§ Order for Committee read.
§ House in Committee.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
Mr. Massey, Sir, in rising to bring before the Committee the Resolution of which I have given notice, I shall probably find it necessary to advert, I trust briefly, to some topics not strictly contained within the limits of that Resolution. The subject of fortifications is a part of the more general subject, the defences of the country. It is the characteristic of our naval and military system, unlike that of many other countries, that it exists exclusively for defensive purposes—a fact which I think hon. Gentlemen sometimes overlook, and which has been overlooked in some recent discussions on this question. The essence of defence is purely negative; it is intended merely to guard against invasion or attack. Defence is of the nature of an insurance, and insurance against a probable danger may be a prudent act, although subsequent experience shows that the precaution was, in fact, unnecessary. A person who insures his house or his ship is not condemned for folly, although his ship may not be wrecked and his house may not be burnt. That is true with regard to those species of insurance which are intended merely to mitigate an evil, but do not tend to prevent it. 871 However, with regard to those species of insurance in which military and naval precautions consist, they have a tendency to prevent the evil which is the object of the insurance. In that respect they resemble the precautions which we are familiar with in the shape of internal police. The presence of a policeman may prevent a robbery; the existence of an army may prevent the invasion of a country; the existence of fortifications may prevent an attack on a town. Well, Sir, that is the view taken by those who maintain that the extensive precautions adopted within the last few years in this country have not been extravagant; that though England has not been invaded, though no hostile army may have been prepared for landing on our shores, this circumstance does not prove our precautions to have been superfluous, or that if they had been omitted the danger against which we have guarded might not have actually occurred. There are other circumstances which the Committee will bear in mind with respect to the provision which has been made of late years for the defences of the country. During the Crimean war, and also subsequently under the Indian mutiny, the jealousy of the public was almost exclusively directed against what was considered the insufficiency of the army and the inefficiency of the military department. The consequence has been that of late years almost the exclusive attention of the military department has been directed to the improvement of our military system, and the increase of its efficiency. But, Sir, efficiency—as those who have had charge of the finances of the country are well aware—efficiency is only another term for increased expense. I put it to any one who has had any experience in the matter whether increased efficiency—in whatever department it may be, whether civil, military, or naval—when it comes to be translated into practice, is not always equivalent to increased expenditure? I know there are some gentlemen who believe, that by some hitherto never defined improvement in the organization of our military system, it would be possible to increase its efficiency without adding to its expense. I have made most careful inquiries on this subject since I have been at the War Department, and I have come to the conclusion, that though by a very jealous and close scrutiny it would be possible to make small reductions in different portions of that large department, it would 872 be impossible to maintain the general efficiency of the department without maintaining the existing expenditure, or to increase its efficiency without increasing that expenditure. And there is one point on which I am anxious to do justice to some gentlemen with whom I have the honour to act in an official capacity. It is, I know, an impression on the minds of many gentlemen in this House, and on the minds of many persons in the country, that a large portion of the present expenditure for the army has been, as it were, forced on the Government by pressure from the Commander in Chief, the Horse Guards, and the permanent officers of the War Department. Now, Sir, that supposition is not only not true, but it is the very reverse of being true. The increased expenditure of the War Department has emanated exclusively, or almost exclusively, from the influence of the political head of the department, urged by the opinions of his colleagues, by the opinions of the House, and by the opinions of the public. That expenditure has not been adopted contrary to the convictions of those who were at the head of the department for the time being, but it is an expenditure which has been adopted, indifferently, by the executive Government for the time being in deference to what they believed to be the opinions of the public and the exigencies of the public service.
I do not wish to detain the Committee by going into matters not strictly connected with this Resolution; but, in consequence of references which have been made in this House of late to the supposed extravagant expenditure for the army which is now going on, and to the great increase which that expenditure is asserted to have undergone within a recent period, I wish to lay before the Committee—which I think I can do in a small compass — comparisons, under different heads of the military expenditure of the present year with that for 1858–9, which year I think the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli) on a recent occasion selected as the year for comparison. The Estimates for 1858–9 were prepared by Lord Panmure, who was Secretary of State under the Government of my noble Friend at the head of the present Government, and signed and introduced in this House by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (General Peel). The total charge in the Estimates of that year for 873 the effective force was £9,337,687. To that I add, on account of the difference of the manner in which the Estimates were at that time prepared—for now every item appears on the face of the Estimates—an appropriation in aid of £1,100,000, which must be added to make the comparison accurate, and which brings the total for the effective service of 1858–9 up to £10,437,687. For the non-effective force the sum taken in that year was £2,240,008, making altogether a sum of £12,677,755 as the Estimate for 1858–9. If I take the expenditure of that year, the amount will be greater by £407,649; but I refer to this Estimate only, because I can only take the Estimate for this year, which is £13,172,012 for the effective force. On account of the Indian army, introduced now for the first time, I deduct £730,000, leaving £12,442,012, which, with £2,130,856 for the non-effective force, makes a total of £14,572,870. The comparison therefore stands thus—For the year 1858–9, total Estimate, £12,677,755; for the present year, £14,572,870, showing an excess for the present year of £1,895,115. That is the sum for which I have to account. Now, we have to take into consideration a portion accounted for by the greater provision in the present year for sea service. In 1858–9 the item for warlike stores and wages was £514,365; in the present year it is £1,023,285, being an increase of £508,920—a sum not charged to the expenses of the regular army, to which I confine myself. There is then £122,887 for the Volunteers this year, which did not enter into the Estimate for 1858, and which, therefore, I exclude. These amount together to about £630,000; therefore the real increase in the expense of the regular army for the present year is £1,265,000. I might put against that a further set-off of an excess of expenditure beyond the Estimates of 1858–9 amounting to £407,649; but that is the fair comparison as between the Estimates of the present year and those of 1858–9; and I will say, that though undoubtedly the expenses of the present year are large and the increase considerable, yet that expenditure is not so excessive or extravagant in amount as some have represented it to be. It is also necessary—and it has a more close bearing on the question before the Committee—to compare the strength of the army in the two years. The total number of 874 men voted in 1858–9 was 130,135; of rank and file, exclusive of Indian depôts and of embodied militia, there were 113,974. This year the number of men voted was 145,450; of rank and file, exclusive of Indian depôts, the number was 124,795. The increase over the former year in the total number is 15,315; of rank and file the increase is 10,821.
I am desirous of calling the particular attention of the Committee to the present distribution of the army, because I think it will throw a good deal of light on our present position, and also on the financial question of the probability of our reducing the present charge. In 1858 the total force at home, rank and file—effectives, rank and file—including the embodied militia, and excluding the Indian depôts, was, on the 1st of May, 84,851; on the 1st of May, 1859, it was 78,421; on the 1st of May, 1860, 86,150; on the 1st of May, 1861, 77,683; and on the 1st of May in the present year, 68,518; and there were also at that date in the present year 1,630 men on their passage home. Then, as to the colonies. In 1858 the force in the colonies was 35,000, and the same in 1859. In 1860–1 the force in the colonies was 46,000, and in the present year 55,000. Therefore in the year 1858, on the 1st of May, there were 84,000 at home, and in the colonies 35,000. In May last at home there were 68,000, and in the colonies 55,000. Therefore the Committee will see that the force at home, at the present time, is considerably less than in 1858, and that the force in the colonies is considerably greater. I will now state the principal colonies or foreign stations in which there is an excess at present as compared with 1858. On the 1st of May, 1862, there was an excess over May 1, 1858, in the Mediterranean stations of 2,673; in China, 2,220; in New Zealand, 4,129; in British North America, 11,120. There is another circumstance that the Committee must bear in mind, and which is connected with the question of the distribution of our military force—namely, that soon after the Crimean war and the Indian mutiny many of the regiments on foreign service were changed, and that during the last few years there have been few reliefs sent out to the colonies, but from the present time the system of reliefs will go on with greater regularity, and ten battalions will go out and ten will return annually, five for India and five for the 875 colonies. Therefore under this system, the number of men afloat for a considerable part of the year will operate as a practical reduction of the number of our available force. This statement puts the Committee in possession of the comparative state of our army with regard to expense and strength.
It has been stated by persons of great authority, both in this House and in the other House of Parliament, that the provision for our armaments, both of large and small guns, is this year in excess, and that upon this head of expense a considerable saving might have been made. I am not at all prepared to dispute that assertion with regard to future years, or to deny that it may be possible considerably to reduce the rate at which we are manufacturing iron ordnance and small-arms. I do not, however, perceive that any excessive provision has been made for the present year. Since the Enfield rifles were first introduced, the total number received in store from 1853 to March 31st, 1862, is 1,111,374 rifles of different sorts, of which 391,371 are now in store at home and abroad, actually available for issue. Of these 305,953 are at home, and 85,418 are abroad; and it is estimated that there will be received during the remainder of the current year 163,907 more rifles. We have had to find our Militia, our Volunteers, and our Navy with rifles, as well as the Army. It is not calculated that an Enfield rifle will last more than about eight years. The number in possession of all our forces, exclusive of India, is 508,953, and 54,729 are necessary to complete the number required, making a total of 563,682. The annual consumption is calculated at about 60,000. The Duke of Wellington in 1826 fixed the store proportion of small-arms at about 600,000. At that time, however, the army was not so large as at present, and, moreover, there were no Volunteers, who are now furnished with Enfield rifles. Taking the number in store at 391,371, and calculating that there are 163,907 to be delivered during the year, there would, deducting 60,000 for wear and tear, be a total of 495,278 in store, whereas the Duke of Wellington assumed in 1826 that 600,000 was the proper quantity of small-arms to be kept in store. On that assumption the number is certainly not excessive.
I now come to the provision made for iron ordnance. Since 1859 up to the present time there have been received by the 876 Government 2,466 Armstrong rifle guns. Of these 1,458 have been issued—namely, 576 for land service and 882 for sea service. The estimate for the Armstrong guns for the year 1862–3 was originally based on the demand sent in to the War Office. That demand was, for the land service 1,068 guns, and for the sea service 1,616. The demand made upon the Government for all classes of Armstrong guns, from the largest to the smallest, was 2,684 guns. This amount was much reduced. Many of the armaments have been postponed, and the sum in the Estimates for the current year is for 416 guns for land service and 1,508 for sea service, making a total of 1,924, instead of the 2,684 guns originally demanded. Therefore the Committee will see that the demands of the departments, looking to the interests of the service, were far in excess of what the Minister for the department asked the House to vote. There were in store on the 1st of April 837 guns available, leaving a total to be provided of 1,087 guns. This number of 1,087 guns will therefore be required for issue to meet the demands for the armaments authorized for land and sea service. These are the rifled Armstrong guns. I will now come to the smooth-bore guns. The Estimate for smooth-bore cast-iron guns in 1862–3 is 1,329. The original demand lodged at the War Office was for 2,420 guns, and further demands are expected in the course of the year. I mention this for the purpose of showing, that although the number may seem to be large, it is very far short of the demands of the departments that were sent into the War Office. I have troubled the Committee with these introductory remarks in order to show what has been the provision for the defence of the country during the present year, independently of fortifications.
I will now direct the attention of the Committee to the more immediate subject of this Resolution, and explain to them what course has been taken with respect to fortifications. My noble Friend (Viscount Palmerston), in opening this question to the House in 1860, stated that a probable expenditure of £9,000,000 would be incurred for fortifications, according to the plan of the Defence Commissioners. An estimate, however, of the more immediate works was laid on the table by Mr. Sidney Herbert, then the Secretary of State for War, which consisted of the following sums:—the total estimated 877 cost of works, including the purchase of land, was £4,960,000; and then there was a further item for works already sanctioned by Parliament of £350,000, making a total of £5,310,000. This item of £350,000 for works already sanctioned was meant to be independent of a sum of £1,000,000 which was included in the Report of the Defence Commissioners. The Estimate laid on the table was £5,310,000. When that Estimate was given, however, the detailed plans of the Government were not fully prepared, and it was impossible for the Executive to state with accuracy the exact sum which they contemplated expending for so extensive an undertaking. The Committee, I think, must see, that until a working plan could be prepared, and the works had made some progress, it was impossible to give a precise estimate of the total expense of the scheme. The Estimates which I laid upon the table this Session, if they were complete in their entirety, would fall considerably short of £9,000,000, the sum mentioned by my noble Friend at the head of the Government; but would exceed £5,310,000, the sum mentioned by Mr. Sidney Herbert.
I will now proceed to state what is precisely the expenditure which has hitherto taken place. The sum which was originally provided by Act of Parliament, to be raised by Terminable Annuities, was £2,000,000, and the expenditure which has taken place under that Act has been—for payments for works and lands (that is, lands not only purchased but paid for), £989,000; and for purchase of lands for which payment is still due, £695,000; making a total of £1,684,000, the balance to the credit of Government being £316,000, which it is calculated will be exhausted by the end of August next. With regard to the extent to which the faith of the public may be said to have been actually pledged, as far as works in progress can be said to pledge it, the amount contracted for, including all the expenditure hitherto incurred in regard to the foundations of the Spithead forts, is £2,355,000 for works, and £1,030,000 for lands, making a total of £3,385,000. If the works should be completed according to the largest plan which has been submitted to the Government by the Government engineers and officers engaged in the service, the total cost would be about £6,700,000. That sum would complete, as far as we are able to judge, all the works which hitherto 878 have been either commenced or projected. But a considerable portion of those works have not yet been commenced, although with regard to the majority the progress already made is not small. If the Committee wish, I will state, with regard to some of the principal defences, the exact progress that has been made with each of the forts, and they will then be able to judge how far it would be advisable to adopt the proposal for arresting the works, and for departing from the plan which has been formally sanctioned by Parliament. I will begin with Portsmouth and the forts of Portsdown Hill. There are to be five forts on Portsdown Hill, and considerable progress has been made with the excavations for those works, for which a large extent of land has been acquired, and it is believed that they will be completed in September, 1864. With regard to the Gosport forts, of which there are to be five, a design for the Gilkicker battery has been prepared; but no contract has yet been entered into. The Stokes Bay line is nearly completed; and with regard to the other three forts, four-fifths of the works have been completed, and it is expected that they will be finished early next year, perhaps in May, 1863. With respect to Gosport "Advance," considerable progress has been made in the excavations and in the building of casemates, and it is expected that the works will be completed in January, 1864. With regard to Hilsea Lines, more than half the work has been completed; but, the contractor having failed, a fresh contract is about to be entered into for finishing the works, which will include the widening of the Channel between Portsmouth and Langston harbours, a point of great importance for obtaining a greater scour of water through Portsmouth harbour. It is expected that those works will be completed in September, 1864. With regard to Southsea, six-tenths of the eastern battery are completed, and the second battery, the Lumps, is finished. With respect to Southsea Castle battery, a design for the work is under consideration. With regard to Plymouth, the batteries at the Eastern King and Western King are nearly completed, and great progress has been made with the batteries on Drake's Island. The foundations of Picklecombe battery are completed. The foundations at the Breakwater Fort and Mount Edgecumbe battery are in progress. Those works will, probably, be completed in 1862–3. Considerable pro- 879 gress has been made in the construction of the Staddon forts, and they will probably be finished in 1864. The Cawsand Bay battery is nearly completed, six-tenths of the Whitesand battery are completed, and designs for Knatterbury and Maker barracks are under consideration. With regard to the north-eastern defences, the land has been purchased and designs for these forts have been prepared; but no contracts for the works have as yet been entered into. The Devonport works are nearly completed, and will be finished this year. Such is the state of the works of defence for Portsmouth and Plymouth, and the Committee must see that it would be quite a ruinous course to arrest their progress. Any information with regard to other points which hon. Gentlemen may desire I shall be happy to give in answer to questions which may be put to me.
With regard to the Spithead forts, the view taken by the Government is this. It will be in the recollection of the Committee that soon after the action which took place between the Merrimac and the Monitor, and which was supposed to have an important bearing upon the construction of those forts, considerable difference of opinion was manifested upon the subject. I think subsequent events have shown that that particular action had not all the importance which some hon. Gentlemen attributed to it. But the Government, yielding to the wish of the House, suspended the works, and a considerable sum, I fear, will have to be paid to the contractor as compensation for the suspension. A large portion of the working season of this year has now been lost. In the mean time, however, experiments have been in progress at Shoeburyness which are believed to have a direct bearing on the question how far those forts would be able with heavy ordnance to stop a vessel entering the roads. Under those circumstances the Government think that they would adopt the most prudent course in not attempting to renew the works of the Spithead forts in the present year, but in postponing the decision of the question until the various matters which enter into it may receive additional light. We shall not therefore resume the practical consideration of the question until next spring, and I will engage, if the present Government be then in office, that they will communicate to this House their decision with respect to the Spithead forts, in 880 order to afford it an opportunity of expressing its opinion before any practical steps are taken. Under these circumstances it may be unnecessary to enter upon the engineering questions which have been lately agitated, and which are contained in the Report of the Commissioners which has been laid upon the table of the House with respect to those forts. I will only say that I have the greatest confidence in the integrity, the judgment, and the knowledge of the Commissioners who have investigated the subject, and I believe they entered upon the inquiry in a perfectly impartial and independent spirit, and that they are deserving the confidence of the executive Government. But my experience leads me to think, that although it has been usually the fashion to charge the political and moral sciences exclusively with uncertainty, the physical sciences, and the science of engineering in particular, labour, at least, under equal uncertainty. For I find that, however high may be the authority of persons who advise the Government—however reasonable the reliance which the Government places upon their opinion, some two or three persons of equal scientific attainments always start up who maintain not only that the plan that has been recommended is bad, but that it is the very worst that the human mind could devise. Under those circumstances it becomes extremely difficult to set at nought the opinions of persons, although they may be in a small minority, who express themselves with so much confidence. Therefore I trust that the Committee will make allowances for those who have to act on a subject which is liable to so much difference of opinion, and will reflect on the course adopted by this House when the subject was originally brought under consideration. When this plan was originally proposed to the House the Resolution on which the Bill was founded was carried by 268 votes against 39; being a majority of 229, and the second reading of the Bill was carried by 143 votes to 32. Any Government which is charged with the conduct of an important question of this sort, must naturally look back upon the history of the measure, and be determined in its course by the previous decision of Parliament. That previous decision was given after full deliberation; and I trust, now that the subject comes to be decided after a delay of two years—now that contracts have been entered into and that works have made 881 great progress, and considering that a connected system of defence for our principal naval arsenals has been instituted, that the Committee will not reverse their former course, or withhold from the Government the necessary funds for continuing the fortifications. The Committee must bear in mind that the plan of fortifications is necessarily a connected plan; and though one or two works might, after careful consideration, be omitted, it would not be possible to cut off one-half, or one-quarter, or any great quantity of the plan intended for the defence of a town, inasmuch as the forts intended to protect a naval arsenal against foreign attack would be entirely useless if they covered only half the town and left half exposed. Therefore before making any alterations in the plan already sanctioned by the House, it is requisite that careful investigation be instituted. I should state that power was taken in the former Bill for removing a portion of the stores now established at Woolwich and for erecting a central arsenal, in respect to which a sum of £150,000 was taken for the purchase of land; but the Government have not thought fit to make any purchase, or to take any step for carrying that portion of the measure into effect until further consideration. In conclusion, I express my confident belief that the Committee will not alter the decision come to by this House in a previous year, but that they will furnish the means requisite for continuing this important system of national defence, and will not give to the enemies of Parliamentary government any excuse to say that the proceedings of one of the principal legislative assemblies in the world have been marked by inconsistency and vacillation.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, towards providing a further sum for defraying the expenses of the construction of Works for the Defence of the Royal Dockyards and Arsenals and of the Ports of Dover and Portland, and for the creation of a Central Arsenal, a sum, not exceeding £1,200,000, be charged upon the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom, and that the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury be authorized and empowered to raise the said sum by Annuities for a term not exceeding thirty years; and that such Annuities shall be charged upon and be payable out of the said Consolidated Fund.
§ MR. BRIGHT
I rise to ask a question. I did not understand what the right hon. Gentleman said with respect to the central arsenal, but I see that there are words referring to it in the Resolution. I 882 understood that when the right hon. Gentleman moved the Resolution they would be omitted. That question has never been discussed by the House, and no determination has been come to upon it; and I was not aware that there was anything touching it in the Bill which passed two years ago. After the remarks which the right hon. Gentleman has made, I presume he will have no objection to take those words out of the Resolution. If the right hon. Gentleman had done with the Portsdown Hill forts what he has done with the Spithead forts, possibly the Committee would not have had much trouble in agreeing with him.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
The object of this Resolution is to serve for a foundation to a Bill for continuing the Act which is now existing. The words "central arsenal" occur in the title of that Act, and therefore it is necessary to keep them in the title of the Bill I propose to bring in. But when I come to lay the Bill on the table of the House, my hon. Friend will see that I take no money for the central arsenal.
