§ Order for Committee (Supply) read.
§ Motion made and Question proposed—"That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ MR. HORSMAN
said, he rose pursuant to notice, to propose a Motion as to the mode of providing for the expense of completing the necessary works of national defence, projected or already in progress. If any apology were required for the Motion he was about to submit, it would be found in the preliminary discussion which had already taken place in the House that evening. The question of the national defences had only to be mentioned in that House to excite a feeling of general interest, and he believed the feeling of that House on the subject was a very inadequate representation of that which prevailed throughout the country. They had just been called on by the Government to make a large increase in the taxes of the year, and the reason on which that demand was grounded was the necessity of adding to our national defences. This year our armaments would cost us £26,000,000, and in order to meet that enormous outlay we should have to submit to an augmentation of the most odious and exceptional of all our imposts. In a time of profound peace we were about to nearly double the income tax, and there was a general disposition throughout the country to inquire whence the great exigency arose. It was obvious that those enormous estimates were the result of some great necessity, and were the evidence either of some imagined or some perceived danger. How long, people asked, was that state of things to continue, and what was the probability of these estimates either being diminished or continuing annually increasing? There was a point at which inquiry on this subject became the duty of Parliament, and anything like evasion or concealment on the part of the Government was fraught with danger and involved a positive betrayal of the interests of the country. There 677 was always a disposition—perhaps too ready a disposition—on the part of the House of Commons to act with forbearance in reference to all questions affecting international relations; but there were occasions—and he believed this was one—when it behoved the House to press the Government of the day to speak out in plain and unmistakeable language. All those armaments and that taxation were necessitated by one cause—namely, the fear of an attack from France—why should they not say it? France knew it, and said it—and all Europe knew it, and said it—and no one differed about it in that House, except perhaps the Member for Birmingham, who disputed the necessity, and the Ministers of the Crown, with whom it would be a breach of etiquette to confess the motive. But there was the fact—the Ministers of War were augmenting the defences, and the Minister of Finance, for the current half year at least, was doubling the income tax—and the truth was indisputable—that it was from uneasiness caused by their nearest, and dearest—much-lauded, and most-trusted Ally, that their armaments, and burdens, had increased, were increasing, and, notwithstanding the announcement of the Moniteur yesterday, with a prospect of anything but diminution. Now, what was the duty of the House of Commons under such circumstances? Ought they not, he asked, to look their position boldly and sensibly in the face, and ascertain either the reality of the danger, or the folly of the alarm? If that uneasiness, which was costing so much, was unfounded, the people ought to be instantly relieved from sacrifices they were now called to make; but if there was anything like real danger in the position, not an hour should be lost in placing the security of the country beyond the possibility of question. It only remained for the Government, like men, like Englishmen, like statesmen, to tell us the truth. Let them but say the word, that this was an occasion for England to put forth some portion of her latent strength, in order to overtake a march stolen upon her, and the spirit of the nation, which would be instantly aroused, would do all the rest. And why should Ministers not speak out the truth? Would it be indiscreet? Where is the indiscretion in those who are responsible for a nation's safety, apprising it of a danger it is still easy to avert? If indeed the time were too brief—if our preparations were over, and our means and contrivances 678 exhausted—and still our defences were incomplete, then indeed it might be unwise to proclaim a weakness we could not avert. But now, the real indiscretion—the real reproach—the folly and the fault would be on the head of that Minister who with boundless resources at his command, hesitated to employ them—dissembling a danger till too late to avert it, and sacrificing the safety of a nation to his politeness to an Emperor. They had lately been regaled with some very severe strictures from that side of the House, and the Ministerial bench, on the Public and the Press, and on Peers of Parliament for certain misgivings they had betrayed, and language they had used in speaking of our friends across the Channel. But it appeared to him that the speakers by whom those rebukes were administered very strangely misconceived both the origin and the motive of the conduct they condemned. He was not ashamed to acknowledge that in common, as he believed, with a vast majority of the House, he shared very largely in the apprehensions the public had expressed—that he was grateful to the press for the warnings that it had sent forth—and that he esteemed it a good fortune and a privilege to have heard the speech of that venerable Peer, whose courageous exposition of a national danger had caused so much sensation. And even with the fear of incurring another rebuke, he would take the most public opportunity of expressing his admiration of the patriotism and wisdom of that most needful warning, which spoke home to the hearts—the sympathies—and the convictions of the great body of his countrymen from one end of the kingdom to the other. But what did these articles in the English press and speeches such as that really imply? Not fear of any enemy abroad but of our own incapacity at homo. It was not fear of France, but, correctly translated, want of confidence in our own departments in England. It was not fear of plans and preparations for attack from the other side of the Channel, but of the want of all plan or preparation for defence on this. The recollections of the Crimea had sunk very deep—they were not yet obliterated, and knowing, as those alarmists well did, how powerful and invincible as a nation we were, they still trembled, not from terror of those by whom we might be invaded, but from another stronger terror, calculated to shake the stoutest nerves; a terror of those to whom our defence was to be committed. And again, the language 679 of apparent hostility and defiance that made our Ministers so uneasy, what was it but a set-off to the official language of adulation of which the nation had grown ashamed. The demeanour of some of our public men to the Emperor of the French had long been displeasing to the country; it had lowered us abroad, it had sickened us at home, and it had provoked those counter demonstrations of sentiment which would have been neither so frequent nor so marked, had the public not felt that the honour and character of the country were being complimented away. Now, he thought that our English Ministers should long ago have exchanged the language of adulation for that of manly frankness. The Emperor of the French was our friend, and our ally. He was a man of business, and a man of sense, and at the commencement of those preparations, our Government should have said to him, with all deference and respect, "We receive with pleasure your professions of peace; but we find it difficult to reconcile them with your preparations for war. Your increasing armaments are full of danger—your attitude is fraught with menace—we may continue allies, but at this rate we shall soon cease to be equals; and we cannot without explanations allow you, under cover of the English alliance, to make those enormous preparations against which, but for that alliance, we should remonstrate and arm—we must therefore receive from you an assurance that these menacing preparations will not continue, or we must adopt the alternative of girding up our loins to that race of armaments, in which a regard for our own safety will not permit you to outstrip us." Would not that language have been more appropriate and dignified? Would there not have been more honesty and safety in it, than in that perpetual overflow of diplomatic compliments, which had not raised us with foreign countries and was very distasteful to our own people? The appeal would have been in vain perhaps; well, then, the Ministers knew the alternative. They had but to tell the nation the truth; and with a nation aware of that truth, all danger was over and disquietude at an end. The common sense—the public spirit of the nation—would rouse itself to the necessary effort, the work would be pushed on with activity as if war were already declared, and in less than twelve months the country would have been so impregnable and secure that the word invasion would never have been heard but 680 with a smile. At the eleventh hour, however, when, under cover of the alliance, the inequality between the two countries was established, the necessity for increasing our defences was proclaimed by the increased Estimates which the House had this year been asked to vote. But it was to be deplored that they were meeting that necessity with half-measures, and he felt bound to say that, for purposes of national defence, half-measures were no measures at all—to be serviceable they must be complete. They were engaged on permanent works of national defence. These were very costly, but the result was very unsatisfactory. Our arsenals were entirely undefended; our shipping, in case of war, had no shelter for their protection or repair. The necessary works were planned, but the money to complete them was doled out in driblets. It was distributed over so many works, and spent through such a series of years, that in the meantime we were utterly defenceless. He had in his hand a few items taken from the Estimates for the year for these public works. The first work he found was that of Devonport. The cost of the necessary fortifications was estimated at £457,500; and the sum voted this year, which was much in excess of anything voted in previous years, was £86,000. This was one of the most necessary and urgent works that had been undertaken, but according to the present rate of payment it would take three and a half years to complete it. That was on the supposition that the estimate was correct, for, as the House knew, it frequently happened that the expenditure was rather in excess of the estimate. The next place was Dovor. The estimated cost of the fortifications here was £311,000. There had been already voted £138,000, and the Vote this year was £26,000. To complete these fortifications would take a period of between six and seven years. The citadel and barracks at Alderney were next on the list. The estimated cost was £200,000; this year £15,000 was voted, leaving £185,000 still to be granted. To complete these works would take no less than twelve years. Then there was Pembroke, with the sea defences of Milford Haven. The estimated sum for the works was £190,000. There had been voted £25,000 this year; £165,000 still remained to be voted, and it would take six or seven years to complete the works. The Gosport advanced lines at Portsmouth were estimated at £300,000; this year £65,000 681 was voted, so that it would take nearly four years to finish the undertaking. The Hi'sea lines were estimated at £135,000. A sum of £25,000 had been voted this year, and more than four years would be required to complete the works. The Southsea line was put down at £30,000 in a supplementary estimate; £3,000 had been voted, and it would take nine years to complete the works. The Stokes Bay lire was estimated in a supplementary estimate at £50,000. They had voted £7,000, and it would take six years more to finish the undertaking. But the most extraordinary case was that of Portland. They all remembered how the Secretary for War lately spoke of the importance of Portland. His satement regarding it was that it was one of the finest harbours in the world, but that it was utterly defenceless; that if an enemy were to take possession of the island we should have great difficulty in dislodging him,—that the works required could be executed very economically, but that when completed the defences would be so strong as to make it impossible that Portland should ever fall into the hands of an enemy. Now, everybody knew that that was a very fair statement, but what must be the feeling of the Minister who made that statement when he reflected that, according to the rate of the Vote taken this year, twenty-one years would be required to complete the newly estimated works at Portland? He might rest his case on that instance alone, for it was impossible that any Minister who had made the House conscious of the importance of such a work could contemplate with anything like equanimity the idea that twenty-one years would be required to complete it; but there were other cases—such as the defences of commercial harbours—to which he would not refer the House. Even with regard to Gibraltar and Malta a strong case could be made out, for it would take four years to bring the defences of the latter place to a completion at the present rate of voting the money. He had taken these instances from the Estimates, but there were other works not in the Estimates which the Government must feel to be imperatively called for. He would take the case of Woolwich as an example. Woolwich was the armoury of England; the amount of property in our arsenals there, could not be less than £10,000,000 to £15,000,000; and it was perfectly defenceless, not a single shilling of public money ever haying been voted for 682 fortifications at Woolwich. He must for the present assume that the works to which he had referred were all necessary, because, with the exception of Woolwich, they had all been approved by Parliament, and money had been voted towards them. If they were necessary, they were urgent, and if they were urgent, they should be completed in a short time. But he was far from saying that these were the most necessary works, or that they ought to be completed according to the plans and estimates already before the House. That was a question that would come under the consideration of the Royal Commission about to be nominated at the instance of his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Westminster. In fact, the appointment of that Commission was essential to carrying out the objects of his own Motion, if the House should agree to it. If that Commission were well selected, with a due proportion of civilians upon it, and a firm exclusion of the official element, its report would be most valuable, and the means of carrying out its recommendations would, no doubt, be unhesitatingly and ungrudgingly provided. It would not do for any Chancellor of the Exchequer, in such a case, to say—"If you can make the country secure by an outlay of ten millions, I am ready to propose it; but if it is to cost twelve, you can't afford to be saved." The safety of England is too precious not to be insured at any price; and the only question is, how the money should be provided. There was no Member of that House who would not