HC Deb 16 July 1866 vol 184 cc825-42

rose, pursuant to Notice, to put a Question to the Secretary for War which he hoped, he said, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman would not think he was pressing on his attention unfairly so soon after his accession to office, particularly as it involved a point of almost immediate importance connected with the 11th Hussars who were shortly about to embark for India. The House was aware that when a regiment was setting out for that country several alterations were made among its officers, and that when a regiment returned from it its second major was compelled to retire on half-pay. By a War Office Warrant which was passed during the administration of Lord de Grey it was provided that an officer so put on half-pay should be placed upon full pay as speedily as possible by being transferred to a regiment going to India. That was a very fair arrangement, and there was in it the advantage to the public that it enabled the Secretary for War to keep down the half-pay list. There were some cases, however, in which an adherence to the exact letter of the law was productive of hardship in a regiment about to embark on foreign service, as, for example, when it occurred that the major whom it was proposed to bring in had—as in the present instance—seen less service than the senior captain of the regiment, or the service of the latter had been so long as to justify him in expecting promotion. The senior captain of the 11th Hussars had seen some nineteen years' service—five years in India—and had held his present rank nearly six years. But the case was even harder with respect to the senior lieutenant, who was twenty three years' standing in the army, and who, having been promoted from the ranks for gallant conduct in the field during the Crimean War, had been since unable to purchase his promotion, and had, consequently, been passed over by purchase nine times. Now, if officers who rose from the ranks were not to have the benefit of being in a position to get a step in advance, especially when about to go to service in a foreign climate, their elevation must be regarded by them as a somewhat doubtful advantage. He did not, at the same time, mean to contend that it was not per- fectly right that the system of bringing in young officers from half-pay should not be persevered in; nor had he a single word to say against Major Jervis, the officer to whom his question related, and who was, he believed, a very good soldier, although he had not, however, had the good fortune to have seen so much service as the senior captain of the regiment. He hoped, under the circumstances of the case, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman would re-consider the matter, and he was strengthened in that hope by a conversation which he had with his noble Friend the Under Secretary for War. Before he sat down he wished to call the attention of the House to another question of still greater importance to the country at large. He might, he thought, safely say that all Europe had been taken by surprise by the wonderful results produced by the guns with which the Prussian soldiers were armed in the late engagements on the Continent. Without in the slightest degree detracting from the gallantry of those soldiers, or from the skill with which they appeared to have been handled, he thought it might be assumed that the successes which they had achieved were in a great degree to be attributed to the superiority of their weapons over the muzzle-loaders with which their brave, but less fortunate adversaries were supplied. Now, he confessed he was somewhat astonished that Europe should thus be taken by surprise when this arm had been before them for ten years, and further, that in the late campaign in Schleswig-Holstein the Austrians should not have discovered what a formidable weapon their then allies were armed with. It was also an astonishing thing that the French Government, which was generally so much on the alert to avail itself of new inventions to increase their power, should not have secured for its army a weapon equal to the needle-gun of the Prussians. He did not think the Snider gun the best breechloader that could possibly be desired. The British army ought to be furnished with the very best possible weapon that could be found. There were many most ingenious inventions in the way of breech-loaders, and they all deserved the attention of the Government; but it was important that the army should be supplied as speedily as possible with the best breech-loader of the day, and he therefore trusted that the right hon. and gal- lant Gentleman would be able to inform the House that he had made arrangements, in addition to those adopted by the late Government, to place in the hands of the British troops breech-loaders of some kind with all possible despatch. The converted Enfield rifle might not be altogether perfect, but it had the advantage of simplicity, and the alteration of the weapon had the effect of improving the shooting rather than otherwise.