§ MR. BERNAL OSBORNE
The right hon. Gentleman, in one portion of his speech, compared the establishment of defences for the country to a species of insurance. That is the trite and usual observation on these occasions, and the only dispute I should be inclined to have with the right hon. Gentleman is, not as to this being a matter of insurance, but as to what office we should insure in. If it can be proved that the Royal Marine insurance is better adapted for the wants of this country than the insurance-office which the right hon. Gentleman proposes to open on his own account, I think the Committee will agree that the former is the proper insurance for the House to put its money in. I must dissent from the opening observation in the right hon. Gentleman's speech, in which he laid down broadly that the meaning of the word "efficiency," translated into good Treasury English, meant nothing but increased expense. That, at least, is not my view of the translation of the word "efficiency;" and I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman, who has gone through the gradations of office, as gentlemen of his high connections have the opportunity of 883 doing—who has been Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary, and who is now reposing on his laurels as Secretary for War should lead away the Committee from the consideration of this question, by saying that the translation of the word "efficiency" is "increased expenditure." That is a position which I, at least, will dispute at the outset. The right hon. Gentleman has considerably relieved me from one portion of my onerous and disagreeable task to-night by one disclosure he made. He has told the Committee that the Government does not intend to proceed at present with the construction of the Spithead forts. Now, the Committee will remember that on a recent occasion, when the suspension of these forts was urged by an hon. Member on the consideration of the Government, the noble Lord at the head of the Administration somewhat unwisely, I think, twitted the hon. Member and the House in general with the suspension of the construction of those forts. The noble Lord went so far as to say that the House of Commons had behaved unwisely, impolitically, and injudiciously in interfering with the Executive—[Mr. NEWDEGATE: Hear, hear!]—and the noble Lord is supported in that view, as usual, by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire. Well, if the noble Lord was right on that occasion, and if it was unwise and impolitic to delay the construction of these forts, why did not the noble Lord do his duty as the Prime Minister of the country and test the sense of the House by a division? Again, why did the noble Lord now send his Secretary for War to tell us that he at last intends to delay the construction of these forts? But, whatever may be the opinion of the noble Lord and of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, the Committee must have derived some comfort for having urged the suspension of the Spithead forts from the fifth paragraph of the Report of the Royal Commissioners; for it is there stated—It appears to us that the doubts which took possession of the public mind as to the expediency of constructing the forts at Spithead were not unreasonable.That is the opinion of the Commissioners, and I hope to show the Committee that not only is further progress with these forts unreasonable as regards the matter of finance, but totally inexpedient as regards the question of defence. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War, by 884 his Resolution, calls on the Committee for a grant of money for the defence of the country, and says that Parliamentary government would be imperilled unless the Committee consented to the vote. That was somewhat extraordinary language to proceed from a Whig Minister in office; but I think that the Committee will be of opinion with me that the proper time has arrived to reconsider the whole plan, as well as the cost of these national defences, the proposition of which was, I believe, in a hurry and in an evil moment brought forward. Before allowing ourselves to be carried away by the exciting speech of the Secretary of War, it will be well to consider the circumstances under which this plan was originally brought forward two years ago. Those circumstances are somewhat singular. The original Report of the Royal Commission, although it was not laid on the table, was in the possession of the Government on the 7th of February, 1860. What, let me ask, was the course which they originally took in reference to that Report? The Committee must bear in mind that it recommended an expenditure of £11,500,000 on the national defences—a sum so large that, at any rate, it was natural to expect from those great sticklers for Parliamentary Government who now occupy the Treasury Bench, that the amount would have been named in the Queen's Speech; or, at all events, some notice taken of it by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in bringing forward his Budget. No allusion, however, was made in the Queen's Speech to the circumstance—the trivial circumstance that we were to be called on to spend 11½ millions of money in national defence. Four months elapsed before the matter was even mentioned in this House, although in the interim the Chancellor of the Exchequer had introduced his Budget, initiating many great changes. Yet he did not, on that occasion, state to us that he—or rather one of his colleagues, for he himself has always been sedulously absent from his place when this question has been spoken of—was about to come down to the House and propose a Vote of £11,500,000 for this purpose. I may say for myself—and I believe the same remark is true of hon. Members generally—that I gave my vote on the financial scheme of the right hon. Gentleman in total ignorance of the large amount of money which was to be kept back for consideration until the month of July. Well, what happened in that 885 month? On the 23rd of July, at the fagend of the Session, the noble Lord at the head of the Government took a most extraordinary course. The budget had been disposed of after much discussion. A commercial treaty with France had been concluded, and we supposed ourselves to be on the most excellent terms with that country. The noble Lord, however, came down to the House, and it will, I think, be admitted, after all we have heard about the peril of Parliamentary government, that he took the most extraordinary course ever taken in Parliament; for he moved, not having laid his Resolution on the table, not only that we should vote an enormous sum for the national defences immediately, but that we should do it in one night. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War to-night tells us that we peril Parliamentary proceedings; but I ask him what he has to say of this proceeding of his chief, which was resisted by a small minority, whom he has sneered at as philosophers. We ought, no doubt, to consider ourselves happy to be classed with such a philosopher; but he should bear in mind the course taken by his noble Friend beside him when he undertakes to read us a lecture about the perils of Parliamentary Government, that course, as I said before, was resisted. We all remember the speech made by the noble Lord on the occasion. It was not like the speech to which we listened to-night. I can compare it only with another speech of the noble Lord, which my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade described as being of a hobgoblin character. France was pointed at by the noble Lord in a most distinct and offensive manner, and we were all told that it was necessary for the immediate safety of the country that these forts should be constructed without delay. France was, as I said, expressly pointed at, and we were told it was impossible to say where the storm which threatened us might burst. Well, the original estimate of the Royal Commission was £11,500,000, and I must here observe that there was some discrepancy between the calculations of the noble Lord in moving the Vote and the Secretary for War, who spoke subsequently. The noble Lord, having made this hobgoblin speech said, he should ask for a Vote of £9,000,000 as the whole cost of the proposed works; and here I would remark that I entirely deny that we have—as we are told we have—given our approbation to this plan of the Commis- 886 sioners. The House is not pledged. The Government themselves know that they are not pledged to it by the alterations in it which they have made, and à fortiori if they may change their minds on the question, we ought to be at liberty to do the same. They, at all events, have no right to complain of us if we do so, inasmuch as they certainly have not exhibited that remarkable constancy and freedom from vacillation to which the Secretary for War has alluded. But, as I observed, the estimate of the noble Lord in proposing the Bill was £9,000,000. He was followed by the late lamented Lord Herbert, who was at the time Secretary for War, and his estimate was £5,000,000, there being thus a slight discrepancy of £4,000,000 between himself and the Prime Minister. Now, this appears to me to be a somewhat singular discrepancy in the case of a united Cabinet, and I must say I have never heard it accounted for by any Member of Her Majesty's Government. The House, however, was so carried away by the speech of the noble Lord, and so excited, that if not convinced, it was considerably alarmed, and it voted the first instalment of the estimate—a sum amounting to £2,000,000. Now, I did not accurately gather from the cloud of figures which we have had this evening—and we have had more of them in an arithmetical point of view than we have had figures of speech—what has become of those £2,000,000. Has the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War anything in hand? I think he said he had £300,000; but even if he have that amount, it will go a very little way towards providing for the expenditure before us. We have now therefore a further demand made upon our patience and our pockets to the extent of £1,200,000. That being so, permit me to say one word upon this fort question. It does not appear to me, I must say, that Her Majesty's Government have shown that they have any great faith in forts. At all events they referred the matter back to the old Commission, with which were associated four gentlemen against whose knowledge and competency nobody can say a syllable. When, however, they referred it back to the old Commission, I felt we were simply about to have a foregone conclusion again; but I think it most culpable on the part of the Government, that when they consented thus to refer it, they, as is evident from the speech of the noble Lord at the head 887 of the Government, as well as from what fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War, and from the noble Lord in another place on a former occasion, were determined to pursue their own design. [Sir GEORGE LEWIS: No, no!] Well, the right hon. Gentleman was very indistinct, and he might have been talking about something else; but my impression is that at any rate the noble Lord at the head of the Government said as much. [Viscount PALMERSTON: I did not.] Be it so; and, as the noble Lord has apologized, I shall not pursue that part of the question further. The Commissioners, to whom the matter was referred back, have made their Report; and if I were inclined to say, "Oh that mine enemy would write a book!" I should feel quite satisfied with that Report, and the evidence on which it is—not founded. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War brought us back to-night to the old question about the American actions, and has assumed that matters are now completely altered. I took the liberty of asking him how, but I received no explanation on that head. It is not, however, necessary to enter on this occasion into the details of those American actions, and I should not have alluded to them even for a moment but that the right hon. Gentleman has thought proper to do so. But I must observe that I think he ought not to treat so lightly, and with such contempt as he has done, the circumstance of certain wooden gunboats passing Forts Philip and Jackson in defiance of 200 guns, and pushing their way to New Orleans. He wishes to build his case, I suppose, on Fort Darling, on the James river, but he ought to be aware that that fort is situated on a high bluff, on an estuary, not more than 200 yards wide, so that riflemen from the bank were able to pick off the gunners from the ships as they came up the river? What did all that prove? Only that no harm was done to the iron-plated ships by Fort Darling standing on a high bluff. Be that, however, as it may, I am more inclined to accept the conclusion of the Commissioners on this particular point than to dwell on the American actions at all. What, let me ask, are those conclusions? The Commissioners say, in paragraph 3 of their Report—We therefore think it safer to draw our conclusions as to the effect of shot upon armourplated vessels from experiments made in this country than from the accounts which have 888 reached us with respect to the action in Hampton Roads.Now, I am quite prepared to argue the matter on that ground. What, then, were the experiments lately made at Shoeburyness? This is an important point, because the whole Report of the Commissioners hangs upon it. In paragraph 5, taking the tone of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War, they say—But the experiments carried on with Sir W. Armstrong's 12-ton gun against the Warrior target, a few days subsequently to the debates in Parliament, materially altered the conditions of the case, and justified the anticipations expressed in paragraph 22 of our Report of the 25th of February, 1861.Let us see how those anticipations have been justified. We all know how these experiments at Shoeburyness have been conducted. They have been conducted under the most unfavourable conditions for the ship and the most favourable for the gun. A fixed target was placed at 200 yards distance, and aim was taken at it with perfect leisure. What was the result? I would warn the Committee against being led away by the monstrous exaggerations on the subject of these experiments which have obtained circulation. It has been found impossible to obtain, from the Government any returns with respect to them; and, although moved for the other night by the noble Lord the Member for Chichester (Lord H. Lennox), they were refused. I can, however, give some information from another source, which I believe that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Sir John Hay) will be able to confirm. The Warrior target was a section of the side of the Warrior. The armour plating was 4½ inches thick, the teak backing 18 inches, and the iron skin 5/8 of an inch, making altogether a thickness of 23 inches. The experiments to which it was subjected at Shoeburyness were as follows:—On the 21st of October, 1861, which was before the great experiment, the target withstood with success twenty-nine rounds fired in single shots or salvos from the very heaviest artillery. One 100-pounder hit the left middle plate on a bolt, which was bent, but the nuts of that bolt were never moved. Eleven shots had previously struck the same plate in a space of 3ft. by 1½ ft., namely, three 200 lb. solid shot, three 110lb. solid shot, three 110 lb. shells, and two 68 lb. shells. 889 The great experiment was made on the 8th of April, 1862; and to test the effect of the first two 156 lb. shots, which were fired from the 12 ton smooth-bore Armstrong gun, with a charge of 40 lbs. of powder, the edge of the plate which had already been hit was selected. It was represented in the public prints, and by some hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in this House, that the success of this experiment had been so great that the 156 lb. shot had not only gone through the two sides, but had shaken the granite foundation. Now, I am lucky in not quoting this from memory, because if you quote from memory you are often flatly contracted. Let the Committee remember what was the account in the great newspapers of the day as to the success of the experiment. They said that the Armstrong gun had been tried at 200 yards, and had proved that any ship which came within that distance of it would be sent to the bottom without any chance of escape. A question was asked in this House on the 10th of April, and we had one of those frank avowals which we occasionally get from naval men and Secretaries. The noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty said that "Nothing could be fairer than the account given in the newspapers of the effects of the shot. The third shot was fired with 50lb. of powder, and went clean through the plate, the backing, and the skin, and, he believed, buried itself on the opposite side. The fourth shot took place under the same circumstances. It went entirely through one side, and possibly through the other side also." This was from the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty. That was his idea of the result of that experiment. The Under Secretary for War in another place also vouches for the accuracy of this description—"The shot went entirely through one side and possibly through the other side also." Of course, the House very naturally supposed that this had been a great success; but the real facts of the case are that neither shot passed through. Both of them fractured the plate and imbedded themselves in the skin of the ship. I have a plan here showing their position. The third shot plugged a hole eleven inches in diameter. None of these would have endangered the lives of any persons in the ship, or have rendered her unseaworthy; and yet the evidence which I have quoted was given from the Treasury bench as to the effect of the shots, and 890 this is the evidence on which the Commissioners say that their anticipations in recommendig these forts are justified. What was the actual penetration? I have the whole calculation here in inches, but I will state very roughly that the greatest impact was produced by two shots, which struck an injured plate and lodged very near one another. They did not fracture the skin of the ship; they stuck in the teak backing and did not go through on the other side, "very possibly," as the noble Lord told the House. The shot that struck the uninjured plate went through four and a half inches of iron plate, and through thirteen inches of teak backing, but did not get to the iron skin at all. That shot stuck, and is now sticking—at least, the target has been taken down—but, luckily, if any hon. Gentleman wishes to see it, here is an exact diagram of the positions of the shots which struck the ship's side; and I can assure the noble Lord the Secretary of the Admiralty that none of them went through "possibly" into the other side. After this, what are we to say of the first observation of the Commissioners, that their anticipations have been realized by this monster 12-ton gun? I did intend to go more fully into the case of the Spithead forts, but it has been rendered unnecessary, because we are told that there is to be a delay, and delay is all that I have asked for. What, however, does the Committee think of the fact—and I should like to be satisfied on this point by some right hon. Gentleman—that, in the face of all this, twenty more of these Armstrong guns (156-pounders) and one 600-pounder have been ordered, and that this does not receive the approval of the Select Committee on Ordnance? I do not know what the cost of these Armstrong guns is, but I am told that it is something enormous. I have told you what was the impression made by the 12-ton smooth-bore gun, but it is necessary that the Committee should also know what was the effect upon the gun itself of firing these enormous charges of powder, because not a word has been said about that. The present condition of the 300-pounder is as follows:—There is a fracture of the outer coil four feet long, extending under what is called the trunnion ring and the rear reinforcing ring. To test this, a knife was put down the crack for five inches on the bottom side of the gun. Be it remembered, that not fifty rounds — I suppose not more than 891 twenty-five rounds—have been fired from this gun, and yet such was the effect of these heavy charges that it has become unserviceable, and is now being doctored in Woolwich Arsenal. I challenge contradiction upon that point. And yet, in the teeth of all these facts, we find the Commissioners and the Government agreeing to erect forts on the hypothesis of a gun which is not in existence. For, mark you, you have no gun in existence such as they rely upon; it is completely hypothetical. Their chain of reasoning seems to have been most extraordinary. They tried this gun at 200 yards, and it having failed to send a shot through the Warrior target, the Commission would have us accept that as a proof that a 600-pounder can be made which will accomplish that feat. Their chain of reasoning seems to have been:—Given a gun which has failed at 200 yards, to construct upon that evidence a gun which shall succeed at 3,000 yards. That of itself ought to condemn their Report in the minds of all reasoning men.
I will not go into the question upon which the Commission has itself already reported, as to the difference between firing at a fixed target and a moving object at a distance. The Commissioners themselves reported — "Such vessels would offer so small a mark at that distance, that even the accuracy of the newly-invented rifled ordnance could not be depended on to strike." Sir William Armstrong in his last examination said, that he could not depend upon hitting a vessel unless it was stationary. Those who advocate the construction of these forts say that forts are invulnerable. Granted; but they always assume that ships would attack these forts. Now, that is an assumption which is completely unfounded, because the part of ships is to avoid forts, and the evidence before the Commission is, that the ships would never come near them. They would be able to shell Portsmouth dockyard 8,000 yards off without going near the forts. When we are talking about the erection of stone and iron forts, I would remind the House that it is only the Whig party who are said to raise stone walls to knock their heads against, and it is not likely that naval captains who know their duty would run their heads against these forts. All they want is to shell the dockyard; they are not going to take the forts. Everybody admits that a shin attacking a fort would 892 get the worst of it; but what we contend is that no ship need come near the forts, but that she might shell the dockyard from a distance at which the guns of the forts could make no impression. So much for the forts. By the bye, a gentleman called upon me this morning, and stated that if these forts were erected at Spithead or elsewhere, Mr. Mackintosh had a plan which would speedily render them useless and untenable. I have not examined the plan, but I know that there are fifty plans of that sort.
The next point which I should wish the House to consider is the entire condition of our artillery. I do every justice to Sir William Armstrong. I believe that a more scientific man does not exist. If he had done no more than give to the world his hydraulic crane, he would have rendered one of the greatest possible services to society; but I think that it has been most unfortunate for this country that we have that contract, worded as it is, with him. Certainty, the Armstrong contract keeps out of the service of the country other gentlemen who have valuable ability in the construction of ordnance. What is the Armstrong gun? The Armstrong gun proper is, I believe, a breach-loading rifled gun, and I understand that the money expended on this peculiar artillery, including plant, amounts to £3,000,000. What have we got for it? I challenge contradiction from the noble Lord the Secretary of the Admiralty, when I say that at this moment we have not got a naval gun. We have not got a naval gun upon which we can depend, except the rifled gun for distance. For close quarters, at which all actions at sea have been fought, and I think most likely will be in future, the old 68-pounder is the best gun that we have at this minute. After the expenditure of the sum I have mentioned, the rifled gun of Sir W. Armstrong cannot penetrate a ship so well or produce so great an effect at close quarters as does the old 68-pounder. What is our position with respect to naval artillery? The Duke of Somerset, than whom there never was a more efficient First Lord of the Admiralty, says—I used to think that no plates could resist the rifled gun, but I have changed that opinion. We have found that they are not so efficient as they were supposed to be, and that we must arm our ships with heavy smooth-bore guns, the velocity of which at 300 yards is much greater.893 It thus appears that, after having thought that we had made a great step with these rifled guns, we are actually going hack to the old smooth-bore guns again. I doubt how far the opinion of the Duke of Somerset is founded upon scientific facts, but I know they are now constructing smooth-bore guns, under the impression that the rifled gun has failed. From that I dissent altogether. It may be true that Sir W. Armstrong is not able to give you initial velocity with his rifled gun, but I am of opinion that there are rifled guns the initial velocity of which is greater than that of smoothbore guns. Unfortunately, however, the Armstrong contract shuts the market against other guns.
