§ Mr. Jeffery
(of Poole), agreeably to the notice of a former day, rose to bring forward his promised motion, for the production of several papers, relating to the naval department, during the administration of earl St. Vincent; and though, he said, they were certainly voluminous, there was not one amongst them, idle, frivolous, or unimportant; but such as would not fail to make a strong, impression upon the mind of the house, and fully to account for the depressed and degraded state to which the British navy was at this moment reduced; and which, had lord St. Vincent continued at the head of our naval affairs to this day, would have sunk to a state still lower, and less competent to meet the formidable enemy with whom we had to contend. He lamented that the task of bringing forward a motion of so much importance should have fallen to the lot of a person so humble and incompetent as himself; but seeing no other gentleman attempt to take it up, he felt it his duty to bring it forward. He was conscious there was no department in the country more important than that of the navy, or that more urgently demanded strict vigilance and minute investigation. He hoped his zeal upon this point had not carried him too far, or led him to endeavour to disclose too much, for secrets there certainly were, which ought not to be exposed to the possible knowledge of an enemy. Having, however, explained to the house the object of the motion he meant to submit, it would be for their wisdom to decide how far it was right to grant his request; but if the documents he should require should be allowed him, he would himself undertake to prove, to the conviction of every man who heard him, the position he had laid down. The hon. member then proceeded to detail to the house a series of eighteen motions for returns of the state of the navy, from the year 1793, to the present time, under the several heads of ships of the line and frigates, built in the king's yards, or those of the merchants, distinguishing the periods when contracted for, and when finished, or likely to be finished; the like of such vessels, broke up, or sold, or lost by capture or accident; the like of such 630 vessels in commission, either home-built, or captured from the enemy; the like of vessels, manned and equipped for general service, and those for harbour service: these with a view of comparing the state of our navy during the administration of earl St. Vincent; and those which preceded his lordship's appointment, and immediately followed his resignation.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that as to the first motion of those proposed by the hon. member, he had no great objection; but he was by no means prepared to judge of the propriety of agreeing, at the moment, to so long a string of motions, involving such a variety of subjects, many of which, upon mature deliberation, it might be utterly improper to comply with. He therefore hoped the hon. member would not be inclined to press such a series of motions, without giving some farther time for the house to consider the propriety or impropriety of agreeing to them.
§ Admiral Markham
assured the house, that nothing could possibly give to the noble lord, whose conduct was the avowed object of the motions just proposed, higher pleasure than the production of every document, and the fullest investigation of every circumstance that in any degree concerned his character or conduct. That noble lord was conscious of nothing in his conduct that he could have the slightest wish to conceal; and, therefore, on behalf of the noble lord, and so far as he was personally concerned, he had not the slightest objection to the production of all the documents just specified, provided the friends of the noble lord were to be at liberty to move afterwards for the production of such other documents as they should think necessary on the other side of the question. But with respect to the motions, generally, he presumed the hon. gentleman was not aware of the extent and tendency they would go; not merely to the conduct of earl St. Vincent, but of the whole British navy, since 1793, to the present time. As to the distinction between ships built in the king's yards, or the merchants' yards, he had very strong objections, because it would disclose a history of the supplies of timber for our navy, and the sources whence furnished, foreign and domestic. And though time enquiry was certainly a must desirable one, there were very strong objections to a public disclosure of the result. The hon. admiral 631 was ready to admit, our navy was not altogether in quite so good a state as could be wished; where the blame rested, he did not wish to say, but certainly it was not with the noble lord, upon the whole of whose of conduct, so far was he from deprecating enquiry, that he anxiously desired and courted it.
§ Mr. Grey
agreed perfectly with the hon. admiral; and as the friend of the noble earl, and on his behalf, declared, that he courted enquiry. But he would put it to the discretion of the hon. member, whether the advanced period of the session, and the many important topics still pending discussion, were circumstances which rendered it advisable for him to introduce, or probable that the house could possibly entertain so voluminous a string of resolutions, the most numerous he believed ever proposed at any one time in that house by an individual member. The production of the papers required, might render it necessary to move for others quite as voluminous; both must be printed, and what time could then remain of the sessions to read, to consider, and to discuss them? Much better would it be for the hon. member, if he had any charge to make against earl St. Vincent, to bring it at once. Let it be referred, with all the documents, to a Committee, and let them report their decision; and if there appeared parliamentary ground for accusation against the noble earl, let it be followed up in a parliamentary way. The hon. member had talked of the disgraceful and degraded state of the British navy, during the administration of the noble earl. Upon what circumstance in the affairs of the navy, during that period, the hon. member had founded his assertion, he (Mr. Grey) was yet to learn; but he begged to ask the hon. member in what period of our naval history was the British flag more signally decorated with laurels in every quarter of the globe, then during the period of the noble earl's administration? If the hon. member had any charge to make against the noble earl, let him bring it forward. It was an enquiry desirable to the house, and to the country, and to none more so than to the noble lord. On behalf of the noble earl, therefore, he challenged the enquiry, and hoped it would not be relinquished.
§ Mr. Jeffery
replied by saying, he did not bring forward these motions lightly. It was no light charge for him to state that the degraded state of our navy was 632 entirely owing at this moment to the negligence of the noble lord. He wished, however, to bring no charge until the papers were before the house, out of which that charge was to arise. He wished to see his way before he made his charge; but if it was not founded in the documents for which be moved, he should most readily acknowledge his error, and be ready to apologize to the house and to the public officers for giving them unnecessary trouble.—With respect to the laurels acquired by the British navy under the noble lord's administration, they were attributable not to his direction, but to the eminent state of perfection in which he found that navy on his succession to its direction. It was then a navy fit for Britain to possess, and competent to meet and vanquish her enemies in every quarter of the globe; but was that the boasted superiority and perfection it maintained under the auspices of the noble earl, who never contracted for more than the building of two ships of the line? Was this the way to keep up the superiority of our navy, or was it not the certain road to that degradation to which it had since fallen? He disclaimed vindictive motives; he had voted with the glorious majority for the degradation of lord Melville, and he acted in this instance from motives equally just. He was cheered without doors by many men of character for his intentions upon this head, and he knew many independent members who, though they did not think fit themselves to bring forward this business, yet were glad to see the enquiry come forward. He had no objection however to postpone his motions to a more distant day, if the house wished.
§ Mr. Jeffery
answered Thursday; and till then he had no objection to withdraw his motions.—Withdrawn with leave of the house.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, as many of the motions contained papers, the revealing of which might be detrimental to the public service, he hoped the hon. gentleman would give him a copy of the whole, 633 that he might be able, in the mean time, to consider how far it might be proper to grant them; to which Mr. Jeffery agreed.—Adjourned.