HC Deb 11 June 1858 vol 150 cc1926-45

said, he rose to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if it was his intention to ask for an additional Vote for Seamen and Marines, in consequence of the vast preparations making in some parts of Europe by sea and land; and whether, when the additional Troops are sent to India, it was the intention of the Government to call out an equal number of Militia to replace them? It was not long since the right hon. Gentleman told his constituents at Slough that we had been within a few hours of a war with France; and seeing what was the present state of that country, he (Sir C. Napier) thought it not at all impossible that the same thing might occur again. After the very alarming article which appeared the other day in "the leading journal"—which had created a great sensation throughout the country, he thought it quite plain that Parliament and the country ought to be made aware what our defences really were. He had not the slightest idea that the Emperor of the French desired a war with us: but there was an immense army kept up in France, and, after the recent manifestation of the predominant position which it had assumed, nobody could tell whether it might not drive the Emperor to an attack on this country. We also knew that the French Government had lately been making immense exertions in all their ports. Cherbourg was now open, and it was connected by a railway with Paris, as were the other ports. Railroads had totally changed the whole face of European warfare. By means of them the French Government would be able to move troops with the greatest case from one end of the empire to the other, and they also gave every facility for bringing seamen from Toulon and the Mediterranean ports to the Channel harbour. France had, of course, a right to fit out as large a fleet as she thought proper; but this extraordinary activity must create a suspicion in the minds of the people of this country. Whom was France arming against? She was on good terms with America; and the increase in the navy could not be directed against Austria, which was not a maritime Power; Russia was out of her way and inaccessible to attack by sea: and there could be no other Power but this country with which France could wish to try her strength on the ocean. What the people wished to know was, whether they were safe from invasion or not in case a quarrel should occur with France—and it was impossible to be quite sure that one might not at some time or other occur; nor was the French Emperor a man to tell us beforehand what he was going to do. The First Lord of the Admiralty had recently stated in that House that France had, within two sail of the line, the same number of ships that we possessed. But that was not all. By her system of conscription and inscription France could call together at any time 60,000 or 70,000 seamen; and besides these, a large number of men who had served in the navy for several years, and had gone back to their homes, were liable to be called out also. What had we to oppose to these? We had plenty of ships. He believed that at the present moment we had twenty screw line-of-battle ships of one sort or other ready for sea; but within the last few months we had had a lamentable specimen of the time that it required to man line-of-battle ship in the cases of the Renown and the Marlborough. He was happy to say that, owing to the great exertions of the present Board of Admiralty, both these vessels were now ready. He would read to the House the actual state of our ships, because he believed that the information would prove satisfactory to them. We had at Portsmouth the Duke of Wellington, a very fine three-decked ship, and the Hannibal—both in commission, but only half manned, or not quite half manned—and the Cæsar, also ready for sea, but not manned. At Plymouth were the Exmouth, and Orion, just commissioned, but not manned—the Orion he was happy to say was manning very rapidly. At Sheerness there were the Royal George, the Cressy, and the Colossus—the Royal George and the Cressy were in commission, and were half manned, but the greater part of the men were not able seamen. At Cork was the Nile, half manned. On the coasts we have nine block ships, of which six were useless and three indifferent. Now, in the event of any disturbance occurring between this country and France, we should have to consider, not only the ships and seamen that France possessed, but her very large army, stated to amount to not less than 500,000 men; and we knew with what case men could now be transported from one spot to another by means of steam. Supposing that we had an army of 400,000 or 500,000 men, and the same number of ships that we had at present, nothing in the world would be easier than for us to make an attack upon France if we thought fit to do so. A telegram would be despatched to the different ports, ordering our steam vessels to collect at Spithead, where they would all probably arrive within three or four hours of one another. So, if France equalled us in men-of-war—which she did, although she could not compete with us in the matter of steam vessels—she could order by telegraph any number of men to collect at Cherbourg, where they could be taken on board with the utmost despatch. He had himself seen the harbour of Cherbourg. The great works there were now completed, and the enormous docks and basins afforded means for embarking any number of men in a wonderfully short time. The troops could walk on board; cavalry, mounted on their horses, could ride on board; and artillery could be easily shipped, for thirty sail-of-the-line could he alongside of the wharfs alone. While these great works had been in preparation in France, we, on our side, had not been altogether idle, and he would try to explain to the House what were