§ MR. COBDEN
Sir, in accordance with the terms of the Notice which I have given, I beg—with the permission of the House—to offer a few words on the subject of the large number of obsolete vessels of war in the British navy, and also with reference to the conduct of our naval administration which has produced that state of things. In referring to this matter, I wish it to be understood that by the term "obsolete" I allude to the vessels which the circumstances of the times have rendered useless for the purposes of war. If it should be objected that such a Motion no longer raises any practical question, inasmuch as in Committee of Supply, sub silentio, but not without individual protest, a Vote has been passed enabling the Government to maintain 76,000 men for the navy of the year, I beg to say, in reply, that I do not acknowledge that Vote as necessarily final. It will be in the power of the House, if it think proper, on subsequent and more important stages of the measure, to review, and, if necessary, to reverse the Vote. After the remarkable utterances made by a Conservative Peer in another place, to which we must not more particularly allude, expressing disapprobation of the excessive number of men voted for the navy this year, I think it cannot be deemed improbable that this question will again come under the consideration of the House. Now, Sir, I will describe what I mean by the term obsolete ships of war. In the last Return of the Admiralty presented to this House with regard to the number of war vessels, it is stated that there are 558 wooden steam-vessels, of which 106 are either line-of-battle ships or large frigates constructed of wood, leaving nearly 450 of a smaller kind, ranging from corvettes to the smallest 1072 wooden ships, as well as gunboats. With this latter class of smaller vessels I do not propose to deal. Those vessels, although built of wood, and therefore liable to destruction from the combustible missiles which have rendered obsolete the larger ones, may and must be serviceable in barbarous and uncivilized regions, and may be used as a sort of police of the seas. Therefore, I beg it to be understood that my remarks apply strictly and exclusively to the 106 ships to which I have ventured to call the attention of the House. I may state that sixty-six of them are line-of-battle ships, and forty are large frigates. And when I speak of frigates, I should desire to explain to the House what I really mean by the term. Thirty-five of them are upwards of 2,000 tons, and fourteen upwards of 3,000 tons. Now, we all know that Nelson's flag-ship, the Victory, was only 2,300 tons; so that these frigates average a larger tonnage than the vessel which Nelson commanded at Trafalgar. When I designate these 106 large wooden vessels as obsolete, I wish the House to understand that I do not merely speak on my own authority. I am not stating a fact which was before unknown. The truth is, the causes from which have arisen the belief that these vessels are no longer useful, are not of recent origin, but are some twenty years old. They sprang from a discovery on the part of an eminent French artillerist, by which bomb shells, which up to that time were projected only in parabolic motion through the air, falling at random anywhere, might be projected horizontally with all the precision of solid round shot. As it is necessary to fix opponents to the point at issue, I beg to say, that the wooden line-of-battle ships have been rendered obsolete, not by the adoption of the iron-clad gunboats or vessels of war. No doubt iron-clad impenetrable vessels of war have rendered these wooden ships additionally and conclusively useless; but they were objectionable and open to condemnation before ever an iron-cased gunboat went to sea. I remember—for I am an old scholar in these things, for which, indeed, I have no taste, but which have been forced on my attention — I remember, in 1849, sitting on a Committee to inquire into the Ordnance. Before that Committee Sir Thomas Hastings, then occupying an important position at the head of the gunnery establishment, stated, that in consequence of the adoption of those shells with 1073 horizontal motion, if we went into a sea-fight with twenty-five line-of-battle ships, instead of the action lasting ten hours, as such events used to do, it would more likely be over in ten minutes, and, instead of our coming out of it with all our ships, we should probably lose half of them. The American Government, having very little money to spend on the navy, have shown much more forethought than we have. They have never constructed a line-of-battle ship for the last twenty years. They abandoned these ships, not because iron vessels came into use, but because they found swift corvettes and such-like to be safer vessels than the large cumbrous three-dockers which offered so broad a target to the incendiary shells. We have also had two or three expressions of opinion on the subject from authorities at home, and I appeal to them because I am anxious not to depend solely on my own opinion. The hon. and gallant Member for Harwich (Captain Jervis) speaking lately on this question, said that a shell now acted as a mine; it burst on passing through the side of a vessel, and would so shatter it that a wooden line-of-battle ship would be noting better than a slaughter-house. Again, the hon. and gallant Member for Wake-field (Sir John Hay) who is an authority in these matters, has told us of an experiment where shells were tried on an old brig—the Hussgr—which was on fire at the twelfth round. It seems, then, that half a broadside sets a vessel in flames beyond the possibility of extinction. Such being the case, other countries, long before we took the hint, ceased to build largo vessels of war. We have continued to build them, and we have now got the number on hand of which I have spoken. I do not under take to blame any one because we have got some line-of-battle ships in hand. Whenever a change takes place, we must experience some loss in a heavy residue of useless articles; but I have a great grievance to allege against the Admiralty of successive Governments for having left us with so enormous a number of useless and obsolete ships of war. I have therefore thought right to put this notice on the paper. With whom, then, does the fault lie? It is admitted on all hands to be a fault. Will any Gentleman of nautical experience, with a head on his shoulders and a reputation to care for, get up and tell me, that if these 1061 arge frigates and line-of-battle ships had not been in existence, one of them would now be regarded 1074 as a useful vessel of war? If nobody will venture to say so, we may safely conclude that these vessels are quite useless. If we had wooden vessels of war to oppose to wooden vessels of war, it might be said, "Other countries have got these line-of-battle ships, and it is therefore necessary that we should have them too;" but the introduction of iron-clad vessels, and especially of impenetrable gunboats, has rendered these line-of-battle ships, not only additionally useless, but actually a danger and a snare, because it is now frankly acknowledged that a single gunboat making its appearance is a sufficient justification for any number of these wooden vessels to take to their heels and run away. What has happened in America? A blockade established by these wooden vessels has been raised by one iron gunboat. Another iron vessel improvised for the occasion, made of railway iron, in one of the Southern ports, where the people are not apt in mechanical contrivances, suddenly made its appearance, and in almost a few minutes massacred the whole crew of one of the largest wooden frigates in the American navy—a ship larger, I believe, than any of our frigates. Nay, more, if another iron-clad vessel had not come to the rescue, it is the opinion of the best nautical authorities that that single iron-clad would have cleared the whole coast of Northern America of wooden vessels. If that be so, and nobody of authority on naval matters will gainsay it, what follows? We have 106 of these large wooden vessels, which in all former times would have been regarded as the very mainstay and strength of England, but which are now of no advantage to us, which gives us no strength as against a foreign enemy, and which, indeed, are actually a weakness and a danger. If we were at war to-morrow, I challenge any naval officer in this House or out of it to say that we would send any one or all of these large wooden ships to oppose a single iron-clad vessel that may now be possessed by Prance or the United States. Such being the case, it is quite clear that we are in a dilemma of a very serious kind, and one which calls for the consideration of every man who has the interests of his country at heart. How is it that we have arrived at this state of things? Is it because some new invention has suddenly surged up, taking us unawares, and leaving no choice to the Admiralty but to continue the manufacture of these large wood- 1075 en ships? Quite the contrary. We have had warnings from all directions. We have had warnings from France and from America, and warning voices have been raised in our own country by the most eminent nautical men, all proclaiming for years that we were coming to this. I think it is honourable to naval men that they have so frankly declared the utter worthlessness of these large wooden ships of war, because, no doubt, the poetry and romance of the navy are thought to be associated with the quarter-decks of our line-of-battle ships. There appears at first sight, something less noble, less dignified in a Monitor or a Merrimac than in a line-of-battle ship. I am not disposed to agree with that. I think power, wherever it is—-intellect, wherever it is — gives the real rank in the world; and I believe that the naval authorities, in abandoning the traditions of the old wooden ships and espousing the cause of Captain Coles's cupola ship and other inventions, not only show true patriotism, but take a wise view even of their own interests as professional men. According to the estimate of Mr. Scott Russell, who ought to know, we have probably spent during the last eight years about £30,000,000 in the material of a wooden navy that is now quite useless. I take the 106 ships I have spoken of as having cost, with their contingents, £20,000,000. I will not say the Admiralty is accountable for the whole of this £20,000,000, but I firmly believe that the naval administration is fairly responsible for the loss of £10,000,000 of it. I believe £10,000,000 has been wasted in the construction of large wooden vessels since other countries have known, and our own Government ought to have known, that these line-of-battle ships would be useless. With whom must the blame rest? I think it should be divided between, the two sides of the House, or, at all events, the two front benches, for I hope the other benches will be able to absolve themselves from responsibility. I go back to the time when the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich (Sir J. Pakington) was First Lord of the Admiralty, in 1859. He began what he called a reconstruction of the navy. It was no reconstruction of the navy. It was the conversion of great wooden line-of-battle ships into screw vessels, after other countries had abandoned these constructions, and I venture to say that the right hon. Gentleman was aware of that 1076 circumstance. I hold in my hand a paper of a very curious kind, which I wonder has not attracted more attention in this House. It is now somewhat out of date. It is the Report of a Committee appointed by the Treasury to inquire into the Navy Estimates from 1852 to 1858, and into the comparative state of the navies of England and France. That Report arose in this way. The Earl of Derby's Government came into power in 1858. They had left office in 1852. In the interval a Whig Government under various heads had held the reins of power. The Earl of Derby's Government, looking back on those six years, saw that there had been a very great waste of labour and capital in our dockyards. It was, no doubt, thought, and it really was, a good party move to bring out a Report of the proceedings of the Admiralty and the naval administration during those six years. Such is the nature of the document that I hold in my hand. There is, first, a Minute of the 1st of December, 1858, which appoints a committee of gentlemen in the Treasury to draw up an account of the expenditure on our navy during the six years from 1852 to 1858, and on the French navy, as far as they could, for the same time. It was a review, in fact, of the doings of the opposite party in naval administration for six years; and we are likely, under these circumstances, to get more of the truth than when a Government appoint a committee to inquire into their own doings. The minute under which the committee was appointed is signed "D." I do not know what that "D." stands for. There were two D.'s in the Treasury at the time, and both were men quite competent to appreciate the value of such a document as that I have here. I must premise that this Report was in the hands of the Government at the time when the right hon. Baronet brought forward the Navy Estimates in February, 1859; but it was not delivered to the House of Commons till the following April. Now, the whole tendency of the Report is this:—It shows, what it was the object of the able man who signed himself "D." to show, that during the six years from 1852 to 1858 there had been great maladministration in the English naval department, and that there had been comparatively great economy and judgment displayed in the French marine.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to ask him 1077 when that paper was presented to Parliament?
