§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £2,991,800, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the expenses of the personnel for shipbuilding, repairs, maintenance, etc., including the cost of establishments of dockyards and naval yards at Home and Abroad which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1904."
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON (Dundee)
said he desired to call attention to the enormous increase in the Vote as a whole for shipbuilding and repairs.
§ MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
asked whether a general discussion on the Vote as a whole would be in order.
said he thought it would be inconvenient to divide the Vote and discuss it in sections. The first part showed an increase, and the second a decrease, and the third an increase. He should think it desirable to treat the Vote, therefore, as a whole, so far as its general character was concerned.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
said he desired to call attention to the enormous increase which had taken place in regard to the expenditure on the construction of new ships. But first he must express his satisfaction at seeing the First Lord of the Treasury present, because he could assure the right hon. Gentleman that when the subject was last discussed he was greatly missed. He was sure that if the right hon. Gentleman could remain for a time the Committee would be greatly benefited. The details embodied in this Vote were almost innumerable, but the only thing he wished to impress on the Committee was that this was the predominant Vote for the Navy. If they desired to stop the growing increase 704 in the Navy Estimates at its source they must begin with this Vote, and especially with the particular part of it now before the Committee—namely, the expenditure on new construction. The Vote represented nearly one-half of the whole Navy Estimates; it amounted to more than £17,000,000 altogether, an increase of more than £2,000,000 as compared with the Vote of last year The increase on the Navy Votes as a whole was £3,000,000, and more than £2,000,000 of that was for shipbuilding alone. The Government was asking this year more than £10,000,000 for construction of new ships alone. This did not account for the whole of the increase, for there was an increase of £1,000,000 on the item of reconstruction and repairs. It was important to bear in mind that they were now spending three times the amount that was spent on repairs six years ago. It was significant when they remembered that they had a brand new Navy on which they were spending for repairs as much as was formerly spent on reconstruction alone. He now passed to the general question of the expenditure on new construction. As he had already pointed out, the sum asked for was £10,000,000, and he would like to ask the attention of the Committee to the gradual progress in that item. In 1879 the estimate for new ships was £6,600,000; in 1898 £7,600,000; in 1899 £8,800,000; and now it had risen to £10,000,000. It was proposed to begin this year the construction of four battleships, three first-class cruisers, fifteen destroyers, four scouts, and ten submarines, and he contended that they ought to have a financial statement on these proposals. What was the total amount to which the country was committed in sanctioning this construction programme. That was what the country ought to know. It was important to consider the corresponding amounts which were being spent this year on new ships by other Powers. According to Brassey's "Naval Annual," France, which was always the great bugbear, was spending on new construction no more than £2,400,000; the amount quoted for Russia was £4,200,000; and for Germany £3,600,000. So that the Government were proposing to spend for additional ships an amount which equalled, if it did not exceed, the expenditure of the three great Powers named. The 705 United States were going to spend £5,000,000 for new ships and £1,700,000 for reconstruction and repairs. It might be that the growth of the American Navy was to be treated as an asset on our side, justifying a diminution of the expenditure on our Fleet. On the other hand it might be treated as a reason for increasing our expenditure in order to counterbalance it. But that was not a question for the Admiralty; it was a question of policy for the Government, and especially for the Prime Minister. It was not for the Admiralty to decide our foreign policy. His authority was Lord Brassey, who published a letter in the Daily News some days ago, which the hon. Gentleman probably saw. He could not quite make out on what authority it was based, but it referred to a German official's naval annual of some sort. He was not quite sure what the figures meant. The Committee might take it from him, however, that the figures apparently came to this, that not only in shipbuilding but in manning, victualling, and everything, the expenditure of Great Britain was more than equal to the combined expenditure of France, Germany, and Russia. In naval works our expenditure was vastly greater than the combined expenditure of all these Powers. The only other thing relating to strengths that he wished to say was that two years ago the present First Lord of the Admiralty calculated that the British Navy accounted for one-third of the battleships in all the world. He had himself made a calculation separately from that statement, and he had come substantially to the same conclusion, namely, that so far as battleships were concerned we were years ago working not on what was called the two-Power standard but a standard equal to one-third of the navies of the rest of the world. What they desiderated on this occasion was a reasoned defence and justification for the great increase that was proposed this year. He was sure he was doing no injustice to the hon. Gentleman who represented the Admiralty so well in this House, if he said that for years past these great and growing Estimates had been laid before them almost as a matter of course, with the underlying assumption that whatever the Admiralty asked for would be given and that no special defence was needed for any special increase. In humbler times 706 than these, ten, or even eight years ago, they could afford to do that, but when they came to Estimates of £34,500,000 from which naval works were entirely excluded, and which amounted to £2,500,000 more, they were driven to consider the question of policy, and they were forced into regions of political speculation in which naval opinion had no particular place at all, and where statesmanship came in and the Government alone was responsible.
The Committee would perhaps pardon him if for a moment he referred, by way of example of the sort of thing they should have, to the speech made in July, 1898, by Mr. Goschen. Some members of the Committee would remember that at that late period of the session he came down to the House with what was substantially a new naval Estimate, beyond the original Estimate for the session, and asked for four battleships, four cruisers, and a certain number of smaller craft. The speech Mr. Goschen made on that occasion was a precedent which he wished to dwell upon. He told the Committee that the principle on which he and all his predecessors for many years past had been acting was the principle of the two-Power standard, and it was because something had happened that imperilled that standard that he came down to the House with the new proposal. He gave the House frankly and fully the reasons which justified him in saying that the two-Power standard was in danger, and that in order to preserve it he must have this additional number of ships. He said—I regret that it should be my misfortune to have to introduce the name of any foreign Power, but it is impossible to conceal the fact that it is the action of Russia, and the programme on which she has entered, which is the reason for our strengthening our Fleet and taking parallel action with her.Then he went on to say, and his language was unexceptionable, that we did not propose anything aggressive, and that we did not blame Russia for anything she was doing, but that this increase on the part of Russia necessitated an increase on our part also. What was the answer of Russia to this strong and impressive demand made in the face of Parliament by the First Lord of the Admiralty? The answer of Russia was given within five weeks, and it was an invitation to 707 this and other countries to take part in a conference, having for its object the stopping of the further increase of naval armaments, and not only that, but the devising of means by which these naval armaments might in future be reduced. The increase that Mr. Goschen asked for that day was rather less, he imagined, than the increase the Admiralty was asking for now. The size of the Estimates now was so enormous and so monstrous that they were entitled to ask the hon. Gentleman representing the Admiralty to follow the example set by Mr. Goschen in 1898 and to tell the Committee as frankly as he did, why it was that he was calling upon them to spend £10,000,000. Since he last spoke on this subject the present First Lord of the Admiralty had made a speech in another place to which he should like to direct attention. On the 24th of March, Lord Selborne made a statement in which he said that the Government had not abandoned the two-Power standard. But if that was so, and he was not challenging the statement, how came it that that standard necessitated an expenditure of £10,000,000. The only answer to that could be by showing that there had been increases in other navies in the intermediate time, which compelled us to spend the sum now asked. One thing which he thought the Committee ought to have was a detailed and authoritative statement making good the position taken up by Lord Selborne that we were still standing by the two-Power standard. It had been said that we had only followed other countries whose shipbuilding had compelled us to keep pace with them. That was a statement also which he thought ought to be made good, for, in the speech to which he referred, Lord Selborne did not mention other countries at all. He thought they had come to a pass when they were entitled to ask the Government to tell them what countries they were, and here again they came to the domain of policy which the Government, and not the Admiralty, were responsible for.
There were different definitions of the two-Power standard. It might mean the two Powers next apparently in strength to ourselves. In that case America would become an important element, 708 and it would be interesting to know how that was to be dealt with. If America was left out he supposed they would not build against Japan. These were all difficulties in the application of the two-Power standard which could not be settled by naval opinion alone. It might be that we were going to build against the next two Powers, whoever they might be, which in all probability would be fighting on our side. The two Powers in Europe, however, from which we most apprehended danger ten or twelve years ago were France and Russia. The two-Power standard in the olden days referred to France and Russia. It might be these two Powers to-day, but on that point they ought to have some information. The rest of Lord Selborne's speech referred to the sea-borne traffic which the British Navy had to protect. That appeared to him to be rather a development of the two-Power standard, and he did not know for what purpose it was introduced. Possibly the hon. Gentleman might tell them. There was this to be said about it, namely, that the sea-borne traffic did not increase in proportion to-the increase of the contribution for the Navy, so that this could not, so far as he could see, be an argument for the increase.
§ SIR JOHN COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)
Does the hon. Gentleman include the Indian and the colonial trade?
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
said he took it that the First Lord had included this. He gave an average of twenty years. When the noble Lord urged the vast extent of that trade as a defence for the large Navy Estimates he did not say what he told the Colonial Conference; he did not tell the audience what he told the Colonial Premiers, and that was that of the entire trade defended by the British Navy one-fourth consisted of ships in which the people of the United Kingdom had no interest whatever.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
said he was not going to be drawn into discussion of the colonial position, but he would say they had never been able to get the reasons of the colonies for not contributing to this increase. He believed the reasons had 709 been published in Australia, and the arguments of the Colonial Premiers had also been published. If that was so he thought they ought to have a publication of them in this country now. He thought he had said enough to show that whatever defence there might be for the specific demand on the part of the Admiralty, the question underlying it was a question of policy. He thought the Committee ought to have some explanation, if possible, on the part of the right hon. the First Lord of the Treasury. Coming back to, not the menace, but the warning addressed to Russia in 1898 by Mr. Goschen; Russia laid down a certain number of battleships in 1898—four, he thought—and Mr. Goschen met that by six, or an increase of two, which he provided for in the supplemental programme of the summer of 1898. Russia's answer to that was the invitation to the Peace Conference, to sit down and consider how these great naval and military armaments could be prevented in the future and reduced in the present. That was the point on which he hoped the First Lord would have an opportunity of saying something, because his Government were committed to the policy of considering the question of a general reduction of naval armaments. The proposal as regarded the Navies was in the original letter of invitation. The nations were to be invited to take measures to check the progressive increase in military and naval armaments. One of the main points was—To seek without delay the means of putting a limit to the progressive increase of naval armaments, a question the solution of which becomes evidently more and more urgent in view of the fresh extensionthat was the extension of which he had spokenof these armaments.Still more specifically, in a sort of agenda prepared for the Commission, the Russian Government suggested an—Undertaking not to increase the present effectiveness of the naval and military forces and at the same time not to increase the Budgets pertaining thereto, and a preliminary examination of the means by which reductions might be effected in the future of the forces above mentioned.Now, that was the policy suggested by the Czar of Russia in 1898 in answer to the appeal made to him by Mr. Goschen. The right hon. Gentleman, 710 the First Lord of the Treasury, in the absence of Lord Salisbury wrote in reply stating that Lord Salisbury expressed himself as being glad to accept the invitation addressed to him by the Russian Government—of which this was the first and most important point. The Peace Conference was appointed, and it had been of a great deal of use, but it did not touch this question, to the regret of himself and indeed, of all of them, including the right hon. Gentleman himself. It was found impossible to deal with it. There were various meetings at which it was mentioned, but from want of time—he was quoting shortly from the official papers—the Commission of the Conference to which it had been referred contented itself with expressing the opinion that a further examination of the Russian invitation in regard to the naval as well as military proposals, by the Powers would prove of great benefit to humanity. And the last words in the report were that "for the present" that was abandoned, and the abandonment for the present was accompanied by the expression of the hope that the Powers by which the Ambassadors were accredited, would take up the subject themselves and consider it, and the further expression of opinion that, if they did so, great benefit would result.
