§ LORD BRASSEY
rose to call attention to the recommendations of the Admiralty Committee on Naval Reserves, and to the shipbuilding programme of the present year. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the questions which I have placed on the notice Paper relate to the 289 Reserves of the Navy. I will introduce them briefly in a few general observations. This is no time to disarm. It is a time when every head of expenditure should be narrowly scrutinised. We see everywhere signs of impatience under the burdens of preparations for war. In countries despotically governed it is an undercurrent. In countries democratically governed it finds expression at the elections. In view of recent changes in the position of other Powers, demands for retrenchment are justified, even for the British Navy. We have to take care that retrenchment is carried out in such.a manner as will leave our naval supremacy assured.
Can we reduce the Votes for shipbuilding? Can we reduce the Votes for the manning of the Navy? The answer to these questions must depend on comparisons. We have to consider how we stand as to ships, and how we stand as to manning. In ships ready for service, and more particularly in battleships and armoured cruisers, we hold a commanding position. Measuring progress in shipbuilding by the amounts voted we are equal to a two-Power standard with some margin. In the circumstances of the hour it is possible to postpone the laying down of a battleship. We possess incomparable resources for rapid and extensive building. There is some advantage in delay. The latest ships are the most up-to-date. It gives occasion for reflection when we see that none of the types laid down within the last ten— I may even say the last five—years are included in the programme of shipbuilding this year submitted to Parliament. It is not chimerical to hope that if we show ourselves in earnest in a policy of reduction our example may be followed. If other Powers continue to push forward construction we shall be bound to meet them. We shall do so with reluctance. In the enlargement of programmes of shipbuilding we have not been the aggressors. In the last two years we have cut down Navy Estimates by £5,000,000 and the Estimates for new works by £4,000,000. I will not pursue the point. Your Lordships are awaiting a statement from Lord Tweedmouth.
I turn from shipbuilding to manning. In manning, as in shipbuilding, we measure 290 our requirements largely by comparisons. In the Estimates of the present session Parliament is asked to vote 129,000 men for the active ratings of the Navy, as against 52,000 for France and 40,000 for Germany. In fixing the numbers required for the manning of the Navy, we have to look, not only to comparisons but also to the list of our effective ships. If we take all the ships now on the list, and add all the ships we are likely to build in the next ten years, and if, further, we assume that, while all skilled ratings would be drawn from j the permanent men, complements may be partly filled up from well-trained Reserves, it is evident that the permanent force is excessive in proportion to the number of effective up-to-date ships. We have relied too much on permanent men for manning the Navy in an emergency. In Reserves we are below both France and Germany.
Impressed with the necessity for dealing with the Reserves upon a comprehensive plan, the Admiralty in 1902 appointed a Committee, with Sir Edward Grey as chairman. It is to their recommendations that my questions refer. The Committee recommended that the Reserves of all classes should be reinforced —the stokers, the skilled ratings of electricians and signalmen, and the Reserves in the Colonies. They recommended that a force should be raised as a reserve to the marines. When Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean, Sir John Fisher delivered a lecture showing how the Army might be utilised as a reserve for the manning of the Navy, and I should like to hear that something has been done on the lines advocated by Sir John Fisher.
Passing to the officers of the Reserve, various regulations have recently been approved, having for their object to secure a higher standard of efficiency. The officer of the mercantile marine has none of the advantages rightly afforded to cadets at Osborne and Dartmouth. The Admiralty should take up this important question. Every Reserve cadet should receive such an education as will enable him when called upon to do his duty as a naval officer. The premiums to shipowners for 291 providing instructors for apprentices would be inconsiderable.
I have one more suggestion. The Reserves are growing beyond the administrative power of one central office. The admiral superintendent of the Reserves should be represented at the chief commercial ports by an officer of standing in the service, who, with the aid of a small staff, should keep in touch with shipowners, as to appointments to commissions and as to recruiting for Reserves of every class. My main purpose is to insist in general terms on the possibility of combining economy in the expenditure on manning with wider powers of expansion. I do not look for a reply from my noble friend on details, but I should be glad to have an assurance of his general concurrence. In conclusion, I may say that in creating Reserves for the Navy we achieve a double purpose; we are training up officers and men of the best stamp and quality for the mercantile marine; and there is a general testimony that they are needed.
§ EARL CAWDOR
My Lords, the speech of the noble Lord who has just sat down appears to divide itself into two parts, the latter part dealing more with the Reserves than the other questions of interest to-day. Your Lordships perhaps will pardon me if I pass away from the question of the Reserves, and deal with what appears to me to be the most important question we can have to discuss in this session of Parliament. I refer to the Shipbuilding Vote and the shipbuilding programme of the Government of the day. Though I do not wish for a moment to suggest that the question of Naval Reserves is not one of great and vital importance, I do suggest that the Shipbuilding Vote overshadows and surpasses it in importance.
It is very desirable that in the first instance your Lordships should appreciate quite clearly exactly the position of to-day with respect to the shipbuilding programme. I therefore make no apology for detailing it to your Lordships, and I will do so in as few words as I can. In November last, and again in March last, when the Naval Estimates were 292 laid before the country, the minimum programme that was thought necessary in shipbuilding was as follows. We were to have laid down this year four battleships of the "Dreadnought" type, five seagoing torpedo boat destroyers, twelve coastal torpedo boat destroyers, and twelve submarines. In July, what do we find? We find that instead of four battleships we are to have but three; instead of five seagoing torpedo boat destroyers we are to have but two; and that instead of twelve submarines we are to have but eight. That makes a diminution in the shipbuilding programme as far as battleships are concerned of 25 per cent.; a diminution as far as-those valuable sea-going torpedo boat destroyers are concerned of no less than 60 per cent.; and a diminution as far a8 submarines are concerned of no less than 33 per cent.
The Secretary to the Admiralty has told us what the programme for the year 1907–8 is to be. In 1907–8, instead of four battleships of the "Dreadnought" type which were to have been laid down, we are to have but two. The conditions with respect to the programme of battleships in 1907–8 are, I think, a little peculiar. We are to lay down two battleships instead of four, but we are not to lay down even those two battleships until quite late in the year. And for what reason? In order that we may emphasise the good faith of the British people, in order that we may induce foreign countries to believe, what apparently the Government do not think they would otherwise believe, that the people of Great Britain are in earnest in a desire for a reduction of armaments. I had never realised before that the good faith of the people of Great Britain needed bolstering up by such a scheme as that. And then we are told that if the proposals laid before The Hague Conference prove abortive we are to lay down the third battleship. That seems to me to be an extraordinary procedure with regard to what is supposed to be an amicable consideration of possible arrangements for the diminution of armaments.
I venture to think the proceedings of His Majesty's Government with regard to 293 The Hague Conference are a little complicated, and, may I say, a little contradictory. I have explained to your Lordships what is proposed to be done with respect to the Navy in order to emphasise the good faith of Great Britain. But what about the Army? Your Lordships will, I am sure, remember perfectly clearly the statement made but a short time ago by the Secretary of State for War. The right hon. Gentleman stated in another place that while the Government had been able to reduce considerably the cost of the Army, they had at the same time succeeded in increasing its striking efficiency by 50 per cent. Is that to be taken to The Hague Conference as well? Is that to be a method of emphasing the good faith of Great Britain and showing foreign countries a lead in the direction of armaments Is it not an insult to the common sense of the country to tell them things of that kind? What foreign countries look to, and what they care? about, is not what we are saving in cost; they look to what the striking power of this country is abroad. I think that a little less of these theatrical performances as far as the Conference at The Hague is concerned may lead to better results.
