§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time,"
§ MR. EDWIN JAMES
said, that he rose to move the Amendment of which he had given notice; and he trusted that in a matter involving the expenditure of so enormous an amount of public money, the House would pause before authorizing the expenditure of that large sum for such a purpose. The Bill proposed to authorize the expenditure of no less than 959 £2,000,000 on account of the whole expenditure in respect of fortifications. He would not go into details, but he would take the sense of the House whether such an amount should be voted without further information. There had been no information given whereby the House could distinguish between the cost of land fortifications and other defences. He, therefore, movedThat, before proceeding further with this Bill, it is desirable that this House should be in possession of further information as to the entire cost of the construction and efficient maintenance of the Sea Defences, and the proposed land fortifications, distinguishing the expenses necessary to be incurred by the country in respect of such proposed Sea Defences and Land Fortifications.Many persons of competent authority entertained different opinions upon this question. Some thought that the Government were justified in asking for a Vote to complete the sea defences of our arsenals and dockyards, as distinguished from the land fortifications, but entertained grave doubts as to the expediency of embarking in any large expenditure on account of land defences, for which so large a portion of the money now asked was to be applied. He thought it would be wise to fortify our arsenals and dockyards by sea defences, if the House could be informed of the probable expenditure. For himself he believed that the notion of invading this country had never entered into the mind of the Emperor of the French, and that it was one of the wildest chimeras ever suggested to ask the House, under the influence of a French invasion panic, to agree to an expenditure for fortifications without any information as to the probable cost of manning them when constructed. He could believe that in the event of a war, which might be brought about by the complication of affairs in Europe, France would no doubt take a part in any great European war, either as the ally or the enemy of England, and in the latter case it would be well that our arsenals and dockyards, which the noble Lord at the head of the Government properly called the cradles of our navy, should be protected by sea defences. We knew very well that the Dutch burnt our ships at Chatham, and thus humiliated England; and, in case of a war, if our arsenals and dockyards were not protected, England might again suffer a like humiliation, which it might take years to efface. Conceding, then, the desirableness of protecting our arsenals and dockyards, surely the noble Lord ought to give the House some esti- 960 mate of the expenditure which that protection would involve. The whole thing was totally vague and indefinite. The expenditure about to be entered upon was certainly uncalculated, if not incalculable. The House was asked to vote in the dark an enormous sum of money towards the accomplishment of a most wild and undigested scheme brought forward at the end of the Session; but of how much was this amount the instalment? The object of his Amendment was to place on record his solemn protest against incurring an enormous expense of which no estimate had been laid before the House. It appeared from the Report of the Commissioners that they proposed an expenditure of £11,000,000 for the construction and armament of these fortifications; but not a word had been said by them, or by Her Majesty's Government, as to the enormous cost that would be required to man these fortifications when constructed. It was supposed that about 68,000 men would be wanted to man the works efficiently; and, taking the cost of each man at £60 yearly, it was evident that the country would have to pay some millions yearly to maintain these fortifications. This showed the necessity of further information, both of the ultimate cost of completing the Government scheme, and the annual charge it would lead to. He would not enter into a discussion about the desirableness of constructing a central arsenal at Cannock Chase, but the House should recollect that they had been asked to sanction an expenditure of £150,000 merely for the purchase of the land that would be required for that arsenal; and before they sanctioned that expenditure they ought to insist on being informed what the works at Channock Chase would ultimately cost, and what would be the annual expense of maintaining them. The Commissioners said that the works, which were to be constructed at Channock Chase for the defence of Woolwich, would cost £700,000, but everybody knew that, as in the case of the estimate for the New Houses of Parliament, the cost would be three or four times £700,000. There were many hon. Members who would willingly vote a definite sum for the construction of sea defences to protect our arsenals and dockyards, but who would hesitate to vote an enormous sum for land fortifications. The House would stultify itself in the opinion of the country and of Europe if it voted £2,000,000 as the commencement of an expenditure, the 961 limit of which was altogether unknown; and he therefore hoped Her Majesty's Government would inform the House more definitely on this subject.
To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words ' before proceeding further with this Bill, it is desirable that this House should be in possession of further information as to the entire cost of the construction and efficient maintenance of the Sea Re-fences, and the proposed Land Fortifications, distinguishing the expenses necessary to be incurred by the Country in respect of such proposed Sea Defences and Land Fortifications"—
§ instead thereof.
§ SIR CHARLES NAPIER
said, he seconded the Amendment. If he thought there was the smallest chance of either £2,000,000 or £10,000,000 being the limit to the outlay required, he might be inclined to take the proposals of the Government into consideration; but he was quite sure, looking at the character of the works proposed, and that we had already spent £1,500,000 with so little to show for it at Portsmouth, that £2,000,000 would go a little way towards completing them. At Portsmouth the Commissioners proposed works for the defence of the harbour to prevent an enemy from running in and burning our ships and destroying the dockyard. Now, the most ignorant waterman on Portsmouth Hard would tell you that when the buoys and marks were taken up it would be perfectly impossible for the pilots themselves to run a ship into Portsmouth, Every one who had ever entered Portsmouth harbour in a yacht must he aware that the entrance was so narrow and so shallow that no three-decked ship could go in or out with her guns on board; and if an enemy's fleet should enter the harbour, of what use would they be without guns? The variation in the tides and the strength of the currents was another difficulty, and even the most experienced pilots often ran ships ashore. Now that such large ships were built—some of them 350 feet long—the best pilots were nervous about taking ships in or out of Portsmouth Harbour, where the slightest wrong movement of the helm would put a ship ashore. He could hardly help laughing at the idea of an enemy's ship ever entering Portsmouth harbour. Why, it would only be necessary to fire two or three guns loaded with powder to make a smoke, and both sides would be invisible. The Commissioners next proposed to erect fortifications to prevent an enemy landing to the east- 962 ward of Portsmouth between Browndown and Cumberland Fort, and thence destroying the arsenal. For this purpose it was intended to build forts on certain shoals; but the Commissioners did not say whether those batteries were to be one, two, three, or four-deckers. The Commissioners themselves said it would be impossible to prevent ships going at eight or nine knots an hour from running past those batteries. If batteries were built both to the eastward and to the westward, ships running twelve, fourteen, or sixteen knots an hour with the tide, would run past them, and would anchor in the Solent out of range of these batteries. The enemy could then land any force he pleased on the Isle of Wight, from which place ho would command Portsmouth with such guns as those of Armstrong or Whitworth. It could not be imagined that the French would ever invade us unless they had the command of the sea. If we were as careless as we had been when a cold fit was upon us, and neglected our navy, then we should be in danger. That might be if we were as careless as during the Syrian war, when the French outnumbered us in the Mediterranean, and during the administration of Sir Robert Peel when the fleet was reduced to twelve sail of the line. He must say for the credit of Lord Auckland that he put the navy in a more efficient state, and created a Channel fleet which he (Sir Charles Napier) had the honour to command. The history of the navy for many years past had been a succession of hot and cold fits of economy. When he was on the coast of Syria he received orders from Sir Francis Baring, then First Lord of the Admiralty, to send the ships home, in order that they might be paid off before the end of the financial year. That economy lasted for about a year. The Government then found that they had made a mistake, and they commissioned two or three sail of the line, and got up a small Channel fleet. That Government was turned out of office. At this time he felt the defenceless state of the country so strongly that he waited upon Lord Derby, whom he had never seen before, and represented the matter to him. Lord Derby got up the Channel fleet: and a fortunate thing it was, because when the country was overtaken by the Russian war, the Admiralty were able by great exertions to get up a tolerable fleet, which became in time an excellent fleet. In an evil hour, alter the War was over, the Government 963 took fright again at the expense. Sir Charles Wood, who was then First Lord, came to the Admiralty and told them the Chancellor of the Exchequer insisted on the fleet being paid off. That was done, and a fine fleet was sent to the winds—a fleet well manned, with plenty of petty officers, and in other respects well officered. The Whigs then went out of office, and in came the Tories. Sir John Pakington was not satisfied with the state of the Navy, and said, "We must get up the fleet again." The very ships that had been paid off by the preceding Government were then commissioned again, at an outlay of £70,000 or £80,000, or £100,000 more than had been saved by paying them off. Sir John Pakington deserved great credit for what he did. But although he gave a bounty to the men, he was unable to get men enough; and then it was found that there were no petty officers or midshipmen, and