§ Viscount Palmerston
said: My principal object in rising, is to call the attention of the House to a matter of great national importance, directly connected with the business upon which we are about to enter—I mean that of the Committee of Supply; it is the great imperfection of the present state of our national means of defence. I repeat, that this is a subject of the utmost importance. I think that any man who values peace, and who is sensible of the advantages which the country derives from it, must feel that this is a matter of first-rate importance; for peace between two countries can never be secure except when they stand upon a footing of equality with regard to their respective means of self-defence. Now, Sir, France, as I had occasion to state on a former occasion, has now a standing army of 340,000 men, fully equipped, including a large force of cavalry and artillery, and, in addition to that, 1,000,000 of the National Guard. I know that the National Guard of Paris amounts to 80,000 men, trained, disciplined, reviewed, clothed, equipped, and accustomed to duty, and perfectly competent, therefore, to take the internal duty of the country, and to set free the whole of the regular force. Now, Sir, if France were a country separated from our own by an impassable barrier—if she had no navy, or if the Channel could not be crossed, I should say this was a matter with which we had no concern. But that is not the case. In the first place, France has a fleet equal to ours. I do not speak of the 1224 number of vessels actually in existence, but of the fleet in commission and half-commission, in both which respects the fleet of France is equal to that of this country. But, again, the Channel is no longer a barrier. Steam navigation has rendered that which was before impassable by a military force nothing more than a river passable by a steam bridge. France has steamers capable of transporting 30,000 men, and she has harbours, inacessible to any attack, in which these steamers may collect, and around which, on the land side, large bodies of men are constantly quartered. These harbours are directly opposite to our coast, and within a few hours' voyage of the different landing-places on the coast of England. Well, then, I say, that is not a state of things under which you can remain secure of peace, unless you are in a state of preparation to meet any sudden attack. Sir, I shall be told, perhaps, that our relations with France are of the most amicable nature. I admit it, and I trust that they may so continue. But questions of the greatest importance may start up in any quarter of the globe, and we can never be sure from month to month, with respect to two countries which have such extensive and diversified interests to be considered, that questions of the utmost delicacy and difficulty will not unexpectedly arise. Therefore, I say, when those questions do arise, you cannot deal with them on a footing of equality, and in a manner consistent with the interest and dignity of the country, if you are not in such a state as to be at least inaccessible to any sudden or early attack. Now, I say we are not in such a state. On a former occasion I pointed out the deficient state for defence of our naval arsenals. The right hon. Baronet told me that measures were being taken to remedy that deficiency. I hope that the remedy will be effectual. I feel sure that a very small addition to the batteries and so forth will be sufficient; and if a Commission of scientific and able officers be appointed to take the matter into consideration, I have no doubt that in a short time all ground of complaint will be removed. I dwelt also on the necessity of having harbours of refuge. The right hon. Baronet stated that that subject was also under the consideration of the Government, and that a Vote would be proposed. The sum now assigned for this purpose is a very small one, but it is probably enough as a beginning. The amount pro- 1225 posed is upwards of 120,000l., the estimate being 3,500,000l. I am willing to think that the Government will take such measures as they deem necessary; still I must say that they do not go far enough. I will suppose that our dockyards are perfectly inaccessible. I will suppose that we have harbours fortified against attack as well as against the sea, in which our steam vessels—assuming that we have a sufficient number of them—might be kept ready to act against any sudden invasion. But you must recollect that Calais, St. Malo, Cherbourg, and Dunkirk, are within a few hours' passage of our coast; and that, supposing a rupture to occur between the two countries, which I hope will not be case, you would have very short notice of any meditated attack; you would have very little means of sending your steamers in sufficient numbers to prevent a landing; and, therefore, though not for the purpose of attacking your dockyards, still for that of invading your coast, you might have 20,000 or 30,000 men landed without any possibility of your preventing such an event. Well, then, what is the state of the internal garrison which you can rely upon, supposing such an unfortunate event to happen? Why, you have nothing but the regular force of this country, which amounts, probably, including that in the Channel Islands, to less than 50,000 men,—20,000 in Ireland, and the rest distributed over Great Britain; and this force must be brigaded, a staff must be