§ Order for Committee read.
§ House in Committee.
§ Clause 1 (The sum of £1,200,000 to be issued out of the Consolidated Fund towards the Expenses after mentioned).
§ MR. BERNAL OSBORNE
Before going into this clause, I wish very earnestly to press upon the Committee the expediency of once more fully considering this whole plan; and if there is any inconvenience in my doing so, it arises from no fault of mine, but from the way in which this plan had been laid before us. If we had a regular estimate, it would have been possible to discuss it in a more satisfactory manner; but having none, I am obliged to go into the subject in the manner in which I now propose to do. Let the Committee for one moment consider what is this plan which we have before us. It is not the plan of the Commissioners, framed according to their Report in 1860. The 139 original plan of the Commissioners recommended that five forts should be constructed on the shoals at Spithead. Her Majesty's Government gave their assent only to three forts at Spithead, and after referring back the Report on the Spithead forts to the Commission, who again reported most strongly in favour of them, they ended by suspending the construction of the forts altogether. Again, the original Report of the Commissioners contemplated the erection of eight forts on the Portsdown line of defence; but Her Majesty's Government thought proper to adopt only three. It is evident, therefore, that it is not for the original plan of the Commissioners, but for some plan of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, that we are called upon to incur an expense of £9,000,000, exclusive of the estimate of £1,200,000, on the present occasion. It has been stated, both in this House and in another place, that the Royal Commissioners have been treated very badly by certain Gentlemen in this House; but the Committee will be disposed to think that the ill-treatment, if there has been any, has proceeded from Her Majesty's Government, who, having encouraged them to draw up a detailed plan of fortifications, ended by throwing it over, and substituting an incomplete plan of their own. But what did the whole Report of the Commission proceed upon? Did they pretend to give actual security from invasion? By no means. They only pretended to furnish the means of protracting resistance. It will be necessary to read a paragraph in the original Report to make this clear. In page thirteen of the original Report the following passage occurs:—If London cannot be rendered capable of resistance after the defeat of the army in the field, the dockyards and arsenals, if fortified, will become places of refuge, from which the defence of the country can be protracted and the means of resistance organized.So that it appears this plan, if carried out, gives no effectual security against invasion; it merely comes to this, that by making these land defences at Portsdown Hill, Plymouth, and Dover, we shall be put in a position by which resistance may be "protracted." This Report, and this paragraph in particular, proceed on the assumption that the fleet has been defeated at sea; that the enemy have effected a landing, and defeated the army. That pre-supposes that the enemy is complete master of the Channel. That granted, 140 what then will be the position, all this time, of the garrison at Portsmouth, for which we are about to build fortifications? It will be between two fires, the enemy's army attacking it on the land side, and the enemy's fleet shelling its position from the sea. Is not this one reason for pausing before assenting to this enormous and expensive system of fortifications at Portsdown Hill? It is admitted by naval and military authorities that, in the event of so great a calamity as a large force landing on the shores of England, the first point they would make for would be the metropolis, and by reference to the map it will be seen that it will not be necessary for an invading force to carry any of these positions at Portsmouth, Plymouth, or elsewhere; the invading army would of course mask them, and march straight to London. My complaint is not only that this system is costly, but that it is totally inadequate for the avowed object. It is not enough for the noble Lord at the head of the Government to say that with his plan we shall be able to resist invasion after spending about £10,000,000 or £12,000,000 on these fortifications, for the country has a right in return for such an outlay to be put in a position to prevent invasion. How, then, is that to be done? In a former debate no one attempted to contradict the statement that the first and most material line of defence of this country was the navy, and what is the state of the navy at this moment? I was horrified the other night to hear the noble Lord assert that our neighbours across the Channel are stronger in iron-plated ships than this country. If so, why does the noble Lord call on the House to squander money upon a problematical plan of defence, instead of putting the country's first and main line of defence—the navy—in a proper state? If hon. Gentlemen say anything about the navy, they are told, in brusque and short terms, that we are not discussing the Navy Estimates—as if the navy is not the very thing on which the whole matter hinges. An excellent pamphlet, "On the Command of the Channel and the Safety of our Shores," has been recently published by an officer who had seen much service, to which I regret that neither the Commissioners nor the Government seem to have directed their attention. The writer is Lieutenant Colonel Alexander, C.B., of the Royal Marine Artillery, who served before Kin- 141 burn, and he has laid down what to all appearance is an excellent plan for defending the country by a steam flotilla. With regard to the plan of the noble Lord and not that of the Commissioners, Colonel Alexander says—The expense of the proposed fortifications has been estimated at various sums—from £9,000,000 to £12,000,000; the cost of twenty ships, such as I propose, would be less than half that sum, and in one case England would be able only to resist invasion, but in the other to prevent it. It has been argued that ships wear out and become useless. According to that argument, we ought to have no navy; but fortifications become useless, also, when they, as they often do, cease to answer the purpose for which they were constructed. Unless we strengthen our outer line of defence, all the millions spent upon fortifications will be thrown away.That is what I say likewise, and what I hope the Committee will say when it comes to the vote. However wise the conduct of the Government may have been in suspending the construction of the Spithead forts, I think that a great deal more is to be said in favour of the erection of those forts on the shoals, as a defence, than possibly can be said for the enormous works on Portsdown Hill and at Plymouth. The reason given for the latter by the Commissioners in paragraph 5 of their original Report is, that since the application of steam to the propulsion of vessels, this country can no longer rely on being able to prevent the landing of a hostile force. Upon that notion is built the whole scheme of the construction of land fortifications on Portsdown Hill, at Gosport, and Plymouth. I admit that steam has modified the system of naval warfare, but I must consider that though it has given the enemy some advantages, it has given this country enormous means and opportunities of defence.
Let the extent of these land defences be considered. It is proposed to have on Portsdown Hill five connected forts to the extent of seven miles; and the works altogether, taking them across to Gosport, will not include a less extent than seventeen miles. Now, I maintain that the Commissioners' Report, and the noble Lord's plan into the bargain, are altogether one-sided. They only regard the facilities of invasion, and give no guide to the facilities of defence. What are the conditions which a foreign army intending to attack this country must attend to? In the first place, there is the condition of weather. In the next place, there must be provided for them a large fleet of transports, neces- 142 sarily crowded, and which necessarily cannot be very secure against such a naval power as that of England. Then, again, such a fleet cannot travel fast, because the progress of the whole must be regulated by the speed of the slowest vessel. While these transports are being got ready, while they are crossing the Channel, what will the English admirals and generals and the English fleet and army be doing? Will they be asleep while this attacking force is being sent across the Channel? Because, from the remarks of the noble Lord, one would suppose that they would be in a comatose state. One remarkable assertion was made by the noble Lord the other night—namely, that it was possible for an invading force to come not only from Brest and Cherbourg, but from Toulon and L'Orient. That was the first time that I have heard from any high authority that we have to apprehend a great invasion by crowded transports coming across by the Bay of Biscay; but the noble Lord, speaking with the great authority of the Prime Minister, carried away all the timid and indolent Members, who were content to accept all these things for granted. The noble Lord also spoke of the facility of a foreign force disembarking upon this country, and referred to the success of the French in disembarking in Italy; but in the latter case the French quietly landed at the port of an ally—at Genoa—and were assisted by that ally; whereas the landing of an enemy in this country will be resisted to the death, even supposing that the navy was in such a state that it will be possible for an enemy to come here at all. The noble Lord has also spoken of a nocturnal attack, and he certainly gave the House one the other night. He has stated that it is quite possible to throw some 50,000 men on our shores in a single night. We all have heard something of the influence of authority in this matter, and I contend that it is not respectful either to the House or to the country for the noble Lord to break out in that sic volo sic jubeo style of which he is so great a master. It might be said of the right hon. Gentlemen the Secretary for War, for whom I entertain unfeigned respect, that though well qualified to express opinions when in the region of the classics or discussing the Astronomy of the Ancients, yet the question of fortifications is beyond the scope of his observation and abilities. His intellect is too limited to comprehend that subject, and he is so 143 blind and infatuated that neither the House nor the country ought to trust him. Far from talking thus of the right hon. Gentleman, I think he has the knowledge and acumen enough to understand even the question of fortifications; but such remarks have been made upon Gentlemen who did something to put the noble Lord in Office, and who have founded a reputation which, when the country becomes cool, is likely to last almost as long as that of the Prime Minister or the Secretary for War, although they have not had the good luck of occupying office during a period of fifty years. As it is said this is a question of authority, I will quote a Gentleman of authority—the Secretary of State for War, who has written a book On the Influence of Authority in Matters of Opinion, and in that work he makes the following remarks, which may be commended to the notice of the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Kinglake):—Great respect is due to the opinions of those persons who have devoted their lives to the study of sciences. …. This respect, however, should be the willing obedience of a freeman, not the blind submission of a slave. … There may be an excessive respect,.. which may check the due freedom of investigation, perpetuate error, prevent originality of thought, and maintain science in a stationary and unimproving state. Whatever deference is justly due to great names and competent judges, they are not to be regarded as infallible, as the oracles of a scientific religion, or as courts of philosophy without appeal.In the words of the right hon. Gentleman, I say that the dicta laid down by the noble Lord at the head of the Government, and the tone assumed by him in this House in this matter of fortifications are not to be regarded "as the oracles of a scientific religion;" nor is the noble Lord to be accepted "as a court of philosophy, without any appeal." Unless the noble Lord gives us better reasons for squandering this enormous sum of money than he has hitherto done, we shall be wanting in our duty if we do not refuse the Vote now before us. Great, almost unlimited, as is the experience of the noble Lord, and profound as are his abilities, he is not a better judge of these defences than any hon. Gentleman who brings his common sense to the consideration of the plan. Now, what are the authorities on this question? One of the best criticisms on the plans of the noble Lord has been written by a distinguished foreign engineer officer, Colonel Brialmont, and he has declared that the plan is founded on a total ignorance of the 144 first principles of tactics, and a similar opinion has been expressed by naval and military men in this country. The noble Lord has told us how easy it is to disembark troops on our shores. General Sir De Lacy Evans, who has had as great an experience of modern sieges as any man now living in Europe, has thus expressed himself upon this point—Not only did he not participate in, but even repudiated, the alarmist views of our position which had been put forward—views which occurred to him as not unlikely to operate more or less as invitations to invasion. The landing of a body of troops with their artillery and material was no such easy matter. He doubted very much the facilities, so called, which were alleged to exist for the organization of a descent on our shores. It would take a considerable number of days to transfer any considerable force of men from the Continent to our shores. To make such a descent it was indispensable the force should be 60,000 or 80,000 men. To embark such an army, with its baggage, horses, and artillery, was a different affair to so many men going aboard steamers with nothing but their portmanteaus. The sudden arrival of a French Army was simply an impossibility.Sir John Burgoyne, giving evidence before the Defence Commissioners, said—I have a very strong opinion about landing in the face of an enemy. I think it is the most desperate undertaking possible, unless the landing place is of considerable extent. I believe it was never done with success, excepting in Egypt, and that was under peculiar circumstances.He went on to state that if the landing had been resisted in the Crimea the allies would have been obliged to fall back to Eupatoria, A distinguished naval authority, the present Lord Fitzhardinge, has given a similar opinion. Replying to a statement of the noble Lord, who has always been consistent in this matter, Admiral Berkeley made the following remarks:—Lord Palmerston had spoken of the French being able to collect 50,000 or 60,000 men in Cherbourg, but he did not tell the House how these men were to get across the Channel. He would tell the noble Lord it would take fifty or sixty vessels to embark such a force, and as many more to protect them in the Channel. He asked for an addition of 4,000 men and 1,000 boys for the navy, with a view to allay the 'absurd panic' of invasion.All the authorities, in fact, are on one side. They agree as to the difficulty, almost the impossibility, of disembarking a large army on our shores; and they tell you, that if you spend such an enormous sum for permanent works at Portsdown Hill and Plymouth, you will squander the public money on a plan which cannot be attended with adequate results. 145 The noble Lord has also told us that the power of blockade has been impaired in consequence of the introduction of steam. I find that, in the opinion of distinguished naval men, such is not the case; and I would ask the noble Lord, or the Secretary for War, if steam has really impaired the power of blockade, how it comes that the United States have been maintaining an efficient blockade, according to our Government, for a period of twelve months, over 1,500 miles of coast? Admiral Berkeley, when examined before the Naval Committee in 1848, stated that the power which steam had given us, if used promptly, would be our best guarantee against invasion, and Sir Thomas Hastings, President of the Commission on Coast Defences in 1849, expressed exactly the same opinion, and also said that steam had increased our facilities of blockade. What was the opinion of the late Sir Charles Napier—a great follower of the noble Lord, and one who would have stretched a point in his favour? He said that he was of opinion, that so far from steam having made blockading impossible, it had for the first time made it more effectual, as with steam ships it would be impossible for an enemy's ship to escape without the knowledge of the blockading squadron, as the French ships did when they landed an army on the shores of Ireland. These are the opinions of three naval men—scientific men who have served in their profession, and the Committee ought to give some weight to their opinions given under such circumstances. We ought not to be led away by vague assertions and flourishing speeches; we should be guided by authority on such a subject. I find this to be the opinion of most officers of experience. If an invasion is to take place from that country we do not love exactly as ourselves, speaking of our neighbours, the number of the invading force is calculated at 80,000 or 100,000 men. Take it at 100,000 men, and suppose the Channel Fleet defeated—for that is always assumed, and I am astonished at the insults that are heaped on the navy night after night in connection with this subject—the Channel Fleet is supposed to be defeated, and therefore we are to be defended by fortifications; well, an army of 100,000 has, we will suppose, landed; what forces have we to meet them? Of the regular army there will be 80,000 men; of trained Militia, 60,000; of Yeomanry and Pensioners, 30,000; and Volunteers, 150,000, making altogether a 146 force of 320,000 men. If steam is favourable for offence, it is doubly favourable for defence. Let the Committee contrast the state of things now with what it was before the introduction of steam, when the noble Lord was Secretary at War. Then we had a system of communication by telegraph posts, the last of which so lately vanished from the top of the Admiralty. These posts, which extended to only a very limited portion of the country, were liable to be deranged by fifty causes; they could not be seen in a fog; they could only be worked in fair weather. Now, we have the electric telegraph everywhere, and on the receipt of its intelligence troops can be moved and concentrated—the keystone of all military science—upon any part with the the utmost rapidity. Formerly, troops could not be collected on any given spot within a great length of time. The troops marched at the rate of but three miles an hour during only a certain portion of the twenty-four hours, and vast means were requisite to assemble an army on a particular point; but now, by railways, troops can go thirty miles an hour day and night. We had an illustration of the increase in the power of transport in the recent volunteer gathering at Brighton, when a force of 20,000 men by the ordinary trains went to that place in little more than an hour. In such a state of things an invasion of this country must be considered almost absolutely impossible. Another thing to be taken into account is the improvement which has taken place in the whole science of arms. This is very material. What is the opinion on this subject of Sir George Sartorius? At page 22 of the most excellent pamphlet he has written on this subject he says—It must be remembered the safe landing of 50,000 or 60,000 men implies that all difficulties had been removed to the landing of any larger number. All professional men know that the late great improvements in fire-arms of all descriptions makes one man defending the landing equal to ten attempting it. … The supposition that a nation like ours, either at war with, or certainly regarding with suspicion, our active, gallant, and powerful neighbour, amply provided with every requisite for invading us, should neglect the ordinary military precautions of war, and be so unprepared with the common and effective means of defence so abundantly possessed by us; that we should leave them totally unorganized, and be so blindly unvigilant as to permit a large hostile army to assemble and embark, leave his ports, traverse forty or fifty miles, and effect his landing upon our coast in two or three hours; and, moreover, maintain his position in spite of 147 our efforts, and then cover the landing of the main body of the invading army, is a chain of, I may say, impossibilities such as I never could have expected to see advanced by experienced men of either profession.So that he looks upon the landing of these invading troops as a bugbear invented by Prime Ministers to alarm the House of Commons, and get money from the taxpayers of the country.
