HC Deb 18 February 1807 vol 8 cc843-7
Mr. Robson,

pursuant to notice, rose to move for certain papers relative to abuses in the barrack department. As the papers he had to move for were precisely the same as those which had been ordered last session, but which, in consequence of the dissolution of parliament, could not be regularly returned to the present parliament, he did not apprehend any objection to his motion. But as it had appeared to some of his friends that he was too anxious in prosecuting the inquiry into this subject, he should make one or two observations in answer to such opinions. Four years had elapsed since he had first recommended and pressed an inquiry into the expenditure department, and since that period six millions had been granted for that service in Great Britain, and two millions for Ireland. If his suggestions had been acted upon, there would have been a saving of two millions effected for the public, out of the sums paid for the hire of buildings, the repairs of buildings, and the rent of temporary barracks. In the Second Report of Military Inquiry there appeared a case which he should refer to in support of this assertion. It was there stated, that a Mr. Page, who became barrack-master at Winchester, in 1801, leaguing with a Mr. Green, a lawyer, bought a house which had been before rented as a barrack, for 63l. per annum, but which was not worth more than 30l. after which the government had been charged 163l. The whole sum that had been paid for this barrack, since the year 1794, amounted to 1700l. though according to the usual allowance of officers, only 33l. 10s. ought to have been paid for it, as it did not appear that the barrack had been occupied by officers for more than one year of the whole term. This certainly called for inquiry. He begged also to call the attention of the house to the case of a barrack called the Queen's Barracks, near Weymouth, which he had visited in the middle of Sept. This barrack contained 700 and sometimes 800 men, and though so great expence was incurred, the accommodations for the officers and men were extremely bad. The building was in a low situation, in a narrow street, near a public brewhouse, without any convenience of water, but from a pump, which was at a distance, and often dry, without any place for exercising the troops, so that sixty guineas a year were paid for a piece of land, at a considerable distance for that purpose. The stories of the building were but five feet high, and extremely inconvenient, and there were no drains to carry off the water. He was sure, when he stated these circumstances, that the house would not think him too anxious in pressing the inquiry. In bringing the question forward, he did not mean to impute blame to any man; the evil originated in a bad system, from which it had grown up to its present extent, and his majesty's ministers might not yet have had time to take the necessary measures for preventing the state of the barracks from being a reproach to the country. He knew not whether the barrack he had adverted to was rented or had been purchased, but his motion would reach that fact. It was unnecessary for him to state to the house the utility of economy. He understood that the barrack department in Ireland was [...]n as bad a state as in Great Britain, and he was the more alarmed at this, because he looked at the expenditure of that country in the gross, which was now nearly equal to the charge for Great Britain, and could not but reflect, that fifteen-seventeenths of whatever sums should be expended for barracks in Ireland, would be to be defrayed by this country. The honourable gentleman concluded by moving, "That there be laid before this house a return of all the buildings of every description, rented or hired by government, and used as barracks or places for lodging, or containing officers or soldiers of the army, or of persons or horses attached to the army; that the said return do embrace every building which has so been rented, or hired, and so used, in the whole of Great Britain and Ireland, between the 1st day of January, 1793, and the 1st day of January, 1807: that the said return be exhibited in fifteen columns, placed in the order and containing the several heads here following, viz. 1st. the date of the year and of the month and day when each building respectively was taken; 2d, the county and parish in which the building is situate; 3d, the name or phrase describing the building; 4th, the number of officers that are, or have been generally quartered or lodged in the building; 5th, the number of non-commissioned officers and men, and of horses, that are or have been generally quartered or lodged in the building; 6th, the name of the proprietor of the building; 7th, the name and rank of the officer or person by whom the building was taken on the part of government; 8th, the weekly rent or hire of the building; 9th, the yearly rent or hire of the building; 10th, the name and rank of the officer or person, or officers or persons, through whose hands the rent, or hire, has been paid to the proprietor of the building; 11th, the time when any alteration (if any) in the rent or hire of the building was made; 12th, the weekly rent or hire of the building, subsequent to such alteration; 13th, the yearly rent or hire of the building, subsequent to such alteration; 14th, the time when the building was given up, if not now occupied by government; 15th, the account of the whole of the sums which have been expended in repairs upon the building; and the said returns do exhibit all the names and descriptions of the said buildings, following one another in due chronological order, the building first taken by government standing first, and the building last taken, standing last."

Lord Howick

said, he felt no inclination to withhold any information that could be conveniently produced on this subject; but from the extent and wording of the hon. gentleman's motion, he had some doubts of the practicability of obtaining the returns to it in any reasonable time. It was well worth the attention of the house not to lose sight of this subject. The hon. gentleman had stated, that his motion was precisely the same as one that had been agreed to last session; but on reference to the barrack department, he found that the returns to that motion could not have been prepared without the aid of twenty additional clerks, and for a long period. The house would consider, whether it would be expedient to order the accounts now called for to be produced at the expence of so much time and labour, when the attention of two commissions, the military commission and the other commission appointed at the suggestion of the military commission, for examining persons upon oath, were both employed in investigating this subject. If it should appear that these commissioners were negligent or inattentive, it would be for the house to determine how far it would be right to comply with the motion.

Colonel Barry

said, he could contradict the assertion of the honourable gentleman with respect to the barrack department in Ireland, from an experience of ten years. But he agreed with the hon. gentleman that it would be desirable to avoid, as much as possible, the use of temporary barracks. But when it was found necessary to march a body of troops to a particular point, where there were no accommodations, it was necessary to hire buildings at any rent that should be demanded. The barrack-master-general in Ireland felt the propriety of putting the barracks of that country on the same footing as in this, and attended particularly to the economy of expenditure in his department.

Mr. Robson,

in reply, said, that he was persuaded if the noble lord would take the trouble to read the motion at length, he would then see whether or not such an account already existed in any public office, and if it could not be produced in a day or two, he should still insist that the house ought not to separate till his motion was consented to. Such a document ought to be ready by this time, considering the length of the notice given upon the subject. There were no less than 591 established clerks in the Barrack Department, and therefore it could not be alleged that there was not sufficient help to enable the Barrack Master to comply with the request of a member of parliament. Last year he confined his inquiry to one parish or district in the Isle of Wight, and in that place, he had since found that the rents of Temporary Barracks were reduced one half. Barns hired for that purpose, and rated at 2,200l. were now lowered to 1,100l. by means of the motion he had formerly made upon this subject. All this he could prove to have taken place, although he was now to be refused the production of that which would enable him not only to bring several Barrack-masters to the bar, but also to save the sum of two millions to the public. As he believed, however, that some reform was in agitation by ministers themselves, he could assure them, that he was not, disposed to satisfy any revenge upon this occasion, but merely to press upon them the necessity of a speedy reformation in these abuses. All he wished to know was, where the new account in that department began, and where the old one ended? But since he felt an opposition to this inquiry, merely on account of the mode he proposed, in order to attain this object, he should have no objection to give up his motion without dividing the house.

Lord Howick

begged the hon. gentleman and the house distinctly to understand, that he had not refused him any papers, which could, with propriety, be produced. If his motion could possibly have been complied with, without interfering with the commissioners already appointed, nobody could be more ready than he was, to support such inquiries.—The motion was then put from the chair, and negatived without a division.

Mr. Robson

further stated, that he should, upon a future day, submit a motion to the house, that would reach the Barrack Departments upon foreign stations. He hoped the charges abroad, (for instance, in the Island of Sicily) would not be found such as were formerly existing in the Island of Corsica.

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