HC Deb 17 July 1857 vol 146 cc1691-8

said, he wished to call the attention of the First Lord of the Admiralty to the policy of re-considering the determination as announced by him not to employ any of the screw line of battle ships in conveying a portion of the troops about to be sent to India. The subject had been alluded to a few nights ago by the hon. and gallant Admiral the Member for Southwark (Sir C. Napier) and upon that occasion the gallant Admiral and himself had exchanged broadsides; but he hoped that as that affair was over, and the smoke had blown away, neither of them would think any more about it. He (Admiral Buncombe) found we had now lying idle in harbour ten such magnificent screw line of battle ships as the Algiers, the Cœsar, the Cressy, the Duke of Wellington, the Exmouth, the Hannibal, the James Watt, the Majestic, the Nile, and the St. Jean d' Acre, together with several first-class frigates; and as, with one exception, the whole of those ships were employed during the late war, and therefore had their machinery in perfect order and their engines on board, he imagined that no great length of time would be required to fit them for the conveyance of troops to India, a service in which he thought it would be both politic and proper to employ them. He feared that the number of troops under orders to proceed to India were not all that would be required in the emergency. The Admiralty deserved great credit for having purchased the Himalaya, and he wished they had five or six like her, but as they had not he would submit to the First Lord that it would be desirable, even on the score of economy, to employ some of those screw line of battle ships in the way he had suggested. Besides, any one of those ships would take out a whole regiment, an arrangement in every respect more convenient than sending troops by instalments in different sailing vessels. The men would also be much better off in regard to room and other accommodation during the long voyage. The presence, too, of such a squadron off the coast of India would have a great moral effect, and the strong body of seamen they would carry might be made available in case of emergency. He had ventured to call the attention of the First Lord of the Admiralty to this subject, in the hope that the right hon. Baronet might be induced to re-consider the determination recently announced by him, and employ two or three ships as an experiment.


said, he wished to take this opportunity of troubling the House with a few words, in consequence of two answers given upon recent occasions, by the noble Lord at the head of the Government and by the First Lord of the Admiralty. The substance of the two answers combined was that the country was about to be left in a totally defenceless state by sea and land, and that such a state of things was recognized and concurred in by the noble Lord. The first question to which he referred was, when his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Southwark (Sir C. Napier) asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether there were any steam men-of-war fit to carry troops to China, the right hon. Baronet said there were not, and then went on to say there was not a single screw steamship of the line in commission fit to carry troops to India. The right hon. Baronet added that He had stated on more than one occasion that he had given up the idea of maintaining a home squadron. The ships in commission were all calculated for home defence, and not for the conveyance of troops. Now he (Mr. Bentinck) ventured to assert that the ships in commission at our ports at home were as ill-adapted for the purposes of defence as for carrying troops; and he, therefore, contended that the country possessed no adequate maritime defences at the present moment. The other question was put by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli). The right hon. Gentleman asked the noble Lord what were the intentions of the Government with respect to the calling out of the militia in the present year. The answer was one of the most remarkable ever given by a Prime Minister. He (Mr. Bentinck) thought some of the sentences so remarkable that he took them down, and he should no doubt be corrected if he did not quote them correctly. The noble Lord said that there was no intention of calling out the militia this year, because he considered the two previous years' training rendered it unnecessary for the purpose of maintaining the discipline of those corps. But the noble Lord then went on to say—


called the attention of the hon. Gentleman to its being contrary to the rules of the House to refer to answers given by hon. Members on a former evening, and to read those answers in the House in the same Session.


said, he would bow with the utmost deference to the Speaker's decision, but he was very much mistaken if he had not frequently heard the rule infringed. He must throw himself upon the indulgence of the House to allow him to state the substance of what fell from the noble Lord. He would not attempt to read what the noble Lord said, but the substance was that, although he was not prepared to call out the militia in the present year, if anything had happened in Europe which had threatened to involve this country in a war with any European power, and which rendered it probable that we should have to provide for the defence of the country—


again reminded the hon. Member that he was infringing one of the rules of debate in referring in so direct a manner to passages of former debates. It was contrary to the established rule of the House.


said, he was at a loss to know how he was to introduce the subject, which was one of the utmost importance, if he were not allowed to advert to anything which had fallen from the noble Lord. He did not see how he could possibly go on unless he were allowed so far to refer to the statements of the noble Lord, as to call attention to what he conceived to be objectionable and dangerous doctrines promulgated by the noble Lord.


said, that the hon. Member could state his opinion upon anything which had fallen from the noble Lord.