Well, four years had elapsed since that great Conference was held, and one of the things that immediately followed was the devastating war in South Africa. He was not going to say anything about that war, because it would be irrelevant to the Vote under discussion, but it was not irrelevant to point out that all the Powers which entered into this undertaking to consider the question of stopping the increase and bringing about a reduction in naval armaments, had continued making increases. This Government had most certainly given an effusive welcome to the proposal to stop the increase, but what had they done? The Naval Estimates in 1898 amounted to £23,000,000, and this year they were £34,500,000, not counting the naval works at all. Having come to a decision that it was desirable to reduce our Naval Estimates, they had made an addition of 30 per cent to them! He did not think that was a satisfactory position. One wondered what it all meant on the part of ourselves and others? Was it all hypocrisy, the 711 sort of hypocrisy that prevailed at the beginning of the session, when they all clamoured for economy and then spent the rest of their time in piling up more expenditure? He hoped that it was not hypocrisy. The right hon. Gentleman must have given the matter more consideration than formerly on account of his relation to the Defence Committee, and now that he occupied a more responsible position, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman, speaking as a principal and not as a deputy, could assure the Committee that he, at this moment, stood in the position to which the Government was committed in 1898, in reference to stopping the increase and reducing the expense of the Navy. If he took the noble and patriotic course of offering to the rest of the world an example of disarmament, being the first to say that this expenditure—as was set forth in the Conference papers—was ruining all the nations; that it was becoming more ruinous than ever — if the right hon. Gentleman who had done much, did nothing else than make such a declaration as that this day, he would add to his career the greatest of all his achievements.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)
said that the hon. Member for Dundee had dismissed from his speech the large expenditure this year for repairs, and he would follow the hon. Gentleman's example in that respect. His hon. friend the Member for Gateshead would, no doubt, deal with that subject by itself. The hon. Member for Dundee hardly broke through the principle he laid down to limit the debate rigidly to the great main lines touched upon by the First Lord of the Admiralty by introducing the topic of the Colonial Conference. He agreed with the hon. Gentleman that they had had one or two discussions on that subject in the course of the present session, and that it would do little good to repeat the arguments. The specific point alluded to by the hon. Gentleman was the publication of certain reports in the Australian papers. An explanation, he thought, might be given. The Australians were led to believe that the publication of Sir John Forest's Memorandum in this country was a breach of faith as anticipated, and it was in consequence of that publication that the 712 statements of the other Australian Ministers were published elsewhere. The speech of the hon. Gentleman divided itself into two parts—the part in which he appeared to give some sanction to the doctrine of his hon. friend, the Member for Islington, and the hon. Member for Camborne—whose return to the House he gladly welcomed—of putting economy before efficiency. [Mr. LOUGH was understood to dissent.] At all events, the hon. Gentleman put economy first. The latter portion of the speech of the hon. Member for Dundee touched upon another, though connected, matter—the possibility of this country taking some initiatory steps with a view to the reduction of naval armaments. He had more sympathy with that portion of the speech than with the former, as he had shown on more than one occasion. The statement of his hon. friend as to what he called the enormous increase in this Vote was, he thought, perhaps a little exaggerated. Although he hesitated to use that phrase in connection with the Naval Estimates, these were, no doubt, immense. The figures which the hon. Gentleman gave to the Committee showed that there had been something like a stationary Building Vote for three years, and that that period was followed by an increase of £1,000,000 this year. Looking at the programme of the two other great naval Powers, he did not think that these facts quite bore out the expression, "enormous increase." But his hon. friend himself was responsible for a very considerable increase in 1894—an increase proportionately greater for new construction than had ever been made before or since. He was sorry to hear him use the words that if we wanted to stop the increase in the cost of the Navy we must strike at this Vote, which was the root cause of all the increase. That was not the way he looked at this Vote or the Estimates generally. He did not want to stop the increase in the cost of the Navy at its root, unless we could do it safely and consistently with the action of the other Powers. He was afraid his hon. friend gave a dangerous colour to his remarks; and even a weightier authority than the hon. Gentleman, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, had given likewise a dangerous colour to his view in his speech at Bristol. In drawing 713 a line apart from the consideration of the safety of the country, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer laid it down arbitrarily, that there ought not to be an increase this year in the Building Vote.
Speaking at Bristol the late Chancellor of the Exchequer laid down the twin positions, that taking the Army and Navy together there might be a small decrease in the Army expenditure, but that the naval expenditure should be stereotyped at the figure at which it was. On this Vote it was not possible to discuss the economies which might be effected in the Army, but the Committee had given an earnest in the present session that they would make the reductions which they could make with safety, in the Army expenditure. He could not, however, agree with the late Chancellor of the Exchequer that we must stereotype this Vote at its present figure. If we took to praising economy as economy in the abstract there was a danger that, at a moment when the pressure of taxation was considerable and expenditure was unduly high, and there was a desire on all sides of the House to reduce it, we might take an unintelligent view of particular items of expenditure, the reduction of which might lead to those ups and downs occurring in the naval Estimates which had always been condemned and which had been so unfortunate in the past. In former times there were sharp pitches up and down, and it was universally admitted that those sharp pitches had been most costly to the country, consequently there had been a general desire in the past few years to keep in the view of the Board of Admiralty and of the House of Commons that in steadiness lay safety.
With regard to the two-Power standard, the greatest proportionate increase ever suddenly made in the Fleet was made by Lord Spencer in 1894. For that his hon. friend was responsible. That increase was powerfully defended in the House of Lords by Lord Spencer, and in this House by the Secretary to the Admiralty, Sir Ughtred Kay-Shuttleworth, who said—Whatever it may cost, and whatever sacrifice it may entail, we shall keep our Navy equal to defending our interests against any combination which may be formed against us, 714 and to performing those exceptional duties which in time of peace or war fall upon our ships.Sir Ughtred added that that was a truism accepted by people of all shades of opinion. It was difficult to understand how any one could get it into his mind that this Shipbuilding Vote was to be stereotyped at a particular amount. Quite apart from the position we held in the world, it seemed to him to be idle to suppose there could be any possible stereotyping of this Vote. Those principles which were laid down by Sir Ughtred Kay-Shuttleworth, and which must at all times guide this House, were laid down in far more sweeping terms than he should have ventured to have adopted, because "any combination" was there used without any information being given. It had never been supposed by anybody that we should be ready to meet the world in arms. What was supposed was that the two-Power standard gave this country a sufficient margin against any probable combination; but seeing that a fleet could not be suddenly increased in fighting strength, it was necessary to look a few years ahead in making calculations. The United States had now reached the second place, and meant to remain there; but he agreed that it was not necessary for us to build against the United States, which was the protector of the rights of neutrals. It would be as great a mistake to count on them as an enemy as it would to regard them as an active ally. The hon. Member for Dundee had compared our expenditure with that of three Powers; but the weak point in that argument was the two-Power standard meant not only a little more than equality in battleships, but a great deal more than equality in cruisers. The two-Power standard was ascribed to a most respectable author. Lord Spencer stated that it was Cobden who first laid down the two-Power standard for our Fleet. He stated that our Navy ought to be sufficient to efficiently cope with the Navies of any two Powers; that standard allowed a certain margin of strength even as regarded battleships, but the two-Power standard had never been explained by anyone, or even suggested by those who supported it, to have any relationship to anything 715 except battleships. As regarded cruisers, it was always admitted that we wanted a larger number than would be required by the two-Power standard. That fact vitiated all comparisons of mere expenditure and personnel. They could not take the Fleets of France and Russia, and say we were beyond the two-Power standard, without taking into account our enormous number of cruisers. As regards personnel, our personnel was more costly than the personnel of other nations, as we had no conscription, and had, therefore, to keep up a larger supply of long service men than they. Lord Spencer, in 1894, in defending the two-Power standard, said, with regard to cruisers, we had already two to one as compared with any two Powers together, and that we needed cruisers far beyond the proportion of the two-Power standard. What was meant by the two-Power standard was that it gave us a sufficient superiority in battleships over the Fleets of any two Powers. Our position with regard to our Fleet was and ought to be such as to make any three Powers pause before they attacked us. How had these matters been affected since 1894? At the present time it could not be denied that we did not stand in that position with regard to a maritime alliance with Italy, that we stood in some years ago; and, on the other hand, Japan was now building more slowly. Though our expenditure on the Navy was very large now, our expenditure on the land forces of the Empire was still larger. Our naval expenditure was, with war money, under £38,000,000, whilst the expenditure for our land forces was £52,000,000.
His hon. friend had raised the question whether it was possible to take any steps, in conjunction with other Powers, toward reducing the naval expenditure of the world. He never thought himself that the particular proposals indicated by the Russians in their circular were likely to be fruitful; and they were put in a form which was perhaps not the best form. He held that something might be done, not by treaty or by any attempt at a formal engagement, but by a general understanding with the Powers. In that he was with his hon. friend. In the present disposition of France and the peaceful and friendly 716 attitude of the French Government, with the presence at the Quai d'Orsay of a man so weighty and possessing so much the confidence of Europe as M. Delcassé, he could not but think that it might be possible for England and France to talk the matter over and see whether they might not themselves meet Russia on the subject. If these three Powers agreed, even if Germany stood out, something might be done towards promoting that reduction—not very large, perhaps, in such circumstances—to which his hon. friend pointed. While he would always oppose anything like an attempt to make a binding arrangement, which would be certainly dangerous, and would be likely to cause, rather than prevent war, yet, he thought it might be possible to do something in the direction of reducing armaments by a friendly conference of the Powers.
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. ARNOLD-FORSTER,) Belfast, W.
said that he only intervened at that stage of the discussion because he was anxious that what he had to say on the particular question raised by the hon. Member opposite should be said before the Committee proceeded to discuss the more technical matters connected with the Vote. He did not know that it was altogether convenient to attempt to discuss great questions of policy on what was, after all, only one Vote in the Navy Estimates, but it appeared to him that the speech of the hon. Member opposite divided itself into two entirely distinct parts. One related purely to a matter of policy; and he certainly would have thought that this was not the best time for discussing the question of the policy of the Government quite independently, as the hon. Member said, of the policy of the Admiralty. The hon. Member said truly that the question whether we could, or could not, make a pause in our naval preparations was one which did not concern the Admiralty at all; but that being so, it was not altogether convenient on a Vote purely concerned with the administration of the Admiralty to introduce a subject which, ex hypothesi, the Admiralty was not able to decide or in any very remarkable degree to affect.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said there were many opportunities, such as on the Address, or on votes of censure, when the general policy of the Government could be brought under review. He would not labour the point, however. He still maintained that the course taken was an inconvenient one; but since the question of policy was before the Committee he would like to say a word upon it. The hon. Member opposite had pointed out that no conclusion was arrived at at the Hague Conference upon the question of naval disarmament. In those circumstances he would submit whether it was not the plain duty of the Admiralty to deal with facts as they were, and not with facts as they might have been. The facts as they were they knew perfectly; the facts as they might have been they knew very little about. The facts which he, as a member of the Board of Admiralty, knew, were these—that so far from there having been any cessation in the maritime preparations of any of the great Powers concerned, there had been an increase of activity, and if that increase had been more marked in respect of one nation than of another, it had been in respect of the particular nation which the hon. Member cited as having proposed this reduction. That was the state of facts they were compelled to contemplate, and when the hon. Member asked them to base a reduction on a hypothesis of what might have happened, but did not happen, he was asking of them a great deal too much. The hon. Member for West Islington made an interruption which he confessed did not commend itself to him as a wise contribution to the discussion, remarking that economy was the first consideration.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said he thought the hon. Gentleman also com- 718 mitted himself to the observation that the policy which was considered necessary in 1894 ought to have been the guide to the present policy.
