§ Sir C. Napier
said, he did not mean to found any Motion on the subject as to which he had given notice; but he would proceed shortly to call the attention of the House to the state of the naval forts and arsenals, and the harbours for the protection of the mercantile marine. This subject was one on the importance of which he need not dwell; and he found that in the year 1796 Mr. Pitt had directed the attention of Parliament to it, and strongly pressed Parliament to 506 adopt measures for the improvement of our coast defences.That it appears to this House, that to provide effectually for securing His Majesty's dockyards at Portsmouth and Plymouth, by a permanent system of fortification, founded on the most economical principles, and requiring the smallest number of troops possible to answer the purpose of such security, is an essential object for the safety of the State, intimately connected with the general defence of the kingdom, and necessary for enabling the fleet to act with full vigour and effect, for the protection of commerce, the support of our distant possessions, and the prosecution of offensive operations in any war in which the nation may hereafter be engaged..… And, in order to judge of its necessity towards that great object, he should attempt, but with much pain, to bring back the recollection of the House to the unfortunate and calamitous situation to which we were exposed in the late war, much in consequence of our want of those fortifications which it was the aim of the present question to provide. A considerable part of our fleet was confined to our ports, in order to protect our dockyards; and thus we were obliged to do what Great Britain had never done before—carry on a mere defensive war; a war in which, as in every other war merely defensive, we were under the necessity of wasting our resources, and impairing our strength, without any prospect of benefiting ourselves but at the loss of a great and valuable part of our possessions, and which at last was terminated by a necessary peace.If measures for the improvement of the national defence were necessary in 1786, were they not still more necessary at the present moment, after thirty years' peace? The introduction of steam into naval warfare increased the necessity for taking measures of this kind. In former days it was much easier to prevent disembarkation on our coasts than it would be in future wars. The pamphlet of the Prince de Joinville—and a very clever pamphlet it was — showed the efforts which were now making by the French Government for the augmentation of their steam navy. At St. Malo and Cherbourg—ports contiguous to the Channel Islands—they had constructed extensive basins and docks for the repair of steamers; at Calais, the works for the same purpose were of the most extraordinary extent; and at Dunkirk, they were fortifying that port, which had been always regarded by this country with so much jealousy in former wars. By the last accounts the steam navy of France consisted of 26,476 horse-power:— 507
FRENCH STEAMERS. 20 frigates 8,100 6 corvettes 1,920 14 ditto 3,080 39 small vessels 5,056 18,156
The whole force we had amounted to 23,000 horse power, while that of France was 26,476.
BUILDING. 13 frigates 6,120 10 corvettes, 220 2,200 8,320 18,156 26,476
Ordered — Desperate, Encounter, Conflict.
ENGLISH STEAMERS. 3 steam frigates 4,900 23 steam ships 6,218 10 small steamers 875 18 packets 3,200 8 small steamers before 1st January, 1832 800 15,993 8 steam frigates building 4,506 6 steam ships 2,485 5 smaller vessels 860 7,851 7 not in Return 990 8,841
2 iron frigates.
2 Queen's yachts.
He would not pretend to say that the French steam vessels were better than ours; if they were not as good, he could say little for them; but they carried a much larger quantity of guns than ours. Some of them were more than 2,000 tons burden; at Portsmouth he had seen the Gomer, and he had no hesitation in saying that she was considerably larger than the Terrible, which was 1,800 tons burden. The French did not calculate the size of steam vessels by tonnage, but by horse power; but he believed the Gomer was 2,000 tons. With what facility might not France embark 2,000 men on board one of these large steamers, which would enable her in twenty such vessels to convey a force of 40,000 men in all. The days when fine seamen, good reefers, and smart hands on the top-sail yards, were wanted, were now past; the machinery, as the French said, was their power, and you could not prevent them from embarking 508 men in those vessels if they chose. The last return laid before the French Chambers understated the real amount of their force. It was as follows:—
SAILING VESSELS AFLOAT. 23 ships of the line of all classes 30 frigates 19 war corvettes 3 corvettes avisos 26 brigs of war 21 ditto avisos 9 gun brigs 47 galiots, cutters, luggers, &c. 16 corvettes transports 35 lighters 229
SAILING VESSELS IN DOCK. 23 ships of war of different ranks, 17–24 parts finished 20 frigates (of which 5 were placed on the stocks, in 1845), at 13 47–24 parts 3 corvettes of war, at 5 33–24 parts 2 galiots at 18–24 parts 48 ships
STEAMERS AFLOAT. 4 frigates, of which 1 of 540 horse power, and 3 of 450 horse power 8 corvettes of which 1 of 320 horse power and 7 of 220 horse power 41 steamers of 160 horse power, and under 53
The Report adds—
STEAMERS ON THE STOCKS. 4 frigates, 1 of 640, 1 of 540, and 1 of 450 horse power, at 11–24 finished 10 corvettes, of which 5 of 320, and 5 of 220 horse power, and nearly 5–24 finished 8 steamers of 160 horse power, and under, of which upwards of 1–24 finished 22 For the service of the year 1846, and as a basis for the expense of the fleet, the Minister proposes to keep 170 ships of different sizes in a state of armament, namely:—
8 ships of the line of different classes 12 frigates, ditto 12 corvettes of war, ditto 1 corvette aviso 25 brigs of war 30 gun brigs, galiots, cutters, &c. 20 transports 62 steamers, of which 3 are of 540 and 450, 3 of 320, 10 of 220, 23 of 160, and 23 of 120 and under 170 armed ships of all kinds
IN COMMISSION DE RADE. 4 ships of war 4 frigates 4 corvettes 12
