§ EARL CAWDOR
rose to call attention to the shipbuilding programme of the Government, and to the possible position of the country in 1911–1912, and to ask what steps His Majesty's Government proposes to take in order to secure an absolute two-Power standard, with a margin for contingencies, against any possible combination of foreign Powers.
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, I do not think I shall be exaggerating when I say that there has been for some months past a considerable feeling of uneasiness throughout the country with respect to the condition of the Navy. It is a condition of anxiety not based so much upon the present position of the Navy, but almost entirely upon the view of the immediate future—upon the feeling which thoughtful men who study this question have that, however our naval supremacy may be assured at the present time, as I believe firmly that it is assured, there is no time to lose in the preparations that we must make if within a very short limit of time that supremacy is to be maintained. It is to this need for immediate preparation 26 that I wish to ask the attention of His Majesty's Government and of the House.
For some years past there has been a great doubt as to the views of His Majesty's present advisers with respect to the two-Power standard. There have been halting, equivocal, contradictory, statements with respect to that standard, but within the last few days a statement has been made by the Prime Minister which has been received with a sigh of relief throughout the length and breadth of the British Dominions—a statement clear, distinct, and unqualified. The Prime Minister, in that statement, lays down the two-Power standard to be—
A preponderance of 10 per cent. over the combined strengths in capital ships of the two next strongest Powers.
That is a standard which we on this side of the House have laid down for many years past. It is a standard which I had often hoped had been accepted by His Majesty's Government; but the contradictory statements we have had from time to time have shaken our faith in that matter. To-day I hope and believe that it is a standard which may be accepted absolutely by both sides—a standard not of party, but of naval efficiency at which the country means to aim. We shall hope to co-operate fully with His Majesty's Government in the maintenance of that standard, and I rejoice to feel that after this statement of the Prime Minister we need look no further, but may accept it absolutely and distinctly both in the spirit and in the letter—which is, I am quite certain, the way in which His Majesty's Government intend it should be carried out.
It is of the utmost importance that the standard should be a general standard. There is to my mind the greatest possible objection to eliminating any Powers from that standard and to focussing in any way the standard we are building up for our naval supremacy as against one or two individual Powers. Assume, for the moment, that it was proposed to eliminate Power A on the ground that we had a treaty with that Power. Power B is an Anglo-Saxon Power; it is incredible that we should go to war with an Anglo-Saxon Power. Therefore, we also eliminate Power B. We come to
Power C, and we find that we have an entente cordiale with that Power. That Power would have to be eliminated, and then we should have arrived at this stage, that it would be perfectly clear to Power D that she was the only Power against whom we could possibly be aiming. That, I think, has been well and wisely dealt with in the statement made by the Prime Minister. He takes the general basis, and the general basis, I submit, is the only safe basis on which the country can go. The alternative was put before the country in 1906, when the late Prime Minister used these words—
When you talk of a two-Power standard, after all you cannot quite keep 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 almost of a preposterous kind.
My Lords, I trust we have done with qualifications such as that. We take our stand side by side with the Prime Minister and the Government, and we claim that we have now a standard of efficiency against any two Powers—whoever they may be—who represent at the time the strongest Powers in the world.
I think it cannot be too often said that our policy of naval supremacy is merely a policy of defence. We have no desire for aggression, but we intend to maintain the safety of our own shores. We intend to defend, and to provide for, the safety of the food supply of our people, and for our commerce all over the world. That is a position which no foreign country has the slightest right to deny us or to object to, and, speaking a short time ago, the Prime Minister made a statement which, I think, bears out that view. He said—
There is not one of the Great Powers of all the world at this moment, I believe, without a single exception, which views with animosity, jealousy, or misgiving the Navy of Great Britain being maintained at what we call the two-Power standard.
That surely emphasises and makes perfectly clear the point that the standard of our supremacy must always be absolutely a general standard. There is only one way in which we can maintain the absence of any feeling of jealousy by foreign countries, and that is by maintain-
ing this standard in the words which were so well laid down by the Prime Minister.
§ Let us consider what is to be the burden of the maintenance of this standard. If we are to maintain our two-Power standard we shall have to complete, over and above the programme we have already taken up, by the end of 1911, six or seven first-class ships, and when we come to 1912 we shall have to provide very much the same number again. My excuse for pressing the subject upon His Majesty's Government is the shortness of time there is for making preparations in order to carry this out. The usual practice, after the introduction of the Budget and the decision taken in respect of the number of ships to be laid down, is that the ships are not laid down till a good many months later—often not until the end of the year, and sometimes not until the beginning of the next year. It takes something like two and a half years to build a first-class ship—sometimes less, but sometimes more—and I would ask His Majesty's Government not to pin themselves too closely in this matter. We have had many samples of the delay in shipbuilding due to strikes, labour troubles, and many other things, and after the Budget of next year there will not be a month to lose if you are to be absolutely sure of completing your six or seven ships within two and a half years, and if you are to maintain your standard of supremacy.
§ I ask the Government to give some information in regard to their intentions in that respect—I think it is a matter on which the country feels very strongly and deeply—and I trust they may be able to allay any feelings of anxiety that may exist by a statement of what they propose. The Government are aware of the information at their disposal and of the time in which they can produce and complete the ships, as well as the dates on which foreign ships are likely to be completed. I am not pressing them as to dates; but I ask them, in casting their minds to the end of 1911, when the pressure of competition of the two-Power standard will become keen, to give an assurance that whatever may be needed in the way of 29 laying down ships will be done in order that the standard of supremacy may be secured. If that is not done, then in two and a half years our two-Power standard may disappear.
§ Another point in battleship construction has reference to the guns and the gun-mountings. In the past allegations have been made that ships could not be ready owing to the want of guns, and I should say that the question of the gun-mountings is even more difficult and more pressing. You have to be further ahead with gun-mountings than with ships; and, moreover, only certain firms provide gun-mountings. Changes are sometimes made that are absolutely necessary for the efficiency of the latest ship which upset the arrangements made in the previous gun-mountings and delay the possibility of providing them within a reasonable time. I ask the Government, therefore, whether that question has been looked into, and whether arrangements have been made, or will be made at once, in order that there may be no delay in the completion of the six or seven vessels, or whatever number may be absolutely necessary, by the end of 1911 with respect to guns and gun-mountings.
§ I pass to the question of finance. The financial burdens in respect of naval construction during the next few years will be very heavy indeed. I have no wish in any way to make an attack on the Government. Indeed, I am anxious to co-operate with them in every way I possibly can. I think that the new definition of the two-Power standard, acknowledged by the Government, puts upon us a burden to show as clearly as we can that we wish to work hand in hand with them. But we are obliged to look at what the cost of this heavy financial pressure will be during the next few years. A battleship costs not less than £2,000,000. Three years ago we calculated its cost at £1,800,000, but the size and the cost of ships have increased since that date. Six or seven ships between now and 1911, and six or seven more between 1911 and 1912, will cost a great deal of money.
§ Before we Went out of office in 1905. as far as we could see, the ordinary 30 requirements of shipbuilding in battleships Would be about four a year. Thus four ships were laid down in 1905–6, but in 1906–7 three ships were laid down instead of four. I am not going to cavil at that. Without information as to expert advice, but speaking from what I could hear, I should say that the reduction of a ship in that year was probably amply justified by what was going on abroad. There had been a slackening-off in the battleship programme of foreign countries due to a new type of vessel. In 1907–8 there will be three ships instead of four; in 1908–9 only two ships would be laid down instead of four, which we thought were the ordinary requirements. It was then pointed out with great satisfaction that there would be a gain of £1,700,000 in two years of non-construction. But the construction Vote in that year is the lowest it has ever been for ten years. I had grave doubts as to whether it was the wisest policy to have the construction Vote cut down lower than it has been for more than ten years and to rejoice in the reduction of the Vote by £1,700,000 in two years, when everyone knew, and the Government better than anyone else, the enormous pressure that would be placed on this country in 1911 and 1912 in order to regain at a heavy cost and under much difficulty a supremacy which might have been retained had they looked a little further ahead. There was much talk at one time about naval savings. These savings were absolutely unreal, because they were nothing less than deferred liabilities. These things have to be faced, and one cannot help feeling that if three or four ships in the last three years had been laid down, the pressure to-day of securing and maintaining the two-Power standard in 1911 and 1912 would have been very different as far as the financial pressure is concerned from what we find it to be to-day.
