HL Deb 25 February 1909 vol 1 cc217-22

rose to call attention to the proceedings of the Colonial Conference, 1907, in relation to Naval Defence; and to the correspondence relating to the Naval Defence of Australia and New Zealand [Cd. 4325], 1908.

The noble Lord said

My Lords, I desire briefly to call attention to the policy of concerted action between the Mother-country and the Colonies for naval defence. The subject is important to-day; it must become more important in the near future. It was fully discussed at the last Colonial Conference; and on his return to Australia it was brought before the Parliament of the Commonwealth by Mr. Deakin in a powerful speech. The Colonial Conference of 1907 marked a new departure. It was seen that our Colonial fellow-subjects no longer lean wholly on the Motherland for naval protection. They are ready, nay eager, to relieve us of some of the responsibility which we have hitherto borne, practically unaided. We must not look for increased contribu- tions from the Colonies to the Imperial Exchequer. The Premiers insisted on the unpopularity, and, indeed, the impossibility, of accepting serious financial burdens. In young countries Budgets are charged with heavy demands for public works—railways, harbours, irrigation, and other undertakings—which can only be carried out by the aid of the local government. While unable to share the burden of Imperial expenditure on the Navy in any adequate degree, assurances were given at the Conference that Australasia stands prepared to establish a local force for naval defence. The Commonwealth is secured from attacks in strength by the Imperial Navy. The valuable coasting trade, estimated at £170,000,000 annually, may be interrupted by feeble raiders. In the absence of the Imperial squadron Australasia is defenceless. That is not a condition in which a spirited people can be content to remain.

The Colonial Governments have no difficulties as to manning. At the Conference the Premiers pointed with just pride to their Naval Reserves, newly raised at the instance of the Admiralty. It is more difficult to build vessels in sufficient numbers. The cost of the small flotilla of destroyers and submarines recommended by the Admiralty for the defence of the Australian ports is estimated at £1,300,000. The somewhat larger, but still inadequate, flotilla of vessels of the same type recommended by the naval officers of the Commonwealth is put at £2,300,000. In the first creation of Colonial navies the Mother-country may give much-needed aid by the loan or the gift of vessels which we are well able to spare. The submarines recommended by the Admiralty for the defence of the Australian ports may be locally built. The destroyers and the depôt ships can be loaned or given from the Imperial Fleet.

Having provided for harbour defence, the local Navy of Australia requires a cruiser squadron. In a paper contributed to the Navy League Annual by Captain Collins, R.N., the acting representative of the Commonwealth in London, some details are given of the scheme set forth by Mr. Deakin for the establishment of a local naval force. Mr. Deakin relies on the loan from the Imperial Navy of four third-class cruisers of the Pelorus class—of 2,125 tons. We can spare these vessels. Cruisers of a larger type are also necessary. Patrol duty in Australian waters demands the employment of cruisers capable of keeping the seas in all weathers—vessels of considerable dimensions, and therefore costly. We have on the British Navy List twenty-six protected second-class cruisers. We are more than equal in this class to the combined strength in that class of the United States, France, Germany, and Russia. Experto credo; and remembering the anxiety at the Admiralty when hasty preparations were called for on the occasion of the Penjdeh incident, I venture strongly to urge that two or more effective second-class cruisers should be laid up in reserve in Australian ports. In peace they would be valuable as drill-ships. In war they would be on their station and instantly ready for service.

A policy of liberal aid to the Colonies in their first naval efforts is for mutual advantage. With a falling revenue and increasing charges for naval construction, we stand in need of support from our Colonial fellow-subjects. The annual cost of the Australian squadron at the date of a recent Return was £300,000. A large amount falls to be added to cover the cost of the ships. When a local force has been created it may no longer be necessary to maintain in full strength an Imperial squadron on the Australian station. In providing the vessels required for the young navy of Australia we give help where and when it is needed, and in giving that help we do something material to cement Imperial unity.

In conclusion, I may briefly refer to some observations lately published on the defence of Australia by Captain Cresswell, Naval Director to the Commonwealth. Captain Cresswell has long advocated a local naval force for Australia. He reasonably contends that such a force is the more essential in view of the concentration of the Imperial fleets in home waters. As Captain Cresswell points out, there would be no more weakening distraction to an Admiralty charged with the conduct of a great naval war than responsibility for the safety of vast interests at a great distance. To defend Australia from the heart of the Empire must involve a prodigious effort. It may be compared to the lifting of a weight at the end of a pole. I have endeavoured to indicate a policy which would relieve us in some degree of a very heavy responsibility, and which involves no appreciable addition to the Navy Estimates.