Suppose he said "so and so."


for the purpose of putting himself in order, then, he would imagine that the noble Lord said that, "If anything had happened in Europe which had threatened to involve this country in a war with any European Power, and which rendered it probable that we should have occasion to provide for the defence of the country, it might have been necessary to call out the militia." The noble Lord went on to say—[Cries of "Order!"] If the noble Lord went on to say, as he conceived it possible he might, that he imagined there was no probability or possibility of any such contingency of European disturbance, and if the noble Lord gave that as a reason for not calling out the militia this year, he contended that the noble Lord would have held doctrines most dangerous to the safety of the country. He assumed, for the sake of argument only, that the noble Lord had held such opinions, and he appealed to the House whether such opinions, coupled with the answer of the First Lord of the Admiralty, did not substantiate his statement that this country was to be left without defences by sea or land? The noble Lord rested his case solely upon the ground that there was no apparent probability of disturbances in Europe. It would be extremely indiscreet to go into details as to the various causes which might lead to collision between this country and a great European Power. But he thought the House would agree with him that, whatever the apparent security, the snap of one pistol might destroy that security and place this country in hostile collision with one of the most powerful antagonists with whom she could have to contend. He asked the House whether it was reasonable to leave the country totally without the means of defence both by sea and land—whether it was rational for the Government to trust to the chapter of accidents for security? He would place it on a mere commercial basis, and ask whether it was not perfect insanity to leave the country at the mercy of the first comer who might choose to assail her, when by a trifling outlay the country might be placed in a state of security? He did not think that by such false economy as that the noble Lord would retain the support of the House and the good opinion of the people. The matter was one which required the serious consideration of the House; and he hoped that Her Majesty's Government would be able to assure them that the country was not left in the defenceless condition which their own statements would lead people to suppose.


said, that he was told that an expression had fallen from his lips which, if left unexplained, might be liable to misconstruction. It seemed to be supposed that in something which he said he reflected upon the conduct of two hon. Members of the Bath Election Committee. He was sure that the House would at once acquit him of any such intention. What he meant to say was that there must have been some mistake or slight defect of memory on the part of the noble Lord and the hon. Gentleman, arising from the long and tedious nature of the inquiry in which they had been engaged, but he had not the slightest idea of casting any reflection upon them, and he regretted that any words of his should have been so interpreted.


said, that he wished to state in reply to the question of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) that he could not name the day on which he should bring forward his Motion relative to the oath of abjuration, because it depended very much upon the fate of the measure which the noble Lord, the Member for the City of London (Lord J. Russell) intended to introduce that evening. As he should not be allowed to address the House again, he might take the opportunity of asking the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in pursuance of the notice he had given whether the manufacture of pulp parchment is allowed to continue, pending the decision of the Court of Exchequer as to whether or not it is paper; and, if so under what conditions?


