectly safe anchorage for ships, but I am informed that an expenditure of about a million and a quarter is required to make a rough breakwater to keep out torpedo boats. I earnestly press upon His Majesty's Government the importance of this expenditure, which, under the circumstances, is a reasonable and a wise one. Port Arthur is only ninety miles distant from Wei-Hai-Wei, and Port Arthur, I am informed, is capable of sheltering 100 torpedo boats, or say fifty destroyers of the "Sokol" type; and it is clear that as things now are torpedo boats from Port Arthur could come over in the night and make a raid on Wei-Hai-Wei.

My noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty said no doubt what is perfectly true, that after all our position in China depends upon the command of the sea. Well, my Lords, let us just consider shortly what is our position in that part of the world. As I have said, Fort Arthur has been turned by Russia into a first-class naval fortress. That is only eighty-five geographical miles from Wei-Hai-Wei; and fifty or sixty miles to the south-west of Wei-Hai-Wei is the German station of Kiao Chan. But our naval base is as far away as Hong Kong a distance of 1,000 miles, and my noble friend is perfectly aware of the fact that even Hong Kong is vulnerable to torpedo attack from the western entrance. That, at any rate, is the opinion of a great number of naval men. Not very far from Hong Kong—at a distance of about 100 miles—is a French station called Kwang Chau Wan Pay, from which it would not be difficult for torpedos to attack Hong Kong by creeping along the shore at night. If, as I believe to be the case—and I make the statement on very good authority—Hong Kong is vulnerable to torpedo attack from the western entrance, we cannot place it in the same position as either Port Arthur or Vladivostock. Then it must be borne in mind that-France has a not inconsiderable number of warships near Saigon, which is directly on our trade route between Singapore and Hong Kong. What would be the position of this country in the event of war with Russia? I cannot myself see that there could be other than three alternatives so long as Wei-Hai-Wei remains practically unfortified. We might abandon Wei-Hai-Wei, a course which would entail the destruction of stores, etc., and, added to that, there would arise the political difficulties following from the desertion of friendly natives. In the event of war, to pull down our flag would entail serious loss of prestige in a part of the world where prestige is a substantial force. On the other hand, if the Admiral on the spot was tied to protect Wei-Hai-Wei, he would be debarred from taking the strategic initiative. The other alternative, and what would probably happen, is that Wei-Hai-Wei would fall an easy prey to the first three or four hostile cruisers which appeared there. I cannot shut my eyes to the fact that the condition of affairs in that part of the world is one which at any time may become acute. It is reported in the evening papers that there has been a serious rebellion in parts of China, and that the Imperial troops have been worsted. I do not know whether the newspapers have exaggerated the facts; I hope that some explanation may be forthcoming.

For fifty years China has struggled against the forces of civilisation and endeavoured to exclude the foreigner, but Without success. All the great Powers of Europe are keenly interested in watching the development of trade in China, and of pushing their own interests, and we may be quite certain that railway facilities will extend. Of course, China may for a time exercise her in serable tactics of dilatoriness, delay, and obstruction, by pretending she does not understand; or she may, like the Sultan of Turkey, stir up discord among her tormentors, and play one Power oft against the other. What can we look to from the Japanese Treaty? It is impossible to estimate the effect of that Treaty. I will quote the language of the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who explains shortly and tersely the intentions of that Treaty. Lord Lansdowne's Covering Despatch says— That part of the Treaty which renders either of the high contracting parties liable to be called upon by the other for assistance, can operate only when one of the allies has found himself obliged to go to war in defence of interests which are common to both, when the circumstances in which he has taken this step are such as to establish that the quarrel has not been of his own seeking, and when, being engaged in his own defence, he finds himself threatened, not by a single Power, but by a hostile coalition. I do not quarrel with the language of the noble Marquess, nor with the bject of the Treaty, but I wish to point out that we cannot in all cases and under all conditions rely upon the Japanese Government to provide us with harbours of safety for our ships in time of war. We might find ourselves engaged in hostilities with a single Power, like Russia. It does not at all follow that our interests and Japanese interests would be identical in all respects where Russia's and England's interests conflict. I do not see how, under that Treaty, we can claim the use of Japanese harbours. If I interpret the language of the noble Marquess accurately, contingencies may occur in which this country would find itself engaged in war with Russia or any other country, and with no naval base of our own except Hong-Kong. That, it seems to me, is a position of great peril to this country, I am informed by persons of great authority that Hong Kong is not an impregnable fortress; it is not a first-class naval fortress in the sense that Gibraltar is; it is not similar to Sebastopol, Vladivostock, or to the fortress which Port Arthur will soon become. I think it is rather tempting Providence not to have, in time of war, when great issues might be decided in a short time, anywhere where we could send our ships for repair. I venture with all respect to submit that the Government are not putting this country in a dignified or safe position if we are to rely for a naval base upon the goodwill of the Japanese Government. I do not wish to enter more fully into this matter, and I conclude by expressing the earnest hope that my noble friend, acting upon the suggestion of his predecessor Lord Goschen, will put the House in full possession of the facts which have brought about a change in our policy with regard to. Wei-Hai-Wei, and I would ask him to consider whether the Government might not expend sufficient money, not indeed, to make Wei-Hai-Wei a first-class fortress—that was never intended—but to protect it against attack from a raiding squadron.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty for Papers with reference to Wei-Hai-Wei.—(The Earl of Portsmouth.)


