§ "That 127,100 men and boys be employed for the Sea and Coast Guard Services for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1904, including 19,806 Royal Marines."
§ Resolution read a second time.
§ *Mr. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
said he desired to move that the Vote be reduced by 4,600 men—the proposed increase in the current Estimate. The question was a large one, and no opportunity had so far been afforded of discussing that particular point. He deplored the action of the Secretary to the Admiralty the other night, in following the bad precedent of the last two or three years, in himself opening the discussion on the Estimates. The result had been to deprive hon. Members of the precedence they obtained in the ballot, and to produce merely disconnected debates. During the last few days an interesting Report had been issued by the Committee appointed by the Admiralty—and provided over by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Berwick—to deal with the question of the numbers in the Navy, and the difficulty likely to be experienced in recruiting the vast forces now required. It was desirable that the House should 1471 give a little attention to the findings of that Committee. In moving the reduction of the Vote he wished particularly to call attention to the way in which the Navy Estimates had been swollen this year. He had desired that day to put a question as to the amount of money to be spent under the Naval Works Bill this season, but did not get an answer owing to the absence of the Minister.
§ THE CIVIL LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. PRETYMAN, Suffolk, Woodbridge)
It is impossible to give an Estimate at present.
§ *MR. LOUGH said he would put it roughly at £2,500,000, and that would bring the total expenditure on the Navy for the year up to £37,000,000—an amount equal to that demanded for the Army when the expenditure under the Military Works Bill is included. They thus were asked to provide the enormous sum of £74,000,000 for the two Services, and considering the vastness of that amount he urged that the House should hesitate before it pledged itself to impose such a serious burden on the nation. Ten years ago the cost of both Services was about £30,000,000, and when one thought of the immense growth of our Estimates yearly, it would be at once realised that unless some economy were effected in the Navy and Army it would be totally impossible for the country to secure any reduction whatever. The increased cost of education alone was sufficient to account for the growth in the Civil Service Estimates, and therefore if the House agreed to the present Army and Navy Estimates, all prospect of economy was removed from its purview. There were a certain number of gentlemen who thought that great economy might be effected in the Army Estimates, but then they suggested that if that were accomplished a larger amount of money would be available for spending on the Navy. That he suggested would be most unsatisfactory. In face of the great figures, in face of the feeling outdoors that some economy should be effected, the House surely ought to pause before it sanctioned that Vote for so large a number of men.
§ Now he wished to draw the attention of the House to the Report of the Committee appointed by the Admiralty to consider 1472 how the personnel of the Navy could be made more satisfactory. At the very threshold of that inquiry the Committee were informed that there had been an increase in the personnel of the Navy by 50,000 within the last fifteen years. But immediately that statement was made it was treated as nothing by the First Lord of the Admiralty, and the Committee was asked to inquire how the manning of the Navy might be brought up to date, and how especially the reserve for the Navy might be built up. The opinion of the members of the Committee was not asked with regard to-the policy of the Admiralty, and it was desirable that it should not be, because the Government and the Admiralty must take the responsibility for the policy. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Berwick from the beginning observed a correct attitude; he expressed no opinion on the requirements of the Navy, but proceeded at once to deal with the difficulty the Admiralty had placed before him. The First Lord, in his statement, had passed a very high eulogy on the hon. Baronet for his work, and undoubtedly anyone who carefully read the Report would admit that the praise was deserved. When they came to examine the Report they had at the very threshold to face one great difficulty—that was that a number of the clauses were merely represented by asterisks, and those clauses referred to the most interesting and difficult questions. No doubt it was not considered right to publish the information embodied in those clauses. But that meant that the Report could not be; fully discussed, and the responsibility must rest with the Government. It would have been better to furnish no Report at all than to furnish one from which all the most important details were excluded. Still the Report gave some most valuable information. It showed that during the last sixteen or seventeen years the number of men on active service in the Navy bad increased by 52,000, while the Reserves showed an addition of 14,000 or 15,000. That gave them a total force available in any moment of emergency in this country of 162,000 men for the Navy. The Report went on to inquire what were the sources from which some still larger force, irrespective of the proposed increase this year, was to be obtained. As far as he could make out it 1473 indicated that there was in the mercantile service a force of not less than about 160,000 sailors—excluding, of course, foreigners and Lascars, from which further recruits might be drawn, if the nation were plunged into an emergency. In addition to that the fishermen would supply a further line of reserve, and thus they would get a force of nearly 200,000 more men from which, in case of emergency, most useful recruits might be drawn. Thus the present position was not of a very disquieting character. But by far the most interesting part of the Report was the extraordinary diagram which appeared on its last page. That diagram gave a most graphic and interesting history of the Navy. It was arranged in the shape of a curved line, and it showed the history of the naval force of this country for a period of 150 years. One would have thought from the speech of the Secretary to the Admiralty, when he declared that he was proposing the largest Estimates ever presented in peace or war, that this year's total represented the largest number of men ever provided for the Navy. That was not so, for in 1801 no fewer than 130,000 men were voted by the House, and in 1810 the total wag 146,000 men. No doubt these were gigantic figures, especially when considered in their proportion to the population at the time, but they illustrated what great effort the country was capable of making in an emergency. The diagram showed more; it proved that immediately the emergency had passed the greatest possible relief was instantly given to the country. Their great quarrel with the present Government was that it now refused to extend the slightest relief to the country although the war was over. Let him remind the House what had been done in this direction in past periods. In the year 1760, at the close of the war with France and Spain, there was a reduction from 70,000 to 16,000; in 1784, at the close of the American war and the war with Spain, it fell from 110,000 to 18,000, and in the four years which succeeded 1813 the Estimate of 146,000 was reduced to 20,000. As late as the year I860 the Intimates were reduced from 84,000 to 60,000. That illustrated the fact that in every past period the Government of the country did undoubtedly make ample calls on the nation 1474 in the moment of emergency, but directly the emergency was over they gave every relief. There was an idea current that the Navy was in an unsatisfactory state in the year 1885. That was before the new policy was adopted, but looking to the diagram to which he had already referred, and comparing the various peace establishments of the past 150 years, it could not be suggested that there was any room whatever for discontent. In the year 1820 the peace establishment of the Navy was 20,000 men; in 1850 it was 40,000; and in 1880 it had risen to 60,000. Thus up to 1885 the growth of the peace establishment was proportionate to the growth of the population and wealth of the country. He thought they had accepted too readily the argument presented to them by the Navy League and the jingoes that the increase was absolutely necessary. He thought, however, that it was abundantly made clear that the present undue rise was quite unnecessary; and he should like to ask the Government which had raised the number of men from 60,000 to 120,000 this question. Were these Estimates of peace or of war? If they were peace Estimates—and he suggested that he was entitled to assume that they were—then an outrageous burden should not be placed on the country without giving some good reasons for it. If they were war Estimates, then he asked why the Government had not followed the universal precedent and, when the war was over, reduced the establishment of the Navy?
§ The report with which he had been dealing referred to the fact that there had been no inquiry of the character it was called upon to make since 1859, but in that year a Committee was appointed to consider the question of the maiming of the Navy, and to discuss the very questions which has been referred to the Committee of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Berwick. The findings of the Committee of 1859 were very similar to the findings of the present Committee, but no attention whatever was paid to their recommendations, and the increase which it recommended both in the Navy and in the Reserve never really took place. It would be very interesting to know if the Committee which had just sat were allowed to inquire why the recommendations of the Committee of 1859 were not adopted. I will venture to state the reason. While 1475 the Committee of 1859 was making its inquiries there was a Member of this House named Mr. Kichard Cobden, who was preparing a pamphlet on the Navy, which he published under the title of "The Three Panics." Mr. Cobden pointed out that since 1846 a great increase had taken place in the Navy Estimates under the influence of three national movements, which he described as panics. He argued that there had been no real reason for the great increase in expenditure, and pointed to the necessity of entering into negotiations with foreign Powers, and cultivating friendly relations with them in order to stop the continual increases which were going on. On consideration the nation and Parliament decided to adopt the policy of Mr. Cobden. In 1860 the celebrated Commercial Treaty with France was entered into, and some twenty treaties upon a commercial basis were consummated between this country and other foreign nations about that time. In the period immediately following 1860 there was a reduction of 25,000 in the number of men, and during the quarter of a century after that time there occurred the greatest development in the resources of this country which they had ever experienced. It seemed to him that the sadden increases in Naval expenditure during the last fifteen years were very like those Mr. Cobden described. The Government had again assumed a defiant attitude towards other nations, and were needlessly building up these huge armaments. The Government ought to look more fully into this ancient history and imitate the examples set them by the Government of 1860. He had asked for some reason why the increases had been made this year, and the only reply they got was a querulous inquiry "Why don't you talk about a detail?" They did not want to discuss items or to go into detail, but they did want to know something of the principle upon which the Government were proceeding. He thought upon this occasion mere courtesy should induce the hon. Member in charge to state why this year had been picked out for such a large increase in the expenditure and in the number of men. In all the recent elections the question of this increased expenditure had been brought to the front with the result that the Govern- 1476 ment candidates were placed at the bottom of the poll.