There is another consideration to which I would call the attention of the Committee—the extent of these works; seventeen miles of fortifications at Portsdown Hill and Gosport will require large garrisons; and it is worth while to consider where the men will be got to garrison them. The number assumed in the Report was 68,000; now, I find on inquiry, that even this large number of men whom to shut up in our forts during a time of war would be a source of weakness rather than of strength, would be inadequate for this chain of works, extending seventeen miles. Yet we are told by the noble Lord that this system of forts will economize men. Let us see how. What says Sir John Burgoyne on that point? He says he does not recommend the construction of these works, because certainly we shall never have garrisons large enough for them, and he considered it bad economy to build forts when you cannot get garrisons for them. The natural, inevitable sequence of constructing these works, if Government do their duty, is this—you must have a large increase of the regular army. Do not let the Committee blink that question. What say the minutes of the Defence Committee on that point? It is said we have got Volunteers—we will put Volunteers into these garrisons. They had Volunteers, then; and here is a copy of a minute by the Defence Committee relative to the Report of the Royal Commissioners for National Defence, ordered by the House to be printed on the 20th of July, 1860. This minute is signed by the Royal Duke at the head of the army and a number of distinguished officers, and therefore it is entitled to very great respect. What does this minute say?—The Committee concur with the Royal Commission to the full extent of their propositions, both as regards works and the number of men necessary to garrison them; but they are of opinion that of the whole force required a larger proportion of the well-trained troops of the regular army will be necessary than appears to be contemplated by the Commissioners. …. Certainly a large proportion of well-trained artillerymen will be essential, more especially in those 148 sea batteries which are intended to oppose ships—a service requiring that the guns should be worked with great rapidity and accuracy.Has the Committee, then, considered, after these works are built, how the batteries are to be manned? It is well known to officers who have seen service, if you are going to have rifled or Armstrong guns, breech-loaders, you will require a much more scientific force than raw volunteers to work them. On this point the evidence of Major General Bloomfield is decisive. Colonel Bingham stated that the number of heavy guns proposed to be put on these batteries amounted to no less than 6,000, besides twenty-five movable field batteries. He was asked how many men would be required to a gun, to which he replied that for firing red-hot shot not less than thirty men would be required for each gun, and out of these thirty you must have twelve well-trained gunners. But it is said the pensioners may be made to work these guns. I wish hon. Members would turn to the answer to Question 833. It is most material. The question put was—Then, Pensioners might be sent down to Portsmouth as garrison artillerymen?To which Colonel Bingham replies—I should be very sorry to ask them to go; they are completely worn out; they are fine-looking old men, but they are not fit to work the heavy guns now in garrisons.What must we do but increase the force of our artillery? You must increase your force of regular artillery. Your fortifications may be constructed on the best possible principle, but without proper gunners to man the batteries they will be entirely thrown away. It is bad economy to construct anything unless you make it perfect, and it is a false system of defence into the bargain. General Bloomfield, Inspector General of Artillery, gives important evidence on this point. He says—The general impression on my mind is that almost everywhere there are more guns than can possibly be made efficiently useful without a large increase to the present force of well-trained artillerymen. Until this increase takes place, I should be inclined to recommend a reduction in the number of guns already mounted, rather than an augmentation. Half-trained or half-disciplined men would be in the way in such batteries in action. They could be more usefully employed in the larger fortresses and works. I calculate that 8,172 first-class gunners and 16,000 militia or volunteer artillerymen would be required to man simultaneously the batteries now existing on the coasts of Essex, Suffolk, Kent, Sussex, Hants, and Devon.So far as to the works at Portsdown Hill. 149 But if the land defences at Portsdown Hill are not called for, how can the defences on the land side of Plymouth he called for? Sir John Burgoyne "pooh-poohs" alto-together those Plymouth defences, and says they can wait. Within twelve hours you can concentrate an army on that point, and you do not want these works to assist in preventing an invading force from marching on the metropolis. The Duke of Wellington would never have called for, and never contemplated, this system of fortifications. What he asked for was an increase of the army, and 150,000 disciplined Militia. It was left for the noble Lord at the head of the Government to come down to the House and ask its support to a scheme which the Duke of Wellington in the highest and palmiest days of his power had never thought of proposing. There is another point to which I must refer, and on which I particularly request information. A large sum of money is asked for works at Dover, but that place is given up altogether in the Report, because it is only on account of our having a castle there that we are asked to make these works. Dover is called a harbour, but in truth it is only a landing-place for packets; and, from what was said elsewhere, it is assumed that, after we have spent hundreds of thousands in building this pier, its chief use would be to enable a French army to disembark there. Dover is called an intrenched camp. I do not object to an intrenched camp, which may be thrown up in a comparatively short time; but, remember, large works are being made there in which you are to shut up 6,000 men. But it is said that efficiency under a Whig Government means increased expenditure. I wish to ask whether the converse of that holds true—namely, whether increased expenditure means efficiency? Because, although the noble Lord the other night said these fortifications were proposed after deep reflection, and were likely to endure for a great length of time, I greatly question that. I have been much struck with an account given in The Times of the 21st of June—which supports this scheme now—of the works at Fort Darnet Ness, which are being built at an enormous expense in the Medway, three miles below Chatham. The Times said—The soft, spongy nature of the soil on which the large fort is to be erected, has rendered it almost impossible to obtain anything like a firm foundation for the massive battery to be placed on the spot.150 I hope this matter will be cleared up by the Secretary for War. I ask—Is it true that the foundation of that fort is likely to sink under the weight of its armament? There is also a fort which has been finished for two years at Gosport, called Fort Elson, with a heavily armed battery, and which is casemated and very strong indeed. But the rumour runs, down there, that its foundations are actually slipping away, and I understand the guns will not be able to be fired, because they would probably bring down the fort. [Sir GEORGE LEWIS: No!] Will the noble Lord lay on the table the report of Captain Galton on that subject? Let us not have fine flourishes about national defence while we are throwing away our money on useless and badly-constructed works. I come now to another of the noble Viscount's forts—for all are the noble Viscount's forts. Fort Rowner is finished, but we are called upon to spend £75,000 upon it. I want to know what is the condition of its foundations, because it is reported at Portsmouth, by persons who have the means of judging, that it is in a similar state to the last fort which I have described. Let us look next at the defences of the Isle of Wight. The only part of the island where an enemy could land, at the east end, is Sandown Bay, and a fort called Redcliff is being built there. The site is said to be an overhanging precipice, and the foundation very dangerous. The report is that the guns of the fort will be utterly unable to sweep the beach so as to prevent an opposing force from landing. I want the Government to throw some light on the truth or error of these allegations, and they seem to be material when we are asked to vote money for these works.
We are told that all this expenditure is in the nature of insurance. It is therefore material to inquire into the rate we are paying for thus insuring the country. Since 1847, when the Duke of Wellington said he could provide for our defence if £400,000 were added to the Army Estimates, our Army and Navy Estimates have increased by £13,680,000 a year. The noble Viscount, who has that military mania which is perfectly uncontrollable, and to which this House holds the candle, plunged us also into an enormous outlay at Aldershot. There the works are unfinished, and the cost is a million and a half. That is in addition to the increase which has taken place in our Naval and Military Estimates since 1847. Since that period we have spent 293 millions of money by way of 151 insurance in promoting the noble Lord's schemes of naval and military preparation. And now we are told that that is not sufficient, and that nine or ten millions more are required for fortifications. Does it not occur to the Committee that, after all, the noble Lord, able, willing, and gallant as he is, may be rather an expensive luxury for the country? If we are to be continually called upon for these enormous grants of money, and after all find that we are not secure, I say the rate of insurance is not so moderate as to make it worth while to keep the Ministry in power. What have we got? We are told that we have not so many iron-plated ships as the French, and a remarkable pamphlet has just been published by Mr. Scott Russell, entitled The Fleet of the Future, or England Without a Navy, in which that gentleman positively declares that we have no fleet. If it be true—and the noble Lord to a certain extent corroborates him—what can be more foolish than to leave the navy in that state and at the same time to waste millions on fortifications, which, according to the noble Lord's own admission, constitute only the second line of defence? What has been done with regard to the navy? I find that in 1861 there was a Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the state of our dockyards. Mark the difference of treatment accorded to Commissioners who want to save money, and to Commissioners who recommended the expenditure of money. The Commissioners of 1860 called upon the House to reform the Admiralty altogether. From that day to this nothing has been done—no notice has been taken of the Report. But when Commissioners called upon us to spend money, who so gay, who so ready to adopt the recommendation as the noble Lord, in order, as he tells us, in a quiet and economical way to place the country in safety? After we have spent the enormous amount I have mentioned in providing for the defence of the country, the noble Lord is not content, but comes down here, and, like Oliver Twist, asks for more. But where is this to end? To what extent is our income tax to go, and what is to become of the finances of the country, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us four years ago were becoming inextricably confused? The right hon. Gentleman the late Secretary for War (General Peel) threw all the responsibility upon the Government, but let the House consider what the meaning of that word is. The noble Lord will readily ac- 152 cept the responsibility if you will give him the money. He gets the money, and he may be out of office next year. The next Government will have to spend more money to complete the plans, and then what becomes of the responsibility? No one would impeach the noble Lord. Every one admits that he is a gallant man, who will always do what he thinks is his duty; but what a bugbear is this responsibility—a word without a meaning. Where was the responsibility of the men who built the martello towers, which, according to Sir John Burgoyne, never were and never could be of any use? Let not the House be led to forget that they are the guardians of what is facetiously called the public purse, and that responsibility attaches to them in voting enormous sums of money, which responsibility they cannot shift from their own shoulders to those of the Government. I regretted to hear the noble Lord the other night incidentally sneer at the treaty of commerce and free trade. Certainly, the noble Lord made a most curious defence of these fortifications. He said, "My forts will do more to preserve peace than your free trade or your cobbling up of commercial treaties." He stated that, to my surprise, while on either side of him were the twin representatives of free trade and the commercial treaty—the President of the Board of Trade and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I was surprised to see the noble Lord, like Garrick between the comic and the tragic muses, so impartial in decrying both. I do not know what my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton thought or felt, because, if he represents anything in the Cabinet, it is the principle of free trade, and his hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale; but he sat still—perhaps wisely. I do not know what he thought, but I know how he looked. He looked something like Pompey's statue when Cæsar was staggering at its base. I think he might have replied in the words of Cassius—I have not from your eyes that gentleness, And show of love, as I was wont to have.You bear too stubborn and too high a hand Over your friend that loves you.The right hon. Gentleman did not say that, but I hope he will take an early opportunity to explain what is the meaning of those sarcasms upon free trade, and whether he is a party to spending the money of the country upon fortifications and troops, which he has heretofore resisted, and whether he accedes to the 153 views enunciated by the noble Lord. But the question has been put upon the old issue. The noble Lord says he will not accept the responsibility of Government without the money, and it comes to the old question of "confidence." I wonder that "confidence" was not imported into the great Thames Embankment question, the great question of the Session. But what confidence, or in whom? In the Exchequer? Is it overflowing? On the contrary, your revenue is declining. Are people prosperous in Lancashire? The noble Lord smiled. What confidence have we in a confiding Parliament and an improvident Executive? Parliament goes on year after year voting these sums, when the noble Lord threatens hon. Members with a dissolution. They care more for their individual pockets than for the pockets of the taxpayers at large. But I tell the noble Lord and his supporters that I am not content to register the imperial edicts of a dictator. ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.] Yes, of a dictator—I repeat the word—whose plans, if carried out, mean increased expenditure, and who is leading the country into heavier taxation and to financial embarrassment.
In page 2, line 5, to leave out the words "one million two hundred thousand pounds," and insert the words "eight hundred thousand pounds.
MR. H. A. BRUCE
said, that stripped of the amusing and interesting details, sarcasms, and gibes with which the hon. Gentleman had invested it, the question before the Committee resolved itself into this—whether the Government were to take the opinion of skilled persons—of men most eminent in every department of war—or should adopt the views of the hon. Gentleman, and the hon. Member for Finsbury, who, although a great authority upon some subjects, could not be regarded as such upon the special matter before the Committee. The hon. Gentleman, indeed, attempted to escape from his difficulty by denying that the plan under consideration was the plan of the Commissioners—[Mr. BERNAL OSBORNE: Hear, hear!]—and asserting it had been so altered by the noble Lord as to have become really his plan. But how had the hon. Gentleman proved his case? He said that the original plan included five forts at Spithead, and the number was now reduced to three; that eight forts were originally proposed for Portsdown, which had now been reduced 154 to a number variously stated by the hon. Gentleman at three and at five. But after all those were mere details, and he believed the Commissioners had acceded to the alterations which had been made. The real point at issue was, whether the scheme was, upon the whole, one that was recommended by those eminent persons, and he contended that in substance it was. But the hon. Gentleman went on to argue that the plans proposed would not prevent invasion. The scheme had never been put forward upon that ground; it was proposed for the purpose of defending the arsenals, of securing a basis of operations for the navy, and for rendering their military force more available for the defence of the country in the event of an invasion. The hon. Gentleman had quoted authorities to show that invasion was possible; but would the gallant Officer near him (Sir De Lacy Evans), or would Sir J. Burgoyne, assert, that looking at the past history of England and the present position of the world, invasion was impossible. When had England been exposed to the greatest risk of invasion? It was after twelve years of successful naval warfare, that had commenced with the destruction of the French fleet at Toulon—after the retirement of most of the ablest officers of the French navy, and after the destruction of fleet after fleet belonging to France. They all knew, that if the French fleet at one critical juncture had been commanded by Suffrein instead of Villeneuve, the French would have brought fifty ships into the Channel at a moment when England had only twenty-five to meet them. Napoleon had the fullest persuasion of the success which would have attended such an expedition, and no one could have read or thought on the subject without a feeling of gratitude at the escape. During the last two centuries there had been repeated instances in which the command of the Channel had temporarily slipped from their hands. It was said that steam gave them new opportunities of defence. Steam assisted both the attack and the defence; to what extent it was for the future to say. Very little change had apparently taken place in the military art. The tactics of Hannibal and Cæsar were those of Napoleon and Wellington, and from the earliest times fortresses had played an important part in the defences of every country. M. de Brialmont had, no doubt, said of the fortifications now in question that they were of no strategic importance. But M. de Brialmont recommended a system quite 155 as expensive—namely, fortifications at Guildford and other places between the coast and the metropolis. The Government proposed by these works to defend the arsenals. The hon. Gentleman asked whether an invading army would trouble itself with besieging Portsmouth, or taking the arsenals. But had the hon. Gentleman read the last volume of Napoleon's Memoirs and Letters, published about ten days ago? Napoleon, in one of those letters, told one of his most distinguished artillery officers to provide artillery for the siege of Chatham, Portsmouth, &c. He would admit that an invasion of this country could not be attempted by a force of 60,000 or 80,000 men; but with a force of 100,000 or 120,000 it would be easy to detach 10,000 or 20,000 to destroy Portsmouth, if it was not adequately defended. Great and irrevocable injury might be committed by an army landing either at Portsmouth or Plymouth. Perhaps a landing in Kent might be prevented, but it would be difficult, if not impossible, to provide for the adequate defence of every part of our coast. The hon. Gentleman had quoted the Report of the Defence Commissioners made two years ago, and said that the Volunteers were not then in existence. They were, however, partially in existence, although they had not then developed themselves into solid, well-disciplined battalions. They had from 24,000 to 25,000 artillerymen, in regard to whom he had the authority of Lord Glyde for saying, that it was impossible to have artillery better calculated for the defence of fortified places. He had lately spoken with an artillery officer who was present at a recent Volunteer review, and he said he never saw guns better manned or served than by the Volunteer artillerymen. The present number of 25,000 artillerymen might easily be doubled if necessary. He would admit that no invasion of this country could be made without much previous preparation; but that was no reason why they should abandon the construction of these fortresses. The question was a question of authority, and great names had been paraded before the Committee. No doubt, Sir John Burgoyne and other officers had criticised portions of the Government scheme; but, on the whole, they agreed that it provided an efficient and powerful means of national defence. After all the discussions that had taken place, and the large expenditure which had been incurred, it was impossible to 156 reflect without humiliation on the present state of the navy, because if war were declared to-morrow, the French, would have the advantage at sea. The question, however, ought not to be argued with reference to the present state of any military Power. The best security for peace was to make themselves strong, and if their coasts were adequately defended, and their arsenals were secure, no country would think of attacking them. He could not help thinking that the hon. Member for Liskeard had greatly misrepresented what had fallen from the noble Viscount at the head of the Government the other night. The noble Lord replied to the hon. Member for Rochdale that it was not enough to have men skilled in arts which might be made subservient to the national defence in time of war. The noble Viscount added that it was necessary to have men skilled in the arts of war, and cannon ready, and that all the civic skill in the world would be powerless against an enemy properly trained in the military art. He should not have risen to protest against the sophistries and unfair statements of the hon. Member for Liskeard had not the hon. Gentleman alluded to him as the only Member unconnected with the Government who had supported this plan of fortifications. He repeated that he felt convinced the scheme of the Government was wise, and called for by the altered circumstances of the times, and that the Committee would be doing well in voting the money.
