HL Deb 27 June 1876 vol 230 cc487-9

in asking Her Majesty's Government, If it is proposed to add or substitute guns of greater calibre than those now existing in the principal forts of Malta; and whether there is any objection to giving information with regard to the present state of efficiency of the fortifications of Valetta, said, he did not think it necessary to preface with many remarks the Question which he wished to put to Her Majesty's Government. His object was that their Lordships should be put in possession of such information on the subject of the present state of the fortifications of Malta as Her Majesty's Government might be willing and able to communicate. He knew that there was to some extent an opinion prevailing that matters of this kind should be left unnoticed in the hands of Her Majesty's Government. He agreed partly with what might be said in favour of that view; but, at the same time, he thought Parliament and the country ought to have some information given them on subjects such as that to which his Question referred. If their Lordships generally were to be asked what was the present condition of the defences of Malta, he was doubtful whether it would be found that their Lordships were in possession of any very definite information. His noble Friend the noble Viscount opposite, the late Secretary for War (Viscount Cardwell), would, doubtless, be able to give all the information that might be desired, and also the noble Earl who represented the War Department in their Lordships' House (Earl Cadogan);and he could not think it undesirable that their Lordships and the country generally should be clearly informed upon a matter of such great importance as the efficiency of the fortress of Valetta and the general state of the defences of Malta. Such a question as he now asked might have been of less consequence if naval and military warfare had undergone no changes of late years—it would have been necessary to look only to the past history of Malta to be assured of the strength of its defences; and the point, therefore, to which he wished to draw their Lordships' attention was this—whether the armaments and strength of the fortress of Valetta had kept pace with recent changes in naval and military warfare? Looking at Malta as the key of the naval position of this country in the Mediterranean, it was impossible to exaggerate the importance of that consideration. With reference to the first part of the Question—whether it was proposed to add or substitute guns of greater calibre than those now existing in the principal forts of Malta—he would only ask the noble Earl to inform their Lordships what were the size and number of the heavy guns now in the principal forts which commanded the harbour of Valetta, and what were the size and number of those it was proposed to add or substitute. He believed he was right in saying that the largest guns now in position there were 25-ton guns. It must be remembered that guns of this calibre were now comparatively small. Her Majesty's ship Devastation carried, he believed, four 35-ton guns, and a Russian ship, the Peter the Great, of similar construction, but larger, carried also, he believed, four 35-ton guns. It was probable that before long we should have still heavier guns afloat, and it could not be satisfactory that a fortress like Malta should be protected with guns of inferior calibre. As regarded the second part of the Question—the state of efficiency of the fortifications of Valetta—the noble Earl would perhaps excuse him if he called his attention to a Return made last year to the House of Commons, by which it appeared that in the year 1870 there was expended upon the fortifications and defences of Malta £12,863; in the year 1871, £17,718 in the year 1872, £53,166; and in the year 1873, £42,659—showing a considerable increase in succeeding years. In the year 1874 the total military expenditure amounted to £250,526, but he did not find what proportion of this was expended upon fortifications and defences. It would, perhaps, be satisfactory for the information of their Lordships if the noble Earl could state whether the increase was for strengthening the old fortifications of the harbour or for carrying on works of defence elsewhere. It was probable that a considerable outlay would be required to enable the old works to carry the heavier guns. He spoke with some diffidence on this subject in the presence of naval and military Members of their Lordships' House; but no observer of passing events could fail to notice that there were few, if any, places in Her Majesty's dominions which had a greater claim to attention in a naval and military point of view than the Island of Malta.


said, Her Majesty's Government fully recognized the importance of arming the fortifications of Malta with guns of the newest and best pattern, and of sufficient calibre to cope with any which might be brought against them. The House would not, he felt sure, expect him to make a detailed statement on such a subject; but he might say that the work of strengthening the armament of the Island had been, and was being, gradually carried out. With regard to the fortifications of Valetta, he was informed by those most conversant with the matter that they were in a satisfactory condition.