My Lords, I think it may be convenient that, before the First Lord of the Admiralty answers the speech of the noble Earl, I should I say a few words on this question. I am glad that my noble friend opposite has given the First Lord an opportunity of stating somewhat more fully than he was able to do on the last occasion the motives which have induced him and his Board to adopt this change of policy A change of policy it undoubtedly is. I submit that it is due not to the same men taking a different view, not to their having any large amount of new information, but rather to a different set of men judging upon the same materials and coming to a different conclusion. Your Lordships may be interested to know that almost every expert who was at the Board of Admiralty when Wei-Hai-Wei was taken over has been changed, and that therefore my noble friend the First Lord is being advised by different men from those who advised me. The noble Earl opposite has spoken of Sir E. Seymour, who was the Commander-in-Chief at the time, and Admiral Fitzgerald who was second in command. When I was at the Admiralty I had the advantage of their advice. Every naval Lord who was on my Board at the time Wei-Hai-Wei was taken over has been changed. The director of Naval intelligence has been changed. So has the Director of Military Intelligence and the Director of Fortifications. The Secretary of State for War is not the same. Thus the present men cannot be held responsible for any undue delay in making up their minds properly. It is simply that, reviewing the action of their predecessors, they have come to a different conclusion as to what their action should be. I do not say that all who were at the Admiralty when I was there were entirely agreed. Nor do I suppose that all the present advisers of the First Lord are agreed. The balance of opinion when I was at the Admiralty was distinctly in favour making Wei-Hai-Wei a secondary naval base. That is not the opinion of the present Board. But no charge can be brought against the Admiralty in the circumstances for any indecision in the matter.

I think I may say that up to the moment of my retirement from office the policy of a secondary naval base held good. We had decided upon the forts, the guns, and the garrison; and that body, which is supposed never to meet, because it never advertises its meetings in the papers—I mean the Colonial Defence Committee—carefully went into the subject and had the fullest materials at its command. We had report after report, and we exhausted every possible means of examining into the value of Wei-Hai-Wei as a secondary naval base. We had arranged what proportion of stores should be kept there, and what machinery for the repair of ships, and, in fact, we thoroughly went into the whole subject. But I frankly admit that there are great difficulties in the case. There are three strategical theories which might be held on the subject—ether that Wei-Hai-Wei should be fortified as a secondary naval base, or that it should not be fortified at all, or that it should be made into a really strong fortress. A great deal depends, in the judgment of naval men, on the construction of the breakwater and the possibility of its being kept in reasonable repair. That is one of the determining factors of the case. If the First Lord of the Admiralty were able to tell me that the breakwater could be built for a reasonable sum, then I should strongly condemn the attitude which His Majesty's Government take up. I should be sustained in that condemnation, I believe, by a great body of naval opinion. If the breakwater cannot be built, then I admit that the case for the retention of Wei-Hai-Wei as a fortress becomes very much weaker.

