HC Deb 22 March 1886 vol 303 cc1543-64
MR. W. H. SMITH (Strand, Westminster)

, in rising to call attention to the necessity, for the security of the Country and in the interests of economy, of providing for the continuous execution of the works and the manufacture of the material which are ascertained to be required for the protection of the coaling stations abroad; and of our mercantile harbours and military ports, and to urge that a Select Committee ought to be appointed to examine the Estimates for these services, and to report upon them to the House, said. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bryce) has drawn a distinction between British interests and Treaty engagements which we on this side should not be inclined to accept. We believe that the observance of Treaty engagements is a British interest. If we have contended for British interests we have contended for the maintenance of the honour and obligations of this country. The hon. Gentleman has repeated what we have heard before, that this country has undertaken to defend the Frontier of Egypt. That engagement is a heavy one. Now, if there has been one misfortune more than another which has attended the operations of this country in Egypt during the last two or three years, it has been that we have given notice, from time to time, that we were about to reduce our Forces and to retire from the country. Nothing has more tended to disquiet the inhabitants of Egypt and to invite those disturbances from the frontier tribes to which the hon. Member has drawn attention. Then great harm has been done by the knowledge—the announcement beforehand—that we were going to do this or that, to take this or that particular step. I conceive that while it is our duty to lessen by all means in our power the very heavy drain which in imposed upon us and upon Egypt it is most unwise to announce beforehand that a reduction of any considerable amount in our Forces would be made before a certain period. I notice with some regret in the Estimates that the reduction is shown to be more than half the strength of Egypt at the present time. My right hon. Friend will, no doubt, tell the House that the Government have power to retain more than the 8,800 men which they now indicate as the force to be retained. They have that power, it is true; but what we regret is the announcement that we are going to retire from Wady Halfa, or from any other point which we now occupy. Now, Sir, I ask permission to turn for a moment to the consideration of the question to which I invite the attention of the House. I am aware it is not in my power to ask the House to affirm the Resolution of which I have given Notice; and I do not very greatly regret that that is so, because I raise the question in no hostile spirit to Her Majesty's Government, nor with any Party object of any kind whatever. I have always endeavoured, when I have had to deal with questions of the defensive Forces of the country, to keep clear of considerations of that kind; but there is one very important matter to which I desire to direct the attention of the House, and that is that while the House is asked to approve Estimates—I am afraid I am treading on delicate ground, and that if I refer to anything that has occurred I may be accused of endeavouring to discharge in this House the duties of the Executive; but no one, I am sure, feels more strongly than myself that the duties of the Executive ought to be maintained in the highest possible manner—the House is asked to approve Estimates when it really possesses absolutely no more information than that which is afforded by the statements of Ministers. Hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite most persistently insist on economy, and move the reduction of the Vote from time to time by so much or by so much; but they are not allowed to see within the veil that is dropped down over the actual condition of things in the higher interests of the country. What has happened with reference to these coaling stations? The present Prime Minister in 1882, 1883, and 1884 carried on inquiries, most careful inquiries, as to the necessities, in the judgment of those to whom those inquiries were intrusted, with regard to the defences of the country in the matter of military ports and of commercial harbours; and the result was that Ministers in this House and in the other House of Parliament announced in December, 1884, that proposals would be made to Parliament, and they gave the ground on which those proposals would be made—namely, that they considered that the condition of those defences of the country required the serious attention of Parliament. The language that was then used by Ministers was of a very strong character. I remember the noble Lord the Member for the Rossendale Division of Lancashire (the Marquess of Hartington) said, on the 19th of March, 1885— When the fortification of those stations was provided for by Lord Palmerston—by the raising of a long loan for between £7,000,000 and £8,000,000—it was intended that the cost of the necessary armaments should be defrayed out of the annual Estimates; and in 1860 it was estimated that £5,250,000 had been employed for this particular purpose. From 1860 to 1878 £3,250,000 was expended, leaving a balance, according to the original Estimate, of £1,750,000 still to be provided. About £750,000 has since been spent, so that about £1,000,000 is still due on the original Estimate; but increased cost of heavy ordnance, although, of course, the number of guns required at the works has