§ If the Government knew what was going on outside, and the state of affairs, they would at once realise the gravity of the situation. Money was difficult to find now for any new business enterprises, wages were falling, and pauperism was increasing, and yet during such times the Government increased their Estimates for the Army and Navy. There was a great responsibility upon hon. Members on the Opposition sides in regard to the question, for many of them had shown great reluctance to vote against an increase in the Navy Estimates. In a celebrated speech at Bristol the late Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that if any increase of the Navy were proposed by the Government this Spring, after the efforts made during the last ten years, then the Estimates would have to be treated in a very different way to what they had been treated during recent years. The last word of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer was to warn the Government against this increase of expenditure. They required some vindication of the policy which the Government had adopted. After the emergency through which the nation had passed they wished to know why the Government had refused to give them this information. He begged to move the Motion standing in his name.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said he desired to second the Motion. They had been told that the Committee of Defence was to be reorganised because it was felt that there was no concord between the Army and Navy authorities, and because it was thought necessary that they should look into what ought to be spent on the Army and on the Navy respectively. It was extraordinary that before that Committee had had an opportunity of seeing exactly what was needed for the Army and the Navy the Government should rush into this new-expenditure. If it were true that the Navy required this new increase now, what were they to say about the Government for not proposing it last year? They had just added 27,000 men to the Army, not only against the united protest of hon. Members on the Opposition side, but also against the protest of a large number of hon. Gentle- 1477 men sitting on the Ministerial side of the House. Recent elections had ratified the protests made in the House, but if they chose in this reckless manner to add 27,000 men to the Army surely it was a bad moment to add also to the Navy. His hon. friend had asked why the Government did not follow the precedents of former times and reduce the armaments when they came to the end of a war. It was simply because the Government had come to the conclusion, since Imperialism had been in the ascendency, that all the great Ministers: who had had the destinies of this nation in hand before the present Government came into power, were nothing but idiots and fools, and the Government had decided that it was necessary to keep up armaments sufficient to fight the whole world. They had got to accept the fact that if this country went to war they could not control the entire seas, or block up all the navies of their enemies, and they would necessarily have to submit to a considerable loss in trade. He was not sure that such a calamity would not be a good thing for the country, because all countries were too apt to recklessly plunge into war. All the promises and assurances made that this country was going to better its position by the late war in South Africa had not proved correct.
It had been suggested that they should make an appeal to other great Naval Powers to come to some arrangement in regard to the strength of their Navy. Those suggestions were not practical if based upon the present balance of power, because it practically meant saying to other countries: "We want permanently to assume the position of being masters of the sea, and therefore you must have a Navy not able, with two or three other navies joined to it, to defeat the British Navy." No foreign country would accept such a scheme. Napoleon sought universal Empire, and the whole world united against him. Although this country had more colonies than foreign countries they must not forget that foreign countries also had their carrying trade, and they had realised that it was necessary for all manufacturing nations to be able to export their goods. Consequently they would never assent to a claim that their 1478 colonies and trade should be held as kind of hostages by this country. It was often urged that they must have command of the sea in order to ensure their food supply. He denied, in the first place, that it was necessary for them to obtain command of the sea in such a way. This country might build ships, and foreign countries might also build, but although England had a long purse, it was not longer than the rest of the world. He did not think it necessary, in order to obtain food supplies, that we should be in such a position. Supposing we were at war with France, Germany, and Russia, we should get our provisions from America. Why? Because the Americans would claim that they had a perfect right to send food here; they would not accept the doctrine that food was contraband of war. Then these three Powers would know that they would have the United States against them if they attempted to enforce any such doctrine.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE said he was waiting for that question. He was looking to the hon. Gentleman to ask it. The United States refused to accept the doctrine laid down by the Treaty of Paris, and had invariably asserted the view he had stated. Did his hon. friend seriously suppose that if we were in the contingency of war he had suggested in Europe, that the United States would for a moment accept the view that their ships might be overhauled in the open ocean in order to see whether they had food which was destined for us I The United States depended enormously on their export of wheat, and they would not agree for a moment that they should be hindered on the ground that they had not entered into a particular treaty, or that our enemies chose to assert that food was contraband of war.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE said that was the sort of idle, silly question that a woman would ask. It was the sort of possibility that hon. Gentlemen, were 1479 always putting forward, calling upon the House to spend hard cash in order to avoid contingencies that could not reasonably be expected to happen. Suppose we were at war with all the European countries he had named and the United States as well, what would be our position? We might have command of the sea, but these countries would only have to wait and they would starve us out. Our command of the sea would do us no good.
§ MB. LABOUGHERE asked whether, in the event of the countries that might be opposed to us forbidding their own exports, anybody seriously supposed they would allow the Argentine Republic to send us food supplies and so defeat their scheme of starving us out? The whole thing was mythical. We were always nowadays imagining some possible danger so that we might spend a certain number of millions in order to avoid it. That was called being patriotic, and anybody who opposed it was called a traitor. He was quite willing to be called a traitor when he had such company as Peel and Cobden, who entertained the same views.
§ SIR GILBERT PARKER (Gravesend)
said that Cobden stated that if it were necessary to spend £100,000,000 on the Navy for the protection of our trade and commerce, we would be making a cheap expenditure.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE said he had heard that often said, but he had never met anyone who could state where Mr. Cobden said it. If the hon. Member could show where the statement was made he would confer a service, because they were all curious to know. But whether he said it or not there was an "if" in the matter, and his reply was that it would not cost £100,000,000. Did anyone suppose that if in a concrete form a proposal had come before the House to vote £100 000,000 in order to make sure of our getting our food in time of war, that Mr. Cobden, who 1480 always opposed an increase of armaments, would have spoken and voted in favour of the proposal. Hon. Gentlemen knew very well, although they tried to twist in Mr. Cobden as a supporter of their policy, that he would have been one of the very first to move a reduction of £95,000,000. We were on a wrong basis entirely when we said that we must have a Navy equal to those of two or three Powers. It was a challenge thrown down to all the world, and what had been the consequence? The world had to meet the challenge, and each separate country had made additions to its Navy. The consequence was that at the present moment the relative proportion of strength between us and foreign nations in regard to the Navy was very much the same as it was before we began this wild scheme of "beggar my neighbour." He put his opposition on the ground that the Defence Committee was sitting at the present moment, and that it was foolish on our part to increase the expenses of the Army or Navy until they had before them the united plan of the Army and Navy authorities for the maintenance of the safety of this country. That, he thought, would in itself be a sufficient reason, but he put it on two other grounds. One was what his hon. friend had shown, namely that after a great war we ought to have a pausing time in the increase of armaments, and considering that we had already to pay interest on the amount we had borrowed for the recent war, and also for the large sums which were yet to be paid, we ought to wait for a year or two. His firm belief was that they could not devote to the payment of sailors money which they had already agreed to expend on soldiers. The House had already agreed to an expenditure on 27,000 extra men for the Army. They knew perfectly well that most hon. Gentlemen opposite were opposed to that expenditure. Some of them voted against, it, and some of them walked out of the House and would not vote in favour of it, and others shrugged their shoulders in a guilty sort of a way, and simply because they did not like to vote against their Party went into the lobby and voted against their 1481 consciences. In these circumstances he would vote with his hon. friend if he went to a division.
To leave out '127,100,' and insert '122500.'"—[Mr. Lough).
Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Resolution: "
§ SIR FORTESCUE FLANNERY said the hon. Member for Northampton had only adduced two arguments in favour of the reduction of the Vote. The hon. Member founded his case almost entirely on the suggestion that America would not agree that food should be regarded as contraband of war, and that if American ships were carrying food to this country, and the enemies of this country were to overhaul those ships for the purpose of capturing that food, America would not agree to it. That seemed to be an entirely convincing argument to the hon. Member. He ventured to ask the hon. Member what would happen supposing America did not agree with his view, and his answer was that that was a silly interpellation. But even if America with such powers at sea as she possessed did not agree that contraband of war included food intended for this country, we would have no power to enforce her non-agreement; and a powerful country—it might be France, Russia or Germany, or all, three—would insist on carrying on this examination of vessels carrying food for this country, whether the American nation agreed or not. Therefore, the non-concurrence of America had really nothing to do with the case, and they were brought back to the question whether we had sufficient provision of the physical kind—sufficient strength of arm to protect ourselves. On that, and on that only, we must rely. We had it on absolute authority that we had no more than a fortnight's supply of food in this country. That might, on short rations, last for six weeks before the people were starved into submission without firing a shot. The 1482 Admiralty, in the provision they were making, seemed to him to be acting wisely in dealing largely with cruisers.
The hon. Member for West Islington, in arguing that the Estimates should be cut down, instanced what was brought before the Committee presided over by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Berwick for the purpose of showing that on former occasions, when a war was over, naval preparations not only ceased but actually were reduced. The hon. Member invited the House to accept that information as something which should govern operations at the present time. He asked the hon. Member to consider that on former occasions the enemies of this country at sea had been crushed as the result of war, and, therefore, it was not necessary to go on with preparations. At that time there was only one maritime enemy of this country—namely, France. The war just concluded was a war in which we had not a maritime Power to face, and the result of that war had not yet affected in the least degree the possible opponents we might have to meet at sea. Therefore, the parallel which the hon. Member sought to draw entirely failed; and, however prudent it might have been many years ago to reduce naval preparations when a prolonged naval war had paralysed our resources, there was no reason whatever why a similar state of things should prevail in the future. The position was clear. The German Emperor, taking a profound interest in his Navy, had placed in the hands of the members of the Reichstag a comparative list of the ships of the British Navy and of the German Navy. The enormous increase in the Naval Estimates in Germany had been accepted, notwithstanding some reductions, by the German Parliament. President Roosevelt had stated to the Senate of the United States and to the country that the time had now come for America to be a world Power, and naval preparations on a very largo scale were being carried out in the United States. Russia was continuing her preparations, and France was not behind. It would, therefore, be criminal on the part of this country if we did not make corresponding preparations. He believed that the Motion would fall to the ground without the shock which the hon Member believed he was inflicting on the House. The 1483 feeling of the House and the country was that of complete conviction that the life and future existence of this country as a Power and as a nation depended upon the sufficiency and completeness of our naval preparations.
§ SIR ROBERT REID (Dumfries Burghs)
said that the hon. Member who had just sat down had made a very interesting contribution—he had made it before—to the general principle that this country ought to lie sufficiently armed for warfare on the sea. That was not disputed here. The real subject of consideration was whether it was not possible to have some alleviation of the enormous burdens at present laid on the people of the country. This was, after all, an assembly whose; business it was to attack questions of this kind in a business sense, and with all respect to the hon. Gentleman, he did not think that it furthered the inquiry by alluding so often to a principle on which all were agreed. There was a certain unreality with regard to most debates on the Estimates It was very difficult to cut them down. The right hon. Gentleman responsible for the Army Estimates said "Tell me where you can cut these Estimates down"—and he showed the House a book an inch thick. How was it possible for any private Member, or any person not conversant with the full details of all that went on at the Admiralty, to say what item should be cut down? If that argument was to prevail, it would prevent all useful criticism of expenditure in this House. There had been speculations on the contingencies of this country being engaged in war, of not having the complete command of the sea, and our not being able to be supplied with food from America. He would not enter into the extraordinarily difficult questions that arise out of that; but he would make one observation. The United States Government had, for many years been urging that private property at sea ought to be respected in time of war the same as private property on land. On that point the hon. Member for Northampton had been challenged by the hon. Member for King's Lynn who had written a book on the subject very full of information. But it was well worth consideration whether the conditions of naval warfare, in reference 1484 to the capture of private property at sea, should not be revised by this country in view of the increase of naval expenditure in this and other countries We should not then be under the fear, we now were in, lest we should be starved out on account of our inability to get food. It was of the utmost importance, with a view to that danger, to maintain as strongly as we could two doctrines. One was that food supplies, except in the case of effective blockade, were not contraband of war. He did not think that our statesmen had yet realised the importance of that doctrine. The second was, whether we should not accede to the doctrine laid down by the United States in regard to private property at sea?
He would further point out that many speeches had been made on the subject of the Naval Estimates, but tie House had not received from the Government what they had asked for—any reason whatever for any increase of expenditure on the Naval Estimates of this year. The increase was very large. He had the utmost reluctance in voting against Estimates presented on the responsibility of the Government of the Jay, but the House of Commons ought to be told whether there were any particular reasons of policy—without prying unduly into them—which dictated so large an increase in this year's Estimates. There was one other matter. There was no means by which they could be enabled to> judge what was the proper policy of this country in regard to Naval armaments. They ought to be in a position to know what were the relative strengths—he would not say in ships, because they were not competent to judge of that—but the relative sums spent by this and other countries on Naval armaments. He believed that a Return recently made contained a description of the ships afloat; but experts, with these figures before them, were liable to differ from each other as to the value of the comparison. It all depended upon the strength of the ships, or upon this, that, and the other particular which a private person was quite unable to judge of. But there was one method of gaining useful information and aiding their judgment which they did not possess at the present moment. If an official Return were presented of the sums of money 1485 spent (luring the last ten or twelve years; by France, Germany, Russia and the United States on Naval armaments they would be able to form some opinion on two points—First: What was our probable relative strength compared with that of other Powers, assuming the money went the same length; and second: Who was it who began this race of expenditure? He had looked at the figures so far as they were accessible to him, and he was sorry to say that this country had something to do with the beginning of this race in enormous expenditure. It told against this country more than against any other, because our particular needs absolutely required that we should be sufficiently prepared; whereas it was more or less of a luxury with the other Powers, unless it were for the purposes of aggression. It was therefore most important to be able to follow in an intelligent manner the expenditure of the other Powers, and to estimate who were the people who proposed this race, and how it fared with this country in the struggle. He believed that after ten years of expenditure on competitive armaments this country was, relatively speaking, weaker than it was ten years ago; and that the whole of our money had been wasted, and worse than wasted. If that were the case, if we had doubled our Naval expenditure in ten years, if we, by reason of that increased expenditure, had induced other Powers to increase their expenditure, it would have been better on all hands had the whole of the money been thrown into the sea. [Laughter from hon. Members on the GOVERNMENT Benches.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite did not do justice to his argument. Of course he was assuming that if we did not go on, the other Powers would not go on. [Renewed laughter from the GOVERNMENT Benches.] He hoped hon. Gentlemen opposite would not trifle with the argument, which he maintained was a very intelligent one.
There was one other matter. It had been stated by the hon. Member for Northampton that we ought to make an approach to the other Powers, or at all events to avail ourselves of every opportunity—which he (the hon. and learned Member for Dumfries Burghs) had some grounds to think would be readily offered—to see whether 1486 we could not secure that there should be a diminution of, or a limit to, Naval expenditure all round. The hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty, on the occasion of the last debate, said that that had been done, and that what had been done by a prudent and wise Government should not be regarded with derision by hon. Gentlemen opposite. He did not, however, quite understand the language used by the hon. Gentleman, and he would therefore ask him for further information on the subject. Mr. Goschen suggested some years ago that he was prepared to abate some of the now construction programme of this country if Russia did the same. He was not aware whether any negotiations had taken place, or whether there had been any communications on the subject; and he should be obliged if the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty would toll the House whether there had been any such negotiations within the last six or seven years; and if so, whether he would lay Papers on the Table showing what had been done. Ho believed that other Powers would be prepared, in one form and another, to agree that this country should have what she was legitimately entitled to claim, a position of sufficient strength to secure her safety and security on the seas. Otherwise it would, of course, be impossible to come to any terms at all. But other Powers would only be prepared to agree if they believed that the power of this country on the seas would not be used for aggressive purposes, and if they had faith in the pacific disposition of this country.