scout the idea of consenting to a loan for the purpose of the ordinary expenditure of the country. The days were happily gone by when the idea could be entertained of meeting the current expenditure with borrowed money, but the question was whether this was part of the ordinary expenditure of the country. It was expenditure which was taking place in anticipation of a possible war. It was not occasioned by a belief that any foreign Power at present entertained or, he hoped, would for a long time entertain any idea of invading England; but we knew not how suddenly such a war might arise, and if it broke out and found us unprepared and defenceless we should not be safe for a single day. Hitherto the plan had been to spread this expenditure over a series of years, but the general opinion of the House, and he believed also that of the Government now was, that it ought to be compressed within a limited period. If these works were to be of any 683 use they ought to be completed at once; and if the expenditure, intended to be that of a series of years, was compressed into two or three, it became an extraordinary expenditure, and must be met by extraordinary means. They could not meet it out of the ordinary income of the country. They must therefore either complete these works by moans of a loan or leave them unfinished. That was an alternative which the House could not avoid. Some gentlemen thought that his object in bringing forward this Motion was to obtain the establishment of a line of forts along the whole of our coasts, so as to prevent the possibility of a landing being effected by an invading army. Instead of this he went rather into the opposite extreme, and thought that such an expenditure would be perfectly absurd, and indeed a complete waste of money. In his opinion this public expenditure ought to be limited to two objects. We ought to provide defences for our shipping and our arsenals. His object was merely that, as certain plans had been approved by Government, sanctioned by Parliament, and the works already commenced, we should obtain the money required, and complete at once operations which would otherwise be spread over a number of years. It had also been supposed that he wished to borrow money to pay some part of the expense of our military and naval establishments. Nothing could be more absurd, The only objection which he had heard to the raising of this large sum of money, in order that these works might be completed within a certain time, was, that if so great an amount was at once placed at the disposal of the Government there would be an enormous quantity of jobbery and waste. His own opinion was that this was a very absurd objection, and he was sure that he might safely leave it to be dealt with by the Secretary of State for War, who would hardly admit that, although his department could control the expenditure of £2,000,000 per annum, it could exercise no efficient superintendence over that of £6,000,000. It was the more necessary that the money required for this expenditure should be raised as he proposed, because for some time, at least, the ordinary military and naval expenditure of the country would absorb all that portion of the income which could possibly be devoted to it, He was not able to comprehend the logic of the statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other night, when bringing in the budget, that if matters did not get 684 worse in the course of next year they would probably get better. His belief was that so far as a diminution of expenditure went, they could not get better, as long as the obligation of keeping the navy of England up to an adequate strength was acknowledged. The superiority of our fleet—he would not say our supremacy at sea, as that might be objected to as implying rather a bellicose spirit—was as essential to our commerce as were the ships which carried it. He agreed with what was said by an hon. Member early that evening, that the superiority of our navy was rendered absolutely necessary by the superiority of our colonial and commercial interests. The superiority of our fleet at sea had hitherto been the first necessity of our empire. It had been considered the first law of our existence as a great European Power. Other Powers had great military establishments. The Channel was our natural defence, and if we lost that we should at once lose our position in Europe as a first-rate Power. It was much to the honour of hon. Gentlemen opposite that they endeavoured—and successfully endeavoured—to re-establish the navy of England in the position which it ought to hold; and no Government would deserve a moment's forbearance which did not strain every nerve to make it the most powerful navy in the world. During the discussion upon the Navy Estimates last year, he expressed an opinion in which he was followed by the gallant Admiral the Member for Southwark (Sir C. Napier), that the navy of England ought to be equal to the navies of France and Russia united. To his great satisfaction the noble Lord at the head of the Government had the other night endorsed that sentiment. It was an opinion which was becoming very general in that House; but, unfortunately, the equality which he desired was not very easily obtained. Russia had lately been building in the United States large ships of war, some of which were already completed. France had got a-head of us, and was making every effort to preserve that start. While we were only experimenting she had already built iron-cased vessels, armed with rifled artillery—[Sir CHARLES NAPIER: Hear, hear!]—and could at short notice bring into the Channel a fleet more powerful than ours, and could man it more easily with practised seamen. It was admitted that if, unfortunately, war should break out, 685 and a naval engagement between the fleets of the two Powers should take place its result might he doubtful. If by any accident its results were in favour of Franco, if she could blockade or destroy the remainder of the fleet, while our defences were incomplete, England would become part of the main land of the Continent, and France with the command of the communications could transport a fleet across the Channel as easily as she could send it across the Rhine. Suppose such a thing occurred—and he was speaking of what might happen ten or twenty years hence, but a short period in the lives of such nations as England and France—we should have to depend upon our land force. What was that? Here, again, everybody felt that we were the victims of half-measures. Every one knew that if in any future wax-that might occur a French general were to laud in England, he would bring with him every soldier for whom transport could he found. It would be for invaders and invaded a life and death struggle. That army would leave its own ports an exultant and, by anticipation, a victorious army. From the moment it landed on the shores of England it would have to fight its way with the desperation of a forlorn hope, and within two or three weeks of the landing of the first Zouave either it would be completely annihilated or London would be taken. It would he less a war than a surprise, and its suddenness would be one element in the calculation of its success. What force had we, what preparations had we to meet such a danger as this? We all knew that it was very inadequate. We ought to have one of two forces, either a standing army equal to any which could be brought to invade us, or a large auxiliary force of militia and volunteers. But could anybody say that we had either, or were likely to have either? There was lately something like a national movement for Volunteer Rifle corps, and its having been early adopted at the Universities and at the instigation of the authorities, proved the sense of the necessity among the most reflecting and unmilitary classes. But they have met with cold encouragement. Finding them already sanctioned by their predecessors and very popular, the Government had continued them, but under a species of compulsion, so that many people were now heard to say that if the country was left to itself, if there were no War Office nor Horse Guards, its own instincts would 686 more rapidly ensure its own security, and there would soon he such an army of volunteers as would render a hostile landing impossible. But while we were under the dominion of the routine and red tape, the idea of being defended by irregulars and volunteers appeared in some eyes more terrible than the invasion itself, and better that England should be conquered according to the articles of War, than saved by such a perilous and plebeian innovation. In 1803 when invasion was not so easy and the danger not greater, we had 400,000 volunteers enrolled and under arms, and even then we felt that the Channel was our best defence; and Napoleon to his dying day regretted that he had not attempted the invasion, for he made light of any army that could have met him. But without Line or Militia in sufficient strength and without command at sea, even Rifle corps, the best, and cheapest, and readiest and deadliest of all volunteers were not encouraged, and we now heard that satire on our military establishments, that if we had the men we had not the rifles. There was a rumour which he hoped the Secretary for War would contradict to-night, that a contract for 40,000 rifles, lately entered into with a Belgium factory, had been cancelled, because of the demand of a small extra price, and we were therefore left unprovided with an arm lately ordered, as urgently needed for our defence. Was it any wonder that the country stood appalled, not by dangers abroad, but by incapacity and weakness and helplessness and confusion at home? It thought of the Crimea and trembled from head to foot. There was but one mode of acting in this exigency, for it was an exigency, and depend upon it, the nation would tell them so ere long. Not a moment must be lost in making the country safe against every accident, and until it was so, we must act as if the crisis were upon us. No human tongue could tell how soon or how suddenly it might arrive, and that it might still be distant was our good fortune of which we should make the most. Every public or private yard should be put into full work, every artificer and extra hand should work extra hours as if the war were to begin next week. As gunboats could be built more rapidly than men of war, gunboats should be multiplied as fast as possible; as volunteers could be enrolled faster than the line, they should at once be raised. As rifles could not be made fast enough in England, we should renew that order in 687 Belgium, even though they should cost sixpence apiece more than the Horse Guards' regulation, and night and day the process of manufacturing, constructing, arming, drilling, should go on till the country was made safe, and then we might desist from preparations and return to our peace expenditure with the certainty that these humiliating and lowering and degrading panic cries of invasion would never disturb our country or our Government again. But there were those who would, no doubt, tell him all this apprehension and precaution was very foolish, and deserving only to be laughed at. But that only made it more his duty to express his opinion, and he thought it much to be regretted that on so great a question where every man, according to the light and reason that were given him, had a right to take thought for the safety of the country—and when the highest military authorities—the most experienced diplomatists—the wisest and most venerable statesmen—all concurred on the most solemn question on which they could be called to judge—that that liberty of thought and speech, which was the birthright of every one among us, could not be indulged without being assailed with an amount of ridicule and derision that was wholly undeserved. He had no fault to find with any private Member for the expression of his own opinions. The Member for Birmingham, for instance, as an independent Member of that House, and acting on his individual responsibility, expressed fearlessly what he held consistently, and he had a perfect right to believe that there was not a Zouave in the French army who would not prefer a remission of the wine duties to the sack of London. But it was a very different thing when a Minister of the Crown, rising after his hon. Friend, expressed such a general concurrence in his views as to enable him to congratulate himself and his friends (as they had done last week) that they who guided the councils and destinies of England were converts to his views of foreign policy and peace. Of this he was quite sure—that the nation had not become converted to those views, and it would watch with great jealousy the alleged conversion of the Government. He and others, who thought with him, had been content hitherto to refrain from any public statement of the reasons for their disquietude; but when they were now told, on high authority, that the Ministers of the Crown were becoming members of the 688 Peace Society, they felt bound to protest against the progress of those views, and to state the reasons for their apprehensions, and publicly to justify those reasons. He had never in his life said one word in disparagement of the Emperor of the French, and for this reason, that in many respects he had formed a very different estimate of his character to what, unfortunately, prevailed among many people in England, and he viewed in a different light the policy and effects of his Government of France. He always remembered that he found France in a state of anarchy, and that he had restored order. Every one believed, before he appeared on the stage, that France must pass through a bloody convulsion before she could obtain a settled Government. He carried her through that convulsion with less bloodshed than was believed possible, and he was rewarded with a throne. He was the choice of France—he was now, she believed, her benefactor—she felt that he had raised her power, extended her influence, given her military glory beyond her frontiers, and internal prosperity and peace. France esteemed and trusted him, and between ruler and ruled there was, in regard to their internal government, that complete accord that must shut out, if not our criticism, at least our censure. But though with the domestic affairs of France we had no concern, it was our right and duty to watch her foreign policy. The Emperor of the French acted for the interests of France; it was ours to guard the safety of England, and if he were asked, "Why do you suspect the French Emperor of designs of war? and, still more, why do you insult him by suspicions of invasion?" he should be driven to answer by a reference to facts as notorious in France as in England—that he apprehended war because he saw the Emperor of France preparing for it; and he anticipated invasion, because an attempted invasion must be a necessary accompaniment of the war; and as they saw unmistakeable proofs of preparation for war, so also those who were not wilfully blind must see the most unmistakeable preparation for invasion; and as to our insulting him by the suspicion, he replied that no man could be insulted by our believing what he himself had openly, publicly, and ostentatiously told us he would probably to. Few men had ever risen to a throne after taking more pains to advertise the world of what they believed to be their destiny and its duties. The present Emperor of the French was a man of thought, 689 before he was a man of action. As