HC Deb 19 March 1868 vol 190 cc1922-37

, in rising to move for certain Returns of which he had given notice, said, that he had adopted the course which he was now pursuing because, from experience, he had found that to bring forward in Committee of Supply a question affecting our expenditure would result in its becoming so involved and mixed up with other details, as to preclude it from receiving the just consideration to which it might be entitled. The question to which he desired to call the attention of the House was one which involved three questions of considerable importance—the rightful or wrongful expenditure of a very large amount of public money, the efficiency of the fortifications which had been made to protect the keys of our maritime ports and of our supremacy, and, finally, the system and responsibility under which large sums of public money were expended and certain results obtained. Under the old system, if he was rightly informed, forts were constructed at haphazard—one placed here and another there—without any relation to any definite system or view to any ultimate plan. But the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stroud (Mr. Horsman) at length moved the appointment of a Com- mittee on the subject, and that Committee recommended the expenditure of about £10,000,000 or £11,000,000 in fortifications. Something like £7,000,000 out of that sum had been expended. The question they had then to consider was, whether that large sum had been properly expended, and whether the balance of £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 was likely also to be properly expended? The works already constructed consisted chiefly of earthworks, fortifications of granite, masonry, and so on; but latterly money had been expended upon shields for embrasures and batteries, the object, of course, being to counteract the improved power of artillery. Public attention had recently been directed to the subject, and it was doubted whether the country had been getting their money's worth for the expenditure which had been made, and whether the works constructed were as efficient as they ought to be. He held in his hand an article from St. Paul's Magazine, and in that article, which was evidently written by some one well acquainted with the subject, the writer said— Nor can it be denied that nothing is more to be deprecated than that either Southwick, Widley, or Nelson (the three central forts on Portsdown Hill), or Brockhurst, Rowner, or Grange (the three principal works of the second line) should ever be tested by the rough and unmasking experience of war. No one can gaze into the deep chalk ditches which surround the Portsdown Hill forts without seeing that the scarp walls are already gliding in great slices into the ditch, and without imagining what would be the fate of the whole structure if a rapid and angry fire were sustained from 600-pounder guns standing upon the elevated terreplein of Forts Widley or Nelson. As to the miserably weak caponniers which flank these deep-cut chalk ditches, it will be sufficient to say that they belong to a system already as obsolete as the 68-pounder smooth-bore guns which these forts were originally intended to carry. But coming next to Forts Brockhurst, Rowner, and Grange, it should never be forgotten that Sir Roderick Murchison warned our military engineers, many years ago, that it would be impossible to build forts in the spongy soil which has here been selected for their foundation. Neglecting any precautionary measures, disregarding the condition of the site on which their forts were to be raised, our military engineers set to work to pile earth and brickwork upon the top of a quaking morass, and with what result it is not difficult to imagine. These forts—for which, by-the-by, Colonel Jervois is not responsible—carry guns which, although too small in calibre to be of serious annoyance to an enemy, would be quite big enough, if fired, to lay Forts Brockhurst and Rowner prostrate upon the ground. He then goes on to speak of the Hilsea lines, of which he says— These lines, nearly 3,000 yards in length, and mounting embrasures for ninety guns, are, in sub- stance, long curtains of earth, with casemated batteries on the flank of each curtain. It has now been discovered that the embrasures have been placed so close together that the guns cannot be worked, and every alternate embrasure will have to be built up. Not that even thus would these embrasures, although reduced from ninety to forty-five, be rendered available for use in their present condition. The falling earth, intended to cushion the brick face of the casemates, has choked up the mouths of the embrasures, and, viewed in conjunction with the great fissures which have already rent the casemates, leaves upon the mind of the spectator an appalling impression of waste, folly, and decay. To that statement, if uncorroborated, much weight might not, perhaps, have been attached. But a Question upon the subject was asked by some hon. Member, and the right hon. Gentleman opposite gave the usual official Answer—an answer which was of course put into his hands by those who were responsible for the manner in which the money was expended—that there might be some defects, but that the thing would be all right. But The Times' correspondent, who had written a description very much like that which appeared in a magazine, stated that he adhered to all that he had written, and that every word of it was literally and practically true. What, however, he