considerably diminished, has considerably increased the total cost of the necessary arms, and it is now considered that about £1,250,000 are still due to complete the approved defences of the principal military stations at home and abroad. The alterations in the character of ordnance have also rendered necessary certain structural alterations in the works themselves, and also, in some cases, the construction of new works, and works in new and more advanced positions; and for these purposes, and for the completion of preparations for the new mode of defence, it is estimated that something like £1,000,000 will be required in addition to the works for submarine mining. There is, therefore, about £2,250,000 to be expended before the defences of the great military ports at home and abroad can be considered completely satisfactory. I am very far indeed from saying that this expenditure ought to be very long delayed; but the question of how and when, and in what mode it should be proceeded with, is one of very considerable difficulty and embarrassment."—(3 Hansard, [295] 1724.) I entirely agree that that question is a question of very considerable difficulty and embarrassment, and I could go on to quote similar statements by Lord Northbrook and by the present Home Secretary (Mr. Childers) when Chancellor of the Exchequer, and other Members of the then Government, by which the Government of the day came under an engagement to the House of Commons to make proposals to Parliament for the completion of these works of defence. These Estimates, with the plans, are not schemes of mine, but are the deliberate results of many years of anxious inquiry, and formed, in the judgment of the Government, an expenditure which was really necessary for the safety of the country. I gave a statement of these facts last July from my place on the other side of the House, and I was then reminded by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stroud (Mr. Brand) that the statement I made was the statement of his Chief, the noble Marquess the Member for the Rossendale Division, and was, in fact, the statement of the Department made after very careful inquiry. Now, Sir, these warnings have been given to Parliament, the statements have been made, and it becomes a question whether the Government should be aided by the House of Commons in the consideration of the steps which, if the allegations are true, it is necessary to take to secure the safety of the country, and to enable them to resist those claims which arise in times of panic, or whether the House of Commons should refuse to aid the Government, and leave upon them the responsibility of moving in the matter just when they can. I think that if Parliament remains indifferent to the circumstances which are made known by the speeches to which I have referred it is because Parliament does decline to move. I shall at least have cleared myself from any responsibility; but we shall still have the assertion of Ministers of high rank—of Ministers of great personal responsibility—that these works were required two years ago, and only postponed because of the heavy demands on the Exchequer a year ago, and now postponed again simply for that consideration. I shall not refer to any of the confidential information that came into my hands when I was in Office; but I may say simply that my authorities speak in the terms to which I have referred. The circumstances of the Military Forces are such that if we were exposed to the apprehension of war the most economical Minister would have to come down to the House and say—"Give me a Vote of Credit"—not, I hope, of £11,000,000, or even of £6,000,000—"to enable me to redeem the deficiencies that at present exist." Now, I have had some experience of Votes of Credit, and I believe that no more extravagant system prevails. If you can only look at facts as they are calmly and coolly—if you can only get some half-dozen economists, some half-dozen military gentlemen, and some half-dozen responsible officials to proceed to an inquiry into the facts—if necessary, by an examination of witnesses, even of the actual sites of these defences—then, I say, I shall be quite satisfied with the decision of the House based upon the Report of such a Committee. Nothing is to be done with our mercantile ports during the coming year. Less is to be done than I could have hoped for our coaling stations. If we have a quiet year we shall be told next year that the expenditure of the country has been very large indeed—rightly and justly told, no doubt—upon naval and military purposes, and that it is right and proper that there should be some lessening of taxation. But, on the other hand, if we have another scare, my right hon. Friend opposite will have some £5,000,000 put into his hands, and he will be called upon to work all the factories overtime, and the amount of work which would now cost £1 will not be done for 30s. It is in the interests of economy as well as of security that I ask Parliament to undertake this inquiry, under the direction and with the full responsibility of the proper officers of the Secretary of State; and if the House of Commons and the country still affirm that it is no longer necessary to undertake defensive works, then, I say, I shall be satisfied with their decision. I do not know that I ought to weary the House very much more on this subject, but I will give just a little information as to the class of work which is being done at present, and that which was done in defence of the Empire 26 years ago. I will state, with