§ MR. LOUGH
said he had only alluded to the statement which the Liberal Government made at that time, that it would make adequate provision for the needs of the Empire. He did not mean to say there ought not to be progression afterwards in proportion to population and commerce, but certainly not such bounds as had taken place since then.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said that that was a generous amplification of the hon. Gentleman's interruption; but as he heard the interruption, he would say that economy based on any lines of that kind was the worst possible sort of economy. There seemed to be an impression in some quarters that they could measure the Navy as they could measure money in the bank. It was a very good thing to have £100,000 in the bank, but if they could not have that, then it was good to have £90,000; and if they could not have that, then it was good to have £50,000. That was true in regard to money in the bank, but it was not true in regard to the Navy. If they had not a Navy which could do their work, and not only go into action but come out of it successfully, it was far better not to have a Navy at all. What he would ask the hon. Member to address himself to was this—not the question whether we were spending so much money in 1894 and so much more money now, but whether the problem which the hon. Member on the Front Bench opposite, as representing the Board of Admiralty, set himself in 1894, and thought he had solved, could be solved by the same means at the present time; and until he had an answer which convinced him that what was sufficient then was sufficient now, he confessed that he would pay very little regard indeed to these statistical comparisons. He thought he would be able to show that what was sufficient in 1894 was not sufficient now. It had been pointed out with great truth that the increase in the Navy Estimates in that year was one of the largest increases on record 719 in view of what had preceded it. His hon. friend, and the Administration of which he formed part, acted then, he knew perfectly well, on precisely the same considerations as those on which the present Government were now acting. They adopted precisely the same process of informing themselves as the Government were now utilising. They consulted their representatives in foreign countries; they took stock of their resources at home; and as a result of their consultation and consideration, they decided that a certain strength was necessary for the British Navy. That was precisely the process the Government were adopting at the present time.
He was not going into the details of the actual list of ships of foreign countries. He noticed that his hon. friend did not do so either. He noticed that his hon. friend had referred him to a book which he himself had in his hand. He had it in his hand because he thought it was one of the sources of inspiration on which his hon. friend would draw for his information, and he was correct. But he observed that the hon. Gentleman did not quote some of the figures, which he believed were on the very page to which he was referring. If he had done so he would have been able to demonstrate to the Committee that arguments based entirely on the naval expenditure of two different countries were not at all a safe guide in this matter. What they wanted to know was what were the available forces likely to be opposed to us in time of war in any conjuncture which was reasonably likely to happen; and if his hon. friend had read the list of ships given in that book—a list to which he personally would not commit himself, but which for the moment he would not dispute—if he had read that list of the ships, not of all the Powers which he was pleased to take into consideration, but of the two Powers which he himself selected—if he had told the Committee that according to the figures given there, the battleships of those two countries being built, or about to be built, were three more in number than the battleships of this country, he would have impressed the Committee rather less by a mere statement of expenditure than he had done. Expenditure, indeed, was one of the many items which had to be considered; but it was only one. This country had 720 costs to contemplate and to bear which were unknown to other nations. We were not extravagant. There was no question at all about that. We were not extravagant in producing what we did produce. He had seen it stated that we were producing our battleships for 37 per cent. per ton less than were the French. But we had imposed upon us an enormous amount of expenditure not common to other countries, and the mere expenditure on the ships themselves was not by any means the limit of the total expenditure. We had, in the first place, the expenditure on the personnel, which grew, of course, with the number of ships. Our personnel was a very highly paid and was a voluntary one, the whole charge, of which fell on us, while a similar charge did not fall on other countries. Then we were compelled to keep up costly naval establishments throughout the world for the protection of our commerce. All those causes of expenditure were absent from the Budgets of the countries with which comparison was made. He submitted that he was right in choosing as his test of the duty devolving upon the Admiralty the actual force in ships which was capable of being raised against this country in the unfortunate event of war. That was not the only consideration, but it ought to be the principal consideration, which weighed with the Admiralty in deciding the standard to which the British Navy ought to be kept up. If they were to upset the conclusions which had been arrived at by the Board of Admiralty on that basis, they must submit a much fuller and more elaborate indictment than the hon. Member had brought to-day.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said he, would not stick at a word, and he would not say indictment, but he would say that the hon. Member had brought what he considered to be a very grave charge. He had suggested that the Admiralty, which in this matter was the adviser of the Government, was insisting upon an expenditure and a 721 scheme of naval development which were in excess of the naval requirements of the country.
§ MR. ARNOLD FORSTER
said if the hon. Member did not mean that, what did he mean? If the hon. Member did not mean that, then he had very little to reply to. If it were the fact that the Admiralty were only preparing a fleet for an emergency which it might reasonably be expected to encounter, then they were simply doing the plain duty placed upon them by the House of Commons and the country.
He did not intend to follow the hon. Member into the question of whether this or that Power ought to bulk differently in our consideration in the future from what it had done in the past. He did not desire to express any view at all about the position of the United States. That was a situation which would no doubt have to be considered in the future, and about which something would have to be said. But he would adhere to this—that, taking into consideration only those Powers which had been referred to, the position the Admiralty were now contemplating was at least as serious as when the hon. Member for Dundee was partly responsible for the Navy Estimates. They were, he believed, carrying out in the letter and in the spirit the injunctions which had been laid upon them by the House of Commons, and he heard very little from the hon. Member which tended to convince him that he really questioned that fact. But he still held the view that the Committee could not profitably discuss the question of policy on a wide scale—that was to say, the question of whether or not the European Powers and the great Power across the Atlantic might come to some further agreement as to the cessation of armaments. He was not certain whether the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean had not the better advised view of this matter when he suggested that that was the last development of military activity which some foreign Powers would desire to review. But whether that were so or 722 not, the Committee were not dealing with that question. The duty of the Admiralty, as he understood it, was to give an assurance to the nation that, under the circumstances which existed, they were prepared to guarantee it against attack, and, what was much more important, against defeat, by any combination of Powers with which they might reasonably expect to be at war. He challenged the attack on the Admiralty on that ground. The more closely the Committee examined what was going on in other countries, the more abundantly they would find that the Admiralty were not only justified in, but compelled to adopt, the course they were following. It was true that shipbuilding was much more expensive than it used to be, and that was a matter that could be discussed in detail when they dealt with the different parts of the Vote. On the general question his answer was that they were merely dealing with the problem with which the hon. Member for Dundee had to deal in 1894, but that though that problem was the same in its nature it was not the same in its degree, and the Admiralty were varying their methods exactly to the extent and in the measure of the change in the circumstances they had to meet.
§ SIR ROBERT REID (Dumfries Burghs)
said he would not attempt to deal with the technical portions of the hon. Gentleman's speech; he wished to refer only to one matter raised by the hon. Member for Dundee, in regard to which no answer has been given, viz., whether any effort was being made to come to an understanding with foreign Powers by means of which these enormous Estimates might be diminished. So far as the Estimates were concerned, when the Admiralty came forward with their knowledge and declared they found it necessary for the safety of the country that so much money should be spent, he was not prepared to go against them. He did not consider himself qualified to gainsay the view of the Admiralty, and if they insisted that these ships were required, he could not do otherwise than comply with their demand. But he felt that some answer should be given as to whether any effort had been made in 723 the direction he had suggested. It was well known that the matter was expressly included in the invitation to the Hague Conference. Russia, who had increased her expenditure more than any other power of late, originally made the proposal in 1898, but it was not carried to any conclusion because the time was inopportune. Obviously, provided we maintained our relative strength, that was all we required. No harm could result from an attempt being made to come to such an agreement. At the same time certain alterations in the laws of naval warfare might be considered with a view to withdrawing from the different nations the inducements they now had to maintain large navies. With regard to this country there was the necessity of maintaining its food supply, it ought to be seriously considered by the Government whether they should not try to come to an agreement that food stuffs should be definitely considered as being not contraband of war.
§ MR. WINSTON CHURCHILL (Oldham)
asked whether the hon. and learned Member would really stake the food supplies of this country upon an international agreement that food should not be regarded as contraband of war.
§ SIR ROBERT REID
said he would do nothing of the kind. It would be a foolish thing to do, but it would be for our advantage to get that ruling into international law. The hon. Member, however, had not permitted him to finish his suggestion. It would be to our advantage if we could get the law, which was doubtful at present, established upon a sound basis in that sense; and if we made a concession in return it might induce other nations to make a proportionate reduction in their navies. The concession to which he referred was one which the United States had been pressing on the civilised world for the last twenty years, viz., that private property at sea should be exempt from capture in time of war. He was aware that that might diminish our naval power in the way of bringing pressure to bear, but it would withdraw nearly all the inducements that foreign nations now had to keep up strong navies. It 724 was, however, a matter of opinion whether such an arrangement would procure an ultimate reduction of naval armaments, but what he really wished to know was whether the Government had the slightest intention of approaching foreign Powers in an endeavour to come to an understanding by which that result could be achieved.
§ SIR JOHN COLOMB
said that with regard to approaching foreign Powers, he understood the right hon. Baronet the Member for Forest of Dean carefully to guard himself by saying that he could not contemplate a formal or binding agreement; what he wanted was a friendly understanding. All he would say on that was that in preparations for war a friendly understanding was about the most dangerous thing they could have. He desired to protest against the use of the phrase "building against" Powers. Our shipbuilding programme was not against any Power; it was for ourselves, and it was based on the real necessities of our position, having regard to what other countries were doing. As had been pointed out, to stop naval expenditure, they must stop this Vote, because it really ruled every other Vote. The growth of expenditure on this Vote had been treated purely by reference to the building of other Powers. But did not other elements enter into the matter? Whatever ships were built must be up to date, with all modern appliances, fulfilling all modern conditions, and to meet the demands of science itself involved an enormous advance in expenditure. But that was not all. When the personnel of this Vote was reached, the Committee would ring with appeals not for reduced but for increased expenditure. Dockyard representatives would get up and protest against alleged inadequate wages.
§ SIR JOHN COLOMB
said he was simply stating the fact. It had been stated that our naval expenditure was based upon a Jingo policy, but he wished to point out that from the very circumstances of the case there must be an inevitable growth of naval expenditure 725 by increase of wages. With regard to the question of approaching foreign Powers, he did not think there was a man either inside or outside the House of Commons who was not anxious to have a diminution of armaments. In this matter they were all in the same boat, but what they wished for and what was obtainable were two different things. When they talked about asking foreign Powers to come to some friendly understanding for reduction of armaments, he could not conceive how such a thing could be practicable. If foreign Powers built more ships, this country would have to do the same. Suppose they went to Germany and said, "We want you to come to a friendly understanding to stop this mad career of shipbuilding." What would Germany's answer be? She would reply, "Go to the United States and get her to stop building, and then we will talk to you." In dealing with a very great and serious question like that of naval construction, it was right that they should have material principles before them before coming to the details of shipbuilding. In such matters as this he deplored getting into the sentimental stage and being misled by a will-o'-th'-wisp.
§ MR. RUNCIMAN (Dewsbury)
said that like his hon. friends he had strong opinions in favour of the maintenance of the peace of the world, and he regretted that the heavy expenditure upon armaments, which this Vote contained, was necessary. When the hon. Member for West Islington, who was such a pronounced apostle of economy, as a concomitant of efficiency spoke of reducing the cost of construction, he appeared to confuse the word efficiency with deficiency. When his hon. friend suggested economy on the Army Votes he deserved the support of hon. Members on this side of the House.