more particularly wished to call the attention of the House to, were the iron shields and iron forts which had been constructed, and which were in course of construction, and in reference to these he had something more reliable to bring forward than statements which had been made in magazines and newspapers. Thirty - five iron shields, mostly designed for Gibraltar and Bermuda—the latter a place which, if we ever had unhappily a difference with the United States, would be a naval station of the greatest importance—had been constructed during the last year, and to these shields the attention of the public had been directed. It was stated that they were not well constructed, that they had been constructed without sufficient experiment, that they had never been tried, and it was impossible to say whether they would stand fire or not. Subsequently, however, the attention of Parliament was called to the subject, and experiments were made under the supervision of the officers who were responsible for the construction of the shields. These, which were called inductive experiments, were tolerably satisfactory; but the Minister for War thought that further experiments were necessary, and one of the shields was handed over to the Ordnance Select Committee for trial. Perhaps two shots, or at the outside three, were fired at it from a gun of moderate size, and the result was that nineteen out of the twenty bolts on the face of the shield gave way, showing that, if the shield had been fired at by an enemy, its bolts would have become so many additional missiles cast at the men for whose protection it had been set up. The Secretary for War had shown great judgment and courage, for, had he listened to the advice of those who were responsible for the shields, no such experiment would have taken place. Guided by the result of the Ordnance Committee experiment, his right hon. Friend desired that the shield should be tested more thoroughly, and he appointed a Special Committee for the purpose, headed by the hon. Member for Stamford (Sir John Hay), who was also a Lord of the Admiralty, than whom he could not have chosen a better man. The hon. Member for Stamford, it would be remembered, was at the head of the Iron Plate Committee which sat in 1863, and having conducted a series of careful experiments, laid down a general principle applicable to everything in the shape of armour constructed either wholly or in part of iron. Referring to the shield designed by Colonel Inglis, that Committee reported as follows:— It appears that even the 15-inch (Inglis) shield, if constructed with three layers of 5 inches thick each, could not long resist such a gun as the 300-pounder, with large charges of powder, the initial velocity of the shot and the work done being so great that nothing less than 7½-inch iron would resist it. Probably, therefore, plates or planks 8 inches thick are the least that should be used for a coast battery. It happened that a coast battery was the very thing he was referring to. That Report was issued in 1863; in 1867 the subject was brought before the House, and objection was taken to the method of construction of those shields; and he wished to ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary for War, whether the officers responsible for the construction of the Gibraltar and Malta shields had read the Report of the Iron Plate Committee? If they had read it, why had they not acted on it? The simple fact appeared to be this. An able Committee, after a series of careful experiments decided that 8-inch plates were necessary for a coast battery; but, in the face of this, certain officials set to work constructing the Gibraltar shield of plates 5½-inch, 5-inch, and 1½-inch thick re- spectively, without having made any experiments of their own. Surely, that was the moat extraordinary proceeding ever presented for the consideration of a Secretary for War. But this Gibraltar shield had been submitted to further trial by the specially appointed Committee, and the House now waited its Report. The Ordnance Committee's experiment had been conducted in secret, and the battered shield covered by tarpaulin; but as everything became public now-a-days, a full account of the experiment appeared in the papers next morning. Some scientific men who had examined the shield had concluded that, even if it were strengthened by the use of a different kind of bolt, as it was on the last experiment, it was a complete failure; it had been battered completely out of time, and the Committee, properly speaking, had nothing to do but certify to its failure. The public would, therefore, regret to learn that the Committee had recommended further experiments with the shield at the country's expense. However, the blue book recounting the results of the trials already made would, no doubt, soon be in the hands of Members, when they and the public could form an independent judgment on the points he had raised. His Question specially referred to a fort to be erected at Devonport, and a similar fort to be erected at Bermuda. Last Session chance had shown him a drawing of these intended forts, and a person pointed out to him at the time what appeared to him to be defects in construction. The criticism the gentleman offered accorded with a common sense view of the case, and he accordingly brought the matter before Parliament. He asked his right hon. Friend the Secretary for War, whether, before these works were further prosecuted, a section of one of them might not be made and tested. After a little discussion, the hon. and gallant Member for Stamford (Sir John Hay) assented to the proposition. He (Lord Elcho) then proposed— That a complete section be made, full size, of Devonport Breakwater, giving one embrasure, granite base, concrete roof, with two supporting pillars, girders, brickwork, granite, &c., as per drawing, signed by Colonel Jervois, January 19, 1867, and issued to contractors—that this section should be submitted to the following tests:—Six shots of Palliser's projectiles from the 9-inch rifled gun; six shots of Palliser's projectiles from the 600-pounder rifled gun; both guns to be placed at 600 yards."