the ships were consequently not commissioned so soon as they ought to have been. This was owing to the bad policy pursued by previous Governments in paying off the fleet so frequently, and thereby destroying the confidence of the officers in the stability of their positions. However, they had got a good fleet at last, although there was a paucity of officers. The Mediterranean fleet was equal to any fleet we ever had in those waters, except in regard to the number of men and officers. But instead of improving its efficiency in these respects the Government were now going to fortify the whole country. Well, whom were we to fortify against? It was impossible we could be invaded except by France and Russia combined, for France had not a sufficient force for the invasion of this country. How could the French come here as long as we possessed our maritime superiority? He confessed he thought there was great danger of France being assisted by another Power, and he hoped that the agreement would not be cemented in Mount Lebanon. What would France do if she proposed to invade us? She would collect a fleet either at Cherbourg, Brest, L'Orient, Toulon, or some other port. But we should collect a fleet too. If our Government neglected their duty the French might bring their ships to Spithead. They might anchor any number there, and throw their shells into Ports-month Harbour. We could launch our gunboats, take out all the old blockships, how of no use whatever, and anchor them with heavy guns on the shoals where 964 it was proposed we should build batteries. That would be only ship against ship, for the French could not sail stone batteries, and the old blockships would defend the country just as well as fortifications. The House had been told that the batteries would be necessary in case the ships were away; but where were our ships to be? They must be sent off the ports where the French fleet were. If the French fleet came out it would he their duty to take them and bring them home. If they remained in harbour they would try and get at them, if possible. That was what we used to do, and what we must do again. As France had an army of 500,000 or 600,000, which was greater than England had or ever would have, we must trust to our fleet, keep it well manned, and attend to our reserves. They might erect fortifications, but where would they get soldiers to man them? But in time of war large numbers of seamen would be thrown out of employment, and would be glad to escape starvation by entering the navy. We should then only have to put them on board of the ships, old and new, which we now had in our harbours, and which we had an excellent custom of keeping always ready for sea, and a force would be ready at once to protect our shores and repel any invader. He could not for the life of him understand what necessity there was for spending all this money on fortifications. It might be as well, perhaps, to complete the works at Portsmouth which had already been commenced. The Commissioners had very cunningly concealed from the public the fact that an extensive series of new batteries had been constructed on Portsdown-hill at a great expense, and had shadowed them forth in their map only as a part of the old lines. If the enemy got hold of these new batteries they would have the command of all the rest. He asserted that since the invention of rifled ordnance Cherbourg harbour offered no security to a fleet. With the Armstrong and Whitworth guns, and the molten lead which they could throw into the place, every ship in the harbour might be destroyed. To render Cherbourg safe a new basin must be built in a more sheltered situation, for the present one was far too exposed to withstand the battering of Armstrong guns. Yet we were now asked to commit the same mistake at Spit-head and Portsmouth. It might have been very well to do so before these rifled guns were invented, but now nothing could be more futile or absurd. We ought to be 965 warned by the mistake France had made. During the Russian war Cronstadt was partially protected by the shallowness of the water round it, which kept our ships at a distance. The north side of the place, however, was perfectly exposed to our mortars, and the damage we were able to do even with the old guns showed how little reliance was to be placed on fortifications. With the new rifled guns Cronstadt might be swept from one end to the other. The scheme now before the House was utterly absurd, and he agreed with his lion. Friend the Member for Birmingham in thinking that they must be lunatics if they carried it out. If the French had the upper hand of us at sea they could land where they liked; and, if they once got a footing on our soil, it would not be at Portsmouth or at Plymouth that they would point, but at London. What would be the use of the fortifications at the dockyards then? It would not be southwards, but northwards, that the inhabitants of the Metropolis would have to retreat. Tierney once said in that House, "Give me a well-manned fleet and a full Exchequer, and I will defy the world." He said the same, and lie warned them that if they pursued the course on which they were now entering, they would soon have neither a well-manned fleet nor a full Exchequer. If Louis Napoleon seriously intended to invade our country, would he wait three years till our fortifications were ready? A more absurd or useless scheme he never heard of. Let the Government redress the grievances of the seamen and make the service more attractive, let them use every effort to keep up the strength of the navy and of the Reserve, and they would provide the best protection for our shores. Why did they not enlist in the Reserve the bargemen and lightermen of the Thames, who were bound in return for certain privileges to serve when called upon? During the last war we had sea fencibles all round the coast; the whole country, in fact, was covered with seamen. Now, however, our force of seamen was miserably inadequate; but he firmly believed that plenty of men would come forward to defend their country, if proper encouragement were given to them.
§ MR. SIDNEY HERBERT
I am grateful to the lion, and learned Member for Marylebone for the brevity with which he put the House in possession of the arguments in favour of his proposition, and shall endeavour to follow the good 966 example he has set us in that respect. He thinks it important the House should know what arc the sums which are to be taken for sea defences as contrasted with land defences. Upon a former occasion I entered at some length into the subject of the cost of the different works and gave the figures in some detail. I stated that the works to be commenced under the present Bill would ultimately cost about £5,000,000. Of that sum you may say, in round numbers, that one-half is for sea defences and the other for land defences. I may mention, however, that included in the land defences are some which ought, perhaps, to be called sea defences. For example, the works at Dovor are reckoned as land defences, though, from their connection with the harbour, they ought to be considered rather as sea defences. The lion, and learned Member also wants to know what will be the cost of maintenance. The only way in which you can arrive at the probable cost of maintenance is by looking back at the fortifications made during the last ten or more years, and ascertaining what has been the cost of their maintenance in proportion to the sum originally expended upon them. I find it amounts to about ¼ per cent of the original outlay; but, of course, as the works become more aged the expenditure for their maintenance must be expected in some degree to increase. The hon. and learned Member asks what additional force do we expect to be obliged to raise on account of the fortifications. My answer is that if you ask me to capitalize the cost of the new battalions, you must set against that the cost of the still greater number of additional battalions which you must raise for the defence of the country if you have no fortifications. The Defence Committee call attention to the fact that in case of war we must have a larger standing army than at present; but if we have no fortifications that increase to our standing army must be much greater than otherwise would be necessary, because we can use the Militia and raw levies behind works, whereas for manoœuvres in the field we must have regular troops. The hon. and gallant Member for Southwark (Sir Charles Napier) thinks that the proposed works at Spit-head are quite unnecessary; but in the course of his speech he gave a satisfactory answer to his own argument. He says that if we take up the buoys and destroy the marks at Spithead nobody will be able to come in. Captain Sullivan, on the other 967 hand, tells us that if all the buoys and marks were removed a fleet could be brought in without the least difficulty. I cannot venture to decide between two such high authorities; but the House will see that if the gallant Admiral's views are correct that our own ships would be just as much excluded by raising the buoys as the enemy's would be. In another part of his speech the hon. and gallant Admiral said that if the buoys and marks were removed it would still be possible for an enemy to creep in. Next lie said that the channel was so narrow and tortuous that ships were obliged to work in very slowly, and a little further on he talked of vessels coming in at fourteen knots, and passing through our works without buoys and marks. His statements, in short, were so contradictory that they thoroughly answered one another. The hon. and gallant Admiral then alluded to a possible combination between France and Russia, in which case he seemed to think all fortifications useless. He then referred to the case of Cronstadt, which he said might have been taken, if it had not been so surrounded by shoal water that we could not get at it. The gallant Admiral spoke as though he thought that the sole use of our fleet was for the defensive, and that their skill and energy was to be employed solely in defending our arsenals and dockyards. In his main argument, that because it is possible to destroy Cherbourg, therefore it would be possible to destroy Portsmouth, he leaves out of sight the enormous difference between the two places. Cherbourg can be destroyed because it has no outworks, but Portsmouth may be defended by outworks—and, in fact, that is the very thing we are proposing to do. I may state that the chief expenditure for land works will be at Portsmouth. The only other place where there is any great necessity for land defences is Plymouth, which, owing to its remote situation, must to a great extent be self-dependent. Chatham is entirely a case of land defences, and ought to be made strong on account of its vicinity to London, I may say, in conclusion, that we have tested our estimates by existing contracts, and, as they have been purposely made large to cover any unexpected contingencies, I am satisfied they will not be exceeded.
