§ MR. DARBY GRIFFITH
said, he rose to call attention to the tone and tenour of certain telegraphic despatches which had just been addressed to the Italian Government by the Emperor of the French. A few days before at Vichy the Emperor Napoleon happened to cast his eye over a Legitimist journal, called the Gazette de France, where, in the correspondence from Naples, he read a statement to the effect that General Pinelli had ordered three peasants to be shot for the alleged offence of having carried provisions to the brigands. Without further inquiry the Emperor sent off the following despatch to General Fleury, who was then in the north of Italy:—The Emperor to General Fleury.Vichy, July 21, 10.35.I have written to Rome to make remonstrances. The accounts which arrive are of a nature to alienate from the Italian cause all honest hearts. Not only misery and anarchy are at their height, but the most unworthy culpabilities are the order of the day. A general, whose name I have forgotten, having forbidden that the peasants should carry provisions with them in going to their work in the fields, has caused those to be shot upon whom a morsel of bread had been found. The Bourbons have never done anything like that.That despatch was shown to Baron Ricasoli on the evening of the 23rd, but on the 1668 morning of the same day the journal L'ltalie had given the following account of the matter:—The Gazette of France, in its correspondence from Naples of the 9th of July, announces that General Pinelli had caused three peasants to be shot who were suspected of having conveyed provisions to the brigands. We are able to contradict absolutely this story on every point. What may have afforded a pretence for it are the dispositions made by General Pinelli to forbid the bakers, in localities exposed to the attacks of the brigands, from making a larger quantity of bread than is required by the population of the place, and from selling it to persons outside; which is a measure of simple prudence, to prevent the maintenance and extension of brigandage. We, therefore, totally deny the fact related by the Gazette de France, and assert its statements to be falsehoods, and totally undeserving of credit.In order, he supposed, to make the despatch more insulting to the Italian Government, it was not sent in cipher, but in the ordinary language of the country, and its contents were known by every clerk between Vichy and Turin. If brigandage existed in the South of Italy nobody was more responsible for it than the very man who now affected a virtuous indignation and presumed to insult the Italian Government on account of an erroneous statement in a Legitimist newspaper. He believed that that proceeding on the part of the Emperor of the French would have a very different effect from that which it was intended to have on the Italian Minister. Baron Ricasoli was distinguished for firmness of mind and nobility of character. Not a single inch of Italian territory would ever be yielded by him, and his answer to the gratuitous rebuke from the Emperor of the French would be such as to vindicate the independence of Italy.
§ MR. HENNESSY
said, he believed it might be alleged on behalf of the Emperor of the French that he knew what was going on in the South of Italy, and that in addressing the despatch to which the hon. Member had alluded he thought he was only discharging a duty to humanity by protesting against the shooting down of peasants who were fighting for their legitimate Sovereign.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Mr. MASSEY in the Chair.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ (1.) £250,000 (Iron Ships, &c).
§ ADMIRAL WALCOTT
Sir, I entirely 1669 approve the course which has been taken by the Admiralty as explained by the noble Lord at the morning sitting. The protection of our own shores, our enormous commerce, and our wide-spread colonies and dependencies renders it a matter of vital importance that our navy should be placed on a footing not only equal, but superior to every other navy in the world. Our naval supremacy was essential to our existence as an empire. I, therefore, not only concur in the present Vote, but in the next Session will give my cordial support to any increase of the Estimates of £2,300,000 now assumed, which might be thought necessary. I wish to know from the noble Lord the Secretary of the Admiralty whether the six ships he names to be the intention of the Admiralty to build were to be altogether of iron, or of wood and iron combined. At no distant period, I believe, the staple material to be used generally in the construction of our ships would be iron, but there could be no objection to converting those for which the timber had been prepared into iron-cased ships; and, independently of large ships like the Warrior and Black Prince class, we required some of the smaller dimensions, not more than 280 feet in length, carrying, say, eighteen guns, and cased entirely in iron, and having a speed of not less than twelve knots an hour. I consider it a great error in having built the Warrior and Black Prince with tender ends, and both bows and quarters unprotected; likewise I beg to call attention to the urgent necessity in our being provided with a number of formidable gun and mortar-boats. I did not exactly understand what the noble Lord the Secretary of the Admiralty proposed with respect to the construction of the six ships about to be l laid down—what was to be their tonnage, what description of guns were they to carry, and were they to be built entirely of iron, or of iron and wood combined—were they to be built by contract, or to some extent in our naval yards? Before the Admiralty proceeded with these ships the Warriorand Blade Prince should be thoroughly and fairly tested in respect to their general good qualities, not being sent to sea in smooth weather, sea, and wind, but with the prospect of a heavy sea and strong gale of wind.