There is in one of the newspapers of the day a few words that seem to bear rather upon our idea of immediate reductions. I am alluding to a statement of what took place in January, 1792, when in the Speech from the Throne it was pointed out that the friendly assurances received from foreign Powers induced the King to think that some immediate reduction might safely be made in our naval and military establishments. Mr. Pitt sounded the note of security in language even more assured. He said—Unquestionably there never was a time in the history of the country when from the situation of Europe we might more reasonably expect fifteen years of peace than we may at the present moment.Before the year was out England was thrown into a struggle lasting over twenty years, and terminating only on the field of Waterloo. I merely mention this, my Lords, to show that even the best advised of the greatest administrators may sometimes make a mistake as to the position of Europe and as to the possi- 294 bilities of safely cutting down the armaments for the protection of the country.
There is one other point I should like to press upon your Lordships with regard to the reductions that are now proposed. We are now dealing with battleships of an entirely new type. Every battleship of the "Dreadnonght" type is equivalent, at least, in armament to two of the best battleships afloat to-day. I do not think I am putting it too high, if high enough; and when you talk of striking oil a battleship from your shipbuilding programme to-day you are striking off a "Dreadnought," which is equivalent, as I have said, to two of the best battleships now afloat. I beg your Lordships and the country to bear in mind that what we have got to get ahead in is the last and best fighting battleship in the world. It is no use counting up the number of smaller and out-of-date battleships we have got. We must, if this country is to be secure, be the foremost country in the world, with the strongest battleships. Ten or twelve years hence the country that owns the most "Dreadnoughts," or improved "Dreadnoughts," will be the country that will dominate the sea.
A great deal has been said about the Sea Lords. I venture with great humility to say that I think a great deal too much has been said about the action of the Sea Lords. I think we have been landed in a very evil precedent, by which His Majesty's Government shelter themselves without a shred of explanation behind their skilled advisers. We are told that the Sea Lords have recommended these reductions. I will not go behind that statement made distinctly and solemnly by the Prime Minister. May I quote his words —the Sea Lords have had no pressure put upon them in this matter. On the contrary, taking the further survey of the situation as it now presents itself to them they have advised us that what we now propose is sufficient to maintain the strength and preserve all the power that is required for the British Navy. Not only so, but they recommended this to us, and they expressly asked that the House of Commons should be informed that it was their recommendation "—and then the Prime Minister added—In order, I suppose that they might get the credit for it.295 My Lords, I know the Sea Lords pretty well, but I do not think that statement at the end is a worthy statement for the Prime Minister of this country. I accept, of course, the statement that these reductions were made on the recommendation of the Sea Lords; but knowing the Sea Lords as I do, I decline to accept, what is implied by that statement, that the Sea Lords changed their minds on the old conditions that they had to consider. I believe nothing of the kind. I can quite believe that there may have been fresh reasons and altered conditions which might have induced them to change their minds, but I deny altogether, as at present advised, that they could have changed their minds unless there was some change in the conditions to which they had to give consideration.
As to any change in conditions as far as building carried on by foreign nations is concerned, we practically have no information. We have the sort of nebulous statement made by the Secretary to the Admiralty that there is some reason to believe that there has not been that progress with foreign new programmes which the Admiralty had reason to anticipate. That phrase is practically the only explanation of any change that has taken place in the circumstances held to justify the reduction of twenty-five per cent, in the battleship building this year and of fifty per cent. next. It is impossible that these reductions can be justified upon that statement alone. There must be some further change in the conditions, some further change in the position of affairs as to which the Sea Lords were asked to give their consideration. I want to ask my noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty three Questions. I ask him, first, did the Sea Lords, initiate or originate this programme of reductions of their own accord, and if so, when? Secondly, had they submitted to them at any time any more drastic programme of reductions, and with what result? And, thirdly, had they before them at any time any intimation of any change of policy on the part of the Government as to the two-Power standard, and if so, what was the standard upon which they were instructed to work? I may be told that these are unusual questions.
§ EARL CAWDOR
But the position is an unusual one; it is distinctly art-unusual position. Will the noble Lord, who interrupted me tell me of a previous case in which the Government gave no explanation in another place or in this. House of the reasons for a change in their programme and a grave reduction not only for one year, but for the following; year, and sheltered themselves, without a shadow of an explanation, behind their skilled advisers? The Government have chosen to take that course. The country under these conditions has a right to know exactly what has happened. We have a right to press this matter also because the position is unfair as far as the Sea Lords are concerned, and I think we may claim that the matter should be cleared up.
The last of my three Questions 1 put to the noble Lord in consequence of the statement made by the Prime Minister in another place on Friday last. That statement is so important, that perhaps, your Lordships will forgive me if I quote it word for word. The Prime Minister, speaking in the House of Commons on Friday last, said—Our opinion is that the Naval Lords are right; and when you talk of a two-Power standard, after all you cannot keep quite out of your mind who the two-Powers are. When we have elaborate calculations made as to what, France and Germany are building, is it really a very likely contingency that France and Germany should be allied and should go to-war with us? I do not object to the two-Power standard as a rough guide, but this is a two-Power standard of almost a preposterous kind.My Lords, that is a very momentous statement. I think it will be very difficult to exaggerate its immense importance. It means that the two-Power standard is discarded by His Majesty's; Government. What is the two-Power standard? The two-Power standard, that has been understood until to-day is that the Navy, upon whom we depend for the security of the country, must always be maintained so as to be strong; enough to defeat any possible combination at sea by any two countries in the world. That is the battleship standard. I am not speaking of the cruiser standard. In cruisers, of course, we have to have a great deal higher percentage of force 297 than that for the protection of our commerce and our Colonies. I am speaking for the moment of the battleship standard. We have always had, and always held that we must have, not only exactly a Fleet equivalent to those of any two other Powers in Europe, but that we must have a margin over and above that, and I think we have usually calculated something like ten per cent.
We had attained to that position. We had always under the late Government given instructions that what the Admiralty had to work to was that policy, and we had to assure Parliament and the country that we had attained to it. We have attained to it to-day, and under it I venture to say that the country has been feeling safe; but the Prime Minister in one sentence has cast that all aside. Such a standard in his view is a standard of almost a preposterous kind. If that be the view of His Majesty's Government, it is hardly likely that the instructions given to the Sea Lords since His Majesty's Government come into office were to work upon those lines. They were not likely to have been told to work up to a standard described as one of an almost preposterous kind. If not, surely we have a right to ask, and surely the country has a right to know, upon what standard the Sea Lords have been told to work in securing to us a Navy efficient for the purposes stated to be necessary by the Government of the day. We have no information of any sort or kind.