wished to state. his reasons for supporting the Amendment of the lion, and learned Member for Marylebone. He regarded ns unjustifiable the proposed outlay on land defences, which 968 could be only needed in the event of a successful invasion, which he looked upon as wholly impossible and absurd. When he saw such a sum of money as this proposed to be spent, he must say that the Commissioners had arrived on this point at a most lame conclusion, on totally insufficient evidence. The instructions issued to them proceeded on a wrong principle, one of those instructions having been to take into consideration the small amount of the forces usually maintained in this country, and in particular the limited number of Artillerymen that would be available. He held that on such a subject efficiency and not expense ought to be the primary consideration. On looking over the list of witnesses examined, he found that Admiral Dundas, Admiral Bowles, Sir Michael Seymour, Sir Thomas Maitland, Captain Sullivan, and many others connected with the naval service had given their evidence, while Sir John Burgoyne was the only military officer whose opinion was taken upon the scheme, and that he was totally opposed to it. Sir James Scarlett, the commanding officer of the district proposed to be fortified, who was thoroughly acquainted with the neighbouring country, over which the forces under his command marched perpetually, and on the character of which the subalterns under his command were bound to report, was merely questioned as to the supply of water which could be brought to Portsmouth. The same point was the only one submitted to Colonel Forster, who was in command of the Royal Engineers. Was the country to expend millions on the faith of a Report based upon such an imperfect inquiry? If the works recommended were carried out, he believed that not two, nor five, nor twenty millions would suffice; and if they were really required, it was only throwing so much money into the dirt to expend one shilling less than the total amount that was needed. The Commissioners, he believed, had arrived at a foregone conclusion, and had been actuated by the feeling that it was necessary for the satisfaction of the country, and to make their Report popular, that defensive works should be recommended. It was but natural that the nation should feel uneasy, when told by Secretaries of State and by the Prime Minister that it was necessary to be prepared to repel invasion. The spirit and devotion which had been shown could not be too highly appreciated—it ought to be encouraged by every means; but it should 969 at the same time be judiciously controlled. When invasion was talked of, reference was, of course, made to one particular quarter, and it therefore became important to consider whether it was the desire of the Emperor of the French to quarrel, to invade, and to make war upon us. He firmly believed that ho had no such intention; and, though he did not stand up as his advocate, he could not imagine that a man who had exhibited the great qualities which rendered him one of the foremost men of the day, would be guilty of such an act of insanity as the invasion of this country must necessarily be. The Emperor of the French had lately written a letter in which he asserted that the noble Viscount at the head of the Government, "knew that what he said he meant." He should like to test the sincerity of that distinguished personage by the opinions of the noble Viscount. The noble Lord had not merely dealt with puny and inexperienced statesmen, but while in office had ample opportunities of studying thoroughly the characters of those masters of diplomacy and intrigue who for so many years had guided the counsels of the different countries in Europe. The noble Viscount was well able to form an opinion; every Member of the House was delighted to see that in point of intellect he was as vigorous and able as he had ever been; he was not likely to be deceived by mere appearances;—and he therefore put it to him—Did he believe that the Emperor of the French was playing us true or false, or that he was not acting up to those peaceful professions which he had always made from the first moment when he ascended the throne? At the same time we must not overlook the character of the people over whom the Emperor reigned. Although the Emperor did not intend to deceive us, there might be persons on whom it was necessary for him to practise a slight and innocent deceit. The martial character of the French nation must be remembered, and the difficulty which necessarily lay in the way of guiding them into those peaceful occupations which were the real basis of a nation's greatness. It was impossible to break off all at once the ties and feelings which bound France to the traditions of former centuries, and he believed that Napoleon was flattering them with a little glory, and at the same time coaxing them to allow him to inaugurate under his sway a new reign of peace and commerce, lie was not blind to the under-current of dis- 970 quietude and want of confidence which was percolating through the stream of politics, and which might at any moment eventuate in combinations that would require us to exert our utmost force. But times were changed since invasion had been threatened by the first Napoleon. One master mind no longer governed European politics, but each nation thought and acted for itself. he put it to the House whether the Emperor of the French was likely to he unaware that the first man who unjustifiably disturbed the peace of Europe, would at once make himself the common enemy of mankind, and that a war, wilfully commenced by him in defiance of right, would expose his country to another defeat and another disgrace, which must recoil upon himself, and sweep him and his family from the throne of France? Without exposing himself to the taunt that there was "nothing like leather," he thought he might fairly urge upon the Secretary for War that a gradual increase of the standing army was required. The Commission, in their Report, put down the force in the United Kingdom at 60,000; but it had on a former occasion been shown that we could not depend on a larger manœuvring army than 28,000 to 30,000. The noble Viscount had urged as a reason against the Volunteer force in Ireland that there would he 30,000 regulars and 30,000 Militia to defend that country; but any person who believed that in the event of war more than 7,000 or 8,000 troops could be spared to Ireland, or that an amount at all approximating to 30,000 Militia would be available, made a grievous mistake. He contended that at least 20,000 additional troops of the Line were required for the defence of the United Kingdom. The increase in our standing army ought not to cause any great increase in our Estimates, for a very small proportion of those Estimates went to the rank and file. About £600,000 he calculated would do it. If 10,000 or 15,000 additional regulars were raised, and about 5,000 of the Militia regularly trained every year, with the assistance of our Volunteers, we should always be able to muster a strong force on any emergency. But how were we to be invaded? It was not to be supposed that if ever an invasion did come we should be taken totally unawares. We should not go to bed one night in perfect security and wake next morning to find a lot of French steamers off Brighton or some other part of the coast disembarking troops as fast as- 971 possible. We had consuls in every port, who would surely give us information of what was about to happen. Suppose the Emperor of the French to have resolved on such a piece of insanity, it would take him some time to bring his men down to the coast and to embark them, and surely we should have a steamer or two about to embarrass the operation a little. We should be certain to have plenty of warning, and by means of our railways we might easily get a lot of navvies together and throw up earthworks wherever they might seem most likely to be wanted. In regard to camps, he thought that instead of one monster camp at Aldershot, we should have half-a-dozen other camps in different parts of the country. It was not fortifications we wanted, but a fair, reasonable, and well-disciplined standing army, with a regular business-like disposition of the resources which the country had placed at the disposal of the Government. In this manner, without giving way to panic in the slightest degree, ho was for putting the country into a thorough state of defence. In discussing this question, the great interests which were at stake ought not to be lost sight of. Not only our own liberties, but the liberties, the happiness, and the prosperity of the whole civilized world might be said to depend on the power of England to repel an aggression on her shores.