said, he had heard the statement of the noble Lord that morning with great satisfaction, and it had also afforded him no little gratification to find 1670 the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich giving the noble Lord his earnest support. He had, however, heard with great surprise the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir James Graham), although in a tolerably full House, propose that the Vote should be postponed in order that it might be discussed when there was a larger attendance. They ought to support the Government energetically to enable it at the earliest possible period to have as good and efficient a fleet of iron ships as the French possessed. No man had studied the science of artillery more deeply than the Emperor of the French, and as soon as he had convinced himself that wooden ships could not resist the improved artillery of the present day he ordered iron vessels to be built. We had been slow in following his example, but once having begun to do so, our great resources and advantages would soon enable us to construct a fleet of equal strength to that of France. He thought the Admiralty had exercised a wise discretion in asking only for a small additional sum that year, as it would be some months yet before the experiments at Shoeburyness were brought to a conclusion. The Admiralty could not be too careful in the steps they were taking with respect to the mode of constructing iron ships. We had to reconstruct a navy which should have the mastery of any other navy in the world, and the average cost of each iron-cased ship was estimated at half a million sterling. There was, however, much to be ascertained respecting the powers of resistance of iron ships. It would be advisable if, when the Warrior was completed, she could be subjected to a number of experiments with heavy Armstrong guns. It was really no use in sticking up a single plate of iron 41/2 inches thick to be experimented upon at Shoeburyness, for there were many other things which required to be tested besides the question of mere resistance, such as the best mode of putting the plates together, and the nature of the supports which were to be placed behind the armour plates. He was anxious to know whether the Admiralty had determined to condemn rolled iron plates, and to confine themselves entirely to the making of steam hammered plates instead.
said, that the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle, when this Estimate was brought forward at the morning sitting, thought the matter too important to be considered in so thin a House.
1671 The question was now revived at the evening sitting, when the attendance was not any larger, and the right hon. Baronet himself was absent. He (Mr. Lindsay) wished to ask the question—whether, by that vast expenditure, they were creating a greater danger from within than that against which they were guarding themselves from without? Taxation was bearing heavily upon the people, and, if the harvest should prove deficient, and the unhappy war in America continue, vast masses of our people would be thrown out of employment. Then they would complain to Parliament, if they did nothing more, that they were ground down by unnecessary taxation. Against that danger they were more likely to have to contend than war with foreign Powers. Already the House had voted more than £12,000,000 that year for the navy, and now his noble Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty coolly asked for £250,000 as an instalment of a sum of £2,500,000. In his (Mr. Lindsay's) opinion £4,000,000 was more likely to be the actual sum. As they were at peace with all the world he could not understand whom they were arming themselves against. It was said that they required six more iron ships, because a neighbouring power was increasing her navy; before his noble Friend asked for the Vote he ought to give the Committee ample information as to the present state of the French navy, and the number of ships she was building. The Government ought to state the whole truth and say if they were proceeding on any other information than the rumours of Admiral Elliot, who made a flying visit to the French dockyards, and represented that he saw vast preparations going on, but which the gentleman that he (Mr. Lindsay) sent there could not see. The Government had cased five wooden ships with iron, and now the House was asked for means to build six more iron ships equal in size and power to that terrible instrument of destruction—the Warrior. What would be the effect of this? Why, the effect would be that France would go on building her ten iron ships, which he did not believe she intended to complete for two or three years under present circumstances. It was useless to say to the House and the country, as his noble Friend did, "Don't be alarmed," because the people would not believe that there was not something behind if these ships were really