HC Deb 09 March 1868 vol 190 cc1221-3

said, he would beg to ask the Secretary of State for War, What truth there is in a recent statement in the public prints that one of the projected Fortifications at Chatham had sunk into the mud, or that the foundations had given way, and that some of the new Fortifications elsewhere had shown signs of instability; and, whether, considering the opinion expressed by the distinguished civil engineer Mr. Thomas Hawksley, on the 26th of August, 1866, that— Many endeavours had been made and much money, reckoned by millions, had been expended, I will not say wastefully or unworthily, but certainly uselessly, in endeavours to secure our coasts against the attacks of a foreign enemy. And whether, considering the statement under the head "Naval and Military Intelligence," in The Times of November 3, 1866, that— We have certainly as a rule been unfortunate in our military engineering, and especially in carrying out the plans for the defence of our coast line; that some forts have been built on swampy land, so unstable and treacherous that keep and magazine have cracked through, and their earthen ramparts have slid from their base. To ask, therefore, whether, considering the above public statements, before a further application for money is made to the House, the Secretary of State for War will lay upon the table a Report in detail of the present condition of the Fortifications enumerated in the Parliamentary Return, No. 157, of March, 1867; and in default of such Report, whether he will advise Her Majesty to appoint a Commission of Military and Civil Engineers and Members of the House, to examine and report on the present condition of the Fortifications, and whether any of them can be dispensed with?


said, in answer to the first part of the Question of the hon. and gallant Member, he had to state that two forts at Chatham on marshy ground had subsided, but nothing had occurred to prevent their completion. In reply to the other portion of the Question, whether some of the new fortifications elsewhere had shown signs of instability, he also had to state that he had made close inquiries, and he found that in the case of one fort only the retaining wall had shown some signs of weakness, but the damage was not so dangerous as to prevent its being repaired. The remainder of the hon. and gallant Member's Question seemed to be in the nature of an argument and not of an inquiry, and he (Sir John Pakington) thought it inconvenient that an hon. Gentleman in asking a Question should introduce long recitals containing very severe attacks on public Departments, and proceeding from parties who expressed opinions without being subject to any responsibility. He was quite aware that opinions expressed by Mr. Hawksley were entitled to respect; but he could not accept that gentleman's authority as conclusive when compared with that of military men of the highest standing, on whose advice the Government of Lord Palmerston deter- mined to carry out these fortifications. And in like manner he might say with respect to the extract from The Times, that it went very far beyond the facts. It was true that the magazine of a fort erected to protect the approach to the Medway had, from the nature of the soil, in some degree settled, but nothing had occurred which might not be repaired. He had no objection to lay on the table a Report on the present condition of the fortifications, as the extracts quoted by the hon. and gallant Member were calculated to create anxiety in the public mind.