The fact was everyone was agreed that this country must have adequate and full Naval strength; and, for that reason, ho was not disposed to put difficulties in the way of the Government. But he thought it was a false and mistaken patriotism altogether to ignore the difficulties that lay in the way of providing further funds for Naval or Military armaments. That would be foolish, and would tend to defeat their own purpose, as it was certain that when the pressure of very heavy taxation came upon the people, they would insist upon economy, and economy might then not be either in the right direction or at the right stage. That was the reason why he strongly urged on the Government all the considerations 1487 he had laid before them. It was lamentable that these debates did not attract the presence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or First Lord of the Treasury, or of any member of the Naval Defence Committee, although they were being asked to vote enormous Estimates, amounting to £34,500,000, to say nothing of Naval Works, which would amount to £2,500,000 more. It was deplorable that the House and the country did not face the real difficulties and the real dangers in this matter; and that they were not prepared to use all reasonable means to reduce expenditure. He was perfectly certain there was only one way to do this, and that was to keep pegging away in the House of Commons and in the country until people came to realise the enormity of this expenditure, the vast degree in which it had increased within ten years, and the great probability that, unless the House of Commons interposed it would go on increasing, until it was brought down with a run which would not be consonant with the feelings of this country.
§ MR. GIBSON BOWLES said he quite agreed with the hon. Gentleman that the enormous increase in the national expenditure was a matter which deserved the consideration of this country. It was not necessary in order to ensure a reduction that they should harp on the subject in this House, because he thought it was receiving most serious attention in the country, and that recent events were largely due to the disinclination the English people now felt, the war being over, to continue, in any degree, the expenditure they were willing to face while the war was in progress. He would ask permission to say one word on the question of food supply, in reply to what had been said by the hon. Member for Northampton. The hon. Member said that the food supply of the country in time of war would not be interfered with, because the United States would not allow interference with its ships.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE said that he did not state the food supply would not be interfered with; he said that the country would not be starved out, and 1488 he was perfectly certain that the country would get all the food it required.
§ MR. GIBSON BOWLES said that the contention of the hon. Gentleman was that they would get an adequate supply, because the United States would not allow corn to be taken out of United States vessels. He thought the hon. Gentleman was under a misapprehension. He would remind the House that the rule of naval warfare, under which they now lived, and which was agreed to in 1856, was that a neutral flag covered the cargo, except contraband of war. Take the case of corn consigned to an English merchant in an American ship. The question would arise whether it was, or was not, under the rule to which he referred, capturable by France. But the United States had not agreed to the rule, they refused to sign it, although they were prepared to go further. Consequently, who then would protest against France seizing English corn in an American vessel? The United States would not suffer, as the ship would be released. England might have cause for complaint, because England had agreed to the rule under which a neutral flag covered the cargo. But France had also agreed to that rule; and therefore it would not be competent for France to seize English goods in an American ship. Then came the question as to whether corn was contraband of war.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! This docs not relate to the question of the number of men to be voted for the Navy. The attitude of the United States was referred to as the justification for an increase in the Navy; but that does not allow hon. Members to enter into a discussion as to what is the true view of a question of international law.
§ MR. GIBSON BOWLES said, of course, he would bow to the ruling of the Chair; but it was extremely unfortunate that an incorrect doctrine with reference to international law should be preached in this House; and that it was against the Rules of Order to reply to it. The hon. Member for the Shipley Division said that the country would be starved out without striking a blow, 1489 because corn would be regarded as contraband of war. He did not think that the country could be starved out without striking a blow. Hon. Members who held that opinion had only to look at the map of Europe. If they did they would sec that the sea avenues to this country were so numerous and so wide that it would be physically impossible for all the navies of the world to stop the influx of corn into these Islands. It would moan the shutting up of the seas from the Naze to the Orkneys, from the Orkneys to the North of Ireland, all the West Coast of Ireland, and from Cape Clear to Ushant. That would be physically impossible. Whatever the strength of the enemy might be, the food supply of this country was quite safe; because it was absolutely impossible to close all the sea doors to this country The hon. Member for West Islington said that the number of men the House was asked to vote was unjustifiable in present circumstances, because after a war the Navy had always been largely reduced. No doubt that was the fact in 1784, but in 1791–2 the Fleet was increased as much as it had been previously reduced. Again in 1802 the number of men was reduced enormously, but there was an increase almost immediately. The result was that there was a steep reduction and a steep increase; and the moral was that these steep reductions and steep increases were possible in other days but were not possible now. In other days there was no continuous service, nor did the country require it, because the men taken from the mercantile marine were just as good to fight a man-of-war as anyone that could be trained. The system in those days was that where there was a captain who had a reputation for securing prize money he got a crew immediately, but where there was a captain who had a contrary reputation, he found great difficulty in getting a crew. After the war the men went back to the mercantile marine and the Navy almost ceased to be. That was not possible now. The mercantile marine men would not suffice. They could not man the Navy; and. with regard to the Naval Reserve, lit was perfectly persuaded that they could not introduce more than 25 per cent, into a battleship, owing to their 1490 ignorance of the ways and practices aboard a man-of-war. It was continuous service that had made all the difference. With continuous service hey could not make a tremendous reduction at the end of a war, or a remendous increase when a war broke out. Consequently any comparison between olden times and the present day was absolutely out of place.
§ *MR. LOUGH asked if the Committee which inquired into the matter did not recommend an experiment with non-continuous service.
§ MR. GIBSON BOWLES said that the committee stated that they were impressed with the importance of maintaining unimpaired the present condition of service. He, and everyone who had considered the Navy, were also impressed with the great importance of continuous service. The hon. Gentleman referred to the number of men available to build up the Naval Reserve. That number was indeed very large. lie had made careful calculations himself, and he was convinced that there were at least 500,000 British seamen, including a large number of men not included in the Board of Trade Returns of mercantile marine seamen. He would undertake to prove that there were 500,000 British-born seamen ready to be called upon to form a Naval Reserve. He was glad to see that the Naval Reserve was to be increased. It corresponded to the Militia; and he should be glad to see it extended, as far as possible, to the decrease, if necessary, of continuous service men; but it was very difficult to draft a reserve man into a man of-war and get full service out of him immediately.
§ The hon. Gentleman opposite believed that by some arrangement with foreign countries they might be able to diminish the Navy. He would not accept any such arrangement, even if it were offered, though he would accept it with reference to the Army. With all the responsibility which rested on the administration of the country, he could not believe that it would be safe to diminish the Navy. He would also point 1491 out that the Navy was essentially a non-aggressive force. The Navy was not a force for conquest, but mainly a force for defence. Without suggesting that the amount of the Estimates was in itself a matter requiring justification, lie did think that the Government had not shown that trust in the Navy which would justify these large Estimates. The whole of the power of this country had been shown in the Navy. It was the Navy alone which enabled us to deal with the great combination formed against us by Napoleon. That in itself was a justification for our having a large Navy. In the years from 1809 to 1812, when the whole of the Continent was against us, it was the Navy, and the Navy alone, which, by strangling the trade of the Continent, succeeded in discouraging, one by one, the Powers allied with Napoleon, and made them ally themselves with us. His complaint against the Government was that they seemed to have lost trust in the Navy. They even sought to destroy the character of the very officers whom they asked the House to vote by the hasty adoption of new plans.
§ *MR. RUNCIMAN (Dewsbury)
said that, heavy as they all felt the Estimates for the year to be, there was a general feeling on the Opposition side, as well as on the Ministerial, that a reduction might have been made in the men for the Army with greater satisfaction than in the men for the Navy. The hon. Member for Islington (Mr. Lough) had indeed been unfortunate in the choice of the opportunities he had taken to protest against our increasing expenditure.
§ *MR. LOUGH, interposing, said he had protested against the increased expenditure for both Services.