It seems clear, and I think the country should realise it, from the statement of the Prime Minister, that if an improbable, I admit, but not an impossible combination of foreign Powers was directed against this country, I mean such a combination as was quoted by the Prime Minister himself, a combination of France and Germany—the country should understand and realise that in the event of such a combination taking place the Government of the day are content that we should be powerless to defend our shores. There is no half way in this matter. Either the Navy is to be maintained strong enough to make us absolutely safe against any two Powers —I care not which they are—who might combine against us, or it is not. If you drop below the two-Power standard, 298 what standard are you going to adopt? You must drop down and down. It is no use having half a fleet, and if you have not a fleet sufficient for the protection of the country, you may as well not have a fleet at all. I think we are entitled distinctly and absolutely to an answer from His Majesty's Government as to what standard it is to which they have instructed the Sea Lords to work.
I want to quote one more statement by the Prime Minister. He complained that it had been stated that he was weakening the Fleet. He said—How are we weakening the Fleet? It is the old idea that by piling one strength upon another you get a greater result.My Lords, I should have thought so. There is another old idea that two and two make four, and an old idea that, as far as I know, is generally accepted throughout the world; but I agree that it is quite a new idea, and a new idea started apparently by the Prime Minister himself, that the addition to or withdrawal from our building programme of one or two "Dreadnoughts" does not effect the strengthening or the weakening of the Fleet. I do not know to whom the Prime Minister was really addressing those words. It could hardly have been the House of Commons, and he could hardly have been insulting enough to have addressed them to the electors of this great country.
We are told that peace is best secured by diminishing armaments. Was there, ever such a fallacy? It sounds well, but it is not true. No one, my Lords, doubts that my noble friend who sits beside me, Lord Lansdowne, has done as much as any man in this country in the direction of securing European peace. Does any one suggest for a moment that he would have been as successful as he has been in that line if we had not been strong at sea? These phrases about peace being secured by diminished armaments may sound well in some people's ears. The facts I believe to be that a strong British Fleet is the best safeguard you can have for European peace. I venture to say that "A strong man armed" should be the motto and the position of this country. Preparedness for war is, in our island home, the only real security for peace. Let it ever be remembered that our Navy 299 is not in any sense an aggressive force; it is our defensive force. If you tamper with that, my Lords, you tamper with the security of the Empire.
§ *THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Lord TWEEDMODTH)
My Lords, we have heard two very different speeches to-day on this subject. My noble friend who opened this debate, than whom there is no man more acquainted with the Navy, no man who has given greater attention to it is Letter acquainted with its wants and with the wants of the country, has approved of the policy of His Majesty's Government. The noble Earl opposite, on the other hand, has denounced our policy and has said that it is without precedent, that it is dangerous—
§ *LORD TWEEDMOUTH
The noble Earl has denounced our policy and has said that it is dangerous, and that it is undoubtedly weakening us in the face of rival nations in Europe. I am qu te prepared to meet that charge and to show that the proposals that are being made by His Majesty's Government are not such as in the existing condition of Europe, and in the existing building programmes of other nations, is dangerous to this country. I feel that I am entering into this contest to some extent with one hand tied behind my back, because I do not believe it to be either wise or prudent or good policy to go into minute details as to the comparative strength of our Navy and other navies, or to set the ships of various classes in our Navy against the ships of various classes in another. I do not think it is wise to brandish the strength of our Navy in the face of the rest of the world. It is not right to use the British Navy as a sort of shillelagh which you are to whirl around and say, "Here's a head, let's knock it."That is not the line that I propose to take. I believe that the Navy is a sharp and keen weapon, a weapon that is kept both sharp and keen, and which is ready for the purpose for which it is required, namely, the defence of our country, and not for aggression on any foreign country.
§ *LORD TWEEDMOUTH
The noble Earl has, I think, adopted the course that he condemned in others by also bringing the Sea Lords very much into this discussion. For my part, I shall not do that. I consider that the Board of Admiralty as a whole, the Sea Lords and the civil members alike, are responsible for all that takes place; and for my own part, knowing the grave responsibility that lies upon me, I assure you that in considering these matters during the last few weeks I have given to them my very closest attention. I have had the advantage of the advice of many both within and without the Admiralty, and I am prepared, so far as is possible for one who has only been for seven months at the Admiralty, to take the responsibility on myself of saying that I believe the proposals of His Majesty's Government at this time do not lead to danger, but are perfectly consonant with the best interests of our country.
The noble Lord asked me three questions which he said were somewhat unusual. I think they were. But still I will answer them. He first asked, Did the Sea Lords initiate the new programme of their own accord? My Lords, the Sea Lords, along with their colleagues in the Admiralty, considered the whole situation as it was between March and July, and together unanimously came to the conclusion that they could recommend this particular reduction in the programme. The noble Earl next asked, Had they submitted to them any more drastic proposals? My Lords, they had no proposals of any sort or kind submitted to them. They were asked simply to review the situation and make their own proposals. The question of a change of standard never was brought before them at all. I have said that I do not think it wise to go into the details of the comparative strength either of Fleets or of ships belonging to different countries. I believe all that is necessary can be found in the Dilke Return, and I believe that every man from that Return can judge for himself what the relative strengths of the British Fleet and other fleets now are. But, my Lords, the Board as a whole accept this policy, and 301 think it right to adopt a policy of economy so long as the full sea supremacy of our country can be maintained.
The Board have been very severely criticised, and the Sea Lords most of all, for their decision in July to change the programme which was put forward in March at the time of the statement on the Estimates. Whether the Admiralty was right or wrong with regard to that is a question of the consideration of circumstances. There is certainly neither precedent nor good sense in the idea that because a particular programme has once been put forward there is, therefore, never to be any change from that particular programme; and I say that it is against all rules of economy to say that a great department is obliged to spend up to an estimate that has been made at an early date before all the circumstances of the case had been considered, instead of revising it if it thinks it necessary. That course, after all, has the precedent of previous Boards; it has been the course taken by three successive Boards in three successive years when the First Lords were Lord Selborne, Lord Cawdor, and myself. In the last year that Lord Selborne was First Lord of the Admiralty six armoured ships were included in the programme; one was dropped. In the programme of last year, for which the noble Earl opposite was responsible, five armoured ships were in that programme, and on consideration one was dropped. This year, again, "four armoured ships were in the programme, and after full consideration one was dropped.
I would remind you of this, and it is, I think, an important consideration, that year after year these armoured ships are getting more complex, more costly, and more and more of an experiment. If error there be, there was error with the late Boards as well as with the present Board, for the course they adopted was exactly the same. As a matter of fact, I contend that there was blame with none of the Boards for the course they took. I believe that they all took a wise course, and one that was justified by the change of circumstances. The business of the Admiralty is at the beginning of the year to provide for what seems to be the necessities of the year. I would wish to 302 insist that it is a wise thing to take your programme year by year and not attempt to go beyond the needs and the necessities of the particular year. It is impossible to forecast what the changes and delays in the programmes of foreign nations may be, and it must be year by year the duty of the Admiralty to consider those changes and those delays before they decide on what their own eventual programme is to be. That I believe to be sound.