asked the Secretary of State for War whether the Government small arms manufactory at Enfield was only capable of converting 40,000 per annum of the present Enfield muzzle-loaders into breech-loaders; whether it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to invite tenders from the gunsmith trade for the immediate conversion of the present service rifle to the approved breech-loading pattern; and whether the approved Boxer ammunition for the converted rifles was being manufactured with expedition? The object, no doubt, of the Government was not only to obtain a very good weapon, but to obtain something that could be expeditiously made to answer the purpose of a breech-loader, and consequently it was determined to convert a number of Enfield rifles on the Snider principle. He thought that any one who had examined the weapon with care would admit that the Enfield rifle converted into a breech loader was an excellent weapon in its way, but there was already a large number of breech-loading rifles before the public superior even to a converted Enfield. With regard to those who said that our army would be in great danger if it went into action with a converted Enfield, it must be borne in mind that with all repeating rifles there must be a pause after every discharge of a series of shots to recharge; and it was just possible during that awkward pause, for the enemy to make a dash on the men by means of a quicker weapon, and one easier to be discharged. For a long time the impression prevailed that the long range and fine shooting would be the most effective in warfare. He believed that practical officers held a different opinion, and he thought that a return of the number of rounds fired and the number of men killed by the British troops in China and New Zealand would rather astonish the House, as showing the result of the long range and fine shooting. Nevertheless, for re- cruits there was what was called a sight-test, by which, unless the recruits could see the centre of the regulation target at 600 yards distance, they were rejected. The consequence was that many able-bodied men, who would have made admirable soldiers, were not admitted into the service, because it was supposed that everything depended upon shooting at enormous distances. They must bear in mind, however, that if they armed the men with breech-loaders they must give them the means of carrying many more rounds of ammunition—say, 250 rounds instead of fifty or sixty, and this they could do if their packs were carried for them. The present Military Train was wholly inadequate to perform that duty. He hoped that the serious slaughter that was now taking place on the Continent would open the eyes of the Government to the necessity of supplying our army with the best weapon that could be obtained, and with the means of carrying additional supplies of ammunition, without which, in the event of our being engaged in war, they would imperil not only the lives, but even the reputation of our men.


said, great injustice had been done to the gallant officers who had been alluded to. One of them had been twenty-four, another sixteen, and another nine years in the service, and yet they had been passed over in the manner referred to. If they were to bo passed over in this way, what chance of promotion had they.


said, he quite concurred in what had fallen from his hon. and gallant Friend who had just addressed the House, as to the injustice done to the officers alluded to. He quite approved of what had been done by the late Secretary for War, and with what was now being done by the present Secretary for War, in respect to the conversion of the Enfield rifles into breech-loaders. But before they had determined upon what should be the permanent breech-loader for the service, he hoped that they would consider why they should not adopt a rifle which had been reported on to the Admiralty as one of the most simple and admirable weapons that had ever been invented.


considered the claims of Major Jervis, to which reference had been made by the hon. and gallant Officer, would bear favourable comparison with those of most other officers. If they could not trust the Horse Guards in a small matter like the case of those officers, they could not trust them in greater matters. If they were to consider the claims of the senior captains of the 11th Hussars, they must consider the claims of every field officer who had been put on half-pay without any fault of his own.