required. If they went 1672 on in that way the French Emperor could not stop, however anxious he might be to do so, because the people and the Representative Assembly would bring an irresistible pressure to bear upon him to keep pace with England. Again, if the statements they had heard with respect to the preparations in France were true then even more ships than those proposed to be built were necessary, because England ought to occupy the first position in Europe upon the sea. But he not believe those statements. As at present informed he believed we were fooling away millions of money, as he was convinced that the Emperor of the French knew it to be his interest to keep on terms of peace with England. Unless the noble Lord gave to the House a satisfactory statement he would resist the Vote, though he might do so alone.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
It is supposed by my hon. Friend that our information rests upon the statement of Admiral Elliot. Now, I do not in the least degree mean to discredit that Report, but we have other information upon the subject from totally different quarters. We know that the French Government have now afloat six iron vessels of various sizes—two of them two-deckers, not frigates—all large vessels. We know that they have laid down lately the keels, and made preparations to complete ten other iron-vessels of considerable dimensions. The decision as to those vessels was taken as far back as December last, but was not carried into effect until May, because they were waiting to ascertain what were the qualities and the character of La Gloire and other ships afloat. My hon. Friend says he sent a friend to the French dockyards who saw nothing. I remember an amusing story called Eyes and No Eyes—one person who saw everything, and the other, who made the same tour, saw nothing; but the one who saw was right, for the things he saw were there, and the things which the other man did not see were not the less in existence. Well, here are six ships afloat, or which can be completed in the course of next year. Ten others are begun, which will be completed, with ordinary exertion, in the course of eighteen months or two years, and which by great exertion might be completed in less time. We know that the French Government have great dockyard establishments. I cannot say offhand what the area of their dockyards is, 1673 but I believe it is three or four times that of our own. They have an almost unlimited amount of labour, for they are not now occupied in building purely wooden ships, and if it were their interest or their view to hasten in any great degree the completion of these iron vessels—there is no illusion about them, for we know their names and the ports at which they are being built—if it suited them to hasten materially the completion of these ships, they might, probably, finish them in eighteen months. That makes sixteen ironships; but besides them France has, I believe, eleven floating batteries, as they are called, but two or three of which are very powerful seagoing ships. That makes twenty-seven ships in all, which they might have fit for sea at the end of two years. My hon. Friend asks if this is to go on, England increasing her force and Franco increasing hers. But I say in this ease France has taken the lead. It is not our preparations; but it is her great preparations which render it indispensable we should make corresponding preparations. The hon. Gentleman tells us to look at home, and spoke about a bad harvest, interrupted trade, the industry of the country impaired and thwarted. Those would be unpleasant and lamentable results, but are we, in anticipation of those evils, with our eyes open, to add an additional evil—that of having another country superior to us at sea? Is that a remedy for those evils? Upon the contrary, it would be a great aggravation of them, and would expose this country to a condition which my hon. Friend, as a good Englishman, would be most unwilling to see it exposed to. There is nothing in what he has said to justify the Vote which he announced his intention of giving; and I hope, after this explanation, he will not feel it necessary to continue his opposition to the Vote.
said, he hoped that his noble Friend, the Secretary to the Admiralty, would tell the House in what ports and arsenals of France the six great iron-ships, the eleven powerful iron-cased batteries, and the ten ships laid down, were to be found. If what the noble Lord had stated was true—and he ought to be accurately informed—his statement was quite alarming, and he, for one, would not be satisfied with a Vote of £2,500,000, but would be prepared to vote double that sum. France had no right to have these ships.
1674 If she had them, she could not be honest in her professions to England, and it believed us to know what she meant by such armaments. He could not help thinking, however, that the Government had been misinformed.
