HC Deb 07 March 1892 vol 2 cc170-84



I beg to move— That this House urges upon Her Majesty's Government the necessity that exists for taking immediate steps to secure the completion of the works required for the protection of the Harbour of Esquimalt. In moving this Resolution I venture to remind the House that this is no new question. A very important Debate was raised on this very subject in the House of Lords on the Motion of Lord Sudeley some years ago; and the fact that that important Debate took place, and the fact that no result has come from that Debate, must be my excuse for troubling the House for a few moments while I endeavour to urge the importance of this question on Her Majesty's Government. I do not propose to go on this occasion into the question then discussed at some length as to whether the fortifications of British Columbia should be at Burrard's Inlet or at the harbour of Esquimalt. I am quite satisfied to leave the responsibility for the decision of this question to the Colonial Defence Committee. But there are a few matters upon which I should like to press for further information or for the announcement of some decision. These are matters which have passed from the region of argument into that of admitted fact. It is an admitted fact that the Harbour of Esquimalt is to be defended. It is, unfortunately, equally incontrovertible that although communications have been taking place on the subject between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the Dominion of Canada for the last eight years, no step has yet been taken towards the commencement of the fortifications of this harbour. In the next place, it is also a fact that we have there the only coaling station on the North Pacific; and it is also a fact that the Russian Government possess in the harbour of Vladivostock a most formidable arsenal; war vessels may safely lie at anchor there, and it supplies a fortified position in which they can concentrate as many troops as they require. It is a matter of pressing importance to us if we are to have the control of the North Pacific Ocean. That has been substantially recognised by Her Majesty's Government within the last few years by a contract entered into for the provision of a line of steamers between Vancouver and China and Japan, that line of subsidised steamers being capable, in case of need, of being used as armed cruisers for the protection of our commerce. It is not necessary for me to remind the House that if a subsidised line of steamers has been created and subsidised, that that line should have a harbour to which they could be sent when they needed a supply of coal or repairs. The same remarks will apply with regard to Her Majesty's regular armed vessels of war. It is sometimes said that we might safely rely upon the regular armed vessels of war in the Pacific; but it should be considered that in the event of being engaged in hostilities with other Powers, these vessels would also be required for the protection of our own commerce, or to carry out offensive operations against the enemy. I would further add that, by the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, an alternative route to the East has been provided. It may be of the greatest importance to this country, in the event of the Suez Canal, for one reason or another, becoming unavailable for the transport of troops or supplies; and it is needless for me to say that, should an enemy obtain possession of the western terminus of the Canadian Pacific Road, its value to us would be absolutely gone. This only tends, I think, to fortify my argument that we should have at least one safe harbour on the British Columbia Coast. While it is unfortunately the case that no commencement has yet been made with regard to the fortifications necessary for the harbour of Esquimalt, I do not charge upon Her Majesty's Government that they have totally neglected the important interests connected with this harbour. On the contrary; I believe that many of the most important questions existing between the Home Government and the Government of the Dominion of Canada have been definitely settled. The armament has been decided upon, and provision made for submarine mining stores. I regret not to see in this year's Estimates any provision set down for carrying out the works in connection with this harbour; and I cannot but entertain some apprehension that the guns which have been already designated for the defence of Esquimalt, and which were described so fully by Lord Harris some years ago in another place, must have been devoted to the equipment of other ports. Of course I speak with no full knowledge on this subject, and the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War will correct me if I am wrong; but I am under the impression that the Government of Canada have agreed, as a matter of fact, to provide sites for the necessary barracks to be built at Esquimalt; that they have undertaken to bear considerably the larger part of the initial cost of the construction of the fortifications; that they are prepared to maintain these fortifications, when erected, in a state of efficiency; and that they are also prepared to supply the larger part of the garrison which is estimated to be required for the defence of this harbour, and prepared to augment this garrison as soon as the development of the population of British Columbia warrants them in so doing. If I am correct in these facts, the dispute between Great Britain and Canada appears to be narrowed down to this: is this country prepared, or is it not prepared, to find a very small portion, temporarily, at all events, of the garrison required for the defence of the harbour. Above all, it would only be necessary for this country to supply a part—a very small part—of the artillery and engineers. Undoubtedly, Her Majesty's Government would have to provide barrack accommodation for that force; bat I am under the impression that the force would not be more than a few scores of men, and to pay for that accommodation could not be a very serious or costly affair. And Her Majesty's Government are also expected to bear some portion of the initial cost of making the fortifications. Now, I do not wish to say that I am holding a special brief for Canada. I regret very much that the Dominion Government has not been able to comply entirely with the requisitions or exigencies of Her Majesty's Government with regard to the undertaking to complete the cost of these fortifications; but I think there is something to be said why this House—why Her Majesty's Government—should deal in a broad and generous spirit with the Government of Canada with regard to this question. I would remind the House that by the terms of the Confederation Act of 1867 the Government of Canada undertook to apply 1,000,000 dollars annually in placing the defences of Canada in a suitable and proper position; and I believe, as a matter of fact, that it is undoubtedly the case that there has not been one single year since 1867 in which the Canadian Government have not far more than fulfilled this part of the contract, and have been applying a larger sum annually than they were bound to apply in providing for the defence of Canada, and also by the construction of the Inter-Colonial Railway. In consequence of the greatly increased facilities afforded by the aid they have given to the Canadian Pacific Railway, the people of Canada have done a work which has been of the very greatest value to Her Majesty's Government in this country—in making this alternative route which I have just referred to, and which has done so much to strengthen the general defensive position of the Empire. Under these circumstances I would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, who has already shown so much interest in this question of the defence of our Colonies, to bring his interest to bear with his colleagues to induce them, if need be—and notably the Chancellor of the Exchequer—to make the very small financial concession to Canada which may be necessary to insure the early commencement of this work. When we consider that it cannot be more than a question of a few thousand pounds to build a barrack for the small force, and for the erection of fortifications—when we consider the terrible dangers our commerce is exposed to by leaving Esquimalt Harbour in its present undefended position, I do feel that this is not an ordinary question, and not a question for haggling with the Colonial Legislature over a matter involving such a small pecuniary sacrifice, when at the same time it so largely affects the safety and dignity of the Empire. Her Majesty's advisers cannot but feel that, in the case of war, the existence of these fortifications must be of the utmost value; and as we are now happily at peace with our neighbours, this is the best time to set about the work. For this reason I venture to move the Resolution which stands in my name, and to press the question most earnestly on Her Majesty's Government.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House urges upon Her Majesty's Government the necessity that exists for taking immediate steps to secure the completion of the works required for the protection of the Harbour of Esquimalt,"—(Sir Stafford Northcote,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