said, he wished to make one or two observations on the subject of breech-loading rifles. The first occasion on which his attention was directed to weapons of this sort was in the spring of 1851, when passing down the Rhine. Some Prussian soldiers came on board the steamer, having curious looking muskets, which he asked permission to examine; but was not allowed to do so. There happened, however, to be an Englishman on board, an engineer, who had settled in Prussia, and he asked him if he knew what those curious muskets were. He replied, if you should, unfortunately, go to war with Prussia, you will find out what they are; they are called needle-guns, and will carry four times as far as your brown bess muskets, and being loaded at the breech can be fired four or five times as quickly; so that before your men could come within shot of the enemy they would be swept down. He said further that he knew the Prussians were gradually supplying their whole army with these guns, and, in his opinion, the Prussian was the best administered Government in the world, and they would not take such steps unless assured that it was a perfect weapon. He (Mr. Smith) then informed this gentleman that he was a Member of Parliament, and that he considered his information so important that if he would make such inquiries as would enable him to give precise particulars of the needle-gun and would write him a letter on the subject, he would lay it before the Government. A few days after his return to London he received a letter from the gentleman, which he now held in his hand. Mr. Fox Maule was then Secretary at War. He handed the letter to him as he sat on the Treasury Bench, saying, "I wish you to read that letter. It is very important, in my opinion." The right hon. Gentleman took the letter and read it. Without turning round, he handed it back to him on the seat behind, saying, "We know all about it;" but from that day to this they had heard nothing about these needle-guns. It happened shortly afterwards that it was the duty of Mr. Fox Maule to bring forward the Ordnance Estimates, and move a Vote for replacing 50,000 muskets which had been burnt in the Tower. On that occasion he got up and opposed the Motion, and he believed his hon. Friend near him (Mr. Osborne) seconded him. He said it was like throwing money into the river to store up ordinary muskets, when they knew of a weapon which carried four times further. The answer, however, was that the Government could not be without muskets, and the Vote was passed. Now, perhaps the House would like to hear what was stated in the letter to which he had referred. It was dated April 24, 1851, and was in these terms— Agreeably to your request, I have made some inquiries respecting the use of the needle muskets in the Prussian army. They have been introduced since 1847; each regiment has one battalion of Fusiliers armed with them. They are much lighter than the common musket, and carry with great precision, and are quickly loaded at the breech. When firing at the target, 300 'steps' is called point blank distance, but with a slight elevation the distance is increased to 600 'steps.' It is generally admitted that 700 yards is the distance at which they will kill. From an article I lately read in a newspaper, I am inclined to think such arms are used in England, though not generally introduced. The distance at which is fired point blank with the common musket here is 150 steps, or about 140 yards. He was very glad to learn that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Secretary of State for War was taking this question into his serious consideration, and that the army would no longer be left without the finest weapon that could be produced. He happened to be in company with Mr. Whitworth shortly after some experiments had been made with his rifle, and with his cannon and Sir William Armstrong's, and Mr. Whitworth, than whom there was no one who was better able to give an opinion on the subject, remarked— We are in our infancy in regard to this matter; we are only just beginning. The scientific mind has only recently been turned to the invention of instruments of destruction; but it will go on and never cease until war will become so destructive that no one will engage in it. This was a consummation devoutly to be wished; but with 6,000,000 men in arms in Europe, it was indispensable that the army of this country should have an efficient weapon; but, if what Mr. Whitworth said was true as to constant improvements in our muskets and cannon, it was important, while providing a sufficient number of arms for immediate use, not to lay up great stores even of improved arms, for improvements were being made so rapidly, that the best weapons of the present time might in a few years be shown in the Tower as great curiosities, and prove as useless as the muskets that were stored there by Mr. Fox Maule.


had placed a Question on the Paper relative to this subject, and wished to know how many of Her Majesty's Infantry troops in India were supplied with breech-loading rifles, and whether, breech-loading carbines being served to the Cavalry regiments, the 11th Hussars were to be sent to India without them? He also wished to know whether some of the Enfield rifles could not he converted in India as well as in England? This matter was ten times more important in India than at home. The North of India was in an unsatisfactory state. Our troops should have the best arm; and one man would then be as effective as five or seven men. There was a Small Arms Committee; why should they not have a report from that Committee? He thought it was the duty of the House, voting as they did large sums annually for military purposes, to have before them the grounds on which so important a question as that of the selection of arms was decided by the War Department before any serious outlay was incurred