§ It has been said by the noble Lord the late Civil Lord (Lord Lochee of Gowrie) that battleship construction was the dominating item of naval expenditure. That is undoubtedly true; but there is a great deal more behind. A battleship is a thing that looms very big in the public mind. The "man in the street" can understand a battleship; but he knows nothing of the accessories and 31 necessities of the Fleet outside a battleship. A battleship without accessories is absolutely useless for any purpose. Battleships carry with them of necessity scouts, destroyers, submarines, men, and stores, and last, but by no means least, docks for the battleships. I believe that the Government are well aware of the need of scouts as eyes for the Fleet, and I believe that they are taking steps now to strengthen the Fleet in that respect.
One word with respect to destroyers. In the early part of the year I expressed a strong opinion that we were counting too much on destroyers which were absolutely out of date, and in comparing them with the modern destroyers of foreign countries as if they were equally efficient. I feel this to be the case still, though I hope the feeling will be diminished by what has since been done. The late First Lord of the Admiralty gave us some information on this point in March last. The noble Lord said—
We expect to have ready at the end of this month, of ocean-going destroyers of 33 knots, 4; of the river class, 34; of 30-knot destroyers, 48; of 27-knot destroyers, 28; of coastal destroyers, 15—making a total of 129.
The noble Lord also said—
So far as the two-Power standard is concerned, I think I have made a good case for the destroyers. We are going to lay down sixteen new destroyers. They will be of the last improved river class, still improved. They will do thirty-three knots.
But a curious statement has since been made in another place in respect of these destroyers. I ask the Government to give us some information with regard to them. The statement made is that these 33–knot destroyers had never been decided upon and that there was some mistake in the statement. But the statement was a definite one made in a speech which I note was corrected by the late First Lord. It has been allowed to remain on record as the intention of the Admiralty until a few days ago. I should be the last in the world to press anyone if a mistake were made even in a matter so important as that, but I say that it is treating the country with scant consideration if a mistake was made in March last in the knowledge of the Admiralty and that no correction of the statement is made until two or three days ago. It is very unfortunate that the correction
should be so long delayed. Naturally it leads some people in the direction of thinking that this is one means of cutting down and scraping off some expenditure. I hope that is not the case, and, in any case, I think it is due to the country and your Lordships that we should be told, as far as possible, the reasons of the change, and what these sixteen destroyers are to be, what is their tonnage, and what their capacity in the way of carrying coal.
§ Then I turn to stores. We have had a good many statements in regard to stores. In spite of the allegation that everything is well, I cannot shut my eyes to the perpetual rumours I hear from all quarters to the contrary. I hear perpetual complaints that the stores are not sufficient and not in a satisfactory condition; that vessels come in requiring stores and find none in dock. I hope that is not the case. I hope the Government will be able to give us some reassuring information on that subject, for no one is more anxious than I am that these rumours should be set at rest.
§ I turn from the accessories of battleships to the all-important question, to my mind, of docks. The question of docks is not alone a question of repairs. You require a safe base in the North Sea not alone for repair purposes, but to which you may retire your battleships instead of leaving them out to be attacked, possibly, by forty or fifty destroyers during a winter night. I believe that in naval circles this is felt to be one of the great needs of the present day. Consider the position. In 1911 we hope to have eighteen or nineteen "Dreadoughts" or better than "Dreadnoughts," and these better than "Dreadnoughts" will be longer and will require more space and more accommodation. By 1912 we shall have twenty-five vessels of that class. Where is to be their base, and how do we compare with the great country that confronts us on the other side of the North Sea? The navy of that country is very well based for protective purposes as well as for repairs. I appreciate the difficulty; but the difficulty is one which must be faced if our battleship Fleet is to be efficient as a fighting fleet, and to be in a secure position in the North Sea in the next few years. We are told that Rosyth is to be partly finished in seven 33 years and rather more finished in ten. That surely indicates a rather serious position—that we are to raise our battleship Fleet to something like twenty or twenty-five vessels in the next three or four years and have no prospect of getting our first new naval base ready for seven or possibly ten years. I would ask the Government to consider the matter with all the earnestness they can, for, in my belief, it is one of the gravest questions we have to face.
§ May I make an appeal to the Government not to pass us off on the plea that it is unconstitutional to tell us anything before the Navy Estimates are presented? This is an exceptional time. We see a battleship programme prepared by foreign countries of quite an exceptional character. We must take exceptional steps to meet it. I am most anxious that the Government should as far as they can take the country into their confidence in this matter, let them feel, as I feel and believe, that what they propose to do with respect to the two-Power standard is to carry it out in the spirit as well as in the letter. There are many people who are still doubting, and who, when you talk to them and say everything is well, reply: Why, then, do not they lay down some more ships? Two or three more ships laid down speedily will mean a great deal more than many words.
§ A statement by the Government would be of the utmost value in settling and steadying foreign opinion abroad. It is of the utmost value to foreign countries to know that we are absolutely determined in this country on both sides of politics standing side by side, as I hope we always shall, to maintain the strength and supremacy of the Navy, that we have not the slightest intention of being caught, as we may be caught, unless great supervision and great care are exercised. In my belief, there is no greater safeguard for the peace of the world than the strength and supremacy of the British Navy. I ask the Government, therefore, to give us all the information they can, and I beg to assure them that I raise this question in no carping spirit, but with the firm and honest desire to co-operate with them in order to maintain always and under all conditions the naval supremacy of this country.34
§ THE EARL OF GRANARD
My Lords, I will endeavour to the best of my ability to answer the questions put by the noble Earl opposite. I can assure the noble Earl and the House that the two-Power standard will be maintained as it has always been maintained, whatever party has been in power in this country But to state now what His Majesty's Government propose to lay down in next year's Estimates is a procedure which has never been followed by any Government in this country. The noble Earl expressed the wish that the Navy should be kept out of party politics. On that we are all of one mind. We look upon the Navy as our great asset; the whole safety of the country depends upon it, and it would ill become any Government to endanger its supremacy. The noble Earl went on to say that the Navy was to be used for purely defensive purposes. That, again, is a statement in which we cordially concur.
As regards the position of this country in relation to other countries, at the end of 1911 we shall have eight "Dreadnoughts" and four "Invincibles." The "Invincibles" are included in the "Dreanought" class. The Germans will have thirteen. That is excluding the programme which we intend to lay down this year. The noble Earl complained that the Government had not laid down a larger number of battleships in 1906–7 and 1907–8. At that time there was really only a paper programme to meet. Germany had stated that she proposed to lay down certain ships. The life of a battleship is only some twenty years, and every month or two months there is some change in machinery or in fighting strength of which it is important to take advantage. The object, therefore, is to lay down ships as late as possible and to add to them any improvement that might have been thought of in the meantime. The intention of the Admiralty is in no way to stint the programme. If we find an acceleration of shipbuilding going on elsewhere, naturally we shall do the same for this country.
