Sir, I think it will be for the public advantage that, before we disperse, there should be some notice taken by the House of Commons of the present critical state of affairs on the Continent of Europe. During the time that I have been a Member of this House I have witnessed the origin of several European wars, and I have observed that ultimately much injury has been occasioned by the silence and reserve which the House of Commons, actuated by praiseworthy motives, has thought it for the public interest to adopt. To a Minister himself, in a state of affairs so critical as the present, I believe there is nothing more valuable than the intelligent and discriminating sympathy of the House of Commons, and when he appeals to Parliament in vindication of his policy, remembering that he is no longer influenced by those considerations of convenience which are the necessary result of our usual party discipline, but that he can appeal with confidence to a patriotic Parliament, that Minister is in a strong and, I will even say, a proud position. But, speaking from my own experience of these matters, I am bound to say that the House of Commons has in general not appreciated the situation of affairs in the same manner as the Minister. They have thought that by silence they were aiding the Government, and it has generally happened that by that silence they have embarrassed it, so that when the Parliament and the Ministry have separated this has often occurred—that there have been discordant councils, contradictory policy, great infirmity of action, and, ultimately, when we have met together, we have found that the country has been committed to a course to which it would not have been committed had there been more frank communication between the House and the Ministry, more precision of knowledge, and more clearness of opinion. Now, under these circumstances, I have, after anxious consideration, felt it my duty to make some observations which may lead, on the part of the Government, to comments and explanations that I cannot help thinking will be, on the whole, of advantage to the public. The House is well aware that two of the greatest Powers of Europe have embarked in a war which one who ought to be a judge of the matter believes will be a long and severe one. I trust that is an erroneous judgment—that it is a prophecy which will not be fulfilled. But I cannot help thinking, that in order to insure the restoration of peace to Europe, it would be of much advantage that England should clearly comprehend its position with regard to the belligerent parties, and, comprehending that position, should be able to indicate the policy which, on the whole, may be thought most calculated to lead to the restoration of peace. I will not, Sir, on this occasion notice the pretexts that have been made for this war. They are really of a character so ephemeral and evanescent, they are so clearly pretexts, so merely the semblance of causes, that I do not think it necessary at this time of day to dwell on them. Whether there was a pretender to the Spanish Throne, or whether there was a breach of etiquette at a watering-place, or whether Europe is to be devastated on account of the publication of an anonymous paragraph in a newspaper—these are causes which I do not think it becomes the House of Commons to consider. They would have been disgraceful even to the 18th century, and I am certain that they could not seriously influence the conduct of any considerable body of men in the age in which we live. In fact, the pretexts have disappeared, and the cause is not now difficult to denote: I shall not dwell even upon that at any length. I merely refer to it because some clear appreciation of the circumstances which have led to this sad state of affairs is necessary to the observations which, with the permission of the House, I am about to make. The cause of the present war may, in a great degree, be ascertained by the declarations which have been made by the most eminent statesmen of both belligerent countries. The President of the French Senate has very recently, on a solemn occasion, representing that august body on a great crisis of public affairs, announced, and announced with the highest authority, that the French nation, or the French Government, has been preparing for this war for four years. Certainly the individual who made that declaration was in a position to judge of the matter, because during the greater part of that interval he was the able and vigorous Minister of France. On the other hand, the Prime Minister of Prussia, when he received from the Ambassador of the Queen his complacent congratulations on the termination of all his difficulties, with cynical incredulity acknowledged to his Excellency that the withdrawal of the German Prince had really nothing to do with the events that were about to occur. Sir, these two public declarations by these two eminent persons assist us in ascertaining what is the cause of the war; and even if we had not had these declarations, the remarkable document which has recently been made public—I mean the Project of a Treaty not executed—would assist us. Sir, upon that document I am not going to dwell, nor upon other documents of the same character which I doubt not are in existence. It would be inconvenient to do so; it would lead to no good. But I think the House of Commons may arrive, without offending anyone, at this result—that there are vast ambitions stirring in Europe, and many subtle schemes devised; that they have already produced the war that is about to rage, and probably may lead to events of the utmost importance. It becomes, therefore, our duty, I think, to ascertain, as clearly as we can, our position with respect to the belligerents. Now, Sir, in the Papers which are on the Table of the House, there are references to two Treaties to which this country was a party, and to which both of the belligerent Powers were parties. One of those Treaties is a Treaty which secures nominally the neutrality, but really the independence, of the Kingdom of Belgium. Upon that Treaty I would first observe that it is not an ancient Treaty; it is not a Treaty that we have inherited from the dark period, when this country was governed by a Pitt, or when its affairs were administered even by a Castlereagh. The engagement to secure the neutrality of Belgium is a modern diplomatic engagement, created in the age of "peace, reform, and retrenchment." The most distinguished Members of the Liberal party negotiated and advised their Sovereign to ratify it amid the sympathetic applause of all enlightened Englishmen. Sir, I have no doubt that the distinguished men who negotiated that Treaty, as the representatives of the great Liberal party, were influenced in the course they took by the traditions of English policy. They negotiated that Treaty for the general advantage of Europe, but with a clear appreciation of the importance of its provisions to England. It had always been held by the Government of this country that it was for the interest of England that the countries on the European Coast extending from Dunkirk and Ostend to the islands of the North Sea should be possessed by free and flourishing communities, practising the arts of peace, enjoying the rights of liberty, and following those pursuits of commerce which tend to the civilization of man, and should not be in the possession of a great military Power, one of the principles of whose existence necessarily must be to aim at a preponderating influence in Europe. But, Sir, at this moment, the neutrality which we guaranteed by that Treaty is not outraged, and, I trust, is not menaced; and therefore I will now dwell no more upon it. The other Treaty referred to in the Papers is a Treaty of a similar character. It is also a Treaty of neutrality. It is the Treaty which guarantees the neutrality of Luxemburg. I do not shrink from my share of the responsibility for that Treaty. The scope of that Treaty, although a Treaty of neutrality, is not so large as the scope of the Treaty which secures the neutrality of Belgium; but the policy which it indicates is an analogous policy. It is a Treaty in favour of peace—a Treaty which would limit the warlike area of Europe. Now, the House will observe that these Treaties, referred to in the Papers, are both of the same character, that they are guarantees of neutrality; and we may say of the second Treaty, which guarantees the neutrality of Luxemburg, as I have said of the preceding one, that its neutrality is not outraged, and I hope it is not menaced. And I refer to them now only because in this part of my remarks I wish the House clearly to understand the nature of those Treaties. They are Treaties to guarantee neutrality. But there are other engagements which this country has contracted with regard to the belligerents that are of a different character, and are deserving the serious consideration of the House at this moment, because they are engagements which guarantee not neutrality, but territory. Sir, by the Treaty of Vienna England has entered into a guarantee—probably the most solemn guarantee which England ever made in modern times — to one of the belligerents — namely, the guarantee to Prussia of the Saxon Provinces which were apportioned to her by the Treaty of Vienna. Now, the circumstances under which that guarantee was given were of a peculiar description. They are upon record, and I have referred to them. It appears that when it was proposed to Prussia to assume the government of this portion of the then Kingdom of Saxony Prussia refused to undertake the responsibility. Prussia believed that already, by the distribution of territories which had been made at the Congress of Vienna she had incurred a greater responsibility than was expedient for her interests, and she absolutely declined to accept these provinces unless Great Britain gave her a guarantee. Lord Castlereagh, who was our Foreign Minister at that moment and also present at the Congress, declined to give that guarantee. Prussia, under these circumstances, announced that she would withdraw altogether from the Congress of Vienna, and, in that event, all the arrangements that had been projected on that memorable occasion would have fallen to the ground. After considerable negotiation it was proposed that the other great Powers should each give a guarantee—a separate, not a joint guarantee—to Prussia to the desired effect, if England would assent; and ultimately, in order to secure the fulfilment of the plans which were brought about at Vienna, Great Britain gave this guarantee of those provinces to Prussia. Now, I would wish the House to observe—and this is a point on which it would be interesting to receive information from the Government—that a guarantee of territory, and particularly this guarantee of territory to a belligerent, is very different from a guarantee of neutrality, although the belligerent may be a party to the Treaty, because these provinces may be the seat of war to-morrow, and the position of England is such that if by any chance Prussia were defeated in that part of her kingdom she might call upon Great Britain to fulfil that guarantee. Sir, I would stop here, before I advert further to this important point, to say that it does appear to me that these engagements which have been entered into by Great Britain not merely with respect to the guarantee of territory to Prussia, but with respect to the guarantees of the neutrality of two countries interesting to both of the belligerents, were engagements which ought to have given a great, and I should have said, an irresistible, influence to our Government in protesting against this war which is about to take place. And I have not yet received that satisfactory evidence which I could desire that proper advantage has been taken of our legitimate position in this respect. Sir, I would say with regard to the guarantee of the neutrality of Luxemburg, that that guarantee was not given hastily; it was given with much hesitation, after anxious inquiry from both of the belligerents with respect to all those points of difference between them which might possibly arise; and it was ultimately given on their representation that if war was thus prevented all other points of controversy might in all probability be settled satisfactorily by diplomatic means. Now, it appears to me that on this subject the Government of England, representing the Sovereign who entered into this important Treaty, has a claim on the forbearance and deference of the belligerents which no other party could bring forward. Having made that observation, I would venture to say that formidable as may at first sight appear the responsibility of guaranteeing the Saxon Provinces of Prussia, there is in this, as in most other instances, no unmixed evil to be apprehended. I perceive even in these embarrassing engagements circumstances which, if wisely managed by the Government—and I am prepared to give credit to the Government, in all the difficulties that may await them in these affairs, for the exercise of the requisite ability—I say it has appeared to me that even in the extreme difficulty of the present moment, there are indications of means by which the great purpose of England, which I take to be the restoration of peace, may be effected. The House will observe that besides Great Britain, there are, as conditioned by Lord Castlereagh, three other great Powers that joined in guaranteeing the Saxon Provinces to Prussia. The guarantee of France—that has of course ceased, because war abolishes all Treaties. The guarantee of Austria ceased four years ago by the war of 1866. But the guarantee which was given by another great Power of Europe—namely Russia, exists at this moment, and exists in as full force as that of England, and it appears to me that we see here indicated a means of joint influence for the restoration of peace which, even under the peculiar circumstances in which we are placed, this Treaty furnishes us with. An alliance—I will not use the word "alliance," because it may give rise to some misapprehension; but a cordial understanding between England and Russia to restore peace as a natural consequence of the position in which both countries are placed with respect to the belligerents by the guaranteeing of those provinces to Prussia—a cordial understanding and co-operation between these two great Powers would be liable to no sinister interpretation, and excite no suspicion, because, as I have just said, it would be a natural consequence of their diplomatic engagements. I hope, therefore, there will be between Her Majesty's Government and Russia not a mere general exchange of platitudes as to the advantages of restoring peace and averting the horrors of war, but something more. I hope they will confer together as two great Powers who have entered into the same engagements, and as two Powers who themselves may be forced to take the part of belligerents. Now, Her Majesty's Government have announced a general policy to the House. I, for one, give my support to the policy of the Government as a policy of neutrality, and as far as I can collect from those public sources which are open to everyone, having, of course, no private information, the policy of Russia also is a policy of neutrality; but when both those great Powers profess the same general policy, and both of them have this particular engagement, it appears to me that here are elements by which the policy of neutrality may partake practically of so active a character that representations at the proper moment may lead to the restoration of peace. I think the House will agree with me that excellent as is the policy of neutrality, the policy of neutrality which cannot on the right occasion speak with authority to the belligerents is really a policy not entitled to respect. The first object of a policy of neutrality is, no doubt, to protect our fellow-subjects from the calamity of war. The second object of a policy of neutrality is to be able on the right occasion—on an occasion such as may be produced by the equal fortunes in the field of the belligerents, or by the overwhelming success of one of them, or by any one of a thousand accidents—to be able to counsel the belligerents and bring about the restoration of peace; because while you impress on the parties the importance of such a result, you show them at the same time that you have the power to enforce, if necessary, the adoption of the course you recommend. Therefore, Sir, it appears to me that the policy of England should be not only neutrality, but armed neutrality, and if the policy of Russia happens to be the same—and on the representation of England it might be the same—then, when the opportunity comes—and an opportunity may come sooner than those who believe in long and severe wars contemplate—the joint representation of two such Powers as Great Britain and Russia, preserving a neutrality, but exercising an armed neutrality, no one can doubt might exercise a profitable effect on the course of public affairs. Now Sir, if it be wise in Her Majesty's Government to preserve a neutrality, and to take care that that neutrality is upheld by power, and if, as I believe, the safest and best chance we have of effecting the restoration of peace in Europe is by an armed neutrality, then the question at such a moment appears to me to be this—are our armaments in such a condition as enables us to adopt such a policy? I have heard with much satisfaction at the commencement of the business of this evening, that there was a Vote to be proposed for an increase in the number of men in the Army, and, as I collected, of men for the Navy. No one can doubt that Her Majesty's Government were thoroughly justified in taking that course, and I think they may trust to the unanimous support of the House of Commons in any proposal of that kind which on their responsibility they may make. I should say myself if I could place implicit confidence in general but vague descriptions of our present forces, that with the supplementary addition now proposed our position is one not altogether unsatisfactory, I do not wish to throw any doubt on the authenticity of statements recently made by persons in high authority; but those statements were necessarily vague, and statements that are vague are sometimes necessarily ambiguous. I think, therefore, that on the present occasion it would be satisfactory if we received assurances from the Government, more in detail, as to the condition of our forces. We have been told that the state of our Navy is efficient. I am not prepared to deny it; but I can only say myself that when we hear of squadrons of the belligerents passing in sight of our cliffs, I should like to hear at the same time of a strong Channel Fleet. When we hear rumours of wars in the northern seas, I should like to be assured that if by any unhappy causes we are mixed up in these wars, and if our disabled ships should wish to return for a time to dock or to roach a factory, it would not be necessary for them to go to Portsmouth. I should like also to receive from Her Majesty's Government some information on a point which I have not yet touched on, and which has not been touched on in any public address which has met my eye—I allude to the state of the forts which at an incredible expense were erected to defend our arsenals. When the late Government retired from Office I had the satisfaction of hearing—at least such is my recollection—that the construction of these forts was virtually completed, or nearly so. As £13,000,000, or something like that amount, had then been expended on these forts, I think it is time that that completion should have taken place; but I have heard nothing since of the armament of those forts. Plans for those armaments were placed before the late Administration; and let me impress this on the House—that if those forts receive no armaments they will be a source of weakness and not of strength. I, therefore, think this is a point on which some information would be desirable. I should like to know what is the number of the ships we have on the slips, and whether there has been that increase in the building of ships which is necessary to sustain the Navy in a time of war, because we know that the construction of ships is not an affair of days, of weeks, or of months. I should be glad, also, to know what is the real condition of our stores, especially in reference to our fuel and coaling stations. Her Majesty's Government may be enabled to give satisfactory replies on all these questions, and I do not know that they could do anything which the country would deem more gratifying; but when we hear that the fleet is efficient, and that the condition in which the country now stands is satisfactory, it is not unreasonable that in the House of Commons these questions should be asked, and this information should be