HC Deb 01 March 1810 vol 15 cc657-72
Lord Palmerston

moved the order of the day for the further consideration of the report on the Army Estimates. On the question being put, That the report be now taken into further consideration,

Mr. Maurice Fitzgerald

rose for the purpose of impressing the House with the importance of ascertaining whether the expenditure contained in the estimates was absolutely necessary. This was a duty the more incumbent upon Parliament, after the various admissions they had heard of the propriety of retrenchment, but more particularly after the speech of an hon. gent. (Mr. Huskisson) on a former night, adoping all the views thrown out with respect to retrenchment by an hon. member behind him (Mr. Wardle), towards the close of the last session. But the chief importance of the statement of that hon. gent. on the former night was, that it contained the best evidence of the necessity of retrenchment, as coming from a man the best informed of any in Great Britain upon that subject. With respect to the statement made by the noble lord in opening the army estimates, as to the amount of the military force of the country being 600,000, so far from creating confidence in the country, he was convinced it would produce the contrary impression of alarm, when it was considered, that out of such a force so small a proportion could be brought into action against the enemy as had been employed in the late campaigns. It was now admitted that the taxation had reached its maximum; that the struggle would become every day more serious, and consequently the country be called upon for greater exertions. With a view to such exertions, he should not object to a large establishment, if that could be maintained efficiently; but when out of such an establishment so small a force could be actively employed, he thought that there must be something radically bad in its composition. It appeared, by the estimates, compared with the returns of effectives, that the House was to be called on to pay for at least 20,000 men more than were in the ranks of the army. The foreign corps on the establishment amounted to 23,955; to which it was to be proposed to-morrow to add above 30,000 Portuguese, making a total of nearly 60,000 foreign troops—a greater force of that description than had ever been employed in the service of any nation. To keep up the native force there was no prospect by the ordinary recruiting, nor by any other means than breaking up other establishments. The recruiting produced 11,000 last year; the draughts from the militia 8,043; making in the whole about 30,000 men, from which was to be deducted, desertions 3,387, leaving an actual accession to the army of 26,000 men only. The casualties at home, on the increased establishment, he estimated at 20,000 men; the casualties and extraordinary deaths in Spain, Portugal, and Walcheren, at the same number; so that the army had been diminished nearly 20,000, notwithstanding the accession from recruiting and the militia. The House was bound therefore to consider, whether it would not increase that class of men from which soldiers were to be procured. When retrenchments were talked of, he was surprised to find nothing in contemplation but a reduction of 20 horses per troop, and the reduction of the Manx fencibles, a corps consisting of only 347 men. He could see no reason, why so large a force of cavalry as 27,000 should be kept up, whéen we never had sent out more than 1,800 to Spain in the campaign under sir John Moore, and cavalry could be of no use in this country or Ireland, in the event of invasion. What he said of the regular cavalry applied equally to the volunteer cavalry. The volunterr infantry might be of some use; but he had never heard any reason assigned for keeping up such a force of volunteer cavalry.—The hon. member then proceeded to comment upon the expence and arrangements at the military college, complaining that the professor of fortifications had no more, or little more salary, than the teacher of arithmetic or fencing.—Alter dwelling some time on these points, and on the amount of force absorbed in the colonial service, the hon. member expressed his opinion, that the effective should be increased, by reducing the ineffective force.

General Tarleton

felt called upon, by an imperious sense of duty, to offer a few observations to the House, after what had fallen from the hon. member, and undertook to prove to the satisfaction of the House, that no reduction ought to be made in the cavalry force, which was our most useful arm. If there had been a cavalry force in Ireland at the time, gen. Humbert, with 800 men, could never have advanced 15 days march into that country. He had surveyed Ireland with a military eye, and could assert that it was peculiarly favourable for a body of cavalry to act in. Where ever gentlemen could hunt, there could cavalry act. It had been Buonaparté's uniform practice to employ large bodies of cavalry; and it was to the pressure of the French cavalry that was to be ascribed the great loss sustained in the precipitate retreat to Corunna. An effective cavalry was a most useful, but an ineffective cavalry was a most dangerous force to employ; he thought, of course that efficient horses only should be purchased for that service. He implored his Majesty's ministers, therefore, not to suffer themselves to be persuaded, by any arguments, to make a reduction in a force so necessary to the present security and ultimate defence of the country.