That Report kept out of sight altogether the force of large steamers, twenty in number, the Transatlantic steam boats ordered to be built some years ago. Two months since an ordinance appeared, saying that they were not adapted for Transatlantic steam boats, but should be used as steamers of war, and a number more were ordered to be built. The French had an army of 320,000 men and 80,000 horses. When we had a war, it would be a sudden one; and since they could by means of rivers, canals, and railroads, bring an enormous force to our shores, the possibility of such an event ought to be sufficient to alarm this country, and awaken the attention of its Ministers. The French had built enormous fortifications at Paris, in order that a large portion of their army might be at liberty to act in case of war; on the same principle we ought to fortify our dockyards, in order to be able to employ the fleet, which would otherwise be needed for their defence. What defences had we? He would take Falmouth first. There the works were insignificant, the guns and carriages all rotten, and the walls mouldering to decay. That fort was but 100 miles from Brest, and with a steam navy it would be easy to embark 4,000 or 5,000 men; go to Falmouth, and then a few hundred barrels of powder, properly arranged, would do the rest, and reduce the fortifications to a very sorry condition. Plymouth was next. He would ask any hon. Gentleman who had ever been at Plymouth whether the citadel would stop a determined enemy from walking past it and destroying the fleet? If a war took place, the manifest policy of France would be to send her fleet of sailing ships to sea, in order to draw off ours, and then make play with her steamers. Next he came to Portsmouth. What was there to prevent a hostile squadron from carrying destruction into that arsenal? There was one fine 510 battery of thirteen or fourteen guns, which enfiladed the harbour; the others, which were en barbette, could offer no defence. Then he would look to Pembroke, where we were continually building ships, without any adequate means of protection. There were, it was true, twenty-three 32-pounders above the dockyard; but nothing which could offer effectual resistance. At Sheerness, again, we had a mere saluting battery, though the dockyard had cost four or five millions of money, and a vast number of ships of the line were lying there in the Medway. What was to prevent an enterprising enemy, if we were taken by surprise and unprepared, as we were being nearly four or five months ago, from making a plunge at this dockyard, and inflicting immense loss? The hon. and gallant Admiral would say, he could remove the buoys. But what confidence could be placed in that resource, looking at the extraordinary things which we had done ourselves against the enemy, after they had taken that precaution, by sounding and finding out new channels? In America, during the last war, we ascended to Potomac, 300 miles and more, took the American towns and shipping, and destroyed the dockyards. In China, Sir W. Parker had ascended the Yang-tse-Keang, which was until then unknown to Europeans; and, aided by the gallantry and skill of his officers and men, taken the English squadron into the very heart of the empire. That showed what might be done by the energy of our officers. Suppose we had as strong a fleet at sea as the enemy, that would not supersede the necessity of having strong defences for our ports and dockyards, since our fleet might be evaded, and a landing effected, or if they were not successful in that, enormous loss might be inflicted on our mercantile navy, if we had not a very effective system of protection. Last war, the French fleet put to sea in the first instance only to destroy our commerce, and in their first cruise they captured 100 vessels; in the second they were also successful; in the third, they put to sea to bring into port a large convoy of provision ships, and then at length they were fallen in with, having been successful before. Lord Malmesbury, in his Correspondence, lately published, mentioned that orders were given to the Brest fleet to sail for Ireland at the very moment when he was treating with France for peace. They actually arrived off Bantry Bay, and it was only the separation of the vessel containing the commander in chief of the land forces 511 (General Hoche)—not any opposition from our own fleet—which led to the failure of the expedition; the French, losing some vessels by the weather, but none in action, before they regained Brest harbour. Again, the enemy baffled Lord Keith, one of the best officers ever known, during his command in the Mediterranean, when they succeeded in getting to Egypt; and it was not until after much delay that they were found, when the result was the battle of the Nile. Suppose we had a large number of steam vessels off one of our ports to defend it, a storm, or some other accident, might prevent them from keeping their station, and then a start of four or five hours would be sufficient to enable the enemy to throw any force they could muster upon Pembroke or Plymouth dockyard. If 40,000 or 50,000 men were landed in this country, where could we find any chance of collecting a number sufficient to meet them, unless our means of military defence were very greatly improved beyond their present state? He would now beg the attention of the House for a few moments to the recommendations contained in the Report presented relative to Harbours of Refuge. First, they recommended that Dover harbour should be selected for that purpose, as a splendid harbour, directly opposite Calais. He approved of it as a point of attack; but could a convoy or vessel arrive in it with facility during southwest gales? It was well known that with a westerly wind, vessels experienced great difficulty in rounding the Foreland. In connexion with Dover harbour, Ramsgate was capable of containing 400 or 500 vessels; our Commissioners were, therefore, not far wrong in recommending Dover harbour as one of those which ought to be made a receptacle for steam vessels. The next point which they mentioned was the want of a harbour between Portsmouth and Dover. He thought they had made a good selection of Seaford, because they recommended the best spot between Portsmouth and Dover. Portland had also been named as another halfway house. The coast of Harwich had also been recommended as a fit place for a harbour of refuge. Along the whole of the eastern coast of England and Scotland there were only tidal harbours, which vessels could not get into, except at high water. The French might, easily, from their port of Dunkirk, sweep the whole of the eastern coast of England and Scotland, and put a stop to our coal trade, by which the city of London might, in the winter, 512 be kept without