HC Deb 23 May 1862 vol 166 cc2113-6

said, he rose to call attention to the increased expenditure for National Defences in time of Peace, and to move for Papers respecting the Armaments of France. The subject was one of great importance, not only to the taxpayers of this country, but to every hon. Member in the House who had come there pledged to retrenchment and economy. He was afraid that when such hon. Gentlemen met their constituents at the end of the Session they would have but a sorry account to give of themselves. He believed that the armaments of France were far from being so large as had been stated, and hoped to be able to show that they had lately been much reduced. The noble Lord stated the other night that France had built and was building thirty-one iron ships and had 646,000 men under arms. [Viscount PALMERSTO: That is a mistake; it should be 446,000.] He must then have misunderstood the noble Viscount. He stated, however, that in addition there were 170,000 conscripts of the present year who might be called out in a moment, besides 200.000 of the National Guard. When M. Fould entered office, Europe was told that France was about to practise economy in all her national expenditure, and especially with regard to her army and navy. The statement of the noble Lord, however, was most inconsistent with the observance of those promises. Last year a law was made that no extraordinary loan should be granted for war purposes; and the Army Estimates for the present year were set down at 375,000,000f., as against an expenditure in 1857—a year in which there was no war—of 411,000,000f. Why could not Her Majesty's Government give the House some clear and correct account of the army and navy of our neighbours? Attached to our embassy at Paris there was a naval and military aide-de-camp, whose special function it was to furnish this country with accurate information as to the strength of the united services of France. He believed that every facility was afforded to them by the Government of the Emperor, and he thought that it was most desirable that their reports should be laid upon the table of the House. He spoke from good information when he said that His Imperial Majesty desired nothing more than that the people of England should understand his intentions towards them, and should be in possession of the actual state of his forces. The French Minister of Marine told the two gentlemen he had already alluded to that there would not be the slightest augmentation, but, on the contrary, there would probably be a diminution in the effective of the men, though there might be a slight increase in the number of vessels, on account of the expeditions sent to Cochin China and to Mexico. Within the last fifteen days the army had been reduced by the 101st and 102nd regiments of the Line, and only a short time before the 103rd had likewise been exempted from service. These papers, if granted, would allay the fears of invasion, and nothing more would be heard of exaggerated armaments or of the Island of Sardinia romance. He was not one who wanted to see the country defenceless. On the contrary, he wished the army and navy placed in a position commensurate with the power and the dignity of this great country. But there could be no doubt that the Government of late years had been driving the country into extremes upon that point, for which there was no justification whatever.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "there be laid before this House, Papers respecting the Armaments of France, —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


I can assure my hon. Friend that I am not aware of a panic anywhere but on the title-page of a pamphlet. There has been no panic in the country. There has been a deliberate conviction, calmly and very wisely arrived at, that it was necessary for this country to be in a state of readiness as to its armaments, both by sea and land, which would enable it to defend itself in case of attack. I would hardly venture to say that we are at present in that condition; but that is the condition we have aimed at; it is the condition the Government that preceded us endeavoured to place the country in; and we have been following their track in that respect, adapting our course to the change of circumstances, as far as the Votes of Parliament have enabled us to do so. I will state at once that I have no objection to produce to this House, as far as we can obtain it, a statement of the military and naval forces of the French empire, extracted from official documents published in France. Of course, if the hon. Gentleman asks me for confidential communications made by military and naval officers who are employed in France to give us information, I must decline to give them. But the French Government have published in the Moniteur de la Flotte, the Moniteur de l' Armée, and in their budgets, a statement of their military and naval force which I have no doubt could be obtained in an authentic shape for the information of the hon. Gentleman and of the House. The hon. Gentleman referred to the report of something which I had said here on a former occasion, in the newspaper report of which, notwithstanding its general accuracy, there was a mistake of a figure. On the 1st of January the French army consisted of 446,348 men under arms. There was, besides, a reserve of 170,000 men liable to be called out at a fortnight or three weeks' notice, making altogether 616,548—not 816,000 as I was represented to have said. In addition to this force actually under arms, or liable to be called out for service, there were 265,417 National Guards, making a total available force of 881,965. And I stated that beside these there were 70,000 men of the conscription for the present year, liable to be called out if their services should be required. I also stated that of the 446,000, it was intended at the time to transfer between 30,000 and 40,000 from the number under arms to the reserve, making no difference in the really available force, though the change is attended with a certain amount of economy. I will not go into details as to the guns; but I abide by the statement I have just made, for I can give the details of the force. These are:—Infantry, 273,418; cavalry, 61,352; artillery, 38,293; engineers, 7,114; gendarmerie, 21,638; field train, 8,803; foreign corps, 19,598; staff, 16,332; making the total which I have already mentioned. With regard to the navy, the number of iron-plated ships built or building—for of course we talk of them only—including the nine or ten floating batteries which were made at the same time as our own for the Crimean war, amounts, I believe, to something like thirty-six. As I stated on the former evening, including our floating batteries made at the same time as the French, we have, I think, barely twenty-five iron ships, built or building. The authentic returns published by the French Government will tally with what I have stated.


said, that the whole of the question ought to have been brought before the House and seriously considered on the Estimates. It appeared to him there was some danger of similar questions being used as ad captandum arguments to assail the Government. It rather seemed to him that the object of the Motion was to bridge over the interval which existed between that (the Opposition) side of the House and hon. Members below the gangway opposite. He therefore rose to enter a protest against such misapplications as the perversion of such subjects to political purposes.


said, that after the statement of the noble Lord at the head of the Government he would beg leave to withdraw his Motion.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.