Mr. Lamb

expressed disapprobation of certain items in the estimates respecting foreign corps and temporary barracks in Ireland. But what he wished particularly to press upon the attention of the House was the enormous amount of the staff in this country, all of whom being absent from their regiments, performed no service. He could not perceive the reason why seven generals should be necessary in the home district. In the county of Herts, which formed a part of that district, some volunteers corps had been reviewed in 1805 by the duke of Cambridge, but since that period they had seen no general in that county. He did not mean to impute any blame to any of the generals, for the duty was perfectly well performed by the inspecting field officers. It certainly did appear somewhat strange that a staff of 20 persons should be necessary for one district. As to what had fallen from the hon. gent. respecting the military college, he had only to observe, that he entertained great hopes that it would prove beneficial to the army. When he considered the moderate expence of the college, he could not but think that this expence would be amply compensated by the benefits that would result to the army from that establishment.

Mr. Parnell

considered it a great defect in the estimates, and a great error in preparing them, that an addition of 7,000l. was to be made to the establishment of the war office, for the purpose of bringing up the arrears of the regimental accounts. He had also to complain, that the Report of the commissioners of military inquiry upon the subject of these arrears of accounts, had been suffered to lie on the table for two years, without having been acted upon.

Mr. Whitbread,

perceiving no disposition in the right hon. gent. opposite to say any thing upon the subject under consideration, and feeling that it must be the wish of the noble lord (Palmerston) to hear first all that could be urged against the estimates, in order that he might know to what he was to reply, begged to offer a few observations to the House upon the subject. This he felt it his duty to do, however reluctant he might be to occupy the attention of the House on that occasion. And here he could not help expressing the great satisfaction he felt at the ability with which the army estimates had been opened, in the perspicuous speech of the noble lord. It was the more gratifying to him to pay this tribute to the talents of that noble lord, becuase his latter speech in reply was even more creditable to him than the first on his opening. But he had risen chiefly for the purpose of calling for explanation upon some points in the estimates, which, notwithstanding the luminous speech of the noble lord, still required to be explained. The House was indebted to an hon. friend of his for having the estimates printed; and he was sure that no gentleman could look through them, and not be convinced that several points required explanation. There was one item for various contingencies amounting to 32,000l. without any specification of the contingencies thus provided for, which particularly required explanation. Many jobs might be introduced under this head of contingencies; and he was therefore desirous to know whether there would be any objection to giving a detailed account of these contingencies? This was rendered the more necessary, as on the night before the last the House had come to a vote, that no account was to be produced of the application of the sums voted last year. When such a vote had been given respecting past expenditure, it became his duty, and that of the House, to be the more cautious how they voted money now, without knowing in what manner it was to be applied. It was, therefore, his intention to move an amendment to the motion put from the chair, by proposing to leave out the word "now," for the purpose of inserting the words, "this day se'nnight." The right hon. gent. had a vote on which he could ground the Mutiny bill; no mischief could consequently result from that short delay; and as the various accounts in the estimates required to be maturely considered before they should be voted, he did not think it too much to expect that his amendment should be acceded to. Every item of the public expenditure ought to be scrupulously ex- amined, but more particularly, after the speeches of the right hon. and hon. gentlemen opposite (Messrs. Rose and Huskisson) on a former night.—As to the question of the mounting of the cavalry, much difference of opinion seemed to prevail, and consequently some time might be necessary in order, upon due and deliberate consideration, to reconcile such differences. For his own part, he thought it much better to purchase efficient horses at 75l. than to purchase horses not fit to work at 25l. each. Most of the horses sent out to Spain would never be fit for use; because the mode of training horses for the cavalry was likely to render them unfit for service, unless they were of the proper age when taken into training. He was of opinion that none ought to be purchased under the age of four or five years, in which case their immediate fitness for service would compensate for the difference of price, which could in no case be equal to the expence of keeping and training young horses.—The arrangement respecting the Manx fencibles drew a laugh from the noble lord himself, whilst stating it. The Manx fencibles were said to be intended to act against smugglers, whilst, according to every account, they were themselves the greatest smugglers in the island. He next came to the head respecting the local militia, which it was proposed to reduce in point of expenditure. Both he and an hon. friend, when the proposition for establishing the local militia was brought forward, had foretold all that had since happened. They had said that the expence would be enormous; they were told, no, it would be moderate; they had said that the establishment would interfere with the agriculture of the country; they were told, no, the farmers would be glad of it. They had said that the measure in its progress would unsettle the occupations and habits of the people: the answer was, no, the men would return cheerfully from their training to their former occupations and ordinary business. But what was the case now? Why, the House was told that the expence was so enormous, that unless it could be reduced, the establishment should