they had been told last night, he was an author before he was an Emperor, and when of ripe age, after long study and reflection, he had given to the world, in works of deep thought and intense feeling, the programme of his opinions and his policy—and wherever it was that in those days he thought, or wrote, or spoke, whether dating from London, or from his prison at Ham, or pleading for life before his Peers in France, there was the same earnest of what he had since proved himself to the world—the man of great purpose and inflexible will, and of one fixed idea; and the dream of the exile, the prayer of the captive, the address of the candidate for power, all were filled with one recollection, all pointed to one great act of national retribution, all reiterated and dwelt on that one word, which he said no Frenchman could speak without emotion; and consistently with that, since he rose to the Empire, be had unceasingly fired his army with the hope that he and they had one common mission unfulfilled, until their last great glorious enterprise should have wiped out the stain of France's deepest humiliation and most stupendous disaster. He did not say this in disparagement of that illustrious Ruler, and he was sure that he could not be offended by our receiving as truth what he had avowed with pride. For, from the day that he became Ruler of France, every act had been in the most strict accord with this preconceived policy, and France understood it, if we did not. It might be said that he (Mr. Horsman) was repeating an old story; but he might remind hon. Gentlemen that the works to which he referred had very recently been reproduced in France, and had been revised and republished under the authority of the Emperor himself. They were extensively circulated and widely read in France, and what was the effect they produced upon the French people? Why, they could only be regarded as a re-affirmation on the part of the Emperor of the policy of the exile. They afforded the key of what would otherwise be a mystery, and enabled people to interpret what would otherwise be unintelligible—namely, that those vast preparations, the extension of the navy, the fortification of the coast, the enlargement and increase in the number of transports, and the conscription for the marine, all indicated preparation for a gigantic enterprise to be undertaken some day or another against a gigantic naval Power, and that Power need not be named. The English 690 were a practical and business-like people, and when they had these writings, which had been lately reproduced and circulated, and when they saw the enormous military and naval preparations which were made in France, it was no wonder that they should ask, "Are we in that state of perfect security and defence in which we ought to be even in times of peace?" He repeated again that, in making this statement, he did not say one word against a ruler of whom he had never spoken disparagingly, nor did he say a word against that great and gallant people whom all who knew them must admire; but he did say that they must look forward—as was quite consistent with the most honourable policy—to some future occasion when war might break out, and those preparations were made in order that they might not a second time be the vanquished party. He need scarcely refer to what was, he believed, a notorious fact, with regard to which Her Majesty's Ministers were no doubt fully informed—that even since the conclusion of the peace of Villafranca, so far from the activity apparent in the naval arsenals of France having been at all relaxed, it had until the last twenty-four hours, been very much on the increase. Yesterday the noble Lord, after making his statement with reference to Italian affairs, drew the attention of the House to the announcement which had just been made in the Moniteur. Now, no one would wish to diminish the importance—whatever it might be—of that announcement, but he might observe that if both England and France had had war establishments, or if the British Government had been making preparations in anticipation of an immediate prospect of war, the announcement of a reduction of the military force of France might have been very important to this country. What he maintained, however, and what he had endeavoured to enforce upon the House was, that the armaments of France were as much above the requirements of a peace establishment as those of England were below them; that we had reduced our establishments to a dangerous point; and that, whatever might be done by foreign Governments, there was a certain minimum of power below which this country ought never to suffer its defences to fall. In a time of profound peace, and in a spirit of over-confidence in the continuance of that peace, this country had, in his opinion, allowed her defences to fall to too low a point. They had fallen far below the requirements 691 of a peace establishment, and when he looked back to their condition when the mutiny broke out in India, he must say it was fortunate that at that time it never entered into the mind of any enemy to take advantage of the position of this country. For years past we had been proceeding with dangerous reductions, we had now fallen far below the minimum point, and all he wished the House to do was to raise our defences to that minimum point below which, even in a time of peace, they ought never to be allowed to fall. He was aware that some hon. Friends of his, whose opinions he valued very highly, would think that these precautions and forebodings deserved very little regard. No man could respect, and honour more than he did the motives and principles of those who were designated, invidiously in his opinion, to distinguish them from the rest of the House, as the "Peace party;" but while, on the one hand, they honestly and conscientiously followed their vocation, he must say, on the other hand, that he believed if their views were carried beyond a certain practical point, they were dangerous to the country. His feeling was that the men who, by timely warning and precaution, averted the horrors and calamities of a warlike attack were the real friends of humanity and of their species; while the men who by blindness, by over confidence, or by weakness, tempted and provoked attack were, although unconsciously, the real enemies and destroyers of their country. He believed that if the principles of the party to which he was referring were carried out to their full extent this country would be placed in such a state of weakness that invasion would be rendered so tempting as to be inevitable. He believed there was no statesman, no diplomatist, no military man in Europe—there was not a soldier in France who did not feel that it depended on England herself whether at some future—and it was to be hoped, far distant day—all that accumulation of the elements of destruction might not break upon her head; and woe to her if the storm found her unprepared; woe to the Ministers of England who might have invited such a catastrophe! There was a certain little episode in the late Italian war which we would do well to remember. We were told that on the night before the battle of Solferino the Austrian generals had made all their dispositions, on the most approved military principles, for sur- 692 prising the allied army at the hour of nine in the morning; but at six o'clock they were themselves surprised and slaughtered by their enemies. It was to be hoped that Austrian counsels would not prevail in our English camp, and that the tocsin of Parliament would be sounded before it was too late. He did not say that any English Minister would, for a moment, be induced to neglect what he deemed to be necessary for the safety of his country; but he sincerely believed, with all respect, that the present Government were not adequately alive to the magnitude of the occasion. The heart of the country was sound—its instincts true and unerring; its feelings were too strong to be trifled with on that subject; and for the mode in which the Ministers discharged themselves of the grave responsibility now resting upon them in connection with it, they would be called to a strict account. He had spoken out freely on this great question, because it was one on which no false delicacy should prevent them from impressing upon the Government what it ought to know. As far as it depended on the Secretary of State for War, no doubt everything that eminent ability and great energy could do would be achieved, but the labours and the goodwill of one man were not enough to cope with the crisis. Seeing, then, the great fact of our urgent want of preparation, neither on that nor on future occasions should he be deterred from stating to the House what he had now felt it his duty to state, although he had, perhaps, trenched on ground which no other hon. Gentleman had ever ventured upon. Thanking the House for the indulgence it had extended to him, he would now beg to propose his Motion.
To leave out the word 'That,' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words, 'the expense of completing the necessary works of national defence, projected or already in progress, should be mot by a fund specially provided for that purpose, and independent of the annual Votes of Parliament, instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. SIDNEY HERBERT
Sir, I have listened in common with the rest of the House with admiration to the eloquent speech of my right hon. Friend. If I- do not follow him through the whole of it—if I do not venture upon the delicate ground on which he has thought fit to 693 tread—it is because I do not wish to give any encouragement to converting that which ought to be a debate on the question of what should be the system and the basis of our peace defences into a discussion upon foreign policy, in which we are to criticise the character, the motives, the past life, and intentions of any Sovereign in Europe. I maintain that in the preparation which we have been making, if such a word can be used, or rather in the defences which we are strengthening and confirming, we are following the legitimate pacific policy which is the true policy of a great commercial country like England. We have no offensive designs—we can have no offensive designs against any nation in the world. Peace is our great security; the great source of our prosperity and our wealth—peace is best suited for the form of Government under which we have the happiness to live. I say, then, that if I now discuss the question of our defences it is not with the view of showing what power we may be able to exercise against any one, but merely what are the means which we are taking, which we hope and which we ought to take, in a time of peace, for putting ourselves in a state of security against any attack. I recollect the time when the spirit prevailing in this country on these subjects was very different from what it is now. The history of our weakness in point of defence is curious to follow. After the long war, when we, like the rest of Europe, were exhausted by the enormous efforts we had made in that great struggle, we believed, and Europe also believed, in a perpetual reign of peace, never to be disturbed again. During that time we lived upon our character. We neglected to reproduce those means of defence which are essential to keep the country in proper security. Even when we began to awake to the danger of our situation, and to the necessity of making some exertions to remove it, the country did not then go so willingly along with us, nor did this House exact from us any increased activity, but the contrary. I recollect when this discussion on our fortifications first arose. I recollect the appointment of the first Commission to examine into the defences of our dockyards. I recollect when my hon. Friend the late Secretary to the Admiralty and myself conjointly were objects of great attack in this House because we had endeavoured to create at Devonport a large establishment for the construction and repair of our steam navy. 694 A Committee of this House sitting upstairs condemned as extravagant the schemes we had then attempted to carry into effect. So far from being extravagant, as it has turned out, those schemes have been since enlarged. They were larger then than anything before contemplated by any Government, or ever carried into execution in any dockyard, but still they were found to be insufficient, and have since been greatly extended. I say this to show that in times when public opinion was adverse, I, at least, was not one of those who remained acquiescent in the then existing state of things. For a long period before that, whether you looked to the army or the navy, but more especially to the army, which has never been so popular with this House as the navy, there was nothing but apathy, neglect, and, let me add, ignorance. We allowed our men to perish, partly because we did not choose to be at the expense of housing them as we ought to have done; partly because we did not believe, but rather scouted as the cry of sanitarian quacks, the notion that men ought to have fresh air to breathe. The other night a debate arose on the subject of the appointment of a Commission to inquire into the state of our fortifications. I am very glad to find that, both as regards the necessity of more rapidly increasing our defences and of instituting a thorough investigation by competent persons into the nature of those defences, before we embark in a great expenditure upon them, we have the testimony, concurrent with my own, of the gallant Officer the Member for Westminster (Sir De Lacy Evans), and of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Horsman). I did not, coming in with the new Government to an office of immense detail, attempt at once to pass an opinion upon questions of this description; but as soon as my own mind was made up as to the necessity of some immediate action in this respect, I made to the Government the identical proposal which the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster has made, and in spirit, though not as to the means of accomplishing it, the same proposal as my right hon. Friend has just laid before us. I am satisfied of this, though many persons doubt it, that in a country which like England never, except after long effort and great excitement, has had a large army, and which never will have such an army except after long effort and great excitement, you are bound to take care 695 that every means by which the services of your force, small as it is, can be made more efficacious, shall be immediately adopted. Your array, if small, ought to be the best equipped, best armed, and best trained in the world, and no effort on the part of the authorities ought to be omitted in order to produce that result. But among those efforts it appears to me that, having great dockyards and arsenals in which are concentrated property of immense value, and, what is far more important, the means of sustaining and increasing your maritime strength, there ought to be provided that apparatus for defence which mere flesh and blood can not alone supply. It is cheaper to build fortifications than to depend on the manœuvring of an army in the field. Any military officer will at once admit the truth of this, costly as these works may appear to be; and certainly my right hon. Friend has not exaggerated a bit in the remarks he has made upon the Estimates. He has said, indeed, that we are now proceeding by voting mere "driblets." But that is a comparative