HC Deb 11 February 1861 vol 161 cc324-6

said, he rose to move for leave to bring in a Bill enabling the Admiralty to acquire property for the enlargement of Her Majesty's Dockyard at Chatham, and to embank part of the River Medway and for other purposes connected therewith. The immediate object of the Bill was to enable the Admiralty to enclose St. Mary's Creek, near Chatham, with the ultimate object of enlarging the Dockyard in that direction. When the Naval Estimates were brought in he should be prepared to state the amount that would be asked for for this purpose, and describe the plan of the works proposed.


said, he was glad the noble Lord intended to introduce this Bill. No arsenal required enlargement so much as Chatham. In the last Session he had himself brought this subject under the consideration of the House and Her Majesty's Government; an enlargement of the Dockyard at Chatham was proposed so long ago as 1814, and he believed the plan then suggested by the late Mr. Rennie, the great civil engineer, was the best ever devised. No doubt, the Government had some other plan to bring forward, but in a great work of this kind plans ought to be called for from the most eminent men of the day, and thoroughly discussed by the Government or a Committee of the House, that they might know exactly what they had to deal with. The propriety of ac- quiring the land he perfectly admitted, and he should, therefore, support the proposal; but he hoped the plan of the works in detail would be laid before the House, before the Government asked for a Vote of Money to carry them into execution. If the arsenal of Chatham had been extended some years back, the country would have saved the immense outlay of money at Woolwich, Deptford, and Sheerness; the two first undefended, and the latter incapable of adequate defence, except at an unjustifiable outlay. Chatham, with proper works, could be better defended even than Portsmouth. No doubt, a large amount would be demanded, both in the present and succeeding years, to divert the Medway, embank it, and enclose St. Mary's Creek; but if it be intended to increase the Navy by the addition of large vessels, they must enlarge their docks to receive the ships of increased dimensions. There was no locality better adapted for such docks than the Medway; but the Government should make certain that the river was not silting up, and that the present depth of water could be preserved by dredging. He hoped the House would be well-informed of the extent and plan of the works to be carried out.


observed there were only seven hon. Members present on the Opposition side of the House, and about a dozen on the Ministerial benches, most of them Members of the Government. He supposed the noble Lord's eloquence had been frozen by the empty appearance of the House; but he ought to have told them a little more about the Bill he asked leave to introduce; other Government measures that had been introduced that evening had been explained at length. He should not be surprised if hon. Members were told next year this was part of the £75,000,000 they were spending; and it would be thrown in their teeth that they were not in their places when the Bill was brought in, doing their duty by watching the action of an extravagant Government. When the noble Lord was asked why the Admiralty had dismissed a large number of the workmen at present employed in the dockyards, he stated that the Government were now building ships in private yards. If experience had shown that ships could be built more cheaply in private yards than in Government establishments, the noble Lord ought to give good reasons when he asked for an extension of the dockyard system. He (Mr. White) thought the whole system a blunder. When the noble Lord was on the other side of the House he was most eloquent in denouncing it. He proved satisfactorily that vessels could be built cheaper and better in private establishments than by the Government, or, if not better, certainly cheaper. The noble Lord ought to have given some explanation of the plan before asking the House to consent even to the introduction of the Bill. But in the present state of the House he would not divide against it.


said, the reason he did not raise a discussion on the subject at present was that in a few days the Navy Estimates would be proposed. He should then have to ask for an inconsiderable sum of money, which, however, he was bound to say, would be only for the Commencement of a very large work. It was his intention also to lay before the House at that time a general plan of that work. He could not promise to produce a plan minute in all its details, but it would be sufficient to give the House a general idea of the whole plan proposed by the Government. The object of the Bill was not to enable the Admiralty to purchase more than a very small portion of land, and he doubted whether it would be necessary to purchase any. The main object of the measure was to enable the Government to reclaim St. Mary's Island, by which ran a creek little used, but which it would be necessary to appropriate for the purpose of enlarging the dockyard. He assured the House he would not conceal from it any of the ultimate intentions of the Government.

Motion agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Lord CLARENCE PAGET and Mr. WHITBREAD.

Bill presented, and read 1°.