said, that having in former years taken a considerable interest in the arming of our soldiers, and being the survivor of three Members of the House at whose especial request the Small Arms Committee of 1854 was appointed, he might be allowed to make a few observations on the subject then before the House. He believed he was mainly instrumental in introducing to Lord Hardinge Mr. Westley Richards, and other gunmakers, through whose joint exertions that noble Lord adopted the Enfield rifle, which had proved the most efficient of the muzzle-loading arms possessed by any army in the world; and he had been assured by friends of his who were present at the battle of Inkermann that it was the hard shooting of that rifle which enabled our troops to repulse the Russians. He rejoiced to think that in the gallant General who now presided over the War Office the House had given promise of that promptitude, which was essential at the present crisis, and he fully agreed with his remark that it was better we should have an inferior breech-loader than no breech-loader at all. No further delay ought to take place in arriving at some decision, and he hoped that during the period of conversion the arms would be submitted to continuous tests, in which the Volunteers as well as the regulars might take part. It was very important that the Government should act at once upon the best information they possessed; for, even should they convert 100,000 or 150,000 muskets into breech-loaders which turned out hereafter to be not of the very best construction, it would be easy to sell them off. Since the erection of the Enfield factory it had been asserted that unless every musket was made by machinery each part would not be so exactly identical that the weapons might be taken to pieces and put together indiscriminately. This condition, however, was not insisted upon in any other country, and it would deprive the country of the services of our skilled artizans, who were, after all, the best gunmakers in the world. In conclusion, he would express his hope that the gallant General would appoint a tribunal to test the merits of the arms which should hereafter be adopted, and that he would exclude inventors from that tribunal and confine it to infantry officers, who would be guided only by experience.


