§ MR. O'BEIRNE
said, he rose to call the attention of the House to the plans upon which the Fortifications for the defence of the Dockyards and Naval Arsenals of the United Kingdom, and for the defence of our Colonies, were being constructed. He wished to state at the outset that he brought forward this question in no party spirit, but purely in a national point of view. For much of the information which he had obtained on the subject he was indebted to articles which had appeared in the organ of the right hon. Gentleman opposite—the Standard newspaper — and he had satisfied himself that the information thus obtained was in every instance 2022 strictly correct. In 1860 Lord Palmerston startled the House by proposing a Vote of £9,000,000 for fortifications for the defence of our naval arsenals. Upon that occasion a debate of a most interesting character took place, in which the hon. Members for Nottingham (Mr. Osborne) for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) and others who had ever been foremost as the careful custodians of the public purse, opposed the Vote; but the influence of the Government was too much for them, and after a protracted debate, extending over two or three nights, and after many Amendments and divisions, the Resolution was carried—Lord Palmerston promising that the Government in power should come to Parliament every year for a Vote for the sum required of that year, and present an Appropriation Act for that purpose. On the 9th of August, 1860, when the second reading of the first Appropriation Bill was proposed, Mr. Edwin James, who was then a Member of the House, moved a very remarkable Amendment, to the effect that, before proceeding further with the Bill, it was desirable that the House should be in the possession of more certain information as to the entire cost of the constructions and the efficient maintenance of the proposed sea and land fortifications, distinguishing the expense of each. That Amendment was seconded by Sir Charles Napier, but it shared the fate of its predecessors. The Minister of the day had his way upon the subject, and the Government went on with the construction of the forts on their own plans, as if the question was not open to debate. It would almost seem reasonable that, before an expenditure of between £5,000,000 and £6,000,000 was entered upon, some degree of caution and inquiry with reference to these fortifications should have marked the movements of those in authority; but the House would be surprised when he stated that little or no inquiry took place, as would be seen, when he explained to them the experiments that took place, and the result. They were in no better position now with reference to the construction of these forts than they were in 1860. At that time, as well as at this moment, the following questions among others were entirely open—whether the land forts should be constructed of granite only, or granite in connection with iron shields—whether they were to be faced with iron upon granite, or whether granite was first to be built up, and iron in the 2023 shape of fortresses erected upon it; and then what was to be the thickness of the iron, and whether it should be solid or laminated? all of them most serious questions, and each one involving the success or failure of the undertaking. The construction of the first fortification proceeded, and a few experiments were attempted. The first, which took place the year before the Vote to which he had referred, was with reference to a combination of iron and stone. The experiment was made with the 40, 70, and 68-ponndors of that day, at 400 yards range, and the result was that the stone was smashed to atoms, whilst, the iron remained uninjured; and on the following day, the stone being cut away, the iron stood the test of the same guns, even in salvoes. That was the state of their information in 1860. In that year other experiments were tried. Mr. Hawkshaw, the celebrated engineer, who had been a few days since named a member of the new Commission the right hon. Baronet (Sir John Pakington), produced a target on the laminated principle, but that was easily penetrated by two shots from a seven-inch Armstrong breech loader, the second shot, in fact, going clean through it. In 1863 Colonel Inglis produced a laminated target which proved a partial success, and Captain Noble and General Lefroy reported that a six-inch laminated target was not so strong as a four-inch solid iron one. In 1864 and 1865 one or two very remarkable experiments took place—the first experiment in which the shield principle was fairly tested. Two sets of casemates were constructed at Shoeburyness. One had a shield 12 feet by 8 feet and 4 inches thick fixed in front of it. The result was a total failure, and that settled the combination principle of stone and iron, the Report of the Ordnance Select Committee was unfavourable to the stability of casemates so constructed, which they stated were unable to withstand six consecutive shots from the same gun. The Defence Committee also distinctly stated in their Report that granite forts were untenable, and Colonel Inglis had expressed a similar opinion upon one occasion. A 68-pound cast iron shot fired at a granite block shattered it into a thousand pieces, and a more complete demolition could hardly be effected. Those experiments he thought would be sufficient to prove all that he desired to impress upon the House, that this momentous question was far from being settled, 2024 and that they had not yet got on the right road with reference to the construction of fortifications; he asked the House whether they would persist, or permit the Government to persist, in the construction of these forts until they had arrived at some certain data from which they could safely start? He had no desire to embarrass the Executive in any way; his only object in bringing the subject forward was the interest of the public, in order that the construction of these fortifications might be discontinued until something more was known about the subject, and that by the suspension of the works a waste of public money might be prevented. In the early part of last year Colonel Jervis presented a Report upon the various fortifications which were then in course of erection, in which Report he minutely described them, distinguishing those of stone and mortar, and of earthworks, and those at Portsmouth and on the Plymouth Breakwater. It was not his intention to go through that Report, but he would simply mention the result. The greater number of forts in which granite was used were described as being constructed for the purpose of receiving at their embrasures iron shields, and from that Report the consideration of the iron shield principle might be said to have originated. But it was with reference to the third class, which was the most important — namely, the Plymouth Break-water forts and the Portsmouth forts, that he desired the attention of the House a few moments. He believed the only fort for which contracts had been completely entered into was that for the Plymouth Breakwater. It was no doubt a structure of great importance. Colonel Jervis had carefully described the principle upon which it was to be built, but he (Mr. O'Beirne) would point out what he considered the fault of its construction, and the necessity for further inquiry. It would be a very costly structure; it was to be built of stone and mortar, of considerable thickness, to the height of 18 feet above high water mark; and upon that structure an iron fortification was to be erected, for which a contract was entered into in the early part of last year. This fort was to be of iron, and would cost £40,000. It was to be placed on a building of stone and mortar, offering to the enemy's guns an assailable surface of 18 feet below the iron wall, which could not, under any circumstances, be protected by the water. Now, if the experiments he 2025 had quoted were good for anything they showed that stone and mortar were not materials on which a fort could be safely built if any part of that stone and mortar was exposed to an enemy's fire; that a very few shots from an ordinary sized gun would destroy it and thus send the iron structure which was placed upon it about the men's ears. That opinion was also entertained by experienced engineers, ironmasters, and military men who had given the subject their attention. Stone and mortar, it had been clearly shown, were useless with regard to strength and resisting power. What reliance, therefore, could the House or the country place upon those who had adopted for the erection of one of the most important and one of the most expensive of the intended works, a principle which even the little knowledge we possessed had declared to be worthless. Last year, when the Provision for Expenses Bill, to authorize the expenditure of £800,000 for forts, during the year 1867–8, was in Committee, he (Mr. O'Beirne) moved a Resolution, which he was very anxious at the time to have carried, that all further expenditure on the forts should be stopped until a Committee of the House should have an opportunity of considering and reporting upon the whole subject; but his proposal was modified