§ LORD ELCHO
said, he entertained a strong opinion upon this question of the National Defences, and he tended his hearty thanks to the Government for the course which they had pursued on the question, and trusted that they would not be deterred by any of the carping criticisms which had proceeded from various hon. Members in the course of the debate from placing the country in a thorough state of defence—an object which was not only desired in this country, but which the lovers of peace throughout all the world would rejoice to see accomplished. Dining the past year we had seen the peace-loving people of this island voluntarily engaged in organizing and drilling themselves, until there had sprung up an effective Volunteer army of some 138,000 men. That force had already proved its efficiency and patriotism, and had received the warm approbation of all who had inspected them. What was the cause of such an army suddenly springing into existence? The hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite attributed it to panic.
What I said was that by injudicious management of the movement the idea had been created that a panic had prevailed.
§ LORD ELCHO
disclaimed any such motive for the part which he had taken in the movement. It was a deep sense of shame that the country should be liable to such panics which had actuated him. In one respect there was a foundation for these panics. It was not that there was the slightest immediate danger of the Emperor of the French or the Emperor of Russia, or any combination of Powers attacking us, but there was a consciousness that in the event of our being attacked by any Power or any combination of Powers we were not in that state of preparation in which we ought to be; that we had been living in a fool's paradise, which was rather calculated to invite aggression than to repel it. In this respect there was some foundation for a panic, and it was in a determination that England should for the future rest for her security on the forbearance of no foreign potentate, and on no system of precarious alliance; but on her own strength, that this movement had taken its rise. The same feeling which had given rise to the Volunteer movement ought also to induce the House to support the Government in the steps which they were about to take on the recommendation of competent authorities on this question of fortifications. In the course of the debate the House had been favoured with all sorts of professional and amateur-professional criticisms on the scheme. The gallant Admiral the Member for Southwark, forgetful of certain forts which it was unnecessary to name, maintained that fortifications were of no use to defend a dockyard, and that ships were the only defences. The gallant Officer who had just sat down was all for soldiers, and the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone, coming out in the new capacity of an engineer, declared that land fortifications were unnecessary.
§ LORD ELCHO
maintained that the hon. and learned Member, by putting a Motion on the Paper with reference to the relative cost of sea and land defences, which inferred that the sea defences might be necessary, but the land defences were unnecessary, had committed himself to an engineering opinion. Notwithstanding all 973 these different criticisms, he could not help feeling convinced that the people of England would feel nil the safer for the assurance that the dockyards were perfectly safe from attack. Was there anything in the present position of Europe which should induce us to relax our efforts with regard to the question of national defences? Much had been said of a recent letter of the Emperor of the French. He (Lord Elcho) was of opinion that the proper answer to be given to that letter should be a cordial union with the Emperor in any judicious measures which might be adopted for the interests of humanity in Syria, and in any endeavours which he might make to build up a strong kingdom in Italy. Towards the end of the previous Session ho had taken the liberty of calling the attention of the House to the foreign policy of the Government. If the Emperor of the French really wished to establish a strong Italian Power, then it was the duty of England to join with him in so doing; and he wished to see England strong, so that she might say that no one should now interfere in Italy, but that the Italians should manage their own affairs. On referring to the despatches'—especially to those of M. Thouvenel it was apparent that the policy of the French Emperor was at one time in that direction; and, if that was still his policy, it was the duty of England to join cordially with him in carrying it into effect. But England must be on her guard, for the aggressive tendencies of the French people at the commencement of the present century, which inflicted such terrible calamities in Europe, could not be forgotten. Neither could it be forgotten that the Empire began in peace and afterwards engaged in bloody wars, and that Nice and Savoy had been absorbed. What he wished was to see England strong, and nothing would more tend to that object and to the removal of all temptation to aggression than the fortification of the dockyards and the existence of an efficient army, aided by that great army of Volunteers, which had sprung into existence in so short a space, and which rendered England equal to any emergency. Let the House free and untie the hands of the Foreign Secretary, so that it might be felt that when the Foreign Secretary wrote despatches he wrote them influenced by what he thought right, and by no meaner motive. On these grounds ho should cordially support the original Motion.
said, that he did not 974 understand the terms of the Resolution proposed, and he wished the hon. and learned Gentleman would explain it. It appeared to him that all the information with regard to the expenses which the hon. and learned Member desired could be obtained in the Report of the Commissioners. If those were not the details he required, he (Captain Jervis) was unable to make head or tail of the Motion. The simple question was whether this country was to maintain its way in the progress of the science of engineering. The whole of the coast had been fortified by Martello Towers,—a description of defence which originated in the repulse, in 1794, of 1,400 British troops, a line-of-battle ship, and a frigate by a Martello tower in the island of Corsica. Those Martello Towers answered very well at that time, but were totally inadequate to the requirements of the present day, owing to the progress of artillery. Only the other day a Martello Tower was knocked to pieces in half-an-hour by a few guns brought to bear upon it. A more effective kind of fortification was now necessary to meet the great improvements that had been made in the science of artillery. The hon. and learned Member objected to the removal of the Arsenal of Woolwich to Cannock Chase; but if the arsenal were not removed it must be fortified, and in this respect the removal effected a saving of £555,000.
§ MR. MONSELL
said, the hon. and gallant Gentleman seemed to misunderstand the actual question at issue. Everybody was desirous that this country should be placed in a position of security, but the question was whether the system proposed by the Government was founded on sufficient authority, and was the most effective that could be adopted. The great majority of the Members of the House felt that they were incompetent to decide this question themselves, and the hon. and gallant Member himself, who now declared against the fortification of Portsmouth, nevertheless on a former occasion voted for it.
said he had not voted for it, but he would not put his individual opinion against that of Sir Howard Douglas.
