§ MR. H. O. ARNOLD-FORSTER (Belfast, W.),
in moving the Resolution of which he had given notice, wished to make it clear at the very outset that it was not his desire nor intention to make any attack whatever either upon the Administration generally or upon the Admiralty in particular. On the contrary, he took this opportunity of offering his humble congratulations to the Civil Lord as the only representative of 786 his Department of the House, upon the really admirable Estimates presented to Parliament this year. Even in the short time which had elapsed since the Estimates were issued he had been able to examine them closely, and he believed that he expressed the universal opinion when he said that they were in many respects the most satisfactory and practical set of Estimates that had been drawn up for many a long day. To those who, like himself, had for so many years devoted what small influence they could bring to bear to the task of creating and arousing public opinion with regard to the Navy, it was a source of deep satisfaction to find that at last both Parties in the State had arrived not only at a theoretical agreement, but were showing by unmistakable evidence their determination to give the Naval protection which this country needs. It had been said that the present was an inopportune time for bringing forward this Resolution. Such was not his opinion. No better time could possibly be selected. He had noted the work of the present Board and of its immediate predecessors with a minuteness probably exceptional, and could tell of scores of instances where they had taken practical steps to render our defences more efficient, our preparations more complete. In some instances the changes had been small, in others they had been great. But every change had been an evidence of the sincere desire of the Naval Lords to make our Navy into a real fighting machine. That was just the reason why he brought forward this Resolution. If the Naval Lords were apathetic, discouraged or incompetent, there would not be the slightest hope of obtaining consideration for anything like a serious change. But so clear was the evidence of a desire for reform and efficiency, that he was encouraged to make suggestions which under other circumstances would only be a waste of time. He was under no illusion in this matter. The change he advocated would not be made now or immediately, and the very last people who would consent to it would be right hon. Gentlemen on the two Front Benches, who not unnaturally were averse to change in the forms of administration to which they had been accustomed. The change would come in time, but it would probably come as so 787 many other changes came at the Admiralty, as the result of the pressure of public opinion. He started on the assumption which no one would dispute, that the object, and the only object of maintaing the Navy was to enable it to carry on a successful war, and that towards this end, and this end alone, the whole organisation of the Navy should be directed. Was the organisation of the Navy at the present time directed to that object? Was there any proper organisation of the Navy for the purpose of carrying on successful war? He thought there was not, and if asked for reasons he would say they were twofold. In the first place, if such an organisation existed, we should know of its existence; in the second place, the invariable experience of the past teaches us that such an organisation does not exist. He had long learned to disbelieve in the mysteries of Public Departments, or to credit them with great reserves of power and resource beyond what were known to the public. Who at the Admiralty was charged with the preparation of the Navy for war? He did not mean the mere equipment of ships and the provision of guns, but the planning beforehand of the operations of war, the distribution of the Navy with a view to the carrying out of those operations, and the execution of those plans when a war breaks out. Was there such a person at the Admiralty? Clearly not; and, further, clearly there could not be. The professional members of the Board of Admiralty, like the civilian members, were the mere creatures of a political party, not one of them appointed for any definite term of office, not one of them, however excellent his qualifications, certain to retain his post, and the tenure of office of all of them might be a day, a month, a year, or five years. If business, especially such business, could be done on such conditions, the Admiralty was altogether different from any other institution in the world. It would be hard to select a more capable set of officers than the present Sea Lords. But to-morrow some vote upon a purely political question might end the official existence of all of them. He was aware that the practice of removing the Naval Lords on the change of Administration had been of late greatly and most happily modified. It still remained the tradition though the 788 practice had been departed from, and it was just this fact that encouraged him to press his point. He found that in the last 24 years there had been no less than 30 changes among the naval members of the Admiralty Board. In 1885–6 there were, including the First Lord, but not the other Parliamentary Members, no less than 12 changes during the two years. Could any business, much less such difficult and complicated business as this, be conducted under such conditions? The changes on the Board of Admiralty were too frequent for its work to be done with the maximum of efficiency. In any private business a constant change of directors would be deemed detrimental to its interests; the same thing applied just as much in this case; and until the initial difficulty was overcome and naval officers in charge of responsible duties were given time to thoroughly learn those duties, and then to apply the knowledge they had acquired, there would never be perfect administration of the Navy and preparation in case of war. On the Continent much thought and care were given to the Naval and Military Establishments, and it was an essential preliminary to the conduct of war that a specially qualified officer should be trained to prepare for such a contingency, and should be supported by a properly trained staff. He had no wish to copy Continental models, but it was necessary that some system of that kind should be adopted in this country in order to secure continuity of service in the most responsible positions. No doubt there would be some difficulty in obtaining an ideal system to carry out the principle he advocated, but one must speedily be adopted unless the efficiency of the Navy were to suffer to an alarming extent. Then, again, the division of duties on the Board of Admiralty was not calculated to have the best results. He trusted that there had been some rearrangement and re-adjustment of those duties since the Report of the Hartington Committee. The duties of the three Sea Lords alone occupied nearly a page of small print; and there was too great an accumulation of duties on one officer. For instance, the First Lord had charge, among a host of other matters, of all business relating to the Navy, of the Mersey Conservancy, and political questions. The First Naval Lord was 789 charged with the distribution and the organisation of the Fleet, maritime defences, strategical questions, the Intelligence Department, naval uniforms, and a number of other details; while the Second Naval Lord had charge of the manning of the Fleet, the personnel, education of officers, and the Naval colleges; and the Third Naval Lord looked after the materiel generally. The Junior Lord was charged with the transport services and the coaling of the fleet. Clearly what was everybody's business was nobody's business, and the danger was aggravated by the fact that not one of these officers was responsible or could be made responsible for the advice he gave to the First Lord. Responsibility should be definitely placed upon their shoulders, and the First Sea Lord should be charged with the duty of being able to say at any moment whether, in his opinion, we were or were not prepared to undertake the dangers and risks of war. Lord Hartington's Commission reported that there was no system of co-operation between the two Services, and that there was practically no organisation of the Navy for war, but they had been told that some improve-had been effected of late. Certainly a Committee had been formed, with the object of producing harmony between the two Departments, and was composed of the Under Secretary for War, the First Sea Lord, the Director of Naval Ordnance, the Superintendent of Naval Reserves, the Adjutant General, the Inspector General of Fortifications, and the Director General of Artillery. No doubt that Committee did excellent work, but it was not work of such a character as was really wanted. As a matter of fact, it was powerless. It could only recommend, and had no chance whatever of securing any reforms or improvements which it might recommend. He had been told that it was an act of impertinence on the part of an outsider to criticise the Board of Admiralty, but he did not think the Members of the, Board took that view themselves. Naval officers, some of whom were destined to hold office at the Admiralty, and others who had held high posts there, had again and again confirmed in the strongest possible manner his own views as to the deficiencies in our naval arrangements; and he was, therefore, compelled to disregard the counsel of 790 those who told him that it was his duty to have implicit confidence in the Admiralty at any time. He had no wish to cast distrust upon the Admiralty officials, but complained that none of them were definitely charged with the duty he wished to see performed, and would trust absolutely to our Naval officers if they were only placed in a really fair position. Year after year they were told to trust the Admiralty and the Government to be prepared for the eventuality of war. Over and over again were they told the same thing, and with precisely the same allowance of contempt for those who took a somewhat opposite view. But what were the facts? When the Crimean war was entered into the Government of that day gave the same assurance that, no doubt, would be given to-night. But as a matter of fact, we were utterly unable to carry on operations in the Baltic, and when at last it was seen that special appliances were necessary to carry on the war, an order was given for 200 gunboats, and then it was found that there was not enough timber to build them. The result was, that they had in that emergency to be knocked up from green timber, and soon after left to rot, or got rid of in the best and most advantageous way possible. Then hon. Members would doubtless recollect the scare about the phantom fleet. In that case, again, precisely the same assurances had been given of the readiness of the Navy for war; but the country arose one morning to find that the statement was totally unfounded. Still later on, in the next war scare, they were told precisely the same thing; but the Navy was not then prepared for war, and the Admiralty knew it. Then came the story of the Northbrook programme, with just the same result. The House was assured, on the positive statement of a Cabinet Minister, that the Admiralty and Navy were prepared. But the contrary was soon discovered, and 11 millions sterling were spent in order to enable the Navy to contemplate the possibility of war, six millions of which money were absolutely thrown away. At the time when there was the scare of war with Russia, a very distinguished officer was actually appointed by the Admiralty, to his own certain knowledge, to report to them on the existing appliances for coast defence—to 791 report upon the best scheme that could be improvised for the coast defence of the country in case war occurred. He had no doubt that if any hon. Member had got up in the House three days before and questioned the efficiency of our coast defences he would have been told by the Naval Minister of the day that the idea was preposterous. But the report of the officer proved the contrary; in fact, his very appointment to the duty proved that the Admiralty were not prepared for war. He now came to the Hamilton programme. He had great admiration for that programme; but until within a few days of its production no information was vouchsafed to the House that that great need existed. Indeed, quite a different idea prevailed, for there was a belief that any great augmentation of the Naval Estimates was unnecessary. But public opinion was aroused, and information of the real state of the case followed. Again, up to last year, no single suggestion had been made by any responsible official that our fortresses abroad required attention. But at least three commanders-in-chief in the Mediterranean, and two commanders at Gibraltar, had called attention in almost identical terms to the unsatisfactory condition of the fortress of Gibraltar, and to its inadequate equipment for Naval purposes. It was not until public attention was drawn to the question that any sort of official statement was made with respect to the works to be carried out at Gibraltar. Last year, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer made his statement with regard to the satisfactory character of our Naval defences, and made it on the specific authority of the Naval Lords, many of them were astounded by a statement which seemed to them to be utterly irreconcilable with what they believed to be the facts. Within 24 hours the Chancellor of the Exchequer was obliged to modify his statement. Why? Because by a fortunate chance he had committed himself to the proposition that the Naval Lords, as individuals, approved his statement. If the right hon. Gentleman had confined himself, like his predecessors, on such occasions to the usual form, and had told them that the Admiralty, or the First Lord of the Admiralty, was responsible for what he said, not a word would have been heard, he believed, of 792 the enormously important correction which was supplied by the Naval Lords. No one, he hoped, would believe that he desired to undervalue the Navy, or that he doubted it would give a good account of itself in time of war. But our officers and men would be handicapped to a serious extent if their work were not prepared for them by a truly scientific method. Had the country any guarantee that such preparation even now existed? Could the Civil Lord of the Admiralty assure the country that the Naval preparations now were consonant with the views of the officers who would have to fight the Navy in case of war? The art of preparing for war was now a great scientific study. Little time would be allowed for preparation in the next war, for the methods of war were now sharp and short. He did not think anyone believed, despite the excellence of our Naval Lords; despite the real, earnest, and excellent work that was being done by the Admiralty; that our Naval arrangements were such as would be in existence if the Navy were being administered solely with the object of conducting war successfully. What he and others who thought with him desired was, in the first place, that the work of preparing the Navy for war, the strategical distribution of our fleets, the preparation and execution of the combined movements which war must render inevitable, should be put under the control of a competent Naval officer, with an adequate staff; that such an officer should be appointed, not for the life of a Government, but for a definite and adequate period, and that, he, on his responsibility, should advise the Cabinet on all such matters as were entrusted to him. He had no desire to detract from the responsibility of the Admiralty. He wished rather to add to it. He wanted to get rid of the necessity for those perpetual scares which had caused so much anxiety to the country, and had reflected so much disgrace on our Naval organisation. But the scares would never be prevented until the country knew for certain that a responsible officer had, in the exercise of his statutory duty, considered the whole of the questions connected with our national defence, and had given his opinion with 793 regard to them. It would be mere affectation to pretend, after the experience they had had, that they could have any confidence whatever in a mere Parliamentary statement to the effect that all that ought to be done had been done. It might be so in one case, but they knew that in 99 other cases it had not been so. He was not sanguine enough to hope that the change for which he looked would be made instantly, but in the years which he had devoted to acquiring knowledge and information on Naval matters he had learnt at any rate one thing—that reforms advocated from the outside, which were derided at at the outset, were in the end accomplished, especially if those reforms were advocated by men who had the welfare of the Service very closely at heart. He concluded by moving the Resolution of which he had given notice.