elicited. I will not at any length pursue the same inquiries with respect to the Army, the state of which we have also been assured is satisfactory, the House having been told that at no time has there been a greater number of regular troops in the country than at the present moment. That is a circumstance which, no doubt, may be a source of some satisfaction; but still one may ask these questions—Have you an efficient Army? Are your battalions of becoming strength? Are the numbers of the cavalry regiments what they ought to be? Are your batteries complete? And have you that supply of the arms of precision which in these days is requisite? We hear a great deal of our Volunteer Force, and no one appreciates that force more than myself? I have expressed that sentiment before, as I express it now. I think that truly national institution has increased the power of England and her weight and influence in the councils of Europe. But how is our Volunteer Force armed? Have measures been taken to place this great body of men, whose discipline and patriotism we have a right to trust to when brought in collision with an enemy on equal terms, so as to have an equal chance with such enemy? I must not be taken as insinuating charges against the Government; but when we are favoured with vague descriptions of the armaments of this country, it is absolutely necessary, in a moment like the present, that we should press for some details on these vital points. Nor can the Government hesitate to answer us with frankness; because if they admit that on all these points the condition of the country is not such as they desire, they know now that they can appeal to a House of Commons which will not criticize their Estimates, which will feel that their Estimates were brought forward with a sense of responsibility adequate to the occasion; and, much as public economy is estimated on both sides of the House, I hope, yet, in a crisis like the present, any body of men, being Ministers of this country, can never appeal in vain to the House of Commons in order that the country may be placed in a state of adequate and complete defence. There is one observation I wish to make on the diplomatic part of the subject before us. I am told that the other night an hon. Gentleman on the other side of the House (Mr. Rylands) moved for the throwing out of the Estimates the whole Vote for the Diplomatic Service, on the ground that we had been taken by surprise in this matter, and that, consequently, events had proved that that service was of no use whatever. The Gentleman in question is, I believe, a young Member, and in his views was no doubt influenced by a juvenile ardour for economy. If I could adopt the same view of these transactions as the hon. Member has I should be ready to support him. I make no doubt myself that Earl Granville was surprised, for that noble Lord only shortly—I may say a few hours—before was administering the duties of a Department the business of which was quite remote from the consideration of such a question, and I can easily conceive—it is no reproach to Lord Granville—that on him the present state of Europe may have come down with some degree of startling suddenness. I have, however, too great confidence in the ability of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and I know too well, from my own personal knowledge, the admirable manner in which the country is served by the diplomatic service, to believe that these transactions fell with the same suddenness on the Prime Minister of England. The Prime Minister of England and the Earl of Clarendon were, I have no doubt, as perfectly well informed as the French Government, and I have always been of opinion that the English Government was better served, and gets its information more surely, and generally more speedily, than any other Government. By one of the Papers laid before Parliament it appears that the Secretary of State of France knew in March, 1869, of the intention of proposing a German Prince for the Throne of Spain, and nothing can induce me to believe that Her Majesty's Government were less informed than the French Minister. I cannot doubt myself that the right hon. Gentleman and Lord Clarendon had their minds directed with sleepless vigilance to these circumstances and these possible conjunctures. I would not argue with anybody who told me the opposite: I would say to such a man naviget Antyciram, though there is no amount of hellebore he could take that would qualify him to be a Secretary of State. The First Minister of this country and the Foreign Secretary, because they receive information and become acquainted with rumours and a variety of inchoate circumstances which may lead to great public events, do not immediately harass their Colleagues by placing them before the Cabinet. These are matters which they administer themselves until the time arrives when it is necessary for them to ask for the advice of their Colleagues. But this country would, indeed, be in a sad condition if the Prime Minister and Lord Clarendon, only lately the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, were so ill-informed of public transactions that they could have been surprised by such a conjuncture of affairs as now occupies our anxious attention. It must be quite evident that when Lord Clarendon carried on those negotiations on the Continent to which the Prime Minister the other night, with some mystery, but with appropriate reserve, referred, that noble Lord was using all his experience and his intelligence, guided and sustained by the Prime Minister, in the attempt to prevent this dire calamity which has fallen on Europe, and save it from the dangers and difficulties which now menace it. I give the right hon. Gentleman full credit for that. I give him credit for being, as becomes his station, perfectly well-informed of all these transactions, and I should have very little confidence in the right hon. Gentleman to steer the ship through the difficulties that await her had he not been so informed; and, therefore, I shall always, until better informed, vote for that item in the Estimates which the young Member the other day moved to omit. But if this view be the correct one—and the honour of England requires that it should be the correct one—then I should like to know how the right hon. Gentleman can reconcile it to his sense of public policy, to his duty to his country and to this House, to have followed the course he has done during the last two years as to the reduction of our armaments. Why were our forces reduced? Why was our only factory dock which would allow of the reception of our disabled ships—Woolwich—dismantled, thus forcing our ships to go round to Portsmouth, and were it war to run the gauntlet of Cherbourg? Why, I say, was that dockyard closed before Chatham was prepared? Why were reductions made in the public service, and especially among the skilled artizans whose experience and abilities we require at this exigency? Why were they banished to Canada or other parts of the world? Why did not the right hon. Gentleman, instead of making reductions, and dealing as he did with the Revenue of the country come forward, and, upon his responsibility, recommend at least that armaments should be given to the forts that are to protect our ships? With the knowledge which he had of the state of affairs of Europe he ought not to have been so confident that he could avert the storm. Now, Sir, I want to press this on the House of Commons not in hostility to the Government, but as a warning to the House and country as to the position it now occupies. I have heard people say that it is a great thing for England in this conjuncture that she has a strong Government. I agree with that: I think it is of advantage that we have men of becoming ability administering our affairs, and supported by a large majority of the House of Commons. But we must not trust too much to these circumstances. We may be proud and we may be glad that these circumstances exist, but their existence does not exonerate the House of Commons from its duty at such a moment. Sir, I remember a Government which was certainly as distinguished for the abilities and influence of its Members as the present. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman opposite would be offended if I said that the Government of Lord Aberdeen—looking to the character of the men, their great position in the country, their vast experience, their eloquence, their high character—I do not think the right hon. Gentleman opposite would be offended if I said that in these respects even the present Administration was excelled; for four men who sat in Lord Aberdeen's Government have become Prime Ministers of England. That Government was sustained by a majority not less than the present, and was not only supported by their own friends, but in their foreign policy could count on the support of their opponents; and yet, Sir, when a war broke out in Europe during the existence of that Government I think I can say that no one can look back to the Session of 1853 without shame and humiliation. It was at this very period of the year — it was at the end of July—that, after two months of hesitation, Russia crossed the Pruth; and we have it upon record—we have it on authoritative and authentic evidence—that Russia would not have crossed the Pruth if England at that time had been decided; if England had told Russia that it was a question of war with England. But Parliament was silent, Parliament was reserved; Parliament thought it would aid the Ministry by its reserve and by its silence. On the contrary, it embarrassed the Government. The Government separated from Parliament, and you had six months and more of discordant councils and infirm conduct. And what did it end in? In the March of the next year you had to go to war with Russia because she had crossed the Pruth in the preceding July and involved herself in war with Turkey. Now, I think we ought to profit by this experience. There may be questions at the present day on which if England speaks—I need not say with moderation and temper, but with clearness and decision—war will not occur, because the steps that would lead to war will not be pursued. Do not let us find ourselves again in the same humiliating position which led to the Crimean War, in which our Army, no doubt, gained renown, but which no statesman can look back to without feelings of a blended character. That war might have been prevented if the Government of England had spoken with decision. That war would not have occurred; but having occurred, I think it might be logically shown that it was the cause of all the wars that have subsequently agitated and devastated Europe. Let us, I say, profit by that experience. Let the Government of this country feel that the House of Commons, without respect to person or party, is prepared to give them a hearty support. Lot them speak to foreign Powers with that clearness and firmness which can only arise from a due conception of their duties and a determination to fulfil them. If that course is taken by the Government I more than hope, I believe that this country will not be involved in war. I believe more than that—I believe that the influence of England, especially if combined with the influence of the other great neutral Powers, may speedily secure the restoration of peace. But I think our course is plain. I think the Government ought to declare in a manner which cannot be misunderstood that England, as heretofore, will maintain her engagements under Treaty, and thereby secure the rights and independence of nations.
I will endeavour, Sir, to separate, in the observations it is my duty to address to the House, the diplomatic and the historic portions of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) from that portion of it in which he has arraigned the policy of the Government with regard to our military establishments. Now, as respects the historical review taken by the right hon. Gentleman, I am not able to agree with him in recollecting or citing the period when this House, upon the eve of European complications, has embarrassed or injured the Government by its silence. Such is not my recollection of the year 1853. Such is not my recollection of the course taken by the right hon. Gentleman himself in the year 1853. This House is the only judge of the degree in which, upon occasions of this kind, it shall maintain reserve and rely upon the Executive, or demand information and claim to itself an immediate share in the conduct of affairs. On these matters the House is supreme. The Government rather does its duty by indicating to the House, so far as its position renders it right, when the public interests may be served by reposing confidence in those who hold public Office. The right hon. Gentleman has said much in which I am able to agree with regard to the position of this country. He, in the terms of his Motion, desires to know what is our situation relatively to the war that is now going on. I answer, that our situation has been that of a mediator as between the contending parties. It is now that of a friend. It has been the situation of a mediator, unsuccessful and yet not officious, because the intervention undertaken by us was an intervention under Treaty on the urgent appeal of France. The right hon. Gentleman, with something short I think of perfect consistency, declares that the candidature of the Prince of Hohenzollern for the Throne of Spain has had really nothing to do in this matter, and at the same time, in another portion of his speech, he treats it as of such vital importance that he says it would have convicted us of utter incapacity for holding our Offices if we had not been aware, long before it was publicly announced, of the position of affairs with regard to the Prince of Hohenzollern. Now, Sir, I am not able to take advantage of the screen which he provides for me when he says that he is sure—my official position not having changed—that I, at least, must have known everything about to take place, or that was taking place, with respect to that candidature, and could not thereby be taken by surprise. Sir, I frankly own that, as regards that particular incident, it did come on me in the nature of a surprise. At the same time, I so far agree with the right hon. Gentleman as to think that, perhaps, we ought to take that particular incident, and likewise the mode in which it was received, as a symptom of the state of things—the high tension of feeling, and the vast existence and enlargement of military establishments of the two Powers. That state of things caused us great anxiety; at the same time, although it was not possible to contemplate it without apprehension for the future, that apprehension was not one the realization of which there was any reason to expect at any given moment. And if we were unable to foresee the future—if the diplomatic servants of England were unable to foresee the immediate future, we were in precisely the same condition as the Ministry of France. For the Prime Minister of France, exactly one week before the appeal was made on this matter as one of peace and war, of life and death to the British Government to intervene—on the 30th of June M. Ollivier, the Prime Minister of France, declared officially that the political atmosphere had never appeared so clear. Such are the contingencies and vicissitudes of these events; but I will not dwell upon them, because there are other matters of more importance with which I have to deal. In the character of mediator, when the complaint of France was made, we so far admitted the justice of that complaint, although without ever admitting that it would have warranted in our view a resort to arms, that we thought for the sake of the peace of Europe, and under all the circumstances of the case, the nomination of the Prince of Hohenzollern should be withdrawn. For that purpose the British Government interfered, and my noble Friend (Earl Granville), aided doubtless by similar efforts from other quarters, was successful in procuring that withdrawal. And I need not say that it was a deep disappointment to us, when, after that nomination had been set before us as the cause of the existence of danger, and that cause so declared had disappeared from view, we found, notwithstanding, that the horizon was not clear. We then endeavoured to improve the position of matters between those two great States, by suggesting to France, who had given us a title to make such a suggestion, that she could not be justified in demanding from Prussia an engagement which was to cover all the unseen contingencies of the future with respect to the Throne of Spain and the Prince of Hohenzollern. We represented to Prussia at the same time that it was but just that as the King had been associated with the candidature, so he should responsibly and visibly associate himself with the withdrawal. On the side of Prussia that purpose was gained, though, perhaps, the first reception of the proposition by Count Bismarck had not been favourable. On the side of France, it was, as it were, put aside by the occurrence of the incident to which the right hon. Gentleman has alluded in no unbecoming or inapplicable terms—the incident of that supposed insult to the representative of France, which, as far as we have since been informed, appears to have vanished into thin air. We then, as a last attempt, made our appeal to that Protocol of Paris which we had always thought remained as a noble monument of some real advance in civilization, as an acknowledgment of a public authority in Christendom which was to be entitled to exercise a control over the passions, the caprices—nay, over the strongest convictions even that might be entertained by particular States. That appeal was declined by France as unsuitable to the case. It was received by Prussia with the declaration that France had taken the initiative in the war, and that under such circumstances it was impossible for Prussia to take the initiative in recommending mediation. So we arrived at the outbreak of war, and the right hon. Gentleman now asks us what is our position in respect to that war? Sir, our position is, as he has truly said, that of a neutral. I shall except to the phrase that he used when he said that we ought to observe an armed neutrality. As far as I know the historic meaning of that phrase, it is eminently unsuitable to the present circumstances. An armed neutrality, if I remember the instances to which the phrase has been authoritatively applied, imports a disposition of mind very far, indeed, from that which we hope we may still claim without reserve — an unequivocal friendliness to both parties in this unhappy contest. Unless I am greatly mistaken, an armed neutrality is the term which is commonly employed to indicate a state of things when anticipating war, considering yourself in fear of war, you have not yet taken a part, nor declared yourself a belligerent. A secured neutrality, a neutrality backed and sustained by an adequate condition of defensive establishments, is a thing totally different. I cannot admit that "an armed neutrality" is a proper phrase, and I regret that it has fallen from the lips of the right hon. Gentleman. He has referred to the propriety of our acting in combination with Russia, and I have not the smallest objection to anything he has said which could tend to strengthen not merely the material force, but also the moral authority by which the peaceful offices of neutrals may be discharged, involving, as they do, the hope that they may at some time or other take the form of friendly mediation. Whether our neutrality is sole, or whether it is joint, there is no jealousy entertained by us of any foreign Power. The war with Russia has left behind no trace which could for a moment prevent or discourage co-operation for an honourable and useful purpose, and if I objected at all to the marked manner in which the right hon. Gentleman dwelt upon the co-operation of Russia it was not in the least as objecting to anything he affirmed. It was rather because the pointed selection of that Power appeared to imply that we were not to seek or to cherish the co-operation of any other State in Europe. [Mr. DISRAELI dissented.] I am only giving my inference. I am glad it is incorrect. [Mr. DISRAELI: I said that Russia is now the only party with us to the Treaty.] I am coming to that. I should be very sorry if it was meant, and, probably, it was not meant, to discourage our endeavouring to establish that friendly association of influence and policy with all parties not entangled in the unhappy conflict, which undoubtedly on all occasions of this sort not in hostility to either belligerent, but in the interest of the general peace, it is a duty to promote. But the right hon. Gentleman, as he has just reminded me, and I have not forgotten, founded