upon the promise of the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for War that such experiments as they wished should be carried out. [Sir JOHN PAKINGTON: Hear, hear!] The experiments were to be, as he understood, of two characters—first, with reference to shields; and secondly, with reference to forts. But when the Bill came up for a third reading the hon. Baronet the Member for Stamford (Sir John Hay) declined to give any undertaking that the expenditure should be stopped pending the result of such experiments; consequently the House was helpless in the matter, and obliged to depend entirely upon the promise that had been given by the right hon. Baronet. He (Mr. O'Beirne) was naturally anxious to know something about the experiments after that, but mouths passed away and nothing was heard of them. However, in October last a small paragraph appeared in that vigilant journal, the Standard, announcing that experiments had taken place on the 25th of that month, and that in two shots the shield fired at had been knocked to pieces. It was further stated in the same journal that the shield after it had been fired at was carefully 2026 wrapped up in a tarpaulin, and that a sentry was placed over it to prevent anyone from ascertaining the actual amount of damage. There was another peculiar feature connected with that transaction. The usual practice of admitting the representatives of the Press to witness these experiments was departed from. He had it on the authority of a gentleman connected with the Press that he was refused admission, being informed that orders had been sent down from London that no stranger whatever was to be present at the experiment. In the following November Session of Parliament the hon. Member for the Queen's County (General Dunne) put a Question to the right hon. Baronet with reference to these experiments, and he (Mr. O'Beirne) subsequently followed that up with Questions with regard to the Malta and Gibraltar shields and the fortifications generally. The reply of the hon. Baronet to those Questions would no doubt be in the recollection of hon. Members who took an interest in the subject. He (Mr. O'Beirne) had also asked the right hon. Baronet (Sir John Pakington), whether the specifications and drawings issued by the War Office for the intended target were a true section of the Plymouth and the Bermuda forts; the noble Lord the Member for Haddington (Lord Elcho) having been informed that they were not. The right hon. Baronet said, that he was not aware that there had been any alteration; that he had given the most strict injunctions that the target should be a correct and faithful representation of the Plymouth and Bermuda forts, as it was intended to erect them, and that if there was any variation it was this—that as it was difficult to give a target the strength and stability of a permanent structure; some additional supports might have been used for that purpose; but in all substantive respects they were the same. Now, he (Mr. O'Beirne) regretted to say that the facts of the case were totally at variance with the opinion which the right hon. Baronet had expressed. The target, which was ordered in the North of England, was in many respects different from the fort now building in the neighbourhood of London, and it in no degree represented the fortification of which it was intended to be an identical example. More than that, the target, he was informed, had, since it had gone to Shoeburyness, been subjected to repeated alterations at an expense of £10,000; and if the fort now erecting in the neighbourhood of London 2027 were altered in the same manner it would cost £20,000 more than the amount contracted for. If that statement were untrue or unfounded he would be happy to have it contradicted.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. What does he mean by the fort erecting in the neighbourhood of London?
§ MR. O'BEIRNE
said, he meant the Plymouth Breakwater fort, which was being constructed at Millwall. But in addition to the objections he had already made, he arraigned the fort as unsound in principle, if, indeed, there could be said to be any principle in a plan which was being altered from day to day. But however the plan might be altered or modified, it was still, and always would be, an erroneous one. The structure was of iron, placed upon stone and mortar; and in the iron construction the laminated principle was adopted—a principle which experiment had also proved to be faulty; while stone and mortar, as a base, were, as he had shown, equally so. He now came to the question of the shields. It seemed to him that prudence might have suggested to the right hon. Baronet to have stayed the erection of these shields till the Report of the Committee, which the hon. Baronet himself had appointed, was received; but he declined to prevent their being sent out, and thirty-four had actually gone to their destination, one being retained at home to be fired at. In addition, fifty of these shields were to form an integral portion of the home defences. They were to be let into the embrasures of forts, built of granite, to protect the gunners. But a shot striking the granite would dislodge the shield and expose the men inside to the fire of the enemy. In speaking upon this subject, he could not refrain from expressing his entire approval of the labours of the Committee presided over by his distinguished and gallant Friend the Member for Stamford (Sir John Hay). That Committee had done its work in a very efficient manner. He observed that fault had been found with it by some of the Press, because it had not answered the third question that was submitted to its consideration. But he thought the hon. Baronet had done perfectly right. Those who knew the hon. Baronet knew that he had a thorough knowledge of this difficult question; and those who did not know him had only to look at his examination of the various witnesses before the Committee, 2028 and the character of the questions he put to them would prove how thoroughly he had mastered the subject. The Report of the Committee when it appeared, would, he believed, give general satisfaction. If he had any objection to make, it was that the Report was not yet printed and issued to Members. [Sir JOHN HAY: It is printed.] It must have been printed only to day—at least he had not got a copy. And here he must complain that he had seen with extreme surprise articles in the Press for the last fortnight commenting on the Report, the character of the evidence, and the nature of the findings, while the Members of the House had not seen it. It might be worth while to ask the Speaker's opinion, whether this was regular—it was certainly scarcely courteous. But, passing from that, he would call the attention of the House to this Report on the shields. It was believed that they were useless and unfitted for their purpose. After a great deal of trouble and loss of time a Committee was appointed on the 5th of December last, and it made its Report on the 11th of February. There were three questions put to the Committee—the first two were vital; the third, he thought, with great respect, had better not have been put. The first question was, how far have these trials proved favourable to the shields? the second, what are the causes which have led to any failure in the shields? and the third was, what changes in the construction of the shields the Committee; would recommend? He was glad, as he had already said, that the Committee declined to give an answer to the third question, as it was not fair to ask them to decide a matter so important in a few weeks, and if they had fixed on any particular shield they ought to have been allowed to superintend its construction. To the first question the Committee answered that they had considered the result of the first trial by the Ordnance Select Committee, on the 21st October, 1867—that was the remarkable trial when the shield was wrapped up in a tarpaulin—and other experiments made since, and they had come to a conclusion unfavourable to the shields, as they did not consider them strong enough to resist the direct attack of powerful ordnance at a distance of 200 yards. They went on to specify as defects the weakness of the girders, and the danger to the gunners from the number of nuts and screws that were liable to be displaced in action. On the other hand, it was stated that 2029 the construction adopted allowed of the strengthening of the shield by the super-imposition of additional plates. He thought, then, he had established a case for inquiry, and for pausing in the present expenditure. He would conclude by asking the House to agree to a Resolution to the effect that there be added to the Committee two Members of this House and an additional Engineer; and that all further outlay be suspended till that Committee should have made its Report to the House. Of the £11,000,000 which was first estimated as the cost of the forts, they had already spent £5,000,000: he hoped the House would refuse to sanction any further waste of money until it had full knowledge of how and with what probable results such expenditure should be incurred. The hon. Member concluded by moving his Resolution.