said, that the remarks of the hon. Member for Liskeard furnished another illustration of the truth of the adage that "a little learning is a dangerous thing." He had brought up the old bugbear of seventeen miles of fortifications which would have to be defended by an overwhelming force. The hon. Gentleman did not appear to know that it was only a small part of any fortress that was ever attacked. The hon. Gentleman had talked about thirty men being required to work each gun, and said that 60,000 artillerymen would be wanted to defend these fortifications. But no one ever heard of more than a small force of artillerymen in any country, because they were required only in a few places at once. It was said they were called upon to vote £10,000,000 of money for these works, but they were not called upon to vote anything like that sum. The Commissioners did not recommend that the whole of the works upon which they had 157 reported should be actually carried out. They had merely pointed out a general plan. The details of that plan had been carefully examined during the last three years, and a considerable reduction of expense had been the consequence. The original estimate of the Commissioners was £10,350,000, exclusive of armaments and floating batteries. Of that amount £1,885,000 was for purchase of land. The works were to cost £8,465,000, of which sum £1,460,000 had been already sanctioned. The present estimate was £6,710,000, of which £1,030,000 was for purchase of land, leaving £5,680,000 for works. If they were to deduct the amount proposed for Spithead from each—namely, £1,100,000 and £840,000 respectively—they would have as the original proposal £7,365,000, and £4,840,000 as the present, making a difference of £2,525,000 for works, and £855,000 for land. That reduction was effected in the following way:—The Chatham western defences from Rochester to the river had been given up, making a saving of £700,000; at Woolwich there was another saving of £700,000; at Portsmouth the Portsdown Hill works were reduced by £200,000; at Plymouth the Saltash works were abandoned, thus saving £500,000; and the cost of the north-eastern defences was reduced from £1,200,000 to £350,000. As for Pembroke, it was extremely difficult to say what had been abandoned, but the Estimates had been reduced by £425,000. There was thus a total reduction of cost to the amount of nearly £3,400,000. He did not think that the proposal which the hon. Member for Stamford was about to make would promote economy. The best thing they could do was to put as much confidence as possible in the engineer who had charge of the works. If the Government were limited to a certain sum to be spent on each separate work within the year, such an arrangement could only add to the ultimate cost. If hard frost set in during the winter, many of the earthworks might have to be stopped. If there was much tempestuous weather on the sea-coast, the sea defences would have to be postponed till the spring. Economy could only be obtained by giving the Executive ample power of spending the entire sum voted in such a manner as might be found necessary from time to time, and of the most advantage to the public service.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
The complaint which was made about three years ago, in previous stages of this question, that the House was taken by surprise, and that the subject was not deliberately considered, will not, I think, apply to the present year; because, by the forms of this House, it was necessary that the Bill should be founded on a Resolution, and that Resolution gave rise to a debate, equivalent to a debate on the second reading. Upon the second reading of the Bill which was subsequently introduced, the subject was discussed for a whole night, and minutely scrutinized; and now upon the first clause of the Bill in Committee we have a revival of the debate, which again is equivalent to a debate upon the second reading, because my hon. Friend did not address his remarks to any clause or detail in the Bill, but repeated with some additional illustrations and in different language the arguments which he used on a former occasion. But as my hon. Friend's arguments were substantially the same as were before submitted to the House, and as they were met by arguments, though not satisfactory to him, yet which the House was able to judge of and to decide upon, it will not be necessary for me to go very fully into the question. However, out of respect to my hon. Friend, I will not leave his speech entirely without comment. I will not dwell upon that very unwise and somewhat sentimental argument that it is unmanly for British soldiers to—[Mr. BERNAL OSBORNE: I never used it at all.] I am glad the hon. Member disavows it, but at all events I heard it before used in this House. ["No, no!"] I most positively aver that I have heard the argument used more than once in the course of these debates that it was disgraceful that our soldiers should skulk behind walls. Well, in answer to that—if any hon. Gentleman should be influenced by an argument of that description—I will only ask him to consider whether it is not the duty of a general to spare the lives of his men; and whether those generals, including the Duke of Wellington, have not been most commended who have used every peculiarity of soil and situation to prevent their men being exposed to danger. Therefore I think, if by fortifications we can make it more easy for our gallant troops to defend their country, I trust no Gentleman in this House will be influenced by such an argument. I think, however, my hon. Friend 159 used an argument not much more wise and equally sentimental—namely, that the use of fortifications is an insult to the navy.
§ MR. BERNAL OSBORNE
The right hon. Gentleman is equally incorrect in what he is now stating. I said that the supposition that an enemy could land was an insult to the navy.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
My hon. Friend certainly used the argument that it was an insult to the navy to make use of fortifications. [Mr. BERNAL OSBORNE: I did no such thing.] I am extremely glad, then, that I misunderstood my hon. Friend; for if he had employed such an argument, it would have been entirely devoid of force and utterly unworthy of any man of sense. I am still rather at a loss to know in what the insult to the navy consisted; but I presume it was some measure to be taken for strengthening the defences of our coasts, and which, according to the doctrines of my hon. Friend, would imply want of confidence in the navy. But, as my hon. Friend seems rather sensitive upon the subject, I do not wish to detain the Committee about these merely preliminary matters, but to go at once into the material parts of the case. Now, the main argument used by my hon. Friend turns on the probabilities of invasion. He has asserted and quoted authorities to prove that there is no reasonable ground for dreading invasion, and that any securities against the risk are superfluous and a waste of money. Now, I am entirely at issue with my hon. Friend both as to the fact and the argument which he founded upon it. My knowledge of history, and my observations of the military operations of nations in former times, lead me to believe that an invasion of foreign countries is by no means a difficult operation. I believe my hon. Friend will find that there is hardly any country which was seriously bent upon the invasion of another, and which was possessed of a large navy, that has found any difficulty in making a descent upon a foreign coast. I need only refer to our own history. Is there any instance in which we have had any difficulty in effecting a landing on any foreign coast? Had we any difficulty in the American War or during the war of the French Revolution, though the expeditions were afterwards unsuccessful—or on the coasts of Holland or Flanders? Had we any difficulty in effecting a landing on the coasts of Portugal or Spain during the Peninsular War? I believe 160 we should have had no difficulty in effecting a landing on the coast of France if we had thought our army sufficiently strong to maintain itself against the enormous military resources and the great genius of Napoleon. I maintain, then, that the landing upon a foreign coast is by no means a difficult operation, and I will also say that the object of the measure under consideration is not to prevent an invasion of our shores. It is an entire misconception of the object of this measure to suppose that we undertake to render invasion impossible. No profession is made to plant a wall round all the landing-places in England, so as to make it impossible for a foreign army to disembark. Such a chimerical idea never entered the mind of any of the promoters of the present plan. What we say with respect to those places which it would be most the object of a foreign invader to attack, and which it would be most important for us not to lose, such as our dockyards and arsenals, is, we defend them to prevent an enemy making an attack on those points; but we do not say that it would be impossible for a foreign army to land on our coast. The real security against invasion is, that the vulnerable points on our coasts should be fortified, so that the enemy should not be able at once to destroy the places in which our military and naval strength lies, or make such an impression on our military and naval resources as would enable the hostile force to maintain a footing in the country, and thus reduce us to submission. With respect to the question of the difficulty of manning these forts, I think that the hon. Gentleman who spoke last has given a sufficient answer to my hon. Friend. No one has ever supposed that all the forts now proposed would be required to be simultaneously defended. Supposing the country to be invaded, the enemy would make an attack on some particular spot, and that point, with the means of transport now existing, could be defended, and it would not be necessary to have a full complement of men to man every gun in every fort at the same minute. My hon. Friend has asked some questions with respect to particular forts. In the first place, I would say that when large undertakings of this kind are carried on, of course during their progress it is not impossible that some accidents may occur, such as invariably occur in the construction of great railways. As respects Fort Elson, the scarp was thrust forward in consequence of the 161 ground moving from water percolating through. With regard to Fort Rowner, a settlement in the masonry work, such as not unfrequently occurs in similar constructions, has taken place. As respects the foundation of Darnet Fort, in the Medway, the difficulty is such as is often experienced in the neighbourhood of rivers in putting down a solid foundation, but that difficulty is now overcome. Therefore as far as engineering difficulties are concerned, I can assure the Committee there is nothing material to interfere with the progress of the works. I trust this explanation will be considered sufficient.
SIR FREDERIC SMITH
observed that he was the last man in that House to decry fortifications, or to deny their value, supposing men could be obtained in sufficient numbers to man them; but he certainly did strongly disapprove of the construction of gigantic lines of fortifications where there were not sufficient troops to supply them with garrisons. He admitted that strong fortifications, judiciously posted and manned, would tend very much to arrest the progress of an invading army; but the question was, could they have both an army in the field and well-manned fortifications also? Nothing could be more foolish than for this nation to construct such immense fortifications that it would take all the regular troops to defend them, and this is what seems to be contemplated by the Government. It had been said that they might be defended by raw levies; but surely it would be very impolitic to try to defend fortifications with raw troops. All the highest military authorities concurred in the opinion that it was always necessary that garrisons in time of war should consist of the best troops, because siege operations were not like those in the field, frequently over in a few hours, but required the most tried courage, nerve, and endurance, not for days only, but for weeks and months. Not only were men who were besieged in garrison liable to attacks by escalade, and to the greatest possible peril in defending their works night and day, but the troops were called upon to make sorties, which were sometimes far more perilous to soldiers than pitched battles were. He would like to see the general who would dare to make a sortie with raw troops. The natural consequence, therefore, of erecting all these large fortifications, would be to lock up in them a great proportion, if not all our 162 best troops. There could be no reason on earth why portions of the fortifications at Plymouth and Portsmouth should not be postponed, seeing that the Government had taken upon itself to alter the whole of the original plan, and to omit many of the works which it at first intended to proceed with, and thus to disregard in material points the recommendations of the Commission. Upon the plan of the Government, it would require 30,000 men to defend Portsmouth alone, while the other proposed works would require 60,000 or 70,000 more; and he really believed that if the question were referred back to the Commissioners, far better and more economical plans might be adopted. He wished to know who was responsible for the alteration of the plans. He feared the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for War would not enlighten them on that essential point. One year they were told that a certain number of works were required; next year some of them were taken out of the list. Thus the central arsenal was left out of these plans, and they were going to leave out the defences of Woolwich altogether. Was that in accordance with the opinion of the Commissioners or the Government? If of the Commissioners, they had changed their minds; if of the Government, they clearly overrode the Commissioners, and preferred their own opinions to those of the men for whose judgment they professed to have so high a value. If they were asked boldly by the Government for £1,200,000 for fortifications actually necessary for the defence of the country, without details, that was one thing, and the responsibility would be wholly with the Government; but when a definite plan was submitted, and they were told that the money was required for certain definite works which he considered altogether too extensive, he certainly should take the opinion of the House as to whether such money ought to be granted; for if granted under these circumstances, the responsibility of taxing the country needlessly would fall on the House of Commons. Plymouth was a point of great importance, and he should not like to see it left undefended; but the works on the north-eastern side were not properly planned, and he hoped they would not be proceeded with at present. He trusted also that the works at Fareham and those at Portsdown Hill would be delayed, and he would suggest that the number of forts at Ports- 163 mouth should be reduced from five to three. He also objected to the works at Dover, but since they had been proceeded with so far they must go on. They had been told that the number of gunners might be doubled or trebled in a short space of time; but it should be recollected that the ordinary period for the training of gunners used to be two years; and in consequence of the recent improvements, and the intricacies of the new ordnance, three years at least were now required. Volunteers might work light six-pounders on a field day and make a pretty show; but to work heavy guns and siege trains they must not depend upon Volunteers. He should, therefore, object to all these extended lines of fortification, and, inasmuch as no contracts whatever had as yet been entered into for those named in the schedule to which he objected, the Government ought to pause before they proceeded with them. He wished to strike a blow at the system before it had taken too deep a root; for as he contended, it was utterly impossible for France or for any other nation to make such preparations as would be necessary to land a large force properly supplied upon the shores of this country without giving, as it were, all the world notice of their intention; and if that was the case, and the attempt were made with wooden vessels of war and transports, three or four steam rams would be able to run into and destroy and sink a great number of them. No one could deny that our steam navy would prove a most serious obstacle to any such attempt; and if even after all upwards of 100,000 men should get near the shore, the landing would have to be effected in boats; and so long and difficult a process would that be, that there would be ample time, in these days of railways and telegraphs, to concentrate a large army at any spot where the attempt was being made, and gall the enemy by a most destructive fire, if they did not entirely defeat them. Upon the point of concentration of a land force he could speak with the more confidence from the fact that he had once made some investigations, at the request of Sir R. Peel, on the subject; and on that occasion Mr. Laing, chairman of the Brighton Company, and Mr. Macgregor, chairman of the South Eastern told him that they would engage, if ever the emergency should arise, to convey an army of 60,000 men from any focal point, such as Aldershot or Red Hill, 164 to any place on the south coast, between the Bill of Portland and Portsmouth, in five hours, and thence to the North Foreland in three hours. Even if a French army were to land at Plymouth or Portsmouth, it would never dream of sitting down before either place. In such a position it would be exposed to attack both in flank and rear, and would either be captured or cut to pieces. He hoped that when people really considered the enormous facilities they possessed for the concentration of troops, these groundless fears of invasion would vanish; for it was his belief, that even if 150,000 men could be landed here, their defeat and capture was certain. He did not believe, that if the best troops were cooped up in fortresses, our volunteers would ever be able to prevent the landing of an enemy; and seeing how soon an effective army in the field could destroy the base of the operations of an invading force when once they had the temerity to quit the seaboard, he hoped the Committee would consider that an army in the field would be sufficient for the protection of the dockyards and arsenals, as well as the capital, and that they would not consider it necessary to form the extensive lines of works proposed, but rest satisfied with the existing works, which were adequate to defend the arsenals against a coup de main, and were only inefficient against a distant bombardment, which a very small number of detached forts would prevent. Whenever this question was discussed, the Government kept out of view the existing works, which were sufficient to enable good garrisons to make a vigorous defence. With regard to the principle on which some of the works were proposed, there was great inconsistency: those for the defence of Portsmouth being at the full extent of bombarding range, for instance; while those for the north-east side of Plymouth were much closer, and those for Pembroke not half the distance of the Portsmouth advanced lines from its dockyard.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
As the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. B. Osborne) paid some attention to me in the course of his speech, I feel it would be uncivil on my part not to take notice of his remarks; but in doing so I shall not detain the Committee for more than a few minutes. I feel much flattered by the language which the hon. Gentleman applied to me. I must say, at the same time, that he gave me a credit to which I can lay no claim; for 165 although I admit that I have been for a great number of years very solicitous that our dockyards should be defended, and have long thought that it was the duty of the Government to take measures for that purpose, yet I cannot take credit for a plan which has been prepared by competent military and naval authorities—men of great skill and science, whose opinion, I may say, without any reflection upon the hon. Gentleman, is entitled to more weight than any he may give upon this subject. There was nothing in his speech which has not been urged over and over again by himself and others, and which has not been fully answered. The great argument he made use of was that it was impossible for this country to be invaded, and that therefore permanent works of defence were unnecessary. As to its being impossible that this country should be invaded, I think that is an argument which it would be very well to maintain at a dinner-table or in a club, but it is not a fit argument for a sensible man to address to a deliberative assembly engaged in considering the means of defending the country. It is manifest that if a neighbouring country desires to invade us, nothing is so easy as to do it, unless you have on the spot a large fleet equal to cope with that of the enemy, and unless you also have at the point of landing an army able to fight the invader. The history of the last war, however, shows you that you cannot be sure of having on the spot a fleet large enough to stop an invading force. The hon. Gentleman has stated that I said, on a former occasion, an army of 50,000 or 100,000 men might be landed here in one night. I never said that. What I said was that an expedition of that force might traverse the Channel in one night, and might be in the morning at the point of landing. With the means which we know modern science has provided of platform boats, each capable of carrying 120 men with guns and horses, that operation would be a very short one. The hon. Member says that my example of the landing of the French at Genoa does not apply. I say it does apply, because suppose one of the small ports on the south coast of England to be occupied by a hostile force, the enemy would have the same facility of landing men, horses, and guns, though not quite in the same degree, as the French had at Genoa. What my right hon. Friend (Sir G. Lewis) said is quite true, that there is hardly any instance in which 166 a landing has been seriously attempted and not succeeded. How would a landing be effected? There would be a large naval force sweeping our beach with the most powerful artillery, and driving away the force that might be there to oppose the landing. To be sure, as the hon. and gallant Officer who has just spoken says, he would not give much for the heads of those who did land, even if they were 100,000 in number. But it is all very well to talk in that way. If the country is to be invaded for a purpose, the obvious course would be to land a comparatively small force to attack an undefended dockyard—destroy the elements of your naval force, and, when that was done, to let those troops surrender, to be very well treated, and then go back at the end of the war. ["Oh, oh."] Does any one imagine, in these days, that these people must all be put to death in cold blood? What I want to know is this, would it or would it not be worth while for any powerful rival of England to sacrifice 10,000, 20,000, or 30,000 men for the purpose of saving their own navy by destroying our arsenals and dockyards? The loss of a great battle, at Solferino, at Magenta, or any of the great battles in the Russian campaign was not much less than that, and to accomplish a much less object. It is plain that it would be worth the while of any foreign Power that wished to destroy our navy to sacrifice a certain number of men for the purpose of destroying our dockyards, and giving them necessarily afterwards the supremacy of the sea. There have been plans—all of us have seen them—of railways to run from one end of the island to the other, with traversing platforms running to any one point that might be invaded; but Government never dreamt of anything of that kind. Our purpose is limited to the defence of the dockyards; and, in spite of what has been said by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Liskeard—who first disclaimed the value of authorities, and then referred to them—I venture to think that we have authorities quite as good as he has adduced, both naval and military men, to whose opinion, being expressed on their responsibility, the Committee will attach more weight than they are likely to give to those quoted by the hon. Gentleman. But what made me particularly anxious to rise was not to answer what had already been sufficiently answered, but because the hon. Gentleman was pleased to say that I 167 sneered the other day at free trade and the commercial treaty with France. [Mr. BERNAL OSBORNE: Hear, hear!] I mean to say that I did no such thing. ["Oh, oh!"] I attach as much value as the hon. Gentleman does to commercial treaties and free trade. In their full value I respect them, and I respect the hon. Member who had a great part in enforcing the principles of the one and carrying the other into effect. But what I did was to animadvert on the false application of these principles to a result on which they do not bear. I stated that in my opinion it was nonsense to say that there was no likelihood of an invasion from a great foreign Power because we had established the principles of free trade and had a commercial treaty with them. On a former occasion I cited the example of the United States of America, as a proof that we cannot place any reliance on commercial relations to maintain peace. I said there were no two countries which had such intimate commercial relations as Great Britain and the United States—no countries between which the links of common interest were stronger, or between whose people there appeared to be a stronger sympathy; but in spite of all that, when popular passion was excited on some question that appeared to disturb the honour of the two countries, we saw the two countries on the very verge of a rupture. Therefore I said, and I say again, it is nonsense to tell us, as the permanent foundation of our policy, that we have a commercial treaty with any country, and that we have established the principles of free trade. When we are talking of military and naval defence, you must rely on those means which science gives you for defence. That is quite a different thing from the ordinary transactions of peace with regard to which treaties of commerce and the principles of free trade have their value, but which these works of defence do not overbear.