§ MR. MONSELL
said, that many military men in that House had spoken against the plan, and the lion, and gallant Member for Chatham (Sir Frederic Smith), whose authority was of great value, in an admirable speech, urged strong objections to the hind fortification of Portsmouth and 975 Plymouth. With respect to the Martello Tower referred to, which the hot), and gallant Member had spoken of as though it had been blown to pieces in half an hour, he (Mr. Monsell) was informed that the fact was that three large guns were firing at it at only 1,000 yards distance for two days, and though they made a breach, they did not produce such an effect as to knock down the place where the gun was situated. If that was all that could be done in that case, it might be concluded to be impossible for any great harm to happen to Portsmouth unless an enemy placed a great siege train on Portsdown. With respect to the propriety of defending Portsmouth and Plymouth against a coup-de-main, there was no difference of opinion; but it would be desirable that the Secretary for War should take more military evidence before involving the country in an enormous expense. Almost all the evidence taken before the Commission was naval evidence. It was incomprehensible that, although three artillery officers were examined before the Commission, they were not asked a question on the fundamental point at issue. What he wanted was that the Government should not spend enormous sums of money without really knowing whether they were going to lay it out in the right way. His opinions might be erroneous; but, having consulted with the highest authorities, he confessed that he regarded with doubt the proposed land defences. The Commissioners were no doubt anxious to give a fair estimate of the amount of expense to be incurred on account of the works they recommended; but he feared that the expenditure had not been carefully calculated. For example, they stated that 2,500 guns would be necessary, and that these would cost £500,000; but how much would the ammunition cost? Reckoning 300 or 400 rounds a gun, though 500 pounds would probably be nearer the mark, the ammunition would cost more than £1,250,000. Now, nobody objected to such an expenditure, or to double that amount, if it were necessary; he only wished to show that the Commissioners had not gone into details which would at once have suggested themselves to the minds of Artillery officers. There was only one member of this branch of the profession upon the Commission, and this officer, who was a friend of his own, had not had that experience of actual service that was so desirable. If more Artillery officers had been on the Commission, they would have origi- 976 nated inquiries on points of detail which it was not likely would suggest themselves to the Commissioners without them. It was true that the House was referred, in confirmation of the Commissioners' Report, to a Committee presided over by the Commander-in-Chief; but, although the authority of individual military men was valuable and reliable, yet when you got a number of officers together, presided over by one occupying so distinguished a position, their aggregate authority was not of so much value as the opinion of any one of them when taken separately. That disposed of the only point which made any real impression on the House in favour of these land fortifications. He repeated that no one grudged the money which was asked for. All he wanted was that before spending it on land defences, to which the highest military authorities were entirely opposed, the Government would make further inquiry, so that they might not embark in an enormous outlay, which, after all, would fail to conduce to the security of the country.
§ SIR DE LACY EVANS
said, that he had had no intention of addressing the House on that occasion; but the observations of his right hon. Friend obliged him to say a few words. He was not sure that that House was the best arena for the development of opinion on such a question; but his right hon. Friend (Mr. Monsell) had stated that every military man in the House was opposed to the plan. [Mr. MONSELL: Every military man who has spoken.] Now, he was under the necessity of saying that he should feel in an awkward position if he was to acquiesce in that statement, because he was the individual who proposed the Commission, and it would be extraordinary if he should shrink from the amount of responsibility which rested upon him for that Motion. On the first day that the present Government was in office, he went to the War Office, with the view of informing the Secretary for War of two Motions which he intended to submit to the House. The right hon. Gentleman was at that time absent in Wiltshire engaged about his election, and so he (Sir De Lacy Evans) went again on the 1st of July, laid the Motions before him, and inquired whether there was any time at which he should wish him to bring them forward. The one was for the abolition of purchase in the army, and for that lie counted upon the right hon. Gentleman's support; the other was for the 977 appointment of a Commission to inquire into the whole state of the national defences. The right hon. Gentleman requested him not to propose the Motions until he should have an opportunity of consulting the noble Lord at the head of the Government, and week after week he renewed his request that the Motions should not be brought forward. At last, on the 25th July, he (Sir De Lacy Evans) insisted on bringing the Motion forward, and to his surprise the right hon. Gentleman then announced that he was entirely of the same opinion as himself. Such was the history of the appointment of the Commission. With regard to its composition, he agreed with his right hon. Friend that, although there were excellent men upon it, there might have been persons of greater weight. He also agreed with his right hon. Friend that the Artillery portion of it seemed to have been almost forgotten. Nor was it on that occasion only, but on many others also, that the important professional assistance which the Artillery officers could afford was entirely overlooked. He attributed that to the accident that the officers of the Engineers were more in communication with Members of the Government. There was one clover Artillery officer on the Commission, but, though an officer of great talent and great science, and likewise a great astronomer, he had never seen an enemy, and, therefore, he thought it a mistake not to have placed one or two Artillery officers of experience on the Commission. His right hon. Friend had referred to another Commission to which the decision of the former had been submitted; but there did not appear to be any officer of more experience on that Board. Nevertheless, no professional man could venture to criticise with severity any portion of the Report without having gone down to examine the various localities, which he believed none of them had done. He had looked over the scheme, and he believed it to be the Report of men of sense, and he felt that Government were entitled to a general support upon the intentions they had announced. The Secretary for War told them that Government had not adopted the Report in all its parts; for instance, they thought that five forts instead of eight on Portsdown Hill would be sufficient. He thought, then, if Government did carry out the Report, that considerable reductions in the expense might be made.
SIR FREDERIC SMITH
also com- 978 plained that the Government had not consulted several of the many distinguished Artillery officers whose evidence would have been invaluable on this subject. With regard to the present Motion, he thought the Secretary for War had to a certain extent answered the objections of the hon. and learned Gentleman, because the schedule did show what the land and sea works were estimated to cost, and works so solid would not require much for maintenance. But, if the hon. and learned Gentleman had proposed to omit altogether the land defences, he had no doubt the Motion would have been carried. Although a great majority were ready to vote large sums of money for the defences of the country, and many Members would vote largely for sea defences, he believed that there were many who were not disposed to give their full assent to the proposition for land defences; and he thought there were very good grounds for not doing so. The question with regard to the defence of the dockyards was an Artillery question, and no Artillery officers of eminence had been asked their opinion upon it. His gallant Friend (Sir De Lacy Evans) did not intend to limit the inquiries of the Commission to the dockyard defences; he intended that these inquiries should take a wider scope, and include the defences of the realm; but neither his gallant Friend, who had commanded an army, nor any Generals of equal authority, had been asked their opinion upon the subject. It had been assumed that the Government endorsed the Report of the Commissioners; but it was not so—they had in fact declined to adopt a great portion of the propositions of the Commission. They had had recourse to a Committee to examine the Report of the Commission, and with the exception of the illustrious Duke at the head of the army, the Committee was composed of men of not greater authority than the Commission. No man was more willing than he was to vote money for the sea defences of Portsmouth; but the whole of those proposed in the Report of the Commissioners were not necessary, and the Secretary of War had reduced them. The points to which he most objected were the works at Portsdown Hill, and he objected to them for more reasons than one. The hon. Baronet the Member for Finsbury (Sir Morton Peto) knew very well that if a war broke out to-morrow works could be made in a fortnight on Portsdown Hill which would effectually keep an enemy from bom- 979 barding Portsmouth, and that it could be done for one-tenth of the expense now proposed for the forts to be constructed there. If, again, the works were only required in the event of an enemy having made a successful landing, he said that, unless they had no Volunteers, no standing army, and no Militia, an enemy could not make the march to Portsdown Hill and thus expose his flank and rear. Where were the enemy's supplies to come from? He could not capture Portsmouth by siege in less than a fortnight or three weeks. Every head of cattle and every stack of corn would be removed, and what would there be for the invaders to live upon? Did they suppose that an enemy could keep the command of the Channel for three weeks? He believed that was utterly impossible, and that the idea of the enemy sitting down on Portsdown Hill was the greatest nonsense ever talked of by military men. Even if Plymouth and Pembroke were taken for a time, the naval power of the country would not be lost while they had Portsmouth and Chatham. Chatham was the easiest defended from its situation. It would require a march of two days, with the enemy's rear and flank exposed, to attack Chatham, and therefore that could not be done. If, then, they took care of Portsmouth and Chatham, without making enormous land works, they would do all that was necessary. He should not vote against the measure of the Government, because the responsibility was upon them, but he hoped they would apply the money to the sea defences, and leave the land defences for any occasion which might arise to render them necessary. The Secretary for War could use the blockships until the solid works were constructed in the Solent. Five works had been proposed by the Commissioners, but the Government had knocked two on the head and retained the three best. As to building works on Portsdown Hill, he hoped the Government would take the opinion of such men as Lord Seaton and of his gallant Friend the Member for Westminster, who knew what it was to command armies in the field. He hoped his hon. and learned Friend would not press his Motion to a division, but would take another opportunity of proposing that the land works be postponed. If the Government only wanted to do something as far as £2,500,000 or £3,000,000 would go, they should lay out the whole in sea defences. The sea defences required a long time to erect. They could not be begun too 980 soon, and they could not be carried on too rapidly. When finished and armed with large guns it would be quite impossible for an enemy to pass them. Let the Government lay the money out in that way, and take further advice about Portsdown Hill. If they did take further advice he was convinced they would give up that part of the scheme altogether.