be given up; that the number of days of exercise should he reduced; and that the habits acquired on duty tended to unsettle the occupations of the country. He was willing to attempt to make the local militia an efficient body, without the expence of the staff. But he was apprehensive, that the sum proposed this year would not be sufficient. The sum voted last year was one million; the sum to be voted this year was 000,000l. The local militia was to amount to six times the number of the regular militia. In his county, not one half of the local militia had been out on duty, or received their clothing. In other counties, they had not been called out at all. He should be glad, therefore, to know whether the whole of the money voted last year had been spent. This the right hon. gent. had refused to let the House know, and on this ground he was cautious, of voting more money till he should know how it was to be applied. He was well assured that not a man could take the field that did not cost government eight pounds for his clothing, and not a man could be trained at a less expence than eight pounds more; so that in the year of clothing each local militia-man would cost the country 16l. All he wanted to know then, was, what portion of the local militia had been furnished with clothing last year, and what part was to be clad during the present. He wished to be informed of the expenditure of the past year, in order that he might judge of the correctness of the estimates for the present year. If in a man's private concerns, he were to be asked for the expences of this week, would he not call for an account of the expenditure of the last week? He was confident on this subject that the whole of the local militia had not either been clothed, trained, or armed last year, and as a member of that House, he felt that he had a right to call for information how far the money granted last session for that service had been expended upon it. The noble lord had stated that the expence was to be reduced in the present year. Perhaps it might not be the intention of the right hon. gent. to call out the whole of that force, or to furnish it with clothing this year. It had been said, indeed that this force could not be rendered efficient, but he was not one of those who thought it might not be rendered an efficient force even without the staff, by the attention of the country gentlemen commanding the corps and connected with its formation. He was confident, that if the regiments of local militia were to be sent out on duty for a month, they would acquire, if not a perfect knowledge of discipline, considerable dexterity in the use of arms,—Much had been done in many cases by individual exertion; though, in several other instances, he feared that little had been done, because scarcely any thing was attempted. Upon the subject of the waggon train, he had but one observation to make. Either it was a good corps to be kept up, or it was not; if it was good, why reduce it? and if not good, why not do it away altogether? Five troops, it appeared, were to be reduced, and seven kept up, on the ground that five were serving advantageously with lord Wellington's army. It had been said, indeed, that lord Wellington thought well of the services of this corps; but this was the authority of that noble person against his own authority on a former occasion; for it was well known that lord Wellington had given that corps a far different character in a former instance. But though it might be desirable to keep up the part of the corps serving with lord Wellington's army for the present, he would ask, why measures had not been taken for its reduction whenever that army should return, if ever, as he sincerely hoped it should return, to this country? The enormous expence of the staff he considered so glaring, that he could not think it necesary to employ any argument to impress the House with the propriety as well as the necessity of very extensive retrenchment in that department. There was another item also in these estimates which deserved the particular attention of the House; that which regarded the establishment of a new army medical board. A noble lord (Temple) had given notice of a motion on this subject; but though he was not disposed to anticipate the discussion, still he must offer a few words on it. The old medical board had fairly run itselfout:— it no longer existed. It stood exposed in all its nakedness, and was at length actually dismissed.—But was the army likely to gain by the change? Was the new establishment to be more efficient? He had heard that the members of it were to receive increased salaries, because they had consented to give up their private practice—It was certainly but fair, if gentlemen, for public services, were taken from situations or professions of great emolument, that they should be indemnified for any loss they might sustain by the change; but was this the case with the members of the new board? So far from it, that he understood that two, if not the whole three of them, had retired from practice for several years. He had felt it his duty to make some enquiry into the history of these gentlemen. One of them he learned was upwards of 70, almost as old, indeed, as sir Lucas Pepys, who was so old, in fact, that he was not capable of discharging his duty. The person he meant was Dr. Weir, who was a surgeon's mate in 1761, 49 years ago. Him they put at the head of the new medical board, having broken up the former for inefficiency. Dr. Ker was between 50 and 60 years old, was an hospital mate in 1766, and took a degree some years ago in Edinburgh. He, as well as the head of the board, had retired. Dr. Gordon, he understood, had also retired into the country. What practice, he would ask, had these people given up to entitle them to increased salaries? He could not but consider the increase of salary to them, therefore, as a most wanton and censurable waste of the public money. It was singular, too, that the whole of these gentlemen had come from the north of the Tweed, He did not mean to throw any imputation on that part of the empire, for many natives of which he had the highest respect. The selection, however, might be easily accounted for: the Commander in Chief was of the same country, between 70 and 80; and it was very natural that he should have a partiality for persons nearly of his own age and of his own nation.