Sir, I for one feel perfect confidence in leaving the decision as to the best breech-loader to the gallant General opposite, for, in my opinion, two better appointments have not been made in the new Government than that of Secretary for War, in the person of the gallant General the Member for Huntingdon, and that also of Under Secretary, in the person of the Earl of Longford, with whom I have been long and intimately acquainted in the House of Lords, and to whose merits I gladly bear my fullest testimony. I think, therefore, that the question of breech-loaders is in perfectly safe hands. But I rose, Sir, not so much to speak upon the merits of any particular fire-arm as to take this opportunity, which is the only one that may present itself, to put some questions to Her Majesty's Government with regard to other appointments which have not given me the same confidence. I very much wish that this duty had devolved on some one else, and I waited till the last minute in the hope that one of the Irish Members, who are so enthusiastic in de- fence of the rights and liberties of their country when, probably, the emergency is not so serious, would draw the attention of the House to the importance of the administration of justice in the sister country. Now, I am not about to criticize in an unfair spirit the appointments which have been made on the other side, because I think, taking man for man, those appointments have on the whole been very creditable to the Gentlemen opposite, and that they can fairly compete in their list of well-informed Dukes and statistical Baronets with any of the appointments made by this side of the House. I shall certainly be delighted—and I mean—to give them a fair trial, which, I think, under the circumstances, they fully deserve. But at the same time I must beg for an answer, a categorical answer, to the questions which I am about to put to the head of the Government in this House. I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether there be any truth in the statement which I have seen in the newspapers this morning with regard to the law appointments that have been made in Ireland? Those Members who have attended to the legal legislation in this House are well aware that eleven years ago a Court of Appeal in Ireland was constituted, at the head of which a very eminent lawyer was placed—I mean Mr. Blackburne. I believe there have been few greater or more illustrious lawyers, either in Ireland or in this country, than Mr. Blackburne. Well, Sir, what has happened? Within the last few days we have seen it reported that Mr. Blackburne, at the age of eighty-five—the shadow, I am sorry to say, of his former self—has been transferred to the high and important office of Lord Chancellor for Ireland. It is true he had filled that office before, but he filled it many years ago, before the increase of age and infirmities had weighed him down. Of course, having received no official communication upon the point, I do not pretend to make any positive statement upon the subject. I merely ask for information, whether it is true that Mr. Blackburne has been appointed Lord Chancellor for Ireland? There was a gentleman at the Irish bar who I believe might be compared as an equity lawyer with any in this country or Ireland, and whom I hoped that Lord Derby would have appointed to that office in his desire to place his Government in that country upon a broad basis, not by means of a coalition, but by the introduction into his Ministry of men of moderate political principles. The learned gentleman to whom I allude is Mr. Brewster, whom it is unnecessary for me to praise either as a lawyer or as a man. But to my surprise Mr. Brewster has been passed over. What has happened? A most honourable gentleman, whom we all recollect, distinguished equally for his ability and for his deafness (Mr. Napier) has had his pension of £2,000 per annum taken from him and has been appointed to the office of Lord Justice of Appeal. [An hon. MEMBER remarked that Mr. Napier's pension was £4,000 per annum.] So much the better for him. No one grudges Mr. Napier his pension, as he has fairly earned it, but what I find fault with is that Mr. Napier—a deaf Judge—has been put of all places in the world into that of Lord Chief Justice of Appeal. I ask, can this be true? I refuse to believe it till I hear it from the right hon. Gentleman opposite. It may be said that the Government have made this appointment in order to save money by taking away Mr. Napier's pension of £4,000 a year. But that is no answer; for I say that it is not to the interest of the people of Ireland that the Lord Chancellor should be eighty-five years of age, that the Chief Justice should be ninety-two years of age, and that the Lord Justice of Appeal should he as deaf as a post. I understand that the noble Earl at the head of the Government has already received a "round-robin" on the subject. We on this side of the House have had