our means of defence irrespective of the ships to which he had referred. We had lately very properly established the Coastguard on a much more efficient footing than it had ever been before; and we had now, he believed, between 4,000 and 5,000 Coastguard-men, who were seamen, besides 1,000 or 2,000 more who were not seamen. We had also a pretty large force of Coast Volunteers. This force was one which he had himself recommended forty years ago, and he was satisfied that, as a naval militia, they would prove a most valuable auxiliary, provided that we had a navy to receive them. It was impossible to consider the country in her present state to be safe from an attack from France. He did not say that France had any intention to attack us, but this great country ought not to be left at the mercy of any nation which might find it its interest to pick a quarrel with us. Why had we 20,000 men at this moment at Aldershot? They were costing money, and he presumed that they were kept there in order to defend the country in case of attack; but the best means of defending the country was to meet the enemy before he could land upon our shores. It was no use mincing the matter, he must warn the House and the people that if they wished to keep the country in a state of safety they must be prepared to put their hands into their pockets; and the Government ought to tell the people that they would not be responsible for the safety of the country unless it were properly—not extravagantly—but properly defended. What we ought to do was at once to man ten sail-of-the-line completely; the men should be kept constantly ready for sea; and if once the Government and thé nation consented to that, we should have our ships ready at all times, and should be equal to any emergency, because we should be enabled, by distributing half the crews among other ships, and filling up the numbers with Marines, Coastguardsmen, and Naval Volunteers, and thus double the navy without the slightest difficulty; this would give us a very powerful force. No time should be lost in doing this; no one could deny that these measures were necessary. How did we know at this moment that France and Russia were not on very good terms; and what would be the feeling of this country if we heard that the Russian fleet had quitted the Baltic and was coming up the Channel? The confusion that it would create would be tremendous, and what would become of the funds God only knew. [A laugh.] He saw some hon. Gentlemen opposite laugh; but he must be permitted to tell them that it was no laughing business. Perhaps those hon. Gentlemen supposed that if the emergency did arise, it would be quite enough to get men and embark them on board ships; but that would not do—what were required were trained and efficient men. if two ships of equal capacity and power, and having the same number of men on board—one being a disciplined and the other an undisciplined crew—were to be opposed to each other in action, the ship with the disciplined crew would beat the other in half an hour. Suppose, for instance, the Royal Albert just returned from service, and the Marlborough just commissioned to be put in competition, why it would be impossible for the Marlborough to contend with any chance of success against her more practised opponent; and the same result would take place if she were placed against a disciplined French ship. He was not going to compare Frenchmen with Englishmen. He hoped in God they never would be equal to us, but it was never safe to despise an enemy; and though in the last French war the French vessels were officered in a very inferior way, on account of the emigration that had taken place, still they always made a gallant resistance, and lost a great number of men before they struck their colours. There was now a rumour than we were not on very comfortable terms with America; and if they were to hear that some dashing American officer, in order to gain a name—and he would very easily gain it in that way—had carried one of our vessels into New York, he would like to know in what position we should be? He remembered some time ago, when the Indus was upon the American station, it was discovered, when the men were at exercise, that all but sixteen of the ship's gun-carriages were rotten. He did not say that would happen again, but they ought always to be in a state of preparation. It was true that the First Lord of the Admiralty, after three weeks' consideration, had given them a Commission upon manning the navy; but they had not yet got the names of the Commissioners. Why they ought to have had the Report by this time; but the Admiralty was a slow body, there was no moving it. He understood that there were 10,000 troops at this moment under orders for India; that would just leave us so much weaker at home, and therefore they ought to be the more active in manning the navy. He understood that the number of men voted by the House was now complete, or nearly so; and if that were so, he wished to know how the First Lord of the Admiralty was to man ten additional sail of the line without a supplementary Vote. It was true there was a number of ships coming home, but ships did not all come home at the time they were expected, and when they did the men must have leave, so that it would be impossible to get them together again in sufficient numbers to man ten sail of the line (and no fewer would do) till the summer was at an end. Perhaps the Chancellor of the Exchequer might ask him what were the preparations in Europe to which his question referred. Now, he did not say that those preparations had been begun within the last few days—they had been going on for years; but those preparations were now on the point of completion. The hon. and gallant Admiral concluded by putting the Question of which he had given notice.