term. The "driblet," as he calls it, for the present year exceeds the sum of £400,000. But what after all, let me ask, is the comparative cost of these fortifications against that of an army? The mere pay of an addition of 25,000 men to the army would amount to £757,000, or from that to £900,000 a year. But £5,000,000 spent in fortifying our arsenals would, taking it even at 6 per cent, be only a yearly cost of £300,000; and there is this also to be said of an army, that the men die, the powder and shells are blown away, the rifles wear out; everything has in it the element of decay; but if you have secured a well considered system of defence by fortifications, that remains not only for you, but for posterity. It must be remembered how essential is the complete defence of our arsenals to the existence of our navy; in war, even a victorious fleet sustains great damage, and requires costly repairs to put it in an efficient state again; the arsenals are the reproducing establishments of our maritime power. Without going into minute detail, I should like to tell the House what are the amounts it has voted this year for fortifications. For Portsmouth, irrespective of the sum already voted, it is £405,000; but that does not complete the defence of Portsmouth; nothing is proposed for fortifying Spithead. Again, for Plymouth, £335,000 have been voted, but that sum will not put Plymouth into a complete state 696 of defence. I could go through the whole list of arsenals, Pembroke, Sheerness, Chatham, Woolwich, they are all in the same state. I have always endeavoured to speak frankly to the House of Commons on this subject; and in this spirit I must state that Woolwich is totally undefended. It is protected by the long reaches of the Thames; still, it is a great arsenal, and at present is defenceless against attack. It has been said that Woolwich is incapable of defence, and that the true policy of England would be to break up the establishment, create others elsewhere, and not risk so much material in one arsenal. That is a question into which I cannot enter tonight; it is a question, however, that ought to be thoroughly considered. I have been asked whether the sums voted will be applied? An hon. Gentleman has remarked that we take the Votes, and sometimes do not spend the money. It is true that at the end of the year, it appears by the accounts that we have not spent the money, and the sums have to be voted over again. I am asked how this can happen? There is a difficulty in public works that does not exist in private undertakings, such as railways. Their projectors work on, and if they are delayed by any accident they make up the lost time afterwards. To show what delays public works are liable to, I may state I have recently heard that a strike is impending among the men employed that may impede certain works in the London district for some time. It is in consequence of such unforeseen delays that it happens the money for public works has to be voted again. It was remarked the other night that the Commission to be appointed to inquire into the state of the national defences ought to have a wider field of investigation. But I want an inquiry into specific objects, I want advice on those specific objects; if you widen the field of inquiry, and direct the Commission to report on military questions, as to where armies should be posted in case of invasion, then you will want another class of men to make the inquiry; you will increase the number of the Commission and delay the report. If I wanted to shelve a question, a large Commission of inquiry would be the best instrument for the purpose. But I want to act immediately, and therefore wish to get the men the best fitted for the task, and confine them to one particular subject. It is not that I have neglected the subject. My predecessor appointed several officers 697 of great eminence to draw up a detailed report as to the steps necessary to make available all our disposable force, and the best means of rapidly increasing it, in case of a sudden outbreak of war. We have got that report, and we are at this moment acting on it as rapidly as it is possible to do. We will go further than that. We wish to see young officers obtaining a knowledge of the military features of the country, and surveys are being made with the view to military purposes; it is not that we expect an enemy actually to land, but we ought to take every precaution in our power, and every Government must wish to see the army we do raise made effective by practical study of the profession. It is the basis of a sound peace establishment you want. That is, however, a question of difficulty. Looking at the Army Estimates, at the enormous sums voted, and at the small force maintained in England, I think nothing can be more unsatisfactory than that we should spend so much money and have so small an army. But what is our peculiar case? We have had to re-arm the whole force; and we are doing so at this moment at a great expense. I may allude, in passing, to a rumour that has been mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, that in consequence of a rise of sixpence in the cost of each musket, asked by a foreign contractor, I have suspended the contract for a supply. I do not know in what the report could have originated; the only thing on which it can be founded happens to be a transaction of the exactly opposite kind. The only case in which I have meddled with the supply of rifles is by making an arrangement to obtain at a small additional expense, a large supply of a better description. We shall now receive from Enfield 1800 rifles a week instead of 1500. But to revert to the subject of which I was speaking—the late Government sent some very distinguished naval officers to inspect and report upon our fortresses in the Mediterranean. I think nothing can be worse than to submit a subject to a Commission and then to shelve the report. We are, therefore, acting on that report. It states that though some of the works in the Mediterranean have fallen into disrepair, yet no additional force is required for their defence nor any very material change in their defences. Heavy guns may have to be sent out and other things done, but I believe that the notion of any successful attack on Malta or Gibraltar is now absurd. It would have been 698 an easy thing, in the opinion of many, to propose to increase the force of the army by taking a vote for, say, 10,000 men; but that would have made an army on paper. I do not wish to deceive the country. First, actually raise the men, already voted but not got, and then it will be time enough to talk of increasing your regiments. I believe that this country never will have a large army; but the army we have got we must make as perfect as we can. Without a conscription, having to trust wholly to voluntary enlistment, and obliged to compete with the wages of labour, this country can never have a largo military force. We have now some battalions coming home from India; if you create a force in the meantime, when these Indian troops arrive you will have a larger army than the country will like to pay for; there will be an outcry for disbanding the additional battalions, and many discontented and idle men will be thrown on the half-pay list. I wish the House of Commons would come to some definite conclusion on these points, and not be so wild for an increase of the army at one time and for its reduction at another. We have got the whole of the ordnance to replace, and very soon all our ships will be armed with a large proportion of rifled cannon. This cannot be done without supplying a new sort of ammunition. These are the things that make our estimates so large while our army is so small. Improvement and change are constantly at work, and I frankly say that I do not see the slightest prospect of any very material reduction in those portions of the Army Estimates, which are applied to the production and reproduction of warlike stores. The right hon. Gentleman has truly said, that without the report of a Commission we cannot proceed upon any plan which may be proposed for our adoption. Unless you can satisfy the public that you are working upon the best plans, and that every care is taken to insure efficiency, you will never get them to go willingly along with you. Whether the work be done by large Votes, or by other means, we must first of all know from a Commission what we ought to do, and then we must do it. Recollect, however, that meanwhile we are not losing time. Not one work is stopped, and every sixpence that has been voted will be spent. I recently asked a very distinguished engineer officer if I gave him carte blanche what he could do more than he is now doing. His reply was, that the arrangements necessary 699 for getting large bodies of men together would take time; that the building season was nearly gone by; and that, upon the whole, he did not think he could proceed much faster in the present year. We shall take the opinion of the contemplated Commission as soon as possible, and I believe we shall gain time if the country is satisfied, first, that the works are necessary; secondly, that our plans are approved by competent authorities; and thirdly, that it is absolutely indispensable to vote money for their execution. Here I must take exception to some of the words which I find in the Motion of my right hon. Friend. He says that "the expenses of completing the necessary works of national defence should be met by a fund specially provided for that purpose, and independent of the annual Votes of Parliament." I am not sure that the course here recommended is necessary to any well-considered plan for hastening our works of national defence. Certain I am, at all events, that if you expect Parliament to go warmly along with you in your plans, you must not attempt to cheat it out of the money requisite for the execution of your works. You must allow Parliament to exercise its judgment upon each step as it is taken if you wish to obtain its confidence and co-operation. One or two words upon another point and I have done. The right hon. Gentleman has accused us of not giving due encouragement to the volunteer movement, because it is plebeian in its character. Now, I do not wish to cast any blame upon the late Government, with whom the volunteer corps originated; but I must say, that as far as rifle corps are concerned, we have given much more encouragement to volunteers than our predecessors. I believe that at the present moment there are forming several very efficient battalions of volunteers, and certainly, at all events, it never occurred to me to look upon the movement as plebeian and to discourage it upon that ground. On the contrary, as I stated upon a former occasion, what I want to see is a military spirit pervading all classes of the community, but especially the influential and intelligent middle-class. I believe the volunteer corps will effect that object to a large extent, and therefore, if for that alone, I think they ought to be encouraged. Having thus stated unreservedly the opinion I hold upon all the various points mentioned by my right hon. Friend, and endeavoured to satisfy the House that we are not altogether idle, I shall only add that the moment 700 I came into the onerous, difficult, and responsible office I now hold, I turned my attention to this very serious subject. I have been engaged upon it ever since, and the House will probably be glad to hear that the proposed Commission will be issued shortly, and that the gentlemen nominated on it will be set to work as soon as possible thereafter. Whenever the Government are put in possession of their Report they will give their most anxious attention to its subject-matter; and, instead of shelving it, as is too frequently done, they will make it the foundation of immediate and energetic action.
SIR FREDERIC SMITH
said, there were three kinds of defensive fortifications, all different in their character and objects. The first kind consisted of defensive fortifications for our coasts. He believed these were not required under present circumstances to the extent contemplated; and that the construction of them would only be money thrown away. Then there were fortifications for the defence of our arsenals. These were necessary in a limited degree, and he trusted that the Commissioners about to be appointed would recommend such works only as the exigencies of the country might demand. Fortifications of the third class were intended for the internal defence of the kingdom. He believed they were not generally suited to England, although the highest military authority which this country ever possessed, the late Duke of Wellington, thought that works of internal defence, to a limited extent, should be established at such places as Croydon, Brighton, and elsewhere. But if these works were constructed, soldiers must be found to man them, and, therefore, for his own part, he was anxious to see the defences of our dockyards restricted to the smallest possible scale; and if, as he believed, gigantic works were about to be constructed at Devonport, he trusted the Government would well weigh all the circumstances of the case before they embarked the country in an expense of that nature. He was informed that the force requisite to hold the proposed works at Devonport would be between 30,000 and 40,000 men, and he was at a loss to know where such a garrison could be found with our present limited number of troops. Our army upon paper amounted only to 110,000 men, and if 40,000 were abstracted for Devonport, 30,000 for Portsmouth, and large garrisons for Chatham, Sheerness, and other arsenals, it was plain that only 701 a comparatively small number would remain for service in the field. We never could have a large regular army in England, for it was opposed to the feelings of the people; and if we employed our troops in the defence of our coasts in the manner proposed, how should we be able to meet the exigencies of a campaign? We were also going to construct works for the defence of our commercial harbours, but he trusted that their defence would be undertaken by the local residents, because it would be impossible to find regular troops for the purpose. But what he wished to impress upon the Government was the necessity, whatever they might resolve to do in the way of constructing fortifications, of doing it rapidly and effectively. The cost of the works themselves was greatly increased by delay, owing to the additional charge it occasioned in superintendence. He hoped that the Commissioners would be authorized to consider the question whether our defences should be maritime, military, or a combination of both. Great Britain could not be defended by our troops alone, even though aided by our militia and volunteer corps, if, as we had been told, armies of 50,000 men each could be simultaneously landed at three or four different spots, with the view of marching upon London. As an old soldier, he recommended the Government to think seriously of our naval defences, for, after all, we must trust mainly to the wooden walls of old England, and nothing ought to induce us to reduce our navy. We could not depend upon the rapid manning of our navy in case of an emergency, and therefore the Government ought to take care not to disband our sailors. Our force afloat must be kept up and increased, if we wanted to be safe, and he trusted that the Government would think seriously of this, and would be ready to maintain a large and an efficient fleet.