his reference to Russia upon a special argument applicable to that case. He said that certain provinces of Prussia had been guaranteed by the Treaty of Vienna; that the French guarantee was ipso facto dissolved by the existing war; that the Austrian guarantee had disappeared with the war of 1856, and that England and Russia alone of the great Powers of Europe were those in whose case the guarantee still remains applicable and binding. I am sorry to say I could not accompany the right hon. Gentleman in that portion of his speech. He appeared to proceed upon a general view and doctrine of guarantee more stringent than I, for one, am able to admit, and more stringent than I know to have been admitted by the most eminent British statesmen of this century. I do not think it necessary now to inquire what is the precise position of the guarantees embodied in the Treaty of Vienna. In respect to Prussia it is not necessary now to inquire how far these guarantees could remain applicable after the German Confederation has been dissolved, after Prussia has undergone a complete metamorphosis and attained an extension of territory which itself involves the greatest changes. But, above all, I am obliged to enter my protest against the doctrine which the right hon. Gentleman propounded in this portion of his speech, for he looked upon the guarantee as a powerful weapon which had been placed in our hands, and he said that by means of this guarantee we ought to have had an influence almost paramount for the purpose of preventing war, and to have assumed a position of authority with regard to Prussia. Does not the right hon. Gentleman see what would have been the consequences of advancing such an argument? The consequence of going to Prussia and saying—"You must not go to war because we have guaranteed certain of your provinces" would obviously have been this—that if Prussia had gone to war we must have been joined in that war as belligerents. Sir, we were not prepared, and are not prepared to recognize that obligation. We deny that it is founded on the law of Europe, and I can conceive nothing more impolitic than to refer to this Prussian guarantee—with respect to which, I make no admission whatever—when the quotation of it would directly have involved a responsibility that we were not prepared to acknowledge and discharge. On that account we could not admit the necessity or propriety of seeking for any special relation to be established with the Empire of Russia on this occasion. Well, Sir, notwithstanding this unhappy phrase of "armed neutrality," I am sure that what the right hon. Gentleman means is that we should discharge the duty of neutrals, which has no foregone purpose whatever, and that we should establish such a state of things that we shall be competent to fulfil whatever duties may attach to us. Looking at the matter in that point of view, we have considered the duties of neutrals, and we have done our best thus far to fulfil them. Those, indeed, are not easy duties. They are duties which the most sanguine of statesmen or the most sanguine of Governments can hardly hope to fulfil in such a manner as not to give offence to one side or the other, and probably to both. We had that misfortune in the case of the great conflict which devastated the Continent of North America. It may be that we shall have to encounter it again, but whatever care, diligence, patience, and temper can do for the purpose of averting even the slightest misunderstanding, by means of an anxious discharge, according to the best of our light and knowledge, of every duty incumbent upon us, I am quite sure the country may anticipate with confidence from my noble Friend who holds the seals of the Foreign Office. As these are all subjects of importance, it may be interesting if I mention briefly what are the particular steps that have already been taken in the fulfilment of neutral duties. One of the most important of those steps is already known to the House—namely, the introduction by my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General of a Bill for the purpose of extending the provisions of our law with a view to a more exact, perfect, and punctual discharge of every duty of neutrality. We have been appealed to with respect to various matters. We have been asked about the assistance given or expected to be given by pilots who are British subjects to the fleets of the belligerents, and the Trinity House has been informed that, in order to conform to our obligations, as a neutral Power under the law of nations, the services of pilots should be confined to British waters in the strictest sense—that is to say, to the navigation of the British ports and a distance not beyond three miles from the shore, and that they should only navigate any vessel in and out of British ports and roadsteads which was not at the time engaged in warlike operations. The case of Heligoland presented peculiar features from its position in reference to the Elbe. The Governor of Heligoland accordingly has been directed to warn the pilots of that settlement of the obligations of neutrality imposed by the Queen's Proclamation and by the Act of Parliament called the Foreign Enlistment Act. With respect to the supply of coal and to coaling ships we have done everything we can to place the subordinate departments of the Executive Government on their guard, and to render them vigilant in the discharge of their duties. The officers of Customs have been desired to pay the closest attention to the employment of colliers, especially when the intention is entertained, or appears to be entertained, that they are to act in immediate connection with a fleet—a course of conduct which I have already had occasion to say would, we believe, bring them within the penal provisions of the law in the character of store-ships. With respect to the building of ships, their attention has been directed again to the observation of what may be going on in the different ports, so that we may never be taken by surprise with regard to an escape, surreptitiously effected, as unfortunately happened at an early period of the American contest, and that shipbuilders may not render themselves liable to the penalties that may be imposed. With respect, again, to the export of horses, I need not do more than refer to a rumour which has gone abroad of some alleged favour having been shown, in the export of horses to one country and the prevention of the export of horses intended for the other. We are endeavouring to find out whether there can have been any possible foundation for such a rumour; and up to the present time we are not aware of any foundation for it whatever. Again, it has been proposed to an English company at the present moment to lay down a cable between Dunkirk and a northern point connected, I believe, with the territory of Denmark. After consulting with the Law Officers of the Crown we have informed the parties that it would be, in our opinion, a breach of neutrality if they were, under the circumstances, to execute that operation. In the same spirit of constant and close attention, with entire impartiality of purpose, and with a forgetfulness to inquire, or rather a determination not to inquire, how any given decision may bear on the interest of one side or the other, the duties of the Executive Government will continue to be discharged. Until the outbreak of the war, at the period to which I have referred, we were almost without any other thought than the desire of escaping from its trammels, circumscribing its sphere, and keeping ourselves in readiness to intervene at any possible opportunity with a view of bringing about an accommodation. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the publication this day week of a document termed "Project of a Treaty between France and Prussia." That was a document of a grave and serious character, and we cannot conceal from ourselves that it gave a considerable shock to public confidence. It may be said that we ought to feel indebted to those who brought it to light. We have endeavoured to take into view the whole of the circumstances before us, up to the time of which I now speak, and we have also endeavoured to adopt such measures in relation to them as we think, on the whole, best calculated to establish the perfect confidence and security which are so necessary to the well-being of Europe outside the sphere of this deplorable conflict. Such is my answer to the comments which have been made with reference to the present juncture of affairs. We have further thought it was desirable on our part to make an appeal to Parliament for additional force, and we have done it on this ground. We have peace establishments in this country which are extremely expensive in relation to their magnitude, but which not only are, as we hope, in the highest efficiency, but likewise present in a great degree, and will from year to year, we hope, present in a still greater degree this peculiar feature—that they will admit of an easy and rapid expansion. Moreover—and it is important to mention it, because the occasion is one on which much may be done at a charge comparatively small—that expansion is an expansion which, in its first stage at least, is cheap compared with the ordinary and average rate of our peace establishments. Sir, I do not think it necessary to go back with the right hon. Gentleman to the period that preceded the Crimean War, and for this reason—the Crimean War followed a very long period of peace, covering nearly 40 years. After the Crimean War the country was of opinion that the whole of our military establishments and of our military system required to be reviewed, and that the scale of these establishments must be considerably increased. There is no analogy whatever between the condition either of our military establishments or of the naval establishments of this country, but especially the former, between the present period and the period preceding the Crimean War. If we are to compare them with any other time, we ought to compare them with the years not which preceded, but which followed the Crimean War, since we adopted what may be termed the new footing and new scale of those establishments. Now, considering the state of things under which the Estimates were submitted to Parliament, I hope it will not be thought to savour in the slightest degree of uncertainty or alarm, not in the slightest degree to appear to correspond with what I believe to be the historic and established meaning of an armed neutrality, if we ask the House, as we propose to ask it to-morrow, for a Vote of Credit or for an addition to the number of men for the Army, of which the House has been already informed. But I do not hesitate to say that these Votes, while in the view of the Government they are not beyond the necessity of the case, are adequate to meet and suited to the necessity. And now, Sir, I come to the charge which has been made by the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman puts many questions in respect to the state of our establishments, and he likewise arraigns the policy of the Government. He thinks he has now reached an occasion on which he has the right, and that the duty devolves upon him to charge us with having pursued a policy of reduction that has weakened the defensive means of this country, and he thinks that we are now compelled to retrace our steps. I meet the right hon. Gentleman with as emphatic a contradiction as the forms of Parliament will permit, to the assertion on which he founds the charge. We refer with satisfaction to the reductions that have been made; we are glad that we have been able to lessen the burdens of the people; and we are especially glad to have been able to afford that relief, because we contend, and we think we can prove, that in the midst of all that relief and all that reduction there has been no diminution whatever, but, on the contrary, there has been a husbanding and an increase of our real domestic available forces. What is the use of a system of naval defence which dots your vessels of war over the whole globe, multiplying occasions of difference, of quarrel, of danger, and of conflict, into which Parliament finds itself hurried by the act of some subordinate agent abroad, but which would never have been accepted on the recommendation of a Cabinet? What is the use for the purpose of defending these shores, and of enabling you to assert the dignity of the United Kingdom, at a great European crisis, of that sporadic system which enables you, if you think fit, to vaunt your strength in those parts of the world where the flags of the Queen's ships may be flying, but which, instead of adding anything, actually deducts from the real strength and energy of the country? We challenge comparison on the part either of one service or of the other with the condition in which we found these establishments when we took Office. We make no charge against those who came before us; we merely thought they did not make the improved arrangements which appeared to us to be desirable. But the right hon. Gentleman makes a charge against us, and it is our duty to meet his challenge by a statement that there is no diminution, but rather an increase, of the available force of the country. By that I mean not a force dispersed all over the world in minute fractions and handfuls, but a force available for the purpose of asserting the dignity and power of discharging the duties of this country, if, unhappily, the occasion should arise. Take the very simplest proof, consisting of two items—for I am not the person who can best convey to this House a number of details on this subject, and, for my own part, I think it a very great question whether the House will or will not be disposed to follow the advice of the right hon. Gentleman, and to call for a mass of information on the subject. But these items are matters about which there can be no difficulty. I take the actual force at home, and I take the Reserve Force at home—by which I mean the Reserve of the regular Army. The actual force at home, according to the establishment of 1868, was 87,500; according to the establishment of 1870 it was 89,000. That may be a small difference, but still it is not a difference on what the right hon. Gentleman calls the wrong side. But the principle on which we have been endeavouring to act is this — that with an actual establishment comparatively moderate we should endeavour to institute Reserves by which our actual establishment might be greatly raised in case of need. And how do we stand as compared with 1868 in respect of Reserves? In the year 1868 the First and Second Reserves numbered 19,000 men, while in 1870 the number had reached 41,000. I want to know how in the face of figures such as these the right hon. Gentleman can sustain the charge he has made against Her Majesty's Government of having reduced the force available for the defence of these shores, or for any great European purposes? The right hon. Gentleman says he would like to hear of a large Channel Fleet; and, Sir, we have such a fleet, the particulars of which, as to its constitution and the strength immediately available, the right hon. Gentleman shall have if he chooses to ask for them; for it is not the business of the Executive to withhold information which Parliament desires, though I think it is the duty of Parliament at a period like this to consider for what information it should ask. But it may be relied on that the fleet available is in a state of efficiency. The right hon. Gentleman asks about the forts, on which he says £13,000,000 have been spent, but which he hears are unarmed. The right hon. Gentleman is certainly wrong as to his figures, for I believe not more than half the sum he has mentioned has been expended, but even that is a considerable sum. He is right as to the armaments: those are certainly not in the forts. But would the right hon. Gentleman advise us to put armaments in before the forts are finished. All that the Government can state is that the armaments are perfectly ready to go in as soon as the forts are ready to receive them. The right hon. Gentleman wants to know whether our battalions are numerous, by which, of course, he means whether each of our battalions has a pretty large complement of men; to which I must reply that, with the exception of a certain number of battalions, they are upon a very low establishment, for which reason we mean to-morrow to ask the authority of Parliament to raise them to a footing more adapted to present circumstances and to their economical use in service, if, unhappily, it be necessary. Then, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman asks what is the supply of arms of precision. I believe I may say that it is adequate for every necessary and immediate purpose. [Cries of "No!"] Then, if hon. Gentlemen know better than we do, by all means let them give to the House the benefit of their superior information. But, though sufficient for every immediate purpose, it is not sufficient for every necessity that may arise, and therefore Her Majesty's Government intend to ask for a Vote of Credit in order, among other purposes, that an additional supply of arms of precision may be obtained. With regard to the question of stores, the same observation may be made. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider the answer that was given earlier in the evening by my right hon. Friend near me (Mr. Cardwell) was sufficient; but this, at any rate, we are prepared to abide by, and I think I have shown it conclusively, that we have not only maintained but we have greatly improved the military condition of the country, which the right hon. Gentleman charges us with having weakened and reduced. I believe, Sir, that comparison is the only mode by which a discussion of this kind can be properly conducted; but I do not think it was worthy of the right hon. Gentleman to refer to the skilled artizans. What was the case when the right hon. Gentleman who has twitted Her Majesty's Government was in Office? I am sorry that by introducing this unfortunate interpellation into his speech the right hon. Gentleman has compelled me to draw into a national debate recollections and considerations of party, but I am on my defence. Does he not recollect the boasts of reduction which in the last months and weeks of his term of Office, and particularly on the eve of the General Election, his Government laid before the people? Did they discharge no skilled artizans in 1868? [An hon. MEMBER: No.] Well, if that be so, my Colleagues have misinformed me most abominably; but this we are prepared to maintain, that, in 1868, 5,000 skilled artizans were discharged by the Government of the right hon. Gentleman, while my right hon. Friend (Mr. Childers) is responsible for the removal of 3,000 only. In this particular the statement of the right hon. Gentleman has recoiled upon himself. It is really melancholy to have to refer to these facts in a debate like the present; but, Sir, come what may, I believe that the House will feel that it has no option except to rely in the main, with respect to the forces of the country, upon the responsibility of the Government. I do not grudge at all that we should have been challenged to the extent we have, for it will not be to our detriment, however far the examination may proceed in regard to details. It is entirely a matter of public policy for this House to decide how far, in the interest of the nation, the investigation should proceed; but this I will say, that we should, indeed, be totally unworthy to hold the places we occupy through the confidence of the Sovereign and of Parliament if, for the sake of any purpose of popularity, we, at any time or in any circumstances, knowingly weakened the power and so endangered the fame, the character, and the glory of this country. By comparison with our predecessors, I think we can stand the test; but I admit that there is a higher standard than such a comparison. The deepest responsibility is imposed on those who at a period like this are charged with the conduct of affairs. Her Majesty's Government have carefully examined and maturely weighed what the country requires, and we now submit to Parliament the result of our deliberations, in the belief that what we ask is calculated to fit us for the discharge of our duty, to enable us to maintain such a dignified and friendly position as will carry with it no suspicion, and will not, under the idea of securing safety, introduce new elements of danger and disturbance; to give us the best hope we can possess of accomplishing that which is the object nearest our hearts—namely, to maintain intact the character and fame of England while this unhappy war shall continue, and possibly at some blessed moment to be either alone or along with others, the chosen bearers of a message of peace.
