§ Order for Committee read.
§ House in Committee.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
—Sir, in proposing the Resolution which I shall conclude by placing in your hands I shall ask the Committee to take a brief retrospect. It is needless to say that the Resolution I am about to propose has for its object to carry into effect to the degree and in the manner which I shall state the recommendations of the Commissioners whose Report has been laid on the table of the House, with a view to secure by fortifications the Royal dockyards, the ports of Dovor and Portland, and also to create on some central point an inland arsenal to serve as a substitute for, and as an assistance to, Woolwich. The Committee will remember that after the conclusion of the great war which ended in 1815, this country had established a virtual supremacy on the ocean, and by good fortune and the bravery and gallantry of her sailors had, during the war, swept from the seas all hostile fleets. As far as maritime power went we were then free from alarm of attack from any quarter whatsoever. The nations of Europe, moreover, had exhausted their resources, and were greatly depressed in mind and spirit by the events of the war. There was hardly a country in Europe, from the Tagus to Moscow, which had not by turns been swept over by the tide of war and conquest, excepting this fortunate country, and I may add Sweden. It was natural that the people of Europe, having been exhausted by that long-continued struggle, and having in almost every country suffered miseries and calamities which, let me say, fell more heavily upon the inhabitants of the country which is the scene of those operations than even upon the contending armies,—I say it was natural that nations in that temper of mind should fix their thoughts and desires upon a long continuance of peace. For many years, therefore, after the conclusion of peace, in 1815, those who were responsible for the conduct of affairs in this country 18 were content to rest upon the glories which we had gained, upon the recollection of the strength which we had displayed and upon the remembrance of the victories we had achieved, and they thought it unnecessary to call upon the people of this country for any great exertions with a view to prospective dangers, which there was no reasonable ground for expecting. The consequence was that for many years we acted as we had done during the war with respect to the defences of our dockyards and other vulnerable points, and as long as the movement of ships depended on the wind and on the chances of weather the calculation was a just one. We had then a very large fleet. No longer ago than 1848 I believe we had eighty sail of the line; and as long as naval warfare was carried on by means of sailing ships we were in a condition, by our superior skill and aptitude for the sea and for naval combat, to rest upon the strength which we then possessed afloat. The same difficulties which interposed in 1804–5 to prevent a large army drawn up on the opposite coast of the Channel from crossing over to this country continued to exist, and therefore successive Governments were justified in abstaining from any great effort for the purpose of artificial protection to our dockyards and other vulnerable points. But the introduction of steam changed this state of things. The adoption of steam as a motive power afloat totally altered the character of naval warfare, and deprived us of much of the advantages of our insular position; operations which, if not impossible, were at least extremely difficult while sailing vessels alone were employed, became comparatively easy the moment that steam was introduced; and in fact, as I remember Sir Robert Peel stating, steam had bridged the Channel, and, for the purposes of aggression, had almost made this country cease to be an island.
Well, Sir, I will not state now—because statements are better made only in general terms, and therefore I will not mention the degree to which the absence of artificial defences rendered us at particular and at critical periods liable to very unpleasant attacks from an enemy. But in 1847, I think, in consequence of an able memorandum drawn up by Sir John Burgoyne, the Duke of Wellington wrote and published—or at least it was published—that well-known letter in which he described, with all the knowledge that belonged to a great captain, the evils which his ex- 19 perience led him to anticipate in the event of this country being the scene of war. He drew the attention of the country to the want of artificial defences, and implored those who were charged with the conduct of affairs to provide better means for its defence against possible attack and foreign aggression. That appeal fell upon dead ears as far as the country was concerned. Nations are slow to alter their perceptions. We were, indeed, in a position with regard to this country which may be expressed by the words stat magni no-minis umbra. But the people of England could not be brought to realize that altered condition of things. Something, though little, was, indeed, done in consequence of this appeal from one of the greatest masters of the art of war, the most learned and knowing in the science of attack and in the means of resisting it. The Government of the Earl of Derby came into power, and I must do them the justice of saying that they took a great and very important step towards placing this country in a position to defend itself by reorganizing and re-establishing the Militia. It is due to them, and more especially to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole) who was then Home Secretary, and who took great pains in arranging that force, to say that they did that for which the country ought to be grateful. Before that time and since, when I was in office, I took steps with the view of arranging the artificial defences of the country upon some general system. I found that one department acted without the knowledge of another, each independently, and without adopting those combined measures which were necessary. I therefore requested the Commander-in-Chief for the time being, the Master General of the Ordnance, the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Inspector General of Fortifications, and the Secretary at War to meet at my office, and we established then a system of mutual concert and co-operation which laid a foundation for very great improvement in our defences both at home and in some of our military stations abroad. Since that time this system has gone on, and it has prospered. At one time Portsmouth harbour had no defence, save a saluting battery of comparatively small guns, while Plymouth was very imperfectly defended from the sea, and Sheerness had only one gun that was serviceable. I have heard, but do not know whether it is true or not, that soon after 1844 two French steamers came into Sheerness for the ostensible pur- 20 pose of coaling, and the commander having sent on shore to know whether a salute would be returned, was informed that, as there was only one gun that was serviceable, they must excuse the lapse of some little interval between each fire. But though at the period I have referred to those important establishments were very imperfectly and inadequately defended, since then considerable progress has been made in all of them. I am bound to say, to the honour of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War and the Commander-in-Chief, that those two public officers have co-operated with the utmost cordiality, without the slightest official jealousy or the interference of anything like official etiquette, for the improvement of our army and the protection of the country in a manner which entitles both to the gratitude of the nation. I say that it is mainly owing to their exertions that a far greater advance has lately been made in our artificial defences than in any similar period of time. My right hon. Friend appointed a Commission to inquire into the present state of those most important points to which I have referred. The result of the Commission is the Report which is upon the table of this House.
Sir, the recommendations of the Commissioners, which have been confirmed after revision by a Committee of military officers, called the Defence Committee, amount to a recommendation of a total outlay of £11,000,000, in which is included £1,500,000 for armaments and floating defences. I hold that it is absolutely necessary for the safety of the country that these recommendations should substantially be carried into effect. Now, there are two modes of doing this. Yon may either vote annually such a portion of the annual income as the country would like to spend on a matter of this kind, and by so doing defer, perhaps, for eighteen or twenty years the accomplishment of these defences; or you may take that course which it will be my duty to recommend, and endeavour to complete them at the earliest possible period, without at the same time laying upon the country a larger annual burden than would he incurred if you prosecuted these works more slowly. I mean you may—by raising by terminable annuities, to run for thirty years, a sum that will be sufficient in the course of three or four years to complete these works—get within a short period the security you require; and you will not lay upon 21 the country a much heavier annual burden than that which would be incurred if you were to wait until the slow process of annual Votes brought you the money necessary to carry these works to a conclusion. My opinion is, that if these works are necessary, and I think common sense shows you they are necessary; if they are necessary, they are necessary as soon as we can get them. They are necessary for time present; and it would be folly to postpone for eighteen or twenty years the completion of defences against dangers which, I hope, may not arise; but dangers which we may contemplate as possible, and which, if possible, may be possible in the course of a comparatively short space of time.
Now, that is a course which I know is, to a certain degree, a departure from ordinary usage; it is contrary to principle to raise money by loans for the annual expenditure of the country in time of peace. To do so for the purpose of defraying the ordinary expenses of the year, would be as spendthrift a proceeding, as for an individual to borrow money every year to pay his household expenses. We know what would be the fate of an individual who did so, and the country which did so would, no doubt, be brought into great and early embarrassment. But in private life Parliament, by recent legislation, has empowered and encouraged individuals to raise money by loans, either from the Exchequer-bill Commissioners, or from private Companies, for the purpose of effecting permanent improvements upon their landed property, spreading the repayment over a considerable period of time. Now, what is sound policy, recognized by Parliament, in the case of private individuals, cannot be unwise or inexpedient, as regards the greater and more important interests of the nation. By raising money by terminable annuities, we should prevent that loan from becoming a permanent addition to the debt of this country. I think that ought to be avoided in all cases where it is possible; and, in the present case, I am convinced it is possible.
Now, Sir, as to the necessity of these works, I think it is impossible for any man to cast his eyes over the face of Europe, and to see and hear what is passing without being convinced that the future is not free from danger. It is difficult to say where the storm may burst; but the horizon is charged with clouds which betoken the possibility of a tempest. The Committee, 22 of course, knows that in the main I am speaking of our immediate neighbours across the Channel, and there is no use in disguising it. It is in no unfriendly spirit that I am speaking. No one has any right to take offence at considerations and reflections which are purely founded upon the principles of self-defence. We have, it is true, recently concluded a commercial arrangement with France. [A laugh.] These, Sir, are not matters to be treated with levity. These are not arrangements without great value; for it is well known, and proved by experience, that nations which have with each other great commercial intercourse—nations between which great mutual interests are involved in the maintenance of peace—are less likely to fall out and become antagonists, than nations between which those ties are not cemented. But, at the same time these things are not brought about at once. A great nation, which has not hitherto been much addicted to commerce, whose mind, whose feelings, and whose glories have chiefly had relation to warlike operations—such a nation cannot be expected on a sudden to become entirely free from its former habits, and at once to comprehend all the benefits and advantages that arise from peaceful and commercial relations. I hope much from this treaty; but that treaty alone would be a frail security to a great nation like this, with extensive interests, with great wealth, and whose shores are more open to attack than the land frontiers of any country; because, whereas upon a land frontier the points of attack can be pretty well guessed, and can be guarded—a country whose frontiers are the sea, is open to attack at any point to which an enemy, able to command the sea, may choose to direct his force. Therefore, I say, it would be folly to rely upon the future effects of the Commercial Treaty, when we know that we have vulnerable points which require artificial defences, and that we have the means of providing those defences. Is there nothing in the state of Europe that leads us to think that we might, by the course of events, be called upon to defend ourselves against hostile attack? We see in France an army of 600 and odd thousand men, of whom 400 and odd thousand are actually under arms, and the remainder are merely on furlough, and can be called into the ranks in a fortnight. That army is far greater than France requires for the purposes of defence. No nation in 23 the world would think, unprovoked, of attacking France. Nothing could be gained by it; no one could expect to dismember France, and no one would fare otherwise than ill who ventured upon an unprovoked attack upon France; and, therefore, for the defence of France we may pronounce that vast army unnecessary. I do not mean to say that that army is raised for the deliberate purpose of agression. I trust it is not, but the possession of power to aggress frequently gives the desire to do so. You cannot, you are not entitled to rely upon the forbearance of a stronger neighbour. You are bound to make your defensive means proportionate to his means of aggression.
But, Sir, is it only on land that the arrangements of France are disproportionate to her necessities for defence? We know that the utmost exertions have been made, and still are making, to create a navy very nearly equal to our own—a navy which cannot be required for purposes of defence for France, and which, therefore, we are justified in looking upon as a possible antagonist we may have to encounter—a navy which under present arrangements would give to our neighbours the means of transporting within a very few hours a large and formidable number of troops to our coast. But, further, while on the one hand, the French navy has increased far beyond any amount that it has reached since the end of the last war, our navy has, on the other hand, from the change which has taken place from sailing ships to steam, necessarily diminished in numbers. We had at one time, as I have stated, eighty-four sail of the line, all sailing vessels; but this number has been necessarily greatly reduced. The right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir John Pakington), when he was at the head of the Admiralty, did good service in proceeding to substitute steam line-of-battle ships for sailing line-of-battle ships. I trust we are going on in the same course, and that in a short time we shall establish our navy on such a footing of superiority in numbers to that of any neighbouring Power as is absolutely necessary for our existence as a nation. I say, however, that we have no right to rely for our security on the mere forbearance of a rival Power. Our interests are spread over the whole surface of the globe. Agents in every quarter are at all times liable, through an excess of zeal or a mistaken sense of duty, to lead the nations they represent into difficulties; and no one can 24 answer from day to day that something may not happen in some part of the world that will lead to disagreeable communications between different Powers. With the utmost desire that such matters may be amicably adjusted, yet, if one country is greatly the strongest and another country greatly the weakest, it is very difficult for any arrangement to be made. The stronger Power naturally exacts conditions which the weaker may not be disposed to grant, and though in the case of an arbitrary Monarchy and despotic Government things might be easily arranged, yet where the weaker Power consists of a high-spirited and patriotic nation, with free institutions and with the popular feeling manifested on every public event by means of a free press, you may be quite sure that the bulk of the nation, who are not responsible for consequences, and who do not know very often the difficulties and dangers that a certain course of conduct might produce, would revolt against the concessions made by the Government; and if they were told that those concessions were rendered necessary, by the absence of the means of defence, or by the neglect of former Governments to provide for the security of the country, they would vent their indignation against those in power, and lay the seeds of future dissensions with the foreign country to which concession had been made. Thus, for the sake of peace, it is desirable that we should not live upon forbearance, but that we should be able fully and effectually to defend ourselves. When that is the case no foreign country will, without ample reason and provocation—which I trust we never shall give—disturb the state of peaceful relations that may exist with us. What, then, are the dangers to which we are exposed? They are of two kinds—I speak now only of the United Kingdom, and say nothing of the Colonies or our various foreign possessions. The danger to which we should be exposed would be that of invasion, for one or two, or I may say three purposes—either with the hope of conquest, which I think no foreign country would imagine to be possible; or, next, to get possession of the Metropolis, and there levy heavy contributions, and by overbearing the spirit and hopes of the country expect to dictate in the Capital terms of peace that would be ignominious to the country and advantageous to the invader. The third, and, as I think, much more probable attempt, would be by a sud- 25 den attack—by sea and by land, or by land if the sea defences were too strong—on our naval arsenals, the cradles of our navy, which is our national strength, and by destroying at the root our naval forces to lay us open afterwards to other measures of aggression which an enemy might be inclined or enabled to carry carry out. Sir, I dismiss from my mind the idea that any foreign Power would dream of conquering this country with the view of permanent possession; I do not believe it would enter the mind of any one. No doubt London might he open to attack, but London is too vast a space to be surrounded by fortifications. You cannot fortify London as has been done with Paris. London must be defended by an army in the field. There are strong natural positions between the coast and London, which, skilfully taken advantage of, might enable even a small force to repel a larger force, and successfully drive back an invasion. And there is this to be said, that whatever amount of force an enemy might land on our shores, so long as we retain the command of the sea, that force must ultimately be lost, because its communications would be cut off, its supplies rendered impossible, and, sooner or later, it would be compelled to surrender as prisoners of war. It might do great mischief; it might cause extensive destruction of life and property, and entail great misery on the country; but ultimate success of such an operation would not, I apprehend, enter the mind of any military man, nor could such an operation be regarded as one likely to be attended with permanent advantage to an enemy, except in so far as it might inflict injury on this country.
Well, then, Sir, the operation which I apprehend is most likely to be attempted is that of lauding a considerable force for the purpose of destroying our dockyards. If your dockyards are destroyed, your navy is cut up by the roots. If any naval action were then to take place, your enemy, whatever the success of it might be, would have his dockyards, arsenals, and stores to refit and replenish, and reconstruct his navy; while, with your dockyards burned and your stores destroyed, you would have no means of refitting your navy and sending it out again to battle. If over we lose the command of the sea, what becomes of this country? Only let hon. Gentlemen consider how dependent we are for everything that constitutes national wealth—aye, and a large portion of national food, on free 26 communication by sea. We import about 10,000,000 quarters of corn annually, besides enormous quantities of coffee, sugar, and tea, and of cotton, which is next to corn for the support of the people, by enabling them to earn their food. Our wealth depends on the exportation of the products of our industry, which we exchange for those things that are necessary for our social position. Our exports amount to considerably more than 100 millions in value annually. Picture to yourselves for a moment such places as Liverpool, Bristol, Glasgow, and London, that is to say, the Thames blockaded by a hostile force. What would become of the industry and wealth of the country in such a case? The consequences which would follow the landing of any considerable hostile force upon our shores it is impossible to contemplate without fear and alarm—it would produce results which no Government and no nation by its neglect and apathy ought to render possible. Some gentlemen think that we keep up excessive peace establishments in regard to troops; but, at least, we ought to be prepared to resist whatever force can be brought against us. If London were in danger, what you would want would be to fight a battle, or two battles, or three, if you please—the first, I hope, would be sufficient—with the greatest amount of military force you could bring against the force that attacked you. But your army being limited in amount, and your military means limited, and your dockyards being points that require defence, the way to get the largest possible force to meet an enemy in the field is to make arrangements for requiring the smallest amount of military force to defend those important positions—your dockyards and arsenals. It is obvious that if large forces are required to defend your dockyards, you cannot concentrate for the defence of London that amount of force which would be necessary to meet an invading army. Therefore, it is demonstrable that fortifications for your dockyards—the effect of which will be to equalize by artificial means, for purposes of resistance, the smaller force within and the larger force without these fortifications—will be, in fact, means for the defence of London, because they will set free a large amount of force for the defence of the capital by operations in the field. There are those who say why should you confine your defences to such places as Portsmouth, Plymouth, Devonport, Pembroke, and the 27 like, and leave London undefended? Where are your fortifications for London? My answer to them is, that ditches and walls and bastions are not a defence for a great, vast city like London, surrounded as it is by districts as thickly populated as any of the villages in the interior. The only defence for London is an army in the field, and any means which enable you to make that army as large as your military establishments will allow are directly subservient to the defence of the capital itself. Then we are told that we ought not to confine our arrangements to our dockyards, and other such points—that there are other places of great importance—Liverpool, for instance—a port of great wealth and importance; Bristol, Newcastle, and other sea-ports. My answer to those who make this objection is that we have not neglected these outports, but that the defence of these great commercial towns need not be of the same kind and character as those required for your dockyards. These towns partake in a great degree of the nature of London. They contain vast populations, for whose supply it would be difficult to provide if they were surrounded by walled enclosures and were to stand a siege. They cover vast spaces of ground, with suburbs extending far beyond them; and fortifications, unless they stand on a space entirely free from houses, would be of no use. To defend those towns, therefore, against a force once landed, would be as difficult as to provide a similar defence for London. These towns, besides, are not likely to be attacked by an army landed for the purpose of occupying them. What Government at all skilled in military operations would think of sending a large force to attack Liverpool, even with the certainty of success? Liverpool taken, no doubt, would create a great deal of loss and injury to the district which surrounds it, but Liverpool taken would not have the same effect on the political condition of the county as London taken. It is clear, therefore, that the enemy who wanted to strike a blow would go at once to the heart of the country. He would go to London, he would not waste his time and throw away his resources by an attack on an outlying point. But we have taken measures—my right hon. Friend the Secretary for War is now pursuing them—to protect not merely Liverpool and Bristol, but several other important commercial ports, from the only kind of attack to which they are liable—the attack of small 28 squadrons for the purposes of mischief and for levying contributions, without any large force being landed. That protection can be given by batteries, either permanent or in the nature of earthworks, for which ample means can be provided in a different manner from that to which we resort for the dockyards. We have therefore thought it right to follow the recommendations of the Military Commissioners, and confine these proposed defensive works to the points which they have indicated.
There are many Gentlemen who think that the sum estimated by these Commissioners is excessive for the purpose. We can only judge of these things by comparison, and if we find that other countries have spent sums corresponding in amount for similar purposes, wanting them perhaps not so urgently as we do, it may be thought that the demand now presented is not out of proportion to the object to be attained. I have inquired what other countries have done in this respect, and I will give the House the result. In the first place, however, I should say that that portion of the Estimate of the Commissioners which applies to what they call armaments and floating defences—namely, to guns and floating batteries—is an expenditure which we think should properly come out of the annual revenue. In the course of the four years which will be required for the completion of the proposed works it is to be expected that, in the ordinary course of things, the artillery for these works will be completed, and it is not necessary to include those things in the sum which I propose to raise by terminable annuities. We are of opinion that, instead of £11,000,000 odd, which make up the total Estimate of the Commissioners, £9,000,000 would be sufficient for all the purposes which we contemplate in this matter. It should be remembered that out of that there is £1,835,000 taken for the purchase of land, part of which, no doubt, will have to be covered by works, but a considerable portion of which would be available for letting in a manner to produce some sort of return annually for the money expended, That will reduce the actual sum for works to £7,165,000. But what has France done in regard to these things?—France, which is not a country so likely to be invaded, not requiring so much defence—a country whose only accessible frontier lies between Belgium on the one hand, and Switzerland on the other—because an attack upon France by the Alps is now out of the question, and an attack from Spain 29 through the Pyrenees is an aggression against which no Frenchman would think it necessary to provide. In the year 1841 the French Assembly voted £13,255,616 for works, of which the fortifications of Paris alone cost £5,600,000, and the works, as I am reminded by my right hon. Friend the Secretary for War, were not done by contract to be paid for in the usual way, but the workmen employed were soldiers, who only received their ordinary pay in that capacity, so that the works cost less than they would have done if made by hired labour. Cherbourg has cost, from first to last, £8,032,000. France now feels that the great improvement in cannon and the greater range of missiles have rendered both Cherbourg and Toulon less secure from attack from the sea than they were before. Further works, therefore, at Cherbourg are going on, which I have included in this £8,000,000, and at Toulon other works are in progress, which will cost £475,000. What have the Netherlands done? At the end of the war it was deemed right to improve and extend the works of those fortresses on the frontier of the Netherlands, now forming part of Belgium, which were likely to be attacked by an enemy coming from the west. There was spent on those works £6,409,000. There was no land to purchase, the works were already existing, they had only to be improved and extended; there was less to be done on them than we have to do in regard to the works now proposed. How have the Germans thought in regard to these matters? The fortresses of Coblentz, Ulm, and Radstadt have cost £3,022,000; Posen, Konigsberg, and another fortress not yet finished have cost £2,829,000. The works at Alessandria in Italy have cost nearly 7,000,000 francs. Russia, since 1813, has spent 7,250,000 on her fortifications, of which £2,1)00,000 belong to Cronstadt. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Southwark (Sir Charles Napier) can tell us how effectual those fortifications were. Other naval officers, too, can tell us of what value they were, for whereas we bombarded Sweaborg and destroyed it, none of our officers, gallant as they were and strong as were their fleets, were able to get near enough to Cronstadt to have a chance of attacking it with any success. And, Sir, Russia is not inactive now. During the whole of the last winter the most energetic means were taken still further to strengthen those works. Two thousand carts were employed all the winter in con- 30 veying across the ice immense masses of stone, in cases twenty-four feet square, to the extent of 14,000 cubic fathoms, sixteen tons to the fathom, so that when the thaw came they might sink and render the barrier in front of Cronstadt still stronger and more effectual to prevent approach on the north. I say, then, when we see other countries alive to the possibility of attack and laying out these sums on their defences, it really would be criminal in the people of this country if they were to neglect doing something of the same kind for the purpose of defending those most important positions on our coasts.
I have no doubt that when these works are completed, as I trust they will be in a short space of time, they will place us in a position of comparative safety. The destinies of nations are in the hands of a higher Power, but it is the duty of man to do all that he reasonably can to deserve the support of that protecting Power. When these works are finished, we may say——"Be gracious, Heaven!For now laborious man has done his part.We shall have done everything that, humanly speaking, lies in our power to protect ourselves from invasion. If danger wore to arise, I have no doubt we should be able to muster in the field a force sufficient to resist, and successfully resist, any invader who might present himself upon our shores. We should show that the British nation are, as they always have been, capable of making any exertion that may be required of them. At the beginning of the second act of the late war we had 470,000 Volunteers. Now, we have 130,000; but, if there were any imminency of danger, there is no doubt that that number would be double, or treble, or four times greater than it is at present. We should show that we have—The unconquerable will,The courage never to submit or yield,And what is else not to be overcome.But, with all that, I say that any Government who had this Report before it, who knew what our dangers and our necessities are, who knew what are the means of remedying and guarding against them, and yet should fail to call upon this House to furnish it with the requisite resources for providing those defences which are indispensable, would be betraying its duty, would be guilty of a high crime and misdemeanour, and would deserve—I say it not as a mere metaphor, but in sober, 31 solemn earnest—would deserve the penalties of impeachment. And I cannot believe that any House of Commons to which this proposal is made would do otherwise than respond to the feeling of the country by adopting it. I am quite sure that any House of Commons which should have that appeal made to it, and should turn a deaf ear to it, would lose irretrievably and for ever the confidence and good opinion of the nation.
Sir, I now beg to submit the Resolution with which I shall conclude, namely—That it is the opinion of this Committee that towards providing for the Construction of Works for the Defence of the Royal Dockyards and Arsenals, and of the Ports of Dovor and Portland, and for the creation of a Central Arsenal, a sum not exceeding £2,000,000"—which is the sum we propose to take for the present year—be charged upon the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom; and that the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury be authorized and empowered to raise the said sum by Annuities for a term not exceeding thirty years, and that such Annuities shall be charged upon, and be payable out of, the said Consolidated Fund.Sir, the course we propose is this—We do not ask the House to vote at once the £9,000,000 which we think will be requisite for the completion of these works. The works will necessarily be spread over three or four years. We think that £2,000,000 are as much as can advantageously be spent between the present time and this time twelve months. We therefore limit our present demand to that amount, reserving it to ourselves, if we should be in office, or to those who may succeed us, to apply annually to Parliament for such other portions of the £9,000,000 as may be found necessary in each successive year. There will be laid before Parliament each year an account of the application of the money so voted. I propose to bring in a Bill which will, in fact, be an Appropriation Act for this purpose, by which the money thus raised shall be paid into a separate account kept distinct from the ordinary revenue of the country, and which shall be strictly applicable to these purposes and no other. An annual account shall be laid before Parliament for each instalment. I do not now pretend to say the exact amount of annual interest at which these £9,000,000 of terminable annuities may be raised. That will depend on the state and circumstances of the market. But it happens that there are terminable annuities which were raised for a period of forty-four years in 1823, and which will therefore expire 32 in 1867, involving an annual payment of £580,000. Well, it is quite clear, whatever may be the rate of interest at which these terminable annuities may be disposed of, that the aggregate charge for the whole £9,000,000 will fall far short of the £580,000 which will drop in 1867; so that the only additional charge beyond that now incurred which will arise from this measure will be limited to the interval between the present time and the year 1867. In 1867 these other terminable annuities will drop in, and from that period to the end of the thirty years for which these new annuities will run, only a portion of that £580,000 will remain as a charge upon the public. I think that the course we have proposed will, on the one hand, provide adequately for the defence of these various important positions, and, on the other, will involve as small an annual charge on the country as it is possible to impose. The £2,000,000 which we ask at first will be applied more or less to all the different places which are pointed out in the Report of the Commissioners. It is obvious that that sum will not be sufficient for undertaking all the works so recommended; but as those works cannot all be undertaken at once, we think the £2,000,000 will suffice for our present purpose. There will be laid before Parliament a schedule to show in what proportions the £2,000,000 will be divided among these different places. Sir, I hope the Committee, notwithstanding the caveat of the hon. Member for Birmingham, will be disposed to agree to the Resolution tonight. There will be ample opportunity, on the Resolution being reported, and on leave being obtained to bring in the Bill, and in Committee for discussing the whole matter at length. The Session is far advanced, and it is essential that Parliamentary authority should be given to the proposal without any delay that can reasonably be avoided. At the same time we have no wish to deprive hon. Members, or the House at large, of all those proper opportunities for discussion which are naturally demanded upon a measure the importance of which we are far from seeking to underrate.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That it is the opinion of this Committee that, towards providing for the Construction of Works for the Defence of the Royal Dockyards and Arsenals, and of the Ports of Dovor and Portland, and for the creation of a Central Arsenal, a sum, not exceeding two million pounds, be charged
upon the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom, and that the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury be authorized and empowered to raise the said sum by Annuities for a term not exceeding thirty years; and that such Annuities shall be charged upon and be payable out of the said Consolidated Fund.
§ MR. HUBBARD
said, he wished to say a few words on the latter part of the Resolution, and the mode of raising the money. If it were thought desirable to raise it in the most economical way, the House would certainly not resort to terminable annuities. The holders of those securities had so often suffered, that no capitalist would now lend money on them without taking a largo margin indeed for the risk to which he was exposed. A large allowance would be insisted on not only for the continuance of the present income tax, but also for the possible increase of that impost. It would be impossible to borrow money in the way proposed by the Government without losing a sum of from 5 to 10 per cent on the total amount of money they were to receive. By adhering to terminable annuities, he did not think it would be any exaggeration to say that out of the whole £12,000,000, they would throw away £1,000,000. The noble Lord had referred, by way of analogy, to the practice of landowners charging their estates for the improvement of their lands; and he wished to call the attention of the House to the difference that existed between that ease and the course proposed by the Government. The landowners did not borrow their money on terminable annuities; they made provision for repayment of the loan, capital, and interest in a given term of years. If the House was prepared to follow that course, let them propose to pay back the sum in yearly instalments. Landlords who borrowed money to improve their estates did not adopt the form of terminable annuities; but that of loans repayable in a certain term of years, capital and interest. Why should the noble Lord not resort to the more productive medium of Consols? He was aware of the answer he would receive—that it was desirable to throw the burden on the present generation, and for that purpose the noble Lord proposed that the sum should be repaid in thirty years. Well, that might he an excellent plan; but what did it imply? It implied this—that they could not trust the House of Commons to provide the funds for repayment year by year. And what security for the repayment of the loan would be obtained by borrowing it through 34 the medium of terminable annuities? What were they told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in bringing forward his Budget? That we had £2,000,000 of Long Annuities falling in. But what were we called upon to do now? To borrow £2,000,000 more. Therefore, what was the virtue of such a mode of borrowing? We could never repay our debts if we were in a position to be obliged to borrow again. The only mode of repaying debts was by their repayment out of surplus revenue, which we could only obtain by economy in the management of our expenditure. It came to this—if the House doubted that its successors would have the good sense and intelligence to repay the loan out of surplus revenue, let them accept the proposition of the noble Lord; but if they were of his opinion, that it was useless to fetter themselves by engagements of this kind, which they could not force themselves to keep, let them not borrow the money in a manner which would, upon the whole amount, add many hundred thousand pounds to the cost of these works.
§ MR. BRIGHT
I shall not go into the point to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, nor to that which is a thousand times more important—the proposition of the noble Lord; but I will undertake to say that, during the seventeen years that I have sat in this House, a question of this character, of this magnitude, and involving the expenditure of such enormous sums of money, has never before been brought forward without notice, and the House been asked to adopt it the same evening. The noble Viscount speaks of £9,000,000 or £12,000,000; but it is impossible for any one who has read that Report, and knows what we all do of public works, not to come to the conclusion that in all probability there will be an expenditure of double that amount. I believe that as sure as you commence those works, instead of spending £12,000,000, you will spend £24,000,000; and, without reference to the principle of the matter at all, I am not at all prepared to give my sanction to a Resolution like that, which has never been placed upon the table of the House which we heard for the first time from the lips of the noble Lord at the conclusion of his speech, and which involves the House and the country in so enormous an expenditure. I will not go into the question as to whether or not it is necessary that anything of this kind should be done. In the name of the House I protest against its being entrapped, if I may use such a term, 35 or invited, or cajoled into agreement to a Resolution of this kind without notice. I shall not even say what I think of the tone and manner of the speech of the noble Lord. He will hear of them on another occasion, no doubt. I shall content myself with moving that you, Sir, report Progress and ask leave to sit again; and I beg to state that I shall divide the House upon that question, that if there are Gentlemen in the House who will support me, and the Resolution is pressed to-night, the Committee will have the pleasure of dividing a good many times before it is agreed to.
§ MR. SIDNEY HERBERT
I think it is but fair that the Committee should be in possession of some of the details of the plan as it is proposed to be carried into effect by the Government, before they are called upon to vote for the Resolution which has been proposed by the noble Viscount. It is difficult, in discussing so large a scheme, to make oneself intelligible to the House, but I will endeavour to point out what are the portions of the scheme to which the Government attaches the greatest importance, and which they propose to take first, partly because of their importance, and partly because there is, for obvious reasons, great facility in commencing them. I observe that many hon. Members have in their hands the Report upon which the recommendations of the Government have been founded, and if they will follow me I will explain as shortly and as clearly as I can what are the works which we propose to take first. The whole sum which the Government asked to be voted this year, and to be raised by terminable annuities, is, in round numbers, £2,000,000; but that is not the whole sum which they intend to spend within the year if the House should sanction their proposal. There is upon the Estimates which nave not yet been laid before Parliament, except a lump sum for fortifications in the ordinary Army Estimates, a sum of about £450,000, which is to he devoted to carrying on some of the very works which are included in this general proposition. The Commissioners, it will be observed, give two distinct sets of Estimates, one for the completion of works now in progress, and the other for the erection of Works not yet begun. If you add the £450,000 charged for works in progress in the ordinary Army Estimates, you will find that the sum proposed to be expended in the year will amount to about £2,500,000.
36 Now, Sir, I suppose there can be no doubt about this, that of all the places to be defended Portsmouth is the most important. All I believe are agreed about that. Therefore, we propose to deal almost entirely with the sea defences at Portsmouth, and to commence the works covering a great part of the land faces. Now, I have heard it said that the defence of Portsmouth ought to be by a fleet. [Sir CHARLES NAPIER: Hear, hear!] The gallant officer has said that, but I think that I shall have him on my side if he reflects what is the main object of a fleet, and what is the main object of a dockyard. You want your fleet to be constantly moving about, and if once you are induced to defend Portsmouth by a fleet at Spit-head you have lost that fleet. You are then endeavouring to do the work of permanent fortifications with perishable materials such as ships. Those ships are invaluable because they have the power of moving to whatever point requires immediate defence, but if you condemn them to be the fortifications by which your dockyard is to be defended you cannot move them, and lose that which constitutes their chief value. What is the object of a dockyard except to make a fleet? But if the object of a fleet is to defend a dockyard, it would be cheaper and better to have neither one nor the other. You must defend that which makes the fleet by something other than the fleet which is made by it. You must be able to send your fleet at a moment's notice to act hostilely against the enemy; but in order to do that, you must have something left behind which shall not be moveable, which shall be permanent, and be capable of defending these dockyards. I am going to say one thing upon this subject which it is necessary that I should say, because I anticipate the objections which will be raised to-night. I know it has been stated, and especially with regard to Portsmouth, that there are in the evidence the opinions of naval men pointing out the weakness of its present defences and showing how it might be attacked, and it has been asked how can the Government take the responsibility of showing up the weakness of these defences when information may by that means be communicated to our enemies? Well, Sir, in a constitutional Government we must risk a great deal. If the House of Commons i3 to deal, as I hope it will deal, in a generous and patriotic spirit with this question, you must take it into your confidence. You 37 cannot use reserve; you cannot say to this House, "We call upon you to spend largo sums, but we will not show any justification. You must take it upon trust. We will not tell you how the money is to be expended; it is a question of confidence in the discretion of the Government." The House of Commons would rightfully say, "Lay before us the materials upon which you formed your judgment, in order to enable us to form one for ourselves." In this country you must deal with Parliament in that spirit at whatever risk; and it would be an immense risk, if you had a doubt about the success of the measure. But I have no doubt as to the success of the measure. I do not care about showing up the weak places, if I know that you will assist the Government to make them strong. That is the proper way in which to meet this difficulty; a difficulty upon which we had to decide, but in regard to which I believe that we have decided rightly, because I am confident that the country will be disposed to forward the efforts of the Government to put the dockyards in a state of security. At Portsmouth we propose to proceed first with the sea defences, and the landing places in the Isle of Wight, which, after all, is the breakwater of Portsmouth harbour. we propose to take three out of the five points proposed for defence at Spithead. I will not quote from the evidence; but hon. Gentlemen who have read the Report, must have seen that naval men tell us that the anchorage of Spithead is not a safe one. Steam has come in there again, and would enable a hostile navy to make a rapid invasion upon that anchorage. Spithead is a harbour not only for ships of war, which can defend themselves, but also for merchant vessels taking refuge either from bad weather, or from an enemy in the Channel. We take these three works out of the five which have been proposed, because about them no doubts have been expressed. As to the work upon the Spit, I believe that some doubts have been entertained. It has been said that it would be a buoy to lead ships in. For my own part, I do not attach much importance to that objection. There are buoys which are very unattractive to hostile ships. Vessels do not like to come near great tiers of guns, and at night there would be no lights in these works. The marks by which a hostile fleet could attack Portsmouth at night, would be the lights in Portsmouth and Gosport, and not any in the towers 38 upon those shoals, which in themselves would not be visible. We propose, also, to complete the works at Gosport, which are now very much advanced, and to go on with the defences to the northward, taking not the whole number of forts upon the plan, but five instead of eight. We propose to finish other works at Portsmouth, and that will be all that will be done this year at that place. The cost of the works at Portsmouth, when completed, will be £1,920,000, including the purchase of land. [Sir JOHN PAKINGTON: This year?] No; for the completion of the works. The sum to be spent this year will be about £540,000.
At Plymouth we propose to take the sea defences,—that is, the work behind the breakwater, and the work upon Staddon Point, and the three works to the northeast, defending it from any force which might advance from Torbay. All the works, when finished, will cost £1,200,000, of which we shall this year spend something like £300,000.
At Pembroke it is proposed simply to have some works at the landing places in the neighbourhood, and to erect a work on the north, which will stand upon an eminence, and arrest the progress of any enemy who may advance from that side. Those works, when completed, will cost about £220,000, of which we propose to spend this year about £130,000.
I think no Gentleman will deny that whatever is to be done for strengthening the Thames, ought to be done at once. We propose, therefore, to take £180,000, of which we shall this year probably not be able to lay out more than £40,000, or £50,000. The same applies to Chatham and the Medway. At Dovor it is proposed simply to hasten the existing works, and to commence a work on ground above which commands the castle; and the same course is to be pursued at Portland. It has been proposed by the Commissioners to make a large purchase of land at the latter place; under the impression that, some time or other, there will be a naval establishment there. The Government, however, do not intend to carry that proposition into effect; because it would be impossible to defend from bombardment from the seaward any works in the nature of an arsenal or a dockyard which might be erected at Portland. We wish Portland to be made perfectly safe as an anchorage, but we do not contemplate making a large naval establishment there. Portland would 39 be open to the same objection as Sheerness, and would be constantly exposed to be bombarded from the sea without any power of resistance. The only other works which I have to mention are those at Cork, where there is a magnificent harbour, and where we propose to erect works which will ultimately cost £120,000; of which about £20,000 will be expended in the present year. We believe the works at Cork will put that harbour in a good state of defence. I know not whether the Committee now clearly understand what are the works which the Government intend to commence at once; but I may say generally that they are the sea defences everywhere, partially the land defences at Plymouth and Chatham, and nearly the whole of the land defences at Portsmouth. Those are the works which will be commenced in the present year, and which will ultimately, when completed, involve us in an expenditure of nearly £5,000,000.
The hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) says he knows what public works are, and he will be much surprised if we get out of these under £24,000,000, instead of £12,000,000. The Government have excluded from their proposals the cost of everything which is perishable. It would not be honest to saddle posterity, even in the limited form of terminable annuities, with a charge for that which perishes soon after it is created. Armaments are perishable. Your cannon become useless and unserviceable after a few years. Floating batteries, which are proposed as one means of defence, and which are popular with many gentlemen, would cost more than solid defences, because they are like ships, which live only about thirty years. At the end of that time, having cost an enormous amount for repairs in the meanwhile, they would have to be rebuilt. There is a further disadvantage connected with floating batteries. At present we know little as to the way of making them invulnerable by iron coating, and if it should turn out that a floating battery was not invulnerable one unfortunate shot might send the whole concern to the bottom—men, guns, and all. The Committee will see that there is an immense risk attached to floating batteries, which does not apply to solid defences. All the works we propose will be of a lasting and permanent character. The estimates, moreover, have been framed studiously and on purpose upon the largest possible scale.
We have taken a very large sum for the 40 purchase of land, and I intend to introduce a Bill which will give us a power that, under the Defences Act, the Secretary of State does not possess. It will enable us, where we want land as a rayon around a work, not to purchase the fee-simple, but to buy up the building rights, paying the difference of value between agricultural and building land. There will be considerable advantage in that provision. It will prevent us from purchasing more land than is absolutely necessary for our purpose, and, as most of the places where the contemplated works are to be erected are Parliamentary boroughs, it is neither wise nor wholesome that Government should become large landed proprietors within them. Public opinion, moreover, is subject to sudden changes. We recollect the time when there were no apprehensions of war, and when, in consequence of the economical notions which prevailed, land of immense value to the national defence was sold. The Committee will understand that it would be much less lucrative to sell a right of building upon land than the land itself, and therefore we shall not be exposed to one very obvious temptation. As I have said, the estimates are very large, because our defences ought to be made as perfect as possible; but still the Government, as they were bound to do, have exercised a discretion, especially on the land side, as to whether or not, looking at the probabilities of attack, the whole of the works recommended by the Commissioners are absolutely necessary. The consequence has been that where there has been a doubt between engineer officers as to whether additional works are wanted or not at any given place we have decided in favour of the negative view. Hence I have little doubt that the estimates we have framed will be found more than sufficient to meet the expenses of the proposed works, and at the conclusion of the business we may discover that we have spent less money on the defences than was originally contemplated.
Let me say a few words upon a question which has been very much discussed—the defence of London. It has been asked while you are doing so much for the dockyards and arsenal why do not you do something for the defence of London. Undoubtedly that is a very popular view. But how is that defence to be accomplished? A writer of great ability, and an eminent military authority, in a popular periodical has proposed to defend London by six forts 41 placed apart at distances of something like seven or ten miles. What military commander, bent upon entering London, would stop because he knows be has got two small forts, one on either side of him, each five miles off? Such a defence would not, I imagine, shake his resolution to make a raid upon London. But it is proposed that the forts in question should be built for fabulously small sums. The land, for example, is to be got for £200 an acre. I know something about the purchase of land in the immediate suburbs of London, and I say you would be more likely to pay from £2,000 to £5,000 an acre. Moreover, the very places you would select for your forts are just the sites which, from their height and picturesque character, are the best suited for villas and expensive gardens, and which consequently bring the highest price. The none around London is far more valuable than that around any other town in the world. Each fort would require to be surrounded by a clear space; in fact, you would have to make a kind of desert round London, and the land would have to be purchased at a cost so enormous as to render the completion of the scheme impossible. Talk of locking up men! That is the objection taken to the plans of the Commissioners. I am not certain whether it is a sound one. The plans have been modified, and a less force of men will be required than that contemplated by the Commissioners. We have to consider the relative expense of men and works. When works are cheaper let us take works; when men are cheaper let us take men. It so happens we are strongest in raw levies. Raw levies cannot be manœuvred in the field, but they may make a brilliant and successful defence behind works. The most untutored nations in the world—the Turks for instance—fight stoutly behind works, but they will not stand in the field. So your irregulars and raw levies should be used to defend your arsenals and dockyards.
But it is said that there is no necessity for solid and permanent fortifications. Napoleon, however, used to say that it was dangerous to trust to earthworks which are to be got up on a sudden, unless there is a strong force behind them. It has been stated that Sebastopol is an instance of a successful defence made by earthworks hastily erected. But those earthworks were not erected on a sudden. We were never able to force the sea defences, regular fortifications, which were eminently successful, and we gave the 42 enemy three weeks or a month to make their land defences. That is a peculiarity in the case, and I believe that if Sebastopol had been defended by permanent works on the south side, to which we went because they were strong fortifications on the north, it never would have been attacked at all. Such a step would have been looked on as impossible. Napoleon observed that a provincial militia was a force to defend strong places. Keep your good troops in the field, he said, and place your militia in works where they are as good as the best soldiers in the world. That is my belief, and for the very reasons why it is cheaper, better, and more secure to defend your dockyards by permanent works, I think it would be impolitic to adopt the same course in the case of London.
I am sure the more the Committee reflects on the proposals of the Government and examines the plans of the Commissioners, the more it will be satisfied that we have taken a wise and politic course. It was an argument prominently put forward in Mr. Pitt's time, though I do not expect to hear it repeated now, that you cannot trust the Crown with the possession of places so strong, because they might be used as positions of aggression against the people. I do not think that any man in his senses would think of using such an argument in the present day. It had, however, a great effect formerly, and Mr. Pitt's plan to fortify Portsmouth and other places was defeated. It has been since said that this was a fortunate circumstance, because otherwise a considerable expense would have been incurred and we should have had to make other works over again. That, however, is not so, for Mr. Pitt's plans showed great foresight and judgment, and a great many of them are being executed at present. Though you are now compelled to extend your fortifications further, owing to the longer range of guns, and to defend yourselves by detached forts, instead of continuous lines, yet it is always an advantage when you have detached forts to have an inner line to fall back upon. It is highly important that those places where the means of your power are produced should have every appliance which skill and art could produce to make them secure. I will not delay the Committee longer, but I cannot sit down without expressing my earnest hope that they will consider this question to be, as it really is, a national question. Last year, when my gallant predecessor moved the Army Estimates, I was 43 struck by an observation of his to the effect that the House should make up its mind what to do with those fortifications, and not go on peddling with small sums year by year; but that if the fortifications were necessary they ought to be completed at once, and if not they ought to be abandoned. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman repeated the observation on another occasion on the question being mooted by the right hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Horsman) when I had the privilege of taking part in the discussion. I had already made a proposal to the Government on the subject; but I thought it necessary to be strengthened by the report of men eminent in science, and I believe that thereby we have found the means of making an enormous improvement in the security of this country. I have laboured at the matter with great anxiety, and I confess I should despair of this country if I thought the people would hesitate to make the sacrifice we ask. Of course, a large expense is to be incurred, and to be defrayed not in the cheapest way—by means of terminable securities. It is said that the money may be had more cheaply and easily by means of Consols. No doubt; but is it not important to show that we are not imposing a burden on posterity and making no effort ourselves, and that this is an exceptional and extraordinary proceeding? This country, looking at these questions with an anxious mind, is determined that the kingdom shall be put into such a state of security, that nothing less but enormous preparation, attended necessarily with due notice, should be able to produce a force that could make an impression of a permanent nature upon it. If these works are put into a thorough state of defence you may rest on your pillow in the confidence that Portsmouth or Plymouth, if attacked, will be able to defend itself, and you may then concentrate all your energies upon the defence of London, if you think it likely to he attacked. Portsmouth, Portsdown, Dovor, and Chatham are really the great outworks of London, and you are not neglecting London or the navy when you are doing these things. I am sure that the Government have no wish to force this proposition in a hurry through the House, and if hon. Gentlemen wish for time to consider, it will not be denied them. I hope they will give the subject the most earnest attention, confident that the Government will not he deserted by the generosity and patriotism of the Parliament and the people.
said, in his opinion the great principle to be laid down with respect to the national defences was that, so far as human foresight and means could provide, the Government of the day should be responsible for their sufficiency. When he said that he did not mean a mere nominal responsibility, which as they saw was but too often placed on the Government for their acts. No punishment could he too great for that Ministry who, by neglecting the construction of needful works, allowed such a misfortune to occur as that of the Metropolis falling into the hands of an enemy. He thought that that House and the country had a right, in return for the large sums of money they had willingly voted, to expect that the nation should be placed in a state of defence, and made secure against the danger of any attack. The country would be willing to see any money voted to secure that object, and in throwing the responsibility on the Government he could not, for one, refuse to grant them the means to provide for the protection of the country. He did not think it wise for individual Members of Parliament to take upon themselves, however competent to form an opinion, to criticise these plans, or to quote military authorities who did the same thing. Let the Committee remember that such persons were not responsible, and that the plans under consideration were proposed by men responsible for the advice they gave. It was this responsibility that he wished to insist upon, not only for the plans themselves, but for the construction of the works to he carried out. The fault of the military administration of this country had been that when a great error was committed it was not possible to place one's hand on the responsible person. Now, he hoped with respect to these large works, for which the House was called upon to vote so great an expenditure, that, at all events, there would be some person responsible to the House for seeing that this large sum was spent to the best advantage. He observed from a paper placed in the hands of hon. Members that day that the Defence Committee expressed themselves entirely in favour of the views of the Royal Commission; but they said, further, that, either with or without fortifications, there must he a great addition to the regular army. The total of Her Majesty's forces, including 15,000 of the local European forces in India, was 245,000 men. If, then, the largest number of 45 troops which it was reckoned could be required in India were maintained there—namely, 80,000—the average number required in the Colonies and our military stations abroad being 40,000, that would leave a body of 125,000 regular troops in this country. To these must be added 17,000 pensioners who were available for garrison duty, as well as that portion of the army of India who must always be in depot here. This would leave us 150,000 regular troops, and, after making all deductions, we should be able at short notice to bring into the field 80,000 regular troops, including the finest artillery in the world, and, he believed, the finest cavalry. This was exclusive of the Militia, and of the magnificent auxiliary army which had been recently created, and which, on an emergency, might be increased to hundreds of thousands. If all these resources were properly organized, there would be no reason for the least alarm. But the safety of the country depended materially on the organization of our army of reserve, and he confessed that he was not satisfied that the proposed plan for reorganizing the Militia would render them as efficient as they ought to be. No doubt they would be made as efficient as it was possible for any men to be who received only twenty-eight days' drill in the year; but in his opinion the army of reserve ought to consist entirely of regularly drilled soldiers. Depend upon it if their services were required there would be no time for preparation. There would not be six months' notice of any war. It would be a word and a blow, or very probably the blow would fall without the word; and under those circumstances he was afraid that the training of the Militia would be found insufficient. That, however, was a subject on which he should have future opportunities of speaking. He would only now say that those who sat on the benches around him saw no reason for postponing this Vote, and thought the Committee might very well come to an immediate decision.
§ MR. BERNAL OSBORNE
The very able and concise statement of the noble Lord opens such new, and, to my mind, such alarming considerations, that it is impossible to suppose, after that speech, that we can have the same friendly relations with France which existed at the beginning of the Session. Sir, I do not think the House ought to legislate on a sudden. I expressly guard myself from saying that I do not approve parts of the noble Lord's 46 plan. At the same time I can conceive nothing more detrimental to the character and the weight of this House than to legislate under the pressure of a sudden panic, which I conceive we should be doing if we at once rush to a vote on this question. How stands the case? My hon. Friend (Mr. Bright), with whose general views on this subject I do not agree, has said that during the time he has been in Parliament he has never known such a course taken. I challenge any hon. Gentleman to say whether, since this was a House of Commons, any Minister of the Crown has ever come forward suddenly with a Resolution which had not been upon the table before, and asked for an immediate vote upon that Resolution. I do hope, from a few observations which fell from the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. S. Herbert) at the conclusion of his speech, that the Government do not intend to press us for a vote to-night. He said he was sure that the more the House reflected on this statement, the more wise and politic they would consider the proposed plan to be. If that be so, why should not the right hon. Gentleman postpone the vote and give us some little breathing time? I do not say that I shall not support the right hon. Gentleman. All I ask is that we may not expose ourselves somewhat to the sneers of foreign nations, as well as to the distrust of our own constituents, by immediately rushing to a precipitate vote. What is it we are about to do? It is true that to-night we are only asked to spend £2,000,000; but does not every one feel that this is only the beginning of an enormous addition to our expenditure? The noble Lord has very well laid down his plans, but has altogether kept out of sight the troops for which we shall be asked. I believe Cannock Chase, also, is not included in the Vote. ["Yes!"] Well, I will throw Cannock Chase in; but I say we shall not be consulting our own dignity as a deliberative assembly if to-night we agree to a Resolution which we have never seen or heard of before. It seems now that the blue-book was known to the Government as early as the 7th of February. Since then we have had a Budget brought forward, in which most material financial changes were introduced, the Ministry knowing at that time that this call of £11,580,000 would be made. They were perfectly aware of all this, and yet on the 23rd of July the House is called upon, for the first time, not indeed to take their proposals into consideration, but to 47 give without notice an immediate vote; and we have hon. Gentlemen getting up under the influence of a panic. The delay of this Resolution for three or four days cannot be of the slightest possible moment. The fortifications are to occupy four years, and I think it will not be becoming the House of Commons to decide so hastily. I do not wish to be placed in a position hostile to the Government on this question. On the contrary, I hope to be able to give them my support; my only object is to press for the postponement of the Resolution. I will only add one word with regard to the publication of the Report of the Commissioners. The right hon. Gentleman the War Secretary has said that in a constitutional Government you are obliged to make these matters public. To that doctrine I cannot assent. I believe in all warlike operations that the one essential thing is secrecy. If we are to publish our weak points to all the world, we invite all the world to attack us. When the Duke of Wellington formed the mighty lines of Torres Vedras, an operation which occupied more than ten months, Massena was not a bit aware of them, nor was their existence known to any persons in the English army, except the members of the confidential staff. That is a sufficient answer to those who defend the publication of the blue-book. Those lines at Torres Vedras saved the liberties of the world, because if Spain and Portugal had fallen at that time, the whole world would have been in the grasp of the first Napoleon. I look upon the publication of this Report as most mischievous. However, that is done and cannot be undone; but with regard to the Resolution, I do hope the noble Lord will not to-night call upon us to vote upon it.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
I think the argument of my hon. Friend (Mr. Bernal Osborne) is rather at variance with the course which he suggests. He finds fault with the Government for having given in too much detail the reasons why they propose the Vote, and at the same time he objects to the Vote being taken to-night because, he says, the, Committee have not had sufficient time to examine into those details. Now, if there was any force in the argument of my hon. Friend, he ought to be prepared to vote the money on terms of general confidence in the Government, upon our declaration that we think such a sum is necessary for the defence of the country, and without calling upon us to say why we think it necessary. I there- 48 fore claim the vote of my hon. Friend on his own argument. It is really not fair to say that we are calling upon the House of Commons to act on a sudden panic. This Report has been for some time before the House. It gives all the details, and those who have read it are just as wise on the subject now as they will be this day week. Then, again, my hon. Friend says that after my statement this evening it is hopeless to expect the continuance of any friendly relations with France. Why, the only foundation for friendship between equals is perfect frankness; and, so far from the fair statement of what we intend to do for our own defence being the ground for bad relations between us and France, I say that not only the statement made tonight, but the works which are to follow that statement, are the only foundation for real and substantial friendship with France. I am quite sure that if we press this question to a division it will be carried by a large majority; but I am far from wishing to call upon hon. Members for a decision which they are not immediately prepared to come to. I concur entirely with my right hon. Friend (Mr. Sidney Herbert) in thinking that the more the House reflects on the matter, the more completely they will come round to our proposal, and that they will be more ready to assent to it this day week than they are now. I am prepared, therefore, to yield to the request which has been made, and to move, Sir, that you report Progress now, and that the debate be resumed this day week.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, he rejoiced that the Government had at last determined to carry out the recommendations of the Commissioners. It was impossible to forget that in 1847 the Duke of Wellington warned the country of the necessity of preparation. He was certain that the country would respond to the appeal of the noble Lord.
§ MR. DISRAELI
I do not intend to trouble the Committee upon the particular question before us. I will only say that as to the mode in which this money is to be raised I confess I have great doubts of the wisdom of the plan, and I should like to have heard the opinion of the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon that point. But what I want to ask is, now that this change has taken place in the business, can the noble Lord fix a day when the new paper duty will be taken?
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is 49 not here, and, therefore, I cannot say when the paper duty will come on. The Indian Army Amalgamation Bill is fixed for Thursday, and Friday is a private night. I must make one or two remarks upon the mode in which it is proposed to raise this money. In the first place, although my noble Friend stated that the plan contemplated ultimately an expenditure not exceeding £9,000,000, all we pledged the House in this year is to consent to raise £2,000,000on terminable annuities. There is no doubt an equal sum might be borrowed on Consols at a somewhat less annual charge. Terminable annuities are not the most saleable stock. In general, assurance companies alone deal extensively in them, and the public will not take them except at a higher rate, although not a considerably higher rate than Consols. But let the Committee consider the alternative. If we had proposed to raise this money by creating an amount of Three per Cent Consols or Exchequer bonds or bills, it is certain that it would form an addition to the permanent debt of the country, and that the public would not consent to raise the funds for extinguishing that debt in the present generation. The Committee will remember that an attempt was made during the last war to create a charge on the Consolidated Fund for the gradual extinction of a certain debt in Consols, but that Act had not been in existence three years when the right hon. Gentleman opposite, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer—I do not say without necessity—came down and proposed the repeal of that Act. Even this year it is proposed to renew a debt of a million in Exchequer bonds, and there is no reasonable prospect, unless you compel this House by the term of the contract to repay a portion of the principal periodically, that the money will ever be repaid. The advantage of terminable annuities is this,—although it costs you something more when you borrow in that form, yet the excess of charge is not considerable; you make it necessary that a portion of the principal should be repaid every year, together with the interest. The essence of terminable annuities is that on the repayment principal and interest are confounded. That mode of compelling the public to repay the principal of the debt seems to me to be well suited to the present occasion, when we are departing from the ordinary course of defraying the current service of the year by contracting a loan. Although I admit that terminable 50 annuities are not the most economical mode of contracting a loan, yet that plan seems to me to have an advantage in compelling the Government which contracts the loan to specify in the contract, which cannot be broken without a violation of national faith, that a certain portion of the principal shall be repaid each year, and I should be glad to see a considerable portion of our national debt converted into terminable annuities.
§ MR. DISRAELI
I am sorry again to trouble the Committee upon the same subject, but it appears to me that, at this period of the Session, the House has a right to expect something more definite than the statement we have already heard of when the paper duty will come on. Can the noble Lord tell us when will be the next Supply night, and will the paper duty be taken then?
§ MR. BRIGHT
I wish to ask when the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for India intends to make his statement respecting the finances of India. I understand there is a deficit of £7,000,000, and therefore it is probable that a loan will have to be contracted. That is a question which should not be deferred until the last day of the Session.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
In the absence of my right hon. Friend I cannot give an answer, but the day when my right hon. Friend will bring on his Indian Budget must depend upon the other business. I will state to-morrow what will be done.
§ MR. J. L. RICARDO
remarked, that he thought terminable annuities an extravagant and wasteful mode of raising money. Terminable annuities had been a sort of sinking fund, for while they had been paying those annuities they had created Consols, They paid money on the one hand and increased the debt on the other.
§ MR. CONINGHAM
said, he wished to express his satisfaction that the noble Lord at the head of the Government had acceded to the request of the hon. Member for Birmingham. He had little confidence in bricks and mortar for keeping this country safe from foreign aggression. We had had some experience in this matter. An enormous sum had been expended in the creation of extensive works for the defence of the Channel Islands on the recommendation of the Duke of Wellington; but the late Mr. Stephenson, after a cruise round those 51 islands, said every shilling that had been spent was thrown away. He had more confidence in the spirit of the country and the volunteer system, which he thought might be rendered much more effective by giving facilities to the working classes to join in it, than he had in fortifications. The improvements in gunnery had already rendered the fortifications at Portsmouth useless, and it might therefore easily happen that, after we had expended large sums on our national defences, we might find that our money had been thrown away, and that we had the work to do over again.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, it appeared to him that there was a little discrepancy between the statements of the noble Lord opposite and the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War. The noble Lord said that £7,000,000 would be wanted for the fortifications, and the right hon. Gentleman said that about£5,000,000 would be required.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
explained that what his right hon. Friend (Mr. S. Herbert) stated was, that the works to be commenced this year would only pledge the House to an expenditure of £5,000,000.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, there was a Vote for fortifications in the Army Estimates to the amount of £600,000, of which £200,000 had been already voted. He wished to know whether they were to take that Vote in the lump or in detail, as was the practice on former occasions. The noble Lord said that something less than £500,000 a year Would be necessary to provide for the terminable annuities. How, he (Sir Stafford Northcote) asked, was that sum to be provided?
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
said, that the Vote in the Army Estimates for fortifications would be sufficient to cover the sum necessary for the terminable annuities for the year.
§ SIR LAWRENCE PALK
said, it appeared to him to be an extraordinary fact that when a question was under consideration which belonged more particularly to one department of the Government the Minister in charge of that department should be unfortunately absent. The noble Lord's Resolution, if agreed to, would pledge the House to the expenditure of a very large sum of money. On such an occasion he thought it most extraordinary that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should be absent. He doubted not there were some excellent reasons for the 52 right hon. Gentleman's absence, but it seemed to him to be a fact not very respectful to the House or the country. He wished to point out to the Government the propriety of not dealing in a niggardly spirit with those from whom land was purchased for the construction of fortifications. It should be borne in mind that taking a portion of land for such purposes very often destroyed a great deal more for building purposes.
§ MR. EDWIN JAMES
objected to that important question being discussed in a desultory and unsatisfactory manner. As the subject was one of the greatest consequence to this country and to its standing in Europe, it should be discussed in a serious manner, and after the Committee had had ample time to consider it.
§ MR. J. C. EWART
said, he wished to point out the importance of converting steamboats at Liverpool into gunboats, for defensive purposes.
§ House resumed.
§ Committee report Progress: to sit again on Monday.