HL Deb 20 August 1860 vol 160 cc1563-72

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, said that, with the permission of their Lordships, and in order to economise their time, he would postpone the remarks which he had to make in support of it, until he had heard the opinions of other noble Lords upon the subject. He moved that the Bill should he read a second time.


My Lords, this is a very important measure, not only because it contributes materially to the security of the country, but also because it shows the spirit in which Her Majesty's Government regard the present state of things in Europe. I, of course, receive the Bill with satisfaction; because, on all favourable occasions—and I am afraid your Lordships may think that I have sometimes made occasions for myself that were not quite favourable—I have during the last thirteen years endeavoured to draw the attention of this House and of the country to the almost defenceless state of the realm, earnestly desiring that we should not remain unarmed in the midst of an armed world. Under these circumstances, I must regret that the Report on which Her Majesty's Government are now proceeding, having been in their hands since the first week in February, it is only on the 20th of August that we are called upon to give an opinion upon this most important and urgent subject. We have lost four or five months of the long days, during which time the greatest amount of work is done, and are thrown back practically for nearly a year, by the delay which has taken place. This is a Bill to provide for improving the fortifications of the Dockyards. At all times the Dockyards of the country have been defended by works of some kind; and it would have been a sufficient justification for asking Parliament to pass this measure, if its object had been solely to make the defence of these Dockyards keep pace with the improvement in gunnery, and the application of steam to navigation. The great alteration which has been made in the extent of the means of defence required, has been effected by the introduction of steam; because that, no doubt, gives extraordinary advantages to the Power which takes the initiative, by enabling it to concentrate all its strength and all its forces upon a given point, so as to make certain of effecting its purpose. We possess no naval or military force which would prevent an enemy, determined upon running the risk, from effecting a landing in this country at almost any point whatever; and therefore we ought, as I have said in this House before, to take care that at every point of our coast, at which an enemy could keep his fleet and could establish a sort of téte du pont, and land with his troops and materiél, horses and guns, we should have some sort of a fort which could not easily be taken, and which should prevent him from using the advantages which the coast presents. That is a principle which is universally applicable, but upon which we have not yet acted. But, my Lords, it is not only on account of the alterations which have taken place in the matter of navigation and in the improvement of gunnery, that it is desirable this measure should be proceeded with. I go far beyond those reasons. I vote for this measure most willingly, because I entertain that thorough distrust of the French Government, which Lord John Russell frankly told the French Government months ago all the world would entertain, if that Government persevered in its scheme for annexing Savoy and Nice. I agree entirely with all the reasoning of Lord John Russell on that subject. I cannot forget either the events of the last year, explained as they have been by what has since come to our knowledge. We know now that, before the French expedition to Italy was undertaken, a secret compact was entered into between the Emperor of the French and Piedmont, by which the Emperor was to receive Savoy and Nice, on his annexing to Piedmont the whole of Lombardy and Venetia; there being at that time no quarrel whatever between Austria, Piedmont, and France, and the aggression of Austria having been subsequently provoked by Piedmont, relying on the aid of France. The result, however, of the campaign was, that the whole of the conditions were not performed, Venetia not being annexed to Piedmont, and France therefore could not claim the reward she was to obtain. It must always be remembered that the Emperor of the French distinctly declared that he only entered Italy because Austria had committed an act of aggression; it must, also, be remembered that the greatest of all Emperors, the Emperor Titus—the man who received the greatest honour ever accorded to any human being, that of being called "Delicice humani generis"—could not have used terms more generous, more disinterested, or more noble in explanation of the cause which he went to support, than did the Emperor of the French in commencing that campaign. I cannot forget these things. I hope the country will not; because when a man has once so committed himself by his conduct as to give just reason to suppose that he does not act from pure motives, he] has forfeited all claim to future confidence, and those who believe him afterwards—say what he may—deserve any misfortune that may befall them. But certain States of Central Italy determined to annex themselves to Piedmont. The Emperor of the French said, "That is certainly not the condition on which I was to receive Savoy and Nice; but it is a change of a similar nature. Piedmont is largely increased in strength by it, and it is therefore necessary that France should derive some equivalent, some