HC Deb 24 April 1856 vol 141 cc1395-401

Sir, in rising to move that this House do now adjourn, I beg to express my strong sense of the excellence of the Government arrangements yesterday. Having witnessed the arrangements of the Government both at home and abroad, I desire to testify to the oneness of the system and the similarity of the principles on which it is based. It was not possible for the Government, at so short a notice, to cover the docks of Southampton with mud, nor are they responsible for the sunshine; but in as far as in them lies, they did their best to make that particular locality resemble Balaklava as much as possible. Whether we consider the character of those for whose comfort and convenience they undertook to arrange the proximity of the point of embarkation to the scene of the review, or the facilities afforded at the spectacle itself, I think there will be no difference of opinion either in this House or the country at large as to the merit or demerit due to them. You, Sir, I understand, were kept waiting nearly two hours—[An hon. MEMBER: Four hours]—without being able, as we may say, to form a House: and when hon. Members did arrive, I apprehend you never saw a House so perplexed. But, whatever may have been the fate of the House of Commons, that of the other House was, I understand, even worse. I have been informed that it was not till broad daylight this morning that those Members of the House of Lords who trusted implicitly to the arrangements of the Government were able to reach their homes. The lay Lords, I understand—at all events the greater part of them—have already recovered, but some of the Bishops arc completely exhausted. Still, I am given to understand that these right rev. Prelates will soon recover, and therefore we may congratulate ourselves that no Member of either House of Parliament has been drowned upon this occasion. For that we desire to tender our best thanks to the Government. Whether their arrangements were made for the purpose of predisposing our minds to peace, whatever the terms of that peace might be, by enabling us to see to what hands we were to intrust the management of our fleets, I will not presume to say. We have tried our Government upon two elements, land and water, and it only remains to test them upon that more inflammable element, fire, to which the right hon. Gentleman, opposite intends to call the attention of the House next week. I would suggest, that amongst the other fireworks with which the public are to be amused in the course of a few days, one special illumination should be dedicated to the safe return of those Members of Parliament who intrusted their persons to the awkward keeping of Her Majesty's Government.


Sir, I can corroborate, from personal observation and experience, what has fallen from the hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House, as to the extremely discreditable nature of the proceedings yesterday from beginning to end. Undoubtedly, the Government are not responsible for the misconduct of the railway company, but they should have taken care that the ships appointed to convey the two Houses of Parliament to the scene of the great spectacle were in an effective state. It so happened that, being in Southampton at an early hour, I was desired by a person on board the steamer allotted to the House of Lords to take my place in that vessel, because, in all probability, the House of Commons would not arrive till a quarter past four o'clock. I accordingly went on board the Transit, where I remained the whole day; but I must say that a more discreditable state of things I never witnessed. The whole of the machinery was out of order; it not only broke down, but we were detained half an hour at a time, and I was told by the captain himself that he knew the machinery was in an inefficient state. I think, Sir, that the head of the Admiralty ought to have ascertained whether the ships were in an effective state or not. But the worst is yet to come. We did not arrive at Spithead until the review was over, and when we reached Southampton in the evening, there was no train waiting for the House of Lords. We were detained an hour until one was formed in the station, and the journey to this metropolis occupied four hours and a half, the train going at the rate of about ten miles an hour. I must say, Sir, in conclusion, that the proceedings of yesterday reflect credit neither upon the Members of the Government, nor upon the directors of the South-Western Railway Company.


I do not know, Sir, whether the First Lord of the Admiralty is in his place or not; but the House will recollect that, when I put a question to him a few days ago as to the arrangements which had been made for conveying us to the scene of the review, the right hon. Gentleman informed me that if I did not like to go I might remain at home. I have only to say now that, if he had told me what his arrangements were, I should have been glad to remain at home.