§ Sir CHARLES NAPIER
said, he had listened with great attentien to this debate, and quite agreed as to the absolute necessity of keeping the country in a proper state of defence. He did not think, however, that this end would be attained by spending enormous sums in fortifying our seaport towns. For instance, Portsmouth could only be taken by coup-de-main, and by a fleet running into the harbour, which was too shallow for large ships, and the entrance to which might easily be blocked up by two or three sunken vessels. As to fortifications at the Isle of Wight or in the vicinity of the Needles, they would be of 702 no use. Fortifying Gosport was also of no use, as it would only prevent its being taken by surprise. During the last war, when we had all Europe, and America too, against us, what constituted the defence of this country? Napoleon I. collected 3,000 vessels at Boulogne, and an army of 200,000 or 300,000 men. The English Navy, however, prevented invasion. Thanks to the experience of our officers and sailors, our ships were able to remain in the narrow sea there, and hardly a vessel was lost. It was a great mistake to allow our navy to fall so low, and we had got into the state in which we were, because we had not adopted steam in our navy as soon as we ought. In 1848, when he commanded the Channel squadron, the first line-of-battle ship—the Blenheim—which was even fitted with a screw, was under his command, and though she was a very inferior ship, on the very first day she joined, she went to windward of the whole fleet. This success was reported to the Admiralty, but they did not go at once as they ought to have done. Three other ships, which were afterwards fitted with screws, were found to answer as well as the Blenheim. Why did not the Admiralty go on further and with better ships. After the expedition to the Baltic in 1854, the French had only one screw ship of the line, but now they had got thirty-three. The House must always remember, however, that we wanted not ships alone, but men. Now, a lamentable blunder was committed after the Russian war in paying off our ships and in getting rid of the sailors whom we then had at our command. It was said that the French would reduce their naval force, but what would really be done? The seamen would be discharged into their barracks, and this would be called reducing their fleet. These sailors could be called out immediately; they would go on board their respective ships with their officers all told off to their different stations; and in the course of forty-eight hours their ships would be just as complete as the day they were paid off. It had been stated that in France the number of sailors registered between 20 and 40 years of age was 50,000; and that, adding to those the men who were recruiting and marines, there would be a force of somewhere about 90,000, if France wore called upon to embark in a naval war. The fact that Franco had but few colonies to defend would be a great advantage to her in such a war, and French officers advised not defensive action upon 703 their own shores alone, but that a vigorous attempt should he made to strike a blow at our coast. We were told, and the country believed, that we had now twenty-six sail of the line fully manned, and fit for any service. That was not the case. There were in the Mediterranean 14 sail-of-the-line and no more. These ships were newly and imperfectly manned, and our officers there were without any practice whatever. Well, instead of 12 sail-of-the-line as a Channel fleet, we had at the preset moment only seven, and he did not believe that fleet had been one month at sea all the time it had been in existence. Now, that was not the way to give our officers and men experience. Small matters of drill might perhaps be taught in harbour, but the crew could not be thoroughly disciplined there; and if at this moment the Channel Fleet were told to get under weigh at St. Helen's Head, and proceed to Portland roads, and anchor within a cable's length of one another, he believed they would have to get their steam up to enable them to do so. The officers and men were not to blame for this; it was the Admiralty, who did not give them proper opportunities of exercising. On the other hand, the French were kept constantly at work; their squadrons were always at sea in the Mediterranean; in the war just concluded they had carried an enormous number of troops between Marseilles and Genoa; while they had always great practice in embarking and disembarking troops between Toulon and Algiers. He considered it a disgrace to the Government of the country and to the successive Boards of Admiralty that the British fleet should be in such a state as it now was, and that it was not efficiently manned, notwithstanding the stimulus of a large bounty had been offered to those who would consent to enter the service. He was the more strongly of that opinion when he took into account the great necessity that existed that we should have an efficient naval force, for he was one of those who was prepared to say with Mr. Tierney, "Give me a full exchequer and a well-manned fleet and I will defy the world." If we had such a fleet it would not be requisite that we should lay out so much money as was contemplated upon the erection of fortifications, some of which would not, it appeared, be completed for a period of five or six years, while the Emperor of the French might meantime attack us, choosing those points on our shores—as he very naturally would—at which there were 704 no fortifications to interfere with the landing of his troops. The House might rest assured that our best protection against such an invasion was to maintain our superiority at sea, and if that superiority were not maintained we might depend upon it that the country would not be worth six days' purchase. He had no hesitation in making that statement, for all that France need do would be to lay an embargo on all her steam vessels to transport troops across the Channel, and when it was taken into account what an enormous military force she possessed, he should like to know, if our comparatively small army could make a successful resistance against its encroachments? Besides, if we were to lose our superiority, and the French were to succeed in beating us in one naval action, our prestige would be gone and the whole country would become dispirited. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] Hon. Members might cry "Oh, oh!" but he spoke from experience, and he should, therefore, strongly advise the Government to take every means in their power to render our fleet efficient. It was his belief that England stood more in need of adequate means of defence at the present moment than at any former time. France had made peace. The Emperor of the French had just gained greater victories than even his celebrated uncle had achieved. He had, not having been educated as a soldier, performed extraordinary feats, and he (Sir Charles Napier) believed in his conscience that if he found us asleep he would not hesitate to make the attempt to add to his other enterprises the invasion of this country. For those reasons he implored of the Government to be upon their guard, and when France talked of disarming her navy, he hoped that England would be satisfied with nothing less than dismantling, as well as unmanning her ships.
§ MR. COBDEN
Sir, I do not pretend to enter on this discussion with the object of attempting to throw any light in a technical point of view on the question at issue. I may, however, observe that the remarks which have been made in the course of the speeches to which I have just listened convince me that we have arrived at a stage in this matter of our defences at which it is quite clear that the old appliances and the remedies which we seek to apply are no longer of use. We have been asked to vote this year for this purpose no less than £26,000,000 sterling; £12,500,000 of that sum, or nearly twice the amount which was voted for a similar object when I first 705 entered this House, being to defray the cost of our navy. I may add that we are called upon this year to vote nearly three times as much for the navy as was the case in 1835 when the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel were at the head of affairs. Yet, notwithstanding all this, my right hon. Friend near me (Mr. Horsman) comes forward and says we do not possess even a minimum establishment. He contends that we must set every dockyard, public and private, at work, while the gallant Admiral who has just spoken is of opinion that the same course should be pursued with regard to every man in the country. It is quite evident, therefore, that no sums which we are now voting are likely to bring us to a satisfactory result in reference to this subject, and it is with the object of asking hon. Members to consider whether there is not another view of it which might more properly be taken that I have risen to address them on the present occasion. I should like to know whether we have not been in a state of panic and alarm with respect to the point under discussion, and whether we have not, while under the influence of some hallucination as to the supposed danger which besets us, exaggerated and mistaken the evil with which we have to deal? I have for some time been out of the range of Blue-books, and it is only two days ago that I stumbled by accident on a paper which was originally prepared for the private information of Government, and which gives a description of the relative strength of the English and French Navies. Now, I read that paper, but I must confess I should have done so with some incredulity, had I not within my recollection an incident which occurred seven years ago, and but for which I should hardly have dared to quote such a document after what we have lately heard in reference to the awful warlike preparations which are being made in France. At the period to which I allude a panic prevailed with respect to a French invasion to as great, if not to a greater extent than at the present moment. I recollect, indeed, having laid a wager at the time with a general officer on the subject, who now pays ten guineas a year to the Manchester Infirmary as the penalty of having lost. I was unable then to procure that information from our own Government which I desired with reference to the relative naval resources of France and of this country. The consequence was that I wrote to France myself at the end of 1852, and got 706 from the French Government a statement of their naval budget for that year. I placed it in the hands of gentlemen who had control over some influential organs of the press, one of whom now sits in this House, and is the representative of a journal of great power in the north of England. Those gentlemen made use of it honestly, and endeavoured to stem, so far as they could, the torrent of alarm which had spread throughout the land. I recollect my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Ewart) wrote at the same time to the French Minister of Marine, M. Ducos, and the answer he got, and which was published in the papers, was, that the French Government had not added one boat to their marine or one gun to their ships, Having the recollection of those facts, it has helped me to a belief in this document. My right hon. Friend below me talks of gigantic preparations for the invasion of a gigantic naval Power. What does this document say? The only way we can treat this fever is to come back to the statistics of the matter, and try if we can treat them without going into a fit. I have had an opportunity of reading this document over with friends acquainted with nautical affairs. It is a document published by our own Government, drawn up by a Committee of their most confidential servants, and intended for their own information. It gives a comparision of the state of the two navies, what they were in 1852 and what they are now. If the House will be a little calm I will endeavour to soothe the apprehensions even of the gallant admiral. It is admitted that the French have a superiority in steam frigates. We have a considerable superiority in screw line-of-battle ships. [Sir CHARLES NAPIER: "No, no!"] That is, the number of our screw line-of-battle ships built and building, against the French built and building, give us a superiority of ten or fifteen, and that does not include the block ships, which my friends tell me are as good as French line-of-battle ships. But leave that out of the question. They are about ten inferior to us in screw line-of-battle ships, and in frigates they are superior. Mark the fallacy of this comparison. You leave out of the computation the rest of the navy; you leave out sloops and corvettes, which, according to the wisest authorities, are the most powerful and the most valuable of all vessels of war. America is only building that description of vessel. I will show you what the comparison is:—In 1852 the 707 English had 176 steamers; in 1858 we have 464, being an increase of 288. In 1852 the French had 122 steamers; in 1858 they have 264, being an increase of 142, against our increase of 288, or just double. In 1852 the English had of sailing vessels 299; in 1858 we have 296, being a decrease of 3. In 1852 the French had of sailing vessels 258; in 1858 they have 144, being a decrease of 114. So that while the French have diminished their sailing vessels 114, we have diminished ours only 3. And here I may remark that that arose from this circumstance. This vast increase of the French has arisen from the conversion of sailing vessels into steamers. We have been going through the same process with our sailing vessels, but we have been building sailing vessels at the same time; so that while by converting some, as the French have done, we have up to within three the same number as in 1852. The French have not been building sailing vessels, and therefore their decrease of sailing vessels is 114. Take the whole force of sailing vessels and steamers in 1852 and now. The English had of steam and sailing vessels in 1852, 475; in 1858, 760, showing an increase of 285. The French had of steam and sailing vessels in 1852, 380; in 1858, 408, showing an increase of 28. This is the great increase of the French navy of which hon. Members have been speaking. They have 28 more vessels, and the increase of the English fleet in the same time is 285 vessels. I am at the present moment doubting whether I must not have made a mistake, and I ask for corroboration from those who have had more time than I have had to give to the investigation. But if this be true that we have 760 English ships of war against 408 French ships of war—if we have increased by 285 vessels since 1852 against the increase of the French of 28, what becomes of these gigantic preparations of this gigantic naval Power with which the right hon. Gentleman below me is so horrified? I alluded to what I must term the uncandid omission in the comparison of our forces of these corvettes and smaller vessels of war. I am going to make a remark which I should not make on my own authority; but I am very apt to learn from those who know better than myself, and I am told by the wisest heads here and in America that those large line-of-battle ships, upon which we are pluming ourselves as our sole defence, in ease of war would be found mere 708 slaughter-houses I know that that opinion is acted upon in America, where there is only one line-of-battle ship, and the fleet is exclusively made up of long low corvettes, which are equal they say to the old seventy-fours. But the argument which I heard was this:—If you put 1,000 men in a line-of-battle ship with thirty or forty tons of gun-powder under them, and expose the vessel to missiles from these improved guns, you are only offering a huge wooden target, which may the more easily be destroyed by smaller vessels. I may be right or I may be wrong, but this is corroberated by a paper in the report to which I have alluded, in which the opinion is expressed that no more ships of the line will be built, and that in ten years that class of vessels will have become obsolete. That brings me to the point to which I wish to call attention, and it is this:—In the present rapid process of discovery and improvement in both gunnery and the building of ships is it not quite apparent that we are going to be subjected to a great and constant increase of expenditure in the substitution of one kind of gun for another, and of one kind of ship for another? It seems to me that this is a novel state of things which ought to act as a caution to hon. Gentlemen how they needlessly increase expense in any kind of armament, because they are totally different to what they were twenty years ago. I sat upon a Committee