Sir, on another occasion I should not have intervened between the House and the hon. Member for Waterford [who had risen at the same time] — whom we all are so anxious and glad to hear — were it not for the pointed manner in which the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has challenged the statements of my right hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), and has asked that those on this side of the House, who may be presumed to have any special information, should give it at once to the House and to the country. Sir, I do not pretend to possess the accurate information which those in Office can give, if they would only give it faithfully; but I have some opportunities for acquiring information which I believe to be truthful and accurate, and I believe the House ought to possess it for the purposes of the present debate. I shall, as far as I can, confine my remarks to facts with regard to the reductions in the Navy made by the present Government in matters of vital consequence, not based upon rumour, but on documents now in the hands of Members of this House; and I shall not occupy the time of the House in discussing foreign affairs or the diplomatic situation, but only whether we are in a position to maintain our naval supremacy, which is necessary to make our neutrality respected, as well as for the protection of our commerce and our honour. The first question that I shall touch upon is the question of our men. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) has stated that there has been no reduction in the naval forces of the country since he took Office. In reply to that, I can only say that in each successive year, in moving the Estimates, the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty has taken credit for these reductions. In the Estimates for the year 1869–70, the First Lord of the Admiralty took credit for a reduction of 3,820 men. Of these, about 931 were men who might, probably, have been reduced as non-effectives by any Administration; but there was an actual reduction of blue-jackets and Marines of 2,889 men. If hon. Gentlemen will refer to the Estimates for that year, they will find the total reduction, as I have stated, 3,820 men, of which 1,739 were seamen, 450 Coastguard-men, and 700 Marines, making 2,889 seamen and Marines subtracted from the efficient force of the Navy. In the Estimates for 1870–1, the First Lord of the Admiralty again took credit for a further reduction. That reduction, as shown by the Estimates—though a change in the arrangement of the Estimate makes it a little difficult to detect—was 2,193 seamen. Now, we had a force of blue-jackets of about 34,000 men, whom the present Government had diminished by 4,382 men, or a force of seamen and Marines included of 48,000 men, which had been diminished by 5,082 men. This reduction is apparent on the Estimates, and will hardly be denied by the right hon. Gentleman, who, not many weeks ago, was courting the cheers of his supporters for this very reduction. In addition to this, I may say that I am assured that the seamen and Marines are now considerably below the numbers for which money was voted in this year's Estimates. I am told that the Marines are not nearly 14,000 strong, and that the seamen are also considerably below their numbers. The aggregate amount that the two bodies of seamen and Marines are below the Vote is about 1,500 men, and if this be correct, then the total reduction amounts to 6,500 men; but as I wish to state nothing to the House but what they can verify, I shall confine myself to that which will not be denied—namely, that the present Government have reduced our naval effective force in seamen and Marines by 5,082 men. The First Minister has further stated that the policy of his Administration has been to keep the ships at home, and not to dot our vessels of war over the whole globe. Why, Sir, at this present moment of supreme anxiety, the squadron which is called the "Flying Squadron," after flaunting its flag most uselessly in the most distant parts of the world, is now somewhere out of reach in the Pacific, depriving us of the services of 2,800 men. These men cannot be home or available before November, and reduce our force of seamen and Marines in all by about 8,000 men. I think, Sir, I have shown that the policy of Her Majesty's Government has been a policy of reduction, and that they have absolutely reduced our naval force by more than 5,000 men. Now, Sir, having shown, as I think, the reduction in men, I desire to call attention to the ships we possess both in commission and in ordinary, and I do not think that I shall do anything imprudent if I compare the force of England in this respect with the force of the only belligerent who can be considered a great naval Power. The right hon. Gentleman has stated that we have a powerful Channel Fleet. I hold in my hand a statement, which I believe to be authentic, which shows that the French have 62 iron-dads now in commission. Of these, I am aware that 11 are the bateaux demontables now conveyed for service on the Rhine. Deducting these 11 vessels, however, it leaves France a force of 51 iron-clads now in commission—ships of the line, frigates, corvettes, floating batteries and rams, all of them available for service in the Channel. Of the English iron-clad fleet I speak with some confidence. We have 53 ships in all, and they are distributed as follows:—In China we have the Ocean, in the Pacific the Zealous; these two are certainly not available for European war. In North America, the Royal Alfred; no doubt that ship might be brought home on an emergency, but if recalled, it would leave that station in a state of discreditable weakness. In the Mediterranean we have six iron-clads, or, counting the Enterprise, which is only partially armoured, seven. They are the Lord Warden, Caledonia, Prince Consort, Royal Oak, Bellerophon, and Defence. In the Channel Fleet, of which the Prime Minister has spoken, we have seven ships. They are the Minotaur, Northumberland, Agincourt, Warrior, Hercules, Monarch, and Captain; and recently collected together and not completely manned, the eight iron-clad Coastguard ships, for which the country is indebted to the late Government. They are the Black Prince, Achilles, Hector, Valiant, Repulse, Resistance, Penelope, and Pallas. There is also the Wivern, making nine in all; but the First Lord of the Admiralty will hardly desire to include her among the effective ships of the Navy. I now come to the first division of the Reserve, in which there are nine ships. Four of these, I see it is stated in to-day's papers, are to be commissioned—namely, the Lord Clyde, Invincible, Audacious, and Vanguard, leaving five ships in the first division, only three of which could render good service. The ships are the Royal Sovereign, Favourite, Prince Albert, Research, and Water witch; but the two last named are hardly to be reckoned available. In the third division not nearly ready for commissioning are four ships, the Sultan, Iron Luke, Hotspur, and Swiftsure. In the fourth division are the Thunder, Thunderbolt, and Erebus; none of them fit for active operations. There is also the Cerberus for the defence of Melbourne, the Abyssinia and Magdala for the defence of Bombay, and the Viper, Vixen, and Scorpion laid up at Bermuda. There are also five ships building, two of which were laid down by the late Government. They are the Glatton, Thunderer, Devastation, Triumph, and Rupert. There is also a ship in the official Navy List stated to be building at Pembroke, called the Fury, for which money has been voted by this House; but I find, from a friend of mine who lately visited that dockyard, that after the most diligent examination he could not even discover her keel. I do not believe it to be laid, and perhaps this may be called a wise economy; but if the right hon. Gentleman desires to include her, I readily concede it—she is as likely to be useful as our forts, and to be ready quite as soon as the guns for arming them. We have, therefore, 53, or, including the Fury, 54 iron-clads of all kinds to compare with the French 51. But the French 51 are all in commission; whereas we, including the four ships bringing forward for commission, have only 29 ships. If we exclude from this the three ships on distant stations and the Enterprise and Wivern, we have only 24 ships on which we can rely when the Mediterranean, the Channel Fleet, and the Coastguard are all assembled in the North Sea—and we have only five ships which we can add to this force from the first division of Reserve, even if we can find the men to man them. I venture to say that the country will not be satisfied with 29 ships if the French have 51 commissioned and in the Channel—and it is none too soon to complete our ships upon the slips and to commission all our available iron-clads. I have seen in the leading journal to-day a hint that our fleet should assemble for evolutions and exercise in the North Sea. But can it do so? and, if it does so, what will happen? Sir, the only steam factory for refitting a North Sea Fleet was at Woolwich Dockyard; and there is now, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire has shown, no means for refitting a North Sea Fleet, nor, indeed, of keeping it efficient to the eastward of Portsmouth. Now, I do not give this information to the House on my own authority. I received it from Mr. Andrew Murray, a name well known to this House, as the able and competent Chief Consulting Engineer of the Navy, so recently dismissed by the First Lord of the Admiralty. Mr. Murray tells me that when he left office a few weeks ago, there was no means of refitting a fleet in the Thames or Medway now that Woolwich is dismantled. He states that at Sheerness there is, indeed, a small factory, complete and well-appointed, but only accommodation to repair one ship, and to make small repairs on three others; and that at Chatham, the factory not having been built, there is only accommodation for the ordinary building and repairing of the yard. I am well aware that a Committee of this House recommended the closing of Woolwich Dockyard; but only when the works at Chatham were sufficiently advanced to enable Chatham to fulfil all that Woolwich was able to perform. Is it possible to conceive that any Government, knowing that it might be necessary to protect our neutrality, can be so blind as not to see the necessity for our eastern dockyards? Is this the condition in which our dockyards should be when it is necessary to maintain a North Sea Fleet? I ask the House, ought the Government to have closed the dockyards in the Thames, to the great injury and distress of the people in those localities, and have left the country without the means of refitting its North Sea Fleet, without compelling its disabled ships to run the gauntlet of the coast of France so as to reach Portsmouth or Plymouth for repairs, perhaps in the teeth of a southwest gale? Now, with regard to the supply of stores. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had referred my right hon. Friend to the replies of the Secretary of the Admiralty on this subject. These replies may appear excellent in the eyes of Government; but they are neither full nor distinct, nor are they satisfactory to me either as to the condition or amount of the stores under the hon. Gentleman's charge. I am not going, however, to attempt to discuss this matter. Let us examine the state of the supply of coals in the foreign depôts, as shown by a Return laid on this Table by the Admiralty in May last. This Return shows that in 1867, the first year in which we were in Office, the total amount of coals in our foreign depôts was, as it had been under the preceding naval administration of the Duke of Somerset, maintained at about 53,260 tons of coal in the foreign depôts of this country. In the year 1868, in consequence of the Abyssinian War, the store had increased to 59,193 tons; but since 1868—since the advent of the present Government to power—the quantity has gone down gradually, until I am positively ashamed to state the figures shown in this Return. In the first year that the right hon. Gentleman came into Office, the amount of coal was reduced from 59,199 tons to 38,627 tons; and at the date of the Return in this year it had been still further reduced to 27,000 tons. The right hon. Gentleman may say that the quantities in store have been thus reduced because of the reduction of the Navy, and the diminution of the number of ships on distant stations. But the right hon. Gentleman takes credit for increasing the force near home in the Mediterranean and Channel. Navally speaking, the great fortifications of Malta and Gibraltar are maintained as coaling stations for our fleets. How has the coal supply been maintained at Gibraltar and at Malta? At Gibraltar, under the late Government, there were 3,625 tons of coal—there are now only 409 tons, which is barely sufficient for one of our iron-clads. At Malta, when the Government of which I was a Member was in Office, there were 19,319 tons of coal—now there are only 370 tons, and yet in the Mediterranean we had a fleet of six ships, any one of which could take the whole of it. At Halifax, in 1867, there were 4,040 tons of coal in store—there are now only 1,487. At Bermuda the store had been reduced from 3,997 tons to 835 tons, a quantity barely sufficient to replenish the flag-ship. At Jamaica, in 1867, there were 3,167 tons,—there are now only 1,768. It is stated in the margin that several thousand tons had been shipped for these places, but had been detained by contrary winds; but that is no excuse for allowing the stores to run down continuously and persistently ever since the right hon. Gentleman took Office. You have allowed the coal depôts to run down to make a low estimate, and have been living on the stores provided by your predecessors. At the present moment there is not half the amount in our foreign depôts which was deemed necessary when the Duke of Somerset and my right hon. Friends were in Office. The diminution of stores of other kinds is also too notorious and too mournful. The right hon. Gentleman had said that he has made these reductions with a view to the easy and rapid expansion of the Navy. But unless ships are built, how can the Navy be easily and rapidly expanded? and the Government has delayed the building of ships for which money had been voted, and have themselves asked for so little money for building, that the result is that we have not ships sufficient to maintain our maritime supremacy. The right hon. Gentleman has taunted the previous Government as to the discharge of skilled artizans; but the facts are that when the right hon. Member for Droitwich came into Office he found that it was absolutely necessary to build not only iron-clads but wooden ships, all but one of which were now in commission. To effect that sudden and necessary expansion of our force, it was found necessary to engage extra artificers beyond the ordinary numbers employed in the dockyards; and in 1866 there was great depression in the shipbuilding trade, several private dockyards were closed, and skilled labour could easily be obtained, and its employment considerably mitigated the public distress. These men having been so engaged, were subsequently discharged from the service. But is this to be compared with the action of the present Government, which at Woolwich and Deptford has caused distress of such a heartrending character, and in consequence of which so many useful skilled labourers have been banished from our shores? If the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government would go with his Colleagues, and fulfil the ordinary course of a Ministry by holding their annual fish dinner at Greenwich, they would have an opportunity of unmistakably ascertaining the feeling of the people of Woolwich, Greenwich, and Deptford as to which was the Government which brought ruin and desolation upon them. With regard to the armament of the new forts for the defence of our dock-yards, that matter is also of the greatest possible importance; and I venture to say that hardly a gun is finished for those forts, and that there is hardly any ammunition for the guns. Further, I say, as to the small arms, which the right hon. Gentleman says are in such great abundance, that I do not believe there are 20,000 stand of breech-loaders in store ready to arm our Regulars, Militia, and Volunteers. The armies of Europe are all armed with breechloaders, and it has been shown what can be done with the Chassepot and the needle gun; but at this moment our Militia and Volunteers are armed with a weapon which can only be fired 80 or 90 times to 180 times of the Chassepot, needle gun, or the Martini-Henry, or the Westley-Richards. I contend that it is unfair to leave us in this position of partial disarmament, and that it is utterly unfair to our men, on sea or on land, to place them in competition with an enemy armed with a weapon so superior. I heard the Secretary for War say the other night that a quantity equal to all the ammunition which is fired at Sebastopol could be made within a few weeks; but I must say that, looking at the kind of ammunition that is now required, that statement was entirely fallacious. When the shot was cast, and simply ordinary powder was used in the ordinary way, there would have been no difficulty; but bearing in mind the kind of ammunition that is now required for the Army and Navy, not only weeks but months must elapse before this country could be put in a proper condition of defence. In conclusion, I venture to say that the Navy is not in the condition that the country desires it to be, and I found this statement upon the information which I have received, and upon my knowledge as a naval officer.
Sir, I should feel especially sorry if, in the face of a great European crisis, the debate is really to degenerate into one upon the Navy Estimates, or that a great question which affects the nation and Europe at large should sink into a mere party squabble. For my own part I feel obliged to the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli), however I may differ from some of the inferences he has drawn, for submitting this great question to the consideration of the House and the country. We have heard something about official reserve to-night, and I must say I think the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government—making all allowances for the difficulties of his position—has exhausted the whole fund of official reserve in the speech he made this evening, because I think the House was not much wiser after he sat down than when he rose. Sir, I can understand reserve at a time when the country is mediating with the hope of maintaining peace; it is then just and proper. But I think the time has now arrived when, all our mediation having failed, it would materially strengthen the position of this country to speak out, and reticence may be looked upon as anything but prudence, and reserve be mistaken for weakness, if not for pusillanimity. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) started by reviewing three Treaties that had been made. I cannot say I participate in his views as to the agreement entered into at the Congress of Vienna, because—as has been well observed—after the extensive alterations which have been made in the map of Europe, no man could be called on for a guarantee of these Saxon Provinces to Prussia. But it is a very different thing when we come to the Treaty of London in 1831, and I could have wished that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had not exercised an excessive reserve on that subject. I am sure that reserve will be misunderstood on the Continent. What was the effect of that Treaty of 1831? Five great Powers of Europe were its signataries, and it had for its object not only the neutrality and independence of Belgium, but the inviolability of that kingdom. Well, we know what has happened within the last week. Two of those Powers have unfortunately—I wish to use the most official language — been caught in the act of trifling with the guarantees they solemnly gave in 1831. It is not my purpose to inquire—although I have a suspicion on the point—who originated the projected Treaty, the publication of which has startled the world. That is, I think, immaterial on the present occasion; but this I wish merely to say, that I view the guilt of its concoction as only equalled by the shabbiness of its concealment. The publication of this document, such as it was, did not come from Her Majesty's Government, and here I am inclined to ask what is the good of diplomacy when we get up in the morning and learn the most material event that ever happened in the history of diplomacy from the columns of The Times? Was there ever such an exposure of the depths of political perfidy?—an exposure which might well bring to our minds the admonition of the inspired writer — "Put not your trust in Princes." I think we have heard too little of the view of the Government upon the projected Treaty, and the way in which they mean to deal with it; and when the right hon. Gentleman the First Minister finds fault and splits straws in regard to whether our neutrality shall be armed or not, I must say I trust, with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire, that the House and the country will support the Ministry in observing an armed neutrality. It is very pretty to say that we are friends I of both the belligerents; but I do not believe the people of this country are so soft as to rely on either Power. And what if, after fighting a great battle, they should both make it up and recur to the programme of the Projet de traité? In what position should we then be? There are times when it is necessary to use the strongest language, and I do not think that an armed neutrality is at all inapplicable to the occasion. I do not stop to ask which was the Faust and which the Mephistophiles of the diplomatic drama. It is sufficient for me to know that Belgium was to be the victim. Earl Granville—and I wish to speak of him with respect—in the brief time he has been at the Foreign Office has shown discretion and dignity, but he has failed in his mediation. The right hon. Gentleman opposite asks why we should enter into an intimate alliance with Russia. I know not; but not for the object of guaranteeing Saxony. But what I say is—why should we not call upon the two other signataries of the Treaty of London concluded in November, 1831? Why should we not ask Austria and Russia whether they are prepared to abide by the guarantees they so solemnly gave on that occasion, and why should we not boldly come before the world and say that we are prepared, if supported by these two Powers, to look upon any infraction of that Treaty as regards Belgium as a casus belli. I am sure that would have a much better effect than will be produced by avoiding this subject of Belgium. I can easily understand, Sir, that it is for the interest of the Cabinet to take away that "bauble" now lying before you and get rid of Parliament as fast as they can; but this House, as well as the Government, has some responsibility weighing on it; and I hope before this debate concludes some Member of the Government will give us some assurance as to what ultimate course they will take in the event of the Treaty of London being violated. I must say I was never more struck than, in reading this Projet de traité, with the position of entire nullity which we seem to occupy in the estimation of these two Powers. Our existence is altogether ignored by them, except that it may be necessary for them to oppose us. I think there is, so far, a reason why we should come forth boldly to the world and say what our position is with regard to this Treaty of London. Something has been said about the state of our Army. I have been in my time an economist, but never a cheese-parer. I have been for a judicious economy, not for an ill-timed parsimony; and I must say, without wishing to make this at all a party question, that I think both parties have been wrong in their great eagerness to return Members to this House to support them by holding out to the constituencies the bait of excessive economy. What has been the consequence? While other nations have been arming—and, of course, that has been known to this country—we have been disarming; and, at the very time when the Armies of France and Prussia count their men by the 100,000, we have had Ministers coming down to this House and proposing reductions in our Army and Navy. What has been the cause of this? We have had a party—a small party, I believe—in this country who have ridden their hobbies of non-intervention and the reduction of military establishments to death. The effect of this is only to plunge us into greater expenditure, because when you keep up your regular establishments as they should be, you know what you have to pay and the charge is under control; whereas after the cold fit of parsimony you are apt to have the hot fit of extravagance; and the £2,000,000 you are now about to lay out are not likely to be spent to the best advantage. I am not quite satisfied with the answer given by the Secretary of State for War this evening as to the state of our national defences. I say nothing about the Navy, because I have reason to believe that the Navy was never in a more efficient state. I have reason to think so. There may be some little complaints about the treatment of the Chief Constructor, and about five of his ships which are now building being left to his subordinates, he never having been consulted about them; but that is immaterial. [Laughter.] Yes, it is immaterial when we are talking of a great question like this. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War—and with all his ability and lucidity I very much regret he ever was made Secretary for War, because I believe it would be much better to have in this position a man accustomed to the military service of the country who would not be obliged to get his information second-hand from clerks—the right hon. Gentleman taking a most rosy view of things when speaking at the Mansion House, perhaps under the exhilarating influence of the loving cup, told the citizens of London, who were thirsting for information, that this country was never better prepared in a time of peace. ["No!"] Yes; when, instead of returning thanks for the toast that had been given—"The Army, Navy, and Volunteers"—the right hon. Gentleman said he would speak for the Army, Navy, and Reserve, and he then said there had seldom been a time when there were so many men of those forces in this country as there are at present. I make no comparison between this Government and any former one; but if you have got so many men in this country, how have you done it? By altogether denuding your Colonies. But by so doing your Reserve has been taken away. What is the state of the infantry regiments? Do not tell me of efficiency when you muster 450 men and call them a regiment of infantry. My right hon. Friend at the head of the Government spoke of our having 89,000 men in round numbers. Not having turned his attention to military affairs as he has to most other matters, he spoke in that way. But I ask how many bayonets could you send to Antwerp in case of need? Could you send 80,000? No. You could not send more than 40,000 at the utmost. Then as to our cavalry. Something, though not much, has been said about our cavalry. It is a mere handful. What you now call a cavalry regiment is a troop. Have you any Cavalry Reserve? No such thing. Then, how are you to remount your men? By your economical proceedings you are perilling the remounting of the cavalry—allowing horses to be exported in very great numbers, and thereby not only lessening the actual number of horses in the country, but trebling their price, even if you can get them. What are other countries doing—other countries which, though they do not boast about it, are as neutral as you? Austria has stopped the exportation of horses, so has Denmark, and so has Russia. But you, forsooth, must take the advice of your Law Officers to know whether horses are contraband of war, instead of acting on the dictates of common sense! Then, what is to be said of our artillery, on which the right hon. Gentleman plumes himself so much? Has he seen the remarkable document which appeared in The Times last week, and which showed the results of the working of the Board of Control which he instituted? Does he know that out of the 34 batteries of artillery we could only make up 14 if they were put on a war footing? Does he know that the artillery is short of horses, of drivers, of artificers, of gunners, of everything? We have heard something of our Reserves. I was astonished when I heard the right hon. Gentleman pluming himself on the Reserves. He told us that he had got 21,000 in the First Reserve. Yes; 21,000 Militia, who are not to be called on to serve in the field except in case of invasion. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War is a bold man. He puts the Volunteers down as a Reserve. They cannot be turned out and paraded unless the country were invaded. I dare say if he could speak out—and I should be glad to hear him speak out, for I do not know why he should not do so—he would say that the addition of 20,000 he proposes is to be made in order that we may be prepared for eventualities at Antwerp. I should like to see 200,000 Militia called out. Why should not the 47 regiments of Irish Militia be brought over here and English regiments of Militia be sent to Ireland? I know that in the disposition of this House these things may appear disagreeable and awkward. They may be disagreeable to the peaceful Members of this House. I love peace as much as any man. I agree with the sentiment of the late Lord Aberdeen that war, when it ceases to be a necessity, becomes a crime. But hon. Members must remember that war is actually being waged on the Continent of Europe, and that the two Powers who are waging it have been plotting together. What if they make it up? Are you prepared to see France bounded by the Scheldt? Are you prepared to see this country fall lower in the estimamation of Europe than she now is? I am not prepared for it. I am for security first, and armed neutrality—I shall not quarrel with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire for the word—armed neutrality, if you like, after. I am for neutrality, so long as it can be preserved with honour; but of this I am convinced, that neither honour nor neutrality can be maintained by stifling the free expression of Parliamentary opinion.