, in seconding the Resolution, said, that in 1860 the Defence Commission recommended a system of fortifications involving an expenditure of £11,000,000. Subsequently to 1860 there was a reconsideration of the subject; there was a modification of the plan of the Defence Commission, and the expenditure was reduced to £6,000,000 or £7,000,000. In 1860, he opposed the system of fortifications then recommended. He knew it was impossible to defend our whole sea coast, and therefore he was of opinion that the defence of our arsenals was all that should be undertaken. In 1867, he moved for a Return, and he proposed that the modifications should be set in detail, with a statement as to costs past and prospective, &c. The Return laid on the table in consequence of the Motion made by him showed that the total outlay proposed up to that date was £6,995,000, independently of armament and troops. Up to the 1st of January, 1867, there had been expended upon the works £3,491,872. It was stated that 987 large rifled guns would be required, and 1,104 guns of 95 cwt. and under. The estimated cost of the armament was £1,883,722; the number of artillerymen required would be 9,841; and the number of infantry 22,441. It also appeared from the Return that the land to be purchased would cost no less than £1,064,761; that the actual expenditure up to the first of January, 1867, was £4,556,633; and that £2,438,367 more would be required to complete the fortifications alone. Now, if the works had been of a suitable character—if they had 2030 been properly placed and properly built, and if, above all, they had been necessary—the country might, perhaps, have overlooked this enormous expenditure. But there had been annually communicated to him statements to the effect that the fortifications were neither properly placed nor properly built, and that they were not adapted to the purpose for which they were designed. In fact, it had been represented to him that some were on overhanging cliff's, so that in time they would topple over into the sea, or on swampy ground, where the foundation was unstable and treacherous, so that the magazines had cracked, the ramparts had slipped from their bases and filled up the surrounding fosse. The forts erected on Portsdown Hill stood on a mass of chalk. Now, if any geologist had been consulted as to the appropriateness of such a site, he would at once have said that the concussion caused by the great guns being fired from the fortifications would in time make the scarps of the chalk itself crumble away, from the friable nature of the chalk. In particular he wished to direct attention to a letter which was published in The Times newspaper of the 10th of March last year, in reference to some remarks made on this subject by the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for War.
admitted that he had made a mistake. The letter appeared in The Times on the 10th of March this year.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, the hon. Member was not in order in reading a newspaper comment on a debate which had occurred in the present Session.
went on to remark that The Times on the 14th of March, 1868, contained a long criticism on the state of the Spithead forts; but he would not read it to the House, as it extended to three or four columns. With regard to the question raised by his hon. Friend the Member for Cashel (Mr. O'Beirne) respecting shields being applied to masonry, he wished to point out that the engineers of the Defence Commission ought to have known that experiments had been made in America as to the application of iron shields to granite defences, and that it had failed absolutely,—it being found, as indeed might have been expected, that when such shields were placed upon 2031 granite the very impact of a heavy shot crushed the granite to powder, and the shields consequently fell from their places. The attempt to place them upon masonry had also been tried, and had utterly failed, and must always fail, from the very nature of the case. [Sir JOHN PAKINGTON: Hear, hear!] Knowing this, the right hon. Baronet ought not to have sanctioned their application to masonry. His hon. Friend (Mr. O'Beirne's) application was, therefore, a very reasonable one. He trusted that the right hon. Baronet would consent to give additional weight to the Committee he had appointed by nominating upon it another distinguished Civil Engineer and two competent and impartial Members of that House. He supported that suggestion without the smallest personal object, because he frankly admitted that he had a bias in the matter. He was not competent to be a Member of the Committee, having from the first entertained a strong prejudice against the general system of fortifications adopted, embracing as it did not less than seventy-one defences; but he trusted that no further expense would be incurred in the direction spoken of by his hon. Friend until the investigation which was recommended had taken place. He believed that the true defences of the country would be found, not in fortifications, but in the stout hearts and strong arms of the people.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "two Members of this House and another Civil Engineer should be added to the Committee appointed to consider the question of the Fortifications for the defence of the United Kingdom and of the Colonies, and that arrangements shall be made to stop, as far as possible, all further outlay until that Committee shall have reported to this House."—(Mr. O'Beirne,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. ALDERMAN LUSK
remarked that they made a great deal of money in England, and were on that account the admiration of the world; but they also threw away enormous sums of money without any good object. Anyone taking a common-sense view of the subject must be of opinion that £9,000,000 or £10,000,000 had been voted for fortifications which were of no use whatever. He asked the 2032 right hon. Baronet to put a stop to the erection of these fortifications. He believed it was now admitted that they had made a mistake, and the sooner they retraced their steps the better. The right hon. Baronet had said there were no guns, and he (Alderman Lusk) considered it was a good thing that there were no guns. If they had put gnus in these fortifications six or seven years ago they would be now useless. At one time they spent a great deal of money on martello towers and more recently on Enfield rifles; and in both cases the money had been thrown away. And was it not likely that in the same manner the fortifications in six or seven years would also be useless. Who, he asked, was going to disturb them or take possession of their arsenals, or trouble them at all. And in case of war what was the use of these fortifications? He could understand that floating batteries oft the arsenals might be of use. But there was no hurry. Let them trust to their Volunteers, and they would find them worth more than all these fortifications.
§ MR. OSBORNE
said, he hoped that some Gentleman connected with the Government would rise to answer the very able statement of his hon. Friend the Member for Cashel (Mr. O'Beirne). He had been forcibly struck with the appearance which the House had that evening presented. That House was represented to the public as being the guardian of the public purse. Now, if there was any prospect of a debate which would produce acrimonious recrimination or party personalities, the Benches would have been crowded, and the House would have resounded with cheers. But what had been the state of the House during the whole of the discussion? A question involving the expenditure of millions had been most ably brought forward by his hon. Friend, the representative of a condemned borough—and the highest number of Members in the House at any period during the discussion had been twenty, while the lowest had been fourteen. There were two Members of the Government on the Treasury Bench. There was not a single Member upon the front Opposition Bench, and even the hon. and learned Member for Portsmouth (Mr. Serjeant Gaselee) was asleep. That was the way in which a question of millions of money was debated and treated by that House. He had always taken a great interest in this question of fortifications. Its history was a melancholy one, 2033 and furnished an example of the most profligate and useless expenditure that was ever voted by the "guardians of the public purse." In 1860 a Royal Commission was issued to report upon the defences of the country. And here he might remark that the whole theory of Government seemed now to be this — that everything was to be referred to a Royal Commission, the consequence being that the Ministry abdicated all responsibility, and sheltered themselves under the recommendations of a Commission. They all knew that the Vote for fortifications was passed, in the first instance, under the influence of a panic. The total estimate was £11,850,000, and the works at Portsmouth alone were to cost £1,192,000. These works extended over seventeen miles; and the House rushed into this expenditure without considering that works of that vast extent would require at least 30,000 men to defend them. [Sir JOHN HAY: 80,000.] He had never ventured to put the number so high as that. He wished to ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman how, in the face of that statement, he could oppose the present Motion? An army of 80,000 men to defend the works of Portsmouth alone! Where are the men to come from? The Volunteers could not supply them. The Royal Commission of 1860 recommended that £1,000,000 should be expended on floating batteries, together with £500,000 for their armaments. That was the most sensible recommendation which emanated from that Commission; but what had happened? The whole of the money had been expended upon these useless forts, and not one 1d. had been laid out upon floating batteries. As far back as 1860 he resisted the expenditure on fortifications and proposed that floating batteries should be built, and how was he supported on that occasion? He was supported by thirty-nine Members, who, in derision, were called the Thirty-nine Articles. He persevered in his proposal until at length he worked up the minority to 84. What happened