§ MR. COBDEN
I will tell the right hon. Baronet all about it. The Minute is dated December 1, 1858. The right hon. Gentleman brought forward his Navy Estimates in February, 1859, and this paper was "ordered to be printed by the House of Commons" on the 4th of April in the same year. It was not in the hands of the Members of the House when the right hon. Baronet brought forward his Estimates. It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman, in some way or other, mistook his case altogether. He had a brief put into his hands to indict certain parties, and he commenced by making an attack upon other parties. In bringing forward his scheme for the reconstruction of the navy he alarmed the country with an outcry that the French were making great and undue preparations in their naval department. This Report, so far from justifying that, shows that in the number of seamen the English navy was scarcely ever so strong in proportion to the French as it was then. All that it states is that the French Government had been engaged in very prudently converting their sailing vessels into screw line-of-battle ships, whereas, we had been all the time building screw line-of battle ships, and leaving our sailing vessels to rot in the docks. I may add, parenthetically, as bearing on matters of which I can promise that you will hear more before the Session is over— I may remind the House that between 1850 and 1852 began the system of converting sailing vessels into screw line-of-battle ships. It was acknowledged about the year 1850 that sailing line-of-battle ships would no longer be of any use, and from that time to 1859 the process had been going on of converting sailing line-of-battle ships into screws. And this Report, I repeat, says that while the English Government had been wasting their money in building new wooden line-of-battle ships in order to put screws into them, the French had been more wisely changing their sailing vessels into screws. But there is nothing in this Report which warranted the right hon. Gentleman in getting up in this House in 1859 and raising a panic as he did by declaring that the French Government were engaged in making undue naval preparations. More than that, I say that the able man whose initial "D." is appended to this document never could have con- 1078 templated any such use as that being made of it. But there are other things that go to show that our Admiralty, which is an old offender, has wasted the public money. In this Report some tables are given that are most eloquent in themselves, and the few figures that I will read are exceedingly instructive. Here is an account of the number of English and French sailing vessels in the years 1852 and 1858. In 1852 the British Government had 299 sailing vessels, and in 1858 it had 296, showing a reduction in six years of only 3. The French in 1852 had 258 sailing vessels, and 144 in 1858, thus having diminished in six years their number of ships by 114. The reason for this difference was, that the French were converting their sailing vessels into screws, and our Admiralty were allowing good sailing vessels to rot in ordinary while they were building new vessels, in order to put steam-engines into them. But here is another table, still more instructive. These figures are very eloquent; it is an account of the English and French vessels of all kinds, both sailing ships and steamers, in 1852 and 1858. In 1852 the British had 475 sailing vessels and steamers, and in 1858 they had 760, being an increase of 285 in six years. The French in 1852 had 380 sailing vessels and steamers of all kinds, and 408 in 1858, being an increase in six years of only 28. France had been, as I before said, converting her sailing ships into steamers. Well, what is the conclusion drawn by the framers of this Report? Why, they recommend that the English Government should follow the wise example of the French. And the right hon. Gentleman himself—I will do him this credit—in bringing forward his Navy Estimates, so far improved upon the mismanagement of those who went before him that he did commence converting nine sailing line-of-battle ships that had been left apparently to rot by his predecessors. He also began the construction of ironclad vessels by ordering the Warrior to be built; but I am not sure that that will help his case, because at the very time he was laying down iron-clad vessels, he entered frantically upon this career of converting large wooden line-of-battle ships, and that certainly diminishes the justification which one might otherwise offer for him. The right hon. Gentleman, in the course of his speech on that occasion, said the French were making undue preparations in respect of line-of-battle ships; but 1079 in the Report from which I have read there is just the very opposite statement. The two assertions are so completely at variance that I should like to hear the right hon. Gentleman's own explanation on this point. It is of advantage that we should have these matters brought out face to face; and I should like to know how, with this passage of this Report in his hands, the right hon. Gentleman could have raised the cry of French aggression, and stated that France was making undue preparations in the construction of line-of-battle ships. Here is an extract from the Report—So convinced do naval men seem to be in France of the irresistible qualities of these ironclad ships that they are of opinion that no more ships of the line will be laid down, and that in ten years that class of vessels will have become obsolete." The Report adds that "No line-of-battle ship had been laid down since 1856 in France, and there had not been a single three-decker on the stocks since that year.Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman and the Admiralty had fair warning from their own officials of what France was doing. I must say that since reading that Report it has always been to me utterly incomprehensible how, with that statement in his hands, he should have made that speech in 1859, exciting so much panic here and out of doors. I was not in Parliament when the right hon. Gentleman brought forward the Navy Estimates. I was in America. When I came home and found myself a Member of this House, I took this Report, which then lay waiting for me, but which the right hon. Gentleman may have forgotten, as others seem to have done; and the very first time I had an opportunity of speaking in this House— namely, about the month of June, I brought this document out, and I said, "Why, it proved the very opposite of what you Stated in introducing your Navy Estimates." And here it is, bearing just the same interpretation now, but landing us in this dilemma, that the steps taken by the right hon. Gentleman have led, no doubt, to a waste of £10,000,000 sterling; and even that amount, I fear, is much under the mark. Well, if I turn from the right hon. Gentleman opposite to my noble Friend the present Secretary to the Admiralty, I am almost puzzled to understand which is the worse case. My noble Friend has been my teacher in this matter of naval architecture. I drew inspiration from him, ay, as long as six years ago. I remember his speeches, how admirable 1080 for their forethought, their intelligence, their perfect knowledge of his profession. But now what an absence there is of such utterances as we had from him in 1857! I will read some of them, that the House may mark the difference. I am not much addicted to troubling the House with extracts, but I want to show authority for the course I wish to see taken on this subject, and I appeal for that purpose from the Secretary of the Admiralty of 1863 to the Lord Clarence Paget of 1857. Speaking on the 18th of May, 1857, the noble Lord said—All his own experience went to show that line-of-battle ships were not now so important an arm in war as they formerly were. Formerly line-of-battle ships carried heavier guns than other ships; but now every corvette, sloop, and gunboat carried heavy guns, and he was convinced that no force of large ships could withstand the legion of gunboats, sloops, and corvettes which they saw at Spithead last year." [3 Hansard, cxlv. 438.]Again, he recurred to the subject in the same speech, and said—In his opinion line-of-battle ships were not the instruments by which in future the fate of empires would be decided." [3 Hansard, cxlv. 439.]He added that—Napoleon had observed, that if he could only command the Channel for forty-eight hours, he would subjugate this country. He might, however, come to our shores at the present day with seventy or eighty ships of-the-line, and yet not be enabled to effect a landing in the face of that noble fleet of small vessels which the First Lord of the Admiralty had given within the last few years.Again, on the 12th of April, 1858, the noble Lord reiterated the same opinions with even still greater confidence. He said—He believed it to be the opinion of the navy that it would be wise to pause in the construction of these enormous vessels. That opinion was gaining ground in this country, and much more was it gaining ground in France. He had been lately at Paris, and had had conversations with French officers on the subject; and, whatever reports the late First Lord of the Admiralty might have heard respecting the French navy, he could give him positive information, that so far from there being any activity in building large ships, they were waiting to see what would be done in this country. He was pursuaded, and it was the general opinion of the naval profession, that line-of-battle ships were not destined to play an important part in future naval wars. It was believed that these ships would be superseded in the line-of-battle, and more particularly in attacking forts, by ships with one tier of heavy guns, and their sides cased with iron. He believed with the hon. and gallant Admiral the Member for Southwark (Sir Charles Napier) that in ten years 1081 three-deckers would be unknown, being cut down into single-deck ships; and, holding that opinion, he thought it was a wasteful expenditure of the public money to go on year by year, constructing that class of vessels." [3 Hansard, cxlviii. 