Sir, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Waterford (Mr. Osborne) candidly admitted that in former times he had been an economist—that he had acquiesced in judicious economy; but he now calls economy impolitic parsimony. That is the way with a great many people. When the seas are smooth, when there is no danger, it is easy to be an economist; but when there comes a time of excitement, and when war is being waged in other countries then it is easy to sneer at what my hon. and gallant Friend now calls cheeseparing economy. But, with great respect to my hon. and gallant Friend, that is not the duty of a British Minister; and a British Parliament, who sit here chiefly for the purpose of administering the finances of the country, must be guided by considerations with which he does not appear to be impressed. He regrets that there should be a civilian at the head of the War Department. I should be very happy to see a soldier at its head if the House wished to have one there; but of this I am certain that neither civilian nor soldier could come down to this House in a time of profound peace and ask for the supplies to keep up such an army as either the Army of France or that of Prussia. I say, therefore, that it is not dignified to treat a question of this kind in the way it has been dealt with by my hon. and gallant Friend. I repeat now what I said on a former occasion—that from the time of the disarmament which followed the Battle of Waterloo down to the time of the Crimean War there never has been any force in this country equal to the force provided for in the Estimates of the present year. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) said that the period before the Crimean War is not to be taken into account, and marked a point of departure from the close of that war. Let me take two years since the Crimean War, and compare them with the present. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), in a very temperate manner, asked for some explanation which I think a reference to those two years may enable me to make more clear. I shall first take 1862, when there were very extensive armaments in this country. The right hon. Gentleman, in a speech which will long be remembered, spoke of them as extraordinary and extravagant, and the term "bloated armaments" was applied to them. What was our position in 1862? We were then almost at war. We had sent the Guards to Canada on account of the Trent affair. Well, the number of Regulars in that year was 92,276. This year provision has been made for 89,051, or little more than 3,000 below the number in the year 1862, when we had the "bloated armaments." But in the year 1862, there were to be deducted for the men in depôts 17,904, while this year the number to be so deducted is only 10,503. From these figures it will appear that in 1862 the number at home, exclusive of depôts, was 74,372, while this year it is 78,548. If the armaments of 1862 were extraordinary and extravagant, I ask whether the armaments we proposed this year were so ridiculously small for a time of profound peace. What Reserves had we in 1862? With all deference to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Waterford, that is a question of great importance. And here let me say that I used the word "Reserves" at the civic dinner because, in the toast itself, the word Militia was left out, and I did not wish an opportunity to pass without doing honour to that force. In 1862 the number of the Volunteers was 140,000, and it is now 168,000. The First Army Reserve, including the Militia Reserve, numbers 21,900 men, under engagement to serve the country at home or abroad, and in 1862 there was no First Army Reserve. The Second Army Reserve in 1862 numbered 14,738 men, and it now numbers 19,442. The Militia in 1862 was 109,000 men strong, including the Irish Militia; and at present, excluding the Irish Militia, 64,900, the Militia Reserve being taken from it. Thus, by a clear comparison is shown that at the present time the Army, taking the Reserves altogether, is more efficient than in 1862. As I have been charged with reducing the Establishment, I will make a comparison with the year 1868, without the smallest desire to charge my predecessor in Office (Sir John Pakington) with not making sufficient provision for the necessities of the country. My predecessor has treated me with candour, and I wish to reciprocate the feeling; but when I am told that the provision made in the present year is inadequate, I may be allowed to compare it with the provision made in 1868. In that year the number of Regulars was 87,505, and in the present year it is 89,051, and if the same mode of deducting the depôts were adopted, the number in 1868 was 70,492, and in the present, year 78,548. It is quite true that by recalling troops from the Colonies we have diminished the whole number of the forces. My hon. and gallant Friend said that the forces in the Colonies were our Reserve. When I was at the Colonial Office there were 10,000 men in New Zealand, and also a large number in Canada, and I ask what Reserve was that for this country? So far from being a Reserve—a source of support and strength—they were a source of anxiety. They might have been the means of creating public danger, and at a moment of emergency they would not be at hand to strengthen the defences of the country. In 1868 the Volunteers numbered 155,000, and they now amount to 168,000. The First Reserve and Militia Reserve in 1868 amounted to 3,545 men, and they now amount to 21,900. The Reserve not liable to serve abroad—the Second Reserve and Pensioners—were, in 1868, 13,913 men strong, and they are now 19,442. When you charge us with reducing the defences of the country I ask what would have been our reception in March last if we had come down to the House and talked of the armaments of France and Prussia, and said that although we had concentrated our forces by recalling them from the Colonies, yet that was not sufficient, and that our armaments must be continued undiminished? I am old enough to remember the year 1857, and the position then taken up by the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, who proposed that the income and expenditure of the country should be adjusted with the view of effecting a remission of the income tax. The consequence of that movement was that 14,000 men were immediately disbanded—a measure which I have always regretted, because such sudden disbanding produces great distress and discouragement to recruiting, when recruiting is required. Scarcely were those men disbanded when the country was startled by the news of the Indian Mutiny. Consequently the men who made and supported a proposition of that kind may have some charity on those who did not foresee the great events which are passing on the Continent. Could anyone in his senses suppose that the Ministers could have come down to the House in March last, and said—"Though things are now serene and calm, yet in July you may depend on it there will be a great European crisis?" Had we proposed to keep our armaments up to the strength of those of France and Prussia everybody knows the reception which would have met such a proposal. Now, what have the Government done? We said—"As we are called upon to make a reduction, the wisest thing will be to provide against a future day. We will bear in mind that there may be times of peril. We will give the British taxpayer the benefit of reductions without disbanding a single corps, or depriving the country of the services of a single battalion of infantry, without lessening the number of the regiments of cavalry, or of the batteries of artillery. We will so provide that, when a time of emergency arises, we may come down to Parliament and ask for men to fill up the deficiencies in the general battalions." And it is in consistency with that policy that we now ask the House to vote an increased number of men. Let me compare the state of things in 1868 with the present state of things. In 1868 we had in this country, including the Guards, 19 regiments of cavalry, and we have now 22. Of infantry we had in 1868 53 battalions, and we have now 75. In 1868 we had 97 batteries of artillery, and we now have 105. In 1868 we had 25 companies of engineers, and we now have 30. The policy pursued has been the prudent policy of effecting retrenchment, while retaining, at the same time, a power of expansion in times of emergency. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Mr. Osborne) said that not one of the battalions could bring 450 bayonets into the field. But the Prussian battalion in time of peace is the same as ours, and though the battalions are only 500 or 600 strong they are capable of being expanded at a moment's notice, almost to any number that can be required. No doubt our Army is small, but it cannot be expected to be formed on the same scale as the Armies of France and Prussia. It has always been the policy of this country to have a small Army in time of peace. With regard to the Militia, that force has been recruited up to its full number, with the exception of a few battalions, which, in consequence of their numbering over 1,000 men, we thought unwieldy. I have stated that from the time of the; reduction of our armaments after the Battle of Waterloo down to the time of the Crimean War there never was such a force as that which was provided for in the Estimates of the present year. But I will call the attention of the House to another statement. If we take the Regular Forces and combine with them the forces liable to service at home and abroad, with the single exception of the year 1856, when the forces raised for the Crimea were still unbroken and not reduced, there never was a force in this country available for service at home and abroad such as will be provided when the troops from the Colonies shall have arrived home. The force at home available for a foreign expedition was in 1820, 64,426; in 1830, 50,856; in 1840, 53,379; in 1850, 68,538; in 1860, 100,701; and in 1870 it is 110,951. Well, Sir, I cannot say that I agree with my hon. Friend in his notions of political economy. He says we should have saved a good deal in the purchase of horses if we had prohibited the exportation of horses. But I do not think it would be fair to deprive the English producer of the price he can obtain in the market. It is our business to buy horses in the market, and not to interfere with trade in order that we may buy them cheap. My hon. and gallant Friend is very strong on the subject of artillery. He told me I am a civilian, and I should not venture, without having recourse to opinions of far greater value than my own, to say anything on the subject of artillery. But I will just state that in these Returns the number of artillery stands very well. In 1868 the total number of artillery was 15,119, or, excluding those at depôts, 11,857; and in 1870 the total number is 14,242, or, excluding those at depôts, 12,801. That will bear comparison with the numbers of 1868. But I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that those to whose military authority I am bound to pay higher respect than even to his tell me that we have at this moment artillery for an Army of 60,000 men. It is quite true that the draught horses will have to be purchased. But these are not such as are trained by the Royal Artillery. We have a sufficient number of highly-trained horses, and it would have been improvidence and unjustifiable waste, in time of peace, to keep horses which can be got at any time. We have had some curious criticisms with regard to breechloaders. These, however, came from a naval officer quarter. I heard with great surprise from the hon. and gallant Member (Sir John Hay), that we had not 20,000 breech-loaders in store, and I rather inferred from his statement — I do not know whether he meant to say that the Regulars were not armed with breech-loaders at all — but I take the liberty of saying that we have a large store of breech-loaders, though not quite so large as I could desire. We have 300,000 breech-loaders in store; not only so, but we expect a large addition to that store within the course of the current year. I have been charged with keeping the Reserve Forces unarmed with breech-loaders. I really feel that to be rather a hard charge upon me, because it so happens that when I came into Office I think my right hon. Friend who preceded me had armed the permanent Staff with breech-loaders; but certainly he had not entered upon supplying the Militia generally with breech-loaders. I, on the other hand, immediately began to arm the Militia with breech-loaders; 61,000 have been distributed, and we shall go on in that course. Not only so, but I shall make arrangements for arming the Volunteers with breech-loaders, as our stores enable us to do so. It is quite true that these 300,000 breech-loaders are not so large a store as I could desire; but what has been the reason? Because we are just on the point of arriving at a settlement of one of the most interesting experiments of modern times—namely, the adoption of a new form of rifle. The controversy with regard to the Henry-Martini rifle is just approaching its solution, and I will own we have not so large a store of breech-loaders as it has been thought we should have maintained; but anyone will see that when on the point of arriving at the adoption of a new and improved weapon it was a natural, a necessary, and a proper economy that, while keeping a sufficient store, we should keep it rather on the side of deficiency than of excess. Then the hon. and gallant Baronet stated that we could not manufacture projectiles so rapidly as was desired. I take the liberty of stating that we can make 1,500,000 projectiles for breech-loaders in the course of a week. Of course, projectiles are altered, and great improvements have been made in them since Sebastopol; but, taking numbers, the projectiles used in small arms before Sebastopol can now be manufactured by us in a few days, and the whole number of projectiles discharged at Sebastopol can be manufactured by us in the course of a few weeks. We have adequate, though not excessive stores. To keep in time of profound peace unduly large stores — to keep excessive stores of things liable to be deteriorated by keeping, and of which the pattern is liable to change, would be a course of policy which no Minister ought to recommend, and which I am quite sure the House would not support if any Minister did recommend it. I was asked by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) with regard to our fortifications. On that point my conscience is clear. When I found the fortifications approaching completion I came to the House and asked for the money necessary to complete them; but I had some difficulty in obtaining the Vote desired; and if my memory does not fail me the hon. and gallant Baronet himself voted in the minority against me. I think also that one of the Members of the late Government voted in the same minority. [Sir JOHN PAKINGTON: It was not I.] No; I am quite sure the right hon. Baronet would be the last man to do so. I do not bring these things forward in the spirit of taunt, or with the smallest desire to introduce into this discussion any unworthy comparison, or to magnify anything done by the present Government at the expense of their predecessors; but when the right hon. Gentleman, in a very deliberate manner, challenges me to give some account of these things, I am bound to institute these comparisons. And when my hon. and gallant Friend (Mr. Osborne), in his usual sportive manner, throws a little ridicule on our proceedings, I venture to state serious facts to the House, which I think they will consider a satisfactory answer. What we have done is this—we have initiated a policy with regard to our military resources which is of this kind — to keep them low in a time of profound peace, and give the country the benefit of the saving of expenditure; for to me it appears a moral evil of the greatest magnitude to keep a large force unemployed. It has been one of my most earnest endeavours to provide a system of military labour within the Army; and I had the satisfaction of stating to the House the other night that arrangements are in course of being completed by which it is hoped that no soldier who desires to add to his earnings by the prosecution of some honest trade may not find employment. It is a great disadvantage, moral as well as pecuniary, to have increased forces at a time you do not require them; and it is true policy to keep, as we have done, your cadres always in existence — with your officers and non-commissioned officers, and material for immediate expansion, and then you may rely with confidence that the House of Commons will be ready, when occasion requires it, to furnish you with the means of expansion. This policy applies to men and to material. You ought not to accumulate stores of things that perish. You ought to rely on the resources of the country, so great and unparalleled as they are, to provide you at the moment of emergency with those things that do not require time for their preparation; and with regard to those which do require time for preparation we have not neglected the necessary forethought. I, therefore, conclude my observations by saying, I rejoice that we are not at war, and I trust we have no prospect either of war or of armed neutrality. But this I venture to say, that if we were upon the eve of a war we might truly say that England never entered on a war finding her resources in material and men in a greater state of preparation than she finds them in at present.