Sir, I was somewhat alarmed by the question which the hon. and gallant Admiral placed upon the paper to-day, because I supposed that he was in possession of some recent information which authorized him to make such a startling inquiry; but I am in some degree relieved by his informing the House that, in fact, he has no further information than that which has been the basis of the three speeches which he has made this Session upon the same subject. I can assure the gallant Admiral that Her Majesty's Ministers are truly and deeply sensible of the great responsibility which devolves upon them both to defend our common country and to vindicate, if necessary, the honour of our flag; but I am sure the House will feel that it is extremely inconvenient to the public interests to ask in this House whether our means of defence are equal to the means which those who are our allies, or any other Powers, may by any possible combination of circumstances have at their disposal for our annoyance. The hon. and gallant Admiral assumes, in the absence of all reasonable ground, that it is the interest and the desire of all the Powers of Europe, especially of those with whom we are at this moment in cordial alliance, not only to go to war with this country, but to go to war with this country suddenly, without the slightest regard to the laws and customs of civilized nations, and without any apparent cause, for the invasion of our territory and the devastation of our shores. The hon. and gallant Admiral has alluded to some observations which I made upon the probability of war, under certain circumstances, with France; but, without reviving any controversy upon those expressions, I may remind the House that that was an opinion given upon the assumption that there were sufficient, or at least important, causes at work, and which had been long at work, that might have produced so lamentable and disastrous a result. At the present moment, however, so far as France is concerned, we are not only in frequent but constant communication, and if it were the wish or supposed interest of France to pick a quarrel with England, opportunities might easily be obtained, when we are combining together to regulate the affairs of Europe under difficult circumstances, by which such an unfortu- nate state of affairs might be brought about. I am bound to say, in answer to this question of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, that he really has made no statement to the House by which he can substantiate his assertion that vast warlike preparations are being made by France at this moment by sea and land; he has laid no foundation to induce the House to believe that there is a state of affairs existing at this moment with respect to our relations with the different Powers, and particularly with that Power to which he more particularly pointed, under this particular head of armament different from that which he admits existed a considerable time since. No information has reached Her Majesty's Government that there are being made at this moment those extraordinary preparations by sea and land of which he has spoken. I need not reassure the House that at the present moment the relations between the two countries are of a cordial and confidential nature, and that at this moment we are acting with the principal Powers of Europe, and especially with France, in the management and regulation of most delicate and important interests, under circumstances which certainly would seem to indicate that the object—and such I hope will be the result—of all our labours is the maintenance of the peace of Europe, and not its outrageous disturbance, as the hon. and gallant Admiral seems to anticipate. But, though the gallant Admiral has limited his question to inquiries as to some parts of Europe, in his speech he has travelled across the Atlantic and reminded us that troubles are preparing for us in America. Unquestionably the House is now familiar with the circumstances. It is certainly possible that, from the excited state of feeling that prevails in the United States upon a particular subject, embarrassing and even mischievous results might occur in the interval that would elapse before communications from this country had reached the Government of America. But these are accidents which, however deplorable, no policy can possibly guard against; and, remembering the natural sympathy that exists between the citizens of the United States and the subjects of Her Majesty, and that between the existing Government of the United States and Her Majesty's Government upon all the great principles of policy which should regulate their relations there is a complete accordance, I will not anticipate that those embarrassing and mis- chievous accidents will occur. I will hope that those unfortunate accidents not taking place, there will be that which I am convinced will be the result, a complete understanding between the two Governments upon those circumstances which have certainly for a moment placed our relations in considerable danger. But, speaking generally