coal. Then, as to the western coast, the whole of that coast, with the exception of Liverpool, was undefended, and without any other harbour of refuge. At some future day, which they could not now foresee, the necessity for a better state of defence might be found, when, perhaps, it would be too late. He would only allude to another point. He believed the danger of collision at this moment, in consequence of the recent Convention with France on the subject of the Slave Trade, was greater than it had been before. The Right of Search was clearly understood; but now that we had abandoned that mode of detecting slavers, and retained the Right of Visit, the dangers of a rupture would certainly be greater. France had to send twenty-six vessels to the const of Africa. England and America would send a corresponding force. They would all be acting independently of each other, and difficulties would arise which did not exist before. It was impossible at sea to know one vessel from another; Portuguese and Spanish ships might hoist French colours; and when a vessel was fallen in with which displayed the French flag, it would be necessary to lower a boat and ascertain whether she was really French or not. From the bad feeling which existed—not between the Sovereigns of the two countries, or their Ministers, who, he believed, were most anxious to maintain peace; but between the nations themselves—if a French merchant vessel, with a hot-headed commander, was fallen in with, he might run down the boat, and pretend it was done by accident. A collision would take place; and if a French man-of-war was at hand, a complaint might be made to the officer commanding her that the French flag had been insulted, and thus in one way or another a collision was much more likely to occur than before. For this reason, in addition to those which he had before stated, he thought it was most desirable that the defences of the country should be at once looked to.
IN COMMISSION DE PORT. 4 ships of war 4 frigates 2 war corvettes 2 corvettes de chargé 6 steamers 18 vessels
§ Captain Boldero
said, the hon. and gallant Officer contemplated the possibility of attacks being made on various points of our coast; but he forgot or overlooked the fact, that before an enemy could conduct those operations with success, it was necessary that such enemy should have the absolute supremacy of the ocean. He could assure the hon. and gallant Officer that the Master General of the Ordnance had taken means to strengthen our forts, and 513 to render our dockyards and harbours more secure. During last year a Commission was issued, the object of which was to inquire into the state of our defences generally, but especially into those of our dockyards; and that Commission had presented a Report which had received the entire concurrence of both the Admiralty and Ordnance Departments. The Commissioners pointed out, on the one hand, the defects in our means of defence, and, on the other, the manner in which those defects might be remedied; and it must be gratifying to the hon. and gallant Commodore to know that some of those defects had already been removed, and that great progress had been made in remedying others. He was convinced that when he mentioned the names of the officers who constituted that Commission, the greatest confidence would be felt by the House and the country, in their judgment and discretion. The first name he would mention was that of Sir George Hoste, Colonel of Engineers, by whose decease he (Captain Boldero) had to deplore the loss of a friend, and the country the loss of a scientific and distinguished man, who had done the State great service. The second member of that Commission was Colonel Mercer, of the Royal Artillery, an officer of great experience and ability. But the Commission was not composed exclusively of Ordnance officers. The third officer of the Commission was a member of that profession of which the hon. and gallant Commodore opposite (Sir C. Napier) was so distinguished an ornament—he referred to Sir T. Hastings, who had devoted much of his time and talents to the study of the science of gunnery. The Commission received clear and definite instructions from the Master General of the Ordnance, embracing all the subjects to which their attention was to be directed — not overlooking, of course, the superior calibre of ordnance which could be applied to purposes of attack or defence, or the improvements in steam as applied to navigation. It must be remembered that this country was not dependent for its means of defence solely upon fortifications or standing armies; but that, if they were driven to take measures of defence, they could not merely rely upon the Royal Navy, but that there was not a steam boat belonging to the mercantile marine — not even a tug boat on the Thames capable of towing an American liner — which could not be placed in some advantageous position for defence. The hon. and gallant Officer 514 (Sir C. Napier) had indulged in many observations condemnatory of everything connected with our means of defence. The question was, however, what value ought to be attached to the opinion of that hon. and gallant Commodore. He (Captain Boldero) must say that if he required an opinion as to the state of the defences of Portsmouth, he should feel much more confidence in the opinion of a person who had, almost from childhood, been conversant with the science of fortification, than in that of the hon. and gallant Officer. The hon. and gallant Commodore had said that the defences of Portsmouth were so inefficient that an enemy might easily destroy them and walk into the harbour; but persons whose opinions carried great weight on such a question stated that Portsmouth was capable of offering a vigorous defence against an enemy; and, at all events, they were now taking steps to remedy the neglect of the last thirty years. To whom, he would ask, was the defence of this country entrusted? To his right hon. and gallant Friend near him (Sir G. Cockburn), a member of the Admiralty Board, in whose presence he could not express the high opinion he entertained of his ability as an officer and a sailor. Associated with that hon. and gallant Officer was Sir G. Murray, a most gallant soldier, and a man of great experience in the field. He considered, therefore, that there was little ground for the apprehensions entertained by the hon. and gallant Commodore, and that those apprehensions were shared by very few individuals.