§ MR. BERNAL OSBORNE
I do not think the Committee will be of opinion that any answer has been made to what I said. The right hon. Secretary for War came down, as he said, out of compliment to me, to say a few words; but he did not answer the speech I made. He admitted what I said with regard to Fort Elson, yet he calls for more money. The noble Lord the First Minister has taken his own line—I am Sir Oracle;And when I ope my mouth, let no dog bark.168 He says no man is sensible or in his senses that differs from him. ["Oh, oh!"] It amounts to this. That is not a tone to be assumed to independent Members, or to any Member of this House. If hon. Members are prepared to vote these large sums of money on the unsatisfactory arguments adduced by the right hon. Secretary for War, and on the sort of personal arguments made use of by the noble Lord, they will be sacrificing their duty to the country, and, sooner or later, the country will awake to the delusion promoted by the First Minister.
§ MR. HADFIELD
said, that the attack which had been made by the noble Lord the First Minister on the apostle of free trade had made a great impression in the north of England. The noble Lord had fallen before, and was raised by the hand of the Manchester school; and when the noble Lord next fell, he might rise again.
§ MR. COBDEN
I feel that I can hardly avoid doing what I had no intention of doing—saying a very few words on this occasion. I duly appreciate the kind advocacy of my cause by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Hadfield). I am also sensible of the kind intentions of the hon. Member for Liskeard in throwing his potent shield over me. But as to the attacks of the noble Lord, why, I have been too long in this House to take them very seriously from that or any quarter; and I have gone through too much, I think, to warrant any fears, on the part of myself or friends, of suffering any great injury. I have had some passages of arms in this House with those who I think in history will be recognised as the superiors of the noble Lord; and if I am to have an antagonist, I should be inclined to prefer the noble Lord to any other in this House. It was the saying of Dr. Johnson, of his friend Sir Joshua Reynolds, that he did not know any man against whom, in case of a quarrel, he should have found it so difficult to say anything. Now, I must say I think the noble Lord is about the most vulnerable of living statesmen in this country, or, perhaps, in any other. I do not know that I should have risen but to ask the indulgence of the House while I refer to something said the other night by the noble Lord, in which he flatly contradicted me on a matter of fact. It is not, I know, consistent with the order of the House to go into any argument relating to a past debate; but I will not go into argument—I will do no more than 169 recite a fact. I stated, it will be remembered, in the course of some remarks made in a recent debate, that the last Chinese war originated in the act of Mr. Bruce, who, in proceeding to Pekin to exchange the ratifications of the treaty, insisted on going one way, while the Chinese authorities invited him to go another; I stated that the treaty had been ratified, and that all that had to be done was to exchange those ratifications. The noble Lord had stated the contrary. I ventured to express my disapproval of his inexactness. He then flatly contradicted me, and advised me to refer back to the papers. I will just give the noble Lord's own statement, and not trouble the House with any comments upon it. The question of the origin of the Chinese War in 1859 came on in this House on the 13th February, 1860, when Lord John Russell, then Foreign Minister, said—The Treaty of Tien-tsin had been signed and had received the special approval of the Emperor of China. Nothing but the ratification remained to be given, and it would have been impossible for us, because Her Majesty's forces had suffered a loss—because 400 or 500 men had been killed or wounded—to give up a treaty solemnly agreed to, or to retreat from conditions to which the Emperor of China had given his assent."—[3 Hansard, clvi. 945.]On a subsequent occasion (March 16, 1860) the same subject was again brought up, and Viscount Palmerston said—A treaty has been concluded with China. That treaty has been approved by the Emperor. We want the ratifications to be exchanged; we want the treaty to become a formal and acknowledged compact between the two countries."—[3 Hansard, clvii., 807.]Now, I will not use one word of comment upon that, further than just again to beg the noble Lord, when he makes statements in this House, to reflect a little before he makes them. I do not charge him with wilful inaccuracy. He does not meditate enough, apparently, to be wilful in these matters, but he is careless. Sir, since I am on my legs, I wish to say a few words on the subject before us, not, however, in a technical sense, for I have no technical knowledge of fortifications. If I have any knowledge at all on any subjects in this world, it is because I have been docile all my life in seeking to learn from people who know better than myself. On the question of fortifications and shipping I take what I believe to be competent authority. I only try to analyse and balance what I believe to be the best sources of information, and then judge accordingly. 170 But there is no doubt this fortification scheme, and all that belongs to it, is simply and solely the work of the noble Lord. If by any accident the noble Lord disappeared from the scene to-morrow—which Heaven forbid!—does any human being believe that this fortification scheme would go on? Why, look at his colleagues. Look at my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Why, that right hon. Gentleman has been the very breath of the nostrils of the present Administration for the last two years. What keeps the party together, and excites any confidence in the Government on the part of those who represent the large constituencies and who alone can give any solidity to a Ministry—Whig or Liberal? Why, their faith in the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There is no doubt, that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer went out of the Government, it must break up within a fortnight. I can answer for it that sixty or eighty men on this side of the House would invite from the other side a step which would put the Government out rather than that we should be responsible for its course, if we had not some lingering hope that in consequence of the presence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the President of the Board of Trade, and other elements, we should have something better at its hands than we are now receiving. But when I say that the noble Lord is carrying this measure of the fortifications without the slightest sympathy or support from the Chancellor of the Exchequer or my right hon. Friend, I am not hazarding an opinion about which there can be any doubt. Why, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has ostentatiously abstained from giving his support, or even lending the countenance of his presence, when these matters have been brought on. There can be no question, therefore, that this scheme is solely and entirely the work of the noble Lord. I have sat in this House for twenty-one years. I came in on the downfall of the Whigs in 1841. The noble Lord was then always the coadjutor and patron of the late Sir Charles Napier, that well-known advocate for increased armaments, to whose demands he gave respectability. From that time down to the break-up of Sir Robert Peel's Government in 1846 the noble Lord went on urging an increase in our armaments and repeating the phrases which he still repeats, as I could easily prove from a dozen places in Hansard. And on what ground has he 171 proceeded? Why, he knows no more than I do about fortifications. He is not a military or naval authority, and must, I suppose, take his opinions, as I do mine, at second-hand. Well, there has been this one dominant idea running all through the noble Lord's arguments on this head—namely, that steam has altered our position to our disadvantage, and that we are no longer so powerful with reference to France as we were before steam was invented. Apropos of that point the hon. Member for Liskeard has quoted some authorities, and among others Admiral Berkeley. In the Committee which sat on the navy in 1848 I heard Admiral Berkeley state in his evidence that steam had given us the best security against invasion. I was on the Select Committee which sat on the Ordnance in 1849, and I heard Sir Thomas Hastings examined on this subject. That officer had been selected by Sir Robert Peel, in 1844, as the Chairman of a Defence Inquiry, and went along our coast with a view to devise the means of protecting our shores. Well, in his own emphatic language, Sir Thomas Hastings told the Select Committee that if we only made proper use of the power at our disposal steam gave us the best possible security against such a danger. Again, Sir Charles Napier—although the noble Lord was always his patron and brother agitator in this House for increased armaments—differed from the noble Lord, and ostentatiously took the opportunity of expressing that difference. I have heard Sir Charles Napier myself distinctly state that steam had given us, for the first time, the only true guarantee against invasion, because it afforded the only means of securing a constant blockade. I remember, too, that Captain Scobell expressed a similar opinion. Whom then are we to believe—authorities such as I have quoted, or the noble Lord? On what ground does he lay it down here dogmatically that we are now placed at a disadvantage as compared with our position before the introduction of steam? I ask him to give us his authorities who will countervail the names I have cited. Well, but it is not naval and military men only who may be quoted. At an early period of my experience in this House a circumstance happened to which I must refer, because it affords another example, a flagrant example, of the inexactness and carelessness of the noble Lord in the statements which he makes to us. It occurred in 1845. On that occasion the 172 noble Lord had already mounted this hobby of his, that steam was the great danger of this country. He was fond of saying that the application of steam to navigation had spanned the Channel with a steam bridge. That simile occurs a dozen times in his speeches from 1842 downwards. Let nobody undervalue the force of these repetitions of a phrase, because by dint of them we come at last to believe them ourselves, and we make others believe them also. In 1845 the noble Lord, in an harangue intended to induce Sir Robert Peel to increase our armaments in some direction, launched this favourite idea of his. Sir Robert Peel controverted it. That led to the noble Lord rising again to explain himself. I will read these passages. On the 30th of July, 1845, Viscount Palmerston said—In reference to steam navigation, what he (Viscount Palmerston) had said was, that the progress which had been made had converted the ordinary means of transport into a steam bridge." [3 Hansard, lxxxii., 1233.]Sir Robert Peel, immediately following, in reply said—The noble Lord (Lord Palmerston) appeared to retain the impression that our means of defence were rather abated by the discoveries of steam navigation. He (Sir Robert Peel) was not at all prepared to admit that. He thought that the demonstration which we could make of our steam navy was one which would surprise the world; and, as the noble Lord (Lord Palmerston) had spoken of steam bridges, he would remind him that there were two parties who could play at making them." [3 Hansard, lxxxii., 1233.]Now, comes this flagrant specimen of the noble Lord's inexactness. I purposely use that long and rather French word because I wish to be Parliamentary in what I say. The noble Lord, in speaking of this very Fortifications Bill when he brought it in on the 23rd of July, 1860, said, still reiterating the same argument—And, in fact, as I remember Sir Robert Peel stating, steam had bridged the Channel, and for the purpose of aggression had almost made this country cease to be an island." [3 Hansard clx., 18.]Now, I happened to hear all that myself, but I am afraid to say so, because I may be contradicted. But now I will make a suggestion to the noble Lord. Will he send one of his Junior Lords of the Treasury to the library to get Hansard? I give him the volumes—Hansard, vol. 82, p. 1233, and vol. 160, p. 18. The noble Lord will probably speak again, as we are in Committee, and it would be a graceful act if he would get Hansard to satisfy 173 himself of that gross inaccuracy. Moreover, it would only be just to the memory of a great statesman, and it is also due to this House that he should admit his error and recant it. There would be a novelty about such a proceeding that would be quite charming. Let him admit that he is wrong. I will forgive him the China inaccuracy if he will only get Hansard, and admit that he was wrong—that it was a fiction—quite a mistake of a treacherous memory. But the serious question is, what kind of opinion shall we form of the noble Lord's judgment? He is not only rash, but I doubt his judgment; for when I look back through his career, I cannot find evidence of a careful selection of facts or collection of authorities, or anything calculated to form a reliable judgment, such as a statesman should observe. How has the noble Lord arrived at his idea that the introduction of steam, whether applied to navigation or to cotton-spinning, or to machinery of any kind, can have been disadvantageous to England? I would ask the Committee in what direction steam could be employed in which England would not manifestly be greatly benefited? We have all the elements for success in such a career; we have iron and coal in greater abundance than any other country in Europe; and where is the statesmanship—where the capacity for judgment, in endeavouring to delude thoughtless people into the belief that the introduction of steam has been disadvantageous to this country? I am not going to argue about fortifications, but I must say one word as to the present moment for doing these things. Fortifications may be desirable under certain circumstances, but an expenditure for fortifications may not be desirable under other circumstances. Bear in mind that when you employ a number of Engineer officers to devise a scheme of fortifications, they do not at all consider the question of expense. I remember in the Ordnance Committee of 1849 one of the officers who had been employed in some of these vast schemes of fortifications was examined, and the rather pertinent question was put to him, "Do you take the expense into account?" "No," he said, "we never take the expense into account; it is not our business." If you give a certain number of engineer officers a certain line of coast, or a certain territory, and say, "Give me fortifications that will secure that point against any strategic movement that may take place in case of 174 war: they might go to work and make circumvallations and detached forts, and create a Sebastopol in every county in England, admirable as specimens of professional skill; but when we come to the question of cost, it is our business to see whether the time or the circumstances warrant the outlay. When this scheme was launched, in 1859, the country was in different circumstances from what it is now. Then we were at the crest of the great wave of prosperity that had been rolling on for many years, and which had made us careless as to economy and indifferent as to politics. We did not care whether a man joked away our money, or husbanded our resources according to the statesmanship of old. I am not so churlish as to quarrel with people because they are disinclined to make themselves discontented or to become agitating politicians when they are prosperous. I am glad always to see the nation prosperous, because I am convinced that a few years' prosperity must elevate the people morally, as well as benefit them materially. Let no one think that I look with satisfaction to any change of circumstances that may bring the minds of the people into a different temper with regard to politics or politicians. But how changed are our circumstances! The daily conversation that I have with gentlemen who represent the great hives of the North fills me with alarm; but no one here seems to have cared to look to what is coming upon us, perhaps in a few weeks—certainly in a few months. Is this a time—are these circumstances, under which the House ought to be engaged in discussions upon fortifications? Where is the immediate danger? Is there any danger from France commensurate with the danger of internal difficulties? The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil, who is almost the only Member besides the noble Lord who has supported this project—for we cannot call the speeches of the Secretary for War a serious advocacy of the scheme—the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil talked about Hannibal and Cæsar, and came down to Bonaparte, when he put hypothetical cases as to what might have happened in 1804, when we were threatened with invasion. But the invasion did not come, and the hon. Member admits that 400,000 armed men sprang up here, and no one dared to come and molest them. Are we now in such a state of florid prosperity—have we nothing to think of but how to expend the public money by millions in projects of this 175 kind, upon which, to say the least, the authorities are divided? There is the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Sir F. Smith) whose courage in continually urging these technical points upon the House I greatly admire. He is a great authority about fortifications, and he is opposed to this scheme. Then there is also opposite a gallant captain, a seaman, who opposes the scheme, and we know that Sir John Burgoyne is opposed to this absurd plan. There are differences of opinion on a matter which I do not profess to understand, but on one point we are all competent to judge, and that is whether there is any immediate danger from any quarter that requires us to be fortifying ourselves in addition to a fleet larger in proportion to that of France than any we ever had before, as far as I can find. Is there anything calling for that; and, if there is not, would it not be better for us, and for the country, if we for the present discarded the subject, excepting those parts of the plan which have been begun, and which should be finished? And I say, in reference to the present state of things, do not mock the people by these discussions upon a scheme that has no form or consistency, except in the mind of the noble Lord. It is his idea, as I said the other night. The noble Lord repeated the word. He is possessed with the idea. I could have used a shorter or a longer word, but I call it his idea. But is this House so abject—is it so impotent, that it can exercise no authority in this matter? I should say, if this and kindred measures are to be carried by the advocacy of Gentlemen on the other side, but not of the heads of the party, who are too wise to advocate them—if the noble Lord is to carry such measures by the aid of Gentlemen on the other side who represent the least advanced portion of the Conservative party, and in spite of the opposition of those who represent the largest, the freest, and the most important constituencies upon our side of the House, it will become a serious question whether something ought not to be done to make those who really govern bear the responsibility of governing, and not the noble Lord. It is right that those who enable the noble Lord, in opposition to the wishes of the most enlightened of his colleagues, and in the very teeth of the men who sit around him, to carry on the Government upon high Tory principles, should be made responsible for its administration.