§ SIR G. T. CHESNEY (Oxford),
in rising to second the motion, expressed the opinion that the present time was particularly suitable for bringing forward a motion of this kind, and that there was nothing in that motion which was in any respect hostile to the position of the Government. Everybody who had seen the Estimates for the coming year and the Statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty, would be satisfied that the Government were thoroughly alive to the importance of doing their duty to the country by largely increasing the efficiency of the Navy; but, at the same time, while this advance in naval policy had taken place, they were aware that it was due, not so much to any distinctive policy of the Government, as to the effect produced upon them by public opinion. Alarm and anxiety had been expressed now for a considerable time, and it was in consequence of this feeling that the Government, as patriotic representatives of the country, had collectively determined to come to the country with a very largely-increased demand for the Navy. That in itself was a highly satisfactory circumstance in the view of those who considered this increased expenditure as absolutely necessary for the safety of the country, and it also enabled those who were pressing the point at issue to come to the House and dissociate themselves entirely from any wish to discredit the present or past Governments. 794 What they did contend was that, notwithstanding the present change or advance in policy now exhibited by the Government, the country was still in this unsatisfactory position, that its naval administration was still not based on a sound and satisfactory footing. It was, therefore, surely not only justifiable but appropriate and proper to bring this point under the notice of the House before they proceeded to consider the details of the Naval Estimates. It would, he thought, be apparent to anybody who had been through the Estimates, admirable, clear, and satisfactory as they were, that they were in all probability the result of a compromise between the different members of the Government. They all knew that, whenever a question of Army or Navy expenditure was under discussion, there were those members of the Government who pressed the necessity for increased expenditure, and others who, as guardians of the public purse, resisted it, and the final result was that a compromise was arrived at. This was an estimate of compromise. It was very satisfactory, no doubt, but that was the way it was arrived at. The proposals did not represent to the House any fixed standard which was to be reached in order to place our naval position on a perfectly safe and satisfactory footing. The First Lord of the Admiralty referred to a dock at Gibraltar. That was very satisfactory so far as it went, but many people were of opinion that a single dock there was absolutely insufficient; and he submitted that the House and the country ought to have some means of ascertaining what were the facts on this head, and what was the professional opinion of the responsible advisers of the Government. There was not in fact at this moment any person specifically responsible for advising the country what should be the strength and organisation of the Navy, and now, when, we were making such progress towards making up for lost time and establishing the supremacy of England—now was the time to press for a reform in that respect, and to satisfy the country that machinery would be provided by which they would be enabled to know whether or not the measures taken from year to year were satisfactory and sufficient. It would of course be said that to have a permanent official who was not a political officer, 795 and to make him responsible, would do away with the responsibility of the Government. No rational person would for a moment propose to do away with the responsibility of the Government. The Government must ultimately be responsible, but the House and the country were justified in requiring that they should have evidence before them that the Government had gone to work in a reasonable way by obtaining the advice of responsible persons, and if they had not taken such advice, then the country should know the reason why. It was said that if naval officers were placed in a position of that kind they would be for making things so safe that the finances of the country could not bear their demands. If they had to deal with irrational people like that, then the responsibility of the Government came into play in cutting down their demands; but at present there were no means of knowing whether the standard of the Government was, in the opinion of those best qualified to judge, sufficient. This expression—the responsibility of Ministers, was an ambiguous one, constantly employed and misapplied in a variety of ways. For the Crimean war, with all its blunders, waste of money, and unnecessary loss of life, the Government of the day were no doubt in one sense responsible. But no one proposed to impeach any of the Ministers because they made such a terrible fiasco in the Crimea—a fiasco from which our military reputation had not yet recovered. So, if it should happen that we should in the future undergo some great naval disaster, no one would propose to bring the consequences of that disaster on any particular Minister or Government. The first question to consider, therefore, was, What was the standard upon which the Government were now proceeding? That point was one of supreme importance. It was often said that the aim and object in view was to make the English Navy as strong as those of any two other countries combined. That was a very dangerous proposition to adopt. In the case of war it was almost certain that we should have to contend with two navies. Was it, then, reasonable and safe that we should be satisfied with a Navy that was only just equal to any two others? The position of England was entirely different 796 from that of any other country. We had enormously greater interests to protect, and our maritime responsibility was vastly greater than that of any two other countries. It would be the height of folly to risk our maritime superiority on the risk and chances to follow from a contest undertaken on conditions of bare equality with our adversaries. We ought to place our maritime supremacy on the basis of absolute certitude. And on this head the country ought to have before it the best professional opinion that could be obtained. At present no professional officer was responsible for the naval advice given by him, except in the sense in which a clerk was responsible to the head of his office for the way in which he did his work. The first thing that we had to do was to determine what the standard of efficiency for the Navy was to be. It was sometimes said that the increase of our Navy was likely to incite other nations to a competition for supremacy. For his part he believed that the enormous land armaments which were now maintained in Europe formed the best guarantee for peace, because each particular nation was now so strong in its defensive positions that it could not be attacked with any reasonable chance of success. The one element of insecurity in the present condition of Europe was the assumed insufficiency of the British fleet, and it behoved us, therefore, to render our naval supremacy unquestionable. What would constitute unquestionable supremacy was a point upon which the House was entitled to have a thoroughly trustworthy and definite opinion from the best authority obtainable. There was no reason why the Board of Admiralty should be a board of a political character—why, in other words, the principal officers at the Admiralty should not be permanent officials just as the principal officers of the Army were. The views of these officers as to the naval establishment necessary for the safety of the country could then be placed on record for the information of the House and the people in England, who would then be able to judge whether the Government were taking steps to give effect to those views with reasonable rapidity. This change would strengthen the position of the Government, for they would be able to show that they were acting as faithful 797 stewards of the country's interests, that they were not influenced by passing panics or passing fits of parsimony, and that they were proceeding upon a well-defined and distinct plan. The Resolution of the hon. Member, then, would substitute for the present movable and shifting political board a permanent officer, with a staff under him, who would be directly responsible to the Government and the country. The hon. Member attached to his proposal the condition that this responsible officer should also be the officer charged with the administration of the Navy in the event of a war; but it did not appear to him necessary that this condition should be laid down. Indeed, it was doubtful whether one could always determine beforehand who should have the command in a war. But to the main principle of the hon. Member's Resolution he trusted that the Government would assent. The vital question of the Navy was receiving at last the attention which it deserved, and he hoped that the Government would include this really easy administrative change among the improvements which were to be effected. It was, no doubt, the fate of all proposals for administrative changes to receive at first only scanty support. For many years, he might venture to remark, he advocated unsuccessfully certain extensive reforms in connection with the Indian Army, but finally all those reforms were effected. He hoped that the administrative change now proposed would be accepted by the Government without delay. The more that House and the country considered the matter the stronger would become their conviction that it was a reform which ought to be carried out.
§ SIR EDWARD J. REED (Cardiff)
pointed out that the hon. and gallant Member who had seconded the Resolution had made a very singular reservation near the end of his speech, when he said that he did not agree with what was practically the only substantial proposal which the Resolution contained. The hon. Member who had brought the Resolution forward resented the allegation that it was in the nature of an obstruction in the way of the Navy Estimates; but, as he understood this Resolution, it would certainly, if agreed to, prevent any Naval Estimates from 798 being considered by the House of Commons for some time to come, for it would be necessary to wait until some one should have been selected for the conduct f naval operations in the event of war, and until Estimates could be submitted with his approval and on his advice. The proposal was impracticable, and he was surprised at its coming from an hon. Member who took such great and meritorious interest in Naval matters. He wondered whether hon. Gentlemen who supported this Motion had ever considered the disadvantages it would introduce. No doubt it was perfectly easy to point out flaws in the present system, and he apprehended that in a great democratic State like ours, where a popular Assembly had to give approval to proposals made in connection with the Naval Service, there would always be grounds of objection both to the policy pursued and to the results obtained. But that was no new thing. The whole history of the world showed that you must suffer disadvantages in respect of military objects in a democratically governed country. Yet it was a remarkable fact that, having had a seat in this House for 21 years, he had never known a Naval Estimate reduced by the House of Commons even to the extent of a single sixpence. This House had invariably supported any and every Government in the demands which it had made upon the public purse for Naval Expenditure. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, too, who, in the exercise of his great functions, must have viewed with care and anxiety the growth of Naval Expenditure, must feel perfectly sure that the House of Commons would support him in the proposals submitted upon this occasion. There was another difficulty that arose in his mind when he heard this scheme proposed, and that was that the officer, who was to be selected beforehand to conduct a war which was not even in prospect, and the nature of which was unknown, was to go and sit at the Admiralty for a term of years. He would give an illustration of what might result from this in connection with a minor matter which happened when he was at the Admiralty. He thought it was very desirable that the carpenter and the engineer of a new ship, the men who were to be appointed to her, should be appointed 799 at an early stage of her construction, so that they should be thoroughly acquainted with the specialities and peculiarities of the vessel. The Admiralty acceded to that recommendation of his; but what happened? On the very day on which the ship sailed from the port in which she was built to proceed on active service the carpenter was invalided, and the effect was that, instead of several men getting a knowledge of the ship, as they would have done but for the appointment of the special officer, this one officer absorbed all the information and carried it off into his sick-room just at the moment when it might have been most wanted. The result of the proposed change at the Admiralty would be that we should be paralysed. When the Navy Estimates were presented the First Lord of the Admiralty, or whoever represented the Admiralty in this House, could say no more than that they had put into shape the demands of this single Naval officer, whose wish and will were to predominate, and even the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whom the House of Commons could now call to account, would be entitled to turn round and say:—You took the power from our hand; you enfeebled and overshadowed the responsibility of the Ministry.His experience of the Naval Service led him to affirm this proposition—namely, that this officer, however carefully selected, would not have been in his place a year, nor six months, nor three months, before he would come into conflict with a large number of the Naval Service in respect of the opinion and advice he gave. He did not know that it was any reflection upon Naval officers to say that in the exercise of their judgment, under all the varying conditions of service at sea, they formed very different opinions. And even when the Board of Admiralty had been censured in this House he had sympathised with them very much on this ground—that he did not believe you could form a Board of Admiralty, each particular Member of which would hold the same opinion as his colleagues on Naval matters. When they were building the earlier ironclads an important question arose as to what defence and protection should be given to the captain and 800 officers of the ship in respect of the pilot towers. Not once, but frequently, the Board of Admiralty called on the Admirals in command of squadrons to consider the question and report upon it. The reports were so conflicting, so entirely opposite in many cases to each other, that nothing ever came of it; and he, an unfortunate civilian, had to do the best he could. He remembered very well in one ship he erected a pilot tower that it was thought would satisfy any officer. When the ship was finished and the Admiral (a highly responsible officer) went on board he denounced it as a most extravagant thing and an unnecessary waste of material, and said—Why was not this armour given to us in the form of additional guns?He went back to the Admiralty and altered and greatly reduced the pilot tower, conformably to the opinion of this important and influential man, in the next ship he built. That ship was finished, and she was inspected by another Admiral, who said to him—My dear Reed, this is a splendid ship; but why on earth have you not given her a pilot tower like the other vessel?Naval officers were excellent, fearless, independent men, and the Naval Lords carried to the Admiralty the latest and best knowledge the Admiralty could enjoy. Under these circumstances it seemed a most extraordinary thing to propose that the knowledge and responsibility which were now at hand should be set aside for the purpose of installing in power and authority a Naval officer who should be supreme over the Board of Admiralty, and even over the House of Commons itself. Such a system was not only unreasonable, but altogether preposterous, and would not work for a single year.
