Motion made and Question proposed—
That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair for Committee of the Navy Estimates.
§ *THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. G. J. GOSCHEN, St, George's,) Hanover Square
I rise to ask 1253 this House to grant a colossal sum for the Navy Estimates. That sum is £23,780,000. But that does not represent the total projected expenditure on Naval services. To that must be added £1,775,000 which will be spent under the Naval Works Act. Thus the total sum which we have to administer will amount to £25,555,000. The House will, I hope, appreciate the sense of responsibility under which I propose these Estimates at this time. I have no doubt of the readiness of this House to grant these sums. In fact, if I have any doubt it is whether in some quarters they will think that I have not asked enough. But, however that may be, this is the sum which the representatives of the taxpayers of this country are asked to grant, and the taxpayers of the country are entitled to know that they have full value for their money. I trust the Board of Admiralty may be able to give such an account, in the Debates which are going to take place, of the present position of the Navy as may satisfy the public that we are doing our very best. On this occasion I propose rather, if I may say so, to speak to the House in general and to the public in general than to those experts and specialists who take a particular interest in the items of our programme They will have an opportunity of administering, in due time, their able and searching interrogations, and I shall be prepared to go into any detail they may wish. To-night I would rather give a broader and more general view of the situation as revealed by these Estimates. I wish, if possible, to avoid what is called official optimism. We are sometimes decoyed into optimism by the extravagance of the pessimists. But I am anxious to place the truth before the House. I think the truth, though still revealing a situation in which nothing is perfect, shows, at all events, that great progress has been made. I wish to remind the House once more that we are in a transitional state, and many of the deficiencies—the admitted deficiencies—of the Navy are due to this transitional condition. This transitional condition is accompanied by a series of improvements which we are anxious to introduce even while we are expanding, and if we have to increase the number of our ships, the number of men, 1254 the size of our dockyards, and the manufacture of our guns, and if we are at the same time to improve the guns, to improve the ships, and to carry out reforms in almost every branch, the task, as the House will acknowledge, becomes still more complicated. The very improvements that we are making seem to throw all that has been done before into the shade. New guns have been introduced. We have so large a fleet that the introduction of new guns, if they are to be introduced everywhere, is an operation of time, and so it happens that, while we are furnishing our new vessels with new and more powerful guns, vessels which a few years ago were considered excellently armed are now considered to be armed obsoletely, or, as an hon. Friend of mine expressed it, are armed with nothing more than old ironmongery. We are going forward in every branch. I can illustrate the difficulties of this expansion by our dockyards. We have to refit and repair in proportion to the number of ships in commission, so that there may easily be a congestion, not only in our dockyards at home, but sometimes also in our dockyards abroad. Take the case of the Mediterranean. In that squadron we have now 40 ships of all kinds. A very few years ago we had 20 ships. But the dockyards must rise to the occasion, and, if possible, deal with the repairs, those constant repairs, of these 40 ships, which hon. Members know must inevitably occur in the case of every fleet. We cannot fit out or commission more ships than the dockyards can deal with. Consequently, as I said, during this process of expansion we must be prepared to find imperfections in many directions. Many Members of the House will remember the splendid display in July last, when they saw a magnificent gathering of British ships. At the Admiralty we were not dazzled by that display. We did not think that it meant that we had done enough. It did not seem to us to mean that we had reached a state of perfection. It was great, but we want to do more. It was satisfactory, but it did not reach the ideal standard, if ever that standard could be reached, which every Board of Admiralty desires to reach. To show the enormous advance that has been made, and the immense increase of that which 1255 we have to administer, let us for one moment give a glimpse into a rather distant past. In the year 1872 I stood at this Table as First Lord of the Admiralty, and I then proposed Estimates of which the total was £9,500,000. To-day I ask for over £23,000,000. At that time I asked for 61,000 men and boys. To-day I ask for 106,000. I asked them for money to commission 124 fighting ships. To-day we ask for money which will commission 258 fighting ships. I admit the contrast covers a long interval, but, after all, it is no longer than the administrative phase in the life of a Member of Parliament. Let me take a much shorter period. Let us take a glance at how matters stood only ten years ago. Then we had 139 fighting ships in commission, with 24,800 men. To-day we have 258 fighting ships in commission, with 50,300 men. That is to say, we have in commission ships holding twice the number of crews which we had only ten years ago. Where are they? Those who are with me know precisely where those ships are, but it will be interesting to the general public to hear how our ships are distributed. In the first place, there is the Channel Squadron, more powerful than any Channel Squadron we ever before had in commission; and that Channel Squadron is not confined to that area which its name would seem to imply. The Channel Squadron was a few days ago off the western shores of the Mediterranean and we have in the Mediterranean itself a number of ships. The Channel Squadron has an offensive, as well as a defensive, intention in time of war; and the closer defence of our shores and the seas around these islands in time of war will be intrusted to reserve ships which are now kept in commission; therefore it must not be supposed that the Channel Squadron is simply a squadron which operates in the Channel. Then we have the Mediterranean Squadron, of which I need say no more; a squadron on the North American Station, on the South American Station, on the Western shores of the American Continent, and in all these regions we alone, with the exception of France, which keeps a small squadron for the protection of the Newfoundland fisheries—we alone have squadrons where other nations have isolated 1256 ships. I do not include, of course, those nations who have their homes on the American continent. Then we have the Australian Squadron, the East India Squadron, the Cape Squadron, the China Squadron, and, let me remind the House, that with the exception of the Channel Squadron all these squadrons remained at their stations when that great naval mobilisation took place last year; the ships which took part in that mobilisation were those which remained over after the squadrons were left at their various stations. Then we have another resource. A system baa been introduced, and I think it is a good system, that when we have to reinforce or relieve our foreign squadrons we do not send out crews in freight ships or troop ships; we send out a fully-commissioned, fully-manned man-of-war, so that at all times, besides our squadrons at the stations, we have traversing the seas a certain number of ships in commission ready for war if war should arise at any time. I will illustrate this by reference to what happened recently, though there was no war, and I hope there will be no war. The Edgar was going out carrying relief crews for the China Squadron. It was thought desirable that that vessel should remain on the China Station, and that ship remained at the station in the natural course of administration to reinforce the China Squadron. Another instance was that of the Orlando; she was coming home from Australia and was detained at Singapore, and if need arose this was a further strengthening of the squadron. I mention this to show how we stand as regards our squadrons, and how ships from the East India Squadron, from Australia, and the Pacific can, if necessary, be called upon to strengthen our squadron in the Far East and in the China Seas. I think I need not say that I have by no means exhausted the enumeration of the ships afloat that we have to administer. We have training ships and surveying ships, and ships of other classes, and demands are made upon the Admiralty from all quarters. Australia is clamouring for a survey of her coasts in every direction, and we do what we can; but our surveying ships must be limited in number, because we cannot spare more than a certain number of 1257 officers competent to deal with that duty. We are anxious to keep up with the demands of our fellow-subjects, but they are numerous, and we are not always able to comply with their desires. Both England, Scotland, and Ireland have recently urged us to undertake the duty in connection with protecting fisheries against trawling around the shores of these islands. I have spoken of the general distribution of our squadrons. We have reinforced the China Squadron. I have told the House one means by which that squadron has been reinforced by the Edgar and the Orlando. We have also sent two ships from the Mediterranean, the Bar-fleur and the Victorious, and I am able to say that these two ships will be replaced in the Mediterranean by the Illustrious and the Hannibal, which will be ready in a few weeks. All this has been done quietly and unostentatiously. We prefer to celebrate the home-coming of ships rather than their send-off. But I can speak, however, of one gallant send off, and that was the start of the Bar-fleur. This ship had been in commission three years, and was due to come home; the crew were to be relieved in the ordinary course by the crew going out. The captain of the ship, officers, and men petitioned that they should be left with their ship, and amid ringing cheers, forgetting their long absence from home, forgetting they had been away three years, and forgetting their desire to return, asked to be allowed another spell of duty on foreign service. That is the kind of start I think that British opinion appreciates and prefers. I trust, and I believe I judge the Navy aright, that the men are not yet infected with the ostentatious sensationalism which is becoming somewhat the fashion of modern times, but prefer the quieter, simpler traditions of the service. Now, as regards the Victorious. She passed through the Suez Carnal with perfect ease and safety, and, as I think has been stated at this Table before, the accident that unfortunately happened to her had absolutely nothing to do with the passage through the Suez Canal. "But how was it," it may be asked, "we were never told before that ships of the Victorious class could pass the Canal? Well, I do not think it is necessary for the Admiralty to speak in advance of all 1258 its resources. We knew that we had nine ships of a class that could pass through the Suez Canal, but we did not announce this from the house-tops. We were told we could send no assistance, that we were left with the Renown as the only ship that could pass through the Canal, and a question, put by an hon. Member of this House surely must have been prompted by a practical joker, "Why not send a ship of the Canopus class?" when it must have been perfectly well known that no ships of this class are completed. We have ships which can pass through the Canal; and I say now, with an emphasis I hope the House will pardon, I hope we shall never be pushed by questions in the direction of saying prematurely what we can do, where we shall send our ships, what stations we shall reinforce, or how we shall distribute our ships. If times should grow darker than now they are, if timidity is shown in this or that direction, and we are pressed to say, "Will you defend this point or that point, will you strengthen this squadron?"—then I hope we shall have such confidence given to us by the House of Commons and the public that we shall be allowed to hold our peace and steadily do our duty. To my references to these general considerations I may be permitted to add one more general observation. It is, I know, sometimes considered that we act without system at the Admiralty, that we have no system in our combinations, in the number of our ships of different classes that we construct, and that we have no strategic plans if war should break out. I do not know on what facts such a view is founded, except the fact that we do not much report upon our schemes, or talk about the system we are adopting; and, there, again, I hope it may not be necessary for us to do so. But I can assure the House, standing here as Minister, that the distribution of our cruisers is very carefully considered as regards every trade route and every route by which our food supplies arrive. There is no haphazard in the number and class of cruisers we build, and we modify our plans as we observe new elements coming forward in the situation we have to deal with. The charge is that we have no system. We have our system, and work upon it, though, let me assure the House, there 1259 is no tendency to official optimism. Every day new factors enter into our strategic considerations. The balance of power varies; navies vary in the rate of increase; new fleets are created. For instance, the Japanese fleet is a new factor in strategic considerations, and there are naval developments by Germany and other nations. All these matters must continually modify our plans, and we do not wish simply to say, "We must ask the House of Commons for a few more ships in order to satisfy the public demand," without knowing at the time why we ask for them and what we have in view in making the demand. I would now submit to the House some points connected with the personnel of the Navy. As the House will have seen from my statement, there is an increase of 6,340 men of various ratings. We asked for a similar number last year, and it was granted, and I am glad to be able to assure the House, as it will see from the statements before it, that we had no difficulty whatever in securing the 6,300 men that we asked for. There is a constant misapprehension upon this point, which it is very difficult to eradicate, and that is that we cannot get enough, boys to be trained into seamen. That is an entire mistake. As a matter of fact, we have offers from various localities, saying, if we would only send a ship to such and such a port, they would find us as many recruits as we require. Not only can we get sufficient boys, to fill the gaps that we desire, but we have enough to enable us to pick and choose and to eliminate those whom it is undesirable to have or who are below the standard. I do not think we take more than one boy out of eight of those who present themselves; therefore, we have no difficulty whatever about finding boys. We ask for an increase of 6,300, but that is not the whole amount we have to find in the course of the year, because, besides that number, we have to supply others to provide for the waste, which is about 10,000 on our 100,000 men, or about 10 per cent., so that we have to find as many as 15,000 or 16,000 entries in the course of the year. In the course of last year we not only raised 6,000 men, but we raised 6,000 men and boys besides the numbers necessary to provide for the waste of the year. When we increase the Navy in this way we do 1260 not, of course, in the first month or two recruit the whole. It would be most injudicious to do so. There are some persons who will say, "You want more men, why not take them all at the same time?" But if we did so we should not be able to keep up the standard; we should disorganise the general recruiting service; and those connected with the Army as well as the Navy know that a regular system of recruiting is infinitely better than spasmodic recruiting. You are better able by degrees to secure the men whom you want, and that is the only reasonable way to distribute the recruiting, both for boys and marines, over the whole of the year. I may say, in passing, that we have the same system on the Northampton, under which recruits of somewhat older age than those who go into the ordinary training ships are engaged round our coasts, and it has been very successful, and the boys are well reported of in all the squadrons in which they are serving. One new additional training ship has been established—namely, the Black Prince. She is perfectly fitted up for her duty of training boys at Queenstown. Hon. Members will see in the statement which I have circulated that we have appointed a Recruiting Committee, and that Committee is doing good work. What we are anxious to do is to spread recruiting all round the coasts and all over the country, not to take too many men from one locality, but to open up the whole country for our recruiting purposes; and it is with that intent we are endeavouring to improve our recruiting system. As regards stokers, I may say that our recruiting has been improved very much during the last few months. The paucity of men, naturally, constantly forms a prominent part of the debate as to the condition of the Navy, as will be seen from my statements. When, on the occasion of the Jubilee, we had all those ships mobilised, some 37,000 men were manning that mobilised fleet. Those ships were all fully manned—manned like ships commissioned for war. But, nevertheless, it was said in a leading organ of public opinion it was well known that these ships were undermanned to the extent of 30 or 40 per cent. Such a statement ought never to have been made; it was absolutely untrue. They were not undermanned at all. Well, it, 1261 was because of that statement, that two statements were made, which I may perperhaps notice. One came from France, and it was this—That so difficult had it been to man the ships during the Jubilee manœuvres that I had gone down personally 19 times to Portsmouth in order to hasten the manning of the ships.Another statement, which came from Germany, was that we had 20,000 foreigners in the British Navy, and that if these foreigners were withdrawn we should be unable to send our ships properly to sea. There are a few foreigners in the Navy, apart from the Maltese and Kroomen, but they are mainly confined to bandsmen and domestics of various classes and so on. Possibly in consequence of that statement, I had a letter from a gentleman in high office in one of the Colonies, who wrote that, as we had so many foreigners in the Navy, it would be wise on our part to attempt to recruit in the district in which he was. I have thought it right to call the attention of the House to these exaggerations to show that if by stamping on the ground I could at once produce another 10,000 fully-trained men, although I should rejoice to have them, I should not know where to put them. We cannot, and we will not, enter more men or boys than we can properly train, administer, house, and send to sea. We have gone forward steadily every year, and this year another 6,300 is required. We have proceeded systematically upon these lines, and we do hope that the House and the public will not hurry us into any measures which would give us only the numbers without having the trained and efficient numbers. As my hon. Friend behind me intends to raise the question of training, I will not say more on the subject of our personnel except this—no doubt we are short of officers, but I would point out to those who object to the changes we are making in the Britannia that, under the present system, we shall turn out 60 more officers every year than we turned out before. If they were of a worse quality the increased number would not be an entire advantage; but as we shall be able, we believe, to turn out 180 cadets as good as the 120 turned out before, everybody will admit that the 60 additional officers thus supplied every year is a great advantage and an important step, looking 1262 to the acknowledged paucity of officers. I now come to the question of the Naval Reserve, and I will confine what I have to say to a very few words on that point. The House may remember that we made a change last year in a direction which was approved of, I think, by almost everyone who took part in the discussion, but it was doubted whether it would succeed. That change was that in future we would only have in our Reserve men who would submit to six months' training on board a man-of-war. Well, I admit the experiment was one with reference to which doubt could be entertained whether the men would submit to six months' training. Of course, this was done partly in order to secure the fishermen around our coasts. It was thought they were a strong body of men, who could be induced to join the Reserve, but it was felt they must have some training on a man-of-war. That was the reason we imposed these conditions. For the first few months, I admit, I was exceedingly anxious with reference to the result of this experiment. The men came forward slowly. I inquired the reasons, and I found they were based on human nature. They said we had fixed the age rather too high; that fishermen married young, and would not leave their wives for so long a spell as six months. They also said they did not like the dress on board men-of-war; that they were accustomed to comforters and clothes which protected all their limbs, and that the attractive costume of the British bluejacket would not agree with fishermen. There were other reasons of that kind. Under the advice of the Registrar-General of Seamen, we reduced the age by one year, and the effect was almost instantaneous. Men who would not come because they were older would come when we took them before their affections had been engaged. Now, we have 600 good volunteers for this service, and I hope it will be a success. I will now call the attention of the House to the matériel of the Navy. In regard to shipbuilding, my statement shows in some detail the way in which labour strikes have disappointed our hopes. It is a deplorable circumstance. The House will be able to understand the intense anxiety with which we watched the strike week after week. There is one postponement, however, 1263 which is chronicled which was not due to the labour war, but to another circumstance. This is a somewhat more technical point than those which I have dealt with. You will observe that before the commencement of the battleships of the Formidable class, and the commencement of the four ships of the Crescent class—armoured cruisers—which the House allowed me to order in July last, there has been considerable delay. Yes, there has been delay, and we deplore it, and I am not at all sure that the right hon. Gentleman cannot but admit that there were some grounds for it. The principal cause of the delay in preparing the designs of the Formidable class and the cruisers of the Cressy class was due to the experiments necessary to develop the designs of the new 12in., 6in., and 9.2in. guns. These guns being of greater weight, longer, and giving a much higher velocity than the previous patterns of guns, required stronger mountings, and involved increase of weight in many directions, so that the design of the ship could not be completed until the design of the guns and their mountings had been approved. You may lay it down generally that armament dominates design, it affects the stability of the ship, it affects the dimensions, the displacement, the space of ammunition—it affects the ship in every direction. These new guns were much more powerful than the guns which we had before in our ships, and the Ordnance Committee had to make out the details, the guns had to be tried, and various processes had to be undertaken. We were in this dilemma: Should we wait a few weeks, or a month or two if necessary, until we had secured the best guns, or should we immediately put in hand the ships with a certainty that when they were completed it might be said we had floated our newest and largest ships with guns which were already superseded? I felt it was a very difficult question to decide, but it was the full and unanimous opinion of my colleagues and advisers that it would be unwise to proceed at once with the construction of these ships until we had got the designs for the guns completed. To have commenced the ships earlier would have involved accepting the old pattern 1264 of gun, and, therefore, it was well worth while to sacrifice the few weeks which were necessary to obtain the new design. For my part, I am perfectly convinced that we followed the right course. However that deals only with a portion of our programme, that portion which involved the commencement of these ships; but the real delay—the terible delay—has been the delay in the ships under construction, and the ships that were in dockyards for various reasons, but mainly the ships under contract. There are two aspects from which this has to be considered—the retarded completion of the ships and the effect upon finance. Of course, the whole finance of the firms has been disarranged, but the completion of the ships to us is the more important point. We have been thrown back—and I ask the House to realise this—a whole seven months in our construction of men-of-war. I am glad to say now that the men are working with a will. I understand, from all quarters, they have gone back to their work, and that work has been resumed with a good spirit on both sides, and it is hoped that now, with renewed energies they will be able to push on with the orders they have in hand, and to retrieve, to a certain extent, the arrears. It is a serious thing to disarrange the construction of a man-of-war. In my statement I gave the particulars as to each ship, but I will now give the House the general result of the postponement, irrespective of some of the details in the dockyards. The ships which would have been on the sea, and many of them in commission to-day but for the strike, are as follows:—one first-class battleship, three first-class cruisers, two second-class cruisers, and six third-class cruisers, in all 12 vessels, the latest and best examples of their classes in the Royal Navy. Besides, this squadron, it is practically certain that, instead of 25 30-knot destroyers having been completed by the end of the present financial year, 45 vessels of that class would have been ready for service. Well, now, I know the view which has been taken by an hon. and learned Gentleman opposite. He considers that if the Government had intervened by enforcing penalties on all the firms who were in arrear, we might have averted some of the worst effects of the strike.
