HC Deb 25 February 1853 vol 124 cc649-52

Order for Committee read.

On the Motion that the House go into a Committee of Supply,


said, he was anxious to make some inquiry into the truth of the statements made by the hon. Member for the West Riding (Mr. Cobden), and the right hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. M. Gibson), at a meeting in the Free Trade-hall of Manchester, on Jan. 28, because his vote on the Army Estimates might be influenced by the result. A few days ago a letter had been read in that House from a person named Somerville, who had been in the Army, and was flogged. The Peace Society attempted to raise a popular feeling against the militia by quoting the case of Somerville, who, however, in a letter which did him infinite credit, repudiated the attempt. But the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. M. Gibson), after talking a good deal against the armaments of the country, and especially against our defensive preparations, used these words:— But we have also got one or two generals on our side, and one of them, General Evans, the Member for Westminster, made a similar calcution in reference to the French army and to their arrangements, and he proved to the House of Commons that the French had really not more than some 15,000 disposable soldiers; so that it appears to me that by making this sort of arbitrary calculation—by saying that you must keep an army afloat always—going backwards and forwards to the Colonies, or in the Colonies, or distributed about according to the caprice of the person who is making the speech for his own purpose, you may prove anything; and if we voted ten times the Estimates, and gave the Executive of the country a much larger force than they now possess, by this sort of arbitrary and capricious arrangement of the forces you might reduce the largest force to a very small one, in reference to the defence of the country in case of invasion. He wished to know from the hon. and gallant Officer whether he had really used the language attributed to him. Adverting to the other branch of the service, the right hon. Gentleman spoke as follows: — Sir Henry Parnell—a high authority—declared that there is no effective mode of enforcing economy in the expenditure for our great establishments in the Government, except by refusing increased grants, and calling on them to do with less. I believe that that course within certain limits is the proper course to take in order to ensure economy, and that it is impossible for Members of Parliament to bring themselves into successful opposition to persons connected with dockyards and the military profession upon every point of detail; and if the country, in reference to the armaments of foreign States, and in reference to the general foreign relations in which we are placed, considers that the amount demanded is too large, then, I say, let. them take Sir Henry Parnell's advice, and without going into every minute matter in dockyards and in regiments, let them say, 'You have got your 15,000,000l. or your 14,000,000l. and we will refuse any increase on that demand, and in that way we will oblige you to carry out these matters of economy which have been recommended by persons connected with the various professions during difficult periods of our country.' Why, only consider; Sir James Stirling himself, a man high in the navy, actually in a committee of the House of Lords upon the question of the Navigation Laws, declared that it was his opinion that the number of officers in the British navy over and above what was really necessary for the work to be done either in peace or in war—observe!—was equal to the keep of 20,000 seamen. Is that true, or is it not? Have they contradicted Sir James Stirling? —as high an authority, I contend, upon naval matters, as any one in this country. Not a bit of it. Not one word has been said to dispute the truth of that statement. Well, then, I say, can you expect these anomalies to be rectified if Members of Parliament are to be put down as enemies of the country and foolish visionaries, who are desirous of scrutinising carefully our naval and military expenditure, and who refuse, in addition to large estimates, to grant indefinite increases merely founded upon some foolish panic? And the hon. Member for the West Riding (Mr. Cobden) elicited cheers from his audience by such language as the following:— We want to create such an effect on public opinion, and speedily, too, that we shall change altogether the tendency of the press, and the tendency of the legislation of Parliament. Why, I want, in the first place, to see twenty or thirty men in the House who are resolved that they will hold no terms, give no allegiance to a Government, that takes another step in the direction of increase of our armaments, unless some facts and evidence are shown as to the necessity for it. Now, I say for myself, I pledge myself—and I have not been wanting in my word in Parliament in what I have said in this hall—pledge myself that I will hold no terms with any Government that repeats what I have seen so often done—that while on their lips you hear expressions of the most perfect confidence and reliance on the good intentions of the Government of every other country, yet they are in the same breath proposing an Increase of our warlike establishments. I will hold no terms with that Government, call it what you will, Whig, Tory, or Peelite—I will do my best to turn out that Government; and when that Government is out, I will give notice to its successors that they shall have the same terms from me, if they pursue the same course. The hon. Member for the West Riding had appeared in the character of a prophet, and surely never was there a more false prophet. He prophesied there would be no more French revolutions; but the words were scarcely uttered when the French were cutting one another's throats. Since the hon. Gentleman had announced that there was no danger of an invasion, he (Colonel North) actually began to suspect that the French would make a descent upon our shores. The hon. Gentleman appeared before the public not only as a prophet, but as a conjuror, for he said the French had as many silver spoons to lose as the English, which, deeming the population of France was more than double that of England, was a very surprising and clever statement. The hon. Gentleman did not confine himself to prophecies, but he indulged in some witticisms at the expense of the militia. He said they were a parcel of simpletons. He (Colonel North) did not think such language was very becoming, proceeding from a Member of the Legislature—a Legislature, too, which had just declared by a large majority that the mili- tia was necessary for the defence of the country. Now, he begged to tell the hon. Gentleman, who was so fond of sneering at the militia, and at those agricultural districts which showed the greatest zeal and readiness to enlist in that force, that his aspersions, and the ridicule he attempted to cast upon the militia, recoiled upon himself; and the inhabitants of those agricultural districts were prepared not only to enlist in the militia, but to spend the last sixpence in their pockets, and the last drop of blood in their body, on behalf of their country. The hon. Gentleman had taken up the position of a dictator in that House, and had said that unless Members voted as they ought to do, his hope was that the country would put such a pressure upon them as would bring matters to a speedy issue, The hon. Gentleman also sneered, as was his custom, at the Army and Navy; and he was sorry to say that his remarks seemed to have been received with applause by the audience whom he addressed. He (Colonel North) well remembered having commanded a force of 100 men in the manufacturing districts, whose presence was necessary in order to protect factories from the violence of the people. Upon such occasions as these, neither the hon. Gentleman nor his auditors would be inclined to sneer at those brave men whose lives were always at the disposal of the State. He would conclude by asking the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster whether the words attributed to him were correctly given?


said, he considered it necessary to say a few words after the allusion that had been made to him by the hon. and gallant Gentleman. He could not charge his memory at this time with the exact words which he had used with regard to the French Army; but he was sure that it was a mistake to represent that he had ever said that there were only 15,000 men of the entire French Army who could be available for any attempted invasion of England. He could only recollect that he had argued that the large number of troops required for the numerous garrisons throughout France would diminish very considerably the amount of force which would be available for any such invasion.