HC Deb 31 May 1861 vol 163 cc430-5

House in Committee;

Mr. MASSEY in the Chair.

(In the Committee.)

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That a sum, not exceeding £2,200,581, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge of Warlike Stores for Land and Sea Service, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1862, inclusive."


said, he would repeat the question he had asked in the earlier part of the evening, as to the appointment of a Committee further to test the merits of the Enfield and Whit-worth rifles. The Committee which sat in 1858 on the subject, strongly recommended that its investigation should he continued, and the majority of the Committee were of opinion that greater accuracy was to be attained with the Whitworth rifle than with the Enfield, and also greater penetration into substances fired at. With reference to the Vote he had to complain that the items were too large, and that it did not furnish the House with sufficiently detailed information as to the mode of procuring and the cost of stores. As instances, he particularly referred to the charges for the repairs and purchase of small arms, £524,000; iron ordnance, shot, and shell, £424,483; gunpowder, saltpetre, charcoal, and sulphur, and miscellaneous stores, £790,000, all of which ought, in his opinion, to have been divided. He also desired to know why the charge for experiments amounted this year to £20,000, against £12,000 last year?


, after expressing his regret that he was not in the House when the hon. and gallant Gentleman originally asked his question with reference to the trial of the Enfield and Whitworth rifles, said, that there would shortly be a new trial of an Enfield musket of a reduced bore and a Whitworth rifle made of similar materials. He would admit that it would, in a future year, be desirable to divide the item for miscellaneous stores, but at the same time he must suggest that de-tailed information, although frequently useful, did not always facilitate discussion. The reason why the charge for experiments for the year was higher than it was during the last, was, that very expensive experiments had to be made with the Armstrong guns and with iron plates. With respect to the number of small arms, he hoped that at the end of the financial year the stock of small arms would be in a very satisfactory state, and that they might be enabled to reduce the expenditure next year under that head.


complained of the large amount of the Vote—£2,200,000, and asked if the House was to go on increasing in extravagance every year?


said, he could not understand why this Vote should exceed the similar Vote for last year by £112,473, and he, therefore, should move its reduction by that amount.


observed, that it was most important that we should keep up our stocks of warlike stores. When the Crimean war occurred we had so small a store of gunpowder that we had to draw away every pound that we had in our Colonies; and when the Volunteers were first organized the Government was unable to supply them with arms. Speaking of the Enfield rifle, the fact was often lost sight of, that the weapon did not originate in that manufactory, but merely took its name from the Committee appointed to inquire into the subject having sat at that place. In the trials between the Whitworth and Enfield rifles, Mr. Whitworth found that it was only by reducing the bore that au increased range could be obtained; and he accordingly had the credit of bringing under the notice of Government the fact that great perfection of rifling and sighting could be produced with a small bore. Whether that size would be equally effective in the field as at a target should be left to military authorities to decide; and if they determined in its favour it could be manufactured equally well at Enfield. He, therefore, trusted the hon. and gallant Member for Limerick would not press his Motion to a division.


said, he was never disposed to grudge money for experiments really beneficial in their tendency; but these which had taken place with regard to iron-plated ships were not calculated to inspire confidence in Government experiments. The Enfield rifle was now acknowledged to be inferior to the Whitworth, although it seemed to be the object of the Committee to establish the superiority of the Government weapon.


said, it was Mr. Whitworth who had given to the Enfield rifle the excellent position which it had now attained. In 1843 Lord Hardinge, being struck with the inferior quality of the weapon in the hands of the soldiers, called the gun makers together, and they made what was then called the Enfield rifle. Mr. Whitworth was sent to America, and, having reported that the manufacture of guns there was very superior, upon his return Lord Hardinge gave him a Commission to make the best rifle that it was in his power to produce. He set about the task with all that skill and judgment which he was know to possess, and produce a very superior weapon. The Committee to whom it was referred to have its powers tested reported that they should like to reduce the Enfield rifle to the same size, and that was accordingly done, but by the alterations which they introduced, borrowing two parts in three of the turn of Mr. Whitworth's barrel, they made the short Enfield a very superior weapon to the long Enfield. Finally, the Committee made no report whatever, but General Hay, who was at the head of the science of artillery in England, and who was undoubtedly the highest authority on the subject in this kingdom, recommended the Government to have the Whitworth rifle extensively manufactured. Lord Herbert, when a Member of that House, had over and over again stilted that the Whitworth was a much better rifle, but that the cost, amounting to about £10 each, acted as a prohibition on its manufacture. Necessarily, when made on the same scale as that produced at the request of Lord Hardinge, which was to be the best that could be got for money, they must he expensive weapons, but Mr. Whitworth had stated that if manufactured in quantities, and without any essential difference in quality, they could be turned out for the same price as these now made at Enfield. The question remained in that position at the close of last year, and now the hon. Under Secretary for War informed the House that another trial was about to take place, with what ultimate intention he was of course unable to say. As regarded the Vote, though he declared himself perfectly unable to understand the accounts submitted, he though it much better to trust to Government for the accuracy of the different items than to acquiesce in proposals for sweeping reductions.


stated that the increase of which he complained occurred on the item of miscellaneous stores, which had nothing whatever to do with the real defence of the country.


suggested that in future the Estimates should be accompanied by a report containing the details and results of experiments, for the information of that House and of manufacturers of arms.


pointed out that the sum actually expended in 1860 for warlike stores was £1,126,000, and that consequently the present Estimates showed an increase of upwards of £1,000,000.


inquired whether the items referring to guns referred stores for guns or to guns themselves? He hoped the hon. and gallant Member would not press his Motion to a division.


remarked that the lion. Member for Truro (Mr. Augustus Smith) must be labouring under some mistake as to the sum expended last year. He recommended the Committee not to reduce the Estimates, but to bold the Government responsible for the expenditure; The House of Commons was not the proper place for discussing the relative merits of guns and rifles. All that they ought to require was that the experiments should be fairly made, and that the Government should select the best weapon.


said, the accounts for the year 1859–60 would be discussed when the Supplemental Estimate was moved for making up a deficiency of £200,000 in that year. The expenditure for warlike stores had been greatly increased since the introduction of the Armstrong gun. It was a fact that the sum placed at the disposal of the Secretary of State for warlike stores last year was considerably larger than that now asked for. The Vote last year was £2,358,088, while this 3 car it was only £2,200,510. The item of miscellaneous stores included all the materials used in all the Government factories for the production of every kind of ammunition, excepting gunpowder, and was, therefore, intimately connected with the defence of the country. He attributed the increase on the item to the additional expenditure required for the manufacture of ammunition for the Armstrong gun. That gun was more expensive than the old ones, and its ammunition was also more costly. For the first few years, therefore, there must necessarily be a large expenditure.


said, of course England could nit afford to remain behind other nations with regard to the adoption of new inventions of war; but the expense of the experiments on new weapons of offence and defence ought to be seriously considered, and he hoped the experiments would be certified by scientific men as proper to be made.


said, he wished to ask if there were any outstanding debts for arms due to America?


said, he was not quite certain that there were not certain outstanding claims for arms in the case of America.

Motion made, and Question, That a sum, not exceeding £2,088,108 be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge of Warlike Stores for Land and Sea Service, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1862, inclusive.

Put, and negatived.

Original Question put, and agreed to.

House resumed.

Resolution to be reported on Monday next.

Committee to sit again on Monday next.