HL Deb 07 March 1839 vol 46 cc2-10
The Earl of Hardwicke

wished to trespass on the House for a few minutes in consequence of the remarks which had fallen from the noble Earl opposite (Minto) the other night. In the course of the debate, that noble Lord stated, that he was satisfied with the reserve of the navy, and, that he placed great reliance on his demonstration-ships; and the noble Lord complained of his (Lord Hardwicke's) having stated that which was untrue with regard to the two points, viz., the masts of the Revenge, one of the demonstration-ships, not being ready, and, that there were no complete suits of sails for line-of-battle ships at Plymouth; and the noble Earl further stated, that certain parties were aggrieved in consequence of his having said, that the returns were false. Now, with regard to the Revenge. It was his duty to acquaint their Lordships that he was at Portsmouth himself, that he went as a naval officer to ascertain the state of the dock-yard, and if anything had been misstated, the blame rested entirely with himself. The Revenge was one of those ships which the noble Earl stated to be in readiness for active service, but he (Lord Hardwicke) found her fore-mast was not hooped; her main-mast not finished; and he was informed that the contract for, the iron work would not be completed in less than eleven days. He understood the noble Earl to say there were other masts in store. He (Lord Hardwicke) never said there were not, but what number of masts had the noble Lord? The noble Lord stated, that he had three sets; he (Lord Hardwicke) would give him five; but there were eleven sail of the line dismasted in the harbour. The whole of the ordinary were dismasted. The noble lord would remember, that he (Lord Hardwicke) said the reserve was not sufficient, and that be entered into some detail to prove it. The noble Earl said, with reference to the sails in store at Plymouth, that he was at fault, and he was ready to admit that he was so; but suppose be granted that, did it alter his argument with respect to the condition of the reserve? The noble Lord said, he had seven sets of sails. Was that all the noble Lord had got? He (Lord Hardwicke) stated, on the previous night of discussion, that there was not a complete suit of sails for a single line-of-battle ship in store. The noble Earl stated, that there were complete suits of sails for three first rates, but it turned out, that on the 31st of January there were some of these sails deficient. There were three suits of sails for second rates, with the exception of six foretop sails, six main-top sails, and four mizentop sails; and there were three suits of sails for third rates, complete. The noble Lord seemed to think, that all his remarks were confined to the deficiency of sails, and had boasted, that he had sixty-six top-sails, and he must have rummaged every hole and corner, and included sails of all sizes. He (Lord Hardwicke) had also stated, that at Portsmouth dock-yard, there was not a suit of sails for a frigate or sloop, or brig—there were no second rates sails in store. There were two sets of sails for a first rate, including the Britannia, and one for a third rate in store. These statements were made for the purpose of pointing out the deficiency in stores at the present time as compared with the year 1826. The noble Lord seemed to congratulate himself, because with twenty-one sail of the line, at Plymouth, he had, according to his own shewing, seven suits of sails, and, according to his, (Lord Hardwicke's) three suits. He would now go to frigates, and it appeared, that there were for fourth rates, one suit, and for fifth rates, five suits, making six suits of sails for eighteen sail of frigates, at Plymouth. There was not a complete suit of sails in Plymouth dock-yard, for a sloop or brig, except the Acorn. With respect to rigging, there was ten suits of rigging for twenty-one sail of the line, and eleven suits of rigging for eighteen sail of frigates. He mentioned these points to show how accurate he had been generally; but he begged their Lordships' pardon for the single inaccuracy he had been led into on a former occasion. With regard to the return made to the Admiralty, he thought there must be some misunderstanding, or how was it possible that thirty sail of the line could be ready for sea, when there was such a deficiency of sails, rigging, and other stores. Did the noble Lord know, that for his demonstration ships there was not a single top-sail yard in store? He did not mean to say, that the returns were false, because he was satisfied, that the gentlemen connected with these departments would not state anything knowing it to be incorrect or false; but be did impugn them then, and he did so now, because there is a firm belief on the part of the country, that these vessels are not in the state of efficiency and readiness that had been represented, and, as the noble Earl stated, his returns led him to believe.