§ SIR C. W. DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
thought the hon. Member for Cardiff had, perhaps, hardly done justice to the speech and Resolution of the hon. Member for Belfast, because he had passed over the admirable speech of the hon. Member and he had hammered his Resolution. He admitted that in a matter of extreme difficulty, such as the responsibility to be instituted for the professional advice to the Cabinet in the case both of the Army and Navy, while 801 it was not hard to show the defects of the present system on careful examination, so it was not difficult to hammer pretty hard and proposed substitute for it, and those of them who were really without any foregone conclusion, desiring only to arrive at or, if necessary, create that system which would be best for the defensive power of the country and give the House the greatest certainty that the money it voted had been spent to the best advantage, must agree that the constitution and creation of such a system must be a difficult matter, on which there would be differences of opinion. The remarks of the hon. Member for Cardiff brought them to the conclusion that responsibility for professional advice on purely professional questions, such as the class of ships, must rest wholly with civilians, which was scarcely reassuring to the House when it recollected the great mistakes which civil Ministers had committed in the past in reference to questions of this kind. The hon. Member for Cardiff had taken rather an old-world view in saying that in the strictest sense of the word responsibility in these matters must rest upon the Cabinet, because, now that war has become an immensely scientific matter, it could hardly be said that any civilians were able to assume the responsibility of doing more than acting upon the best professional advice they could command. The responsibility of civilian Members of the Cabinet could not be put very high. They could only say what was the best advice they had received, and the question for the House to consider was the form in which that advice should be tendered and the extent to which those who gave it should be made responsible. Last year upon the Army Estimates he had moved a Resolution, general in its terms, applying both to the Army and Navy, and they then had had a very interesting speech from the Leader of the Opposition, whose absence from the House and its cause they all regretted. The Leader of the Opposition spoke with great weight upon the subject, because, although he had never been at the head of either the Army or the Navy, yet he had been the second man in the Cabinet which had ruled this country for many years, and his words were worthy all the greater consideration on account of the habitual moderation of 802 his language. The Leader of the Opposition, in his speech last year, and also in a letter he wrote about that time, admitted that it was difficult to defend the present system of administration either as regarded the Army or Navy, and he added that some better system of responsibility might be easily devised with regard to both. The Government had been asked by the hon. Member for Belfast to give an assurance, which seemed a very easy one, that the Navy Estimates were based upon a consideration of the needs of possible war. They had never had a sufficiently clear and emphatic declaration in these Debates that the needs of possible war had been kept carefully in view. The mover of the Amendment did not attack anyone, but he attacked the present system, and asked whether the present expenditure was accompanied by the real belief of the House that they knew the Navy was really ready for war. The House very naturally considered the British Navy the first Navy in the world, and thought that they understood their business better than foreign nations. But when they found in all parts of the world, amongst countries that had given most attention to scientific preparation for war, as regarded the armies and fleets, a system of higher professional responsibility for the advice tendered than existed in this country, then he thought the matter was one well worthy of consideration. The reply might be that they had in this country a closer civil and financial responsibility in the House of Commons than existed in any other country in the world. That was true as far as Germany was concerned, but in many countries they had the same financial and Cabinet system as this country, and this was found compatible with the system of higher professional responsibility for advice which he had described. The hon. Member for Belfast had pointed out that they had been constantly assured throughout their history that their Navy was perfect, and it had as constantly happened afterwards that matters were not as they had been described. They had had the declaration that further expenditure was unnecessary, followed by an increased expenditure afterwards, which did not indicate that state of continuity of naval policy which the 803 House had a right to expect. It might be said that the Cabinet was responsible. But Cabinets shifted and changed, and the first act of an incoming Cabinet had often been to tell them that the outgoing Cabinet had mismanaged the Navy and that everything was wrong. A greater continuity in the Office of First Sea Lord of the Admiralty would produce a greater feeling of responsibility on the part of the Government for the advice which they gave to the House for him. The hon. Member for Belfast had given one concrete instance to justify the doubts which he had with regard to the working of the present system, and that was the case of Gibraltar. It was admitted that a great deal required to be done to bring that important Naval Station up to the requirements of war, and yet till a deputation went to the Prime Minister, practically nothing had been done to show that the Admiralty had any sense of the pressing importance of the matter, or, if they had, that they had been able to overcome resistance somewhere else. Many other instances could be given. Take the case of some of their coaling stations. Sierra Leone, for example, was a place which was vital for guarding the Cape route in time of war. The Navy were unanimous in the opinion that they ought to maintain their position there. They had fortified the place, guns and forts were there, but gunners were not there, because of the unhealthiness of the climate. Yet Naval men held that they ought to be secured against everything like this, and that in case of the outbreak of war they ought not to be called upon to convey troops to a distant coaling station. Every Naval man admitted that that was a dangerous duty to throw on a fleet in case of a sudden outbreak of war. He and those who shared his views held that if the necessity for being in constant readiness in case of war had been kept steadily in view, the present state of things would not have been allowed to continue in Sierra Leone. He would give other instances. The hon. Gentleman representing the Admiralty, in reply to a question put by him the other day, said he did not know whether, in addition to the French Navy, the Japanese Navy was now supplied with high explosives, and that it would be contrary to the interests of 804 the public service to say whether any of our ships were supplied with high explosives. But it was perfectly well known that not an ounce of high explosives was carried on any British ship at the present time. For the last three years the Government had expressed doubts whether our ships navigating in tropical seas could carry these explosives in safety; but the French ships were now carrying them to China and to Madagascar. That was a matter worthy of inquiry. But he would give a much more important instance. In the Naval Estimates for the present year there was no proposal to lay down a single new ironclad of any kind; and when they heard from the Chancellor of the Exchequer and others of the very high responsibility of the Cabinet, there was something to be said for the House of Commons being informed of the reasons which made it desirable to build cruisers rather than ironclads. They had the admission in Government documents that a superiority of five to three was required to shut up an enemy, and that that superiority must extend to numbers as well as to strength, for a few great ironclads could not shut up a great number of small ones. That formed a certain apparent reason for building smaller ironclads for these purposes, but the House had no information as to the reasons by which the Government had been guided in the matter. No doubt the Government had acted upon advice, but there was not one great authority who could be named as their adviser on the point. They need not, however, go behind the return which the Government themselves had laid before the House. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had supported a large Navy on the strong ground, from a Liberal point of view, that it made us free from alliances. But when the Government took as their text equality with two great Powers, he would remind them that equality with two Powers did not mean superiority to two Powers. And when they told the House that the superiority of five to three in the number of ironclads was required, the House knew that we had no such superiority as regards these two Powers, or even as regards one of them. The return laid before the House last year showed that 805 the number of British ironclads in existence was 39, as against 34 sea-going ironclads and 28 armoured coast-defence ships possessed by France and Russia. France alone had 41 ships, including armour-clad coast defenders, against our 39. These facts were reason for doubt as to whether we were prepared for war in spite of our great expenditure. If the constituencies were to support willingly and cheerfully this large expenditure upon the fleet, it was necessary that they should feel sure that the fleet was thoroughly prepared for war. Then there was another point. There was to be an increase this year in the number of men. But the House was quite unaware of the exact facts as to the number of men required for mobilisation. They had the statement in authorised quarters that something like 110,000 trained men would be required in the event of a complete mobilisation of the fleet. The Reserves were to a large extent absent from the country, and could not be depended upon at short notice; and there was reason to doubt whether in these circumstances there could be that rapidity of mobilisation on the part of the British Meet which seemed to him as great a necessity as rapidity of mobilisation on the part of the German or the French army. A certain increase in the number of the men was proposed, but the House knew nothing of the exact numbers required, and under this doctrine of Ministerial responsibility they were asked to vote the money blindly. It would be far better if the Government took the House into their confidence to the extent to which they were obliged to take foreign Governments into their confidence, whether they liked it or not, and tell the House the grounds on which the particular demands were made. The sole purpose of all this very large expenditure was to enable us to achieve victory at sea, which was essential to our very existence as a nation; and what the resolution asked was an assurance that the Government had had under its consideration the nature of the effort that would be called for to secure victory, and the distribution of these efforts between the land and the sea forces. This year we were spending between the land forces and sea forces, including India, something like £58,000,000 sterling, and, with 806 the expenditure of the colonies, the expenditure of the Empire this year on defence would not fall far short of £60,000,000 sterling. That was the highest figure ever reached in time of peace. That enormous expenditure ought to be justified, not by strict doctrines of Cabinet responsibility, but by very real and personal responsibility on the part of those Members of the Cabinet who could afford the time to look into it. Last year the House was led to understand that a Committee of the Cabinet would in future consider these matters; but he was bound to say that, while the Navy Estimates of this year gave some colour to the view that such a Committee existed, there was no reason to suppose that the Army Estimates had been framed under its supervision. What the House wanted was an assurance that there was a joint consideration of the necessities of the two services, and a joint preparation of the two services for war. The Hartington Commission reported that up to that date there had been no such joint consideration. The hon. Member for Belfast had pointed out that since that time a Committee of the two services had been appointed, but that Committee had not the weight of authority, either by its composition or the services of its Members, to take the place of a Committee of the Cabinet. The members of the Hartington Commission differed amongst them, but, as regarded the Navy they were, up to a certain point, unanimous, and that unanimity went in the direction of the Resolution. The second point in the Resolution really was that an officer should be selected whose judgment, as principal adviser, the Government should vouch to the House. That suggestion, if adopted, would not, in his belief, involve a less real responsibility than existed at present on the part of the. Government in regard to their estimates. He did not see that their responsibility would be weakened in any way—especially financially—if they were to vouch a single man instead of a board of men. It took years to correct mistakes—in regard to ironclads, for instance—and the House could not be too careful in insisting on responsibility of the kind he had indicated. The real point was whether the First Sea Lord was to be freed from administrative 807 duties such as he was saddled with at the present time. Being so saddled, some duties of advising were now taken out of his hands and placed in those of the Second or Third Sea Lords. He believed that a comparatively small change would do good by concentrating more and more upon the First Sea Lord—who must be a good man, upon whose advice the Government would be glad to act—the full duty of advising in every matter of naval responsibility, and would free his hands more and more from administrative work. Not only was such a course suggested by the Hartington Commission, but it was a business proposal, supported by all authority. Captain Mahan might be quoted in support of it, and Admiral Hornby had also expressed an opinion in that direction. The suggestions of the Hartington Commission were that the First Sea Lord should advise the Cabinet on the duties of the Fleet in time of peace as well as in time of war. The Report of that Commission carried immense authority, because that portion of it was unanimous. Yet, although the Report was dated in 1889, and was presented to the House in 1890, he did not believe that up to the present time the responsibility of the First Sea Lord had been increased or his administrative duties taken away in the manner suggested. The evils of the present system were admitted, but he did not believe it was above British statesmanship to cure those evils. There was at the present time great reason why this question should be faced. Some of the neighbouring Powers were unrestful. There was one neighbouring Power who, since she ended a struggle of life and death with a debt of 800 millions, had increased that debt to 1,200 millions, and whose expenditure in a single year was now 140 millions. That Power had been decreasing her expenditure upon her land forces and increasing that upon her Navy, and she had lately been spending three millions more a year upon her Navy than she spent a few years ago. He dissented with the argument that the only result of an increase in our Naval expenditure would be to make other Powers increase theirs. On the contrary, the result was quite the opposite. For example, only last year, when we increased our Naval expenditure, the Power to which he had been 808 referring actually decreased the expenditure upon her Navy. But, whatever the result on other Powers, the risk must be faced if increased expenditure and efficiency were necessary. In the face of repeated warnings, Governments in this country assumed a transcendent responsibility if they hesitated to give both to their Admiralty and to their War Office the very best administration which was possible in time of peace as well as in time of war.
§ LORD G. HAMILTON (Middlesex, Ealing)
said, that the object of the Motion was said to be to suggest some practical improvement in the existing system of administration. He was in almost entire accord with the concluding portion of the speech of the right hon. Baronet. The Mover and Seconder had, however, proposed that some one individual should practically supersede the Board of Admiralty—in other words, to set up a Naval autocrat who should dictate to the Government what Naval proposals should be introduced from year to year to Parliament. His hon. Friend, in moving the Resolution, spoke of the disadvantage of some 30 officers having occupied positions of responsibility in 24 years, but he (the speaker) looked upon that as a distinct advantage. He would bring the ablest young naval officers, fresh from the sea, into the Admiralty, and let them learn the difficulties of carrying on a central organisation of that kind. In every case where that had been done, it had proved beneficial both to those officers and to the Government. But if they took the actual number of First Sea Lords, it would be seen that during 10 years there had been only four, and of these two had retired by supersession under the rules. Did the system of the Board of Admiralty really work so badly as had been suggested? The outward and visible increase of the Navy was apparent, but he maintained that the improvements in organisation and efficiency were really far greater. We had improved our whole Naval system. He did not assert that it yet approached perfection, but he believed that the Admiralty were doing their duty very well, and that it would be an unwise step for Parliament to turn the present system topsy-turvy. If the First Naval Lord was to be responsible for the efficiency of the Fleet, he must retain control of matters 809 of discipline, and questions relating to discipline must come before him, though in 99 cases out of 100 they were so dealt with beforehand as to take him scarcely any time to give a decision upon them. Then, again, how could a First Naval Lord be responsible for the condition of the Fleet and its readiness for war if he had not control of the leave of officers? No one officer could, however, deal with all the questions enumerated by the right hon. Baronet; if he could, there would, moreover, be nothing left for anyone else to do. All the speakers asked the question—Was the country prepared for war? Was there a competent Naval officer who would say that we were prepared for any questions that might arise under the emergency of war? But the first question he would put upon that would be, What was meant by war? Against whom was the war to be carried on? This would be the first question that any Naval officer would ask if asked for his opinion. Supposing the officer suggested should come to the conclusion that the Navy of this country should be strengthened, so as to be equivalent to four of the strongest navies in the world, what would the Cabinet say to that? They would say the Estimates must depend on the policy they pursued, that they had control of that policy, and that they declined to put on the people of this country a taxation which was altogether unnecessary because of that policy. In such a case, what would occur? Did anyone suppose that the House of Commons would support the official suggested, and not be guided by the Government? Of course, the House would support the Government, and neglect the advice of the official. It seemed to be thought that more attention would be paid to the report of this Naval official, than was given to the statement of the Board of Admiralty. Had the hon. Baronet observed the result of the system abroad? He and the right hon. Baronet had been some time in that House, and they could not recall one occasion on which the House of Commons had refused to take the financial proposals made by the Government on behalf of the Navy. But the French Chamber was everlastingly interfering with the proposals made to it. It was one constant fight, and only the other day one 810 of the ablest naval men in France Admiral Gervais, had to retire in cones, quence of interference by the Parliamentary Committee with his ideas and proposals. In Germany they had Parliament constantly refusing to vote for what was proposed. Therefore, whatever might be the failings of their system, it gave them a Parliamentary authority which did not prevail anywhere else. He therefore thought it wise to adhere to their existing system. Critics of Naval affairs had to get this elementary fact into their minds—that the amount of construction in a given year did not depend on the amount of expenditure for that year. It was the realised expenditure in previous years. It so happened that, two years before the Naval Defence Act, there were large additions made to the strength of the Navy, because provision had been made for the construction of ironclads. It was a curious fact that, although this year's Estimates were higher than they had been for several years, in no recent year had there been so small a number of completed ships as in this year. It was unavoidable; they could not help it. The right hon. Baronet gave some strong illustrations of the necessity of some change in the condition of Gibraltar, and so far he agreed with him. They would never reach a satisfactory state in those matters until the Admiralty was made responsible. This touched a large question, but the more he looked into it the clearer it was to his mind that they must move in the direction of transferring the duty to the Admiralty. At Portsmouth, Chatham and Devonport they had large bodies of thoroughly trained Marines, but they were the only men who never went into the forts. His hon. Friend put his finger on what the difficulty was when he asked what was the standard of strength. They decided that some years ago, and he believed the Government continued that course in making the Navy up to the strength of the combined force of the two strongest Naval Powers. If there were hon. Members in that House who considered that standard too low, let them make a Motion for the increase of the standard. To appoint an official as suggested would hardly lead to the increase in the standard for the Navy. That could be done by other and more simple means. He did not know 811 whether his hon. Friend proposed to Divide the House upon this Motion, but certainly if he did he should Vote against him. Above all things, they must abstain from making any one man the autocrat of the future fortunes of the British Navy. Let him explain what that meant. One of the ablest of the French Admiralty authorities was an autocrat, who held very strong views. His plan was to attack open ports and torpedo merchant ships. He stopped the building of ironclads and built torpedo boats. Two of these turned turtle, and the others were put out of commission, and for years after the whole Naval Programme was upset in the French dockyards. His opinion was that no Naval officer was qualified to act the part suggested, and that if an official was appointed and invested with the authority suggested, and made a misuse of the vast powers so given him, the consequences might be far reaching, and even fatal to our naval importance.