The noble Lord has spoken of the distance from Port Arthur, and the possibility of a raid by torpedo-boats from Port Arthur on Wei-Hai-Wei. and, no doubt, that is a very great danger. It is a danger which would be provided against by the construction of a break, water. If we had a breakwater, a certain number of torpedo boats and destroyers could be kept at Wei-Hai-Wei, and they might be a very considerable menace to the fleet at Port Arthur, and if a certain number of submarine boats could be kept safely at Wei-Hai-Wei I think the moral effect upon Port Arthur might be considerable. But I have not risen to argue from a strategic point of view against the course the Government have adopted, but to put before the House the facts of the case. I assure your Lordships that the Board which was in office when the transfer of Wei-Hai-Wei took place did not, as has been suggested, enter upon the matter with a light heart and with a want of information. I had boxes full of reports, private letters, and official letters, all labelled Wei-Hai-Wei, and a very considerable amount of time and attention was given to the matter, as, indeed, was bound to be the case. I have no doubt that the successors of my Board have, given equal attention to the matter, and whatever decision has been come to, I feel very confident that it has been arrived at with great judgment and will have behind it a great body of naval opinion.


My Lords, I recognise very fully, of course, as all your Lordships must recognise, the point of view from which my noble friend Lord Portsmouth has approached this question, and I will endeavour in my remarks to follow him entirely in that respect. If I might carry your Lordships back very briefly to the year 1898, when the lease of Wei-Hai-Wei to Great Britain became an accomplished fact, I would ask you to look back upon what Ministers said in both Houses of Parliament as to the objects of that lease. I think you will find that I am absolutely correct when I say that the dominant aspect presented to Parliament at that time by Ministers was this. The object of the lease was to prevent the Gulf of Pechili falling under the exclusive domination of any one European Power, a condition of affairs which would have been most menacing to China, and, I might also add, to Korea and Japan, and distinctly detrimental to legitimate British interests. If you will also refer to the same authorities you will find that when Wei-Hai-Wei was accepted on lease from the Chinese Governnent Her Majesty's Government were in no doubt as to the capacities and nature of the property which they were taking over. Mr. Balfour in another place very accurately described Wei-Hai-Wei, and not only did he accurately describe its own features, but he gave an accurate comparison of its advantages and disadvantages as compared with Port Arthur. But in both Houses of Parliament Ministers were most careful to reserve to themselves full liberty to consider and decide deliberately to what extent Wei-Hai-Wei should be utilised in the future for naval purposes. Now, when the question came to be considered in all its aspects it was at once apparent that three policies were possible, and there only remain at the present moment three possible policies. You may make Wei-Hai-Wei a primary naval base, you may make it a secondary base, or you may keep it as a peace base.

Now, what is involved in either of these three policies? I may say at once that Wei-Hai-Wei could be equally well adapted to any of the three. The natural qualifications of the place are such that it could undoubtedly be made a first-class fortress, it could also be made a secondary base, as Lord Goschen has just described, or it could be treated as a peace base, as the present Board of Admiralty intend to do. If you treat it as a primary base it involves the establishment of naval stores on a scale requisite for the support of the Fleet in those waters; it involves every kind of appliance, workshops, and manufactories for repairs to ships; it involves docks and the complete paraphernalia of a dockyard; it involves the breakwater to which allusion has been made; it involves barracks for a large garrison and fortifications to protect the very valuable property which would be at stake. It has been suggested that you might have such a primary base with no fortifications on the mainland. I have never been able to believe in the possibility of that policy for one moment. Suppose that this country had spent millions in establishing a complete dockyard on the lines of Hong Kong, that she had fortified the island, and had a large garrison there, what Government would be able to withstand the criticism that the whole of this property was menaced by the hills on the opposite mainland, which were not in any sense and degree fortified? If Wei Hai-Wei were turned into a primary base, a first-class fortress and fortifications must be built and there must be no weak link such as lines of hills on the mainland dominating the whole property. Then you have the alternative of the secondary base which Lord Goschen has described. The idea of that policy is this—that a certain proportion of stores should be kept at Wei-Hai-Wei and that certain facilities in the way of smaller repairs should be afforded to His Majesty's ships. Having a considerable accumulation of stores there, though not comparable to those of a first-class fortress, yet having a certain number of workshops and other appliances, a certain protection would have to be afforded to this property, a protection which it was proposed should take the shape of a certain number of guns, of sufficient calibre and power to protect the property, in the absence of the Fleet, not from the whole naval strength of another Power, but as against the raid of an occasional cruiser or two or three cruisers. Those who, like myself, have come to the conclusion that the best use we can make of Wei-Hai-Wei is to use it as a peace base have asked ourselves whether it is essential for the efficiency of the British Fleet on the China station to have this proportion of stores at Wei-Hai-Wei, and these opportunities for minor repair. Because if once you can satisfy yourselves that these things are not essential to the efficiency of the squadron you can get rid of the stores and the shops, and there is then no necessity for armament, because there would be nothing that you value to protect from the occasional raid of hostile cruisers. That is the conclusion to which we have come. Remember there is no railway system connecting Wei-Hai-Wei with a great trunk line, every single pound stored goes to Wei-Hai-Wei by sea. I am quite aware that there is a difference of opinion on this question. My noble friend has introduced names into this discussion.