upon the subject, what I venture to impress upon the House is, that it is not the policy or the interest of England always to give credit to foreign Governments for the worst intentions. I must express my opinion that a policy vigilant I grant it should be, and vigilant I, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, pledged myself to the gallant Admiral it shall be—and firm, but at the same time conciliatory, just, adapted to settle all those questions of controversy that may arise between the different nations and Governments, is more likely to adjust happily those differences than a policy of suspicion, and a readiness to show to foreign nations that you do not give them credit for those feelings upon which the progress of humanity and civilization depends. Now, we have had within the last very few hours a very significant proof, I think, of the justice of my observations. Within these few hours we have received a despatch which shows that a state of affairs in one part of the world which caused us, I hesitate to say, great disquietude, and which I even admit did seem to endanger the peaceful relations of European States, has been happily terminated, We have within these few hours received a despatch from Naples, informing us that his Majesty the King of Naples has granted and is prepared immediately to pay adequate, and I may say ample compensation to the English engineers; and, more than that, that the King of Naples has placed the Sardinian ship Cagliari and the whole of its crew at the disposal of the Queen of England. Mr. Lyons adds that on the next day the Neapolitan officers are to call upon him to receive his instructions as to the delivery of the ship Cagliari to him, and that he awaits the instructions of my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. In those instructions, which before the House met were despatched to Naples, Mr. Lyons has been instructed to deliver the Cagliari and its crew to the command of its late captain, under the general superintendence of Mr. Barber, the Consul, who throughout this affair has conducted himself with so much spirit and ability. The Cagliari, under the command of the same Sardinian captain, manned with the same Sardinian crew, and under the general authority of Mr. Barber, will sail to Genoa, and there Mr. Barber will deliver the Cagliari and its crew to the authorities of the King of Sardinia. Now, but a very short time ago these were circumstances that caused, and justly caused, the greatest anxiety in the public mind; and if we had pursued another course, which at the moment might have obtained considerable approbation, we might have brought about results of a very different character and have thrown Europe into confusion. Acting, however, with firmness, but at the same time with conciliation and in a spirit of justice, we have obtained this most satisfactory conclusion of this troublesome affair, and a new guarantee for the maintenance of the peace of Europe. Sir, if there were those evil dispositions which are attributed with so much facility to foreign States, do not you think that they would have seized this opportunity of throwing the greatest difficulties in the way of the peaceful solution of this question? But, on the contrary, we have had, throughout, the sympathies of this very Power to whom these evil dispositions are so freely imputed—we have had the sympathies of France in bringing to this most satisfactory termination these difficult, and at one time most distressing circumstances. Well, animated by seeing the result of a policy such as I have described, I cannot concur in the views which the gallant Admiral has attempted to enforce upon this House. This I will say,—that, whatever may be the state of our alliances, the state of the defences of this country ought to be complete. Considering our insular position, and the great wealth of this country, we ought, totally independent of all diplomatic circumstances—totally irrespective of what may be the results of a skilful or maladroit policy—we ought, abstractedly speaking, if I may use the expression, to lay down as a first condition that England should be adequately and completely defended. But what is adequate for the complete defence of the country must be left to those who have the difficulty and responsibility of the direction of affairs. If we are wanting—if events prove that we are wanting—in thoughtful vigilance or preparation upon this most important subject, the consequence to us must be of the most awkward description. But I would ask the House to give us credit for attempting, and I hope not unsuccessfully, to do our duty in this important respect; and let the House believe that the state of our alliances with the great Powers of Europe, although not free from difficulty and anxiety, for that they never can be, is a state very encouraging to the cause of peace. Were they, however, of a very different character, the state of this country is such that we may confidently hope, under any circumstances, to be able to defend our shores and vindicate our honour.