§ THE CIVIL LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. E. ROBERTSON,) Dundee
thought the House would now be willing that he should make a short statement on behalf of the Admiralty on the Motion submitted to the House by the Member for West Belfast. A copious Debate had taken place, and the particularly excellent speech of the noble Lord, to which they had all listened with great attention, would relieve him from the necessity of making a statement which he otherwise should have submitted to the House. The Debate had travelled very wide. He conceived it to be his duty, as representing the Department, to go back to the terms of the Resolution which the House was asked to pass before it would assent to the Admiralty Estimates now before them. There had been a good deal of debate, even among the friends of the Motion, as to what the Motion really meant. He would come to that directly, but as to the procedure of the hon. Member it was plain that his Motion was a direct attack on the Estimates and nothing else. The hon. Member would refuse to Vote any money for the Navy until he received the assurance, embodied in his Resolution. He did not know whether the hon. Member approved of the Estimates.
§ MR. E. ROBERTSON
said, the hon. Member would not vote for them until he had the assurance asked for in his Motion, and after that he went on to say he would accept no assurance that could be given on this question by any representative of the Admiralty. Why did not the hon. Member wait until he had seen the Estimates before he decided that it was necessary to interpose any conditions whatever before the granting of the money by the House of Commons? This resolution was laid on the Table of the House before it was known what the Government were going to propose, and he should have thought that, finding the proposals of the Government so "admirable," the hon. Gentleman would have withdrawn his Resolution and allowed the Government to proceed to their consideration. The hon. Member, however, wanted an assurance, first of all, that the Estimates submitted to Parliament by the Government were "based upon a consideration of the needs of possible war by sea and land." The second assurance asked for was that the Estimates were based on "the consideration of advice tendered in that behalf by the Naval officer selected for the conduct of the Naval operations in case of war." As to the first point, he did not know why any assurance should be asked for at all. But if the hon. Member really wanted an assurance, and would be gracious enough to accept it, he had no hesitation whatever in giving it. These Estimates had been based on nothing but "a consideration of the needs of possible war by sea and land." But then a difficulty arose when the Committee came to consider the second condition imposed by the hon. Member. It was a point, however, upon which those hon. Members who had supported the hon. Gentleman did not apparently agree with him, because the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Sir G. Chesney) openly dissented from the interpretation put by the hon. Member on the second branch of his Resolution. He did not propose to enter into those considerations which had bulked so largely in the debate, but which were not involved 813 in any interpretation of the Resolution. For instance, he had nothing to do with the question of the increased control of the House of Commons in placing it in direct connection with the Naval Adviser of the Government. It was not in the Resolution. But the second branch of the Resolution might mean one or other of two very different things, he did not know which. War was possible anywhere, because there was hardly a portion of the world in which the interests of England were not such as to make war possible at any time. Probable war was a different matter; and he thought he would be a bold as well as a bad man who declared that, war was probable either now or at any other time with another Power. Who was the Admiral who was likely to conduct the actual operations in war? In the case of the Mediterranean, for example, he would be the commander-in-chief of the station. Was the commander-in-chief to telegraph from the Mediterranean to the Admiralty and to tell them what Estimates in his opinion they ought to submit to the House of Commons? Did the hon. Member mean this to be the effect of his Resolution? If that was not his object, then the hon. Member must mean this—that there must be a person not in actual command of a fleet, but an Adviser of the Admiralty, who should advise the Department as to the conduct of operations in war, and that he should have control of the general organisation and direction of affairs. But that was the main duty which fell on the gallant Admiral who for the time being was the First Naval Lord of the Admiralty. If this was not this officer's business he did not know what it was. He had now been two or three years at the Admiralty, and he knew something of the mode in which the gallant Admiral conducted his business; and his experience was that the First Sea Lord exactly discharged those duties. Reference had been made to an outside agitation which was represented; by the Resolution now before the House. He had made himself acquainted with the official literature of this movement, and he held in his hand a couple of volumes which gave a description of the Board of Admiralty. It began by stating that the Board of Admiralty was a legal fiction, and then it proceeded to 814 describe the practice and constitution of the Board in terms which were to him somewhat of a surprise, for it was all wrong. The Board of Admiralty in a sense was a Board of equals. It did hold meetings and it recorded decisions. The First Lord was the head of the Board, and the other members were more or less equal; but there was one member who stood out in all Naval matters prominently as compared with the other members, and that was the First Sea Lord. But the First Sea Lord did not alone impose his advice as to war preparations on the Board; he had junior colleagues, of less experience no doubt, who possessed a voice in any arrangements being made. It was exactly this consideration which the House was now-being called upon to take into account. He believed that the First Sea Lord had in succession from his predecessors, and had in preparation for his successors, and in his own possession, plans of preparation, organisation, and mobililsation conceived with a view to the needs of possible war, and nothing else. In addition to this there was a Joint Defence Committee, on which the chief official advisers of the Government on naval and military matters sat. There was a committee in actual working order, and it existed simply for the purpose of considering all those points to which attention, had been called, and to advise the Government thereon. There was, besides, a Joint Colonial Committee, of a similar character, which acted in cooperation with the other bodies. The right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean referred to the suggestion made last year in favour of the constitution of a Cabinet Committee which should undertake some consideration of the needs of the Army and the Navy, looking at them as the two arms which would be used together in the protection of the same interests. He could speak with some confidence about the Board of Admiralty; but he thought that he was within his right in saying that that suggestion had been acted upon, and that such a Committee had been in existence during the past year, and had fulfilled the functions which it had been sought to cast, upon it. This being the case, he did not know what, further assurance he could give to the hon. Member, because he believed that the provision above 815 described fulfilled all the conditions which the House might reasonably deem to be necessary. He concluded by inviting the House to reject the Resolution.
§ SIR R. TEMPLE (Surrey, Kingston)
said, that the late First Lord of the Admiralty had made an appeal to him as one of the Members of the Hartington Commission, which he could not refrain from responding to. It was quite true that Lord Hartington's Commission, while finding fault with the constitution of the War Department, did, on the whole, praise the Admiralty. Though he sympathised with the main principle advocated by the mover and seconder of the Resolution, he could not, as a practical man, understand what it was these hon. Gentlemen recommended. Did they propose the creation of a special Naval adviser separate from the Admiralty? As to what the duties and responsibilities of the office would be the House had no details. If the proposal As to what the duties and responsibilities of the office would be, the House had no details. If the proposal meant that the position of the First Sea Lord was to be augmented and still further strengthened, it would be well for the House to consider the recommendations of the Hartington Commission. That Commission, of which he was a member, went most carefully into the duties and functions of the First Sea Lord, and they appeared to be precisely those recommended by the hon. Mover and Seconder of this Motion. The First Sea Lord had to advise the Government as to what the strength of the Fleet should be, as to its preparedness and efficiency, and as to the points of danger which it should be ready to meet. He was a sort of adviser and amicus curiœ to the First Lord of the Admiralty. If the Hartington Commission recommended some slight redistribution of some of the First Sea Lord's duties, that was not enough to affect his duties at large. In the main, he believed that the Admiralty had carried out all that the Commission recommended; and that the position of the First Sea Lord was everything that the country could properly require. The only possible question could be as to the term of his office—that he should not retire with the Government of the day. But that was not a material point, and it had been shown that the First Sea 816 Lord did retain office for a fairly long period. If his duties were to be further extended, very serious difficulties would arise. The hon. Member for Oxford had suggested that the position of the First Sea Lord should be that of a Member of the Legislative Council of India, who had the power to record his dissent when he differed from the Viceroy, and to have it sent to the Secretary of State. That arrangement answered very well in the Government of India. It left the Viceroy supreme upon the spot, though it placed a check on his action which was especially valuable in the case of Viceroys newly sent out. But that was because the dissent was recorded for the common superior of the Viceroy and the dissenting Member of the Council—for the Secretary of State. There was no House of Commons to be answerable to; and in that was the enormous difference. The First Lord of the Admiralty was answerable to the House of Commons, and if he had a Naval Lord sitting at his side who could place upon record his dissent from the proposals of the Government in the archives of the Admiralty, so that it could be called for by the House of Commons, the position of things would be intolerable for the First Lord of the Admiralty. With the present constitution of the Treasury Bench, no First Lord could possibly stand such an arrangement; the situation would be impossible according to the present rules of English public life. If the First Sea Lord, or any possible Naval Officer existing in the imagination of the hon. Mover or Seconder, were to have the duty of framing plans for the maintenance or strengthening of the British Navy, on what principle was he to proceed? Was it to be on the standard of equality to a number of other Navies, or on the still higher standard of capacity for defending the British Empire and protecting its commerce all over the world? There was a great difference between these two standards. He agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Oxford that the standard of equality to two or three other Navies was wholly insufficient, but it was at least a standard; and the first thing such a Naval Officer as was proposed would have to do would be to inquire of the Government of the day on what principle the Navy's strength was to be estimated. That 817 crucial question must be answered by the Government of the day. If the country were to maintain its Naval position, the House of Commons and the nation at large must be competent to understand the question of the Navy. If the electors were indifferent, or incompetent, to fill their high position among the peoples of the world, then there was not the least use in putting a responsibility, which could never be enforced, upon any person. The only hope was to fix the responsibility on the Government of the day; he did not believe in shifting it to someone behind the scenes. There was at present a Board of Naval Advisers, with the First Sea Lord at its head, and he, presumably, was the best Naval Officer of the day. Someone—the Civil Lord—had said that the First Sea Lord had plans in his head. He firmly believed that. He remembered Lord Hood coming before the Hartington Commission, and he was sure that Lord Hood had every one of the considerations now urged in his head, and the details of them on paper.
§ SIR R. TEMPLE
said that he was speaking of the time of the Hartington Commission, which, he was sure, did a vast amount of good. Lord Hood asked whether the Commission would like to see his plans; but the Commission regarded them as too confidential. He had not referred to many points raised in the preceding speeches, because those points could be dealt with on the Estimates. Then there was the question of Sierra Leone, but it appeared to him that the Debate was a preliminary one. He was afraid that if they were to come to details on the Motion, he should have some difficulty in voting for it, though he cordially acknowledged the patriotic spirit which animated both the Mover and Seconder.
§ MR. H. E. KEARLEY (Devonport)
said, he was somewhat sorry to hear the noble Lord suggest that the hon. Member for Belfast, by moving this Resolution, was making a direct attack on the Estimates. The Estimates came almost as a welcome surprise, and showed, he thought, a determination on the part of the Admiralty to act upon the conviction which had been expressed in the country, 818 that we required a more adequate navy. He did not think the occasion of the Motion was inopportune. His hon. Friend the Civil Lord seemed to have paid too much attention to the technical terms of the Resolution, and did not seem inclined to accept its spirit. He thought it was generally understood that Resolutions such as this were merely pegs upon which to hang speeches, so that the question might be discussed. There was one piece of information which came from the Civil Lord which was certainly satisfactory—namely, that the Committee of the Cabinet was now working. He did not think they had had any public declaration to that effect before. To his mind, the repeated changing of the Naval First Lord seemed contrary to business principles. One question which it was necessary to ask was, whether the Admiralty had considered the requirements which would be needed for this country to meet and defeat the two strongest Naval Powers of Europe. The accepted standard of the two Front Benches was that we should be equal in strength to the two strongest Naval Powers in Europe. The right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean had given figures to show that we were not able to hold our own against two such Powers. It was said that we were equal to the strength of the two strongest Naval European Powers; he did not admit that, and even if it were true, it would not meet the case. If we were going to hold our own, we must have a positive superiority, because our duty in time of war would not be to act on the defensive, but to seek out the enemy, compel him to fight, or, if he declined a contest, shut him up in his ports. The noble Lord had said that on the Continent the system prevailed of a naval lord or admiral being responsible for the naval policy, and that the Chamber of Representatives, in France, for example, was frequently in conflict with this man, with the result that the Estimates were repeatedly cut down. He altogether omitted to tell them, however, that the Estimates in France, were frequently increased. Coming to the question of what evidence there was to justify this Motion, he said that the three naval programmes which they had had within the last ten years had each one been the outcome of what 819 were termed "scares." These scares, however, had proved to be merely the-expression of public opinion. What the scaremongers demanded was actually what each Government had granted, and it was true, therefore, to say that public opinion up to this date had been driving the Admiralty to act up to its responsibilities. There had not been a single Cabinet that had said of its free will, "this is what we deem to be necessary for the safety of the country and therefore we demand it." What had happened invariably was, that a feeling of unrest in the country had gathered volume, the question had been taken up by influential journals, questions had been asked in the House, to which there had been plausible and evasive replies, until at last the Government, under pressure, had been obliged to come forward and admit that all that was demanded was required. When the present Administration first came into power they had shirked their responsibilities, and it was only when the feeling grew so strong that they conceded the first instalment of the present programme, which he thought was an admirable one. As to the Parliamentary control over these Estimates, Members, as a matter of fact, voted them blindly. The Government's sole idea was to get the money voted, and they never hesitated to use pressure to effect their purpose. The Twelve o'Clock Rule was frequently suspended, and they were expected to vote conscientiously in the interests of the country and their constituents at Two o'clock in the morning, when their physical condition was run down. A large portion of the Votes were usually left to the very eve of the Recess, and were permitted frequently to go through without debate, sometimes in sheer pity for the officials of the House. He was inclined to support the spirit of the Resolution. He understood, however, the hon. Member for Belfast thought that the naval officer who controlled these affairs should be called upon in time of war to take command.