The Committee does not require to be told that the Report of the Commissioners is clearly against the evidence. I must take exception, indeed, to the whole proceedings of the Commissioners. One would have supposed that the subject under investigation being one in which artillery was mainly concerned, some artillery officers would have been examined by the Commissioners. What, however, is the fact? I find that six naval officers and one General of Engineers were examined. That was all very well; but what I object to is that only one artillery officer was called before the Commissioners. With such officers as Colonel Boxer, Colonel Alexander, and Major Macrae, at their command, I am surprised that the Commissioners did not think it worth their while to take more artillery evidence. It is true that Colonel Taylor who has a command at Shoeburyness, was examined, but his evidence is very short, and, in point of fact, there was no really good artillery evidence taken before the Commissioners. I am astonished that the Government should have founded their demand for more money upon such a report and such evidence. Let the Committee listen to some of the evidence. The first person called was a most distinguished member of the service, who also has the honour of a seat in this House, I mean the hon. and gallant Member for Wakefield, Chairman of the Iron Plate Committee. His opinion is entitled to great weight, because it is that of a scientific officer. Nor, in my judgment, is it to be thought less weighty because the hon. and gallant Member has changed his views. Sir John Hay is of opinion that the public money would be 894 better used if, instead of erecting forts, we were to spend it in the construction of floating batteries; and he states that a squadron of ironsides would be able to shell the dockyard without passing the forts. He tells you why he has changed his opinion upon that point. Forts, he says, were all very well against wooden ships; but now that your navy is of iron, they will be of no use whatever. Captain Coles is of the same opinion. Here I must say that the Commissioners treated Captain Coles somewhat cavalierly. They came what used to be called in the army "the commanding officer" over him; and if he had not been a man of great determination, he would have been put down. He gave excellent evidence to the same effect as Sir John Hay. The next witness was Captain Sullivan, who, though in favour of forts, says the outer works are of secondary importance, that the new system of naval warfare is entirely in favour of defence, and that floating batteries as well as forts are necessary. Now, we come to another opinion entitled to great weight—the opinion of Captain Hewlett, Superintendent of Gunnery, in command of the Excellent. Captain Hewlett has seen service and knows what fighting is. He says, "I am still of opinion that no forts built at Spit-head would prevent iron-cased ships passing and taking up their anchorage and bombarding the dockyard," and he prefers floating batteries. Further on he says, "I doubt whether any gun would be effective beyond 800 yards against iron-plated ships;" and yet, in the teeth of such evidence, we are ordering twenty more 156-pounder guns, as well as a 600-pounder. Then comes another very material consideration. The Report of the Commissioners is recommended to us on the ground of economy, because it is said forts will not require so large a number of ships and men. What is the evidence upon that point? Captain Hewlett is of opinion that forts will not lessen the requirements for as large a force, and the same statement is made by the First Sea Lord of the Admiralty. Admiral Sir Frederick Grey says—I think the forts are a very material addition: to the defence of the place, but I am not sure that the existence of forts on the outer shoals would make any difference as to the number of vessels you would require to meet an enemy determined to attack you.He states that, in his opinion, ships are much superior to fixed fortifications, and 895 he tells us to have iron ships before the forts, which are secondary in importance to floating batteries. I now come to the evidence of Sir W. Armstrong himself. His evidence was perfectly fair and above-board. He said he had no experience as to what his guns could do beyond 200 yards; and, as matter of fact, no experiments have been made to ascertain what the effect of his guns would be at a distance of 1,000 yards, which is the space ships would have to cross between the forts. Sir William was asked whether he could hit a moving object at 1,000 yards. His answer is rather Irish:—"It would be difficult to hit such an object at that distance unless it was stationary." He says he is making a 22-ton gun; in other words, a 600-pounder; and, in reply to the question, whether there is any limit to the size of artillery, he states, "If we succeed with the 600-pounder, and do not discover any appearance of approaching a limit, then we may go on another step." I have not the smallest idea what a 22-ton gun would cost, nor do I think the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War is able to enlighten me upon that point. I have a notion, however, that such a piece would cost at least four times as much as any other gun. But, says Sir W. Armstrong, "we may go on another step." Where, I ask is all this to end? With a man like Sir W. Armstrong going on regardless of expense, hacked by the Government as his sleeping partner, I am afraid we may take further steps until we run up a bill large enough to require the addition of another penny to the income tax. Next comes the evidence of the hon. and gallant Member for Chatham, an officer of fifty years experience, who has seen actual warfare. Sir Frederic Smith strongly condemns the construction of forts, and yet the Report of the Commissioners is entirely the other way. Something is said in the Report about the cost of these forts. The estimates are most unsatisfactory. We have had some figures to night from the Secretary for War, but the right hon. Gentleman frankly said he was unable to tell us what the cost of the forts would be. It is very extraordinary that the Government should call upon us for a vote of money while the Secretary for War cannot tell us what the cost will be, because, as he said, he has not got the working plans. I want to know where the working plans are. I pause for a reply.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
Perhaps I 896 may be allowed to explain what I did say. I said that it was originally impossible to prepare a perfectly correct estimate, because the working plans were not then in existence. That was two years ago.
§ MR. BERNAL OSBORNE
Are they now in existence? No, they are not, and for this very good reason, that the whole plan and scope of the forts have been changed in the interim. It is impossible for the right hon. Gentleman or anybody else to give anything except an approximate estimate of what these forts will cost. We have that fact clearly stated in the evidence before us, as well as in the excellent analysis which everybody has read, which does my hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury so much credit, and which, moreover, has saved me so much trouble. What is the evidence of Mr. Hawkshaw, President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, a most able engineer, and a very careful man in giving an estimate? The Commissioners say in their Report—and this shows the reckless way in which we are proceeding—As regards the probable expense of the proposed forts, we refer to the evidence of Mr. Hawkshaw, who states that he does not anticipate that the cost of the foundations will exceed the sum originally estimated.How is that borne out by the evidence? In reply to a question as to the probable expense of the foundations Mr. Hawkshaw says, "I cannot give a conclusive answer to that question;" and then he proceeds to give an approximate estimate. He says the Horseshoe fort may be executed for £50,000; No-man's for £80,000; and the Sturbridge, supposing it should turn out as he hopes it will, for about £100,000. The state of the foundations at Sturbridge is very curious. I believe they have been digging to a depth of something like forty feet, and yet they have not been able to find a foundation. Mr. Brooks, an engineer of great reputation, has given us a much higher estimate in his pamphlet. In the first place, he objects to the raising of these forts, because, as he says, the Sturbridge works will injure the anchorage-ground. He estimates the cost of the foundations of all these forts at £800,000, and the superstructure of each fort, which is to be of 10-inch plate, will cost at least £200,000. This does not include the cost of enormous guns, hydraulic machinery, which has never yet been tried, or ammunition, which is a very important point 897 when you have to deal with such heavy artillery, and are using fifty pounds of powder at every shot. Therefore, I say, we have not even an approximate estimate of what the cost of these forts will be, although the right hon. Gentleman comes down to the House and tells us, that the original estimate being £5,000,000, it is already exceeded by upwards of one million sterling. I do not hesitate to say, that if this plan be carried out in its entirety, instead of £5,000,000 or £6,000,000, the cost will be more like £20,000,000, including hydraulic engines and armament. Is the Committee prepared to give its assent to this profligate expenditure of money? So much for the minutes of evidence. But an observation occurs in paragraph 17 of the Report to which I must call attention.
One of the arguments in favour of these forts is, that they will be less costly and more permanent than ships. Now, as to relative cost, the question must be one of relative value as between forts and ships; because, if these forts fail, their permanency becomes a positive evil. What we have to determine is, which are the more really efficient—the ships or the forts? I say the erection of such forts will be a permanent evil, because it will deter the country from making the essential defences. There is another question on which I touch lightly. The original plan of these forts, and that on which the estimate of £9,000,000 was framed, was that they should be constructed of granite; but within our own experience the whole theory of the forts has been altered. In 1860 they were to be of granite, and in 1862 they are to be of 10-inch plate, and yet one of the arguments in favour of forts is, that they are of a permanent character, and not subject to fluctuation. The hon. Member for Finsbury (Sir Morton Peto) has let the House into a great secret. It appears that the Commissioners had no very great confidence in their own opinion in regard to these forts, and they consulted a civil engineer with regard to their construction. They asked the advice of Mr. Bidder; and the advice he gave appears at page 80 of the pamphlet of my hon. Friend (Sir Morton Peto). What was Mr. Bidder's advice? He says—After I had inspected the plans, I called upon Lieutenant Colonel Jervis, the Secret r[...] to the Commission, and stated to him that I was of opinion that the fortifications were more likely to be 898 beneficial to an enemy seeking to enter Spithead than to be obstructive to his entrance. Still, I said, if the Commissioners were determined to erect such forts, I should feel it my duty to advise them to the best of my power as to the most efficient mode of construction.He continues—I pointed out to Lieutenant Colonel Jervis their utter inefficiency, and urged that they were absolutely indefensible even against ordinary gunboats, and I positively declined to have anything to do with them as originally planned.Now, the odd thing is that Mr. Bidder was never called before the Commission, though it was supposed that the Government had adopted his plan. Further on he says—I feel fully assured that the forts of Spithead, as originally designed by the Commissioners, as well as many of the fortifications now being constructed on various points of the coast, have been designed in utter and entire disregard of the power and accuracy of modern artillery, and are almost as likely to facilitate the destruction of their defenders as of any enemy that might act against them.In the teeth of such statements as these is the House prepared to act on the Report of the Commissioners, who never called on Mr. Bidder to give evidence, although they adopted his plan? On a matter of detail I must throw myself on the patience of the Committee; and having now examined the Report of the Commissioners, let us come to the consideration of cost, on which we have heard something, but not much from the right hon. Gentleman. I must say, that although the speech in itself was specific enough, a more unsatisfactory speech to induce the House to vote £1,200,000 for defences never was delivered by the Secretary of State for War to an attentive House of Commons. I heard not one argument except that we should be upsetting Parliamentary government if we changed our minds. Why, Sir, has not every one of us changed his mind? Has not the noble Lord at the head of the Government changed his mind over and over again? If Parliamentary government is to be upset by change of mind, Parliamentary government is already for ever gone. What argument have we heard in favour of these land defences? I find it is the opinion of the most eminent men on this subject, that under the new conditions of war—the system of protecting ships by iron, and the advantages of steam—the landing of an enemy's force in this country is rendered almost a matter of impossibility. The Commissioners are always assuming 899 that we have lost the command of the Channel. I am of a very different opinion. I deem that to be impossible. When you do lose the command of the Channel, England and Parliamentary government are gone together. Is the Committee aware that there are seventeen miles of fortifications contemplated at Portsmouth? A very material consideration arises here, on which the hon. and gallant Member for Chatham (Sir P. Smith), who perfectly understands the subject, will speak with some authority—I mean as to the garrisons which will be required for these forts. That is a very material point, for it is of no use to have forts without garrisons. I have made a calculation from Government returns, and, taking them at the lowest possible figure, there will be required for those seventeen miles of fortifications al Portsmouth, a garrison of 30,000 men; for Plymouth, 25,000; for Chatham, 16,000; for Dover, 4,000; for Pembroke, 8,000; and for various other stations 10,000 men—making a total of 95,000 men. Has that ever been mooted before? The Defence Committee informed the Government upon this point, although no notice was taken of it. They said—The Committee consider that they would be shrinking from their duty if they did not bring forward their opinion as to the insufficiency of the present regular army, and they trust that it will be increased.Of course, every military man must know that if you erect forts on this enormous scale you must have men to man them; and it will not do to be flourishing about your Volunteers, you must have regular soldiers. I ask, then, is the House prepared for this addition of 95,000 men? What, then, after all is the argument for these forts at Portsmouth? I have heard none from the right hon. Gentleman. I do not know whether hon. Members have in their possession the original Report of the Commissioners on the Defences at Portsmouth; if they have, I hope they will turn to the evidence of Sir John Burgoyne upon this point. Sir John Burgoyne was all through the great Peninsular campaign, and he concluded an honourable professional career by being present and giving his opinion as to the Malakoff being the proper point of attack at the siege of Sebastopol. At page 34 of the evidence, Sir John Burgoyne is asked by the Chairman, question 588—"You consider that it is necessary to occupy Portsdown Hill?" In answer to which he says— 900My difficulty about occupying Portsdown Hill is the vast extent of the place. I cannot see what chance you would ever have of finding a garrison which would be equal to covering such an extent of defences. It is a beautiful position; but I think it would not be less than seven miles in extent. It must be defended, I think, by an army.He was then asked—Do you not think we might always reckon on having a force of 20,000 men at Portsmouth?and he answers—If I had 20,000 men, and were a general in command of Portsmouth, I would occupy Ports-down Hill, and throw up field-works, and hold it as long as I possibly could, and very likely with some success; but what I should be afraid of would be placing permanent works there, and not being able to occupy the position.That was his opinion about Portsdown Hill. Another material part of his evidence is this—I would not make these fortifications—I do not see that it is necessary.He then goes on to say that he would throw up earthworks on occasion, and he observes—It would not only save a great deal of previous expense, but it would also come unexpectedly upon the enemy, who would know perfectly well how everything was previously established.Sir John Burgoyne then sums up his evidence by saying that he does not recommend that the fortifications should be built at Portsdown Hill at present. I am not to be told, then, that I am one of a miserable minority who know little about this matter, for we are backed up by the Inspector General of Fortifications, who is clearly against these works at Portsdown Hill. And when it is said, "We have spent a considerable sum on them already," I answer, "That is true, but don't throw away good money after bad." These forts, Sir, are the plaything of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, and his alone. And suppose he has his wicked will, and that the forts are raised and the lines manned round Portsmouth, there is another consideration. There still remains this question—What will be the ultimate value of Portsmouth as an arsenal and naval depôt? Why, is there not some question already about removing from Portsmouth? And are we to be expending these enormous sums upon hypothetical plans, when it is even now a moot point whether, under the changed conditions of naval warfare, that place should continue to be your great naval depôt? The case of Plymouth is very similar to that of Portsmouth, and I need hardly enter into 901 it at any length. The only difference between the forts contemplated for both places is, that at Spithead they are at the distance of 2,000 yards apart, while at Plymouth the distance is to be about 1,500 yards. But there is a point which, I confess, escaped my notice and that I believe of other Gentlemen, but which was detected by the watchfulness of the hon. Member for Norfolk—I mean the proposed fortress behind Plymouth Breakwater. That is a very peculiar fortress and very peculiarly situated. The depth of water where it is to be built is 36 feet at low water of the lowest tide, and the foundations are to be brought up 6 feet above high-water mark. I do not believe the masonry is to be entirely solid, but the work is to take five years to complete it. When this subject was brought forward by the hon. Member for Norfolk, it was rather pooh-poohed by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War, who declined to refer it to the Commission. I was much astonished, however, on Saturday morning, to find put on my table a Report from the Defence Commissioners on the proposed fort behind Plymouth Breakwater; but I was still more astonished to see the conclusion at which the Commission arrived. They examined one witness only, and here is their conclusion—On consideration of all the circumstances, we are of opinion that a work behind Plymouth Breakwater is necessary for the defence of the Sound; and that the site on which it is proposed to erect it is the best that could be selected.The one witness they examined was the Harbour Master, Commander Aylen, whose answers ought to have convinced them that the fort would be utterly useless. This officer is asked—Do you consider a fort on that site would be of considerable importance for the security of the Sound in time of war?And he replies—With wooden ships I think it would be of the greatest importance; but in the case of iron ships it would depend upon the force of the shot, and the distance at which it would penetrate them.So that in the teeth of their own witness they recommend the construction of this fort with renewed animation. Was there ever such a Report founded on such evidence? In the very clever pamphlet written by Sir William Snow Harris, a most able scientific man, he attacks my hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury, who, he says, knows nothing at all about it, and is himself entirely in favour of the 902 Spithead forts. Yet, even Sir William Snow Harris, in his pamphlet, calls on the House of Commons—for his pamphlet is addressed to the House—to resist the expenditure of some £400,000 or £500,000 of public money on the fortress at Plymouth Breakwater. He says there would be some serious maritime objections to the proposed island of stone, and it would certainly be a great obstacle in the way of vessels passing in and out. I hope, therefore, that whatever decision the Committee may come to, it will at least see that a case has been made out against the continuation of the land fortifications at Ports-down Hill and Plymouth, and also against this particular fortress behind the breakwater. I now approach another place; and having been formerly connected with the town, I feel some delicacy in speaking of it. I mean the fortifications at Dover. And I am warranted in what I say by the remarks published on the 17th of April, 1862, by that great public instructor, The Times newspaper, which, though it has inclined both ways, is rather in favour of the forts. It says that the money to be expended at Dover is about the most profligate waste of money which the country has ever seen. And, on looking into the subject, I think the Committee must be much disposed to agree with that opinion. What was the original Report as to the fortifications at Dover? It is really curious to see how the public money is thrown away. The Report says—If there were no works of defence or military establishments there (at Dover) already, it appears to your Commissioners that it would become a question whether that place should be fortified or not.The only reason they give is that the scheme of constructing a large harbour of refuge there—of which I will say something by-and-by—forms an additional ground for fortifying Dover; and they go on to observe that under all the circumstances, as we have some existing fortifications at Dover, they would recommend us to extend them. On the 2nd of August, 1860, the noble Lord at the head of the Government himself spoke on this point. Here is a summary of his reasons for spending money at Dover, and I shall be glad to know whether they are satisfactory to the House now. The noble Lord said—As regards Dover, it is quite true, that if there were no works and no harbour, it would be a question whether the mere topographical position of Dover would or would not lead you to con- 903 struct defensive works there.… You have had at all times, according to the mode of warfare for the time being, works at Dover.Thus, having at all other times had defensive works at Dover, we are, on that account alone, to spend £300,000 or so more there. What is the real position of Dover? Contrary to the advice of the most eminent engineers, a harbour of refuge was commenced there. That harbour of refuge has never been carried out. It has been a trap for catching all the shingle swept round by the current along the coast there. You have, however, built fortifications to protect the harbour of refuge that was to have been, and now you are adding fortifications to protect those fortifications. What you have got at Dover is a mere landing-place for packets; because it is impossible from its situation that it can ever be a harbour of refuge. And the fortifications there are being constructed on that plan which Mr. Bidder assures you will make them a serious danger to their defenders, and beneficial only to the enemy attacking them. And how is the Dover landing pier being built? Why, with vertical walls from the level of above seven fathoms in depth at low water spring tides, which would present an excellent target for gunboats to practice at! The pier cost about £1,200 for each yard of its length; and I am told that a shot or so at a range of 800 yards or more would bring down each yard, and leave it a ruin. That is not the case of Dover alone, but of Alderney also, which was so very nearly done for the other night, because the House is beginning to see the gross imposture which has been practised on it. Not only is that the case at Alderney, but, I am happy to say, at Cherbourg also there are these vertical walls, which guns of great power at long distances can completely knock down. And yet we are called on to go forward with works at Dover, where there is no harbour, and where there only use will be to shut up 6,000 men. If the Commissioners had their way, and if house property had not been so expensive at Dover, they wanted to buy more land and to erect more fortifications. Do let us come to an end of these proposals, and by one decisive Vote show that this House is not to be hoodwinked into paying money in the dark for works which so far from being useful, are positively mischievous. We heard something to-night about a central arsenal. I do not mean to offer any opinion with 904 regard to it, because I do not think the right hon. Gentleman himself knows where it is to be, or much about it; but I do say that the Resolution before us we are bound to resist, because it binds us to an adoption of past expenses, which, far from having been attended with beneficial results towards the national defences, have been only robberies on the national purse. The number of big Armstrong guns contemplated by the Commissioners will entail further enormous expense; 915 are to be mounted at Spithead, and the total number required for the dockyards will be 3,721. What does the Committee suppose will be the cost of this armament? An Estimate of £6,000,000 is talked of, but you cannot tell what it will mount up to. Oh, but we are told this recommendation proceeds from a military commission. I say the House ought not to submit implicitly to these military authorities. What was the experience of a very great man now no more? The late Sir Robert Peel, whose opinion the House will do well to weigh, said on the 12th of March, 1850—In time of peace you must, if you mean to retrench in good earnest, incur some risks … If you will have all our fortifications in every part of the world kept in a state of perfect repair, I venture to say that no amount of our annual revenue will suffice.… If you adopt the opinions of military men, naturally anxious for the complete security of every assailable point, naturally anxious to throw upon you the whole responsibility for the loss, in event of war suddenly breaking out, of some of our most valuable possessions, you would overwhelm this country with taxes in time of peace.Is this the moment when you should overwhelm the country with taxes in time of peace? No: 1 answer the question with the following opinion delivered by a living Member of Sir Robert Peel's Cabinet:—It is useless to blink the question that not merely within the circle of public departments, but throughout the country at large, and within the precincts of the House of Commons, among the guardians of the purse of the people, the spirit of public economy has been relaxed, charges on the public taxes have been submitted to from time to time with slight examination, and every man's petition or prayer for this or that expense has been conceded with a facility which I do not hesitate to say has only to continue some four or five years longer in order to bring the finances into absolute confusion.This was the opinion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1859; and are we better off in 1862? I say no; and that if we are yearly called upon to pay these enormous sums for national defence, in the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we shall 905 involve the finances of this country in inextricable confusion, If we are to have national defences, I agree with what is stated in the last part of the Commissioners' third Report, that the navy is the arm on which this country must mainly rely. The command of the Channel is the real security that we ought to possess, and we are not to assume that our naval supremacy has been lost. The blockading squadrons of old were composed of sailing ships, which were liable to be driven off by gales of wind; but we now possess the advantage of steamers, which can continue the blockade irrespective of wind or weather. The new conditions of war are more favourable for defence than attack. Let anybody who doubts this read the pamphlet of Sir G. Sartorius, a most able officer, in which it is maintained that the power of defence has increased in the proportion of 10 to 1, and that in these days of iron-plated navies it would be impossible for transports to land troops. Let us not be run away with on this subject by the belief that we are in a worse position than we were before. We have iron and steam, and we are better able than any other country to make use of those advantages which nature has given us. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman on the other side (Mr. Disraeli) that this talk of invasion is an absolute delusion. And I am not putting this merely on economical grounds. If we are always assuming a pugnacious attitude, and initiating what is called a spirited foreign policy, the result of which has been to increase our taxation to something like £70,000,000—if we are one day drawing Reform Bills for Sardinia, another day lecturing America, and always pointing the finger of suspicion at France, the natural consequence must be that we shall have the income tax saddled upon us for ever; and not only that, but probably we shall be obliged to restore the paper duty and sundry other taxes as well. I must protest against this policy, and I am fortified in my opinion by declarations made upon very high authority. Here is the opinion of one right hon. Gentleman, a Member of the present Cabinet, and on that account entitled to respect—Greatly as I respect in general the courage, energy, and undoubted patriotism of the noble Lord, I accuse him of this—that his policy is marked and characterized by what I must call a spirit of interference… What is to be the result? That if in every country the name of England is to be the symbol and nucleus of a party, the name of France, Russia, or of Austria 906 will be the same. Are you not by this laying the foundation of a system hostile to the real interests of freedom and destructive of the peace of the world?Those are the sentiments of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer with regard to the foreign policy of the noble Lord at the head of the Government. But there is another opinion, which is probably entitled to more weight, because, though the right hon. Gentleman was at one time hostile to the noble Lord, he has always sat on the same side of the House. He is now a Member of the Cabinet, and as such his opinion is entitled to respect—When the noble Lord was in any difficulty he made no scruple of accepting the votes of the Conservative against the Liberal party… He believed that the cause of these foreign complications was to be traced to what the Member for Sheffield called the 'mischievous activity' of the noble Lord, who interfered in all parts of the known world. They were told the name of Lord Palmerston was a tower of strength; he doubted that.That was the opinion of the present Premier delivered by the right hon. Gentleman now President of the Board of Trade in 1857. These measures are all initiated in distrust of France. I ask, how has the Emperor of the French justified this treatment at the hands of the noble Lord? When we were paralysed by the terrible Indian mutiny, the Emperor of the French not only gave us the same sympathy which the noble Lord offers to Italy—words—but he offered our troops a passage through France to India. What was his conduct in reference to the Trent the other day? Why, if France had taken an attitude hostile to us, it might have involved this country in war. But he took no such attitude; he remonstrated with the American Government in the strongest manner, and was entirely on our side. Again, when it was necessary to send off troops with that efficiency which incurs increased expense, and we had no clothing suited to a cold climate, the Emperor of the French furnished us with warm clothes from the depôts of his own country. And yet we talk in irritating language of that ruler. These are neither the traditions of the Liberal party, nor are they the traditions of that Whig party once great and flourishing. Allow me to read a letter from Earl Grey to Mr. Fox, written in 1802, which you will find in the Life and Opinions of Lord Grey, lately published. He says—I would avoid most decidedly all those foolish tirades, which, however magnificently they sound, 907 add nothing to the real vigour of our measures, and serve no purpose but that of irritation and distrust.The Whig party has somewhat fallen away since that date. What have become of the words Earl Grey uttered—"Peace, retrenchment, and reform?" Peace has become a sort of armed truce with the expenditure of war. Retrenchment was made the subject of an abstract Resolution. Reform was courted and caressed and adopted by both sides of the House in the palmy days of its Parliamentary prosperity; but now it is treated like an indigent and disagreeable connection, and not suffered to come into the House. Such, Sir, is the state of the Liberal party. I say this House is bound not to accept abstract Resolutions. Let them take peace from whichever party may give it to them, retrenchment whatever side it may come from, and reform whenever they can get it. But in any event there must be no abstract Resolutions. The proposition which I make is no abstract one; and, feeling that I have reason on my side, I put, Sir, with some confidence, this Amendment in your hands.