said, he should have remained silent on that question but for the observations made by his hon. and gallant Friend (Captain Jervis), who had blamed him for suggesting the postponement of the debate from the morning to that evening sitting. The discussion which had already taken place was, he thought, a sufficient warrant for the postponement. The statement just made by the noble Lord the Prime Minister was not unimportant. His hon. and gallant Friend (Captain Jervis) had said that when the Navy Estimates were proposed the House was forewarned with regard to these supplementary Votes. His hon. Friend must have had quicker ears and more insight into mystical sayings than he (Mr. Henley) could possibly profess to have if such were the case. He should have been much surprised if any one had discovered in the speech of the noble Lord when he proposed the Navy Estimates a ground for the notion that a supplementary Vote would be taken pledging the country to a future expenditure of £2,500,000. He was more confirmed in the opinion that nothing of the kind took place, because the noble Lord took credit to himself for having made a candid statement with respect to the purpose for which the £2,500,000 was required. Had the supplementary Vote been announced when the Navy Estimates were proposed, or under discussion, it would now have been quite unnecessary for the noble Lord to say a word on the subject, and it would have been passed as a matter of course. He thought his hon. and gallant Friend had made a somewhat singular recommendation to the Government, after having blamed him for postponing this discussion, in having urged them not to go on in haste and to do nothing blindfold. The hon. and gallant Gentleman had recommended them to try experiments on iron-cased ships—on the Warrior, for instance—and see if they could not batter to pieces almost the only iron-cased ship we had got. He (Mr. Henley) did not think it a very satisfactory course to build up a ship at a vast expense, and then batter her to pieces. It was not quite clear whether the idea of building iron-cased ships did not first come 1675 from us, although the French had worked it out more rapidly and continuously. We had waited to see whether modern artillery would batter these plates or not. It was now quite clear that, under all circumstances, we must go on. He did not think the country had any choice in that respect, but he disagreed with the hon. Member (Mr. Lindsay) in thinking that this was a matter to be regarded as one of hostility on the part either of France or England. The hon. Member had no right to say that it was any proof of hostility on the part of France to choose to have a navy. The French always had a navy. We destroyed it at the time of the Revolution, but France chose to have a navy again. Nor was it a proof of hostility if France thought that iron ships were better than wooden ones. We ought to look at this question irrespective of France, and to take care that we had a navy equal not only to that of France, but all other nations put together. Every small State was building iron-cased vessels for itself. Unless we progressed with the same rapidity they exhibited, we should soon be in the minority. It was a great misfortune, but he did not see how it was to be helped. If we waited until men cunning in artillery battered the Warrior to pieces, and ascertained the number of plates that would resist shot from Armstrong guns, we should fall so much behind that when the pinch of the game came we should not be able to fetch it up. He held it to be the duty of the nation not to look with too jealous an eye at what the Government might do in the matter. The Government must do the best they could. No man could tell whether a ship plated in this or in the other way would succeed, and he did not believe that accurate information on such points would ever be gained until we were at actual war, an event which he sincerely prayed God would avert. Until then, however, we should not know whether big or little ships were best, or whether we were not better, as we had ever been, in smaller ships than our neighbours. We must trust to the Government upon these matters, and if they did their best not to be behind hand, he did not believe they would find the country, and at all events they would not find him, too apt to find fault with them because they had not adopted the course which experience afterwards proved to be the best. Unfortunately we should have to pay the piper, but that could not be helped. No necessary 1676 thing could be got without paying for it, and we must continue to pay for it. The hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Lindsay) had taken a very curious course in this matter, for he had expressed his disbelief of the truth of the Prime Minister's statement. [Mr. LINDSAY: I said nothing of the sort.] He had certainly so understood the hon. Gentleman, for he had said, "If it is true, take £5,000,000, but at the same time I do not believe it." The noble Lord had used the strongest possible expressions in saying that he knew his statement to be correct; and, speaking as the noble Lord did from his place as Prime Minister, if 100 persons had been sent by hon. Members just to look round them, open and shut their eyes when they liked, perhaps having no eyes to see with at all, he did not think that the reports of such people ought to be allowed by the country to weigh for one moment against the positive declaration of the Prime Minister from his seat in Parliament that he knew the facts he stated to be facts. He should cordially support the Vote.