The noble Earl referred to gun-mountings not being always ready when every other part of the ship was complete, and to the fact that it had to 35 be borne in mind that there were few companies in this country which manufactured armaments and mountings. I think my noble friend must trust us there. We claim that by the end of 1911 all the ships mentioned will be in commission. I therefore think your Lordships may trust the Admiralty to see that all fittings are ready for the ships when the time comes. The noble Earl then went into the question of stores and expressed his fear that they were not being kept up to the normal standard. That is in no way the case. All stores are now in sufficient quantity and in good condition. A great improvement has been effected in the store-houses and in the sale of redundant and obsolete stores, and there is now a standardisation of all necessary reserves. The noble Earl then went into the question of whether the torpedo-boat destroyers were adequate and compared favourably with those of other nations. At the present time we have 143 of these vessels built; there are tea building and also sixteen—
§ THE EARL OF GRANARD
I cannot give the age of all of them, but I understood that about 12 per cent. are not quite up to the modern standard. Ten are building, and there are in addition the sixteen new vessels of the new river class, The noble Earl has told the House that the contract speed of these boats was 33 knots. It is very unfortunate that a mistake in this occurred. There was never any intention on the part of the Admiralty to make these 33 knot boats. The contract was for 27 knots and that is what they were going to be made. Their tonnage will be 900. The boats of the old river class were designed for 25 knots. The advisers of the Admiralty are of opinion now that the river class, which have been in commission for some time, compare favourably in every way with ships of, perhaps, a higher speed. In all this class of design we have to consider sea-keeping qualities, durability of machinery, strength of construction, and radius of action, all of which means more weight to be 36 carried. Although we are told that foreign Powers have destroyers of 30 knots we know nothing of the conditions of the trials that have been carried out. As to the question of docks and the position of a fleet of "Dreadnoughts" on the East Coast, it is perfectly true there is no dock at present on that coast which would take a "Dreadnought," but there are places on the East Coast where they would be protected. Behind the boom at Sheerness, for instance, a lot of "Dreadnoughts" could be got in and Rosyth will be shortly a defended fortress.
§ THE EARL OF GRANARD
We hope that the contracts for Rosyth will be placed in January, and that the work will be completed in seven years. A bonus is being given to the contractor in the hope of expediting the work. Of course on the South Coast there is ample dock accommodation. I only need add that the Government regard it as absolutely essential that the policy of the two-Power standard should be carried out; that is to say, that we should have a Fleet which would be capable of dealing successfully with two foreign Powers, and that there should be a margin of 10 per cent. above that. I do not think I can end better than by repeating the words of Sir Edward Grey, that there is no half-way house between safety and danger.
My Lords, I am not satisfied with the Answer which has just been given by the noble Earl opposite. The noble Earl made no mention of cruisers; and if he had inquired of naval officers on the active list he would have found that a great many of them are of opinion that battleships are not safe at sea unless accompanied by cruisers. The battleship may be the king of the sea by day, but by night the torpedo is a dangerous and formidable pretender to its supremacy. The double standard should mean the double standard all the way down. Nothing short of that is sufficient. Nelson once said—The want of frigates will be found written on my heart.37 I hope no admiral or commander now on the active list will ever have occasion to utter a similar sentiment. Such things as supplementary Estimates have been repeatedly voted in comparatively recent times, as in 1885. I never heard of any firm of shipowners who tied the hands of their managers by insisting that no meeting of directors should ever come to a decision as to what ships they should order to be built except during one particular month of the year. Nor do any large business firms act on this principle when they have to consider questions of exceptional expenditure. Such a system would in many cases be suicidal, as it would give their rivals several months start, which is exactly what the Admiralty are now doing.
Money is of value in war, and when making preparations for war, but time is often of greater value, and cannot be purchased when too late by any amount of gold. And yet with our recent experience of the fragility and piecrust qualities of treaties, while all Europe is simmering with anxiety, the Prime Minister and the First Lord of the Admiralty deliberately throw away five months time. This is playing hare to the foreign tortoise with a vengeance. They deliberately go to sleep for five months, and then they say that they will wake up and tell us what they mean to do next Easter. They ought to tell us before Christmas. In the present fevered state of Europe nothing would have a more tranquilising effect, nothing would be more likely to maintain peace than a notice that the weakest state in Europe in proportion to its population had determined to take proper measures for its protection without delay. A supplementary Estimate for the purpose of building destroyers, more improved "Dreadnoughts," and docks on the east coast is what is required immediately. The destroyers, if commenced at once, should be ready for sea in a much shorter time than the battleships.
I have seen in a newspaper that the Admiralty are delaying to give out contracts for shipbuilding because some firms are believed to have formed a ring to keep prices up. I have no means of ascertaining the truth of this; but, if it is suspected that this may be the 38 case, why are the slips in Government dockyards from which the "St. Vincent" and "Collingwood" were launched at Portsmouth and Plymouth, silent and empty? When on former occasions other ships were launched, fresh keels were immediately laid down, sometimes on the very same day. I believe in continuity of administration at the Admiralty, and I consider that the present Cabinet made one of the gravest financial mistakes ever made by a Government when it deviated from the Cawdor Programme. I was in Germany during the autumn of 1906, and found all Germans cock-a-whoop at the signs of weakness that England was showing which encouraged them to the further efforts they are now making. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us that he is looking out for more henroosts to rob. The henroosts that he has already robbed are the shipbuilding yards, both public and private. Those fine old hens, Portsmouth and Plymouth Dockyards, have hatched out and reared some very fine chickens on the building slips that gave birth to the "Collingwood" and "St. Vincent." Many of our other hens, however, have been unable to hatch out chickens, because the Government have robbed their nests of the golden eggs which alone car. produce them. There is, I am told, no large ship at present on the stocks at Chatham.
The country that must always hold the command of the sea as a necessity of its existence should always allow for having ships under repair on the decisive day, whereas the nation that challenges her, knowing the day beforehand, can always arrange to put her whole strength into the balance at one particular time, but she cannot count on having all her strength always ready at any time, any more than the possessor of the seas that she is attacking. Take, for instance, the war with Japan. The Japanese did not know for certain when the Russians would sally from Port Arthur, and were, therefore, unable to make use of all their ships on 10th August. But when the Baltic Fleet came out they had ample notice of its movements, and were, therefore, able to put everything they had that could float and fight into 39 line at the Battle of Tsusima. In Captain Montagu Bu rows' "Life of Lord Hawke," I find the following remark on his victory off Finisterre—There are no less than twenty-five line of battleships in this Western squadron, and nineteen of them were handed over to Hawke, yet he had only fourteen with him in his battle of October the 14th.So that the question of repairs was as much a problem in those days as it is now. Like the poor, we shall always have it with us.
I have in my hand a Return, dated 31st July, of the number of days in the year that our more recent battleships and large cruisers were under repair. On examining Part II. of the Return I find that in 1905–6, twenty-six battleships were 2,197 days under repair. Adding one-sixth, that is 366 days, for Sundays, and dividing by twenty-six, gives an average of about ninety-eight days in dockyard hands for each ship. In 1906–7 a similar calculation gives an average of 114 clays under repair for twenty-eight battleships, an increase of sixteen days, probably due to the necessity of fitting cooling apparatus to magazines. Applying the same calculation to cruisers, I find that in 1905–6 thirty-one cruisers averaged 105 days under repair, and that in 1906–7 thirty-three cruisers averaged 135 days under repair, an increase of thirty days. With these figures before me I think I am justified in assuming that our battleships and cruisers are unavailable for service during at least three months in the year.
I shall not say much about the necessity of keeping up a powerful Navy, because both Mr. Asquith and Mr. McKenna have used language fully as strong as any that I could use about the necessity of a sufficient Navy. If words could build ships, their utterances would be quite satisfactory. But what have they done? One expects deeds, not words only, from a Government. Words are the ammunition of an Opposition. Words alone will not build ships. It takes money to do that. Where are their supplementary Estimates? Are the Government going to allow six months more to pass without beginning to build their arrears in battle ships and destroyers? Or are they going to make fresh requests to other Powers 40 to cease shipbuilding? The policy of asking another country to stop her rivalry with Great Britain is a suggestion that one might expect to be made by a good little girl of about seven years old at a Sunday school. It is not a policy for grown-up men who pose as statesmen. This request encouraged the German Navy League to fresh exertions, as they saw England faltering at the first signs of being collared in the race.