Now, my Lords, the Admiralty do not desire to spend money unnecessarily, and when they came to consider the great changes and the great delays that had taken place in foreign building during this year they arrived at the conclusion that it was wise and right to reduce the programme as it stood when the noble Earl left office. It was proposed, as the noble Earl said, to build four armoured ships, five ocean-going destroyers, twelve coastal destroyers, and twelve submarines. The outlook then was that France was going to lay down several very large battleships; the United States were going to lay down two new great battleships, besides two that had before been carried. Russia was going to lay down one first class battleship and two armoured cruisers; and Germany was going to lay down two very large battleships and one armoured cruiser.
It was in view of this knowledge that the programme was originally formed. But from week to week and from month to month we got reports of delay in the commencement of this new construction, and of the dropping of these proposed ships. Neither in France nor in the United States have any new keels been laid down. Germany for the first time has failed to fulfil her programme, and the delay in those German essels has been more than four months; and only this very morning I have had information that the first of the two great battleships proposed to be laid down by Germany will not be laid down till the month of September next. The same thing has taken place in the United States. In France, instead of six new battleships to be completed two a year, they are not to be completed until the end of 1912, or at the rate of only one a year instead of two. In Russia there has been a reduction in the 303 proposed vote for new construction of £2,500,000. In consequence it was decided to drop one of our own big battleships and, further, there were dropped three ocean-going destroyers and four sub marines.
But I wish to make it perfectly clear that in lieu of those vessels a new vessel is to be laid down. It is true it is not to be laid down till early next year, but I will give the House a description of it. It is to be laid down at Pembroke Dockyard very early in the financial year 1907–8. It is an improved "Scout," and has been designed after the experience of the "Gem" and the" Scout" class. It includes the turbine machinery of the "Amethyst,'' and full advantage will be taken of the oil-fuel experiences of the last few years in vessels of all classes. The vessel will have a very much increased radius, and will be able to steam over 2,000 knots. She will be a very fast vessel and will have much heavier armaments and a greater radius of action than that of the "Scout," and being designed for the same speed will be much superior to third-class cruisers in this respect. She is to be fitted with a double bottom/and will be fully capable of service on distant foreign stations; so work that is now carried out by smaller types of cruisers will be done by this. That I believe to be a very important vessel.
There is good reason also for the postponement of the ocean-going destroyers and submarines. The complexity and difficulty of the oceangoing destroyers is very great, and the Admiralty desire to have greater experience of their action and work before they lay down so large a number as was proposed. With regard to the submarines also, a new type is now being developed, and it is not thought desirable to start twelve submarines this year. Eight are quite enough with our present knowledge, and we had much better wait until the new type is developed and we have the benefit of the knowledge thereby gained.
But, besides the facts that I have tried to bring before you with regard to the progress of building amongst foreign nations, there is also this consideration. We have proved in the most striking 304 manner this year the great and immediate efficiency of His Majesty's Navy. On three-different occasions we have carried out considerable manœuvres. First, there was the mobilisation in February of the scouts, destroyers, and torpedo boats, 110 in all; they carried out considerable manœuvres and operations in bad weather with the greatest success and with very small defects. There were also the manœuvres at Lagos, which, lasted from February 15th to March 1st, in which twenty-nine battleships and eighteen cruisers took part, and which again proved that the Fleet was ready for action at a moment's notice. Again, we had the grand manœuvres between June 12th and July 2nd, in which no less than 319 ships took part, and which, were remarkable for their success and for the rapidity of mobilisation which it was found possible to effect in the nucleus crews of the reserve ships. Those ships performed a record in mobilisation, for of all those vessels the longest in getting mobilised took only-three hours, and the shortest forty minutes. That, my Lords, gave proof of how ready the Fleet was to go to sea, how quickly it could be mobilised, and how speedily the reserves could be brought on board ship.
I now come to the question of the national advantage of endeavouring in some way to reduce the huge expenditure of this country. That expenditure-has increased by half during the past ten years, and, most of all, the defence service expenditure has increased to something like £61,000,000 a year, without taking into consideration the Works account or the cost of our Army in India. Surely it is a desirable thing, and an object that should be aimed at by all parties in this House and in the country, to reduce these great charges, that weigh so heavily on the people. The noble Earl was rather sarcastic about The Hague Conference.
§ EARL CAWDOR
Not about The Hague Conference, but only about the operations of His Majesty's Government with regard to that Conference.
§ *LORD TWEEDMOUTH
I think the noble Earl looked upon those who support The Hague Conference, and who think: 305 that something may be got from the meeting of nations at such a Conference, as in the nature of ideal dreamers.
§ *LORD TWEEDMOUTH
At any rate, that is an opinion which is held, and t is one against which I protest. The noble Viscount opposite, Lord Goschen, in 1899, before the last Hague Conference, said—We have been compelled to increase our expenditure, as other nations have increased theirs, not pressing on more than they. As they have increased, so have we increased. I have now to state on behalf of His Majesty's Government, that similarly if the other great naval powers should be prepared to diminish their programme of shipbuilding, we should be prepared on our side to meet such a procedure by modifying ours.
§ *LORD TWEEDMOUTH
The noble Viscount continued—the difficulties of adjustment are no doubt immense, but our desire that the conference should succeed in lightening the tremendous burden which now weighs down all European nations is sincere. But if Europe comes to no agreement, and if the hopes entertained by the Czar should not be realised, the programme which I have submitted to the House must stand.Those are words with which I desire entirely to associate myself. It is quite true that it is suggested that for the programme of 1907–8 in the first instance only two battleships should be laid down, and that the third should be laid down if the proceedings of the Hague Conference come to nothing. It seems to me that this country will go to that Conference with a good face and with a good record, for it can show that successive Governments have year by year diminished the Naval Estimates of this country by some £6,500,000, that they have each in their turn done something to reduce the building programme of the Navy, and that they are prepared still further to extend that reduction if other countries are willing to join them and to follow suit. I think we shall be able to put that case very strongly before the Hague Conference, and for my part I hope we shall have some success in the representations that we shall make there.
Let me now turn to the other question that was raised by my noble friend, 306 Lord Brassey—the question of the Naval Reserves. That is a very important and a very intricate subject to deal with. A strong Committee was appointed in 1902 to examine the question, and many of the recommendations of that Committee have since been carried out. At that time the condition of things was very different. There were then an immense number of ships which it was supposed were to be manned in time of war. The number of ships has been greatly diminished, and the conditions, therefore, are very different. Two of the things that Sir Edward Grey's Committee recommended were the strengthening of the Fleet Reserve, and the better training of the Royal Naval Reserve. The Fleet Reserve, which consists partly of men who have-been on the shorter period of engagement in the Navy—they are engaged for twelve years, five years on active service and seven years in the Reserve—has greatly increased since that time. They were something over 5,000 at the time the Committee sat in 1902; they are now upwards of 15,000, and are increasing every day. Sir Edward Grey's Committee also strongly recommended the establishment of Naval Volunteers. There are now 4,200 Naval Volunteers, and they are a very effective body.