§ MR. BERNAL OSBORNE
I do not wish to add to the length of this debate, because after the large majority the other night on the Resolutions it is not for me to stand between the deliberate opinion of the House and its execution. But some things have been said to-night which I cannot allow to pass unnoticed. My noble Friend the founder of the Volunteers—and I say that not in a spirit of carping, but in a spirit of compliment—my noble Friend has talked of the carping criticism of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Marylebone in moving this Amendment; but I must say that is rather unfair to my hon. and learned Friend, because, so far from pretending to give any engineering opinion, my hon. and learned Friend expressly guarded himself from even hinting one. He has undertaken the duty which he owes to the country as a Member of Parliament of expressing his opinion as to the imperfect estimates of the Government, and I think he is perfectly justified in giving that description to the estimates before the House. If hon. Members refer to the blue-book, they will see that these do not profess to be correct estimates. There is no estimate for the howitzers, mortars, and light guns, and no estimate for alterations in the water supply of Plymouth, which it is said can be cut off by an enemy. The estimate is most imperfect and most unsatisfactory, and nothing is so natural, if the House of Commons is worth anything at all, which I am very much inclined to doubt—-I mean as controlling the expenditure of the nation—nothing is so natural as for a Member of Parliament in the position of my hon. and learned Friend to demand further information. The information is to my mind excessively scanty. I took the liberty of asking why, after all our financial arrangements had been made, this matter was brought forward at the end of the Session. The noble Lord joked the matter off, and led people to suppose that I wanted the dockyards to be in the middle of the country. I merely recommended that some portion of the store of timber should be removed inland, and brought 981 thence to the dockyards by railway. It has been recommended a thousand times, but the noble Lord feigned not to understand me, because it did not suit him to tackle my question—why is this plan brought forward at the end of the Session? I should like some answer to that question. There is another question to which I should like an answer. The most natural person to take up this question of £11,000,000 is the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but—you may call it carping criticism if you will—why is lie never present, why has he never given an opinion upon this subject? Then, again, why is the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. M. Gibson) never here when this subject is discussed? Why, in 1858 he brought in a Motion to cut down the Estimates altogether, and yet now, whenever this question comes on, he "cuts his stick." The man who is for "peace at any price," neither opposes this enormous expenditure nor offers us any explanation. Nothing can be more natural when the House is asked to vote £9,000,000, than that we should ask for every information, and therefore, instead of talking about "carping criticism," I should have been astonished if my lion, and learned Friend had been satisfied with these Estimates. The noble Lord (Lord Elcho) —who, of course, has an interest in the question, for, if it be proved that fortifications are of no use, "Othello's occupation will be gone,"—the noble Lord tenders his thanks to the Prime Minister for only asking £9,000,000. I also tender my thanks, although for a different reason—I am thankful that in the present spirit of the House of Commons, and that which prevails out of doors, he has not proposed to erect a complete Chinese wall round the island. Now, how has this panic been caused? Clearly by the speeches of Cabinet Ministers. A pamphlet has been put into my hands, written by a distinguished General officer, Sir Duncan M'Dougall—French Invasion, in defiance of the Defences of Great Britain. This is the way panics arc created:—" The revelation I am now about to make upon authority will show the necessity of no time being lost in completing our national defences." No time to be lost—mark, these fortifications are to be finished in four years! "A committee of French officers have worked out a special plan for an attack upon London, a copy, or a sufficient extract, of which was placed in the hands of one of the Ministers in October last." 982 I should like to know whether that is true, for it would make a material difference in my vote. He goes on to say that "in 1863 the French plan is to come over here, take London, and stop here three days." You see he knows the whole plan. But what does that gallant Officer say of the plan of the Commissioners? He says,—" Instead of spending enormous sums on expensive fortifications in your arsenals and your dockyards, all that is necessary is to put them in a sufficient condition to resist a coup de main." But they are going to build forts upon Portsdown Hill. I say nothing against the sea defences; but after the speech of the gallant Officer opposite (Sir Frederic Smith), one of the most distinguished Engineer officers in the service, I hope wo shall hear no more about "carping criticisms," for we have the highest professional authority to justify us in asking for further information. I think the House ought not to be run away with upon this subject, and ought not to be expected to take the Report of the Commissioners as decisive upon the matter. When we are talking about Estimates, let us remember that this House, which was to cost £750,000, has really cost £3,000,000. And so it will be with these fortifications. We know that at the beginning of the Session the Estimate for the Chinese War was £800,000, and already it has run up to £3,000,000. Precisely the same thing will happen with the Estimates for these fortifications. We cannot get any information upon this subject, for the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not here. I say he ought to be here to defend his plan. I ask what is the opinion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon this plan, and echo answers "Nothing." Now, I have shown how-panics arc created—how these estimates are imperfect. I was astonished the other night to hear the Secretary for War say that Sir John Burgoyne, who had been against these defences, had changed his opinion. I was struck by that at the time, and the right lion. Gentleman accused me of not having read the blue-book; but will the House believe that Sir John Burgoyne changed his opinion about the Volunteers, and that was the reason why he changed his opinion upon this subject. But he changed his opinion to my side of the question, because the document quoted by the Secretary of War was a Report signed by the Duke of Cambridge, Sir John Burgoyne, and others, on the 22nd 983 of February, 1859, while the evidence of Sir John Burgoyne was given in November, 1859. When he gave that first opinion the Commission had not been issued and therefore I think the right lion. Gentleman was rather misleading the House into a false issue. The opinion, in fact, is one of those which are given under certain circumstances. No officer likes to dissent from his General; but when he was examined before the Commission Sir John Burgoyne gave his opinion hostilely to land fortifications. All criticisms, foreign or English, have been against the Commissioners, whose authority and whose data have alike been questioned. I can add nothing, but I think it is incumbent upon the House, before involving us in a ruinous expenditure for land fortifications, with the evidence before the Commission showing us that they will be of no avail, which all the Engineer officers in this House tell us are not called for, I think we should have further information. We are a House of Commons to control the expenditure of the nation. You may talk of throwing responsibility upon the Government, but, if these fortifications are built, what will be the responsibility of the Government if, at the end of eight years, they are found to be of no use? Their responsibility is nothing. All will be forgotten, but the people will say, "What fools the House of Commons were in 1860." The hon. Member for Harwich (Captain Jervis) referred to the Martello towers, and gave a long story of something that occurred in 1794; but every Engineer officer knows that those towers which the House of Commons of that day were so ready to vote money for—some millions were spent upon them—have been found to be perfectly useless for national defence. Surely that makes it very necessary that the House should pause before committing themselves to this ruinous expenditure upon Ports-down Hill. Mind, I draw a distinction between the seaboard and the land fortifications. I think, also, it behoves the Government to pause before committing themselves to this plan. It is the plan of seven respectable gentlemen, but still I think we have further information, further Engineer and Artillery evidence, as well as evidence from General officers of experience. What better man could there be to be examined than the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster? (Sir De Lacy Evans.) He has seen the greatest siege of modern times, and yet his opinion was 984 never asked. We are not come to this pass yet that England is to be defended by Portsdown Hill. I repeat that upon the last evidence—that taken before the Commission as well as that of men of the greatest experience and highest reputation—I have no hesitation in saying that the House should be wary before committing itself to these gigantic fortifications on the land side.