I have asked and obtained the permission of thse distinguished men to do so.


It is not really to the advantage of the Navy or the country that we should have the opinion of one naval officer set against another in this or the other House of Parliament. But as these names have been introduced it is absolutely necessary for me to put the authorities on the opposite side. The authority of Sir Edward Seymour is not one lightly to be disregarded, and nothing in this matter, to which I have given very long and anxious thought, has been more distressing to me than to find myself at variance with an officer whose opinion I so greatly respect and who has done such service to his country. But if Sir Edward Seymour's opinion is put on the one side, I put at once on the other side the opinion of the present Commander-in-Chief, Sir Cyprian Bridge, one of the most distinguished officers in the Navy and one who has studied strategy in all its branches. The reports that he has written on this subject are such that they would, I think, bring conviction to every one of your Lordships. But, of course, they are not reports that I can present to this House. Then if you put on the one side the opinion of Admiral FitzGerald, who was second in command, I put on the other side the opinion of Sir James Bruce, who succeeded him. Therefore, you have the present Commander in-Chief against the late Commander-in-Chief, and one second in command against another second in command, and the whole of my advisers at the Board of Admiralty are unanimous in giving the advice which I have accepter, and which the Cabinet have accepted from me. Therefore, I was justified in saying that the balance of naval opinion in favour of the course adopted was strong and decided.

Now, I am in this difficulty. I had no wish to parade these authorities one against the other; my hand was forced in that respect. I cannot follow either Lord Portsmouth or Lord Goschen into the strategical questions which govern this case, and your Lordships would not wish me to do so. I would ask you to take my assurance that the matter has been decided on strategical grounds only. I do not admit that the considerations my noble friend has put before you in any way exhaust the case, nor do I admit that because one policy has been adopted by Russia, an analogous policy is the right policy for Great Britian. If such great stress is laid on the proximity of Port Arthur to Wei-Hai-Wei, and if you can presuppose that the Navy by itself is temporarily unable to defend Wei-Hai-Wei, are you not proving too much? You lay stress on the proximity of Port Arthur and say that you want armament to protect Wei-Hai-Wei against hostile cruisers; but is a raid of hostile cruisers the only raid that is to be feared if the Fleet is temporarily absent I Would this not lead you to argue in favour of greater powers of defence? But, although I am not going into the strategy of this matter, there is one point on which I believe I have the concurrence, not only of my Board, but of my noble friends Lord Goschen and Lord Spencer; bricks and mortar as applied to naval expenditure are an evil, very often a necessary evil, but they are an evil. What we want are more ships, and every penny that is spent in bricks and mortar and land fortification, which could be spent on more ships, is money unnecessarily and badly spent. Every garrison that we have to lock up hundreds and thousands of miles away from this country is an evil, very often a necessary evil, but an evil to be reduced to the smallest dimensions possible. I am glad of this opportunity of saying this, because there is a tendency on the part of a school, to which I think my noble friend opposite must belong, to attribute an altogether fictitious value to a naval base. What is the protection of this Empire and its trade? Not its naval bases, but the ships which these naval bases are to serve. And, therefore, the number of these bases and the money spent on them should be limited in the strictest manner to the absolute necessities of the Navy. It is from that point of view, as well as from the strategical point of view, that this question has been considered by my Board.