appointed, and the cavalry and artillery must be all brought together before you could put into the field a force capable of opposing an enemy. I would ask the Government what time must necessarily elapse before that could be done? You would have to recruit your army, and to ballot for the militia; and I ask any man who understands these matters, in what condition you would be placed in case of a rupture with any Foreign Power? The time and expense required for recruiting and collecting the army, would be more than any man who has not turned his attention to these things could possibly imagine. Well, then, I say, you have an acknowledged, established, and constitutional mode of guarding against this state of things, which of late has been abandoned on account of the expense, but for the continued abandonment of which I hold that that reason does not any longer apply, while other reasons for resorting to it have greatly augmented within the last few 1226 years. I refer to the summoning of the regular militia. When I asked the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department the other day, whether it was intended to ballot for the militia, he told me that it was not; and it is on this account that I feel it my duty, before going into Committee of Supply at the end of this Session, and, before it is too late for the Government to take the matter into consideration, to urge upon the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government the great importance of organizing this portion of the military defence. There is no constitutional objection to it; and for a comparatively small sum, you get the power of adding to your home garrison in an infinitely greater degree than you could by laying out that sum of money in augmenting the regular regiments. I would wish the Government to consider the expediency of not allowing this autumn to pass over without ballotting for and enrolling the militia. I would urge them in the course of the next summer to give at least half, if not the whole, of the militia regiments their twenty-eight days' training. What is the expense? I look back to the estimates of former years, and I see that the expense of a ballot for the militia of Great Britain, which gave 50,000 men was, not more than about 40,000l. [The Chancellor of the Exchequer: The local expenses?] The expense to the public was about 40,000l. The estimate for training the militia of Great Britain in 1821 was 90,000l.; that was the whole expense connected with 50,000 men. I do not mean to say that these are not considerable sums; and no doubt, if there were a deficiency in the revenue it would be a balance of considerations whether you would incur this expense, or take your chance of two or three years' continuance of peace; but then we have a war tax in time of peace; and, that being the case, for Heaven's sake let us have those ordinary precautions which will save us from the necessity of incurring the greater expenses of actual war. For a comparatively small amount you might have the means of assembling in arms within a fortnight 50,000 men as the organized British militia, and 70,000, if, in addition to that number, you organized the militia in Ireland. A training of twenty-eight days annually would place that force in a state of efficiency, sufficient, probably, for all the duties which they might suddenly be called upon to perform; and if you chose at the end of 1227 the third year to give them fourteen days more, you would have a force which would be amply sufficient for the national defence. And do not let hon. Gentlemen imagine that the existence of a force of that sort, or the knowledge on the part of Foreign Powers that through the existence of such a force you were in a condition to defend your shores against attack, would not be a most powerful means of preserving you from difficulties which might ultimately lead to war. I venture to state that no country in Europe is in such a state of defencelessness as England is at the present moment. I know Governments are very apt to think—and the present one is perhaps not less so than any former one—that the duty of Ministers of the Crown is first of all to obtain and to retain a majority in this House. That is quite true; for without a majority in this House they could not continue to be Ministers. But that is not enough. It is not enough to be able to struggle through the debate and to scramble through the attack; it is not enough to bring in good measures—and some of the measures of the Government this year I admit to have been good;—it is not enough to act on the best and soundest principles of domestic legislation, if you do not, in addition to that, place the country in as perfect a state of security as you possibly can; for if your shores are not sufficiently protected all your legislation may be in vain. Well, then, I say that this country is in the most defenceless state, considered with reference to the means of attack possessed by other Powers; on the one hand, the country is in the most defenceless condition in which she has ever yet been left: on the other hand, there never was a period at which your resources, population, and wealth were so great, and at which you had equal means, with less pressure on the industry and resources of the country, of placing yourself in a situation of comparative security. I contend, therefore, that it is the duty of the Government