compensation for it." My Lords, there have been poets who have imagined a golden age, in which the lion and the lamb should lie down together in perfect tranquillity and mutual confidence. But no poet at any time ever allowed his imagination to carry him the length to which the imagination of the Emperor of the French seems to have carried him. No poet ever dreamt of a state of things in which the lion would not lie down with the lamb without taking previous security for the lamb's good behaviour; yet that is what the Emperor of the French has done in defiance of the opinion of Europe. When France first sent her army to Italy last year, the answer which the English people gave to her was the establishment of the Rifle Volunteers; and in the course of some six months 70,000 men joined those corps. At the beginning-of this year, when France demanded the cession of Savoy and Nice, our Volunteer movement acquired fresh vigour, and while we, my Lords, were sitting here doing little or nothing, the people added another 70,000 men to those Rifle Corps. That was the second answer of the English people to the French Emperor; and I am perfectly satisfied that if the Emperor should proceed further in the same spirit, a similar and yet more decided answer will be made by the population of this country. My Lords, we see the effect of all this upon Europe. We see, most fortunately for Europe, the commencement of a good understanding between the Powers of Germany, so long separated from each other, and we see indications of that distrust towards France on the part of all the countries of Europe, which the more makes me readily vote in favour of this Bill, in the cautious, suspicious acquiescence which, with many safeguards, has been given to the forward offer of France to intervene in the affairs of Syria. These are among the reasons which induce me to look with satisfaction on this measure. But let us consider briefly what is the measure itself. There can be no doubt that the Emperor of the French thoroughly understands the principles of war, although as yet he has not had a large acquaintance with its practical operations; and depend upon it, he will never venture to send an army to this country without, in the first instance, securing a tete du pont that may cover his communications with the sea. Now, of all the tetes du pont which he could possibly possess the Isle of Wight would be the best. It commands Spithead and Portsmouth. I am sorry the works at Sandown Bay are not to be considerably stronger, because Sandown Bay is really the key to the Isle of Wight, and, therefore, to Spithead. I shall not go further into the various plans proposed by the scientific authorities for the defence of our Dockyards. I dare say they are based on correct principles, and will he ably carried out. But I observe that there is one point—and that by far the most essential—namely, the defence of Woolwich, in which Her Majesty's Government have abstained from following the recommendations of the Commissioners. Now, of all questions connected with the defence of this country, that one is the most vital. Her Majesty's Government appear to have considered that, in the event of an invasion, a battle would have to he fought for the capital; that that battle must be fought in advance of London; and that if it were lost terms of capitulation must be entered into for that city. Now that is to me of all considerations the one most alarming. I am satisfied that if Her Majesty's Government had in their minds the necessity of defending London street by street, and house by house, they never would have consented to leave Woolwich in such a defenceless condition. I greatly fear that the defenceless condition of Woolwich will very materially affect the fortune of that battle which is expected to be fought in advance of London. The general in command of your troops might think that, under all the circumstances, the occasion would not be favourable for attacking the enemy, and his disposition might be to retire, provided he could do so, to a better position, where he might make or receive the attack with more advantage. But no position can possibly be worse than one immediately in advance of London, with Woolwich undefended. The extent of the position is enormous—at least 15 miles; and the attempt of the enemy would not be made upon London but upon Woolwich, because Woolwich being once destroyed or occupied, the arms would, as it were, be struck out of your hands with which you might have had the power of defending London. Woolwich is essential to the defence of London. You may regret that it is where it is; but, being there, you ought to turn it to every account that you can. It is absolutely necessary that it should be placed within an entrenched camp and made safe, and then those who were defending London would have the advantage of those materials of war which are only to be found at Woolwich. It is said, "Of what use is it to think of defending London; it is impossible, its extent being so large. Do these persons forget that in point of fact a great city is a great fortress in itself; that when defended by barricades, with bold men behind them, with plenty of arms, ammunition, and guns, no prudent general would be very willing to attack it? Are we unable to do what the poor inhabitants of Palermo lately did? Cannot we emulate the conduct of that and of so many other cities which have in the same manner defended themselves with success? But if a general would hesitate before a great city, which I say is a fortress, what would be his hesitation if