The difficulty that arises is that there are two opinions as to the proportion that the Reserve should bear to the active men in the Naval service. Sir Edward Grey's Committee put that number as high as fifty per cent. Naval opinion now takes a very much lower view and talks about fifteen or twenty per cent. I think there is a general agreement that the Royal Fleet Reserve is the best Reserve for the Navy and is the one on which we can best depend on account of the men having received their training in the Naval Service itself. But, after all, the main and most important part of naval seamen must be the men of long service, because the work of a seaman now has become so intricate, so complex, I might almost say so scientific, that it requires long training to ensure success. Consequently the number of men who are at any time in the Navy on comparatively short service or non-continuous service, cannot be a very large one, and, therefore, beyond a certain number we cannot get 307 Royal Fleet Reserve men from this source, but they are increasing. They will increase, and every encouragement will be given to them.
With regard to the Royal Naval Reserve, considerable changes have been made. It was before I became First Lord that the decision was arrived at. They have been given an entirely new system of training. Instead of being trained at shore batteries and on training ships, with the exception of a small number during the next four years which are to be used for men who, having: engaged on the old system, have not completed their term of service, and are unwilling to serve under the new conditions, they will in future be entirely trained on board seagoing ships, and will, instead of doing their fourteen days a year on shore or in the training ships, be trained twenty eight days every second year in seagoing ships, and principally in the nucleus ships in reserve in the various ports round the United Kingdom. Entry into the Royal Naval Reserve has been for the time arrested, but for my part I am strongly in favour of maintaining the Royal Naval Reserve, and so far as I am concerned, I would not be a party to its abolition, though undoubtedly its number must be reduced, and will be reduced, I should think, to some extent by the more strict conditions of service 'which have been imposed. The suspension of entry has now continued for about a year and a half, and a waste is going on at the rate of about 8 per cent, a year. I think that within a very short time it will be possible and desirable to re-open the entries to the Royal Naval Reserve both of officers and of men. I do not.say exactly under what conditions, but with the idea at any rate of increasing considerably the number of stokers that will be available for the Reserve. I think I have answered the questions put to me by Lord Brassey. In conclusion I would say, as I began, that I do feel the responsibility which rests upon me in agreeing and being a party to the reduction that has been made, and I firmly believe that that reduction will not lead to any damage to our country.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
My Lords, I hope your Lordships will excuse me, if, like my noble friend, Lord Cawdor, 308 I address the few remarks with which I shall trouble the House to that part of the noble Lord's speech which refers to the shipbuilding programme. Although I fully admit the great importance of the question of Reserves, I will defer till some other occasion any remarks I may have to make upon that subject. Anyone who has listened to the speech which has just been delivered by the First Lord of the Admiralty, and who has read the speeches which were made by his two colleagues on the shipbuilding programme in the other House of Parliament, can hardly fail to have been impressed by the difference of tone adopted. In the other House the great question was economy, and what was produced and flaunted before the House was the part which the Naval Lords have played in this matter.
The Naval Lords, by a very unfortunate course on the part of the Prime Minister, were brought out and placed in very clear contradistinction to the other Members of the Board of Admiralty. I need hardly say that that is entirely contrary to the whole theory and practice of the Board of Admiralty during, at all events, the last thirty years. The Secretary to the Admiralty and the Prime Minister were both well aware of this, for they said that they knew it was inconvenient and for many reasons undesirable, and that they only did it because of very exceptional circumstances. To-night the noble Lord took quite a different course. He separated himself entirely from those colleagues. He said, and I am sure that anyone who knows anything of Naval affairs and of the Board of Admiralty will cordially agree with him, that the Board of Admiralty is one and indivisible, and that the First Lord is the person who is responsible to Parliament and to the country for the action of that Board.
How can you reconcile that with what was said in the other House? What was the reason why a totally different statement was made in that House? The Prime Minister said it was an exceptional case. His reason for introducing the Naval Lords was that he wished to throw upon them the responsibility for the reduction which was being made, to assure the country that it was they 309 who were primarily responsible for it, and he went so far as to say that they had asked him to state that to the House of Commons. If the naval Members of the Board of Admiralty made that statement I am sure that the First Lord himself could not have been aware of it, because he knows as well as anyone how improper it is to put forward professional advisers and throw upon them the responsibility for a programme. Those of your Lordships who read the papers on Saturday morning will have seen that it is said, more especially in the Radical Press, that we are perfectly safe because this is the programme of the Naval Lords. I confess that this is rather an undignified and undeserved position in which to place my noble friend.
In the statement we have listened to to-night we have heard a variety of circumstances in justification for the reduction in the programme which were not stated in the other House of Parliament. The noble Lord has stated them in some detail with regard to the naval proposals of two or three other countries whose rogrammes he has learned are very much in arrear. Those who have no official information and who are merely private Members of this House of course accept that statement, and moreover the First Lord of the Admiralty has means of forming a judgment which are not accessible to other Members of this House. At the same time one cannot help reminding him that in cutting off one '' Dreadnought" at a time when we have unfortunately probably lost the '' Montagu "we are weakening the Navy of this country.
Further, I do not understand why the programme of 1907–8 was introduced in the other House. The noble Lord stated to-night that he did not go on any standard, that he gave up standards, and that his intention was to proceed from year to year according to the information he received. If that is so, why was the programme of 1907–8 laid before the other House of Parliament? We remember what the noble Earl the Under-Secretary of State for War said in this House the other day. He said that the mandate was economy, and he reminded us, in speaking on the Army Estimates, that economy and the cutting down of expenditure had been 310 the first principle which His Majesty's Government had observed. Of course, in this way it may have been desirable to promise future economies to the other House, but that is not in accordance with the statement which has been made to us to-night. I do not understand how you can tell now what the circumstances of next year will be. You have the Hague Conference, and you do not even know what the result of it will be. You say that if the Hague Conference proves unsuccessful you will lay down another ship. But can the noble Lord inform us how it is known already that the fourth ship can be cut off?
The noble Lord gave the Hague Conference as one of the reasons for being additionally anxious to spend as little on the Fleet as he could. Does the noble Lord really believe that anything-he spends this year will have any effect on the Hague Conference? Does he-suppose that Germany or France are-going to alter their programme because he lays down one battleship less? In reference to this matter I regret most bitterly the use that has been made of the names of the Naval Lords. I hope my noble friend will point out to his colleagues what an indiscretion, to say the least of it, they have committed. The noble Lord has told us that no pressure of any kind or sort was laid upon them. Does he assure us, too, that these reductions were suggested by them, for that is what the Prime Minister's words come to? The Prime Minister did not mean merely that the Naval Lords acquiesced in certain reductions, but he said that they had recommended them, and that they had expressly asked that the House of Commons might be informed of this, in order, to use the Prime Minister's exact words, that they might get the credit for it. I must say it does surprise me very much to hear that the Naval Lords asked that any such assurance should be given to the House of Commons.