§ *THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
I am delighted to hear it. I thought, from questions which the hon. and learned Member put in me, and the statement that he was going to call attention to the subject of the exaction of penalties on the Estimates—I thought, and still think, on the whole, that the hon. and learned Member was in favour of that course.
§ MR. ROBERTSON
I do not wish to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but I was simply asking for information. It depends on the information I receive whether I shall take that course.
§ *THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
I can conceive no more reasonable course; the hon. and learned Member is absolutely reasonable. But I am sorry that the paper which supports the hon. and learned Gentleman generally has made a violent attack on me, I am told, for this very reason. They say they hold me responsible for a portion of the results of the labour war, because we did not interfere by enforcing penalties. I quite understand that the hon. and learned Member would have a natural reluctance to introduce this point, because to enforce the penalties as suggested would have been an illegal step, as the decisions of the Courts have gone. As I understand those decisions, we should have had no right to enforce those penalties, and I indicated in the reply I gave that it would be, under any circumstances, an extremely difficult thing to exact penalties where a shipbuilding firm had not delivered in time, when the delay was caused by another firm—where there had been partly a lock-out and partly a strike—not delivering machinery in time. To penalise a firm in that way, or to take any course of that kind, would have outraged the sense of equity of the whole House. But I am glad to say that, while there has been postponement in every direction, it does not follow that the ships will be behind their contract times in all cases, because contractors often put in a date in order to secure themselves, with the full intention, and often with the full capacity, to deliver ships before 1266 the contract dates. That, of course, gives a certain margin, and although the ships will not be delivered as it was expected, nevertheless, they may, in many cases, I hope, be delivered within the contract dates. The sum which has not been spent in consequence of the delay is £2,270,000. I will not say that that sum has been entirely unspent, because a certain portion of it has been utilised. For instance, we have anticipated some of the demands for 1898–99 as regards armaments by granting a considerable sum out of this unspent money, we have hastened on repairs to a certain extent, and dealt with some of the expenses connected with the greater mobilisation of ships, the greater number of ships in commission, and the greater consumption of coal in the financial year. But, generally speaking, we have short-spent on new construction £2,270,000. Well, of that the instalments are all disarranged. We have not been able to get on with certain ships because the armour was not delivered and because the gun mountings were not delivered. Now, let the House thoroughly understand the situation. It may be asked why we have not spent more, and why we have not put it all on the coming year. That is a point I shall be able to explain in a very few words. When once a contract is fixed, the function of the Admiralty is simply to pay the instalments as the work proceeds; therefore, on ships under contract we cannot increase or decrease our expenditure if we wish to do so. So much is due to the contractors as they can earn, but not more. For such ships, therefore, we do not ask more than the proposed instalments to be earned in the year; that was the basis on which we framed the Estimates. Well, now, I wish the House to understand this, that the liability for ships under construction, without laying down a single new ship, on April 1st, including arrears of £1,400,000, is a sum between £7,000,000 and £7,100,000. If we carry on work in the dockyards, as we intend to do, these are the liabilities in which there is really no elasticity whatever. As regards the dockyards, I omitted to make this statement: we cannot largely increase the expenditure in our dockyards profitably, even if we wish to do so. We intend to keep up the strength of our workmen in the dockyards precisely as 1267 it stands now. We have kept the dockyards at full power during the whole of the year. If men were taken on for an emergency and subsequently discharged there would be discontent, and one of the charms of the Government service in the dockyards is its continuity. The contentment thus produced can only be secured by our not being tempted at any particular moment largely to increase the numbers at the yards, or to reduce them at other times. Therefore, I look upon work in the dockyards as rather a fixed quantity during this period of expansion of the Navy, and the elasticity, when it is desired, can only take place in laying down more ships to be built under contract. That brings me now to the point of the new ships we propose to lay down in the present year. Let me remind the House how we shall stand on April 1st, not only as regards finances, but as regards ships under construction. We shall have nine first-class battleships, 12 first-class cruisers, six second-class cruisers, 10 third-class cruisers, two sloops, four gunboats, and 41 torpedo boat destroyers. That will be the programme inherited by 1898–99 from 1897–98. That is the gigantic work on which the contractors and dockyards will be engaged. I cannot set down the value of these ships at a lower figure than £23,000,000 sterling. I am told that our programme for this year is a modest one, but that programme has to be grafted on to this other programme, which has to be carried out with all the energy which the contractors can put into the work and all the energy which the dockyards can put into it. I must say here, in regard to the dockyards, that while there has been local trouble here and there, generally, during this trying year, the temper of the men in the dockyards has been admirable and the work they have performed has been excellent. There has been splendid emulation between the different dockyards as to the speed and excellence with which they have produced their work. Well, then, these ships of which I have spoken hitherto are already under contract, or building in the dockyards. As regards our new programme, it is three battleships, four armoured cruisers, and 1268 four sloops. I offer the House no justification whatever for asking to be allowed to commence these ships. If I am challenged in regard to them I expect that it will be from a small section on the other side of the House, while there will be many speakers prepared to state why it is necessary that we should build those ships. I ought to add that this is not the whole programme really for 1898–99, because the House will remember that there were four armoured cruisers authorised in July last, in anticipation of the programme of 1898–99, so that we really have eight armoured cruisers and four sloops which belong to the new programme. And now as regards battleships. We have considered that three is the proper number of battleships to propose for the Navy, after a careful study of what has been done by others. We wish to maintain the standard at which we have been trying to arrive for so long, and we wish to exceed that standard if it were possible. But at present the general tendency in shipbuilding of some of our rivals—I do not know by what other name to call them, and I certainly do not call them foes—for power on the sea has been transferred rather to cruisers than to battleships, and it is to cruisers accordingly that we are directing our main attention. With reference to the battleships, and the cruisers which are to be commenced in the course of this year, I must ask once more for the indulgence of the House in requesting them to allow me to put off any statement as to their nature to the very latest date possible in the course of this Session. If they are not to be begun early in the financial year is it wise for us to state precisely the style of ship we intend to build? One thing I will say, and that is that I am afraid they will be very costly ships, but they will also be very powerful ships. We secure much advantage by the commencement of ships by other Powers in ascertaining precisely the class of ship—its speed, shape, and armament—which we may possibly have to meet, but I am unwilling to give them a corresponding advantage so long as the House of Commons will trust us to put off to a later period of the Session—if necessary to when Vote 8 is taken—the discussion of 1269 the description and speed of these special ships which we propose to build. We have received so much courtesy at the hands of right hon. Gentlemen opposite in this respect that I hope they will give me that confidence again. One word, and an important one, upon the reasons why it would not be possible, why we could not with advantage lay down more ships in the course of the coming financial year. I am now addressing myself to those who think we are not doing enough. I would point out that it is no good to lay down ships, and no one will dispute it, I am sure, unless you can calculate that the material for them will be delivered pari passu with the labour on them. For instance, it would be unwise to check their progress for want of armour. Rapid construction is economical; but to begin ships and not to be able to finish them—taking the men off and putting them on other work until you get the armour—is a process which we cannot really recommend. Now let the House remember that formidable list of ships I have just mentioned. There are nine battleships, and of the 12 first-class cruisers four are armoured ships, so that we have 13 armoured ships requiring armour in the course of the coming year; and we do not think that we could rely on such an output of armour as would justify us in hastening the construction of armoured ships early in the coming financial year. The output of armour has been thrown back partly owing to the labour difficulty to which I have already referred, but it has also been thrown back by the introduction of new processes of manufacture by which better results can be obtained, but which have required a rearrangement of machinery. It has been suggested that we should ourselves construct works where armour could be manufactured, but I do not think the House generally would be inclined to encourage us in such a task. We have, indeed, enough upon our hands, and our establishments are large enough without undertaking new great Government works of this kind. It is a safe rule to lay down, that if you can fairly secure the article to be manufactured by private enterprise it is unwise to check the development of the enterprise by the Government undertaking 1270 the work themselves. At all events, it would be a long and costly process, and I do not think it would be wise to undertake it. Well, then, we have got, as I have said before, a liability already of £7,000,000 on April 1st irrespective of any new ship, and now we have the additional liability pulaced upon us of laying down three battleships, four cruisers, and some small ships. I do not wish to mortgage 1899–1900 further than it is mortgaged by this programme, but rather to keep it for the House of Commons, and the Admiralty, to judge in about a year's time how we can best utilise any further resources we can rely on in 1899–1900. This is an argument which runs side by side with what I have already stated, that we should not inform our foreign friends of the course we intend taking. I desire to reserve to the Admiralty the liberty, so that when we come to the end of 1898–99 we may not find that we have incurred such liabilities in that year that if we want one description of vessel more than another we are hampered by the previous liabilities we have incurred. For instance, it might be thought necessary to lay down another large ironclad, which would influence the Vote for the year to the extent of £500,000, but when the time came we might find it desirable to spend the money on cruisers, and therefore from that point of view I only now propose this modest programme. I will not say what this modest programme will cost, because that would give too much of a clue to the class of cruiser we intend to build. I have stated that they will be powerful cruisers, and they will be adapted to those special circumstances which last year and this year have revealed themselves in different parts of the world. I must thank the House for the attention with which they have listened to me so far. There is one great department of activity which I have not yet touched upon, the main exposition of which I will leave to my hon. Friend the Civil Lord of the Admiralty; that is the action which we have taken under the Works Act of last Session. We have been much disappointed in the progress of the works; we have been disappointed at Hong Kong, where we have not been able to get hold of the land; we have been disappointed at Gibraltar; and we 1271 have been disappointed in the extension works in several other localities. I do not say that the unspent amount of money is an exact criterion of the work that is not done, because it depends frequently upon the capital and resources of the contractor. If the contractor can go on for some time without asking for instalments, work may be done which represents money, but money which has been earned but which has not been asked for until a later day. We have not got the money entirely in our hands. But I will admit fully that we have been disappointed. We have had many disappointments. I have sometimes heard it said: Are the Admiralty aware that the works at Gibraltar are not making sufficient progress; or are they aware that no steps have yet been taken in such and such a direction? Yes, we are aware; and who so much as we are likely to deplore these delays? Who so much as we are likely to be mortified with the arrangements that have been made and which cannot be carried out? And who so much as we can deplore the fierce struggle and between capital and labour, which has deprived us of ships by which we had hoped to reinforce squadrons, and bring them up to their strength? We may be criticised for these delays, but it is we who suffer from them most; and as for my Naval and professional colleagues, who are criticised, and naturally criticised too, I ask the House to remember their position. They work on unostentatiously, quietly, and loyally; they are not cheered by any demonstrations of popular audiences. They may not take pen in hand in order to explain, contradict, or refute. They must bear chilling criticisms in silence, but they have this comfort, that they see, notwithstanding all the imperfections with which any great administration such as ours must necessarily be charged—they have, at all events, the comfort of seeing the fleet expanding from year to year, and from month to month. The fleet has been expanding, the personnel has been expanding; our guns have been improved, and there have been improvements in every direction, and for the organisation of all these, they deserve the chief credit at the hands of the nation. Yes, Mr. Speaker, expansion 1272 and improvement are going on, and though it is difficult for them to keep step through the labyrinth of difficulties, they are pressing forward. The Admiralty can do much, but it cannot do all. The State can do much, but it cannot do all, even if a generous House of Commons and a generous public consent to continue to place such colossal sums at our disposal. We require the steady co-operation of other interests. We require the steady co-operation also of those who represent the maritime interests of this country. We require, too, the steady co-operation of the manufacturing centres. If in those centres which have been the pride and strength of the country; those engineering and manufacturing centres which have been so famous for their work—if there the furnaces are extinguished; if there the men are standing out, or are locked out—I do not care how it may be, for we have no politics at the Admiralty, and we know nothing of trades unionism, and we only want to see the work of the country properly done; if the sons of our seamen take less and less to the sea; if, from some false idea of economy, or from the imposition of impossible conditions on the other side, British sailors are being ousted by foreigners from British ships then I say God help this country. It is not only with respect to our men-of-war, and not only with respect to the crews of our ships when war is likely to break out that "England expects every man to do his duty." There are other classes to which we may appeal, and there are other services which the nation has got a right to command; and if once more peace and harmony should reign in those great centres of industry, and if the maritime instincts of this nation which calls itself the mistress of the sea should re-assert themselves, and show again an increasing number of British seamen in the British mercantile marine, then, with the splendid spirit of the personnel of the Navy, and with the generosity of the taxpayers of the country, the nation may look forward with ever-increasing confidence to this prospect, that if there be peace, which God grant, it may be peace shrined in honour; and if there be war, which God forbid, it may be war crowned with victory.
§ *MR. WILLIAM ALLEN (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
I rise to call attention to the country's deficiency in ships and men, and to move—That this House desires to see a fuller provision for manning the fleet.I do not think the right hon Gentleman has upon this occasion indulged in any official optimism. The story that he told us is not one, I think, calculated to make us feel very satisfied with the strength of our Navy at the present time. He has told us that we have got fewer ships than we ought to have if it had been possible to carry out our programme. He has told us that though there has been a great deal of activity in the naval works in different parts of the world, at Hong Kong and Gibraltar, yet that the work is behindhand, and he has told us that he would desire to have spent more of the money voted, if we possibly could have, for the Navy. It seems to me that altogether it would need somebody with a light heart to have dealt with any official optimism in regard to the statements the right hon. Gentleman has made in the House. Mr. Speaker, I do not want to attempt to make any Party attack of any kind on the Admiralty or the right hon. Gentleman. I regard the question of Imperial defence as of such transcendent importance that it ought to be altogether outside of the circle of Party politics, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not think that in anything I am going to say I am endeavouring to make any Party points against the Navy. Now, Mr. Speaker, to one who, like myself, is not an expert in Navy matters, it is necessary to go to the Admiralty returns and to the various information that has been given in this House by the First Lord of the Admiralty and other Naval experts, in order that we may be able to judge what the standard of efficiency of our Navy should be in regard to the other navies of the world. I have endeavoured to do this, and I find that there is one standard that has been accepted by the leaders of both political parties in this House as the irreducible minimum which this country should have. Lord George Hamilton, in introducing the Defences Act in 1889, said—I think I am correct in saying that that idea" (the idea underlying all Naval Minister's 1274 and Prime Ministers' speeches) "has been that our establishment should be on such a scale that it should be at least equal to the naval strength of any two other countries. For the purpose of meeting unexpected blows we should have a considerable margin of reserve.Then Lord Brassey, in the Naval Annual for 1889, said—Our standard of strength in battleships should be twice that of France.Now I think that is the admitted standard, and it is common ground with both sides of the House that the irreducible minimum from which this country should not, under any circumstances, fall is supremacy over the next two strongest navies in the world combined. Now, Mr. Speaker, I do not wish at the moment to argue whether this is a satisfactory standard to set up or not. But taking this standard, which is admitted by both sides of the House I believe, I shall be able to show that our Navy is weaker now, compared with the next two strongest navies of the world, than it was in 1889, than it was in 1894, and than we were last year; and that it will be still weaker on the completion of our present naval programme of 1899 and the following year. And yet the right hon. Gentleman tells us that we have made great progress. He tells us that the improvements of the last few years have put all other improvements of the past absolutely in the shade. I think it can be proved—and the figures of the Admiralty prove it—that, in regard in France and Russia—the next two strongest naval Powers—figures show our improvements are more imaginary than real, and that no really satisfactory progress in regard to the strength of our Navy has been made. The Return of 1889 gives our strength in armoured ships, and it also sets out what the standard of strength for this country should be. For the purposes of the comparison that I am now going to make, I only intend to take first and second class battleships. These will be our first line of defence, and on our great battleships we shall have to depend principally in the event of a possible combination between any two Continental nations. In 1889 we had battleships completed, 32; France and Russia had 1275 21. In 1894 we had 31; France and Russia, 26. In 1897 we had 35; France and Russia, 33. In 1899 we should have 46; and France and Russia, 45. So, taking the Admiralty's own Standard and their own figures that they have put before the House, we are considerably less strong in battleships now than we were 10 years ago in relation to France and Russia. We have increased our battleships by a total of 14 in that period, and they have increased theirs by a total of 24. Of course, this is making an allowance for ships that have been removed to lower classes, and for ineffective ships that have been struck off the list. In all, since 1889 we have built 29 battleships, all first-class. France and Russia 23 first class, 7 second, and 13 third—in all 43. So far as numbers are concerned, it seems to me that we are drifting into a very serious position, and that we are not going forward in the right direction, as the First Lord of the Admiralty told us a few moments ago. But these figures do not represent how bad the case really is, for we shall not have reached these figures in 1899. The delay that has been caused by the strike during the past year in our building programme puts us seriously behind. According to the First Lord's memoranda, and according to the calculations of the Admiralty made last year, if this country were to be considered safe at the present time we ought to have spent nearly £2,500,000 on new construction more than we have done, and we are that much behind in our programme; and of the battleships, four of which the First Lord of the Admiralty promised should be completed last year by the time he next made his statement on the Estimates, only one has been completed. I know he told us that two others, the Illustrious and the Hannibal, will very soon be launched, but they have been delayed, and the six ships of the Canopus class, the First Lord told us, were seven months behind. Altogether, the delays of last year means that we have lost 12 months in our construction programme, and we shall be 12 months behind for the next few years. The only vessel upon which there seems to have been any real progress made during the past year is the Royal yacht, and that vessel seems to be nearly completed. In 1899, according 1276 to the First Lord of the Admiralty's statement of what we were really doing, it seems to me that we shall be six battleships short, representing a tonnage of 77,000 and 91 guns. If we had to go to war with any combination of the great Continental Powers, it seems to me that our position would be a very serious one. Now, it has been urged in this House that we can build our ships so very much faster than France and Russia that it did not very much matter if we got slightly behind in any one year, but that argument has ceased to have the same weight now that it used to have, seeing that France is now building almost, if not quite, as fast as we are. The Jéna was launched six months after she was commenced, and some other French vessels have been launched in eight months, so that the great advantage that we had over others in the past, when France was building very slowly and we were building comparatively fast, has vanished, for the French are now building, as I said before, almost as fast, if not quite as fast, as we are. It is the case that our ships are very much larger than the ships of France and Russia, or of any other Power, and in that way we may be said to possess an advantage; but it is more an apparent advantage than a real advantage, because our ships have to carry much more coals on account of the distant stations in which they have to serve, that the size does not generally represent stronger armament, but only additional coal carrying power; and, therefore, they would not be stronger than foreign ships of 4,000 or 5,000 tons less when it came to the time of battle. Then there is another serious defect in respect of eight of the vessels which, in the Admiralty Return, are reckoned as effective second-class battleships. Eight of these are still armed with muzzle-loading guns. Now, does the First Lord of the Admiralty propose to re-arm these vessels? It is a most important point, but he told us nothing whatever about it to-night. Is it possible to re-arm them? It has been said that in the Alexandra and the Rupert the funnel casing comes up through the battery, so that it would be impossible to re-arm them with modern breech-loading guns. In another two, the turrets are so constructed that the cost would be so vast 1277 if they were to be re-armed, that it would be almost cheaper to build new ships. But, however that may be, I maintain that the Admiralty are not justified in counting these amongst their effective ships—amongst the ships that would be capable of meeting the ships of a foreign Power, armed with breech-loading guns. The First Lord of the Admiralty said, a few years ago, that we ought to trust in Providence in this respect. Mr. Speaker, I am inclined to think that Providence would not be likely to help us in battle if our ships were armed with muzzle-loading guns against the ships of an enemy armed with breech-loading guns. Up to the present, in numbers, in strength, and in armaments I do not think we have that superiority to any other two Powers in the world. It has always been maintained as the irreducible minimum that this country ought to have a Navy sufficiently strong to deal with the combined navies of any two other Powers. But this is not the standard that has been considered necessary by experienced naval experts. After the Naval Manœuvres of 1888, a Committee of three Admirals was appointed to inquire into what standard this country ought to have, and they told us it would not be possible to blockade the enemy's ships, as it will be necessary for us to do if ever we are going to war with a combination of Continental Powers, with less than a proportion of five English vessels to three foreign ones. That standard has never been either accepted or given up by the Admiralty. If the Admiralty do not accept the standard, will they give us the reasons for not accepting it, and the reasons why they think that the standard set up by these three Admirals was too high a standard for this country to attain to? On one occasion the Government gave us a standard that they thought was a sufficient standard for this country. It was the standard set up in the Return of 1889. The present Secretary of State for India, who was then First Lord of the Admiralty, told us that the standard that this country should aim at is the standard of six English vessels to five, in first-class battleships, over possible opponents, and 4¼ to 2 in second-class battleships. We are not only below this standard set up as the standard that we ought to 1278 attain to by the First Lord of the Admiralty in the late Conservative Government, and a Member for the present Government, but we are below the standard of the three Admirals, and we are below the irreducible minimum that has been accepted by all parties; and, therefore, I cannot say that the Estimates and statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty are in any way satisfactory. But in all these standards it has always been contemplated that if we ever went to war it would be against a combination of two Powers. But, in considering our Naval Estimates, it seems to me that with our great commerce and our dependence on our Navy, we ought to consider the possibility of a still stronger combination being ranged against us. I think we have been able to realise during the last three weeks, when we have been hearing of wars and rumours of wars on every hand, that there is a possibility of a still stronger combination than the two strongest Powers that could be brought against us. In every part of the world there is a possibility of complications arising with three great foreign Powers—we have difficulties in West Africa with France and Germany, we have difficulties in Northern China with Russia, and at any time we may be called upon by the combination of these three Powers to evacuate Egypt; and it seems to me that we should be prepared to meet that combination. We have adopted what the Colonial Secretary called a policy of "splendid isolation"—a policy of disregarding alliances—and with that policy I, for myself, entirely agree, for I believe that when the time of danger came you could not depend upon your allies; but if we adopt that policy—if that is the settled policy of this country—we must be provided against every eventuality. We cannot at present consider we are safe if we are called upon to meet a combination of three Powers. We cannot afford to take any risks, and I believe that an all-powerful Navy—a Navy that would be capable of crushing any possible combination that can be brought against us—would be to the best interests not of war but of peace. The present Secretary of State for India, when, as First Lord of the Admiralty, he introduced his Naval Defence Act in 1889, told us of the enormous responsibility that our Navy would have cast upon it in time of war. The 1279 First Lord of the Admiralty has repeated that remark as to our responsibility. He has told us of the great mass of shipping and trade that our Navy would have to protect, and that a war between England and a combination of the great Continental Powers would be a war of limited liability on their part, but of unlimited liability on ours, because they could attack our Colonies and could crush us in every other part of Commons should very carefully paramount importance that the House of Commons should very carefully criticise the programme which the First Lord of the Admiralty has laid before us to-day, then, I believe, it will come to the conclusion that it is not sufficient to meet the requirements of the case. France and Russia this year are expending seven millions of money on new construction, and that is a larger expenditure than, I believe, has been known before. We read to-day in the papers that an additional ten millions has just been taken for the Navy of Russia. The First Lord of the Admiralty told us a year ago that there was a balance of power between the fleets of Europe, and that any extraordinary expenditure on the part of other Powers should mean an equivalent expenditure on our part. I do not think the First Lord of the Admiralty's estimates carry out his own idea as to this. We have this extraordinary expenditure on the part of other countries, and we have no extraordinary expenditure on our part to meet it. The First Lord of the Admiralty told us that it is impossible for him to finish the ships. I would, therefore, urge upon him the necessity of, as far as possible, pushing forward this extra building of ships to meet that, on the part of other naval Powers that may be against us. Also, at the same time, I would ask him to make provision for getting extra armour plates, and extra materials, to build these ships, if we are to be able to meet the difficulty I have mentioned as regards the large amount of money that is being expended by Continental Powers on their navies. During the last 30 years we have spent on new construction about £86,000,000, or an average of £2,800,000 a year, but we have no settled policy in our building expenditure. It varies between £800,000 and £7,000,000. France, on the other 1280 hand, in pursuance of a settled policy, has been gradually increasing her expenditure from year to year—an average of about £1,600,000 a year—and Russia has been doing exactly the same thing. There has been a steady rise in the expenditure on new construction of each of these Powers, but, again and again, when the First Lords of the Admiralty have come down to the House of Lords, they have assured us that they were perfectly certain that the Navy was as strong as need be; that there was no need for any new expenditure. The next year they came down and told us that the state of the Navy was unsatisfactory, and that, therefore, they needed much larger Votes of money. They have preserved no settled fixed policy with regard to this matter. In 1893, the right hon. Gentleman for West Monmouth told us that the Navy was in a perfectly satisfactory state. The next year we had an enormous expenditure on new armaments. In 1888 we were told that the Navy was in a satisfactory state, and that was followed by the Naval Defence Act of 1889. I have no wish to ask the House to believe, and I do not believe myself, that these statements were made in bad faith at the time, but, I say, they do show that we have in the Navy no settled building policy. These statements show that these Estimates rise and fall, and that, from year to year, the Admiralty do not look forward to what may be necessary to keep up the proper standard of strength. I would ask the First Lord of the Admiralty for a statement of the requisite number of ships in each class that it is necessary for us to have, so as to be able to meet any likely combination that may be brought against us; and I would ask him if he could give that in a Report to the House every year. I would like to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty a question with regard to our cruisers. There have been remarks made lately that the Powerful and Terrible have been unsatisfactory vessels. I have heard one statement that the engines were too heavy for the ships. It seems that there must be something seriously wrong during the time that the Powerful was going out to China. I would like, also, to ask the First Lord if he would give us a statement of how long it would take to send the A Division to sea; could it be done in 24 hours? Then, with re-regard 1281 to the manning of the Fleet, if I had heard the First Lord of the Admiralty's speech before putting the Resolution which I have put upon the paper, I should have moved an Amendment relating to ships as well as men, for it seems to me that in the First Lord's present statement we are more deficient in ships than we are with men, but, although his statement is fairly satisfactory in regard to men, I do not think it is altogether a satisfactory statement. He told us that, when the number of men was 106,000, it would be unwise to go beyond that in time of peace; but the First Lord, in his speech last year, told us that, when he built new vessels, new vessels meant more seamen, more marines, more of every kind of men. Therefore, if the First Lord has now come to his limit in men, and he still keeps to the statement he made the year before, he must also mean that he has come to the end of his programme, as far as building ships is concerned. There would be an enormous call on our men in the first few months of a war; it seems to me that there is no provision to meet such a strain. With the present Reserve, I do not suppose, in the first six weeks of a war, the First Lord of the Admiralty could rely on getting more than 10,000 to 15,000 men. It is in the first six weeks of a war that it would be necessary to man every cruiser to defend our trade routes. I would ask the First Lord of the Admiralty if he would lay a statement before the House of the number of men required to man every ship, and every class of ship, in the Navy? I think it would be satisfactory to have such a statement. We could then judge for ourselves whether the number of men now asked for is sufficient for all requirements. I do not think that the First Lord of the Admiralty's explanation in regard to the boys of the Navy was very satisfactory. He told us that he could get any number of boys for the Navy at the present time. Yet from his speech it seems that he had not got the number of boys that he was voted by the House last year. This does not seem to me to be a very satisfactory state of things. Altogether, I think that the programme now laid before us for new construction shows a very great weakness in ships. It shows, I think, we have fallen lamentably away from the standard of size which the 1282 House has given its assent to in the past. I therefore beg to move the Resolution standing in my name.
§ *LORD CHARLES BERESFORD (York)
Mr. Speaker, I do not believe that at any time in the history of this country it has been more important that we should have undoubted command of the sea. I have never heard a more frank or honest speech with regard to naval affairs, either in this House or outside, than that of the First Lord; but so far as new construction is concerned, it is a heart-breaking speech. I should like to say a few words with regard to the remarks of the First Lord as to the delay in carrying out the proposals made last year, and also as to the small number of ships proposed to be built this year. I should like it to be distinctly understood that I do not blame the authorities in any way whatever for the circumstances which have occurred, but I ask the House to consider whether the authorities are doing all they can under the circumstances with regard to increasing the Fleet. I consider the statement of the First Lord with regard to construction not only serious, but positively alarming, considering the preparations that are going on in other countries. The point I should like to urge is this: The First Lord tells us that he has spent £2,270,000 less for construction than he anticipated last year. What is the position? It is this, that the Government of the day, the Admiralty, and the Cabinet considered the expenditure of that money last year necessary to put our defences in proper order up to now. Therefore, we are that much short of what we ought to be at the present moment. This is a very serious question. I do not agree with the First Lord—but after his explanation it is rather difficult for me to make my point clear—that £1,400,000 is enough to add to this year's Estimate in order to make up that great deficiency in the construction of ships which are to defend our Empire in the event of war. In other words, we are going to take three years to make up this deficit, instead of doing, as I hold we should do, our level best to add it to this year's Estimates, and try to lay down or buy ships in order to fill up the 1283 Navy. There is another point. Last year the First Lord, in his speech on introducing the Estimates, declared—and it was very much taken notice of in the Press, and delighted all those people who looked to defence—that if other nations did increase their shipbuilding and their naval defences in any way, he should be prepared to come to this House and ask for more money. He did more than that, for, when other nations did show signs of increasing their forces at sea, he came to this House and asked for another £500,000, which shows that he himself thought at the time that that sum was necessary in order to keep pace with what other nations were doing. I maintain that at this moment we are not building up to our complete capacity. I have not been able yet to go through all the slips in the dockyards and all the slips in the contract yards, but the First Lord himself has acknowledged that the only elasticity that he has is in the private yards; and I believe myself that, looking to the gravity of the case, as I do, I think that we ought to get hold of every slip that we can in order to lay down ships at once to meet the needs that were regarded as absolutely necessary this time last year. I would point to another thing. I think it is most necessary that we should re-arm those vessels which are at present useless—there are 13 of them—and if they were re-armed, they would be most excellent vessels. Some years ago, I, myself, made a proposal to the Government when I was Captain of a Dockyard Reserve that we should re-arm these. I estimated that the cost would be about £1,300,000—and I do not think that it would amount to more—to substitute breech-loading guns of modern make for the useless ones that are at present mounted on these vessels. I think that under the circumstances which have arisen, and which can in no way be said to be the fault of the Government, any system of re-arming these vessels which can be done quickly should be taken into the consideration of the House. With regard to this question, we may be told that we could deal with that later, and that the issue of a war would be in favour of that country which had the greatest number of vessels to put to sea, and we shall then find that these vessels would be useful. I utterly deny that. These ships 1284 are at the present time armed with only muzzle-loading guns, and in addition to this they have neither the range nor the speed of more modern ships—that is to say that when they are out in blue water the modern ship can pick the position of advantage, because she has the speed, and she can always hit one of those ships armed with muzzle-loading guns, although the muzzle-loading gun ship cannot hit her. In their present condition, Sir, I say that these ships should be at once scratched off the effective list, as by their being allowed to remain there the public is deluded. While they are armed with muzzle-loading guns, as at present, the Government have no right to put them on the list of effective vessels, and I think that now is the time, when we are so backward in construction, that we should take this matter up. Then there is another question. I think, as the First Lord has got all this money, let it be spent. Why should we not buy all the ships that are at present being built in this country for foreign Powers? I believe we have a perfect right to do this. I know that we bought the Belleisle, the Orion, the Neptune, all of which were being built for Turkey, and the Superb, which was building for Brazil. I think it was in 1878, but, at any rate, we did buy those ships when there was just such an emergency as at present exists. There was no war, but there were rumours of war with Russia, and the Government of the day spent 4½ millions in buying those vessels. Sir, there are ships now on the stocks, and others that are being finished for foreign countries in many of our contractors' yards, and I think that it would be a very wise thing for the Government to immediately purchase all these vessels, As I said before, we are over £2,000,000 behind in our construction for last year. There is another point as to the increase of the Fleet. Owing to circumstances which have occurred recently, it is imperative that the Fleet should be largely increased. I will give my reasons for this statement. We have neglected for years a most important point, and that is the fact of our having adequate naval bases. If we do not have those bases, we must largely increase the Fleet. Batoum and Biserta were taken as naval bases, and we have taken nothing as a counterpoise. We have had a great deal of agitation 1285 and writing in the Press, and this and other things have induced the Government to at last put Gibraltar into something like an adequate state of defence. If it is necessary to put Gibraltar into a state of defence now, it was necessary several years ago to do so, and although a great deal has been done in this direction, much remains to be accomplished. I say that under the circumstances of the case they ought to have taken Alexandria. I believe we could have done it without any war at all, and made a naval base there. If we do not have naval bases we must have the fleet largely increased, because the ultimate issue of a campaign will rest with a fleet which can most quickly repair itself. You have now steel ships. The steel ships of the present day are not like the ships of the day when I went to sea. They are not self-supporting. In former days you would have on board spare spars and canvas to make new sails; but in these days you must