§ MR. KEARLEY
did not see why these Estimates should not be referred to a Committee, who should sit upstairs. If a Committee, amateurs though they might be, were sitting upstairs, no doubt 820 their judgment would become improved and strengthened by experience, and in a short time it would be found that the House could place more confidence in the judgment of that Committee than there would be in Estimates presented merely on the word of the Parliamentary representative of the Admiralty. It was most essential that the country should feel secure and know that, in the event of war breaking out, the Navy could confidently be relied upon. A war breaking out would mean not only that the country would have to be taxed to meet the heavy expenditure, but the price of our imported food supplies would immediately rise. Daily we drew necessaries from abroad, and the slightest interruption in these supplies meant a, rapid rise in price. Much was said of the calamity of bread becoming scarce, but take even the commodity of butter. [An hon. MEMBER: "Not a necessity."] That depended upon the point of view from which it was considered; but it was an article having a large daily consumption among all classes. From Ireland, Denmark, France, Russia; indeed from all countries on the Continent and even from our Colonies we drew supplies, but with an interruption even only for two days, our people would have no butter to spread on their bread. Then our commerce would be heavily handicapped by a rise in the insurance rate, for a war risk would have to be paid for, and the amount of this would be settled according to the way in which the Navy was able to show its power to protect our trade routes, and remembering the burden of the rate on our commerce in the Great War, the importance of having swift cruisers to protect our trade routes could not be over-estimated. If the result were the transfer of trade to neutral vessels then there would be made an impression on the trade of this country which, if not permanent, it would require many years to recover from. Therefore, he thought the hon. Member had made out a fair case for a Department being set up, whether simply an Intelligence Department, culling from all available sources such information as it could, or whether an autocratic power, was not at the moment material; what the country demanded was that if called upon to enter on a war, we should do so 821 with some assurance that it would be successfully conducted.
§ SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
said, whatever might be the opinions of Members, there could be no doubt the hon. Member for Belfast had initiated a very interesting discussion. He thought the truth about the question rested in a middle view between two extremes—between what the hon. Member for Belfast would excuse him for calling the somewhat extreme view advocated by the Resolution, and the extremely official view of the Civil Lord. Midway between lay the just and wise view which had been exceedingly well put by the hon. Baronet the Member for Kingston, that there should be more strength and more security in the position of the First Sea Lord. The Civil Lord drew an ideal picture of a very strong First Sea Lord, who would dominate the Board of Admiralty in matters of purely Naval advice, and always have his way. That might be true of the present First Sea Lord—a distinguished officer, a very strong, capable man, who, by strength of character, had impressed his views on the existing Board to an extent that was more rare than it ought to be. It might often happen that such a man would be in the position of Second or Third Lord, and would not have such a now he seemed to have. He dissented altogether from the haphazard view expressed by the hon. Member for Cardiff, more extreme even than the official view, which took a most couleur de rose regard to the present system, though he agreed that a civilian Minister would be the best man to be at the head of the Board for Naval work as a whole. The country certainly ought to know the opinion of the Naval Advisers of the Crown, and this was a most important point that had been rather slurred over in the debate. What used to happen? It was matter of notoriety, and nobody who knew anything of Naval Administration in the past could deny it, that very often, and especially between the years 1870 and 1874, and from 1880 to 1883, the opinions of Naval Lords were not properly represented. If that had not been so, it would have been impossible for any Cabinet to have allowed the Navy to sink into the position it then did 822 The House would do well to concentrate its attention on Naval matters, and to secure publicity to the opinions of the Naval Advisers of the Crown. In the end, of course, the Ministry must be responsible, but the country ought to know whether the Parliamentary statements made from time to time really represented naval opinion. This time last year, there was extraordinary evidence of the importance of this. The Chancellor of the Exchequer largely influenced the Vote of the House on a critical Motion in regard to the necessity of increasing strength of the Navy, by a statement entirely misleading. He then said that when he and the First Lord said the existing condition of things in respect to the British Navy was satisfactory, they spoke the opinion of the responsible professional advisers of that Department. The Government secured their majority, but it afterwards appeared that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not authorised to make any such statement. There was a revolt among the Naval Lords, and they threatened to resign unless the right hon. Gentleman publicly withdrew his statement. In consequence of that act of courage for which the Naval Lords deserved the greatest credit, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had to come down and explain to the House that he only represented Naval opinion in regard to the first class battleships to be completed in the present financial year—a very different thing. To provide against the repetition of such an incident the House should be in possession of the opinion of the Sea Lords on the state of the Navy. The First Sea Lord, no doubt, and also his colleagues on the Board, made an admirable report year by year, demanding full provision for the Navy. But then often followed a message from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Naval Estimates must be cut down by so many millions or by so many hundreds of thousands of pounds, then the different Departments of the Admiralty has to set to work to reduce Estimates. That might be very unwise, but still the country would suppose that the Estimates, as presented to Parliament, represented the views of the Naval Lords of the Board, whereas they were in reality each different. His hon. Friends had done great public service in calling attention to 823 this subject, which would not be settled until means were devised to let Parliament and the country know the real opinion of the Naval Advisers of the Crown on the existing condition of the Navy. The hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean had given figures to show that our Naval programme was deficient. It was a great misfortune that the beginning to build battleships was delayed until 18 months after the present Government came into office. So far as the programme proposed last year went, it was satisfactory with regard to battleships. But to contend that the Naval programme of the Government made this country fully a match for the two strongest Naval Powers was misleading. France and Russia were two or three battleships ahead of us in number if not in strength; and at the end of 1897, when the existing programme would be complete, they would be still more ahead of us, and bear the proportion (if his figures were correct) of 58 French and Russian battleships to 46 British. At the end of 1897 our Naval strength would not be equal to the combined forces of France and Russia unless the building of new battleships was commenced soon. What was wanted more than anything else was some plan by which the real view of the Naval Advisers of the Crown could, year by year, be known to Parliament and the country.
§ MR. T. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said, he recognised that, cogent arguments had been adduced to show that some improvement might be introduced into the Board of Admiralty, especially as to our methods of arrangement for war, and that there was a ground for anxiety in regard to the strategical distribution of our fleets in case of the sudden outbreak of war; yet he could not follow the hon. Member for Belfast in the terms and conclusion of his Motion. Of course Her Majesty's Government would say that the Estimates were based upon the considerations stated in the Resolution, and he did not know it could be proved they were not; under the admirable system by which they were called upon to vote large sums of money without receiving adequate information, they were entirely disqualified for asserting the contrary of what the Government would say. As to the 824 Estimates being based on the advice of the Naval officer selected for the conduct of Naval operations, in case of war that officer ought to be at sea, and he could not be here to give advice. Was it suggested that we should first of all select a Naval officer to conduct operations, keep him at home to give advice in time of peace, and send him away as soon as war broke out? In that case, we should leave ourselves without advice at all. It had been suggested that there should be a reference to a Committee; but no Committee of the House could be competent to deal with questions of Naval strategy, which demanded much local and professional knowledge. The plan proposed was entirely inadequate. It came, he supposed, from the mental activity of gentlemen out of doors who had concerned themselves to various remedies for what they considered the faults in the management of the Navy. Plans of campaign had been drawn up, and they were told that that was done by foreign nations. With foreign nations the question was entirely a military question. Their enemies were well defined, their scene of operations was absolutely certain; and, consequently, it was possible to arrange beforehand an almost complete plan of campaign. England's plan of campaign would have to embrace the globe. How would it be possible, then, to frame one or two or even three different plans. Another difference was, that the conditions of naval warfare changed almost from day to day, and no plan of campaign made to-day would with any certainty be applicable to a war taking place six months hence. The idea was impossible. What did the proposal of the hon. Member for Belfast mean? It meant that the whole of the affairs of the Navy were to be put into the hands of one man. It was a one-man plan. Suppose the plan were adopted, would the one man appointed be exempt from criticism? Would not the hon. Member for Belfast and the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean lead him rather a lively time when the Estimates appeared? Captain Mahon, the great historian and modern strategist, had been quoted in support of this plan. He could not imagine a stronger enemy to it. Napoleon developed the one-man system to its greatest height. The whole history of 825 the Napoleonic wars was a warning not to rely on the knowledge of one man. There never was in this world a greater genius in war than Napoleon, but could there ever have been a greater failure than when his fleet came into conflict with the naval forces of this country? It was essentially a British board of Admiralty that met the concentrated power of France in the hands of one man and defeated it. It was proposed that the one man should be a man selected for naval operations in case of war. What guarantee was there that that officer would be actually ready or even alive to conduct those operations when necessity arose? He supposed that, if during the last three years the Admiralty had looked for a man to conduct operations of war, they would have selected Admiral Tryon or Admiral Hornby, but both of them have passed to their long rest. When the time for actual operations came, the Admiralty would have found themselves without either of those officers. It was proposed that this Lord High Admiral should be an absolute and complete dictator, that he should dictate to the Government what Estimates they should bring in, what number of battleships they should build, and, in short, that he should lie complete master of the Board of Admiralty. Some attempt had already been made to approximate to this one-man system. There was once a First Lord who arranged that one of the Naval Lords should be responsible for the men and another for the ships, while he himself was to be responsible for the whole. A question arose as to the building of ships, and the First Lord called on the Naval Lord, who was responsible for the ships, and argued the question with him. The Naval Lord who was responsible for the men came in, and there was a remarkable difference between the two Naval Lords. The effect was that the Naval Lord responsible for the ships used such language that the First Lord ordered him out of the room, and, when he was gone, settled the question of the ships with the Naval Lord who was responsible for the men. Now, he yielded to no one in his interest in the Navy, or in his desire to see the Service flourish, and to satisfy every legitimate requirement of men and officers; but, after all, the Navy was but an instrument to secure the civil, government of the country by 826 civil ministers, and this instrument was one that must inevitably be used by and remain in the hands of civil and not professional officers. It was to the Civil Ministry chosen by the House that the House looked for the conduct of the affairs of the country, and to use the Navy as an instrument; and he thought the House would never consent to place the Navy in the hands of a naval officer. He recognised the good intention and patriotic purpose of the hon. Member who brought forward the Motion, and others who supported him; but he could not but see that theirs was an impracticable proposal which could not possibly work, and which, if it did work, would have this disastrous effect—that it would release the Government from all responsibility, and make it possible for them to plead the dictum of their Lord High Admiral, and come down to the House and justify their action by the advice they had received from him. It would further deprive the House of all practical power over Ministers. The Board of Admiralty might have its defects, but he believed it was practically the best worked department in the country; and he did most distinctly say that any improvement did not lie in the direction of relieving Her Majesty's Ministers of responsibility, or placing their responsibility in the hands of a single individual. For these reasons he should vote against the Resolution.