—[3 Hansard, clxxxix, 1300.] It was understood at the time that the Government accepted that proposition in substance; but whatever might have been the intentions of the Government, the necessary sections had not been constructed, nor were they in course of construction in accordance with the understanding he had quoted. He did not in the least blame the Secretary for War, because on a professional question such as this he was manifestly obliged to be more or less in the hands of departmental officers interested in the construction of the works. Knowing that his right hon. Friend had insisted as far as possible that the section should be constructed precisely in accordance with the understanding come to with him, that it should, in fact, be a section of the actual fort to be erected at Devonport, he wished to show the House how materially the target differed from the armour of the fort. If the House would bear with him he would read a description of the plan of Plymouth fort, as sent out by the War Office for tenders to various contractors, and side by side with it he would also read a description of the target, supposed to represent the Plymouth fort, now being erected at Shoeburyness, The House and his right hon. Friend the Secretary for War would then admit he was more than justified in the course he had taken. The statement he read was as follows:— In the original plan the distance from centre to centre of piers is 21 feet 9 inches; in the target it is between 1 and 2 feet less to give greater strength. In the plan the piers are proposed to be filled with brick laid in cement, and to receive no support whatever from the floor—that is to say, to resist forward strains from impact of shot; in the target the left-hand pier of this is laid upon granite, and bars of iron, 12 inches by 5 inches, are put in vertically to support it. In the plan the straight or transverse girders are, as it were, loose on the top of the piers and box-girders (without being connected to each other), and are held in their places by a few rivets only; in the target they are riveted to the piers and to the box-girders with extra plates, and brackets are fastened on the top of each girder for connecting the 3-inch bolts (which go through the front armour-plates), instead of screwing them up in the concrete only, as shown in the plan of the Plymouth Fort, and not only have they a greater number of rivets at each end and plates to secure them, but arch-plates, extending from one girder to the other, riveted fast. In the plan the back box-girders which carry the straight girders are 1 foot 6 inches deep; in the target they are 1 foot 11 inches deep, and are bedded into the masonry of the old casemate with which they are connected at rear. In the plan the bolts are 3 inches in diameter, reduced in the body, on Palliser's principle, to about 2¾ inches diameter, and the holes for these are proposed to be only a trifle over 3 inches for the bolt to pass through; in the target the bolts are of the same size, but the holes are 4 inches in diameter, for the purpose of receiving wooden pads ½-inch thick, and are double countersunk on both sides. In the plan the intermediate port-plates are cut short, and 16½-inch bars, about 3 feet long, are used to make up the deficiency on the top; the target has a port-plate of the full height, thereby strengthening the structure very considerably. In the plan, in the 21 feet 9 inches centre to centre of piers there are two joints, or "butts;" in the target the three plates are in one length each, and the target is therefore much stronger. In the plan there is no base-plate, the 12-inch by 5-inch vertical beams are merely sunk into the granite foundation about 6 inches; the target has a base-plate about 2½ feet wide and 2½ inches thick, the whole extent of the target, and slots are formed in it, through which the 12-inch by 5-inch bars pass and fasten into the granite about 10 inches deep. In the plan no port-stiffeners are shown, and the inner and middle bars are, as it were, cut through by a series of bolt-holes; these have been put to the target by bolting another 12-inch by 5-inch bar to those already shown in fort drawings. In the plan the size of porthole is 4 feet by 2 feet 4 inches; in the target it is diminished to 3 feet by 2 feet 5 inches. In the plan the arch-plate just over the guns, which communicates with the front plate, is about 1 foot 8 inches wide; in the target it is 6 feet wide. In the plan the bars and plates are shown in contact and no elastic medium between; in the target oak, 1 inch thick, is intended to be placed between the armour-plates and the 16½-inch bars. Since this was written several important alterations have been suggested and are being carried out in the target, and since the inquiry in Parliament many of the modifications have been made to the Plymouth Fort