§ LORD CLARENCE PAGET
said, he considered the observations of the right hon. Gentleman to be so completely to the purpose as to render unnecessary any further statement in favour of the present vote. He was sure the country would agree in what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman, and, therefore, on that point he should not say another word. With respect to the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Lindsay) he regretted that a gentleman of his knowledge and experience in shipping and love of country (for he had stated that very day that he was willing to vote any sum that might be necessary to put the navy on a proper footing) should have expressed himself as he had done in the face of being told officially, as he had been over and over again, of the increase of foreign navies in regard to iron-cased ships. Every word which his noble Friend at the head of the Government had stated he could affirm to be fact, and he could also inform the House that the increase in other navies was going on in a ratio corresponding with that of France. Austria was building two iron-cased ships; the King of Italy was building two, and had two others ordered to be constructed; and Spain was building two. So that there were not less than eight iron-cased ships over and above what were possessed by France, and he believed that Prussia, and, in fact, every continental 1677 nation were moving in the same direction. The right hon. Member for Carlisle had that afternoon asked whether the sum named as exhibiting the probable ultimate cost of the proposed ships was to go on over and above the ordinary Estimates of the next year. It was impossible to state anything with certainty for the future, but he was quite sure that his noble Friend the Duke of Somerset was anxious, inasmuch as there was to be that great expenditure in building iron-cased ships by contract, that there should be certain corresponding reductions made in the dockyard expenditure. He trusted that, if matters remained peaceable, and no unforeseen and unfortunate event occurred, in future years there would be a still further decrease of expenditure in the dockyard. That year the Government had decreased that expenditure by something like £300,000. The hon. Member for Finsbury (Sir Morton Peto) seemed to think that because the Government were going to build very large ships of iron, therefore, the Admiralty had changed their mind, and had given up the building of wooden ships. It would be very improper that such an idea should go forth. There was no intention whatever on the part of the Admiralty to give up wholly the building of wooden ships. As far as these very large sized ships were concerned he believed that wood has not strength for the purpose, but for corvettes, gunboats, and other small vessels, which must be maintained for the protection of British commerce all over the world, as yet iron vessels had been found no substitute whatever. Therefore, he trusted that it would not be supposed, because it was necessary to construct at once a certain number of very large iron-cased ships of iron, that in future there would be no further building or repairing of wooden ships in the dockyards. The hon. and gallant Member for Harwich (Captain Jervis) seemed to think that the Warrior no sooner than completed ought to be battered to pieces. That was not the intention of the Admiralty. What they were preparing to do was to carry on experiments against a target precisely similar to the side of the Warrior, and that target was now being constructed, and would, no doubt, be the object of very interesting experiments. He trusted his hon. Friend would not persevere in his opposition to the Vote, for in so doing he would be acting against the wishes not only of the 1678 House of Commons but of the country at large.
§ MR. DISRAELI
If I were to judge from a speech made a few nights ago by the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Lord John Russell), and from, the observations that have fallen from the noble Lord the Prime Minister on the present occasion, I should suppose that the good understanding between England and France was in great peril. Sir, that is not my opinion. Notwithstanding the rumours that are in circulation I believe that good understanding will be I maintained; and I still hold the opinion which I have always expressed in this House, that upon that good understanding the happiness of the world and the cause of progress and civilization mainly depend. But how is it that questions of this irritating nature are mixed up with matters of business detail, such as those which ought to occupy the attention of the Committee of Supply this evening? There is no doubt that a great change has taken place in ship-building. There is no doubt that there is no country in the world so interested in ascertaining the best construction of vessels, and of vessels of war especially, as our own country. But it does not follow that because we feel it to be our duty to reconstruct the navy of England upon the undoubted principles of science which now are acknowledged, we should be supposed to be taking a course adverse to the interests of any other country, and especially to a country so near to us, with which our interests are so various and numerous, and with respect to which, whatever may be the occasional misunderstandings there is no doubt that the general tendency of our policy for nearly the last half century has been that of increased amity and increased good understanding. Well, is there any cause for this irritating discussion? Is it France that objects to the reconstruction of the English navy? Is it France that objects to our building iron ships? No one for a moment has ever hinted that there has ever been any protest from the other side of the water against the course which we are adopting. Well, I have yet to learn that we have felt it our duty to protest against the course which France is following. No one has maintained for a moment that France has not the right to establish a navy, and a navy of great power. She is justified in taking such a course by her geographical position, by her possessions, and by the 1679 general course