twelve years ago, and then there were no screw line-of-battle ships. We were only just dispensing with the old carronades with which Nelson won his victories. It was thought that 32-pounders were the ne plus ultra of armaments, and paddle-wheel steamers the most perfect of war vessels. Twelve years have passed; sailing vessels have almost disappeared; paddle-wheel steamers are going, and 32-pounders are no longer valued—nothing less than 64 or 98-pounders carrying hollow shot and shell. The whole thing is completely metamorphosed. The Secretary of War tells us that we shall have 50 line-of-battle ships before the end of the year; but let us remember that the wisest heads are of opinion that in case of war it is better to put men and guns in anything but line-of-battle ships, and the impression is gaining ground amongst yourselves that you ought to adopt a lower and longer class of ships. You have improvements in gunnery so that you can throw shell horizontally three or four miles. If you strike a ship with a shell it will blow 709 it to atoms, and it stands to reason that it is better to have small vessels than large marks for shot and shell, with 1,000 men in them and 30 or 40 tons of gunpowder. Do you suppose that in 1859 you have got to the end of discoveries? It is only just now that men of science are directing their attention to these things, and I see by the last American papers that they are making trial of a rifled cannon which will supersede the Armstrong gun—carrying twice the distance with the same charge of gunpowder. There is no reason why you should not adopt new inventions, but there is great reason why you should not have a larger stock on hand than you can help, because new inventions are constantly being superseded by others, and you have to throw away large sums by keeping up immense armaments, which presently you will have to change for something different. Then comes the question, as you are not nearer a removal of these alarms by your armaments, is there no other way, no other remedy for the evil? Cannot reason and common sense he brought to bear upon this matter, as upon other evils and troubles in the world. Whom are you afraid of? Is it France? No one can say that there is anything to fear from America, or Spain, or Holland, and I should think I might add Russia at present, after having destroyed so recently her fleet in the Black Sea, and limited her future armaments in that quarter. You cannot read a newspaper but you find that it is France only who is the cause of alarm. I have read some documents to show that you are unnecessarily alarmed with regard to France? Is our Government in friendly relations with France? Have not we heard from my noble Friend at the head of the Government and from the noble Lord the Member for the city of London that they have the most perfect confidence in the loyalty, the good faith, and the fidelity of the Emperor of the French? Well, is that true or not? The country does not believe it is true, that is certain, and the reason is this—because while the Government tell us that they have confidence in the Emperor of the French, they present us with a bill of £4,000,000, or £5,000,000 for an increase of our armaments; and everybody understands that that increase of armaments is to protect us against the Emperor of the French. Now I cannot imagine anything more dangerous than this state of things. I have come to the conclusion for the first time that we are in very great danger of 710 a war with France. I have heard an altered tone since I have returned to public life, which is not long ago, and since I have had an opportunity of mixing with politicians. I have heard persons say, "We had better fight it out, and destroy the French Navy." And they argue very intelligibly, for it must come to that in the end, because if we go on at this rate every year increasing our armaments when there is no intelligible ground of quarrel, and when the Government tell us they have perfect confidence in the French Emperor—if we go on increasing the expenditure for our armaments by £5,000,000, for which we shall have to pay 4d. in the pound income tax, and we shall have to pay it all in October—if this is to go on, and there is no quarrel between us, what is ever to put an end to it? What has happened this year must happen next year if no explanation is to be made between the two countries, and people will very naturally come to this conclusion—"If we are to go on in this way, we had better fight it out." Now, I should be very sorry for one moment to lose sight of the question of humanity in considering this matter, but, apart from the question of humanity and the life and blood of human beings, there is no logical answer to that, and everybody who considers the subject must feel that quite as strongly as I do. I say we are now drifting towards that state of things in which the English people will be reconciled to the necessity and even the inevitableness of a war with France. As to the responsibility for this state of things, I do not say that this or that Government, or that either Government alone, is responsible, but I say that both these Governments are responsible, because, while they profess to be in friendship and amity with each other, and hold most confidential communications with each other, they have been increasing their respective forces to go to war with each other. While the Courts of these countries have been holding most intimate and friendly intercourse—under a former reign they embraced in bathing-machines—while the French Court has been received with courtesy and honours at Windsor—while all this has been going on I say the Governments at the same time have been preparing for the outbreak of war, and have never shown the slightest confidence in each other. This has degraded the policy of the Governments in the sight of the world. It is degrading to the policy of 711 civilized and enlightened States, and below the conduct which the Red Indians pursue in the woods; for when they have waged battle with each other they bury the hatchet and smoke the pipe of peace, and do not insult and menace each other. We on the contrary say that we must make constant preparations for war, and must constantly be prepared for a sudden attack, while the mouths of the Ministers of England and France are filled with expressions of confidence in and adulation of each other. I cannot excuse my hon. Friend (Mr. Hors-man), who is here, and who fell into the same error. My hon. Friend said a great deal about the intentions of the French Emperor. If I had believed them I should not have paid the French Emperor the same compliments. But, accepting things as they are, we are just now in that predicament in which I dread a separation of Parliament; because I know that when Parliament is not sitting the organs of public opinion, that are not always quite as peaceable as we are in this House, will be left in possession of the field, and will have a better opportunity of exciting a hostile feeling between the two countries. I am more afraid of the recess than of the time in which Parliament is sitting. I am anxious, therefore, that this House should, if possible, give expression to a different state of feeling and other views than those which I have seen prevailing out of doors for some time upon this subject. Now, is it impossible, among the other friendly communications that are passing between these two Governments, that they should exchange a word of explanation with each other upon the subject of these armaments? Has my noble Friend at the head of the Government, has my noble Friend the Member for the City of London, has the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli), has the Earl of Derby ever exchanged a single word in explanation with the French Government with regard to its preparations for war? Now, don't let me be told that we have not been preparing as against France. Everybody knows that it has been against France, and against no one else. Why, look at our facetious weekly paper that comes out to-day. It represents John Bull complaining of the heavy extra insurance he has to pay for his house against fire, because his next neighbour—and you cannot mistake who that neighbour is—is very fond of fireworks. Why, you cannot deny it. Look at your organs of opinion from the highest 712 to the lowest, look at the Edinburgh Review, look at the Quarterly Review, look at every newspaper, from The Times downwards! Look at the provincial newspaper press—are they not occupying themselves at this moment with fears and threats of invasion? Why, as I came to the House this day, I was struck with a communication from "our own correspondent" in Paris. I cut it out, and here it is. This is the very latest morceau:—At Toulon, notwithstanding the peace, applications for leave of absence are refused, and the men-of-war in harbour are armed with picked crews. Tomahawks and boarding pikes are being distributed among the ships in harbour, but principally on board the Villa de Paris. A war with England is, of course, looked upon as imminent from those ominous preparations.The only omission is, that they did not distribute scalping knives as well as tomahawks among those ships. These are the raw-head and bloody-bone stories that are told to us from day to day. Are we to fall into false security, and say on the faith of an old Latin proverb, that if we wish to have peace we must be prepared for war? In our time, at least, we have seen the delusion of that old saw, and that one of the surest ways of bringing about a war is to make great warlike preparations. Has not that lately been the case with this country and with Russia, Austria, and France? Have they not all been engaged in war of late years, and is not the reason for that to be found in their enormous standing armaments. I perceive by an elaborate article in the Edinburgh Review that we have a fleet now which in its tonnage and in the weight of metal that can be thrown by its guns exceeds that of 1809, when we were at the very height of our war armaments in the great French war. Well, with this navy don't you think there is some danger of our falling into that which the Earl of Aberdeen described as a desire to test the efficiency of our great warlike preparations? What is so likely as that something may occur in Egypt or somewhere else that may afford us an opportunity for a test of that sort, and that we may find ourselves in that condition of which we had scarcely dreamt—that of being plunged into a war with our next neighbour? Now, I say, can nothing be done to prevent this? Does it not lie with this country as well as with France to prevent it. I ask you what proof you have that France intends to invade you? I ask you what warrant you have for entertaining these suspicions of the 713 French Emperor and of the French Government. It is not, you say, for attack, but for defence against invasion that you are preparing. Englishmen never before felt this panic about invasion. I have never read in English history that Englishmen were alarmed about invasion. Do not Englishmen perceive the insult to France involved in this panic? What should we ourselves think, if the French were constantly assuming that Englishmen, without any ground of quarrel, and without notice, would invade France? Is there not some blame to be attached to us? I shall probably be answered that the Emperor of the French has shown himself unscrupulous in attacking a neighbouring military Power. Well, I can only say this, that I should be the very last man to wish to see any two neighbouring countries at war for any object, because I think there is nothing rational that could not be achieved without war. But it must not be forgotten that the whole opinion of the world was in favour of the French in the war against Austria on that occasion, and that the Austrian Government—though I do not like to speak disrespectfully of any foreign Government—in Italy has been regarded as a source of danger, a terrible infliction, and a constant nuisance to Europe ever since it was established there. But to give help to a discontented population against the oppression of a foreign Power is a very different thing from attacking us. Why the French have as much reason to fear an invasion by us as we have to fear an invasion by them. We stand at the head of the list of the customers of France. France exports more to this country than to any other country in the world. We stand at the head of her list of customers. We fear sometimes that the French may come over here and rob the Bank of England. Why, generally speaking, there is a great deal more specie in the Bank of France than in the Bank of England. I believe that there is more jewellery in France than in England, because they like that sort of thing more than we do. We put more capital in steam engines. But nothing is so ridiculous, when you come to think of it, as to say that a country that abounds in so much wealth and that stands at the very head of civilization—for it gives the fashion to all civilized nations from St. Petersburg to New York—is suddenly to fall from the rank of a civilized country and descend to the grade of a mere Filibuster, and attack us without 714 notice. Now, am I to be told that I am one of those peacemen that are rushing with their eyes shut into danger? Why, are not those people more fanatical than I, who overlook all these obvious grounds for peace on the part of France, and consider that France is going to act precisely as if she had none of these obligations to keep peace? What is our conduct with regard to our own armaments? Are you sure that France has been the provoking cause of these great armaments? I have been mixed up with this question of French invasion longer than any hon. Gentleman here. For the last fifteen years I have endeavoured to bring about a reduction of the armaments of the two countries. I have kept a careful watch over this subject, and I am by no means prepared to admit that France has led to the great increase in our armaments; on the contrary, I believe that if you will investigate the matter you will find that by our increased expenditure upon our fortifications and in our dockyards we have always taken the lead in all the increase of armaments that has taken place. There was a Vote of £1,500,000 for docks for the steam navy at Keyham, which I opposed, and I well remember that the result of that estimate was that it was proposed in the report of the French Minister of Marine that similar works should be instituted at Cherbourg and Brest. In 1851 I moved an Address to the Crown, which was so reasonable that the then head of the Government met by moving the previous question, for he could not venture to meet it by a direct negative. I moved an Address that the Government of this country should enter into communication with the Government of France to try if we could not stop this rivalry of military preparations, and if possible to effect a reduction in armaments. I brought forward evidence to show that France was arming in consequence of what England was doing. I brought forward quotations from the speeches of the Minister of Marine that the French Government were increasing their navy because we were increasing ours. Suppose the Government of this country entered into explanations with the Government of France. Would not those explanations be likely, without compromising our honour or dignity in any way, to lead to a cessation of these armaments, and thus put a stop to this absurd rivalry? France has a large extent of coast which entitles her to maintain a large navy, but it does not follow that France desires to 715 have as large a navy as you. I say that France ought not to have as large a navy as England. Nay, I go further, and say that if I saw a disposition on the part of France to have as large a navy as England, and especially if I saw a disposition not to yield to the offer of an explanation, I should suspect France of having a sinister purpose in those armaments, and, if it came to a question of rivalry after that offer of explanation had been made, I would as cheerfully vote £100,000,000 sterling as I would vote £5,000,000 under the present system, and for this reason,—and it is a reason to which I am sure the French would yield if it were properly put to them—that England has no frontier but the sea, and has, unfortunately, forty or fifty colonies which have no defence except her navy. England has five times the mercantile navy of France, and this gives her the right to have a larger navy than France, while France, as a military Power, requires to have a large army to guard her frontier against the other great military Powers. It is impossible that France should not yield to such reasonable