§ MR. RUNCIMAN
said he believed that the best economy his hon. friend could advocate was that they should maintain the strength as well as the efficiency of the Navy. It had been stated that our naval strength was so great that an explanation was necessary for the great naval expenditure proposed 726 this year. It had been stated that in battleships alone Great Britain was as strong as one-half of the world. He did not know what figures that contention was based upon, but if they took the battleships afloat at the beginning of this year, they would find that Great Britain had fifty-seven, whilst of those the number under twenty-five years of age was forty-eight. On the same scale Germany and France together had fifty-two battleships afloat, and the number under the age of twenty-five was forty-five. If they took Germany, France, and Russia together, they had seventy-three battleships, fifty-one of which were under the age of twenty-five years. Therefore, as a matter of fact, so far from Great Britain having as many battleships as half the world, she had not as many as Germany, France, and Russia together, and barely a preponderance over Germany and France together. If a comparison was made of what the strength of the various Powers would be in 1906, the deficiency was even greater, and the present naval programme would only provide for the increase made by France and Germany, or by Germany and Russia. It would have been as well if the Secretary to the Admiralty had justified, by a comparison, the programme of this year, for it was not beyond his ingenuity to give comparisons in order to justify the heavy claims he was making upon the National Exchequer. In regard to their Navy, France had stood still, and might continue to do so for some years to come; but in Russia and Germany the increase in their naval programmes had been enormous in recent years. So long as Germany and Russia maintained those increases it was essential for our national safety that this country should not be allowed to drop behind. It was impossible to go into a comparison without dealing with their cruiser strength as well as battleships. The position of this country was peculiar, and necessitated a large cruiser fleet. At the beginning of this year Great Britain had fifty-four large cruisers over 5,000 tons, whereas Germany, and France, and Russia together, had forty-nine large cruisers. The Admiralty might have been working to a two-Power standard in battleships, but apparently they were working up to a three-Power standard in regard to cruisers. Taking those under twenty 727 years of age, which was the limit stipulated in the German naval law, Great Britain still had fifty four large cruisers over 5,000 tons, whereas the three Powers he had named had forty-four; there again this country exceeded the three-Power standard. If they took the beginning of the year 1907, when the Continental programmes would be completed, and when our programme for the present year would be completed, Great Britain would then have seventy-six large cruisers afloat, and Germany, France, and Russia would have fifty-five. It was perfectly clear that the Admiralty were not working up to a two-Power standard, but to a three-Power standard in large cruisers. Considering the position of the British Empire he did not think a three-Power standard as regarded cruisers was at all to be deprecated, and he should be one of the first to vote in favour of a vote of censure if the Government dropped below a safe two-Power standard as regarded battleships and a three-Power standard in regard to cruisers.
§ MR. WINSTON CHURCHILL
said he could not quite agree with what fell from the Secretary to the Admiralty as to this not being a suitable occasion for discussing questions of general naval policy. They did not get very many opportunities of discussing naval questions in their general aspect, the aspect which was undoubtedly the most important part of this subject and one which he thought the House of Commons was most fitted to deal with. He was surprised that the Secretary to the Admiralty referred them to the King's Speech as a good opportunity for discussing these questions. Hon. Members below the Gangway had had bitter experience of the debate on the Address in regard to questions of general naval and military policy. They knew that when these questions were raised on the King's Speech, immediately the Secretary to the Admiralty, or some other more distinguished Member of the Government, rose and said it was a question of confidence, and the vote which was taken did not in the least represent the opinion of the House on the merits of the question. There had been, in the course of the debate, very general agree- 728 ment among all parties in the House that the British Navy should be the finest in the world, and that it should be strong enough for all the work it was likely to be required to do, and he supposed the Committee would not dissent from the proposition that if the British Navy was to have predominance among other navies the Shipbuilding Vote should be rather ahead of the other Votes. Guns could be borrowed, soldiers had in war times served on board ships, engineers could be obtained in an emergency from other quarters. But while there would be a reserve which we could count upon in other quarters, ships took a longer time to build. It was a curious fact that while soldiers and sailors for scientific war might be produced more rapidly than in former times, the great weapons took a longer time to produce. How strong ought the Navy to be? They had heard of the two-Power standard and the three-Power standard, but having listened to many debates with great attention, he had not gathered what was the view of the Government as to the actual standard they were trying to work up to. One thing was perfectly clear—we could not make ourselves secure against an attack by the entire civilised world. Nothing would be more ridiculous than if we were to try it, and if we so conducted our diplomacy and statecraft that other nations regarded us with general and universal hostility, then it might be a good thing that we should realise that no preparations we could make, however great our patriotism and however prodigious our sacrifices, would make us absolutely secure. The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite was a great supporter of international law and agreement. He confessed that he should himself be sorry to see us influenced in our naval policy by an international interpretation of what constituted contraband of war. Assuming the effective blockade of this country and the effective subjection of this country by a coalition of Powers we might depend upon corn being contraband of war. Notwithstanding many Hague Conferences to the contrary corn would be declared contraband of war.
§ SIR ROBERT REID
said the hon. Member misunderstood him. What he 729 said was that if international law by treaty were altered there would be less inducement to the nations of the world to have strong navies.
§ MR. WINSTON CHURCHILL
said that appeared to him to be putting too great dependence on international assurance. We must allow something for our diplomacy and statecraft. We could strengthen our Navy not only by increasing the number of ships at our disposal, but by reducing the probabilities of hostile combinations against us. If we could cultivate a friendly policy towards the foreign nations with whom we were particularly associated, we should really be strengthening our Navy by indirect means; and, so far as we were able to establish particularly friendly relations with any other Power, in that very respect we might modify our Estimates to the amount of force we required to have at our disposal to deal with contingencies. For instance, he did not think that the growth of the navies of the United States and Italy need cause us any anxiety or disquietude; both were nations with which, with occasional lapses, we had consistently cultivated very good relations. The most formidable nation to which this country might be opposed—France—had not of late years shown any inclination to force the pace in the matter of naval armaments. On the contrary, he believed it was an indisputable fact that France had fallen behind very much in the race of naval armaments, and thereby, he ventured to say, had shown how very strongly the instincts of that great democratic people were towards peace. They were all agreed that when the last word had been spoken in diplomacy, when every precaution we could take had been taken, the British nation must be strong enough to face all outstanding liabilities.
The Secretary to the Admiralty said that it was no good having a Navy unless they had a good enough Navy to face the probable combinations which might be opposed to it. They were nearly all agreed with that, and they did not grudge the money to attain that result. But what was England's great advantage over all other nations in the attempt to procure 730 a really predominant Navy? It was not altogether our wealth. Other nations were wealthy, and some nearly as wealthy as we were; it was not altogether that there was any inherent superiority of seamanship in English sailors, because, now that the matter had passed so much into the realms of machinery, seamanship did not appear to be such an important factor in naval strength as it used to be. He had often been told by people who had studied these matters that if it came to mechanical skill and mechanical genius, the French, or Americans at any rate, had shown that they were not likely to fall very far behind the mechanical attainments of this country. There was one advantage we possessed over other countries in Europe, which enabled us to have a Navy far greater and better than they could have, no matter how great were the sacrifices they made, and that was, while all these Powers had to depend upon a great Army and to consider enormous land preparations for the defence of their frontiers, we, in this Island, were able to concentrate the whole of our energies and strength upon the Fleet. It was with that indisputable assertion in his mind that he would respectfully direct the attention of Ministers on the Treasury Bench to the present ratio between naval and military expenditure. He was not going to elaborate the point now, but he would say without any doubt that those who advocated a military expenditure well over £30,000,000 a year as a permanent part of our strategic policy, were the real enemies of our naval predominance, and were far more to be feared by those who had the interests of the Navy at heart than a certain hon. Gentleman opposite who was such a strict economist. He would suggest to those who were rightly interested in the Navy that they should, at any rate, look at the growing Army Estimates with all attention and with a critical eye.
§ MR. LOUGH
said he did not suppose in considering the needs of the Navy they should neglect economy. He put economy first, and he interpreted economy in a wide sense. It was no economy not to make judicious expenditure. He was very glad that the Committee had 731 been allowed to have a general debate on matters connected with the Navy. He thought the Committee had not been treated very well by the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Vote, who had protested against any general debate on what was only one Vote in the Navy Estimates. It had been said that this was the Vote that led to all the other expenditure. His hon. friend the Member for Dundee had asked what was the reason for the great expenditure now proposed for shipbuilding; but no answer whatever had been given by the Government. Such questions had been deprecated as unseasonable, but the Committee never came to a time when they were seasonable. He wished to emphasise the demand which had been made for an explanation why this increase had been proposed. Last year the amount spent fell £600,000 short of the amount voted, though the amount voted was £2,500,000 less than they were asked to vote now.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
The hon. Member's statement is misleading. There were reasons why the new construction did not progress so fast as was anticipated, but the whole of the money, except £35,000, was expended in doing other work.
§ MR. LOUGH
said it appeared to him that the figures he had quoted were correct. The whole of the money was not expended on that Vote, although it had been expended in another way. It seemed to him that the total amount of the Vote was in excess of anything the Admiralty would be able to spend within the year. The figure of this Vote was 17.3 millions, and that was more in proportion to the whole Navy Estimates than Vote A ever was before. He would like the right hon. Gentleman to make some explanation of this increase. Ten years ago the total expenditure on the Navy was £17,000,000 odd, and this Vote 732 was £6,500,000, or less than 40 per cent. of the whole, while to-day Vote A was more than 50 per cent. of the whole. The important point was that the expenditure on Vote A would govern the whole of the rest of the Estimates, and it was large enough to provide for a total naval expenditure of £42,000,000 instead of £34,500,000. They ought to have some, explanation of the principle on which the Government was working. His hon. friend behind him had given the Committee some figures to show that we were working up to much more than the two-Power standard in regard to shipbuilding—taking battle-ships and cruisers very considerably above the two-Power standard. In 1901 the Secretary to the Admiralty stated to the Committee that the Admiralty had received definite instructions from the House not to allow the standard of the strength of the Navy to fall below that of the two Powers which ranked next to us in naval construction; and last year, in answer to the hon. Member for Dewsbury, the hon. Gentleman said that the Admiralty were working at the standard which for many years past had been enjoined upon them by the House of Commons—that the Navy should be in such a condition that it should be able to contend, with hopes of success, with any two naval Powers. In working up to that two-power standard, however, it would be very wise for this country, which was the leading country in the matter of naval expenditure, to do only what was absolutely necessary. In 1898 we spent 1.4 millions more on new construction than any other two great Powers. In the next year we spent £300,000 more; in the following year £70,000 more, and the next year £1,000,000 more. What was the result of that expenditure? It simply stimulated the other Powers into greater activity, and last year we somewhat fell behind, and the two other Powers spent £1,000,000 more than we did. This year we resolved in an exaggerated way to make good this defect, and the increase of the Vote for construction was £1,100,000 and £2,000,000 on the total Naval Estimates. He thought that the conclusion must be drawn that the more we spent and went anything beyond the two-Power standard we d d 733 not improve our relative position, and only stimulated other Powers to make greater exertions. He thought that we ought to make some approach, direct or indirect, to the other Powers to see whether anything could be done to reduce this gigantic expenditure. The time was most opportune.