itself. These details were too technical for the House, but they would be published to-morrow, and then those who took an interest in the matter would see that there had been a distinct departure from the understanding which had been come to in that House, and that the section in question was no more a section of the Plymouth Fort than it was a section of Sebastopol, Gibraltar, or any other fort constructed in any part of the world. He was prepared and the House, also, must be prepared for the right hon. Gentleman getting up, giving an official answer, and finding some reasons satisfactory to him and no doubt to the officers concerned, but probably not to the House, for this manifest and clear departure from the original understanding. He had been told that a gentleman at the War Office had said that it was very like a rabbit warren. Now, a rabbit warren had what were called "bolt-holes," and he wished as far as possible to anticipate the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, and thus to stop up the "bolt-holes" by which he might attempt to escape. It might be said that the fort as originally constructed was intended only to meet the artillery of the time. His answer to that was that the date of the contract for the fort was signed the 19th of January, 1867, and the President of the Iron Plate Committee (Sir John Hay), who was sitting beside the right hon. Gentleman, would bear him out when he said that the artillery of 1868 and 1867 was identical. Therefore, this fort ought to have been able to resist the artillery which might be brought to bear upon it in 1868. What did English artillery consist of? Of a 600-pounder Armstrong muzzle-loader 12-inch gun, a 10-inch gun rifled, a 9-inch gun rifled, and a gun of smaller description to which he need not refer. This fort, therefore, if meant to resist the artillery of England, ought to have been constructed to resist the guns of 1868. The second "bolt-hole" might be this, that it had been intended to resist attack from guns carried by our own navy. Now, our own navy was not as yet armed with the 600-pounder 12-inch gun; it was armed with the 9-inch gun, and the Hercules was intended to carry the 12-inch gun. But, though the English guns were supposed to be the best, the guns of other nations should be taken into account, and these forts ought to be able to resist American guns also. He had been informed that experiments had been made with the 15-inch Rodman American gun, which would astonish the artillerists of this country. But, beyond the 15-inch gun, the Americans had, he believed, got actually afloat a 20-inch gun, and he was told they were constructing guns of 30 inches, and even larger. He ventured to think, therefore, that money spent in the erection of forts ought to be so laid out that the forts would be calculated to resist, not only the shot of English but of foreign guns, and that they should look not only to the present but also to the future. The third "bolt-hole" might be that the forts were so constructed as to be capable of being strengthened should artillery increase in power. But he had every reason to believe that, in the opinion of scientific men, the construction of this section of a fort was so defective that it would not admit of such strengthening, and that, if an attempt were made to do so, it would virtually amount to an entirely new structure. Another point was this, that the fort was not intended to be constructed according to the design proposed to be contracted for; but when the contracts were sent in, it was suggested that the contractors should make any propositions they thought desirable with a view to strengthen it. Now, he had read a letter in a public print, from which he thought it not impossible that the contractors were desired to send in within a given time suggestions for improving the construction. But, if such a thing was done, the contractors, at the time the works were begun, had sent in no suggestions; and therefore he was in a position to state as a fact that the tender was issued, the contract accepted, and no change in the construction of the fort was commenced until the attention of Parliament was called to the subject. He did not apprehend it could be said that the changes which had been made were necessary in order to give this section a stability equal to that which it would have had if it had been a section of the actual fort in situ. But then it might be urged that the money voted by Parliament was insufficient, and therefore more could not be spent on these shields. His answer was that people might differ in opinion as to whether these forts were or were not necessary; but if it was once decided to erect them there could not be two opinions but that they ought to be made really effective for the purpose for which they were required. If you wanted a bullock fence to keep cattle out of your garden, it would not be of much use to put up a sheep fence; but this was just what we were doing in adopting ineffectual means of keeping out heavy shot and shell. He did hope that his right hon. Friend would see that the experiment was fully and fairly carried on. Happily, public attention having been called to the subject, there was now a chance of erecting efficient, instead of inefficient, forts. If attention had not been so directed to the subject the £11,000,000 might have been spent in the erection of inefficient forts; and the first intimation that Parliament and the country would have had of the way in which the public money had been