I do not propose to follow the noble Lord in all that he said about the Japanese alliance; but I can give him an indication of the strength of our conviction on this subject when I tell him that this decision was arrived at without any reference to the Japanese alliance. It is said, if you do not propose to fortify Wei-Hai-Wei, then you do not value it. There could not be a greater misrepresentation of the case. Wei-Hai-Wei, as an a set to the Navy on the China station, is of very great value. It is of very great value to the health of the ships' crews, for it will be the sanatorium of the station. It is of the greatest value to the training of the Fleet there, for it will be the principal training ground of the Fleet for all purposes—gunnery, rifle, torpedo, and tactical exercises. In these respects Wei-Hai-Wei in time of peace will be to the Fleet in the north what Hong Kong is in the south, with this great advantage—that whereas the climate of Hong Kong is trying during most of the year, that of Wei-Hai-Wei is salubrious. We are going to continue the dredging there, a jetty is being constructed and is near completion, and we are making a hospital; there for the men of the Fleet; but we are going to keep there the very smallest minimum possible of stores. We are going to keep there nothing which in time of war would require protection, because, whether fortified or not, the Fleet is not going to be tied to Wei-Hai-Wei or any other base primary, secondary, or tertiary. The Fleet must be absolutely free to go where the officer commanding at the moment of war, thinks that it can do most damage to the enemy, and it should be his duty to leave Wei-Hai-Wei, whether fortified or not, absolutely out of his consideration as against his primary duty of finding the enemy's fleet and destroying it. I have no Papers to lay on the Table. I have told the House and the public everything I can, consistently with my duty, and I believe that your Lordships would not wish me to lay Papers.


My Lords, I always feel that it is a great disadvantage to any one who is not in touch with the official papers and information to take part in a debate such as this. My noble friend Lord Goschen has very recently been at the Admiralty, and has with great ability and industry studied this question, and my noble friend the First Lord is, of course, at this moment in that position. I come to this question in a perfectly different position, and feel its disadvantage. At the same time, I feel that immense importance attaches to what has fallen from the two noble Lords in consequence of the speech of my noble friend behind me. I venture to say that a very serious state of things is disclosed. A material point of difference has occurred on a highly important matter of naval strategy between the Board presided over by Lord Goschen and the Board presided over by Lord Selborne. I regret very much to find that there have been these differences. I do not pretend to be able to say which opinion is best. I have a very high opinion of those who have been quoted by Viscount Goschen, and I am quite sure that those quoted by Lord Selborne are also men whose opinions are worth considering. But what I do feel strongly is that this is not a mere question of a naval Board advising the First Lord, but that it is a question which ought to go, and must have gone, to the Cabinet, and that on the Cabinet the responsibility must rest.


I think I said—if I did not, I meant to say—that the Cabinet had considered this question and decided it.


I am glad the noble Earl agrees with me that an important matter of this kind must go to the Cabinet; and I greatly regret to find that the continuity of policy of one Board of Admiralty under the Government of the noble Marquess has not been followed. I agree with the noble Earl the First Lord in regretting that the names of admirals have been brought forward in this debate. It is always most inconvenient if the particular views of naval Lords and naval officers employed by the Government which have been considered by the Admiralty are introduced. The noble Earl paid a high compliment to the two distinguished admirals whom my noble friend Lord Portsmouth quoted. You could not have, probably, higher opinions on naval strategy than those of these two eminent men, and they have, moreover, the advantage of having had considerable experience in the waters where Wei-Hai-Wei is situated. Do not let it be supposed, however, that I wish to draw an invidious comparison with the distinguished admiral who is there. I do not know whether I ought to say this, but I know something of the general views that distinguished admiral held, and I should question very much whether, if he had been asked at the time, he would have advised the occupation of Wei-Hai-Wei at all. Perhaps I ought not to say that. What I wish to say is that, as the First Lord of the Admiralty has thought it right to cap the opinions of two distinguished admirals by the opinions of others, he ought, following the usual practice when a Minister of the Crown quotes opinions, to produce the Papers on which they are founded.


The statement of the noble Earl is of so much importance that I venture to traverse his statement as to the Rule of this House. I understand it to be that any quotation from Papers in the hands of a Minister ought to be accompanied or followed by the production of the Papers from which it is drawn; but a reference to an opinion I contained in a Paper I never before heard brought under the same Rule.