to look seriously at these matters. Sir, the old maxim, "Si vis pacem para bellum," is both true and false, It is a false maxim if it mean that you ought, in time of peace, to prepare a sufficient force for aggressive hostility. Such a course of proceeding is doubly mischievous. In the first place, it excites unnecessary jealousy on the part of foreign countries, and leads them to engage in preparations which may tend to render the preservation of peace uncertain. But, 1228 moreover, that Power which, in time of peace, arms itself with a view to aggressive movements, naturally acquires a disposition to make use of the means so attained; and thus what has been done begets a feeling which is inimical to peace. But if the maxim refers only to the preparation in peace of the means of defence in case of war, it is a most legitimate and sound maxim. It is by that means alone that any country can secure to itself the continuance of the blessings of peace. I hold that we have not at present that state of military preparation which would enable us to look with indifference upon any sudden contingencies. I hold that it is in the power of the Government to secure the necessary means of defence—at least to a very considerable degree—at a comparatively small expense, and without any infringement of those constitutional principles which I for one have not the least wish to disregard. Sir, it is upon these grounds that I have thought it my duty to call the attention of the Government to this subject. I would entreat them to consider whether it be consistent with that responsibility which weighs upon them, not merely to govern this country well, but to defend also that country which they so govern, to refrain from resorting to those constitutional methods of defence which may be so easily adopted, and which, in time of war, would add so greatly to our means of national defence.
§ Sir R. Peel
said: Sir, I feel all the difficulty under which any person placed in my situation must labour in discussing publicly the question to which the noble Lord has felt it his duty to call our attention. I totally differ from the noble Lord as to the defenceless position of this country. I think I could prove that the noble Lord's impression on that subject is altogether erroneous; but I am quite sure that I should not be acting consistently with sound discretion, if I were to state the facts upon which my own opinion is founded. Nothing could be so unwise as to encourage parties—a small minority I trust—in other countries who may be bent on hostility to ours. I should be very sorry to furnish them with instruments to be used against their own Government, and thus to prevent that Government, though sincerely desirous of maintaining peace, from securing that object on account of the clamour of a certain portion of the community. I must say, generally, however, that the noble Lord has greatly underrated the 1229 power which this country would possess, in the event of hostilities, for the vindication of its honour. So far from concurring in the opinion of the noble Lord, I believe that in case there should be a necessity imposed on this country of resorting to hostilities, there never was a period when such a demonstration as would then be called forth has been made; the Sovereign, supported and encouraged by almost the unanimous voice of the people, being determined in a just cause to make efforts worthy of the ancient character of this country. I have a strong opinion, that upon that head, we have nothing to fear. I think it is hardly possible to estimate what will be seen to be the dormant energy of this country, if a just cause should call it forth. At the same time, I must say that I concur in some of the principles which have been expressed by the noble Lord. I think it would be most unwise in this country to trust altogether to present appearances; and I hold that it is most advisable that this country should be able to feel confident, that in the event of sudden hostilities, she would be strong enough, and has the means, to protect herself. I quite agree with the noble Lord, that on the sudden occurrence of hostilities, as, for example, in the year 1793, unless you are in a state of preparation, the cost of sudden exertion is immense; and that it is a most unwise economy which would leave you to make sudden, precipitate, and unlooked-for efforts, in order to secure your own safety. I think also, with the noble Lord, that this country ought to be in such a state, that any other Power may not, on that account, be encouraged to resort to hostilities for the purpose of obtaining advantages. I trusty, indeed, that we shall be able to preserve the friendly relations which exist between this country and France; this I hope will be the case, both for the sake of England and France, and for the sake of the civilized world. So far are this country and the House of Commons from grudging the prosperity of France, that I am sure I speak the general feeling when I say that we saw the returns respecting the commerce of France with great satisfaction. I wish that more intimate commercial relations may be established between the two countries; but I do trust also that whilst France is increasing in her commerce, she will see that she owes that increase of prosperity to the maintenance of peace, and that there will be among all rational people in that country a deliberate opinion 1230 