wasted would, perhaps, have been the crumbling down of these forts under an enemy's fire in a place which might be the key of English maritime supremacy. There was something wrong in a system which admitted of such a state of things, and what Parliament and the country ought to insist upon was the bringing home of these things to individual responsibility. If the forts were well-constructed, give all credit to the constructors; if they were ill-constructed, let the responsibility be brought home to the proper persons. The noble Lord concluded by asking the Secretary of State for War, Whether he will lay upon the table of the House Copies of the original plan and specification of Plymouth Breakwater Fort, as contracted for and signed by Colonel Jervois on the 19th day of January 1867; of the plan and specification of the so-called section of the Plymouth Breakwater Fort, now being erected at Shoeburyness for trial, marking and colouring any alterations that may have been made; and, whether he will cause further progress with the Plymouth and Bermuda Forts to be stopped, until the section of the Plymouth Breakwater Fort shall have been fully tested by actual experiment. He would also ask, whether his right hon. Friend would attach to the plan an estimate in detail of the relative cost of the original design as contracted for, and of the section now being constructed at Shoeburyness?


took that opportunity of asking the Secretary of State for War, If the Artillery authorities have been sufficiently consulted as to the arrangements and details of the new Defences in this Kingdom, and if they have made any Observations, or if there be any Correspondence upon the subject either with the War Department or the Commander-in-Chief, and whether he will lay such Correspondence upon the table of the House; whether the Inspector of Artillery has been directed to report or has reported on the state of efficiency and armament of these Defences, and if he will lay such Report upon the table of the House; and, whether any Officers besides those engaged in their construction have been employed to make a similar Report as to construction, efficiency, and armament of such Defences, and if he will lay such Report upon the table of the House? A sum of £5,000,000 having been voted for the defence of the country, and it having been said that there was a prospect of the expenditure of £15,000,000 the question could not but be interesting to the country. When accusations were made out of doors that the public money was being wasted in the construction of these forts, the House had a right to know on official authority what the facts were. In a recent publication it was stated "that we have no single reliable land defences, and that we have a great many which are worse than useless." Was this true? No doubt, the locality, and the form, site, and purpose of these forts had been decided upon by several Committees of scientific and military men, of experience and rank in the service; but these officers had nothing to do with their construction, and the construction of these forts was condemned by men qualified to give an opinion. It was alleged, among other things, that the defences had not been constructed in accordance with the plans, and that the experiments had been made with sections purporting to be the same, but really stronger than those of the actual forts. He supposed there was hardly a Gentleman in this House who had not read a letter in The Times, giving a detailed account of each of the new defences in course of construction, pointing out that almost all the forts were inefficient. For himself, he did not pretend to give an opinion; but these statements had made a deep impression upon the country. Had not only the engineer officers, who were themselves constructing these forts, but others, and artillery and naval officers been sufficiently consulted on these questions? He wished the right hon. Baronet would give the House an assurance that the works were being carried out in accordance with the recommendations from time to time made by different Committees upon the subject. It was asserted they were not. For instance, one of the points reported upon by the Iron Plate Committee—of which the hon. and gallant Baronet, just below him (Sir John Hay), was President—had been as to the thickness of iron which ought to be used. 7 inches to 7½ inches, it was supposed, would be the least required to oppose with success shot thrown from guns of the calibre now employed. The Committee even proposed 10 inches. It had been suggested that, in some cases, the thickness of the iron had been reduced to 5 inches, and it was important that the grounds for such a change, if made, should be investigated. He had every confidence in the professional skill of the officers who were superintending the execution of the works; but it ought to be satisfactory, and really was due, to those officers themselves, as well as to the public, to feel that the progress of the works should be tested and approved by others. It was but fair towards the War Department to acquaint his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State with the statements which were current, leaving it to him to give such explanation of the points involved in those statements, or to take such action upon them as he thought necessary. Again, it was said that sections of the defensive works were being erected with a view to be experimented upon at Shoeburyness, and that those sections would be of greater strength than