go to her naval base to put her right and replenish her stores. How do we stand now? We have no naval base there. We have got Hong Kong, which is not as suitable as it ought to be as a naval base. My point is this, that the Government are not doing enough. Supposing they were going to have trouble with China, or there was anything looming on the horizon, what are we sending all those ships for? If there should be trouble there, how are we situated? Hong Kong is 960 miles from Chusan, and 1,500 miles from the theatre of war. I do not believe in the principle of "wait and wait and see what other people are going to do." Russia is perfectly right to go in Port Arthur, and say that "she is going to winter there." I should say her winter will last about 100 years. Let our First Lord of the Admiralty say that we were going to winter at Chusan in the same way. There is nothing of a threatening character in all this. It is simply looking after our trade and commerce. My point is this, that with the addition to the Fleet which the First Lord has sanctioned it is not big enough owing in our not having a naval base. I do hope that the Government will not go on with this waiting policy. I am as certain possible that Kiaou Chau will, in a in a short time, be fitted up as a proper naval base. In the course of a private conversation—I 1286 cannot say who told me—I was informed that an Admiral told the Government—As for Chusan, don't bother your head about it; we can always take it if we go to war.That Admiral, if he said such a thing, ought to be tried before a court martial for being a fool. What you want is a naval base for stores, reserve of ammunition, and repair of our ships, and everything we want to enable the Fleet to go out again as soon as it could and fight an action. The idea of taking Chusan if we went to war is so ridiculous that I will not trouble the House any more with it. The reasons why I hold that further steps ought to be taken are: First, that we are 2¼ millions behind what the Cabinet of the day thought absolutely necessary for our safety last year; secondly, that when you have a want of properly equipped naval bases throughout the world you must have a larger Fleet in those waters if you have no place for repairing; and, thirdly, because we are not building ships as quickly as we ought to do in relation to the shipbuilding of other Powers. In the old days, if there was any likelihood of increased estimates for armaments abroad, we could always beat foreign Powers in the rapidity of construction. I observe, however, that both France and Russia are able very nearly to construct as quickly as we can. That is a most serious thing when you come to consider that, we are two millions behind what we ought to be. There was the Gaulois, for instance, which was laid down in January, 1896, and was launched in October, 1896. It used to take them two years to construct a ship. It is a very serious thing for us to reflect that they can now be ready as quickly as we. Another ship in France was laid down in January, 1897, and launched in July, 1897, and a third was laid down in March, 1897, and launched in October, 1897. This, I repeat, is serious when you come to think of the enormous advantage over foreign nations we once possessed by reason of our rapidity of construction. On the question of the proportion between our navy and those of other Powers, which the hon. Member opposite has brought before the House, I do hope we shall stick to that proportion of three to two which was laid down by three of our most celebrated 1287 Admirals. Take the total of ships launched in the last ten years. The British nation has launched 22 ships of 300,000 tons, Whilst France and Russia have launched 29 ships of 273,000 tons. Therefore, the proportion of three to two has not been kept up at all, and I should like very much to see it kept up. When that proportion was agreed to by this House, I thought it was a very wise proposal. I agree with the hon. Member opposite in saying that the proportion has certainly not been adhered to of late years. The First Lord of the Admiralty made some comparisons which were very interesting, but which were of no use at all unless he put them beside other comparisons. It is true that at one time we asked for £1,000,000, and now we are asking for £23,000,000. That is a great increase, certainly, but he ought to have told us something also about the increase in the exports and imports. Ministers say, "Look at what we are doing now compared with what we were doing some years ago." I do not care if you treble your Navy. The point is, Are you doing enough to meet the needs of the defences of this great Empire? The First Lord has said that some of the critics of the Admiralty had made grave remarks about the system. I am afraid I must plead guilty to that; certainly, I have been severe on the system of the Admiralty. What I have always complained about with regard to the Admiralty is that they had no plan of campaign, and no system laid down as to what they would do if war were suddenly declared. Until last year there could have been no plan of campaign; they never, for instance, thought of fortifying their bases in the narrow seas—they never thought of Gibraltar. Now, such things are being done. They are fortifying their naval bases, they are putting reserves of ammunition into the different stations, and they are building ships to maintain the same rates of speed, and whose gearing is interchangeable. That shows we are at last beginning to have a system in the administration of the Admiralty; but when the First Lord says that distinguished Admirals in the Admiralty have no right of reply, have no right to say, "We do not agree with you for such and such a reason," I would point out to him that it would be impossible for any First Lord or any Government to propose these large 1288 sums of money necessary to keep our defences in order unless the people who settle the question know the reason why. Those of us who are critics have never in any way tried to throw discredit on the authorities, but merely have sought to strengthen their hands in the only way possible, for the only chance you have of getting the attention of the people is by pitching into the authorities. The First Lord said very wisely that he had no place to put the men. That is one of the things we have complained of for so many years. The Hartington Commission had clearly shown that our want of business-like arrangement at the War Office and the Admiralty put us in this position, that we were invariably making out our requirements before we made out our establishments. The First Lord's proposal was most business-like. He said he could only join a certain number in the year; he did not think he could train more. That is a most important point, for I do not think that we ought to join men in a hurry, unless we have places in which to train them. We ought to look after our establishments before making up our requirements. There is another point about the Reserves. The First Lord made a speech the other day in which he said he was perfectly satisfied with the number of the Reserves and the training of the Reserves. A few of us took exception to that. Some of us said very distinctly that we did not think they were sufficient in numbers, and that the men were being joined on a wrong principle. Since that the Admiralty have altered the system of training and of joining, as well as the class of men they were joining, and though we cannot say it is a success, yet those of us who are critics are willing to wait to see what the result is. I believe it will be very beneficial to our service, and that it will ultimately succeed. But I would like the First Lord in his reply, or the hon. Gentleman below me, to tell me, and tell the House, what they consider the number of the Reserve now completing ought to be. The First Lord said he was going to put off the building of the ships in order to see what other nations were going to do. I do not agree with that policy, considering that our Fleet is not up to the strength it ought to be. I hope the First Lord will reconsider that and build the ships as quickly as he can. 1289 I know the men can be got afterwards. There is the bottom of the ship to be laid down, and the other parts to be brought from different parts of the country to make it complete—the boilers, engines, guns, ammunition, and armour, all of which take a great deal of preparation and consideration before the ship is built. I have heard the First Lord say that he did not think it would be wise to increase the guns and armour. Over and over again we have seen good and very valuable men-of-war hung up because the plates and guns were not ready, and I think the Government should take it into their heads to see if they cannot increase the existing plant. I know when I was in Chatham we were hung up over and over again in the dockyard because the plates made at Sheffield, although very good, did not come to hand. Well, Sir, the other points which have been mentioned by the First Lord of the Admiralty I prefer to take up on the Vote, because I think the House will prefer that rather than that I should make a long speech now. The Reserves and the personnel would come before it on that Vote. But I cannot but record my opinion, as a very drastic critic, that I do think the Admiralty are doing the best under the circumstances, with the exception of this question of construction, and I do hope that in this Debate there will be a general feeling in the House that some greater part of this debt of £2,270,000 should be paid off than is at present, because my point is this: that if the Government thought this time last year that the Navy was unequal to our needs, and that it required strengthening, then at the present time we must be in a very serious state. Things did not look half so black then as they do now. The proposals for more shipbuilding for other countries were not then determined, and certainly were in no way accepted by those Governments. But they are now accepted by those Governments, and, having regard to the fact that we have done nothing respecting a naval basis in the Far East, I consider it absolutely imperative that we should take action in the matter. I do not want to adopt an aggressive attitude, but I think we must make China an offer to buy Chusan there, or do what Russia is doing, and go and winter there. I have the honour, 1290 Sir, to second the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ *MR. W. ALLAN (Gateshead)
Mr. Speaker, I have listened with very great pleasure to the speech which has been made by the First Lord of the Admiralty, and all that speech to me was very inspiring, especially when it came to the peroration. There were, however, some points in that speech which, I think, want a little elucidation in regard to what he so forcibly put—namely, the delay in building the vessels. The hon. and gallant Member who spoke last alluded to the short expenditure of £2,270,000 this year.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Member must confine his remarks to the Amendment which is now before the House, and which deals simply with the question of manning.
§ MR. SPEAKER
We have nothing to do with that question now. The hon. Member must confine himself to the question of manning.
§ *MR. ALLAN
Well, Mr. Speaker, I am not very well acquainted with the procedure of this matter, but I was coming to the point as to how the Government failed to spend the money on account of the loss of labour. Could I follow the hon. and gallant Member in the observations that he made in seconding the Amendment?
§ MR. SPEAKER
Not unless the observations were addressed to the question of manning, which, to some slight extent, they were.
§ MR. T. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
Sir, I fear I labour under the difficulty that the mover and seconder of the Amendment have not addressed themselves to it, but have dealt with entirely different subjects, and did not speak of it. Sir, I presume, nevertheless, that they will vote for that Resolution, although they used no arguments at all in support of it. But, although I propose to vote against the Amendment, I propose to speak to it. Sir, in the 1291 remarks which I wish to make—and they shall be as brief as I can possibly make them—I am sure I need not say that I am prompted by no animosity to the First Lord of the Admiralty or to Her Majesty's Government, but only by a desire to support some of the suggestions which I wish to see adopted. Still less let it be supposed that I intend to make any reflection upon the First Lord in his official capacity, because, Sir, I feel grateful—and I think the whole House feels grateful—to the First Lord for the manner in which he has conducted the administration of his Department. He has succeeded; others have equally taken credit; and it is worthy of remark that it has rarely, if ever, been found possible to pass anything like a vote of censure on the First Lord. Chancellors of the Exchequer are denounced as extortionate, on the one hand, and spendthrifts on the other; Foreign Ministers are derided for their weakness and indecision; and even Colonial Secretaries are brought in question; but rarely, indeed, is the First Lord of the Admiralty challenged. That I attribute to the very practical manner in which the work is conducted at the Admiralty, to the sound traditions of the Service, and to the experienced staff of naval officers and experts by whom he is assisted. Now, Sir, I hope I shall not be taken to task or be held to be presumptuous because I criticise the Admiralty, for the Admiralty, good as it is, is not all perfection in knowledge and wisdom. It was the case that, not longer ago than 1835, Lord Melville—then, I believe, the First Lord—wrote a solemn Admiralty minute, stating that the Admiralty felt it their duty to use every effort that they were capable of to resist the introduction of steam into the Navy, because, he said, it would be a fatal blow against the supremacy of England. Therefore I hope that in any suggestions that may be made the Admiralty will not despise this House, or even me, the humblest Member of it. Now, I have no new suggestions to propose; all I ask is that we may revert to what I hold to be the old traditions where they have been departed from. They were sound; they were based upon practical training, and they were based upon an almost equal contempt for pure abstract science and book-work. While the French were safe in port, learning high mathematics and 1292 ballistics, our men at sea were learning to handle ships and fire guns so as to hit a mark. Now, Sir, comparisons made between ships and ships, ton for ton, are very misleading, but still more misleading, in my opinion, is the comparison made between men and men in mere numbers, because, unless the training of these men is taken into account, such comparisons would be entirely useless. This matter of training seems to me not only of first importance, but of growing importance. In the old days the mercantile marine trained the men for the Navy, and the men you induced, or pressed, were as good as your own for all purposes, and some far better. The modern man-of-war, however, is so full of delicate machinery, her weapons are of such a complicated and ever-varying character, and the whole conditions of her life are so involved that it is absolutely necessary to have special men, specially trained in a way that can be only carried out by the Navy itself. And the greater the improvements, the more complicated the mechanism, the more it will become necessary that the men should have the Navy's special training, and no other. Now, this is no new doctrine, but I do think it is somewhat overlooked. To the public a ship is a ship, a man is a man, and I cannot help thinking that there is a temptation to the First Lord, seeing the view the public take, to say, "I will give you so many ships and so many men," and so to take a large proportion of money and apply it for those purposes, rather than for more training. The First Lord has said that he does not look only to numbers. But I am afraid, Sir, he does to too great an extent. Take the age at which boys are received in training-ships. Under the ordinary system boys are received in training-ships between the ages of 15 and 16½, and you have never had a lack of boys. Their 20 months' training is now reduced to 16. This is too short. Then, to send a boy to a training brig for six weeks is an absurdly short time. It ought to be at least 13 weeks. There are too few training-ships, too few training brigs, and the training squadron is too small. I would strongly urge the First Lord to increase his training ships, so as to give the boys the full amount of training, to abandon the mischievous innovation of the Northampton, and to increase 1293 his training brigs and the training squadron. I am very pleased to notice a paragraph in the report which indicates that certain reforms are to be effected in regard to captains of guns, and captains of turrets. Upon the captain of the turret the whole fate of a vessel may in a moment depend. In an action the fate of the vessel may hang for the moment upon his nerves and his eye, and the way in which he fights his guns. How have you treated the captains of the turret? You have modified the examination for becoming a captain of the turret, and so far so good; but once made, it is assumed he is made for ever, which is a great mistake. Nothing is more delicate than the duty he undertakes, and a man may lose his nerve and eye to a certain extent, and a man who is a good captain of a gun or turret yesterday becomes a bad or, at least, an indifferent one to-day. What I have always suggested is, that there should be more practice, with the Morris tube, if you like. You might make the man fire four or five shots with a Morris tube, and then you might see whether he keeps his eye and nerve, and if you saw he was fit to do his duty, instead of paying him the miserable 2d. or 3d. a day, I would suggest that the amount should be multiplied by 10; but I would make it depend upon his retaining those qualities which it is necessary he should have. Now I come to the worst part of my indictment, and where I do think the First Lord has gone seriously astray, and that is the age of entry for training for our officers. Of course, I recognise, and it is only fair to remember, that we are in a period of transition with regard to the training of our young officers. Now we want more officers than we should require to supply under normal conditions. I believe during the wars of Napoleon we had 3,000 lieutenants; we are very far short of that number now. We are very short of the number that we want to command our vessels. There is another extremely important matter: it must be remembered that officers, by winch I mean finished officers, have in these days to bear a very great strain when they have to take their stand upon the bridge and fight their guns. That strain is so great that it is certain older officers will not be able to stand it. The men must be younger. 1294 Now let us see what, I regret to say, is the alteration made with regard to the training of our officers. I will not deal with the substitution of the college ashore for the ship afloat, although I do very much regret not teaching the boys on a ship for the first 18 months, and letting them acquire a knowledge of ship and boat life at a very early stage of their career. Now, under the old regulations, those which are at present in force, the age at which cadets are accepted is from 13½ to 14½, or an average of 14 years. Now, that is full high, and I would rather it should be from 12½ to 13½, or an average of 13. Who does not remember Byron's lines—Full well the docile crewThe skilful urchin guides"?Yes, but it is because he is a skilful urchin taken young that when he grows up he becomes a good officer. I remember that story of a skilful urchin—Peyton, I think, was his name—who was told to take the Pride of the Mediterranean over to Gibraltar, and he did it, and having done so, he also brought her over to England. A boy who could do that at 11 years of age is likely to make a first-class officer. Well, the age used to be 13½ to 14½, and now the First Lord has altered it to 14½ to 15½; so that instead of being brought in to the Navy at the age of 14, as they used to be, the average now is 15; so that you have so much more time lost between the time the boy enters and the time he becomes a lieutenant. You have not only reduced the usual time of his training from his entry, but you have done worse—you have lost an enormous amount of the time which you allowed him to be trained in the Britannia. In the olden times he passed in the Britannia 104 weeks; under the new system he is to pass 65 weeks, and when the holidays and examinations are deducted from that, you will find that a boy sent into the Britannia fresh from the shore, and never, perhaps, having seen the sea, has only 48 weeks of instruction in the Britannia before he is sent to sea. The results are perfectly ludicrous in certain cases. Then as to the instruction; take French, for instance; that is no longer a compulsory subject for passing in, but it is compulsory if passing out, and if the boy does not 1295 acquire a certain amount of French in the Britannia he is sent away. Now, what opportunity has he for learning French at all?—the whole course is only 14 lessons. Well, French in 14 lessons! These boys are subjected to a course which is an absolute farce. In the case of French it cannot be more than a sham and a cram. I understand, and I hope and believe I am right in so doing, that this course of training, which is now 18 months, is to be extended to two years. But that is a point about which I particularly want to ask the right hon. Gentleman. How is he going to do it, if he is going to do it? Is he going to do it by sending the boys in younger, or by sending them in older? If he is going to do the latter, he will send them to sea later than they go at present, and involve them in a further loss of time before they can become lieutenants. We see these alterations are being made, and we know that this last one has been made especially to please the masters of public schools, and it is hoped that we may get boys from the public schools. We know the old story that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the Eton playing fields. But Trafalgar was not; it was won by men like Peyton, who led their men to the assault at the age of 16; that was how that was done. By getting boys taught young and trained into good naval officers. Now, I do not believe you would get boys from the public schools, and if you did get them they are not the boys you want. They are boys who would have acquired public school habits, and being used to all the luxuries of public school life, they would not be likely to be easily content, and to settle down, as would a boy of 13, to merely a chest and a hammock, to become a lieutenant. Now, what I respectfully submit is, that the age should be lowered again to 12½ to 13½, giving the average of 13, and then in two years you would get the full course in the Britannia, and you would get more adequate time at Greenwich and at Portsmouth, as to which I must again strongly complain. These two splendid training establishments are being absolutely wasted. In consequence of the time which the officer is allowed to spend, and can spend, in these establishments, he is not able to be properly 1296 instructed in the various subjects with which they deal, but is superficially varnished over with them by a system of cramming. And the percentage of officers who go away with anything more than the merest smattering of what is supposed to be taught to them either at Greenwich, where theory is taught, or Portsmouth, where practice is taught, is very small indeed. Why, at Portsmouth you are expected to learn six new gun drills a day, all with different guns! It is extremely advisable to lengthen the course of training, and I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman could do that by lowering the age of entry by a couple of years. Now, I wish to say one word with regard to the Naval Reserve. It now consists of 22,000 seamen, and the fishermen and boys bring up the total strength to 25,000. I think it should be increased to at least 30,000, or possibly 40,000. There are many people who think it should go as high as 60,000 or 70,000. I confess it seems to me that we should be very chary of importing too large a proportion of Reserve men in to such a highly special body as the Navy. The main part of the men on board our ships must be specialists, and should only be diluted to a very small extent with Reserve men. There is no difficulty in increasing the number. As to the Engineers, with regard to the training and the promotion, I have nothing but praise for the course taken by the right hon. Gentleman, but there he has taken the step which I suggest should be taken in the case of our officers; he has reduced the age of entry from 19 to 18, and I trust he will have compassion for the officers, and adopt that step with them. With regard to the Naval Reserve in the British possessions abroad, there is an enormous advantage in having Reserve men in those places. In certain stipulated places there should be permanent stations, which would give this advantage: that instead of having to send out crews from home, you can make up your number of men from there, if necessary, in time of war. I need not point out what an enormous advantage it would be for a commodore of a squadron to find a number of trained men whom he could take on board at once, instead of waiting for them from home. Now, I just want to quote a few figures upon this subject, which might prove valuable for this purpose. The number of 1297 men employed in various vessels of the Mercantile Marine is 84,000, but that does not take into account the fishermen, who are estimated at another 70,000, and I find, by reference to Mr. Wilson's book on Newfoundland, that the Newfoundland fishermen are 55,000. Those figures, added together, give a total of 210,000. Now, that is a large fund to draw from for special purposes; and what I submit is, that at certain selected places, well spread about, such as Sydney, the Cape of Good Hope, Halifax, and Esquimalt, and other places where there are large naval stations, there should be large Naval Reserve establishments started, where men should be allowed to join for training. There would, I believe, be no difficulty in getting the men, and the right hon. Gentleman would have the advantage of having ready-trained men in various portions of the globe in case of emergency. I have made this suggestion in a practical spirit, and in no spirit of animosity towards the Admiralty, but rather with a view of co-operating with them in an humble way. We are on the verge—if not actually in—of some of the most troublous times we have ever had in our history. The old laws of the world have neither been improved nor changed; bird eats bird, and fish eats fish, and there is not a blade of grass that grows which has not to displace something else and fight for its life. It is still the law of the world, and, as we won our position, so we shall have to keep it, by hard blows. Out of the present situation, involved and complicated as it may seem, we shall come somehow, I hope, by the efforts of diplomacy and the skill of our Ministers; but I am sure, if it must be so, we shall come out of it by fighting. However it may be, it does behove us to gird our loins and make as perfect as we can our naval power, on which alone we can rely. The very essence of the naval power lies in the men. The importance of ships and guns lies in the men you put behind them, and the experience of the men depends upon the training you put into them, and it is for that reason I ventured to bring the suggestions that I have made before the House.