A remarkable incident in connection with the Newspaper Press of the country took place some time ago. One enterprising newspaper was attracted by the provision made for the German Navy by the German Parliament, and it applied to the German Embassy to know what Germany was really doing. A most polite reply was sent by the German Ambassador by direction of the Emperor to the effect—You ask me what we are doing. Look to your own Parliament, and ask your own Government what they are doing. They are the motive Power. If you can get them to abate these vast armaments, that will be a start in the solution of this great problem.Something had been said about France. He thought they must all agree that the nation was to be congratulated on the happy visit of the King to France which had just taken place, and which was calculated to promote better relations between the two countries. He noticed that the French Minister had already modified the Navy expenditure in that country, and he believed the Army expenditure too. The time was therefore opportune for this country to take some steps in the direction of a friendly approach to the Powers with the view of abating this huge expenditure. Yet they did not hear from the Government of anything of the kind. The hon. Member for Dundee had pointedly asked the Prime Minister to remain and make a statement. The right hon. Gentleman did remain for a short time, but said nothing, and neither from him nor from the representative of the Government who had spoken, had the Committee received the slightest satisfaction. Why should there be this increased Estimate of £2,000,000 at a time when the olive branch was held out, and when our own people were complaining of the heavy burden of taxation? The Government ought to respond in a more sympathetic spirit than they had done, to the appeals made to them. He 734 was not preaching any new doctrine. Thirty or forty years ago Mr. Disraeli in this House used to say exactly the same as he was now inadequately saying.
He was standing up for a policy of economy rather than a policy of successive panics. He thought every man in the House ought to try and think out for himself some policy in regard to this matter. The position he took was that of a well-conducted Liberal, as he ventured to call himself. His hon. friend who opened the Debate was rather twitted by the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Forest of Dean, with having started these great increases in the Naval Estimates in 1894. The increases really began in 1888, but he remembered that the programme of 1894 was accompanied by the statement that the provision then made was adequate for the needs of the nation. It had been assumed that the giant leaps in naval expenditure had been made to put the nation in line with the other Powers, and that in future there would be only a reasonable expenditure proportionate to our expanding commerce, and growing population. But we found the panic increasing from year to year, and the expenditure had jumped up from £17,000,000 in 1894, to £34,500,000 this year, and there was much evidence that it would be £42,000,000 two or three years hence. He could only utter his protest now as he had done before. He was not the sole advocate for economy. There had lately been some distinguished converts to that creed. The notable speech of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer had been already alluded to, but nothing had been said about the equally remarkable speech of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer when he introduced his Budget, in which, in the course of along digression, he deplored the growing expenditure and said that the Government would respond to any approach that might be made to them from abroad with regard to a modification of the national expenditure on the Navy. The Estimates before the Committee, however, did not give any indication that they were making any proposition of the kind. He hoped the hon. Gentleman would respond to the demand for a full and 735 clear statement of the naval policy of the Government. The hon. Gentleman invited the Committee to plunge at once into the weary details they were always discussing. He would ask the hon. Gentleman whether he would not give some explanation of this great increase in expenditure, and also whether there was to be any limit to it.
§ SIR FORTESCUE FLANNERY (Yorkshire, Shipley)
said he should like to explain to the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken that his fear that the Naval Estimates, as a whole, were increasing in proportion to the Shipbuilding Vote, was founded on inaccurate knowledge. The reason why the Shipbuilding Vote had increased to such an extent was that ship-building was becoming more and more expensive in proportion to the number of men that was carried. In the days of Nelson a first-class battleship carried rather more than a first-class man-of-war carried to-day. The latter would, however, cost £1,000,000 sterling, whereas in Nelson's time five or six line-of-battle ships could be built for that amount. Another reason for the increase in the Shipbuilding Vote was that the Admiralty were now getting rid of a number of obsolete vessels, and were transferring their crews to new and improved vessels. Therefore, the increase in the Shipbuilding Vote was entirely out of proportion to the increase in the Naval Vote as a whole; and that would continue for some years, until all the obsolete vessels were expunged from the Navy. He rejoiced that the broad question which had been raised by the hon. Member for Dundee, and supported, with all the eloquence the Committee expected, by the hon. Member for Dumfries, had been very fully discussed by the Committee. He remembered two or three years ago, when there was a modest attempt to make a comparison between expenditure on the Army and on the Navy, that it was ruled, no doubt properly, out of order by the Chair. To-day the Committee had had a pungent comparison from the hon. Member for Oldham as to the proportion between naval and military expenditure, and the basis on which it should be founded. He ventured to say that the statement of a well-known statesman that the Navy 736 was the first line of defence, and that the Army was the second, was not well-founded on fact, because he believed the Navy was the only line of defence, and that if the Navy went, this country would be powerless against other countries. The Navy was the only hope of the country. If that proposition were accepted, then one must realise the vital importance of the question raised by the hon. Member for Dundee, with all the authority of his former position at the Admiralty. He did not wish to criticise the speech of the hon. Gentleman; but he thought it right to point out to the Committee that the hon. Gentleman did not condemn this expenditure. The hon. Gentleman criticised the wisdom of the expenditure, and he asked the Secretary to the Admiralty to explain and justify it; but he did not, either himself personally, or on behalf of those whom the hon. Gentleman represented in naval matters, condemn this expenditure. He ventured to say that the Government and the Admiralty had done splendidly as regarded the Navy. Everything they had done was entirely justified; and had been done in answer to an agitation from outside, which was of the most powerful character, and in which practically the whole of the people of the country, without distinction of Party, had taken their full share.
Some years ago a letter was published which was written by Lord Charles Beresford, then second in command of the Mediterranean Squadron, in which he stated that there was not sufficient preparation either as regarded the number of ships or the details to justify the position which the Fleet ought to hold in relation to the defence of the country. His hon. friend the Secretary to the Admiralty then justified the existing condition of things; but since that time, what had happened? The Mediterranean Squadron had been strengthened by eight battleships, four cruisers, and sixteen destroyers. That had been done quietly, without much fuss, but it had been done out of the money voted by Parliament during a period of two years. If the Admiralty had done that, they had not wasted the resources which had been placed at their disposal. The hon. Gentleman asked his hon. friend if the Government were going to build up 737 an alliance. He ventured to say that any Government, however constituted, which would rely on a treaty or an alliance, or on the well-known and undoubted friendship and cousinship between the American people and the people of this country, and reduce the naval strength of the country below the two-Power standard would be creating a dangerous precedent. It might be that they could have an understanding of the character indicated during the debate, which might lead to a mutual reduction of armaments; but to allow the Navy to fall below the standard which had been accepted, because of any treaty or any evidence of friendship would, he ventured to think, be a mistake, the consequences of which might perhaps be fatal. He desired to support by all the means in his power the policy of the Admiralty during the last two years, especially the establishment of the Council of Defence. The Council was a safeguard that Parliament might rely on a proper proportion between expenditure on the Army and on the Navy being observed. On that Council there were the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but even more important than these great officers, they had, as integral parts of the Council, experts from the Army and Navy. They had the Sea Lords and the Commander-in-Chief, who would be able to give advice, not as witnesses, but as Members of the Council. There would be a permanent record of the proceedings of the Council.
The right hon. Gentleman is now getting far away from the Vote. There was a desire for a general discussion on the shipbuilding Vote, but that cannot be extended to the Council of Defence.
§ SIR FORTESCUE FLANNERY
said he was only showing how it would be possible under the new organisation to co-ordinate between the Army and the Navy. That had been discussed under the Vote.
I beg pardon. I have not allowed it to be discussed. It is true the hon. Member for Oldham did make a passing reference to it, but he stopped. There was no discussion on co-ordination.
§ SIR FORTESCUE FLANNERY
said he would, of course, bow to the decision of the Chair. He was referring to the excellent steps which the Admiralty had taken for spending money to the best advantage of the country. The Shipbuilding Vote was larger in point of money and ships than ever before. In the past financial year seventy-two vessels of all classes were being built, and in the course of the financial year we had entered on the Admiralty expected to commence thirty-nine more, so that during the course of the present financial year we should see 111 vessels in course of construction. When contrasted with the building programmes to be finished in 1907 of other Powers with whom we were likely to be in competition, it would be found that it would not leave us very far above the two-Power standard except in regard to cruisers, in regard to which we had a special and peculiar justification having regard to our trade and commerce.
§ ٭ SIR WILLIAM ALLAN (Gateshead)
asked whether he would be in order in showing how this increase had arisen in naval expenditure.
said he could not say until he heard what the hon. Member said. He would not be in order in dealing with the particulars of the Vote. If he chose to say the charges for the personnel were too high he could do so, but he could not deal with the price of vessels on contract.
§ SIR WILLIAM ALLAN
said his idea was to show how such a great increase had taken place in the naval Vote. He foretold it many years ago, and he had seen it increase year by year until it had reached its present proportions. Hon. Members had preached economy and efficiency. He did not object to the money being spent on these ships providing the ships were efficient, but when he looked at this large and growing amount of money, and saw how it was wasted and squandered, he considered it was his duty to show the Committee how it was wasted. He could prove that £1,100,000 had been absolutely squandered. The Government gave £2,200,000 for some French 739 articles which could have been obtained in this country at half the price.
§ SIR WILLIAM ALLAN
said in that case he would reserve his criticisms on the Navy until he came into line with the Chairman's ruling.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said the hon. Member for Islington had put economy first; he, himself, put the defence of the country first. When he had secured that he was prepared to consider what economies he could make consistent with safety. Great regret, in which he shared, had been expressed at the absence of the Prime Minister from this discussion. He thought it mostly concerned the Prime Minister to hear the general discussion on the increase of the Navy expenditure, but it must be remembered that the Prime Minister had other duties. He was always present at Question time, and very often for five or ten minutes afterwards, and he was perfectly certain the right hon. Gentleman would come in in time to answer speeches which he had not heard and to close a debate in which he had taken no part. The hon. Member for Islington had reproached this country with setting the pace in naval matters, but that was not the case, because Germany was proceeding faster. With Germany it was not a question of life and death but a secondary matter. Her principal frontiers which were likely to be menaced by an enemy were land frontiers, and, if Germany was increasing her Navy as she was, it could only be against one country, and that was this country, and the fact that she was increasing her Navy was sufficient for us increasing ours and being on our guard. Passing to the point initiated by the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean, that we ought to come to some understanding with certain Powers by which this increase in the Navy could be stopped, he thought the basis of the suggestion was sound, because the increase of the Navy could only be relative. The whole question was one of relativeness. If other countries had no navies we might have 740 one battleship and two cruisers, but we must consider the eventualities of the future, and the naval forces of other Powers were so considerable that he doubted whether we could come to such an understanding. Suppose they took France. She had dropped out of the lists and had ceased to increase her Navy. The two-Power standard must mean any two Powers, and the two principal Powers at present in this respect were Germany and Russia. He doubted very much whether any understanding was possible between Great Britain on the one side and those two Powers on the other. Meantime, there being no understanding, the Admiralty had no choice but to do as they were doing, to go step by step with those Powers, so that the Fleet should be kept in such a condition as to be able to cope with either or both of them.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said that even then her programme was not one to be neglected, and in any case Germany was not the only element to be considered. He was ready to reduce Army expenditure by a very large amount indeed, but he could not consent to reduce the Navy to a niggardly standard. He would rather see a most extravagant increase than anything approaching a dangerous diminution. In dealing with the Navy, economy was altogether a secondary, and not a primary, consideration. As to the suggestion that private property at sea should be exempt from capture, so far from diminishing, it would increase the necessity for a large naval Power. Its effect would be to deprive our cruisers of the power of stopping supplies for the enemy and forcing him to submit by thus exhausting his taxable capacity. The Secretary to the Admiralty was to be congratulated on the course of the debate. In some interesting figures the hon. Member for Dewsbury had conclusively shown that the proposed increase in the shipbuilding programme was none too large. There had been no serious attempt to show that that programme was excessive, except by the hon. Member for West Islington. 741 But although the hon. Member's constituency was not on the sea shore, it was as much in need of defence as any other part of the Empire. The Committee must remember that this country could not be defended with soldiers. The Navy was our only protection, and when that had been made perfect they might indulge in the luxury of foreign expeditions which required soldiers. The programme of the year was not in the least exaggerated, it was not uneconomical, and it was not one whit beyond the naval necessities of the case.