hoped, that after the Report referred to by the gallant Officer who had just sat down, the Government would be prepared to state distinctly the course they meant to pursue. It had been said that before any nation could make a successful attack on this country it must possess the supremacy of the ocean; but the opinion of the Prince de Joinville, as expressed in his pamphlet was, that France never had, and did not hope to possess, the supremacy of the ocean. It was the opinion of the Prince, and for that opinion he had given many good reasons, that means for attacking the British coast could be found, when there was an inferior French force in the Channel. The port of Dunkirk was now in admirable condition; the harbours of Calais and Boulogne had been materially improved and enlarged; and Cherbourg was now one of the finest harbours on the coast. He hoped they would hear from Her Majesty's Government 515 to-night whether they were prepared to propose any definite plan on a subject on which so strong a feeling prevailed—a feeling that had been manifested by every officer, naval or military, with whom he had conversed on this question. Reference had been made to-night to the evidence of the Duke of Wellington. That illustrious Duke was asked to state his opinion as to the necessity of the erection of new harbours. His reply was, "I have no doubt about it; I entertain no doubt that it is absolutely necessary. There is now no security between Portsmouth and the Downs."
§ Sir R. Peel
rose and said, he supposed that the noble Lord opposite (Lord Palmerston) would not bring forward that evening the Motion of which he had given notice, but which he had not fixed for that occasion. With respect to the gallant Officer (Sir C. Napier), he should observe that he had a great advantage over Her Majesty's Government in discussing that subject. The gallant Officer knew perfectly well that it would be inconsistent with the duty of Ministers to discuss those details into which he had entered. The gallant Officer might think it a great public advantage to point out all the weak points of our coast; and he might deem it his duty to call the attention of Parliament and the Government to the mode in which this harbour might be destroyed, or that arsenal might be dismantled. That was the gallant Officer's view of his duty to his country; but the gallant Officer should know that it would be inconsistent with the duty of the Government to enter with him into the discussion of details of that nature. He had interfered with his gallant Friend (Captain Boldero) whose duty it was to move the Ordnance Estimates; and he had requested him not to answer the gallant Officer in detail. He should think that it would require an outlay of 25,000,000l., at least, to complete that system of naval defence which the gallant Commodore advocated. The gallant Commodore had gone through the recommendations of the Commissioners, who had investigated the question of the construction of harbours of refuge in the Channel; and he had not only insisted on the desirableness of constructing those harbours to which the Commissioners had alluded, but he had found fault with them because they had not also recommended the construction of harbours of refuge in Dartmouth and other places. The gallant 516 Commodore had told them that they ought to construct harbours in the eastern coast for the protection of their coal trade; and he had also stated that there was no port in our western coast but the port of Liverpool, that could be considered safe from the attack of an enemy. He supposed that the gallant Officer would also include in his scheme a supplementary outlay on the coast of Ireland, although he had omitted to make any reference to that part of the question. But the gallant Commodore would evidently include, in his proposal, the whole of the English coast and the coast of Ireland. He could, however, go beyond the gallant Officer, and include the Channel Islands in his outlay. But if they were prepared to incur, during a time of peace like the present, an expense such as they had never incurred in time of war, there would be no limit to the amount of their Estimates. He did not, however, say, that it would be prudent on the part of this country to trust to present appearances, or to the pacific declarations of other nations; but he thought, on the contrary, that it was the true policy of this country to take every reasonable precaution against any contingencies that might arise. They ought, no doubt, to calculate upon the possibility of war, and feel that that great calamity might yet come upon them; and, therefore, although he protested against the doctrine of the gallant Officer respecting the outlay we ought to incur upon our coast, he did not say that we ought to neglect those reasonable precautions which would prevent us from being taken unawares and unprovided in the event of a war breaking out. What was the course which the Government had taken? Why, they had already proposed an increase in our Navy Estimates; and they had also selected officers who were to consider the questions of improving our harbours and adding to our naval defences. He knew that it would not be wise on his part to enter into detailed explanations upon that subject; but still the gallant Commodore had precluded the possibility of his observing an entire silence with respect to it. The increase in the Estimates this year had no reference to the construction of harbours of refuge in the Channel. With respect to the defences of our ports and arsenals, he could readily believe, that with that pressure in our finances which had existed during several years previous to the accession of the present Government to office, it was impossible that those ports 517 and arsenals could have been improved or strengthened in the manner that would have been prudent under other circumstances. Her Majesty's Government had appointed Commissioners, and had received from them the fullest Reports respecting the defence of our harbours; but it was impossible for him to enter into details upon that subject. The gallant Commodore might come down to the House with his plan, and might state that in a particular fort there were but twenty-three guns; but he would not follow the example of the gallant Officer, and attempt to show what were the defences of Pembroke for instance, although he might differ from the gallant Officer upon that point. But they had received the Report of the Commissioners, and they had proposed a considerable increase in the Ordnance Estimates this year. The gallant Commodore was most anxious to avert the danger to which he considered that this country was exposed; and even the chance of London being deprived of its usual supply of coals had made a great impression on his mind. Now, he knew that the motives which had induced the gallant Commodore to make his statement were good; but he could not help thinking that his