But whatever the decision of the House might be, for the present, respecting the new establishment, he trusted the old medical board would not escape inquiry; that they would not be dismissed retaining their salaries. If it should be found they had done injury to the medical service of the army, they deserved to be punished. Two out of the three of these accused their colleague of having killed some thousands of the army by the error and insufficiency of his practice and arrangements. Was not this a subject for inquiry? If one of them was so old that he could not do his business—if he knew nothing of camps, and the diseases incident to a campaign, the knowledge of which was essential to the situation he filled, would the House agree to vote such a man remuneration? Before he would vote a shilling for the new establishment, he would insist on a thorough investigation into the old. They might all deserve punishment, but none could meritremuneration. He could not, therefore, as he had before stated, consent to vote the Estimates, without knowing how the money was spent. He regretted that a right hon. gent. (Mr. Yorke) who was always so prominent on questions relating to military affairs, was not in the House to deliver his opinion on these estimates. He considered it very extraordinary too, that he should have vacated his seat on the very day they were proposed. He recollected well that in a deoate on the same subject last session, that honourable member had felt it his duty to criticize the army estimates. He put some very pointed questions to the then secretary at war relating to the measures taken for the defence of the coast. He asked whether they were in that formidable condition that if Buonaparté by chance should sail by, he would pull off his hat, and say, "gentlemen, your humble servants, I see I cannot attack you." The right hon. member might have made a similar observation when he vacated his seat, and secured a snug sinecure. He might have said to the abolitionists, "Gentlemen, your humble servant, you may now do what you please with your bill, it won't affect me." —He recollected to have heard an observation of an hon. member of that House, who had shared the fate of many administrations. "Good God!" says he, "how different a man feels in and out of office!" There was another hon. gent. in his eye (Mr. Huskisson,) whose conduct in a late debate shewed, that a man might not only feel, but speak very differently in and out office.