the permission of the House, what was the cost of the armament of a first-class ship in 1854 and 1855. When I give these figures I think the House will understand why it is that the Army Estimates are larger than they used to be. The Duke of Wellington, the most powerful ship in the Navy in 1854–5, carried 131 guns. The total cost of her guns amounted to £7,000, the gun-carriages to £2,500, the projectiles and ammunition to £5,200, and the stores, side-arms, powder-cases, boats, equipments, &c, to £2,300. All this showed a total cost of £17,000. The Benbow is one of the latest additions to our Fleet. The total cost of her guns was £58,339. The mountings cost £82,858; the projectiles, powder, and cartridges, 100 rounds per 110-ton gun, and 85 rounds per 6-inch gun, £38,500; cartridge cases, £7,000; miscellaneous stores and equipments, £13,800; 18 Whitehead torpedoes and equipments, £7,200; the total amounting to £207,697. This is the cost of the armament and ammunition of one ship in the present day, as against £17,000 in 1854–5. Now I will give other figures showing a greater proportion. The cost of a single charge for a 68-pounder gun in 1856 was 15s. The cost of a single charge for one of the 110-ton guns on the Benbow was £153. The 900 lbs. of powder of which it consisted cost £70, the steel common shell £80, and the cart- ridge silk cloth £3. The cartridge cover of the charge cost four times the amount of the entire charge of a 68-pounder gun 30 years ago. The cost of guns for batteries has increased not quite in the same proportion. The cost of Fort Cunningham, as armed in 1860, amounted to £5,600; but, as armed in 1886, with nine guns, it amounted to £32,600. I do not ask for increased expenditure inputting these facts before the House; I only ask for inquiry. I ask that the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Illingworth) shall sit on a Committee, with other of his Colleagues, and shall examine these facts, and arrive at some conclusion as to the necessity or otherwise for these works. If they find that such works are necessary, I ask that they shall put it in the power of the Government to carry them out; or if they find that the works are not necessary, I ask them to say that we should abandon this system of protection, which, individually, I believe to be necessary. I think very much is said in this House, in discussing these Estimates, that is fallacious and useless. Hon. Gentlemen do not know at what they are hitting when they move for reductions. The Estimates, prepared as they are, cannot disclose the work done for the money voted, nor the motives which influence a Government in asking for money; and it is far better, if hon. Gentlemen are called upon to exercise an intelligent judgment upon these matters, that they should do so with the proper information before them.

MR. BADEN - POWELL (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

said, he had visited a great many of these coaling stations, and had gleaned the opinions of the Colonists on the spot, both in times of panic and in times of peace. In the past 30 or 40 years English enterprize, energy, and capital had spread over the world a network of commercial interest. The strongest lines of that network were the lines of our communication; but the knots of the network were our coaling stations, and if these knots were insecure the whole of the network would fall to pieces. It was of the utmost importance to remember that if our communications were not kept intact our foreign trade would at once pass into the hands of other nations. The Civil Lord of the Admiralty stated the other night that the coaling stations were being looked to, and that considerable progress with the works had been made in several instances; but he wanted to point out to the Government that these were only a few of the coaling stations that were absolutely indispensable if we were to retain our commercial supremacy in the further parts of the world. They were told that £50,000 was to be spent on these defensive works. He wished the sum was larger; but he supposed they would have in these days to be thankful for small mercies. There was a larger sum of £138,000 to be spent in armaments, and he hoped the Government would be able to give some explanation of these armaments. The importance of at once putting our communications in a thorough state of defence was obvious, not only on the plea of security, but on the plea of economy. One of our chief British industries was the carrying trade. We were the carriers of the world, and if we did not maintain the security of our communications we were liable to lose that trade. There annually passed round the Cape of Good Hope a trade valued at between £180,000,000 and £200,000,000, and in time of war the trade could be taken out of English hands if we did not have coaling stations all along the routes. He considered that we could, at a very small cost, ward off all wars by making it perfectly hopeless for any enemy to attempt to attack us at sea; but we could not do this unless we organized in time. It was most important that we should not only have men to defend those stations, but that they should be well trained in the use of guns and torpedoes, and he would like to see some permanent Board to take charge of the communications of the Empire. He hope the Government would agree to the inquiry asked for, and would make a declaration which would show that they were determined to carry through a strong, continuous policy in defence of the communications of the Empire.