§ *MR. H. E. KEARLEY (Devonport)
I wish to point out that compared with the 1298 numbers asked for in Vote A of last year, there still appears to be 1,398 men deficient. We voted 100,050, and there have been entered, according to the latest returns dated the 1st February, 98,652 men; and the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty has stated that the exact number voted will be "practically obtained" by the 1st April. I do not quite understand what those words "practically obtained" mean. I rather suspect that by the words "practically obtained" we are to understand that the number will not be secured.
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. W. E. MACARTNEY,) Antrim, S.
They will be actually obtained.
§ *MR. KEARLEY
I am given to understand that the men will be obtained. On the face of it this appears to be very satisfactory, and it will impress the country favourably that the Navy is being efficiently manned. But that is not the case; and a large percentage of this deficit, although the number appears to be small, represents one of a most serious character, because it is mainly made up of a particular class of ratings—namely, skilled ratings, which cannot be obtained, and the want of which has already seriously impaired the fighting strength and the value of our ships. Last year I called attention, Mr. Speaker, to the same deficiency, and the First Lord gave an answer which appeared to have some merit about it. He said last year there was some difficulty in entering the skilled ratings, owing to the general revival of the shipbuilding trade throughout the country. This year that does not appear, because the great strike, or lock-out, not only threw out of employment the engineers, but necessitated a large number of other skilled ratings being thrown out of employment also. And, consequently, these men being out of employment, if the conditions offered by the Admiralty were suitable, they would have been glad enough to have accepted naval service. But what are the facts? Why, there have practically been no entries in spite of the special efforts made by the Admiralty, who had had to send about the country, not only to their own naval yards, but to private shipbuilding yards, a Committee of Inquiry to endeavour to find out how 1299 it is that there is such an extraordinary deficiency in these skilled ratings. The amount of deficiency in skilled artisan ratings is simply alarming. I addressed, about a fortnight ago, a question to my hon. Friend the Civil Lord of the Admiralty asking what had been the outcome of the inquiry, and, also, what was the deficiency of the complement in shipwrighting and certain other skilled trades which are largely employed. He told me that the shortage in shipwrighting ratings amounted to 72. Well, I do not think that disclosure of the facts was intended to mislead me, but I know that officials, when replying to questions, are not always to be taken seriously. But he knows, as well as I do, and as well as anybody does, what are ratings which shipwrighting includes. Well, now, Sir, I shall disprove his figures by simply giving figures with which I am perfectly acquainted and prepared to vouch for in my own constituency. Now there is a shortage in Devonport alone of shipwrights and carpenters' crew of 71 men. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend opposite tells us that the total throughout the country is only 72. There is also a shortage of blacksmiths' mates of 23, of engine-room artificers 35, and of coopers find other skilled ratings, 27, making a total deficiency in Devonport alone amounting to 156. That, I am told, is practically the same everywhere; and it is estimated, from information I have received, that there are certainly at least 500 of these skilled ratings wanted at the present moment. Well now, that, of course, is serious, because these men are skilled mechanics. As was pointed out by some of the speakers, the Navy to-day is a very different thing to what it was in the old days of practically wood and canvas. It is a highly technical instrument, is a ship of war, full of the most complicated machinery, and liable to break down at any moment, and unless skilled workmen are there to take it in hand the ship may become simply ineffective. The efforts made by the Admiralty to meet this difficulty have had a most evil effect. Of course, the sending of this Committee of Inquiry about the country no doubt was intended to solve the difficulty, but I may say here, in passing, that, strangely enough, that Committee of Inquiry avoided seeking information from the very people that might have given it to 1300 them—that is, the interested trades about the country. They carefully avoided like poison, as it were, asking information from these trades, either in the private yards or in the Government yards, from which the actual information might have been acquired. They preferred to go to official channels, and the result is they have obtained nothing that is of any service to them. The efforts the Government have been making have resulted in a very dangerous procedure being adopted. In the first place, they have reduced their old standard with regard to skilled ratings, and last year they issued an order—I think it was in September—not only to cut down the quantity of the complements of our ships, but, at the same time, they also reduced the quality. I have figures to prove this fact. I take what is considered generally the best class of battleship of the moment—that is, the Royal Sovereign class. Under the old scheme there were allowed for shipwright ratings four leading shipwrights, four shipwrights, one leading carpenters' crew, and two carpenters' crew, making a total of 11 efficient men. Under the new scheme, the battleships of the Royal Sovereign type will now carry three leading shipwrights, two shipwrights, two leading carpenters' crew, and three carpenters' crew, making a total of 10. The percentage of skilled men was higher than the percentage of skilled men under the amended scheme. And I say that this reduction is a great danger. Beyond that, the Admiralty have recently issued an order to the Commanders-in-Chief of the various home ports—and, from what I hear, the ports abroad also—that they are not to be particular in the test that they apply to mechanics who seek to come in to fill these ratings. The result can be seen by comparing the test that applied before this recent order was issued with the new test that is now sufficient to pass a man in. Under the old test, a man who wished to go in the Navy as a shipwright had to pass an examination in practical shipwrighting in both wood and iron. For the test of wood he would probably be called upon to mould and fix a timber to the ship, or to fit a plank to the ship's side. The test for iron work would be probably to shape and fit an angle-iron frame into a ship, or to put an iron plate 1301 in the side of a ship. That was a high test, and only skilled men who had served a seven years' apprenticeship would stand the faintest possibility of passing such a test. Now, what is the meaning of the test approved by the Admiralty order within the last few months? What is the test? A man wishing to be taken into the service as a shipwright has simply to demonstrate that he is able to use the adze and the axe. And with what result? Why, that a mere handyman from a remote country place, who would not stand the faintest possibility of being considered a carpenter or a skilled mechanic in civil employment, that man presents himself and becomes a skilled rating in the Navy. Well, I say, Mr. Speaker, this constitutes a very grave danger, more especially when we remember the reductions which have been made in the last four or five years, the outcome of the recommendations of the Manning Committee. Complements have been very much reduced, and the Member for Lewisham has protested over and over again against the sweating down in the engine-room staff. I think I have demonstrated amply and clearly that this sweating has been carried on in connection with the other skilled ratings. The effect will be, in my judgment, most disastrous in the case of war. You are aware that you have never faced the difficulty, and you are simply treating it as a passing one. I see this year you are endeavouring to meet the difficulty by offering extension pay of sixpence a day to men who would be entitled to retire at the end of their pension period to induce them to remain on. I am perfectly sure that the men who are serving now will not supply your deficiency by reason of any such expedient as that. The only remedy, if you want to get skilled mechanics into your Navy, will be to have a free and liberal pick from all parts of the country, and you will only get that by giving them better pay and better status. Just consider the position of these skilled ratings in the Navy as compared with their treatment on shore in the Civil employment of the Government. We all know there are Government schools at the various ports, and they are excellent schools. Civil Service examinations are held every year, and those who come out highest in the competition have the opportunity offered 1302 them to choose whether they will go into your civil employment as shipwrights or fitters' apprentices. Well, I merely mention that to prove the value that is put upon these trades by the Government themselves in their civil employment, But when one of these fitter apprentices has served his time in a naval establishment, when he is entitled and elects to go to sea, he starts at five shillings and sixpence a day. The shipwright apprentice, to whom you give the opportunity of selecting what he would become, whether a fitter or a shipwright, when he goes to sea he does so as a leading seaman, and he gets four shillings as against the other man's five shillings and sixpence. But not only is there a disparity in the pay—I am not suggesting the engine-room artificers get too much, on the contrary, I think they ought to get more—but the inferior rating which the shipwright holds also carries with it many menial duties, which no skilled workman should be asked to submit to. He is bound to take his share in the cooking of the mess and in the scrubbing of the decks. When he goes out of the dockyard, instead of marching out on the same terms as his former confrère, with proper leave, he is marched out under the control of the ship's corporal. This is the reason of all the difficulty. The skilled men will not throw up their good appointments on shore, where they can get six shillings a day, to go to sea and rough it and get two shillings a day less, besides unfair treatment. Mr. Speaker, this applies very much to other trades. To a lesser or greater extent it applies to blacksmiths, painters, coopers, and so on. These men request that they should have some respect paid to their position as mechanics. Well, now there is one statement that I want to refer to that appeared in the First Lord of the Admiralty's speech. It pointed out that last year, for mobilisation, there were 165 vessels mobilised, and that the number of men on these vessels was 36,619, and here the First Lord of the Admiralty stated that the whole of these ships went to sea practically—that ominous word "practically," which we are given to understand means actually—fully-manned, and that the deficiencies were slight. Considering these ships, mobilised with only one-third of the skilled ratings laid down under your own 1303 scheme—and even to get to this one-third of your mobilisation complement you had to drain every ship in the harbours of all the ports—I think, Mr. Speaker, that we are really entitled to ask for a definite statement from the First Lord of the Admiralty as to whether we have a sufficiency of artisan ratings to mobilise our Fleet with a full complement in the time of war. Of course, these deficiencies may pass muster in time of ordinary manœuvres, but it would not be tolerated in time of war. The deficiency of skilled ratings cannot be denied, and we should have some assurance from the First Lord, now that he has the evidence before him, that he will take steps to bring forward some reform that will cause this deficiency to be set right upon the earliest possible occasion.
*SIR E. T. GOURLFY (Sunderland)
I am sure we all thank the right hon. Gentleman for the very able statement in which he has placed the Estimates for the coming year before the House. I have heard many statements from the First Lord of the Admiralty, and I remember them some 20 years ago, but the statement this evening far exceeds any of the statements which he made so far back as that. In dealing with the question of manning I would like to point out to the House that by looking back to the period of the Naval scare in 1884 we have increased the Vote to the permanent men during the last 12 years to nearly double. My contention is, that this increase of men has been almost entirely on the part of continuous men, and successive Governments have neglected to deal with the question of the Naval Reserves. It is quite true that the present First Lord of the Admiralty has made an attempt with regard to this new department, that is, he has enrolled men for the purpose of serving as such on men-of-war. This system, I ventured to state when the First Lord brought it before the House, I thought would be a failure. I think it has been a failure in procuring men for this six months' service who are able seamen of the class you anticipate. The First Lord has been compelled to reduce the age to 18, so that the so-called men are not men, but boys. With regard to this question, were the boys trained, 1304 in the first instance, for anything in the shape of seafaring life?
*SIR E. T. GOURLFY
I am very glad to hear it; but what I am anxious to see this evening the First Lord turn his attention to is that any future increases in the effective forces shall not be so much on the part of continuous men and permanent men, but to increase the Reserve, for 500 is a very small proportion. The reason why the Reserve ought to be increased is, in the first instance, that there is not at present any provision for waste. The right hon. Gentleman told us this evening that the annual amount of waste was 10 per cent. Well, if the annual amount during a period of peace be 10 per cent., what will the amount of waste be in the event of war? During the past 12 yeans the number of continuous men has been increased from 59,000 to over 106,000. It is all very well to increase the number of continuous men, and, as the right hon. Gentleman stated this evening, he has no room even for the number now proposed for the ships that are coming forward. This increase in the permanent men means an enormous augmentation in the annual cost to the country. In the year 1885 the cost of the permanent men was a little over £4,000,000. The Vote now asked for is increased to £7,000,000, an increase of £3,000,000 directly; but we have, in taking comparative cost into account, to allow for future contingent pensions. The £7,000,000 does not represent the actual amount which is to be provided, for the Contingent Pension Fund means an additional £1,500,000. Thus the Admiralty are asking for eight and a half millions annually. Now, I hold this, that with the increase in ships we never intended that these ships should be maintained and kept on a war footing. I believe the intention of Parliament was to maintain a powerful reserve. I feel bound to say this, that the Admiralty do not look sufficiently to the necessity for increasing the Reserves. My proposition with regard to the Reserves is this: the first-class Reserve should be increased to 25,000, the second-class also to 25,000, and the third-class or stokers 1305 to 10,000. That is, you ought to have in connection with the Reserve 60,000 men in all. The question may probably be asked, Where are the men to come from? I will endeavour to show hon. Members. A Departmental Committee was appointed in the year 1891 to inquire into this question of the Naval Reserve. One point submitted to that Committee was as to the source from which the Reserves were to come. The other point referred to that Committee was as to the use to which the Reserves should be put in times of peace and also in war time. With regard to the source from which Reserves could be obtained, according to the evidence laid before the Committee, we had something like 40,000 men in connection with the mercantile marine of the right age who could be enrolled in the first-class Reserve. Down to the present time the number the Admiralty has enrolled is 10,600 men. Another source of supply which was alluded to is as to men connected with the fisheries. We were informed by the Committee that in connection with the fishing industry of the country we have 70,000 who are wholly, and 46,000 who are partially, so engaged, making altogether 116,000 men who are available in connection with the second-class Reserve. Of these 116,000, all that the Admiralty has enrolled down to the present moment is 10,800. Then, with regard to the supply of firemen in connection with the mercantile marine, out of 60,000 men, down in the present time all that has been done is to enrol 1,700, and we are now proposing to increase the number by 1,800 this year, thus bringing up the number to 3,500. In addition to this, according to the statistics of men who have paid considerable attention to this question, we find that, beyond these numbers, we have something like 150,000 men engaged in a semi-seafaring life, all of whom are available for enrolment in the Naval Reserve. Sir, there is yet another source. Out of the whole of those men who enrol themselves in the Navy, a very large proportion never enrol again—I believe, something like 50 per cent. fail to enrol themselves for a second period. What I should like to point out to the right hon. Gentleman is this: that some system or scheme ought to be devised under which those men could be retained for the Reserve. The 1306 late Admiral Hornby—than whom there was no higher authority—held that a Reserve of this kind was absolutely necessary. Then, as several hon. Members have pointed out, there are other sources from which the Reserve may be recruited. The hon. Member for Lynn told the House this evening that there are 55,000 fishermen and men connected with the fishing industry in Newfoundland. In these we possess some of the hardiest fighting material to be met with in any part of the world. Not only have we a large reserve of strength in Newfoundland, but we have also another large reserve in connection with Canada, which has something like 50,000 men also engaged in the fisheries, and the men in connection with that industry are the men we want to fill our Reserve. The man who is trained on a fishing vessel is almost as capable a man as one who is trained on a warship. Now, there is some objection made with regard to the constitution of the Reserve. It is held by some that the period of drill is too short. If we can judge from the reports as to the manner in which Naval Reserve men conducted themselves when placed on board men-of-war, we find that those men emulated their shipmates in the endeavour to perform their duties loyally and well. There is a paragraph in the Report of the Manœuvres testifying as to that. Admiral Lord Waller Kerr told me two years ago that the men we had as Naval Reserves under him in the Manœuvres had performed their duty in the most brilliant and admirable manner. He said perfectly truly that you cannot expect them to be as smart as those who have been in the Navy for several years, because that is impossible, but considering the shortness of the period during which they were under training, the men performed their work even better than they could have been expected to do. The fault is in the system. I hold that the system of drill and education adopted by the Admiralty for years and years past with regard to the training of the Reserves is nothing less than a disgrace. What do we find with respect to the system of education? Why, down to very recently, the whole of the ships on board of which these men have been trained and the whole of the guns mounted in the battery have been obsolete. Last 1307 year the right hon. Gentleman promised that there should be a change in the system of drill. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman how many batteries—I think there are 27—of the Naval Reserve are mounted with modern guns?
§ *SRI E. GOURLEY
I am glad to hear it, and I must congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his having made such a necessary change. There are one or two other points to which I should like to call the attention of the First Lord. First with regard to pensions. There is a great amount of dissatisfaction about pensions in the Reserve. With regard to the age at which a man becomes entitled to a pension—in the Navy a man is entitled to a pension at 55, but in the Reserve 60 is the pension age—I say that the age ought to be reduced from 60 to 55. I would ask how many men in the Reserve are now receiving a pension, because very few of them ever reach the age of 60 years? Hence I think the Admiralty might very well reduce the age. Then again I hold that the second-class Reserve men should also have a pension, in order to induce men of the fisherman class to join. The pension in their case should not be less than £10 a year. Another grievance is as to the kit. Of the men who would have to serve on a man-of-war in an emergency, the Reserve men would only receive £3 10s. each. The cost of a kit is £10 a man. Now the meaning of this is that the first-class Reserve man would have to work 84 days and the second-class man 104 days for nothing. That is a real grievance, which I think the Admiralty would do wisely in remedying at once. I think it ought to be altered, in justice to these men and their wives and families.