apprehensions were exaggerated; and he should also say, that he doubted the policy and the prudence of his mode of proceeding. With respect to harbours of refuge, he could assure the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover, that the subject had not escaped the attention of Her Majesty's Government. But if there were any one thing in respect to which the utmost precautions were unusually necessary, it was the spending of 2,000,000l. or 3,000,000l. of money in erecting harbours of refuge. He had himself lived to see a harbour of refuge constructed at an expense of hundreds of thousands of pounds, which harbour had become almost utterly valueless, because sufficient precaution had not been taken to ascertain the nature of its sedimentary deposits. The Commissioners had estimated the cost of the construction of a harbour at Dover at 2,500,000l. That was no doubt a general estimate; but it was the best which the Commissioners could form upon the imperfect data before them. The cost of stone would be a most important item in any such estimate; and let it be remembered that there was no stone at Dover for the construction of a harbour, and that the best authorities were of opinion that the chalk cliffs of Dover would supply 518 no fitting material for such a work. The Government had engaged the most eminent engineers in this country to report to them upon that question. They had selected five or six distinguished engineers to whom they had referred several points upon which the Report of the Admiralty Commissioners had not been quite satisfactory; those Commissioners having themselves suggested that before any Resolution were come to respecting the construction of a harbour of refuge at Dover, it was desirable that experiments should be made with regard to the amount of the sedimentary deposits there. The engineers appointed for the purpose were now considering that subject. The construction of such a work might involve an outlay, not of hundreds of thousands, but of millions; and before that work was undertaken, it was manifestly desirable that they should have the most reasonable grounds for believing that it would attain its purpose. The Commissioners thought, for obvious reasons, that harbours of refuge in the Channel were entitled in an eminent degree to the first consideration. He would content himself upon that occasion with giving his assurance that the whole subject had received, and was still receiving, the fullest consideration on the part of Her Majesty's Government. He could not, however, deem it consistent with his duty to propose to the House of Commons an enormous outlay without being able to show that every precaution had been taken; first, to insure the selection of the best place; and next, that every guarantee had been afforded that a work of that kind would, if undertaken, be so constructed as to afford the greatest possible amount of advantage to the public.
§ Viscount Palmerston
said, whatever might be thought of the statements of the right hon. Baronet, there was one statement which he thought all would agree in. The right hon. Baronet stated that he charged his gallant Friend the Clerk of the Ordnance to take especial care not to answer the observations of his hon. and gallant Friend near him. That injunction had been implicitly obeyed—and undoubtedly in that respect the right hon. Baronet had shown his power as the chief of the Government over his subordinates. But he thought the right hon. Baronet might have spared some of the reproaches which he cast upon his hon. and gallant Friend (Sir C. Napier), of having been wanting in prudence in exposing to the public and to foreign nations what he considered to be 519 the weak points of our coast defences. But, in the language of the profession to which his hon. and gallant Friend belonged, the right hon. Baronet might "tell that to the marines, for sailors would not believe it." That might do very well for an audience less enlightened than the House of Commons; but he (Lord Palmerston) really was surprised that a Minister of the Crown should gravely endeavour to persuade the House of Commons that anything his hon. and gallant Friend had said, or anything that any other man had said, with regard to the nature and character of the defences of this country—the number of guns mounted, the number of ships, their position, or their qualities—could convey any information to the Government of any foreign nation. He was really surprised that the right hon. Baronet should have hazarded an assertion which he (Lord Palmerston) was persuaded was so inconsistent with the knowledge which the right hon. Gentleman himself possessed. Did the right hon. Baronet mean to tell him, who knew what office was, that he had it not in his power to give to the House of Commons information much more accurate in detail with regard to the defences of other countries? If he had not that information, the right hon. Gentleman had not performed the duty belonging to his situation. He (Lord Palmerston) knew well that every Government had the means, even in countries in which information was not accessible to the public, as it were here, of obtaining information of that importance; and in this country any foreign officer might walk from one end of the land to the other, and if he or his Government applied for permission for him to see the dockyard, that permission was never refused. He said, then, that it was carrying the farce of debate too far, when his hon. and gallant Friend was charged with stating anything that was not known better to the Government of France than to any man in England who did not turn his attention to the subject. The facts might not be known to the House of Commons and the public; but they were just as well known in detail to the Government of every country to which it was important to know them, as they were to the officers in Downing Street or at the Admiralty. The observations of his hon. and gallant Friend required no answer. He did not in any way seek to inculpate Her Majesty's Government; and if he was not misinformed, his hon. and gallant Friend had been in communication 520 with the right hon. Baronet on this point, and had stated to him everything that he had stated in the House to-day. [Sir R. Peel: And a very proper course to take.] And a very proper course to take! But knowing that it was his hon. and gallant Friend's intention to bring these matters on for discussion in this House, if he thought that danger would arise from the discussion of these matters, it was open to the right hon. Gentleman to state to his hon. and gallant Friend that they should be considered, but that it was not deemed to be conducive to the public interest to bring them forward. The argument of the right hon. Baronet was not worthy of him, nor was it worthy of the consideration of this House. The subject which his hon. and gallant Friend had brought under the notice of the House was of the