930.]That was the noble Lord when out of office; and, really, when I think of what he was and what he is, it confirms me in the conviction I have long entertained of the great risk men run in taking seats upon the Treasury bench. Who can say that he would be proof against the contagion, or that he would remain free from that obliviousness of all his past opinions and declarations which a place on that bench seems calculated to engender? The noble Lord came into office as Secretary to the Admiralty in the spring of 1859, taking that office on the retirement of the Earl of Derby's Administration. I cannot make my noble Friend responsible for the first Estimates he administered to as Secretary to the Admiralty, because they had been practically framed and passed under the auspices of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington); but my noble Friend brought forward the Estimates in I860; and he must have had considerable pain and suffering of mind when he had to recount to the House what had been done the previous year under his auspices. He stated that in the previous year the Admiralty had built 19,730 tons of ships of-the-line, and 13,654 tons in frigates, besides converting four sailing line-of-battle ships and five sailing frigates into screw steamers. There can be no doubt— indeed, I give the noble Lord some credit for having had considerable pangs and twinges of conscience when administering to that amount of mischief. But my noble Friend was now in office, and had got hardened, as I believe they do when they remain on the Treasury bench. How did he feel when he proposed the Estimates for the next year? I was in France at the time; but when I read his speech I was glad, out of my regard for him, that I was not in the House to hear him bring forward such Estimates. In proposing, in 1860, his Estimates for the following year, he said he proposed to build 13,216 tons of ships-of-the-line and 13,500 tons of frigates, besides converting four sailing line-of-battle ships and four sailing frigates into screw steamers. He expressed his hope to be able to add to the navy in the ensuing financial year eight line-of- 1082 battle ships and twelve frigates. This was proposed by the noble Lord, who only two years before had told the Government not to waste any more money on these enormous ships, that they had had their day, and would no longer play their part in the fate of empires; and he altogether forgot the 140 or 150 gunboats which he had ready to protect our shores. He proposed this enormous waste—I call it so on his own authority—to the House, which of course sanctioned it. In bringing forward the Navy Estimates on the 11th of March, 1861, my noble Friend recapitulated what he had been doing—We have expended during the present year, or at least shall have expended by the end of the month, no less than 80,000 loads of timber—more than double the ordinary rate of consumption.…… We have built during this year 9,075 tons of line-of-battle ships, 12,189 tons of frigates, 4,138 tons of corvettes, 6,367 tons of sloops, 1,409 tons of gun and despatch vessels, and 102 tons of gunboats—making a total of 33,280 tons." [3 Hansard, clxi. 1745–7.]At a subsequent stage of the discussion he showed that we had 17 line-of-battle ships more than all the rest of the world. "We have," he said, "67 line-of-battle ships built or building. France has 37, Spain 3, Russia 9, and Italy 1—making 50." And he exclaimed with much naiveté, "So far as large vessels are concerned, we are in a very satisfactory position," making 50 for all the world against 67 of our own. I may say that the Duke of Somerset, speaking on the 1st of May, 1860, made this very remarkable statement—During the last eight months more men have been employed in our dockyards than at any previous period of the history of the country. I do not exclude the time of the great war down to 1815; and in this statement I exclude the factories altogether, which form another great division of our naval establishments. I speak of the shipbuilding department only.I venture to say, looking at the results of that expenditure, looking to the consumption of 80,000 loads of timber in the year, and the employment of so large a number of artificers and men in our dockyards; knowing what every one knew, the tendency to improvement in naval construction—knowing what every one knew of the effects of the shell guns, and knowing as the Government ought to have known the great and absolute risk attending these large wooden vessels, I do not think the history of this country can produce a parallel case of such enormous—I might almost say, profligate—waste of public treasure as is recorded in these transac- 1083 tions. What ought to follow such a state of things? Practically, I know there is no responsibility. My noble Friend is in no danger, nor is the right hon. Baronet opposite in any danger. Tower Hill is abolished, and we have no secondary punishment for Ministers. There is not even a penitentiary; but I think what I have said—the reproduction in so concise a form of what the noble Lord and the right hon. Baronet have contributed to— must tend to produce some remorse in their minds; and what I should hope is this, that they will make a clean breast of it; that my noble Friend, at least, who, since he has been at the Admiralty, has been administering to a state of things altogether contrary, we know, to his judgment, and one which he, with his enlightened knowledge of these things, utterly condemns—that my noble Friend will tell us, with that frankness which becomes his profession, what it is in the constitution of the Admiralty Board that leads the noble Lord, with all his capacity, to administer blindly to a state of things like this, and, with his recorded opinions, to come to the House and ask us to sanction this enormous waste of public money. We know that he has not changed those opinions, but that he has been confirmed more and more in what he before told us. But we can do nothing with statesmen who, if dissatisfaction be shown to them, are most likely to be promoted and receive fresh honours. What is the House then to do with the matter? What is the first deduction it must draw from these facts? Let us resolve that we will never again let ourselves be frightened to do this kind of thing in consequence of the alleged preparations of a foreign Power. This has all been done because the right hon. Baronet, in 1859, chose to throw himself into a panic by a reference to the preparations of the French Government, and because the noble Lord the First Minister has always been keeping the country in a panic on this subject. Never again let the House for a moment be led away by such a representation. It were a useless recapitulation except for the future; but what has been the course pursued by the noble Lord? We have been told year after year, by the noble Lord, that the French were making immense preparations to rival us at sea; and when my hon. Friend the Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter), my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow (Mr. Dalglish), my hon. Friend the 1084 Member for Finsbury (Sir M. Peto), and others in this House took the trouble to go over to France and visit the dockyards there, in order to bring back the strong assurance that the noble Lord's alarms were groundless, the noble Lord only reiterated more and more his vague and undefined assertions for raising continued excitement and alarm. So late as the 11th of March, 1861, when one of my hon. Friends of whom I have just spoken had taken the pains to show that all he had seen in France demonstrated that the noble Lord's surmises were entirely groundless, the noble Lord at the head of the Government jumps up and says, "Really, Sir, it is shutting one's eyes to notorious facts to go on contending that the policy of France—of which I certainly do not complain—has not for a great length of time been to get up a navy which shall be equal, if not superior to our own." Why, the facts—not French facts, but our own — now demonstrate conclusively that there was not the shadow of a foundation for the noble Lord's alarm. I will give those facts in a concise form, we know that line-of-battle ships have been the sole test of power with maritime nations up to the present time. Well, the French were accused by the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Pakington), in 1859, and by the noble Lord the Prime Minister always of making undue preparations to rival us at sea in line-of-battle ships. What are the facts? In 1857 the First Lord of the Admiralty (Sir Charles Wood), stated that the French had forty screw line-of-battle ships built and building, while my noble Friend the Secretary for the Admiralty told us in 1861 they had thirty-seven—three fewer in that year than in 1857. We all know now that the panic got up on these stories—which nobody will repeat now, but which have been current for some time past—that the French were making undue preparations for war, were entirely unfounded; and if the noble Lord rises to-night to say a word on this subject, I warn him that the time is past for those vague generalities, under which we are told by an old law maxim fraud lurks. He must deal with the facts and figures I have given. What, then, is the House to do? First of all, then, we must never again allow ourselves to be put into a state of hurry or alarm. We must take warning by what has been done with those wooden line-of-battle ships and not again allow the Admiralty to 1085 frighten us with a story of a raw-head and bloody-bones somewhere, into permitting wooden ships to he cased with iron, when we know that we had better wait for a few months to have ships constructed entirely of iron. We must do more. I have said there are 106 large useless vessels, and I challenge any naval authority to show that they are not useless. What is to he done with them? What number of those vessels have we in commission? I believe we have about forty-seven in commission, and I have formed an estimate as far as I could of the number of men that are probably employed on board those vessels, or in the contingents ashore necessary to be kept up for manning those ships, and I am sure I am very much under the mark when I say that there are 30,000 seamen employed in those useless ships of war. Let it again be understood that these ships are not merely useless, but they would be positively dangerous to you if employed in time of war. I venture to say that a great inventor of artillery, like Mr. Whitworth, would desire nothing more than that an enemy should give him such a target as a wooden line-of-battle ship or huge frigate with 800, 1,000, or even 1,200 men on board—the vessel being composed of combustible material, with that number of men crowded into the smallest possible amount of space, and with thirty or forty tons of gunpowder under their feet. What artillerist could desire anything better than that an enemy should place himself in such a position to be destroyed? You know that all this is true. Can it be for the advantage of the country that we should keep 30,000 men in these useless vessels? Our ships of war existed for purposes of war; but if war broke out, could we employ one of those great wooden ships? I say you would not dare to send those wooden ships to the coast of America if we were at war there. But that is not all. Your security, your honour, your vital interests are bound up in this question. Is it fair to your naval officers and seamen that they should be placed in such a position, that they must be doomed to certain destruction in performing their duty, or must accept the dishonourable alternative of retreating before the enemy? I am not so technically informed as to be able to speak of my own knowledge, but I speak always from good authority, and I am told that the drill, the discipline, and experience which sailors are getting on board these line-of-battle ships is not 1086 such as to qualify them for the duties they would have to perform in case of war in another class of ships. In no point of view can I see that it is for the interest of the country that these enormous ships should be kept manned in this way. If they are useless, if they are dangerous, then, is there not the financial aspect of the question to be considered? Is the country in such a state as to be inclined to look on calmly and contentedly while this House is worse than wasting millions of money, expending it in a manner which imperils our honour and our safety? Will that meet the approbation