(4.52.) ADMIRAL FIELD (Sussex, Eastbourne)

I can only say, speaking for the Service to which I have the honour to belong, that we are all grateful to the hon. Member for Exeter for having drawn attention to this important question. We have all been living, apparently, in a fool's paradise. We supposed that the promises which were made four years ago with regard to these defences had been undertaken and carried out. We now learn that everything is practically where it was. I hold it is an Imperial question, but I do not think that the whole expenses should be thrown upon the Imperial Parliament. I think this harbour is essentially a naval basis, and I hold with my colleague officers that this Naval Station should be garrisoned by Naval Marines and Naval Artillery. Lest the Secretary of State for War should have any hesitation about the proportion to be paid by the Imperial Government, I wish to point out that the expenses of the Indian Station is paid partly by the Indian Government, and partly by this country. This country pays the greater share of that expense, and India pays a portion, but I do not know what portion. I hope the Secretary of State will give this matter very close and serious attention.

(4.55.) MR. MUNRO FERGUSON (Leith, &c.)

I do not think that anybody will dispute the importance of the Harbour of Esquimalt to this country for the purpose of fortifications and also as a Naval Station. The Pacific Railway may be of importance to us in time of war, but I do not think that it enters into the present question very much. The works at Esquimalt should no doubt be completed, but I think in this case we may fairly expect that Canada should do something more than she has done as yet. A certain Return has been lately circulated in the House showing the sea-borne commerce of Canada and the amount which she contributes. She does not contribute towards the up-keep of the Imperial Navy at all. India, however, does contribute towards the cost of the Imperial Navy. So that there is no parallel between the two countries in this matter. I do not think Canada has shown any great readiness to bear her fair share of Imperial burdens at present, and until some greater readiness is shown by Canada I think there will be some hesitation in urging the Government to spend further sums of money for the defence of Esquimalt. If the line to China and Japan has been subsidised—and I think it has been properly subsidised—that is an additional reason why Canada should make some special effort to bear her fair share of the Imperial burden.