then? The hon. and gallant Admiral now in office (Sir John Hay) seconded a Motion made by a gallant officer of Engineers, then a Member of that House (Sir Frederick Smith), to the effect that these forts should not be proceeded with. [Sir JOHN HAY: Hear, hear!] The same hon. and gallant Gentleman stated in 1862 that he had been at one time in favour of the forts at Spithead, but that he had since had reason to change his opi- 2034 nion, and he recommended that floating batteries should be constructed. That recommendation was backed up by a great naval authority, the late Sir Richard Dundas, who recommended that instead of constructing floating batteries they should expend £60,000 in rendering ironclad vessels available for purposes of defence in our harbours. The recommendations of these able officers and scientific men had, however, been totally disregarded. What he complained of was that the House had never had before it a proper estimate for these fortifications. The original plan had been altogether departed from, and public money had been thrown away and wasted in the sands at Spithead. According to the original plan there were to be five forts; but only three were in process of construction. It should be recollected that the original estimate for these forts did not contemplate any iron construction. They were to be built of granite, and it was not until Admiral Elliot, a member of the Royal Commission, said they ought to be covered with wrought iron ten inches thick, that the estimate was completely altered; and now the House was involved in an enormous and indefinite expense, without any plan before it. He suspected, moreover, that there was no working plan for the regular construction of fortifications. The present Government had, it was true, succeeded to a damnosa hereditas; but having succeeded to this damnosa hereditas, what was the common sense of their position now? He knew that the Government did not approve of these works. [Mr. Serjeant GASELEE: They say that the contracts were made.] He believed that the contractors for them would, upon the payment of a certain sum of money, be glad to wash their hands of them. He would, therefore advise the Government to close this account and to put an end to a gigantic imposture which was wringing money out of the pockets of the taxpayers of this country. It was all very well for the Government to try and get rid of the responsibility. They were all tarred with the same brush. The right hon. Gentleman on the other side of the House (General Peel) said he would not accept one atom of responsibility with regard to the forts—that they were the work of the last Government. But why did the party to which the hon. and gallant General belonged vote a large sum of money for the purpose of continuing the fortifications? He could 2035 not understand a Government which, knowing this outlay of money to be uncalled for, remained in Office and allowed this wasteful expenditure to go on. While he cordially concurred with his hon. Friend the Member for Cashel (Mr. O'Beirne) in his representation of facts, he doubted whether, if his suggestion to add two Members of that House and one Civil Engineer to the Committee were acceded to, there would be any Report at all. He had no confidence in Members of that House reporting upon fortifications; for it was entirely owing to hon. Members that they had been involved in this extravagant outlay of money at all. He was ready to vote a sum of money with a view to closing the contracts. He hoped that some Member of the Government would explain exactly how matters at present stood, and the reason why that most sensible recommendation of the Royal Commissioners, that £1,000,000 should be expended on floating batteries, had been wholly disregarded. They heard a great deal about responsibility. He would read to the House one of the most useful bits of advice ever given by a Minister to the House of Commons. Sir Robert Peel said that, in a time of peace, this country should not be looking to keep up an extensive system of fortifications, and that if the House listened to the opinions of military men, who were always ready to recommend something connected with their own profession, they would involve this country in an outlay that no amount of funds would cover. That was the opinion of Sir Robert Peel in 1846. He would ask hon. Members to take that advice—and as an election was at hand they might be the more inclined to listen to it now than at another time—and to support the Motion of his hon. Friend for the suspension of this useless expenditure.
SIR JOHN HAY
said, the hon. Gentleman had fairly quoted him as having always been opposed to these fortifications, for the building of which he was by no means responsible; but he could not conceive that the House which was really responsible for them would interpret unfavourably the action of the present Government in continuing the contracts which were in operation when they succeeded to Office. The sea forts at Spithead he believed to be entirely useless; indeed, they would prove admirable marks to guide an expert enemy into the harbour, while, as Sir Frederick Smith said, in a 2036 former debate, in these days of iron-clad vessels they would not be able to keep the enemy out. But when the present Government succeeded to Office these fortifications were raised considerably above their foundations and formed sand banks, and it was thought that the best use they could be put to was to place upon them the fortifications for which the contracts had been already made. With regard to the special question as to floating defences recommended by the Commission, raised by the hon. Member for Nottingham (Mr. Osborne) he had to inform him that this was one of the first things considered by the Admiralty after succeeding to Office; but they found that while the House of Commons had agreed to the Vote for the land fortifications, they had struck out the £1,000,000 for the floating batteries. He hoped the hon. Member for Cashel (Mr. O'Beirne) would not press his proposal for adding two Members of that House to the Committee, the members of which had been selected with the greatest care and attention, while its Chairman (Sir Frederick Grey), an Admiral of distinguished ability, had certainly not been selected with reference to his political views. The Commitee in its present form was a most effective one, and one from which might be expected not only a full and honest but also a speedy Report. He did not think there would be any objection to the addition of a Civil Engineer to the Committee; but such an appointment would, of course, considerably add to its expense. He hoped the House would see that the Government was not responsible for the expenditure incurred with reference to these fortifications; but at the same time he must remind hon. Members that the contracts already in force could not be put an end to without a considerable loss being thrown upon the public. It was one thing to disapprove of commencing such fortifications, but quite another to leave them in a half-finished state. He trusted that the hon. Member for Cashel (Mr. O'Beirne) would not press his Motion after the explanation he had given of the circumstances connected with these works.
§ MR. SAMUDA
, as an Independent Member, would say that to him it was no matter who projected or agreed with these fortifications. If, on re-examination, they were considered useless, they ought to be discontinued. After the statement of the hon. Baronet (Sir John Hay), a naval Lord 2037 of the Admiraly, that the Spithead forts would enable an enemy to obtain a better position in the country than if they were not there, a revision of this question was important to the country. He had understood from the Secretary of State for War that it would take £4,000,000 to pay for the necessary guns. That was another reason why the subject should be re-considered. He believed that only £7,000,000 out of the £12,000,000, of the original Estimate, had been spent upon these fortifications, which took their origin in a time of panic, and the permission to construct which was obtained from the House upon a statement that was now found to be wholly unsatisfactory. In 1860 it was represented that the arsenals and dockyards at Portsmouth and Plymouth were undefended, and that these fortifications were necessary to protect them from an enemy. Now the point to which he wished to call attention was that in ancient times, when the navy of this country relied exclusively on sails for their evolutions, it was absolutely necessary, in time of war, to possess Portsmouth and Plymouth; but that necessity did not now exist, when this country had a steam navy which could be speedily directed to any particular spot. Whether the fleet issued from Chatham, Pembroke, or Portsmouth, mattered not. Adverse winds did not stop the ships. It might be well in time of war to abandon those great arsenals, or even destroy them if necessary. It should be remembered, too, that we were making Chatham Dockyard large enough for all the works of the navy. It was an opinion, confirmed by high military authority, that the defence of the country could never be made in these forts. As long as we possessed the command of the sea we were safe, and if we lost the command of the sea, not one of those forts would be useful except to the enemy. His opinion was, and had always been, that this country should depend mainly, if not entirely, upon her ships, and that the number ought to be made equal to those of two or three of the greatest European Powers combined. That being done, if an enemy should obtain a footing in this country, it would be batter for our army to be posted about forty miles inland so as to draw the enemy that distance from his base of operations. That would be a better base for operations, and for stopping a successful raid being made upon the metropolis. If these fortifications were completed, we could not 2038 spare an army to man them. The constitution of the Committee was not a matter of so much importance, but what was wanted was to get the matter thoroughly re-considered and revised. He hoped if the hon. Member for Cashel (Mr. O'Beirne) should be induced to withdraw his proposition the matter would not be allowed to slumber.