of the country, and is not something more due to our constituents? We have heard what a noble Lord, a Conservative Peer, who has been First Naval Lord of the Admiralty, and is well versed in nautical matters, in another place has said. I have read that noble Lord's speeches upon other occasions, and although upon no other subject should we be likely to agree, yet upon nautical questions I have perceived that that noble Lord always speaks with the frankness of a sailor, and with a good deal of the sagacity of a statesman. After that noble Lord has declared that we have voted an excessive number of men, I put it to my hon. Friends around me, could we have a more severe rebuke administered to us? We are called, par excellence, the Reform party, and sometimes the party of financial reform. We represent generally the trading and manufacturing interests as contrasted with the territorial interests which are supposed to be represented by hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House. We know something of the arduous care and prudence, the due regard to ways and means which are necessary to our constituents, to enable them to apply their industry, and to compete with the rest of the world in the various pursuits in which they are engaged. Economy and frugality and a due attention to the various changes taking place in the mechanical and scientific world are among the first element of their success. Are we then doing justice to such constituents when we allow a Government calling itself a Reform Government and one of retrenchment to bring forward a Vote of 76,000 men, when it is demonstrated that they cannot be employed except with great danger to the country, and when we hear that Vote condemned by a representative of the higher orders of the aristocracy? What can come of such a state 1087 of things? Will not these facts sink into the hearts of the rank and file of the £10 householders, the industrious and struggling class which constitutes the strength of our electoral body? Are you not ashamed of it, as a mere question of statesmanship? I say that a statesman who pursues such a policy—who says he will have 76,000 men—that he will not reason or argue about the number, but would have 76,000 men because we had as many the year before—I say such a statesman must be as obsolete and as unseasonable as the wooden vessels themselves. I will make an appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite. You represent the territorial interest, and it is generally attributed to you that you have rather a desire to keep up these great establishments. It is generally attributed to you that you like to see the services well sustained; but can it be for your interest, can it be for the interest of any body so largely responsible as you are for the good government of the country—and I warn you that you have worse times to come than you have at present—can it be your interest to maintain such a state of things? I am not speaking now in the spirit of one bearing hostility to the navy. Liberal politicians have always avowed an attachment to the navy as contradistinguished from the army. We have no traditions hostile to the navy, which has never been employed by the Government for repressive purposes in internal struggles in this country. I say now, as I have said before, I would vote any sum to make these islands invulnerable by sea, but I shall never recognise the necessity of defending the country inland by means of fortifications. Can any party in this House wish to continue such enormous waste of money? Understand me, I do not mean to say that every one of these forty-six large vessels should be at once put out of commission. I know that is impracticable, but what I do say is that, under all the circumstances, I consider the proposal of a Vote of 76,000 men—a large proportion of whom are to be employed, as it is demonstrated they must be employed, if at all, in this useless manner—to make no reduction in this large Vote, is I think an insult and an outrage upon the common sense of the country. I appeal to both sides of the House, even yet before this measure passes into law, to reconsider the matter, taking into consideration the condition of the country, and the facts and 1088 merits of the question, and I think you will find that, with due regard to the honour and security of the country, and advantage to the best interests of the State, you can make a considerable reduction in the number of men which has been proposed to you for the service of the year.
§ LORD ROBERT MONTAGU
said, that while he agreed with much that the hon. Member had said, he must, he confessed, allow that the issue which had been put before the House was very indistinct, because the hon. Member had varied it from time to time during his speech. The issue which he had at first put before the House (and again at the end of his speech) was that the number of men which had been voted (76,000) was far too large. He had argued that, on the ground that iron ships required fewer men to man them, while iron ships were the only efficient ships in war. But it would be a very courageous Government who would determine to maintain only iron ships, and sweep away every wooden ship from the navy. They had but eleven iron ships, and was that number sufficient to protect all their shores—to defend the colonies— to cruise in enemy's waters—to chase their merchant ships and make prizes? Would they even be sufficient for the service of the Thames and Severn alone? In such an issue he could not agree. Soon, however, the hon. Member changed the issue; it then became a party matter; the question then was, which side of the House should be most blamed? and he asserted that hon. Members on that (the Opposition) side, represented the territorial interest and encouraged a lavish expenditure. That taunt he (Lord R. Montagu) must retort on the hon. Member. Was the hon. Member ever present in Committee of Supply? Did they ever there obtain his support when they sought to reduce the expenditure? What was the appearance of the House on those occasions? They saw opposite to them (except on the Ministerial Benches themselves) nothing but empty seats and the green cloth shining in the gaslight. When did hon. Members ever bring forward financial Motions from the opposite side of the House? except, indeed, the Motion of the hon. Member for Halifax, last year, on which he made a speech, forsooth, to encourage lavish expenditure and a system of intervention in other countries. And when they on that side of the House 1089 had brought forward financial Motions, did they ever gain from hon. Members below the gangway opposite that support which they might have calculated upon in fulfilment of all their profuse promises? From that issue, also, he professed his dissent. The next issue, however, was the true one. The hon. Member desired that when they built ships, they should construct them after a full investigation of all the latest improvements which science had furnished. Last year he had moved for a Return of the inventions which had been sent in to the Admiralty, with the dates when they had been sent in; when they had been examined and reported upon, and the nature of that report. His object was to have in evidence that which every one knew—namely, that inventions were allowed to remain, among the dusty archives of the Admiralty, unexamined, and unattended to; while only the usual, formal, official answer was returned to the inventor. His object had been defeated by the mode in which that Return had been made. The hon. Member for Rochdale had alluded to Captain Coles' cupola ships, and said that the Government, in adopting them, had "shown a true patriotism." But what was the true state of the case? Captain Coles made this invention in the year 1854. It had been favourably reported upon by the Committee in the Black Sea, and recommended to the immediate attention of the Government; yet, even then, it had been laid aside and neglected, until the achievements of the Monitor, in 1862, had terrified the country and called the invention into remembrance. The fact was, that the Admiralty were always slow in taking advantage of the various inventions and improvements which might have been made. When screws were invented, they were instantly adopted by the whole merchant navy, but were for many years utterly neglected by the Admiralty; until, at last, the matter was so severely pressed upon them, that they were forced to convert many ships into screw ships. There was then a reconstruction of the navy. A few years afterwards, another reconstruction of the navy was commenced by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich. He had to do that, because his predecessors had neglected it; and therefore the hon. Member for Rochdale should not have blamed him for the expenditure which necessarily resulted. There ought to be another reconstruction, not of the navy, but of the Admiralty itself; for the 1090 Admiralty not only laid by many inventions which they received, but they also adopted others without previous trial. Thus, until after the Warrior had been launched, no experiments were made on Warrior targets. When these experiments were made, it was discovered that the plan of "tonguing and grooving" was a bad way of laying on the iron plates; so that an additional expense of £10,000 or £12,000 became necessary on each ship, to perform the required alteration. Those experiments ought to have been made beforehand, and then much outlay would have been saved. The very constitution of the Admiralty was bad. It consisted of Lords, a Controller, and a Secretary, the jurisdiction of whom was so ill-defined that it was impossible to know where the jurisdiction of one began, and that of another ended. The Lords were guided by the Controller; and yet the Controller was under the Lords. The Secretary was under both; and yet the Secretary, in Parliament, overruled both Lords and Controller; and each escaped censure by transferring it to the back of his brother. There was another improvement which had been urged by Admiral Elliott, in his evidence before the Admiralty Committee, in 1860—namely, that there should be appointed a school of shipbuilders, trained in the science of naval architecture; a body of scientific men to stand between the Government — who knew nothing of naval architecture, and were by no means scientific—and the body of contractors with whom the Government dealt, and who possessed both these qualifications. Before he sat down, he wished to allude to the alleged decrease in the Naval Estimates. That decrease was made chiefly on the Store Vote. Yet, to prove how illusory was this decrease, he would quote the evidence of the head of the Admiralty, the Duke of Somerset, before the Committee of Public Accounts, last year. It was then proved that—Parliament pressed the Government to cu down the Navy Estimates, and the Vote that first goes is generally the Store Vote. But although the Vote for the quantity in store is reduced, the expenditure is very apt to go on very much the same; so that the result of that cutting down is simply to run upon the reserve for a time.…… In fact, as matters stand at present, the House of Commons may very easily deceive itself with the idea that it is effecting economy when, in fact, there is no economy being practised, but only the stock being run down.