said, it appeared to him that the right hon. Gentleman had somewhat misapprehended the object of the question of the hon. and gallant Admiral. The right hon. Gentleman had told the House that he was not aware of any extensive preparations being made abroad. [Mr. DISRAELI: I said, "extraordinary," not "extensive."] Very well, extraordinary preparations, and he also added that the relations between this country and foreign Powers were of the most cordial description. Now, they had been informed a short time ago by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Admiralty that during a very considerable portion of the tenure of office of the late Government the coasts of the country were totally without defence. That statement, made a very short time back, had received no contradiction from the late First Lord of the Admiralty, and therefore he was justified in assuming that such was the case when the present Government took office. He was not going to raise the question as to what were "extensive" or "extraordinary" preparations in neighbouring countries, but this he would say, that these preparations had been carried on for some time until this country had become weak in relation to other countries. What the hon. and gallant Admiral wished to know—and he concurred with him in feeling anxiety for the information which he sought—was, whether in case of any unforeseen emergency we should be able to defend the coasts of this country. He did not impugn the zeal or ability of the right hon. Gentleman or his colleagues; but at the same time he thought that House and the country had a right to know upon what they depended for the defence of the country. He did not anticipate a French invasion, but it was a disgraceful position for a country which called herself the mistress of the seas to be actually in doubt whether or no she was able to defend her own shores. The gallant Admiral had not an- ticipated an invasion, for he relied upon the good faith—and he quite concurred in that opinion—of the Emperor of the French, which, perhaps, joined to his moderation, had prevented a collision at a time when circumstances into which he should not enter had created strong feelings of irritation in the two countries. It might, however, happen that circumstances might arise when that distinguished man would not have events within his own control; and it was a most fair and proper question, and one to which the country had a right to expect an answer, to ask the Government what were the actual defences of the country, and whether we were in a position, under any circumstances, to defend our shores?


said, he did not rise for the purpose of discussing the question before the House, but merely to say that he, for one, had been very much pleased with the answer of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who showed that the Government was ready to defend the country against any invasion, while at the same time they were not going to waste the funds of the country in any unnecessary expenditure. There was no possibility of an invasion taking place—it was a more dream;—but even supposing such a thing savoured of possibility, it was admitted on all hands that this country had abundance of ships, and the only difficulty had been in manning them. Now, although it might be difficult at the present moment to obtain sailors to go upon foreign stations, yet if such a very improbable thing as an invasion were threatened, there would be no difficulty in obtaining seamen for the defence of our own shores. There were always ships of the merchant navy at home to supply seamen sufficient to man all the ships of war. But he trusted that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues would continue to follow out that conciliatory policy he had indicated to the House, and that instead of persisting in the absurd and pernicious policy of building large men-of-war because they were afraid of France, and thus compelling France to build them because she was afraid of England, he would say to France, "We have, for instance, sixty ships of the line, and you have forty ships of the line; now let us keep relative proportions afloat, and not build any more." He hoped the present Government would cause no more expenditure than was absolutely sufficient to maintain the defences of the country. They were going on spending large sums of money while, he believed, some understanding between this country and France might be come to.


The hon. Gentleman who introduced this matter has put a question to the Government, and the hon. Member for Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck) has put a question to everybody in this House. Now, I shall just put one question to them, and I should be glad some evening to receive a distinct answer to it. I want to know the precise amount of expenditure, or of force by land and sea, which is required in order to enable us to say that this country is completely defended. It appears to me that gentlemen who, from their profession, should be the last to take alarm, are continually driving these terrors into the ears of peaceable non-military persons like myself. Only a few years ago a sound of alarm of a French invasion had been raised, and others have succeeded it like the claps of a thunderstorm in summer. Does the hon. Member opposite recollect that, not including the expense of wars, a much larger sum has been voted during the present year for the national defences than, I believe, ever has been spent before in time of peace? We spend twice as much now as we did twenty years ago, although, as far as any application of that expenditure goes, we have not a single foot of territory more to defend than we had then. I should like to know to what all this tends, and to what length we are to go; because, if ever the unhappy day should arrive in my lifetime, when, instead of spending £22,000,000 on defensive armaments, we