There are many noble Lords in this House who are identified with the Navy, and who have been connected at various times with Boards of Admiralty. I should like to ask whether any of them remember any case in which a Naval Lord ever asked that anything he had done or 311 recommended might be laid before the House of Commons? This statement was made in Parliament and relied upon, and the public rely upon it. The public is relying at this very moment for their safety upon the acceptance of a programme which, as they have been assured, has been laid down by the Naval Lords. One might almost ask that Papers should be laid on the Table. Your Lordships all know that when a Minister relies upon a statement he is bound to prove it if called upon to do so. Of course, it would be absurd in this case to move that any Papers should be laid on the Table, because everyone who knows anything about the Admiralty is aware that it would be contrary to the whole principle and practice of the Admiralty and to public policy to do so; but what I wish to impress upon your Lordships is that the very fact that a statement of this sort has been made which it is impossible for Ministers to substantiate shows how improper it was for it ever to have been made.
My Lords, the First Lord of the Admiralty has not convinced me by the reasons he has given for the reductions in the shipbuilding programme that have been made, and I am particularly anxious about the fate of the vessel whose existence is to depend on the Hague Conference. But the chief anxiety that I feel on this question is due to the opinions held by the Secretary to the Admiralty and published when he was sitting on the Commission appointed to inquire into our food supply in time of war. He then expressed the opinion that if all private property at sea not contraband were exempted from capture or destruction by belligerents all the difficulties which that Committee were appointed to consider would disappear and all proposed remedies would become unnecessary. As if food would not at once be declared contraband of war by any nation which found itself at war with us! I confess that when the present Government was formed I was sorry to see a person holding such opinions given a post at the Admiralty. I had hoped that a position would have been found for him inland. The manner in which he has lately dealt with the Sea Lords, as reported in the newspapers, has greatly 312 increased my anxiety. The recent Conference held in the Royal Gallery of this Palace and the Hague Conference are, I think, institutions that have the greatest possible use in preserving peace and in dealing with international law and difficulties which may arise while peace is still existing. But in war their resolutions are of no value.
I think it would be more civil if our newspapers would use the term "protection of our food supply in time of war "Instead of "command of the sea." We do not want the command of the sea in order to threaten or hurt anybody. We merely mean to ensure it for the purpose of feeding ourselves. The majority which the Government obtained at the last election was partly due to Mr. Chamberlain's suggestion for taxation of foreign food. At the present moment we are entirely dependent for our food supply in time of war on our Navy alone. If we have no Navy we shall have no bread. If we have too small a Navy it is as if we had none at all. We are told that if the resolution at the Hague is passed it is to be considered equivalent to a third battleship. It is doubtful what action will be taken on that resolution by foreign Powers. It will probably be used as a blind. In war the Hague Conference resolutions would be of no value. It is true they might be made into paper boats, but are we to fill up blank s in our line-of-battle with paper boats?
Friendly relations with other Powers are not sufficient reasons for reducing armaments. Those friendly relations are chiefly due to the fact that we are believed to be possessed of sufficient power to be able to assist a friend in time of need. We can make a quarrel in a quarter of an hour, but we cannot build a battleship and get her ready for sea in less than fifteen or eighteen months, by which time the war might be over. I hope people in this country will not continue to boast of their ability to beat Germany in shipbuilding. Germany has not yet taken her coat off in this matter, and when she does we may be surprised at the result. The slackening off of shipbuilding on our part will have the opposite effect to that looked for. It will cause other countries to strain every nerve to get level with us. Therefore I submit 313 that these reductions do not increase the chance of maintaining peace.
§ *LORD AMPTHILL
My Lords, I desire in the fewest possible words to put a question to His Majesty's Government, a question which has the object of removing the uncertainty which I am sure has been left in the minds of my noble friends on this side of the House by the speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty. The burden of the noble Lord's speech was that the reduction of the shipbuilding programme was merely a matter of ordinary annual routine, a thing that has been done in prevous years on more than one occasion. But His Majesty's Government in another place claimed unusual credit for this reduction, and treated it as part of a new policy, a policy of reduction of armaments which was to be an example to other countries.
What we want to know on this side of the House is whether there is a new policy or not. According to the Prime Minister, there is a new policy which is to be an example to the other nations of the world. But according to the First Lord of the Admiralty, as we understand him, there is no new policy; the reductions which have been ordered are merely part of the annual routine, which may be corrected or altered according to circumstances. His Majesty's Government cannot have it both ways. It is on this point then that many noble Lords on this side of the House would like to have a clear answer. Is there a new policy or is there not; and if there is a new policy, what is that policy and how far is the reduction to proceed? Are we to go so far in reduction and setting an example to other countries that we abandon the policy of the two-Power standard, or is reduction to proceed so gradually that the policy of the two-Power standard will be maintained? I venture, with all due deference, to ask His Majesty's Government to give us an assurance on that point.
§ VISCOUNT GOSCHEN
My Lords, when not many days ago we had a debate in this House upon the reduction in the Army and were confronted by the champions of the "Blue-water" school, I did not antici- 314 pate that in a very few days the question would be again before your Lordships— this time, whether the force on that blue water should be reduced or not. Personally I did not believe in the rumours that the Navy was going to be reduced, but we are now confronted by the fact that the shipbuilding programme has been materially curtailed. I hope the noble Lord will clearly answer the question which has been put to him by my noble friend behind me, whether this means a change in policy. We have to look not only at the actual reduction in the Estimates, but also at the speeches in which that reduction was explained in the House of Commons. It was pointed out very clearly just now by my noble friend Lord Camperdown that the tone of the speeches and the course of the debate in the House of Commons were totally different from the speeches and the course of the debate in your Lordships' House to-night. I think I may say, with all friendliness to His Majesty's Government, that they have very much mismanaged the explanation of the reduction. They have mismanaged it in the House of Commons, and they have a difficulty in putting it right in this House.
Why was the explanation which has now been given by my noble friend Lord Tweedmouth not given in the House of Commons? Why did they not explain that it was mainly due to information from other countries with reference to the shipbuilding of those countries? Why was it not explained that it was no great policy but scientific reasons that had actuated the Board of Admiralty in recommending the postponement of three destroyers and a certain number of submarines? So far as I know, Mr. Robertson never hinted at it in the House of Commons. The line he took up was that the Admiralty were determined to effect a reduction, and he gave no explanation. If I had spoken before my noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty I had intended asking him why the reductions in these two items were proposed. I think the noble Lord has given a perfectly adequate explanation, but it is a scientific explanation. This is not a great reduction which is to play a great role when the Hague Conference meets; it is because they are not ready with their 315 designs that they have postponed this part of the programme.
Then again as to battleships. A battleship is to be struck off for the reasons which the noble Lord explained, not because we desire to retard the progress of our strength, but because there have been reductions by other Powers. And yet the Government talk about giving a lead. The whole question is involved in a perfect fog, and the difficulties are heightened by the ex-ordinary message said to have been sent by the Naval Lords to the House of Commons. When have officers, naval or military, ever desired to place themselves in communication with the House of Commons? I cannot think of any previous First Sea Lord or Second Sea Lord who would have wished to send a message to the House of Commons that they desired to reduce the Navy Estimates. Did not the First Lord of the Admiralty warn them and say, "It is an unprecedented course. I really cannot convey such a message to the House of Commons." If he did the Naval Lords were severely to blame for requesting such a message to be sent to the House of Commons.