said, he thought the present state of affairs demanded a careful consideration of the state of the Army. Circumstances might arise in which we should have to address remonstrances, and even threats to one or other of the belligerents, and if these were not to be regarded as idle words we should have a sufficient force behind us. He differed from the Premier and the Secretary of State for War in the opinion that it was unfair to draw comparisons between the present time and that immediately preceding the Crimean War. The best guide to the future was the experience of the past, and the House ought not now to forget the disasters of that campaign, the reproaches cast upon the Government of the day for having allowed our military and naval establishments to fall into a state then considered utterly inefficient, and the millions we had to spend to make those establishments efficient, and undo the mischief perpetrated by years of false and unwise economy. After all this experience, the House would be somewhat surprised to hear that our military force at this moment was in no better, if not in a worse position than it was in the spring immediately preceding the Crimean War. The Estimates of 1854–5 provided 1,000 rank and file for each infantry regiment. No doubt the Army we sent to the Crimea was much too weak. But very few regiments at that time were below 800 rank and file, and those battalions were composed of soldiers well trained and fully disciplined. The great cause of our misfortunes in the Crimea was that we had to take every available battalion in England and the Colonies. Thus we took the field with no Second Line—no Army of Reserve upon which we could fall back to fill up the casualties caused by active service. At present we had not only no Second Line of Reserve, but no First Line to send from our shores in as satisfactory a condition as that of the Crimean force. The right hon. Gentleman said there were 89,000 soldiers in this country at the present time. But on referring to the Estimates, he (Major Dickson) could not make out that provision had been made for more than 63,659 rank and file. The Estimates provided for 41,200 infantry, 8,762 cavalry, and 13,697 artillery. Not many days ago a force had been ordered to proceed from Aldershot to Wimbledon, the regiments composing it to turn out as strong as possible, and to march as though they were proceeding through an enemy's country. He had received a correct marching state of the force—no hocus-pocus state, such as the War Office furnished the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cardwell) with — and notwithstanding the force was composed of two batteries of artillery, a detachment of engineers, a regiment of cavalry, four battalions of infantry, and a detachment of the Army Service Corps, it only brought into the field 2,398 private soldiers, and from that number must be deducted bandsmen, pioneers, and officers' servants. Ex uno disce omnes. From this flying column judge of the state of the British Army—judge of the capabilities of this country to place at a moment's notice an Army in the field, in Belgium or any other country. To show the state of the cavalry he would mention that the 7th Dragoon Guards had 285 rank and file, with 262 horses. From the rank and file deductions must of course be made, and as a cavalry soldier he could say it would be perfectly idle to send cavalry regiments upon active service in that condition. A most distinguished colonel of cavalry, now at Aldershot, had written to him to say that the present strength of his regiment was 458 men and 300 horses. If he had to take the field 40 men would be unfit, and he would have to cast 40 horses, while to hold its own a cavalry regiment should have at least 800 men and 550 horses—650 men and 450 horses in the field, and 150 men and 100 horses at the depôt. If we had to send an Army to-morrow into Belgium, there is not a single cavalry regiment fit for service, each regiment in the service requiring about 400 men and 300 horses to make it efficient for the field. A large number of horses would also be necessary for the artillery, and other branches of the service, and the Government should consider very seriously whether they should not stop the wholesale export of horses which was now going on, to mount dragoons whom hereafter we might have to charge, and drag into position guns which might by-and-by play upon our own forces. He believed that the Government had received notice from Mr. Phillips, the dealer, that he could no longer supply horses at the existing rates; and the price of horses was rising daily. Remembering the time it took to make a cavalry soldier, and the number of men required to place even a few regiments on a war footing, every moment of delay was a precious moment lost. Then as to artillery. In the celebrated Wimbledon column the two batteries of artillery that were part of it had to borrow some of their horses from the other batteries at Aldershot. For every thousand men taken into the field you required three guns, so that if we landed 20,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry in Belgium, 14 field batteries and three horse batteries would be needed. No doubt, these might be furnished; but it would take every available horse and man to do so, and, thereby, we should be repeating the fatal error of the Crimean campaign—taking the field with only a First Line. He hoped, therefore, the Government would deem it to be their duty to take some immediate steps with regard to the artillery. Bad, however, as that arm of the service was, the infantry of the line was much worse. The House would, he thought, be somewhat startled to hear that the Army Estimates for 1870–1 provided for 16,200 less infantry than the Estimates of 1854–5. In the spring of 1854 we had 6,859 more bayonets actually available than at the present moment, and the infantry was then no less than 9,211 under its fixed establishment. Again, at the time when we sent an Army out to the Crimea, no one could imagine that our Government in India was otherwise than secure, while we were enabled to avail ourselves without hesitation of the services of the Irish Militia. He would, however, be a bold Minister who after the experience of the Mutiny would now propose to withdraw troops from India or completely denude Ireland of British bayonets. Referring to the statement to which he had already called the attention of the House, he found that at Wimbledon the 2nd battalion of the 13th Light Infantry could bring into the field only 366 private soldiers, from which number deduction must be made on account of bands, boys, &c. The 42nd Highlanders, it was also stated, could bring only 431 private soldiers into the field, and the 4th battalion of the 60th Rifles only 445, each of these regiments having a depôt of another regiment attached and included in the strength. Indeed, he did not believe that, with the exception of the Guards, we had a single battalion in this country which could put on board ship 300 private soldiers after it had been medically inspected. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the War Department might juggle as he liked, and talk about the number of available battalions, but he could not alter that which was the fact; and the result of the state of things which he had just mentioned was, that when the necessity arose we should have to pour into every battalion 700 raw recruits to take the field against a trained and powerful Army with all the modern appliances of war. The House had heard as usual that evening about the Militia Reserve; but, for his own part, he had some doubts as to its existence. But, even admitting that it did exist, it would be a very serious thing for the right hon. Gentleman to have to make out his First Army from a force which was especially meant to be for the protection of the hearths and homes of this country. There was another branch of the service about which he wished, before he sat down, to make a few remarks. He alluded to the Land Transport Corps, which had been constituted for the first time during the Crimean War, which was afterwards known as the Military Train, and now as the Army Service Corps. The other day it appeared that that corps, in order to carry commissariat for 2,398 privates, had to take every available horse, so that horses had to be borrowed next day to carry on the ordinary duties of the camp at Aldershot during the absence of the column. It was the opinion, he might add, of all officers of experience, that we ought to have at the present moment in this country an Army ready to be put on board ship to-morrow morning. He had heard grave rumours about the state of the stores and guns; but he should refrain from making any charge against the War Office on mere hearsay. In 1854–5 there was great confusion in that Office; but it was, he believed, now confusion worse confounded. He would only further observe that we had at present a smaller Army than we had when we first took the field during the Crimean War, and he maintained that the 20,000 more men the Government intended to raise would not give us a satisfactory Army. He hoped the House would convey its opinion to the Government unmistakably on the point, and tell them that they would back them in increasing the number. England was a patriotic country. Englishmen cherished her honour, and had no wish to see the Danish policy repeated. He, therefore, would implore the Government, knowing, as they did, that they would be supported by the people, at once to take steps to secure an efficient and what, if called upon, would be a victorious Army.
said, he objected to the words "armed neutrality," as constituting, in the sense in which they had been used that evening, a menace and threat to a constant and faithful ally. The hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. Osborne), who talked of raising 200,000 Militia in this country for the purpose of throwing them into Antwerp—[Mr. OSBORNE: To be ready.]—would himself have us violate the neutrality of Antwerp by taking that course. The present disastrous war had been, in his opinion, partly brought about by the unjust position which had been taken in framing the Treaty of Vienna, ever since which the configuration of the Prussian frontier had been such as to make it easier for her to invade France. For his own part, he thought our neutrality should be, as was said by the Prime Minister, one conceived in a friendly spirit; but he entirely objected to the one-sided argument which would lead us to assume an attitude of hostility towards France. Prussia was, no doubt, a great nation, and had absorbed a great many surrounding States; but he was not aware that she had acted up to the faith of Treaties any more than any other country. It was, at all events, certain that France, since she had been our ally, had never deceived us; while we knew what the conduct of Prussia had been towards Denmark, and how she had observed the Treaty of Prague. [An hon. MEMBER: The Projected Treaty.] He did not believe a word about the Projected Treaty. If it had any existence, it was a scheme concocted by two acute statesmen who might not be very particular about matters of principle; but that did not prove that the French nation was particeps criminis. Much had been said respecting the Saxon Provinces of Prussia; but, for his part, he hoped that not a single man would be moved, nor a single shilling expended by this country to guarantee to Prussia either these provinces or the other provinces which she had so unjustly absorbed since 1866. He extremely regretted that the Government had felt it necessary to ask the House to vote these 20,000 men. A war with France would be most disastrous to us, and the ill-feeling it would create would not be allayed for generations. He represented a constituency of working men who, though they were not in favour of peace at any price, would earnestly protest against the insults which had been directed against a faithful ally, who had served us well in past times, and who, he felt convinced, would not deceive us now.
said, he regretted that the hon. Baronet who had just spoken had failed in his speech to exhibit that temper and calmness he rose to inculcate. The hon. Baronet had complained of those who had blamed the French Government; but no one had done so, and the only instance of attack during the debate was that of the hon. Baronet himself upon Prussia. The discussion had gradually developed from the question of foreign policy to that of military armament. He (Mr. Baillie Cochrane), however, proposed to discuss the original question—that of foreign policy. He had always supported the policy of non-intervention as admirably carried out by the Earl of Derby and the Earl of Clarendon, in the late and present Governments, and was of the same mind still. But there must always be a limit to non-intervention in public as well as private affairs, and the time had come when a great country such as this would be justified not in active intervention, but in distinctly stating its opinions through Parliament, for the opinion of Parliament would always have great weight. One point in connection with this subject had not been raised during the discussion—a point which had been commented on in a journal supposed to be under the influence of the Government. This Government organ stated that there was nothing new in the Projet de Traité — those conversant with European politics had been long aware of such projects. It added—
["What organ?"] It was from The Morning Post. In other papers it had been stated that this project was not entirely unknown to the Government; and he mentioned the surmise that the Government had long since known of the Treaty, because he believed the First Lord of the Treasury would be pleased to have an opportunity of saying they never heard a word about it until it appeared, a week since, in The Times. The House had heard a great deal about the duty of neutrals; but the Government had not informed the House what was the duty of this country towards a neutral Power, the neutrality of which this country had guaranteed. The right hon. Gentleman might say that the possible violation of the neutrality of Belgium was too delicate a question to touch upon; but he maintained that a declaration in Parliament was necessary as to the obligation of this country as regarded Belgium. No doubt Government would say it was inexpedient to make a declaration upon this subject; but the independent Members of the House might speak out, and he had no hesitation in saying that the violation of the neutrality of Belgium should be at once made a casus belli. The hon. Baronet had spoken of the danger which would threaten us if we went to war with France—a consideration which was not worth a thought, and he was surprised to hear the hon. Baronet give expression to a sentiment so unworthy his position. Even if the matter were decided on selfish considerations, without regard to honour and obligation, what would be our position? The French in Antwerp would be a direct menace to us; and even if, as the pusillanimous said, Antwerp would be no more than Cherbourg, was that a reason why we should have two Cherbourg's confronting us? England had entered into a solemn guarantee that the integrity of Belgium should be maintained, and if we failed to discharge the obligations that guarantee involved, we should be disgraced before the whole world, and our influence would be lost for over. He had read one passage in Lord Lyons' despatch with much mortification. Lord Lyons wrote—"This very Projet de Traité has, we believe, been in the possession of the English Foreign Office from the time when it was first suggested."
Was that dignified language to apply to a great country? But in the same despatch Lord Lyons writes—"Finally, M. de Gramont said that he knew the English way of going on, and that we detested war."
He wanted to know what interpretation to put upon that "quand même?" Was it that France would only respect the neutrality of Belgium as long as Prussia respected it? This was an important question; and there was another point equally important, which he was astonished had not been referred to by the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire. He referred to a sentence made use of by the Emperor. He acknowledged the good disposition of the Emperor towards us; he had in numerous instances shown himself a most honourable ally; but, in his Proclamation, the Emperor spoke of the greater power behind him. There was a power behind the Emperor which he could not resist, and if the French people urged the occupation of Belgium, the citadel of Antwerp, and the Scheldt, suppose the Emperor should say the nation had slipped out of his hands? Should the French nation again slip out of the hand of the Emperor we might have to carry on a contest under every possible disadvantage, and with the knowledge that we had sacrificed our honour by not fulfilling our Treaty obligations."M. de. Gramont told me that he was glad to have the opportunity of telling me that he had just assured the Belgian Minister that, so far as France was concerned, it was quite unnecessary for Belgium to watch her railways, or go to any expense to protect herself. He had, he said, solemnly assured the Belgian Minister that absolute respect for the neutrality of Belgium would be a fundamental principle in the eyes of the French Government if France went to war; that France would respect the neutrality of Belgium under all circumstances, 'quand même.'"
said, he hoped that he should be permitted to make a few observations upon this question, being, as he was, a humble member of the Peace Party, which, to judge from the tone of the discussion that had occurred that night, did not appear to be very largely represented in that House. He had listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) with great pain and regret, mingled with considerable disappointment and surprise, because he had abandoned that wise reticence and admirable self-control that had always hitherto distinguished him in discussing questions of peace and war. The speech the right hon. Gentleman had delivered that night was essentially a war speech, and it had been echoed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Hon. Members who cried out for increased armaments were pleased to dwell with questionable wisdom upon what they called the unpreparedness and defenceless condition of this country. He had paid some attention to matters of this kind for the last 25 years, and he had always remarked that our Army and our Navy never came up to the standards set up for themselves by hon. and gallant Gentlemen. Some years ago a great outcry was raised in favour of that great constitutional Reserve Force, the Militia. Well, the Militia Force having been established was now declared to be utterly worthless. [Dissent.] He had heard it described that night as being of but little use. An hon. and gallant Member opposite (Major Dickson) had stated that our infantry, our cavalry, and our artillery were in a most unsatisfactory state. If that statement were correct the country had a right to ask what had become of the hundreds of millions of money that had been poured into the lap of the naval and military authorities for the purpose of providing us with an adequate naval and military force. He trusted, however, that the Government would not allow themselves to be provoked by reproaches from the opposite side of the House, nor by encouragement from those around them, to rush into a reckless and extravagant military expenditure upon such an occasion as this. The two belligerents engaged in the present war were likely to have sufficient to occupy their attention without doing anything calculated to provoke the hostility of England. It had been said that the best means of preserving peace was to be prepared for war; but there could not be a greater fallacy. If anybody wanted a proof of the folly and absurdity of that maxim let him look to either bank of the Rhine. Europe, in acting upon that mischievous maxim during the last 14 years, had found herself engaged in four bloody wars, and was now about to enter upon a fifth, which threatened to be the most disastrous of all. Sir Robert Peel on one occasion warned the House against listening to the opinions of military men on such a subject as war. In February, 1855, Sir George Cornewall Lewis had declared that this country ought not to attempt to become a first-rate European military Power, and that it would be sufficient if she were able to defend her own shores and her dependencies. [Mr. OSBORNE: Hear, hear!] The hon. Member for Waterford, contrary to the Scriptural maxim, was swift to speak and slow to hear. Not only did he frequently address the House wittily, if not wisely, but he was always interpolating his observations when others were speaking. Should war come upon us he hoped the hon. Member would be caught and sent into the front rank of our Army in order that he might have an opportunity of expending his valour. He trusted that the Government would preserve an honourable and dignified neutrality, and that their exertions in that direction would be seconded by the people, and more especially by the Press of this country. For his own part, he sympathized with neither of the parties who were responsible for the war, but with the suffering millions among their unfortunate subjects. He thanked the right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government for the tone of his speech that night, which would be approved by the great mass of the working classes, and which might enable him at some future time to step in as the representative of England with the view of mediating between the contending parties and putting an end to this terrible war.