To leave out from the first word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "considering the changes and improvements now in progress affecting the science of Attack and Defence, it is not at present expedient to proceed with the construction of the proposed Forts on the shoals at Spithead, or the additional Defences at Portsmouth, Plymouth, and Dover, recommended by the Commissioners appointed to consider the Defences of the United Kingdom; and that, in any general system of National Defence, this House is of opinion that the Navy should be regarded as the arm on which the Country must mainly depend,
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the proposed Resolution."
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
I regret, Sir, it will be my duty to trouble the Committee for a short time in consequence of observations made by my hon. Friend. I think he hardly exercised any great forbearance in the remarks which he addressed to the Committee in the early part of his speech; for, having prepared himself at great length on the subject of the Spithead forts—[Mr. BERNAL OSBORNE: Hear, hear!]—and having marked a great number of passages in the Report of the Commissioners, he thought it necessary to go into a subject 908 which for the present is withdrawn from the consideration of the House—to speak the speech he had prepared, and to read a number of extracts which are totally irrelevant to the question before the Committee. ["No. no!"] Yes—which I venture to say are wholly irrelevant to the question before the Committee, because I stated it was not the intention of the Government to proceed for the present with the Spit-head forts; that the question relating to those works was postponed, and that notice would be given of the intention of the Government before the works were resumed. Therefore I refrained myself from referring to the Report of the Commissioners, and from going into any of those engineering or scientific difficulties involved in that Report. My hon. Friend has thought it necessary to go at great length into that subject, and also to quote a considerable part of the pamphlet written by the hon. Member for Finsbury, having but a very slight hearing on this question. I shall not follow my hon. Friend into all the topics with which he has dealt; but passing many of them over, I shall venture to call the attention of the Committee to the precise practical effect of the Amendment in the event of it being accepted by the Committee. There are two courses, either of which I think the Committee might in reason and on fair argument adopt. One would be, to regard this question as amply considered and practically determined two years ago, and to furnish the additional sum demanded by the Government—namely, £1.200,000, being £100,000 per month for the next year, in order to continue the works in progress. By adopting that course the Committee would be providing means for the continuance of the scheme of fortifications which was adopted, as I think most properly, on the recommendation of the executive Government. There is another course which, if the Committee thought fit, might be taken in reference to this subject. They might say, "We were entirely mistaken in our views two years ago; we now think this extravagant scheme of fortifications quite unnecessary; we are of opinion that there is no danger of an enemy landing in this country; we hold that our fleet is sufficient for the defence of our shores; we maintain that, notwithstanding the improvements in steam navigation, it would be impossible to bring any great body of men across the Channel in a short time; and therefore we repu- 909 diate our act of two years ago, refuse any further grants for the continuance of the plan, and in respect of all works constructed, or partially constructed, in accordance with our former scheme, we will 'make a loss,' as it is called in trade, of what has hitherto been expended, and restore things to the state they were in prior to 1860." I think, Sir, that either of those courses might be defended by logical and consistent reasoning. But as regards the third course, it appears to me to be the most unreasonable, and, if I may be permitted to say so, with great deference to the judgment of my hon. Friend, the most absurd one that it was possible for the wit of man to conceive. The proposition of my hon. Friend is that the Committee should say, "We will not come to any decision now, we will postpone this question, we will stop all works now in progress, we will leave those works half finished"—and those works half finished would be more dangerous than no works at all in case of an invasion of the country —"we will come to no practical decision at all; but having incurred a great deal of expense, we will leave the matter in a half-finished state." That appears to me to be a course which it is impossible for any man of sane judgment to propose. Notwithstanding that, what does my hon. Friend propose in the Amendment which he has submitted to the Committee—That considering the changes in progress affecting the science of Attack and Defence, it is not expedient to proceed with the forts at Spit-head, or additional Defences at Portsmouth, Plymouth, and Dover.The works at Spithead have already been suspended in deference to the wishes of this House. The Government threw no difficulty in the way of giving effect to the opinion of the House on that subject; but a very considerable demand has been made on the Executive for the suspension of those works, so that the course recommended by the House is not a very cheap one. The question now is, shall we suspend all the works at Portsmouth, Plymouth, Portland, Dover, Chatham, Pembroke, and other places where fortifications are being constructed? The principal portion of those works are going on at great naval arsenals, and the object of those defences is to secure those places where our navy is repaired and fitted out. My hon. Friend says that the navy is the great defence of England. Undoubtedly it is; but what will our defence be if you allow the naval 910 arsenals where our ships are repaired and fitted out to be destroyed and taken by an enemy? It seems to me that all which need be said is that this plan of defence was well-considered two years ago; that it had been prepared by the combined skill of most competent engineers; that it had been submitted to two Commissions of eminent engineers both military and civil, and had received the sanction of those high authorities. My hon. Friend has been able to quote professional opinions condemnatory of our plan. If opinions of this kind are held to be conclusive, I can tell the Committee that it would be utterly impossible to carry any plan of this kind into effect; for whatever may be the plan prepared by an engineer, whether for fortifications, or harbours, or docks, I venture to say you will find persons to come forward and declare that it is as vicious a plan as it is possible to conceive. My hon. Friend cited an opinion to the effect that the fortifications at Portsmouth, so far from affording protection to the place, would actually be an advantage to an attacking enemy. I must say I think very little of a single opinion of that sort. Nothing is easier than for hon. Gentlemen who wish to produce an impression on the House to cull from various sources hostile expressions of this character; but if they were to weigh with the Committee, there would be no possibility of taking any practical steps. All that the Government can do is to consult a sufficient body of competent and disinterested scientific judges, and to adhere to the advice of that body when it is given. It is quite true that Dover is not a naval arsenal, but it is held by military authorities to be a very important place with regard to the defence of London in the event of a descent upon our southern shores. A fortified camp at Dover, occupied by troops, would be a material assistance to the defence of the metropolis. [Mr. BERNAL OSBORNE: Oh!] In saying that I am not giving my own opinion. I wish it to be distinctly understood that I entirely decline to discuss questions of military science on any judgment of my own. I do not think that any advantage would accrue if we attempted in this House to debate technical matters of that kind except by a reference to scientific and experienced authorities. I can assure my hon. Friend that the opinion which I have just mentioned as to the importance of Dover is entertained by competent judges. My hon. Friend 911 seemed to think that he made a strong point when he showed the difficulty of manning the fortifications, and produced an exaggerated estimate of the number of troops that would he required. [Mr. BERNAL OSBORNE: It is the estimate of the Commissioners.] Whether it be the estimate of the Commissioners or not, it is certainly exaggerated. The Committee will, probably, agree with me in thinking so when I tell them that while my hon. Friend spoke of 95,000 men as necessary to occupy the fortifications, the rank and file at present in the United Kingdom do not number more than 64,000. It seems to me, therefore, that his estimate far exceeds both reason and probability. I will submit to the Committee the opinions of some competent judges as to the necessity of manning fortifications with regular troops. The following is recorded among the opinions expressed by Napoleon at St. Helena:—The garrisons of fortified places ought to be drawn from the population, and not from the active army; provincial regiments of militia were intended for this service; it is the noblest prerogative of the national guard. In times of great misfortunes and adversity, States are often destitute of soldiers, but they are never without men for their internal defence. 50,000 national guards and 2,000 or 3,000 cannoneers will defend a fortified capital against an army of 300,000 men. These 50,000 men in the open field, if they are not complete soldiers and commanded by experienced officers, will be thrown into disorder by a charge of a few thousand cavalry.Those are the views of a man whom my hon. Friend will surely acknowledge to be a competent judge of the art of war. I will next read an extract from a recent Report by a man who, although very inferior, of course, to Napoleon, is a general officer of ability and experience, and Engineer in Chief of New York. He says—It may not be out of place to indicate the mode by which the system of fortifications can be manned and served, without an augmentation, for that particular purpose, of the regular army. The force that should be employed for this service in time of war is the militia (using the term in a comprehensive sense), the probability being, that in most of the defended points on the seaboard, the uniform and volunteer companies will supply the garrisons needed. And it may be shown that it is a service to which militia are better adapted than any other. The militiaman has there to be taught merely the service of a single gun, than which nothing can be more simple; he must learn to use the rammer and the sponge, the handspike and the linstock, to load and to run to battery, to trail and to fire; these are all. Each of these operations is of the utmost simplicity, depending on individual action, and not on a concert, and they may all be taught in a very short time. 912 There is no manœuvring, no marching, no wheeling. The squad of one gun may be marched to another, but the service of both is the same. Even the art of pointing cannon is to an American militiaman an art of easy attainment from the skill that all our countrymen acquire in the use of firearms, "drawing sight" or "aiming" being the same act, modified only by the difference in the gun.That shows that it is not essential to man fortifications with the regular army in the event of an invasion. If such a calamity ever befell us, I apprehend it would not he necessary to man all the different works. The force would naturally be directed to the point threatened, of which some knowledge would, of course, be obtained beforehand. It is a manifest paradox to maintain that fortifications do not tend to the defence of a town. What may be the extent of the danger to be guarded against, or to what extent it is desirable to go in incurring the expense of fortifications, are subjects upon which a difference of opinion may reasonably exist. I do not at all complain of the line which has been taken by my hon. Friend in bringing that part of the subject before the Committee; but to maintain, as he does, that fortifications are of no value, that we must look only to the fleet to defend our shores, and had better demolish the works which have been raised at so much expense, appears to me to be a monstrous abuse of the powers of reasoning. I trust, that whatever the Committee may think of parts of the speech of my hon. Friend, they will not agree to any proposition so abhorrent to common sense.
SIR FREDERIC SMITH
said, as the right hon. Baronet had told them that the works at the forts at Spithead were not to be continued, it would be a useless waste of the time of the Committee to enter into much discussion with regard to them at present. He was glad to hear the announcement, and he believed the works would ultimately be given up for ever. The outlay upon them would be a useless and wasteful expenditure of public money, because the Report of the Royal Commissioners teemed with evidence showing that the forts could not prevent a ship passing them at night, and scarcely by day. The right hon. Baronet seemed to think that the hon. Member for Liskeard had said that fortifications were of no use; but he did not hear him make such an assertion. No one who well considered the subject could say this, because it was obvious to every person of common sense, that if a town were fortified, it became stronger against an enemy 913 than it was before; but the question now was whether the Government were fortifying the right places, and whether they had an adequate force for their garrisons. He contended that they were not the right places, and that the existing array could not supply the requisite garrisons. It was notorious that for the future our fleet must be of iron. Would any hon. Member get up and defend wooden against iron ships? Then, where were they to construct our iron ships? He did not think that the House would consent at present at least to the royal dockyards being altered for the purpose, for at this moment iron ships could be constructed more cheaply, and certainly more expeditiously, in private dockyards. He was sure the Secretary to the Admiralty would not say that in building the Achilles, for instance, the Admiralty had not consulted private shipbuilders experienced in the construction of iron vessels. Speaking with every respect of the builders in the Government yards, he must say that it would be unreasonable to expect them to be at once as skilful in this description of construction as the men in the private yards, who had great experience as regarded iron ships. The whole life of the former had boon passed in building wooden ships, the construction of which was entirely different; and if they were to be employed upon iron vessels, they and all under them would have to devote a considerable time to the study of this difficult system of shipbuilding; and, besides this, the Government yards would have to be supplied with the necessary plant, which they did not now possess, and which would entail a heavy cost. Within the last two or three days Mr. Scott Russell had published an able work on the subject, and any one who might read it would be convinced that the true course was to construct our iron ships, for the present, chiefly in private yards, and to keep the present Government yards for repairing purposes, for which they would necessarily be required. If, however, the Government went to private shipbuilders to build their iron ships for the new fleet, the fortifications of Portsmouth and Plymouth would be of the less importance, and they would not only get rid of the Spithead forts and the forts behind the breakwater at Plymouth, but would also save the necessity of defending many miles of fortifications. The right hon. Gentleman had spoken of the Militia and Volunteers as being likely to assist in defend- 914 ing these fortifications. No man had a greater respect for the Militia than himself; but after we might have had many years of peace, and when so many Militia regiments would have been long disembodied, it could not be expected that they would not be found undrilled and undisciplined. The Volunteers were undoubtedly a valuable force; but it would be absurd to expect that men from the midland counties, for instance, would leave their families to go and defend a distant arsenal. The proper application of the Volunteer force must of necessity be in a great degree for local defence; and although we were told of the alacrity they evinced to take their part in great reviews of that force (such as at Brighton and elsewhere), which was deserving of all praise, and although they would doubtless join their battalions, brigades, and divisions in great numbers on the day of invasion, and would cheerfully resist a landing, and play their part gallantly in a general action in or near their own counties, it was unreasonable to expect that such men would with alacrity offer themselves to be shut up in a fortress remote from homes and properties exposed to attack. The right hon. Baronet, in his admirable speech in introducing the Army Estimates, calculated the regular forces of the United Kingdom at 81,614 men, or with the Indian depôts 89,238. Allowing for recruits and casualties, however, the number of effectives would be reduced to 80,000 men. For Portsmouth there would be required, as a garrison for the existing works and for the forts in course of construction, 30,000 men. The number proposed by the Duke of Wellington was 10,000; but the line of defence being multiplied by three, there ought to be 30,000; but being desirous to understate rather than overstate, he would assume, however, that the number might be reduced to 25,000. Then Plymouth, with its sixteen miles of works, would, according to the estimate of the Commissioners, require 15,000 men; Dover, 6,000; Pembroke, 8,000; the Isle of Wight, 6,000; Chatham, 15,000; Sheerness, 5,000; Ireland, 10,000; Scotland, 10,000; and the Channel Islands, 5,000; making an aggregate of 105,000; that is, 25,000 more than your whole regular force. But where would troops then be be found for the field? There would be none, for the best soldiers would be locked up in forts. It was all very well to quote the opinion of Napoleon, and to say that 915 he had recommended the defence of fortified places by militia; but it was not with militia that he defended Badajoz and Ciudad Rodrigo. He put his very best troops into those and similar places. If a place were worth fortifying, it was worth good defenders, and it was not advisable to put recruits only into forts. The best defence, however, was the valour of a people; and with a well-appointed army of regulars and well-trained Militia and Volunteers we might defy invaders. He trusted, that if the Government could stop any of these works, they would do so, except, of course, those which were near completion. He could assure the right hon. Baronet that he had been misinformed with regard to the works on Portsdown Hill. He said they were half finished, but in fact they were scarcely begun. Some deep ditches had, indeed, been dug; but the garrison of Portsmouth would fill them up in three or four weeks, should it be determined to abandon the greater number of these forts, which he strongly recommended. If it were a question of compensation to contractors, he was sure that one or two practical men like the hon. Members for Evesham, Finsbury, and Glasgow, would come to an arrangement with them in three or four days. That would relieve the Government of a great expenditure, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to be deeply thankful. The longer the expenditure went on the more reluctant the House of Commons would be to grant more money and to throw good money away after bad. If the Government were determined to proceed with the Portsdown forts, he trusted they would not go on with the Hilsea forts, which were hardly commenced; and as the contractor had failed, they had got rid of him. It might be remembered by many hon. Gentlemen, that a ditch and well-flanked rampart extended from Langstone harbour to Portsmouth harbour, cutting off Portsea Island from the main. This was not a very formidable defence; but a project was approved by Parliament and money voted to give it a much more imposing character, and, in short, it would have compelled any enemy who had been able to reach thus far to sit down before this line and to besiege it. But all at once the long range gun was invented, and an immediate alarm seized all the officials, who apprehended that Portsmouth Dockyard might be destroyed by such guns—by batteries composed of them, and 916 throwing shells at eight or ten thousand yards' distance. As a preventive, they were advised to occupy the top of Portsdown