HC Deb 02 March 1865 vol 177 cc1027-30

, in moving for leave to introduce a Bill to enable Her Majesty's colonies to make better provision for maritime defence, said, that no subject had of late years attracted more attention than the development of the qualities of self-reliance in our colonies and the means of enabling them to make provision for their own defence, and so relieve this country from a part of a great burden which had pressed upon it in former times. Formerly chief attention had been paid to land defence, but it was evident that defence by sea was of far greater importance, and that subject had attracted considerable attention both at home and in the colonies. The first Parliamentary record of the wishes of the colony on this subject was to be found in the correspondence laid on the table when Sir William Denison was Governor of Sydney. The colony of Victoria had shown a great desire to make provision for its own defence in case of a sudden attack. The question of raising a colonial navy was not a simple one. If it was to be purely a colonial navy, it was obvious—First, that it would not have the rights and privileges of a national navy, or be clothed with the rights that belong to the maritime forces of Her Majesty, and consequently would not be acknowledged by foreign nations in time of war. Secondly, if there were to be a divided command, questions might arise between a colonial officer and the senior Queen's officer of the station which might lead to serious practical difficulties. Thirdly, it would not be easy to combine the forces of different colonies for a common object. The question had been considered by successive Governments in 1857 and 1858, and the conclusion they had come to was, that for local defence against a sudden incursion by sea a local force was the most natural; but that for general defence in a great foreign war, the defence of an Imperial navy was most effectual. From these conclusions he did not differ; the question was whether, though apparently antagonistic, they might not be reconciled. But up to this time nothing had been done on the subject. Since that time a considerable step had been taken in the maritime defence of this country. In consequence of the difficulty experienced in getting seamen in the Russian war, and again in 1858, when there was a great extension of our navy, a Commission was appointed to consider the subject of manning the navy, and the result was the establishment of the Royal Naval Reserve—a purely local force in time of peace, but becoming part of the Imperial Navy on the occurrence of an emergency. That experiment was most successful. The force numbered now 18,000 men, and three years ago, when there was a sudden alarm, the men flocked in not merely for the service for which they were engaged, but volunteered for service which their engagement never contemplated. In examining the conditions on which the force was to be constituted it was found that even the limitation of 100 leagues from the shore, to which the services of the Naval Coast Volunteers was confined, was a serious practical obstacle to its efficiency, and accordingly an arrangement was made by which, while the men in time of peace belonged to the merchant navy, in time of war they were to become to all intents and purposes Bailors of Her Majesty's navy, and to be as available as the seamen of the Royal Navy. It appeared to the Government that there was no reason why the same principle which had been found so valuable at home should not be extended to our colonies possessing a maritime population, so that colonies like those of Australia and British North America might be able in time of peace to train their maritime population to the use of guns, subject to conditions like those of the Royal Naval Reserve, and that in time of war those trained seamen should be available, under the control of the Government of the colony, for all the purposes of maritime defence. Those colonies, especially Victoria, had expressed their readiness to raise such a force. In preparing this measure, he had had the advantage of the assistance of his noble Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty and of the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, who, having been connected with the colonies, was well aware of the measures which were likely to be acceptable to them. Accordingly, the main object of the Bill which he sought to introduce was to extend the principle of the Royal Naval Reserve to all the maritime colonies of the Empire. But the Bill would promote another object. One maritime colony—Victoria—had been desirous of having a Queen's ship of its own. It had a ship of its own; but that ship being merely under colonial authority possessed none of the rights, and, in presence of foreign nations, could have none of the privileges of a ship of war. Those rights and privileges could only be secured by putting the ship under the control of the Admiralty. The second purpose of the Bill was, therefore, to enable a colony either in time of peace or in time of war to place its ships under the control of the Admiralty. The object of the Bill was not only to enable a maritime colony, if it should so think fit, to take effective measures for its own protection at sea, but to enable several colonies to combine for mutual protection under the Admiralty—to enable all the colonies under the British Crown to be united in one body and to combine their ships so as to form, with the navy of this country, a naval defence for the whole of the British Empire. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for leave to bring in the Bill.


inquired whether the payment for a colonial ship was to be from the colony.


replied that the Bill contemplated nothing which was not to be at the expense of the colony, at least in ordinary times.

Motion agreed to.

Bill to make better provision for the Naval Defence of the Colonies, ordered to be brought in by Mr. Secretary CARDWELL, Lord CLARENCE PAGET, Mr. CHICHESTER FORTESCUE, and Mr. CHILDERS.

House adjourned at Eleven o'clock.