said, he was as anxious for peace as the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, no believed that the hon. Member misrepresented or misunderstood the feelings of military men if he thought they were anxious for war for war's sake. Those who were best acquainted with all the horrors and sufferings which it entailed were least likely to take part actively in bringing about war unless they believed that the interests or the honour of the country were in danger. The hon. Gentleman had read the House a lecture on the familiar text—"If you wish for peace, be prepared for war;" but he had given it entirely a new reading, and the illustration which he chose was singularly unfortunate, for, though the belligerent Powers no doubt were both prepared for the war into which they had rushed, the hon. Member forgot that the desire for peace did not appear to have existed on either side. In this country a desire for peace had always existed, and the preponderance of feeling would be always in its favour, unless the national honour or great material interests were called in question. He had risen chiefly in consequence of some remarks which fell from the Secretary of State for War. The right hon. Gentleman more than once made use of the expressions—"When we were called on to make reductions;" "When we were called on by the House of Commons to effect those reductions;" and, at another time, speaking of what happened immediately after the Crimean War, he said —"When the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Opposition called on us to make a reduction." Now, he (General Herbert) was not aware of any Vote having been come to by the House of Commons on the subject; and it was a new thing for a Minister thus to try and evade the responsibility which properly belonged to him for having proposed that the Estimates should be reduced. Because some hostile criticism might be apprehended from the front Bench opposite, or because there might be some nasty speech from below the Gangway, a Minister was not to be excused for coming down to the House, and proposing Estimates different from those which the actual circumstances demanded. No Minister should propose Estimates greater or smaller than he believed to be justifiable and prudent; but, having proposed them, it was his duty to stand by them like a man, and to risk his position, if need be, in justification of his proposals. Love of place and power were at the bottom of a system under which Ministers would come down to the House, and put forward Estimates different from those they believed to be wise upon the mere threat of some little Motion from below the Gangway. The right hon. Gentleman had gone into several calculations, and he must say for himself that he found them rather confusing: like Falstaff's army, the same men kept coming round and round so often that in the end he did not know whether the actual number was 74,000 or 87,000. But the gist of his remarks was that we had got more men at home. The right hon. Gentleman insisted on the strange doctrine that troops in the Colonies were a source of weakness. There were, however, a good many Members on both sides of the House who wished we had 15,000 or 20,000 sources of weakness in the Colonies more than we had at present. The right hon. Gentleman said we had got 4,000 more men at home then we used to have. But what had we done with those that were abroad? Against those 4,000 soldiers at home must be set some 23,000 who had been got rid of. He might be told that these were mainly colonial troops, and that some 1,200 or 1,500 of the number were Native or West India troops. Granted; but the colonial troops were available for service whenever they were wanted. Take the Canadian Rifles, for instance. We might be going to abandon Quebec, but we should not abandon Halifax, at any rate. And would not these troops be available for duty there, or could anybody doubt that if need arose European soldiers enlisted for service in the Colonies would be ready to come home to England? So far from being a source of weakness to this country, on one very notable occasion troops in the Colonies proved a great source of strength. Where did the first troops come from that were available for the support of the Indian Government in the Indian Mutiny? Were they not supplied from the Cape, the Mauritius, from Ceylon, and by the China Expedition diverted? And were these to be called "sources of weakness" to the Indian Government? Lord Canning would tell a very different story if he were alive. The right hon. Gentleman went off again on his favourite hobby that he was following out the Prussian model. The strength of the Prussian battalions in time of peace was 500 rank and file; and the right hon. Gentleman insisted "we have kept the officers, the non-commissioned officers, we have got 500 rank and file, and we have got the power of expansion." Yes; but what were they to expand with? There was nothing except this Reserve, which was being flaunted before their eyes repeatedly, and a very large portion of which had not been even engaged to serve abroad if necessary. The Militia Reserve were merely Militiamen who had been collected more numerously than usual this year, in consequence, as he had been informed from more than one quarter, of the right hon. Gentleman having relaxed the rules under which they were engaged, and not requiring them to go through a medical inspection. Therefore, although a great deal of money had been paid in getting these men for the Reserve, many of them no doubt would be returned as unfit for service in the regiments to which they might be attached. What, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman had accomplished might be stated thus—he had got rid of 23,000 soldiers, and he had effected this small increase of the Reserve. As far as stores were concerned, he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman. It was quite right to practise economy with regard to them; for, in a manufacturing country like ours stores could be supplied rapidly, and it was not necessary to keep any large quantity on hand. Horses also were more easily procured than men, and he could not agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Waterford as to the number which it was necessary to maintain. With regard, however, to what had been stated about the depôts of coal, he hoped that some explanation would be given by the First Lord of the Admiralty; for the circumstance that stations like Bermuda and Malta had been left with a few hundred tons of coal—not more than sufficient to fill a first-rate man-of-war—certainly indicated very great neglect. Probably it would be urged by way of excuse, that in the rigid economy which was carried out at the Admiralty the gentleman whose business it was to look after the consignment of coal to those colonial posts had been "improved off the face of the earth," and that there was no one to take his place. Such an excuse, however, could be only temporary in its nature; while the neglect to supply coal to these great stations at which a fleet might be called on to assemble at the shortest notice was one of the very gravest character.
Sir, in the few words I shall have to address to the House I shall endeavour to bring the debate back to the matters more immediately connected with my own Department, although there is one expression as to our present attitude to which I must allude. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), while he appears to me to have laid down very clearly the general principles on which this country must be governed in respect of its neutrality, described our proper attitude as one of "armed neutrality." I should have thought the phrase "armed neutrality" was most offensive, historically at least, to every Englishman. Under that name, or rather using it to conceal their intentions, the Northern Powers entered in 1780 into a league hostile to the power and interests of this country, which ended by greatly extending the field of the war in which we were engaged. When, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman used the expression "armed neutrality," I hope he never intended that we should follow the example set by the Empress of Russia in 1780. The word my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government employed—"secure neutrality"—is that I believe which both sides of the House will be willing to agree to. The right hon. Gentleman asks whether during the year and a-half that we have been in power we have taken such steps as to place the nation, while still anxious to preserve peace, in the condition essential to a secure neutrality. I shall endeavour to show that the expressions used during the last few weeks to the effect that the Navy was in a satisfactory state, though the right hon. Gentleman may consider them to be meaningless, were nevertheless true. The questions which have been put by the right hon. Gentleman and enlarged upon by the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Stamford (Sir John Hay) were—first, whether the personnel of the Navy was in a satisfactory state; then, whether the ships and armaments were such as they ought to be at the present time; next, whether our supplies of stores are sufficiently large; and, lastly, whether our establishments on shore are such as can be properly expanded if necessary. Now, I am bound to say that both in 1869 and in the present year I concealed nothing when bringing in the Navy Estimates, but gave the most minute details on every point connected with the strength of the Navy, both positively and relatively to the Navies of other Powers. I was followed by Gentlemen on both sides of the House and holding every shade of opinion in reference to naval administration; and as the figures I gave remained unchallenged at the time I certainly think it is too bad, at the end of the Session, when the Estimates have been voted, and after two Sessions of economy, for hon. Members to come forward with these furbished-up charges, and to ask the Government to debate off-hand questions of detail, which we should have been prepared to discuss and to answer if they had been brought forward at the proper time, when, in fact, they were practically undisputed. First, then, with regard to the men composing the Navy. The hon. and gallant Member for Stamford, in the course of his remarks, has said that Her Majesty's Government had, in the course of two years, made a reduction of between 5,000 and 6,000 from a force of 48,000 men, including Marines. But the real strength of the Navy is not 48,000, but 61,000 men. The reduction made since I took Office is only between 3,000 and 4,000 men. It includes not a single Marine, the strength of which force had been reduced not by us, but by the late Government. Further, I expressly stated to the House last year, and again this year, that with the exception of 500 men all the reductions we had made were entirely apart from the seamen class, and especially among what are called idlers, where the propriety of reduction will not be questioned on either side of the House so far as the present debate is concerned. The hon. and gallant Baronet then went on to say—"You have reduced your men by 5,000, and you have also sent out a flying squadron with 2,500 men; you must, therefore, add these two together, and you will then arrive at the total force you have taken away and which is no longer available at home." But in the same speech he has dwelt on the reduction of the foreign stations; every man taken from which, he forgot, added to the number available at home. The fact really is, that while our force of men at home, in the Channel Squadron, and in the Mediterranean is considerably stronger than it was three years ago, we have been able to send out a flying squadron which is of very great value in the training of both officers and men. With regard to ships, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire asked how our Channel Squadron compared with the fleet which certain other Powers can show at the present time; and the hon. and gallant Member for Stamford, going still further, made the most astounding statement that France had a much stronger fleet than this country, and could show 51 or 52 iron-clad ships in the Channel. [Sir JOHN HAY: I said "in commission," not "in the Channel."] Very well; but that France has 51 or 52 iron-clads in commission is equally an astounding statement. I should not have addressed myself to this statement—for I am very unwilling to refer to the power of other nations—but for the fact that unless it was corrected the public might labour under the delusion that it was accurate. What are the real facts of the case? I hold in my hand a carefully prepared account of the iron-clad fleets of England and France. We have afloat, including those now fitting at Plymouth, 28 broadside and 12 special ships, or 40 in all. Of the 28 broadside ships, 5 are in the Channel Fleet, 8 in the First Reserve Fleet now at sea under Commodore Willes, 6 in the Mediterranean, 3 on distant stations, and 6 are fitting out. As now classified, 1 is of the first, 4 of the second, 9 of the third, 8 of the fourth, 4 of the fifth, and 2 of the sixth class. They carry 507 guns of 6½ tons and upwards. We have also 12 special—that is, generally, turret-ships: 2 of the first, 4 of the second, 1 of the third, and 5 of the fourth class. One of these is fitting, 3 are at Bermuda, 3 are at home or in the Mediterranean, and the rest in reserve. All these, in commission, in reserve, or fitting, come to 40 ships of different classes, mounting 552 guns of 6½ tons and above. I leave all guns of less weight out of the comparison. France has 27 broadside ships and 4 special ships, in commission, in reserve, or fitting, making 31 ships in all, mounting 283 heavy guns. Of the broadside ships, none are of the first class, 3 of the second, 10 of the third, eight of the fourth, and 6 of the fifth; and of the special ships, 1 of the first class, 1 of the second, and 2 of the third. 29 of these are at home, in commission or reserve, and 2 on distant stations. I can tell the House what accounts to a certain extent for the difference between my statement and that of the hon. and gallant Baronet. The French have 22 batteries, 11 of which carry or are to carry 4 guns each, and can go a certain distance to sea in calm weather, and 11 others called demontable, river gun-boats, which may be taken to pieces, and some of which are now, I believe, on the Rhine, waiting to attack Mayence or some other of the German towns. It is by adding these to the ships I have enumerated that 52 or 53, as the number of the French iron-clad fleet, is arrived at. [Sir JOHN HAY: I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. I expressly excluded these 11 batteries from my calculation.] If that is so, all I have to say is that I cannot understand the hon. Baronet's calculations. Excluding the batteries, France certainly has only 31 iron-clads afloat. Hon. Gentlemen may argue upon imaginary statements as long as they please; but what I have stated are plain official facts as to which there is no doubt. In addition to the ships which I have mentioned, we are now building 4 first-class ships and 4 second-class, with 50 guns. France is building 10–2 first-class, 2 second, 3 third, and 3 fourth-class, with 56 guns. Adding these to those afloat, our strength will be 48 ships and 602 guns; and that of France 41 ships, exclusive of batteries, and 339 guns. I think it only right to state these facts to the House, in order to show both sides of the extraordinary story which, coming from I know not where, has been fathered by the hon. and gallant Member for Stamford. Then the right hon. Gentleman asked me what was our state as to coal and stores, and on that subject I will give such information as I can. In the early part of the year a Return was made on the Motion of my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty as to the price of coal, and that Return showed also that up to the end of January last we had very much below the ordinary stock of coal at our principal foreign ports; but, at the same time, a very large quantity which had been shipped for these ports was delayed by contrary winds, some of it being delivered in the first week of February, the remainder being on the way at the time the Return was made. We, at the Admiralty, whether rightly or wrongly, have governed our shipments of coal by the suitable time in the year. We have not thought fit to make large shipments in the winter, but to wait for the spring, and the result was that in January last our stocks of coals, particularly in places to which you would have to pass through stormy seas, were rather low. I admit, also, that there had been great accumulations of coals at two great foreign stations, owing to the necessities of Abyssinia, and that these have been considerably reduced. But our present stock of coal in our foreign ports is in a satisfactory state; indeed, at some, it is unusually high for a time of peace, and the House may feel perfectly at case upon that point. But it is not of coal only that this can be said. Our purchases this year of other stores are generally in a forward state; we have bought a much larger amount than is often customary; and, so far from being exhausted, they are, at many stations, in a better condition than they have frequently been in times past. I come now to the dockyards; and here, I think, the House will agree with me when I say that there fell from the hon. and gallant Baronet opposite an expression unworthy of him, and which, unless in the heat of debate, I am sure he would not have uttered. The hon. and gallant Baronet stated that if my right hon. Friend near me (Mr. Gladstone) visited Greenwich at the end of the Session he would guarantee the sort of reception he would get. Well, that is not a new threat, for very soon after I came into Office I found that Deptford Dockyard having been abolished by the late Government, the artizans being pensioned or transferred to other dockyards, and I myself received a threat, which had been sent round all the newspapers, that if I went down to Deptford I should be received in a pretty way. Now, I hope no Government, in dealing with questions of this kind, will allow themselves to deviate from the right path by the consideration that when Ministers go down to particular places they will be received in a particular way. I think also that it is very much to be regretted that we should bandy backwards and forwards charges as to the numbers we may find necessary to dispense with when we deal with bodies of men in the sensible way in which employers of labour deal with their men. All I can say is, it is not we who began it. When the late Government were in Office they made a very considerable reduction at a short notice, and I warned them that what they were doing was unnecessarily precipitate and inconvenient after recent inflations; but I was careful to say nothing which could be construed into a wish to raise a cry against them among working men. But now, when the hon. and gallant Baronet makes these reckless imputations, it is only right that the facts should be known, and I will state the exact figures. The hon. and gallant Baronet would have us understand that all that happened was that a number of men had been taken on for a particular work, and when it was done were discharged in due course. But this only a part of the case. It is perfectly true that at the end of 1867 the late Board of Admiralty determined to take in hand a certain class of iron shipbuilding and to enter more men. They collected men from the Clyde, the Tyne, and every other part of the kingdom where ships are built, and swept them into their not at Portsmouth, Devonport, and Chatham. During the four months at the end of 1867 there were collected from those distant parts no less than 2,369 men, who were added to the number of artizans and others employed in the dockyards. But suddenly the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I suppose, was alarmed, and stopped this reckless work, and a reduction not of 2,369, but of no less than 5,418 men followed. Up to the month of February there were 2,369 men over the usual number. In the same month of February they decided to make a reduction of 5,418, and they succeeded in doing so by the month of July. They discharged men, not at the rate of 200 or 300, as we have been doing, but at the rate of 1,200 a month. I do not bring that as a charge against them; what they did may have been necessary. But when we are attacked with considerable violence for making reductions at the rate of 200 or 300 a month, it is only right to put the saddle on the right horse; and to show who it was who really occasioned the dockyard distress of last year. In the beginning of the Session of 1869, though at that time I had not discharged a single man, the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Portsmouth (Sir James Elphinstone) got up and made a most pathetic appeal, urging us to do something for these poor men who had been discharged by hon. Gentlemen opposite; and when we consented and carried out that plan of emigration which has been so universally approved, then the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire says—"What a public injury you have done by allowing skilled workmen to emigrate." I think I have now gone through all the leading questions put as to the state of the Navy. Let me be clearly understood as making no boast, and putting up no claim to exclusive regard for the efficiency of the Navy, or for special merit in connection with its strength. We took over its administration from predecessors who were anxious for its welfare, and we have endeavoured to promote it to the best of our power. But, putting party altogether out of the question, the simple fact is that we have a most efficient Navy, as I have already explained in detail. We have seven iron-clads in the Channel Fleet proper, and nine in our First Reserve Fleet, or 16 in the Channel at the present time. We have a strong fleet in the Mediterranean which will join the Channel Fleet this month and exercise with it. We have also a considerable number of ships in reserve, which will be commissioned in the course of the present year. We have a good supply of stores, our Reserves are in admirable condition, and our Coastguard consists of men altogether fit for service. In short, to whomsoever the credit of the present state of things is due, whether to us or to our predecessors, for a peace Navy ours is in a highly efficient condition—more efficient than for many years past; and all we ask of the House is to enable us to carry it beyond that into a state of preparation for eventualities, consistently with our position of secure neutrality in this Continental War. To what extent this should be done, I do not now say; but, in asking the House to intrust us with the necessary means, I repeat that we shall be strengthening what is already in a most satisfactory condition.