some experience of "round-robins;" such, for instance, as that of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock. I do not, however, see what right the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin. (Mr. Whiteside) has to insist that Mr. Brewster should be passed over, and that a deaf gentleman should be made Lord Justice of Appeal. It is unnecessary for me to say anything about the right hon. Gentleman. I think that for his great talents he merits any promotion at the hands of Her Majesty's Government. He has been of great and material service to his party; but he ought not to be allowed to dictate terms to the Government, so that the Irish people should be subjected to a deaf Judge of Appeals and an octogenarian Lord Chancellor. If this is the notion of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer of what is justice to Ireland, I must say it differs materially from mine. I had hoped, after the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman at Aylesbury the other day as to his views of Irish policy, that we should not have had such jobs as these perpetrated in Ireland. While speaking on the subject of Irish appointments I take the opportunity of giving Her Majesty's Government credit for placing the Irish Secretary in the Cabinet, which the late Government did not do. I give great credit to them for that; and I have no objection to my noble Friend who has been put there. He is the first Irish Secretary who has occupied that position. [An hon. MEMBER: There was Mr. Horsman.] Oh, I scarcely looked upon him as an Irish Secretary, because he was in no way connected with that country, and had hardly learnt his business. But by some odd shuffle of the cards the Government have got a Scotchman as Irish Lord of the Treasury. I wish that Lord Derby could have selected from amongst his numerous adherents, who, he says, were so anxious to be placed, an Irishman to this post. Without wishing to make any invidious comments upon the policy in nubibus of Her Majesty's Government with regard to Ireland, I must ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give us some explanation of the language he made use of in Buckinghamshire a few days since, when he lamented the great emigration from Ireland. Now, the extent of that emigration is doubtless to be deplored, though at the same time it has its good side; but when the right hon. Gentleman, as Leader of this House and Chancellor of the Exchequer, directly hints that he has some measure in reserve by which he will put a stop to that emigration, I think he is bound to tell the House whether he is going to initiate a great scheme of public works in Ireland, and whether the money necessary to carry out that scheme is to come from the English Exchequer. [Mr. OLIPHANT here made some suggestion to the hon. Member.] The hon. Gentleman asks me whether Lord Chief Justice Lefroy has resigned, but the hon. Gentleman must be behind the age. The Chief Justice resigned immediately that Lord Derby came into office. Of course, being a Scotch Member, the hon. Gentleman put the question most disinterestedly. My reply is that the Chief Justice has resigned, and that the only quarrel is now amongst the lawyers as to who is to share the plunder? I believe that the quarrel is made up, that Lord Chief Justice Lefroy resigned at ninety-two years of age; that the Lord Chancellor is eighty-five years of age, and that Mr. Napier, the new Lord Justice of Appeal, is as deaf as a stone; and that the Member for the University of Dublin is to be the Lord Chief Justice. I believe that is the information you will shortly receive; but I will not anticipate. I do hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of this House and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in contradicting or affirming these statements, will give us some sketch of his Irish policy, because nothing can be more mischievous to Ireland than to lead the people to believe that some great measure is "looming in the future" which, by means of public works and of loans to railways, is to put a stop to emigration, and to put money into their pockets. I ask, are we to have Irish capitalists and Irish workmen debauched by a policy of this kind? I do not think I am out of order in drawing the attention of the House for a few moments from the subject of breech-loaders to that of Irish politics. I tell the right hon. Gentleman that this subject is a most pressing and a most important one, and that upon it the stability of his Government must in a great degree depend. I hope by the smile that I see flitting across his interesting countenance that he is about to rise and give a total denial to the statements I have made as to these Irish appointments, and I can only say that by doing so he will materially strengthen his own position as the head of Her Majesty's Government in this House, although possibly he may disappoint some of his now ardent Irish supporters.