§ CAPTAIN G. R. BETHELL (York, E.R., Holderness)
As some hours have already been devoted to this question, I will not detain the House long, but perhaps I may be permitted to say a few words. In common with everyone interested in the subject, I was extremely pleased that the right hon. Gentleman took up the question of the Reserves last year. I should 1308 like to point out that the real question of a Naval Reserve has yet to be grappled with; as yet, the fringe of it has barely been properly touched upon. The question is surely one of vast importance, and I trust that my right hon. Friend, who takes such a great interest in the profession over which he presides, will do well still more to add to his already great distinction by initiating a policy by means of which we shall see a really adequate Reserve established. After all, it will be a great and noble ideal to place before the country, that every man shall be trained in some way or other to use modern weapons in defence of his country whenever called upon. I am persuaded that under modern conditions of social life, whether it be for the Army or the Navy, we must ultimately depend upon a very large Reserve. I am entirely in agreement with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for York that we cannot expect the country in times of peace to undertake the burden of maintaining a much larger active list than we now have; but we must bear in mind that there is still the necessity of our having the means to enable us to expand our fleet on an emergency. We can only do this by means of a large Reserve. What particular course should be taken with this object I will not discuss now. I have recommended for the last few years—and I know that the hon. Members for York and the Forest of Dean are with me in this—that the experiment of short, instead of long, service on training ships should be tried. My hon. Friend has not got practical experience of these matters, and I should like to tell him the result, at any rate, of my experience as to training ships, both for boys and for officers. I was delighted when the predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman instituted the system of trying to get boys at a later age and training them for a shorter period. I hope that system will be extended and developed. I can assure my right hon. Friend—and I do not think there is any man who has a professional and intimate knowledge of the question who will deny it—that a long period of training in the training ships is a mistake and time thrown away. It is far better to have simply a short period just to accustom the lads to ship life and then to let them 1309 pass into the regular Service. That has been my experience, whether for officers or men, and nothing disappointed me more when I was serving than the sad and melancholy want of knowledge, energy, and activity which the youngsters coming from the training-ships showed when they entered the general Service. So far from recommending my right hon. Friend at the head of the Admiralty to accept the view of my hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn, I can assure him I at least would support the direction which his policy has taken of recent years—namely, that of raising the age and keeping them a shorter time in the training ships. These are the only two questions upon which I wish to address the House. The second one upon which I have spoken is not, in my opinion, of vast importance; the policy is settled. The other one—the question of the Reserves—is of huge importance: the policy is not settled; the policy has not yet been grappled with. It has yet got to be faced; and I do hope my right hon. Friend, who takes so keen and lively an interest in the great profession over which he presides with such great distinction, will add a further distinction to his term of office by initiating a policy which will establish a truly adequate Reserve.
§ Amendment put and negatived.
§ MR. R. G. WEBSTER (St. Pancras, E.)
Mr. Speaker, I have a very few words I wish to address to the House on the question of the Royal Naval Reserve. It was my honour and pleasure to address this House on a similar subject last year, and I do not find in the Naval Estimates this year that there has been any appreciable increase in the Royal Naval Reserve. I find only an increase of 600 men. When we consider that we spend annually on the Army Reserve nearly two millions of money, and that we only spend £257,000 on the Naval Reserve, I think it is very disproportionate. There is only an increase of £7,000 since last year. I am told by my hon. and gallant Friend on my left that further inducements have been given to fishermen, and that a large number of them are at present joining the Naval Reserve. But our Naval Reserve compares very unfavourably with 1310 that of foreign countries. In France, I understand, they could, if necessity arose, have an effective Reserve of 50,000 or 60,000 men at practically a minute's notice. On the other hand, we have only a Reserve of 25,000 men. We have, I know, a long service system, and France has, comparatively speaking, a short service system, but I find that we have 6,000 trained sailors leaving the Fleet annually, of whom 1,300 or so—or about one-fourth—join the Reserve. Is there no system that can be devised to induce more men than these to join the Reserve, as these men are all competent and well-trained sailors, and would be very useful in an emergency? We know the terrible casualties that would occur if the English Fleet went into action, even if we were victorious, as I trust we should be, and I cannot help saying that it would be a wise scheme of the Government to adopt the suggestion I threw out last year. Why could we not have some reserve of sailors in Canada? There are 50,000 or 60,000 fishermen there, and, if we stationed a training-ship or two in Canadian waters, we could, I think, establish a strong Naval Reserve there of, say, 5,000 or 10,000 men, for an emergency. You could do the same in Australia and the other Colonies. When I was in Hong Kong I went on board our ships, and on the flagships of various other countries, and I found that, if we had a naval engagement outside Hong Kong, we should have no reserve of sailors to fill up casualties. They would have to be brought out from England. We can build ships, but what we require is a reserve of men to man them in time of need and replace the casualties of war. Nelson's victories, and Collingwood's, I read, were won, not by the ships, but by the skill and courage of the officers and men. We have now 106,000 men in the First Line, and I venture to believe that some scheme could be devised whereby we could get another 100,000 in the Reserve, instead of merely 25,000 as at present. Knowing the great danger we are in, and knowing that we may be involved in a war at any moment, we should see that we have an effective Naval Reserve. We hope the war clouds may pass away; still, who can say what the future may bring? I do not think I can conclude 1311 better than by quoting the words of Tennyson—We have sailed wherever ships can sail,We have ruled o'er many a mighty State;Pray God our greatness may not fail,Thro' craven fear of being great.
*SIR U. KAY-SHUTTLEWORTH (Lancashire, Clitheroe)
Mr. Speaker, before I address myself to the interesting and important subject of shipbuilding, I propose to say a few words on some questions which I certainly will not call minor questions, because I think no questions are of greater interest or of greater importance than those which affect the threshold of the naval profession and the early training of both officers and men. And it is on these that I propose to detain the House for a few moments. I will not follow several of my hon. Friends on this side of the House, and on the opposite side, in the remarks they have made on the subject of manning. I think it will be far more satisfactory that these remarks should be answered by the responsible officials, who will be able to give the best information. But I think I may congratulate the Government upon the success which has attended the efforts year after year of the Admiralty to obtain the increased number of men winch has been rendered necessary by the increase in the number of ships that have been built. I have not now access to the same sources of information which were open to me some little while ago, and I am not perfectly certain as to whether the scientific proportion between the Reserves, and the number on the roll of active service, is being satisfactorily attained off not. Whereas, in the last Estimates which were presented to Parliament, a very considerable addition was proposed to the Reserve, and considerable reforms introduced in the whole system of the Royal Naval Reserve, I do not perceive in these Estimates any very considerable step in the direction of further augmenting the Royal Naval Reserve. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has further steps in contemplation. I do not wish to be misunderstood. I am perfectly well aware that in time of war it would not be desirable to have more than a certain and limited proportion of Reserve men on Her Majesty's ships 1312 for war purposes, but at the same time we must remember that all the Reserves will not be available. We must not be so sanguine as to suppose that they will, and it may be necessary further to augment the Royal Naval Reserve. I do not know how far the investigations of the Manning Committee have been carried on under the present administration.
*SIR U. KAY-SHUTTLEWORTH
I am glad to hear that they have been regularly carried on. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman will contradict me when I say that the large additions which have been proposed to the Navy in his time will necessitate a very considerable increase in the number of men beyond the number which was contemplated when his predecessor was in office;. I have estimated, with as much care as I could, the number of men who will be required for the ships, which the right hon. Gentleman proposes to add, or has already added, to the Navy, and I have found that many thousands of men will have to be added to the number which was previously contemplated. That, of course, is liable to a deduction on account of the fact that there are always ships, from year to year, which are becoming more or less obsolete, and less and less fit to be commissioned in time of war; but, at the same time, the total number for which provision has to be made, is largely increased, and I should like to have an assurance that a due proportion is being observed between the Royal Naval Reserve and the total number engaged for active service. It is, of course, a great satisfaction to members of the late Board to learn from the right hon. Gentleman how very successful the Northampton, and the ships associated with the Northampton have been in enlisting older boys for the Navy. I entirely dissociate myself from the criticisms of the hon. Member for King's Lynn. If that hon. Gentleman's plan were adopted we should simply have to draw boys from one particular stratum—from one particular age—and the result would inevitably be to lower the standard. The 1313 Northampton and her consorts have been singularly successful in enlisting a very satisfactory class of boys, and the reports of the captains upon those boys, from the very commencement of the system, have been extremely satisfactory. I hear with great pleasure that they continue to be satisfactory, and that these boys turn out excellent seamen. I have said before in this House, in speaking on this subject, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me, that very great credit is due to the first captain of the Northampton for his share in the excellent training of these boys; and I think good judgment was shown in the selection of the captain, for his influence on the boys, the enthusiasm which he threw into the new system of enlistment, the immense trouble he took about it, and altogether the qualities which he brought to bear on this new experiment have, in a large measure, brought about the great success of that experiment. There is a point in the statement of the right hon. Gentleman to which I should like to call attention. I see that the right hon. Gentleman proposes to move the Agincourt from Chatham to Portland. It may seem a small change, but I hear of it with the very greatest pleasure and satisfaction. One of the unfortunate results of having to add such a very large number of boys from year to year to Her Majesty's Navy is, that after they have received the training to be obtained on the training-ships, for which the hon. Gentleman opposite has such a strong preference, after they have received that training, and after a great deal of trouble and money has been bestowed upon them, and they have been trained up in the way in which they should go, they are relegated to harbour and depôt ships, and a very great deal of good is liable to be undone thereby, especially if these ships are in the harbour of a dockyard town. I venture to express the hope that special attention will be given to finding healthy and useful occupations for these boys and to getting them to sea as often as possible, and to drafting them soon into seagoing ships. It is one of the unfortunate consequences of having to provide, in case of war, a larger navy that we can keep in commission in time of peace, that so many men and boys have to be kept in barracks and stationary ships. I rejoice 1314 to think that a step is being taken in the right direction, and I hope it will be followed up. With regard to the Naval cadets, everything I hear confirms me in the opinion I have previously laid before the House, and now express again, the opinion that a mistake, from many points of view, has been made in raising the age. It is desirable to catch these fellows young. The boys who are most satisfactory on the Britannia are those who have not been sent to crammers, and it would therefore be very much better that they should come early to the Britannia. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty, and others who have got a voice in this matter, will keep their minds open and will not, because they have been led to consent to this experiment of raising the age in the Britannia, regard the matter as settled once and for all. If they find the change is not attended by the excellent results they anticipate, I hope they will have the courage to change their minds and revert to the system which, after all, has produced officers of whom this House and the country may well be proud, and upon whom we now rely, if, unfortunately, we should be engaged in war, to command the men we enrol for Her Majesty's service. And I have no doubt that, if we revert to the system which prevailed before the raising of the age, it will continue to produce excellent officers. The question of the further training of young officers is being inquired into by the Committee over which Admiral Tracey presides, and, perhaps, the right hon. Gentleman will inform the House what stage that inquiry has reached, and how soon we may hope to have the results. I have so far been dealing with the training of boys and Naval cadets. I wish now to say a word with respect to the Marines. On the fifth page of the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty there is an announcement to the effect that—Towards the end of last year the large accumulation of recruits at the Walmer Training Depôt absorbed the whole of the accommodation there, and it became necessary, without stopping recruiting, to lessen the flow of men in that direction. This was done by forwarding recruits for the Artillery to the division at Eastney, and removing from Walmer the men 1315 of that branch, already in training there, to complete their course at their own headquarters.I know, Sir, that when the Board with which I was connected had rapidly to increase the Marines, we had to resort to exactly the same expedient, but it is a very unsatisfactory expedient. Walmer is a very satisfactory place for the training of the young; Marine; it is a place where he is exposed to remarkably few temptations, and the training system has been attended with exceedingly good results. At Eastney, and the other Marine Divisions, the conditions are not so satisfactory, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty will face the necessity of providing more accommodation at Walmer. At the same time, I cannot help thinking that, by the aid of the compulsory powers for acquiring land embodied in the first Naval Works Act, great improvements might be made at Walmer which would tend to the efficiency of the Marines and of the system of training recruits. I pass now to the subject in which the House is naturally most interested, and I confess that, although I came down to the House intending to say a good deal about the delay and disappointment in the shipbuilding programme announced last Session, the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty, by the frankness of his admissions, both in his statement and in his speech to-day, and also by the frankness with which he has apologised and expressed his deep regrets at the delay, has disarmed me so that I shall not go into detail so much as I had intended. But delay is written large over all the Estimates which have been presented to the House. The expenditure on new construction alone is less by the enormous sum of £2,270,000 than the Estimates which were presented to Parliament and the grants which Parliament made for what was regarded as necessary for construction. The House must remember that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty took the exceptional course of coming down to Parliament in July and asking for a Supplementary Estimate of £500,000, £400,000 of which was to be spent on new construction. There are three causes and three categories of failure to spend the money voted 1316 by Parliament. First of all there is the engineers' dispute. I do not propose to say anything on that point because I know there are Members who will deal with that subject, and will discuss the attitude of the Government towards the parties in the dispute and the responsibility of the Admiralty for the delay in the building of these ships. There is a second cause of delay which she right hon. Gentleman included in his statement, and which he has again placed before the House in his speech—I mean the delay due to the retarded designs of several ships. These ships were not proceeded with in consequence of the delay in experiments with new guns. I think the House will be of opinion that it was quite essential that the newest guns should be put into the newest ships, and I can quite understand that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty was right in delaying the ships when he found it was impossible to send out the designs to the contractors without arming them with old guns rather than with new ones. What I cannot understand, however, is why the right hon. Gentleman was without that information in July; nor how he did not then understand that there must be delay in producing the designs when the type of gun was not settled. I trust some further information will be given on that subject. In his speech to-day the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the delay as due mainly to the contract ships, but an examination of the figures shows that that is not the case.
§ *THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
The delay on the Ocean, the Canopus, and the Goliath was caused by the contractors not having furnished stern-posts and other parts of the ship.
*SIR U. KAY-SHUTTLEWORTH
I quite understand that, but I think the right hon. Gentleman unintentionally misled the House into thinking that the delay was mainly in the contract ships, and that there had not been as great delay in the dockyard ships. But, Sir, I find that there has been greater delay with the six dockyard battleships than upon the contract ships. The delay upon the contract battleships is represented 1317 by a nett short expenditure of £214,000 as against £482,000 on the dockyard ships. I do not wish to labour that point, but I think it is necessary the House should be put in possession of the facts, and should know that, as a rule, dockyard ships are quite as dependent on the performance of contract as are contract ships. The third category of delay is to be found in the short expenditure on naval works. Rather less than a million has been expended on the Naval works under the Act, whereas the Estimate for the year was no less than £2,700,000. We know the very serious nature of the delays at Gibraltar as to the dockyard, and the new docks, and in the extension works at Hong Kong, owing in large part to the difficulty of obtaining War Office land. I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that it will be necessary that we should be furnished at an early date with a detailed account.
MR. A CHAMBERAIN
A paper will be in the hands of the Members very shortly showing the total expended up to date.
*SIR U. BAY-SHUTTLEWORTH
Quite so. I must apologise for calling attention to one shortcoming as to details of information, because I must say that there never was a more frank and full statement laid before Parliament, and this is almost the only point on which I find it difficult to arrive at the actual figures to find what has been done and what has not been done. Another point is about the expenditure for armaments. It seems right to suggest while on this point—though I confess we did not do it when in office—that it would be a great improvement if some details were introduced in he works Vote similar to those which are connected with the shipbuilding Vote, showing the actual expenditure during the past year, as compared with the Estimate. I do not see why the fullest information cannot be given. Now, Sir. I have only a few words more to trouble the House with, and those relate to the new proposals of the Admiralty in respect of ships. The right hon. Gentleman 1318 told us that he would put off a statement as to the nature of the new ships that were to be built until the latest possible day of the Session, and he only gave us the information that they would be very costly and very powerful ships. I could not help being reminded of the way in which, when we were in office, we ware pressed perpetually to give this kind of information. Gentlemen sitting on the Bench where I sit now got up year after year—I might almost say night after night—to press us for the most precise information as to the ships that we were going to build, and to insinuate doubts whether we had any plans for the future. I have no doubt whatever that the right hon. Gentleman himself has plans, and under the circumstances it will be wise to ask the House to exercise forbearance in the matter, and not press him to produce his designs. No pressure of that sort will come from this Bench on which I now sit. We remember too well how important it was not to give information of that kind hastily and prematurely to the House. Although we had plans for three years ahead, we did not think it right to lay them before Parliament—not because we wished to conceal anything from Parliament, but for the excellent motive that now influences the right hon. Gentleman in asking us not to press him. Therefore, from this Bench, so far as my hon. Friend and I are concerned, the right hon. Gentleman will see that he will not be pressed for information which. I am satisfied it is not in the interests of the country to give, because if given it is at, once available to our rivals abroad. I have only one or two more words to say. The right, hon. Gentleman evidently expected that there would be more criticism of the Estimates, on the ground that he was not proposing enough, than that he was proposing too much. Taking into account, first that £1,400,000 of the shipbuilding Vote is postponed expenditure, and that, £400,000 voted last July has not been expended, you will find that the shipbuilding Vote of this year, instead of being an increase, is a decrease of £630,000 as compared with last year. I do not think that can be gainsaid; I have gone into the figures. The real provision for the current year for not new work—not in the nature of a 1319 revote—is £630,000 less than the grant of last year. Therefore, I do not think the right hon. Gentleman's proposals will be regarded as too large. There will be some who will say they are too small; but I do think, as the right hon. Gentleman said in the answer he gave to-night—and which cannot be gainsaid—that we are limited by the resources of our armour supply. I have no doubt that the Admiralty will consider what they obviously will have to consider, and that is whether our sources of armour supply ought not to be increased. As to the idea of manufacturing armour in the dockyards, I quite concur in what was stated by the right hon. Gentleman, that we have quite enough responsibility in the way of manufacturing. I would rather limit than increase that, and I would rather throw armour-production open to the competition of trade than attempt anything in the shape of a Government monopoly. Whereas in the past we have only needed armour for battleships, we shall need armour in future for cruisers. Therefore I think that question arises. I know that the Government must do justice to the present manufacturers of our armour, who have been encouraged to develope their works in the way they have done, and who remain the sole suppliers of armour to the Government, but still that question of enlarging the possible output of armour seems to me to deserve attention. I will detain the House no longer. I hope, in the remarks I have made, I have at least treated with perfect fairness the statements which have been laid before the House by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. H. O. ARNOLD-FORSTER (Belfast, W.)