arguments as these. I very well remember that M. Thiers, M. Lamartine, and other great authorities before the present dynasty, distinctly laid it down that France had no occasion to have as large a navy as England. I quoted on a former occasion a speech of M. Thiers, who said that when France was deciding upon her army she looked to the force of Austria and Prussia, but when she considered what naval force she ought to keep up she looked only to Plymouth and Portsmouth. But he added that France had no pretensions to keep up so large a navy as England. I remember also an expression which was used by him, or by some other statesman of the same class, to this effect—that it is right that some power in Europe should have a considerable navy to prevent any one power exercising a despotism on the sea. But they never pretended, and I do not believe they pretend now, to have the same naval force that England keeps, and has a right to keep. Now, if some explanation of this sort had been offered and accepted in a cordial spirit, I ask another question—why are we not to have a reduction of the navy in the same way that we had an increase of it? I have been alarmed at what has recently occurred, and so have been the quiet and influential people with fixed incomes, who find they are to have 4d. in the pound deducted next October. These 716 people with fixed incomes are liable to be severely affected by the high price of provisions, and they will begin to ask how is this? They find you have increased your navy upwards of £4,000,000 in one year. My hon. Friend, who is well acquainted with the navy, says that before the Bill is paid the increase will be nearly £5,000,000. You have increased your navy to that extent on the understanding that there is some risk or danger from a neighbouring Power. But if you have amicable explanations with that Power, if you are satisfied that the Government of France has no disposition to rival you with your armaments, but is disposed to agree to a proportionable reduction of them, why should not the tax-payers of this country be relieved from their burdens, seeing that the ground for this rivalry no longer exists? Do not let me be misunderstood, because the great difficulty in these controversies is, that you do not accept your opponent's definitions, and agree to common premisses. I do not say that you should have a disarmament, as that word is commonly understood. I do not want it, and I do not want to reduce our navy to the same amount as that of France. But let it be assumed that both Governments agree to some proportion; that, for instance, the French navy should only be two-thirds of ours, that where they have two ships we should have three,—and we have that proportion already. I do not say it is necessary that such an understanding should be in writing for the Governments might agree to that as they agree to more important things without putting it in writing. Are we to consider that £26,000,000 a year is to be our normal state of taxation for military and naval armaments? I think it will be found that unless cause can be shown, the country will not tolerate a continuance of that expenditure. But, I ask again, why should not the attempt be made to reduce it? Where is the insuperable obstacle to a better understanding between these countries, when you have, as you say, such confidence in the loyalty and friendliness of the Government of France? You ought to look a little to what other countries are doing that are not within our political circle in Europe. It ought not to be without its bearing upon this country that there is a great and growing country which keeps aloof from the politics of Europe and thus avoids the expense of these enormous armaments. What effect can it have, except to our disadvantage, to go on maintaining 717 the armaments of a state of war in a time of peace? What will be the effect of your rivalry with the United States? In proportion as you burden the people of this country with unnecessary taxation you have an increased difficulty in competing with that Transatlantic community. One result will be that you will offer constantly increasing inducements to the people of this country to emigrate. That is not a thing which is desirable. Is it desirable, then, that you should keep up this unnatural state of war in a time of peace? It has been said that we are, and ought to be, a military power. But have we prospered by being a military power? Was it not formerly our boast that we were not a military power, and shall we be improved by importing among us the habits of military communities? Look at the effect in increasing the already too great disparity of the sexes. If you take away your able-bodied men for the navy, if you lock them up in barracks, while emigration is at the same time going on, the disparity will increase. By the last Census you had 500,000 more women than men, and if this state of things goes on, by the next Census the number will be increased, I fear, to 1,000,000. That is neither desirable nor natural, but that is the state of things which will go on if you increase your military establishments at this rate. Is anybody benefited by this rivalry and this enormous expenditure? Who are they who have not a greater stake in the prosperity of the country than in any benefit that any member of their family can derive from the extent of these establishments? That is the only patriotic and sound view, for we have all an interest in keeping down these naval and military establishments. I would submit to these evils when they are necessary, but for Heaven's sake do not impose them on the people a moment longer than you can by reason, argument, and justice remove them from among us.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
Sir, I am desirous, before this discussion closes, to offer some few observations to the House, and I wish particularly to notice some portions of the speech of the hon. Member for Rochdale. In the early part of his speech the hon. Member instituted a comparison of the state of the English and French Navies, but in that statement he made an omission—no doubt unintentionally—which goes very far to destroy the value and importance of the statement he made. 718 The hon. Gentleman entered into a comparison between the actual strength of the English and French Navies, in order to show the total amount of the screw steam vessels in both navies, and he inferred that the English Navy was stronger than the French Navy in the ratio of that difference. But the hon. Gentleman omitted the fact that in that apparent superiority of strength on the part of the English Navy 160 of those vessels are gunboats, and therefore vessels, as every hon. Gentleman knows, of extremely small size, carrying only one or at most two or three guns each. No doubt they are important vessels for the purposes of home defence, for acting on our shores or in our harbours, and so far they constitute an important portion of our naval strength; but when the hon. Gentleman enters into a positive comparison of the two navies, and founds his comparison on the numbers of vessels in each, I think he was bound to state that 1G0, which is a large number, are small vessels of this description. The hon. Gentleman also commented much on what he called the impolicy, as I understood, of persevering in the construction of line-of-battle ships, and he founded his opinion on his recent experience of the United States, where he says they have entirely abandoned the construction of large ships of that calibre, and have discovered that heavy corvettes are more valuable for the purposes of war. No doubt there is much truth in the hon. Gentleman's speech, but I may be allowed to remind him that we have been told by the Secretary for War that we are living in a time of most rapid improvement and change in the means and appliances of war, and the hon. Gentleman I think could hardly contend that in the general rapidity of improvement a great nation like England is to stand still merely because it is uncertain what the next great change will be. It is impossible for any great nation to do that; we must protect our interests and establish our armament as best we may in reference to existing circumstances; and I say that in the existing state of things it would be the height of impolicy, the height of imprudence, for England to allow other nations to go ahead in the construction of line of-battle ships, and leave us in an inferior position to that of other nations in reference to that important armament. It may be possible that in the course of years that class of ships may be less in vogue than at present; the late Board of Admiralty had considered the whole ques- 719 tion—and I hope that the present Board will adopt their policy—but it is necessary to establish the undoubted and unquestionable superiority of England, and having once attained the number of ships which would place us in a position of superiority, it was our intention to suspend the further construction of line-of-battle ships until the experience of these heavy iron-clad corvettes and other improvements in naval architecture had been obtained. The hon. Member for Rochdale also alluded in terms of complaint to what he calls the great panic which exists in this country in regard to France. He spoke of the panic which existed seven years ago, and complained of that which exists now. Does the hon. Gentleman mean to argue that because there might be an undue alarm in the public mind with respect to the possible invasion of this country by France, we ought to suspend our preparations, trust entirely to amicable arrangements with France, and take no measures for the defence of the country? I trust that is not the view of the hon. Gentleman; and from one passage in his speech, which I heard with great pleasure, I am disposed to think he is not of that opinion. I understood the hon. Gentleman to say that if he were once satisfied that the French intended to invade us, and were not disposed to enter into the amicable arrangements which he contemplated, he would be willing to vote £100,000,000 to place this country in a proper state of defence. I heard that statement with sincere pleasure. I do not think the hon. Gentleman can entertain any other sentiment, and I believe the country generally will readily adopt the same liberal view, should circumstances ever render it necessary. There is no one less disposed than I am to say a word that might induce a feeling of anything like panic; but in discussing a question of this kind, which has been so ably brought before us by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stroud, I think it unwise to look only to the French or to any one country in particular. It was said with great wisdom by the Prime Minister that there are other countries to be considered besides France; and I think that it would be the wisest course to look at the question not as a comparative question with relation to France and Russia, but as a positive question, in which we recognize the absolute duty imposed upon the nation to take care that its means of defence are in the state they ought to be, having due regard always to the 720 degree of preparation in countries abroad. It has been said by the Secretary for War that we are engaged in these efforts, not from jealousy of France or any other country, but in order to make up a long arrear of neglect. No doubt that is so. At the end of the last great European war we fell into a state of false security. We thought the world would be at peace for ever, and we allowed our preparations for a state of war to cease. As has been truly observed, we have been living on our capital, and now we must incur the cost of raising those means of defence which in common prudence we ought not to have neglected for a day. I repeat what has been said by the hon. Gentleman, that the policy of this country is essentially a policy of peace. We have no idea of aggression against any country; we desire peace, and, above all, to cultivate amicable relations with France. The happiness of both countries, and, indeed, of Europe, depends upon those friendly relations being maintained, but that is no reason why we are to neglect those precautions which every great nation ought to take to preserve its position among the other nations in the world. One point has been made an illustration by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stroud as to the necessity of some broad and intelligent policy being adopted by the Government. I allude to the case of Portland. What has been done there? We have established a large naval harbour, to which our fleets are constantly resorting, and we are told by the Minister of War that that noble harbour is absolutely without defence, and not only that, but that if the Votes of money for our naval defences go on at their present rates, it will take twenty years before that harbour will be put in a proper position of defence. On the whole, I heard the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of War with great satisfaction. I thought he put the tone and spirit of the speech of my right hon. Friend in the fairest possible manner. The right hon. Gentleman made a statement with regard to the coming year which was a very satisfactory statement—namely, that the arrangements of the year with regard to the important point of continuing the construction of our fortresses for the defence of our arsenals and harbours were so good that if more money were granted for that purpose it would be difficult to spend it. I understood that to be the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, and so far it was satisfactory. I do not, however, think the right hon. Gentle- 721 man caught up the spirit and understood the scope of the Motion of my right hon. Friend, for he did not give us any information as to what the policy of England would be the following year with regard both to the important matter of continuing our land fortifications or the defence of our arsenals. I am desirous of taking this opportunity of directing the attention of the House to the coming year, and I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman was not able to state more distinctly than he did his concurrence with the principle of making the continuance and the construction of fortifications a separate charge on the State. Are we to go on year after year spending money in such driblets that it is to take twenty years to put one port, and that the most important, into a firm position of defence? I should like to hear the Government tell us whether they think the spirit of my right hon. Friend's Motion is wise and prudent or not. I confess that I agree with him in thinking that it is not prudent to go on spending our money in driblets for these important objects, and that the sooner the great objects we have in view are accomplished the better. I cannot conclude these observations without applying the same principles to the improvement and strengthening of our navy. Before Parliament meet again the Government will have to consider and prepare the Estimates for the following year. I hope the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty will give his attention to our naval establishments; and I anxiously hope that on this subject Government will not be content with resting where we are. The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Cobden) is quite mistaken, in my opinion, if he thinks that the Navy of England is now in that state which it ought to be. When I brought forward the Navy Estimates for the present year, on the part of the late Government, I distinctly stated that though the Vote I then proposed was a large one, it was not, in my opinion, sufficient, and that the same scale of expenditure ought to be extended over another year. The opinion of the late Government was, that to place the Navy of England in that state in which it ought to be would require a sum of not less than from £2,500,000 to £3,000,000 more. The proposal I made was to spend an additional sum of £1,300,000, and in addition to that there was a Supplemental Estimate, which was afterwards moved by the noble Lord opposite, of about £400,000 for the prepara- 722 tion of sloops and smaller vessels of war, to be built in private yards. So that the whole extra expenditure on the navy for the present year is between £1,700,000 and £1,800,000, and I believe it will be necessary, in order to place this country in the position in which it ought to be, that the Government should next year be prepared to spend an extra million more. I hope, both with regard to the fortification of our arsenals and the strengthening of our Navy, that the Government will not forget the necessity of carrying them into effect as rapidly as possible.