I would suggest, Sir, to hon. Members, that it would be better to postpone this discussion until my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty returns to town, his duties detaining him for the present at Portsmouth. [Laughter.] I really see no occasion for laughter in that statement. I am unable, of course, to explain the nature of the arrangements which were made by the Admiralty, but when my right hon. Friend shall be in his place, I am sure that he will be able to show that the Admiralty made the best arrangements which could prospectively be made for such an occasion. That there was undoubtedly great delay in getting from London either to Portsmouth or Southampton I myself can bear witness, for I was in the railway train from seven o'clock until past twelve, on the journey between the Waterloo Station and Portsmouth. When we arrived at Bishopstoke, it was intimated to us that the tide had ebbed, and that there would be considerable difficulty in getting to our vessel at Spithead. [Cries of"No, no!"] I am told that it was so; and that no doubt produced a difficulty in getting from Southampton to the vessels which were destined to convey us to Spithead. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will deeply regret if there was any error in the arrangements; but I would again submit to the hon. Gentleman opposite who has brought the subject forward that no advantage can arise in delaying other business on account of a discussion which cannot take place satisfactorily until my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty returns.


Sir, the Secretary to the Treasury, it seems, is also detained somewhere, otherwise I would have asked him a question. I wish to know, however, if the clerks of the Treasury embarked at Portsmouth; and, if so, why the Members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords could not have embarked there also, instead of at Southampton? I can only add my testimony to what has been said as to the badness of the arrangements. I hope that, in future, Blue-books and Commissions of Inquiry with regard to the gallant officers who have served in both services will cease, and that the country will see that mishaps are the fault of the Government, and will put the saddle on the right horse.


said, he was not surprised at the disappointment which had been expressed at the arrangements which had been made for the accommodation of the House of Commons; but, having been one of the first on board the Perseverance, he was anxious to bear testimony to the extremely obliging conduct of Captain Macdonald and the officers of that vessel. At the hour appointed Captain Macdonald's vessel was in readiness, and but for the delay elsewhere the House of Commons would have been at the review in good time.


I hope, Sir, that the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Chaplin) will also be in his place when we are honoured with the presence of the First Lord of the Admiralty, because unquestionably we have great reason to complain of the railway arrangements. As this House legislates for the regulation of railways, I think that it would be a gross dereliction of duty if, after such mismanagement brought within our own experience, we were to take no notice of it. I am glad that the question is not likely to pass without observation, because I feel that the House of Commons being late on such an occasion savours of disrespect to Her Majesty, and I hope that we shall acquit ourselves of all blame upon that score by fixing it upon the proper persons.


said, he saw no good in postponing the discussion until the arrival of the First Lord of the Admiralty. Of course, the First Lord would be unaware of the inconvenience which the House had experienced, and, at all events, he could not help it now. On future occasions, he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would make his arrangements with better effect; for yesterday the whole "transit" was so bad, that it was only by the greatest "perseverance" that the House ever got back to London. The Government, of course, could not answer for the railway, but when Members arrived at the end of the railway journey, there was no way of getting off to the fleet except by swimming for it. He believed that not one Member, either of the Cabinet or of the Government, was present to receive Mr. Speaker and the House upon their arrival, and he thought altogether that there was much reason to complain. No doubt the Government were better provided for somewhere else, but surely some one one or other of them might have been there to receive the House. He regretted that on such an occasion some sailing vessels had not been introduced to show the contrast between such ships and steamers; and he thought that their absence rendered the review somewhat incomplete.


I would beg, Sir, to suggest to the noble Lord at the head of the Government, that when the First Lord of the Admiralty comes to town, he should give him a check for his uncourteous behaviour towards Members of this House in general, and to the hon. Member for Chester (Mr. O. Stanley) in particular, to whom, when he questioned the arrangements that were being made, the right hon. Baronet replied, that if Members didn't like them they might stay at home. The system of checking, I believe, has already commenced, and I think that it might be extended with advantage. Report says, that the Secretary for the Admiralty had arranged that Members of the Government (of the Cabinet) and their wives should go in one vessel, and Members of the Government (not of the Cabinet) and their wives in another; but that the ladies took the quarrel up and declared that they would not be treated in such manner. It is said that the noble Lord did then interfere, and that in consequence all the ladies were permitted to go together. I think, therefore, that it would be exceedingly desirable that the noble Lord should teach the right hon. Baronet to behave with proper courtesy.


