HC Deb 05 March 1888 vol 323 cc205-21

For several successive years Votes have been taken in the Army Estimates for the works of defence at our coaling stations; and a scheme with respect to them has been accepted by Parliament, and is now being carried out. No public statement has, however, yet been made as to the defences of our ports generally, though it has been known, and was, indeed, explained to Parliament by the present First Lord of the Treasury, that a large expenditure thereon would eventually be required. In preparing the Estimates for the present year, the Government have felt it to be their duty to consider carefully the position of our defences in all parts of the Empire. There is, no doubt, a general feeling that the chief endeavour of this country should be devoted to ensuring the permanent superiority of our Navy; but that Navy, however strong, is deprived of a large part of its liberty of action unless the principal ports at home and abroad, available for coaling or refitting, are made so strong as to be reasonably safe—even in the absence of the Fleet—against any probable attacks. The difficulty of effecting this has been much increased of late years by the enormous range and power of the guns now carried, even by unarmoured cruisers. It is true that the development of torpedo defence, both from stationary points and from ships, and the improvements in submarine mining, provide a comparatively reliable and economical means of checking the approach of a hostile vessel. But, on the other hand, modern science furnishes the assailant with means of overcoming these obstacles, unless they are protected by a light armament of machine and quick-firing guns; whilst the great range, precision, and penetration of the new types of heavy guns absolutely require that all ports likely to be subjected to their attack should possess means of keeping them at a sufficient distance. Generally speaking, it may be said that the recent improvements in guns have completely altered the conditions and the power of a naval attack; and it has, in consequence, appeared to Her Majesty's Government that a thorough examination of the general state of our defences should no longer be delayed.

With these observations, I now proceed to deal separately with the various classes of places to be defended, adopting the somewhat illogical but convenient division between (A) coaling stations, (B) military ports at home and abroad, and (C) mercantile ports in the United Kingdom.

  1. (A) COALING STATIONS. 1,327 words
  2. cc211-3
  3. (B.) MILITARY PORTS. 376 words
  4. cc213-21
  5. (C.) MERCANTILE PORTS. 2,070 words
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