In what a position does the Government statement put the Naval Lords? It is supposed that they, without any pressure, simply out of political considerations and after surveying the field of Europe and the existing conditions, made to the Board of Admiralty a recommendation for reductions.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
We held meetings of the Board at which the whole matter was brought forward. Undoubtedly I brought forward the desirability of making reductions, all the circumstances were surveyed, and all came unanimously to the conclusion announced.
§ VISCOUNT GOSCHEN
I am glad to have elicited the statement that the Government did put before them the desirability of cutting down Estimates.
§ VISCOUNT GOSCHEN
I am grateful to my noble friend for candidly telling us 316 the circumstances. They put an entirely different construction upon what has-happened. It is a matter so important that I do not regret going over the subject which has been dealt with by my noble friends. I do not wish to haggle about a single ship and a reduction that may or may not be justified, but we have to consider not only the reductions, but the language in which that course has been defended by the Prime Minister, and the right hon. Gentleman's view as to our naval policy. My noble friend Lord Camperdown has alluded to the absence of any explanation as to the reductions next year. Why should the Government state what they proposed to do in 1907–8 before they know what other Powers are going to do?
It is a new policy deliberately to change the programme with a contingent arrangement for the addition of another ship. There is a vague proposition in reference to the Hague Conference, and two forces appear to be operating upon, the Government—the desire for economy and the desire to be able to claim successfully the position of being first in the reduction of armaments. I am not encouraged to hope much from the Hague Conference, and if the First Lord would give half an hour to a conversation with Sir J. Fisher, an unrivalled expert on naval policy, upon his reminiscences of a previous conference it would be time well spent.
Another question which has cropped up is the two-Power standard, and some doubt has been expressed as to whether the policy of the Government in this respect is being adhered to in the true sense. I cannot believe that the First Lord would depart one jot from it. It would be wrong to work out the system with reference to the strength of two naval Powers merely without reference to all the changes that have taken place in Europe, and the contingencies that might arise. The naval policy of this country must be shaped, not simply in relation to the naval sterngth of any two Powers, but in proportion to the naval sterngth of the world. Not, of course, that our Navy should be equal to all others—that would be absurd— but having regard to the fact that nations, though they might not become our 317 adversaries, might in the event of war prove very uncomfortable neutrals. New dangers beset battleships from mines and submarines, and Japan lost two ships in one day from mines. Such considerations must affect the naval strength of a country such as ours, and such disasters would affect this country more than any other Power in Europe. We run a greater risk, for our national existence depends upon our naval strength.
The Prime Minister has expressed the opinion that the rivalry between nations is a rivalry of grandeur, and he used the word "swagger."the idea that nations are recklessly spending money out of pure rivalry shows ignorance of the true state of affairs. France would be ready enough to reduce her armaments, naval and military, if she only could, but she is not going in the Hague Conference to undertake to do so unless there are developments which she at any rate does not expect. This unfortunate expenditure all over Europe is not caused by any desire for glory or by vanity, but from a consideration of international relationships. Has Austria, for whose misfortunes we have every sympathy, kept up her army for swagger? Her army is being kept up for national exstence, in order to avoid the perils which, Heaven forbid, should assail her, but which are not so far removed from the political horizon that she can herself undertake to reduce her armaments.
With regard to Germany I should like to say a few frank and friendly words. If there is an idea that Germany is arming against ourselves I think it is a mistake; if it is thought that Germany is arming against Prance, or Russia, or any particular Power I believe that is also a mistake. Why does Germany push on her naval expansion, which France will plead compels her to do the same? Not for aggression, but from a settled policy. She requires more territory for her teeming millions. She feels that she must have colonies, that she must expand, as other growing countries must expand, that she must have outlets for her commerce, and that she must have sea power like us to hold her own against every possible effort to limit her colonial expansion or paralyse her action. Her Ministers have no desire for war. But 318 they have an Imperial German policy Is it likely that anything that will happen at the Hague Conference will arrest what they consider to be their mission— what the Emperor considers to be a mission placed upon himself to expand the German power? Those who think so are living in a fool's paradise.
I wish as much as any Member of your Lordships' House, as much as any democratic Member of Parliament, as much as airy of those who dream of universal peace, that I could believe with Tennyson in the time—When the war drum throbs no longer andthe battle Hags were flurledIn the Parliament of man, the federation of the world.At all events, let us look to it that the white ensign of the British Fleet remains without question and without doubt unharmed over that Fleet. I hope it; will not be said when observations such as I have made are placed before the public that they are pessimistic or gloomy Sometimes the cold water of common sense is almost as necessary as enthusiasm. I can admire enthusiasm, and I admire the democrary which, knowing little of foreign diplomacy and the struggles of the nations for supremacy, think that war merely means either the glory of a certain class or heavy taxation, and through ignorance plead for a smaller Navy; but as I said in another debate last week, it is not for the leaders of a Party, not for a man like the Prime Minister to encourage them in Utopian hopes that the mere calling together of a conference will make it unnecessary to continue that steady progress, that building up to a standard, that building up to ail the requirements of the case which I fear for many years must be the fate of this: country.
§ LORD EVERSLEY
My Lords, I hope as a newcomer to this House that I may be allowed to address your Lordships on the important subject now before you. I have myself in the past been not infrequently connected with the Admiralty in an official capacity and during the past two years I have taken an active part in pressing a reduction on the Government, and in urging that there 319 should be in consequence a reduction in taxation.
The noble Viscount who has just addressed the House speaks with very great authority on this subject. He was twice at the Admiralty for very long periods, once in the first administration of Mr. Gladstone, when economy was the order of the day, and when the Navy was administered for less than £10,000,000 a year. I was then his colleague at the Admiralty; and served under him. His last experience of the Navy was from 1895 to 1900, when a very different order of things prevailed, and when the expenditure upon the Navy was lavish in the highest degree. I think I am right in saying that while the noble Viscount presided over the Admiralty he added no less than two millions a year to the expenses of administration. I do not propose to find any fault with him. All I wish to do is to call his attention to that period when he was presiding at the Admiralty, and to ask him to consider what has happened between then and now which may tend to a more moderate expenditure.
The expenditure upon the Navy has increased since Lord Goschen presided over the Board by no less than eight millions a year. Expenditure on the Army has increased by no less than ten millions a year; the two together amounting to an increase of eighteen millions a year in the seven years. That is taking the date 1898, immediately before the war in South Africa. Now I invite the noble Viscount and the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, who presided at that time over the Army, to consider the expenditure then and the point which it has now reached, and whether circumstances in the state of Europe have not occurred which would justify a considerable reduction at this moment.
Many things of the greatest importance have happened during the last three years bearing on this subject. In the first place, we have had the collapse of Russia. When I look back at the speeches of Lord Goschen, made between the years 1895 and 1900, I observe that he almost invariably defended the great increases which he made in the Navy on the ground 320 of the increase in the Russian Navy; and I think I may claim also that the great increase in the Army of late years has been due to the fear of Russia. There was the fear of the invasion of India on the part of Russia through Afghanistan. But during the last three years the power of Russia has collapsed. Russia has been defeated in the Far East, her navy has absolutely disappeared, her ships have either been sunk or captured by the Japanese. We have therefore this state of things, that the naval power of Russia has disappeared, and everybody, I think, admits that it must be many years— some people say ten and others a much longer period—before Russia's power can be revived, and before there can be any attempt either to invade India or even to resuscitate her navy.