I cannot, Sir, allow the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down, and which he has made in perfect ignorance of the facts, to pass unnoticed. When my right hon. Friend (Sir C. Wood) comes to the House, he will state the arrangements which were made by the Admiralty, in order to afford the greatest amount of convenience to the greatest number of people in witnessing that magnificent spectacle at Spithead which reflected the highest credit on the country. ["Hear, hear!" and "Oh, oh!"] I say that that magnificent fleet and the evolutions which it performed at the review are calculated to raise this country in the estimation of all who witnessed it—foreigners as well as Englishmen. My right hon. Friend, I am sure, intended no discourtesy in the answer which he gave to the hon. Member for Chester; and, however much reason there may be to complain of the difficulty in getting on board the Perseverance, I am certain that every one must have been perfectly satisfied with the manner in which that ship was conducted yesterday. All that we have to regret was, the difficulty which was experienced in getting on board her. With regard to the railway, of course the Government was not responsible for delays there; and, as to no Member of the Board of Admiralty being present to receive the House, I may state that the whole of the Board of Admiralty was, by Her Majesty's commands, in attendance upon Her Majesty.


said, he thought that the House was somewhat unjust in its strictures upon his right hon. relative the First Lord of the Admiralty. It appeared to him that the arrangements were of a very high order, and that the House ought to have been very grateful for them. The House had shown a great deal of impatience, and did not appear sufficiently to appreciate the magnificent spectacle of yesterday. The blame ought to be attributed to the proper people, and they were the conductors of the railway.


said, the machinery of the Transit, the vessel allotted to the Members of the Upper House, was completely out of order.


said, he thought that the House of Commons had great reason to complain that they had been allowed no share in the admirable arrangements which had been provided for the rest of the public. As he was on board the Perseverance, however, he must add his testimony to that which had been already given of the admirable behaviour of the commander of that vessel. No doubt, as was said by an hon. Gentleman opposite, the review at Spithead was a magnificent spectacle; but, unfortunately, the House of Commons had not succeeded in witnessing it. A peace which he sincerely trusted would be an enduring one had happily been concluded, and no doubt the review had been intended to show to the world what England was able to do. Now, there was no doubt as to the magnificent fleet of ships which had been prepared, nor as to the gallantry and skill of the crews which manned them, but there was one point upon which some doubt did exist, and without question the review was held in order to dispel that doubt. That doubt was as to the efficient administration of the Admiralty, and the object of the review was to prove that the administration of that department was now different from what it had hitherto been. It was to prove that scenes such as those which had occurred in Balaklava Harbour could never occur again; but the result had been to produce a state of things in the harbour of Southampton similar to what had taken place at Balaklava, and, when such confusion prevailed in a harbour only seventy-eight miles from London, how could any one be astonished at its being displayed in a harbour distant 3,000 miles? The Members of that House had been invited to be present, and they had fallen victims to that very system, a change of which was intended to be evinced by the review.


said, that he understood that the refreshment for Members of the two Houses of Parliament had been contracted for at 7s. 6d. a-head—[An hon. MEMBER: Five shillings]—but the Board of Admiralty had taken much better care of themselves; for he understood that the clerks of that department were provided with all the delicacies of the season. He did not complain so much as regarded the Members of that House, but as regarded the Members of the other House of Parliament, who were accompanied by ladies; he thought that they were entitled to at least the same fare as the clerks of the Admiralty.


said, he considered that the whole of the blame ought to be attributed to mismanagement on the part of the railway companies, and he should, on an early day, move for an inquiry into the causes of the delay which had occurred on the line of railway.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.