HC Deb 02 April 1844 vol 73 cc1746-53
Sir R. Peel

moved that the House, at its rising, should adjourn till Monday, the 15th instant. He wished, at the same time, to state that he had promised the noble Lord opposite, that he would, on moving the adjournment, explain the order in which the Bills brought in by the Government, or intended to be brought in, should be proceeded with after Easter. In consequence of the absence of his right hon. Friend, the Secretary for the Home Department, he was unable at that moment to give the explanation. He would take care, however, that the order of proceeding should be set forth in the Papers of the House to-morrow. In the meantime he would say, that it would be a great public inconvenience if the Irish Franchise Bill should not pass before June, and it was, therefore, his intention that the Bill should be read a second time on Monday, the 15th, if the House would allow it, and that the discussion be taken in Committee, An hon. Member opposite (Mr. Ewart) was anxious to know if the Government proposed to do anything respecting Charitable Trusts; and he (Sir R. Peel) had to state that he believed his noble Friend, the Lord Chancellor would, that evening, in another place, give notice of a Bill upon the subject. Another hon. Member (Mr. Hume) was anxious to know what progress had been made in opening communications with Paraguay. A Commissioner (Mr. Gordon) had been sent out there by the Government, but, unfortunately, from his over desire to make himself useful, he exerted himself to have vaccination introduced into Paraguay, and thus caused great prejudice to be created, and he had been obliged to leave the country. Since then, however, news of a more satisfactory character had been received; and he indulged the hope that England, in common with France and Brazil, would be able to make some progress in opening friendly and commercial communications with that part of the world.

Lord John Russell

I certainly am quite satisfied with the statement of the right hon. Baronet, that at a later period of the evening, or upon the Notice-paper to-morrow, an announcement would be made as to the course of public business after Easter. As to the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman that the Irish Franchise Bill should be read the first day after the assembling of Parliament, though I personally have no objection to such a course, yet I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not express any surprise if hon. Gentlemen, the representatives of Irish boroughs and counties, who are at present in Ireland, may think fit to raise a discussion on the question that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House. The attendance of the Irish Members has been very small during the last few days, and I can well suppose that many hon. Gentlemen will wish to state their general views before the House enters into a discussion upon the Clauses in detail. There is another subject upon which I will take the liberty of saying a few words to the House. We have not as yet, unhappily, made any very great progress in Legislation, but we have shown our loyalty to the Crown by voting very willingly, indeed almost unanimously, those Supplies which the Crown has thought proper to require of the House of Commons. Among these Supplies there was a very large sum and a considerable number of men voted for the Navy. I am one of those most willing to concur in that Vote; but considering its large amount, I do think it necessary to say a few words on this occasion with respect to that Vote, and to the rumours which are abroad as to how our naval force is to be disposed of. With respect to the men voted, I find, that although the number is considerably less than that agreed to in 1841, it is considerably greater than that voted in 1835. I should say, from the numbers which I have looked at, that there were about 43,000 persons, including men and boys, voted in 1841, about 26,500 in 1835, and for the present year about 36,000. There has been, then, no niggardly disposition evinced in voting a sufficient number of men. Now, the statement abroad is, that our force in the Mediterranean is to be reduced to a very small number of ships of the line—indeed, it is reported that only one such vessel is to be left upon that station. If such is to be the case, or at all events if the amount of our naval force in the Mediterranean is to be reduced very low, I must say, that I think any such proceeding would not be in accordance with the general policy of the country. We have important stations in the Mediterranean, which require the presence of a naval force. We have likewise great interests in the Mediterranean which from time to time call upon us for defence or interposition. There may not, indeed, be at the present moment any immediate danger in that quarter, the most amicable intercourse with Foreign Powers may continue; but, should any accident occur—and we cannot control the councils of foreign countries—any sudden augmentation of our naval force, however easily it may be made, would infallibly create the greatest alarm, and would appear like preparations for war. It must be recollected that there are rumours of Spain interfering in Morocco, and a revolutionary nucleus is forming in Italy, and circumstances of this kind may give rise to the necessity for some diplomatic representations to foreign Powers; and the best way for making these representations with effect, is to have a sufficient amount of Force in every quarter of the world. Now, if you reduce to so small an amount the number of ships of the line in the Mediterranean, you will not be adequately sup- porting the interests of the country. It may happen that no danger will arise—that nothing will occur to cloud our prosperity; but, if anything untoward should happen, the Government would be found to have pursued a very inexpedient course in so far diminishing our Mediterranean force. If the number of men voted had been inadequate, that might have been a valid excuse; but with the large numbers which have been voted, and considering the force which has been kept in the Mediterranean in past years, I must say I should be very sorry to see so great a reduction take place as that rumoured. The right hon. Gentleman may think it necessary to make some reply to these observations. I do not know whether he will do so or not. I do not ask him; but I repeat that the general policy of the country has always been, to have some considerable force of ships-of-the-line stationed in the Mediterranean.

Sir R. Peel

I confess that the noble Lord has rather surprised me. I do not find that he has alleged that any of our interests have hitherto suffered in the Mediterranean or in any other part of the world. The noble Lord suggests that it would be desirable to station a large force in the Mediterranean; and that observation of the noble Lord is perhaps abstractly true as regards any other part of the world. There may be good grounds urged for our having a large naval force off the coast of America, in the Pacific Ocean, or in the Baltic, as well as in the Mediterranean. Quite agreeing as I do with the noble Lord, that British interests should everywhere be protected, I still think that the constitutional principle is to leave the appropriation of the force voted by Parliament to the discretion of the Executive Government. Now the Government may have thought it adviseable to have a fleet of eight sail of the line in the Channel for the purpose of exercise, and ready to meet any exigency. These vessels may soon be sent to the Mediterranean if their services are required there; and it is surely a great advantage to have an available force in a position from whence their power may be concentrated upon any station requiring its presence; and do not let the noble Lord suppose that there is any danger of our interests in the Mediterranean being injured because our force happens to be off the mouth of the Thames, or cruising in the channel. I ask the noble Lord to allow the Executive Government to exercise its own discretion in the matter. Our interests in the Mediterranean are doubtless very important, but I need not here enter into the particular reasons which induce the Executive to appropriate our force in other quarters. I only appeal to the noble Lord, whether if, in that confidence in his powers to which he has so just a right, he would take the command of the channel fleet, he will not allow that there may be reasons for concentrating a strong force in the Channel in a time of peace, from whence, however, it is ready to be sent to any part of the world.

Viscount Palmerston

I should feel no want of confidence in my noble Friend in the command of the Channel fleet, or in any other command in which resolution and determination may be required; and if his spirit and determination in the naval capacity should, as I have no doubt they would, be backed by the professional skill and enterprise of the hon. and gallant Member for Marylebone, I think that between them they would present a very formidable appearance to any power which might be disposed to take liberties with Great Britain. I am quite willing to admit that the disposal of the Fleet should be left to the Executive; but I have yet to learn that that discretion should be free from the animadversion or remark of Parliament. On the contrary, I have always understood it to be within the discretion, and history has shown it to be the practice of this House to control such disposal. I think, therefore, that my noble Friend, in taking the opportunity which he has taken of making these remarks beforehand, and directing the consideration of the Government to the subject, has not departed from the appropriate exercise of those functions which devolved on him as a Member of this House. It is true that it is only a question of prudence, according to the existing state of things, whether we should concentrate a large force on the home station, or distribute it more equally among the different foreign stations, where its presence might be required, not for purposes of hostility, but to give that moral effect and support to our commercial interests which the presence of a naval force invariably affords. In the present state of things, if any thing occurred requiring the presence of a large naval force on the home station, it would be quite as easy to order the force home from the Mediterranean as to order the force from the home station to the Mediterranean, so that the argument of the right hon. Baronet is equally applicable to either side of the question. But I do not admit the argument of the right hon. Baronet, that there is no distinction between having—not a large force, my noble Friend does not contemplate that—but a respectable and ordinary amount of force in the Mediterranean, and having the same force in the Baltic, the Pacific, or on the coast of the United States, because it is usual in the ordinary state of things that we should have a force in the Mediterranean. We have important military stations there; we have colonies there. We have Gibraltar, Malta, and the Ionian Islands; and therefore, it is natural that we should maintain a large naval force there. The maintenance of such a force there implies nothing hostile or suspicious towards foreign powers; but the right hon. Baronet and the House will admit, if a large force were to be sent either to the Baltic, the coast of the United States, or the Pacific, it would be supposed either that we apprehended hostilities from some other powers, or that we intended something against them. The cases are not parallel. The question of the disposableness of the force applies, as I have shown before, as much to the one case as to the other. Our commercial and political relations are of more importance in the Mediterranean than anywhere else on the face of the globe. More things may happen there in which the interests of Great Britain are concerned, than could happen elsewhere. If, therefore, the Government intend only to maintain one sail of the line on that station, I contend that they would not be properly representing British interests in a quarter in which they require the most scrupulous care and attention. I can testify, from my own experience, as foreign secretary, that nothing is more common than for British merchants connected with the Mediterranean, to apply for protection and assistance. Considering, too, the difficulties which will arise from time to time in that quarter, I think it not a wise distribution of the naval forces, to have only one ship of the line in the Mediterranean, and not the ordinary amount of force usual on former occasions. If it were a privilege of Members of that House to criticise events after they happen, I think it a more useful privilege to throw out suggestions before the occurrence of those events.

Mr. Hume

was sorry to hear any objection made to the reduction of the large force which we had for some time maintained in the Mediterranean. He had heard from the best authorities, that there was nothing more useless than to have a large force lying, as our ships were accustomed to lie, in Malta harbour, during nine months out of every twelve; losing all discipline, and costing an infinitely large sum to the country. If there was to be a large naval force in any sea, it would be better to concentrate it where the ships could be subjected to proper discipline, and where the cruising could be carried on with some useful purpose. It was all very well for the noble Lord (Lord Palmerston) to talk of maintaining a large force in the Mediterranean. His policy was to be always doing, and it was no doubt very convenient for him to have a fleet at hand ready to send just anywhere he might think fit. Why, only a year or two ago, we had fifteen pennants in the Mediterranean, more than the whole number we had flying all over the world in the year 1792. It was incurring a needless expense to keep up such a force. It was this and such like doings that led to the imposition of an Income Tax,—a tax of which every one of course complained. He hoped the number of ships in the Mediterranean would be reduced; and he hoped, too, that the Home Secretary would consider the propriety of reducing the magnificent squadron which was under his command—he meant the squadron of gun-boats he employed in the River Shannon to collect tithes and poor-rates.

Mr. Wyse

had not heard from any Member of Her Majesty's Government whether they intended to persist in moving the second reading of the Irish Registration Bill upon the 15th? There were many Irish Members who were, he knew, most anxious to be present when the Bill came on for discussion, but who might not be able to arrive the first night after the recess. It was right, too, that the Irish people should have a longer time to consider the Bill, and to express their opinion upon it by petition. If it was understood that the discussion should be taken, not upon the second reading, but upon going into Committee, perhaps that would obviate the difficulty; but, in any event, more time should be given. If it were said that it was necessary to press the measure, why, he would reply, that it would have been more convenient, had the noble Lord brought in the Bill at an earlier period of the Session.

Sir R. Peel

said, that if the hon. Member on the part of Irish Members generally, expressed a wish that the day for the second reading of this Bill should be postponed, he would not on any account press the second reading upon the 15th. He did not think it would be advisable to take the second reading without affording an opportunity for discussing the principle of the Bill, and he did not think that the House would gain anything by taking the second reading, and postponing the discussion until the House went into Committee. He would, therefore, say at once, that he would not take the second reading earlier than the Friday after the re-assembling of the House. As regarded the observation about pressing the Bill, his only feeling with regard to the matter, was, that if the measure was to be adopted, it would be better to bring it into operation this year than subsequently, and he believed that it would be most convenient for its practical working that it should be passed by the middle or end of June.

Mr. Ewart

would ask, whether it were the intention of Her Majesty's Government to propose any digest or code of Criminal Law, founded upon the Report of the Criminal Law Commissioners?

Sir R. Peel—

I am not prepared to say that it is my intention to bring in a Bill to embody all the Criminal Law of England in one code. Indeed, at present I do not contemplate any measure upon the subject.

The Motion for the adjournment to the 15th inst. agreed to.

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