said, that as one of those who had been in charge of the Mozambique Coast, he could testify that none of our coaling stations there were safe. In fact, the observation might be applied to the whole Coast line from the Mozambique Channel to Kurrachee. He urged the necessity of providing for the defence of various coaling stations in the East, which were at present entirely undefended. As the Coasts were reef-bound, they afforded means of security, for, once inside the reefs, there was anchorage for all the Fleets in the world.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. H. Smith) had suggested the importance of referring to a Select Committee the consideration of the important matter which he brought to the attention of the House. But he found in the views which the right hon. Gentleman expressed last year sufficient reasons against bringing matters of such extreme delicacy not only to the knowledge of the House and the country, but of all the nations of the world. He might say, however, that there had been no break in the continuity of what had been undertaken at any time. The works with regard to land fortifications in connection with our military ports and commercial harbours must involve large expenditure; they had been under the consideration of successive Governments; and although their importance had been recognized, no definite scheme had been determined on by any Government, or submitted to the approval of Parliament. It was some comfort to know, on the authority of those who enjoyed the confidence of different Governments, that those military ports were capable of being enabled to resist the attacks of the most important Naval Power, or of a combination of the two most important. Her Majesty's Government did not underrate the advantage of placing those important places beyond risk. Certain works were still without a portion of the armaments with which they ought to be supplied; but even that had its consolation, for since of late armaments had become obsolete on an average of 15 years, they had the satisfaction of knowing that they could avail themselves of the constantly-increasing knowledge which every period of transition had brought with it. As to the importance of providing submarine defences to prevent the approach of an invading force to any of the military harbours, he had the satisfaction of being able to state that with regard to the Thames and the Medway, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Milford Haven, Cork, and other ports, the submarine mines were in such a state of completeness that they could at the shortest possible notice be put into action. The right hon. Gentleman would be glad to know that they had disciplined corps of skilful men capable of working those scientific forms of defence, and that Portsmouth, Plymouth, and the Thames were protected by the Engineer Militia of those ports. He was happy to be able to give an assurance as to the satisfactory nature of the submarine defences of Malta, Halifax, and Bermuda, which made those stations absolutely secure from attack by sea. The Government certainly attached greater importance to the proper protection of our coaling stations in the Eastern than the Western Seas; and he was happy to say that with regard to those the progress made was quite satisfactory and that at the present moment their personnel and matériel were complete, and could at the shortest notice be called into activity. Last year the right hon. Gentleman expressed a confident hope that the fortification works then in progress might be completed in March, 1888. He was glad to say that the progress made justified that expectation, and it was satisfactory to know that there had been very cordial co-operation in the matter between the Colonial Authorities and the Home Government in the provision of those defences. The highly patriotic spirit which had been exhibited at Hong Kong and Singapore, where large sums had been devoted to the necessary works to receive the armaments which would be furnished by the Home Government, was particularly gratifying. Still, there remained the important duty of organizing a flotilla of torpedo boats, steam launches, quick-firing guns, and the necessary personnel for keeping constant guard and watch over those hidden submarine works. That subject was engaging the very serious attention of the Secretary of State; and they believed, if the occasion should arise, there would be readily improvised from the naval and military resources of the Empire a force ready to man and guard those defences. With respect to the protection of the mercantile ports, he was happy to be able to give an assurance which he trusted would be satisfactory to the House. He was authorized to say that during the last 15 months there had been a steady, energetic, and even remarkable progress made in the completion of the system of submarine mines for the defence of the most important ports and harbours of the country. By the end of the coming financial year he believed that every important commercial port would be placed in such a position as to be able to give a very good account of an invading squadron. There remained the necessity of providing buildings and stores of every kind, and these were now in hand and steadily progressing. There had been organized a special Coast Battalion of Royal Engineers, for the exclusive duty of working these defences. They consisted of officers promoted from the ranks, specially trained for the work, kept in constant practice, and aided by a staff specially selected and highly skilled in electric and mechanical science. They had also the good fortune of being able to co-operate with local organizations, which during the last year had been most satisfactorily at work on the defence of the Mersey, Clyde, Tyne, and Severn. In each of those harbours there had been placed one lieutenant and 16 non-commissioned officers and men, with whom were associated the local Volunteer Engineer Company, specially devoted to this class of submarine mining, who were aided, instructed, and trained by the professional men. The Government were giving all the encouragement they could in the form of grants, and were holding out every inducement they could to local Volunteers to devote a large portion of their time to this highly skilled and technical work. The result of the experience of the four great estuaries he had referred to had been so encouraging that in the Estimates for the current year it would be found that money was asked to place a similar force for the Forth, the Tay, the Humber, the Tees, and for Falmouth; and though there was not a large Volunteer Force to co-operate with them, sections of battalions would be placed on duty at Belfast and Dublin. He trusted that the figures he had mentioned would give confidence and relief from danger of panic to the very important communities whose commerce it was so important should be carried on under a sense of security. With regard to the fortification of these important forts, he was unable to say more than that the subject was under the consideration it deserved. But the Estimates included a Vote of £10,000 for the Tyne, preference having been given on account of the Tyne being not merely a commercial harbour, but also a great arsenal. The House would see that re- gard had been had to the importance of the subject; and the Government must not be suspected of indifference, or less entitled to confidence, because they were not light-hearted about the enormous expenditure the works would involve. There was constant danger that works undertaken to-day with the full approval of professional men would become obsolete almost before their execution could be completed. He trusted the House would feel there was the most anxious desire to provide as far as possible for the wants of the day under the guidance of the science of the times. The Government felt they were best guarding the interests of the country by avoiding delay and procrastination on the one hand, while, on the other, avoiding hasty expenditure under a feeling of panic.