With regard to the first Question put to me by the hon. and gallant Member opposite, relating to the augmentation majority of the 11th Hussars on that regiment going to India, I am sorry that I cannot give him any information upon the subject, as the papers relating to it have never been laid before me. I understand, however, that the name of Major Jervis has been submitted to Her Majesty for approval, but the papers have not yet been returned. In the case of appointments of this kind I have always conceived that it is the duty of the Secretary of State for War, for the benefit of the public, when an appointment of this kind occurs, to call upon the Commander-in-Chief to send in the name of some person from the half-pay list. If the Commander-in-Chief were to point out to the Secretary of State that such a course would inflict great hardship upon the senior captain and other officers, of course the Secretary of State would attend to any advice the Commander-in-Chief might give in reference to the filling up of the vacancy. In the present instance, in accordance with the usual course, a major has been selected from the half-pay list. The second Question put to me by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, with regard to breech-loaders, is much more important. On this subject I can only state what has been done since I have been appointed Secretary of State for War. The hon. and gallant Gentleman correctly stated that these arms are superseding the ordinary rifles over the whole of Europe, and that their great superiority over the muzzle-loader had been amply proved. I do not, however, agree with the statement of the hon. Member for Stockport, that the breech-loaders will carry four times as far as the muzzle-loading rifles. [Mr. OSBORNE observed, that what the hon. Member for Stockport said was that the Prussian needle gun shot four times as far as the old "Brown Bess."] Enough, however, has been proved to show that we should not be justified in delaying a moment in adopting these weapons. Not only have we had accounts of the effects of breech-loaders from the special correspondent of The Times—than whom there is not a person more capable of giving an opinion, or whose opinion is entitled to more weight—but the House of Commons is well aware that for some time military officers have been attached to the various embassies, who have had an opportunity of judging of the value of these arms. Among the many letters I have read from these gentlemen is one from Captain Crealock, dated Vienna, July 5, wherein that gallant officer says— I do most sincerely hope that no delay will occur in immediately and at any cost arming the whole of our army with breech-loaders. Again, Colonel Walker, in a letter dated 9th July, says— As to the needle-gun, I have nothing to say but what I have been repeating for nearly three years. We dare not go to war with a muzzleloader, and that is the plain truth. He, however, continues—this may be taken as an answer to one of the questions of the hon. and gallant Member— I like our own gun, from what I hear of it, much better, as I think it is simpler, but breechloader it must be, and that speedily. I have the gratification of knowing from Reports on the table of the House that the attention of the late Government had been directed to this subject for some two or three years, and that some two years since a Committee appointed to inquire into the question reported in favour of the army being altogether re-armed with breech-loaders. The question then arose how that recommendation was to be carried into effect—whether by converting the existing Enfield rifle into a breech-loader or by manufacturing an entirely new arm. It was decided very properly by the late Government to convert the Enfield rifles into breech-loaders on the Snider principle, and they ordered 40,000 of them to be ready by the end of the year. But circumstances having changed, it became my object to place as many of these weapons in the hands of the army as speedily as possible, and therefore I directed that the number ordered by the late Government should be greatly increased. On entering office I found that the late Government had resolved to convert the existing rifle. Now, if I had said, "Perhaps, after all, this may not be exactly the best weapon," we should have been met at once by crowds of inventors, each quite certain that he had got the best weapon, and the result would have been that for years we should have got no breech-loaders at all. What we have done, therefore, is to begin by converting at a comparatively small expense what I believe to be the best muzzle-loader that exists at the present moment—the Enfield rifle—into a breech-loader that shoots better after it is converted than it did before. You thus get rid of the ramrod and the copper cap, and at a very trifling expense you have, at all events, a very good breechloader. Now, I do not think there will ever be that great difference between one breech-loader and another which exists between a muzzle-loader and a breech-loader; but I am willing to admit that great advantage may arise from any invention which secures increased rapidity of fire. However, I am anxious it should be understood that at present we have not gone a single step beyond conversion. I have not ordered the construction of a single new rifle upon the Snider principle. What has been done is simply with a view to the conversion of the muzzle-loader into a breech-loader. The question was what to do so as quickly as possible. I therefore applied to the head of our manufactory at Enfield, and I found that by some additional expenditure they could produce within the year 100,000 converted rifles, instead of 40,000. At the same time, I have every reason to believe that I can procure another 100,000 from the trade. Already a promise has been made of 50,000, and I believe that we shall get from the trade another 50,000 before the end of the financial year—that is to say, we hope to have 200,000 breech-loaders before the end of the financial year. A larger number than this it would not be advisable to order. The instant I can get any number of these breech-loaders I propose to send them to the Commander-in-Chief, in order that they may be placed at once in the bands of the soldiers and that their merits may be reported upon. Of course, experiments have already been conducted by private hands. I am afraid that experience does not bear out what was said by my hon. Friend (Mr. Newdegate) as to the possibility of hand production. Breechloaders take too long when made by hand, and such is the expense of this process that work costs £12 by hand which costs only £1 when done by machinery. I am afraid, therefore, that you cannot trust to hand labour. [Mr. NEWDEGATE: I never suggested it.] It will be perfectly understood, I hope, that, beyond the mere conversion, no conclusion has been come to as to the new arm which it will be advisable to adopt. That point is still open. We had quite enough to do to change our present arms, and no time was to be lost in deciding what that arm should be. Now everybody who imagines that he has got a better breech-loader than that of Snider will have an opportunity of showing the superiority of his own invention if he can, and I quite agree that the way in which that point may be best decided, and in the way most likely to satisfy those whose rifles are to be tried, is by a committee composed of infantry officers snd others. I think the House will rest satisfied when I tell them that arrangements have been made for the production of 200,000 breech-loading rifles in the course of the financial year, and I have this evening placed upon the table a supplemental Estimate to cover the expense of conversion and of the ammunition, which is, of course, an important part of the rifle. With regard to the question asked by an hon. Gentleman opposite, respecting regiments in India armed with breech-loaders, I have to say that as I was not aware that that question would be put, I am not in A position to reply to it. I know there are some cavalry regiments that are armed with breech-loading carbines; but I do not believe there is a breech-loading rifle now in use in India. No doubt if the rifles with which our soldiers are now armed in India can be converted there, that will be an advantageous arrangement. There are altogether 600,000 Enfield rifles which may be converted, and one-third of that number, out of about 300,000 new rifles which have never been issued, will be so dealt with. With regard to the 11th Hussars, we have 700 Sharpe's rifles in store, and we communicated with the Horse Guards as to whether they would desire these rifles to be supplied, but the answer received at the War Office was that they did not wish for them.