The speech of that hon. gent. on that occasion, was directly the reverse of what he had urged in answer last session to the propositions submitted to the House by his hon. friend (Mr. Wardle) behind him. For the hon. gent. confirmed in perfect sobriety a great deal of that which his hon. friend had perhaps indiscreetly declared in a convivial moment. His hon. friend had declared, that it was possible to save ten millions, or to the amount of the income tax, out of the annual expenditure of the country. Now the time he selected for making this declaration, was the worst he could choose, namely, after a taverndinner; and, probably, at a time when the best financier in the company was not in a condition to divide the dinner-bill. And yet it was upon an inconsiderate declaration of this kind, and the applause that it excited, that his hon. friend chose to found a statement which tended to render every suggestion of public economy ridiculous. Save ten millions! why his hon. friend reflected so little on what he was pledging himself to, that one glass more might have made it seventy millions. It was natural enough that his hon. friend, who was at that time in the high tide of his well-deserved popularity, should have thrown out in the gaiety of the moment so extravagant an expectation; but it was most extraordinary that he should come down to the House, and endeavour to establish such a statement. And how did he propose to effect this vast saving? Why, by wholly abolishing some of the most necessary branches of the public expenditure, by reforming others, by driblets cabbaged from this office and that department. Such inconsiderate proposals might be productive of great danger and detriment to the country. They tended to bring all plans of reform and economy into disrepute, to render them ridiculous, and to make those who proposed them, pass for extravagant and visionary speculators. But when the hon. gent. (Mr. Huskisson) came forward with suggestions of economical reform, he was entitled to greater respect. No one could suspect him of making inconsiderate and ill-digested propositions. For himself, he could not, entertaining, as he did, the highest opinion of the talents of that hon. gent. and his perfect acquaintance with every branch of the public expenditure, he considered his secession from the administration as by far the greatest loss it had sustained. A successor indeed (Mr. Wharton) had been found, but the House could already judge of the difference between them. The place, no doubt was filled, but it was not supplied. That a great saving, however, could be effected, they had the assurance of the hon. gent. in the late debate. His speech on that occasion was a counterpart of that of his hon. friend last session (Mr. Wardle) and the most complete answer that could be given to the reply which he then made, and which reply was published as a pamphlet.—But, whatever the saving might be, or to what extent it might be carried, it was impossible it could have much effect, constituted as the government now was—a government made up of jarring and discordant parts subject to no superior controul. The first lord of the treasury had no controul over the admiralty, and yet they were called on by him to vote money for the use of the admiralty. The first lord of the treasury had no controul over the ordnance, for the master general of the ordnance denied his authority. The first lord of the treasury had no command over the army at all, for that was exclusively in the commander in chief. Was this the way in which things were to be carried on? Independent departments all pulling different ways, but all drawing on the first -lord of the treasury, without estimate, plan, or calculation of any sort! Nothing could more fully prove the mischief and confusion likely to arise from this system, than the speech of one of the right hon. gent.'s former colleagues. The necessity of a great and comprehensive system of national economy was becoming more evident every day. If they did not curtail, they could not go on long, said the hon. gent. (Mr. Huskisson) on the floor, and so should he say too. But he had been frequently himself reminded of the imprudence of any disclosures respecting the weakness or probable exhaustion of our finances. He was told that his speeches would go to America, and that they would encourage that country to exact greater terms, than she otherwise might. It was said they might go to France and encourage that power to insist on higher conditions than she might have been disposed to accept. Buonaparté, it was said, was directing the whole of his attention to the ruin of our finances; and would, he had been asked, he be the first to assure him, that his plan must prove ultimately successful? He did not suppose he would believe him if he did. He would perhaps rather consider him as a person, who wanted to get a place, and who would stick at no assertion that might contribute to turn the person out of it, by whom it was occupied. But when this avowal came from a person who had been a member of administration, it would have a hundred times the weight. What would the Moniteur say when it was avowed that the chief, if not only vectigal of England, was parsimonia? When the same lavish grants were called for, and it was declared that we were ruined if they did not go on, would not the Frenchmen toss their caps in the air, and cry, "Aye, now the thing is done. Don't you hear the enemy say they have no hopes but from economy? and yet they are going on in their usual career of extravagance." Ministers, in fact, were going on as if the national resources were infinite. At the very moment that they were burthening the people with a pension of 2,000l. per annum to lord Wellington, they bestowed a sinecure office of 4,000l. a year.—(No, no, from the Treasury Bench, it is only 2,700l.)—Well then, 2,700l. a year (the amount of the sum made no difference in the argument) on a person that quitted no profession, who incurred no dangers, who subjected himself to no hardships or privations, and who rendered no services to the country, that he had ever heard of: these were the circumstances which excited and fed the general indignation and suspicion that were too apt to be entertained against public men. Those things, as well as others, were at length unmasked, but now the secret was disclosed. It was let out by the person who had been behind the curtain.— If we continued in this career of extravagance, how could we maintain war? How could we procure peace? He deprecated that impious and execrable doctrine, that we were to be engaged in perpetual war with France, or at least during the life-time of Buonaparté. He trusted the day would come, even during the life of that extraordinary man, that we could obtain peace on terms becoming our honour; but he would not, by voting for these estimates, put it out of his power to retrench. He would reserve the means of seeking for peace, as peace should be sought. If we did not retrench, it was possible that we might at last be obliged to seek for peace on our knees. He wished for peace, and therefore he wished to be put in a condition to make peace respectably. For these reasons he felt himself compelled to say, that he would not vote for the army estimates on that day. There were many of the items that were extremely objectionable. He would mention one; that which proposed a remuneration to the medical board. It was one, he was persuaded, which would create great dissatisfaction in the army and in the country. Such was the public opinion of the misconduct of that board, that any proposition for rewarding them must be heard with displeasure. However inconsiderable the sum might be in the great scale of national expenditure, in taking it off, they took off thousands of pounds of disgust. He could not consent to receive the report now. He wished for further time; he was not master of the subject. He wished to know how the money had been last year spent. He could not agree, without full and ample enquiry, to vote a shilling to such a lord of the treasury, surrounded by rapacious colleagues, he meant in their departments, tearing him to pieces, like a parcel of prodigal sons, exclaiming, "Pay my debts, pay my debts," to a father who had no controul over them. The hon. member concluded amost able and animated speech, by moving, That the report be read on that day se'nnight; and observed, that if he carried the question, he should move, that certain items in the estimates be referred to a select committee.