shall be spending £44,000,000, I undertake to prove, by the same arguments as have been used by the two Gentlemen who have just addressed the House, that this country is in a state of almost absolute want of defence. I would undertake, with the map of England and Ireland in my hand, to indicate at least 100 points on which an enemy might land; I could also show that France was inhabited by a large population accustomed to war; I could talk about their avenging Waterloo, and all the other stock stories which are regularly trotted out on occasions of this nature, and I could establish then, as clearly as can be established now, that we were running the greatest possible risk, and that the nation was slumbering while it was on the edge of a most fearful precipice. I know a certain old lady of eighty years of age, whom some people have been trying to frighten within the last few days. A most plausible circular, written by some professor—of what he is a professor I can't say—was put by some simpleton before the somewhat dimmed eyes of this old lady; but she said, "I am not at all alarmed, for I have lived in the world eighty years, and as long as I can recollect there has always been a story afloat that there was going to be a French invasion." I dare say hon. Gentlemen have read Horace Walpole's Letters, in one of which—I forget exactly its date, for my memory does not serve me as to dates—an anecdote is told of there having once been a great alarm about an invasion; and he says there was found to be nothing in it—that it was used, as apothecaries say of something which they employ when they give very nauseous doses, as a "vehicle," the object being "to make us swallow the Hessians." The case is just the same now. There is an uneasiness in the country relative to taxation. I had a letter this morning—which I am very sorry I did not bring here with me—from a small master-cutler, probably a constituent of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield. This man has a large number of children, whom he has a hard struggle to support; his trade is bad; and he says, "For Heaven's sake let us try if possible to have a different foreign policy—smaller armaments, fewer quarrels, lighter taxes, and a better chance for an industrious man to maintain himself and his family." I am asked by persons in this House—and some people out of doors who do not look very deeply into these matters put the same question to me,—why do you show something like favour to a Conservative Government, and why were you accessory to putting the Gentlemen now in opposition on their present benches? If I wanted an answer to this, it would be found in the speech which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made to us to-night. These are not questions of aristocracy and democracy, they are not questions of Conservatism and Radicalism; they are questions of the obvious interests of our country, and of humanity at large. And I say a Government that would adopt a foreign policy based on moderation and justice is one that I should be disposed to see on the Treasury bench, in preference to any other Government which pretended to a great exhibition of English power in all parts of the world. The right hon. Gentleman has described what has been done with respect to Naples. All that difficulty arose from the unseemly conduct pursued towards that country a year and a half ago by the English Government. It is now at an end. The moderate and conciliatory policy of England has been met by an equal moderation on the part of the Neapolitan Government; and that squabble is now buried, we hope, for ever. We have another thing at present on hand—this American question, which I presume is owing to the sending out of gunboats and ships to the Cuban or West Indian station during the last year, and also, I suppose, to the instructions issued by the late Government, under which the English commanders in those waters, acting with what is called more vigour, have done that which the United States' nation would not stand any more than I am sure the English would do under the like circumstances. Then we have another matter in the China question, to which I would ask the attention particularly of the hon. Member who introduced this subject. If you are to have seventy or, as I think the right hon. Gentleman said, sixty ships of war in the Eastern seas, carrying on a quarrel which you don't understand, and engaged in a complication which you might have avoided,—if you are to have all this great armament stationed at a distance of 10,000 or 15,000 miles from you,—I ask what amount of revenue or of taxation which can possibly be raised will ever give you what you suppose you require—namely, large fleets to defend your coasts at home? Now, the course which the Government have taken in this matter is a truly Conservative course. There is no true Conservatism which is not based on a true morality. And whether at home or abroad, I believe it is possible for a Government, without bravado and without boasting, to confer solid benefit on the country, and whatever may have been its past profession of politics, to gain a substantial support from the people. I did not intend to make more than one observation when I rose; but I have heard the statement of the right hon. Gentleman with extreme pleasure. I believe it will give equal satisfaction throughout the country. I only hope the House and the nation will sustain the present Government in every effort they may make to restore our foreign relations to a state of tranquillity and safety, so that we may be able to turn our attention again to that from which we have been diverted for the last five years—namely, the process of reducing our expenditure, in order, if possible, to render England a country which all Englishmen shall prefer, rather than one from which they have incessant inducements to emigrate to every other part of the globe.