SIR FREDERICK STANLEY (Lancashire N., Blackpool)

said, it was so far satisfactory to hear that there was no break in the continuity of what had been undertaken; but the case of his right hon. Friend (Mr. W. H. Smith) was that there was work which was part of a definite and well-thought-out scheme for the defence of the country which had never been commenced at all. The Committee asked for would by no means take upon itself the functions which belonged to the Executive; but the expense being so great, and the work being necessary by the admission of the present Government and of the noble Marquess formerly Secretary for War (the Marquess of Hartington), it might be a strength to the Government and an assistance to the House if there were associated with the Executive a Committee including Members like the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Illingworth), who was not popularly supposed to be predisposed towards military expenditure, who would satisfy themselves that it was necessary and advisable, in the interests of peace and of our commerce, that these defensive works should be carried out. In speaking of the local forces that were to be organized for the defence of the mercantile ports, the hon. Gentleman said nothing about the provision of materials.


said, the provisions would certainly include ammunition and everything else, and he spoke about works that were now in progress, including the erection of storehouses.


said, he was glad to have obtained that assurance, which did not seem to be conveyed by the hon. Gentleman's first statement. A torpedo system alone was not everything; indeed, torpedoes were of little value against the means of dealing with them unless they were accompanied by protective works. Perhaps they might hear later on that the necessary works were included. Any suspicion he might have gathered strength from the manner in which the hon. Gentleman spoke of the works being pushed forward in the Colonies. But they were almost led to bear the expenditure. It was an expenditure of which they in no way complained; they had come forward loyally, and had voted money in support of the system of Imperial defence. With Volunteers at home, as in the Colonies, there was an excellent spirit if we made use of it; but it was a spirit that could be easily chilled and discouraged. He hoped that, as works of defence were pushed forward in the Colonies forming part of an Imperial and commercial system, it might be understood that armaments would be proceeded with pari passu at home. If one thing was clearer than another it was that the conditions of trade in time of war would have entirely changed. We should not, as formerly, have ships convoyed by men-of-war. The best authorities thought it would be necessary that the sea should be patrolled by armoured cruisers; and coaling stations would be of the utmost importance both for cruisers and for merchant steamers which trusted to their speed in running the gauntlet of hostile cruisers. The maintenance of our lines of communication would be absolutely necessary to the carrying on of our Colonial trade. He hoped he should not sit down without making this matter clear—first of all, that this was not a question in any respect a Party one; and, secondly, that they were not asking more than the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) told the House, after mature consideration with the Naval and Military Authorities, was necessary for the defence of the country. What they asked was that there should be no break of continuity, not in the work begun, but that laid down as necessary. On this he believed rested the best guarantee for economy. He was sorry to say that, like his right hon. Friend, he had had some experience of what Votes of Credit were when they came to be spent; and he firmly believed that the way for the country to get full value for its money was to spend it in times of peace, when every item could be properly looked at, rather than in time of war, when emergencies and confusions were apt to arise, and when, therefore, the expenditure could not be so well controlled. If the Government did not feel themselves able, in the face of the undoubtedly large expenditure, to carry out what the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) and Lord Northbrook originally proposed, then it was contended that it might be an advantageous thing, not for the Government or the House, but for the country, that there should be an independent body before whom the question could be clearly laid, and who could say that the Government in their opinion were justified in making a large and what, perhaps, might seem an excessive demand upon the finances of the country, and that a proper and early expenditure might result in that due economy which it was the special function of that House to insure.