§ *MR. RUNCIMAN said the hon. Gentleman would have done better if he had turned the whole force of his energy to the reduction of expenditure on the Army, rather than make these unfortunate appearances—if he might call them so—on the Navy Estimates. Mr. Cobden had been largely quoted in the debate, but he doubted very much whether Mr. Cobden would at any time have attempted to reduce the number of men necessary to man our ships. It was true that a large number of men had been added to the Army this year, but that was no 1492 reason for reducing the number of men in our Navy. His hon. friend had referred to the large reductions possible at the conclusion of the wars in the early part of the last century, and at the end of the 18th century, but it had been well pointed out that the circumstances now were altogether different. If we were to attempt anything of that kind now we should not only leave a large portion of our Fleet entirely unmanned, but be placing it in such a position that it would be impossible to mobilise in a few weeks, or even in a few months, and, moreover, we should find ourselves responsible for a new addition to the unemployed. What lie wanted to know was the standard up to which the Admiralty was now working—were they working up to a two or a three-Power standard? Taking the table issued by the Admiralty last June we were below the three-Power standard. He also found that from the table issued by Beyer, of Berlin, at the beginning of this year, we were under the three-Power standard, while in 1907, when Germany would have largely increased her Fleet and be in a relatively strong position, her number of battle ships—
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! I think this would come rather on the shipbuilding Vote than on the question of men. No doubt the number of men is connected with the number of ships, but the hon. Member is now going into a comparison with the number of ships of foreign navies.
§ *MR. RUNCIMAN said he bowed entirely to the Speaker's ruling, lie desired to know from the Government the standard they were adopting in order that they might judge how far the increase of men was necessary, lie would, however, drop the subject for the moment. He thought the Vote before the House, so far from being too large, was altogether too small. The increase in men was not only necessary for the new programme, but some vessels under Lord Spencer's programme had only recently been added to the Navy, and these alone required an additional number of men. When they were told that the sources from which they could draw their men were by no means small, and that they could call upon the 1493 merchant service for help in time of war, the Admiralty would be well advised to study the Report of the recent Committee, which distinctly stated that the mercantile service could not be looked upon as a source on which they could draw in time of war. That was a decision on which the Committee were to be congratulated. There was, indeed, an enormous number of fishermen who might be utilised, but they now would have to be allowed to a large extent to continue their avocations in time of war. They provided the cheapest form of food for the poorer people of the country, and it was hardly reasonable to expect that this source should be depleted to the extent of many thousands of men. At all events the fishing services, especially those on the Newfoundland Banks, provided a great source on which they could draw for the necessary elastic increase which must take place in time of war. On a peace-footing it was necessary we should be able to mobilise our fleets without depleting the merchant service or other services which would provide the food supplies of this country. He did not know that numbers were the only standard by which Admiralty work should be judged. Representatives of the Admiralty asked for large Estimates. From his short experience of the House he noticed that the larger the Estimates the prouder was the representative of the Admiralty. It did not, however, take a genius to spend money, but it was necessary that men should have great ability to spend it well.
§ He would urge upon the Admiralty that, as they were making a large increase to the Fleet, they should see that the Fleet was well equipped, and as they were making a large increase of men, they should see that they were well trained. He would never do anything to decrease the number of men necessary for the full manning of the Fleet so long as he suspected they required every man now asked for, or rather more, to make it efficient.
THE SECRETARY TO THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. ARNOLD-FORSTER Belfast)
said that although the Motion was one to reduce by 4,000 the number of men asked for in the Vote, the House had had a discussion upon history, political economy, and naval policy, which had 1494 gone far outside the question of reduction, and he would perhaps be pardoned if he did not follow lion. Members in all the excursions they had made. The mover of the Amendment had asked what was the justification for the increase in the Votes generally, and in this Vote in particular. On a previous occasion he had pointed out the enormously increased cost of the ships and the great exertions that were being made by other countries in the way of shipbuilding, and he could now give an explanation with regard to the men which he thought would carry conviction, at any rate, as far as the Vote this year went. Every additional man for which the Admiralty were asking was being voted in pursuance of a regular actuarial study of the requirements of the Navy, and for the purpose of manning the ships already voted by the House, most of which were in progress of construction. This was not, as seemed to be supposed, a spasmodic series of actions on the part of Admiralty. The standard to which they were working was that to which, as far as he knew, they had worked for many years past—a standard which had been often enjoined upon them by the House of Commons, viz., that of putting the Navy in such a condition as to be able successfully to contend with any two other naval Powers. These matters could not be judged off-hand by taking a list of the ships. We had to defend our interests in many places and under circumstances which did not attend the naval operations of any other Power. While our risks were far spread, those of other countries were concentrated. The hon. and learned Member for Dumfries had said that the matter could be tested by the expenditure. But exact official returns of the naval expenditure could not be given. In many countries the naval expenditure did not correspond with the amount which appeared in their published Estimates, and in addition to that, our naval expenditure included many things which were not at all necessary for other countries, and did not appear on their Naval Votes at all. For instance, no one would contend that the naval expenditure of Germany, with her fleet concentrated at two ports, and 1495 two alone—in the North Sea and the Baltic—could have any actual correspondence with that of this country, which had to maintain fleets in the Channel, the Mediterranean, and on the North American coast, and to provide depots, arsenals, and docks for those fleets. Therefore, even if an accurate estimate of the cost could be prepared, it would not be a fair criterion. But so far as it was a question of number, if the administration was to be trusted at all, it must be left to the Admiralty to decide the force needed under the conditions stated to combat successfully any force that might be opposed to us.
The hon. Member for Islington had asked what was to be the limit of the number of men, and why a reduction could not be made. In the report to which the hon. member had referred there was an indication of the method by which it hoped some alteration would be secured. It was there suggested that non-continuous service should be introduced under proper precautions, and to a limited extent. The hon. Member, however, had not stated the reasons given in the Report why the suggestion could not be carried out at once in its entirety. The Committee agreed that the increase of the active service ratings must be continued until the necessary minimum of active service ratings for the war fleet had been reached. That was the key of the whole situation. Everyone agreed that it was a moderate and reasonable calculation as to the number of men who must be active service ratings in each ship on mobilisation. The Admiralty knew the number of ships they had, and the number they would have at a given date, and they knew the number of active service ratings they would have without any further increase to provide the crews for those ships. It was the intention of the Admiralty from time to time to make such additions to the active service ratings as would enable them to put a crew on each ship on mobilisation, having active service ratings and non-continuous service men in their proper proportions. The hon. Member for Dewsbury had asked why the Admiralty were not relying on the mercantile marine, particularly mentioning the fishermen.
§ MR. RUNCIMAN said he had not urged that in the least. He rather welcomed the decision of the Committee not to rely on the mercantile marine, and suggested that although the fisheries were a very good source, they ought not to be too largely drawn upon.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER said the Committee had pointed out that the mercantile marine was a very suitable source from which to draw a portion of the reserves, and that they desired to make the sources from which reserves could be drawn still wider. He entirely disagreed with the hon. Member for West Islington as to the conclusions to be drawn from the table at the end of the Report. If he had read the Report side by side with the history of England, he would have put an entirely different construction upon it. It was true that in 1815, after the Congress of Vienna, the Navy was enormously reduced, but it had to be remembered that at that time there was no other navy in existence; we were supreme without a rival on the seas. As to 1869, the hon. Member dragged in the name of Mr. Cobden, who, he said, passed a number of commercial treaties by which it was made possible to reduce the Navy still further. But 1859 was the very year in which France laid down her first armoured battleship, and started the movement in favour of increasing the Fleets of Europe. With regard to what the hon. Member for Northampton stated, he did not think he needed to dwell upon his contribution, which appeared to him to be purely of a debating character. The hon. Member, however, did confirm one theory which he would like to say a word about. The hon. Member for Northampton said it was really all their own fault that foreign nations, seeing this country embarking upon a wild shipbuilding programme, followed in their footsteps; and he further said that foreign statesmen could not go before their country and adopt any other course when they saw their colonies and their trade threatened with extinction by any other nation. That was exactly his own position, for he was not able to go before his countrymen and contemplate the loss of our colonies. He would go further and say that their colonies were a great deal more important to this country than 1497 the colonies of any other country in the world.