§ MR. MUNRO FERGUSON (Leith Burghs)
heartily supported the general policy of the Vote, which he did not think was excessive in view of the greater costliness of the ships, the rapid shipbuilding of other countries, and the necessity of keeping up to the two-Power standard. He was a little surprised, however, that the hon. Gentleman should have complained of the debate turning on general policy, because if the Committee was to express any opinion at all upon the Shipbuilding Vote, it could do so only by having regard to the foreign and naval policy of other countries as well as of our own. The Committee had had no reason to place confidence in the old Committee of Defence, and the present Council had not been sufficiently long constituted to command their confidence; consequently, they were dependent, in coming to a conclusion as to what the construction for the year should be, upon such information as was given by the Government, of the shipbuilding programmes and general policy of foreign Powers. On the occasion of the recent reduction in the personnel of the French Mediterranean Fleet, it was stated on apparently good authority that that was equivalent to an invitation by France to reduce the burden of naval armaments. It would be interesting to know whether that view was taken by the Government, although, if he recollected aright, we were very active with our own preparations at the time. He merely mentioned that as being one of the occasions which sometimes arose, when it might be possible to do something to relieve the present burden. It was especially desirable that that should 742 be done at a time like the present, when the Government of France was not only exceptionally strong, but also so friendly towards us—an attitude which he believed was reciprocated by everybody in this country. He looked forward to an increase rather than a decrease in the cost of the Fleet for some time to come, but the country had a confidence in the Admiralty and its system which it was less prepared to extend to the system of the War Office. He would not wonder if the naval expenditure rose to £40,000,000, but if the plea for an increase in the Naval Vote could be made out, it was all the more necessary that at the same time the plea for economy in the Army services should be recognised. It would be a great mistake to encourage the belief that the Naval Vote could be diminished, and that was a reason why the Committee had the right to ask that its powers of discussing general policy should not be limited. He regretted that neither the Prime Minister nor the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had been present to deal with questions of general policy. The Government would have to take the House of Commons into its confidence if it was to obtain the great Votes that would be necessary to maintain the unquestioned supremacy of our Fleet. That was the first consideration before the Committee—a consideration greater, he believed, than even that of economy.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said he would be sorry for any hon. Members to think that he failed intentionally to give an explicit answer to a plain question; but as that suggestion had been made by more than one speaker, he desired to clear himself of the accusation. He still hold that it was not altogether profitable that they should discuss questions of general policy on this Vote—not because he underrated the importance of the discussion, but because, without the presence of the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs or the Secretary of State for War, there could be no adequate reply to the points raised, and a discussion under such circumstances was not of much value. Nor was it reasonable to expect the presence of these Ministers, as it was not the practice to discuss these matters on a detailed Vote of the Navy 743 Estimates. The introduction of the Estimates was the occasion on which a discussion on general policy was taken. He had been asked whether he could not give a plain answer to the plain question of why this Vote was increased. He thought he had given the answer almost ad nauseam. The explanation was not an elaborate one, nor one that required any large amount of detail to make it clear to the Committee. It was simply that the Admiralty were pursuing the policy they had pursued in past years, and this increase was the normal and inevitable outcome of that policy. They had instructions, which the House of Commons had given and still maintained, to preserve a working balance; over any two Powers, which was only a way of saying they should provide a force adequate to preserve the country in any emergency that might arise. It had not been said that they were not doing that, or that they were exceeding their duty in doing it, or that they had taken steps in excess of what the House of Commons had authorised. Until some accusation of that kind was brought—it had not been even formulated, much less supported, by evidence—he thought no further answer was necessary. An increase in the expenditure was inevitable and necessary if that policy was to be pursued, and it had not been disputed that that policy should be pursued. He thought he had given a plain answer to the question put to him as to how the increase in this Vote had arisen. The hon. Member for Islington had dwelt upon what foreign Powers were doing, but he was astonished to hear the hon. Member speak of a Power like Germany and ourselves as being upon exactly the same terms in connection with their Naval necessities and dangers. He thought it would be better if the hon. Member, when he spoke of what was being done by a foreign Power, would give a little more attention to their relative requirements. He told the Committee just now that Germany was diminishing her Navy Estimates.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said the hon. Member did not tell the Committee the nature of that diminution. Nearly 744 the whole of the reduction of £600,000 alluded to was due to the fact that Germany had not agreed as to whether she would shift the quarters of her Admiralty Department or not, and it had nothing whatever to do with the German naval construction programme.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said that was not so. When they were accused of large increases in their Navy Estimates he thought it was only right to say that there had been no increase so rapid and formidable in this way as the increases in the German naval expenditure during the last few years. In conclusion, he wished to say once more that he regretted this discussion because he did not think it could lead to any practical issue at the present moment. He noticed that in the course of the debate three different Ministers had been quoted by hon. Members opposite as being in sympathy with them, and as having expressed themselves as being in strong sympathy with the proposals made on the opposite side of the House, and supported on the Ministerial side of the House, for a reduction in the expenditure on the Navy. He noticed that every one of those persons was a Minister sitting on this side of the House. The names mentioned were the right hon. Gentleman the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, Viscount Goschen and the present Prime Minister.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
Yes, and he might add a fourth—the right hon. Gentleman the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. Therefore he thought it would be unfair to say that there was any want of sympathy with that idea on this side of the House. It might be within the memory of some hon. Members that he himself as a subordinate member of the Government and the representative of the Admiralty had expressed himself as strongly as he could in the same sense. But there must be reason in all things. He thought he was right in saying that every step that could be taken had been taken by this country in this direction. That being so, they had a right to some response on the part of others 745 less intimately concerned in their naval safety than this country. He rather reproached the hon. Member for continuing that accusation against this country alone and not remembering that we were dependent to a much greater extent than any other nation in the world upon our naval preparations.
§ MR EDMUND ROBERTSON
contended that when an increase of £1,000,000 was proposed on an Estimate which was already enormously high, the burden of showing the necessity for it was on the Government. It was the duty of the Secretary to the Admiralty to come forward when asked, and prove why such an increase was necessary. That duty the hon. Gentleman had not discharged. The hon. Member did make in part the answer which ought to have come from the Treasury Bench. He thanked the hon. Member for that answer, but he thought a reasonable and detailed answer ought to be given by the Secretary to the Admiralty. The specific question he put was that if £6,000,000 satisfied the two-Power standard six years ago, how did it come about that £10,000,000 was required this year? He also wished to know how much money was being taken for the new shipbuilding programme which was announced in the First Lord of the Admiralty's statement, and what would be the total cost of that programme? He thought that on this Vote, and at this stage, they were entitled to know what the new shipbuilding programme was to cost altogether.
§ MR. KEARLEY
said his hon. friend had just asked why £10,000,000 were necessary this year while £6,000,000 was sufficient six years ago. The reply was quite obvious, and he was not at all surprised that the Secretary to the Admiralty had not dealt with it. It had been made clear that the Committee were in favour of an efficient Navy, and did not put economy first. They all stood out for an efficient Navy at all costs. His hon. friend the Member for Islington had asked where they were going to stop? He wished to ask the hon. Member when he would like to stop?
§ MR. KEARLEY
said they all wanted to stop but they were not going to be foolish enough to stop so long as the act of stopping would put the country in danger. That was his reply as to the necessity for this £10,000,000 to be spent upon new construction, for that expenditure had been necessitated by the expenditure of other Powers upon new construction. His hon. friend had said that it was no good looking for any economy in naval expenditure. He contended that there was plenty of scope for economy, and when they had got over the difficulty of having the discussions confined to such narrow limits they would be able to demonstrate that there was any amount of scope for economy in naval expenditure. He believed that they could get the same quantity of efficiency for much less money than they were now paying. He regarded with great satisfaction what had fallen from the hon. Member for West Islington and the hon. and learned Member for the Dumfries Burghs as to their being in favour of a thoroughly efficient Navy. That cleared the situation very much. He had been rather under the impression that they wanted to reduce the Estimates, irrespective of consequences. He had suspected that fulsome years, but he was now in the happy position of knowing that he had formed an erroneous impression.
§ MR. REGINALD LUCAS (Portsmouth)
said he thought it was not too much occasionally to have a general discussion on the Navy, seeing how much interest was felt in the Navy by the country, and how much time had been taken up with a general discussion on the Army. He shared, to some extent, the regret expressed that these debates were not attended by more representatives of the Government, but he would point out that it was a very general practice for hon and right hon. Gentlemen, as soon as they had spoken, to leave the House and remain away a long time, if they came back at all. A curious feature in all the speeches that had been delivered that afternoon was a disinclination to look facts in the face. No one had said that in the future we must be prepared for 747 a large increase of expenditure. The hon. Member for West Islington had come before the House as the apostolic successor of Lord Beaconsfield. But the hon. Member, and those who thought with him, seemed to have omitted one important fact on which his argument turned, namely, that whatever Lord Beaconsfield might have said thirty years ago, the situation had now entirely changed, because other countries had begun to build large navies which, in the time of Lord Beaconsfield, were not contemplated, certainly not by England. They had better announce at once their determination to maintain British superiority and make in the future still greater sacrifices than they had already made. The most plausible suggestion brought forward was that we should approach other countries with a view to arranging for a reduction of naval strength, but he was bound to say that that seemed to him to be a sort of confidence trick and from what he had heard and seen, he had no hope of any great result in that direction. He shared the belief of the hon. and gallant Member for Great Yarmouth, who hit the nail on the head when he said that if they went to Germany and suggested a reduction that country would immediately refer them to America. He did not believe that it was necessarily against this country that other Powers made naval preparations. We did not sufficiently consider what other countries had to bear in mind. Some time since he quoted an extract from a German newspaper in which loud complaints were made as to the inferiority of Germany in the Far East as compared with Russia, Japan and France. Great Britain was not even mentioned. Therefore he said that although he did not desire to diminish the significance of the situation or cast responsibility from off their shoulders, they ought to realise that there were other Powers besides ours against which the force of other navies might be brought, and therefore it was by no means certain that we should succeed if we took the initiative in this matter. The Member for Oldham attached great importance to better Statecraft. Sounder diplomacy the hon. Gentleman thought might ensure our being able to give way a little in our naval preparations. But he himself thought he would find 748 that diplomacy was not omnipotent. Let them assume that Germany was their great enemy. Surely it was not the Government who were going to embroil this country with Germany over the Venezuela and the Baghdad questions, but it was the people who charged the Government with being too subservient with Germany. It was also said there was a distinct desire in France to reduce their navy. He had thought so himself, but he had been reading a debate which took place in the French. Chamber in November last, and there seemed to be a stronger feeling against naval reduction than was imagined. He could not see very much hope at present of securing general disarmament in Europe. If they intended to occupy their present position in the world they must be prepared for a still larger naval expenditure in the future.