I listened with considerable attention to the speech of my right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Disraeli). There are some statements which he made in which I entirely agree; there are others from which I must confess I entirely dissent. I quite agree with him that when the circumstances of Europe are in the critical position in which they are at present, it is decorous and useful that the House of Commons should express their opinion, because if even silence were advisable, which I do not think, it is impossible. If we do not speak, the Press speaks. And if the opinion of England is to be expressed, it appears to me far more advisable that it should be expressed by the voices of the representatives of England than in any other manner. I also agree with my right hon. Friend in his astonishment, though it was expressed in a somewhat mystical way, at the unprepared condition of mind with which the circumstances in which we are now placed found the Government of this country. When I read that the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs had had a long interview with the Nestor of the Foreign Office, and that he had been told by that gentleman that we had before us a prospect of the most profound peace, and this within a few hours of his having to prepare for a great and terrible war, I did not feel quite satisfied as to the state of the eyes and ears of that venerable establishment over which he presides. My right hon. Friend has given us a parallel. He says if our Foreign Office was misinformed the Prime Minister of France was also misinformed, and the ignoance of one might be set off against the ignorance of the other. But I venture to say that any gentleman who has within the last few years travelled over Europe, and who has not had his intelligence obscured by official information, has seen the traces of, as it were, a train of gunpowder extending from Paris to Berlin, which it only required an accidental spark to ignite. And therefore, Sir, with that sympathy which every man feels for his calling, I did hope and expect that our diplomacy would have had its attention directed to the quarter from which such a spark could proceed, so that it might be able to prevent an explosion. Well, everyone knows that during the last year if there has been any question which was vitally interesting to the French Government, it has been the question as to who should be chosen to fill the Throne of Spain. It is also known that, within a very limited time from the period at which I am now speaking, Marshal Prim announced that he had a king in his pocket whom he should at some mysterious moment introduce to his country. Now, my experience of affairs has induced me to think that wherever there is secresy there is danger; and, therefore, it does seem to me most extraordinary that we should not have endeavoured to ascertain what the secret of Marshal Prim was. It does seem to me, at all events, most extraordinary that we should not have said to him—"For God's sake don't produce to us some candidate who will convulse all the Cabinets of Europe. You see the state, the jealous state, of rivalry and antagonism in which the Governments of France and Prussia stand to each other, and, above all things, don't produce as a candidate for the Throne of Spain a man who can be looked upon as the nominee of Prussia." If we had pursued this natural course, we might have been able to prevent the nomination of this Prince of Hohenzollern, which took us so much by surprise, and has thrown all Europe into so much confusion. So far, then, I agree with my right hon. Friend, and I agree with him also in thinking that the Treaties which Great Britain has entered into should be observed. But let me say that I have not felt so much surprise as has been expressed by other Gentlemen with respect to that sensational and mysterious document, showing a supercilious contempt for Treaties, which appeared in The Times newspaper. I do not believe that document had ever the sanction of the Chancellerie of Paris or the sanction of the Emperor of the French. The very nature of the document shows it had not. Nay, I will say, if it had been known to the Government of France, that Government would have written to its Ambassador at Berlin, and said to him—"For God's sake withdraw the foolish document which you have left in the hands of Count Bismarck!" Everyone who knows the character of M. Benedetti knows that he is a diplomatist of a very adventurous character. Everyone who knows anything of the circumstances of the time of which I am speaking, knows that he was restlessly occupied with the idea of performing a great achievement, which was to render his name historical, in which I am bound to say he has pretty well succeeded. Neither, I confess, can I place unlimited confidence in any statement which M. Benedetti may have made with regard to the sentiments of Count Bismarck. I do not believe that it was M. Benedetti's wish to deceive any person—I have too high a respect for any gentleman of my profession to believe that. But this distinguished gentleman has a remarkable facility for deceiving himself. It was he who induced the French Government to suppose that Count Bismarck would have no objection to the purchase of the Duchy of Luxemburg by the Emperor of the French; it was he who induced M. Drouyn De L'huys to suppose that he had only to ask for the frontier that was accorded to France in 1814, and taken from her in 1815, and that this very moderate demand would be immediately conceded. Thus it is that I do not attach that very great importance to this document which some ascribe to it, but I do attach importance to this—that France has at all times been anxious and shown a disposition, notwithstanding the Treaties of 1831 and 1839, to acquire the possession of Belgium. And I can state that which it may startle some Gentlemen to hear, that this very proposition which was made by M. Benedetti, and which he acknowledges to have made, was, in fact, made when the ink with which the arrangements of 1831, which guaranteed the integrity and inviolability of the Belgian territory, had been signed was hardly dry, by another French Ambassador to another Prussian statesman, with this exception, that Antwerp was to be reserved as a free town for the satisfaction of England. The only difference really was that M. de Talleyrand, not being M. Benedetti, did not give his suggestion in writing; and neither Baron Bulow, nor Lord Palmerston to whom the suggestion was communicated, thought it necessary to give information of it to a morning newspaper. I state all this because I wish it to be understood that I look upon all Treaties as rules which nations lay down for their guidance, but rules which they rarely observe when there is a strong temptation of gain on the one side and no risk of danger on the other. And, therefore, I say if you wish to have your Treaties observed, you must be able to defend them. You must say that you will defend them, and you must have allies on whom you can count who will defend them with you. But whilst I thus, to a certain extent, agree with the substance of the observations made by my right hon. Friend opposite, and concur with him, likewise, in thinking that the obligations by which we are bound imperatively are those which bind us to protect the neutrality and independence of Belgium, I cannot agree with him in what he has said with respect to the Treaties by which in 1815 we engaged to guarantee certain parts of Saxony to Prussia. I will not enter into historical reminiscences as to the circumstances under which those engagements were taken; but I venture to say that even if nothing had since occurred, the circumstances of the present day are so entirely different from those which existed at that time, that they would not be equitably said to bind us now. But how can we be called upon to respect the Treaty of Vienna in regard to the Government of Prussia, when Prussia exists in her present position on account of the violation of that very Treaty? It would be rather too much if we had to lay aside any objections that we might take to the conduct which Prussia has pursued in respect to the Treaty of Vienna and then were to be called upon in her favour to stand by the obligations under which that Treaty placed us. Again, Sir, as to what fell from my right hon. Friend with respect to armed neutrality, I dissent from him there. I am for taking every means that may be needful for our defence, but I am very much against using any terms that are offensive. I think it perfectly natural that all nations placed in a situation of neutrality should combine together for a common principle, and maintain that principle by common efforts; but I consider it most desirable that in taking the measures which may be necessary for such a purpose, we should do so in the manner least likely to convey the impression that we are bent on war, when our real and essential object is peace. And now, Sir, before I sit down let me be permitted to say that I trust we shall, at least, learn from these sad events that are now passing, an important lesson. I heard not a thousand years ago that there were so many newspapers in the United States of America that it would be the dream of a madman to suppose the Northern States and the Southern could ever come into hostile conflict. I then heard there was so much philosophy in Germany that it was preposterous to suppose the Prussians and the Austrians would over point their cannon against each other. Then, I was constantly told that a Frenchman was no longer a soldier. He was a stockbroker and a shopkeeper, a manufacturer, a trader, a general speculator, and it was the most absurd thing in the world to suppose that so quiet and peaceful a gentleman should ever again shoulder a musket. Now, Sir, I am well aware that there have been many inventions in the 19th century; but there is one thing which has not been invented, even in this age—a new humanity. We must, then, I think be content to be guided by the result of experience and the knowledge we have already derived from experience as to the nature of mankind in our conduct of human affairs. Indeed, I think I can point out—and it may not be perhaps altogether beside the present question to point out to this House, and through it to the country, that since we have heard so much of military and naval armaments being superseded by international obligations—since we have been told that war was to be done away with by philanthropic Understandings — we have witnessed a more utter disregard for international obligations, more sudden, reckless, and unjust wars than were over witnessed at any former period. Let us, then, act like men who prefer common sense to speculative theories; let us, I will not say prepare for war, because I hope there will be no war; but let us put ourselves, if we wish to be respected, in a position which we shall be able to defend should war come upon us; and lot there be no mystery to the world in our determination to preserve our honour and to stand by our engagements.
said, that the House had heard a good deal of argument from the occupants of the Treasury Bench about the armaments of the country under different Governments; but they had heard nothing from that quarter in answer to the question really before the House, and which engrossed the public mind—namely, what would be the policy of this country with reference to Belgium? He hoped that before the debate closed they might hear something authentic as to the views and intentions of the Government on that most important point. He did not wish to embarrass the Government, or to urge them to take any course inconsistent with that caution which it was necessary to observe when serious complications among nations arose; but he thought that now was the moment for the Government to speak out on the subject, if they had decided on a policy. It was not when the struggle had commenced, and when, perhaps, a victory had been gained by one side or the other, that the Government could declare that policy. To do so then would be regarded as an act of hostility against one or other of the belligerent parties. It was for the interest of England, as well as of Belgium, that the Government should take a decided course. England could not afford to be independent of all treaty obligations. Our own safety demanded that we should not disregard them in this instance. Either Napoleon I., or one of his generals—he forgot for the moment which—said that Antwerp in the hands of France would be a pistol pointed at the breast of England; and it was the same that day. He did not quarrel about terms, about whether our neutrality was to be called an "armed neutrality" or a "secured neutrality." But what he did hold was that we should see our neutrality respected. No doubt, it was the wish of the country that we should observe a stern neutrality; but, if that neutrality was to be effective, we must be prepared to enforce it. What was the use of disputing whether there had been an increase or decrease of the Army? The real question was, what should be its present position? As far as he had been capable of deriving an impression from the debates in that House during the last two years, he thought the policy pursued had been one of reduction of our Army, and he believed that was the impression left on the mind of the country; but that evening they had been told that reduction meant efficiency. That, however, was a way of strengthening their forces which he could not understand. It has been very generally stated that the negotiations with reference to the proposed Secret Treaty between France and Prussia had been continued up to a recent period. If that had been so, it could scarcely have been without the knowledge of Her Majesty's Government. If the Government had known of such negotiations, he thought they had incurred a very great responsibility in reducing the strength of the Army. Thanks to the liberality and the instincts of the House, this country had an unrivalled fleet, and he asked the First Lord of the Admiralty not to treat the ships as reserves, but to put them in commission; to let the country see that there was increased activity at the dockyards and arsenals, to re-engage some of the discharged workmen, and to push on with all rapidity such ships as were in course of construction. With respect to the Army, although a Vote would be taken for 20,000 more men, he could not shut his eyes to the fact that our main reliance must be upon the Navy. A few thousands of men more or less would, under present circumstances, matter little to the Army; but the number of ships might turn the scale of our command of the sea. He was not an alarmist, but the community with which he was associated had a great stake in the matter; and while during the past month they had been pursuing the peaceful path of commerce their hopes of the future had been destroyed, for confidence was shaken, and the losses which the commercial world had sustained amounted to to hundreds of millions rather than to hundreds of thousands. He urged the Government not to dally with this question, which was the black spot on the horizon; but to declare, before the debate closed, what was their intention with regard to Belgium, so that when the debate was read, as it would be, all over the Continent of Europe, people should not think it strange that no Minister of the Crown had made the slightest allusion to that which was in the minds of all men at this moment.
Sir, I am desirous of making an explanation after the speech of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Graves), because, judging from the misapprehension which possesses the mind of the hon. Gentleman, I am fearful lest a similar misapprehension should exist in the minds of others. I am afraid that I myself may possibly have contributed to it, because I did not mention the name of Belgium. I must tell the hon. Gentleman plainly that it is not in my power to comply with his request to describe the nature of the proceedings which the Government have thought it necessary to take. I wish to remind him that when I referred to the Treaty which was published last week I spoke of the extreme gravity of the event, and I said it had been partly a shock to confidence. Considering what was the subject of that Treaty, it never occurred to me that either the hon. Gentleman or anybody else would not at once perceive that what I said had reference to Belgium. I also stated that the Government had thought it their duty to give the most careful consideration which the time permitted to the grave circumstances thus raised, and they had upon that consideration taken the steps which, in their judgment, were best calculated to secure the establishment of confidence and security. I should be very sorry if, through any fault of mine, it should be supposed that the subject had escaped the attention of the Government, which, on the contrary, it has absorbed.
said, he rejoiced to find that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) had not answered the question which had been addressed to him, for the speeches which had been made to the House were in many cases onesided, and in several instances were not calculated to preserve neutrality; while the question which the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) had introduced had ended in a squabble, between two Governments, as to the administration of the Army and Navy of the country. The House ought not to regard what had been done in the past, but ought to look at what was to be the condition of things in the future. Allusion had been made to the Treaty of 1815; but that Treaty had been blotted out. Was there not a Napoleon reigning in France, and was it not an article of that Treaty that a Napoleon should not reign? An attack had been made on the French nation, for when remarks were made about the English fleet being disabled did not everyone know that the only ships which could interfere with that fleet were French ones? The honour of the country was concerned in seeing that neutrality was maintained, and that House looked to the Government to preserve it.
said, he felt great satisfaction at the answer that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had given to the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves). He thought the House had during this discussion ignored one very important fact—that the Governments of both the countries which were now at war had emphatically and earnestly declared their determination to respect the independence of Belgium and Luxemburg. With that unqualified declaration from both those friendly Powers it would be offensive on the part of England to thrust in their faces the threat of what this country would do supposing they acted contrary to their promises. That would be a curious way of showing and maintaining our neutrality. He hoped no Member would be able to infer from his remarks that he sympathized with either of the belligerents. On the question of increase of armaments. Increase of armaments meant increase of taxation; and in reply to those who said that was a low form of argument, he said it was a form of argument which many of them had been returned to that House to give effect to. He did not take his stand at that moment on the abstract peace principle, he was prepared to express his belief that the interests of the country were safe in the hands of the Government, and he should have been well pleased if the discussion had terminated with the reply of the First Minister of the Crown to the Leader of the Opposition. It was difficult to meddle with sparks without scattering them, and the state of Europe was such as to make speeches which, under other circumstances would be harmless, assume an exaggerated character. As to the proclamation of peace principles being responsible for the evils which had come upon Europe, there had been no enunciation of them half so emphatic as that contained in a Book in which they all professed to believe, and when the people of France and Germany came to appreciate what was really true they would say that—
and they would say that those who made the quarrels should be the ones to fight. By adherence to Treaties this country had been burdened with an enormous Debt, and it was wise that we had not adhered to that solemn Treaty which bound us to keep a Napoleon off the Throne of France. He heartily approved the First Minister of the Crown not giving the pledge asked for by the hon. Member for Liverpool, for such a pledge would be far more likely to offend those concerned than to have any beneficial effect."War is a game which, were their subjects wise, Kings would not play at,"
said, he wished calmly and earnestly to endorse the disappointment expressed by the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves), that nothing more distinct or decided had been heard from the Treasury Bench on the subject of Belgium, for it could have been said without a threat. He was as anxious as any man could be for peace if it could be maintained consistently with the honour of this country; but something could have been said on behalf of Belgium without threatening either France or Prussia. Why could we not say publicly and openly that we rejoiced in the assurances given that the neutrality of Belgium would be respected, because the respect of that neutrality would absolve us from all interference? If that had been said, it would have produced altogether a different feeling from anything which had been said throughout the Continent of Europe. It was stated in The Times of that morning—and it was confirmed to him by those who knew France well—that not one Frenchman in a million believed that if the netrality of Belgium were infringed England would interfere; and if that were the case, and if we were prepared to defend the neutrality of Belgium, was it not better, was it not more just to that country, was it not more likely to secure peace, was it not more likely to prevent this country drifting into war, that we should tell those Frenchmen they were mistaken and that we still cherished the honour of our country? While sympathizing, like the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, with English people and English taxpayers, he sympathized with the fair name, honour, and reputation of this country. We ought to feel sympathy with a people anywhere who were struggling for freedom, and, above all, we ought to feel sympathy for a small independent nation whose national existence had been threatened, and had been plotted against by rival neighbours, Kings, and statesmen, and which knew that its independence could not be preserved unless it had reason to rely upon the solemn promises of the sacred Treaties of a more powerful nation—that of England.
said, he shared the regret of the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves), that the Government had not been more explicit; but he was disposed to think that the First Minister of the Crown meant to give them to understand that he would, under all circumstances, maintain our Treaties with regard to Belgium. He could not agree that an explicit statement would have endangered peace; on the contrary, he thought it would have done much to insure it. The country was indebted to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) for having initiated a debate which would leave no doubt on the mind of the country or of Europe as to what was the opinion of that House. He could not say he was much startled by the publication of the project of the Treaty, because all who had closely followed affairs on the Continent must have been aware that schemes of the kind it embodied had been entertained by foreign Princes and statesmen; but extraordinary importance was given to the document when the First Minister of the Crown said its importance could not be exaggerated, and when our Government took the unparalleled course of appealing to the two Governments concerned for explanations as to its authenticity. He accepted the answer of the right hon. Gentleman to-night as an assurance that he would stand by those Treaties the observance of which the honour as much as the interest of their country demanded.
said, he thought a word of advice to our journals would be in season. They ought to observe the same neutrality which the Government were observing, and not by their criticisms draw us into trouble with foreign nations. It was hard for a leading journal to take one side with the immense power it possessed, and induce foreigners to believe that it represented the opinions of the nation, whereas there were many people in the kingdom who did not feel as that journal did. After the assurances of the Government we were justified in feeling that we had a sufficient force to provide for our defence. But if the country was deceived it would go hard with the Government.
Resolutions agreed to.