said, he wished to put a question to the noble Lord with regard to the position of the masters of the Royal Navy. In 1846 an Order in Council was passed recommending that masters should be promoted for distinguished services. During the Russian war their services were of great value in conducting the fleet through the difficult navigation of the Baltic and the Sea of Azov; but not a single master was raised to the rank of commander. He did not ask any increase of pay for these gentlemen, but he did think that officers who had served their country so faithfully and so well should have some improvement in position and in rank. One suggestion was, to abolish the grade of master, and require every officer to qualify himself for the rank of captain by four years' practical experience in navigation. However that might be, he hoped the noble Lord would do something for the masters of the Royal Navy.
§ LORD CLARENCE PAGET
Sir, in answer to my hon. Friend, I may say that the Admiralty are perfectly aware of the great merits of the masters of the Royal Navy. Various schemes have been put before the Department and considered with a view to improve their position, and the whole matter was gone through lately with great care. Among other proposals, as my hon. Friend says, was one to do away with the grade of master, and to merge these officers into commanders and lieutenants. But we found that there was a general feeling adverse to this alteration, and under these circumstances the Admiralty have under consideration a scheme which will not be many weeks before it is out, and which, without doing away with the grade of master, will put these officers into a position commensurate with the honourable and responsible duties which they have to perform. I now turn to the remarks which fell from my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale. I am prepared for an annual scolding from him. It generally comes in the month of June. This year it has come earlier; but the season itself is somewhat earlier. My hon. Friend has spoken of the opinions which I hold. The opinions I hold are those which I have always held. For a great many years I have been of opinion that line-of-battle ships are not vessels destined to play any great part in any future war; and I have stated that opinion in this House. My hon. Friend now takes me to task because, holding that 1092 opinion, I am a Member of a Government which has gone on with, the construction of line-of-battle ships. Now, let me state, in passing, that my hon. Friend is utterly and entirely mistaken in his views as to what has been done by the Government in covering wooden ships with plate armour. The present Government have originated nothing except the five ships— iron-cased wooden ships—of the Royal Oak class, one of which we hope will be ready for sea next month. Those are the only ships which would come under the hon. Member's description, and I admit that they were laid down for line-of-battle ships, but before they had made any considerable progress Her Majesty's present Government thought it right that they should be adapted to carry armour-plates, with the view of giving the country an additional number of armour-clad vessels without so heavy an additional expense as we should otherwise have had to incur. I have been trying to discover in the striking speech of my hon. Friend—for every speech he makes in this House is always thrilling and striking—any recommendation as to how we should improve matters; but I have been trying in vain. Does he want us to reduce the number of men? After going into a statement of the number of iron-plated ships and obsolete ships of the line now in the British navy, he said he did not know what to advise; but then he added, "Reduce your men." He says we might reduce the number of our men because we had 30,000 men in ships which we could not dare to take into action. This broad statement of my hon. Friend was listened to with some surprise in this House, and, no doubt, it will attract considerable attention out of doors; and I would ask him to be a little more careful before he does make such statements. I understand the doctrine of my hon. Friend and of a noble Lord in another place to be this:—That our ironplated ships will not require so many men as the ordinary ships of war; but my hon. Friend is mistaken in supposing that we have 30,000 men shut up in the large vessels to which he referred. The number in first-rates is 1,086; in second-rates, 5,790; in third-rates, 2,300 — giving a total of 9,176, instead of 30,000. And I can tell the House this, that whether you have armour-plated ships or ships of another description, the number of men in the navy will be very little affected, because the great mass of your men are em- 1093 ployed in small ships on distant stations, protecting your colonies and looking after your commerce, and therefore what you have in those heavy ships is really a very small portion of the whole number of men employed. But my hon. Friend says, "Why do you not take the example of the Americans?" Now, Sir, if my hon. Friend knows America as well as he professes to know it, he ought to be perfectly well aware that the Americans were the very last to take up the armour-plated vessels. Instead of being an example to us, the United States resisted the armour-plated vessels; and it was not till they saw that the South were building them that the Northern States commenced to adopt them. It has been said that the Americans never built line-of-battle ships; but they built frigates which were line-of-battle ships in disguise. These ships were called frigates, and the object of so styling them was, that in case of war against, say, this country, the Americans might be in a position to say that one of these frigates had been able to cope with a British line-of-battle ship. That was what they said in former wars—it is an old story. It is not my business to defend the Government in which my right hon. Friend opposite (Sir John Pakington) was at the head of the Admiralty; but I think it right to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. Cobden) that he is under an erroneous impression when he says the Committee of 1858 did not recommend the construction of large ships. My hon. Friend says that Committee told you the French were doing nothing, that there was no necessity for exertion on your part, and that if the Government had taken up the Report of that Committee, and acted on it, they would not have put the country to expense. Now, here is a paragraph in that Report, which states—It will be seen that France, since 1852, has increased her steam line-of-battle ships from two to forty, of which there are five building and four converting, and that this has been effected by the conversion of twenty-six sailing ships and the building of fourteen screw ships. England in the same time has increased her line-of-battle screw streamers from seventeen to fifty, of which there are ten building and seven converting. This has been effected by the conversion of twenty-seven sailing ships, and the building of twenty-three as screw ships.From that statement it appears, that while France had increased the number of her line-of-battle ships from two to forty, England had increased hers from seven- 1094 teen to fifty. I ask, is not that a statement which would justify any Government in undertaking the construction of large ships? But the next paragraph states—The addition, therefore, to the French navy in steam line-of-battle ships, complete, building, and converting, is thirty-eight, and of England thirty-three, since 1852. France has at present four iron-sided ships (frégates blidées) in course of construction, as before stated. The steam frigates of France, screw and paddle, have been increased from twenty-one to forty-six; and England has increased her steam frigates, screw and paddle, from twenty-three to thirty-four, and her block-ships of sixty guns each from four to nine. It is necessary that we should notice this superiority in steam frigates on the part of France over Great Britain, which, in the event of hostilities, might form a serious detriment to this country, especially in relation to the interruption of commerce.I say that any Ministry who did not act on that statement, and did not at once set about putting the country in the position she ought to occupy in respect of her navy, would deserve to be sent to the Tower or to that Penitentiary into which my hon. Friend wants to put me. I maintain, therefore, that the Government of that day, as well as the present Government, were right in making great exertions towards putting the navy in an efficient state. As to what my hon. Friend has said on the subject of our delay in the adoption of iron-plated vessels, I must remind him that I came down to the House for several years in succession, and lifted my voice in favour of armour-plated vessels; but all that time my hon. Friend was silent. However, I do not hesitate to assert that the course taken by the Government, whether the late Government or the present, has on the whole been the wisest that could have been adopted for the safety of the country. My hon. Friend says that periodical panics occur by which Parliament is frightened out of its propriety, and that, after all, they turn out to be bugbears. If that is the case, why did not hon. Members who now object to what the Government has been doing within the last few years come down to the House and ask for a yearly statement of the stocks in hand and the vessels which the Admiralty were building? Until I took the liberty of laying on the table an annual statement of your property in ships, and of what you were building, there was, as far as I am aware, no detailed information on these points supplied to the House. Why did not my hon. Friend come down and ask how we stood? We never should 1095 have had those panics if this statement had been put upon the table, because I believe the country would not have been allowed to be so behind-hand as she was in the construction of ships. My hon. Friend has asked the House to reconsider the question of the number of men. Now, for many years we were in a state of alarm as to the manning of our navy. We had ships in our ports month after month waiting for men, and my right hon. Friend opposite, only three years ago, was obliged to come down to this House and propose to offer what to men in the position of sailors is almost a small fortune—a £10 bounty; and now, having got them together, it would be a most unwise thing to disperse them again. The men we have now are almost all continuous service men; and if you were to break faith with them by listening to the startling suggestion of my hon. Friend, depend upon it you would never get them back again. The noble Lord the Member for Huntingdon (Lord R. Montagu) says that the present Government are not making any experiments with a view to getting the best armour-plates. If he had turned round to my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Sir J. Hay), he would have told him that we are spending very large sums of money in such experiments. Therefore it is not a just charge to make against the Government. I sincerely trust that the House will not depart from the Estimates which we have laid before them. It may be possible, in course of time, to reduce our force by not filling up vacancies as they occur, but now that we have for the first time got a standing navy, suddenly to make a great reduction in it I am positive would be a most suicidal step.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
—Sir, I am sure that the House will grant me its indulgence for a few moments while I make a reply to a most unexpected attack which has been made upon me by the hon. Member for Rochdale. I came down to the House this evening expecting to hear one of those verbal duels between the two ends of the united party opposite to which we are so much accustomed; but I had no reason to suppose that I was myself to be made the subject of attack. [Mr. COBDEN: Oh, oh! ] I know of no reason for the murmurs of the hon. Gentleman opposite. I say, I came down to the House quite unaware that my administration of the Admiralty—which terminated four years ago —was in its details to be made the subject 1096 of a very violent attack by the hon. Member for Rochdale, and that without notice of any kind. If the hon. Member for Rochdale had given me the slightest notice that he was going to make any reference to my administration, I might have had an opportunity of looking at the papers, which would have refreshed my memory.