(4.57.) MR. STAVELEY HILL (Staffordshire, Kingswinford)

I give my full support to the Motion brought forward by the hon. Member for Exeter, and I only rise for the purpose of asking the Secretary of State for War if he is aware that in the Session of 1888 a Commission was appointed by the Senate of the United States for the purpose of inquiring into certain matters connected with certain acts done by England and her North American Dependencies, and I wish to know if the two volumes of evidence taken before that Commission has been brought before him? They contain a whole scheme of attack by the United States upon British Columbia, "if they" (that is, the British Government) "will not sell us British Columbia." I think that whole scheme is well worthy of the attention of those to whom the defence of the Harbour of Esquimalt has been entrusted.

(4.59.) GENERAL SIR W. CROSSMAN (Portsmouth)

I heartily agree to a great extent with what has been said by the hon. Member for Exeter. I think, however, that there is great difficulty in the way of devising proper fortifications for Esquimalt, and I think the Government ought to consider whether it is worth while fortifying the harbour, or whether the works should be transferred to a more suitable point.

(5.0.) THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Mr. E. STANHOPE,) Lincolnshire, Horncastle

I recognise the importance of the observation of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, and I may say, in reply, that I am not at all prepared to go back from the clear policy of the War Office in the matter of the defences of Esquimalt. My hon. Friend behind me (Sir Stafford Northcote) has pointed out with great force the importance of Esquimalt. He also explained that Esquimalt has grown in importance in consequence of the opening of the Canadian Pacific Railway and the further development of traffic that has taken place in that direction. There is no doubt, not only from an Imperial point of view, but also from a colonial point of view, that the importance of Esquimalt has enormously increased during the last few years, and if there were reasons eight or nine years ago for defending it, those reasons have enormously increased since that time. My hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Staveley Hill) has called my attention to a discussion on the subject that has taken place in the United States. I am sorry to say that the report has not been brought to my notice. I shall be very glad to look into it. But, Sir, that does not alter my general conclusion that Esquimalt ought to be defended, nor can I help expressing my great regret that the defences of Esquimalt have not yet been completed. I feel it all the more because the general defences of our coaling stations have almost reached, in all parts of the world, a successful conclusion. This is one of the stations, to my intense regret, that remains unfortified; and I cordially desire, whatever the reasons may be that have occurred to prevent the completion of the defences, that these may be removed, and that we may be enabled to see, in a short time, Esquimalt in a properly defended state. I do not agree with, my hon. Friend in the general statement that he gave as to the cause of this delay. There has no doubt been a great deal of correspondence between the Imperial Government and the Government of the Dominion, a correspondence extending over a great many years and embracing a good many points of difference. But everybody who looks at that correspondence will see that there were two essential principles that must, that ought, to govern the manner in which this place is to be defended. Generally speaking, what we have put before the Dominion is this: that we ought to provide the guns and even something more—namely, submarine mining stores, skilled superintendence, and the plant; but that Canada should provide the sites and construct the fortifications on which the guns are to be erected, and likewise maintain these fortifications. I do not think anybody will say we are dealing hardly with Canada in the matter. In Australia—in Victoria and New South Wales—they are there undertaking the whole cost of their defence, and the Imperial Government have to pay nothing at all. They have gone further—they have even contributed something towards the support of a squadron intended for the local defence of Australia. In the case of the Cape, the Straits Settlements, Hong Kong, and Mauritius—in these cases we have laid down this general principle: that the colony ought to provide the sites and build the works, but that we in this country will gladly supply all the necessary armaments. Therefore, I do not think we are dealing unfairly with Canada. We have undertaken to provide the guns, and they are in this country ready to be sent out at anytime. But the works on which they are to be mounted have not yet been commenced by the Government of the Dominion. There are some subsidiary questions, apart from that, which have also arisen, but I am sure we have tried to deal with those also in a thoroughly liberal spirit. The main garrison must, of course, be provided by the Government of Canada. Halifax is one fortified place where the Imperial Government have provided everything—structure, fortifications, armaments, and a garrison. In the case of Esquimalt we think it, only reasonable that Canada should provide a garrison, and that we should train it to enable it to fill that place it ought to fill. The Admiralty have undertaken the responsibility with regard to this. They have sent a certain number of Marines to undergo training in submarine mining, and any day these men are ready to go out to Esquimalt to instruct the people of Canada as to the proper means of laying and using submarine defences. Therefore, I think the Government of this country has shown its willingness to come to an arrangement and to spend its money in order to secure that this place should be fortified, and I do not think it can be justly charged against us that we have not done our best. I do not for a moment desire to raise any question of recrimination between the Imperial and the Dominion Governments. We have recently sent telegrams urging that these defence works should be undertaken and carried out; but I am quite sure, as things stand at present, that Canada has also determined that these works should be carried out. The new Minister of Militia and Defence is, I believe, keenly imbued with the desire that they should be carried out; and I am persuaded that, with his assistance, no obstacle should stand in the way. On the part of the Imperial Government, I must say that we will spare no effort to co-operate with him for the purpose of removing any difficulty or explaining any questions that remain unsolved between the Colonial and the Imperial Governments. And I feel sure that both Governments will desire to remove the reproach that has rested on them jointly, and allow the defences of Esquimalt to be completed as soon as possible. I cannot accept the Resolution of my hon. Friend behind me, though I desire that its spirit should be carried out, and that Esquimalt should become a thoroughly and an efficiently defended part of the Empire.