on his right flank at a distance of six or seven miles was a great intrenched camp, protecting a great arsenal—a sort of Sebastopol, communicating by covered railways on both banks of the river with the city to be defended, open in all directions to the country behind, so that it would be capable of receiving all the reinforcements which might be sent and accumulated on his right flank, and in two hours placed in the rear of the attacking force. If London were in this position, with Woolwich thus fortified, depend upon it no enemy would attempt to take it. My Lords, Woolwich should be made the citadel of London. We may, as I have said, regret that it is there; but since it is there it is our duty to make it the citadel of London, and preserve it to our own use, and not throw into the hands of an enemy its immense materiel of war. These are the views I have formed on examining this subject. They seem to me so important as bearing on the defence, even on the safety of the country, that I do not think it right to withhold them from your Lordships. Among the papers submitted to Parliament is one in which Lord Overstone states, in terms by no means too strong, the dangers that would result from the occupation of London. I entirely agree with Lord Overstone's remarks. But Lord Over-stone was desired to give his opinion on the supposition that private property would be respected. What opinion would he have given if the more rational supposition had been taken—namely, that private property would not be respected? Whatever might be the disposition of the leader of the French army, it is idle to suppose that any control could be exercised over French soldiers in possession of London. Depend upon it, if London should ever be in the possession of an enemy, the sack of London will stand by the fide of the sack of Rome by the troops of the Constable of Bourbon, and equal to it in all its circumstances of horror and atrocity. It is to prevent such a state of things that I would entreat the Government to take all the means in their power to make it impossible for any enemy to effect their purpose. If we are to fall in defending ourselves against invasion, let us fall with our arms in our hands, and with honour; at least let the people of London do what can be done in resisting the advances of a hostile army. Now, one word as to the number of our regular troops. There can be no doubt this country derives an enor- mous advantage from what is called "the Rifle Volunteer movement." I trust that movement will proceed. I trust that it will acquire still greater numbers, and that it will attain still greater efficiency. It is impossible to speak too highly of those persons who have carried forward that movement, or to over-estimate its importance. It is by far the greatest movement in this country, the most vital event I recollect since the battle of Waterloo. It gives us at once increased strength at home and consideration abroad. But it is contrary to reason to expect that these men, brave as they are, good marksmen as they may be, can act in open plain against a well-disciplined enemy. Acting under cover, behind hedges, and in woods, and as light troops in defence of villages and houses, they will be of immense assistance to a general; but, after all, it must be on the regular army, on its numbers and strength, that the ultimate fate of this country will depend if that terrible misfortune, an invasion, should ever occur. I cannot hut express my deep regret that our regular army is not much larger. I will not go through the details, though I have looked into them most carefully, as to what force could be brought into the field. Acting on the true principle of Napoleon I., of concentrating our force for a great battle—not on the old system of endeavouring to cover and defend everything, which I dread most in ease of invasion—if we use against the Third Napoleon the principles we may learn in the writings of the First, then I have no fear at all, provided we put into the hands of a general the force he may fairly require. But, my Lords, we have not that force. I do think that force necessary; a large portion of its expense might he met by reductions if the Government frankly took up the subject; but the expense ought to be incurred if it could not be met by reductions. Such a force, I repeat, is necessary to give entire security to this country. I ask for no more than security. No man in the world can entertain less than I do any idea of using a military force for the purpose of offensive operations. I desire nothing but entire security for the country. I desire to avoid the dreadful horrors which invasion would bring on every part of the country, not only on account of the destruction of credit and the ruin of private fortunes it would carry along with it, but because I am quite sure that if an enemy were but three weeks in this country, no matter how the retirement of I that army might be effected, it would be impossible for us practically to re-establish the constitution under which we live. I feel perfectly satisfied that the whole people, indignant with the Government—or dissatisfied with the form of Government—to which they, as probably, might attribute their misfortunes—would insist on vast alterations, whether in the direction of revolution and republicanism, or, what is equally probable, in the direction of the Crown, giving greater authority to the Executive, I do not know; but in whatever direction that change may be made, it would be equally fatal to civil liberty, and to the institutions which have made us what we are.


