amongst nations; and of giving to her commerce, her public credit, and her resources, that spring and vivacity, which she felt at the conclusion of the war before last, which were now so obviously returning, and which, he trusted, she would never be found to want, as long as liberality, public spirit, and disinterestedness, held their place in that House. He concluded with moving the first proposition.

The question of adjournment, which was moved by Lord North, was negatived,

Ayes............. 155

Noes............. 281 and the original resolution was then agreed to.

February 27. 1786.

Debate on the Duke of Richmond's plan for fortifying the Dock-yards.

Mr. Pitt introduced the business :

He begged leave earnestly to submit to the most serious and deliberate attention of the House, a proposition which, in his humble opinion, it behoved them to adopt previously to their forming themselves into a committee of supply; in order that it might serve as a direction to that committee in what manner to regulate that kind of vote which naturally might be expected from them at the close of the debate. Little, indeed, was his astonishment excited, when he reflected with how prejudiced a comment great numbers of the public had chosen to describe the question for discussion; because, as much within as beyond the walls of parliament, its real nature had been concealed by an insidious colouring, to give a lasting force to which all arts were put in practice.

The system of fortification had been dragged forth to public view as deserving the severest censures which could be thrown en any measure of government ; and there had been attempts to excite against it, the feelings, the passions, and even the most

estimable prejudices of the nation. It was represented as novel in its principle, as unconstitutional in its tendency, by laying a foundation for the increase of the standing army, and as calculated to divert into either a useless or a dangerous channel those resources which ought rather to be applied to that great foundation of our strength, of our glory, and of our characteristic superiority over the rest of the nations of Europe - our navy. Those were in themselves substantial objections, and such as, if they did really apply to the case, ought to carry with them an insuperable authority: but he was come down prepared with such arguments as he flattered himself would appear to the House sufficient to answer, and even overturn them all; and in order that the whole scope and object of his reasoning might be the more readily and clearly understood, he would state, at the outset, the nature of his proposition, which he had so worded as to comprehend the whole of the several principles on which, in his mind, the question was to stand. He had, on a former day, suggested, that the most regular mode for debating the subject would arise in the committee of supply, when the question would be, whether to vote the whole of the annual ordnance estimates, which would amount to about 300,0001. or to vote only 250,0001. and by such means prevent the application of the 50,0001. voted in a former session for the purpose of fortifications, from the object for which it had been intended, by obliging the board of ordnance to apply it to the current service of the year: and, by so doing, to put an effectual stop to the whole system. From many things, however, which had fallen from gentlemen on the other side of the House, he was induced to wish, that a different method of arguing the question should be adopted ; and he accordingly devised the present mode as best calculated, in his opinion, to afford an opportunity of discussing, in their fullest extent, every principle which could possibly be involved in the proceeding, as well those in opposition to it, as those in its favour. It was also more consistent with the great importance of the subject to bring it immediately before the House, in the form of a specific resolution, recognizing a great and momentous principle, and founding on that principle an instruction to the committee, than to send it to the committee at once, as it were incidentally and collaterally. The resolution which he proposed, before he sat down, to move to the House was,

“ That it appears to this House, that to provide effectually for securing His Majesty's dock-yards at Portsmouth and Plymouth, by a permanent system of fortification, founded on the most economical principles, and requiring the smallest number of troops possible to answer the purpose of such security, is an essential object for the safety of the state, intimately connected with the general defence of the kingdom, and necessary for enabling the fleet to act with full vigour and effect for the protection of commerce, the support of our distant possessions, and the prosecution of offensive operations in any war in which the nation may hereafter be engaged."