those which were in course of erection in the actual works, and hence that the experiments made upon them would not test the real strength of the fortifications. Moreover, it was known that six weeks must elapse after the concrete had been put in before the sections were sufficiently advanced to be experimented upon; and, accordingly, the end of April or the beginning of May would have arrived before any results were placed in their hands. Meanwhile, the works at Bermuda would have been completed, and those at Plymouth so far advanced that the experiments would be valueless for any practical influence which they would exercise upon the character of the works. In fulfilling the contracts it was believed that the specifications in some cases had been departed from; for the contractors stated that after they had made their contracts on certain specifications, changes were subsequently made in them, and even contrary to their own advice. For this there were doubtless good and valid reasons; but it would certainly be satisfactory that able officers not connected in any way with the works, and therefore competent to take an independent and impartial view, should inquire and give the Government the benefit of their testimony. Again, there were preparations for testing what were called the War Office and the Gibraltar shields—it must be in the recollection of the House that some months since several of these latter shields had been sent out without being tested, and after they were gone, it was found that a few shots knocked them to pieces. They were now preparing a section of the War Office shield for trial, strengthened by stringers and 5½-inch bars at the back, and it was said they had actually proposed to fill the interstices with Trinidad pitch, which was nothing else than bitumen. Had they found out that shells would not set bitumen on fire? The country was perfectly prepared to bear the expenses of constructing any defences which were considered absolutely necessary; but it wished to be assured that these would be so constructed as not to fly to pieces before the enemy's cannon. The hon. and gallant General concluded by urging upon the right hon. Baronet the importance of giving detailed information upon all these points, with a view of satisfying the public mind.


My noble Friend, in the observations he made in introducing this question, expressed confidence that he would have from me an official answer. In a certain sense, no doubt, any answer I may give must be an official one; but my answer will not be official in the sense in which he used the term—that is to say, it will not be dictated by official persons in the War Office. It is entirely out of my power to meet his statements, for the best of all reasons. I have never heard a speech with more surprise than I heard that of my noble Friend; because I had not the slightest expectation, from the form of the Questions put by the noble Lord, that he intended to enter, as he has done, into the whole question of the system of fortifications now being constructed for the defence of our arsenals. I admit as readily as anyone the immense importance of that subject. I cannot complain of any hon. Member who thinks it his duty to come down and ask for explanations upon a matter involving an immense expenditure of public money, and exciting, as it naturally does, a very great amount of public interest. At the same time, I cannot shut my eves to the fact that in all observations made in this House with reference to works of fortification, there always is, more or less, an attack on the officials whose duty it is to carry out the plans, and this renders it more desirable that I should be able to speak with exactness in dealing with this subject, and that with that view I should have an opportunity of conferring with those upon whom these special duties are imposed. No man can stand in a more unprejudiced and unbiassed position than I do. This system of fortifications was begun in 1860, under the Government of Lord Palmerston, and they have been going on since that time, and I am perfectly free from any interest in it until I took the office I now hold. I am not, therefore, interested in the defence of any individual; I have no motive to screen any wrong doer, if wrong doer there be; and the only feeling I can have is a sincere desire that what is done shall be done as well as possible. If money is being wasted, it is of course being wasted on a large scale; and if there are hon. Members who think it is being wasted, or that the works are being carried forward on too large a scale, or that the expenditure will not produce results corresponding to its magnitude, I invite them not to do what has been done to-night—not to give a Notice relating to one subject and make a speech upon another—but to give fair notice of a Motion; and, if they mean to assail individuals, let us know who they are, so that they may be put upon their defence, and a proper answer may be given by the Member of the Government whose duty it may be to reply. But when my noble Friend comes down and says he has read an article in St. Paul's Magazine, and when my hon. and gallant Friend behind me (General Dunne) refers to a well-known print, I really think the House will not quarrel with me as to my Answer. A very large and important work, involving a very great expenditure of public money, has been carried on for eight years, under the sanction and the supervision of the most eminent scientific persons in the country. Notwithstanding