When Lord Goschen was First Lord of the Admiralty he once said his most important duty was that of a transmuter of metals—to turn gold into different forms and shapes of iron and steel. It is not the duty of a First Lord to restrict himself to the use of words. The Government have acted unwisely in reducing their War Estimates. I think they know it now, but they will not produce supplementary Estimates as they wish to save their faces. But why not save their faces by pleading that the perturbed condition of Europe and the unexpected violation of treaties are sufficient reasons for reconsidering the conclusions that they came to some months ago? I interpret the two-Power standard not only to mean a fleet equal to that of any two Powers plus 10 per cent., but also a fleet double that of any European Power. Mr. McKenna calls this an expansion of the two-Power theory. It is a very necessary one. The history of naval alliances shows the immense advantage possessed by a fleet under one command over two fleets under separate command. I think it will be even greater than formerly. At present men-of-war when in line are perpetually signalling to one another. Misunderstood signals will mean collisions and torpedo attacks on allies. Therefore, a fleet of twenty battleships and auxiliaries under one flag will be far more formidable than two fleets of the battleships, and two sets of auxiliaries, under two flags; in consequence of this we require double the fleet of any one European Power. As we want seven "Dreadnoughts," cruisers to protect them, and many destroyers laid down, it would be better for us to make up our minds and to announce our intention of doing so at once, to employ labour as soon as possible, and thereby kill two birds with one stone by lessening the number of the unemployed.
§ LORD LOCHEE OF GOWRIE
My Lords, I am sure I may with confidence appeal to your Lordships for that indulgence which you always extend to a Member who addresses the House for the first time. I do not know that I should have claimed that privilege on this occasion but for the fact that the notice of the noble Earl as it appeared in the Paper appeared to foreshadow an attack on the shipbuilding programme and the Estimates of the present year for which I was in a large degree responsible. I have no complaint whatever to make of the noble Earl's criticisms, but I would remind him that as regards the programme of the present year and the Estimates embodying it, it is a little belated, these being passed into law and there being nothing left now but for the Government to carry them into execution.
After having been for sixteen years responsible for the conduct of naval debates either in office or in opposition in the other House, I may say that I do not remember any Estimates in any year that have been the subject of so much criticism as the Estimates of the present year and the shipbuilding programme which formed part of them. I have been authorised to say on behalf of our naval advisers that the shipbuilding programme which the noble Earl attacked was sufficient in their opinion to maintain the two-Power standard for the time being. I have some figures which I will read to your Lordships by-and-by in support of that statement, but in the meantime I will content myself by saying that of the criticisms to which our Estimates were exposed one section asserted that our figures were too high, and the other that they were too low. Those who said that our Estimates were too high, who said so in the spring of this year, I think would hardly venture after all that has happened to repeat the expression of that opinion now.
The second part of the noble Earl's notice appeared to me to be open to objection on a totally different ground. In effect, what the noble Earl asks is a disclosure by the Government of the Estimates for the coming year. I do not take the point that the noble Earl anticipated that it would be unconstitutional to do so. It would be quite inconsistent on my part 42 to say anything of the kind, because on two occasions I have recently disclosed a considerable portion of the Estimates for the coming year, but I do take this point that it must be left to the Government of the day in the exercise of its discretion and responsibility to say whether such a disclosure can be made. I think on this point that the notice of the noble Earl is premature. He has himself been First Lord of the Admiralty, and he knows very well that in this month of November the officials of the Admiralty are grappling with the very problem which he is presenting to us to-night. This is a time above all other times when I think Parliamentary pressure, and even Parliamentary suggestion, should be withheld. After considerable experience of naval Estimates and naval matters, I think it tends to weaken responsibility in a Department to have pressure put upon it during this period of incubation, and premature disclosure may mean, and sometimes must mean, hasty decisions, and hasty decisions are to be deprecated more perhaps in the Navy than in any other Government Department.
Then it is always to be remembered that there is a certain advantage in a Fabian policy, if I may so describe it, as regards shipbuilding. There is a certain advantage gained by what has been the custom of the Admiralty and the Government of this country in delaying, I was going to say, almost to the last moment, any announcement as to what their shipbuilding programme is going to be. It has been their practice to let other countries commence their programmes and to wait until they know what other nations are going to do, and then try to go one better. The noble Earl was responsible for a breach of this policy in the building of the "Dreadnoughts." I am not going to enter into any controversy or to make any controversy on that point to-night, but the noble Earl knows as well as I do, that there are high authorities for saying that the "Dreadnought" policy was premature, and the premature policy so described is responsible for a good many of the difficulties of the situation in which we now find ourselves.
43 Passing from these general observations, I come to the gravamen of the noble Earl's attack upon the Admiralty, if I may so describe it.
§ LORD LOCHEE OF GOWRIE
Perhaps that was a slip of the tongue. I might use the word "critique." That phrase will perhaps better describe his case, but I was going to venture in these days of definition, to put his question in a form which was not the form in which he laid it before your Lordships. I conceive that the question he addressed to the Admiralty was this: "What do you propose to do? What steps do you propose to take, and when, in order to maintain in the year 1911–12 the absolute two-Power standard as recently defined?" I think that is a correct statement of the question which he addressed to this bench. I suggest that that implies as a preliminary, what I do not think it received from the noble Earl, and what I do not think he would venture really to give and what I certainly should decline to give, namely, an estimate of the international and naval situation as it will be in the period to which he refers. What is to be the situation of the various Navies of the world in the year 1911–12, which we are to take steps to guard against now? The noble Earl attempted no such description or definition, and if he had I should certainly have declined to follow him, because at a moment's notice, or even after a great deal of notice, one could not possibly arrive at any decided conclusion in the matter. But I am going to do the next best thing, and what I propose to do is relevant to the first part of the noble Earl's criticism as well as to the question with which he concluded. I am going to make an attempt to estimate the international position as it is to-day with reference to the two-Power standard. That is an easier query, but it is by no means an easy one, and I do not attempt to give anything like certainty in the matter, but I will tell your Lord- 44 ships what I propose to do. In the new definitions of the two-Power standard occurs the phrase "capital ships." The time is approaching, I imagine, when we shall be asked to define that phrase. I am not going to define it, but for the purpose of my present statement I am going to assume that by "capital ships" I may be taken to mean, first, battleships and, secondly, armoured cruiser.
§ LORD LOCHEE OF GOWRIE
Yes. I am not giving it as a definition of a capital ship. I do not know how that would turn out. The capital ship that I take for the purpose of making a comparison with regard to other Navies is this: I will take all the battleships and all the cruisers in the four principal Navies of the world which are less than twenty years of age, counting their age from the date of launching. I think the noble Earl will admit that that is perfectly fair as regards them all.
§ LORD LOCHEE OF GOWRIE
I am trying to take the relative position with reference to the two-Power standard. By making the statement that I am now going to make it will be quite clear what I mean. I take the four great naval Powers—Great Britain, France, Germany and the United States, and I take, first of all, the whole of their battleships under twenty years of age, dating from the time of launching. I am also going to take in another table, too, the armoured cruisers of those Navies, and I will take their number and give their tonnage. I daresay the noble Earl will object that neither tonnage nor armour in itself is conclusive, and I do not say it is, but they are the two most important and most vital elements in a comparative statement. They stand for something; indeed, they stand for everything unless there is some great disparity in our ships, taken side by side with ships of other Navies, which I for one have never stated. In 45 the table from which I am going to read, the advantage, if any, or the disadvantage, if any, will be on the side of the British Government, because while there are ships included in the list of all the four Navies which it is now the custom to call obsolescent, the obsolescence is by no means confined to the British Government, but extends in a greater degree, I believe, to other Governments. I have had the benefit of the advice in this matter of a former colleague, whose opinion is cited in the words I have just used, and when I tell the House the name of my adviser and friend, they will see at once the importance of the statement which he, through me, really makes—I mean Sir William White, the late Chief-Construct or of the Navy, who is responsible for the building of the greater part of the Fleet now in being. If you will permit me to quote a few figures, they are these. The battleship list, limited as I have described it, is as follows: Of ships now completed under twenty years of age, Great Britain has 52; Germany, 24; France, 20; the United States, 26. Now let me apply the two-Power standard; against our 52, in numbers of battleships, if we take France and Germany together we have to meet 44—that is, as against our 52, and taking France and the United States together we have 46 as against 52.