§ MR. COBDEN
—I beg to remind the right hon. Baronet that on the last occasion when the affairs of the navy were being discussed I wrote him a letter to tell him that I wished him to be in his place, as I intended to take notice of matters in which He was concerned.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
— That is perfectly true, and it is also true that that last occasion was last Session. I never before heard such an answer. In the course of the Session of 1862 the hon. Member wrote to me to say that he would bring forward the subject of the navy, and that in so doing he would refer to my administration. I ask, whether that is any explanation of his having now made an attack upon my administration without any notice to me beyond that included in the terms of his notice, from which I could not infer more than that he was going to refer to the Navy Estimates of this year, and to the conduct of the present administration. I heard, I must confess, with some surprise the speech of my noble Friend opposite (Lord C. Paget), in which he said that the hon. Member for Rochdale had made an "admirable speech." I cannot share in paying that compliment to the hon. Member. He has gained a great and well-merited reputation —but having heard him speak last Session, and also this Session, upon naval affairs, I must say, that if I might venture to offer him advice, it would be that in future he should avoid the subject altogether. I never have heard the hon. Member address the House on naval matters, including the occasion on which he delivered his "admirable speech," as my noble Friend calls it, without being reminded of the words of the well-known song—'Tis a pity when charming womenTalk of things that they don't understand.I think those words apply remarkably to the hon. Member's speeches upon the navy. My immediate object, however, in rising, is to repel the attack which the hon. Member has made personally upon me, and I have no hesitation in saying that unless it be a charge against the administration of my Colleagues and myself 1097 that we did not know in 1858–9 that which was not known to anybody until several years afterwards—unless that be a charge, I am free to say, and I put it to the House, whether the hon. Member has made any single reference to me that is not utterly erroneous and founded in complete misconception. In order to make his attack more pungent, the hon. Member revived an expression which really I hoped was done with in this House. He charged me with having boasted that I had "reconstructed the navy," and then he proceeded to attack the mode in which I carried out that reconstruction. I beg, however, to assure the hon. Member that I never used that expression of reconstructing the navy. As far as my recollection goes, that expression occurred in the Queen's Speech in 1859, and I admit that, as a Member of the Cabinet, I was responsible for a share of composing that Speech. But that was not the sense in which the hon. Member brought the phrase forward to-night; he brought it forward as a personal matter to embitter his charge of maladministration of the navy, and wanted to make out that I had made a boast, which I never made, that I had "reconstructed the navy." I repeat again that I never made any such boast, and in the discharge of my duty in this House I always endeavoured not to speak in a boastful spirit. The hon. Member says that successive Governments—referring, of course, to the Government which preceded the last—committed a great absurdity in going on building the obsolete class of wooden vessels. How did he support that argument? I cannot suppose that he meant anything so unjust and absurd as to charge the Government of the Earl of Derby with building or launching wooden vessels simply because we did not know what nobody then knew—because it was subsequently discovered—that this class of vessels would be subsequently superseded by the discovery of iron ships; and therefore the only way in which I can explain the meaning of his accusation is by what he said on the subject of the improvement which had taken place in the construction of shells. But does he really mean gravely to argue in this House that the navy of England was to be withdrawn from the seas because an improvement had taken place in the construction of shells? His argument really amounts to this:—Shells have been improved, and to such a point that they will set wooden ships on fire; there- 1098 fore, the navy of England ought to have no wooden ships afloat. But at that time nobody had any idea of any other but wooden ships; we still talked of the "wooden walls of Old England;" armour ships had not yet been tried, and therefore to say that we ought not to have gone on sending wooden ships to sea is a charge so unfounded that I do not believe it will receive any support either in this House or out of it. The next charge which the hon. Gentleman brought against us is equally unfounded, and I put it broadly to the hon. Gentleman that he has no right to make such charges unless he has really taken some trouble to inform himself on the subject. He referred to the Treasury Minute to which the noble Lord has also referred. The hon. Member said that the drawing up of that Minute by the Earl of Derby's Government was a very good party move. I repudiate the charge, and I say that a charge more unfounded was never made in this House. At the time the Committee was appointed which drew up that Minute it was a Secret Committee. It was appointed as a mere matter of detail; it was a departmental committee, solely appointed to draw up a report for the instruction of the Government. Under these circumstances I found it my duty, in considering the slate of the navy in 1858–9, and I proposed to the Cabinet, that we should have a very large addition to the amount of the Votes to be brought forward for 1859. It was the feeling of the Cabinet that we should not be justified in calling upon Parliament to vote Navy Estimates which were of an almost unprecedented character for a time of peace without the clearest grounds for doing so. In the arduous position of First Lord of the Admiralty I had no time to make inquiry and to draw up the papers which were required, but it was the opinion of the Earl of Derby's Government that inquiry had better be made into the whole of the circumstances. A paper was drawn up by a Committee solely for the guidance of the Government, and I can state broadly to the House that it was never intended that paper should go beyond the Cabinet which ordered its composition. There was not slightest intention of making it a Parliamentary paper or of making it public, and I ask whether the hon. Gentleman is justified now in saying that it was a good party move? Since the hon. Gentleman has spoken, I have been able, by the assistance of a friend, to refer to 1099 Hansard, and I can explain to the House how it ultimately became a public paper. It was in consequence of one of those Motions which my noble Friend the present Secretary to the Admiralty was in the habit of making when he sat on this side of the House, and which may account perhaps for the seat he now occupies. On the 11th March, 1859, my noble Friend brought forward a Motion, and to his speech it was necessary for me to reply—Impressed," I said, "with the deep sense of our responsibility in the proposals which it has become my duty to submit for the increase of the navy, and impressed with the conviction that the House had a right to expect the fullest possible explanations of the rapid increase of late years of the expenditure for the navy, Her Majesty's Government thought it desirable to appoint a confidential Committee, consisting of certain Members of the Government, in order to investigate what were the causes of that great increase." [3 Hansard, cliii. 51.]The fact of my using that language very naturally led to the remark from some hon. Member that I had referred to a paper which was not in the possession of the House. I immediately said that I had no objection to make that paper public; and under those circumstances, and those circumstances only, was that memorandum published, which was made solely for the guidance of the Government; and, so far from being made as a party move or with a party object, was made without any idea that it would ever be laid on the table of the House.