observed that he hoped that the state of confusion into which the House had now got upon the simple question of adjournment would induce them in future to avoid the inconvenient practice of raising debates upon important subjects in such a desultory and unsatisfactory manner. The defences of the country involved a question of the greatest possible interest and magnitude, and ought not to be discussed incidentally, but with becoming calmness and deliberation. He felt bound however to make some observations in reply to the statements of the hon. and gallant Admiral and the hon. Member for West Norfolk, (Mr. Bentinck.) In the first place he begged to assure the hon. and gallant Admiral that the determination of the Admiralty not to employ screw line-of-battle ships for the conveyance of troops to India had not been adopted without careful consideration; and he should add that he saw no probability that they would, on further inquiry, be induced to alter that decision. It was perfectly true, as he stated on a previous occasion, that none of the ships of the line now in commission at home were fitted to carry troops to India or China, although admirably adapted for the defence of our own coasts. Most of them were blockships which served in the Baltic. They were steamships powerfully armed, capable of moving about the coasts of England or even those of a neighbouring country; but they were not calculated for long voyages to distant places. Two of them, it was true, had been sent across the Atlantic in fine weather; but all of them were vessels of small steam power, and he did not think we should be justified in trusting to them for the conveyance of troops to distant parts of the world. No doubt there were lying in ordinary a great number of line-of-battle ships which might be employed as transports if it were thought advisable so to use them. But there were other services to be performed of at least equal importance. He had stated before that the number of men employed had not been reduced to the number voted by Parliament, and later in the evening he proposed to ask the House to vote 2,000 more. But all the men voted were already employed, nearly all of them on foreign stations, and if he were to commission ten or a dozen line-of-battle ships he must raise an additional number of men before he could send them to sea, which would require several weeks to do. The 2,000 men whom he proposed to ask the House to vote that evening were intended to man a squadron to send to the Indian Ocean; and, when he was called upon to commission line-of-battle ships for transport purposes, he begged to ask how he was to provide them with crews? On the other hand he could employ the Queen's ships for war purposes, and at the same time call upon the merchant service to furnish vessels for the conveyance of our troops to India or China—a division of labour which he thought would be productive of far more efficiency than if we employed ships of war in the transport of troops. It had been, said that we ought to have large vessels like the Himalaya for the transport of troops. Now, in point of fact, there were eight ships—not all so large as the Himalaya, but nearly so—in employment at the present moment. One of them, the Transit, had been often mentioned in that House, and he might mention to her honour that she had made the voyage to St. Vincent in a shorter time than the Himalaya. Six of these vessels were now actually employed in conveying troops to India. Perhaps he might be allowed in reference to this transport question, to make a further statement to the House. It had been said that a good deal of injury had been done to the public service by sending our forces in sailing vessels rather than in steam ships. This, however, was a mistake. It was perfectly true that in short voyages steam vessels were far more rapid in performing the passage than sailing ships; but before any particular case could be decided, we must look at the particular circumstances. Long voyages at certain periods of the year were accomplished quicker or as quick by sailing vessels as by steam vessels, and the particular case now under consideration was one of them. Steam power was dependent upon a supply of coal, which must be sent from this country to various stations; now it was not always that an adequate supply could be obtained; while, when it could be obtained, the delay of coaling prolonged the voyage to the time occupied by a sailing vessel. He had recently inquired of the Secretary of Lloyd's what was the average time occupied by sailing ships to India, and he was informed that taking the average of the last three or four years, fast-sailing vessels despatched from this country, at the present season of the year, performed their voyages in from 90 to 101 days, which was pretty much the same time as was occupied by steamers. Some of the Peninsular and Oriental Company's steam vessels had performed the voyage in less time, but those vessels were built for speed, carried little cargo, and consumed much fuel. Steam vessels carrying troops would not be able to take on board so much fuel, on account of the space which would be occupied by the necessary provisions and water for the troops, and the numerous places at which they must call to replenish those stores would cause a delay greater than that which the employment of sailing ships would cause. He found from a statement which had been prepared, that of four steamers which had belonged to the hon. Member for Tynemouth, (Mr. W. Lindsay), and which had been employed under contract to convey mails to Calcutta, the contract time was 74 days, whereas the actual time occupied was respectively 107 days, 121 days, 100 days, and 90 days, making an average of 104 days. Another matter for consideration was, that there had been very heavy demands made lately upon the store of coal collected at the Cape of Good Hope, and although fresh supplies had been sent out, yet they could hardly be expected to arrive in sufficient quantities and with sufficient regularity to meet the requirements of the large number of steam vessels which would be required to convey all the troops now under orders for India. Many troops were going in steam vessels, but he did not believe that any delay would arise from part of them being despatched in sailing vessels to Calcutta.