I am rather surprised at the opinion given by the noble Marquess. I certainly hold the different view that, where an opinion founded on Papers is quoted, the Papers from which it is quoted should be produced. I fully admit, however, that the noble Marquess is a much greater authority than I am on these matters, and he may be right. I come to the question at issue, which is, what is to be done now with Wei-Hai-Wei? We may, perhaps, go back a moment. I have always, in my own mind, held the opinion—and from what I have gathered my opinion has been confirmed—that, if we had to take a new naval base in these seas nearer to Peking and Port Arthur than we had before, Wei-Hai-Wei was not the best place to choose. My reasons for that were these—that by going there, we were going to a place where, I understand—I may be wrong in this—by our agreement with Germany, we were unable to trade with the interior of the country. And, though it has been said once or twice that some commercial advantage might be held there, I certainly understood that we were not to interfere with the internal commerce of the country, and that we were not allowed to have a railroad from this place into the interior. With that view, I certainly thought that, if it was necessary—and I fully admit it may be desirable—for us to have another naval base there, it would have been much more desirable to select one nearer the district where our predominant interests lay—nearly opposite the Yangtsze Valley. Now I come to the question of whether Wei-Hai-Wei shall be a first-class naval base, a secondary naval base, or, to use the word of the noble Earl—a word which I never heard before in this connection—a tertiary naval base. With regard to the first, I am certainly of opinion that it was right not to have this place made into a first-class naval base. If it were to be held at all, I cannot help thinking that the opinions of Viscount Goschen and his Board were right, and that it should be held as a secondary base. The First Lord of the Admiralty rather deprecated the advantages of a secondary naval base. That is quite new to me. I have always thought it right, and I believe the view can be strongly defended, that, if you are obliged to have a naval base, it is of great importance that the naval base should be so defended, not on an extensive line, but so defended that a raid, not, perhaps, of battleships, but of cruisers or small vessels, upon it could easily be repelled.


I laid down no general principles. I applied it to this particular place.


If what I say is right on general principles, I think it ought to be applied equally to this particular case. What has happened? Instead of this, we are to have this tertiary base.


Peace base.


We are to have a peace base. That moans that, in case of war, we shall probably have to evacuate it with all the stores—not, perhaps, large stores—the sanatorium, appliances, and so on, that may be there. I daresay noble Lords will object to what I say and take an opposite view; but I believe that, if there is one principle which is laid down and accepted by all naval strategists, it is that our Navy should always be able to take what I think Viscount Goschen in the other House called vigorous and offensive action wherever they are placed. If we have a base, and if a hostile raid by cruisers is not to be warded off by force, what is the result? The result is that the movements of the fleet are entirely hampered, and they are always thinking of their base, and that, therefore, that effective offensive is taken away from them. I cannot help thinking that that may be the direct result of leaving this port, as we now have it, merely as a peace base without any defence whatever. I cannot reconcile this with the declarations which were made at different times by the noble Marquess and others with regard to Wei-Hai-Wei. I think the noble Marquess said on one occasion that, at this moment, one of the requirements of China was courage, and that its courage would be greatly increased by our occupation of Wei-Hai-Wei.


At that time.


Exactly. But I am afraid that China may want courage beyond the time of which the noble Marquess spoke; and will the occupation of this tertiary or peace base, without fortifications, and which in case of stress we may have to evacuate, help to give that courage to China? I have here the statement, which I do not think the noble Marquess will contradict, which he made on May 4th at a great meeting of the Primrose League in the Albert Hall After referring to China, he wound up in this way:— I have asked you to judge by results, and I say that the possession of Wei-Hai-Wei which we could defend, in place of Port Arthur, which we could not, is in itself a great result. Can we defend Wei-Hai-Wei in case of difficulty? We certainly cannot; and I doubt, therefore, if His Majesty's Government will be carrying out the policy they have declared on more than one occasion when Wei-Hai-Wei was taken, that we were occupying a defensible place which would give courage to China, and which would be a counterpoise to-Russia at Port Arthur. I am afraid this is one of those instances where action is taken without due foresight, and that now we see that, owing to circumstances, which, I think, are exceedingly unsatisfactory, and to the differences of opinion between one Board and another and to the Cabinet themselves having altered their opinion, the policy which was distinctly laid down as part of the policy of this country has practically been given up.


I do not intend to press for the production of Papers if my noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty says they are confidential, and that it would not be for the public interest that they should be presented to the House; but I regret that he has not been able to state what would be the cost of the proposed breakwater.

Motion, by leave of the House, withdrawn.