The hon. Gentleman accused the late Admiralty, as he did the present Admiralty, of building screw line-of-battle ships, and leaving sailing vessels to rot. Twice has he used that expression, and in the interval between the two occasions he has been guilty of the inconsistency of referring to a number of instances since the year 1850—under the Administration of the present Secretary of State for India, then First Lord of the Admiralty, under the Earl of Derby's Government, and under the Administration of the present First Lord— of sailing vessels being converted into screw ships. The two statements are perfectly inconsistent, because if we were converting sailing vessels into screw ships, we were not leaving the sailing ships to rot. We were doing no such thing, and it is one of those misstatements of which the hon. Gentleman's speeches on naval affairs are uniformly full. Under the Earl of Derby's Administration it was our constant and anxious desire to find out what 1100 sailing ships there were which were good enough to be converted. [Sir CHARLES WOOD: And which were of proper shape.] As my right hon. Friend opposite reminds me, it would have been waste of money to convert many old ships; but where the ships were sound enough, and where the shape was good enough, I believe, under his Administration, and most certainly under mine, those ships were converted into screw ships. The hon. Gentleman then went on to refer to the statement which I made and the plan which I proposed in 1859, and he used the expression that I began "frantically" building line-of-battle ships. Here he has been led into a positive misstatement of fact. I have had time to refer to the facts, and I confess that when I first heard him make use of the expression I was under the impression, that when I was First Lord, I had not ordered any new line-of-battle ship to be laid down, but I find that I did. In 1858 there were three laid down, but the House will recollect that in the year 1858 line-of-battle ships were the navy of England, and that armour-plated ships had scarcely been thought of. In March, 1859, the Bulwark was laid down, but that was the only new line-of-battle ship which was laid down. The hon. Gentleman then went on to say that this step of mine had led to the waste of £10,000,000. My experience in this House is not very short, and I think in the whole course of it I never heard so wild or so untenable an assertion. I really do not know what it means. The hon. Gentleman says this step of mine—the frantically building ships which I did not build and which I never ordered the building of—has led to the waste of £10,000,000. By whom and in what manner? I am afraid the hon. Gentleman is in this position, that he has rashly and lightly made charges which are utterly unfounded, and which he has no means whatever of substantiating. What were the circumstances under which I brought forward the Navy Estimates of 1859? Here again, no thanks to the hon. Gentleman, sufficient time has elapsed to send for a volume of Hansard. Perhaps the House will allow me to read a short extract from my speech of that year—I have shown to the Committee, that while France is nearly upon an equality with us in line-of-battle ships, she now very decidedly exceeds us in frigates. When we discovered our inferiority, the Government felt, and I believe the Committee also will feel, that We really had no option but to endeavour as soon as possible to redress that in- 1101 feriority. Therefore, the plan which the Government asks you to enable them to carry out is this." [3 Hansard, clii. 909.]I then stated the details of the plan. The easiest kind of wisdom is to be wise after the event. It is very easy in 1863 to blame men for not knowing in 1859 what we know in 1863. In 1859 England had never heard of an armour-plated ship. The wisest men only spoke of it as an experiment, the success of which was wholly uncertain. But, when we felt it our bounden duty to make that anxious experiment, what were the terms in which I asked the House of Commons to consent to an expenditure for that purpose of £700,000? I said, "I shall not conceal from the Committee that they will be the most costly ships ever built for the British navy." There was no misleading the House in that—But still, assuming, as I have no doubt, that our plans will receive the sanction of Parliament, we have resolved to lose no time in building two of these vessels (the Warrior and the Black Prince). I am bound to say, also, that we feel it no less our duty to throw away no chance whatever in endeavouring to make these ships as effective as possible.Such were the spirit and tone in which, in the year 1859, I asked the House to try the experiment of spending £700,000 on two armour-plated ships. But I felt it was an experiment. I felt that no living man could tell us whether the Warrior and Black Prince would be fit to go to sea when they were built. But when that experiment has been successful, when it is found that these ships can go to sea, to come down and blame the Government who made the proposal as an experiment, and, while it was uncertain, neglected nothing to maintain the wooden navy equal to what we possessed in former years, and adequate for the grandeur of the country, is ungenerous and unworthy of an hon. Gentleman with the high reputation which attaches to the hon. Member for Rochdale. I am confident that, be he who he may and sit where he may, every hon. Member is anxious to maintain the power of England; and I feel as confidently as ever that the power of England and the naval power of England are convertible terms; and I say that any Government would be deeply to blame who neglected means within their power to keep the naval power of England in a state of efficiency. The hon. Gentleman concluded his speech by appealing to my noble Friend and myself as to whether we 1102 did not feel remorse at what we have done. I hope I may never live to feel remorse for anything greater than that which the hon. Gentleman supposes I ought to do for the part which I took as a Member of the Earl of Derby's Government in strengthening the navy of England. I feel pride in what I did, We may have made mistakes, but we threw away no care, We spared no pains, we took bold steps, we made bold proposals, and happily, though the result was uncertain at the moment, those proposals have turned out successfully. I am free to say, therefore, as far as I am concerned, that a more unfounded attack was never made than that to which I was exposed by the hon. Gentleman to-night, and, instead of feeling remorse, as long as I live I shall reflect with pride and satisfaction on the part I took in 1858–9.
§ SIR MORTON PETO
said, in the few remarks he had to address he should rather refer to the future than to the past, for that was the question really before the House. Some of the main points in the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale had received no reply. His hon. Friend had stated that there were in the navy 66 line-of-battle ships and 40 large frigates, making in all 106 vessels. Now, the question they had to consider was the policy of keeping that large number of vessels in commission in the present state of naval architecture, when not one of them could be matched against an iron-plated adversary. The must also look to the question as it affected the number of seamen in the service of the country—the fact being that iron-plated ships did not require nearly so many men to work them and their guns as wooden vessels. The number of seamen voted that year by the House was 76,000 men. There were, in addition, 14,000 naval reserve force, 8,000 coast volunteers, and 8,000 coast guards, making a total of 106,000 men. He put it to the House, whether that number of men was not out of all proportion with the requirements of the country under the altered aspect of naval warfare. There were only 65,000 seamen during the Crimean war, with a very small reserve. The Naval Commission only recommended a naval force of 56,000 men to be kept on foot, with a reserve of 30,000. They had now 46 ships in commission which carried 2,600 guns. On the average 12 men were required to work each gun, which repre- 1103 sented a force of 31,200 men, so that his hon. Friend was not far wrong in the number of men who he said were now employed in these ships. The right hon. Baronet said that in 1859 England had no idea of such a thing as an armour-plated ship; but the very Minute which had been drawn up for the information of Lord Derby's Government referred to the irresistible qualities which iron-clads, then in course of construction in France, were stated to possess.
SIR JOHN PAKINTON
I said that in 1858 England had no idea of armour-plated vessels; but I myself proposed the construction of two in 1859.
§ SIR MORTON PETO
said, he was strongly of opinion that they ought to pause before they proceeded much farther. The Warrior, the Black Prince, and the Resistance had been referred to with satisfaction; but the Warrior had already shown some defects. It had been stated in an intelligent Report that the bolts of the Warrior and Black Prince, which fastened the armour plating, became loose. Therefore, they would hardly be justified in proceeding further without an extensive and careful trial. Mechanical engineers had foreseen from the beginning, that if you placed on the outside an 18-inch wooden backing, and on this 4½ or 5-inch iron plates, and simply fastened them with screws driven through the backing, the whole weight would hang on the screws, and that these screws would he likely to get loosened whenever a strain came on the vessels so constructed. The experiments which had been made proved the accuracy of that opinion. He had no doubt that the problem as to the best mode of fastening these plates might be solved so as to make the iron-plating as rigid as any other part of the vessel. An important report of Admiral Robinson, as to the comparative value of iron and wooden ships, had been placed in the hands of Government that morning, and he hoped that hon. Members would consider it with attention. The noble Lord at the head of the Government gave a pledge that the House should have ample time to discuss the question; and considering the apprehensions justly entertained in consequence of the experiments already made, he hoped that full time for consideration would be given.