said, he wished he could confirm the accuracy of the glowing picture which the Surveyor General of Ordnance (Mr. Woodall) had presented; but, unfortunately, he was unable to do so. There were two points on the Southern Coast on which our Fleets were absolutely dependent, and the loss of which would imperil the existence of our Navy—he meant, of course, the great Naval Arsenals and Dockyards of Portsmouth and Plymouth. But their importance was not limited to their use to the Navy. They had also a high military significance. In case of invasion they would be powerful supports of our Army in the field; and if an enemy should capture them he would thereby enormously increase the chances of effecting the conquest of the Island. Therefore, Portsmouth and Plymouth were as the very apple of our eye. This fact had long been recognized, and with this result—that many years ago a very considerable sum of money was laid out on their defence. These works, when constructed, were sufficient for their purpose; but in the course of time the progress of artillery had been so great, leaving fortifications far behind, that these works were no longer reliable for their defence. Things had come to a pass that would formerly have seemed miraculous. Modern guns hurled what were not so much shells as loaded mines, dropping them with wonderful precision within a limited area, and insuring their explosion there. By these missiles magazines and forts formerly bomb-proof were now penetrable, and he need not describe the effect of one of these vast projectiles exploding in a magazine. Plymouth was formerly protected by the existing batteries; but it was now open to bombardment by ships of war which could lie beyond the range of those batteries, and, indeed, concealed by obstacles from their view. Several foreign men-of-war now in commission were capable of destroying the masonry and magazines of our sea forts. It was evident, therefore, that these works demanded renovation. But that was not all that had to be said. Nearly all the land defences of Portsmouth, and also those of Plymouth, were without artillery. Their deficiencies in guns were to be counted not by scores, but by the hundred. Now, he had been unable to discover in the Estimates that any provision had been made for remedying these deficiencies. Many hon. Members would agree with him that this was a perilous absurdity; that it was a blot on our common sense and prudence, and could not too soon be remedied. He appealed to hon. Members, when the occasion occurred, to give practical effect to their opinions on this subject. He knew that many of them had to encounter the prejudices of their constituents. He himself had been held up to reprobation by the Radical newspapers of the neighbourhood as one who was desirous of spending money on what it pleased them to call useless defences. Ashe was not a Radical, that did not greatly concern him; but he could feel for hon. Members who were Radicals, and if they were put to pressure of this kind he would appeal to their patriotism to resist it. Our military ports formed an important part, but not the only part, of this question. We had great and famous commercial ports which were absolutely defenceless, and might easily be attacked by means at the command of a sea Power. He would only instance the Tyne, the Clyde, and the Mersey. These were all ports of enormous commercial importance. They were ports where our vessels would refit, and two of them were channels upon which this country, so inadequate for the production of its own sustenance, would rely for its food. He conceded willingly that considerable good had been done during the past year in providing for the defence of these rivers by submarine mines under the lately developed system of warfare. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir Frederick Stanley) who had just sat down had hit a blot. These submarine mines were of little value unless they were protected by guns laid in defensive works. Now, the only one of the rivers he had named which was in the least degree defended by guns was the Mersey, on which there was a battery, but so inadequate for its purpose that an enemy's ship lying beyond the range of the battery might shell the docks, which extend outside Liverpool far down towards the sea. He had no intention of wearying the House with examples; and he would only mention that there were numerous other ports which, for various reasons, called urgently for defence, and among them the capitals of Scotland and of Ireland were easily approached and offered tempting prizes to an enemy. The responsible authorities year after year had pressed this matter on the attention of the Government, and appeals had been made to the Treasury; but the Treasury, strange to say, was not a Department from which to expect money. It was a Department from which to expect the refusal of money. If other Departments chose to amuse themselves by framing elaborate Estimates, and supporting them by strong arguments, the Treasury did not object to that, as it would furnish it with the opportunity of exercising its especial function of cutting those Estimates down. These amputations seemed to admit of no kind of discrimination. The word was passed to shear off any number of millions to suit the exigencies of the Budget, and the thing was done. The earliest type of a Treasury official was Procrustes. The way in which the War Office put forward its plans was to calculate the total for any works and armaments required, and then to divide it so as to extend over a number of years. According to that plan, if these necessary defences were to be completed within the next five years, the House ought this year to see a very considerable sum allotted in the Estimates. But what did the House find? It would find that £10,000, allotted for the whole of these works, was given only to the Tyne, and therefore the defence of all our other ports was indefinitely postponed. It was in vain that works and armaments were estimated for and approved when they could be annihilated by a stroke of the pen. It is in vain that the Defence Committee plants and a Secretary of State waters, when in a moment the Secretary to the Treasury could interfere and stop fruition. It was in vain then that the national defences were to be trusted to the annual Estimates. Sound policy dictated the placing of the financial basis of any scheme of Imperial military defence on such a footing as would put it out of the power of any Government to tamper with the security of the Empire in order to provide for its passing needs.