§ GENERAL PERCY HERBERT
said, he supposed that, as there was "nothing like leather," it was natural that the hon. Member for Tavistock (Mr. Samuda) should prefer ships to forts. If the House agreed with the hon. Member that Portsmouth and Plymouth were now of no consequence, the fortifications there would no doubt be unnecessary. But the construction of those fortifications was based on the belief that the arsenals at Portsmouth and Plymouth were necessary for the maintenance of that naval supremacy upon which the hon. Member himself laid so much stress. The forts at those two places were not designed for use so long as we maintained the command of the sea; but in case that which had occurred should be repeated, and a British fleet should be compelled to retire before the advancing fleets of the enemy. That was the contingency to meet which these forts were constructed, so as, in the event of a hostile fleet getting the command of the Channel, to prevent the arsenals of Portsmouth and Plymouth from failing into the enemy's hands.
§ MR. SERJEANT GASELEE
said, the hon. Member for Nottingham had accused him of being asleep. There would be nothing very wrong in his "taking a nap," especially after the heavy debates they had lately been listening to, but if he had been asleep during the discussion he was not aware of it. At all events he was not asleep during the astounding statement that Portsmouth and Plymouth might be done away with. It was not the first time he had heard the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Samuda) advocate the employment of private instead of public yards, and of course on the ground of "nothing like leather," it was easy to see why the hon. Member should wish to do away with the latter. With regard to these fortifications, he disapproved of them entirely, but he looked forward to no dimunition of expense so long as this old Parliament continued. He only wished the right hon. Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe) was there. That right hon. Gentleman had described the excellence of the late and the present 2039 Parliament. In that he (Mr. Serjeant Gaselee) did not agree. He looked forward to a new Parliament very different from the present, and the reason why he had taken such a prominent part in obtaining household suffrage was his belief that, in Parliaments elected by the new constituencies, we should have no abuses like this, which made the House of Commons stink aloud. No Parliament in its senses, no Parliament elected under household suffrage would, even under the magic wand of Lord Pahuerston—who was the most wonderful mesmerist he had ever seen—ever have consented to such a futile and outrageous outlay of public money. These fortifications were ordered under the influence of panic; and we never knew what we might do when we became old women, and yielded to panic. It was an ill wind that blew nobody any good, and his constituents at Portsmouth had benefited by this expenditure, though nobody else had. At the same time they would not wish their private interests to stand in the way of the public good. This was the reason they did not hear him perpetually boring the House upon naval questions, or asking for an increase of pay to dockyard artificers. His constituents sent him here to represent not their petty interests, but those of the public at large. The proposed addition, of a Civil Engineer to the Commission was, in his opinion, a valuable suggestion, and he thought that arrangement would work very advantageously though he owned he abhorred Commissions and Committees altogether. But he hoped that, after the admission of a Lord of the Admiralty that these forts were useless, the Government would urge the Commission to expedite their labours, as had been done in the case of the Irish Church Commission, which went on slowly until the right hon. Member for South Lancashire (Mr. Gladstone) introduced his Resolutions; and he trusted that an early Report would be obtained, and an end put to this outlay.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
said, he could feel no surprise that the hon. and learned Serjeant who had just spoken should entertain great objection to any proposal to do away with Portsmouth, but he did net intend to discuss the proposal of the hon. Member for Tavistock (Mr. Samuda), that it might be desirable to suspend Portsmouth and Plymouth during war. He wished, however, to refer to a statement he had made on a former evening, and to which the 2040 hon. Member for Tavistock had adverted, as to the armament required for rendering our fortifications defensible. What he said was, that it would require for the armament of our fortifications a number of rifled modern guns, not less than 3,000, involving an expenditure of, at least, £4,000,000. He did not say over how long a period the expenditure was to be spread, or what were the best modes of obtaining the money; and when he made that statement he did not allude only to the fortifications they were now discussing, and which were proposed by Lord Palmerston. He referred to what would be required to enable our fortresses in all parts of the world — including Malta, Gibraltar, Bermuda, and Halifax—to resist any enemy who came to attack them with the advantage of modern arms. The hon. Member for Nottingham (Mr. Osborne) had complained, perhaps not unnaturally, of the thin attendance in the House at a time when, instead of an acrimonious party debate, they had to discuss a question relating to the expenditure of millions of money. But while he admitted there was force in that observation, he would remind the hon. Gentleman—it was only just to the House of Commons to do so—that if hon. Members were to come down to attend to the expenditure of "millions of money," it was right and proper that they should receive due notice of the purpose and object for which they are expected to be present. He did not complain of the hon. Member for Cashel (Mr. O'Beirne) for bringing forward this subject; on the contrary he gave credit to any Member on either side of the House who called attention to the immense expenditure incurred and being incurred in this system of fortifications, and he always admitted that the more carefully Parliament attended to that expenditure the better. But he did regret the terms and the manner in which the hon. Member for Cashel had brought for ward the subject. The Notice was—To call the attention of the House to the plans upon which the fortifications for the defence of the Dockyards and Naval Arsenals of the United Kingdom and for the defence of our Colonies are being constructed; and to move a Resolution.He had had to meet the hon. Member before on this subject, and it had been frequently discussed. He had not been able to collect from the terms of the Notice what was the object the hon. Member had in view. And when the hon. Member said he intended to move a Resolution, he appealed to every 2041 Member whether it was not the uniform practice, in courtesy between the two sides, that when a Resolution was to be moved on an important subject, and tending to throw blame on a great Department, the terms of that Resolution should be put on the Paper? The hon. Gentleman commenced his speech by referring to the early experiments made at the commencement of this system of fortifications in 1860. These experiments were made under the immediate superintendence of his hon. and gallant Friend near him (Sir John Hay), in his capacity of Chairman of the Iron Plate Committee, and therefore it would be for his hon. and gallant Friend rather than for him to enter into an explanation of those experiments. But with regard to the system of fortifications, he did not think they were now treated with all the fairness they might claim. The hon. Member for Nottingham spoke of them as the result of a profligate and useless expenditure. [Mr. OSBORNE: I spoke of the expenditure on the Spithead forts.] It was the fashion in the House at the present time to ridicule and decry the expenditure on these fortifications. Now he was fond of justice and fair play. He had no more to do with these fortifications than the hon. Member for Cashel, who introduced this discussion, and the present Government was entirely free from praise or blame in regard to them. [Mr. OSUORNE: You voted for them.] His best reply to the hon. Member for Nottingham was this—that he (Sir John Pakington) never joined in condemnation of Lord Palmerston for proposing, them and those who were supporters and members of Lord Palmerston's Government—who, year after year supported him—should rather abstain from throwing on him the odium of profligate and useless and absurd expenditure. [Mr. OSBORNE: I never said so.] He (Sir John Pakington) never was a supporter of Lord Palmerston; he was always in political opposition to him, but he would say this—he did not believe any man ever exercised power in that House who was more thoroughly English in his views and feelings, or more anxious to exercise the great power he possessed for the honour and interests of the country. Whether right or wrong, he proposed and advocated this system of fortifications with most patriotic and honourable intentions; and when hon. Gentlemen criticized with so much severity those who had carried that system into 2042 effect he must say, in justice and fair play, they ought to bear in mind more than they did the changes that had occurred in our armament and the whole military system since the fortifications were commenced. [Lord ELCHO: Look at the contracts of 1867.] He was not referring to contracts—he was answering a speech which he had just listened to. If his noble Friend had anything to say about contracts he would meet him by-and-by. His noble Friend was one of those who referred to the fortifications with undue severity. He (Sir John Pakington) was not responsible for the system which Lord Palmerston thought it right to commence. He was not the advocate of the system, and he was free from all prejudice or concern in the matter except for the last year. What, then, was the state of affairs—what was our military system in 1860? A great portion of the speech of the hon. Member for Cashel had been devoted to a question of how much of our fortifications should consist of granite and how much of iron. [Mr. O'BEIRNE: I said nothing about any part being of granite.] He did not intend to misrepresent the hon. Gentleman, the early part of whose speech was certainly devoted to the question as to how far iron ought to be an ingredient in these fortifications. Why, in 1860, nobody ever thought of putting iron into fortifications. What led to the introduction of iron? What but the clothing of our ships with iron? In 1860 no such things as iron ships existed. There had been, indeed, floating batteries, but there were no iron men-of-war; and at that period the system of warfare was between granite forts and wooden ships. No doubt the changes that took place after 1860 were very rapid; but, as he had to advert to other