Hill by a range of powerful forts; and although the Government must see the impossibility of manning them, except by a great augmentation of the regular army, they, in a moment of infatuation, adopted this advice, and were doggedly pursuing it. As a consequence, the Hilsea lines should be discontinued; for although a second line was sometimes desirable, it was scarcely required in this instance, seeing that Portsmouth was already enclosed with works of permanent construction, capable of standing a siege of several weeks. Two years ago a panic seized the country, as if a flock of sheep had been told the wolf was coming. They sent out shepherds, in the shape of Commissioners, to frighten away the wolf; but they had only devoured the sheep. He hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would come with his pipe and crook, and put an end to this state of alarm. If he had the right hon. Gentleman's eloquence for one hour, he would undertake to show that the course taken by the Government was absurd, and that it would be a disgrace to the House of Commons to go on with it. They were told that the French were building iron ships. No doubt they were. They had their eyes open, while we had kept ours closed until they were opened by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich. Of course we ought always to have a fleet able to cope with the French. Why were the people of this country to crouch behind walls, when they had fleets to defend them? What would be the policy of the noble Lord at the head of the Government if France threatened us and declared war? Would he wait for the French fleet to come and attack us? Would he not rather order the English fleet to bombard Cherbourg, Toulon, Brest, and L'Orient? We should strike the first blow. Bombarding was a game two could play at, and England better than France. Our fleet would sail from our shores, and so sicken the French that they would not come near us. It was said that iron ships were vulnerable; it might be difficult to make them otherwise for short ranges and close quarters, but what happened at the battle of Algiers? Sir David Milne's ship the Impregnable had 280 shots in her hull on the starboard side, and yet he fought his ship to the end of the battle. Suppose it had been an iron ship, 917 what would have been the effect? Why, in all probability, most of these effective shots would not have penetrated, and the loss in killed and wounded, which was enormous, would have been greatly reduced; but as it was, this vessel continued in action to the end of the battle. He believed, that when iron vessels passed rapidly before forts, the fire of the latter would not have any serious effect, or even indent the ship's sides, except when the shot hit directly and perpendicularly the part exposed, which would be a rare occurrence. He would recommend the Secretary of State to appoint an independent Commission to report what works were so advanced that it would be discreditable to stop them, and what works were so backward that it would be more economical to abandon them. If he would do that, the Government should receive his support; but, if not, he should vote with the hon. Member for Liskeard, because he wished the issue to be decided, what works, being useless, ought to be abandoned, and what works, being useful, ought to be completed. The right hon. Gentleman had said that Dover would be useful for the defence of London, by its having a garrison which might act on the rear of an invader marching from the coast; but he (Sir Frederic Smith) was confident, that if Lord Clyde were asked the question, he would say that he would infinitely prefer the presence of 6,000 or 7,000 men in the field to their being locked up in Dover. It was argued, that supposing an invading army landed at Folkestone or Deal, they would have the Dover garrison in their rear. But the men at Dover would not dare to follow; and if they did, a second invading force would probably occupy Dover, and make it a tête du pont. In any point of view these fortifications would be most pernicious, because they could not afford garrisons for their defence without depriving the country of the advantage of a strong army in the field; and the wisest course might be to blow up everything except the coast batteries and the old Castle, which might be spared for the sake of its antiquity. Woolwich was quite as important as Portsmouth or Plymouth, because the loss of Woolwich was, in fact, the loss of almost all the guns, rifles, and ammunition in store; and a very wise course was proposed—namely, to establish a depôt at an inland spot. They had only one Woolwich, but they had many naval arsenals, and he could not 918 understand why Portsmouth and Plymouth should be so carefully considered, and why Woolwich should be left in its defenceless condition. It was stated, that although the fleet was constructed of iron, there would be always a great deal of combustible matter at Portsmouth. He knew that contractors occasionally applied for timber to complete their contracts. Those who knew nothing about official favours, and did not expect them, probably tendered at a higher price than those who were in the habit of making such requisitions; and therefore he deprecated the grant of timber to contractors, unless under very special circumstances, as it led to favouritism. In his opinion, it would be better to sell off at once to contractors a great part of the timber which was kept at Portsmouth, and which would become superfluous if their fleet was to be of iron; but, even if that were not done, there could be no more necessity for keeping the enormous stock of timber at Portsmouth than for keeping warlike stores at Woolwich. In the event of war, the information of the Government must be very defective if they did not know where the invading force might be expected; and with the aid of the telegraph they could collect a fleet together in a few hours. Such a force would be landed, if landed at all, at two or three different points; and if the regular troops were shut up in forts, the country would have to be defended principally by the Militia and the Volunteers. The Militia were in nubibus, and the Volunteers would, he feared, not be at the right spot at the right time, on account of the local character of those corps. Works of defence which were imperfectly manned were, as every soldier know, a source of great weakness and peril, and it was an erroneous policy to keep down the navy for the sake of keeping up the army and fortifications. The right hon. Baronet stated that the House should sanction these works, as the circumstances which existed two years ago still continued. In that view, however, he did not agree. He believed that circumstances had materially altered, inasmuch as now they were likely to have a fleet superior to that of the French; and that being so, they were justified in suspending operations on those works which were not too far advanced. He referred particularly to Portsmouth. If hon. Members would go to Portsmouth, they would be appalled at the extent of 919 the works which had been commenced. He was afraid the works at Dover had progressed too far to permit of their being stopped. The discussion, however, would at least have this good result—it would prevent the buying of any more land in that quarter. One of the French Marshals had expressed his opinion, that if there had been some guns well served at Eupatoria, the English and French troops could not have landed under Marshal St. Arnaud and Lord Raglan. An invading force would not attempt a landing at Portsmouth or Plymouth. They would go to some distant points of the coast, and, according to the opinion which he had quoted, a few well-served guns would dispose of them. It was well known that iron of a certain thickness would resist shot, and there could be no difficulty in throwing up earthworks and facing them with plates of iron in a very short time. The defence was very simple. It might be made on the spur of the moment. It was available for any point of attack, and it would be extremely effective, from the assistance which would be cheerfully rendered by the Volunteers. He would recommend the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty to read the pamphlet which Mr. Scott Russell had published. It was a work full of grave matter, it exposed great defects, and showed the way to remedy them. If the noble Lord would read that pamphlet, he would know more of the shortcomings of the Admiralty than he had ever known before. But he (Sir F. Smith) would say one word about the Spithead forts before concluding. The advocates of these forts had not discussed the question fairly or ingenuously. They had put it forward that the opponents had tried to lay it down as an invariable rule, that ships of war were more formidable for defending a passage or roadstead under all circumstances than stationary forts. Nothing of the kind had been urged or advanced. But the opponents unhesitatingly asserted that forts on the Spithead shoals would be too far apart to admit of the possibility, with any guns that had been manufactured up to the present moment, of barring the passage into the Solent, even in the day-time, to iron-clad vessels; and they added that all the evidence was against the possibility of closing the passage at night. They further asserted, without fear of contradiction, that if forts at Spithead should be passed, then beyond the limit of a thousand yards range they 920 would, with our present guns, be nearly useless in the defence of Spithead and the Solent; whereas movable shot-proof vessels, armed with guns of equal power with those proposed for the forts, would with the co-operation of the existing coast batteries, which were numerous and powerful, in all probability prevent an enemy's fleet from successfully bombarding the dockyard at Portsmouth, or even remaining in the Solent. The opponents in general, he (Sir F. Smith) among the number, also denied the possibility of stopping, by cannon, any considerable fleet of iron-clad ships under a daring Admiral, even with batteries at short ranges. Several vessels might, it is true, receive injury, but the bulk of the fleet would get past these works in fighting condition. It was a very different thing for such vessels to engage formidable and well-constructed shore batteries, either under sail or at anchor. In those cases the advantage ought to be with the batteries, from their being of a less destructible character and presenting a smaller target. Duels, as they may be termed, between forts and ships under circumstances equally favourable to both, it was not contended would end in a victory to the latter; but it was contended that stationary forts at Spithead would never stop iron fleets under steam passing from the eastward into the Solent with the tide in their favour.
MR. H. A. BRUCE
said, he thoroughly agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War when he remarked that it was first their duty to obtain the best information and then to act upon it. He did not deny that at one time there was a very absurd fear with respect to invasion, but the absence of all fear was still more absurd. The Government had taken measures to obtain the best advice; they had appointed a Commission composed of men of science and military experience, and when the report of that Commission was presented to the House, it was accepted after much discussion. On a division only some thirty-nine members could be found to vote against the plan recommended by the Commission, and when two other divisions were subsequently taken, the number of those opposed to it did not exceed forty. It would be no better than vacillation, therefore, if they were now to reject the plan at the bidding of those who, from the first, were opposed to it. Many hon. Members, perhaps, were not aware of the care taken by the Government in the preparation of 921 their plans, but lie had taken some trouble to inquire into the matter. The Commission recommended certain broad plans, and it was for the departments to look to the details. When the drawings and details were prepared, they were considered first by the Fortification Committee, which was composed of several men of great military and engineering skill, and then by the Defence Committee, composed of functionaries of the Horse Guards and persons appointed by the Admiralty—all men of admitted competency. Conferences were then held between the two Committees, and a Report upon the plan, signed by the Commander in Chief, was forwarded to the Secretary for War. No person, therefore, could say that any plan submitted by Government to the House had not received the consideration of competent persons. The hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. B. Osborne) had quoted the authority of Mr. Bidder; but was the House, after it had gone to military engineers of the highest authority, to take the opinion of the first civil engineer who offered one—especially as he understood that the opinion of Mr. Bidder was offered in a way that did not entitle it to great weight? They had been told that this country should rely upon her navy, and that the proper way to carry on a defensive war was to carry it from home and strike the enemy abroad; and, in fact, to convert it to a war of offence. In both those opinions he concurred. But the question was, whether they ought not to provide an inner line of defence. He would undertake to say, that if any person examined the history of the last two centuries, he would find that not once or twice, but many times, we had not that command of the Channel which was said to be essential to the defence of the country. He would recall what was the position of the country in 1805, at the beginning of the Revolutionary war. They commenced by destroying the French fleet at Toulon. In a succession of actions at sea they overcame the French, destroying many of their ships; and yet in 1805 the French were within an ace of having fifty ships riding in the Channel, to which they had only twenty-two to oppose. If, at that time, when Nelson was hunting for the French fleet in the West Indies, it had been well and efficiently commanded, the aspiration of Napoleon for the command of the Channel for twenty-four hours would probably have been realized, and the result might have been that 150,000 veteran 922 troops would have landed in this country. He did not think they would have returned. Still, their presence in this country would have been productive of inconvenience. Then, were they certain of retaining their naval superiority in future wars? He rejected all allusions to the actual condition of neighbouring nations. What he wished was, to put the country in a state of permanent defence, and on that point he submitted his judgment to the judgment of competent men, while prepared, of course, to reject anything manifestly wrong and absurd. He did not accuse the Government of vacillation in suspending the construction of the forts at Spithead. Their object was to keep vessels at a distance, and so prevent them from bombarding Portsmouth, and it was, possibly, yet uncertain what was the extreme distance at which cannon would penetrate iron-sided vessels. With respect to the other works on land, however, he saw no reason why any suspension should take place. No person questioned, he believed, that such works would add to the strength of the defence of the country. Then, having constructed such works, how, it was asked, were we to garrison them? The right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir George Lewis) had quoted the opinion of Napoleon that they could be advantageously garrisoned by the Militia and Volunteers. And there were on record instances of successful defences by non-military men against regular attacks. For instance, Gerona, Kars, and, the other day, in Mexico. But all must admit that they could not leave Portsmouth and Plymouth unprotected; and if there were no forts for the purpose, there must be a large force of disciplined men capable of manœuvring in the field. The hon. and gallant General, speaking of the Volunteers in flattering terms generally, said that they would be inefficient for the particular duty of manning these works, and would withdraw from it. If, however, war broke out, the Volunteers must go where they were ordered, and would not be able to withdraw. But there would be no question of withdrawing, for he would undertake to say that on the first suspicion of war the Volunteer force might easily he increased four times over. At present they had 20,000 artillery Volunteers capable of handling guns, not capable of taking the field, but able to manage guns in garrison. Many of the Volunteers were, no doubt, capable of taking the field, but all would be able to man forts, and, 923 after at least a few days' training, of managing guns. In 1805, the population of England was about one-half of its present number, and, independently of the Militia, the Volunteers numbered over 300,000. Well, then, as the population had doubled, and the national spirit had certainly not declined, and he believed the heart of the country sounder now even than it was at that time, there could be no question that the Volunteers would be adequate to any emergency. He thought the Government had been wise in their selection of their measures for the defence of the country: he thought them wiser still in adhering to that selection. As to Dover, it had been asked, why defend it? His answer was, it was the port nearest to France, and that if we did not fortify it, France would. In case of invasion, and being garrisoned by France, it would be the point d'armée, whence the invading troops could receive supplies on their march to London. It had been said that a garrison of 6,000 men could do little against an invading army of 100,000 on their march to London. And that was true; but 6,000 could do much in opposing a landing. Then as to Portsmouth, there could be no practical difficulty, whether 15,000 men were required or 30,000. Supposing Portsmouth to be undefended, it had been asked would an invading army turn out of its way to London to attack Portsmouth? Undoubtedly an army landed at Dover would not; but supposing the invaders to land at Christchurch, what would prevent them from taking Portsmouth in the way to London? Why, one of their very first acts of policy would be to deprive our navy of their naval arsenal. As, then, invasion, though by no means probable, was shown by history to be perfectly possible—and there was nothing in the future that would make us more secure than we had been in the past—considering our enormous increase in wealth, and our position in the world as almost the only free people in Europe—it was our special duty to take every precaution which the expenditure of £7,000,000, a trifle in comparison with the wealth of the country, would give us to make adequate protection of our coast against invasion.
MR. DIGBY SEYMOUR
said, he wished to ask, as the forts at Spithead were not to be proceeded with, what proportion of the £1,200,000 would not be required? He entirely agreed with the observations of the hon. Member for Lis- 924 keard, that the evidence received by the Defence Commissioners tended to a directly different conclusion to that arrived at by the Commissioners. If hon. Members would read the opinion of Captain Sherrard Osborne, they would see that it would be very difficult to hit a ship from any of these forts. It appeared to him that there were a great number of objections to the engineering part of the scheme; and looking to the expense, the Committee ought to pause before acceding to it. On the other hand, he thought the scheme of Mr. Brooks with regard to a mole at the entrance to Langstone Harbour, would have had a most beneficial effect on the neighbouring defences at Spithead and Portsmouth; and he wanted to know by what right or principle of justice that gentleman had been denied the privilege of giving the evidence which he tendered? Captain Jervis, in a letter to Colonel Brooks, said that he had never expressed an opinion adverse to his plan, yet no opportunity had been afforded of obtaining the evidence of this gentleman. Major M'Crae had given his opinion in favour of works higher up the river, and he (Mr. D. Seymour) trusted the Committee would agree with him, that if we were to have protection for the merchant convoys, it would be cheaper in the end that protective works should be constructed somewhere near Calshot Castle, or higher up the estuary near the entrance to Southampton Water. He wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman what was the amount of expense saved to the country by the withdrawal of the scheme respecting the Spithead forts?
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
said, that in reply to the questions which had been put to him, he had to state first, that the plan of the Government had not been altered since he had given notice of the Resolution; and secondly, that the amount which would be taken for each harbour, including Portsmouth, would be found in a schedule to the Act; and the sum taken for the Spithead forts was included in that list.