§ LORD LOCHEE OF GOWRIE
I was taking France and the United States, and, as I say, they are together 46, against our 52. I am just coming to Germany and the United States. These permutations and commutations really are a little confusing. I admit that Germany and the United States between them have 50 battleships against our 52.
Now let me take tonnage. The tonnage of the British ships amounts to 753,900 tons; Germany, 282,700 tons; France, 230,200 tons; United States, 340,000 tons. Again applying the two-Power method, against our 750,000 odd of tons in battleships Germany and France have 512,900; France and the United States have 46 570,200; and Germany1 and the United States, which does become the second strongest Power, 622,700. The two next strongest Powers in battleships estimated in this way, give a tonnage 622,700 tons, against the 750,000 tons of Great Britain alone.
Now I come to the armoured cruiser. The armoured cruisers in the list run as follows: Great Britain, 38 in number; Germany, 8; France, 20; United States, 15. Applying the two-Power method we have this result; against our 38, France and Germany have 28; France and the United States have 35; and Germany and the United States, 23.
Now for the tonnage. If the House is not tired of these figures, I propose to give the tonnage. The armoured cruiser tonnage of Great Britain is 468,400. Against this we have in Germany, 78,500; in France, 185,000; and in the United States, 186,000. Applying once more the two-Power method we have against the 468,400 tons of armoured cruisers possessed by Great Britain, 263,500 in France and Germany, 371,000 in France and the United States, and 264,500 in Germany and the United States.
I am afraid I have exhausted the patience of noble Lords, but I would like just to pursue the subject one little bit further. I am going to mass these all together, because the order of merit is not the same in cruisers, if I may use that phrase, as it is in battleships. But let us combine the two. Putting battleships and armoured cruisers in one class by themselves—call them capital ships if you please—this is the result: Great Britain, 90; Germany, 32; France, 40; United States, 41. Then the tonnage is this, the gross British tonnage in armoured cruisers and battleships is 1,222,300, against the following:—Germany, 361,000; France, 415,000; the United States, 526,000.
Well, my Lords, those are the comparative figures of capital ships as I have described them estimated in numbers and tonnage at the present moment, and I venture to be thus detailed in my statement of figures for three reasons: first of all, because I submit to the House that it justifies the statement that I was authorised 47 to make by our naval colleagues in the spring, namely, that the shipbuilding programme of the present year, to which the noble Lord took gentle exception, is sufficient for the time being to maintain the two-Power standard. The second reason I may mention is this, that I think it confirms fully the statement made yesterday in another place by the Prime Minister as to the policy and practice of the Board of Admiralty for some years past. Finally, I mention it because I venture to think that it affords a satisfactory platform from which we may contemplate with composure the naval developments of the immediate future.
I have just a few words more to say. I resist the temptation which has been spread before the House on this occasion by the noble Earl to discuss the question of standards. I am not going to enter to-night into the battle of standards at all. Of course, I do not criticise the definition of the two-Power standard which was accepted the other day by the Prime Minister. That is not my purpose at all. But if I might presume to do so, I was going to express to the House the caution which I always try to impose upon myself in dealing as I often had to do in another place with this very question. I saw or foresaw certain difficulties and dangers connected with the standard. I agree absolutely with what was said about it by Mr. Balfour in another place this very year. He said that it had no scientific basis at all, nor has it. That means that it has no logical basis, and if it were to be set as a problem in logical difficulties, it would prove embarrassing to experts, and to the man in the street as well. I have always thought it wiser where you are dealing with the standard, which everybody confesses to be not a matter of science, not a matter of logic, not a matter of arithmetic, not a matter of precision, that the least said sometimes the soonest mended. I am certain of this, that whatever definition may be accepted for the moment and however well justified it may be at the moment, there is no possible formula of standard power, and no possible definition of any such standard which can be said for a moment to be entitled 48 to hold water for all time. We do not know what circumstances may arise to lead to another standard and another definition having to be set up.
The only other point to which I want to refer may appear to some of your Lordships to be a little wide of the main scope of the discussion to-night, but I think I can bring what I have to say within the limits of order, certainly in this matter, although it is a little wide of the general tendency of the discussion. I want to allude for a moment to the international rule, and to its bearing on the present debate, which permits the destruction and capture of private property at sea. I am, not going to discuss that rule on humanitarian grounds. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has expressed strong humanitarian views against the existing rule with which I entirely concur, but it is on naval grounds that I want to put the criticism that I am putting now, and on naval grounds bearing on the chief points raised by the noble Earl opposite. My Lords, apart from humanitarianism altogether, of which I take no account in these debates at all, I believe that the value of this rule as a weapon to us has been much exaggerated, and that its possible detriment to Great Britain is too much ignored. We have the largest target exposed to attack in this way of any country in the world. There is only one consolation that the surface we expose to attack is so vast that its vastness in a sense is almost its own protection. I do not, therefore, value the rule as a naval weapon, but after many years reflection on these problems I have come to the conclusion—that the existence in practice of this rule, by which a man's private property at sea is liable to be taken and destroyed, is the main cause of the large navies of the world. There is nothing in my judgment which more induces all nations to submit to the great burden, of naval armaments than that fact, and I cannot too strongly express the great regret that I have always felt that the late Hague Conference produced no reform in international law in this respect. That was due no doubt largely to the opposition and resistance made to the proposed reform by the Government of this country of which I was myself a 49 Member. I am not challenging the grounds on which that resistance was offered, but I want to state the naval consequences, apart from your standards and definition of your standards once you have got the standards. The existence and continuance of this rule in practice renders it necessary for this country to possess a Navy, which I will not call a two or three-Power standard Navy, but a Navy which is a huge one. It makes it absolutely necessary, in my opinion, that our Navy should be enormous and invincible. The Hague Conference is not a popular subject to dilate upon and I am not going to do it, but I would remind your Lordships of this, that the first Hague Conference was called together for the main purpose, assented to by all nations, of reducing international armaments. What has been the result? I have not the figures exactly in my mind, but I think I am right when I say that between the first Hague Conference and the second, naval armaments went up 50 per cent. all the world over, Great Britain included, and I look forward with some foreboding to the developments in store for us in the few years which must elapse between the second Hague Conference and the third. I have to thank your Lordships for the great indulgence which you hare extended to me.
§ LORD LEITH OF FYVIE
My Lords, some time ago I formed an opinion, which I expressed, with regard to the repairs of our Fleets. At the time I expressed that opinion I could not possibly have spoken from the experience that the country has since had, but experience since has shown that what I outlined and what I was suspected was justified, and that our repairs have not been properly carried out; that is to say, that we had valuable machinery that we were spending a large amount of capital upon, but we were not keeping that machinery up, and that has been proved by the experience of the last three years, and more especially in the last year.