(5.10.) MR. W. REDMOND (Fermanagh, N.)

In my opinion, the tone which the right hon. Gentleman has adopted is not a justifiable tone. I do not know what communications the right hon. Gentleman might have had with the present Government, or Ministers in the Government of Canada responsible for these matters, but I can assure him, having within the last six months spent some time in Canada, that there is a very strong feeling amongst all sections of the Canadian people that expenses of this kind should be almost, if not entirely, borne by the Imperial Government. What is the object of these fortifications? It is to provide against contingencies arising out of war; and if war should take place, it would be in the interest of this country, and in the interests of the Government of this country, and not in the interest of Canada, that Canada should be fortified. It is altogether a question affecting this country and this Government. I do not think the Canadian Government have very much to do with the matter at all; and in view of the very strong feeling that exists in many parts of Canada in favour of annexation with the United States, it is a stupid and an unwise thing for the Government of this country to haggle about the spending of a few paltry pounds and to leave a place unfortified which it is advisable should be fortified, simply because there are some difficulties with regard to these few pounds which the Government have not considered it advisable to spend. I do not think the Secretary of State for War gives any adequate reason why Canada has not undertaken what he considers to be its share in this undertaking. He told us a very remarkable thing, that the guns are all ready and that the men are all ready, and yet not the smallest step has been taken by the Canadian Government towards the fulfilment of its part of the arrangements. Why did the Canadian Government not commence these works if they had any intention of commencing them? The reason was this: that the Canadian people are altogether opposed to being bargained with by the Imperial Government in the matter of an expense which ought to fall on the Mother Country. The opinion in every part of the country I visited was, with regard to these Imperial fortifications, that so far from the Canadian people being interested, the cheapest and the best thing for the Canadian people would be to cut their connection with this country altogether. Whether that is a right or a wrong feeling I do not inquire, but it is a very widespread feeling, and you will increase that feeling if you say you will not fortify an important station like this simply because Canada will not spend some money. If war arises it will not be a war caused by Canada, and I defy you to show me any considerable opinion in Canada that the fortification of this place is a thing necessary for Canada or the Canadian, people. The people of Canada are in two minds as to whether their connection with this country is an advantage to them or not, and whether their connection is not more likely, in view of a European War, to get them into a trouble that they would otherwise avoid. I should like to hear some intelligible reason why the Canadian Government have absolutely not turned a single bit of soil or laid a single stone to carry out this work, which is declared to be of the greatest importance. Why are the Canadian Government not moving? The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War says he hopes the newly appointed Minister of Militia and Defence will do something. Can he give us any official information on that point? Everything is at a standstill. The guns are rusting, the instructors are employed where they are not wanted, and all because this Government will not spend a few pounds. It is a situation that is thoroughly discreditable to the Government and to the War Office. It might, and it ought to, have been avoided. The Government ought first to have ascertained what Canada would do. If they found that Canada would do nothing, then they should have spent the money themselves. It is a mistake to imagine that because in Victoria and New South Wales the Government have spent money that people will do it everywhere else. We ought to get clear and explicit statements from the Government on these points: first, whether the Government have any information leading them to believe that the Canadian Government intend to commence these works; and, secondly, whether, supposing that they have no information on that point or in the event of a refusal, are the Government going to construct these works themselves?

MR. W. JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)

I desire to thank the Secretary of State for War for the very fair and generous statement he has laid before the House. I entirely dissent from the views of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Fermanagh, that there is any desire on the part of the Canadians to sever themselves from the Imperial connection.


The hon. Gentleman would not I am sure wish to misrepresent me. What I said was that there is a strong feeling manifested at elections and elsewhere in favour of annexation with the United States. If you want to strengthen that feeling tell them the Imperial Government will not spend a few pounds.