of her conduct in various parts of the globe. But, then, it is said by some hon. Gentlemen that there is no termination, apparently, to this race of competition between England and Prance as to the respective positions of their navy; and I will admit that if every time we build new ships of war France immediately proceeds to build an increased number on her side, and if the moment we hear she is laying down new keels we are to enter into an indefinite competition with France —I admit that such a state of things would be most hostile, and perhaps, fatal to the interests and fortunes of both countries. But what is the use of governments? What is the use of diplomacy? "What is the use of cordial understandings, if such a state of affairs can take place? I speak, of course, now with great deference to the Government on this subject; and I hope with that reserve which is befitting one of my inferior position compared with that of Her Majesty's Ministers on this subject. But, certainly, I have always been under the impression, at least so long as I have had any intimate acquaintance with public affairs, that, on the part of the French Government, there has certainly been for many years past a perfect willingness to come to an understanding with the Government of this country, if not in an absolutely definite sense, yet, generally speaking, as to the relative proportions of the naval powers of the two countries. That understanding has been by France candidly expressed and voluntarily offered, for France has always been ready to acknowledge that there should be a superiority—I will not say a supremacy, but a superiority, and a great superiority, too, on the part of England, in natural consideration of the undoubted superiority in military power possessed by France. I am under that impression. I cannot doubt that there is to be found on the part of the Government of France a readiness to come to an understanding as to the definite proportion which should exist between the naval powers of the two countries. Well, if that be the fact, and I cannot believe that any one will deny the accuracy of that fact, then I say that we do see the end of this reconstruction of the naval power on the part of both countries—that there is no danger of that indefinite and fatal and ruinous competition which has been referred to, and that we ought to see before us the point at which this vast expenditure should cease.
1680 Well, Sir, if these be just views—if I am not mistaken in the facts to which I have referred—it is in the power of the Minister of this country to tell us that, no doubt, under existing circumstances, it is the duty both of England and France to reconstruct their naval power; but that they do this with the understanding that it is not that they have entered into a reckless competition on this subject, but that they have arrived previously at some grave political conclusion upon it, and that it is understood between the two countries that when that reconstruction has taken place it shall be accepted on the part of France that the superiority of the maritime power of England, the naval force of England, shall not be a subject of jealousy to France, but that she is prepared to willingly accept that naval superiority as the natural and inevitable result of the circumstances of the British Empire; France at the same time expecting from us that we shall exhibit no unjust or unnatural jealousy of her equally necessary military superiority. If the noble Lord at the head of the Government would only come forward and tell us this, with all the authority which waits upon the expression of opinion and upon the statement of a Minister, and especially one so experienced and influential as himself, a better understanding on this subject I cannot help thinking would prevail. I think on the part of the French people there would not be that hostile jealousy and that irritable feeling which I am sorry to see when debates of this kind take place; and on the part of England there would not be that undignified panic and readiness for reckless expenditure, which I for one entirely deprecate. Am I right or wrong in maintaining the expediency of this course? The noble Lord can tell me that I am labouring under a delusion if such be the case, and that it is a mistake to suppose there exists between the statesmen of the two countries that generous and wise and politic understanding as to the relative proportion of the naval force of each to which I have adverted. If he makes such a statement then I may be induced to believe that the wildest suggestions which I have heard in this House upon this subject may have some authority. But if the noble Lord can assure us—and I am unable to bring myself to doubt that he can—that the understanding of which I speak exists and that France, while establishing—as she is in my opinion perfectly justified in doing—a navy equal to the exigencies of 1681 her position and all claims on her power and patronage that may arise, is willing at the same time to acknowledge that she views with no jealousy on our part the reconstruction of our naval power in conformity with recent scientific changes and discoveries, on a scale greatly superior to that which she has fixed upon as the term of her exertions—if, I repeat, the noble Lord can give us that assurance it will, I have no doubt, have the effect of putting an end to the vexatious controversies in which we have been in the habit of indulging of late, and throw light on the subject. If, however, the noble Lord can do this I can hardly think he is justified in rising as he does on every occasion when discussions of this kind take place, and seeking to impress on the public mind that it is in consequence of unexpected and almost unnatural efforts on the part of France that he feels obliged to call upon the country to make exertions by which those efforts might be overpowered. For my own part, I hold that both nations need not stand with respect to this question in a hostile, invidious, or competing position. They are both great Powers with vast demands on their maritime influence, are placed in consequence of the revolution which has of late years occurred in naval