He felt it impossible to contemplate this important question without regarding it as a portion of that momentary system which challenged, from its nature, the utmost care of all administrations whatsoever ; a system, upon which rested the security and the glory of the national defence. And, in order to judge of its necessity towards that great object, he should attempt, but with much pain, to bring back the recollection of the House to the unfortunate and calamitous situation to which we were exposed in the late war, much in consequence of our want of those fortifications which it was the aim of the present ques. tion to provide. A considerable part of our fleet was confined to our ports, in order to protect our dock-yards ; and thus we were obliged to do what Great Britain had never done before to carry on a mere defensive war; a war in which, as in every other war merely defensive, we were under the necessity of wasting our resources, and impairing our strength, without any prospect of benefiting ourselves but at the loss of a great and valuable part of our possessions, and which at last was termi. nated by a necessary peace. Shame and affliction were brought upon us by the American war. Was the House ready to stand responsible to posterity for a repetition of such disgraces and

misfortunes? Were they willing to take upon themselves the hazard of transmitting to the next generation those dangers and those consequent calamities, which they had themselves so bitterly experienced? The subject of fortifications was not now for the first time to be discussed; it had been before the House during the course of the last session, and from what passed then, together with what had been done in consequence, he thought there was very little room, compatible with consistency of conduct, for that opposition which he apprehended was intended to be given to the present measure. The House, in the last session, had seemed well aware, that such an inquiry as was necessary towards forming a proper judgment on the subject, was by no means a proper one for it to go into. It had been, on all hands, agreed, that it was, in a great measure, a question of confidence, and they had, therefore, acquiesced in his proposal of sending it to the arbitration of a board of land and sea officers, to be con. stituted for that express purpose. That board had, of course, been appointed, and consisted of every thing that was great and respectable in the two professions; they had given the subject a higher degree of consideration and research than had ever been known on such an occasion in any other age or country. The report made by that board was in itself so direct, and so conclusive, as to the necessity of the measure, that it ought in itself completely to determine the question, should it even appear that the reasons of a collateral nature, advanced in opposition to it, were entitled to the authority which some persons seemed inclined to give them.

Concerning the questions," whether the dock-yards could properly and effectually be defended by a naval force alone ; by a military force alone; or by a naval and military force combined ? or whether it was necessary that fortifications should be erected for their defence ? and if so, what sort of fortifications were likely to be most effectual ?" the board had answered, that neither a naval nor a military force, nor even both united, could afford a sufficient security for the nation to rely upon; but that the fortifications were absolutely necessary, and that, of all modes of fortification, the mode suggested by the master-general of the ordnance * was the most eligible, as being the most adequate to the defence proposed, capable of being manned by the smallest force, requiring the least expense to erect and particularly, as affording an increasing degree of security as they were erected; insomuch as, that, if any given portion of them were completed, and the remainder unfinished, yet even that part so completed would afford a great deal of strength. Such were the characters and abilities of the officers who composed that board, that it would naturally follow as the highest degree of inconsistency, were the House, after having referred the various branches of the detail of the inquiry to the board of officers, to re-assume that duty which they had already declined, as being out of their reach, and attempt to revise and correct the report of the board. All that the House ought to attend to was the general result of the report of that board; for it was itself incapable of investigating the subject minutely, and by detail, much less was it capable of correcting or deciding on the report of the officers. In order to diminish the credit of the report, (for the credit of the persons who framed it could not be impeached,) attempts were made to prove, that the instructions given to the board of general officers were such as confined them to the necessity of coming to one certain result, by means of data proposed for their consideration, which were all merely hypothetical, and afforded no latitude to them for the exercise of their own judgment. But how was it possible this could have been the case, when to the two first data the whole board were unanimous in giving their opinions ? and their opinions on those data were entirely conclusive on the whole of the subject, for they went (and that unanimously) to establish the necessity of fortifications. Was it credible that a board, consisting of such men, could possibly be duped by chimerical and absurd hypotheses, so absurd and so extravagant, that he recollected the honourable general + had stated them as tantamount to a convulsion of nature! Was it to be supposed that they could be so

* The Duke of Richmond. + General Burgoyne.

« VorigeDoorgaan »