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I am sorry to have to ask the indulgence of the Committee for a single minute, but there was one expression of my hon. Friend who has just sat down which renders it necessary for me to say a few words. My hon. Friend said that I, in a marked manner, had shown disapproval of the project of fortifications which has been before the House during the present Session and in 1860, by absenting myself from the House during the discussions. Now, I hold that it is not competent to any man, being a Minister of the Crown, and having given his assent in the Cabinet to any measure whatsoever, to testify his disapproval of it, or to exempt himself from any jot or tittle of responsibility in respect of it, by any means whatever, and least of all by absenting himself from the House. I am not surprised at the remark of my hon. Friend, for it did happen, that when the statement was originally made by my noble Friend, for some hours upon that evening I was not in my place. But my absence upon that occasion was due in the main to accident, and in no degree whatever to the motive which the hon. Member has imputed. The plan now before the House is one with respect to which I may fairly, with my hon. Friend, plead personal incompetency to pronounce a precise judgment as a military scheme, but at the same time it is a plan to which I stand pledged and committed as a Member of Her Majesty's Government. It is not, indeed, the plan of the Commissioners, but it is a restricted and partial adoption of their plan of 1860, and to that partial adoption I assented upon considerations which appeared, and still appear, to me to be sufficient. I repeat that never in respect of this measure or any other have I at any time attempted, or shall I ever attempt, anything—I might say so futile, so culpable, as to attempt to evade or diminish Ministerial responsibility by absenting myself from the House.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Sir, I wish to say a few words, after what has fallen from my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. Cobden). I am sorry his temper has been so much ruffled. My endeavour always is, when I am attacked, as I was by him the other night—[Cries of " No!" and cheers, which prevented the noble Viscount from finishing the sentence.] Well, there was not one sentence in my hon. Friend's speech in which he did not bring in "the noble Viscount did this," or "the noble 177 Viscount said that," and his speech was a personal attack on me from beginning to end. I always endeavour, in a case of that sort, to do what an Englishman is very apt to do, and that is to give a man as good as he brings; and then, when that is done, I go home and think no more about the matter. My hon. Friend, however, seems more thin-skinned. I have been longer in this House than he has, and I advise him never to make a violent personal attack upon any one if he is not prepared to receive an answer in return, for he may depend upon it that whoever he attacks, if he be worthy of attack, will defend himself to the best of his power. I am sorry that after this interval my hon. Friend should rise under a feeling of so much resentment. He seems to think that the only contest in this House ought to be that described in the line—Rixa est, ubi tu pulsas, ego vapulo tantum—and that all the innings ought to be on his side. My hon. Friend, however, may depend upon it that this will not be his fate. It is very curious that my hon. Friend accuses me of inexactitude and refers me to Hansard to prove my error. I do not feel much disposed to follow his example, because he and I differed the other evening on a matter of historical fact. He contended that the Emperor of China had ratified the treaty of Tien-tsin. I said he had not. After two or three days' delay, my hon. Friend brought down a blue-book to confirm his assertion, and proceeded to read a passage which completely substantiates my statement. [Mr. Cobden intimated dissent.] Let my hon. Friend read it again if he pleases. I did not the other night read the whole of the case; but the fact was just as he read it, and as I stated it. The Emperor of China wrote to one of his mandarins to say that he approved of the treaty; but when he was called upon to ratify it, and exchange ratifications, which process alone could give it international value, he refused, and that which my hon. Friend read confirmed the statement I made.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 110; Noes 62: Majority 48.
§ On Question, That the Clause stand part of the Bill,
§ SIR DE LACY EVANS
said, that the 178 hon. Member for Liskeard had stated that the plan proposed was not that recommended by the Defence Commissioners. It also appeared that the Government had reduced the expenditure proposed by the Commissioners, with which reduction the hon. Member for Liskeard ought to be well pleased. He (Sir De Lacy Evans) had to complain of want of information—that no plans or sections had been laid before the House. The hon. and gallant Member for Harwich (Captain Jervis) had said that it was proposed to reduce the works at various places; he wanted to know whether the Government had sanctioned those reductions.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
In answer to my hon. and gallant Friend, I had better state the course pursued from the beginning when the plan was first taken up by the Government. The first step was to issue a Royal Commission in 1859, to report on the defence of the arsenals and dockyards. It has been stated that the Government has proceeded without adequate professional advice, that they have undertaken to form a judgment on purely scientific matters, and that this plan is the plan of my noble Friend at the head of the Government. Nothing can be more erroneous. Every portion of the plan has been elaborated and most carefully consiered by professional persons, and every one must see that my noble Friend would be the last person in the world to undertake to decide upon professional questions of this kind without proper professional advice. The first step was to appoint a commission composed of Sir Harry Jones, General Cameron, Rear Admiral Elliot, Sir F. Abbott, Captain Cooper Key, Captain Lefroy, and Mr. Ferguson, a civil engineer. The Committee would see that there were on that Commission men the most competent to give advice, and it was impossible that the Government could do more than select a number of eminent men, and then act upon the advice which they had given. The objection has been sometimes made that we have not consulted such and such eminent military authorities—Lord Clyde, for example. But at the time the Commission was appointed Lord Clyde was, if I am not mistaken, in India, and it was not possible for the Government to include him in the Commission. I would venture to say, if the Government had formed a Commission of the persons whom it is said we ought to have consulted, it would be objected that we had not con- 179 sulted Captain Cooper Key, and other persons eminent in their respective walks. The Government could not consult everybody in the country. The Commission reported in February, 1860, and recommended the plans which were subsequently adopted. One large reduction in the cost was made by excluding floating defences, the expense of which was not thought proper to be defrayed by a loan, and therefore the sum which they were estimated to cost was omitted. Some other reductions were also made, but subsequently the plan recommended by the Commissioners was adopted, and is now being acted upon. The plan of the Commissioners was submitted to Sir J. Shaw Kennedy, Sir John Burgoyne, and other distinguished officers, and approved by them. The name of Sir John Burgoyne has been made use of as if he was hostile to the plan of the Government. I really am not aware what has brought hon. Gentlemen to that conclusion. Sir John Burgoyne is officially concerned in the preparation of the plans, and I believe I can state with confidence that there is not a single plan of those now in progress which has not received the official approbation of Sir John Burgoyne. In the evidence before the Select Committee on Military Organization, Sir John Burgoyne was asked whether he would not be satisfied until the arsenals were properly fortified, and he said he would not. He was also in favour of an increase of the army, but then he has expressed a distinct opinion that the arsenals ought to be defended. After the Defence Commission reported, their Report was submitted to two committees, composed of the most eminent military and scientific men, and both approved the plan. I think I have now given the explanation required by my hon. and gallant Friend.
§ SIR DE LACY EVANS
said, the right hon. Gentleman had not answered his question, which was, whether there was any authority for the reductions which had been mentioned by the hon. Member for Harwich?
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
said, if my hon. and gallant Friend will refer to the estimate which I have laid upon the table, he will find full details. We do not propose to take any sum for Chatham or Woolwich in the present year, but I am not aware that any other alterations in the designs have taken place. The Spithead forts are to be suspended until next year.
SIR FREDERIC SMITH
said, he was ready to admit that the Commission was composed of very intelligent men, but they went to the subject with the determination to make their work complete, and they therefore gave the maximum and not the minimum of defence. Now, what the taxpayers of this country desire is to have security at the least cost, but the question of finance does not seem ever to have entered into the consideration of these extravagant Commissioners. No doubt, their plan would be very complete if the country was able to pay for the troops required to man the proposed works; but he contended it was not. The Committee over which His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge presided, and to which the Report of the Commission was referred, had expressed doubts of the possibility of finding garrisons, but had given a general approval of the works. How was it that both Woolwich and Chatham were left out of the scheme of the Government? The Commissioners were of opinion that Woolwich ought to have some defences; and if the Commissioners were to be treated as authorities at all, he would ask why their recommendations were not to be carried out as to Woolwich? He would read the statement of the Commissioners. Woolwich Arsenal and Dockyard were most important places as regarded the land and naval forces; and if they were to fall into the hands of an enemy, it would be equivalent to the loss of an army. Chatham, likewise, was a position of considerable military importance; but it appeared, that if an enemy were to land at Folkestone, or at any other unprotected place on the south east coast, there would be no sufficient defence for the security of Woolwich or of Chatham Dockyard, and no means to establish a force to act on the rear or flank of the enemy marching to London. The Commissioners, in Clause 156, say—We are, nevertheless, of opinion that it is very unadvisable that the arsenal should be left, as at present, so wholly undefended as to admit of an enemy taking possession of it immediately he had succeeded in reaching the outskirts of the capital; and we have therefore considered whether any other plan, of a less extensive character, which would not be subject to the objections incident to the larger prospects (described in an earlier part of the Report), can be adopted. It appears to your Commissioners that a large work of fortification upon Shooters Hill, which commands the whole of the country in the neighbourhood of Woolwich, would have great influence in the de- 181 fence of the Government establishments, whilst it would be only about one-third of the cost of the lesser project before referred to, and would require a comparatively small body of men to hold it. It would provide a place of security in the neighbourhood of London, and would aid in the protection of the metropolis, supposing the enemy to be advancing from the south-east; thereby in all probability preventing his taking that line of attack, and enabling us to direct our attention more particularly to other points. It would form a nucleus to field works which might, if circumstances rendered it desirable, be thrown up in this quarter; and in case of a battle being lost to the southward of London (in which event the enemy would most probably attempt to turn the right flank of our army in order to force it to retire across the Thames to the eastward of London, where there are no permanent bridges), the fortifications of Shooters Hill would cover its passage over the military bridge which would necessarily be formed for the purpose about this point. Without the means of covering such a retreat, our army would be shut up in the district to the southeast of London, and its communications with the interior of the country might be cut off. On these grounds, therefore, we recommend that Shooters Hill be permanently fortified.Again, the Commissioners say—We may add that the introduction of rifled cannon, with all their attendant requirements, has within the present year given fresh development to establishments which were already of great extent, in comparison with foreign arsenals, and of more than proportionate importance, being the only ones of the kind existing in Great Britain, and the sole national reliance for many supplies.It is scarcely possible to conceive stronger reasons for the fortifying of any point than the Commissioners have given for the fortifying of Woolwich, which is notoriously the most vulnerable of the national arsenals. To a certain extent every other arsenal is protected, and is quite secure against a coup de main; but Woolwich has no defence whatever; and as it is approachable by the River Thames as well as by land, its neglect by the Government is quite inconceivable when they are lavishing expense upon other points, not more important, but far more secure. Now, what do the Commissioners say in reference to Chatham, which is equally neglected and ignored by the Government? In Clause 143 they say—Independent of the importance of the Dockyard (of Chatham), to which we have referred in a preceding section, Chatham occupies a position of considerable value in a military point of view. It is situated on the main road from Dover and East Kent to London, at that point where the Medway is crossed by two contiguous bridges (one being a railway bridge) above which the river is for several miles impassable for an army unprovided with a pontoon train; whilst the difficulty of effecting a passage between the dockyard and the mouth of the Medway, owing to the marshy 182 nature of the banks of the river, and the general conformation of the neighbouring country, renders it extremely improbable that an enemy would attempt to cross below the bridge. Chatham being, moreover, near the left flank of the commanding range of chalk hills which, extending through Kent and Surrey to Guildford, terminates near the camp at Aldershot, and near the right of a range of a similar character which runs towards Dover, it has a strategical importance which might be useful under certain circumstances of attack.Again, in Clause 144, the Commissioners observe that—An enemy who had landed near Deal, and should be marching on London, would be obliged to attack the fortifications of Chatham, or to make a considerable detour by Maidstone; in the latter case Chatham would be on his right flank, and after he had crossed the high chalk range near Wrotham, the garrison of Chatham might harass his rear, unless he detached a considerable force to mask it. Again, the garrison of Chatham, aided by that of Dover, operating along the chalk ridge between those two places, would threaten the communications of a hostile force which had succeeded in landing on the coast to the westward of Dover.Further, in the event of an enemy having effected a successful disembarkation on the coast near Harwich, the garrison of Chatham would be favourably placed for moving across the Thames to the aid of our army operating in that direction, or for the purpose of acting on the left flank of the enemy.These circumstances, combined with the growing importance of Chatham, and the fact that it is our great naval establishment in the eastern part of England (for, as we have already stated, Sheerness dockyard is of comparatively small importance), have led us to the conclusion that there are abundant reasons for adding very considerably to the existing fortifications.Can language be stronger than this? can military arguments and opinions be of greater weight? and yet, for some unaccountable reason, the Government have resolved to postpone doing anything for the security of this vital point, and are positively throwing away a large sum of money for the defence of Dover, which secures nothing, but demands for its garrison an amount of troops that could ill be spared.