subjects which had been referred to by several hon. Members, he would not further detain the House by dwelling on that early period. He would come now to 1864 and 1865. Experiments were made in those years which the hon. Gentleman had treated, as far as he (Sir John Pakington) was aware, with perfect fairness; and the result of those experiments was to prove, first that a construction of solid iron was much more to be depended on than one of laminated iron; and, secondly, that a construction of iron and stone was not so powerful as one of iron alone. His hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Aberdeen (Colonel Sykes) had entered into a good deal of matter which really did not 2043 bear upon this question, for he had alluded to the American experience of the great imperfections of granite backing to iron fronts. He (Sir John Pakington) was not aware that plan had ever been adopted in any of our English fortifications, and therefore, he would not dwell upon the subject. Then the hon. Member for Cashel went on to say that the question still remained unsettled. That was perfectly true, experiments were still in progress. He now came to a period for which he admitted his entire responsibility. It was a very short period, comparatively, in the history of these fortifications—namely, the time which had elapsed since he had the honour to be called to the office that he now filled—the time since 1867, to which the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire had so often referred. The hon. Member for Cashel had alluded to what had taken place in connection with the experiments to be tried on what was called the Plymouth fort. He hoped that the hon. Gentleman did not impute to him anything like a breach of faith in these trans actions; for he could assure the hon. Member and the House that no imputation was ever more thoroughly undeserved. [Mr. O'BEIRNE: I had no such intention.] He was glad the hon. Gentleman had disclaimed it, because from the time he had become responsible he had been deeply sensible of the difficulty and importance of the subject, and whenever he had to speak of it he endeavoured to do so with the utmost candour and fairness. He thought, however, that the hon. Member had, he was sure unintentionally, misrepresented his promise. The hon. Gentleman said that he (Sir John Pakington) had promised last year that experiments should be made on the Plymouth fort and on shields. Now, when he made the promise with regard to the Plymouth fort he gave no promise with respect to shields, and he thought that no question about shields had then arisen. His noble Friend the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) brought the question of the Plymouth fort from time to time before the House, and what he (Sir John Pakington) promised was this, that, so far as he could exercise his influence, there should be a bonâ fide trial of that fort, and that the experiment should be made upon a target which should represent the fort as it was intended to be erected. His noble Friend and the hon. Gentleman had alluded to what they described as a certain change in 2044 the drawings. [Lord ELCHO: Hear, hear!] Now, he must frankly confess that he was not so much in the secret as his noble Friend seemed to be—he did not know to what extent the change in the drawings had taken place. He had no desire to shield the officers concerned more than was fair. On the other hand, he had a great desire that the officers who were responsible should not be entirely run down and condemned. He thought the House would be disposed to agree with him that if a public officer charged with a great responsibility, for which very few public officers had the necessary ability and skill—if such an officer, charged with the construction of those great works for the defence of England, found, from experience, after he had made his first designs, that those designs could be improved upon and made more fit for the purpose, he ought not to be made the object of censure and condemnation for making the improvement. It should be remembered, too, that this was a time when not only every year, but almost every month was adding to our knowledge on these subjects. He would go no further, but he thought it sufficient to say that in the case supposed, even if there had been some change in the drawings, it ought not to be made a subject of too severe condemnation. He had already said that his promise was that, so far as he had the power, the target should be a correct representation of the fort to be afterwards constructed; but it should be always borne in mind—and it was a part of the case—that it was very difficult to construct a target with the real consistency of the fort, because they could not expect to find in a target of a few yards broad, the strength which the size, shape, and weight of one part of a fortress must give to another. Therefore, this was a thing in which some licence should be allowed. He was happy to say, however, that the preparations for the trial of the target were almost complete, and he hoped his noble Friend would not think it unfair that the target should represent two different constructions, and two different degrees of strength. It would be divided into two parts, one of which would represent what was intended to be the construction of the fort. The hon. Gentleman had complained that the target at Shoeburyness had been constantly altered. Now, he knew nothing about this; he had never heard that any such changes had been made, and his desire was to as- 2045 certain the facts before saying anything more on the subject. He came now to the experiments which had been made with respect to the shields. And there he thought the hon. Member for Cashel had been a little unfair when he said in speaking of his (Sir John Pakington's) conduct last autumn that "after much loss of time a Committee was appointed." Now, the facts were these. They did not hear until October—and the hon. Gentleman himself had fixed that month—of the trials of the two shields. He was very sorry they had not been tried long before, and he quite admitted that they ought to have been tried long before they were sent to Gibraltar and Malta. He believed it was owing to the great pressure of the moment for national defence that they were hurried out as fast as possible; therefore, he threw no blame on any one. But the trial was made, the shield failed, and what was his course? As far as he remembered he did not allow a week to pass before he requested his hon. and gallant Friend next him (Sir John Hay) to resume his old post as Chairman of the Iron Plate Committee—and no more competent body could be got—with the view of resuming the experiments and testing the quality of the shields. His hon. and gallant Friend discharged that duty with his usual ability. It appeared that the hon. Member had seen the Report, and had expressed himself satisfied with it. He hoped, therefore, the hon. Member would not be disposed to find fault with the course which he had taken. He had here to remark on a part of the practice of that House which had prevailed for some few years, that certain portions of their Papers—but what they were, or where the line was drawn, he did not know—were sent to an Office, and were not in the hands of Members unless they chose to ask for them. Great inconvenience arose from this practice, and in the present instance the hon. Member ought to have been in possession of the information which one of these Papers which were not distributed contained. I have myself suffered from this non-distribution of Papers, and I am satisfied that, though the omission is traceable to considerations of economy, the public interests suffer from it. With regard to the Committee which he had lately appointed, he had formerly stated, in answer to a question asked by the hon. Member himself, the motives which had led to its appointment. Not long ago there was a discussion 2046 on the subject of the fortifications, and the House was than told that some of them were constructed on marshy ground, that some had cracked, that the scarps had fallen in; that others were built on chalky ground, and could not be relied on; that, in fact, they were in an unsatisfactory state, considering the money which had been spent on them. Now, it was too late to talk about the original plans, and he was not responsible for them; but he had no doubt that the able men called in by Lord Palmerston acted to the best of their ability at the time, and availed themselves of all the scientific knowledge of the day. The complaints to which he had referred rested on the mere assertion, first of one amateur and then of another, for he could only regard his noble Friend the Member for Haddingtou—if his noble Friend would forgive him for saying so—as an amateur. His noble Friend fortified himself by reading an extract from the St. Pauls's Magazine. He had never heard before of the St. Paul's Magazine. He had a great respect for St. Paul, but not for St. Paul's Magazine. Then down came the hon. and gallant Member for Aberdeen one night, and the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire on another night, with their remarks on the question. When he asked the hon. and gallant Member for his authority, he said it was a writer in The Times, whose name he knew but must not tell. Yet, those were the grounds upon which the decision of men of the highest scientific character—men like Sir John Burgoyne—was to be impugned and condemned, and their works stigmatized. However, he thought the time was come to meet these anonymous and amateur censures, and he accordingly appointed a Committee of Inquiry, and put at the head of it an officer of great distinction and ability, Sir Frederick Grey, in whose competence and honour he had entire trust. With that officer he associated Mr. Hawkshaw, Colonel Harness, Colonel Simmons, and Colonel Dixon. He had since added to the Committee an eminent artillery officer, Colonel Evans, and he did not believe he could have selected men more worthy of public confidence. He hoped that the House would be content to wait for the Report of that Committee, composed, as it was, of such competent persons; and he must decline to accede to the Resolution moved by the hon. Member who had departed most inconveniently from the practice of the House, in not having 2047 given notice of the import of his Motion. The Resolution embraced two propositions. The first was that all further expense with regard to the fortifications should be suspended. Now, to that proposition, he could not assent, as it would touch a large amount of existing contracts. The hon. Member desired to add to the Committee two Members of that House and a Civil Engineer. Now, he was as desirous as anyone that the constitution of the Committee should give satisfaction, but he doubted whether the Committee would derive any additional strength from having two Members of that House upon it, or acquire additional power by being made more numerous.