affairs in a situation in which both are called upon to make great efforts to establish an adequate naval force. Instead, therefore, of looking upon one another under those circumstances in a criticising and hostile spirit, the leading statesmen, at all events, of each ought to use every effort in their power to enlighten the public mind, and to point out that the exertions which are being made to create those naval armaments are the inevitable result of that march of science which neither men nor nations can resist, that both countries, so far as can be judged, are justified in the adoption of the course which they are pursuing, and that nothing has hitherto occurred in reference to this question which England on the one side, or France on the other, can fairly impugn. But, that being the case, the interference of statesmen may bring about this result, that there shall be on neither side excess or extravagance of action; that there shall be no unnecessary or wasteful expenditure, and that instead of the people in both countries being oppressed, owing to rival exertions, care should he taken that, mutual understanding should exist that the naval power of each should not exceed the amount 1682 which the interests of each demand. Well, I say, if these grounds were placed fairly before the House—if the noble Lord called upon us to make those exertions in consequence of that great revolution in naval affairs, and at the same time should assure us that there is not an insane race of competition for naval power between England and France, then the Governments of the two nations would have each before them definite objects, and which when obtained need not endanger the peace of Europe, but rather consolidate and secure it. We should end unfounded sources of panic, and these circumstances, no doubt very distasteful to the population of both countries who have to pay for the expenditure, would not be a source of misunderstanding, but, on the contrary, would be clearly apprehended, and would tend rather to peace than to those hostile sentiments so often referred to.
said, he had heard with pleasure the sentiments which the right hon. Gentleman had so admirably expressed, differing, as they did, materially from those which appeared to find favour on the Opposition benches in the earlier part of the Session. It was evident the right hon. Gentleman looked upon the responsibilities of office as not very remote, and that he now deemed it the more statesmanlike course to adopt, to come round to views which it was some time ago the fashion to regard with abhorrence when uttered by hon. Members who sat below the gangway on the Ministerial side, while every expression of hostility to France was greeted by the followers of the right hon. Gentleman with cheers. But, passing from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, he had to complain that categorical answers had not been returned by the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty to the questions which had been put to him by the hon. Member for Sunderland. He should, however, again put those questions to the noble Lord, and if he declined to reply to them, it only remained for him, in conjunction with his hon. Friend, to take the sense of the House on the subject. If the required information were not furnished, the probability was he would find, on taking up the Moniteur in a few days, a flat contradiction given in its pages to the statement of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, and he wished, therefore, to have some more detailed knowledge with respect to how matters really 1683 stood. The questions he had to ask the noble Lord the Secretary for the Admiralty were —what were the names of the six iron vessels now afloat to which allusion had been made? Where were the ten new vessels being built or laid down, and the eleven floating iron-cased vessels to be found?
SIR FREDERIC SMITH
said, these were points of detail which should be left to the Government. The noble Viscount at the head of the Government had assured the Committee that such a force was in course of construction in the French ports, and upon a former occasion the Secretary to the Admiralty gave the names of the vessels and the places where they were to be found. He hoped the Government would proceed with all possible speed in getting up the strength of our navy.
§ Lord CLARENCE PAGET
I rise to give the information which as been asked for by the hon. Member for Sunderland with respect to the French iron-plated ships. The Magentaand the Solferino are two-deckers. The Magenta is launched, and the Solferino is either launched or will soon be so. The Gloire is afloat, the Normandie is afloat, the Couronne is afloat, the Invincible is afloat, theSaigon is afloat, the Palestro is afloat, the Tonnante is afloat, and the Devastation is afloat. Here we have ten vessels, two of them line-of-battle ships, four of them with 36 or 40 guns each, and four belonging to that formidable class which the French call floating batteries. We have then the Provence, the Savoie, the Revanche, the Magnanime, the Gauloise, the Valeureuse, the Heroine, the Surveillante,the Flandre, and the Guienne, These vessels—improved Gloires—were commenced in the early part of this year, and are all in course of construction. We have besides the Congreve, the Lave, the foudroyante, the Paixhans, and the Peiho—all floating batteries. There are two other vessels, the names of which I do not know, and as to which I have not such correct information, but I believe they are being built as floating batteries. The Magenta is at Brest, the Solferino is at L'Orient, the Gloire is at Toulon, the Normandie is at Cherbourg, the Couronne is at L'Orient, the Invincible is at Toulon, the Provence is at Toulon, the Savoie is at Toulon, the Revanche is at Toulon, the Magnanime is at Brest, the Gauloise is at Brest, the Valeureuse is at Brest, the Heroine is at L'Orient, 1684 the Surveillante is at L'Orient, the Flandre is at Cherbourg, and the Guienne is at Rochefort. Altogether, the French have 16 large iron-plated vessels and 11 floating batteries, either afloat or in course of construction. Is any further information I wanted?