My Lords, after what has fallen from the noble Earl, I shall not, with regard to the general principles involved in this measure, attempt to add any feeble words of mine to the very powerful arguments he has urged; but there are one or two points in the speech of the noble Earl on which I would offer a few remarks. First of all, the noble Earl seemed to complain of the omission of Woolwich from the scheme of fortifications presented by the Government to the House on the recommendation of the Royal Commission. That subject has been most carefully and minutely considered by the Government and the constituted military authorities of the country. It should be borne in mind that the recommendations of the Commission in regard to the defence of Woolwich, were far from fulfilling the large and extensive scheme so ably sketched out by the noble Earl for the defence of London. The Commissioners simply proposed the erection of a redoubt on Shooter's Hill—which, though it might afford some protection, would be far from constituting a complete defence to that arsenal, which lies in a position naturally completely defenceless, being commanded from every side. To he fully defended it would require very different measures from those included in the recommendations of the Commissioners. The Government had the great authority of Sir John Burgoyne and Sir Howard Douglas for the course taken in not at present adopting the recommendations of the Commissioners in regard to the erection of that particular fort. It would not have afforded such defence to Woolwich as would have justified the expenditure required; and standing alone it would be of comparatively little value for the defence of London. Sir John Burgoyne has expressed a deckled opinion that for the defence of London we must look to operations at a distance from the Metropolis, and to the effect of operations in the field, which must take place long before an enemy could reach London. It would be presumptuous in me, not being a professional man, to offer an opinion on the great scheme proposed by the noble Earl, involving so grave a proposition as that of defending this great city from street to street, and from house to house. I should misrepresent the views of the Government if I did not say that this subject has occupied, and must occupy, their most serious attention I but the scope of this Bill does not include a scheme for the defence of London. We must look, in the first place, to our naval resources as our best line of defence; to the means which may be brought to bear to prevent the landing of an invading force, and then to the subsequent operations in the field. The noble Earl has alluded to the smallness of the regular force we should be able to bring into the field. I entirely agree with the noble Earl in thinking that we must look very much to regular troops for operations in the field. But we have made a great stride in the means of national defence by the creation of our Volunteer corps. I do not desire to exaggerate the importance of that movement; but I may be allowed to say that I entertain a strong hope that it may be found to be of great utility in the maintenance of peace by the manifestation which it affords of the spirit which animates the people of this country, and of their determination to defend their native shores. I believe, too, that when the hour of peril arrives—if, indeed, it does come—the Volunteer force will be found to be of the greatest possible advantage in occupying our various garrisons, in operating against the flank of the enemy, and even in the case of some battalions—I speak upon good authority—in taking part in operations in the field. Whether we should maintain in this country a much larger regular army than we have hitherto kept up, is, of course, a question for Parliament to decide. But upon that point I may observe that the regular force which we possess at the present moment is greater than that which we have had at almost any previous period of our history; that it has undergone no diminution during the last few months, and that it stands numerically at a higher point than it did in the spring of 1859. It is a force, I may add, which, in the opinion of the Government, is sufficient to meet the exigencies of the time; but, whether they be right in entertaining that opinion or not, it is satisfactory to know that the tendency of this Bill is to utilize that force to a greater extent than independent of its operation would be possible. I cannot, under these circumstances, my Lords, doubt for a moment that you will give a second reading to a measure which is purely of a defensive character, which is aimed against no country, which has reference to no Government, which the great changes that have recently taken place in military science have rendered necessary, and which is to be regarded not so much as a warlike proposition as one calculated to secure and maintain the peace of Europe by ensuring to this country the respect ot other nations.


observed, that when he spoke of the importance of making Woolwich a great entrenched camp, he had omitted to mention that the principle on which his recommendation was founded did not originate with him—he spoke on the authority of the Emperor Napoleon, not, of course, in respect of Woolwich itself, but in respect of Naples. He should recommend his noble Friend (Earl De Grey) to read two or three of the letters in which the Emperor Napoleon gave his brother, King Joseph, advice as to the manner in which he should defend Naples. The manner in which the Emperor advised his brother to defend Naples was that in which he (the Earl of Ellen-borough) advised the Government to defend Woolwich.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly; Committee negatived; and Bill to be read 3a To-morrow.