greatest importance; and in what he was going to say in reference to it, he begged to state as to himself that which he had stated with regard to his hon. and gallant Friend, that it was not in inculpation of the Government, but really in the performance of a great and important duty, that he drew the attention of the House, and through it desired to stimulate the attention of the Government, to matters which were of the most vital importance to the dearest interests of the country. It might be said, "You are not only exposing the weak points of the country, but creating discussions of an irritating nature, tending to render peace less secure and permanent." He denied entirely that assumption, and said that if anything were calculated to render permanent and secure our friendly relations with great neighbouring Powers, it was the placing ourselves in a position of security against any sudden or unforeseen attack. There was no complete security for friendly relations between different countries, except in a state of mutual defence. If two great countries were near each other, and one was powerful and armed, and the other rich and undefended, it was quite manifest that, with the best disposition on the part of those who might govern those countries, their permanent relations were placed in great danger. He knew that with respect to France it might be said there was a personal feeling of mntual regard existing between the Royal families of the two countries: that there was also a spirit of friendship subsisting between the persons who composed the Ministries of the two countries, which ought to remove from every man's mind 521 any apprehension that the happy state of peace which now subsisted might, at any time, without some extraordinary event, be interrupted. He by no means undervalued this circumstance. He thought it was a most fortunate circumstance, when these Royal and Imperial persons who sat upon the thrones of great countries were enabled, by the interchange of mutual visits, to add the ties of personal friendship and esteem to those political interests which might cement the union and alliance between their respective countries. He thought that these matters were of the greatest importance, and it was with infinite pleasure that every man must have seen of late the frequent recurrence of such personal communications. But those ties were not permanently to be depended upon. The right hon. Baronet himself had only a short time ago stated that little clouds might suddenly arise in a very clear and unclouded sky, and events totally unforeseen and beyond the power of human wisdom, perhaps, to prevent, might suddenly occur to bring two nations, mutually inclined to friendly intercourse, into a position in which honour on one side, and interest on the other, might render it hardly possible to avoid a rupture or a war. And if we arrived at that situation the one country being armed up to the teeth, being prepared with all the means of aggression—means not calculated with any hostile intention perhaps, but simply with a general view to systematic policy — if a case of that sort were to occur, and the one country was fully prepared for aggression, and the other wholly unprepared for events, the result must be either some very dreadful disaster or some deep humiliation to be sustained by the country so undefended. Then as to the question of expense, which the right hon. Baronet, with a sort of debating dexterity, endeavoured to turn into a weapon against his hon. and gallant Friend, he (Lord Palmerston) said, as was said by Mr. Pitt, in that discussion to which his hon. and gallant Friend alluded, that a very large expenditure laid out in defending those points which were especially vulnerable, and which contained the most important interests, was most economically expended, and saved us in the end infinitely larger sums than might be so laid out. He said, therefore, with regard to the assertion that these discussions were calculated to interrupt friendly relations, or tended to convey any information to the enemy that might be—look at the 522 discussions in the French Chambers when they had been discussing the fortifications of Paris, and the arming of those fortifications. Had they been restrained from impressing on their Government the measures which they thought to be essential, and, as he thought, they very wisely deemed to be essential, to their national interests? Were they ever deterred from pressing on their Government the expediency of fortifying the capital and arming the capital, by any apprehension that they were conveying information to Austria, Prussia, or Russia, which might be instrumental in bringing upon their country the infliction of great evil in the event of war? Then, the question was—was there anything going on on the other side of the Channel which tended to place the two countries in a position of inequality? He perfectly agreed with his hon. and gallant Friend that—especially what had been doing in regard to the ports in the Channel, and the budget which they had seen within the last few days, which he presumed was to be the permanent peace establishment of France — recent changes in France did place the offensive and defensive means of that country on a footing so entirely disproportioned to those of this country, that he did not think the continuance of that disproportion was consistent with the permanent security of peaceful relations between the two countries. With regard to their military means, there was an army voted of 340,000 men, with horse in proportion. He presumed that to be the permanent peace establishment of France, whilst our whole army was 100,000 men for our home defence and the defence of our colonial possessions, excepting the territories of the East India Company. Of this force of 100,000 men, we had in round numbers about 50,000 men stationed at home, to set against this force of 340,000 men, of which 60,000 served in Africa, leaving 280,000 for France alone. Then he might be told that it never had been, and he maintained that it never ought to be the policy of this country to rival the military countries of the Continent, by greatly extending our army. He hoped we should never be reduced to that necessity. But why was it that we had not been so reduced? If we had been connected with the Continent by land, we should have been obliged to follow the example of the other Powers of Europe, who bad been compelled at different periods, from the time of Louis XIV. downwards, to increase their military force, in 523 order to place themselves upon an equal footing with France. And if at this moment we were not separated from France by the sea, he would put it to any man of common understanding whether he would think the security of this country adequately provided for by a force of 50,000 men? We should, undoubtedly, follow the example of Austria and Prussia, and have a large military organization, such as