The Earl of Minto

was extremely sorry that he was nut aware of the noble Lord's intention of addressing the House, or he should have come down prepared with such documents as would enable him to have given a more satisfactory reply. On the former night, he had merely stated, that the 'officers of Portsmouth and Plymouth were anxious to state to their Lordships' House, that they would vouch for the accuracy of the returns. That had been his object in rising, and he had confined himself strictly to it. The first point to which he would refer was, the statement with respect to the lower masts of the Revenge, which it was said were not hooped, while he (Earl Minto) had stated that she was in a state of readiness to be sent to sea. The fact was, that the lower masts of the Revenge were her original masts, in which she had been paid off. On her being paid off, her masts were surveyed and found sound, but being on the construction of the late surveyor of the navy, Sir Robert Sepping, and being found strained, in order to secure them, it was proposed to put in new cheeks and fishes. These were prepared, but in consequence of the wood being new, it was thought advisable, so long as the ship was not required, to leave them unfixed to season. That was the explanation he had received. At the same time he had desired to know, in the event of her services being required, when she would be ready for sea, and he was told that in eight and forty hours the masts could be put on board. He had also written to know whether, in the event of a sudden call, there were other masts suitable for the Revenge, and unappropriated, and the reply was that there were; at the date of the noble Earl's visit, the 24th of February, complete suits of sails for seven sail of the line, and altogether in store sixty-six topsails for ships of the line—with regard to the noble Earl's representation of a deficiency of sails at Plymouth, the Master Attendant stated, that the noble Earl having visited one sail-room was perfectly satisfied with what he saw and heard, and declined going into any of the other rooms. With respect to the other parts of the noble Earl's speech he could produce papers, but which he had not now about him, from which he could answer in detail. He would produce those upon an early occasion. The noble Lord had said that there were no topsails for demonstration-ships. He thought the noble Earl was entirely mistaken here. But if his papers should not bear him out in this declaration, although he had the strongest conviction that they would, he would confess that he had been exceedingly in error, and that in that case our supply of stores was far short of what it ought to be, and what was indispensable to the service of the country.

The Duke of Wellington

was apprehensive their Lordships had entirely overlooked the most important part of this momentous question. He was happy, indeed, to hear that the Revenge had three good masts, but he would beg leave to remind them, that the discussion had turned upon demonstration-ships, which, if called upon, were not ready for action. He would ask noble Lords, were not we at war in two quarters of the world at this moment?—We had a war, on our hands, in America, and we were carrying on war to a great extent in Asia. He thought, therefore, that the forces of this country should be on a war establishment—whereas, this discussion had turned upon the question of the propriety of supporting a peace establishment—nay, more, a reduced peace establishment. What! carrying on war in two quarters of the world, at the same time, with a reduced peace establishment! He would remind their Lordships, that nearly two years ago he warned them against the consequences of persevering in such an attempt. He believed since that time they had been feeling the inconvenience of such a course, and he trusted in God, that danger and disaster might not soon make them feel still more the fatal error of persevering in that system. A peace establishment—even a small peace establishment—might be very fit and very proper for service in time of peace; but when you come to carry on war, your peace establishments would not be found equal to perform the duties required from them in time of peace, and likewise those extensive duties required from them in time of war. Now, he would like to call their Lordships' attention to one important point as illustrating the dangerous absurdity of carrying on war service with a peace establishment in the navy. In the month of August last year, a discussion took place in the House with respect to the blockade in Mexico. In his opinion, as well as in the opinion of several noble Lords, it was expedient to send a squadron of her Majesty's ships to that part of the world to look after the blockade, and to afford protection to the lives and commerce of her Majesty's subjects in that country. The French Government did not carry on war with a peace establishment. When they went to war with Mexico, and sent a force there, it was a force upon a war establishment; and what happened, they carried on war operations, and war operations of a very active description; but we being engaged in a war with part of America, and having only a peace establishment, were obliged to take our ships engaged in operations of war, from North America, where they were for the purpose of putting down the rebellion in Canada, to send them to the gulph of Mexico, to perform the peace duties of giving protection to the commerce of British subjects. Admiral Sir Charles Paget was ordered with his squadron to perform those duties in North America, and that squadron was subsequently withdrawn, for the purpose of being sent to Mexico to perform peace duties—that was a point which he complained of. We were carrying on war with America, and also in Asia; both of them requiring all the force and power which this country could send out, in order to bring that war to an early and honourable termination. We were doing that with a reduced peace establishment, and incurring all descriptions of risk in every other part of the world. And this was the case while these disputes between noble Earls were going on upon whether there were or were not two or three masts, more or less in the dockyards of this country, while, in point of fact, comparatively the whole of the force at this moment was unarmed and unfit for the contests that were going forward. He had stated this over and over again a year and a half ago, and he now repeated, that our force was totally inadequate even to peace duties. A noble Lord, a few evenings ago, adverted, from a correspondence that he had, to the inconveniences resulting to the colonies from the vast number of volunteers that had been called under arms in that particular spot. The truth was, that both agricultural and every other interest was at a stand-still there, and though a soldier was saved by every volunteer that was called into the service, yet an infinitely larger sum of money was in that way required. It was known to all the world, and must be known to the Government, that our establishment was quite inadequate to bring the wars that were now going on to an early and honourable end, and which never could be suc- cessfully accomplished unless the wars were undertaken in earnest.