Your Lordships all know that a discussion took place in the other House on the question of the repairs of the Channel Fleet and also of the Mediterranean Fleet and of the inefficiency 50 of those Fleets at the time when they are required. They had to go into dock to be repaired; the estimate was that only two line of battleships should be absent from the Fleet at a time in order that the Fleet should be kept in being. We have had an example which has shown us that although we have this enormous Navy we cannot keep the Channel Fleet or the Mediterranean Fleet in being, and our Home Fleet is acknowledged to be only one-half manned by nucleus crews. The consistency of this enormous expenditure in machinery without the proper ratio of expenditure in repairs is the most dangerous thing of to-day. What is the good of our large Fleets unless they are ready for action? We are told in both Houses that they are ready for action, but when they are tested in any sense by manœuvres or otherwise it is proved that they are not and that there is a large amount of repairs due on each ship which it is recognised must be done before they can go into action. Not only that, but our Fleets are not ready for action even to be able to steam full speed from the Channel ports to Gibraltar. When the Home Fleet two years ago was organised, and then exhibited with spectacular effect to the Members of both Houses, they had a manœuvre soon after. What was the effect? The Admiralty ordered that the maximum speed was not to exceed 12 knots because there were so many ships that were out of repair—that had such a large amount of repair due to them that they could not go more than 12 knots. That means that all this enormous expenditure on the Navy represents capitalisation without the proper amount of repairs being kept up. We have had to-day a statement from the representative of the Admiralty in regard to the stores and ordnance. Why is it that the gun carriages and the ordnance cannot be got when you require them? I will tell you why. It is because foreigners have taken up the output that the works of this country can supply, simply because the Government does not lay out its contracts at a time when the works are able to put the work in hand 51 and to produce what is wanted and have it ready for the Government when it is required. The same thing applies to stores. We are told by His Majesty's Government that stores are being supplied in full quantities. I would ask you to go and inquire from any captain of a ship or any admiral of a fleet what his experience is. His experience is that he is not getting enough; the stores are being most niggarolily served out; they are being supplied on the basis not of what is required, but what the Admiralty have decided they can supply. These estimates are all wrong for supplies and ordnance. You can get both, and you have no business to be niggardly with them. Why you should not be niggardly is because of the common-sense view that you own a large and valuable plant and machinery, and owning that plant and machinery you ought to keep it up to the very best advantage. If you do not keep it up, when you require it it will fail you. That is the position that all men who are practically interested in machinery, who have to do with building ships and building guns, take up—that repairs are not properly kept up. They are demanded by admirals, captains, and engineers, and put on a list, but they are not carried out. The small repairs are carried out exceedingly well by the repair ships of the Fleet, but when it conies to capital repair, to the repair of battleships so that they may be ready for any contingency, they are not carried out. Several questions have been asked and answered, but have the answers been practical? Two years ago, on the Estimates of 1906, the late Premier said the Estimates were reduced on the distinct recommendation of the Sea Lords. That was rather a change from what had been the custom of the Admiralty before. The Sea Lords had never been brought so prominently before Parliament as they were on that occasion, but since then I have never heard the Sea Lords quoted in the way of stating what they wanted or what they recommended. Undoubtedly at that time, as the noble Earl who brought up the question has explained to you, there were many questions of expediency that could not be met in a moment, but to- 52 day we have the Sea Lords perfectly silent on a most important question—one is the question brought up to-day, the homogeneousness of our Fleet, that battleships require cruisers, they also require destroyers, and these destroyers require torpedo boats, and beyond all the necessity of a dock and the planting of bases upon which all this valuable machinery can fall back in time of war. You have been told that there is a dock at Sheerness. I would like you to ask any admiral to take his fleet up to Sheerness in war time and take it into dock without buoys, which would have teen removed. The answer is that there is a dock there, that there is water at the mouth of it, but the entrance is impracticable. The same thing can be said about Chatham—that it cannot be got at easily by these enormous battleships which are on the increase in size, and which you must all recognise are not less than a £2,000,000 investment. The whole consistency of our policy must be considered from the battleships down to the dock. We have gone on building battleships for the last three years and we are proposing to increase the number of them, but what are we going to do about docks? We are going to build Rosyth in ten years.
§ LORD LEITH OF FYVIE
Take even seven years—we want the dock built within two years. Where shall we be in seven years? We shall have forty more line-of-battleships in the North Sea and no more docks. Let us see if it is not possible to get docks from the commercial side on cur coasts. Why cannot we subsidise those who build docks? Why cannot we subsidise a dock as well as subsidise a mail steamer? If we were to do that we should then have the benefit of a dock that was constantly in use and constantly paying for itself. I asked Lord Tweed-mouth when this discussion came up two years ago whether it was possible to suggest that as a practicable question, and I understood that the matter had been considered by the Admiralty but had not got far enough. Since then I understand that one dock has been opened at Sunderland on the East Coast, and it is the only practicable one on 53 that coast that will take in a ship like the "Dreadnought." It is only repeating over and over again what has been said before when I say that we are not carrying out a consistent policy. We are investing on top and not protecting the foundation. The foundation is from dock, destroyer, cruiser, up to battleship, and then when we have got the Fleets in being what we want is to know that they are practically employed. Are they practically employed? Has the Channel Fleet, or the Home Fleet been practically engaged in this last year? I say No, they have not. We ought to have had them properly employed so that as a combined Fleet they were defending the coast as it was the year before under Admiral Wilson. The experience of those Fleets in being under manœuvres and under night manœuvres and war tactics cannot be In any way estimated except by those who take part in them. In the past the Commanders-in-Chief down to the midshipmen have all had that experience, but this year they have not.
§ LORD EVERSLEY
After the speech of my noble friend, Lord Lochee, I will not detain the House at any length, because I agree with him in almost everything that he said. But I should like to say a few words upon the question of the two-Power standard. I agree with my noble friend, Lord Lochee, that the two-Power standard has no logical basis; that it is a point on which you cannot lay down a standard as a matter of principle for all time to come. The noble Earl, in his opening statement, said that in the past the two-Power standard had been absolute and without qualification. I very well recollect the inception of the two-Power standard. I think that Lord George Hamilton was the first who suggested it as an alternative to the policy which had previously been adopted. For a great many years previous to 1887 or 1888 the standard of strength adopted for the British Navy was that of three to two, as compared with the French Navy. That, I believe, had been the standard adopted from the end of the great French War until the time I speak of, and as a matter of fact when either Power increased its Navy some- 54 what above that proportion the other was certain to follow suit, and that standard was considered sufficient by naval authorities and by successive Governments for many years until 1887 or 1888. About that time, however, the increase of the Russian Navy and the close alliance between Russia and France made it expedient and necessary to adopt another standard, and Lord George Hamilton was, I believe, the first to suggest the two-Power standard. The noble Lord said that it had been absolute and unqualified.
§ EARL CAWDOR
I do not wish to interrupt. When I said the statement had been absolute and unqualified, I referred to the statement made by the Prime Minister two or three days ago.
§ LORD EVERSLEY
I am going to show that it was not without qualification when it was first suggested by Lord George Hamilton. I have not been able to find the first speech in which Lord George Hamilton suggested the standard, but I find a reference to it in a later speech of his in the year 1893. In 1893 Lord George Hamilton made an important speech on the naval expenditure very much like the speech which the noble Earl has made to-night, namely, he called upon the Government quite late in the session, I think in December, to lay their programme for the next year before the House, and in that speech he dealt with a two-Power standard. He said that it was admitted to be a cardinal part of the policy of this country that the minimum standard of security which the country demanded and expected was that our Fleet should be equal to the combination of the two next strongest navies in Europe, namely, France and Russia, and in the same speech he went on to say—When the late Government introduced the Naval Defence Act of 1889 they undertook that if a certain sum of money was placed at their disposal, in the year 1894 the British Fleet would be equal to the combined force of any two navies in Europe.That restriction to Europe is a very important qualification, and for my part I think it is a very wise one. Personally I should look with some dread at the inclusion of the United States in 55 any race of armaments with this country. I believe it is wise to exclude the United States Navy from any consideration of the two-Power standard. The point is not a very material one at the present moment, because, as the figures of my noble friend Lord Lochee show, the present strength of the British Navy as compared with either France, Germany or the United States, is very great, but in respect to the United States the question might become a material and important one in the near future, and I would put this point to the noble Lord opposite: whether if the United States Government should consider it desirable to increase largely their fleet with a view of having a large fleet in the Pacific, it would be wise for this country immediately to increase its own Fleet in the same proportion.
I venture to say that that is a proposition about which I feel considerable doubt, and whenever the time comes when it may be the subject of discussion, all I can say is that I do not think it would be a wise thing on the part of this country to lay down as a proposition for all time to come that the United States should be included in the two-Power standard. My noble friend Lord Lochee has given figures to show the great strength of the British Fleet at the present moment. I think the noble Earl in his speech has hardly done credit to himself or to the Government of which he was a member. He, to my mind, has failed to recognise the enormous strength of the British Fleet as compared with the fleets of other Powers at the present moment.