§ MR. CHILDERS
confessed that he felt some difficulty in addressing the House on the subject, because, from the want of proper notice of the Resolution, no one could tell what precise proposition was to be brought forward. At the same time he could not help noticing the remarkable line taken that evening by Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench. Lord Palmerston's policy and the responsibility of the present Government in connection with it had been treated in a manner entirely undefensible. The House was pretty severely lectured the other night from the Treasury Bench upon the matter of expenditure, and told that those who did not object to any particular public expenditure were just as responsible for it as those who proposed it. If that were true, how much more responsible must be those who not only did not object to the expenditure for the fortifications, but voted for it. He had taken the trouble to refer to the record which showed who did and who did not support the particular policy with respect to these fortifications which was adopted in 1860, and he found, among other names in favour of the proposal, which was then made by the Government of Lord Palmerston on the subject, the names of the First Minister of the Crown, the Secretary of State for War, the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Secretary of State for India, and several other Gentlemen by whom his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stamford (Sir John Hay) was now cheered. When, therefore, his hon and gallant Friend told the House, not only that the present Government were in no way responsible for those fortifications, but that the fortifications themselves were, to a great extent, useless, his hon. and gallant Friend must excuse him for enlarging on the doctrine 2048 which had been laid down, and maintaining that the occupants of the Treasury Bench were responsible for those useless works. He hoped, he might add, that hon. Members would not run away with the idea that it was any light matter which they were discussing. He himself was perfectly free so far as the original question of the construction of those fortifications was concerned, inasmuch as he had taken no part in the two divisions on the original Resolutions of 1860. Standing in that position he must say he thought, after the declaration of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, the public mind should be set at rest on the subject. The words which the right hon. Baronet had used towards the end of his speech were, in his opinion, perfectly sound, and he could not blame him for saying that he was not prepared to adopt a Resolution like that under discussion without notice, and under all the circumstances of the case, seeing that there was a large number of contracts at the present moment on hand. That being the view of the Government, he would suggest to his hon. Friend the Member for Cashel that, instead of the second part of his Resolution, the terms of which he was sure he would admit were too trenchant, he should accept the following words by way of Amendment:—That in the opinion of this House, no further outlay on the Fortifications for the defence of the United Kingdom and of the Colonies, except such as may be absolutely necessary under existing Contracts, or to complete works which cannot be suspended without serious inconvenience, ought to be incurred until the Report of the Committee recently appointed, shall have been laid before this House.A Resolution like that would, he believed, if adopted entirely satisfy the public mind, and be in accordance with that moderate course which his right hon. Friend at the conclusion of his speech pointed out. Then again, with reference to the first proposition of his hon. Friend, "that two Members of this House and a Civil Engineer be added to the Committee," he wished to say that he objected to the proposed appointment of Members of that House, inasmuch as it would have the effect of taking away, in a great measure, the responsibility in the matter, which ought to rest solely on the shoulders of the Executive Government; and his right hon. Friend had promised that he would appoint a civil engineer. He hoped his hon. Friend the Member for Cashel would accept the Amendment which he had suggested.
§ MR. O'BEIRNE
said, he had no wish to inconvenience the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for War, or act discourteously towards him or the House. The best course would be to move the adjournment of the debate; but as that could not be done, he should not press his Motion to a division.
§ LORD ELCHO
said, he should not have trespassed on the attention of the House had he not understood that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War had in his absence coupled his name with that of St. Paul. Now, he had quoted on a former occasion from the St. Paul's Magazine because the article from which the quotations were extracted, appeared to him to be a very able one, and to have been written by a person who thoroughly understood the subject on which he was writing. He should not, perhaps, have referred to it had not an article of a similar character been published in The Times newspaper, in consequence of which a question had been put by the gallant General opposite (General Dunne) to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War (Sir John Pukington), in reply to whose answer The Times' correspondent wrote a letter, maintaining the accuracy of his original statement. But, be that as it might, the country had, at all events, he thought, good reason to rejoice that the St. Paul's Magazine and the communication of The Times' correspondent had been quoted in that House, for it was, perhaps, not a little owing to that circumstance that an inquiry into the real state of the fortifications was instituted. He had never questioned the propriety of the Report of the Commission issued by Lord Palmerston, and which recommended the expenditure of the public money upon fortifications; but, assuming that it was necessary that they should be constructed, he had expressed his doubts as to whether the nation was getting the worth of the money expended, and experience had now shown that it might as well have been thrown into the sea, because they were not constructed in such a manner as to resist modern artillery. It was from a belief that the Plymouth fort did not fulfil that condition that he last year brought the subject before the House. He admitted that his right hon. Friend, since he had been in Office, had acted with perfect fairness, and had shown every willingness to have a thorough inquiry. But what he had asked of his right hon. Friend 2050 last year was to let them have a section of that Plymouth Breakwater fort as per drawing signed by Colonel Jervis on the 19th of January, 1867, and issued to the contractor. His right hon. Friend implied that he (Lord Elcho) was actuated in the course he took by personal motives: he absolutely disclaimed anything of the kind. Whenever the Minister in cases like that defended the acts of an officer in his Department whose conduct was supposed to be impugned by a Member of that House, he invariably elicited a cheer. For himself, however, he did not in the least attack the individual, but the work; and if the work was found to be faulty he left the House and the country to form their own opinion as to whether the individual was or was not to blame. His right hon. Friend undertook that there should be a section of that fort, but a section as it was now intended to be constructed. That was not what was, he believed, the understanding come to between his right hon. Friend and himself last year. That understanding was that it should be a section of the fort, not as it was intended to be constructed at some future time, but as it was intended to be constructed as per drawing signed by Colonel Jervis on the 19th of January, 1867, and issued to the contractor. In November last he had reason to believe there was a departure from that understanding, in so far as that the section which was being constructed was not according to the design as contracted for, and a Question was asked in the House on the subject. He then went abroad, and when he came home in March he had still further reasons to believe that the original understanding was departed from, and had to bring the matter before the House. What he then wanted, and what was promised by his right hon. Friend, was that there should be two drawings published—namely, one of the fort as originally designed, and another of the same section of the fort with such alterations marked and coloured as would show how it was eventually intended to be erected, so that the public might judge between the two. His firm conviction was that the section as it was now intended to be put up and to be fired at would be found to be as different from the fort originally meant to be constructed as that fort of iron differed from the original design of 1860. If there had not been external action—if the question had not been raised in that House, he believed 2051 that fort would have been constructed as it was originally designed and contracted for, and that the country would have had a bad article instead of a good one, whereby the public money would have been wasted.
