HC Deb 03 August 1870 vol 203 cc1495-502

said, in the absence of his hon. Friend (Sir James Elphinstone) he wished to ask the Secretary to the Admiralty, seeing that the Secretary of State for War has defined the amount of force by which the Army is to be increased, to state what increase he intends to propose to the Naval armament of the Country?


said, there was no intention whatever of adding to the number of men in the Navy, as had been proposed in the case of the Army, as we already possessed an abundant supply of seamen and Marines. As to what increase it was intended to propose to the naval armament of the country, that was a question which, under present circumstances, he thought it would be prudent not to ask, but to place confidence in the Government. Certain changes would, no doubt, be made in the dockyards and elsewhere; but he was quite satisfied, from all that had transpired, that the House felt full confidence in the naval administration of the country; and, indeed, this confidence had been expressed on more than one occasion. He wished to take that opportunity of correcting a statement which had been made by the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Stamford (Sir John Hay), which had given rise to some misapprehension, and there was reason to believe, had also excited some degree of apprehension in the country. In the early part of this Session, there was laid on the Table of the House a statement of the coals at the various depôts at home and abroad. It so happened that the statement was dated the 31st of January. Hon. Gentlemen would recollect that the months of November, December, and January were exceedingly stormy, and the consequence was that the vessels which had been sent with coals to two of the ports, Malta and Gibraltar, were detained an unusually long time on the voyage. But the Admiralty were not singular in this misfortune. The same thing happened to the great steam companies and to merchants in the Mediterranean. But the consequence was that the depôts at Malta and Gibraltar were left for a few weeks with only some hundreds instead of some thousands of tons of coal. The hon. and gallant Baronet, in quoting the note appended to that Return, took good care to read only part of it; it certainly was his duty to have read the note in full, which stated that all these coals arrived the first week in February. At the present moment there were at Gibraltar 5,411 tons of coal, and 4,000 tons more were shipped, and in process of conveyance thither. At Malta there were 2,419 tons of coal, and there had been shipped 11,148. At Halifax there were on hand 2,347 tons of coal, and 7,787 had been shipped. At Bermuda there were on hand only 289 tons, but on their way out there were 3,902 tons. So that either on hand or on their way out to the foreign depôts referred to by the hon. Baronet there was actually a larger supply of coals than was ever provided for the fleet in the palmy days when the hon. and gallant Baronet himself was in Office. He had the authority of his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty for the further statement he was about to make. His right hon. Friend had called on the Controller of the Navy and himself to report as to the state of supplies in the Dockyards, and as to the quantity of articles supplied under Vote 10, sec. 1, and he had the satisfaction of stating that every article taken in the Estimates this year had been bought, and the greater proportion of them brought into store. We had at this moment 15 or 18 months' supply of everything required for the British Navy. Under these circumstances, the Controller and he had advised the First Lord not to purchase a single article. With regard to victualling, they had a similar report to make. With one or two comparatively unimportant exceptions, all the articles taken in the Estimate for the supply of the Navy had been already bought, and he was happy to inform the House that, upon their own figures, there was at this moment a saving of £35,000.


said, that the Question which he had asked had reference merely to the additional money taken. And he really thought there ought to be, as far as the Navy was concerned, some explanation of what was going to be done with the £2,000,000 voted last night for naval and military purposes.


said, he wished to obtain from the Secretary of State for War an answer to the Question which he had put on the previous day as to the exportation of horses from the United Kingdom. It was evident the right hon. Gentleman could have no knowledge of the fact of which he (Mr. Lowther) was informed, upon authority to which he felt bound to attach importance, though, of course, he could not speak from personal knowledge, that this was now proceeding at the rate of 1,000 horses a day. Authorities which the right hon. Gentleman himself would admit were likely to be well informed apprised him that from the port of Southampton alone about 100 horses were daily exported. His principal object was to draw the attention of the Government to the bearing of this state of matters upon the urgent question of remounts for our own cavalry and other branches of the service. The customary regulation price in the British Army for troopers was £30; but since the war began foreign agents were at liberty to go to £40, and if the war lasted for any time how could the right hon. Gentleman expect any longer to get for £30 what foreigners were prepared to buy at £40 and upwards? The way in which regiments were ordinarily supplied with horses was this—some one dealer was specially retained for a regiment, and he entered into engagements with breeders of horses and with other dealers in different parts of the country to supply him with horses at a certain rate; and of their studs the choice was given to him for the regiment—that was to say, horses of three years old might be selected by this dealer before they were exposed in open market. If it were not for this system he believed that very great difficulty would be experienced by the Government in obtaining the horses which they wanted in the face of the circumstances he had mentioned. He know one case in which a dealer, while buying horses for the Government, was offered £10 above the regulation price, to hand over the horses to a foreign agent for exportation to the Continent. It was on the ground not only of economy, but of public policy that he alluded to the formidable rivalry in the purchase of horses which was thus being sot up between ourselves and foreign Governments. There was a provision in the Act of 1853 which enabled the Government in time of danger—not necessarily of war—to prohibit by an Order in Council the export of any articles which might be deemed likely to be required for our own service, and this power had been more than once acted upon. During the American War, for instance, the commodity of saltpetre was subjected to this prohibition. The supply of horses suited for military purposes was not unlimited, and how long was it supposed that the country could stand the drain of 1,000 horses a day? There were plenty of small, under-sized horses and harness horses not fit for cavalry or artillery, but he spoke of horses such as were needed for Her Majesty's service. There were some 22 cavalry regiments at home, and in each of these there had been a reduction of their strength by one-fourth. In one regiment that he knew of there had been a reduction of over 100. But latterly he understood that instructions had been forwarded to commanders of regiments not to cast any horses which could be made in any way available for service. Something had been said in a former debate as to our neutrality, and as to the export of horses being equally divided between the belligerents. But where one belligerent had undisputed command of the sea, it was a very one-sided argument to say that the market was open to both. In proof of this, he might mention that a large dealer in London had a contract for supplying the Prussian Government. He at once placed himself in communication with the representatives of Prussia in this country, and inquired whether he would be protected, as regards contraband of war, in his shipments of horses. He was told that he must land his horses on Prussian territory, and take upon himself the risk of their transmission. But this dealer would have been far less shrewd than his class were popularly supposed to be, if he submitted to these terms. He abandoned the Teutons to their fate, and placed himself in direct communication with the Gauls, who said to him—"Hand your horses over in your own yard, we will take all the risks, pay money down, and there is an end of this transaction." He confessed that he entertained objections to the principle of placing restrictions upon exports, though he should not have any great difficulty in reconciling himself to a prohibition upon imports. Looking, however, to the serious drain of horses to which this country was being subjected, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would take the matter into his serious consideration.