§ EARL CAWDOR
The noble Lord must pardon me for interrupting him again. I was perfectly definite on that point. I said that so far as the present supremacy of our Fleet was concerned I believed it to be absolute. I accepted it as being absolute at the present time, and therefore I did not pass it by.
§ LORD EVERSLEY
Certainly the impression on my mind was that the noble Earl had not dwelt sufficiently on the present existing strength of the Navy, and I think it is right to mention that not only is that due to the noble Lord and to the great exertions of the late 56 Government during the ten years that they held office, but also the fact that our relative strength to other Powers has been enormously increased by their policy in regard to agreements with France and Japan which have enabled the concentration of our battleships in home waters. The figures of my noble friend Lord Lochee showed that in respect to the other three great Powers, the two-Power standard is enormously exceeded in all three cases, and as regards Germany the figures show that the strength of the British Fleet at the present moment, at least in battleships and armoured cruisers, is three times and possibly four times greater than that of Germany. That has, as I have said, an important bearing on the present question. If it were not for one important fact I believe it would be possible to make a considerable reduction in naval expenditure at the present time. That one fact I need hardly say is the prospective great increase of the German Navy. But we must recollect that that prospective great increase in the German Navy has to be spread over a considerable number of years. It is not to be completed until the year 1820. By that time no doubt Germany will have a very formidable fleet of these bigger vessels. During the same time France also has a considerable programme of shipbuilding, although not more than one half of that of Germany. It is part of the German programme to build the greater number of these vessels in the earlier years and the lesser number in the later years. If it were possible for this country to adopt the plan of the German Government and to have a definite statutory programme spreading over the next twelve years, to be completed by the year 1920, and to equalise the Votes during that period and spend rather a larger amount during the earlier years and less in the later years, to build a larger amount of tonnage in the earlier years, and a somewhat less amount of tonnage in the later years, it would be, I think, an easy matter to provide for the two-Power standard at the end of that period sufficiently to meet the programmes both of France and of Germany without any large addition to our shipbuilding Vote. But the difficulty arises from the fact that I have mentioned, that the additions to be made to the German Fleet 57 during the next four or five years will be much larger than in the subsequent years. It may well be, therefore, that during the next three or four years it may be necessary to make some addition to the shipbuilding Vote. I doubt whether it will be necessary to do so to the extent mentioned by the noble Lord opposite, but that is a matter that will have to be considered carefully by those responsible for the naval programme in the next year. I would venture to suggest this to the Government, whether if it be necessary to make a considerable addition to the shipbuilding Vote in the next three or four years it may not be possible to effect some reduction in other parts of the naval expenditure. I believe it is commonly considered that the great increase of expenditure upon the Navy during the last ten years has been wholly due to the shipbuilding Vote. That is very far from being the case. The total increase of expenditure upon the Navy during the last ten years amounts to no less than £10,500,000. Of that sum only £1,000,000 is due to the increase of the shipbuilding Vote. The shipbuilding Vote ten years ago was £7,000,000. It is now £8,000,000. Of the £10,500,000, £1,500,000 is due to the interest on Sinking Fund upon money borrowed for new works of all kinds—for docks and harbours and the dredging of harbours, and so forth—all over the world, and that perhaps ought not to be included in any comparison at the present moment with the expenditure of ten years ago. But of the remaining £8,000,000, £3,500,000 is due to the increase of wages and victualling of the men; something like £1,250,000 is due to the increased cost of repairs, and something like £1,000,000 is due to the increased cost of coal, and in that way we mount up to no less than £8,000,000 increase due to the personnel of the Fleet. During that time the personnel of the Fleet has been increased by 23,000 men; it has been raised from 100,000 to 128,000 men. At the present moment the number of men in the German Navy is 50,000, and the number of men in the French Navy is 56,000. It will be seen, therefore, that the two-Power standard is enormously exceeded in respect of the personnel of the British 58 Fleet. It has been often contended by men of very high authority in the Navy that it would be wise policy on the part of the British Admiralty to adopt more freely the short-service system and to pass a larger number of men more rapidly through the Service into the Reserve, and if this policy were adopted it would be possible without any real reduction in the efficiency of the Fleet to make a very considerable reduction in the wages Vote and other Votes for the Navy. It would also be possible, if that policy were adopted, considerably to reduce the number of vessels in commission, and consequently the cost of their repairs and coals. I venture to suggest for the consideration of the Government of the Navy Estimates and the programme for next year, whether, if it should be necessary largely to increase the shipbuilding Vote, it might not be at the same time accompanied by some reduction of other Votes. I would venture to point out to the House that of the total expenditure of this country a very much smaller amount is spent upon the building of new ships than is the case with either Germany or France. Of the total expenditure of Germany upon the Navy, namely, of £16,000,000 during the present year, no less than £8,000,000 is spent upon new ships, in other words, one-half, and the other £8,000,000 is spent upon their personnel. In the case of England out of a total expenditure of £32,500,000, only £8,000,000 is spent upon new ships, the residue being spent upon the personnel and the other matters to which I have adverted. Therefore, while in Germany one-half of the total expenditure is spent upon new ships, in England only one-fourth is so spent, and that seems to me also to point to the possibility of effecting a reduction in other parts of the naval service if we are called upon to spend a much larger amount upon the materiel. However, those are mattes which as I have said must be considered by the Government in determining the programme for next year. I join with all that has been said by my noble friends, Lord Granard and Lord Lochee, as to the inexpediency of forcing the hands of the Government to declare their programme in the month of November for next year. When we consider 59 that by the beginning of March it will be the duty of the Minister in charge of the Naval Estimates to state to the country what the programme of the Government for the coming year is, it seems to me that the wise course is to leave it there, and not prematurely to force their hands.
I may remind the House that the last attempt made in this direction was in the year 1893. Lord George Hamilton then brought forward a Motion in the other House calling upon the Government to declare its programme for the coming year. The Motion was very strongly opposed by Mr. Gladstone in a very notable speech, and he made these remarks which I think are equally applicable to the remarks of the noble Lord opposite on the present occasion. He said—We rest on the principle of annual account, annual proposition, and annual approval by the House of Commons, which we say is the only way of maintaining regularity, and that regularity is the only talisman which will secure Parliamentary control. If you resort to irregular periods, irregular proposals in moments of chance excitement without real danger, you destroy all powers which the House of Commons, pressed as it is by business from day to day, can possibly possess, of exercising efficient control over the executive Government.Those observations seem to me to apply equally to the present time, and to the speech of the noble Lord opposite, and for my part, although I think I have made some observations containing suggestions to the Government as to what they should entertain with a view to their programme of next year, I have done so with no desire to force their hands or to compel or induce them at the present time to state their programme. I have done so with a desire that these matters should be carefully considered before the programme for next year is finally resorted to. For my part I think looking back at the enormous increase of expenditure on the Navy during the last three years—it has increased by no less than £20,000,000 within the last twenty years, £10,000,000 of that increase being in the last ten years, and I cannot look but with dismay to the further increase which seems to be indicated by the noble Lord opposite. I believe that sound finance and light taxation and the power of borrowing money largely 60 whenever emergency occurs is at least as important to the safety and to the strength of the country as the multiplying of military and naval armaments and the multiplication of ships which probably will become obsolete in the course of a few years.
§ LORD BRASSEY
My Lords, as the important subject which the noble Lord opposite who lately presided at the Board of Admiralty so fittingly brought before us has already been exhaustively discussed by previous speakers I have but very few words to offer to your Lordships.
As to the superior position of the Navy at the present time no doubt exists. When we compare the amounts voted for construction for the Navy of Great Britain and for the Navies of other countries, more especially Germany, it is clear that we are falling behind. I find myself in accord with the noble Lord, Lord Cawdor, when he insists upon the necessity of laying down six capital ships if we are to maintain the two-Power standard in relation to construction—four ships to be laid down with as little delay as possible and pushed forward vigorously, and two ships to be laid down later on.