§ The hon. and learned Member for Dumfries asked what was his authority for saying that they had made proposals. When he was speaking the other night about offers and suggestions that had been made he was speaking of the public announcement made at the Table of the House by the First Lord of the Admiralty upon a peculiar occasion when a foreign country was starting a new and enormous development in time of peace without any apparent reason, and when they were building a very formidable class of ship. In the middle of a Parliamentary Session the First Lord of the Admiralty thought it necessary to come to Parliament and say to his Government that he could not allow this addition to be made to the Navy of Russia without taking some corresponding step. He admitted that that was not an official communication to put before a Government, but he was not in a position to say that representations were made to foreign Governments. He thought, however, that the words of the First Lord of the Admiralty gave an intimation to foreign countries throughout the world.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
Yes, of course. He came back now to this; question of the men. He invited hon. Members to read the Report of the right hon. Baronet's Commission, which gave a very fair statement of the problems and conditions attending the manning of the Navy. They would then see the principle upon which the Government were attempting to meet a very serious responsibility, and they would recognise tint there was now for the first time for many years a definite proposal for relieving the strain of the men. In justice to this Committee and to the Admiralty this should not be passed by. It ought to have a very great effect upon the strain of manning the Navy. In the first place there was the introduction of the Volunteer forces and the non-continuous service plan, which would give them an exceedingly well trained class of men in time, who would be enlisted in the service, but who would be available for active rating and active 1498 service on mobilisation. There were other sources such as the Fleet Reserve. When they were attacked, as they had been attacked that afternoon, for adding 4,000 men of all ratings to the Navy, he thought they should be given some credit for this bond fide attempt to relieve the country of this great strain. He expressed his regret that the hon. Member for Dewsbury thought it necessary to say that he had looked at these matters with a light heart and with a pride in accordance with their magnitude. He thought he had done his best to explain as to that.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON (Dundee)
said there was one disadvantage connected with this debate which it seemed impossible to get rid of. His hon. friend proposed to strike out the increase for this year in the men because they were not necessary, and because the Navy Estimates were too large already to justify it. He thought the answer was that the increase proposed this year had no connection with the increase in the Naval programme; generally. They wanted these 4,700 men because three or four or five years ago they increased the number of their ships. If they built new ships they must find the men necessary to man them. The question was whether this number of men was necessary to man the new ships that were passing into the Fleet this year, and which had been sanctioned by the Estimates passed five or six years ago. He had criticised the right of the Admiralty to decide the magnitude of the fleet, but when it came to technical problems like the manning of existing ships and the number of active service men necessary, then he felt that he was not in a position to criticise the judgment of the Naval experts. That fact made it difficult for him to support a reduction in this Vote, although he sympathised with the. general grounds put forward by the mover of this Motion. But when they came to the other point that this increase was typical of the vast increase in the Navy Estimates which had no special justification, then he was entirely with his hon. friend. As he had an opportunity of stating his views the other day he would not repeat them now, but he would 1499 ask those hon. Members who heard his remarks to remember that the size of the Estimates for any particular year was a question of Government policy for this House, and the Secretary to the Admiralty could not give them a conclusive justification of that policy. It appeared to him necessary and proper that the First Lord of the Treasury, as Chairman of the Defence Committee, should be present to advise them upon the great questions of policy which underlay these Estimates.
The real issue was not upon automatic or non-effective Votes like this one on which they could not call upon the Government to defend the Naval Estimates, but rather on the Vote for shipbuilding which contained a vast increase this year and which must involve a corresponding increase in following years. These Estimates were so great that they ought not to accept a comparatively small increase without demurring to it. The Estimates for the Navy had now reached £36,000,000 a year, and the colonies had been given as a reason for that great increase. He thought they were entitled to ask the Government what area they sought to protect by these steps, and what standard they wore working up to and what particular justification they had for the particular increase made this year. That justification they had not had from his hon. friend, and he could not give it because it must come from the Government as a whole, and from the head of the Government. The hon. Member for Dumfries and others who had protested against these Estimates had claimed and asserted that it was the duty of this country to make representations to other nations in the direction of arranging a mutual scheme of disarmament. The hon. Member for Shipley jeered at that as a millennial proposal, but it was a proposal to which this country and this Government had already committed themselves. Lord Salisbury undertook obligations in this respect, for upon this point on the 14th of February, 1899; referring to the Russian invitation to consider this question, he said that His Majesty's Government would gladly accept that invitation for a conference to discuss the best methods of attaining the two objects specified, namely, the diminution of armaments all round by land and sea, and the 1500 prevention of hostilities by diplomatic negotiation. He would not go into details. He would just give the result as stated by the British representative on that occasion. There was no proposal of general disarmament, or even the limitation of armaments. The object which was put in the forefront in the Czar's circular presented so many difficulties, from the practical point of view, that it was necessarily abandoned for the present. That was not a definite abandonment of the scheme. He wished that the First Lord of the Treasury, as Chairman of the Cabinet Committee of Defence, had done them the honour of listening to this debate. If the right hon. Gentleman had been present, he would have asked him: "Do you hold by Lord Salisbury's expressed determination to bring about disarmament by common; consent, and do you accept the statement of Lord Pauncefote that it was only postponed and not abandoned?" If that was the right hon. Gentleman's position, the country would be relieved. He was sorry the House had not the opportunity of hearing an answer to that question from the right hon. Gentleman to-day. The underlying interest in this question was not the number of ships or men, but the financial position into which these great Estimates had gone. Might he just mention the extraordinary fact that seven years ago, when the present Government came into office, the National Debt stood at £660,000,000.
§ *Mr. SPEAKER said that on the Report Stage of the Vote the hon. Member could generally discuss the increase in the men and consequent increase in the Naval Estimates, but the debate must be confined to that question.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON said the debate had been a little difficult. It was relying on Mr. Speaker's leniency that he was going to make a point which he was afraid he could not now make. He would only say that if these Estimates wore passed the Government would have spent during seven years on war and warlike expenditure a sum equivalent to the whole National Debt at the time they came into office. He thought that was a reason alone which should make them pause.1501
§ MR. LOUGH asked leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ *MR. REGINALD LUCAS (Portsmouth)
said the hon. and learned Member for the Dumfries Burghs complained because a previous Speaker had dealt with the whole question of expenditure, and not with the particular directions in which economy might be practised. He understood from Mr. Speaker's ruling that it was to the general principle and the magnitude of the whole Estimates that they must address themselves. Hon. Members would sympathise with him when he said, as the representative of a naval constituency, that his natural inclination was to advocate a large increase of expenditure on the wages of men. It was in connection with the increased size of the Navy that the question of the number of men arose. The objection raised by hon. Members opposite, he took it, was that if we were going to increase our Navy we would be confronted with what was little short of ruin. The question he desired to ask was that, if that were true, what was going to happen if we did not keep up our Navy to the necessary state of efficiency? In effect the position was—"if we go forward we die, if we go backward we die; better go forward and die." He was sustained by the authority of Dr. Johnson, who said:It is sad to pass through the quagmire of parsimony to the gulf of ruin. To pass over the flowery path of extravagance is very well.Surely it was premature, and it would be a most dangerous thing, for the House to give in to the objections which had been raised. More than once in the course of this discussion they had been told what Sir Robert Peel said sixty years ago as to the alarming expenditure on naval and military preparations. We were still alarmed at the growth of that expenditure, and he believed the House would continue to hear complaints of the increased expenditure on the Army and Navy. He hoped it would be so, for if not it would show that something serious had happened to our position among the nations of the world. He had endeavoured to make a collection 1502 of the prophecies of alarm in regard to this country, and only yesterday he opened Greville's Memoirs, in which he found the following, which was written in January, 1856—The only certainty is that we are blindly going on spending our wealth and our blood. Lewis says that our financial position is very bad, a declining revenue, rising prices…. Everything looks as black as possible.I hon. Gentlemen opposite had their way, and if, owing to their policy not to increase our naval expenditure, we were some day involved in naval disaster and subject to an enormous war indemnity, what would be their feeling? Hon. Gentlemen would begin to wonder whether, to use a favourite phrase, they had not put their money on the wrong horse, or rather taken their money off the right horse. He thought no one had a right to come down to the House to advocate a reduction in the number of men and expenditure on the Navy, unless he could prove to demonstration that the project could be carried out without danger to the country lie thought that had not been done.