said, he regretted that, in the multiplicity of Questions addressed to him yesterday, he had omitted to answer this particular inquiry; but he believed he had already made a very full statement with regard to the cavalry regiments. He was quite aware that the price of horses had been raised by the war between the two belligerent countries, and he was afraid that the price of oats, of hay, and of all articles consumed in great quantities by both belligerents would be increased in like manner; but he was not, on that account, prepared to bring in a Bill to stop the exportation of those articles, or to proceed with that object by Order in Council. According to the hon. Gentleman (Mr. J. Lowther) a prohibition upon exports was objectionable, while a prohibition upon imports was not. A country, therefore, which exported everything and got nothing in return would be at the height of prosperity. Such certainly was not his idea of free trade. A good many stories about horses had been told in the course of these discussions, but his belief was that some "mares' nests" had been discovered, no certainly had never given any instructions, nor had he heard of any instructions being given to those responsible for the purchase of horses that they should take all the "screws" offered them, and make no selection at all. The real truth was that the Government were not prepared to prohibit those exports merely because, like other purchasers, they would have to pay a higher price for what they wanted. The trade of the country would have great reason to complain of the conduct of the Government if a prohibition were imposed, and this class of property were thereby depreciated in value, merely that the Government might obtain the limited supplies which they required at a more moderate price.


said, he did not propose to get up any discussion upon naval affairs; but he hoped that before the House separated for the Recess his right hon. Friend (Mr. Childers) would afford that explanation to which the House was entitled, and which it was scarcely respectful to withhold, as to the manner in which the sum of money that the House so liberally voted yesterday was proposed to be applied. He thought it necessary to make that remark, because he had observed, not only in that House, but in the public papers, a disposition to imagine that there were scarcely any preparations necessary to be made in the Navy. That opinion certainly was not shared by naval persons. He therefore hoped Her Majesty's Government would take an opportunity of informing the House what they proposed to do with the money voted for the increase of the Navy.


said, he had been gratified at the explanation given by the Secretary to the Admiralty as to the supplies of coal at the different foreign depôts; but, tinder present circumstances, he thought it would be of great advantage if each of those depôts had two or three years' stocks of coal. If the store accommodation were not sufficient for that purpose it should be immediately enlarged. It had been said that full confidence should be given to the arrangements of the present Government, both as regarded the efficiency and economy of the service He felt that confidence fully. But he hoped they would not_ allow considerations of economy in the slightest degree to interfere with efficiency. He hoped they would feel that the country trusted them to the fullest extent, and that they had only to ask and they should have whatever was necessary for the maintenance of the interests and the honour of the country, and the protection of our Colonies.


said, he was glad to hear that more workmen were likely to be employed in the dockyards, and he would suggest that those men who, having been on the establishment, had been discharged with smaller super-annuation allowances than they had been led to expect should be re-engaged. At present the men in the dockyards, and particularly those in the factories, were exceedingly discontented, because for some incomprehensible reason their wages had suddenly been reduced. If dissatisfaction were allowed to increase, the men would avoid the public service, and the country would be unable to employ any but the worst and lowest class of mechanics and labourers. It was false economy to be illiberal and ungenerous. At Keyham, the wages of the men in the factories had been reduced from 32s. or 33s. to 26s. or 27s. a week. What they wanted was that the rate of wages should be fixed and certain, in the same way as the salaries of men who had clerks' work to do. Those who managed the dockyards, but who resided in London, were not well-informed as to what went on, and the men complained of many capricious annoyances to which they were subject. For instance, at Keyham there were two classes of workmen, the dockyard men proper and the factory men. There were two gates which led from the dockyard, and suddenly there came out an order that the factory men should go out at the small gate, and the dockyard men at the large one. The consequence was that many of the factory men were obliged to walk a mile or a mile and a-half further than they had to do before in order to go home to their dinners, and if they had not time to go over the extra distance they were prevented, by what he must call a petty piece of pipe-clay, from enjoying the society of their families at meal times. The unsatisfactory reply given to the remonstrance of those who thus suffered was that they might change their residences, or cook their meals in a left, where there were a copper and a furnace; but it was obvious that this would occasion increased expense and great discomfort. Another curious and almost incredible explanation of this vexatious order was that a similar arrangement existed at Chatham, where the factory men lived close to the gate they were allowed to use, and of course experienced no inconvenience from such a regulation. If the Lords of the Admiralty were to look into these apparently small matters, but real evils, and pay good wages, they would secure the best and steadiest workmen, and make them contented and happy in the public service.

Resolutions agreed to.