My Lords, Australia is making arrangements at the present time to build two destroyers. They are to be twenty-six knot speed, with a radius of 4,500 miles of action, and it is intended that they shall be built strong enough to deal with those terribly heavy seas which occur on that coast, and be really seagoing vessels. If they insist upon those points they cannot get the very great speed which we have recently got in some of our lighter-built torpedo-boats. Australia is now starting a small navy of her own, and I only hope it will grow into one in proportion to her importance and her wealth. In his speech published in the Blue-book, to which Lord Brassey has referred, Mr. Deakin said that Great Britain's contribution for defence was six times as large as that of Australia. He took that of Australia as being 6s. a head. As the inhabitants of Australia are man for man richer than those of England, I think the Common-wealth ought to be able to undertake to find a much larger sum for her own defence. I look on the correspondence in the Bluebook as forming an excellent basis for enabling Australia to start a navy of her own, with the aid of officers and men now serving in our own Navy, thereby relieving the British Navy from the duty of protecting commerce in Australian waters. Under the new scheme the Admiralty would not be bound to maintain a squadron in Australian waters. It would be almost impossible in time of war to send destroyers to Australia. After the long sea voyage, considerable repairs would be required before they would be fit for service. Therefore I am very glad that Australian arrangements have taken the direction of beginning with the provision of destroyers. They would be ready out there when war began. Such vessels would not be able to engage in daylight with the class of vessels from which our commerce would be in danger—fast light-armed steamers. Such steamers arriving at the Australian station would, in the absence of opponents, make a flying base on the coasts and islets that surround our Colonies, and take matters easily, but if a destroyer with a 4,500 miles radius were in the neighbourhood, the steamer would have an anxious time when in harbour with night watches fatiguing her crew, and with decks always clear, while time would be given for our own cruisers to arrive and deal with her. In fact, the knowledge that destroyers or submarines were in the neighbourhood would double the time that an enemy's cruiser would be innocuous while coaling or refitting.

One of the most important parts of the Blue-book is the statesmanlike speech in which Mr. Deakin referred to a possible invasion of Australia, and the strength of the territorial force that Australia ought to be able to raise. Mr. Haldane, in his recent speech at Newcastle, referred to the same subject, and expressed a hope that Australia would be able to raise five divisions for a territorial force. Last week I witnessed the play, "An Englishman's Home," and I would have suggested to the Under-Secretary for War, had he been in the house, that furlough might be granted to Major Du Maurier, the talented author of the play, on condition that he should visit Australia and apply himself to the writing of a similar piece with Colonial surroundings. If such a play were produced, the chances of Mr. Haldane's inducing Australia to raise the five divisions would be considerably increased. Unless Australia is prepared to fill her cradles, encourage immigration, and occupy all the habitable land in that vast continent with men of British breed, I think there will be little hope of her being able to maintain her independence for another fifty years, even with the aid Great Britain would be able to give. As part of the Anglo-Saxon race, the Australians should be prepared to take their full share of responsibility for the defences of the Empire. One part of the Blue-book touched upon the question of the loan of a cruiser, and I think that the Admiralty ought to be able to find some vessels among those they have put down for scrapping. But perhaps Australia would not take such a vessel. If a depôt ship could be found and the Commonwealth Government would undertake to keep her engines in repair, such a cruiser would be able to deal effectively with small vessels.


My Lords, as far as one can see, although the different Colonies have been discussing the subject of naval defence, they have not actually come to any definite conclusion with their reservation in regard to Mr. Deakin's proposition put before the Conference, upon which he asked the advice of the Admiralty. According to the agreement of 1905 we are bound to keep in Australian waters a certain number of ships, Australia agreeing to pay £200,000 a year. This contribution, they say, is not particularly popular; the Colonies would rather like to see their own ships flying the Australian flag. The action of New Zealand has been most patriotic; they have increased their original contribution from £60,000 a year to £100,000, saying at the same time that they made no reservation whatever, knowing that Great Britain would do the best for the protection of New Zealand's shores, and they asked no more. In regard to Mr. Deakin's proposition, no answer has been received to a letter sent to Australia last August. Since then Mr. Deakin has gone out of office and a new Government is in power, and all that has been heard unofficially is that the Australian Government contemplate the building of two destroyers in this country and one in their own. My noble friend touched upon the manning question and said he thought the Governments of the Colonies would have no difficulty in manning the fleet. I am not altogether sure that my noble friend is correct in that assumption. So far as the Admiralty know, there has been occasionally a certain amount of difficulty in filling up the number of men for ships on the Australian station, the ships there being provided with nucleus crews with, the intention of their being completed locally. My noble friend also touched upon the question of lending or giving to Australia or other colonies a third-class cruiser or other warship. I am informed by the Admiralty that after careful inquiry there does not appear to be any vessel suitable for the purpose. There are, of course, cruisers which your Lordships have seen in the Solent, but they are scarcely fit to send to the Colonies; they would require much expenditure upon them. The Admiralty are willing to lend a ship of the "Apollo" class for training purposes, and an offer has been made to New Zealand to which no reply has been received. So far as the Admiralty are concerned they view with sympathy any effort the Colonies may make towards establishing a fleet for their own protection, and will give most careful consideration to any scheme that may be submitted to them, and will be pleased to give any advice that may be of service to the Colonies.