§ MR. MUNRO FERGUSON (Leith Burghs)
said the hon. Member for Portsmouth had assumed that hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House were in favour of cutting down the Navy. He did not himself understand on what foundation the hon. Member made that charge. He thought some of the strongest speeches in support of the Navy had been made from this side of the House. In this and previous debates there had been sufficient support given to the proposals of the Government with regard to the Navy as to render the assumption of the hon. Member opposite quite unjustifiable. Although he for one cordially supported the proposals of the Government, he thought that they themselves could not be surprised that a certain amount of restiveness should be shown with respect to the financial burdens which the country was called upon to bear. At a time when the expenditure for the defence of the Empire had gone up to £90,000,000 they might be sure that reductions would be moved, and that these reductions would not command the support of those who gave more special attention to the sub- 1503 ject. He was afraid, too, that there would be occasions when reductions would be I moved which would not tend to provide for the adequate defence of the Empire. He thought that in discussing the question of the number of men required the House laboured under two very serious disadvantages. One was that they had received no guidance from the Council of Defence as to the general policy for the defence of the Empire. Many of them were discussing this matter also under the conviction that the Army Estimates had largely tended towards making the burden more than could be borne permanently by the Empire. He hoped those responsible for the Admiralty business would take due note of the opposition which would undoubtedly arise, not so much against their proposals, but in regard to the general burdens the country was asked to bear, and also from the want of any clear policy being put before the country by what he called the sham Committee of Defence. For want of that direct guidance the people were not sufficiently educated as to what wore the adequate requirements of the country for naval defence.
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)
said that the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had commenced by repudiating on behalf of the Party he represented any diminution of expenditure which would cut down the Navy. That was a matter which really was of very little importance; but he would point out that from that side a direct set had been made by formal motion against the number of men asked for for the Navy. Then the hon. and learned Member for Leith Burghs complained, or at all events pointed out in querulous tones, that they had had no direction from the Committee of Defence. Of course not. The Committee of Defence had been only recently created, and they had practically to review the mass of confusions of the situation, which could not be done in a few weeks or months. Moreover, he apprehended that on any matter of general policy affecting the Army and Navy, the Prime Minister, who was Chairman of the Committee of Defence, would, by the Rules of the House, be precluded from giving its directions to 1504 the Committee of the House or reasons for it.
§ MR. MUNRO FERGUSON said they had been told that they had been guided by the Defence Committee, which he ventured to call a sham. His contention was that, being a sham, there had been no adequate control or co-ordination of naval and military defence by that Committee.
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB said that he was with the hon. Member when he I called the old Committee of Defence a sham; in fact he had frequently called it in this House "a preposterous sham." He had brought proposals for a Council of Defence before the House ten or twelve years ago; and had discussed this! question outside the House thirty years ago. The real point was that if the new Council of Defence was to I review the whole policy and the whole necessities of the Empire, and deal with the Navy and Army as two parts of one necessary machine, and if the Prime Minister as Chairman of the Council of: Defence came into the House and tried to argue the whole case he would be pre-j vented from doing so by the Rules of Procedure. He did not see there was any; cause of complaint against the Council of Defence as recently organised. Comparisons had been made between existing facts and the conditions prevailing in the Napoleonic wars, and tables and diagrams had been described; but he would entreat hon. Members to be very careful how they considered what appeared on the diagrams as applicable to the present time. His hon friend the Member for King's Lynn had rightly pointed out that the variation in the diagrams was due to the fact that in those old days there was not continuous service. He would point to the broader consideration, that all the conditions of maritime warfare had changed during the last century. Formerly the preparations for war could be hastily made and carried on while the the war was actually in operation. The entire change in the conditions did affect question of men. What since then science had done was to make long preparation necessary in order to produce quick and decisive results; and therefore it followed that the training of men 1505 must be a much longer, and a more detailed and careful process than in those old days. That broad consideration showed hon. Members that they must be very cautious how they attempted to guide policy by the number of trained men required, or the provision of ships, by past experience when a wholly different state of things prevailed.
§ The hon. Member for King's Lynn had made a declaration with a great deal of confidence, as if it were a law of the Medes and Persians, that our food supply was safe; that it was simply impossible to prevent food coming into the country. But he would point out that the question of food supply was only an incident in the general question of the economic conditions of the country. The question was not whether wheat could come into the country, but whether the price of wheat and of all commodities affected the whole economic condition. He therefore protested against the position, resulting from our naval failure, being seriously met by an argument like that. It had teen asked to what standard we were working upon? A standard, it was said, meant an abstract comparison of the number and class of ships. It meant no such thing. It was admitted that we must at least be able absolutely to hold our own against any two Maritime Powers under all circumstances. But the distribution of the ships of any two Powers, and the number of ships we had to meet them must vary. It was not a matter of the number and quality of the ships in our Fleet, and those of the other two Powers. The great matter was the force which would be required under all circumstances and conditions and all reasonable probabilities of war, to put us not merely on an equality with, but to some extent on a superiority to the forces of the other two Powers. He therefore protested now, as he had always done, against any attempt to narrow down the question to a simple and abstract comparison of the number of ships as a whole. The hon. and learned Member for Dumfries Burghs had urged that the number of men for the Fleet might be reduced by approaching the other Powers and coming to some arrangement.1506
§ *MR. SPEAKER said that the discussion of the question of general disarmament was not in order.
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB said he was only going to refer to some observations on this very subject which had been made by the hon. and learned Member for Dumfries Burghs, but he would not proceed further on that point. The real truth was that the way they discussed the Estimates was somewhat embarrassing. It was generally forgotten, what had so clearly been pointed out by the late Secretary to the Admiralty, the hon. Member for Dundee, that what ruled every other Vote in the Navy Estimates was the Construction Vote. But it had never been the custom of the House to discuss the Construction Vote until those Votes for the men and wages had been sanctioned and passed. He could not conclude without expressing, as an independent Member of the House who was specially concerned in the question of naval defence, his gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Berwick Division and the Committee over which he presided for the report they had produced. Anyone who studied the question of the personnel of the Navy, and who drew a diagram of the variations which had occurred as regarded the personnel, would be astonished at the revelations he would find. That diagram would show that the Admiralty, up to the present time, had really no precise principle or policy in regulating the number and the class of men necessary for the Navy. For the first time they had now laid before them, by the efforts of the Committee presided over by the right hon. Gentleman, the definite principles which ought to guide their policy with regard to the personnel of the Navy; and they had the announcement, officially made by the Secretary to the Admiralty, that not only was the Admiralty indebted to this Committee for the work it had done, but was committed absolutely to the principles laid down by the Committee; and that those principles would in future guide the Admiralty with reference to the personnel of the Fleet.1507
§ SIR WILLIAM ALLAN (Gateshead)
said he should like to say a few words on the Vote, as he had some direct connection with the men. He was sorry to have heard so many irrelevant subjects discussed in connection with the Vote. They had had food supply, continental Powers, the shadows of war and destruction all round, talked about, when they should have been talking about the men. The question simply was, was the Vote right. He was sorry that his hon. friend had moved the reduction, as he held that they had not a sufficient number of men at present, and he would be prepared to prove it. Great Britain with her large and increasing Navy should always be in a position when called upon at any time to use her Fleet for warlike purposes. She should be in a position, not only to man the Fleet which was afloat, but also, to man the reserves. She was not in that position. A great many of the ships at present afloat were undermanned; and they could not man the reserves in case of necessity. He doubted if they could man half the Fleet properly. He thought he was within the mark when he said that the Navy was short between 8,000 and 10,000 stokers, 1,500 engine room artificers and 700 engineers. He was not dealing with the bluejackets, but with the men he knew; though it might be taken for granted that there was a shortage in the bluejackets also. What was the meaning of moving a reduction in the number of men? What was the use of building ships if they could not man them? It was simply absurd to compare the present with other days. They were now living in a steam age, and required a totally different class of man for the Navy. The men had to be very highly trained; and he had come to the conclusion that in the near future every man aboard a man-of-war would be more or less a mechanic. Therefore, the condition of things after the Napoleonic wars was not comparable with the condition of things to-day. If, for instance, they tackled the fleets of France and Spain and smashed them up, then they might reduce their personnel, because they would have crushed their enemies. He objected to the reduction because it was unnecessary, and because it would be 1508 detrimental to the interests of the Fleet. He held the Admiralty was now short of men, required more men, and would continue to require more men. He thought his hon. friend would be well advised to withdraw his Amendment, because, from a practical point of view, it could not stand. He would not like to see the British Fleet sent to sea undermanned and unfitted for its work. The moment they lost command of the sea then they might say "Farewell to the greatness of our country."