§ MR. E. T. GOURLEY (Sunderland)
observed that, by accepting the proposal before the House, they would reverse the policy adopted 25 or 26 years ago, when Mr. Childers was First Lord of the Admiralty—namely, that the responsibility for the Naval policy of the country should rest with the Government of the day, represented by the First Lord. He was not prepared to transfer that responsibility from the Government to the Board of Admiralty, for if that were done the Government and the First Lord would be able to shelter themselves against attack whenever mistakes were committed by saying it was the Admiralty. He should like to hear of an agreement between the War Office and the Admiralty with regard to the duties devolving upon them separately and jointly both in times of peace as well as in the event of war. In case of hostilities the two Services would have to 827 co-operate, but one never heard of their co-operating in time of peace. He trusted that the Resolution before them would be rejected in toto.
said, that he was not in sympathy with the Resolution, which did not seem to have received much support. The hon. Member who had just sat down said that there was a want of co-operation between the Army and the Navy. He maintained, on the contrary, that, whenever they had been asked to co-operate, there had been no ground for fault finding. Was not Lord Wolseley perfectly satisfied with the co-operation between the two Services in Egypt? Replying to the speeches of the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean and of other hon. Members, he asserted that, if there were defects in the present system of Naval administration, they were purely political and not professional defects. His brother officers would do all that the Service and the country could require of them if they were given a free hand. But he agreed with the hon. Member for King's Lynn and others that that House was rightly determined to have the principal voice in, and the principal control over, all matters dealing with Naval and Military efficiency, especially matters of expenditure. The House would have a Minister in Parliament—and, for preference, on the Front Bench opposite—who was responsible for the efficiency of Naval administration. That House was Britain in essence, and therefore should be supreme. That being so, they must accept the defects of the system. Under an absolute Government there might be a perfect system of Naval administration, but that would not be possible under a system like ours so long as there was a civilian at the head of it. The present system was, however, necessary, and the Navy accepted it loyally. Naval men were completely loyal to their Parliamentary chief, to which ever Party he might belong. All politicians who had presided at the Admiralty would bear testimony to that. Then, what became of the resolution? There was no bottom in it. It was for Parliament to remedy any political defects in the Naval administration, and no one had the right to speak of those defects as if they were Naval defects. He understood that the hon. Member for Belfast had disclaimed 828 the meaning which had been ascribed by every sensible man to the last part of his Resolution, and that the hon. Member said now that he only meant that the First Sea Lord ought to advise the First Lord and the Government in case of war. If that was all that the hon. Member meant, the Resolution was not necessary, because the Hartington Commission had already laid it down that the First Sea Lord was to be the principal adviser of the First Lord. Acting upon that recommendation, the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton) made, he believed, a change in the duties of the First Sea Lord, relieving him of some minor administrative work, so as to give him more time for the study of large Naval problems. Whatever Naval operations might be necessary in the event of war, it would not, however, devolve upon the Admiralty to initiate them. It would be made a Cabinet question, and the Prime Minister and his colleagues would have to consult with the most distinguished Naval men whom they could find. But having once set the Admirals loose, in command of their respective fleets, they must trust them to do their duty. Therefore, there was nothing in the Resolution that really called for serious comment. At the present time, whatever may have been the case in the past, the Government, like the late Government, were doing their duty, being well sustained by public opinion. Reference had been made to the necessity for a good harbour at Dover, but if anybody was responsible for the neglect of Dover harbour, it was not naval men, who had clamoured for it ever since 1844; it was this House which had prevented that work being carried out. Both Governments were to blame in this matter, but not the professional advisers at the Admiralty. Therefore, it was not fair to speak as if there was great defect in the Admiralty system. The system was all right if they only let it have fair play. Where it failed was when this House interfered. Now that they found there were torpedo stations on the other side of the channel everywhere, they had come to realise that something must be done on the east coast of England. How often, when naval men at the Board of Admiralty had made up their minds as to what was necessary for the country, 829 had they been defeated by the Ministers at the Treasury! Too much power was given to the Treasury. These reforms must be introduced. The Treasury cavilled at every demand made upon it by the War Office or the Navy. They insisted in having a voice in every trifling detail. If they would take away some of the power possessed by the Treasury, and transfer some of the power of expenditure to the First Lord of the Admiralty and his Board, and to the Secretary of State for War and his Council, they would do a great deal to promote efficiency in both branches. He did not think the Committee on the Estimates had been of essential benefit to the public service. They had wasted a great deal of official time, which would have been much better employed at the Admiralty and the War Office. He did not think, therefore, they were likely to see the French system of administration adopted by referring these matters to Committees upstairs. The hon. Member who spoke last launched a great deal of praise at Mr. Childers and his wonderful reforms. Naval men did not share these views. They thought it one of the greatest disasters that the right hon. Gentleman was ever called upon to preside over the Navy. The right hon. Gentleman was foolish enough to hoist the Admiralty Flag on one occasion and sail the Fleet. He, himself, served in the Fleet on that occasion, and knew all about it, and if he had only known the opinion of the Officers of the Fleet at that exhibition, he would not have been flattered, for a more foolish and ridiculous attempt for a civilian First Lord he could not conceive. If anything had happened to the Fleet on that occasion, with the Admiralty Flag flying, the right hon. Gentlemon would have been responsible. Were hon. Gentlemen satisfied with that? As a matter of fact, care was taken that he should not be responsible, for they had a very clever Admiral in command of the Fleet on the occasion; but still, it was a degrading thing to the Admiral that his own Flag was not flying. He shared the belief that the Admiralty was the best administered of all the public Departments. It was honestly administered by capable and distinguished men, who had the confidence of the profession at large. No one had suggested that they should get rid of Parliamentary control, and 830 therefore they must accept the policy of naval colleagues to the First Lord, which meant the responsibility of the Government as a whole. He should be glad, however, if the recommendation of the Hartington Committee were adopted, and that the First Sea Lord should be called upon to prepare a Report on the state of the Navy annually, and lay it on the Table of the House. He knew that would never be done. Naval men desired to have it done because they would then get an honest expression of opinion as to the real state of the Navy. He considered that the First and Second Sea Lords ought to have Naval Officers of rank as Private Secretaries. When they called upon an Admiral to command the Fleet, they gave him a fine staff of officers. But when that same Officer was put into a superior position as First Sea Lord, he had not a single professional Officer to assist him, or upon whom he could lean for a wonderful amount of details. [An hon. MEMBER: There is the Intelligence Department.] Of course, if a Captain was drawn from the Intelligence Department for this purpose, that met his point. As regarded the main system of administration, he believed that, of the kind, it was about the best that the mind of man could invent for the control of a great branch of the service like the Navy, and under these circumstances, and after the Debate that had taken place, he hoped the Amendment would be withdrawn.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
remarked that, in view of the acquiescence of the Civil Lord of the Admiralty to the first part of the Amendment, and the assurance he had given as to professional advisers, he would ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Objection was taken to the withdrawal of the Amendment, and it was formally negatived without a Division.
§ MR. W. ALLAN (Gateshead)
remarked that with regard to this question of the needs of the Navy and its fitness for war, he looked at it from a different point of view to most of the hon. Members who had spoken. He asked himself what was, after all, the true condition of a vessel in war time; what should the vessel be? A great deal of money was voted last year, and a great 831 deal would be voted this year, for ships of war. He did not hold the value of a ship to be exclusively in its armour, in its guns, or in its men, but he held that the sole value of a man-of-war as a fighting machine, lay in the boilers. When the boilers failed, the ship stopped. On the boilers of a man-of-war depended everything. Boilers ought to be designed and fitted into their ships on the basis of the following three points: safety, simplicity, and efficiency. A ship, no matter how costly it might be, or how efficiently commanded and manned, if at all weakened in the chief motor of her driving power, namely the boilers, would be practically helpless. The speed of every vessel depended entirely on the boilers. The great weakness of their Navy lay simply in the fact that there was a deficiency in the boiler power on board the vessels which was altogether inadequate to give the speed calculated for. For a long time the Admiralty had been floundering, and been in a mist as to what boilers to put in the vessels. They had been vainly striving, as it were, to put two horses into one stall. The boilers they used were so small that they had been compelled to adopt surreptitious and barbaric methods to obtain the steam power required. They had been trying for years to get one horsepower out of one and a-half square feet of heating surface. He had, in his time, built a few boilers, and engined many vessels, but he could never get one horsepower under three feet of heating surface The methods adopted by the Admiralty had placed every ship in the British Navy at this moment in an absolutely useless position for full steam speed. In attempting to solve this problem of getting larger efficiency of steaming power out of the ships, they had not followed the well-known aim of all ship owners, which was to make provision for ample steaming power. The Admiralty therefore, had been driven to the necessity of endeavouring to get the requisite amount of steam out of small boilers by means of a forced draught instead of by the natural draught. By the creation of this unnatural draught, as we might term it, they got something greater, but at what expanse! It meant the absolute destruction of the boilers within the vessel. Under an unnatural draught, the boilers had a strain put upon them 832 which they were altogether too small to bear, and they became practically useless. There were three vessels, the Blake, the Vulcan, and the Blenheim, in the construction of which a large amount of money had been spent. What condition were they in to-day? Their boilers were done for, and £120,000 were now asked for to re-boiler vessels which were not yet four years old. Was not that a squandering of national money? These three vessels were tremendously puffed up in the papers, but what had become of them now? Where were they to-day? They were lame ducks, and could not be sent to sea, for the boilers had completely failed. How long would the Admiralty pursue this suicidal system? How long would they be blind to the fact that they were endeavouring to get more power out of the boilers than the boilers could safely give? He warned the Admiralty and the House that every ship to which they applied the system would turn out to be useless when she was most wanted—she would never be able to pursue an enemy, or to run away from one. It was not too much to say that, on this question of boilers, the safety of the Empire depended. Well, locomotive boilers had failed, and the Admiralty had been driven to the adoption of water tube boilers. Remembering the deplorable experience with these boilers, it was astonishing that the Admiralty should have resorted to them at all, especially when better results might be obtained by a safer, simpler, and more economical method. He was dealing, not with individuals, but with principles, and his object in bringing the matter forward was the safety of our ships—the desire that our ships should be, in every sense of the term, first-class fighting machines. Why were the Admiralty using water-tube boilers? Because the French were doing so. Their danger and inefficiency had been already proved in this country. In several instances the water tube boiler, of different matters, had been tried in the vessels of the Mercantile Marine, and it had always failed. Indeed, he challenged anyone to mention a case where those boilers had not failed. Yet the Admiralty officials had adopted this description of boiler on the slight recommendation of them by a French engineer, who was sent to report 833 upon the water tube boilers in one of the vessels of the Messageries Maritime: but did that engineer also report the mishaps that occurred to the boilers, the amount of repairs they needed, the number of spare tubes which it was necessary to carry in case of failure, and the cost of the great consumption of coal they involved? Still, on that Report the Admiralty were plunging into water tube boilers for several of the splendid cruisers that were now being built. He had the most serious doubt of the safety of those boilers. It should be remembered that a water tube boiler had a water pressure inside the tube, and in case of the slightest flaw that pressure tended to open the tube with serious risk of explosion; whereas, the ordinary boiler had the water pressure outside, and the compression tended to keep a flaw tight. The cases of fatal explosions with the water tube boiler were numerous. There was the case of the French vessel, Saracen; one tube only burst arid killed eight men in the stoke-hole. The case of the Sharpshooter, at the trial trips at Devonport, was another glaring instance of the failure of the water tube boiler; she broke down six times in her series of trials. Yet that was the vessel from which the Admiralty raised the data for the adoption of water tube boilers. The boilers might be all very well so long as pure fresh water was being used for them, but the moment salt water got into them, there was a terrible danger of explosion. He should like to ask the Civil Lord of the Admiralty whether he, in his official position, had had no experience of fatal explosions connected with the use of those boilers. There was the case of the torpedo boat Sturgeon, built at Barrow, and designed to run 27 knots an hour. The designs were prepared by the Admiralty, and every one of the tubes were severely tested. She went to sea; one of the tubes soon gave out, there was an explosion and an engineer and one man were scalded in the stoke-hole and afterwards died. At the coroner's inquest the managing engineers at Barrow condemned the tube boilers as dangerous. What was the result to-day? Shipbuilding firms at Barrow regarded those boilers as so dangerous that, when the vessels fitted with them made their trial 834 trips, they insured the lives of the engineers and stokers in £400 and promised £2 a week in ease of partial disablement. They had absolutely guaranteed the lives of these men. Would the Government guarantee the lives of the engineers on their torpedo boats? (How many boats had the Government got with similar boilers at this moment? But what were the Admiralty doing? They had decided that copper was a bad thing, and though they passed the original designs and specifications, they had obliged the contractors to substitute steel tubes at their own expense. Why, in the name of equity, had the Admiralty done so? But he would go further. Everyone had heard of the Hornet and of her performances—how she could steam 27 to 30 knots an hour. Where was she now? Lying in a comer of Portsmouth Dockyard, with every boiler out of her—boilers only 12 months old. Who was to pay for that? They heard of money being squandered. If they had a return of the repairs executed on vessels under 12 months old, they would find that hundreds of thousands of pounds were squandered in experiments. He asserted as an engineer of nearly half-a-century's experience, that the Belleville boiler was a dangerous boiler. And it was not an economical boiler; for, compared with the ordinary boiler, it required coal in the proportion of 40 tons to 28. That meant in a warship that they had a shorter steaming range, and that they had to carry far more men to put the coal on board. He could not understand why the officials of the Admiralty pursued such a course. This was not the engineering of Great Britain—the engineering of James Watt, and George Stephenson; it was the engineering of some interested and belated Frenchman. Britain wanted boilers that would steam night and day through storm and sunshine, and we had not got them, nor anything like them in our present warships. He could not see wherein the advantage of the tubular boilers lay. They were not lighter; they did not occupy less space. On the other hand they showed less safety, less efficiency, arid greater complexity. In the Powerful and the Terrible they had 48 tubular boilers. They were each capable of withstanding a pressure of 250 pounds; but that must be reduced to 150 pounds 835 when it went to the engine, and if anything went wrong with the reducing valve, the engine would break down. That of itself was a strong point in condemnation of the water tube boilers, Would the Admiralty ever believe that ample boiler power was the only fighting value of ships they built? What was the use of guns if the boilers were not to be depended upon? Who was responsible for that state of things? Was it the First Lord? No; he was not an engineer. Was it the Secretary to the Admiralty? No; he was not an engineer. Was it the Civil Lord? No; he was not an engineer; he knew nothing about engines. Was it the Chief Constructor of the Navy? No; he was only a shipbuilder, though a very clever one. He wanted the Civil Lord to tell the House upon whose shoulders rested the responsibility for the water tube boilers fitted into the torpedo-catchers and other vessels of the Royal Navy. That was the question which he wanted an answer to. It was a mixed-up affair, but he was determined to get at the bottom of it and find out who was really responsible for this engineering. He bade the Admiralty pause before embarking on such a huge experiment. He implored them, as an engineer, to test these boilers for themselves before fitting them into their two grandest cruisers. He would like the boilers to be first fitted into a second-class cruiser, and then have them tried at sea—not merely for a couple of hours' run, with a few newspaper correspondents on board, but running at sea till the coal was exhausted; and then, after taking in a fresh supply at some coaling station, to steam home again. Let this be done in the presence of competent experts; let the latter make a full report upon the boilers, and let that report be laid upon the Table of the House. Hon. Members would then be in a position to judge. The Admiralty owed that duty not only to themselves, but to the country and to the men on board those ships. If these boilers were so commendable, how came it that no shipowner in the House had adopted them? There was, he asserted, not a shipowner in Great Britain who would put into two such splendid cruisers as the Powerful and Terrible 48 water tube boilers apiece. Then, why should the Admiralty do it? Simply from the 836 fact that the money was found for them to squander. He warned the Admiralty that they would, if they persisted in their present course, be landed in endless expense, unless, indeed, some terrible disaster overtook those vessels such as happened to the Victoria. He had considered it to be his duty, not only to his constituents, but to the House and to the country, to put forward his views on the present occasion. He did not wonder that the Admiralty could not get engineers to go on their ships, though they were advertising for men in all towns in the Midlands. Why? Because it was well-known to engineers throughout the country that the poor men at Barrow had to get a life-policy before they would go on boats fitted with water tube boilers. The Government should no longer wonder why they could not get men for their ships when they put such dangerous fittings into them. He considered it a duty which he owed to the Admiralty themselves thus to speak his mind on a subject which was fraught with the gravest import to the strength and efficiency of our Navy, and to the credit of British engineering.