§ MR. H. H. VIVIAN
said, his opinion was adverse to that view, which some persons considered to be economy, but which he thought a penny-wise and pound-foolish policy. He thought his hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard had been guilty of an omission in his entertaining speech—namely, that although he found great fault with the Government scheme, he proposed no plan of his own instead. If 925 he had come down with a well-matured scheme, the House could have compared his proposition with that of the Government. As it was, however, there was no means of entering into a comparison of rival schemes and coming to a decision on their respective merits. Again, the terms of the Amendment were inconsistent with the principle which the hon. Member who proposed it wished the House to adopt. The hon. Member stated that the navy ought to be the chief defence of the country, and yet would leave the great naval arsenals exposed to the dangers of a sudden descent of a hostile force. That was very much as if a gentleman having gone to great expense in storing his garden with rare fruits and flowers were to object to the expense of building a wall to protect them from robbery. The power of concentrating a force upon a given point, now existed to an extent considerably greater than in former times; and the necessity for increased means of defence had become proportionately greater. To make these means of defence consist altogether of ships, would, in his opinion, be to adopt a course at once more expensive and less efficient than if forts were to be constructed where required. Ports were stationary, and would be always on the spot in the case of need, while they would not, like ships, require to be renewed after the expiration of a few years. Upon these grounds he regretted that the Government had given way on the question of forts, and he trusted that they merely intended to defer the completion of the Spithead forts till next year. No doubt they were now in the infancy of gunnery, and the Armstrong guns had not hitherto penetrated iron plates; but it should be remembered that more than two years ago Mr. Whitworth, with his flat-fronted shot, fired from a 5½ inch cast-iron gun, pierced the sides of the Trusty at 200 yards. Recent experiments had shown that Mr. Whitworth's 12-pounder gun had attained a higher initial velocity than the old 68-pounder; he was told that an initial velocity of 2,200 feet a second had been attained within the last week by a rifled gun on Mr. Whitworth's principle; and Mr. Whitworth had not the slightest doubt that with his 7-inch gun he could pierce the sides of the Warrior target at 600 yards. He hoped that these results would induce the Government boldly to face the outcry raised against the Spithead forts. The objec- 926 tion taken to them was that there was a distance of 2,000 yards between the two forts, and that at a range of 1,000 yards they could not penetrate the sides of an iron-plated vessel. But the simple remedy for this was to put a fort between the two. [Ironical cheers.] Hon. Gentlemen might cheer, but there was only sixteen fathoms' depth of water between the forts, and a fort could surely be placed in that depth. In fact, any cost was to be endured which tended to the preservation of the navy. As to the manning of these fortifications, he did not apprehend the slightest difficulty. Suppose 95,000 men were required to man them, that was scarcely half the Volunteer force, and besides this they had a Militia numbering 70,000 or 80,000 men; so that there] would still be a large balance available for service in the field. He thanked the noble Lord at the head of the Government for the pledge which he had given last year on the subject of the Whitworth rifle. The noble Lord then stated that it should be the duty of the Government to go fully into the question, and he had amply redeemed this pledge. A thousand rifles were now being made, a battery of field guns had been ordered, and Mr. Whitworth had been allowed to rifle a 70-pounder gun. He believed that the safety of the country very much depended on the adoption of the Whitworth gun. In his opinion, the Armstrong breech-loader was too delicate a weapon to stand the rough-and-tumble work of actual warfare. The delicate screw upon which it depended might be very soon injured and clogged, and, as it could not be used as a muzzle-loader, the gun then became absolutely useless. Mr. Whitworth's gun, on the other hand, was of plain and simple construction, and it might be used both as a muzzle and a breech-loader.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, there was one lesson which the Committee might draw with much profit from the course of this discussion—a lesson derived not so much from conflicting opinions about the comparative value of forts and ships, or the comparative power of guns, but from the position in which they found themselves, and which would show the mode in which they ought to proceed in dealing with large questions of expenditure. They wore in a position to see the inconvenience of the course taken in 1860. He referred not so much to the subject 927 matter of the Vote as the manner in which it was proposed to raise the funds required to meet the expenditure. There was a good deal to be said both for and against fortifications, but what he wished to direct the attention of the Committee to was the enormous inconvenience and danger of dealing with the expense by way of a Loan Bill. There were two disadvantages connected with the course taken in 1860, which they were that night asked to repeat. They were asked to provide for a large expenditure by something in the nature of a Vote of Credit, and then in a Committee of Ways and Means to provide the necessary funds by a loan. In ordinary cases, when the House was asked to vote public money, there was an estimate of expenditure prepared—hon. Members could discuss the details with a knowledge that the Government had thought it their duty to ask the House to vote the Ways and Means by an addition to the taxation of the country. In that case every hon. Member felt that he was responsible to his constituents, and he could examine each detail, could require explanations, and, if not satisfied, could move the omission of any item. But that was not the position in which the Committee were now placed. First, as to the pressure under which they were acting. No one could fail to see that there was a great deal of laxity in the minds of many of the persons who were responsible for proposing or supporting this Vote. There was laxity in the minds of the Government, of the Commissioners, and of the witnesses who had been examined by them, whose evidence resulted in the opinion, that the matter being doubtful, it was best to spend the money, and not call upon the present generation to pay it. Now, without any reference to the advantages or disadvantages of the expenditure, he thought that was not a position in which they ought to be placed. If they were satisfied that the expenditure ought to be incurred, let them prepare to meet it themselves; but if they had doubts, let them not be content to thrust a burden upon posterity. The laxity of feeling to which he referred was evident in every page and every line of the Commissioners' Reports. They began in 1860 with a strong opinion in favour of forts, and treated floating batteries as a small matter. Now, however, they said, "by all means let us have floating batteries as the most necessary things, but you will still find forts useful to support the float- 928 ing batteries." The evidence showed that the witnesses mostly agreed, that if it were a simple question between forts and floating batteries, they would prefer the latter; but they added, that as Parliament would not vote more than a certain sum for floating batteries, and as Government would not be justified in asking Parliament to sanction a loan for comparatively perishable means of defence, the proper course to pursue was to spend the money voted by Parliament in floating batteries, and further to spend money upon forts, which money could be raised by a loan. There were some remarkable passages in the evidence of some of the witnesses. He would call attention, by way of illustration, to a question put by one of the Commissioners as showing the animus which influenced their actions in the matter. Question 101 was one put by Colonel Lefroy to the hon. and gallant Member for Wakefield (Sir J. Hay), which showed the animus of the Commissioners. The hon. Baronet the Member for Wakefield was asked—Looking back to the naval preparation of this country at different periods since 1840, and the very great difference which has prevailed, owing to the prevalence of different economical views at different times, are not forts, when once built and paid for, a truly permanent defence, a safer reliance than floating defences, which are perishable, and which you may not be able to renew when they are wanted?The answer was—I acknowledge the full eight of the argument contained in that question.The argument was, that having an opportunity of getting from Parliament, by means of a charge upon posterity certain defences which they might not require, they should be constructed, and leave posterity to pay for them, whether willing or not. The present Parliament was to make a present to posterity; but if posterity should have a so-called economical fit, or differ in opinion from the present Parliament, they must, nevertheless, be fixed with the burden of payment. When it was said that the thing would be done once and for all, that was begging the question. It was begging the question to say that floating batteries were a kind of defence that would be expensive in times to come, while forts would only cost money once and for all. It was by no means clear that the expense for forts would be so limited. There were many questions to be decided. There was the important question of the garrisons. To be of use the forts must be garrisoned, and that was 929 a matter of expense. An hon. Member bad talked about turning the key upon the forts. [Mr. H. H. VIVIAN: Not in time of war.] If the forts were left ungarrisoned in time of peace, it would be necessary, when war occurred, suddenly to increase our army, and to provide trained men to occupy the forts and to prevent the enemy from occupying them. If the forts were erected upon the proposed scale, a burden would be entailed upon posterity from which it could not escape; and if it should turn out from the progress of science that the forts were of little or no use, posterity would still be called upon to pay for them, as well as to provide the means of building ships, as if no forts were in existence. He therefore objected to a Vote of Credit, to be afterwards supported by a Loan Bill. There was no opportunity of challenging details. They felt, then, the difficulty in which they were placed by the course the Government had pursued. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War had placed upon the paper a very large Resolution, and the hon. Member for Liskeard had challenged that Resolution. Discussions upon former occasions had proved that one main subject of consideration would be the question of the Spithead forts. Hon. Members had consequently been engaged in informing their minds upon that subject, but, at the last moment, the Government announced that they had withdrawn that important part of their scheme. The consideration which had been given to that subject was therefore thrown away, and they were then invited to consider the scheme divested of a principal feature in the original plan. The question then arose, what should they do under the circumstances? If the matter had come before the House upon the regular Estimates, it would have been open to one Member to challenge the Spithead forts, for another to attack the Plymouth defences, or other items in the plan, and to take the opinion of the House upon those particular points. But now they must either negative the scheme as a whole or—as far as this stage of the proceedings was concerned—they must accept it as a whole. If, as he believed, a majority of the House thought that a considerable part of the scheme was bad, they would be inclined, had the subject come before them for the first time, to reject the whole scheme. But considering what had taken place, the large majority which originally sanctioned the 930 scheme in 1860, the amount of contracts entered into, many hon. Members might not feel themselves prepared to reject the whole scheme, notwithstanding their objections to some parts, if they thought that by so doing they would prevent the completion of that work which had been already far advanced. He did not hesitate to say, that if the scheme had been presented by the Government in its entirety, and the Committee had been called upon to vote the Spithead forts and the central arsenal, he should have thought the objectionable parts preponderated over the unobjectionable in the plan, and therefore he would have voted with the hon. Member for Liskeard, and rejected the whole scheme. But as the Spithead forts were given up, and the central arsenal postponed sine die, the question was, what should be done with the residue of the scheme? The real difficulty was, that they did not know what the effect of their vote would be. If they negatived the Resolution, who could say whether a considerable amount of work which had already been commenced, and which might be completed and made useful for a comparatively small sum, would be sacrificed or not? The right hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. Monsell) had moved for information to guide them in the matter, but the Return did not contain details that they could act upon. They did not know how far the contract extended—how far the estimated cost was beyond the contract, or what it included. They were therefore really acting very much in the dark in this matter. The only information they had to guide them was the information given by the Secretary for War at the commencement of the discussion. It appeared from the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that they had entered into contracts to the amount of something like £3,300,000. The House had already employed the Government to raise £2,000,000, and now they were asked to vote £1,200,000. Those two sums together would amount to very nearly £3,300,000, which they were told was the amount of the contracts; and it was not impossible, that if they knew what the contracts were, they would not hesitate to give to the Government the sum now asked for. What he complained of was that the money was taken in the way of a Vote of Credit; and that if they gave this £1,200,000, they had no security that it would be applied to the completion 931 of the works now in progress. In that case, indeed, the Government would be able to commit them to some entirely new expenditure, undertaking works which were on paper only, and for which, up to that time, no contract existed. He objected altogether to that mode of doing business, which was to his mind contrary to the fundamental principles upon which Parliament ought to act. Without some further explanation from the Government as to what they wanted the money for, he was not prepared to say what course he should pursue. His vote would depend upon the precision of the information he should receive as to the exact purposes to which the money was to be applied; and also upon the question whether Ministers were ready to give a pledge that they would not apply the money to any new works without coming to Parliament, as in the case of the Spithead forts, and giving full information on the subject. As a matter of principle, they ought to do all they could to bear their own burdens, without throwing any of them upon posterity, and it was the consciousness that they should and must do so which made them rigidly examine into the necessity for any proposed expenditure. On the present occasion Parliament and the country were too much in the hands, first of professional men, but, above all, of the Government. When the Government asked the House to incur a large expenditure which they were prepared to defend as necessary for important national purposes, and when they evinced their earnestness and sincerity by taking upon themselves the unpopular task of proposing an increase of taxation to meet it, then everybody knew that, whether right or wrong, they were at any rate firmly persuaded that the expenditure was proper and necessary; but in the matter now under consideration, where resort was had to the fatally facile mode of raising money by way of loan, they had no such security for the sincerity and earnestness of the Government. Two years ago the Government pressed upon the House in the most energetic manner that it was absolutely necessary that they should incur a large expenditure for national defences, including among them certain forts at Spithead. In two years, however, all was changed, and they found the Government faltering and altering their opinion. The Spithead forts were no longer necessary. Again, not long ago they were told that the forts would be of a permanent character, and 932 that the expenditure, once incurred, would not have to be renewed. Supposing the forts had been built straight off in 1860, what would have been their position in 1862. They would have had a number of granite forts; but, as it happened, every one had arrived at the conclusion that granite forts could never be so useful as iron ones, and therefore Government would probably have asked the House to spend a further sum of money in building iron forts behind the granite forts. He was satisfied, on the other hand, that if the Government in the first instance had been obliged to raise the money by taxation, they would have thought twice upon the matter. It was far from his intention to say that they might not have thought it necessary to ask for some money for forts, but in that case they would have proceeded with great care, confining themselves to what was strictly necessary. Very probably they would have ascertained, in the first place, whether there was not some less important branch of expenditure which might be cut down, so as to avoid the necessity of proposing an increase of taxation in the shape, perhaps, of an addition to the income tax, and it was not impossible that they might have succeeded in finding such a means of meeting the emergency. Such was the kind of pressure which he wanted to see brought to bear upon the Government. He wished to force them into this position—that they should not ask the House to vote money for purposes which they were not prepared to provide for out of the Ways and Means for the year. In considering any vote which the Government might propose, the House ought to be compelled to act with the same sense of responsibility which they would feel if they were asked to provide the money by an addition to the income tax. One piece of information which the Government were bound to give, either then or at some future time, was a statement of the reasons which induced them to think, that while the Spithead forts were doubtful, the Plymouth defences were not doubtful. If they were right in believing that the Spithead forts might be superseded by some new application of floating batteries, or some new discovery in ordnance, why could the same tiling not be said of the Plymouth defences? There were some principles with respect to the defences of the country which were not altogether beyond the comprehension even of gentlemen who had not the advantage 933 of professional studies and experience. In 1860 the late Lord Herbert laid down the following two points—first, that they ought to make the navy the first defence of the country; and secondly, that if by any chance an enemy should give the slip to the fleet and land an army on their shores, they ought to have as large a disengaged force as possible to meet him in the field. If they were to depend on the navy, they must defend their dockyards and arsenals, which were the nurseries of that navy; and Lord Herbert recommended forts for that purpose. It was one of the most important objects they could have in view to provide properly for the defence of the dockyards and arsenals; but the question returned, how was that best to be done?—by fixed fortifications, which were hero and nowhere else, or by floating defences, which were hero or anywhere else? The proposition was that they would have to deal, not with a naval force superior to their own, and capable of sweeping the Channel, but with one inferior, and yet somehow contriving to slip past our fleets. It was argued that such a force, being composed of iron-plated ships, might come near enough to destroy the great nurseries of our navy, and yet not near enough for our forts to contend successfully with them. Now, whatever view they took of that matter, he wanted to know why what was true in regard to Spithead was not also true with regard to Plymouth. And if they really did not know what was truth—if they were uncertain, then why did they not pause altogether? He felt convinced, if they were proceeding as they ought, providing by present taxation for whatever works they considered necessary, the same reasons which applied to Spithead would induce them to pause in reference to Plymouth likewise; and the only reason which induced them to go on was that they were throwing on posterity a burden which they ought not to impose. He was sorry to say there was growing up in the House, and he feared also in the country, considerable laxity with regard to financial affairs. They were careless about deficits, and loose in regard to some matters which, some years ago, were considered very serious; but he hoped the time would never come when they would incur expenditure, of the necessity of which they did not feel very certain, because they could throw its burden on posterity by raising it in the shape of loan.
§ MR. BENTINCK
observed that the 934 debate afforded a remarkable instance of the practice which so commonly prevailed in this House, of taking votes upon issues different from those which were ostensibly raised. Speaking in the abstract, he had expressed a very decided opinion upon this question on a former occasion; and he remained of the same opinion still, that they could not defend Spit-head with forts and without ships; but he was prepared to contend that they could defend it with ships and without forts. Since the commencement of the debate, however, the subject had assumed entirely a different aspect. He felt bound to say that there was very much force in what fell from the right hon. Secretary for War when he urged, with great truth, the advanced state of the land defences, and told them that the cost of putting a stop to the works would be almost as great as the cost of completing them. At the same time he told them frankly that further outlay in respect to Spithead should be postponed. That was a great point gained, and materially altered his view of the Vote to be now taken. The right hon. Gentleman stated correctly the history of the Vote, with reference to which the House was more responsible than the Government. The hon. and gallant Member for Liskeard had embarked in a very dangerous argument when he contended that forts were useless because we should always have the command of the Channel. For his part, he (Mr. Bentinck) could not shut his eyes to the possibility there might always be—at least, until our navy was put upon a very different footing—of our losing for a short time our naval superiority on our coasts; and the argument of the hon. Gentleman, therefore, did not seem so conclusive in his eyes. The hon. Gentleman wound up his speech in a very different tone from that in which he commenced it. He spoke in favour of peace, retrenchment, and reform—peace almost at any price, and retrenchment when he could get it. He (Mr. Bentinck) had no objection to peace and retrenchment; but, as to reform, he agreed with the hon. Gentleman that it was hardly worth while to discuss it. One part of the hon. and gallant Member's speech savoured of a proposal to bring about one of those political coalitions which were neither creditable to those who concocted them nor had they been successful for those by whom they had been concocted. He (Mr. Bentinck) would appeal to the Secretary of State for War whether there 935 was anything to justify him in treating the fort in Plymouth Sound, which was so generally condemned, in a different manner from the forts at Spithead. When the Motion for discontinuing the erection of these forts was brought forward some weeks ago, he himself moved an Amendment authorizing the Government to apply the money previously voted for the fortifications in the construction of iron ships. That Amendment received the support of the Treasury bench, and was carried in the House by a large majority. He must, therefore, ask the noble Lord at the head of the Government whether he meant that vote to remain a dead letter. The country must rely mainly on its navy for its defence. The noble Lord had passed through difficult times. His troubles had been created as much by his own friends as by his foes; he had to deal with troublesome colleagues, and with a troublesome party; and he knew what it was to be in straitened political circumstances. But nothing could so much tend to add to his difficulties, or to damage his position, as a belief in the public mind that he would not he prepared at all times to maintain, in the highest efficiency, the maritime defences of the country.
§ SIR MORTON PETO
said, he wished to say a few words, although he felt, in common with every other hon. Member, that the Government had, to a certain extent, met the question before the House by the concession it had made in respect to the Spithead forts. At any rate, they had deprived hon. Gentlemen of the opportunity of delivering the speeches they had intended to make. He did not for a moment pretend to impeach the judgment of the Defence Commission on the score of integrity, but he thought the Government ought to abrogate the present constitution of that Commission, and re-establish it on a different basis. If they chose as Commissioners professional men only, whose thoughts had run in one groove all their lives, it would be easy to tell beforehand what their Report would be. When Sir R. Peel consulted Sir Howard Douglas on the subject of armaments, that officer gave an opinion which had cost the country millions of money; for he advised a continuance in the building of wooden ships, although the construction of iron vessels had then actually commenced. If the one third of the Commissioners consisted of civilians of administrative experience and ability, another third of officers skilled 936 in artillery practice, and the remaining third of naval men, their united decision would command the confidence of the House and the country. But the Defence Commission had presented three distinct Reports in succession, neither of which could be taken by the Government as final or satisfactory, and which were all discordant in their nature. Under these circumstances, how could the Government continue to seek support and advice from these gentlemen alone? He had no desire to discontinue the Defence Commission, but he desired to see associated with its members men who, like his hon. and gallant Friends the Members for Chatham and Wakefield, when they changed their minds, admitted that they had done so, and gave the reasons which had led to that change. He could not admit that the House would be at all stultified by adopting a Resolution on this subject different from that at which they had previously arrived; on the contrary, he thought that if they had done wrong, they would do themselves honour by retracing their steps. If the Defence Commissioners had shown themselves open to the consideration of all the great changes which had taken place since the establishment of the Commission itself, and had had regard to the lessons of passing events, they would have done themselves more honour, and they would have saved the House the debate of that night, and the Government the necessity of acknowledging a change in their minds. The defences of Portsmouth alone involved an expenditure of £3,000,000 of money. It was said that it would cost as much if the works were stopped as if they were prosecuted; but he found by reference to a Return which was moved for by the hon. Member for Limerick, that only 10 percent of the money voted had been expended; and with regard to the works on Portsdown Hill, very little had yet been done beyond the earthworks, which a few weeks' work would serve to fill up. Sir William Armstrong, in his evidence, which was given in a perfectly fair, candid, and independent spirit, said that at the present moment the 300-pounder had done no more than penetrate the Warrior target at two hundred yards, and that distance must therefore be taken as the extent of the range upon which they might depend. It was shown by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Liskeard, that the target penetrated at two hundred yards was not struck in such a manner as would render a vessel 937 unseaworthy; and there was no doubt that every fort which had been constructed up to the present time, was useless at a greater range than two hundred yards. Sir William Armstrong, it was true, had indicated that a larger gun might be formed; but a most eminent artillery officer, Lieutenant Colonel Boxer, who had given, in his pamphlet, data about which there could be no question, showed that even the 22-ton gun would not do what the Commissioners imagined, because the basis of every one of the calculations exhibited an error which one would have thought the merest tyro would have detected. Some hon. Gentlemen had spoken that night of fortifications as preferable to any other mode of defence, because they had a permanent and fixed value; but if they could only be depended upon at a range of two hundred yards, they would prove a source of weakness instead of strength. Others preferred fortifications, because they could carry heavier guns than ships; but the question was not what weight of gun the fortifications would carry, but what guns they would carry so as to be effective at the range at which they could be useful. So far as he could learn or judge for himself, there would be no difficulty in constructing a cupola ship to carry the largest gun yet known, and to fix it and work it with as much ease as in a fort; and the ship which carried the cupola would have the advantage over the fort, that it would be able to move about, and chose its situation, which the fort could not. Lieutenant-Colonel Boxer made use of some remarkable words. He said—The altered condition in relation to the protection of ships had practically rendered the great majority of permanent works now in existence, and now in process of erection, comparatively valueless.If that were so, he (Sir Morton Peto) would ask the Government if that were not a reason for a mixed Commission? He was sure it was a reason for delay. The opinion of Mr. Bidder had been refered to, as having been given unsolicited. The fact was, however, that Mr. Bidder was at that time the President of the Institute of Civil Engineers, and he was called in and paid by the Commission for his opinion. No one who knew Mr. Bidder would think that he would obtrude an opinion unasked. And what did he say? He said that the Spithead forts, as designed by the Commission, were absolutely indefensible against ordinary gun- 938 boats. And more than that. He said a great part of the defences in course of execution by the Defence Commission were designed by persons who appeared to be utterly regardless of the power and accuracy of modern artillery, and that those works were utterly useless for defensive purposes. Surely this opinion, and that of Lieutenant-Colonel Boxer together, furnished sufficient ground for demanding a more complete inquiry. The Defence Commission was unworthy of the confidence of the House, because they had shown themselves to be incapable of grappling with all the difficulties of the question. The defence of this country depended upon the best application of mechanical force, and the determination of that application required the bringing together of various minds all directed to practical subjects, and each bringing his quota of practical information. Within the past fourteen years, the question had assumed altogether a new character. During that time, the electric telegraph had been brought into use, and instantaneous communication could be had, not only with all parts of the country, but with almost all parts of the world. There were other scientific improvements also to be taken into account, and they required a grasp of mind and a knowledge of science which the Government had not shown in dealing with the question. With regard to the central arsenal, he was not prepared to say whether it was a right thing to be done, but it was a grave question, and one that ought to receive the consideration of a Commission having the confidence of the Government, of the House, and of the country. He could not but feel that a great deal of what they were called on to consider lay at the door of the First Minister. This great question had been introduced in a manner by which there was not the same opportunity for discussion which would have been given if the Vote were taken under ordinary circumstances. The question, instead of being dealt with in a calm judicial spirit, had been brought forward hurriedly, and with a great deal of excitement. Nothing had given him so much pain, after being an earnest supporter of the noble Lord's for fourteen years, as being compelled to differ from him on this question. Few were as well acquainted as he was with what was going on in the neighbouring country, and he would ask the noble Premier whether more could have been done in France to show friendship and kindly feeling towards this 939 country than had been clone during the last four or five years? Nobody knew better than did the noble Lord the facilities which were afforded to their naval attaché—or, in plain language, naval spy—at the Court of France; every dockyard was open to him, and every information was placed before him by the French Minister. Instances of the friendly feeling of the Emperor of the French had been cited that evening, but he believed many others, such as the abolition of passports, might be added to the list. He had been brought into contact with the middle classes of that country, and knew the favourable sentiments by which they were animated towards this country. The national defences ought to be adequately maintained, but no reason existed for asking, at the fag-end of the Session, and under circumstances of great excitement, for so large a sum of money. The particular Vote was protested against by at least a large minority; but if the statement of facts which had been put forward should lead to the rejection of the proposal, it by no means implied a want of confidence in the general conduct of Parliamentary business. If the noble Lord would pledge himself to reorganize the Commission, and to place upon it men in whom the public had confidence, he would recommend his hon. Friend not to divide. Without any reflection on the Defence Commission, he must say, that these past Reports were not such as to entitle them to the confidence of the House or of the country. Let them take the pledge which had been given respecting the Spithead forts as an earnest of good intentions with regard to the future. A short time since, in the leading journal, a letter appeared which he presumed must in some degree have had the authority of Government, as on the same day the journal said—"At last we know the intentions of the Admiralty." To all who read it, that letter conveyed the impression that it was intended to construct vessels partly of wood and partly of iron, the two most prominent reasons for that course being—first, to use up the large amount of wood which the Government had in store; secondly, to provide employment for the shipwrights and other persons connected with the various dockyards. For his own part, he should be delighted to vote a handsome retiring pension to every person in the Admiralty not required for the fleet of the future. But the construction of the fleet ought not to be affected by such con- 940 siderations. The question to be determined was, whether they were now to build vessels which would last sixty or seventy years, requiring an occasional coat of paint, or whether they would have to reconstruct the navy every six or seven years. The hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Lindsay) had stated that he was parting with all his wooden ships and buying iron ones, which would last him his life and the lives of those who succeeded him. The noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty talked of the difficulties connected with the fouling of ships' bottoms; but if he would consult practical men, he would find that there was no difficulty in placing under the iron ship a wooden bottom, which could be removed at any time and at a trifling expense, over which the vessel might be coppered, so that she could go to any part of the world.