§ MR. CREAN (Cork, S.E.)
said he agreed with the Secretary to the Admiralty that a general discussion of policy was very inconvenient when they were dealing with a particular Naval Vote. Little had been said on the particular subject to which the Vote referred. If he might join in the general irregularity he would say that the policy of increasing the Navy to the strength of any other two Powers was one for which the Government had no alternative until some arrangement could be come to among the Powers themselves. That time was very far distant. The people of Ireland had no interest in any portion of the increased amount of money which was being extracted from the Irish taxpayers. That was certainly an injustice to Ireland, and there should be some protest raised against it. While these extravagances were being lavished on English constituencies, and, specially dockyard constituencies, the people of Ireland were treated in the reverse way. He wished to draw the attention of the Secretary to the Admiralty to the treatment of the workmen engaged at Cork labour docks. These docks being situated on an island the major portion of the employees were compelled to travel by water. He believed that boats were formerly provided by the Admiralty, but now for the first time they had been taken from the workmen. A certain portion of the employees 749 had the advantage of the use of a Government launch to take them to the island, but most of them had to pay for a steam launch. He was informed that formerly the poorest class of workmen were supplied with row-boats, and for the first time on record they had lately been deprived of the use of these boats, which amounted to a reduction in their wages. He and some of his colleagues had waited on the Secretary to the Admiralty and asked him to inquire into the matter, which the hon. Gentleman promised to do. He wished to ask the hon. Gentleman if that inquiry had been made, and if he intended to do justice to these poor men.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said it was quite a mistake for the hon. Gentleman to suppose that he had made no inquiry. He had telegraphed at once to stop any change being made until he had made inquiry into the whole facts. That inquiry had been made and he had satisfied himself that nothing unjust or unfair was being done to these workmen and that no departure had been made from the dockyard regulations. If the hon. Gentleman wished it he should be happy to show him the case as it had been represented to him.
§ MR FLAVIN (Kerry, N.)
said the Secretary to the Admiralty declared that no change had been made, while his hon. friend insisted that these poor workmen had been deprived of the boats to take them to their work, the use of which they had had for thirty or forty years. The Committee should have a definite answer as to why these, the poorest working men on the island, were being penalised in this fashion.
§ MR. KEARLEY
said he had an Amendment on the Paper, but perhaps it would not be necessary for him to move it. The Secretary to the Admiralty must be aware that he was expected to make some communication in regard to certain labour questions that had been under the notice of the Admiralty for a certain number of months. If he understood the silence of the hon. Gentleman to mean that he had nothing 750 to communicate to the Committee, he should have to trouble the Committee with some details.
§ MR. PRETYMAN (Suffolk, Woodbridge)
said that this matter had been under careful consideration, and the members of the Board of Admiralty had visited all the great dockyards and had had the advantage of hearing their case from the men of all sections and kind of rating. They had also the advantage of hearing from the dockyard representatives, who had necessarily the means of knowing what the views of the men were. Certain financial considerations had, however, to be dealt with separately.
§ MR. PRETYMAN
said that the financial considerations were what the cost to the country would be of all these matters. The Board of Admiralty had arrived at the conclusion that there was no general grievance, and that the rate of wages paid per hour for work done in the dockyards compared not unfavourably with the rate paid in private yards. There was a perfect mosaic of ratings in different branches of employment, all of which fitted into each other. There were some individual grievances, apart from wages, about which some changes would be made in the interest of the men, but until the general consideration of the cost to the country of the other demands was completed, nothing further could be done.
§ MR. KEARLEY
said that that explanation did not go very far. The hon Gentleman said that the Admiralty, which had had these matters under consideration since October last, had them still under consideration. The hon. Gentleman evidently meant that irrespective of the merits of the case the Admiralty were considering whether it was going to cost money. He wondered if the hon. Gentleman, or even the hon. and gallant Member for Great Yarmouth, had ever heard of the Resolution passed by the House of Commons in 1893, which had been disinterred by an old and distinguished representative of a 751 dockyard constituency — the present right hon. and learned Member for Cambridge University—and who had recently expressed his utter astonishment that a Government was still in office which continued on the old, antiquated, and unfair lines of payment of their employees. A paragraph in that Resolution read as follows:—That, in the opinion of this House, no person should in Her Majesty's Naval Establishments be engaged at wages insufficient for proper maintenance.Now, what was proper maintenance? The Civil Lord might probably have heard of Mr. Arthur Chamberlain, an active member of the celebrated firm of Kynoch's. That gentleman made a statement the other day in regard to the men in his employment. He said that he had come to the conclusion that any wage under 22s. per week was not a living wage, and consequently that he had to pay that wage. Mr. Rowntree, in his interesting book dealing with the working classes in York, pointed out that after the most careful inquiry and deduction from the facts collected, he arrived at the conclusion that 21s. 10d. per week was the lowest wage on which a man could live under ordinary rental conditions. It was a matter of notoriety that the rental conditions at such dockyard towns as Devonport and Deptford were abnormal; but there were men employed in the Devonport dockyard who only received a wage of 20s., and some as low as 19s. per week. How was the hon. Gentleman opposite going to reconcile the continuance of that rate of wages with the Resolution of 1893, which had never been repudiated by this or any other Government? Two years ago Mr. Goschen, during a similar discussion, undertook to have the whole question of rates of pay gone into, but that promise had not been carried out; at least, they had seen no results of it. A few weeks ago a deputation from the Trade Union Congress had an interview with the Board of Admiralty, and put before them the exceptionally strong case of the dockyard joiners. It was then disclosed that whereas the joiner's wage in private yards, doing the same work, and even Government work, was 39s. 6d. per week, the rate prevailing in the Government dockyards was 31s. per week. The question 752 of the wide disparity between the number of men on the establishment in the dockyards and the number of hired men had been raised more than once. The hon. Gentleman opposite had admitted that the disparity did exist, and stated that the matter was receiving consideration. Had it received consideration? The Government were now going to start on the east coast a new naval base. He should like to know what would be the policy that would be adopted there. The Committee would wish to know whether, at the commencement of this new naval base, the Government would obtain control over a sufficient area of land as would insure their employees being housed, not only under sanitary conditions, but at a rental well within the competency of their pay. He hoped his hon. friend would be able to give him information on those points.
§ SIR JOHN GORST (Cambridge University)
said he thought that the Committee would not accuse him of taking part in this debate on electioneering grounds. He had, however, undergone a long apprenticeship in these matters in other days, and he was quite astonished to hear from the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken, and from communications he had received from his old constituents, that matters had not gone very far during the last ten years; and that the Government, which, ten years ago, a Resolution of the House of Commons declared should be a model employer of labour, was not a model employer at all, and was carrying on the dockyards in the same hand-to-mouth way as they were ten years ago. He would give the Committee one example. He did not think that any employer of labour would have two distinct, classes of workmen in his employ at different rates of pay, and in different positions as to pension, and permanency of service. He alluded to the distinction between the hired men and the established men at the dockyards. The question was brought before the Admiralty a few days ago; but he supposed it was no nearer a solution now than it was ten or twenty years ago. Of course, one could under stand the principle of having established men in order that a body of efficient workmen might be at the command of the Admiralty for the repair of the Fleet. 753 On that the very existence of the country might depend. It was necessary to have a number of permanent men who would receive a lower rate of wages in consideration of the permanency of their employment and other conditions, by which it was supposed they were placed in a better position than the out side workman. At the same time there was a large number of what were called hired men—men who had no claim to superannuation, or to permanent employment, and who were as a matter of fact formally discharged every year, and taken on again. Although those men were nominally only engaged for a year, their employment was really just as permanent as that of the established men. A hired man might retire from a dockyard after working twenty or thirty years, and would have no claim to superannuation. He would merely receive a gratuity. It was quite clear that the maintenance of a system of that kind was a very bad thing. Even before the Model Employer Resolution was passed, the Admiralty used to admit that it was not a satisfactory arrangement, and that it ought to be discontinued. Of course, it was quite right that the Admiralty should have a certain number of men temporarily employed; but when in the case of a temporary man experience brought out his capacity as a workman and his other qualifications, he ought to be put on the establishment. The Admiralty ought to have a certain number of hired men for two or three years; and then when they were satisfied as to their character and industry they ought to be put on the establishment after undergoing a certain period of probation. If a man remained a hired man for seventeen or twenty years it was quite clear that there would be discontent and dissatisfaction. It was a system which no commercial employer of labour would ever dream of attempting to carry out. He was not quite sure that the Admiralty should not take the advice of some practical business man accustomed to employ a large number of workmen of various classifications and trades, in order that the work of the dockyards might be organised in the same way as work in the great shipyards was organised. 754 In that way, the work would be much more efficiently done, and the Admiralty would have a much more contented and satisfied class of workmen. It was not, of course, an easy matter, and not a matter which they expected the Secretary to the Admiralty to carry out without expert assistance. Many hon. Members knew how difficult the employment of labour was; but if the Government was to be a model employer it must face that difficulty. A scheme should be drawn up on commercial lines for the employment of labour at the dockyards, and if that were really taken in hand by the Admiralty, it would not only satisfy the workmen, but the business of the country would be much more efficiently and economically carried on.
§ MR. REGINALD LUCAS
said he did not think that it was necessary for dockyard Members to intervene in the debate except to express their thanks to the Board of Admiralty for receiving a deputation of Members interested in dockyards. At the interview they had an opportunity of laying their views before the Admiralty in a much more businesslike manner than by a debate in Committee of the House. As the Admiralty knew the case was not an easy one, as there were so many details that they could not discuss in Committee because of the technicalities of the subject. It was much better to meet and discuss it in a less formal fashion. Another thing for which he expressed thanks was that the Admiralty had acceded to their wish that they should interview the men personally, because while dockyard Members might understand their case to some extent, they could not possibly know the facts and interests so well as the men themselves. He did not wish to be unduly suspicious of the Admiralty. They said they were still considering the matters raised by the men. There were so many matters under consideration that he was prepared to wait until they stated what they were prepared to do, with the confident hope that the statement would be satisfactory and encouraging to all parties concerned.
§ MR. CREAN
said he wished, as a protest, to move the reduction of the Vote by £200. There was no alternative left to him, as he had not received a satisfactory reply. The statement of the hon. Gentleman, that the men to whom he had referred were not deprived of any privileges, was contrary to the facts. He was aware of the facts from the men themselves, and knew that they had to pay out of their small wages for being taken to and from their work. The men had been deprived of a privilege which they had enjoyed for twenty or thirty years. He begged to move.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item B be reduced by £200, in respect of Wages of Men."—(Mr. Crean.)
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said he was sorry that the hon. Member should think that he was making a mis-statement.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said he was obliged to the hon. Gentleman. He thought, however, he was under some misapprehension. He himself did not say that no change had been made. The hon. Gentleman came to him with another hon. Member on the subject, and said that there was a case for inquiry. He telegraphed at once that no change should be made in the arrangements until he had had an opportunity of fully investigating the question. What he said was that he was satisfied that no injustice had been done, but that he could not at the moment recollect all the circumstances of the case, as the matter occurred some time ago, and that he should be glad, if the hon. Member desired, to send him the particulars which led to the decision of the Rear-Admiral at Queenstown. He still thought that no injustice had been done. Perhaps, he had an apology to make to the hon. Gentleman for not communicating with him at the time. It might have been better had he done so, although it was not a matter which really came within his province.
§ CAPTAIN DONELAN (Cork, E.)
wished to assure the hon. Gentleman that the statement made by Mr. Crean was 756 absolutely true. The men were told they must pay their own fares or hire boats. The matter was a small one but to these men it meant a considerable loss. Since the interview with the hon. Gentleman nothing whatever had been done to restore to these men the privileges they had enjoyed for so long a time.