that the honour and interests of France may be much better maintained by cultivating industry, and promoting commercial prosperity, than they could be by seeking that which is perfectly unnecessary for that most gallant country, whose reputation stands so high at every period of her history, namely, the maintenance of her glory by the increase of her territorial possessions. But, Sir, I must own that I am rather surprised at the noble Lord's excessive apprehensions on this subject; because the noble Lord was in office for a period of ten years, and I venture to say that this country is in a better state with respect to the means of repelling aggression than she was at that time. Did the noble Lord see France expend the sum of fifteen millions sterling upon the fortifications of Paris, and issue an order increasing the army suddenly to the extent of 100,000 men; and does the noble Lord think that this country now stands in the same position with respect to France as it did in 1841? There was no militia ballot at that period; there was not near the same amount of military force that there is at present; and I very much doubt whether there were as many sail of the line. The noble Lord has, I admit, suggested many points deserving of serious consideration. It is impossible not to see what a change has taken place with respect to navigation. I think that this country has a perfect right to consult its own security. If it were proposed to increase the military or naval force of the country for the purpose of aggression, we ought most seriously to consider the policy of such a course; but, as to taking measures for our own security in the event of public hostilities, the last consideration which should present itself to the mind of a Minister of the Crown is, "What will other Powers think?" I should certainly not hesitate to propose to Parliament, without reference to any other Powers, what I considered necessary even for contingencies. With reference to the dockyards, let me ask what was the state in which we found them? The noble Lord does not tell us that years passed without any measures of improvement being adopted. The improvements which are even now going forward make it desirable that we should not be hurried on to the adoption of measures, lest the money which we expend should be entirely thrown away. We have a perfect right, however, to take precautions for the defence of the naval arsenals and dockyards of this country. For the Navy and Ordnance we proposed 1231 this year an addition of 1,100,000l. in the Estimates. I am placed, with respect to this matter, between two fires. Every word that I say in one direction may induce other parties to exclaim, "See what the Minister said in the House of Commons; we must now have two or three millions more." I should be exceedingly sorry to see a race run between great Powers—not a race in commerce and civilization—but each increasing as far as possible its military and naval force. There must be a limit to that. It is a question of the nicest discretion, whether you shall propose large sums for the Army or the Navy, or whether the effect will be to add to your relative strength. I know not a nicer question with regard to economy and to every other public object, than the extent to which you will proceed. I hope, however, that this country will never depart from that policy which has secured its safety, namely, that of being strong as a naval Power, and at the same time not attempting to enter into competition with the great military Powers of Europe. Say what you will, this country would not be satisfied with the existence of a standing army of 100,000 or 200,000 men kept within our own land. I admit that the amount of military force is not sufficient now to enable you, consistently with due economy, to meet the demands which may arise; but with respect to our becoming a great military Power, and relying upon having a military force able at once to meet that of other countries, except for the purposes of our own defence, that is a competition into which I trust this country will never enter. I do hope that this country will always have such a degree of naval strength as will enable her to feel entire confidence, in the event of hostilities. Then, with regard to the subject of local militia, let me say that I apprehend we have a demand, in case of necessity, upon a body of disciplined men amounting to 50,000, in whom we might repose great confidence. I refer to the Chelsea pensioners. When I was Secretary of State twenty years since, I even then felt that the militia was in an unsatisfactory state, and that there ought to be some local force constituted in this country. The noble Lord is aware that under the Act there is no prohibition against proceeding to ballot for the militia. The Act suspends the obligation to ballot, which would otherwise be imposed on the Crown; but, in case of necessity, the Crown would still be able to 1232 resort to this force. I would observe, that there has been that change in the state of society within the last few years which would probably render the present militia laws not exactly so suitable as they were, and they might perhaps undergo useful alterations. It is not necessary, perhaps, that I should now enter into any further explanation on this subject which the noble Lord has introduced. I am bound to content myself with stating that his impression as to