§ COLONEL SYKES
said, that the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the War Department had referred to some expression to the effect that it would be unmanly for British soldiers to skulk behind stone walls. He had not heard such an expression fall from any hon. Member in that House, but he had himself said, that in consenting to the necessity of protecting all the arsenals against a coup de main, he felt that the means adopted were more expensive than necessary, and that there were other means for 183 the purpose less expensive. To that declaration he had added the expression of his confidence that there was no degeneracy among the descendants of the English victors in the ancient battles on the plains of France and Germany, and in the hundred battles in India, which should require for them in these days, more than in former times, extensive fortifications on our shores. Those were the words he used, and the opinion he had expressed he still entertained, and believed it to be in accordance with the public feeling of Great Britain. Then, with regard to the statement that extensive fortifications on the coast were an insult to the navy, it must be observed that the fortifications were not necessary so long as the British navy had the dominion of the ocean, and it was an insult to the British navy to suppose that it should ever be in such a condition as to lose that dominion.
§ SIR MORTON PETO
said, that when he addressed the House on a previous occasion, he did not desire to convey that he was insensible to the necessity of rendering the dockyards entirely secure; but he felt that a different mode from that pursued ought to be adopted. When this country had the command of the sea, it practically did not require extended fortifications. Moreover, the immense abstraction of force to defend their arsenals would render them unable to provide for the defence of the Thames, the Mersey, the Clyde, and other estuaries near the principal seats of their commerce and manufactures. Sir John Burgoyne had shown that the excessive expenditure involved in the plan was not called for. That authority had given it as his opinion that earthworks over Portsdown would be a sufficient defence.
§ SIR MORTON PETO
said, he thought that such approval was consistent with his opinion that such works need not be constructed. He (Sir M. Peto) had been charged in a semi-official document, which had been placed in the hands of hon. Members as a reply to his own pamphlet on the subject, with manipulating the evidence and perverting the facts of the case. He believed he should be able to give a perfectly satisfactory answer to the charge; but he did not think the House of Commons was a proper arena for such a discussion. He declined, therefore, to discuss 184 the question at that time, but before the following Saturday he would certainly place in the hands of hon. Members a refutation of the charges which had been made against him.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
thought that his hon. Friend had adopted a very judicious course in not making that House the scene of a controversy with an anonymous writer. In reply to the hon. and gallant Officer, he had to state that the fortification of Woolwich was never any part of the scheme of the Defence Commission. Woolwich could not be considered in a very exposed position, as a hostile fleet must penetrate far up the Thames and nearly reach London before it could make any attack upon the town, and the fortification of Woolwich would involve the cognate question of fortifying the metropolis. The works at Chatham were a part of that plan to which the Government still adhered; but as there were many other works in progress, it was thought desirable to postpone them till a future year.
MR. H. A. BRUCE
said, that he should like to know what the Government intended to do with respect to the removal of their great arsenal to a more central situation. There was, in his opinion, no force in the observation that the 90,000 men who would be required for the occupation of these forts would be needed for the defence of Glasgow and Liverpool. In the case of an invasion the Militia and Volunteers would be doubled or trebled; and although the rawest of these troops might be unfit alone to defend such works as those at Plymouth or on Portsdown Hill, they would be valuable auxiliaries to more trained soldiers. Lord Clyde had told him, that if he had the command of the army, he would not put a single regular soldier within these fortified places, and that he believed that the Volunteer artillery would be quite adequate to the performance of all artillery duties within them. It ought also to be remembered that within the lines of these fortifications there would be room to drill and form troops, to take part in field operations if the campaign should be prolonged.
said, that if the numbers of the Militia and Volunteers were to be doubled, that would give a force of between 600,000 and 700,000 men to defend their shores, in the face of which invasion would be an idle dream. In any comparison between the comparative strength of the navies of England and 185 France, the essential point to consider was the tonnage; and the fact was, that while France had 23,000 tons of iron ships ready and afloat, England had 47,000 tons afloat, showing that England was relatively stronger than she had ever been before. A considerable time must elapse before the 400 transports which would be required to bring over an army from France could be got ready; and, moreover, those vessels would be able to make little head against one of the ironsides in the Channel. The expenditure which the Government were incurring was a waste of public money, which was not only wanton, but cruel in such a period of domestic distress.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
said, that the establishment of an arsenal in a central place formed a part of the Government scheme, but was not deemed to be of an urgent character. Although still under consideration, no steps had been taken in regard to the matter.
§ SIR DE LACY EVANS
said, he would acknowledge that the question of a central arsenal was very complicated and difficult, but he held that the Government, having taken it up, were bound to proceed with it. It seemed very inconsistent to spend large sums in fortifying various arsenals throughout the country, and at the same time to leave the most important of those establishments in a position of insecurity. Woolwich was conveniently situated for the loading of vessels and the embarkation of troops; but, on the other hand, a great mass of material and stores was left without any defence whatever, and no effective protection could be given to the place without works on both sides of the river, which would involve a vast expense. The question, then, was whether a large proportion of the stores at Woolwich should not be transferred to a more secure and central position. He believed that the locality recommended by the Commission was Cannock Chase, and he hoped the Government had not altogether discarded that proposal from their consideration. He concurred with the hon. and gallant Member for Chatham in thinking that care should be taken to defend Chatham in an efficient manner, as it was a position of great importance. The strength of our navy was by no means so indisputable as the hon. Member for Sunderland appeared to imagine. There had been of late a controversy on the subject, in which very competent and experienced persons had 186 taken part on different sides, and it was, at the least, unsatisfactory to find our naval superiority questioned at all. He advised the hon. Member, therefore, not to be so confident on that score, and, above all, not to take his facts from the French Minister of Marine.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Two points have been referred to by the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite which are of first-rate importance—Chatham and Woolwich. With regard to Chatham, it is, as my hon. and gallant Friend who has just sat down says, the left of the line of defence for London, and it becomes still more important on account of the works now going on there in the shape of docks and arsenals. Therefore the Government have by no means given up the intention of defending Chatham; but, as my right hon. Friend as stated, there can only be a certain number of works superintended at the same time, and as there is much more to do independent of those particular works, it is not proposed to ask this year any Votes on their account. With regard to Woolwich, the Commission represented that as any real and effective defence of that place would involve a very extensive line of works, it would not be advisable to incur the expense those works would entail, and that if they were made, a large number of troops would be required to man them. As stated by the hon. and gallant Officer, works not simply on that side of the river, but an extensive line of works on the northern side, would be required to keep the enemy off. Therefore it was thought advisable to have some central place where, at all events, a sufficient amount of stores might be placed in a position of security, because it is evident, that if any considerable body of troops landed and made a dash at London, Woolwich would be at their mercy; but the Government have not yet made up their mind on the subject. It is, however, one highly deserving consideration, and it will, no doubt, receive due attention on their part.
SIR FREDERIC SMITH
said, he would remind the noble Lord that subsequent to the plan of extensive fortifications at Woolwich, the Commissioners proposed that there should be merely a large work on Shooters Hill, which would command the district, and be of great influence in the defence of the metropolis, as well as of Woolwich. That work, it was estimated, would cost only £700,000. He hoped, that even if an arsenal were estab- 187 lished in a central spot, the Woolwich factories would not be entirely given up.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
said, that the object of the Government was to form a great magazine of military stores and munitions in a safe central place, secure from the dangers to which Woolwich was exposed; but the removal of the factories from the latter situation had not formed part of the plan. The policy of taking that step had, however, been considered by the Committee on Ordnance which was now sitting. He believed that some of the most competent officials connected with Woolwich were of opinion that, in the not very probable event of the place falling into the hands of the enemy, the manufacturing organization there was so perfect that it could be transferred at once to any place in the interior, where stores had been collected, and put in operation there.
§ SIR JOHN HAY
said, that that was only the opinion of an individual witness and not of the Committee.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
said, he had only stated it as the opinion of competent persons connected with Woolwich.
§ MR. DISRAELI
said, he must protest against any discussion being raised out of evidence which was not before the Committee.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Clause 2 (Treasury to raise £1,200,000 by creating Annuities for a Term not exceeding thirty years).
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, he had a proviso to add to the clause, with the view of restricting the appropriation of the money voted for particular works according to the specific details of a schedule to be incorporated in the Bill. He regretted that the number of Members then present was not greater, as he had been anxious to explain to the Committee what the precise bearing of the Amendment was. All questions of the kind were rather dry and complicated, and he was anxious that the bearings of his proviso should not be misunderstood. Owing to the forms of the House, he had been unable to give the explanation which he had desired on two previous occasions. In the first place, all he had to say would have reference to an altered and not to the existing schedule. Instead of the existing schedule he desired to have the table of returns which had been furnished by the Government annexed to the Bill by way of schedule. In that return there was a list of stations which were 188 distributed into districts, and these again contained the names of the particular forts to be constructed, with the total estimated cost of each, and the estimate of the whole cost for the first year. Thus the station of Portsmouth was divided into the several districts of Spithead, the Needles, the Isle of Wight, &c.; and under Spithead there were the several forts, as Horse Sand Fort, and others. Now, the hon. and gallant Member for Harwich (Captain Jervis) seemed to think it would be impossible, if this proviso were adopted, to spend upon any particular fort more than was set down in the year. That was not the object. An accident might happen to delay the work at one particular fort, and there seemed no reason why the money in that case should not be applied to another fort in the same district. The proviso was not quite so strict as to prevent that. In the first place, it provided that no sums of money should be spent except upon works named in the schedule. To that he thought there could be no reasonable objection. It then provided that it should not be lawful to apply to any work any greater sum than that set down in the schedule as the total estimated cost of the work. To that, also, he conceived there could be no valid objection. He then wished to provide that the Government should not be at liberty to make any contract involving a greater expenditure than the sum set down for the first year for the works "in the same district." He had no wish to tie up the hands of the Government unnecessarily, but he was anxious to diminish to some extent the latitude which the Government now possessed in the application of such monies. If the Secretary for War were willing to accept the spirit of his proviso, he (Sir Stafford Northcote) should be satisfied, and he was ready to leave to the right hon. Gentleman the qualification of the wording. He would, however, state frankly to the Committee the reasons why he wished them to act at all in the matter. There were two objects in view—one was to limit the expenditure to the present year, by insisting on a correct and real appropriation of the money—and secondly, to limit the power of the Government to bind the House by contract so as to put it out of the power of the House in the next year to act freely in the matter. Few hon. Members probably knew exactly how matters would stand under the Bill. The House would appear to have voted £1,200,000, and to 189 have appropriated it according to the schedule to the Act, giving £350,000 to Portsmouth, £300,000 to Plymouth, and so on; and hon. Members probably thought that out of the whole Vote £350,000, and no more, would go to Portsmouth; £300,000, and no more, to Plymouth, and so on. Many hon. Members thought that such was the true intent and meaning of the Act. But if that were so, such was not the way in which the Government had hitherto acted. They had taken the sums which in 1860 were appropriated to each place, Portsmouth, Plymouth, and the rest; and what took place then? It appeared that some considerable excess had been appropriated to several of these places beyond the amounts in the schedule. But where did the money come from? Why £150,000 came out of the abandoned scheme of a central arsenal—other sums from the money set apart for Chatham, for the defences of the Thames, and for the defences of Cork. No less a sum than £190,000 was shown to have been spent not upon those works for which it had been voted, but upon other works, for which it had not been voted. Now, he thought that state of things highly objectionable. Many hon. Members had thought the central arsenal the most valuable part of the whole scheme. ["Mr. BERNAL OSBORNE: Hear, hear!"] If the Government had given the least intimation that it was doubtful whether the advantages of an arsenal on the banks of the river were not superior to those of an arsenal inland, and that they might spend the money which they were asking for the inland arsenal on other works, those Members who voted for the scheme for the sake of the inland arsenal would not have been satisfied. It was important to remember the mode in which the plan of 1860 was proposed. The Government said they were prompted to it by independent Members, and that they concurred with those Members in thinking the expenditure of small sums year after year on different places not so economical or efficient as a well-considered system of defence undertaken and carried through at once. They appointed a Commission; and after carefully considering the Report of that Commission, and striking out some proposals deemed not to be so urgent, they asked Parliament to provide the means for carrying out the residuum of the plan by the unusual and generally objectionable mode of a loan. But now, two 190 years afterwards, they found the Government hesitating about one part of this comprehensive and well-considered plan, withdrawing another, and postponing a third, without any assurance that their minds were made up on the subject. All the reasons which prevailed on the House in 1860, not only to sanction a considerable expenditure, but to sanction the objectionable practice of meeting that expenditure by borrowing money, were now crumbling to dust. His main object in his proviso was this—to recover the control with which the House of Commons ought never to have parted. He had been told by the noble Lord (Lord Palmerston) that he had no right to use that argument, because he did not use it in 1860. The fact was, that the question was submitted to the House late in the Session of 1860; and feeling unable, from the defective information within his reach, to form a decisive opinion of his own on a scheme of so vast and technical a nature, he was compelled to rest his support of the introduction of the scheme upon the authority of the Government, trusting to their knowledge of the public necessities. Since that time, however, he had conscientiously devoted a great deal of his time to the consideration of the question; he had examined a great many books and pamphlets, and had listened to a great many debates on the subject; and he must say that he was led to doubt whether the scheme was, upon the whole worth the expense that was proposed to be incurred upon it. He felt this so strongly that on some occasions he had separated from friends with whom he generally agreed, and he voted for the Motion to reduce the expenditure for this year which was proposed by the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite. But this was not the point to which he now wished to direct the attention of the House. Whatever were the merits of fortifications in themselves, whatever might be said about fixed forts and floating batteries, or about men in the field and behind stone walls, it came with irresistible force to his mind that they were shrinking from their duty, and that they were evading a responsibility which they had no right to throw off, if they allowed control in the matter to pass out of the hands of the House of Commons. When he asked for a detailed schedule instead of the unsatisfactory schedule annexed to the Bill, he was told that he was going to limit the power of trans- 191 fers more than if the money were voted by way of Estimate. He admitted, that if the expenditure were proposed under the usual fortification Vote in the Army Estimates, the whole might be spent upon any portion of the scheme; but that argument proved too much, for it might equally be spent upon objects wholly unconnected with fortifications—upon the pay of the men, or upon provisions and stores; and no doubt the appropriation which he advocated was a great deal stricter than the appropriation of Votes in the Army Estimates. But he was not satisfied with the power of transfer in the Army Estimates; he wished to see it restricted; and even if such a liberty could be allowed in those Estimates, he contended that that there was no reason why the same latitude should be permitted in the expenditure of money which was to be easily raised by way of loan. Expenditure in this case was made easy to the House in every way. They were told, in the first place, that they could not form their own judgment upon a matter of such importance, that they must leave the responsibility to Government; and, in the next place, that they need not trouble themselves about providing payment out of the taxes, as they might throw the cost in a convenient form on coming generations. He asserted that they were not doing their duty to their constituents by adopting such a course. If the Government had asked them to raise the money by additions to taxation, he was perfectly sure such reductions would have been made in other portions of the expenditure as would have provided what was necessary without fresh burdens. There was another point to which he must call attention. As the first part of the proviso limited the expenditure of the money in the hands of the Government to particular purposes, so the second part had reference to the power of making contracts. Many hon. Members were induced to support the scheme upon the ground that contracts had been made, and it would be bad economy to lose the money which had already been spent, besides making compensation to the contractors. If not absolutely conclusive, that argument had great weight in it. He wished, therefore, that when they came to consider the matter in the next year, they should be free from such an argument as that. If the Government thought they wanted more money, let them take it; but do not let them come again and say, "We want 192 another million, and you have no great choice, because we have made the contracts." He wished to limit the power of making contracts, so that at the end of a year the House might be free to act. He was anxious to warn the House against the great danger which he apprehended. He was very uneasy at the commencement of a system of borrowing money for these purposes, lest it should be drawn into a precedent. If they had had a great scheme laid before them in 1860, and the money had been voted at once, it would not have been so objectionable, because they might then have held the Government to their bargain. But they were asked for money by driblets, and no man in his senses could foresee what the end of this expenditure would be. Already they were told that an estimate of £5,000,000 or £6,000,000 was inaccurate by about £1,000,000, and the larger additions to Estimates were always found out as the works had for a long time proceeded. The improvements of science would furnish the argument that to make past expenditure useful it must be added to here and there, and they would thus get into the way of making grants for fortifications annually, not out of the annual taxes, but by annuities which were to be thrown on posterity. The Government made a great boast about cutting down expenditure. The Government compared the expenditure of this year with that of 1859; but in 1859 and the previous year large Votes were taken for fortifications, and now small Votes were taken for them, the larger amounts for fortifications not being taken in Committee of Supply, but by the Bill under consideration. There was thus an apparent diminution of expenditure, which was wholly misleading. And yet they were only going on by driblets. They did not do as the right hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Horsman) two or three years ago urged them to do, when he said, "Raise whatever sums you require, and let the country be safe next week." In 1859, when that advice was given, there was some probability that a few months would have seen these forts called into play, and the Government were anxious to defend the country as quickly as they could. But that did not seem to be the case, and he did not think that all the forts which were to be constructed would have been of much use if the apprehensions entertained three years ago had been realized. But they had got past that, and it was not a question of raising one great sum at once, but 193 of going on year after year voting a million, or a million and a half, an amount in itself which it was not worth while to raise by loan, but which might very well, if really necessary, be provided out of the annual taxation. They were gliding into a habit in that respect which was really dangerous. In those very discussions it was said that fixed forts were not the right thing, and that they wanted floating defences. Hon. Members even recommended that they should take a portion of that money which was to be raised by loan to make iron-cased ships with it. [Mr. BERNAL OSBORNE: A Motion to that effect was made and carried, with the consent of the Government.] Why, a loan for iron-cased vessels brought them at once to the Navy Estimates. Did the House contemplate the plan of supplementing the Navy Estimates by additions to the debt in the form of an annual Act for raising money by terminable annuities? They had got, too, into a way of reducing the taxation, or, at all events, the Government had reached that pass, that even if they did not reduce it, taxation would reduce itself, or rather its proceeds would fall off. They would not be able to impose new taxes to make up that loss, and an easy quiet way of making it up would be by putting into the Fortification Bill for the year so much for iron-cased ships, or for ordnance to equip those vessels, or some other item; for, in fact, there was no limit to such a line of proceeding when once they had fairly entered upon it. He did not say the present Government had any idea of doing anything of that sort. Perhaps they would repudiate it; but it was not to be expected that such an abuse should spring up full-grown all at once. Unless, however, they stood up against it at the outset, it might creep on insidiously until it sapped the foundation of financial morality, because there was nothing more immoral than relieving themselves of their own burdens at the expense of another generation. He did not know that his proviso would go quite the length of all that he had been saying, but he thought it would be very useful in itself, and he was especially anxious to recommend it to the Committee as an indication of the determination of the House not to sit with hands folded and allow these things to go by, but to awake to a sense of its responsibility in regard to them.