MR. ILLINGWORTH (Bradford, W.)

said, if he were to consult his own feelings, and to forget the interests of his constituents, he should absent himself from the House during these discussions. There was no novelty in the situation. Year by year the House was treated to a repetition of the views that had been expressed that evening. Once more hon. and gallant Gentlemen tried to make the House believe that if the lavish Estimates prepared by the Government were only exceeded—that if they would only do certain things this year—then they should arrive at the full efficiency when both old men and old women might sleep securely in their beds. He wished to impress upon the House the strong fact that there was no finality in this martial expenditure. Every new scheme of offence or defence appeared to become obsolete in about 15 years. He knew, from his own experience of engines and machinery, that a continual competition of inventions went on; but while inventions in peaceful industry were for the welfare of mankind, the rivalry that went on in this and other countries in those offensive and defensive undertakings would only end in confusion worse confounded. Each Opposition encouraged each Government in a profligate expenditure—[Cries of "Oh!"]—well, in an interminable expenditure. Whatever strength was given to defensive armaments, there was ingenuity yet in the world which would make offensive operations stronger. The expenditure on their armaments had increased within a comparatively short period from £ 18,000,000 to £30,000,000, and yet hon. and gallant Gentlemen told them that this country was now in a more defenceless position than it had ever been before. It seemed impossible to impress upon the mind of the House the hopelessness of the enterprize on which they were engaged. If the right hon. Gentlemen occupying the two Front Benches could for one single Session forget their own proclivities, and declare that the enterprize on which this and other countries were engaged was a mad and ruinous undertaking, and if they could appeal to other nations with all the authority which their position bestowed upon them, he believed they would do infinitely more good for the whole world than by all the talk they had indulged in during the last 20 or 25 years. There was a strong warlike element in that House, which seemed for a night or two to be omnipotent; but he believed the common sense of the country would, in the end, put a curb upon their demands, and he seriously assured those gallant Members that it was his solemn conviction that they were not really serving the interests of the country, although they were so loud-mouthed in their professions of patriotism.


I rise, Sir, to give my most emphatic denial to the opinion which has been expressed by the Surveyor General of the Ordnance (Mr. Woodall) in reference to the defences of Bermuda. The hon. Gentleman said that Bermuda is perfectly protected by torpedoes, which are ready to be laid down at a moment's notice. Now, six months have not elapsed since I was at Bermuda; and I have no hesitation in saying that not one-tenth of the number of torpedoes required for the defence of the Island are on the spot. Within the last 18 months the number of men and officers who form the torpedo corps has been reduced; and at the present moment the Island of Bermuda, which is our most important Naval Station in North America and the West Indies, is protected by one weak regiment distributed over a district 27 miles in extent, two companies of Artillery, and two com- panies of Engineers, one of which forms the torpedo corps. The torpedoes which it is proposed to lay down will, for the most part, be under the protection of no guns whatever, and might, therefore, be easily taken up by an enemy after they were laid down. As far as Halifax is concerned, it is in a little better position; but the armament of the forts there is very indifferent, and it will be absolutely necessary to improve it. When I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Illingworth), who has just sat down, I could not help feeling that he spoke not as if he represented Bradford, but rather the Hartz Mountains, because a more Rip Van Winklish speech I never heard. Can it be supposed that we are to stand still in respect of military and naval armaments, and that we are to remain satisfied with guns and charges which may have been found sufficient 30 years ago, but which would not be of the slightest avail in the present day? What chance would the guns and fortifications of 1854 have against the 150-lb. charge of modern times? The question we have to deal with is not the question of money, but the absolute necessity of keeping pace with the times. We knew that by going to the Treasury for money we will get very little. We may get morals, but we will not get money. I am happy to say that the two Services are well represented in the present House of Commons, and that the demands which are made upon the Government in respect of our defences receive the approval not only of this House, but of the country. Hon. Members may depend upon it that those who represent the two Services will do their duty to the best of their ability. We will endeavour to speak up like men, and to express our opinions in the interests not only of the Services we represent, but of the country at large. We Believe that it is for the interests of economy, as well as for the best interests of the Empire, that we should maintain our Services in the condition they have been handed down to us by our forefathers. The hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Illingworth) does not like our speaking out; but we shall do so, nevertheless, when we think it necessary.


