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Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill—Committee

Volume 203: debated on Friday 5 August 1870

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( Mr. Dodson, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Stansfeld.)

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

said, he must, in the first instance, correct the statement of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War with regard to fortifications, for he had been given to understand by the highest authority that at Portsmouth the fortifications of Portsdown Hill were ready for their guns, but their guns were not ready for them. He rose, however, to draw the attention of the House to the state of the Navy and of the naval stores and dockyards. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War had entered fully into the circumstances connected with his own branch of official duties, and an expectation had naturally been entertained that, with regard to the naval part of the question, a full statement would also be made. The Vote, however, passed without explanation, and now Members were obliged to fall back on the opportunity afforded by the Appropriation Bill to draw attention to the most material points connected with the naval defences of the country in the present position of European affairs. We had 53 iron-clad ships, of which three were on foreign stations, and we had a large number of small vessels of the Research, Wyvern, and Waterwitch class, some of which had been sent to Bermuda, where, being unfit for sea, they were used as harbour defences. Secondly, the country possessed a large number of wooden ships plated with iron, which were all broadside ships. Thirdly, there were the ships built of iron and iron-plated, many of them, however—like the Warrior, the Black Prince, the Achilles, and others — not being of the thickness necessary to resist the present artillery, and again being broadside ships. Lastly, there were the class of ships consisting of the Captain, the Monarch, the Betlerophon, and the Hercules, which, properly speaking, constituted the Navy of the country. He wished to know from the right hon. Gentleman what steps he proposed to take for increasing the number of effect- tive ships of this class? Sir Thomas Symonds, under whose eye the experiments with the Captain had been carried out, in a Report issued yesterday, stated that she was a most formidable ship, and that by her superior armament, he believed, she could destroy all the broadside ships of the fleet in detail. The Monarch was the only vessel partaking in any degree of the immense powers of the Captain; but there were two other turret-ships, the Royal Sovereign, and the Royal Albert, and these four together formed practically the Navy of this country. In 1862 Captain Coles brought out his invention, and he (Sir James Elphinstone), with other Members, then maintained that this was the way in which weights ought to be placed on board a ship, so as to enable her to fight her guns in a seaway. In the eight years which followed every possible obstacle was raised to frustrate the efforts of Captain Coles; but now that the Captain had been launched and tried she was found to be perfectly steady and to answer every expectation that seamen had formed of her. Had his advice been listened to in 1863 the country would now be in possession of 10 Captains, and might snap its fingers at all the navies in the world. But, in fact, we had only four turret-ships, and Reports before the House established 4hat if once the enormously long broadside ships we possessed got into a mêlée it would be impossible for them to turn, and they would be at the mercy of the vaisseaux béliers of the enemy. There was one class of vessels in which we were particularly deficient. What would be much required in future wars would be vessels of light draught, carrying large guns upon turn-tables, and he believed that the Admiralty had in their possession a design of a most formidable and efficient gunboat drawn by Admiral Elliott. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had deprecated what he called "sporadic" armaments. But remembering the number of our Colonies, and the enormous extent of our trade, he believed that small squadrons in different parts of the world had often proved the salvation of our commerce. Had there been a little of this "sporadic" element in the East at the right moment our unfortunate countrymen, probably, would not have been sacrificed in Greece. The singular inconsistency was that a Govern- ment which thus objected to "sporadic" armaments should have purposely sent out a large and efficient flying squadron to the most distant parts of the world. At the very moment that the country wanted to have its ships at hand, these were cruising somewhere between Otaheite and Valparaiso. What he wished to know was, whether any more ships of the Captain class were going to be laid down, and when? Whether the number of small vessels was to be increased? And whether the foreign stations were to be strengthened by such small vessels as we had now in use? Next, with regard to men. He was informed on good authority that both the Navy and Marines were exceedingly short of men—that at Portsmouth there were not more than 1,000 men available, and of these the Rodney's crow constituted the larger proportion. If, therefore, this increase of the Navy was to be made which was now confidently expected, he wished to know where the men were to come from? Then, as to the equipment of the ships. Admiral Cooper Key reported that there had not been a coil of 4 or 4½ inch rope at Portsmouth for eight weeks before he left. The ropery was done away with, the ropemakers discharged, and new machinery was to be put up at Chatham. But, meanwhile, rope was not made, there was no rope in store, and, consequently, ships were obliged to wait nearly two months before they could get rope for their running rigging. When the fleet arrived, the sailmakers were sent on shore to repair the sails belonging to the ships, which were unbent for that purpose; but though the sailmakers had their needles, there was no twine, and they actually had to send out into the streets for twine to keep them going until some could be procured from Chatham; and actually until within the last 10 days, when 50 tons of rope were sent down by railway, the Channel Fleet was unable to refit. The Monarch applied nearly two months ago for 2,000 fathoms of 4½-inch rope, but could, not obtain what she wanted till 10 days ago. Another material of some consequence on board a vessel of war was shot. On Sunday last, the Monarch and the Captain had each only 15 rounds of shot on board, and no more was to be got. The machinery at Woolwich could only turn out eight or ten of those 15-inch shot per day, and those two ships which ought to have had 220 shot between them, had only 30 on board. Thus, these fine ships, with sails bent and running rigging rove, were detained simply because there was only one-fourth of the amount of shot ready which they ought to have on board. As to coal, he did not hesitate to state that the quality now supplied to the fleet was essentially bad and smoky, and did not get up steam in the proper manner. Engineers asserted that 4 tons of good Welsh coal would be better than 5 tons of the kind now supplied. If the right hon. Gentleman entertained any doubt on this point, let him ask His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge his opinion of the coal burnt on board the Black Eagle, when that yacht was sent to bring His Royal Highness back from the inspection of the Western forts. Formerly, the process of victualling was performed in 24 hours from the time that the order was received; but since the naval element had been eliminated from the victualling yard from four to five days were occupied in the same process. The broad was not so good as it ought to be, nor anything like it. Then the soap was manufactured as it was required. The first thing that a lady, who was a good housekeeper, did was to lay in a 12 months' supply; but, in this case, the Secretary to the Admiralty manufactured from hand to mouth, and the consequence was, the soap disappeared in the scrubbing. Now, though the Secretary to the Admiralty had told him that he often got hold of the "wrong end of the stick," he maintained that the oil principally used was deficient in every quality it ought to possess. Rangoon oil was a description of rock oil—at least, it was so in his early days—and it was now introduced into the Navy. It ought never to be applied to machinery. The Secretary to the Admiralty had told the House that there was something like 10 years' stock of sperm oil at Portsmouth; but when the matter came to be investigated, it was found that the stock was something like 10 tons. It would not be surprising if, in consequence of the inferior kind of oil that was used for the purpose of binnacle lamps and side lights, there should be an accident some hazy night. The next point was as to the position of our dockyards with re- gard to repairing ships. In 1864 or 1865, he sat on a Committee to consider a proposed extension of the works at Portsmouth and Chatham. They recommended the construction at Portsmouth I of large docks and basins—which had not yet, except in a very small degree, been completed—and the cutting through of St. Mary's Island at Chatham, by which that dockyard would be considerably enlarged, and, in the event of hostilities, might enable us to keep a fleet in the North Sea. They always contemplated keeping Sheerness. In fact, it was admitted by all persons acquainted with the subject that it would be a serious blunder if, from economical motives, they were to do away with Sheerness. They reported that, in the event of Chatham being completed, the dockyards in the river might, to a great extent, be dispensed with as regarded building purposes; that Deptford might be devoted to victualling, and that Woolwich would possibly be required for the purposes of the War Department; but it never entered into their minds to suppose that the Government were going to throw away those dockyards as they had done. One portion of Deptford Dockyard was still maintained for purposes of victualling; the other portion was divided into two parts, over one of which the Evelyn family held a sort of lien. It could not be sold without their sanction, and they had consequently bought it. The other part was sold for some £30,000 or £40,000 below its value to a brother of the Solicitor to the Admiralty. That purchase, however, had not been concluded, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would take advantage of that circumstance to resume the property, or, at all events, not part with it for anything below its value; for it was well known in the City that the gentleman to whom he had referred had been offered by a private company an additional sum of £30,000 for his bargain. Woolwich was one of our best dockyards; it was the only one in the kingdom that was perfectly safe from any aggressive Power that might get hold of the mouth of the Thames, and yet it had been dismantled, the stock sold for a wretchedly depreciated sum, the iron flooring torn up, and, if what was stated in public prints eminently favourable to the Government was true, when the dockyard was surveyed for the purposes of the War Department, it was found that in its present state it was perfectly useless. He (Sir James Elphinstone) stood there single-handed, conceiving it his duty to the country to bring those circumstances before the House, for he was sorry to say that the Friends who had supported him, from causes which were patent, had left London. He had no doubt the right hon. Gentleman would contradict a great many of his statements; but he was perfectly convinced of their truth, and he felt that he would not be doing his duty to the country if he did not call upon the right hon. Gentleman to say what he intended to do in the way of laying down ships, increasing the number of small vessels, and strengthening the force on colonial stations; and whether he was not now prepared to admit, after the experience he had had, that the system inaugurated by himself and the Secretary to the Admiralty, which they considered quite sufficient for the palmy days of peace, would, in time of war, load us into disgrace?

said, he rose, at the special instance of his constituents, to express their satisfaction at the policy of non-intervention pursued by Her Majesty's Government. He was exceedingly glad that the Government had not adopted the warlike tone of professional Members in that House, and that, notwithstanding all the stimulants that had been applied, they still retained possession of their senses and maintained that calm attitude which became a country conscious of its power and of its readiness to meet any emergency. A large meeting of his constituents had been held last night, and they had commissioned him to express their entire satisfaction with the policy of Her Majesty's Government. He trusted that we should pursue our way without any participation in the great crime which now disgraced the Continent of Europe.

Sir, I waited for a moment to see whether any hon. Gentleman would rise to continue the discussion, and, as no one has done so, perhaps the House will permit me to express the hope that after the reply I will endeavour to make the debate on this subject will not be pursued, but that we shall be allowed to go on with the Public Business. I have a right, I will not say to complain, but to question the wisdom of the particular course which the hon. and gallant Baronet (Sir James Elphinstone) has taken. It is some months since I stated, at considerable length, upon opening the Navy Estimates, what we were doing in every possible branch of the service. We have had since then several lengthened debates on the Estimates, and every point which the hon. and gallant Baronet has raised has been the subject of full discussion. But now, at the very fag-end of the Session, when my hon. Friend is left blooming alone, we have had over again all the old grumblings, and I am called lip to answer in detail, without any Paper to refer to, every question which has been answered several months ago, and to make a fresh exposition of our naval policy. I do not think that the House will require this of me. Except in passing the Vote of Credit, I cannot think that the House really expected that I should go into these details. A general statement was made by me, when the question was raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire; the Vote of Credit was then asked, and then the Report was taken in the usual course. Assuredly those were the opportunities for discussing our naval preparation, when the House was full, and public attention was called to the subject. But now the hon. and gallant Baronet comes down at the last moment and says we have got no ships, small or great, turret or broadside, no men, no boys, no rigging, no shot, no coal, no bread, no soap, no oil, and, finally, that we have sold a dockyard to the brother of the Solicitor to the Admiralty. I will give an answer of only one sentence to each question. I stated the other day the number of ships that we have, both large and small, and I have only to repeat that the figures I then gave were quite correct. I need only now say that the state of our Navy in respect to ships, as previously described by me, is highly satisfactory. Then my hon. Friend says that we are short of men and Marines. I say we have more Marines on shore at this moment than are provided by the Estimate; and, as to men, we have not only a full, but an abundant supply. Last week's number of men, exclusive of boys and Marines, was something in excess of the fixed number; and, therefore, in regard to men, there is no ground of complaint whatever. Then my hon. Friend alleges that we have no rope; but his real complaint is a local one—namely, that we have no ropery at Portsmouth, because some time ago the ropery there had been discontinued. We have in hand more than an average stock of rope, as my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty described the other night; and, as to what I must call the cock-and-bull stories about ships being kept two months at Portsmouth for want of rope, not one ship, so far as I am aware, has been kept there one hour beyond the proper time for her sailing, and all the ships that have left wont away with a full supply of rope. My hon. and gallant Friend said the Captain and the Monarch were short of shot. He is quite mistaken in his figures; but as I shall have to answer, in detail, a Question on that subject from the hon. and gallant Member for Stamford (Sir John Hay) on Monday, I will defer going more fully into that matter. My hon. and gallant Friend next stated that our coal is bad; that if we referred to any naval officer he would tell us so; and he hinted that we might inquire of His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge on the point. I am not aware that His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge is a naval officer, and although I certainly have the greatest respect for his judgment on the subject of coal, as on any other practical question, I really must decline to open communications with the Horse Guards on this subject. I have laid on the Table very voluminous Papers on this coal question, and I shall be prepared thoroughly to discuss it next Session; and, although the people of South Wales will, doubtless, say a good deal in favour of the Welsh coal, and the people of the North of England a good deal in favour of the north country coal, I do not doubt that the decision we have taken in this matter will be fully borne out by the official Reports. With regard to the victualling arrangements, there is no foundation whatever for the strictures that have been passed upon them. The charge that we have no victuals is a perfectly new one, and my noble Friend the Member for Ripon (Lord John Hay), who has charge of that department, informs me that the victualling yards are unusually well supplied. Their condition has lately undergone great improvement, they are in excellent order, and that there has not been a single complaint on the subject. My hon. and gallant Friend asks about soap. I can only say that this is the first I over heard of any deficiency. As to oil, again, if there ever was a question most completely disposed of it was that of oil by my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty, who the other night showed that my hon. Friend did not really know what Rangoon or sperm oil was; that he was entirely mistaken as to what oil was lubricating and which was not—that, in short, his whole facts were baseless and his conclusions equally so. However, since these imputations were made, we have looked into the matter again, and have found nothing whatever which should disturb the arrangements that we have made. After alleging that the Navy has nothing to eat, no ammunition, no ships, no men, and so forth, my hon. Friend at length came to something that, in his opinion, we have too much, and that is the Flying Squadron. Well, we had a debate the other night on that, and I thought we had satisfactorily disposed of it. Our policy is to reduce our force on foreign stations, and by bringing together ships in flying squadrons we can more easily make them immediately available for home defence than if dispersed in single detached ships. Then, with reference to the sale of certain dockyards, my hon. Friend says he sat in 1864 or 1865 on a Committee which went very carefully into the question of the dockyards, and recommended that certain great works should be carried out at Chatham, in order that we might have there a very effective place to rout our fleets, but that until those works were completed up to a certain point, we should delay disposing of our smaller dockyards. It is really almost too ludicrous, but I have sent for the Report of that Committee, and from beginning to end there is not a word in it about Chatham, except a recommendation that convict labour should be employed at certain other stations as well as there. The Report deals only with Portsmouth, Devonport, and some foreign stations. As to my hon. Friend's notion that the Committee recommended that the sale of the smaller dockyards should be made contingent on the completion of those works at Chatham, that recommendation only exists in his lively imagination; but I suppose my hon. Friend has said this so often that at last he got to believe it. The Chatham works were settled by a Committee some years before, and not by the Committee on which my hon. Friend sat; and the particular recommendation as to the smaller dockyards was made without any reference whatever to Chatham. If, however, his position is correct, our predecessors, not we, are to blame, for one of these dockyards was closed by them before we came into Office. My hon. Friend said that Woolwich Dockyard, and especially Woolwich Factory, would be useful for repairing our iron-clad ships; but, in fact, except vessels of that very low class which my hon. Friend said he would throw out of his calculation, no considerable iron-clad ship could go into Woolwich Dockyard. No ironclad that we have in commission at the present moment, except those of the lowest class, could get into the basin at Woolwich or out of it. So there is nothing whatever in the suggestion—so often repeated—that we have been improvident, so far as the repairs of our great iron-clads are concerned, in dispensing with Woolwich. But I have one serious fault to find with my hon. Friend. He says that Deptford Yard had been sold to a brother of the Solicitor to the Admiralty. Now, the question of the sale of Deptford Yard was gone into very fully some time ago in this House, and it was shown that the assertions which first appeared anonymously in a newspaper on the subject had not a shadow of foundation. This is not a question of more or less ships or stores; but it affects the honour of a gentleman of character and position, formerly a Member of this House, and now in a highly responsible office. I must put it to my hon. Friend whether it is consistent with his duty, after a personal question has been raised and disposed of, to re-introduce it without Notice, throwing out reckless insinuations without pretending to prove them; and especially at this time of the Session, when they cannot be dealt with, except by indignant denial.

said, that having served on the Committee that had been alluded to which dealt with the question of the dockyards, he thought it right to state his opinion that the Government could not have done otherwise than take stops for closing Woolwich and Deptford Dockyards. The evidence adduced before that Committee showed most clearly that if proper enlargements were made at Chatham, Plymouth, and Devonport, we should have in those three dockyards enough accommodation to do all the work which could possibly be required for the Navy. Woolwich was not suitable for large ships, and there would be sufficient accommodation at Chatham for any ships that might be disabled in the North Sea.

said, a statement had been made to-day which he thought was calculated to give rise to a misunderstanding. He should be sorry to think that the Government were of opinion that our Treaty obligations in respect of Belgium were abrogated. It was important that the country should understand that there was no abrogation of our duty to defend Belgium, and, therefore, he hoped the First Minister of the Crown would be glad of an opportunity to explain the statement.

Sir, I beg to say that no such statement has been made by any Member of the Government, as far as I am informed. Certainly, no such statement has been made by myself.

Motion agreed to.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clauses 1 to 4, inclusive, agreed to.

Clause 5 (Sanction for navy and army expenditure for 1868–9 unprovided for).

said, he wished to ask the Secretary of State for War, Whether he was taking care to have such a number of breech-loading rifles as would be sufficient for the whole of the Reserve as well as the Regular Army? There was another matter to which he wished to direct attention. A few days ago the First Minister of the Crown stated that the Government were in a position to place guns on all the forts. The right hon. Gentleman stated that the Government were sufficiently supplied with armaments to place guns on all the forts; but this morning the Secretary of State for War stated distinctly that the Government had only one-tenth of the number of guns which would be necessary to arm the forts, and that the forts themselves would not be completed for three years. He (Colonel Barttelot) knew this; but there were certain forts that were completed, and the immediate question was whether they would now be armed. The responsibility of pro- viding sufficient armaments properly lay with the Government, and he was willing to leave it with them; but he thought it was desirable there should be some explanation of the apparent inconsistency between the respective statements of the two right hon. Gentlemen.

said, he thought the hon. and gallant Gentleman had misunderstood the statement of the First Lord of the Treasury. What he had understood his right hon. Friend as meaning to convey was, that the guns would be ready as soon as the forts. The question of the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to the heavy muzzle-loaded rifled guns, and of those guns there were in position at home and abroad one-tenth of the whole number which would be required. Besides those, there was a considerable number in store and being manufactured. The number of these was in advance of the requirements of the engineers at the beginning of the year. All the heavy muzzle-loading rifled guns could be finished as soon as the forts. Of the other guns, those to be placed landward, there was a sufficient number in store. He was not answerable for the fact that the forts were not yet completed, no took a Vote for them last Session, which was the first Session in which he filled his present Office. He was taking measures to secure a complete supply of the Snider rifle.

Clause agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment; to be read the third time To-morrow.