Sir, I so entirely agree in what has been said as to the inconvenience of raising general discussions on foreign policy upon the formal Motion for adjournment till Monday, that I shall confine my attention to the conduct of the late Government, in the department with which I was connected, which has been so much impugned by the hon. Members for Norfolk and Birmingham. The former hon. Gentleman said that we left the country in a most defenceless state, and that it was necessary for our successors to make strenuous exertions in order to replace the armaments of the country on something like a proper footing. I appeal to the most unexceptionable testimony as to the utter erroneousness of this representation. The noble Earl at the head of the present Government himself admitted in another place that he had been both surprised and gratified, at the period of his accession to office, to learn that the impression which had previously prevailed in regard to the national defences was entirely unfounded, and that he had found the country both by land and sea in a complete state of defence. Well, what has been the conduct of the present Government since then? They very properly took time to consider the Estimates which we had prepared, but which had not been actually voted when they came into power, and the First Lord of the Admiralty took Votes on account several weeks before he definitively brought forward the Navy Estimates. And did the course which, after due reflection, the right hon. Gentleman pursued indicate any belief on his part that the country was inefficiently defended? Why, he did not deem it necessary to recommend the addition of a single man to the number proposed by his predecessors; and as to the Votes for the dockyards and the building of ships, he actually reduced the Estimates which we had prepared. I said at the time that I thought the reduction injudicious, and I still retain that opinion. Yet the hon. Member for Norfolk talks of the Herculean labour which we imposed on our successors.


explained that he had spoken of the efforts that were necessary to place the defences of the country in a position to meet an emergency when the late Government left office.


It is clear that the present Government must have believed the national defences to be in a safe condition, for they have thought proper to reduce our Estimates. But I pass on to the assertion of the hon. Member for Birmingham, that whatever complications might exist in America arose from the instructions sent out by the late Government to the officers of the West Indian station. Now, it is perfectly true that I sent out additional gunboats to be employed in checking the slave trade, which was raising its head again in those waters; but I can inform the hon. Gentleman of what he evidently cannot know—namely, that no new instructions whatever have been issued to our commanders in the West Indies, and that those officers are still acting on the instructions which were drawn up in the year 1844, with a studious desire to avoid giving just cause of offence, and which were signed, I believe, by Sir George Cockburn. What I have said to any officer on that station has been rather in the way of caution. This is a point on which some misapprehension has prevailed in the minds of hon. Members, and perhaps in this country and I am glad to have had this opportunity of stating that nothing whatever was done by the Government with which I was connected which could lead the officers in command of vessels engaged in checking the slave trade to do anything which they would not have done any time during the last fifteen years.


said, he did not rise to answer the very difficult question proposed by the hon. Member for Birmingham as to the cost at which the expense of the defences of this country could be defrayed; but having regard to the existing state of Europe, and to the demand necessarily made upon the forces of this country, he did not think that they were at this moment greater than was absolutely needed. Having early in the Session taken an active part in calling the attention of Her Majesty's Government to the case of the British engineers in Naples, and having urged upon them further steps than they then seemed disposed to adopt, he should not act rightly towards them if, upon the announcement of the result of their negotiations, he did not tender to them his congratulations upon their success, and his great satisfaction at the favourable issue of their exertions. With respect to the question of our defences he was not an alarmist. He entertained no fears of an invasion from France, but at the same time, remembering how different the events of the last ten years had been from any which could have been anticipated, he thought that we could not rely with confidence upon any predictions as to what might occur in the future. He desired peace as ardently as the hon. Member for Birmingham himself; but he was convinced that the true mode of securing tranquillity was for our Government upon all occasions to use firm and dignified language, and that they could not do unless they felt that our defences were adequate to the magnitude of the interests which had to be protected, and to the importance of this country in the world. Having heard with great satisfaction the statement of the right hon. Gentleman as to the termination of the negotiations at Naples, and many of the difficulties in that matter having arisen from the suspension of our diplomatic relations with that country, he should be glad to hear that the whole affair was at end, and that those relations had been resumed.


said he wished to put a question to the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Admiralty on the subject of Manning the Navy. It was now three weeks since the Government had signified their intention of appointing a Royal Commission to inquire into the subject, and although the names of the Commissioners had been circulated in the clubs, the Government appeared to have taken no steps to bring them together. The list of names which he had heard included those of Lord Hardwicke, Admiral Martin, Lord Chandos, Mr. Cardwell, Mr. Lindsay, Capt. Shepherd, Mr. Green, the shipowner, and others. He wished to know when the right hon. Baronet intended to nominate the Committee? and he also desired to express a hope that the usual custom would be followed, and that the hon. and gallant Admiral (Sir Charles Napier) who moved the appointment of the Commission would be placed on it.