Lord Palmerston,

in reply, re-stated, and justified different items in the proposed reduction. The new medical board was composed of members, who, whether they came from the north or from the south, whether they were old or young, were perfectly efficient, and had every one of them been recommended by a board of general officers.

Lord Castlereagh

stated, that inquiry had been made into the conduct of the late medical board, by a board of general officers, at the head of which was general Fox, who reported that they had not neglected their duty. The noble lord also stated, that notwithstanding the losses of the two last campaigns, the number of the regular army was greater now by 34,000, than it was on the 24th of March, 1807, when the former administration quitted office. The ordinary recruiting was found to nearly supply the ordinary waste. What stronger proof could there be of the efficiency of the system?

Mr. Whitbread

did not mean to impute blame to the government for the conduct of the medical board. With respect to the estimates, he did not know whether it would not be more prudent to refer them to a select committee, before the House were called on to vote.

Mr. Huskisson

complained of having been misconceived, and consequently misrepresented by the hon. gent. He denied that the speech to which the hon. gent. had alluded was a counterpart of the other hon. gentleman's (Mr. Wardle). He defended himself from the imputation of throwing indiscriminate censure upon his Majesty's ministers, but admitted that he had some doubts as to the policy of continuing the excess of expenditure referred to in his speech on a former night.

Lord Folkestone

defended Mr. Edmund Knight, who had been alluded to in terms of harshness in the course of the debate, from the imputation of blame cast upon his conduct in the medical department of the late expedition.

Sir J. Newport

objected entirely to the estimate relating to the barrack department in Ireland.

Mr. W. Pole

replied at considerable length to the hon. baronet, and warmly supported the estimate of which he complained.

Mr. Wardle

asked the noble secretary for the war department, who the barrack-master-general was, who, it appeared on the face of the estimates, had retired on a pension of 691l. per annum.

Lord Palmerston

replied, that to the best of his recollection the gentleman alluded to was general De Lancey.

Mr. Huskisson

spoke in favour of the mode adopted by government of rewarding that officer.

Mr. W. Smith

deprecated the appointment as an unnecessary piece of extravagance, and an additional burthen upon the country.

The. Chancellor of the Exchequer

disagreed with the hon. gent. in the view he had taken upon the subject, thinking as he did, that the services of so meritorious an officer ought to meet with an adequate reward. The right hon. gent. entered into a defence of all the items of estimates in the account before the House, except that relating to the Home Staff, which he confessed ought to undergo some revision; and entertaining such an opinion, he de- clared that he would not divide the House upon that point.

Mr. Bankes, Mr. H. Thornton, and Mr. Giles, and Sir C. Burrard, declared their determination to vote in favour of the amendment—and Mr. Dundas opposed it.

Mr. Whitbread,

in reply, said he should not divide the House upon his Amendment, but he did hope that some of the items he should name would be reserved for further consideration. He particularly mentioned those relating to the Home Staff, the Medical Department, and the Local Militia, all of which he moved should be taken into further consideration on this day fortnight.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

professed his willingness to agree with the hon. gentleman's proposition, of deferring the consideration of the Home staff subject; but to the others he felt it his duty, gave his positive dissent.

The question on Mr. Whitbread's Amendment was then put from the Chair, and negatived without a division; and the original question for taking the report of the Committee of Supply 'now' into consideration was carried in the affirmative. The House then agreed to all the resolutions of its Committee, excepting that relating to the Home Staff, the further consideration of which was postponed until this day fortnight.