Has the regiment got muzzle-loaders?


I do not know.


asked whether the attention of the Government had been called to the Spencer repeating rifle, which had done such execution during the American war, and was thought to be superior to the Westley Richards rifles at present being made?


There appears to have been some misapprehension either on the part of my hon. Friend or myself as to the question put by the hon. Member for Truro with reference to the augmentation majority of the 11th Hussars. I had no idea, until what I had heard this evening, that there was an impression that I had entered into any such engagement as that alluded to. I remember perfectly well that the question was postponed from one Friday to another, and that I engaged that nothing should be done until the interval had elapsed; but before the second Friday came, an adjournment had been decided on for a considerable time, and it did not occur to me that I had given a pledge that no further action should be taken until the House had discussed the subject. Had that been so I believe that, acccording to the original arrangement, the 11th Hussars would have had to leave England without the appointment of a second major at all. No doubt we should have been justified in consider- ing the case of Captain Harnett and other cases if brought under notice; but the fact is that the Commander-in-Chief had promised the appointment to Major Jervis. When the subject was mentioned to His Royal Highness by me, he said that if the War Office could provide another appointment for Major Jervis he should be glad, but that acting in the spirit of the warrant and of the instructions from the War Office he had already promised the appointment to Major Jervis, and could not draw back from his promise unless some other way of providing for that officer could be found. It is quite a mistake to suppose that the appointment was given to save the half-pay of that officer—it was given only as an act of justice to him and to the claims which he put forward, founded upon what I believe to be his correct interpretation of an existing regulation. With regard to the second question which has been discussed this evening, I have no reason to complain of the right hon. Gentleman (General Peel); on the contrary, I have every reason to be grateful to him for the manner in which he has referred, both now and on former occasions, to the part which the late Government took upon the improvement of our small arms. Neither have I any intention of opposing the proposal which the right bon. Gentleman has announced, of converting a much larger number of rifles than the late Government had intended to convert. I believe the noble Lord who represents the War Department in the other House admitted that, though at one time of a different opinion, yet when he had examined the subject he thought it would have been impossible to adopt any other arm with greater rapidity than had been done. The order given by me for the conversion of 20,000 Snider breech-loaders was given at the earliest possible moment. I only received the first Report of the Select Committee on the subject upon the 19th of February in the present year, and on the 22nd of February Colonel Dixon was directed to prepare for the conversion. Two subsequent Reports were received from the Select Committee, and on receiving those Reports I was prepared to order a still further conversion. As I stated before, in moving the Estimates, the money which we asked on account of the Small Arms Factory was an arbitrary sum, and we could not say what number of breech-loaders it would produce. We afterwards found that it would secure the conversion of 40,000, and it was my inten- tion to have proceeded with the work in the factory. From the information furnished to me I judged that it would not be possible, under any circumstances, during the present year, to convert a larger number than 40,000, and I am not aware how it has been found practicable to convert 100,000. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will give us some further information on this point when he moves the Supplemental Estimate. As to the other 100,000 rifles which he proposes to procure from the trade, I have no objection to make to this, but can only say that, looking at the past history of our dealings with the gun trade, I shall be much astonished if by the 31st of March next the right hon. Gentleman finds himself in possession of that number of converted arms supplied by private firms. He should be very glad if he obtained them, but his own experience taught him that it was very unlikely.


said, that he should have great pleasure in laying upon the table the Reports of the Committee upon which the War Office had acted.

An hon. MEMBER

called the attention of the Secretary of State for War to the case of an officer who had risen from the ranks and served twenty-three years, and yet could receive no promotion, according to the rules of the service, until the officer above him was taken away. The officer who at present stopped his promotion would not purchase, and as long as he served over the head of the other, even if it were for 100 years, the latter could not become a captain. He wished to ask the right hon. and gallant General whether there was any chance of getting that state of things remedied?

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