I should like to associate myself with what has been said by the hon. and gallant Member for York in regard to this being a case of emergency. It does not seem to me that the First Lord of the Admiralty has exhausted all the means of recovering the ground which has been lost. It is quite well known that some of the largest shipbuilding yards in this country are not supplying ships for the Navy at all. In the Armstrong yard, for instance, and in outside yards, it is possible to find resources equal to our great dockyards. I may 1320 say that in the city I myself represent there are resources for the production of shipbuilding which have very few rivals in the United Kingdom, or even in the world. I am aware that it is not, as a rule, satisfactory for yards to undertake shipbuilding which have not made Government shipbuilding a speciality because of certain regulations enforced by the Admiralty. But here we are in presence of a deficit of ships of something like £2,000,000 in value, and I would suggest that it might be possible for the Admiralty to make a very special effort to adjust their requirements to the practice of those yards in order, if possible to get their assistance in filling up this very exceptional hiatus.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
The hon. Gentleman will remember that the Belfast shipbuilding yards would equally have to procure armour, and precisely the same conditions exist for them as for the British Government. The key of the whole situation is that the articles we want are battleships and armoured cruisers. For those two classes of articles, the Admiralty has to depend upon the production of armour plate, and as the Government cannot get sufficient for their own wants, what private yards could obtain would only be taking away from the Government a supply which is not already quite adequate.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
I am exceedingly grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for having made a most valuable explanation, which I accept, and I acknowledge that the suggestion I have made falls to the ground. Some of the armoured cruisers, however, could have been proceeded with up to a certain state of advancement. A marked improvement in our ships has taken place, but having heard all that could be said in favour of this, as it appears to me, inadequate scheme of arming these ships, there does remain a residue of preponderating argument on my side. It is the number of shots that are fired simultaneously in an encounter that will decide the fate of that encounter. It is of vital importance that our ships should be very heavily armed. That view is enforced by every lesson in our history. It 1321 must be the duty of our ships to hunt the enemy and compel them to come to action. I know what is said about the necessity of carrying large stores of ammunition. All those things undoubtedly have some value, but it will come to this at last: If you lay two ships alongside that ship will in all probability be victorious which has the most powerful and most efficient guns fired in a given time; and it will be no consolation to the officers commanding the ship to know that they had a large amount of stores in their hold, that they had a large reserve of coal, or that they had some other luxury of that kind not available for the effective purposes of an action. Year by year we have been developing the efficiency of our coaling stations. We have been depositing a reserve of ammunition stores in many parts of the world, and creating coaling reserves all over the world, but we ought to be a little chary of devoting a large proportion of our ships to coal if it resulted in denying them effective gun power. Now, Sir, there is one other question upon which I should like to address the House, and it is the matter about which I asked a question in this House last Session, and it is a matter worthy of consideration. Whatever armament we may possess, whatever available ships and men there may be, there will be a time, at the commencement of naval operations, when this country will be, I will not say panic-stricken, but suffering from the effect of a shock unknown to this or the generations preceding it. I do not address the right hon. Gentleman, because he has a greater knowledge on the subject than myself, but any hon. Member of this House familiar with the facts of the last great naval war must know that there is one truth standing out more plainly than any other, and that is that we were losing our merchant shipping to a very large extent; but while those losses were great in the aggregate, they were absolutely nothing in comparison with the whole bulk of the mercantile shipping afloat. It was only three per cent., and so far from the destruction of the mercantile shipping injuring trade, we, by being able to blockade every port, were able to increase our mercantile shipping. But those times are gone by; the time of blockades has gone by. The opinion of naval officers 1322 of this and other countries is that we shall not be able to blockade as we used to, and it is a thing of the past. Steam navigation and the growth of great navies have, in some measure, revolutionised the condition of naval warfare; and what we shall see upon the outbreak of naval war will be a panic, or a near approach to a panic, at Lloyd's. We shall see notices posted at Lloyd's that ship after ship has been captured or destroyed at sea by some of the enemy's cruisers, and the effect of that cannot be doubted. It would immediately send up the freights and premiums. The insurance rates when we were confronted by the mere possibility of a war with a Power physically inferior to us went up five per cent., and can it be doubted that at the first alarm of war those premiums would be sent up to a much higher rate than that, and not only the insurance rates, but freights would go up. Hon. Members of this House who are well versed in business know that the whole export trade and the shipping and transmitting trade of this country depended upon margins so slight that they would not bear any tampering with, and the only way we can protect those margins was to stop a sudden fall of the barometer of confidence, and there was no reason why it should fall if we considered the broad possibilities and that the destruction of the mercantile shipping would only be a small percentage. But a man who has his all invested in one or two ships, or oven 20, might say, "It is true that the percentage will be small, but I may be the man to lose my all." That is the contingency you have to look to. Now, there has been a great deal of study applied to the question of a remedy for this state of things, and I am not going behind facts when I say that there is a large amount of general agreement as to what steps ought to be taken. There were three proposals, all of which had a certain amount of support, and all of which, no doubt, can be supported by very valid arguments. It was proposed, in the first place, that there should be in time of peace—it is essential that it should be in time of peace, and that due notice of it should be given—an undertaking that in the event of war the Government would be responsible for the safety from the enemy of ships which were sailing under 1323 convoy, or in conformity with Admiralty instructions. The second proposal was that the Government should pay, through Lloyd's, the difference between the ordinary premiums and the war premiums in the case of ships which conformed to certain fixed rules and realised certain conditions as regarded efficiency. The third proposal was that there should be a contribution on the part of all shipowners, say, of two per cent., which should go towards the payment of those insurance premiums which would guarantee their war risk. With regard to the first clause, I believe the financial aspect of the question has been considered, but I believe there is sufficient ground for desiring an inquiry in this matter, and I hope we shall get one, for it is no use strengthening our Navy if we do not get a sufficient compensation for the expenditure we make; and, if we once allow anyone to creep in, there are plenty to step in where we are unable to carry on our trade. But so long as our ships are assured that they will be allowed to come and go, and will be safeguarded against the loss by destruction or capture by the enemy, they will continue trading, and by adopting the methods I have referred to we may avoid a very serious panic on the outbreak of a war. In conclusion, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he would not give a little more effect to the principle he stated to-night. He stated that he desired to make the recruiting for the Navy more general. That is a most admirable idea. It is desirable to open out new areas over the country districts to recruit the Navy. Side by side with that statement, he has said that there is no difficulty in getting boys to recruit the men, but on the strength of the other pronouncement to which I referred, I venture to ask if he will, not entirely on service grounds, but on grounds of public policy, apply that policy to that part of the United Kingdom which I have the honour to represent. Over and over again we have asked, in the North of Ireland, that we should have some means of seeing the Navy and coming into contact with naval men, by the presence of one of Her Majesty's vessels. That has been asked by the Belfast Corporation, the Belfast Harbour and Marine Boards, and the Belfast Chamber of Commerce. It has 1324 been asked by every considerable representative of Belfast, of every part of the great city's activity, that we should have some live representation of the Navy in some live representation of the Navy in the North-East of Ireland. We have tunity of supplying recruits to the Navy directly from Belfast. If we had qualities which we do not possess we should have received that boon. I know that other cities have received precisely the boon we require—Cork, for instance—and I venture to believe if we had had the qualifications which Cork possesses we should have had it also. The Black Prince was not placed at Queenstown for the benefit of the Navy, and it was against the opinion of the Admiralty as a service measure, and I do venture to believe that if we had been able to make the appeal which has been made by Cork we should have got the privilege which we have seen has been accorded to that city. We are loyal; we are well disposed towards the Royal Navy. None of our members have desired to see the Royal Navy at the bottom of the sea, and, therefore, I feel some confidence, but my confidence is a little shaken, and I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty to give some sort of a reply to the request of my constituents, that they may see that they had some share in the possession of the Royal Navy.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
My hon. Friend who has just addressed the House in the first part of his remarks stated that these Estimates considered to-night are a matter of emergency. I desire to associate myself with him in those remarks. The occasion is one on which we feel, although we do not like to talk about it in detail, that the state of Europe is such that we might at any moment find ourselves at war with a European Power. We also feel, although I do not desire to enlarge upon it, that there would be a serious risk that, in the event of such a war, two other Powers might choose that moment to squeeze us with demands with which we could not easily comply. The circumstances, therefore, are those of emergency. Now, the Estimates which we have before us to-night are estimates of procrastination and delay. In 1888 Admiral Tryon said that the Admiralty 1325 had to carry out the policy which was laid down by Parliament, and it was not for them to initiate the policy, but only to see that it was carried out. That was not entirely accurate. It is the fact that the policy must be that of the Cabinet, as a whole, and not the Admiralty alone. They point to a policy, and lay down general conditions which the Admiralty has to fulfil. So far as the First Lord of the Admiralty is concerned, he has my confidence in so far as I believe he is willing to carry out a policy that is very well adapted to the end which is put before him. But the present are not ordinary circumstances. It is, of course, true of this country—more true than of the French, who invented the phrase—that "the trident of Neptune is the sceptre of the world." At the present moment, perhaps, the position comes home to us more in a German phrase, which is attributed to Prince Bismarck, in which he says the present state of Europe is like a fishpond. There are pike in the European fishpond, and carp, and the carp are made to be eaten by the pike. We do not desire to be either. But we do not desire to be eaten. I think the desire of the country is to feel with certainty that we are as strong as we can reasonably be made in our Navy, and that we thoroughly come up to the standards put before the country in the past. Do we come up to them? My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle asked the question—Do we come up to the standard which successive Governments have put before us?The First Lord of the Admiralty has explained to us the extent to which the London strike and the lock-out throughout the country have affected his Estimates. The First Lord of the Admiralty last year explained that the Estimates he had put before the House fully brought us up to the past standard, but he said that changes might be made by other Powers which might destroy the balance, and that he might have to make fresh proposals. He did make fresh proposals. The right hon. Gentleman said he would watch, and the result of that watching was that he came forward and made supplementary proposals, for which we voted £400,000 at the end of the year for laying down new ships. But it has 1326 been shown to-night that we are still £2,000,000 to the bad, and the ships have not been laid down, not only those mentioned in July, but those mentioned in the original Estimates. Now, we seem to have lost more than seven months by the strike and lock-out, we seem to have lost a year, and we seem to have lost four British ships last year, and three battleships are only to be begun now. It was stated that three slips would be cleared in the last quarter of the financial year of 1897, and three ships would then be laid down. Those slips are not clear now, and those ships cannot be laid down. We appear to have lost in the year those three battleships, and four cruisers which were mentioned later in the year. Now, the right hon. Gentleman, in his Memorandum, makes the statement, which he repeated to-night in the House. He gives what he calls a summary of new vessels under construction, and in that summary he lumps together ships building, ships about to be begun, and ships not to be begun until the end of next financial year. It is somewhat confusing. But our main case is, and we can prove it from Government figures, that the Government are at the present moment of emergency far below the standard which they themselves laid down. We joined in attacking the Liberal Government in 1893 for being short of the standard, and we had a Return brought before the House in December, 1893, to show how we stood. Comparing that Return with that of 1896, the last Government Return we have, we find things were worse than they were in 1893. Between the Return of December, 1893, and the Return of November, 1896, taking ships "built" alone, there have been built seven ships of 95,100 tons, and France and Russia had built 11 ships of 98,730 tons. Therefore, from the point of view of tonnage, we are worse off, and in point of numbers very much worse off than the standard which has been laid down. The country has been, to some extent, undoubtedly misled with regard to the strength of its Navy by the Review to which the First Lord of the Admiralty has alluded in such very careful terms. The effect of that Review is, that it increases jealousy; it does not increase our strength. The tangible fact remains that we have gone to the bad, and that we have got worse 1327 is proved by the Government Returns of successive Governments, which show we are altogether behind again. The reasons which are given for this falling into arrear do not appear to be valid. They have greater weight with naval men who have faced the difficulty than they have with less experienced people who are unlearned and unskilled in these matters. The first is armour. I cannot but think that, in a country like this—looking at our enormous powers of production, and looking also at the strides that have been made by Germany—for instance, a business-like guarantee of orders for a series of years to private firms would produce a larger plant in the way that such orders in Germany have produced the plant of Krupp. I am bound to say that the excuses do not seem to be valid excuses, though, at the same time, I recognise that they are traditional—that they have been made by successive Governments. The First Lord last year said to some of us that we were trying to spur a willing horse. I confess at once that I want to spur a willing horse in his case. I am sure he is a willing horse as regards the strength of the Navy and the disposition to be made of our fleets. Of course there are people, like some of my hon. Friends near me, who desire to pull the willing horse, and it is quite natural on their part. We are prepared to argue the matter out, and they should face the matter frankly, as we are always prepared to do. When the First Lord last year told us that it was an absurd idea that this country should be prepared to face a combination of all the Powers, he was confusing the issue and presenting us as absurd and ridiculous persons to this House. What we do say is this: that we should be able to meet a limited number of the Powers who are in the habit of acting together against ourselves. It is a reasonable measure of precaution, for which this country is prepared to pay, to be in such a state of preparedness as to have a chance of successfully meeting those Powers on the seas. This question of having to meet several Powers affects the question of the Reserve. The way in which the question of the Powers affects the question of 1328 manning is this: The right hon. Gentleman, in discussing the manning of the Navy last year and the year before, told us that there must be a reserve of ships. He cannot be expected to send all the ships to sea at once. Of course, against a certain single Power there would be a large reserve of ships, but if you should have to face a combination of Powers different circumstances would arise. Every ship sent to sea ought, of course, to be sufficiently modern to be placed in the front line, instead of sending to certain butchery those on board. We want to know whether you are prepared to man all ships fit for such an emergency as that. The First Lord has told us nothing about our new Reserve. He said that 600 men were serving at the present time. In the printed statement 1,815 men were mentioned as enrolled in the new Reserve, and I should like to know what these 1,815 men are, whether any additional number than the 600 have served, and how many men at the present rate of progress this new Reserve is likely to give us from time to time at certain dates ahead which might be taken. I think he will admit that there is some ground for pressing him on this point, because of the great falling off with regard to the old Reserve in the last two or three years. The Appropriation Accounts were quoted by me last year as showing a seriously inefficient state of things with regard to the old Reserve. They have come out again, and they show almost the same thing as the Appropriation Accounts last year. They show that the expenditure on the Reserve is between £22,000 and £23,000 less than was granted, because neither officers nor men came forward in sufficient numbers. These facts, with regard to the Reserve, coming out year after year, show that the condition of the old Reserve was not as it ought to have been, that the anticipation from year to year had not been fulfilled, and that the system had broken down. That justifies us in pressing the right hon. Gentleman to tell us all he possibly can in the Estimates with regard to the numbers which his new Reserve is likely to give him in the future. Two years ago the First Lord spoke about our reaching in 1898 a number at which we might stay. He said that after 1898 we should have reached the maximum with regard to active-service men. 1329 The noble Lord the Member for York stated that he should be satisfied with a maximum of 110,000, instead of 106,000; and he is in favour, in order to get an increase of Reserve, of a certain number of men doing short service in the Navy. The right hon. Gentleman is not in favour of that proposition; the maximum with him and with the noble Lord is a different thing, because the noble Lord has a scheme which will constantly produce a reserve of short-service men. He said that after the year 1898 we should reach a maximum of active-service men; and I cannot think he was justified in making such a statement, in the present state of Europe, unless he saw his way to a constant and steady increase in the new Reserve. In the case of emergency, there is no real Reserve—nothing behind to take the place of the men who have gone in the first few weeks of the war. The figures of the Reserve are optimistically swelled in the Estimates of the right hon. Gentleman. He counts the pensioners and the coastguard, but the pensioners have to take the place of the coastguard. In the mobilisation schemes of those foreign Powers with which we are at all acquainted, provision is made for doubling the coastguard in time of war. They estimate that they will require twice as many men as they need in time of peace. Here we count them all in our first line in time of war, and we count the pensioners who will possibly be the men who will take their place in a mobilisation scheme. The hon. Member for King's Lynn, in his speech on the manning question, pointed out that shortness of numbers extended even more to the lieutenants in the Navy than to the men. We know there is considerable difficulty also about the engineers. The figures in the Estimates prove that the lieutenants are exhausted by the annual mobilisation. The right hon. Gentleman has often said that you cannot do more for men unless you introduce short service and that he will never face the terrible danger of introducing short service. We none of us want to introduce short service when we have such a magnificent long service fleet. But we have to face the fact that the present provision made for the manning of the fleet is, to some extent, hypothetical, depending upon the 1330 New Reserve, which is a doubtful experiment, though one which we hope will succeed. The First Lord alluded to the question that lies behind—the supply of men from the merchant navy. Last year, he said—There is an ever-increasing demand for the Navy and an ever-decreasing British mercantile marine.He produces no remedy, and the Government produces no remedy. Last year he also said—If the shipowners cannot, or will not employ British seamen in sufficient numbers, what is to become of the maritime greatness of the country?Governments are Governments, and if they use that language they must be prepared for people asking, "What is the remedy you propose?" It is quite true that in the great war we gradually worked up to twice as many men as we should now need. But nowadays the strain comes at once, in the first week of war. When we ask at such a time of gravity in the national affairs for assurances with regard to those questions we have raised to-night, we have some right to ask that the First Lord should give us information more specific than that which has been laid before the House. At this moment a great difficulty, to which the right hon. Gentleman pointed in his speech, is that the supply of young seamen in the mercantile marine is entirely disappearing. Taking the Board of Trade Returns, the number of young men, from 15 to 25 years of age—seamen in the very flower of their youth—the British have fallen off from 17,500 to between 13,000 and 14,000 in five years, whereas the foreign element of the British Navy of the same age has increased from 4,000 to over 5,000 in the same time; that is to say, there has been a considerable increase in foreigners serving in the British mercantile marine, while there has been a falling off in Britons. I am bound to say that there is in the British Colonies a supply of men for the Reserve of the fleet who would be worth having. One difficulty is the high price of labour in the Colonies, and if you set men from the Colonies to work side by side with men from home the latter would be discontented, because of the high wages paid the other. In Newfoundland, however, you have 1331 excellent fishermen at low writes, and there the experiment might be tried. The country has undoubtedly a higher confidence in the Admiralty at this moment than it has had for some time; but we want to be informed that the system is as good as the particular individuals who compose the Admiralty. With the present First Sea Lord and the officers responsible for the construction of the fleet, no doubt the country has a confidence in the system which it does not merit. The hon. Member for Dundee assured us that the present system was the one we were demanding; but we have no security whatever that the system is to continue in the future. The whole thing is kept secret from the House of Commons. I am certain that two at least of the Powers, to which I have alluded at the beginning of my speech, will not attack this country unless they should be invited to do so by a policy which combined undue adventure with actual weakness in maintaining our position.