would enable us at no long interval of time to bring into the field a force capable of protecting us against any inroad from an enemy. But had nothing happened of late to alter the value of our insular position? Why, the extended application of steam navigation, and the multiplication of railways, did practically bring the opposite shores of the Continent almost within contact with this country. He remembered when he had the honour of being at the Foreign Office, that the Prince de Talleyrand, talking to him of some animating debates which had taken place in the French Chambers upon foreign affairs, and contrasting them with the comparative indifference exhibited by that House on the subject said, "You have a much easier task to perform in your House than our Minister for Foreign Affairs has in his, and I will tell you the reason." And what did he say? "You have no frontiers—that is to say, your naval defences are so secure from foreign attack, that you do not feel that interest in foreign affairs which they deserve." But he (Lord Palmerston) said that the extension of steam navigation, and the facility which railways on the Continent would give to the rapid concentration of troops, did, to a certain degree, give us those frontiers, the absence of which Prince Talleyrand thought was the ground of our indifference to foreign affairs, and did call upon Parliament to pay greater attention to those means which might serve to protect that frontier. The gallant Officer opposite said, "You need not be under any apprehension, because no danger can arise to this country from any foreign invasion, until the power that makes it shall obtain supremacy at sea." Really, he thought that must be a speech prepared before the hon. and gallant Officer came down to the House, because, after what had been stated by his hon. and gallant Friend of the numerous instances in which large fleets had escaped, equally large fleets of ours performed long voyages and returned without the possibility of interruption, it was perfectly manifest that with the present means 524 of transporting troops by sea, it was not necessary to have that supremacy. Why, Lord Howe, when some one asked him why he had not intercepted the French fleets said, "Perhaps you may not be aware of it, but the sea is a very wide place;" and it was manifest that if our fleet were drawn out to foreign service, or in pursuit of the fleet of a Power with which we were at war, a large body of troops might be landed by means of steam vessels, without our fleet falling in with them. But the case on which his hon. and gallant Friend more particularly dwelt, and wished to press on the attention of the House was, not the case of operations carried on during the progress of war, or at any time after war had been declared, because, no doubt, if we had increased our army and drawn out our milita, and had equipped that amount of fleet which of course we should do after a certain time, he quite admitted that we might trust to other means of defence, those points which his hon. and gallant Friend thought to be in danger. But when the right hon. Baronet talked of his hon. and gallant Friend giving information to the enemy as to the mode in which certain ports might be attacked, he should wish the right hon. Baronet just to make some inquiry as to the opinion which was expressed, not by his hon. and gallant Friend, but by the French Admiral who brought the King of the French to Portsmouth last year. He should wish the right hon. Baronet to state what was the opinion of that officer with regard to the practicability of forcing his way into Portmouth harbour after he had lain there only a few days, and what was the astonishment he expressed when he found that we had placed the defence of that harbour in no better position, at the time, too, when we were involved in the affair of Tahiti. He was informed that that had been impressed on the attention of Government—that they were told that no guns were mounted—and that if a dash were made with a number of steamers, there was nothing to prevent an enemy's entrance to Portsmouth harbour. He was informed the answer was "Oh, we don't like to put ourselves in a position of defence, because that might complicate the negociations." But he contended, that that was a great weakness on the part of Government, and that if they were negotiating with a foreign country on a matter which might threaten war, it was so far from embarrassing the negotiation, that it would strengthen it, to place ourselves in a position to repel 525 any sudden and unforeseen attack. Then when they considered the strength and capacity of all the French harbours on the opposite side of the Channel, Brest, Cherbourg, St. Malo, Calais that was to be, and Dunkirk that was to be, he thought it the duty of Government, considering the facility which steam vessels now afforded for the sudden transport of large bodies of troops to any given point, not only to go on as they were doing, and increase the steam force of the country, but to place those vulnerable points, namely, the dockyards, in a state of security against a sudden attack. He did not pretend to say that they were to be fortified, like Magdeburg, to stand a long siege, because that was not the danger to which they were exposed. All that was wanted was, that there should be the means of repelling any sudden attack arising either immediately on a sudden declaration of war, or perhaps, as was the case with the expedition sent to Ireland on the failure of Lord Malmesbury's negotiations, even before any official manifestation had been made that hostilities would take place; and that was the answer to the little attempt of the right hon. Gentleman to cast ridicule upon the speech of his hon. and gallant Friend, that it would be difficult to frame an estimate that would satisfy his hon. and gallant Friend's expectations. No man in his senses would pretend to fortify every point of the coast, or imagine that by so doing he could prevent, even in time of war, the landing of an enemy. But there were some points—take our dockyards—where, in the course of a very few hours, injury might be done, which, in money, reputation, national feeling, and means of future defence, would be absolutely irreparable. It might be said that the force which was sent to do that injury might never return, and that every man would perish; but he gave credit to the courage, bravery, and national spirit of other countries; and even if it were known that every Frenchman who was engaged in burning Portsmouth and Plymouth, would perish, he believed that the French Government would not be at a loss in obtaining volunteers for the service. It was thought nonsense to say that the thing was impossible. He then came to the question of the necessity of having harbours on the coast, not merely to protect our commerce from the boisterous warfare of the elements, but also to protect it in war from the