§ SIR JOHN WALSH
said, the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down seemed to think that there was much virtue in the old maxim of a multitude of counsellors producing wisdom. Treble the Commission; place on that Commission a great proportion of civilians, not particularly acquainted with military matters, and the result would be a most improved Report. The question was, no doubt, both difficult and complicated, but he doubted whether the specific of the hon. Gentleman would lead to a satisfactory conclusion. Both the hon. Gentleman who had introduced this discussion, and the hon. Baronet who had just sat down, had adopted a line of argument which he (Sir John Walsh) considered was based on fallacious grounds. They had endeavoured to show that there was no occasion for what was proposed by the Government, because there was no possible ground for apprehending any concealed hostility towards this country on the part of the Emperor of the French. They assumed, that because there was no manifestation of enmity towards us on the part of that sovereign, all our preparations were unnecessary, and that we had better relinquish altogether our expensive armaments. If that was not what they said, at all events it was the immediate and palpable conclusion which must be drawn from their arguments. Now, he admitted all those two hon. Gentlemen said of the Emperor of Napoleon. He fully believed that His Imperial Majesty entertained friendly feelings towards this country; but he did not put the defence of England on so narrow a ground. He did not put it on the mere life of a man; 941 he did not put it on the feeling, friendly or hostile, of a particular nation. He said that a country so great as England—whose relations extended all over the world—ought to be in a state of preparation, and ought to be in a state to defend herself against any assailant that might arise. He would venture to call the attention of the Committee to the last two occasions on which England was placed on her defence—namely, on the occasion of the mutiny in India, and the affair of the Trent. In both these cases a sudden call was made on her military and naval resources. In the one case they overcame by the military preparations they made a formidable rebellion, and in the other they were prepared to assume that firm and dignified action which saved the honour of their flag, and preserved the country from a dangerous and fatal war. France, on both those occasions, was exceedingly friendly, and heartily sympathized with this country. He thought that the imputations which had been cast upon the Government and the House with regard to vacillations were unjust and beside the question. The fact was, that the whole subject of military and naval armaments was in a state of transition. That, perhaps, was one of the disadvantages of living in an age of progress. He thought it was quite wise in the Government to postpone the Spithead forts, and he regretted that they had not also postponed the Plymouth forts. He considered that they were quite right in going on with the fortifications, and he believed that in the case of invasion there would be no difficulty in manning them. The national spirit would provide for that. The arguments, therefore, that larger garrisons would be necessary for manning the forts fell to the ground. He should certainly give his vote in favour of the proposition of the Government.
§ MR. MONSELL
said, he regretted that no Member of the Government had risen to answer the objections of the hon. Member for Stamford (Sir S. Northcote). There were, he held, three questions of detail involved in the Resolution with regard to Dover, sea fortifications, and land defences, which were most inconveniently combined, and ought to be considered seriatim. As to the Dover fortifications, he thought they had no friends. Their warmest supporters allowed, that if they had not been begun already, no one 942 would ever think of beginning them now; but they said that, unhappily, as they were commenced, it would be inconvenient to leave them in their present incomplete state. Well, he thought that any small sum of money which was required to complete any portion of the work which had been absolutely begun might be brought forward in the Estimates for the next year, and there was no necessity for including Dover in the proposal of the Government. With respect to the other classes of fortifications—namely the sea and land fortifications—he admitted that they must be guided to a certain extent by authorities upon these matters, and the authority which the Government put forward was the Commissioners. Those Commissioners were appointed in order to support a foregone conclusion, and to deal with fortifications at certain specified points, and not with the national defences at large. They had, however, contradicted in their later Report their former representations. They had stated most distinctly their belief that the Armstrong gun might pierce iron-clad ships at 1,000 yards, and they afterwards admitted that it could not be done. Now, when they found gentlemen making so great a mistake, it tended to diminish their authority with respect to other matters. What appalled him most with regard to the Commissioners was their unanimity upon the question of the Spit-head forts, especially when one observed that the preponderance of opinion beyond its limits, among men equally experienced and well-informed, tended the other way. The objections which he had ventured to urge against the subject being referred to the Commission was that they were sure to support a foregone conclusion. Their testimony was of no weight, and the manner in which they examined the witnesses, particularly Captain Coles, showed that they approached the subject with a prejudice. With respect to the present Resolution, ought not the decision of the Government with respect to the Spithead forts to govern the whole series of fortifications of the same class? If it was right to abandon the forts at Spithead, surely it must be wrong to proceed with the forts at Plymouth. A vessel might elude the one just as easily as the other. No gun yet constructed could pierce an iron-clad vessel at a greater distance than 200 yards. He was surprised that the Secretary to the Admiralty did not, after the 943 allegations which had been made in the debate, tell them what was the truth about the guns. After having spent £3,000,000, or, at least, an enormous sum, on improved artillery, during the last few years, had they a single gun which could penetrate an iron-clad ship at a distance of 500 yards? If they had not—if 200 yards was the limit of the range, there was no use in going on with the forts at Plymouth. It might, perhaps, be said, that although no such gun had been made yet, it would be invented in the course of time. That was very doubtful; but it was as absurd to incur the expense of these fortifications before they had got the armament which would alone make them serviceable, as to build a house after the fashion of the architect of Laputa, beginning at the roof and working downwards. He maintained that they ought to trust to their maritime resources, and to keep up a powerful Channel fleet and a number of movable batteries. He therefore appealed to the Government to adopt the suggestion of the hon. Baronet the Member for Stamford, and to devise some plan by which they could submit to the separate decision of the House the three different classes of works proposed.
§ LORD CLARENCE PAGET
Many hon. Gentlemen have said, that as the question of the Spithead forts is postponed, they will not enter into the merits of the question. In spite of the postponement, many hon. Gentlemen have gone very largely into that question; and although I am very much tempted to answer some of the arguments as to ships against forts, I will defer that to another time. I have been called upon to answer the statement of the hon. Member for Liskeard with regard to the account which I gave on a former occasion of the large gun of Sir William Armstrong. He challenged me early in the evening to answer that statement, and I did not do so at once, because, if I had denied it, I should have met with the same sort of remark which the hon. Gentleman gave to the noble Lord. When the noble Lord distinctly denied what the hon. Gentleman stated, the hon. Gentleman said the noble Lord had made an apology. I did not wish any one to suppose that I could make him an apology, and therefore I refrained from an immediate denial. But the hon. Gentleman has entirely misrepresented what I did say on that occasion. What I did say Tarn prepared to 944 say again, and in what I said I am borne out by the Report of the Iron-plate Committee. What I did state as to the result of the trial of the 150-pounder gun was this—The first shot of 150 lb., fired with 40 lb. of powder, struck a portion of the target which had been a good deal shaken, and did not go through; but the second shot, with 40 lb. of powder, struck nearly the same place, and did go through. It would have committed great devastation in the ship, and would possibly have gone through the opposite side. It could not go through the opposite side, because the target was only one side of the ship. I then described the next shot with 50 lb. charge. I stated on that occasion that the shot went clean through the plate and backing, and buried itself in the back of the target, where the piles which supported the target were placed; and I am bound to admit that I had the impression, in common with all who were present, that it had gone through the iron akin at the back. I believe that opinion has been modified. It did not go clean through; but I do not suppose that the Warrior, fired into at that distance, would not have received damage which would have jeopardized her very existence. ["Oh, oh!"] Well, that is my deliberate opinion as a naval man. I may be wrong, or I may be right; but I can only say, that I should be very sorry to stand in the Warrior receiving many shots from such a gun at that distance. I could read to the House the former report, but you will give me credit for having stated, as near as possible, the exact effect of it.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Sir, I think I may infer from what has been passing that the Committee would wish to come to a decision this evening upon the question before them, and I think I may say so the more confidently because this is only the first stage of the proceeding. It is really and substantially asking leave to bring in a Bill. The Bill, when brought in, will go through its several stages, and hon. Members will have the opportunity, both on the second reading and in Committee, to discuss any part of the arrangement which challenges observation. In the first place, I will make some remarks upon what fell from the hon. Baronet the Member for Stamford (Sir S. Northcote) who was very eloquent in defence of posterity. He objected to our plan because it throws upon posterity a burden which we ought to take upon ourselves. He reminds me a little 945 of an answer which might be given to him—similar to one which was given in the time of Mr. Pitt to somebody who was eulogizing the plan of a sinking fund on the ground that it would be relieving posterity from the burdens of the day—"Why should we do so much for posterity? What has posterity ever done for us?" I was somewhat surprised at the objection of the hon. Baronet, because his objection is founded upon a deliberately-adopted financial principle. He says it is not right or fit that services of this kind should be provided for by loan—that they are matters which ought to be the subject of annual estimate and of detailed discussion in Committee of Supply, and he wishes us to retrace our steps and adopt his views. But what happened two years ago when this question was first proposed to the House? When I had the honour of giving the reasons why this great expense—great as I admit it is—should be defrayed by loan, and should not form part of the annual burdens of the year, the hon. Baronet, if my memory does not deceive me, adopted the views of Her Majesty's Government and voted for the loan, although he now finds, on reflection, it conflicts with what he thinks are the just principles of finance. No doubt, the hon. Baronet remembers the example mentioned by the hon. Member for Liskeard as to changing opinions in this matter — changes which the hon. Gentleman so ably defended and so admirably illustrated. He taunted right hon. Friends of mine with having, on former occasions, differed with me in opinion, and having now agreed with me; whereas my hon. Friend himself formerly agreed with me in opinion, and now, unfortunately, differs from me. His example is undoubtedly an apology for the hon. Member for Stamford. But the House is not bound to follow the aberrations of his opinions. The House having deliberately sanctioned the proposal of the Government that these fortifications should be provided for by loan, the House need not upon any argument of the hon. Baronet retrace its steps and think it not a proper method of providing for the expense. The reason why I thought that the proper course was by loan was, that these fortifications are permanent works, made upon the freehold. They resemble the permanent improvements made upon a man's estate, for which he is justified in charging those who come after him. We thought, upon the same principle, that as 946 these fortifications are permanent works, it was fair to throw the burden upon some years to come by providing terminable annuities of thirty years for the purpose—not, indeed, to throw any burden upon the posterity of the hon. Baronet, because, I trust, he may live to see the conclusion of the charge—but to throw upon a certain period in advance a burden which we thought was too great to ask the House and country to submit to in the current year.
Then I am asked by the hon. Member for Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck) whether it is our intention to take up the Resolution which he persuaded the House to adopt some little time ago, and to provide out of the loan for floating defences. It is not our intention to do so. The original plan which we proposed was founded upon the Report of the Commissioners, in which there was made a distinction between permanent works and floating defences. The permanent works were to be of long duration. The floating defences were in their nature temporary, and could last only for a limited time. We thought permanent works were fit matters to be provided for by loan. We thought that floating defences ought to be provided for in the Votes and Estimates of the year. Since the period of the hon. Gentleman's Resolution I have communicated with my noble Friend at the head of the Admiralty, and I asked him whether, in his opinion, it would be desirable or necessary to take any credit in the loan for those floating defences which he is about to provide. My noble Friend said—No; he thought the annual Votes would provide sufficiently for those floating defences which were in contemplation. Therefore the loan will be confined to the purpose for which it was originally destined.
Many opinions have been quoted in the course of this discussion. Some hon. Gentlemen have found fault with our plan because opinions have been expressed, no doubt by very competent officers, different from ours and adverse to our plan; that has been the ground upon which some Gentlemen have objected to our plan. The right hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. Monsell) objects upon a totally different ground. He finds fault with the recommendations of the Commissioners because the Commissioners were unanimous. It is difficult to please Gentlemen who take such opposite views; but I do not find fault with the Report of the Commissioners because the Commissioners have unani- 947 mously come to the opinion which they have expressed. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State stated very truly that there was no subject connected with science upon which we should not find a number of persons differing diametrically in opinion, although they were all good judges of the subject. Take questions of legal improvement, take medical science, take military tactics, take naval tactics, and I defy you to find any proposal so plain and so demonstrable that there will not be found able men on the one side and also on the other. Well, that is the case with regard to the system of fortifications. All that the Government can do is to take the opinion of men whom they think fit and competent judges; and if they concur in the view of the Commissioners, then upon their own responsibility to propose the plan to Parliament and to recommend it. That is what we did, and what we do; and we see no reason to depart from our opinions in consequence of the different criticisms which we have heard, and the testimony which has been given to the ability of those officers who may have come to an opposite conclusion. Being firmly convinced that the system of fortifications which we have adopted is the one best suited for the defence of our naval arsenals, we proposed it two years ago; we abide by it now, and we ask another Vote to carry that system into effect.
The Amendment of my hon. Friend really almost negatives itself, because he says that we ought to be guided by that progress which is annually being made in the science of attack and defence — by which he does not mean strategical science, but only the progress which is made in weapons of offence and the resources of defence—and he also says that the navy is the main arm on which this country ought to rely. Well, I quite agree with both of these propositions, and contend that the course which we have pursued is perfectly consistent with faithfully carrying them into effect. Many hon. Gentlemen imagine that the fortifications which have been constructed are constructed upon old principles and without reference to the great improvements which have of late years been made in the means of offence. That is an entire mistake—it is exactly the reverse of the fact. Those fortifications have in many cases been constructed in consequence of the great improvements which have been made in artillery, and the greater range which cannon shot is capable 948 of taking. It is precisely because great improvements have been made in artillery that additional works of defence have been judged to be necessary; and these works, I contend, are constructed in accordance with the best and most recent principles of attack and defence which are appealed to by my hon. Friend. Well, then, I also say, that the whole foundation of our measures in this respect has been the fact that the navy is the great arm of defence in this country, because all our fortifications have for their object the protection of naval arsenals or naval stations. Go to Pembroke, go to Plymouth, go to Portland, go to Portsmouth, go to Sheerness, go to the Medway — all these fortifications are expressly intended for the protection of our arsenals and dockyards, without which you cannot have a navy at all. You might as well expect to have a good dinner without a kitchen, as a good navy without dockyards; and you cannot have good dockyards unless they are securely defended. If we adopted the recommendations of some of the hon. Gentlemen who have spoken, and left the arsenals to take care of themselves, it requires no great discernment to see that without dockyards you could have no navy. Well, then, dockyards being essential for the creation and maintenance of a navy, I say we are perfectly justified in recommending those measures of defence and protection which men of military and naval science, men of ability and integrity, have reported to be necessary for keeping our dockyards in a position of security against attack. There has been a great deal of disappointment expressed by Gentlemen in the course of this debate. On former occasions it was usual for Gentlemen who had not had an opportunity of delivering their speeches to publish a pamphlet entitled A Speech Intended to be Spoken. Now, I think that some of those speeches which we have heard to-night might better have been published in the shape of a pamphlet, because they apply to that which my right hon. Friend has not proposed. They were told by my right hon. Friend that it was not our intention to go on with the Spithead forts until next year. What he said was, that those Spithead forts have been suspended at the desire of the House of Commons, that a loss has been consequently incurred, that the season is now far advanced, and that the great question of the relative power of cannon and iron-cased ships required further experiments to solve it satisfactorily. 949 That being the case, we should not be justified in calling upon the House now to anticipate the decision of that question by going on this year with the Spithead forts. But many of the speeches which have been made were prepared on the supposition that we were going on with the Spithead forts immediately, and those speeches have been delivered notwithstanding the statement of my right hon. Friend.
The Commission originally recommended not forts to the exclusion of floating defences, but a, combination of both. Now, two or three months ago, in consequence of an action which took place under very peculiar circumstances in the United States of America, something occurred of which I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. Cobden) will write an account as the fourth panic. The House was seized with panic. Hon. Members thought that the contest between the Merrimac and the Monitor was decisive of the real value of iron-cased ships and forts, and in a panic they called upon Government to suspend the construction of the forts. We gave way. We did not think the contest decisive; but still there was enough in what had happened to justify us in suspending the construction of works as to which a doubt might exist whether they would be capable of fulfilling the purpose for which they were intended. The distance between those forts was stated to be about 2,200 yards; but the best constructors of artillery say that they will be able to make guns which at half that distance would batter the armour of an iron-cased ship. That remains to be seen. If those forts should turn out to be so placed that they could not accomplish the purpose for which they were intended, that would be a matter which the Government would be bound to lake into their consideration. But there can be no doubt of the general principle that forts as opposed to ships must have the advantage, because they may have a gun of any size you can manage, whereas a floating battery cannot sustain more than a certain weight. Well, then, the question for which hon. Members had prepared speeches of great ability, and great critical acumen, was withdrawn; and though it was very natural, and not at all to be found fault with, that hon. Gentleman should, even in anticipation of a question which would not come on until next spring, imagine that there was a fine opportunity for giving expression to that which had formed the subject of their meditations, the 950 House will see that a great part of the debate which they have been listening to does not apply to the question under consideration. That question is, whether we shall go on or not with a system of land defences which has been considered by the most competent judges to be necessary for the protection of our dockyards and naval arsenals.
The hon. Member for Norfolk has returned to his old position. He objects to the fort to be constructed in the rear of the breakwater at Plymouth, and says, if the Spithead forts are not to be built, why should we go on with the other? The answer is plain—the two questions are entirely separate and distinct. The objection against the forts at Spithead is, that their distance from each other is so great that iron-cased ships passing halfway between them would not be injured by their fire. That objection does not apply to the fort at the breakwater. The only practical objection made to that fort was that it would interfere with the navigation of the sound. Well, upon that point, the harbour master, the only witness called before the Commission, declared that it would not so interfere; and if that be so, it is quite evident that a fort interposed between the two others on each side of the entrance to the sound, and commanding everything outside of the breakwater, and everything between that and Drake's Island, will be of the greatest possible use in opposing any hostile vessel that may wish to enter. Therefore, the doubts which have arisen as to the expediency of the forts at Spithead do not apply to the case mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.
Some hon. Gentlemen deal very summarily with these matters. Some say, "Do not fortify your dockyards;" others say, "Do not have so great a standing army;" and others, again, maintain that the fleet is too large. That is not the common opinion of the country on any of those points; but if ail these opinions were acted upon, the result would be that the country would have neither fleet, nor army, nor a dockyard, and that we should have to rely entirely on the goodwill, kindness, and forbearance of our neighbours to protect us in all possible contingencies against any difficulties in which we might be involved. I do not think that is the feeling of the British nation. I think, on the contrary, that the British nation feels, and I am sure this House feels, that a country like 951 this ought to be on a footing of respectability, at all events, and with the means of defending itself against all enemies. I have been told this evening that the grounds on which I proposed this Vote on a former occasion—two years ago—were offensive to a neighbouring Power. I deny entirely that assertion. I then based the Vote, as I now do, upon grounds which are essential to a good understanding with all Powers. With respect to France, which was the Power mentioned, I say that a footing of equality in regard to self-defence is the only possible foundation for a strong friendship and alliance——paribus se legibus ambæInvictæ gentes æterna in fœdera mittant.So long as nations are equal, they are likely to be friends. We all know how quickly passions are excited, and how easily nations are led away. We know how impossible it is to reckon on the friendly feelings of any nation even for twelve months. We have had an example of this in America, and therefore we should be acting culpably towards ourselves, and not fairly towards other countries, if, in the notion or even the conviction that other countries would remain friendly to us, we should leave ourselves destitute of those means of defence which every nation is bound to provide for itself. The hon. Member for Finsbury (Sir M. Peto) has told us of the friendly disposition of the Emperor of the French. The hon. Member cannot be more fully convinced of that fact than myself, or the Government, or, indeed, every man in the country. I cannot, however, go along with the hon. Member in thinking that the mere abolition of passports in France is any great security for peace between the two nations, and I think that in making such an assertion the hon. Member rather amplifies a small matter. But the Emperor of the French in much more important things has shown a most friendly and cordial feeling towards this country. It is quite true that at the time of the Indian mutiny the Emperor of the French offered to us the greatest facilities for the purpose of sending troops across France, if we chose to avail ourselves of that channel of communication. It is also true that in our late dispute with America he volunteered of his own accord, without any asking on our part, to express an opinion, which had a great and powerful effect on the decision of the American Government. He might, if he had been so minded, have implied doubts as to the justice of 952 our demand, or have kept silence. He did no such thing, but in the most generous and frank manner he declared that the French notion of maritime law was in our favour, and not in favour of the United States. It is impossible too highly to praise the friendly disposition which the Emperor of the French, on all occasions, has shown towards this country; and, notwithstanding the doubts implied on a former occasion by an hon. Member, it is impossible for two Governments to be on a more cordial, intimate, and confidential footing with each other than Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the Emperor of the French are. But I say that this is not a ground on which a nation ought to repose in reference to a question of such vital interest as the means of defence against the possibility of attack. We have had an example of this in respect to America. Not more than a year and a half ago the whole population of America was bursting with enthusiasm in favour of England and the English Royal family on the occasion of the visit of the Prince of Wales. Any man would have said that this was a pledge of permanent peace between the two countries; but shortly afterwards the unhappy civil war, which is still raging, broke out, and the Northern Americans found fault with us for not taking part with them on that occasion. A burst of feeling of a different kind then manifested itself in the United States; and if the American Government had not been more prudent and friendly in tone and temper than the American public, both countries might have been involved in most serious difficulties.