§ *THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
I thank most of those who have taken part in this Debate for the indulgent way in which they have spoken of our efforts to put the Navy on a proper footing. I have often heard the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken on naval matters, and I know the patriotic interest he takes in the subject, and the attention he has devoted to it; but I could frankly say that if I had to accept the facts or the excuses which the right hon. Gentleman has made for me and the Admiralty, I should be sorry to occupy the place I now fill. I reject the excuses he has made. He was extremely conciliatory towards myself. He said he understood it to be the system that I should carry out the policy of the Cabinet and the country.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE
I did not mean the policy of the Cabinet in regard to the actual construction of the fleet, but I meant as regards the size of the fleet, dictated as that is by the policy towards the Powers.
§ *THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
Quite so. That is to say, I would accept from the Cabinet a less number of ships than we at the Admiralty consider to be necessary for the service. I reject that excuse. I say 1332 these Estimates have been framed on an examination of what foreign Powers are doing, and what they have done. The right hon. Gentleman, using a rather striking phrase, said that these Estimates of £2,750,000 were Estimates of procrastination. I should like to know what sum the right hon. Gentleman would apply to a policy of energy—a policy of keeping to the mark. I was anxious to see how the right hon. Gentleman would grapple with the facts as to the ships that have actually been laid down. I cannot accept the contention of the right hon. Gentleman that we have been going back in recent years as compared with foreign Powers, or that we have fallen behind the standard which has been set up by this House. After giving the closest study it was possible for me to give to the naval programmes of other Powers, I say that in the statement we have laid before the House we have maintained the standard which has been laid down by the House. The right hon. Gentleman speaks with a confusion of mind when he says that these are days of emergency, and that, consequently, we ought to place a larger Naval programme before the House. If these were such days of emergency as the right hon. Gentleman describes, it would be our duty not to hamper the dockyards and private contractors with ships which would be useful three years hence, but to concentrate our efforts on completing, as far as possible, the ships we have in hand, and in putting every ship we have in a thorough sea-going condition. That is a point that is worth bearing in mind. It is also important, in this matter, to consider dates. I dare say the right hon. Gentleman also has considered the dates at which foreign ships winch are now building will be completed. There are statements available showing the number of ships actually building at the present moment for foreign Governments. Does the right hon. Gentleman contend that if we compare the number of completed ships belonging to other Powers, looking to their size, and armament, and efficiency, we are below the standard which has been laid down in the House of Commons as the relative strength of the British Navy? If so, I think he is mistaken, and I think he would be mistaken in the view of some of those for whom he himself has the greatest respect. 1333 I find that when he comes to discuss the ability, knowledge, and experience of my naval colleagues, the right hon. Gentleman most properly acknowledges that ability and experience. It has been my fate to represent opinions which have not been my own opinions, because I have no opinions of my own upon these technical matters, but the opinions of those who advise me. When hon. Gentlemen who are laymen and amateurs compared with my advisers put forward their views and expect me to adopt them, I can only say that I cannot adopt their views in the teeth of the professional advice given to me. The right hon. Gentleman speaks of the system. Well, what is the system? I consider it to be that, so far as all technical matters are concerned, I am the spokesman of the views of those most, able professional officers who are at the Admiralty, and it is my duty to represent their views, however feebly and imperfectly. In the same way, when it comes to other questions, I am the spokesman of the House of Commons at the Admiralty. I consider that the duty of the First Lord of the Admiralty is to be the spokesman in this House of his professional advisers, and at the Admiralty the representative of the views of this House. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Belfast spoke about armour. Now, the question of armour is distinctly a professional matter, but, of course, there are certain principles of common sense to be applied to it. My hon. Friend, as I understood him, contended that our ships are not sufficiently armoured, although, at the same time, he admitted that a considerable advance had been made. I would like to ask him, would he sacrifice speed to armour? If he would, I think there are few naval officers who would agree with him. They would say that speed is, above all others, one of the main functions of a ship. The duty of our cruisers is to hunt our enemy's cruisers, to overtake them, and destroy them, and that cannot be done unless our ships have the necessary machinery and the necessary speed. I am not sure that there is not a growing belief amongst professional men that speed is one of the very first essentials of warships, especially those of this country, considering that we have to protect our trade routes and deal with the cruisers of other countries. Sir, my hon. 1334 and learned Friend the Member for West Belfast spoke on a favourite topic of his—namely, a system of national insurance by which the food supply of the country may be secured. My hon. and learned Friend has attempted to persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the President of the Board of Trade and my right hon. Friend who is on the Defence Committee, in reference to this matter, but, from the point of view of the Navy, I consider it is the duty of the Navy to protect the trade routes with ships, and not with money. If it is to be done by financial arrangements it must be placed in hands other than those of the Admiralty, who would probably feel it would be a poor part we should play if we endeavoured, by some financial arrangement, to relieve ourselves of that responsibility which properly belongs to us—namely, to defend the commerce of the country. I return to the right hon. Baronet. He says these are Estimates of procrastination, and the right hon. Gentleman who sits opposite spoke of the degree to which we have been thrown back, and wanted to establish, not only that we have gone back by £2,270,000, but by £500,000 in addition. The £2,270,000 includes the £500,000 which has not been spent. In the coming year we propose an addition of £1,400,000 to the Estimates, in order to make up a portion of those arrears. So far, there is no procrastination; but I thought I had explained fully—and I am afraid I can hardly make it more clear—that we have no power to hasten any of these instalments. We cannot put any further burden on 1898–99 to meet instalments which will not become due. It is simply a question of the commencement of ships, and I do not think anything has been said which affects that question. Under the circumstances, looking at the difficulties which exist, I am certainly not prepared to place before the House of Commons ships which might relieve the amount of criticism which has been bestowed on the Admiralty, unless we have the security that during their construction the necessary material would be forthcoming in order to make the necessary progress. The right hon. Baronet naturally speaks of the difficulties which would be encountered by this country, but does he regard the difficulties which have to be encountered by other countries? 1335 If the House is to be influenced by a speech of the pessimistic character that we had to-night from the right hon. Gentleman, it is almost necessary that I should produce some figures on the other side. For instance, he objects to the dictum that we have to keep a certain number of ships in reserve, and he says that if we went to war with one Power it would be all very well, but if we went to war with two Powers we should have to man every ship we have got. Does the right hon. Gentleman suppose there is any Power which would be able at a minute's notice to put every ship she has to sea? We should be able to send to sea at once a much larger force than foreign Powers could command, while at the same time retaining a Reserve. The same difficulties which delay us delay foreign Powers. The right hon. Gentleman alluded to Russia, and said she has made great progress in her industrial preparations. So she has; but with reference to armour, what resources has she got, compared with this country, for the supply of armour? What do Russia—what do other countries do? They apply to America, they apply to this country, they apply to Germany, where armour is to be procured. I do not think that those who denounce these as estimates of procrastination would be prepared to say that we should, at this moment, give an order for armour to the United States.
§ *THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
I quite accept that cheer of the hon. Baronet, but I do not know whether it would be wise for us, in order to hurry on ships, to encourage the manufacture of armour in other countries. I do not think that is a tenable proposition. What we ought rather to do is to stimulate the production of armour in this country. The right hon. Gentleman omitted to notice a phrase which I thought I used in my speech—namely, that this is not only a question of the sufficiency, but the adequacy of the plant to produce armour. The plant at Sheffield has been vastly improved, and it is in the process of improvement. But when you are improving your plant, you cannot expand it at the same time, and therefore at the moment these firms 1336 could not produce so much armour as would justify us in building more ships. But, whether we have done right or wrong in postponing the commencement of ships to be built by contract till later iu the financial year, surely the right hon. Baronet will see that that does not affect the present emergency, which he presses on us as the reason for building these ships. Another hon. Member suggested that we should lay hands on, or purchase, all the ships which are now building by private firms. That would be an emergency course; but there are two parties to be considered in such a course. The fact that so many ships were under construction in this country, would be a resource which, I think, we should have a right to point to. But in time of peace to take those ships away from the Governments who have ordered them, or from the private firms building them, is a startling proposition indeed, and, except under the most stringent stress of absolute political necessity and safety, it is a course which could not reasonably be taken. There is another question, too. Are these ships—I am not speaking of all of them, but some of them—ships that that would suit us? It does not follow that a vessel built for a South American Republic would suit the requirements of the British Navy. Many of the ships are built for special purposes; and though, they are powerfully armed, and are, indeed, excellent ships, they are lacking in that radius of action, as we call it, that coal-carrying capacity, and some of those characteristics which are essential to British, ships. But I will make this confession: I assure the House that if there were for sale in this country two or three first-class ironclads, suitable for our purpose and available for purchase, I am not sure whether I should not ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to devote the two millions not spent in the current year to the purchase of those ships instead of burdening the Estimates for the ensuing year. It would be a businesslike proceeding. But none of those ships were for sale which we knew would be of use to us; and of those which were for sale none were of use to us. The noble Lord the Member for York spoke of the greater rapidity of construction in France and Russia and elsewhere. No doubt progress has been made, but I do not think that they themselves are of 1337 opinion that they have yet reached the rate of speed at which we are still fortunately able to build ships, at all events in our dockyards. You may launch a ship easily enough; but naval officers know very well that a great deal of its use will depend upon the state of advancement in which it is launched. A ship may be launched when it is near completion or when it is in such an incomplete condition that some time must elapse before it will be worth anything. I repeat, our Estimates are not based upon any pressure restraining the action of the Admiralty. They are based upon the survey which we have taken of the needs of the Empire; looking at the question from the same point of view as we did in July last and when we framed the last Estimates we have made no change. The right hon. Baronet may know what rate of progress during the last two or three years has been made in the construction of foreign ships. I am not at all sure that foreign Governments have not lost by inevitable delays of construction, in many cases, as much time as we have lost during the last seven months. We should be in a better position; I do not say we are in a worse position now than we were a year and a half ago. We are losing the lead we had, but I do not consider that we have gone back. I do not wish the opinion to be current that we are in a worse or, indeed, in a better position than we really are; and I can assure the House that I have passed the stage of sensitiveness to criticism, even as to complaints of the personal conduct of the Admiralty. The right hon. Baronet opposite spoke with reference to the personnel; he said that the noble Lord the Member for York had accepted the standard of 106,000 men, although he would prefer 110,000; but he accepted it with the idea of short service. I do not think the noble Lord holds by the idea of short service still. [Lord C. BERESFORD: Only for the Reserve.] But I think the noble Lord has given up the idea of having on the active list short service men and long service men together. Now, the original idea was that you were to have the short service system side by side with the long service system, in order that your short service men should pass rapidly into the Reserve. There is a very unanimous feeling among naval officers on no 1338 account to tamper with the present conditions of naval service, and they would go so far as to prefer to remain with 106,000 of stationary Reserve than to sap the efficiency of these 106,000 for the sake of passing more men into the Reserve. There are many reforms which I should be prepared to accept if they could be shown to be correct, but I do not think anything would induce me or my advisers and colleagues at the Admiralty to enter upon such a system. I have been very much pressed with regard to the expansion of the Reserve. My view is this; I expressed it last year, and I will express it again. I will not put down an increase for the Reserve on paper without some justification—without some certainty that I may be able to have efficient men, and my view is not to increase the Reserve until we have some assurance that the changes we have made will introduce a better system into the Reserve. How will you tempt men into the Reserve? I hope we are solving the problem by tempting them young. I do not believe you could tempt them by increased payment. I entreat hon. Members who talk of raising the emoluments of different classes in the Navy to remember this, that these men are serving side by side, and that increased emoluments in one particular class of rating means discontent in other ratings, possibly equally intelligent and important, where no increase is made, and to have Reserve men who do not know the duties on a man-of-war serving side by side with the blue-jackets who do, yet receiving a higher rate of pay, would be a certain method of increasing dissatisfaction. I see no Royal road to a rapid increase in the Reserve. We must feel our way. The right hon. Gentleman complained that the Government do not bring in a Bill to increase the number of British seamen. He says it is the business of the Government. Well, I think, if the State is to interfere in this matter, it will be going very far. I do not say something of the kind may not be done; I think something ought to be done in other directions; but it is my firm conviction that the State cannot go beyond a certain point in this direction. A mercantile nation is exposing its future security and freedom if it does not see that a considerable portion of the population is sent to sea. You may train a few 1339 thousand apprentices, but who is to secure that when we have trained them they will remain in the maritime service? Suppose we trained them, what security is there that they would be employed in our Navy? What security is there that some outside organisation will not say, "You must only take those boys on certain conditions on your ships; if not, we will take them ourselves"? The Government would have indeed a tremendous task to undertake the duty of providing British seamen for British ships. I must apologise for taking up so much time. There are speeches which I shall be unable to touch, but I hope to be able to deal to-morrow with some interesting points which have been raised in the course of the Debate. Allusion has been made to the supply of the Reserve from the Colonies. That is a subject to which I have not been able to give much attention, but there are certainly very great administrative difficulties connected with it. You require batteries, you require instructors, and you require great organisation; therefore the establishment of a Reserve is a matter of very considerable difficulty. But I do not wish to exclude the consideration of a policy which I know commends itself, not only to many men in this country, but also to many of our fellow subjects in the Colonies. I content myself with saying that there are considerable administrative difficulties in the way. Now, Sir, reference has been made to the training of our boys, and one hon. Member expressed the opinion that we are entirely in the wrong in taking boys for the training ships as old as 18. We have had reports from captains in the Mediterranean on this matter, and these reports are to the effect that, though these lads are mot generally able to swim, there is otherwise very little difference between them and those who have been trained from an earlier age in our ships. The House will understand that this was a Measure that was adopted in a transitional state, and so soon as we have reached what I may call the normal stage the whole subject will, no doubt, be reconsidered. A minor point was raised by the right hon. Gentleman opposite as to the depôt at Walmer, where we no longer train recruits for the Artillery, who are now trained at headquarters. The right hon. Gentleman is 1340 correct in saying that the state of things there is not an ideal state of things, and suggests that more accommodation there shall be secured, but we must remember that we are pressed on account of the rapid increase we have made in the Marines. While we are raising 1,000 men a year as well as the men to meet the waste, of course there are many more recruits than when we are only raising recruits to meet the waste. With regard to the remarks of the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean, as to the total number of men asked for, I only threw it out as a general suggestion that 106,000 should be the maximum. We are working up to a certain number, and I think we are approaching the maximum. Then the right hon. Gentleman asked some questions as to the manning of our ships. By taking only a portion of the Reserve we are able to man the ships which we should send to sea, and as every year we introduce fresh first-class modern ships into our Navy a certain number of the older ships are struck off, and this very year, when we agreed to our programme, we made a careful examination as to how those ships were to be manned, and the result of the examination showed that we should be able to send all these ships to sea, fully manned and provisioned. It would be, of course, folly to go on building ships unless we saw a prospect of having them properly manned, and the manning of the ships is certainly a subject which occupies the attention of the Admiralty quite as much as the building of ships. I have been asked to reconsider the question of the age of cadets, and an hon. Member said that he hoped that the system which I have introduced would not be eternal. The system cannot be eternal, because I cannot be eternal. If it be true that most people believe it to be wrong—a view which I do not share—there is nothing in the arrangements to prevent a change, if change should be desirable. Nor have I, I hope, that class of mind or that kind of pride which would lead me, because I have introduced this system, to refuse to permit a change if I found that the system did not work well. As it is, I have no proof that it does not work well, and nothing has been said to show that these cadets will not be as satisfactory as the boys who joined the Navy at the age of 11. 1341 There is now a great advance in education; and if boys come better prepared to the Britannia they may be able to do in six months more specialised work than formerly they would have been able to do after two years. We want to relieve our officers, as much as possible, of the work which is ordinarily taught in schools. There is another reason which commends itself to my own mind, and I should have thought would have commended itself to the hon. Member. I do not like the idea of taking a boy at 12 years of age and specialising him from that time forward. I like to think of our boys enjoying, as long as possible, the same general education that is gone through by other boys. I do not like to think of a class of boys who, from the earliest age, are to be taken off their general education and set down, almost as infants, to plod at mathematics, for instance, in order that they may compete in an examination. Therefore, I cannot say that I see my way to making any change in the system I have introduced. At the same time, we must see that the boys who now enter the Navy are properly reported on, and, if the profession tells me that the system is a mistake, I promise that I shall be ready to consider the question of the repeal of these Regulations. Those who declare that the public schools are not qualified to prepare boys for the Britannia should remember that it was a Harrow boy who took the first place in the last examination. That shows, I think, that the public schools are well able to send up lads, without any necessity for their going to crammers. Now, Mr. Speaker, I do not know whether I may appeal to the House to allow you to leave the Chair. I should not make that appeal if it were not that to-morrow we are going to take a Vote upon this, when every topic we have dealt with to-day can be discussed, and discussed fully. While the Speaker is in the Chair it is impossible for me to reply to every question which hon. Members may desire to put to me, and as I expect that their object is less to put questions than to get answers, I should recommend them, in their own interests, to let us get at once to the Committee stage, when I can answer fully whatever questions may be put to me.
§ Question put, and agreed to.1342
§ MR. SPEAKER
I warn the hon. Member that if he continues to make these disorderly observations I shall have to call upon him to leave the House.