I rise, under circumstances of some little difficulty, to perform a task of no small importance—namely, to endeavour to induce the House to give me its attention while I bring before it a matter which, though small in itself, is of considerable interest to those concerned. I had intended to move, if I could have obtained an opportunity— That, in the opinion of this House, the great discrepancy between the pay and allowances of Staff Sergeants of Militia serving on Army engagements, and those serving on Militia engagements, while performing the same duties, is unfair to the latter class, and should be reduced by an addition to their remuneration whore they can show long and meritorious service. The House has listened patiently to the story of the Prodigal Son of the British Empire, and I hope it will listen as patiently to that of an elder brother who has never yet made an appeal to the House for assistance. The question to which I ask the attention of the House is the difference between the pay and allowances of Staff Sergeants of Militia serving on Army engagements and those serving on Militia engagements. I will not, at this late hour, detain the House by going into all the details of the question. I will simply say that the facts are on record, and that they are these—that while the Sergeants serving on Army engagements receive a certain sum per diem, those serving on Militia engagements receive precisely one-half the amount. I shall be told, no doubt, that they are an expiring class, and that they now only number 700, whereas there were as many as 4,567 a few years ago. So far from that being an argument against their case being considered, it is a good reason why so small a matter should not be allowed to stand between the country and fair play. There is another objection which may be urged, and that is that these men have not been liable to Army service abroad, and that they have not had experience of service in a foreign country. That it is quite true; and I would allow that argument to have its due weight. Therefore, I do not ask—and that Resolution is carefully worded in that respect—that they should be placed on a footing of equality with the Sergeants on Army engagements, but only that some small addition should be made to their present inadequate remuneration. Another reason which may be urged against the proposition to improve their position is that they are not now liable to serve with the Army in case of emergency. I hold that plea to be altogether a chimerical one. They are the instructors of the force which forms our second line of defence; and in a time of emergency it would be necessary to augment their number largely by efficient men from the Regular Army, who would assist them in performing their duties. It may be said, possibly, that these men are not as efficient, and have never been as efficient, as men of a similar description drawn from the Line. I think I have a right to say a few words on that subject. I am now in the 32nd year of my service in the Militia, in the same regiment—a regiment I have now the honour to command. The regiment was originally worked by non-commissioned officers almost exclusively drawn from its own ranks, and an adequate supply was kept up from that source; and it was not until it was made illegal to promote non-commissioned officers from the regiment that we were obliged to resort to Sergeants from the Line. I believe that any official in the House connected with the Horse Guards is able to express an opinion upon this subject; and I see an hon. Member opposite who has had the opportunity of seeing this regiment under arms. I believe that he will testify that it is not inferior to any regiment which belongs to the same branch of the Service; and I hold that men who are called upon to perform certain duties, and who perform them to the satisfaction of the authorities, should not be placed in the invidious and unfair position they now occupy in regard to pension, pay, and allowances. I will pass, however, from a comparative state to a positive one. The men are now receiving pay for which you could not get an ordinary labourer in most of the counties to do agricultural work. The pay of a Sergeant of Militia amounts to 1s. 9d. per day, and he is liable to servo for more than 30 years before he becomes entitled to a pension on retirement. Surely that is not acting either fairly or justly towards those who may be looked upon as the nurses of the Army. The consequence of this state of affairs is that day by day our best noncommissioned officers are seeking civil employment, and leaving the Militia. From whence are we to look for a supply to replace them? It is well known that there is by no means a large supply of non-commissioned officers in the Line, and the number of non-commissioned officers is getting day by day more scarce. We have, further, to compete with a large number—some 150 or 200 battalions—of Volunteers, every one of which offers more inducements than we can offer to get the best men from the Line. The consequence is that we are able to obtain very few men for the Militia. So much is that the case that we have been obliged to promote men from the position of bugler to that of Sergeant on the Staff, because the men we get from our Line battalions are utterly inefficient to perform the duties required of them. I think that the right hon. Gentleman opposite, in a private conversation I had with him, had but a very vague idea of the expense which the country would have to incur if my proposal were adopted. In my opinion, a sum of £15,000 would cover all the demands we make; and surely this is not a very large amount to concede for the purpose of rendering a very admirable and old Constitutional Force of the country more popular with some of its best and most deserving members.