cruisers of the enemy, and to form points of assembling for those steamers which are to protect the coast. The hon. Baronet said, 526 truly, that this matter required great and grave consideration; and he mentioned the harbour of Dover, and said, he was unwilling to embark in a very large expenditure without being sure that the place to be chosen was good in a military, naval, and commercial point of view. There was a doubt expressed in the Report of the Commissioners whether Dover was a position which would permanently repay the required expenditure; and Dover was the place for which the largest estimate was allowed, and therefore it was necessary that the Government, before incurring that expenditure, should have an opportunity of fully considering the question. But on the other point, the Estimates of which were small in amount, no difference of opinion prevailed among the Commissioners; and he had not heard of any difference of opinion on the part of any of the Commissioners with regard to those proposed harbours. Then, he asked, why should not the Government begin as soon as possible to undertake some of those works, with regard to the advantage of which no doubt was entertained, and the amount of which was not such as to exceed the financial power of the country; for it must be remembered that works of this sort were not built in a day; that they could not get on with sea-work faster than at a certain rate, and that, therefore, the yearly expenditure would be comparatively small? Then, had we the means? He was sure that we had. Suppose the Government had determined to lay out 300,000l. a year for five or six years to come upon those harbours? If they had only devoted the sum remitted by the repeal of the auction duties for instance. When the right hon. Baronet proposed the repeal of those duties, he rather played with the House. He said, "Now, I come to a tax which I am going to repeal, and of which no human being has ever thought; for the repeal of which nobody ever asked;" and after leaving the House to guess what it might be, he at length told them that it was the auction duties. It struck him at the time that the right hon. Baronet was passing rather a severe censure and sarcasm on his own measure; because when important national objects like those under discussion at the present moment demanded an expenditure of public money, that the Government should set about to search for a tax for the repeal of which nobody asked, and of the continuance of which no one complained, appeared to him to argue a neglect on their part of the duty which 527 they owed to their country. If, therefore, they had only taken the amount wasted in the repeal of the auction duties, and had applied it to the construction of harbours of refuge, they would have conferred a far greater pecuniary advantage on the country. He hoped, after what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet, that before the close of the present Session a proposal on that point would be submitted to the House; for it would be unfortunate, indeed, if a delay of another year were suffered to intervene on a matter which required time for its accomplishment. Work as hard as they might, several years must elapse before they could, by possibility, finish such works in a manner to make them efficient for their object. He entreated the Government not to allow this matter to drop; and in paying attention to our arsenals, he hoped the harbours of refuge would not be neglected. The fortifications of Paris, a work of immense magnitude, which cost fourteen millions sterling and upwards, were accomplished in the course of three or four years. France never grudged any amount of money which might be necessary for her national independence and her national safety. In his opinion this did France the highest honour. And yet the French were comparatively not so wealthy a people as ourselves: they had not the same means perhaps of furnishing taxes; but they never grudged their money, when the national honour and independence were concerned for the increase of their navy, the fortification of their capital, or the defence of their frontiers. In such a case France was ever ready to grant any sum required—feeling assured that money so laid out would repay itself with interest by saving their country the infinitely larger expense which must be incurred in the case of imminent danger, by preventing that danger from happening. He did not make these observations in a tone of censure upon the Government. If any blame had been incurred because our dockyards were not in a state of perfect defence, it belonged to the former Government as well as to the present, with this difference only, that the great developments which steam navigation had received in the course of the last three or four years rendered protection still more necessary than at any former period. It was not, therefore, for the purpose of imputing blame to the Government that he had made these observations, but in order to draw their attention to matters of such high importance; and, he would add, 528 of daily increasing importance, looking at the great state of military and naval preparation going forward in another country; and also of greater importance after the experience which they had had of late years, that the best intentions on the part of two Governments might be frustrated by rash and impetuous men in distant parts of the globe. He trusted the Government would take in good part the observations which he had made; and if, as he entertained no doubt, they were disposed to bring forward plans of this sort, it might afford them some facility to know that Members on that (the Opposition) side of the House were disposed to sanction cordially any expenditure of the public money which might be necessary for the interest and safety of the Empire.
§ Captain Harris
thought the hon. and gallant Member (Sir C. Napier) had made out a case, however imprudent it might be to lay bare our weak points. A due proportion ought to be kept up between our Navy and defences, and the available power of France. He rejoiced that the question of harbours of refuge was to be taken up by the Government, and expense ought not to stand in the way.
§ Mr. C. Wood
impressed on the Government the necessity of losing no time as to this question. He hoped the Session would not be suffered to expire without a vote being taken for commencing these works at Dover, or at one of the places named.
Colonel T. Wood
felt bound to say, that the amount of troops we had to defend the country in case of war was not adequate. When it was considered what enormous military power was given to France by the fortifications at Paris, and that that country could, at a short notice, have 80,000 men at Boulogne, it behoved the Government to see that our constitutional force of the militia was not suffered to relapse into complete desuetude.
§ Question again put that the Order of the Day be read.