The hon. and gallant Admiral who commenced this discussion complained that, although three weeks have elapsed since he moved the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into the manning of the navy, it has not yet been issued. The Commission is now ready, the list of members is complete, and if there is any further delay, it will only be such as is required in order to comply with the various forms which must be gone through before the Commission can be made public. With regard to the statement that the names have been currently talked of in the clubs, I can only say that such ought not to have been the case. I have never communicated the names of those who were likely to serve on this Commission, except in confidence, and only in cases in which such communication was unavoidable. How it was that the names became known, I cannot tell, but I have no hesitation in saying that they ought not to have been known. I have not authorized their publication, and I will repeat what I said when a similar statement was made by an hon. and gallant Officer behind me (Admiral Buncombe), that at the time he made that statement not one of the names had been officially settled. Considering the difficulty which every hon. Gentleman must know attends the formation of a Royal Commission, the anxiety the Government must feel to appoint the most competent persons, the frequency with which it happens that those who are applied to are unable to serve, and the fact that, in this case the Whitsuntide holidays immediately followed the adoption of the Resolution for the issuing of the Commission, I hope that the House will feel that the lapse of three weeks has not been an unreasonable delay. I will now say a few words in consequence of the extent to which the hon. and gallant Admiral opposite (Sir Charles Napier) and my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck) have in the course of this discussion referred to the state of the naval defences of this country. After what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in every word of which I most heartily concur, I shall say but a very few words. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, referred to what fell from me two or three months ago in moving the Navy Estimates. I then stated my opinion, which I am now fully prepared to repeat, that it was not becoming the dignity of this country, it was not consistent with its safety or security, that our coast should be left so destitute of naval defence as they had been during the winter months in consequence of the detention of so large an amount of our forces in China and India. I entertain these feelings now as strongly as I did then; but, in expressing them, I do not thereby intimate the slightest doubt of the loyalty and good faith of our ally the Emperor of the French, or intend to convey either to this House or to the public that I sympathize with these alarms, which, I must say, I have heard with great regret. If any such feelings prevail in the public mind, it is undoubtedly natural, and perhaps right, that they should find utterance in this House; but at the same time I feel, and I hope the House will feel, that we cannot too strongly deprecate either speeches in this House or articles in newspapers which tend to excite alarm in the public mind when there is no just ground for such a feeling. I think hon. Members will agree with me that the only result of such speeches and such articles will be to create two great dangers and evils—panic and alarm—in the public mind in this city, and too probably irritation in the mind of our allies the French, whom it is our desire and our policy to conciliate in every honourable way. Consistently with these feelings, and consistently with the opinion I have already expressed that it is not becoming the dignity of England that we should be without naval defences on our shores, I can state that the present Government have from their accession to office exerted themselves to the utmost to make those defences effective, not from any alarm, not from any doubt of the loyalty of our allies, but from a feeling that this country ought, under all circumstances, to be prepared for any emergency which may arise. I am happy to say that the hon. and gallant Admiral in the course of his speech underrated—unintentionally I am sure—the naval power of this country; and I am bound to state that at this time we could, at the shortest notice, assemble in the Channel a fleet which would, I believe, be able to cope with any that any other power of Europe could send out. I feel it my duty to make that statement, hoping that I shall not be understood to imply any alarm, but the reverse. I do not mean to imply that there exists any reason for assembling such a fleet at the present moment. The House has heard from my right hon, Friend how satisfactory is the present state of our foreign relations; having, however, been appealed to I desire to say that while, on the one hand, the Government feel it to be their imperative duty to take care that the naval defences of this country shall be satisfactory, and shall be worthy of its dignity and power, on the other we are no less desirous of adopting with regard to all foreign powers a policy so conciliatory as to make any resort to those defences quite unnecessary.