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
I stated this morning that I entirely approve the course which the Government have taken in proposing this estimate, and I should not have troubled the Committee again had it not been for an error into which the hon. and gallant Member for Harwich has fallen with respect to the cost of these iron-cased ships. The hon. and gallant Member stated that we might take these ships as costing half-a-million each. [Captain JERVIS: With their armaments.] Even with their armaments the estimate of the hon. and gallant Member is exaggerated. The most expensive of these ships is the Warrior, and yet I think I am right when I state that the whole cost of the Warrior, excluding the armament, will not be much, if at all, more than £300,000. The sum is enormous, no doubt, but still, as the expense is so large, it is desirable that it should not be overrated. The hon. and gallant Member will recollect that of the eighteen ships which are promised — twelve in progress and six proposed to-day —nine are to be of the Warrior class, and the remaining nine will consist of the four which the Admiralty are now building of considerably smaller dimensions, and of the five small wooden ships which were promised some time ago. It will be seen, therefore, that of the whole eighteen ships one half will cost only three-fifths of the sum which the hon. and gallant Member has estimated, and the other half will cost very much less. And now I must say that I have heard the hon. Member for Sunderland to-night with great regret. This morning the hon. Member told us that whatever number of ships the French may have we ought to have more. I was sorry to hear him this evening, I will not say retracting that expression, but declaring that if ho stood alone he would vote against the proposal of the Government. On what ground? Because he did not believe their statements. After what the hon. Member has now heard I think he must abandon everything like disbelief, which, indeed, he had no right to entertain before. The statements which he refused to credit rested upon unimpeachable authority; the evidence was conclusive, 1685 and the hon. Member might as well have said that he did not believe this was the House of Commons. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bucks that the question before us is not one of a foolish rivalry between England and France. The right of France to have a large navy has never been disputed; but, on the other hand, we must take care to maintain the same right for England. We have the largest colonial empire and the most extended commerce in the world, and it is our first duty to provide ourselves with an adequate naval force. I thoroughly approve the proposal of the Government, in which I see nothing hostile to France, and I hope it will meet with the approbation of the Committee.
§ LORD HARRY VANE
said, he had no doubt his hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, after hearing the statement of the noble Lord the Secretary for the Admiralty, would at once accede to the propriety of this Vote. He did not believe there was any panic in this country, but he was quite convinced the temper of the people would not tolerate that we should be left behind any other country in our naval armament. The proposal of the Government, which had been somewhat tardy, would be found in unison with the public sentiment. It was absolutely called for; and he was not without a hope that the strength of our naval armament would enable us to make reductions in other departments.
said, that after the statement which had been made by the noble Lord at the head of the Government, and by the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty, that there were in France six powerful iron-clad ships now afloat, and eleven floating batteries, while there were ten iron ships in the course of construction, he should no longer oppose the Vote. That statement, however, was entirely at variance with the information he had received from high authorities in France. But he could not do otherwise than accept the declaration of the noble Lord, and he could not, therefore, take upon himself the responsibility of dividing the Committee upon that point. If what the noble Lord stated was correct he was desirous that the Vote should pass unanimously. But it was a serious subject for consideration how long that rivalry between this country and France was to go on, and he thought they ought to consider well the suggestion that had been made by the right hon. Gen- 1686 tleman the leader of the Opposition. The Government should, at least, make an attempt to come to an understanding with France, for the purpose of preventing this rivalry of expenditure. He could confirm what the right hon. Gentleman had said. France would not be the last to move, and if some arrangement was not made, it would not be the fault of France, but their own fault.
§ Vote agreed to.