that, there may have been mistakes committed, and the works may not have been constructed in the most desirable manner; but if that be the case, let us know the authority upon which they are assailed, and, as I said, do not let us go upon what may have been said by the St. Paul's Magazine or even a well-known print. [General DUNNE: The Times.] My hon. and gallant Friend has only confirmed the expression I used. No one can have any doubt that that most eminent journal may be fairly called a well-known print. I take no exception to that; but I do think, and I say it in no official sense, hon. Members, when they proceed, not only to criticize what has been done, but to throw censure upon the individuals who have done it, are bound, in common fairness between man and man, to recollect the extraordinary progress that has been made in the course of eight years in the scientific matters involved in the construction of these works. Whatever the comments now made as to the manner in which those works were carried out, it must be remembered that when they were designed and their construction was first commenced, no human being had the slightest idea or expectation of that artillery by which, if unfortunately we were now involved in war, those forts would be assailed. I think that in justice to those who are carrying out the works, that fact ought to be home in mind. Under these circumstances, I am not prepared to meet my noble Friend on a subject of which he has given no Notice. My noble Friend has given Notice of a specific question, and that I am quite prepared to answer; but I had no idea that my noble Friend had any intention of involving me in a discussion of so large a subject as that to which he has addressed himself. I think that such a subject should be brought forward on Notice, in order that the Government and independent Members might come down prepared to discuss it. My noble Friend alluded to the trial of the Malta and Gibralta shields. He is aware that those shields were subjected to a fair trial, and he knows the course I adopted. [Lord ELCHO: Hear!] As soon as the trial took place, and it became apparent that those shields would not resist the artillery of the present day, I immediately advised the Iron Plate Committee, of which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stamford (Sir John Hay) is Chairman, of the result of the experiments. Hon. Members will have an opportunity of reading the Report of that Committee. My noble Friend put a Question to me in reference to the Plymouth Fort and the Bermuda Fort, and the target which will very completely represent a section of the Plymouth Breakwater Fort. The target will, I believe, be ready for trial in the course of about three weeks. As much progress as possible is being made in its preparation. I must confess that I do not think any blame is to be attached to a public officer who profits by experience; but my noble Friend seems to be very angry because a public officer has not adhered to something which he believes to be defective. The House will be enabled to judge of the course taken by Colonel Jervois in the matter. I intend to produce an accurate and bonâ fide copy on a small scale of the section now being erected at Shoeburyness; but I am afraid it would not be convenient to lay upon the table a full-sized copy. With respect to the suspension of the works a difficulty arises, owing to the distance between this country and Bermuda; but directions have been sent out to suspend them as far as possible, until the trials shall have taken place, and we shall have been enabled to decide to what extent the plans ought to be altered. With regard to Plymouth the contractors are proceeding with the work; but we have given directions, which I have every reason to believe will be carried out, that no such progress shall be made as would prevent us in that case also of availing ourselves of any results which may follow from the experiments. I trust what I have stated will be satisfactory to my noble Friend, and that he will see that we wish to do what is right in this matter.


inquired, whether there would be any objection to marking and colouring any alteration that might have been made in the section of the Plymouth Breakwater Fort now being executed at Shoeburyness for trial; and, whether his right hon. Friend would produce the estimates for which he had asked?


said, the alterations would be indicated. He should make inquiry as to the estimates, of an intention to ask for which his noble Friend had given no notice.


appealed to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War not to make his general Statement on the Army Estimates to-night. The right hon. Baronet had told them in the early part of the evening that he would not commence that Statement after ten o'clock, and as it then only wanted about a quarter of an hour of that time, and, as many Members who felt a strong interest in the subject were not present, he would ask the right hon. Gentleman to take at once, if it should be necessary, a Vote on Account, and to postpone his address until another evening.


, with the indulgence of the House, begged to say that as it was so near ten o'clock, and as he had promised not to make the statement after ten, he would act on the suggestion of his hon. and gallant Friend.


regretted that the right hon. Gentleman had given way, because he considered the House was sufficiently full to give due attention to the subject.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.