(Provided always, That it shall not be lawful
to apply any of such sums to any work not specifically named in the Schedule, nor to apply to any work any greater sum than that which is set down in the Schedule as the total estimated cost of the work, nor to make any contract involving the expenditure in any district of a greater sum than is set down to be expended on the works in that district within the period ending on the first day of August, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, unless such contract has been previously approved by a Resolution of the House of Commons in Committee of Supply.)
—proposed to be added to the Clause.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
said, he thought that the principle of raising money for fortifications by Terminable Annuities had been determined by the House at the outset of the scheme; and the Government could only, in accordance with the principle then established, make the proposal then on the table. But it certainly had never entered the mind of the Government to make a subsidiary navy estimate part of the fortification loan. Hon. Gentlemen would remember that when that question was discussed on former occasions, he strongly objected, as far as he was concerned, to the adoption of any such principle. As to the Government having assented to a Resolution involving that principle, what they really had agreed to, for the sake of preventing further debate, was that the Resolution should pass formally, with the view of the question being raised at a subsequent time. All that the Resolution, in fact, amounted to, was that the House would on a future day resolve itself into Committee to discuss the subject. That order had since been postponed, and was, he believed, finally abandoned. Certainly, the Government did not understand that either they or the House agreed to any principle in allowing that Resolution to pass without a division. As to the more material parts of the question raised by the hon. Baronet, he would state at the outset that the Government had no wish whatever to escape from the control of the House in respect to the administration of the loan. They had, in point of fact, laid on the table very ample materials for a judgment on the subject, and had given precisely the same information as was usually afforded in regard to the Votes taken in Committee of Supply. But the present question related to appropriation. He wished, in the first instance, to come to a clear understanding with the hon. Baronet on a matter of fact, because, according to a calculation which the hon. Baronet had made, it appeared that the 195 Government had exceeded the authority conferred upon them by the schedule of the former Act. He was unable to verify the hon. Baronet's calculation, and did not know upon what he had founded his statement. He had before him a statement of the payments for each district up to the 30th of June, 1862, and he found, that with the single exception of Dover, they were considerably less than the authority given by the schedule. But then there was for works in progress and already sanctioned by Parliament an additional sum of £350,000, much more than sufficient to cover the excess at Dover, which was only £30,000. For example, the expenditure up to the 30th of June at Portsmouth was £481,000, and the schedule sanctioned £580,000. Without going into the other details, he might state generally that there had been no excess in the payments, and it was not the intention of the Government there should be. With respect to the item for the central arsenal, the sum was £150,000. It was not a grant for erecting a central arsenal, but merely for purchasing the land. That purchase had not yet been effected, but the appropriation would be respected, and that money would be held over to a future year until a decision was come to. He could not, then, at all admit that there had been any irregularity in regard to the observance of the provisions of the Act of 1860. However, it was desirable that every possible security on that point should be given to the House consistently with the proper conduct of public business. He should have no objection to insert in the schedule the detailed account which had been laid on the table, and to the first two parts of the hon. Baronet's Amendment he was also ready to agree. The difficulty lay in the latter part of his proviso, which declared that it should not be lawful to make any contract involving the expenditure in any district of a greater sum than was set down to be expended on the works in that district within the period ending on the 1st of August, 1863, unless such contract had been previously approved by a Resolution of the House of Commons in Committee of Supply. It was very difficult, with regard to works of construction, to limit the contracts to the amount of the grant for the year. The usual practice was to engage with the contractor to undertake the whole work, and the contract might be made beyond the amount of the annual Vote, provided it did 196 not exceed the total Estimate which had been laid before the House. The hon. Baronet said, that such a contract should be previously approved by Resolutions in Committee of Supply. But it would be impossible to take a Vote in Committee of Supply consistently with the procedure under the Act, because, if the Vote were taken in Committee of Supply, it must be inserted in the annual Appropriation Act, and it would not be included in the appropriation under that Act. Therefore he did not see how it would be possible to work the proviso. There were certain regulations affecting contracts for the Post Office requiring that the contracts should be laid upon the table of the House for a certain time before being carried out, and it might be possible to make some such arrangement with respect to fortification contracts. He did not, however, see how the latter part of the clause could be adopted; and although he would be ready to amend the schedule in some way to include the Returns, yet he could not give his assent to the concluding portion of the Amendment.
§ MR. LAIRD
said, he thought the latter portion of the proviso was the most important, as without it the Government might commit them to contracts to the extent of £2,000,000 or £3,000,000, and next Session the House would be called upon to carry them out. He thought the Amendment proposed was the best means of putting a stop to such improvident expenditure, and he hoped the hon. Baronet would persevere with it.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
explained, that he had taken the amount of expenditure from the two Returns on the table. He found that the excess of expenditure upon various works amounted to £539,000, from which he deducted £350,000 for works sanctioned by Parliament, leaving a clear excess of £189,000.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
said, he had an account of the actual money paid out of the £2,000,000 voted—£1,134,697.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
observed that at the bottom of the Return there was an attempt to account for the whole two millions.
§ MR. MONSELL
said, he agreed with the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Laird) that the latter part of the Amendment was the most important. There had been a great change of opinion in the public mind upon the subject since 1860, and he believed that in the next year there 197 would be a still greater disinclination towards these fortifications. If the Government chose to make large contracts, the matter was taken out of the hands of the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War very properly wished to place such an exceptional mode of spending public money under the control of the House; but that could only be done by adopting the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's Amendment.
§ SIR GEORGE BOWYER
said, the resistance to the Amendment showed that there was a mistake in the public mind as to the control of the House of Commons over the public expenditure. He had been a Member of the Public Monies Committee, and he thought the Amendment proposed was in accordance with the recommendations of that Committee. Upon the general question he had abstained from taking any part in the discussion, although his early training had given him some knowledge of the subject of fortifications, because he did not think the Committee had before it the necessary means of information. They had been discussing the propriety of making fortifications at given points without having what he thought they ought to have—ground plans of the works proposed to be erected.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, he would suggest that the hon. Baronet should leave out the last words of his proviso, "in Committee of Supply," so that the House of Commons might retain the discretion as to the manner in which it would deal with any such matter. The experiment proposed by the hon. Baronet, if successful, would be a most important financial revolution, and would strike at the root of all the mischief done by the permanent departments, who made use of the Treasury Bench for the purpose of outwitting the House of Commons. The Department entered into a contract, and the House of Commons was invited to vote a small sum, without having the slightest idea as to the ultimate amount to which it was committing itself; and then, when it desired to ascertain how it stood, it came out there were contracts underlying the whole matter, which at once put an end to its discretion. If the experiment succeeded, the Treasury Bench would be compelled to submit every matter to the House to its full extent, and with all the circumstances and engagements connected with it.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that the question lay rather 198 deeper than at first sight appeared. His right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had pointed out that from the nature of such works, it was almost essential that they should be contracted for all at once, or at least a very large portion of them at once, and that the contract should not be limited to the sum to be expended during the year. The question, therefore, was, how to reconcile the public interest with the control of the House of Commons. He concurred entirely with the hon. Baronet opposite, in whose speech there was much of sound doctrine, that in the expenditure of money raised like that, on terminable annuities, special consideration was necessary to maintain the control of Parliament; but how was that to be obtained? In the first part of the hon. Baronet's Motion the Secretary of State had at once readily concurred. The only part, therefore, which remained to be discussed was the latter part, that no greater sum should be contracted for than had been previously approved by a Resolution of the House of Commons in Committee of Supply. The hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) had put his finger on an obvious flaw in the last words of the Resolution; for it was clear that these contracts could not be voted in Committee of Supply without great inconvenience. They would, of course, be brought under all the rules of Supply, and would be included in the Appropriation Act, and great confusion would be introduced into the accounts which Parliament had intended should remain separate. He would assume, therefore, that those words would be left out, and the proposition would then narrow itself to this, that no greater sum should be expended unless the contract had been previously approved by Parliament. His right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War was quite as much disposed as the hon. Baronet to admit the principle of the control of the House of Commons, but he wished to do it in a different way. His proposal was that the contract should be laid on the table, and that the House of Commons should have the power of objecting if it thought fit. That mode, he believed, was more in accordance with precedent, with convenience, and constitutional usage, than the proposal of the hon. Baronet. In an analagous case—that of the packet service—that was the course adopted. The contracts were laid on the table of the House, and remained there a certain time before they received 199 validity. The Government did not ask for a Resolution approving them, but they gave the House an opportunity of objecting to them if it were thought fit. In practical convenience, and as a matter of constitutional usage, the proposition of his right hon. Friend was also superior. The practical wisdom and the good or bad economy of such contracts, was a matter on which the House of Commons, as a deliberative assembly, had not the opportunity of forming an opinion in the same way as the executive Government, and it was not according to usage that the Government should be able to relieve itself of its special responsibility with regard to these contracts by a Resolution of the House of Commons. The responsibility of the Government would be better preserved by giving the House of Commons the power of interfering with these contracts before they became valid, than by asking the House of Commons to approve each of them by a Resolution. He hoped, therefore, that the mode of securing the control of the House of Commons proposed by his right hon. Friend would be that which the Committee would adopt.
said, he thought that the importance of the proposal made by the hon. Baronet below could hardly be exceeded. To carry on works of the kind with borrowed money almost always led to extravagance, and they were therefore doubly bound to secure the control of the House of Commons over expenditure of it. Two years ago a scheme was proposed for fortifications; the House agreed to it, and money was raised by annuities. The hon. Baronet said they ought not to take the money by driblets; it ought to be taken at once. But by what sort of harlequin's wand were these great schemes to be carried out in one year? In case of any such attempt the work would certainly have been badly done, and at a great expense. As far as he could gather, the Government were now legitimately going on with a part of the scheme which was sanctioned in 1860. But the proposal of the hon. Baronet seemed to be supported by some hon. Members with a view to get rid of the scheme altogether. Now, would it be just to the next generation, having borrowed a couple of millions, which they were to help to pay, to leave them nothing in return but a mass of unfinished works? With regard to these contracts, if the Government could not be trusted to carry out the scheme sanctioned by the House, 200 he doubted whether it would not be better to have no Government at all. He was certain, that if that House undertook to give out the contracts and supervise the alterations which were necessary, the work would prove much more costly, and he had observed that the fuller the details placed before the House the more money seemed to be spent. Government could always beat private Members upon questions of detail. They had more information at their command, and as they could not get any considerable number of Members to agree upon details, the Government rolled them over like so many loose stones. For example, since the House had had placed before them so many pages of Estimates, he had noticed that they could do nothing, for directly one hon. Member proposed a reduction another opposed him. They now spent £70,000,000 instead of £50,000,000, and a good deal of that increase had crept up through the desire of the House to have masses of details before them. Now, his view was, that when the House had agreed that a work should be done, more money would be spent if they did not leave the Government to carry out the work, instead of pretending to be an executive body themselves. The less, however, that they borrowed money the better, as it only led to extravagance.
§ MR. DISRAELI
said, he thought that the principle laid down in the proposal of his hon. Friend was one of the greatest value, and one which the Committee ought not to pass over lightly. There also seemed to be very little difference between his hon. Friend and the Government on the subject, and he thought they might come to an agreement. Upon the phrase "in Committee of Supply" his hon. Friend would not insist; and, no doubt, there was a good deal which was perfectly substantial in what was urged by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer respecting contracts. He did not wish to divest the Government of the responsibility which the Executive should possess on the point, nor was that the intention of his hon. Friend. All his hon. Friend wanted was to obtain for the House a due control over the expenditure of public money; and he collected from the Government that there was no wish on their part to dispute the propriety of such a Motion, if it were practicable. With the omission he had suggested, substituting also the word "expenditure" for the word "contract," he thought that all the objections urged by 201 the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be met, and the salutary principle of a due control by the House over the expenditure of public money would be asserted.