But other important things have occurred. First among them is that which the noble Marquess opposite has been responsible for, and which I venture to think will be one of his principal claims to fame in history—namely, the Agreement which has been come to with France under which all matters in dispute have been settled, and every difficulty between us and that Power removed. All questions of jealousy as regards our position in Egypt have been removed, as also have all questions of jealousy between our selves and France in Morocco. That seems to me a very important matter, tending to justify a reconsideration of our expenditure upon the Navy and Army. But other important matters still have occurred. There has been the Agreement with Japan, the immediate effect of which has been that our position in the Far East as regards our Navy has been reassured. We have been enabled to recall the whole of the five battleships which were maintained in those waters, and they are now concentrated at home.
Further, there has been a very great and important change in policy in Naval administration, for which I have nothing but praise—the change carried out by Lord Selborne and Admiral Fisher, and under which the whole of our powerful vessels have been concentrated in Home waters or in the Mediterranean or within easy touch of these shores. It was discovered that the cruisers on which we relied to defend our commerce were of no 321 value in time of war as against the more modern armoured cruisers, with the result that the greater part of them were recalled, and the late Prime Minister boasted that by a courageous stroke of the pen they were struck off the Navy List. The result has been that all our powerful vessels have been concentrated at home, and I do not hesitate to say what I think was also affirmed by the late Government, that the strength of the Navy has been nearly doubled by this operation—that is to say, the effective strength of the Navy for purposes of offence and defence against the only Powers which it would be likely to meet at the present time.
There is yet one other important matter to which I do not think sufficient attention has been called of late in the Press, and that is the result of the experiences of the naval war between Russia and Japan as to the comparative value of our Fleet compared with that of other Powers. I think it has been admitted I by every expert who has written upon the subject that the result of the experiences in the late war is to show the very high value which attaches to battleships of large size and great power in comparison with smaller vessels. The battleships of large size proved in the late war to be of the greatest and highest value. The smaller battleships are relegated into the background, and it has been proved that the presence, in a great fleet of battleships, of an inferior type of coast defence vessels was rather an embarrassment to the Fleet than a source of strength.
Let me ask the House to consider what the effect of this experience is upon the value of our vessels as compared with those of France and Germany. The wisdom of our own naval constructors in building battleships of 12,000, 14,000, and 15,000 tons as compared with the very much smaller vessels constructed by France and Germany, has thus been proved. At the present moment you may divide the battleships of the world into two classes—the smaller type of battleship averaging about 11,000 tons, and the larger battleships averaging 14,000, or 15,000 tons. The policy of Germany has been to build small battleships and to arm them with compara- 322 tively light guns and with secondary batteries. The policy of our Admiralty during the last ten years has been to build large battleships armed with the most powerful guns, and the result of that policy is that whereas at the present moment Germany has not a single battleship of the large type over 13,000 tons this country has thirty-seven such vessels averaging no less than 14,800. France at the same time has only four vessels of 13,000 tons and those not quite completed. All the rest of her vessels are under that size, and average about 11,000 tons. I say that this is a condition of things which is very satisfactory to this country. As regards armoured cruisers, the position is even stronger. England has fourteen armoured cruisers of the large size averaging 13,000 tons; France has only four averaging 12,000 tons, and Germany has one with a tonnage of 10,400 tons.
In view of all these facts, it does seem to mo that the Admiralty of this country is wise in holding its hand, and that it is possible to make some reduction in the great expenditure upon our Navy The noble Viscount who has just sat down seems to be averse to any reduction whatever. I think that public opinion during the general election manifested itself strongly in favour of a reduction of expenditure. Although the war in South Africa has been concluded for something like three or four years, we are still under the burden of the taxation which was imposed for the purposes of that war. The income-tax stands at 1s. in the £.—an unprecedented rate, I believe, in time of peace—and all the taxes which were imposed upon tea, sugar, beer, tobacco, and spirits with the intention of making the labouring classes contribute—and very properly—towards the war still remain unrepealed, with the single exception of 1d. upon tea. In these circumstances it does seem to me desirable that the country should consider the possibility of reducing its armaments. I believe it can do so with perfect safety in consideration of the changed circumstances which I have brought under the notice of your Lordships. The noble Viscount opposite seemed to think that the two-Power 323 standard was going to be abandoned. I did not understand from the speeches of my noble friend Lord Tweedmouth in this House, or of Mr. Robertson in the House of Commons, that there was any idea of abandoning the two-Power standard.
§ LORD EVERSLEY
The fact is that the two-Power standard at the present moment has been largely exceeded. I believe that never in the history of the country has the naval power of Great Britain been so superior to that of other Powers. My noble friend Lord Tweed-mouth, with great justice, disclaimed the task of making comparisons with other Powers. I think that is a very proper position for the First Lord of the Admiralty to take, but I do not see why those behind him who have not the same responsibility should not express their views upon this subject. For my part I do not hesitate to say, and I am confirmed in that view by many naval men with whom I have discussed the matter, that never at any time has the Navy of this country been so superior to those of other Powers whose navies could be brought against us. I can well understand that the Naval Lords of the Admiralty, under the peculiar circumstances of the present case, should wish it to be understood that they fully and thoroughly assent to the policy of their Board. I did not, however, understand my noble friend Lord Tweedmouth to shelter himself or the Government behind that fact. Although it is undesirable as a general rule that the head of either service should quote his expert advisers, yet I think that in the particular circumstances of the present case it was desirable that this should be done.
My noble friend Lord Goschen also alluded to the Hague Conference. I think that the action His Majesty's Government are taking with regard to that Conference is a wise one. I do not understand that it differs very substantially from the line which the noble Viscount himself took in 1900 with reference to the first Conference at the Hague.
§ VISCOUNT GOSCHEN
But I am now guided by the experience of the previous Conference and the difficulties which were encountered. Moreover, we did not reduce before the Conference.
§ LORD EVERSLEY
I contend that there is no substantial difference between the course which the noble Viscount, then took and the course which the present Government are taking with reference to the forthcoming Conference. I hope that the proposals of the present Government will be successful. I have no doubt very great difficulties will be encountered, especially on the part of Germany, but at the same time I think it is the duty of His Majesty's Government to make these proposals. With one part of the speech of the noble Viscount I fully agree. I do not think we need be under the impression that the great increase in the German Navy is directed specially against this country, We must recollect that Germany has become a great commercial Power with a vast mercantile marine She has ambitions of a colonial Empire in all parts of the world, and I think we may not unreasonably suppose that her Ministers consider a strong Navy a matter of great importance. I do not see the smallest reason for thinking that the German Navy is intended to be a rival of our own; nor do I consider that there is any possible comparison at the present moment between the German Fleet and our own. I am one of those who believe that the strength of the country does not depend on armaments alone. I believe that sound finance and light, taxation, on which credit is founded, are at least as important as the building in large numbers of new ships which experience four or five years hence may show to be obsolete.