§ MR. A. B. FORWOOD (Lancashire, Ormskirk)
remarked, that he was sure the House had listened with great pleasure to the speech just delivered. The hon. Member for Gateshead had dealt with a technical subject, and one very difficult to bring home to lay minds, in a most picturesque and interesting manner; and he was sure that the words which had been uttered by him were weighty ones, and well worthy of serious and anxious consideration. He only regretted that the hon. Member had not been present when the Estimates for the construction of the Powerful and Terrible were first brought up. On that occasion he expressed an opinion on these water tube boilers, not certainly on the lines of the hon. Member for Gateshead, but anxiously pressing on the Government to have them first tested on a smaller and less important vessel; and, as a shipowner and a layman, he was certainly of opinion that the Government ought not to have put these boilers into our two biggest cruisers till adequate trials had been first made in a smaller vessel. An engineer officer was sent out as a passenger by one of the boats to see how these boilers worked, and he made a very 837 valuable report; but the data were not of the kind on which the Admiralty could embark with experiments. The only advantage was that they lend themselves to be placed in a ship, and stood more conveniently than ordinary cylindrical boilers. He should like to say that one of the last actions of his noble Friend, when chief of the Admiralty, was to order a torpedo boat with a water tube boiler for experimental purposes. The order was given to Thorneycrofts, and they were given a free hand. They guaranteed that the boiler would be efficient for at least three years. He thought that was a proper course to take, and it was right that the Admiralty should watch all new inventions. The Member for Gateshead had made a sweeping attack upon the boilers generally in Her Majesty's ships, and if that attack were passed over it might cause alarm. There was no doubt that at one time there was an inclination to cut down the size of boilers, and force them to give larger horse-power than—as had since been proved—was practically possible. They had then at the Admiralty probably the most able theoretical engineer that ever lived, but his great forte was theory rather than practice. His great desire was to unduly cut down engines and boilers in order that a vessel might hope to be propelled at a higher rate of speed and built on finer lines. The result of that policy was, that several vessels, the Blenheim, the Blake, and the Vulcan, had not proved satisfactory. The boilers would not stand the forced draught for which they were originally designed. When the Naval Defence Act vessels were laid down it was decided that the boiler power of those vessels should be as much as possible on the lines adopted by the mercantile navy. He ventured to say there would be no trouble found in the ships built by his noble Friend so far as boiler power was concerned. That evening the discussion had been principally directed to the discussion of the principle of Admiralty Administration. It is not the general custom to range over the Estimates on the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair, but experience for the last few years in connection with the Naval Estimates led him to come to the conclusion that this was about the only real chance that Members of the House would have of 838 taking a general and wide glance of the Naval Policy of the country. There had been a general acknowledgment on the part of those who had spoken that the Estimates presented showed that the Government appreciated the needs of the Navy. Well, he quite agreed in those remarks, but he should like, in passing, to point out this fact—the expenditure in the last three years, including this year, amounted to £12,903,000. In the last three years, under his noble Friend, the expenditure amounted to £14,987,000. Allusion had been made to what had been provided for the standard aimed at. On a previous occasion he had ventured to call the attention of the House to the necessity of having a standard. In 1888, before the Naval Defence Act was determined upon, a standard of requirement was established by competent Naval Officers; and on that standard the Naval Defence Act was laid down. Gauged by that standard this country was four first-class and nine second-class battleships less than the number which the professional advisers in 1888 thought we ought to possess in comparison with the fleets of two other Powers. He regretted that in the present Estimates no provision whatever was made for battleships, the only provision made being for cruisers. He estimated that the cost of the programme under construction on April 1 would represent a capital value of £13,500,000, that the additional new programme which was submitted to Parliament would cost £4,000,000, making next year a total value of shipping under construction of £17,500,000. Up to April 1 next £5,370,000 would have been expended towards the completion of £17,500,000 worth of shipping, leaving £12,130,000 to be provided for in future years. Towards this sum £5,400,000 were taken in the Estimates of 1895–6, leaving a liability on future years of £6,730,000. When was this liability likely to mature? His opinion was that it would mature in 1896–7; but he regretted to say that there was a tendency shown in the present Estimates to relapse into the old system of rather too slow construction. A few ships had been constructed at a remarkably rapid rate. The Majestic, for example, was laid down in February, 1894, and on April 1 1896, there would be only £24,500 left to be 839 expended to complete the ship, or barely one month's work. The Hannibal was laid down in May, 1894, though it was not proposed to finish her until 1898–9, the construction covering something like five financial years. The Renown was another ship with which slow progress was being made. It was laid down in February, 1893; she would be launched in 1896 and completed in 1897–8, or four years in the course of construction. The Powerful was not to be completed until 1897–8, although the vessel was well begun last year. He suggested, therefore, that it was far better to lay down fewer vessels and urge on their completion than to put down a larger number and not spend as much money as could be spent in order to complete them at the earliest time. Again, the change in Vote X. as between last year and this was very remarkable. Last year certain new works were proposed in Vote X., and £435,000 was voted for a commencement. The liability thrown on future years for the completion of those works was to be £4,500,000, and it was to be extended over some ten years. This year was to have borne £704,000, but he found that these works had entirely disappeared from the Estimates; and he gathered from the First Lord's statement that the balance required for completion was going to be obtained by loan. He had no objection to that policy, but it came curiously from those who had condemned in wholesale fashion the late Board of Admiralty for spreading the cost of some work on ships over five years. Practically, this was a loan for dredging and other works, which it was idle to attempt to distinguish, in respect of permanency, from those which the late Government proposed. The late Government expended money over Portsmouth Yard, coaling stations, and barracks out of its year's revenue; and it might just as well, when it brought in the Naval Defence Act, have borrowed money for those purposes. It was desirable to bring out emphatically and clearly that the present Government were not only following in the foot steps of their predecessors, but were even going further. Next, as to the dimensions of the vessels which it was proposed to build. All shipbuilding authorities knew that length was a 840 great advantage at sea. A vessel having a comparatively moderate beam and good length was much more easily and economically driven than a short and broad vessel. It was suggested that the new vessels were to be improved Talbots—a vessel which was 350 feet long and 53 feet beam—but their beam was to be increased to 57 feet, while their length was reduced to 320 feet. No doubt the Civil Lord would be able to explain why this apparently retrograde step had been taken. Last year he called attention to the serious position in which the manning of the Navy would be by reason of the large increase in the number of vessels, and he urged the desirability of drawing more closely the ties between the mercantile marine and the Royal Navy. He was very sorry indeed to see in the First Lord's statement that, in respect of the Royal Naval Reserve,the number is already filled, and they have had to refuse applicants.The Reserve was growing in popularity, and there was an increasing desire on the part of seamen to enter it. The Government should take advantage of the circumstances of the time, and increase the Vote in order to let all men in the mercantile marine who wished to join the Reserve do so. The cost was comparatively little. The number enrolled was 25,000, and the annual cost was a little more than £200,000. The number of men for the Navy had been raised to the large total of 88,000; but in connection with this manning vote the vote for non-effective services, though passed over casually year after year, had a most important bearing. This vote had grown from about £1,200,000 in 1865 to £2,100,000 to-day. Looking at the number in the service 30 years ago, and seeing that their cost on the pension list to-day was £2,100,000, he could not but think that in 20 years' time the 88,000 men now in the Navy would increase the non-effective vote to £3,000,000. He would urge upon the Government the desirability of encouraging more largely the enlistment of men from the Mercantile Marine. If these men were first enlisted as boys permanently in the service they cost us something like £66 per head per annum, the cost of the boys before enlistment being £30 per head. These boys, too, made 841 better bluejackets, and were more amenable to discipline than men who had not been so trained; and he hoped that some day the number of training ships for boys might be increased, and that some arrangement might be made by which the boys could be drafted off for a time, subject to conditions, on board merchant vessels, and afterwards enter the Navy.
§ MR. T. LOUGH (Islington)
said, he would call the attention of the House very briefly to what was the most marked feature of the Estimates. In the statement which had been circulated by the First Lord, explaining the Estimates, it was said that the application which was made to the House was a serious and large one. The facts were, that for the Naval Estimates of this year £1,330,000 more was demanded than for those of last year, and something like £4,750,000 more than the Estimates of two years ago. The total amounted to about 19 millions, or, including the provision made for certain loans and deferred payment, 20 millions. Ten years ago, ill 1885, the total amount was 10½ millions, so that the amount had nearly doubled within ten years. He thought these facts were of a serious nature, and should be considered by the House. When this Parliament assembled it was not with the intention of dealing particularly with the Navy, but with another great question, connected with domestic policy. But somewhere about 1893 a scare was raised in the newspapers, and many Members on that side of the House had hoped that the Government would present a firm front to the extravagant demands which were made then in regard to this service. But it did not prove to be so. This was the third of the Naval scares which we had had within the last ten years; the first was in 1884–5, ten years before that period the Naval Estimates having stood at exactly the same amount. In the case of the two former scares, the Estimates did not rise again until a few years afterwards. In 1884–5 the Estimates suddenly went up by about two millions; then they were steady for four years. In 1889 exactly the same thing happened, the Estimates going up by about 2½ millions, and then remaining steady. The result of the scare in 1893, which he thought was the worst of the three, was that the Esti- 842 mates went up by 3½ millions, but now the very next year, they were asked for nearly 1½ million more. He thought that, under the circumstances, the Government ought to give a full and complete defence of the very large demand they were making for this service. Was it our retention of Egypt which made it necessary that the cost of the Navy should be doubled? If so, the country should know what it was costing us. But this might not be the real explanation, and if it was not, he thought the House of Commons ought to be taken into the confidence of the Government, and the House ought to hear exactly why it was that this serious demand was made now, when times were so bad. This was the first time, he believed, that the Estimates of the Government for the Navy had exceeded the amount asked of the House for the Army. He hoped the House would exercise its undoubted right, and severely criticise the proposals before them. It was sometimes argued as a cause for this increase that a very strong Navy was necessary for the protection of our commerce, but he would point out that our commerce was not any larger this year than it was in 1885, so that if the Naval expenditure were looked on as a sort of insurance on the commerce, in 1885 the insurance was 1½ per cent., and now it had increased to 3 per cent. He did not think that in the long run the commerce of this country would flourish under these huge armaments, for other countries would not submit to having trade thrust down their throats in this way. A more discreet policy, a wiser course, would be, instead of adopting this aggressive attitude to assume a more conciliatory disposition towards other nations. Was it necessary to have such a huge Navy for the protection of the United Kingdom? He doubted if the growth of our great Naval armaments made the country more secure. More difficult was it to land a hostile force in the country now, than ever it had been. At the present time, with the exception of the unfortunate war in the far East, there was among all nations every effort made to maintain peace, and nothing threatened that state of peace but the maintenance of huge armed forces by some Continental Powers. Should we, imitate the mistakes of those Powers which we so constantly denounced? 843 By increasing our arnaments beyond the necessities of the time, we withheld support from that policy of peace which it was for the interest of all nations to preserve. All were glad when a difference between ourselves and another friendly Power was settled by arbitration. He was reminded that the award might not be paid; but he took a more hopeful view, and believed that that friendly Power would hesitate once and twice before it disregarded the important decision given. The House should by all means endeavour to encourage a policy by which nations should settle international differences without having recourse to the arbitrament of war. Lastly, he asked where was this expenditure to stop? One hon. Member declared his opinion that we should be as strong as any two nations, and others he thought insisted that we should be as strong as any other three or four nations. But what was the limit? Was it not a perilous, ruinous contest—the increase of our strength stimulating efforts in other Powers and increasing difficulties to contend against? We had now reached an expenditure of 20 millions, and why not make it 30 or more? The seas are wide, and it would take many ships to cover them. A very serious duty led the House to severely scrutinise these constant demands; and that duty neglected, the time would come when this country would have to retrace with slow and painful steps, the course adopted in a somewhat thoughtless manner.