It has been stated by the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Osborne), that two years ago I came down and proposed this measure as one to be carried into immediate operation. I did no such thing. We stated that the Report of the Commissioners showed that with a large annual expenditure the plan could be completed in four years. We found afterwards, that in consequence of the arrangements requisite to be made in reference to the purchase of land and other matters, it could not be done within that period. It will not be done within four years, but within a somewhat longer period; but is that a reason why, now when many of the works are in a state of great progress, when contracts have been made for some parts of them, and contracts are about to be entered into for the completion of others, we should 953 leave all the works unfinished, and "turning our backs on ourselves" (to use a phrase often criticised), lightly, recklessly, and without due consideration, abandon a system adopted after deliberation and full consideration, upon the best information, and with the authority of men who are competent judges in the matter? These works, when complete, will not be a menace to any country whatever, nor will they in any way increase the liability to war; but they will be a security for the continuance of peace. The hon. Member for Finsbury asked why did not the English Government come to an understanding with the Government of France to limit to a certain relative amount the naval forces of both countries. I say that that is not a proposition which one independent country could make to another. Even if England and France were the only Powers in the world that had navies, it is a proposition which neither would think of accepting. But we are not the only naval Powers. Other Powers, both in Europe and America, are creating navies—and iron-clad navies too — as fast as they can. The hon. Member for Liskeard has called the navy our natural arm of national defence; and, that being so, it is necessary, in order to have that navy, that we should have our dockyards also. As to the idea of giving up Portsmouth as a dockyard, and founding somewhere else a new establishment, that is a notion that cannot be entertained. Establishments like Portsmouth are the work of ages, have had immense sums expended on them, and are not lightly to be given up. The hon. Member said that the depth of Portsmouth harbour was not sufficient for the Warrior, but the depth has been, and will be, still further increased. Portsmouth has many recommendations as a general naval arsenal. Spithead is a refuge for the merchant vessels in the channel, and an anchorage for the Royal Navy, and no man in his senses would seriously recommend the Government to abandon Portsmouth and seek an establishment elsewhere. With regard to naval warfare, it is quite evident that steam now is the general instrument for the propulsion of vessels, whether made of wood or of iron. It is said that steam has made a blockade more easy. On the contrary, it has made it infinitely more difficult—for this reason, the blockaded force may get out at any time, by getting up steam, whilst the blockading squadron must go in from 954 time to time to get coal. We have on the southern coast of England but two places where men-of-war can coal with facility, namely, Portland and Dover. To coal at Spithead or in the Downs by means of lighters is an operation of difficulty. Having taken in their stock of coal alongside the pier at Dover or Portland, the ships can in the shortest possible time return to sea. Then it is said Dover is a place where fortifications are of no use. But Dover has been fortified for a long time, or fortified enough to enable a force landed thereto establish itself in a position from which it might be very difficult to dislodge it. But these are details that more properly belong to the discussion that will come on in Committee on the Bill. I will simply say that I hope and trust the House will not go back from its decision, taken by a large majority two years ago, the measure being exactly the same, and its principle exactly the same, as it then affirmed. And I hope the hon. Member for Liskeard, who moved the Amendment, will be satisfied with having discharged himself of that speech, which has done him credit, and showed much research and investigation, and reserving to a future stage of the Bill any objections he may still entertain to the measure we proposed, will not give the Committee the trouble of dividing to-night.
§ MR. DISRAELI
We have heard something to-night of the inconsistency and vacillation of the House of Commons. This House, like every popular assembly—and I trust the House of Commons will always be a popular assembly—must reflect, in a great degree, the feelings and convictions of the people of the country; and, no doubt, those feelings and those convictions, like all things human, are liable to change. But there is another body of men who might be expected to be superior to this mutability unfortunately incident to mankind—that body of men who are the responsible advisers of the Crown. One would think, from the gravity of their duties, from their position, from the care and pains they must take in inquiring into every subject that engages their attention, and for the right conduct of which they are responsible to their Sovereign, from the ample and accurate information they can acquire on all questions on which they are called to decide, that the responsible advisers of the Crown would be free from inconsistency and 955 vacillation on a matter of such grave importance as that which engages us this evening. Yet what has been the conduct of Her Majesty's Ministers on this subject? Are they free from the imputation of vacillation and inconsistency, which the right hon. Secretary for War indiscreetly, unjustly, and—without offence to him—I think, so untruly, throws on the men among whom he sits? What was the origin of this great scheme of fortification? A paper was laid on the table that prepared the House for an expenditure of £11,500,000. When the House was prepared for this expenditure by that paper, the Prime Minister explained the plan, and in the course of his speech the £11,500,000 came down to £9,000,000. In the course of the same evening the then Secretary of War, following up with a more luminous comment the exposition of the Prime Minister, reduced the future liability for carrying on these works to £5,000,000. And the present Secretary of War has tonight informed the Committee that their cost will be £6,500,000. There appears, therefore, to have been, if not inconsistency, at least great vacillation in the opinions of Her Majesty's Ministers on this subject. It is brought forward in a manner that deprives this House of its privilege of examining details; yet, even as to the financial part of the question, the opinions of the Government have been thus varied, contrary, and vacillating. And if we pursue the measure, do we find wanting that character of vacillation and inconsistency which attended the inception and introduction of this project? Why this scheme may be divided under three heads; there is the plan for land defences of our arsenals; there is the plan for the defence of our arsenals seaward; and there is the plan for the creation of inland arsenals. Well, the plan for the defence of our arsenals seaward is, I apprehend, relinquished; the plan for the creation of inland arsenals is also abandoned. And what has become of the third portion of the plan? I would ask those Gentlemen who impute vacillation and inconsistency to the House what becomes of the third plan on which they insist—that for the land defences of our arsenals? The noble Lord has this moment made an appeal ad misericordiam to the House, and says it will cost more to put an end to this project than to carry it into effect. Why, this is the excuse men make who have entered 956 into extravagant and unwise building projects, and having spent a certain sum of money without any adequate result, cannot reconcile themselves to the fact that the money is wasted, and are so tempted into fresh expenditure. That is the position in which we find ourselves; that is the history of the proceedings of Her Majesty's Government, who commenced the evening by charging the House of Commons with vacillation and inconsistency with regard to this important question.
The noble Lord has criticised some of the remarks made my hon. Friend the Member for Stamford. I confess it appears to me that of all the observations that have been made this evening those remarks of my hon. Friend were the most pertinent. They really touched the very point on which we want information. We are told that certain sums are expended in certain works; but we want to know what sums and where are they expended? It is only when we have this information before us that we can form any practical opinion of these works. The noble Lord's plan of defending our arsenals seaward by forts has really been demolished by the general opinion of the country. I apprehend that the general opinion as to the creation of inland arsenals has produced the same result. But as to the third portion of the noble Lord's scheme, that of the land defences, which has been commenced, which has been carried on for some time, and on which large sums have been expended, it is utterly impossible the House of Commons can give any practical opinion, unless they have some further information as to the amount of the expenditure and the places where it is to be incurred. These are the points we ought to have before us, and which we should have had before us if this business had been brought under our consideration in the usual Parliamentary manner. It is on that ground, but not on that ground alone, that my hon. Friend objected to the form in which this subject is introduced to the House. He objected to it upon grounds which I thought must hare been shared in by all the Members of the House, that the last resource we should adopt to defray this expenditure is a loan. The noble Lord has introduced a very stale story, which involves a very demoralizing doctrine in finance. He seems to think that posterity is a pack-horse, always ready to be loaded. And I think the principle of finance the noble Lord promulgated to- 957 night throws some light on that remarkable contrast between the policy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, during the last three years, and the expenditure recommended by the noble Lord. We have had a war expenditure in time of peace, combined, and erroneously combined, with a system of finance that only a peace expenditure could justify. The consequences of that combination may alarm us and other Members of the House; but when those consequences begin to appear—and they may be nearer than we suppose—they will perhaps be no source of alarm to the noble Lord, because when his financial embarrassments commence, he is perfectly ready to draw upon posterity. To-night he is establishing a precedent which, if sanctioned by the House, will allow him to engage the expenditure of the country in worthless purposes of any sort with impunity. My hon. Friend, therefore, has clearly put before the House the difficulty in which we are placed arising from the mode in which this subject is introduced. We have not that due control over the expenditure of the public money in the case of these fortifications which, whatever may be our opinion of the policy or impolicy of their construction—for of that I now say nothing—the House of Commons ought in my opinion to possess. It was for that reason that my hon. Friend made the observations which he addressed to the Committee to-night; and when the noble Lord taunts him with having changed his opinions on this subject since July, 1860, because then forsooth he did not enter his protest against raising the money by way of loan, I would remind him that many other persons besides my hon. Friend may also have changed the mood in which they view this question since that period. At the end of the year, after a severe financial campaign, after having fought almost every point involved in a complicated Budget—in which I may say in passing there was not the slightest allusion made to the expenditure requisite for these fortifications, by which omission the House of Commons was, if not intentionally, practically and absolutely misled, and when even the Minister particularly responsible for the finances of the country had said nothing on a subject so important as that now before us—the noble Lord brought forward this monster preposition; and. now, because my hon. Friend, after having given the matter 958 the due consideration which he had not then, at the fag end of a Session, had an opportunity of giving, objects to the principle on which it is proposed to raise the public money for this purpose, he is accused of having altogether departed from the views which he once entertained. But has not the noble Lord himself, let me ask, changed his views on the subject of this loan? Is the tone in which he addressed the House to-night that in which he recommended those fortifications to our notice in 1860? Is the tone in which he spoke of our relations with France the same to-night as it was then? Are the views to which he has given utterance to-night in regard to those relations identical in feeling or expression with those which he promulgated at the end of the Session of 1860? The noble Lord has tonight, in language of great propriety, and, so far as I can form an opinion, of great truth, described the relations which exist, and which I think should exist, between England and France. In the year 1860, however, the noble Lord came down to the House, and stating that the truth could be no longer concealed, told us that this country was in imminent danger, and that he did not know at what moment the cloud might burst. He then gave us to understand that it was France we had to fear. And what was France to do—that humane and civilized ally, by whom the noble Lord now remembers the advantages conferred upon us during the Indian mutiny, to whom we are indebted for so much courtesy in the case of the Trent—services acknowledged, I would remind the noble Lord, before to-night, by hon. Members on both sides of the House in speaking of the French Emperor and nation? But what, only two years ago, were we led to expect from this our ally and neighbour? We were asked to believe that a blow might be struck suddenly and immediately by her against us; the noble Lord told us, in short, that France was the enemy against whom we must prepare; and what was she to do? To strike at the heart of the country; to sail up the Thames, to enter London, there to dictate an inglorious peace, while she levied exactions on a conquered people. When, then, the noble Lord taunts my hon. Friend with not having seized the opportunity, at the end of July, 1860, to protest against the form in which it was proposed to raise this money, he ought to bear in mind that others have changed 959 their views on the subject since then, and that the calm and quiet financier is not always master of himself when a Prime Minister comes down to the House and makes those terrible communications to an appalled and affrighted House of Commons. But let me now observe that we are involved in a somewhat peculiar position with respect to the Resolution before us. The Resolution of the Government asks us to sanction that which they themselves say they do not wish us to adopt, and this anomaly is explained by a technical reason which I did not accurately collect from the speech of the Secretary of State, but which I will take it for granted was sufficient and satisfactory. Then we come to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Liskeard, to which the great objection is, that, as matters stand, it does not offer to the House any clear issue. In consequence of the shiftings of the Government—in consequence of the Government, before the debate commenced to-night, relinquishing two of its three schemes, the Amendment is so framed that it no longer applies to the real state of the question, nor meets the necessities of the case. If we agree to this Amendment, we shall be pronouncing an opinion which practically is a definite one with respect to the proposed forts at Spithead, the allusion to which constitutes the most prominent portion of the Amendment, but which are relinquished by the Government. I may add, that if anything was ever satisfactorily demonstrated in this House, it is that the rule, the validity of which the Government have recognised with respect to Spithead, also applies to Plymouth. The noble Lord, indeed, is the only person sitting on the Treasury Bench who attempts to controvert that proposition. He does not, however, at all appear to me to meet the difficulties of the question. He mainly relies on the evidence taken by the Commission on the subject. But it should be borne in mind that the Commission examined only one witness, and that that witness was the harbour-master. Now, one witness may be, no doubt, enough when he happens to be of your own opinion; but those who have heard from persons of authority that the construction of this fort might seriously injure the navigation of Plymouth Sound, would naturally wish, that if an investigation into the matter took place, the evidence of some person, at least, should be taken who was of opinion that its construction would have that 960 effect. The evidence, however, of only one witness, he too being a local and official witness, was taken, and the result, under such circumstances, can scarcely, I think, be regarded as satisfactory to the House. What the Committee want is, that all these points should be brought separately before them; and, now that we have proceeded so far in the construction of the works, I think it would be more satisfactory that we should endeavour to obtain some more practical mode of pronouncing an opinion upon them than can result from the Amendment before us, which, after what has taken place, is of an imperfect character. There is, however, one observation of the noble Lord to which I cannot help referring—I allude to his justification of his proposition for a loan for the construction of these works. He says that we are, by means of these fortifications, improving as it were our freehold, and that as a consequence they are works, the cost of which we may properly and justly call upon posterity to defray. But let me remind the noble Lord that we are every year erecting fortifications in this country, and that the charge for them appears in the annual Estimates. Is not the freehold equally improved by the works for which provision is thus made as by those which the noble Lord now asks us to sanction? Is not the freehold equally improved when we vote £500,000 for Keyham Docks as when we vote a similar sum for the fort at Plymouth Sound? I want to know where the line is to be drawn, if the principle advanced by the noble Lord is to be adopted. Every public work in this country may be looked upon as an improvement of the freehold, yet the expenditure for such works generally appears in the Estimates. The Houses of Parliament are an improvement of the freehold—I trust a permanent improvement, and one which posterity may enjoy and admire. The expenditure for the Houses of Parliament, however, appeared in the Estimates. And what is the result of this new financial principle of the noble Lord? I find, if I am not mistaken, that in this and in the last year the usual Vote for fortifications is no longer contained in our Estimates; but, in order that they may appear of less amount, it is now defrayed out of the money raised under the Act already passed on this subject. I beg, therefore, the Committee to observe the new and dangerous course into which we are now entering, 961 which may be the means of carrying on a war expenditure, not by increased taxation—which it is not probable that the country will bear — but by a system of loans. Under these circumstances, I confess it appears to me that the Committee is not placed in a satisfactory condition as regards this expenditure. I agree in thinking that we have been hasty and precipitate in adopting this great scheme, and in assenting to the loose and dangerous machinery by which the funds have been raised to carry it into effect. But it is useless to regret the past. The object is now to compensate as much as we can for our past errors, see if it is possible to exercise a due control over this outlay, and at least know for what objects our money is expended, and where it is expended. Now, it appears to me that the safe mode by which we can approximate to such a conclusion is by allowing a Bill to come into Committee; and then, upon every clause of the Bill, we shall have the opportunity of examining those questions in detail. When the Plymouth fort is brought under our consideration, the opinion of the Committee may thus be taken upon it, and we can really discuss with the requisite knowledge, and with the time and patience which the question deserves, whether there is any essential difference between the course which we should take with regard to the Spithead and the Plymouth forts. For myself, therefore, I must say, that particularly after the great changes and concessions which the Government have made to-night, entirely altering the aspect of the question — giving up the inland arsenal, giving up, as I apprehend, all the seaward defences of our arsenals, and only retaining the landward expenditure, on the ground that money has been spent, and that it would be more costly to leave those defences unfinished than to complete them—I think, under these circumstances, our great object should be to get the Bill into Committee, and there take the opportunity of discussing these questions in detail. Our course will be facilitated if no Amendment is pressed tonight. The Amendment now before the Committee will give a false inference to the country, and in this I agree entirely with the noble Lord—namely, that it is much better, when this Vote is passed with the interpretation put upon it by the Secretary of State, that we should go into Committee, and avail ourselves of the opportunities of scrutinizing the ex- 962 penditure which will there be afforded to us.
SIR FREDERIC SMITH
said, that having seconded the Amendment of his hon. Friend (Mr. Bernal Osborne), he should now call upon him not to press it.
§ MR. BERNAL OSBORNE
I do not think I have any reason to regret the discussion which has taken place; for although it has been made a matter of taunt that speeches have been delivered on the subject of these Spithead forts, I think it is more a matter of taunt to the Government that they should put such a Resolution upon the paper never intending to propose it. What alternative had I, not knowing the secret councils of the Treasury bench, but to master the subject as well as I was able? I leave it to the Committee to say whether I did master the subject, and whether any detailed answer has been given to my objections. It has been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War that no sane man could propose such an Amendment as mine, or could suggest the postponement of these works; yet in the next breath, with the sanity which generally distinguishes the right hon. Gentleman, he proposed himself to postpone the further construction of the Works at Spithead. What an answer this is to the Resolution which the right hon. Gentleman himself moved! But I go further, and say, that if the works at Spithead are postponed, the same principles apply to the forts at Plymouth. The noble Lord went off on the forts behind the breakwater, but there are other forts at Plymouth to which the same conditions apply as to those at Spithead, the only difference being that the Plymouth forts are 1,500, while the Spithead forts are 2,000 yards apart. However, I will not urge this point to-night. The noble Lord (Lord C. Paget) said he would offer no apology to me. Well, I asked for none. I can hardly expect that the noble Lord, who, when out of office, accused the Admiralty of spending £5,000,000, which never appeared in the Estimates, and who failed to make any apology to Sir Bald win Walker when he was shown to be quite in the wrong—I can hardly expect him to make an apology to so humble an individual as myself. But when he comes down and endeavours to salve over his explanation respecting the experiments at Shoeburyness, I put it to the hon. and gallant Member the Chairman of the Iron Plate Committtee (Sir J. Hay), whether I have 963 not stated accurately the facts of those experiments, and whether the noble Lord did not give the House to understand that those experiments had been entirely successful? I come now to the speech of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, to which I listened with pleasure, for his remarks upon our French allies must be a subject of congratulation not only to the hon. Members of this House but to every man in the country. The noble Lord, however, has slain a great many giants of his own creation. He said for example, that we were willing to abandon Portsmouth Dockyard, though no such argument was ever used on either side of the House, and that we wished for peace at any price—a sentiment which we shall equally repudiate. Sir, we are as anxious as any men can be for the proper defence of the country, but we question the efficiency of the plan proposed by the Government. I question the enormous expenditure which you are about to incur on the Report of this Commission, which will insure no adequate results. But I do not wish to prolong this debate. The Government have made concessions; and I shall take the advice which has been so courteously given to me on the other side of the House, and shall not press the Amendment.
§ MR. BRIGHT
The proposal of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) appears reasonable enough if the facts be with him. But I understood the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War to say that the Bill which he was about to introduce was merely a continuance Bill. If it be so, it may consist only of one clause, continuing the Act passed two years ago, and then we shall have very little opportunity of discussing any of those details. Now, I gathered from what the noble Lord said, that there would be an opportunity in Committee of discussing the points comprised in this Resolution. It may be, therefore, that the Secretary of State was wrong in the description which he gave of the Bill, and in that case, perhaps, he will be good enough to say so, and let us know, before we throw away the present opportunity, whether the Bill will be simply a continuance Bill, or one including in its clauses the different proposals to which it will refer.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
The Bill consists of twenty-two clauses, being a repetition of the former Act, and it also contains a schedule in which the different 964 works included in the former schedule are set out, with the sum which it is proposed to expend on each.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ House resumed.
§ Resolution to be reported To-morrow.