§ MR. BAZLEY
said, he considered that the investment of the public money in fortifications was essentially a bad one, and that, as pointed out in a former debate by General Peel, the real defence of the country was to be found in the fleet and in floating batteries. They had been in reality throwing the money of the national Treasury into the sea. The proposal for the construction of the fortifications was made and agreed to at a time of national panic, when it was supposed that an enemy was about to invade us. But during the past eight years no enemy had invaded them, though the forts had not been constructed, and why should they go on spending this enormous sum of public money on such a chimerical idea? Besides, an enemy would never attempt to land in the face of forts, but would seek some other part of the coast on which to land. They must remember that when the fortifications were constructed, an enormous expense would have to be incurred to defend them; and they would, after all, be perfectly useless. He was glad he was one of the thirty-nine Members who, from the very first, protested and voted against this extravagant expenditure, and was sorry that the House did not take the advice of the right hon. and gallant Member for Huntingdon (General Peel), who so justly pointed out that, in the event of an enemy landing, they might, by means of the existing railway communication, concentrate troops in a few hours, in any part of the kingdom. No real economy would be effected for the nation, until the execution of these fortifications was totally suspended. Believing that the fortifications, when constructed, would be utterly useless, he would move that all investments in fortifications should, from the present time, cease and determine.
§ MR. SPEAKER
informed the hon. Gentleman that there being an Amendment before the House, the one he had now moved was inadmissible.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
said, that since he had come into Office he had endeavoured to deal with the question in various ways and with the utmost fairness and moderation, and he was obliged to the noble Lord opposite (Lord Elcho) for the admis- 2052 sion he had made to that effect. He would appeal to the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), whether it would not be a departure from the usual practice of the House on a matter of great importance if they adopted the proposal he now made? It was a Motion without Notice in reference to a large expenditure, which might be condemned in one moment, and rightly condemned, but which had been going on for a period of eight years. Large sums of money had been expended on works of the greatest national importance; and he submitted to the House with very great confidence that, if they were to reverse their policy and abandon what was done in 1860, they ought not to do so without the fullest notice and the gravest thought. He must say he did not feel at liberty to accept a proposal of that serious importance without a reference to his Colleagues in the Cabinet. The proposal of his hon. Friend who had spoken of the impropriety in the hon. Member for Cashel making a Motion without Notice was itself moved entirely without any Notice; and he appealed to the House whatever its ultimate decision might be, not to proceed with precipitation. He had already promised that the Instructions to the Committee should be laid on the table. Well, they were not going even to wait for those Instructions, and if the Motion of his hon. Friend were accepted by the House he believed it would be necessary to alter them.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, the right hon. Baronet opposite altogether misunderstood the object of his hon Friend (Mr. Childers). There were two questions involved, one was whether it was desirable that their great arsenals should be placed in a state in which they could be defended from the attack of a foreign enemy; and the other was, whether the manner in which the fortifications were being executed would best attain the end in view. His hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) had raised no doubt as to the first—he had not proposed a reversal of the present policy, or that the fortifications should not be erected. But the question raised was whether there should be an alteration in the manner of their construction? Complaints having been made that these fortifications were being erected in a way that would render them useless for their object, the Government had very properly appointed a Committee to examine into and carefully report upon 2053 the manner in which they were being executed. He believed that the complaints against the fortifications were unfounded, but the appointment of a Select Committee implied that there was some doubt on the subject. There was great force in the objection of the Secretary for War that the Motion had been made without notice, and that, in consequence, he wished to consult his Colleagues. The best plan would therefore be to adjourn the debate. No public inconvenience would arise from postponing any ulterior expenditure, as the Report of the Committee was likely to be obtained in a short time. He would suggest that the debate be now adjourned. [Mr. SPAKER intimated that this could not be done.] He would then recommend the hon. Member for Cashel to withdraw his Amendment on the understanding that he should have an early opportunity of bringing the matter on again after the right hon. Baronet had consulted his Colleagues.
§ MR. SAMUDA
said, he wished to draw the attention of the House to the fact that the Royal Commission made two recommendations—one with reference to fortifications, the other with regard to floating batteries for the defence of our shores. If the matter was re-considered by the Government, it would perhaps be found that they had carried out the less important matter, and neglected the more important of the two.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The Secretary of State for War has taken exception to the terms of the Notice of the hon. Member for Cashel (Mr. O'Beirne), as not being sufficiently precise and complete, and I should wish to take the direction of the House, as to what should be the practice for the future. It is a rule of the House, that no original Motion should be made without due Notice; but of late years, on the question of going into Committee of Supply on Fridays, the Motions all partake of the nature of original Motions, though made in the form of Amendments to the Motion, "That the Speaker do now leave the Chair;" but they are, in fact, a succession of original Motions, which Members expect will be called on in due order. Now, this is a new practice, and I should like to know if it is the opinion of the House that Notices for Friday should be given in sufficient time and in as complete 2054 a form as original Motions. I do not wish to say anything with regard to this particular case, because the practice has not been settled. The Notice to call attention to the question of fortifications, and to move a Resolution by the Member for Cashel, would have been sufficient Notice at a week's distance: but before the day arrived, it would have been suitable and proper that the exact terms of the Resolution should appear upon the Paper. And if that is the general opinion of the House, it is a course that ought to be followed for the future. With regard to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), it is not liable to the same objection, because it constantly happens in the course of the debate that the original Motion is objected to, and that having been withdrawn another is substituted more acceptable to the House. I have taken the liberty of making these observations to the House, rather with the view of collecting the opinion of the House with regard to its future practice.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
put it to the hon. Member for Cashel, whether it would not be well to bring this question before the House again? [Cries of "Divide!"] Hon. Members opposite were not acceding to the wish of the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for War, who had pleaded that sufficient Notice had not been given. [Renewed cries of "Divide!"] As it seemed the wish of the House to divide, they must each vote according to their convictions, and he had no option, but to support the Motion of the hon. Member for Pontefract.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, no further outlay on the Fortifications for the defence of the United Kingdom and of the Colonies, except such as may be absolutely necessary under existing Contracts, or to complete works which cannot be suspended without serious inconvenience, ought to be incurred until the Report of the Committee recently; appointed shall have been laid before this House,"—(Mr. Childers,)
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 93; Noes 48: Majority 45.
§ Question again proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."