§ MR. BENTINCK
said, he did not propose to take any part in the triangular duel be- 1104 tween the hon. Member for Rochdale, his noble and gallant Friend opposite, and the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich. He could not join in the laudation which his noble and gallant Friend had passed on the speech of the hon. Member for Rochdale, for he must say that his noble and gallant Friend and the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich had very much the best of the argument. The hon. Member for Rochdale was apparently driving at one object, that of inducing the House to reduce the number of men already voted. But he had been unable to detect any tenable arguments in favour of his suggestions, and it had been shown that his charges were perfectly unfounded. He could not agree with the hon. Member in thinking that any argument for reducing the number of seamen was to be found in any forethought shown by the Northern States of America, which appeared to be within a few months, not to say a few weeks, of a national bankruptcy. The hon. Member added that the Admiralty was an old offender, and that he objected to the constitution of the Board. It was very remarkable that that question had been again and again brought before the House, and yet this was the first time the hon. Member for Rochdale had uplifted his voice against the constitution of the Board of Admiralty. The hon. Gentleman refrained from making any attack when it might have been effective. The hon. Member charged his right hon. Friend (Sir John Pakington) with having led to a waste of £10,000,000, which, by a singular coincidence, was about the sum the hon. Gentleman had been assisting his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in wasting during the last five or six years. Some hon. Members opposite had given the House the result of their observations in regard to what was going on in the French dockyards. He also had visited all the French dockyards, and he defied any one to see what was going on there without feeling that any Government in this country that neglected to maintain the English navy in the highest state of efficiency would deserve to be sent to Tower Hill. The hon. Member complained that the noble Lord at the head of the Government had told the House that the state of the French navy was such as to render it incumbent on the House of Commons to vote money in order to place the navy of this country in a more efficient state. But that speech 1105 of the noble Viscount's was re-echoed not only by that House but by the country; and if anything had contributed to what he would call the well-deserved popularity of the noble Viscount, it was his determination to maintain the naval defences of the country. The hon. Member for Rochdale complained that the Admiralty were maintaining 30,000 men in useless ships. The Secretary to the Admiralty had swept away that argument to the extent of two-thirds, by showing that only 9,000 sailors were employed in the class of ships alluded to. Did the hon. Member mean that these 9,000 men were to be dismissed the service until the Admiralty had got iron-sheathed vessels in which to employ all the men voted in the Estimates? Did he propose that until that time arrived they were to have no ships on foreign stations, and take no thought for the protection of our foreign commerce? Or did the hon. Member think that he could make a sailor in a day, or a month, or a year? Would he cut them adrift because he had not got iron ships to put them into; and then, when the ships were ready, would He expect to get them back again? That was the baneful system of which the hon. Member and his friends were the promoters. He would dismiss seamen to-day, and then, when he wanted them to-morrow, they would cost him twelve times as much. The hon. Member's cry for economy always came a day after the fair, for He never warned the country against the extravagance of the Administration until the Estimates had been voted. The hon. Member, then, resorting to his old platform rhetoric, asked if they were doing justice to their constituents by voting these large sums. But had it ever occurred to the hon. Member that the very existence of British commerce was dependent on the supremacy of the British navy? The hon. Member was quite mistaken in supposing that hon. Gentlemen connected with the agricultural districts were intent on maintaining taxation at the highest possible point. On the contrary, there was no class who would more gladly join him in diminishing the expenditure, if it could be done without impairing the efficiency of the national services. But the worst of all economy was that which was always reducing to-day in order to increase tomorrow. It was because they dreaded the economy which the hon. Gentleman recommended, and looked upon it as a 1106 source of extravagance, that they deprecated his suggestions. The hon. Member; for Finsbury had stated that the number of men employed in the Crimean war was much less than the number of men now employed, including the Naval Reserve. But he (Mr. Bentinck) differed entirely from the hon. Baronet in the conclusion which he would draw from that circumstance. For what would have been the consequence had they had the same number of men employed during the Crimean war that they have now? If they could at that time have manned such a fleet as they could now, the Russian war would have been brought to an end in three months without the loss of a man. Did hon. Members doubt the fact? If, instead of playing with blockades, they had really blockaded the Russian ports, Russia could not have attempted to continue the war. The sham blockade which they carried on during the Crimean war was worth £26,000,000 sterling to Russia, and, in point of fact, left her the means by which she was enabled to carry on the war. The number of our sailors, therefore, so far from being a source of extravagance, was a true economy. Assuming that the object of the hon. Member for Rochdale was to induce the House to reverse the Vote as to the number of seamen to be furnished to the navy, he trusted the House would not listen to any such suggestion, for, in his opinion, it would be not only unwise, unjust, and unpopular, but a wasteful expenditure of the public money.
§ MR. C. BERKELEY
said, that he sincerely hoped the Government would not be induced to diminish the number of men, as it was his opinion that the number voted was not greater than necessary. The hon. Member for Rochdale was quite mistaken in stating that there were 30,000 employed in useless wooden ships. The facts were these:—There were fourteen line-of-battle ships, with an average number of 800 men—making, in all, 11,200. Then there were nine block ships, but the whole of them, he believed, with short complements, not exceeding 400 men each, which would make a total of 3,600 in those ships. Then there were twenty-three frigates, with an average crew of 300 each, making 6,900. Therefore, the total number of men employed in those forty-six vessels was about 21,700, not including the crews of iron vessels.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
I wish to observe that with respect to an observa- 1107 tion made by the hon. Member for Rochdale, I do not deny that in 1859 I proposed a considerable increase in the Estimates, but that was principally for the completion of ships already in progress.
§ SIR CHARLES WOOD
Sir, I wish to make a few observations before this debate comes to a close. I cannot help thinking that the hon. Member for Rochdale has made certain assumptions in which he was not warranted by the state of our navy for many years past. The House and the country must be perfectly well aware that the navy has for many years been in a complete state of transition. Changes have been made not only in the construction of our ships but in the mode of propelling and arming them, and so rapidly have these changes followed one after the other that before one set of vessels were completed some alterations and improvements have been introduced which rendered it necessary to build others of a different kind. It is not so many years since the main part of our steam navy consisted of paddle-wheel vessels. A large sum of money was expended upon them. A few years afterwards, when the screw was introduced, it was equally neccessary to expend a large sum of money in order to create a screw navy, and the sum was larger, because the screw was applicable to large vessels. A screw fleet, therefore, superseded, to a great extent, the paddlewheel steamers of our old navy. I do not agree with the hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck) in what he said about blockading the Russian ports. For we did blockade the Russian ports in the early part of the Crimean war. At many of our commercial ports there were not vessels of war to protect our trade against Russian cruisers: but the fleet we had in the Sound prevented Russian vessels from coming out, and was a great deal better employed and afforded much more effectual protection than if it had been scattered here and there. But the circumstances of the Russian war rendered it necessary to build a description of vessels, gun vessels, gun boats, and mortar boats, which did not before exist, and during the greater part of the time that I was First Lord we were engaged in building those vessels. In the three years during which I had the honour to be First Lord we added to the fleet of England twenty line-of-battle ships and frigates, and 230 corvettes and small vessels, including eight iron-plated floating batteries and 1108 about 100 mortar-boats. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir John Pakington), when he came to the Admiralty, set about converting such wooden line-of-battle ships as were fit into screw vessels. I do not believe there was a single vessel converted which was not fit for conversion, and surely it would have been a waste of money to convert vessels which were not of a shape advantageous for conversion. Now, the French line-of-battle ships were far better adapted for conversion than our own. The question of armour-plated ships was a moot question at the time. We had built eight floating batteries and before building any more vessels for iron plates, we were trying experiments with targets to ascertain the strength of the iron plating that would be required. Towards the end of 1857 we had come to the conclusion that it would be necessary to build vessels of this kind, and I had an estimate in the winter of 1857–8 prepared for building an iron-plated ship in 1858. In the spring of 1858 a change of Government took place, and I cannot pretend to say why that was not done; but, as had been truly stated, in the next year further experiments were made, which led to the then Government taking a large Vote for the construction of the Warrior and the Black Prince. With reference to the number of ships of what the hon. Member for Stockport called the useless class of large vessels, and the number of men engaged for them, which he stated at about 40,000, I have only to observe that on the 1st of February there were thirteen line-of-battle ships in commission and their crews amounted to 9,176. Another statement had been made, to the effect that some iron-plated vessels had come in from sea with the armour-plates shaken and hanging loosely about. The fact was directly the reverse, for the armour was not shaken at all, and any one of the vessels was fit to go to any part of the world. I am anxious to make this statement, because the contrary representation was calculated to produce a false impression in reference to the character of armour-plated vessels.
§ MR. LAIRD
said, he rejoiced to hear the contradiction given by the right hon. Gentleman to the report respecting the armour-plated vessels. It was satisfactory to hear that those ships had proved themselves able to stand all weathers. An important paper respecting the cost of iron and wooden ships, signed by Admiral Ro- 1109 binson, had just been presented to the House, and he hoped a renewal of the pledge from the noble Lord at the head of the Government would be given that a special day should be set apart for the discussion of the question respecting the building of wooden vessels.
§ SIR CHARLES WOOD
said, that the pledge given on that subject by his noble Friend would be strictly adhered to. No steps would be taken in the matter until that House had an opportunity of expressing an opinion in reference to it; but if the proposition of the Government to build certain wooden vessels were not sanctioned, a considerable Vote would be necessary for iron armour-plated vessels.
§ Motion agreed to.