§ SIR MORTON PETO
said, that he thought the Committee were much indebted to the hon. Baronet for proposing the proviso. What they wanted was a clear statement each Session of the expenditure to be incurred during the year, so that there should be no outlay except upon works which had the distinct approval of the House, and that contracts should not be vitiated by alterations which had not also the assent of the House. Great inconvenience had arisen from non-adherence to that rule, and from small beginnings public works had swollen into large dimensions, which at their origin no one would have dreamt of or sanctioned. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henley) seemed to think that it would be impolitic to suspend these fortifications; but surely, if he were building a house and discovered that the foundations were insecure, he would not hesitate to suspend his operations and consider whether he should go on with them or not. If contracts were made on the basis of a schedule of prices, there would be no difficulty in doing what was required by the hon. Baronet; and they might be so framed as to give the House complete control over the expenditure.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
said, he was quite ready to agree to any restriction which would carry into effect the wishes of the Committee, but which, nevertheless, would enable the Government to work the contracts in the ordinary manner. He feared that the proviso of the hon. Baronet, even as proposed to be amended, would be found impracticable; and he should propose to follow the precedent of a Resolution adopted by the House with respect to packets and telegraphic contracts, by which it was resolved that in all contracts extending over a period of years, and creating a public charge, actual or prospective, entered into by the Government for the conveyance of mails by sea, or for the purpose of telegraphic communication beyond the sea, there should be inserted a condition that the contract should not be binding until it had been laid for one month before the House.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, his object was to secure a real control on the part of the House over the expenditure, and not to make the House in any manner responsible for the terms of the contract. 202 If, however, the contract was laid upon the table, and no disapproval was expressed within the stipulated month, the House might make itself responsible for the engineering details and other features of the contract. Suppose that the Government, within the year, expected to spend £10,000 on certain works, and obtained authority from the House to expend that sum. Circumstances might occur before the close of the year which might make it desirable or convenient to spend more than £10,000. If the Government could save anything out of a Vote for works in the same district, they might do so; if not, they ought to come to the House of Commons and demand authority to spend £20,000 instead of £10,000. He did not want to see the contract, but he wished the House to have a voice in the expenditure of that larger sum. The suggestion of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Disraeli) to substitute the word "expenditure" for "contract" would, he thought, meet the difficulty, and he was ready to adopt it. The plan proposed by the right hon. Gentleman (Sir George Lewis), to accept the principle adopted in cases of mail-packet contracts was that which first occurred to himself. The cases, however, were not analagous, as the House liked to look into packet contracts, and to see that the right parties were contracted with, the terms, &c. He must apologize for using the words "Committee of Supply," that being an inadvertence; and if the Committee would allow him to strike them out, he would substitute the word "expenditure" for "contract." If his proposal should cause some slight inconvenience to the Government, that ought not to weigh against the great inconvenience to which the House was exposed when it found itself committed to an expenditure which it had not sanctioned. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Henley) had misunderstood him in supposing he had said that the money should have been voted at once. There were certain advantages, no doubt, in voting an amount in one lump sum, and other advantages in voting money by driblets, but the present practice combined the disadvantages of both. In 1860 the House granted to the Government for these very works as much money as it was thought would be enough for one year. The Government made the money last until the second year, and then, at the end of the second year, they made contracts for spending a further sum, which 203 the House was told it must vote. If his proposal had then been in force, the Government would have been obliged to come to the House in the last year a second time, and before the further contracts were made. The House ought to keep such matters in its own hands, and to give the Government what it thought the interests of the public service required.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
said, that if the contracts were to be laid on the table [Sir STAFFORD NORTHCOTE: I do not want the contracts]—there would be something that the House could approve of, or otherwise. He did not understand how the House could approve, by Resolution, of expenditure which had not been incurred, and which, therefore, was not a liquidated sum. Suppose, for example, the contract was founded upon a schedule of prices. The contract would be not for a specific sum, but it was to make certain payments which would be determined as the contract proceeded. He did not see how it could be possible for the House, by a Resolution, to establish the control desired by the hon. Gentleman. The practice would, at all events, be new, and he doubted whether it would be carried into effect.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, that the very merit of the proposal was that it introduced a new practice and a better system. What difficulty would there be in the Government coming to the House and asking it to agree to a Resolution, declaring it to be expedient for the Government to enter into a contract to the extent of a certain sum?
§ SIR MORTON PETO
said, he could assure the Committee that the Resolution of the hon. Baronet, as amended, could be carried out without the slightest difficulty. He did not want the contract laid on the table, but that the Government should state what was wanted for a particular work, and take a vote for it; and if more money was wanted, to come again to the House.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, it was agreed by the hon. Baronet that the House ought not to give its approval to the contracts, but that the House ought to approve the expenditure as distinguished from the contracts. He was not frightened by the word novelty in such a matter, but the Committee ought to consider how the proposal before it was to square with its rules and proceedings. What was the 204 meaning of an approval of expenditure by the House of Commons? There was only one way in which that approval could be signified, and that was by granting the public money. That House was not a dilettante assembly, which met to express abstract Resolutions, but a practical and deliberative assembly, whose duty was to vote the public money when it saw cause for so doing, and to withhold it when no case was made out. Was his right hon. Friend the Secretary for War to come down for a Vote on every occasion when he might find it necessary to go into a contract beyond the point which had already been sanctioned? The first anomaly he saw in such a course—and it was a very serious anomaly — was that his right hon. Friend would come down for a Vote which he did not want within the year. The rule was that the House of Commons voted for the financial year the sums required for that period; but, if the plan now proposed was acted on, the doleful speech of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dundalk would become of a still darker character. Was there to be an Act for each particular case? Was there to be a statute? Was there to be a Bill passed through each stage if his right hon. Friend found that by brick and mortar contingencies he was obliged to go into a new contract? If so, the statute book would soon be loaded, and there would be abundant work for future abbreviators, commentators, and Commissions. There was no such thing as a final authority for public expenditure in that House. That House passed Resolutions for the expenditure of public money, but it did so subject to those Resolutions being taken into the provisions of the Appropriation Bill. He submitted to his hon. Friend (Sir S. Northcote) that he should follow the system adopted in respect of the Post Office contracts. The proposition put forward by his hon. Friend would involve them in great confusion, and introduce principles that were entirely novel, and the scope of which it would be difficult to measure.
§ MR. BLACKBURN
said, he thought that the question was a simple one. It was this—whether the Government should enter into contracts with the consent of Parliament or without it. As he understood the Amendment of his hon. Friend, it laid down that before the Government incurred expenditure they should ask the consent of that House. For his part, he 205 thought the sanction should precede the contract.
§ MR. MONSELL
suggested that perhaps the difficulty might be met by substituting in the Amendment the words "such greater sum" for the word "expenditure."
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
said, he must repeat the objection of his right hon. Friend. There was no precedent for that House of itself giving authority for prospective expenditure. If the House in Committee voted Supply, the Resolution was afterwards embodied in the Appropriation Bill and became law.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, that, as he understood him, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said it would be quite unprecedented to give any final authority for the expenditure of money by Resolution of that House.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
By any Resolution not subject to be taken up in the Appropriation Act.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, he had so understood his right hon. Friend; but he did not propose that the House should do that which his right hon. Friend said was unprecedented. By the Bill before the Committee Parliament was going to give its sanction to the expenditure of £2,000,000. The final authority for that expenditure was a Bill which was to pass through both Houses. All he sought to do was to limit the power of the Government in respect to the appropriation of any portion of that sum, and he thought the adoption of his Amendment would be of great advantage to the Government; for, when contracts were made with the consent of Parliament, better terms would be made with contractors than if the contracts were liable to be overhauled in that House.
By leaving out the word "contract," in line 7, and inserting the word "expenditure," and by leaving out at the end of the Proviso the words "in Committee of Supply,
§ Question put, "That the Proviso, as amended, be added to the Clause."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 106; Noes 111: Majority 5.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, he wished to ask the Secretary for War whether he would have any objection, after the division which had taken place, to the insertion of the words he had previously suggested?
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
said, he had no objection to take the words of the first 206 part of the hon. Baronet's proviso, and to alter the remainder so that the contract should not be binding unless it had been previously laid upon the table of the House for the period of a month.
§ Words inserted.
§ Clause, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clauses 3 to 20 were likewise agreed to.
§ Clause 21 (Persons counterfeiting Receipts for Contributions, &c., guilty of Felony).
§ MR. HENNESSY
said, that a slight verbal alteration was required in the clause, because it provided that a person might be imprisoned for three years with or without "hard harbour," meaning "hard labour," he supposed.
§ Clause, as amended, agreed to.
§ Remaining Clauses agreed to.
§ SIR JOHN HAY
, in the absence of his hon. Friend (Mr. Bentinck), said, that he rose to propose an Amendment, the object of which was, the suspension of the works at the fort at Plymouth Sound until a decision should be come to by the Government as to the forts at Spithead. It appeared that only one witness was recently examined before the Commission with respect to the fort at Plymouth Sound; and when asked whether the erection of a fort upon that site would be of considerable importance in time of war, he replied that with wooden ships he thought the fort would be of the greatest importance, but in the case of iron ships it would depend on the force of the shot, and the distance at which it would penetrate them. In reply to another question, the witness stated that it would be of advantage to use the fort as a coal depôt. Now, iron-clad ships might be about 200 yards off without fearing the shot from that fortified coal depôt; and even the 600-pounder about to be made would not, according to the most sanguine calculation, penetrate the sides of a ship like the Warrior at the distance of 800 yards. Yet it was now gravely proposed to build a fort or fortified coal depôt to repel attacks from ships, which needed not to approach within 2,000 yards of the fort in order to do all the mischief they intended. Since the construction of the forts at Spithead was suspended, he could not understand on what principle this fort at Plymouth, which was identical in its object, and was equally useless, should be proceeded with. As the 207 noble Lord had desired every hon. Member to stick to his crepidam, he should not talk of the land forts, but would express an opinion only with respect to the sea defences; and it appeared to him the height of folly to place forts on sandbanks, where they must be motionless, and could not close with the enemy. He believed that the most desirable mode of spending the nation's money would be to clothe a certain portion of the existing wooden line-of-battle ships with iron, gradually replacing them by ships of a more improved construction. If they availed themselves of the thirty ships which the Comptroller of the Navy said were fit to be used in that way, and which could be altered at an expense of £50,000 each, they might have for £1,500,000 an efficient navy. To effect his object, he would move that the word "Plymouth" be omitted from the schedule.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "Plymouth."
§ MR. AUGUSTUS SMITH
said, he wished to draw attention to the large expenditure proposed for breakwater forts; a large portion of which, he contended, it was probable would be useless. There was high authority—that of Sir William Snow Harris, for instance—against the construction of that particular fort at Plymouth.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
said, that the difference between the fort at Plymouth and those at Spithead was, that while the forts at Spithead would not impede the entrance to that anchorage unless the range of artillery was greatly increased, in the former case the range of the guns would extend to vessels lying outside for the purpose of bombarding the dockyard, and would effectually obstruct the passage of vessels at either end of the breakwater. The main objection of the hon. Member for Norfolk was, that the erection of the fort would interfere with the anchorage within the breakwater, but the evidence of the harbour-master, the only witness examined upon the point, was that there would be no such interference. Under these circumstances, the Commissioners arrived at the conclusion that the work was necessary for the defence of the Sound, and that the site chosen was the best that could be selected. The Government thought it their duty to act upon that opinion, and he hoped that they would be supported by the Committee. He would annex another schedule to the Bill, as it 208 had been rendered necessary by the Amendment which had been carried.
§ MR. MONSELL
said, that so far as he understood it, the Report of the Commissioners in favour of the fort was based upon the hypothesis that guns could be constructed which would pierce iron-plated vessels at distances of 1,000 or 2,000 yards, a result which none of the ablest men in this country believed could ever be attained. Even if the fort was constructed, vessels could lie outside and bombard the dockyard from a distance of 5,500 yards. The Commissioners themselves said that dockyards might be destroyed by rifled ordnance from a distance of 8,000 yards; and therefore the erection of these forts would be of no use for the defence of such places. On the other hand, the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Sir John Hay), to construct floating defences out of the large wooden line-of-battle ships would, if adopted, not only save a considerable sum of money, but effect the object in view. He therefore hoped the Motion would be adopted.
§ SIR JAMES FERGUSSON
observed that the ports at Plymouth seemed to be looked upon by some hon. Members as a salient point which might yet be successfully assailed, although in the main the propositions of the Government had met with the approbation of the House. The cases of Plymouth and Spithead were very different, and it did not at all follow, that because works were suspended at one place, they ought to be also suspended at the other. A fort at Plymouth would be a most valuable defence to the anchorage. Such a work was much required, and he hoped it would be sanctioned by the House. He regretted that the construction of the forts at Spithead had been postponed, because, after the strong declaration of the noble Lord at the head of the Government as to the value which he attached to that species of defence, he was confident, that if he had persevered with his plan, it would have received the support of the House. He differed so entirely from the hon. Member for Rochdale, that he believed that nothing had procured the noble Lord so much popularity and confidence as the feeling of the country that he was resolved, at any expense, to place England in a safe position. The fort at Plymouth had the great advantage over those at Spithead, that while they would only command the passage to the anchorage, its guns could be brought to bear upon vessels even after 209 they had got within the breakwater. It had not yet been proved that these forts would not prevent the passage of iron-cased vessels, and he was assured by naval men and officers conversant with the use of artillery, that no ship could pass behind Plymouth breakwater in such a sea as often prevailed there without exposing her screw or some vulnerable point of her hull to the guns of the fort. But even if a vessel could pass the fort, any sailor, however bold, would hesitate to engage himself in the tortuous channels of the anchorage while exposed to the fire of its guns. The hon. and gallant Member for Wakefield (Sir John Hay), who was naturally partial to the service in which he had earned so high a reputation, had elaborated a very ingenious plan for the defence of Spithead by means of floating batteries; but even if such a system was adopted at Plymouth, the fort would afford shelter and most valuable assistance to an inferior force of iron-plated vessels against a superior one.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, it was foolish to build forts to do execution upon ships at a range of 1,500 yards, when it was notorious that they had not a gun which would produce any effect upon an iron-cased vessel at a greater distance than 200 yards. It was better to have ships which would go out and meet the enemy, muzzle to muzzle, and wait to see whether modern science could construct guns which, within such forts as these, would be of some use.
§ SIR LAWRENCE PALK
said, he wished to ask, whether it would be necessary to add a large artificial fountain to the sunken rock upon which the fort at Plymouth was to be built? It was said that an iron-cased vessel was the proper defence for Plymouth harbour, because it would be sheltered by the breakwater, while the elevation of the guns would make it a most formidable opponent.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
said, a passage in the Report of the Commission stated that the rock was comparatively level and covered with a thin deposit of fine silt; that it had been carefully examined by the diving-bell and found in every respect suitable for the foundation of the fort. There would, therefore, be no difficulty in erecting a fort upon it.
§ SIR MICHAEL SEYMOUR
said, that considering the limited area of the entrance to the Port of Plymouth, he thought a fort inside the breakwater of far greater importance than the forts at Spithead, be- 210 cause, to approach the harbour, vessels would have to pass within a very close range, and vessels attacking the forts with shells would be exposed to the land batteries on either side. He was rather incredulous as to monster guns. They were usually short-lived, and frequently led to accidents. Until more satisfactory data were laid before the House, he though they ought not to alter the course they had already taken.
said, that vessels lying considerably outside the range of the fort and batteries could shell Plymouth harbour without being touched. Ships entering Plymouth Sound would pass at 800 yards' distance from the fort, and they had no artillery which would produce any effect on a vessel like the Warrior at more than 200 yards. As to ships in a heavy sea exposing vulnerable parts, it was not easy to hit them when going at ordinary speed. It was better to spend the money on floating defences than on forts, which could be only useful to the extent of the area of their guns. Whether these forts and land defences were right or wrong, the navy, the first line of defence, should be maintained in that state of efficiency and preparation which would preserve the supremacy of the seas and the inviolability of the shores of England.
§ MR. LIDDELL
said, he was of opinion, as an independent Member of Parliament, that the House of Commons, in the course which the discussion had taken, had not dealt fairly with the executive Government. Two years ago they had sanctioned by a deliberate Vote a great scheme of national defence, and they were then anxious to realize the old fable of the bundle of sticks, and destroy in detail a scheme which they could not defeat as a whole. He had felt it his duty to support the Government throughout the discussion, because he thought they had not been fairly dealt by, especially as, in that matter, contracts had been entered into for a large portion of the proposed works.
LORD ADOLPHUS VANE TEMPEST
said, he thought that those who opposed the measure did not deserve the lecture which his hon. Friend had given them. There never was a question which had been more made one of confidence in the noble Lord, or less one of discussion. So far, however, from thinking that the country would object to the Motion of the hon. Member for Liskeard, he thought they would highly approve of it. It was 211 said that these forts would prevent invasion—the question might be whether they would not rather invite attack. According to the evidence of professional men examined before the Committee, it was held that these forts would prove inefficacious. He hoped the navy would be properly kept up, and he was satisfied the nation would not grudge whatever was really necessary for the defence of the country.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
said, the case of the fort at Plymouth was entirely different from the two at Spithead. The former fort would prevent any ship from entering and shelling the dockyard, and command the Sound itself. Hon. Gentlemen appeared to run away with the notion that the Government were proposing forts alone. The whole foundation of the recommendation of the Commissioners, and the principle of the plan proposed to Parliament, was a combination of ships and forts. After the valuable testimony of the gallant Admiral who spoke below the gangway, he hoped the Committee would negative the proposal.
§ Question put, "That the word 'Plymouth' stand part of the Schedule."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 149; Noes 89: Majority 60.
§ House resumed.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.