§ MR. AUSTIN TAYLOR (Liverpool. E. Toxteth)
said he sympathised with his hon. and gallant friend the Member for Yarmouth in the unfortunate position in which they were placed by being obliged to discuss the Vote for the men first, and the Vote for construction later. He might carry it further, and say how awkward the position was when they were forced to discuss the Army Estimates first, and the Navy Estimates second. He did not desire to discuss the proportion between the Navy and the Army Votes; but he thought the discussion, narrow though it necessarily was, brought them back to the really fundamental issue which lay before the country, namely, what ought to be the proportion between naval and military expenditure. By an unwritten rule of the House, they were compelled to take the Navy Votes after they had committed themselves to certain expenditure on the Army. He thought that was a disadvantageous position, because the discussion to-day had brought them to realise, more than ever, the enormous importance of the Navy, the enormous importance of keeping up construction, and the even greater importance of manning the Fleet, so that it might be able to take to sea for war. He vas sure they could all accept the explanation of the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty, that the men now asked for were required for ships already on order. He was sure they all welcomed the idea of adding to the personnel of the Fleet reserves with non-continuous service; but that should be only on condition that the personnel of the Fleet should have a sufficient proportion of men trained for active service. He was sure his hon. friend the Secretary to the 1509 Admiralty appreciated as much as anyone the necessity of having a large proportion of the personnel of the Fleet not merely available on mobilisation, but accustomed to go to sea, so that when war broke out the Fleet would not be hampered with crews who had to be trained to their work, but would be manned by men who, from practice, were able to work enormous engines of war. He felt very strongly that the nation which, on the outbreak of war, could mobilise the largest number of ships would probably be the nation to which victory would fall. But he felt equally strongly that the victory would fall to the Navy which kept the largest number of ships in commission; and, thereby, gave their men the most ample opportunity to practise operations which would occur in actual warfare.
In considering the supply of men for the Fleet, and the increased number of ships, they were naturally led to consider how it was they found themselves as a nation in a position of having to vote such huge sums of money. He was amused and instructed by some of the speeches delivered by hon. Gentlemen opposite on the course of events which had brought this nation into a position of naval expenditure of which the Vote before the House was a sign. It was really waste of time to inquire how it was that they were committed to such extraordinary naval expenditure. It was still greater waste of time to ask which among the nations of Europe first started this country on its career of naval competition, He thought there was a more simple explanation; and it lay in the changed standpoint of all the nations of Europe, including this country, towards the value of the carrying trade, collieries, and commerce, once the unique possessions of this I country, but now shared in ever increasing proportions by its rivals in both hemispheres. It was based on the increased value attached by other nations to shipping, colonies, and commerce. This was entirely the result of the monumental works of Captain Mahan, which, published first in America, had been translated into every language of Europe, into Japanese, Chinese, and other languages of the Far East, and which had exercised a most potent influence in the revolution of nineteenth century thought 1510 as to the value of oversea possessions. I That revolution of thought had come to stay. Other nations had acquired fresh I ideas of the value of these possessions.
§ *MR. SPEAKER said the hon. Member would have been in order in the Committee stage of this Vote, because he could then have discussed the general policy, but he was not in order in doing I so on report.
§ MR. AUSTIN TAYLOR bowed to the ruling of Mr. Speaker and said he would not continue to discuss the general policy, I a discussion into which he had rather been led by what had previously taken place. As he could not follow that line of argument he might perhaps be permitted to emphasise the importance of: such a Vote as this for maintaining the efficiency of our Navy for action, and also to justify it on the ground of the unique character of the Empire which the Navy had to defend. Where the unique character of the Empire was borne in mind, that its scattered possessions were separated by thousands of miles of sea—it was imperative for the House to agree with enormous burdens of a naval character, although he agreed with many in the wish that an opportunity could have been given to discuss not merely this Vote by itself, but also the whole question of naval policy, and particularly the naval policy in relation to the military policy, which many thought ought to be its complement, and not its rival.
§ *MR. KEARLEY (Devonport)
said that, notwithstanding the amount of men who had been voted by the House during the last two years, he agreed with the hon. Member for Gateshead that they still wanted more men for the Navy, rather than with the hon. Member for Islington, who had moved the reduction, with whom he had no sympathy whatever. From the point of view of the future construction alone, of which notice had been given in the Estimates, he did not think sufficient provision had been made. For those ships alone, it would be necessary to have 9,000 additional men in preparation against the time when those ships would be launched. A most important and interesting statement had been made by the Secretary to the 1511 Admiralty during this debate, when he referred to the system on which the Admiralty had embarked of running a short service system side by side with the old and popular long service system. We were this year entering 1,000 non-continuous ratings for the first time. That was a departure of a very novel character to this generation. The hon. Member had given some information, but the House was entitled to a little more, and he would like to know before the debate closed, if it were possible, what decision the Admiralty had come to, if any, as to what was to be the future limit in numbers of the long service ratings. The Financial Secretary had said the Admiralty had arrived at what they considered to be the necessary minimum—could the hon. Gentleman give the House any idea of what the numbers were? This year the House had voted 127,000 men, and in the previous year they voted 122,000. The hon. Gentleman or his predecessor stated a year or so since that the time was approaching when the limit would be reached for long service ratings. Now that the number of 127,000 had been reached, the Admiralty had in view the fixing of some necessary minimum, and it would be of interest to know whether the Admiralty had formed any idea of the numbers.
Secondly, he would like to know from the right hon. Gentleman whether the Admiralty had arrived at any standard which was to govern the short service, so a, to work the short service and the long service together. Although 1,000 non-continuous ratings had been entered in the Estimates, the House did not know what proportion they were to bear to the long service ratings. The Report of the Manning 'Commission had suggested that with regard to the stokers the proportion should be one-sixth, and with regard to the seamen it should be one-fourth. The Report also attached the greatest importance to establishing a reserve of stokers. There was no doubt that in the Navy at the present time there was a great dearth of stokers, and the Manning Committee pointed out that that was one of the ratings it would be necessary to build up in considerable strength. The difficulty in getting a sufficient number of stokers, as he had 1512 pointed out over and over again, was the bad inducements offered to those who came into the Navy. The stoker class has the hardest worked and the worst paid rating in the Fleet. The Admiralty were now going to give a new rating to a class they termed mechanicians, but if they paid an inferior price for the raw I material, they were not likely to attract I the best men. It was under these circumstances he thought the moment was opportune for asking the question he had put to the hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. ASQUITH (Fifeshire, E.)
said the decision of Mr. Speaker had made it impossible to discuss the general question with regard to the Navy Estimates, and particularly as regarded the Army Estimates, for which he thought it was desirable they should find an appropriate occasion. He rose, therefore, merely for the purpose of saying that he disassociated himself altogether from the suggestions I that had been made, that we could safely reduce the number of men employed in the Navy. He was satisfied, not only that the number at present proposed was not more than was automatically necessary, in order to man and equip the ships for the building and maintaining of which the House had committed itself, but that we must most carefully guard against any premature unnecessary reduction of that which was, after all, I the one source of the ultimate strength of the country. He did not in the least prejudge the questions which might arise when they arrived at the shipbuilding Vote, but he wished, so far as he was concerned, to say in the most explicit terms that he saw no reason whatever to reduce the number of our fleet by a single man.
Resolution agreed to.
Ordered, That the Resolution which, upon the 18th day of this instant March, was reported from the Committee of Supply, and which was then agreed to by the House, be now read.That a number of Land Forces, not I exceeding 235,761, all ranks, be maintained for the Service of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and' Ireland at Home and Abroad, excluding his 1513 Majesty's Indian Possessions, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1904.Ordered, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide, during twelve months, for the Discipline and Regulation of the Army; and that Mr. Secretary Brodrick, Mr. Arnold-Forster, and Lord Stanley do prepare and bring it in.