§ SIR MORTON PETO
thought the last speaker had only asked for such an inquiry before the money was voted as the case demanded. The House had not heard anything like approbation of the Government scheme from any one military or naval authority that had addressed them. The hon. and gallant Member for Chatham (Sir Frederic Smith) had expressed an opinion that the defences around Portsmouth should be composed of earthworks, and that they need occupy but little time; and if so experienced an officer expressed such an opinion, was the Government justified in asking for a Vote of Money for purposes antagonistic to such an opinion—antagonistic also to the opinion of Sir John Burgoyne? The course which the Government should have pursued should have been, not simply to take the Report of the Commission, but they should have had the evidence of all the first men in the country, and upon that evidence they should have presented to the House a complete scheme of fortifications of our dockyards and other places. They should not come and ask for a sum of money on account on estimates acknowledged to be incomplete, and therefore not deserving the confidence of the House. During the ten years he had had a seat in the House he had seen abundant proofs of the mischief of voting money without the security of distinct and carefully prepared plans, and particularly in the matter of fortifications. Take the Channel Islands for instance. The estimates were never sufficient, nor were the works worthy of the country. If the Government only showed that they had some mature plan the House would, he was sure, readily grant them all the money necessary for carrying it into effect. He believed that as regarded the defence of our dockyards from the land side a well-trained body of men would be able to raise in fourteen days earthworks sufficient for that purpose; and with respect to our defences from the seaside it should be remembered that no one could at present state what works of 985 that description would prove efficient. We were now expending £1,500,000 in constructing ships which it was supposed would be perfectly shot-proof; and if that supposition should be realized the whole of the proposed expenditure along our coasts would he almost completely useless. He hoped the House would not embark in that outlay before they had some carefully prepared plan, with its various details, under their consideration. He found that they were asked to vote a sum of £150.000 for the site of an arsenal in some central part of the country; but he thought that they ought not to sanction a proposal which was brought before them in so vague a manner. He felt persuaded that there was nothing in the present state of France which called for any haste on our part in dealing with that subject. He had been in France last week, and a gentleman connected with him had been in Cherbourg, and had told him that the only thing being done in that dockyard was the repair of Prince Napoleon's yacht. He believed that we had three times as much work being performed in any of our great dockyards as the French had in all their dockyards at the present moment.
said, the opinion of people out of doors was, that this measure had been brought forward to divert public attention from an evil more imminent than a French invasion, namely, the invasion of the rights and privileges of the House of Commons by "another place." Looking at the measure itself, he was of opinion that the experience the House and the country had had of Government expenditure on previous occasions was not such as to induce the House to place much confidence in them for the proper application of the money the House was then called upon to vote. He would not refer more particularly to the expenditure at Alderney, Dovor, Portland, and other parts of the coast, than to say that the disclosures which had taken place fully justified hon. Members in holding that opinion. He would, however, allude more at length to the expenditure during the last four years on the south coast, contiguous to the borough he represented. The application of public money there had been of the most wasteful character. A constituent of his, in writing to him on the subject; said, his opinions being confirmed by an Artillery officer who had served with distinction in India:—I do not hesitate to assert that the whole of the money expended in coast fortifications on the 986 Sussex coast during the last four or five years, amounting to more than £100,000, has been all wasted. At Littlehampton the fort is built on a boggy foundation, and the whole structure is now so insecure that the guns could not be fired if wanted. At Shoreham, the fort, costing, I am informed, nearly £20,000, mounts six heavy guns; the parapet of the western side is brought so close to the gun, that it will not traverse; and a foe landing to the west could not be touched until he landed on the shore. At Shoreham and New-haven the guns could not be worked, from the fact that the beach is so near the guns, that a round shot striking it would have the effect of a discharge of grape shot. At Newhaven the range of the guns is not sufficient to prevent a landing at Seaford Bay, between Newhaven fort and Blatchington battery; and the parapet is so low that no protection is afforded to gunners working the guns.Another reason why he (Mr. White) had not confidence in the measure proposed by the Government was the lack of knowledge of the subject displayed by the right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary at War. For instance, in the course of the last debate on this question, the right hon. Gentleman quoted the Emperor Napoleon I. as having said that the art of fortifications was the only art which had not changed for 2,000 years. He (Mr. White) was very much struck with that remark; but, on referring to the real statement of the Emperor, found that what he had said had reference to field-works, and not fortifications, and was to this effect:—This important branch (i. e. field-works) of the art of war, has made no progress since the times of the ancients; it is even inferior to what it was 2,000 years ago. Engineer officers should be encouraged in bringing this art to perfection, and in placing it on a level with the rest.With regard to the fortifications, it was well known that the strength of a whole must be considered as the strength of the weakest part; and that one weak point in the whole range of works would be the very part of which the enemy would be first informed, and to which they would direct their attention. He deeply regretted one aspect of the question, which was this: that the noble Lord and others seemed to repose greater confidence in these stone works than in the people of England. It would appear from the speeches of certain noble Lords, that to put arms in the hands of the people, would be a calamity more terrible than a French invasion. He did not believe that the antecedents of the working classes justified the distrust that was felt of them. Put arms into their hands, and they would defend all that was valuable in our Constitution. Before the House was called upon to vote this grant, 987 the Militia ought to be developed to the utmost degree, and every assistance given to the Volunteer movement. It was a sound and statesmanlike observation of the noble Lord, that "the power to aggress frequently gave the desire to aggress;" and he was afraid that that would be the effect of the present scheme, and he should give his support to the Amendment.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
I had hoped that after the manifestation of the opinion of the House the other evening, we should not to-night have been led into a renewed discussion of matters which were then fully debated; but, of course, those who entertain strong opinions, have a perfect right to express them. "We have to-night heard expressed the greatest possible diversity of opinions in reference to this question, and if it be the fact that truth is one and error is infinite, I may with great satisfaction contrast the settled opinion of Her Majesty's Government with the discordant and various sentiments of those who differ from us. My hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard (Mr. Osborne) complains of our delay in bringing this matter forward, and of the conduct of those Members of the Government who did not, out of respect for him and others, come down to hear the debate upon a question on which their minds are fully made up, and on which they had recorded their opinion in the recent division. He also found fault with me for bringing this question under the notice of the House myself. It appeared to me that this was not a Departmental, but an Imperial question. It turns upon considerations of a more general nature than are included in any one Department, and I therefore thought that it was a question which the head of the Government was bound to submit to the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury takes a different line. He complains of the precipitation with which we had brought this subject forward, and says that we have no definite plan. Now, so far from having brought this measure forward precipitately, without due consideration, or without a definite plan, we have had the subject investigated in the most accurate and deliberate manner by those who are competent authorities; and it was not until after repeated examinations that we brought forward that which is a definite plan, and which does contain in great detail all the arrangements which we think fit to recommend for the adoption of Parliament. It is curious to see how differ- 988 ently different Members have looked upon this question. Almost all are of opinion that defence is necessary. Even the hon. and gallant Member for Limerick (Colonel Dickson), who, as I understood him, began by saying that no defence was needed, and that we might trust to the good-will and friendship of foreign Powers, and that there was no danger of a hostile attack upon this country, admitted, towards the conclusion of his speech, that some additional defence was required, but said that he preferred an addition to our regular troops to the erection of fortifications. I may, therefore, assume that he is no exception to the general concurrence of opinion that some further defence is necessary. It is amusing to see the different views which different Members take of this subject, according to their different lines of thought. Military men, and those who have chiefly directed their attention to the manœuvres of troops in the field, say, "Do not give us fortifications, give us an important addition to the regular army:"—forgetting that a great addition to the regular army would be, perhaps, quite as expensive as these fortifications; that it would be good only for the single year for which it was voted, or that we must go on year after year maintaining in time of peace a disproportionate military establishment to stand in lieu of the permanent fortifications which we propose to erect. Military men are for troops. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Southwark and other naval men are for ships. He says—"Don't tell me of men on land—don't tell me of works—give me ships. If I have ships enough I will anchor them off Portsmouth and Plymouth, and will take care that those ports shall be safe whatever may happen to our interests in other parts of the world." Then come the lawyers. They have been modest, and have not stated their remedy. I suppose they would meet the enemy with an injunction, or issue against him a writ of ne exeat regno to prevent his leaving his own dominions. These are all mighty good methods; but, upon the whole, I am inclined to think that the majority the other evening were right when they voted that permanent defences will be the cheapest and most effectual for the purposes for which the are proposed. My hon. Friend (Mr. Osborne) said, "You might as well propose to surround the whole island with a Chinese wall." We do not pretend to defend by fortifications all the coast of the island. 989 It would be absurd to think of such a thing. What we propose to do is to defend by fortifications the most vulnerable points, those dockyards and arsenals which are the cradle of the naval power of the country, and the destruction of which would place you at the mercy of any Power that could arm a fleet and send it to sea. It is said, however, "Oh, we admit that you may defend them from an attack by sea; but we protest utterly against the attempt to defend them against an attack by land." Is there any sense in that argument? If these dockyards are important, and if it is essential to defend them, you must defend them at all points at which they may be attacked; and, therefore, to say that you will defend them on the sea but not on the land side is the greatest possible absurdity. My hon. Friend who has just addressed us said that nothing was stronger than its weakest part. I thank him for teaching me that word. It is perfectly true; and it would be useless to protect the dockyards from an attack by sea if you did not also defend them against an attack by land. Is it or is it not possible that they may be attacked on the land side? Why, everybody has admitted that it is impossible that we can prevent a landing upon our shores. It has been stated that there are 300 or 400 miles of coast upon which an enemy may land. We do not pretend to place works or troops all along that line of coast to prevent a landing. One of the arguments against these fortifications has been their insufficiency. We have been told that we ought to fortify and defend London. But what does that objection imply except that London may be attacked by an enemy landing upon the coast? and will it not be far easier for an enemy to attack on the land side Portsmouth or Plymouth, which are upon the sea, than London, which is inland? Will anybody in his senses pretend that it would be impossible for 10,000, 15,000, or a smaller force, to land within easy distance of Portsmouth or Plymouth, and if they were undefended, march and attack either of those places, and do that which they could not have done if they had approached it from the sea? It is said, however, that in a fortnight a certain number of men would throw up earthworks and fieldworks sufficient for the defence of those places. Now, military men will tell you that field-works are very good when there is a sufficient force behind them, but they will not 990 prevent a large force from overpowering a small one. Fieldworks are run over, and earthworks are taken by storm. What you want are works constructed upon a scientific principle which shall enable a small body of troops to maintain its position for a certain time—say two or three weeks—against a large force. That is the difference between fieldworks and regular fortifications; and no man who has read the history of war, and I am sure no man who has been engaged in war, will tell you that fieldworks can supersede these more regular works, which are intended to prevent a superior force from overpowering a smaller one. But great objection has been made to-night to the works at Portsdown Hill. I would ask any man who knows what the range of modern artillery is, and what is the distance to which shells can be thrown, to take the map and find out how far it is between Portsdown Hill and the dockyard at Portsmouth, and he will at once see that an enemy gaining a footing at the former point would be able to destroy Portsmouth by shells. It has been said that the experiments made at the Martello Tower at Eastbourne show that it is impossible from Portsdown Hill to inflict damage upon Portsmouth. I am unable to see the force of that argument. The damage to be done to Portsmouth from Portsdown Hill would not be done by trying with round shot to batter down or make a breach in the walls, but by throwing shells into the dockyard; and I say there is nothing to prevent the destruction of the dockyard if an enemy were to get to Portsdown Hill. I am astonished, Sir, at the difference of opinion expressed here on this matter; because, all those with whom I have spoken upon it out of doors agree that the want of works at Portsdown Hill was a weak point in the defence of Portsmouth. Unless, therefore, you strengthen Ports-down Hill against an enemy landing at a short distance either to the eastward or the westward, you will not have sea defences sufficient to protect that great and important naval arsenal. We are told that this scheme is the result of an undignified panic—that we ought rather to trust to the good will of neighbouring Powers—that our plan implies suspicion of the ruler of a neighbouring State, and apprehension of an immediate attack. Why, Sir, it does no such thing. I stated distinctly that the proposal which Her Majesty's Government are making is not 991 founded upon any distrust of any particular Sovereign or nation, but upon the deliberate conviction that this great country ought to be in a condition to defend its important and vulnerable points—that unless you are in a position to repel attack, you may at any time be exposed to it—and that your only security for the continuance of peace is the conviction on the part of those who might under any circumstances be led to assail you that you are able to defend yourselves. The hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. White) says that the Government have shown a distrust of the people, and that if we would put arms into the hands of the people they will be able to protect themselves. Why, that is a very strange as well as a very unjust accusation to bring against us, at the very moment when from day to day, from week to week, and from month to month, thousands of Her Majesty's subjects arc enrolling themselves and receiving arms from the Government; when we already have 130,000 Volunteers, and are very likely to have perhaps double that number in the course of another twelve months. Nothing can be more unjust or unfounded than such an attack. But men are not sufficient unless you have works to defend those positions which can be most easily assailed. The object of these fortifications is, that a small number of men—perhaps not the best trained, or those who are the most capable of meeting an enemy in the field—may be able, behind those works, to defend the dockyards, and thus to be instrumental in supporting your naval superiority, while the rest of our forces are ready to meet the enemy in the field. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War said again to-night, as has been said before, and as appears in these Reports, that, if you have not these fortifications, you must have a far larger force to defend in the field those dockyards which we propose to defend by protecting works; and that, so far from this arrangement being an expensive one, it is the one which, either in peace or war, will lead to the most economical application both of the resources and military means of the country. I trust, therefore, that the House will not to-night reverse their previous decision, or in any way impair the Vote which they passed the other evening; but that, if the hon. and learned Member should insist on pressing his Amendment to a division, they will show that it is their emphatic and deliberate conviction 992 that these important works should be sanctioned and carried out in as short a time as money and means will enable the Government to execute them.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 143; Noes 32: Majority 111.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read 2o, and committed for To-morrow.
§ Order for Committee (Supply) read.
Motion made, and Question proposed—
That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair.