HC Deb 01 August 1861 vol 164 cc1826-32

Order for third Reading read.


moved the Order of the Day for the third reading of this Bill.


said, that not having been present when this Bill was discussed, he wished to say a few words. He thought it a valuable measure, and one which on various grounds ought to receive the sanction of the House; but much must, of course, depend on the regulations by which it would be carried into effect. As chairman of the meeting of officers of the mercantile marine held some weeks ago at the London Tavern, he had been deputed to wait on the Duke of Somerset, in order to acquaint his Grace with the resolutions to which they had come. It was but justice to say that the Duke of Somerset and the noble Lord the Secretary of the Admiralty had gone as far as practicable in meeting the objections which the officers of the merchant service entertained to the scheme. He, therefore, trusted the officers of the merchant service would have no hesitation in coming forward and entering themselves, as patriotic men, in this Reserve; and if they did so there would, he was sure, be no difficulty about the Reserve of 30,000 men recommended to be raised. At the same time, he thought his noble Friend had not been sufficiently explicit on one subject — he meant the difficult and delicate point of rank. Within the last ten years, since the passing of the Mercantile Marine Act, the officers of the mercantile service had greatly improved in character. They had to pass an examination in seamanship and navigation quite as strict as the officers of the Royal Navy had to undergo; and it would not be agreeable to them to serve under junior officers of the navy, who in comparison with themselves might be mere boys. That difficulty might perhaps be met in this way: —The officers of Reserve could only be called out on emergencies. On such occasions there would, no doubt, be a great number of small gun and despatch boats employed, and the Admiralty might place those officers as lieutenants in command of them. These officers were willing — nay, anxious, to enter the Reserve force even at a considerable pecuniary sacrifice; but they desired that their position in the Reserve should not be inferior to that which they now occupied. He hoped the noble Lord would say a few words on this occasion to encourage these officers to join the Reserve. He could testify to the best feeling existing between the officers of the two services, and he hoped immediately the regulations were issued it would be found the full complement of officers had entered, to be followed by the full number of seamen. Having said so much on this Bill, he might be allowed to say a few words in regard to the naval armament. At the commencement of the Session he had made a statement on the authority of the French Minister of Marine in regard to the armaments in that country, and every means had been placed at his disposal to enable him to ascertain whether the figures were accurate. He had himself received an invitation to visit the dockyards of France, and, although he was unable to avail himself of that invitation, a competent gentleman had been despatched under his direction to make a thorough inspection of the French dockyards. The result of that gentleman's observations entirely confirmed the accuracy of the figures which he had himself submitted to the House on the subject. During the Easter recess his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow (Mr. Dalglish) and another hon. Member also visited the French dockyards, and orders were granted by the French Minister of Marine to facilitate their inspection of everything to be found there. They made an inspection accordingly; and they, likewise, confirmed everything which he had said to the House in regard to the then naval armaments of France. He mentioned this because some remarks that he had made the other night had evidently been misunderstood across the Channel. It has been stated, however, that of late a great movement had been made in the number of iron-cased ships about to be built, or building by France. It was difficult to put faith in the statements made on this point the other night by the noble Lord at the head of the" Government and by the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty; but if those statements were correct, then, considering the extent of our property afloat and on shore, and considering also the vast extent of our seaboard both at home and in our colonies, there was no other course left to England but to go on building those iron ships for which the "Votes had been taken. The necessities of our position required that if France had twenty of those ships this country must, he was sorry to say, have thirty. But while he said that he nevertheless could not doubt the friendly intentions of France towards England; because the Emperor knew it to be his own interest to maintain amicable relations with us, From the conversations which he had had with the Ministers of France, as well as with the Emperor himself, he believed the French Government were willing to come to some understanding with this country as to the relative strength of the armaments to be kept up by the two Powers. On the part of the people of France he thought a similar desire existed, and he, therefore, earnestly hoped that Her Majesty's Government would during the approaching recess use their best endeavours to carry out such an understanding.


appealed to the Government, before the Session closed, to inform the House and the country whether there was the slightest chance of any such arrangement being concluded between the two Governments as that to which the hon. Member for Sunderland had referred. If it were possible—even though it might be most improbable—that such an arrangement could be come to, it was due to the people of England, on whom the enormous cost of these armaments would fall, that the attempt should be made. France and England seemed, by a process of financial exhaustion, to be trying to discover which could expend most money in increasing its armaments. There was nothing to justify the course which France was pursuing in this respect. It was only due to the taxpayers of this country, who wore ready to bear every needful burden for the national defence, that they should learn from Her Majesty's Government whether any attempt had already been or would still be made with a view to bring about some j limitation of the ruinous rivalry now going I on between the two countries.


only wished to say, in answer to the remarks of the hon. Member for Sunderland as to the comparative armaments of France and England, that the statements which his noble Friend and himself made the other day had reference to a totally different period from that to which the hon. Member had alluded when he gave the House the information that he had obtained regarding the French dockyards. The hon. Member for Sunderland, as he understood him, had caused certain parties to go and inspect the French dockyards. Now, the Government were perfectly aware that early during the present year there was no considerable progress making in those ten additional iron-cased ships. But since that date an order had been given to all the French dockyards to proceed with those ships; and the statement made by his noble Friend had reference to that circumstance. In regard to the matter really before the House—namely, the third reading of the Officers of the Naval Reserve Bill, he must say he did not think his hon. Friend had done justice to his remarks concerning those officers the other evening. He had distinctly stated that he was quite sure the Admiralty would consult the feelings of the senior officers and old captains of the merchant service who entered the Naval Reserve, and that if they should be called upon in time of war it would be the duty of the Admiralty, as far as possible, to avoid putting them in a situation that would be derogatory to their professional standing or character. He was sure that no Board of Admiralty would ever think of offering any affront to those officers. On the contrary, the desire would be to place them in an honourable position if ever they should be called upon for active service. It was impossible for him now to make a prospective arrangement as to what should take place in the unfortunate event of a war. He could only say that the Admiralty accepted the services of these gentlemen with the highest possible gratification. He hoped and believed that they would come forward in great numbers to serve their country as the rest of their countrymen had done, and he would earnestly beseech them, as he would beseech his own brother officers, to cast aside all the ancient antagonism and jealousy which bad, unhappily, prevailed. He trusted that there would be a general desire for mutual conciliation on the part of the navy and the merchant service, and he was confident that these officers of the Reserve would be cordially welcomed into the service.


wished to draw a moral from the remarks of the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty. The noble Lord said that when the hon. Member for Sunderland sent a special agent to France to ascertain the amount of naval preparations going on there, the progress then described as being made in the French dockyards was correct; but that since then, or three months afterwards, a vast augmentation in those preparations had taken place. Would it not be reasonable to infer that the magnitude of our preparations had provoked the increased activity of France? What was the use of the boasted friendship and alliance between the two countries if things were to go on as at present?: When was the rivalry to cease, and could not some understanding be come to between the two countries to put an end to a state J of things which sooner or later must lead to a collision?


My hon. Friend has drawn a conclusion which is not warranted by the facts nor by the statement of my noble Friend. He infers that because the active execution of these new ships had not begun when the inquiries of the hon. Member for Sunderland were made, therefore, the subsequent commencement of these ships was owing to our preparations. Now, in point of fact, we had made no preparations, because the orders which have been issued for casing some wooden ships, and for commencing the construction of some iron vessels, are very re- cent and subsequent to what the French Government has done, and are founded upon what that Government has done. But the real history of the case is this, as I said the other evening:—In December last the French Government took a resolution to construct ten iron ships in addition to the six which were known to us before. They had doubts as the proper mode of construction, and those doubts were to be solved by experiments which were to be made bythe Gloire, which was afloat. They remained from that time until May in suspense, and it was not until May that, having settled certain doubtful points which were not settled before, and which were only decided by the cruise of the Gloire, orders were given actively to proceed with these ten armed ships. The keels were then laid down, and proceedings commenced. And, therefore, as my noble Friend said, the investigation made by the hon. Member for Sunderland took place at a time when the order had been determined upon, but not actually given to the dockyards, and anybody going to the dockyards then would see nothing, because there was nothing to see. The statements made by my noble Friend and myself at a later period referred to the actual commencement of these ships. Now, as to the other question—one of great importance—whether the British Government could not enter into communication with any foreign Government—for it must not be confined to France—but with any foreign Government, with a view to impose a limit upon the respective naval forces of the two countries, that is a more important question, of great difficulty, and open to much criticism. I think that, although at the first blush it, appears to be a practicable thing, I think that any British Government would long pause and hesitate before it entered into any agreement with foreign countries limiting the amount of force, naval or military, which this country ought to maintain. We should judge of that amount according to the circumstances of the moment. Any agreement must be with several foreign Powers; because it is not France alone that is a naval Power. There are Russia, the United States, Spain—which is growing in importance— and other States which have navies, and, therefore, any limitation of our own force must be made with a view not only to the naval power of France, but to any possible combination of other Powers. Such an arrangement would, I think, lead to interminable doubts and disputes. We must have officers watching them, and they must have officers watching us; there would be doubts and suspicions of bad faith, and, instead of laying the foundations of peace, we should, I fear, be sowing the seeds of future interminable dissensions.

Bill read 30 and passed.

On Motion for the Adjournment of the House,