the defencelessness of this country is totally at variance with my own. I speak not of that which concerns the public spirit and the honour of Englishmen, for I am sure that the noble Lord will admit, that with whatever difficulties an appeal to the country might be attended, that appeal would be entirely successful. Whatever may be required for the public service will be asked for, without scruple, by Her Majesty's Government. I am sure the House will feel the necessity of placing this country at all times in such a state of security that it will not have to depend upon temporary and possibly delusive appearances of tranquillity; but there will be actual peace, without any anxiety as to the result of the immediate occurrence of hostilities. The noble Lord said that we have fortunately a large surplus. But who is to be thanked for that? We have a large surplus in consequence of that imposition of taxation which, besides giving us this surplus, enables us to take precautions for the security of the country, and to remit that part of our taxation which has appeared to us to press most upon the labour and industry of the community. Having a surplus, we feel that we cannot apply it better than by taking precautions against eventual and possible danger; and the increase of the Votes for the Navy and Ordnance, and the Vote proposed with respect to the harbours of refuge, show that, while we attend to the claims of the people to the remission of taxation, we have not neglected the precautions which we think necessary for the safety of the country. With respect to the harbours of refuge, this is the first year that any proposal has been made. The Vote is purposely small, and I hope we shall not be driven forward too fast. Nothing can be more important than that we should take the best opinions as to the proper mode of securing the object. I take it for granted that the House is satisfied of the necessity which exists for those harbours of refuge which repeated naval commissions 1233 have recommended. The subject has undergone such full investigation that there can be no necessity for any further inquiry. Dover, Portland, and Harwich are the sites which, as the result of repeated inquiries, are pointed out as the most appropriate for harbours of refuge. We have felt it our duty with respect to each of those places to take the opinions of the most eminent civil and military engineers as to the best mode of insuring to the country the greatest permanent advantage as the result of the money expended. With respect to all these places, and especially Dover, it is of the utmost importance that we should have the opportunity of profiting as far as possible by the opinions of those who are best qualified to give advice on the subject. These various matters are occupying the serious attention of the Government; and if my answer to the noble Lord be not entirely satisfactory, I entreat the House to bear in mind that I stand in a position in which I must appeal to their confidence; because I cannot state the particular facts upon which my own impression, as opposed to that of the noble Lord, is founded.
§ Viscount Palmerston
said, the right hon. Baronet seemed to imagine that he advocated a great increase of the regular army, and a rivalry with continental nations. He had distinctly disclaimed any such view; all that he had recommended was the training of the militia. In reference to steam navigation, what he had said was, that the progress which had been made had converted the ordinary means of transport into a steam bridge. He did not mean to impeach the energy of the country, should danger arise. What he meant was, that without previous organization, the bravest men would be of no avail against an armed force.
§ Sir R. Peel
said, the noble Lord appeared to retain the impression that our means of defence were rather abated by the discoveries of steam navigation. He was not at all prepared to admit that. He thought that the demonstration which we could make of our steam navy was one which would surprise the world; and, as the noble Lord had spoken of steam bridges, he would remind him that there were two parties who could play at making them.
§ Sir C. Napier
said, that they had at present at sea eight sail of the line; but they, in point of seamen, were two rates below their proper complement. It was only the other day that the gallant Admiral 1234 opposite found it necessary to increase the number of men in those ships, and he could not have adopted a wiser measure. The Secretary at War had stated the other night, that no difficulty was met in finding persons willing to enlist into the army; but he could assure the House that the greatest difficulty was found in inducing sailors to enter the Navy. The right hon. Baronet had also spoken of the state of their steam naval force. He could tell the right hon. Baronet, that in this respect, they were inferior to their neighbours on the Continent, who built their steam vessels for an increased number of men and weight of metal; while they (the British) consulted only the rate of speed in their naval architecture. He (Sir Charles Napier) was glad to hear that there were 50,000 efficient pensioners—men able to bear arms in the country. He was glad to hear this, because they, with a little training, and the 30,000 of a standing army in England and Ireland, constituted a sufficient defence against foreign invasion.