The requirements for the British Navy are not limited to "Dreadnoughts" and their auxiliaries, and to the torpedo flotilla of which Lord Cawdor has spoken. The "Dreadnoughts" and the "Invincibles" are ships specially adapted for service on the high seas. The excellence of the designs of those ships for the service for which they are best adapted has recently been commended by all the foreign authorities who have discussed this subject. The value of the type is established by its universal adoption by all the maritime Powers for service on the high seas. In coastal waters big ships are exposed to grave risks. For the inshore squadron a type of ship quite different from the "Dreadnought" and the "Invincible" is required. It Would not be true to say that the Admiralty has neglected the in-shore squadron. That branch of naval construction should be pushed with more vigour. The naval experience and the professional skill which have given 61 us the "Dreadnought" and the "Invincible" should now be directed to the in-shore squadron. If a new type can be devised, possibly an armoured destroyer, the effect may be to cause some hesitation among all naval Powers as to the desirability of building ships of ever-growing dimensions for all purposes.
Looking to the general position of the country, there is evidently nothing to justify a scare. The noble Lord, Lord Cawdor, has expressed his satisfaction with our present strength in ships. As my noble friend, Lord Eversley, has said, in manning we are far above the two-Power standard. Then, again, we have the great advantage of possessing a chain of foreign stations extending round the globe. Upon that point I would venture to observe that we are not destitute of places in which our Fleets may anchor on the East Coast. We have the splendid natural harbour of Cromarty, which is now the headquarters of our Fleets when at exercise in that part of the German Ocean.
It is regrettable that in times of peace it should be necessary to impose large additional burdens on the taxpayers. It is desirable on political grounds that the laying-down programme in the next Navy, Estimates should be of an ample nature. If the laying-down programme is inadequate those discussions as to the strength of the Navy, which we all regret, will recur again and again. They do not make for friendly relations between ourselves and foreign countries.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
I propose to occupy your Lordships only for a moment, but as by the rules of your Lordships' House my noble friend is unable to rise again, I should like to say that should the debate terminate with the statements which have been made up to now from the Government Bench, I fear there will be very considerable disappointment and dissatisfaction among those who are interested in naval affairs. Last night we had a discussion in which the Government were pressed to make a definite declaration on a matter of the most urgent national importance, and their apparent irresolution on that question will, I think, cause comment, 62 and has caused comment, as may be seen by those who have read to-day's papers, and in some degree we are in the same position to-night.
I need hardly say that I take no exception to the manner or to the method of the noble Earl who speaks for the Admiralty in this House, and who always speaks, if I may venture to say so, with full command of every subject which he undertakes. But the noble Earl cannot go beyond the information which is supplied to him from the Admiralty, and in this case I think I should be inclined to say of him, as was said by the Yankee publican who saw Niagara for the first time, that it would have been splendid but for the poverty of the material.
We are really hardly answered on the main points on which Lord Cawdor has pressed the Government to-night. Speaker after speaker has given explanations which do not bear on the subject which was immediately uppermost in the mind of the noble Earl behind me. The noble Lord who spoke for the first time, I think, in this House, and whom I had the pleasure of listening to very often in another place, spoke strongly as to our present relative superiority to foreign naval Powers, but that was not the point on which Lord Cawdor pressed for an explanation from the Government. It is admitted at this moment that the Navy has been fully maintained, but his apprehension was that in 1911 under the programmes of which we are aware by other Powers, we shall fall short in battleships and in the accompanying expenditure on battleships, unless more ships are laid down at a very early date than we have yet had a pledge from the Government to lay down.
The noble Lord also pressed on the House our position with regard to a base in the North Sea. I am not experienced enough to say whether it is possible for the Government to make a more satisfactory reply than they have made on that subject, but to tell us that the best we can hope—and even that is only a hope—is that we may have some docks in seven years time is certainly not encouraging at a moment coming closely after such a debate as that of last night.
63 Then again I am sure that the House and the country would have welcomed a more definite statement as to guns and mountings. My noble friend behind me, Lord Leith, told the House that our difficulty in getting guns and mountings delivered up to time was that the plant of many of the largest contractors was taken up by foreign orders placed at the right time—when ours were not. I do not for a moment say that that is the case, but I think that that demands an answer and a refutation, if refutation can be given, from the Government Bench.
The noble Lord who spoke a few moments ago, Lord Eversley, told the House of the apprehension with which he views the enormous growth of naval expenditure. He said that there had been £10,000,000 in ten years added to the Estimates, or £20,000,000 in twenty years, and that that was an enormous addition. I entirely concur with him, but some of us have thought, if we were to go into the regions of finance, that a Government which has before it expenditure vouched for by the Prime Minister in his undertaking to keep up the standard of two Powers, was unwise, to say the least of it, in discarding £3,000,000 of revenue this year from the sugar duties, and so placing himself in a position of great inconvenience, and possibly even of danger, next year, and my noble friend pressed strongly on the Government that they are by not laying down battleships at this moment transferring to the subsequent years a financial burden which it may then be extremely inconvenient to bear. We all know that in naval matters it is absolutely necessary, if possible, to distribute the financial burden, so that there shall not be an undue pressure on the Admiralty by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in any year to reduce Estimates, especially at a time when we have a falling revenue.
I believe the noble Lord the Chancellor of the Duchy is about to rise, and I venture to urge him, as he always speaks with the utmost clearness, to give us as definite an undertaking in this matter as he possibly can. It is not for us on this side of the House to estimate exactly the effect of the Government plan of meeting serious Motions, pressed with 64 all due courtesy, as we hope, with absolutely inconclusive replies. We are not in a position in this House, as the House of Commons is, to stop supplies, or to take any strong measure of that kind, but if we are to judge by what we see in the public Press, if we are to judge by the effect of these debates on the public mind throughout the country, they certainly have a most damaging effect in the direction of destroying confidence in the intentions of the Government.
We believe and fully credit the desire and determination of the Government to adhere to the two-Power standard, but we would urge that with regard to points such as those Lord Cawdor has made, in which you cannot overtake a mistake or an omission to lay down battleships, which he, with his great experience, now declares that the Government should lay down, we may be given the best assurances that can be given to allay the feeling which has arisen on this matter.
§ THE EARL OF GRANARD
My Lords, may I, with the permission of the House, be allowed to make one remark in answer to my noble friend Lord Midleton. He said that I had made no statement with regard to what the position of the country would be after the year 1911. I mentioned that at the end of 1911 the Germans would have thirteen "Dreadnoughts" and "Invincibles," and that we should have twelve. I then went on further to state that all the ships which we proposed building under next year's programme would be completed by the end of 1911. The noble Lord misquoted me there; he said that I made no mention in regard to that.
Then with reference to gun-mountings the same observation applies. I stated that the Admiralty would see that all fittings and gun-mountings and guns, etc., were delivered in time for the ships of this year's programme being completed by 1911.
I do not think there is anything else to reply to except perhaps with regard to the question Lord Leith raised about repairs, and also with regard to the exercise of the Home Fleet Division. I may say with regard to the Home Fleet Division that they were exercised this 65 year and the result was extremely satisfactory in every way, in fact they compared very favourably with any of the other Fleets which are in regular commission. As your Lordships are aware the Horns Fleet is a nucleus Fleet and have only three-fifths of the complement on board, the other two-fifths making up the full complement being in shore establishments.
As to the other question that was raised with regard to subsidising private docks, as far as that is concerned, the Government have had no offer from any private firm in the direction of subsidising any dock, and of course a dock such as would take a "Dreadnought," would not be of much use on the East Coast, unless there were adequate fortifications surrounding it.
I think there is nothing else to add, except to say as regards the two-Power standard that we have nothing to add to what the Prime Minister said on that subject.