§ MR. JOHN PENN (Lewisham)
thought the remarks of the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Allan) should not pass without reference. It was an impressive speech the hon. Member delivered, and if it went forth unchallenged it might tend to spread alarm altogether unfounded. The hon. Member criticised severely the whole of the boilers in Her Majesty's Service. He said the ships were under-boilered, but his (Mr. Penn's) impression was absolutely the reverse, and he did not think that, as at present designed, enough was got out of the boilers. Of the several vessels the hon. Member represented as having broken down he had no knowledge, but would be astonished to find the hon. Member's statement correct. The hon. Member went on to speak of the water tube boilers, and rather led the House to 844 believe that these were nothing but so many death-traps. He admitted at once that it would have been a wiser policy if the Admiralty had made somewhat larger experiments before adopting these boilers on a large scale. The First Lord, in his statement, said:—The fitting of new boilers of the Belleville type on the torpedo gunboat Sharpshooter, in lieu of her original boilers of locomotive type, has been completed, and they have been tested on board, during prolonged trials, with good results. The ship has been attached to the Channel Squadron, to obtain further experience of the working of this type of boiler under seagoing conditions.It would have been wiser to have had larger experience of these boilers before adopting them for the Terrible and the Powerful, and the cruisers about to be laid down, into which, he understood, Belleville boilers were to be fitted. But that was altogether a different matter to supposing that these boilers were going to blow up and burn or boil all the men in charge of them. These boilers had now been running for several years, and had they been fraught with such danger that would have been discovered, and the boilers would have been condemned long ago. They would not be used so largely as undoubtedly they were. His personal view of the water-tight boiler was, that it had considerable advantages, inasmuch as steam could be got up quicker. It was lighter, and it stowed with a less heat space than the ordinary boiler. The disadvantages appeared to be that it was not known how long the boiler would last. This required testing. He knew perfectly well that where boilers had superheaters attached the superheaters were not filled to last for a long time, and he was not certain whether these boilers would be found to bear wear and tear to the same extent as the old-fashioned round boilers. With regard to the statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty, he was glad to see a large increase in the men of the Royal Navy. He had interested himself chiefly in the engineer staff. This had been largely increased, but he doubted whether it had been increased to the extent that would be necessary if our ships were called upon to do what they would undoubtedly have to do if the country were suddenly plunged into war. The number of engineer officers appeared to be decidedly small in 845 comparison not only with the large number of ships in which they would have to serve, but the complexity and diversity of the machinery with which they would be charged. He had several times urged that, although these vessels in the Royal Navy could do their work perfectly well and satisfactorily at the present time, under ordinary conditions, the conditions would be altogether different in time of war. He had also urged, and he urged it now more strongly, that they would never know exactly where they were until the captains of the ships were ordered to run their ships at full speed. The Estimates were framed in a broad and commendable spirit, but there was one item in them which gave him much concern. He noticed that there was £59,000 less required for coal during the coming than during the past year. He believed they would never know adequately how their engine-rooms were manned until the vessels were driven at full speed. The fact was, that admirals and captains of the ships were afraid to order the ships to go at full speed, and to make long full-speed trials, because of the expense for coal. If this was the case the sooner it was altered the better. The ships should be driven more frequently and for longer periods at full speed. They had to run to dockyards for repairs which ought to be executed on board, the ship being thus kept longer at sea. Then there was another point, in connection with the engine-room staff, which he would like to touch upon, and that was with regard to the engine-room artificers. From the Estimates it appeared that 40 assistant engineers were to be added for temporary service. This was a step in the right direction. But he would like to point out (without the slightest disparagement to the officers who had joined) that under the old system—not many years ago—an engineer student was required to serve six years in the ships, and that when he was he was discharing his duties he was brought into intimate contact not only with manipulative use of tools but taught sea-going work from start to finish. Now these 40 assistant engineer for temporary service were from 846 private firms, and they had had in some cases only three and a half years' experience; and this, as compared with the older engineers, was altogether inadequate. The efficiency of the engine-room largely depended upon the excellence of the engine-room artificers, who were a most valuable body of men. It seemed to him that some concession should be made to them—though he spoke with diffidence on the question of rank, having an old-fashioned respect for all deck discipline—and that the best of them should be promoted to warrant rank. Such a prospect would, he thought, have many beneficial results, because at present they practically had nothing to look forward to. If warrant rank were held out to them, it would not only attract the best class of mechanics to the service, but make those already in it strive to attain that rank which was the great ambition of that branch of the service. There had been a number of modifications in regard to accommodation for engine-room artificers, and he was glad to see that the Admiralty had paid some attention to their wishes and requests in that direction. He had not intended to intervene in the Debate; but his object in doing so was to allay as far as possible any alarmist fears which might have been occasioned with regard to dangers of water-tube boilers.
§ SIR F. H. EVANS (Southampton)
was sure the House would agree that the speech of the hon. Member for Gateshead was an interesting and sympathetic one, but they were apt to be carried away with their feelings when questions affecting men whose lives were passed in danger were raised. And while not wishing to minimise that danger, he could not help thinking that the hon. Member's sympathy had somewhat run away with him. Water passing through the tubes no doubt made boilers more dangerous, but that was a difficulty which, he felt sure, engineers would overcome. Forced draught had been referred to, and when used properly he regarded it as most serviceable. The right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Liverpool, had pointed out to him the advantages of forced draught in the case of a vessel which had to proceed at a high rate of speed between certain points of her voyage, and between others could slow down, time not 847 pressing. He was glad to hear the case of merchant seamen mentioned. In the company with which he was associated, they had a large number of seamen who had been in their employ for upwards of 20 and 30 years, and it was a pity that they did not receive some encouragement from the Navy. They would form a most valuable reserve; their long service showed them to be men of good character, and their sea service made them just the class of men the Navy wanted, and he hoped some measure might be adopted by which they could be called upon if required. He fully endorsed the remarks of the hon. Member for Lewisham, with regard to engine-room artificers. They were an excellent body of men, and holding out to them the prospect of warrant rank would have beneficial results in more than one direction.
§ MR. G. WYNDHAM (Dover)
said, he had been commissioned by his constituents to ask a question about Dover Harbour. There was a paragraph in the printed statement which had given great satisfaction, because it declared that the construction of a national harbour at Dover would be an inestimable boon both to commerce and the Royal Navy. It was added that, immediately after the first Navy vote was passed, a Bill would be presented providing for work at a certain number of places; but Dover was not named among the places to be put in the schedule of the Bill; and the question was why it was omitted. It did not appear that Dover would benefit beyond a promise on paper, which was the echo of a pious opinion expressed by the Commission of 1844, since which date nothing had been done.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (SIR W. HARCOURT,) Derby
I brought in a vote in 1886, and I was defeated.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said, he would not trace the fluctuations that had occurred since 1844, but he would urge consider- 848 ations in favour of the work being proceeded with at once. It would give hope to thousands of the unemployed. Then the scheme was in the nature of an insurance for both our commerce and the Navy; and in private life, when you had once determined that insurance was expedient, you did not postpone the matter indefinitely, but effected the insurance at once. If this work were to be done by annual Bill, there would be no certainty that the insurance would ever be completed. As an insurance it would be foolish to postpone it, and ridiculous to do it piecemeal.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
said, the question of Dover Harbour was much too large a one to enter upon at that hour. The subject would form a serious portion of the statement he had to make as soon as they got into Committee. The answer to the hon. Member's question was that Dover was not to be mentioned in the projected annual loan Bill; and the reason would be given in the exposition of the policy of the Government with regard to Dover Harbour. The same observation applied to other points raised in the course of the evening—that was to say, he must necessarily deal with them in the statement he hoped to make to the Committee tomorrow. His hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead raised a very specific question upon which he, no doubt, expected a reply. His hon. Friend was an engineer, and the question he raised was an engineering question, but the House did not consist of engineers, nor did the Government, nor even the Board of Admiralty. His hon. Friend had spoken somewhat contemptuously of the advisers of the Admiralty. The Admiralty were not quite so independent of technical advice as his hon. Friend necessarily was. They must be guided by their engineers. This case of water-tube boilers was an example of the extent with which the Board of Admiralty, whether the Naval or Civil element was concerned, must be guided by the best professional advice it 849 could obtain, There were, hundreds of questions in the administration of the Admiralty with which his hon. Friend was not familiar, on each of which they must be guided by professional opinion; but referring to the engineering advisers of the Admiralty, his hon. Friend spoke of them as belated something or another.
§ MR. W. ALLAN
No; I never used such a phrase as that. I merely wanted to know who was responsible for the adoption of the Belleville boilers to such an extent.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
Certainly, I am going to answer that question. His hon. Friend was himself a little belated in bringing this question before the House, because the adoption of the Belleville boiler was no new thing. It was mentioned a year ago to the House of Commons, and was a matter of notoriety in all sorts of ways. Not long ago the Engineer in-chief of the Navy read a Paper before the Society of Civil Engineers, in which this matter was expounded before experts and people of skill, and the thing passed apparently without discussion, certainly without disapproval, among men who were entitled to speak with as much authority as his hon. Friend. The history of the subject, as far as the Admiralty were concerned, was this. In 1885 a torpedoboat was first of all fitted with these water-tube boilers. In 1888 three torpedoboats, meant for Indian service, were similarly dealt with. In 1892 another torpedo-boat was fitted in like manner. In 1891, the Speedy was fitted with water-tube boilers with satisfactory results, and in 1892, the Boiler Committee, which gave special advice to the Admiralty, recommended the adoption of these boilers for the new cruisers, and the Sharpshooter was fitted with Belleville boilers and another vessel with water-tube boilers of another type. Then the Admiralty sent out that despised Frenchman—who, by the way, was no more a Frenchman than the hon. Member for Gateshead was—they sent 850 an engineer officer to examine the working of these boilers on board the large ships belonging to the Messageries Maritimes, and that officer no doubt spoke French; but as he was to be on board French ships, and to talk to French engineers, they considered that was rather a qualification for his mission. This officer went to Australia and back, and his report on the working of these boilers was entirely satisfactory. The next step was that the Committee on Machinery Designs expressed satisfaction at the proposal to use Belleville boilers for the Powerful and the Terrible. In the circumstances he could not see how the Admiralty could have acted otherwise than they did. Sir William White's opinion was in favour of these boilers, and the House, he was sure, would receive with respect his testimony, even on a point of technical engineering. But there was a more important authority still—namely, the Engineer-in-Chief of the Navy, Mr. Durston, who was really responsible for the adoption of these boilers. The Admiralty, he affirmed, had dealt with this matter as they were bound to deal with all technical matters. Other points raised by the hon. Member for Gateshead he need not refer to, as they had been disposed of already by several speakers, including the right hon. Member for Ormskirk, who could not subscribe to a denunciation of the policy of the Admiralty in general, because that would be to condemn himself. He would say, generally, however, that the hon. Member for Gateshead was wrong in what he had said respecting the Blenheim, the Viking, the Blake, and the Hornet. He trusted that the House would be of opinion that he had vindicated the action of the Admiralty, inasmuch as he had shown that the Board had sought the best advice obtainable, and had acted consistently upon it. The Admiralty were told that the advantages of these boilers were, higher steam power, less weight for a given steam power, and greater command of steam. 851 Those were specific advantages as to which they had had strong and professional assurance, and in that assurance they had taken the step of introducing them into these large ships. He hoped that hon. Members would now allow the Speaker to leave the Chair.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
pointed out that the allegation was that the boilers of the Hornet had been taken out. He would like to know whether that statement was true, because the Hornet was one of a large number of vessels so fitted, and if it was shown that the boilers had failed, it would be rather a serious thing.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
said, the tubes of the boilers of the Hornet were being changed from copper to steel, and that was going on while the vessel was under repair. He would give full particulars in Committee.
§ MR. W. ALLAN
said that it was impossible to change the tubes without taking out the boilers, and he would ask the hon. Gentleman whether these boilers were not now lying in a corner of the dockyard, and the ship open and practically gutted.
§ DR. CLARK (Caithness)
asked why the Admiralty did not send some useful torpedo catchers to prevent the illegal trawling that was going on in the North. The Scotch Office, finding it impossible to get any decent vessels from the Admiralty, had prepared estimates for buying vessels. He thought it was time for an understanding as to whether they were to be fleeced by the Admiralty or not. There were nothing but old ships of something like eight knots employed in this work, and they had to control trawlers steaming 15 knots. It would be admirable work for torpedo catchers. If there were 20-knot steamers to look after the trawlers, an end would very soon be put to what was going on. He warned the Admiralty that unless something was done they would hear a great deal more of this matter when the Speaker left the Chair.
852 The House then went into Committee of Supply,
§ (In the Committee.)