The Marquess of Lansdowne

said, the only question before the House was, that a petition should lie on the Table, and the only notice that had been given was of a motion for the production of a memorial respecting the administration of justice in Mullingar. He did not object to the observations made by the noble Duke, but he was sure the noble Duke would feel with him that the subjects on which he had touched were so important, that they ought not only not to have been entered upon without notice, but that they ought not to have been entered upon in the absence of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, who was prevented from attending in his place from indisposition. The present example might induce their Lordships to be a little more attentive in future to the order of their proceedings. Upon an incidental proceeding the noble Duke had announced his opinions and apprehensions on topics of vast importance, and in estimating the importance of those matters be could not yield to the noble Duke, or any one else. In his opinion they required to be the subject of grave consideration. He did not rise, therefore, to follow either the noble Duke or the two noble Lords who had preceded him, the two latter, in their discussion of adaptation of sails and masts at Plymouth and Portsmouth; but he would say he trusted the noble Duke would afford his noble Friend at the head of the Government a future opportunity of explanation on this subject. While he could not shut his eyes to those grave subjects of apprehension, in various parts of the world, which might eventually affect the interests of the country, he could not admit that this country was in a state of war. He could not admit that this country was in a state of war with any maritime power. He contended, and any of their Lordships who had looked into the details of the subject must know, that while this country had a peace establishment, it was a peace establishment superior to almost any peace establishment that had ever been known to exist in any former period of the maritime history of the country. Not only was it a larger peace establishment than those which had existed before, and which at very recent periods had been thought by former Governments wholly adequate to maintain the integrity and dignity of the country; but being a peace establishment, it had up to this moment not been once found wanting in any quarter of the globe in which it had been necessary to assert the dignity of the British flag, and maintain the interest of the Government. Without entering into further details, he wished to set the noble Duke right upon an important point, upon which he had unintentionally been led into mistake, and which it was material, both as to the credit of the Government, and to the establishments of the country; should be distinctly understood. The noble Duke supposed that the British force, which for the protection of British interests had been recently, usefully, and effectively employed upon the coast of Mexico, could only be obtained by withdrawing that force from the coast of Canada. He could assure the noble Duke, that he had been misinformed on that point. The greater portion of the force had been sent out from this country, and no one single ship had been withdrawn from the coast of Canada for that purpose, which had not been so withdrawn by previous orders, independently of what was occuring in Mexico; and for the plain reason, that upon the coast of Canada, and in the river St. Lawrence, it would have been unsafe to have retained them there. Two ships had been removed from the coast of Canada, that had not been ordered to be removed before; and the greater force employed in Mexico, was a force at liberty in this country, and despatched from it to meet the exigencies that had arisen. This explanation he felt it to be his duty to give, but he was anxious that no further discussion should take place in the absence of his noble Friend at the head of the Government.

The Duke of Wellington

would not have said a word, had it not been that he considered the observations of the noble Lords who preceded him, originated in something like a mistake. There was war at this moment carrying on by us in two quarters of the globe, and he certainly considered, that our force was insufficient to bring that war to an honourable and early termination. That was his opinion. The noble Lord opposite had said he was mistaken in respect of the ships that had been called from North America; but so far from being mistaken, he believed he might have gone further than even he had gone. When they began to make war with peace establishments they starved the peace establishments as well as the war, because they had no reserve for any other purpose. He hoped, that noble Lords would not experience the truth of what he had stated; he hoped they would feel no inconvenience from carrying on a war with a peace establishment; he had protested against the course two years ago, and he protested against it now. He felt strongly upon the subject, but he could assure their Lordships, that in that feeling he had no desire whatever, except to promote the honour of the service. If the noble Lord wished the question to be discussed in another shape he could have no objection to it.

Subject dropped.