The hon. Gentleman says it has been a test, question at elections, but I know, and I have travelled a great deal in Canada, that both parties repudiate the idea of annexation. Mr. Mercier, then Prime Minister of Quebec, who went to Paris to negotiate a loan, and who said he looked forward to the time when Canada would be independent, was recently disgraced in the Law Courts and his party routed all along the line. From Montreal to British Columbia I addressed meetings last year, and I can say of the people there that they are enthusiastic supporters of the British connection. They say, in the words of the late Sir John Macdonald, "Britons we were born, and Britons we will die." Esquimalt is in Vancouver, and the inhabitants of that Island are very warmly attached to the connection with the British Empire. Their allegiance will not be weakened by the statement of the Secretary of State for War to-day. He has offered to do as much as any British Minister has ever offered to do in the circumstances, and the majority of the people of Canada will uphold him, and will repudiate the statement of the hon. Member for Fermanagh.

MR. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.)

I think the answer of the Secretary of State for War was eminently fair and eminently satisfactory. In matters of this kind we must lay down some principle, and the principle promulgated by the right hon. Gentleman is exactly similar to that which obtained when I was at the Colonial Office. That principle was that the Colony should find the site, and that the Imperial Government should provide the guns. In this case the Imperial Government have offered to go further. I do not desire to contrast the conduct of the Canadian Government with that of the Australian Governments—though the conduct of the Canadian Government does not compare favourably—but I wish to express my regret that an arrangement has not been arrived at on the lines laid down by the Secretary of State for War.

MR. GOURLEY (Sunderland)

I think the entire cost of defending Esquimalt should be charged against Canada, than which, in the Imperial connection, there is no colony more expensive to maintain. In the North Atlantic and on the West Coast we are obliged to maintain a squadron of ships for the purpose of defending Canada.

(5.30.) MR. P. O'BRIEN (Monaghan, N.)

The view I take of this subject is that the Government, for their own reasons, desire to have coaling stations for the general good of the Empire. The Canadians have a right to expect that if the Government use their soil, or a portion of it, for those stations, that you ought to be prepared to bear the whole expense. I think it is very unwise to pursue a cheeseparing policy in controversies of this kind. This country has already lost enough by a cheeseparing policy. But the Government appear about to insist upon having their full pound of flesh out of the Canadians until they put themselves out of North Canada. The hon. Member for Belfast must know there are people in Canada, besides those he has spoken of—the Orangemen—who declare that as Britons they live and as Britons they will die. The Records of this House supply plenty of evidence of that fact, even before the American War of Independence. They were rising then to a high state of things—they were ready to die for Britain, and they went forward and died like Britons, but not for Britain, but for American independence. It is not a wise policy to deal, with the people of Canada in the way proposed—with those of them who are not at all so loyal to this country as may be supposed—and I do not see they have any reason to be so, because they are perfectly able to govern themselves. I think they might be left for themselves to decide whether they will remain under the Crown. You want those coaling stations for your Fleet in cases of emergency, and surely they are worth paying for there as well as anywhere else. There are many other places where you would be glad to establish coaling stations, and where you are willing to go more than four-fifths of the way in the matter of expense. In this case I think the Government ought to be prepared to go the whole way. The hon. Member for Belfast hopes there may be a new Government in Canada, and that they will do certain things. But the hon. Member forgets that a new Government will have come into power in England at the same time—that they will be responsible to us and not the Government of Canada. And the present Government ought to be prepared to do this as becomes the British Government.


Although some delay has occurred in carrying out this matter, we have a firm belief that the Canadian Government coincide with Her Majesty's Government in the determination that these fortifications should be proceeded with. I think the hon. Member for North Fermanagh will admit, in reference to the suggestion he has made, that if we should state to the House definitely the course which the Government would adopt in the event of the Canadian Government refusing to bear their share of the cost, and were to tell the House that Her Majesty's Government would at once go on with the work, we should hardly strengthen the hands of a Canadian Minister in proposing to the Dominion Parliament to furnish the necessary funds. I am, therefore, not in a position to make a statement such as has been asked for. One other point requires attention. It is assumed that a few thousand pounds alone are needed to complete the defences, but there is a considerable sum involved in this matter. The amount Her Majesty's Government will have expended when the stores are sent out will be something like £50,000, and the amount that will fall on the Dominion Government to be expended on the works will be about £30,000. Therefore there is considerable pecuniary responsibility upon us already—more than which we should be averse to undertake. We have no reason to suppose that there will be further difficulty, but every reason to hope that the matter will be shortly in process of settlement, and that the defences at our coaling stations will then be completed.

Question put, and agreed to.

Main Question again proposed.