§ MR. GILHOOLY (Cork County, W.)
asserted that no expense was incurred by the Admiralty in placing the boats at the disposal of the workmen going to and from their work, because they rowed the boats themselves. They felt it was a great hardship and injustice that while the men coming from the other side of the harbour were carried to and from their work by the boats, they should be compelled to pay their own fares. The men were deserving of consideration because their wages were lessened by two shillings per week. He was glad that the hon. Gentleman was going to look into the matter again.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
undertook to refresh his memory and supply Mr. Crean with the Admiral's decision and the reasons for it.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. PRETYMAN
said, in reply to the hon. Member for Devonport, the hon. Member and the Committee would see and sympathise with the rather difficult position in which the Board of Admiralty was placed in having to reply on the question of dockyard workers. There could be no doubt that the Admiralty, as well as every Member of the Committee, must have every sympathy with the men in this matter. The Board of Admiralty desired to be a model employer of labour, but it was one thing to be a model employer of labour and quite another to accede to every request made on behalf of the men. So far as the general conditions under which the men were employed were concerned the Admiralty had not fallen very far short of private employers in this matter. The men worked eight hours a day in the dockyard, and as to the particular point raised by the hon. Member for Devonport and the right hon. Member for Cambridge University, his right hon. friend must have forgotten the fact 757 that in private employment no workmen were established and that a pension at the end of their service was only obtained in the Government service. Therefore the Government service did not compare unfavourably with that of private employers. Another misapprehension which he desired to try and remove was this, that repeated suggestions of complaint as to the conditions of employment of the men in the dockyards led people to believe that these workmen were a discontented set of men. He had derived great advantage from seeing these men and hearing their views, and he did not think they were at all a discontented set of men. They were like any other set of workmen in the country. They wished to see the conditions of their labour improved, and thought they had certain grievances which they wished to have remedied. Those grievances were not of an extensive character, and were now being investigated. He had held out hopes that he would have been able to give on this occasion a more definite reply to the hon. Member opposite, but, unfortunately, he was not in a position to do so, and he thanked the hon. Gentleman for the patience with which he had waited for a reply. Another suggestion that was often made was that the Admiralty should secure the advice of business men, and place the labour of the dockyards on a business footing. That was a suggestion made by everybody who desired to find fault with the Government Departments. He had had some experience of business men outside the Government, and some short experience of Government methods, and he unhesitatingly said that in those who superintended our dockyards they had business men. No general advantage would be gained in trying to remodel all the labour in our dockyards. What was being done was to endeavour to improve the system that existed by ameliorations and small alterations in it, which were found to fit in with the requirements of the persons who worked under it. He repudiated the suggestion that all the business men of the country were to be found outside the Government Departments. With regard to the question of the hon. Member opposite, it would be a little out of order to enter into the question of the sites for housing the workmen at St. Margaret's Hope at this moment, but he intended to 758 make a statement on the matter at a future date. It was a matter that could not be lost sight of, and he asked that his reply on that question might be deferred until the introduction of the Naval Works Bill
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £4,786,700, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of the Matèriel for Shipbuilding, Repairs, Maintenance, &c., including the cost of Establishments of Dockyards and Naval Yards at Home and Abroad, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1904."
§ SIR WILLIAM ALLAN
said he had great pleasure in taking up the subject which he had hinted at previously, of the great and extraordinary increase in the Naval Vote. It was all very well for hon. Members to vote money, but it was their duty to ask the question, how was that money spent? They ought to make themselves acquainted with the expenditure, and ask whether the money was wisely spent. The Government had paid for Belleville boilers £2,200,000 of that amount—they had boilered sixty ships with Belleville boilers. Had that amount been spent in Scotch boilers—safe boilers—they could have boilered 120 warships. That meant a dead loss to this country of £1,100,000. Over and above that sum, they had paid in royalties to Belleville £175,000. Had anybody made inquiry as to the validity of the patent? He did not believe any inquiry had been made, and yet they had paid for royalties a sum which would have sufficed to boiler eight warships of 20,000 horse-power. For repairs and renewals of boilers in fourteen vessels only they had spent £350,000, and these vessels were new, having done practically no work. For that money they could have boilered sixteen ships of 20,000 horse-power each. That was an absolute waste and squandering of public money. Then there was the extra coal bill. These boilers required double the ordinary amount of coal. The additional amount taken this year was £233,000, but taking it at £200,000 they could have 759 boilered nine vessels for the money. Then they had to have extra stokers and artificers, and, putting the cost of these down at £30,000 a year, they could have supplied 1,200 tons of Scotch boilers, or the equivalent of one ship of 30,000 horse-power. That extra expenditure was due to the foolish blundering of the Admiralty. The summary of all this was that Great Britain could have had ninety-four additional ships boilered with safe, economical boilers, requiring fewer men and running no risks, for the money they had given for French boilers and squandered on things that were now running up the Estimates every year. There was no denying those facts. But that was not all. There was the depreciation of the ships to be looked at. The point that determined the value of merchant vessels which were to be sold was the condition of the boilers. Taking the depreciation at 7½ per cent. in the cost of the ships—it ought really to be more — and taking the average cost at £700,000 each—some run to £1,250,000, and some to £300,000 and £400,000—it gave an outlay to be incurred by the taxpayer within from one to four years, which was the limit of the life of the boilers, of £3,150,000 for depreciation. What wonder was it that there should be an increase in the Estimates? For repairs this year there was an increase of £881,000—deducting certain items he took the additional amount for repairs at £546,728, or over half-a-million of money for repairs to these boilers.
Taking another case, to show how the business was done, there was the "Hecate," which had £9,700 spent on her and was sold the other day for £5,000. Was that business? He was glad to see the Chancellor of the Exchequer present, as he was trying to show where the money was running out, and that it was time for him to put the plugs in the rat holes. They were told that the dockyards were conducted on business lines. If that were so why were they out in their Estimates to the extent of £30,000 or £40,000 per ship? Then the Admiralty spent on the "Medusa," for a German boiler, £56,300, and on the "Medea" £61,300; and they took out of those vessels first-class boilers and put the 760 others in. They did the same with the "Hermes" at a cost of £47,000. That made a total of £164,600 absolutely flung away. Was that business? He called it an unmitigated squandering of public money That was where the money was going. Let them not cry "Economy" or roar "Efficiency." There was neither economy nor efficiency. Look at the coal bills, at the cripples in China, at the Cape, and in the harbours. Where was the efficiency? That was a bogus cry. It was inefficiency. For that £164,600 which was being spent on experiments with these boats, they could have boilered seven vessels of 20,000 i.h.p. with safe and economical boilers. After these experiments they would doubtless get the usual highly satisfactory reports! Coming to another phase of the question, he would take the Royal yacht.
It does not appear in the Estimates, but the hon. Member is entitled to use it as an illustration.
§ SIR WILLIAM ALLAN
said he was using it as an illustration to show the business-like character of the Admiralty. The first Estimate for the Royal yacht was £353,000, and she cost £558,000 up to March of last year, or 60 per cent. in advance of the Estimate. Last year the Admiralty put down £18,530 for estimated expenditure on this new boat. That was more business! But she actually cost £77,400. It was, therefore, no wonder the Estimates were rising to such an inordinate extent. He had not gone through the whole of the Estimates because they were so framed as to puzzle and not to enlighten. When the Admiralty declined to take Belleville boilers for three cruisers what happened? They had to pay £41,000 more. The total cost of the changes which had been made amounted to £2,548,600, and that was where the 761 money was going. That was the business of the Admiralty, and nobody else could do business in that way. His estimate of a business man was a man that could give him 22s. for £1. Probably there were plenty of business men at the Admiralty who could give them 15s. for £1, and that was the kind of business they did there. He wanted to know how it was that the "Enchantress" went to Belfast to be built. The Admiralty invited several shipbuilding firms to tender for a yacht, and certain firms sent in tenders. He put a question upon this subject in the House and he was told that Messrs. Harland and Wolff's firm sent in the lowest tender. He wished to point out, however, that none of the other firms were asked to tender for the same class of boat as that which Messrs. Harland and Wolff tendered for. He wanted to know why that yacht went to Harland and Wolff's to be built, and why the other firms did not get an opportunity of tendering for the same size of yacht? He wanted to get at the bottom of that job. The yacht builders of this country felt very much aggrieved at being treated in this way.
He would now deal with another aspect of this great question, which he might warn the House would lead them into far greater expense in the very near future. It was well known to all shipbuilders and engine builders that some of their latest class of cruisers were badly designed. Take the "Good Hope," which conveyed the Colonial Secretary to the Cape. The design of that ship was such that they could not fire the guns, and she was a wet ship built with hollow lines. All your "County" class of cruisers are also very bad sea boats. They had had many apologia for hollow lines, but he thought he could impress the Committee for once with the simplicity of shipbuilding, by simply saying that nature never made a hollow line fish, or when splitting wood a curved wedge was never used, and yet the man of genius at the Admiralty had constructed ships on this principle, putting in bad boilers in a bad design of hull. This was all due to that ideal theory that the lines of a ship should be like the top of a wave. The 762 "County" class of ships were useless as sea-going boats, although they might be all right for sailing on the Serpentine. They were absolutely useless when put into the rough-and-tumble work of sea life. Had the Admiralty learned anything by this experience? No, for they were putting at this moment into their first-class ships one-fifth cylindrical, and four-fifths Babcock and Wilcox boilers. He could give them an instance of the working of Babcock and Wilcox boilers. In the case of one ship, after being two days out from Philadelphia the Babcock and Wilcox boilers they had in the stokehold began to leak. Two days after this had been put right the leakage commenced again, and it was found necessary to use salt water in the boiler. Upon arriving at Glasgow it was found that the bottom row of tubes had curved up three inches, and the second row one-and a-half inches, and there were various blisters which proved to be only one-tenth of an inch in thickness. That was practical experience of those boilers, and those were the boilers they were now putting into their first-class ships. What did the Admiralty mean by it? Why couldn't they put in the safe circular boilers which the French were now adopting? The French were now putting aside the water-tube boilers altogether, and the latest French battleships were to be been fitted with ordinary circular boilers, and two of their very the latest cruisers were to be fitted with the same type of boilers. Why could they not imitate the French now? The Admiralty many years ago were ready enough to imitate the French, in fact, they would imitate anybody but a Briton. They went to America, and Germany, and to France for their boilers, but what had they done for Britain, where they got the money? The Admiralty were clinging to boilers which would not only pile up the Estimates but would cause all their ships to be cripples in a few years.
But apart from the burning of more coal, and a greater number of men required, they got inefficiency in their ships. They should not talk about economy and efficiency while their ships were all inefficient. 763 Take the "Ocean," the "Glory," the "Canopus," in fact any boat fitted with water-tube boilers—they were all failures. He felt this matter as a Briton—they could put it as a North Briton if they liked. It was no use for them to run down the dockyards, for the fault lay at Whitehall. It was not the fault merely of those who sat on the front Ministerial Bench, for they merely cried out what was put into their mouths, and they dare not do anything else. He knew the sentiments of the Secretary to the Admiralty, for they had fought this battle years ago. But notwithstanding the lessons the Admiralty had received by using Belleville boilers, they were still plunging into Babcock and Wilcox boilers, and they would be sure to come to grief. All he had to say was that by this policy the Admiralty were simply perpetuating increased cost in men and in coal, and at the same time they were also perpetuating increased inefficiency.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
expressed his regret that he had not time to reply. He did not see why the hon. Member should have brought in the question of the Royal yacht. There was no item in the Vote referring to the Royal yacht. If once they began discussing matters not in the Estimates they would have very little time to discuss those items which were included in the Vote.
And it being half-past seven of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
Resolution to be reported to-morrow Committee also report Progress; to sit again this evening.