§ LORD CLARENCE PAGET
said, he would not have risen had he not thought it necessary to correct one or two small errors in the able statement of the hon. Member for Rochdale. The hon. Gentleman had rather run away with the idea that we were stronger in ships and the French weaker than was generally supposed. He had better show to the House what the French actually had in vessels. The French had got in commission 20 screw line-of-battle ships; but they had got besides what they called reserve ships. These reserve ships, 12 in number, though not in commission, might be put to sea in a very few days' time. The latest information showed that notwithstanding the large force at sea, there were 3,000 sailors in the barracks at Brest, and that the ships to which these sailors belonged were ready in the port of Brest, so that he should be deceiving the House if he were to lead them to believe that these reserve ships were not actually ready for service if they were wanted. The actual state of the French Navy, then, should war unfortunately arise, was, that they had 20 line-of-battle ships in actual commission, and 12-in reserve, making in all 32 line-of-battle ships, which, to all intents and purposes, might be said to be in commission. Compare this state of things with that which existed in this country, and it would be found that instead of our having one third more ships than France—the proportion which the hon. Member himself allowed—we had only 26 sail of the line in commission. In addition to these we had nine blockships, which though not strictly speaking line-of-battle ships, could yet be made of great service. Putting these two together it would be found that in regard to large ships France and this country stood nearly equal. With respect to frigates, he would not deceive the House—the French were stronger than we were. He did not mean to create any alarm, but it was only 723 fair that the House should know the truth. Besides France there was another nation that had made much progress in naval force, and that was Russia. We had very late accounts from Russia, from which it appeared that that Power had now eight screw ships of the line, six screw frigates, nine paddle frigates, four corvettes, seventy-five gunboats, and eighteen small steamers. That of itself was a very respectable force. Under these circumstances he thought it would be wise in us, without adopting the proposal of the right hon. Baronet, to add a million or two to the Estimates each year, to steer a middle course between that recommendation and the course advised by the hon. Member for Rochdale, and not to diminish our efforts for the strengthening of our own navy.
§ MR. BENTINCK
said, he was quite willing to admit the ability of the speech of the hon. Member for Rochdale, but he must express his surprise and astonishment that so much ability and ingenuity should be wasted on positions so untenable. In alluding to the comparison made between the Navies of France and England the noble Lord opposite had omitted to correct one error which was too commonly entertained. It was thought in many quarters that if we could only show on paper a numerical superiority of ships we had done all that was necessary. Now, the real truth was that the comparison ought to be made, not between the ships, but the facilities of manning them; and unless a system could be established by which our ships could be rapidly and efficiently manned all our other preparations would be only so much money wasted. He should be glad to hear some clear and precise information from Her Majesty's Government on this all-important question. He had listened with the greatest pleasure to the able speech of the right hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Horsman), and quite concurred in the view he took of our position in relation to other countries; and he hoped the House would support his Motion. He hoped they should hear a declaration from Her Majesty's Government that they were determined, whatever other countries might do, to place this country in such a state of defence that an invasion of our shores would cease to be matter of speculation. When they reflected what effects the occupation of the smallest portion of the soil of England would have, it seemed madness not at once to take those steps which were necessary for the honour and safety of the country.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that no one could fail to respect the advocate of peace. He feared, however, that the effect of the speech which had been delivered that night by the hon. Member for Rochdale, and of the course he indicated, if pursued, might be to excite in the country a discontent with taxation which would impede the efforts of that House to provide properly for the defence of the country. The hon. Member for Rochdale was a man of a fixed idea. He could not believe that any feelings or passions unconnected with commerce, permanently or even frequently, actuated mankind and nations; he seemed to forget that England had for her neighbour a most chivalrous nation, but a nation whose passion was military glory. The exaggeration of this feeling on the part of our neighbours across the Channel was a misfortune to this country, for which the hon. Member made no allowance. He made no allowance for the fact that any explanations which the Sovereign of France might give to-day might, in a year, be annulled by the popular voice. Of what practical use was it to refer to declarations made by M. Thiers and M. Lamartine, they were now both politically dead, no one could say how soon the present Emperor might be so too. The chief object of this Motion was to induce the Chancellor of the Exchequer to separate the expenditure which was required for the defence of our arsenals from the ordinary expenditure of the year, and to prevent the people being misled into believing that our military expenditure was being permanently increased, because we were prepared to devote a considerable sum to the protection of those arsenals which were now worse than totally defenceless. The opinion of the most competent military authorities was, that the fortifications of Portsmouth were worse than useless, and no one could look at them without seeing that they would, if tested by an attack, prove merely a trap for the defenders of the place. The mode of raising the sum proposed to be levied under the income tax was not likely to be popular, and it was evident that if our arsenals were to be defended it would be prudent to separate the extraordinary expenditure requisite for the rehabilitation of these defences from the ordinary military expenditure.
§ LORD HARRY VANE
said, he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would not press his Motion to a division, since he must feel perfectly satisfied with the approbation with which the principles con- 725 tained in it had been received by the House. Much must be left in matters of this sort to the Executive Government, for it would be impossible for the House to lay down exactly how much should be spent in any one year; but still it would be of great advantage to have an expression of opinion from the House that if the Government thought fit to take certain steps to put the national defences into a state of completion, it would meet with their sanction. The debate had been conducted entirely on the view that our defences were not in that state in which they ought to be in time of peace. No distrust of any foreign power had been expressed, and he hoped that no ill feelings would be raised in any quarter by what had been said.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Sir, I imagine that my right hon. Friend must see from the course of the debate that he has accomplished the objects which he had in view in making this Motion, which I take to have been to impress upon the House by his own remarks the great necessity of speed in the completion of those fortifications which are essential to the safety and defence of our naval establishments, and to show that the measures for the permanent defence of the country are measures which indicate no desire on the part of the country for war, and which can give umbrage to no foreign Power, since they indicate no suspicion or jealousy of any foreign Power, but are founded on the common-sense principle that a nation desirous of peace must be able, and must show to all the word that it is able, to defend itself against all attacks. The unanimity displayed on every side must be highly satisfactory to my right hon. Friend, and I should hope that, considering the nature of his Motion, and considering the particular wording of it, he will be satisfied with the result he has obtained, and will not press it to a division which would imply, perhaps, a division of opinion, where really none exists. His Motion goes to express the opinion of the House that some fund should be provided for the completion of our fortifications, and that it should be independent of any Vote of Parliament. It would scarcely be expedient, however, for the House to express any abstract opinion of that sort without pointing out at the same time how that fund was to be provided. It would be more fitting and the more usual course to wait until an occasion arose, when some specific proposal 726 was submitted to the House by the Government, and, whatever arrangement might be adopted, I cannot think that the House would be of opinion that the expenditure should be withdrawn altogether from the annual and periodical supervision of Parliament. In the course of the debate two great branches of our defences have been adverted to. That on which my right hon. Friend has more pointedly dwelt was the completion of those works necessary for the defence of our naval establishments. There cannot be two opinions on that point. It is quite obvious that our maritime power depends upon those great dockyards, the cradles of our navy, remaining safe, and there are certain fortifications required to strengthen them. The gallant Member for Southwark seemed to think that it was wholly unnecessary to defend either Portsmouth or Plymouth on the land side—that it would be quite sufficient to defend them from an irruption of ships from the sea. On the old principle that "There's nothing like leather," my hon. and gallant Friend thinks that everything turns upon naval attack and defence, but those who have considered the matter without any professional bias deem it necessary that you should provide for their defence against a force—a comparatively small force it might be—which, being landed in the neighbourhood, by shelling the dockyards, or by taking them by a rapid assault, might deprive us of the elements of our naval supremacy. It is quite clear that it is of the first importance to complete those fortifications as soon as possible. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War told the House the other night that very soon after he came into office it was resolved that a Commission of competent persons should be appointed to decide which were the works best calculated to secure our naval establishments. That Commission will proceed to its examination, and I have no doubt it will not be long before it reports, and when we know what works are necessary, what are best calculated for the defence of those establishments, what the expense necessary to complete them will be, and the period of time within which they may be completed, supposing the funds to be provided, the Government will then be in a position to submit a proposal to the House. I trust, therefore, that the House will not be disposed to interfere at present with the discretion of the Government. I entirely 727 differ from the gallant Member for Southwark that our safety depends entirely on our naval defences. I estimate as highly as any man the great importance of our naval defences. It is manifest from our insular position, from our extensive colonial possessions, from the vast amount of our commercial property which every day in the year is floating on every sea, we must have a large naval force, and without it the interests of the country would be materially injured. But I entirely protest against the doctrine that, if by any chance we were to suffer a naval reverse in the Channel—if our Channel fleet were to be diverted to a different part of the world, and the enemy were by a stratagem to get possession of the Channel for a short time, that England would be lost. I admit it as necessary to provide the best and most complete naval defence the science and resources of the country can supply, but I feel certain that if a landing of hostile forces were by any accident effected there are on land ample means of repelling an invasion and making the invaders rue the day when they set foot on our shores. The works we propose are not intended, as some hon. Gentlemen imagine, to prevent a landing upon our coasts. Indeed, no man would dream of fortifying our coasts to such an extent as to preclude the possibility of the landing of a hostile force. We know very well from what we have accomplished ourselves, at Alexandria and in other places, that a determined force will effect a landing in spite of any batteries that may be prepared to oppose it. The works we propose, and which my right hon. Friend contemplates, are simply works to defend the dockyards and particular positions on the coast. We rely for the defence of our coast upon the military force we may have at our command—the regiments of the Line, the regiments of the militia, and the population of the country. Although I think the rifle corps fever has, perhaps, in some parts of the country been a sort of epidemic that will not be likely at the present moment to lead to any practical result, yet, when we look to what happened during the great war which commenced in 1803,—when we remember the hundreds and thousands of men who arrayed themselves in arms for the defence of the kingdom at a time when the population was much less than it is at present,—we must be satisfied that if there was really any imminent peril of invasion hundreds of 728 thousands of men would be found enrolling themselves in defence of their country, and that any enemy's force that might effect a landing would find itself inferior to those whom they attacked, and would sustain a signal and disastrous defeat. However essential it may be that our naval defences should be adequately maintained, I do hope that neither this House nor the country will be led away by the idea which my hon. and gallant Friend desired to impress upon us, that our safety depends entirely and solely upon our naval resources, and that when our naval defences shall be forced or eluded we have nothing to do but, as my hon. and gallant Friend says, go like lambs to the butcher. I hope my right hon. Friend will be satisfied with the very useful result which he has obtained. He has elicited the general determination of this House to support the Government of the day, whoever they may be, in all those measures which may be neccessary for the defence of the country. When the proper time arrives—when my right hon. Friend the Secretary for War shall have received the report of the Commission, and knows precisely what are the works necessary for the protection of our dockyards, what the cost of those works will be, and the period within which they can probably be completed—it will be the duty of the Government to consider what propositions they may think it their duty to submit to Parliament, and we shall then call upon the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Horsman)—I am quite sure not without success—to assist us in carrying into effect whatever measures may be deemed most efficacious for effecting that object.
§ Question put—The House divided:—Ayes, 167; Noes, 70; Majority, 97.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Sir, of course I do not propose at this hour (twenty minutes past twelve) to ask the House to go into Committee of Supply. I hope therefore that the House, considering the long time the Speaker has been kept in the chair, will agree not to proceed with any Orders of the day or notices of Motions which may lead to discussion. I should suggest that we should simply go through the Orders with the view of fixing them for some other day. I should propose that the House should go into Committee of Supply on Monday morning.
§ Motion by leave withdrawn.