HC Deb 04 April 1811 vol 19 cc700-8
General Gascoyne

rose pursuant to notice, to move for a Committee to inquire into the Pay and Allowances to the Land Forces of this country, so far as the same related to sums granted by Parliament. He was sorry that the business had not fallen into hands more able to do justice to it than he was conscious that he was; and he was still more sorry that it had not beer brought forward by his Majesty's ministers. His object, he begged it to be understood, was not to increase the pay of the officers in the army. Deeply as he was impressed with the inadequacy of their pay to their increased expences; he was far from entertaining such an idea. If any increase was to be made, he knew that the proposition would come with infinitely greater propriety from that source whence every thing of the kind ought to emanate—from the crown. The partiality of the King to this branch of our service was so well known, that it would be unnecessary for him to dwell on it. The royal personage, too, who had long held a Commission in the Army, and who was himself a practical soldier, there could not be a doubt, was sensible of, and anxious to afford relief to the officers of our army That royal personage was as practical a soldier as any in our army, and there was nothing which withheld him from participating in the laurels so proudly earned by our brave officers, but the high rank he held in the country; and, he entertained no doubt, that if the royal person to whom he alluded had seen the propriety of proposing an increase to the pay of officers in the army he would have recommended it. Having now stated what was not his object he should go on to state shortly what it was, and should endeavour to draw a comparison between the allowances to the officers of the army now and what they were at the first establishment of regular regiments in the year 1614. At that time sixpence per day was fixed as the regular pay of a soldier; and this also bore on the pay of the officer, the pay of an Ensign being fixed at six days pay of the soldiers; that of the Lieutenant at eight days pay; the captains at sixteen days pay, and so on. In the reign of king William, an improvement was made in the situation of the officers in our army, not by way of increase of pay, but of allowance. An injurious practice had prevailed previous to that period, of officers withdrawing soldiers from the line, and treating them as their own private servants. In lieu thereof it was then settled, that each officer should have a servant, or an adequate compensation for a servant. In the year 1695, a lieutenant colonel's pay was 17s. at present it was 17s. but liable to a deduction on account of the income tax, which reduced it to 15s. 9d. The pay of a major was then 15s.—now it was 16s.; but after deduction of the Income Tax, amounted only to 14s. 9d. A captain's was then 9s. and after deduction of the Income Tax, amounted to the same sum at this moment. Officer" had then, too, certain perquisites. Each captain had the paying of his own company, and derived an emolument from non-effectives, to a greater amount than the House might be inclined to believe, namely to between 40 and 50l. each. By Mr. Burke's Bill, each captain was allowed, in place of the stock-purse, 20l. a year. This was taking the company at the low establishment of 40 men; but if it could have been supposed that the company might amount, as it now did, on an average to 80 men, could it be supposed that the framer of that Bill would have objected to making the allowance 40l. and so in proportion? And, if this was so, could it be alleged that what was then given in lieu of the stock purse was an adequate compensation? A bill had lately passed that House, allowing to officers in the customs compensation for the abolition of certain fees, in proportion to the amount thereof; and if this was the case with the fees or emoluments derived by officers of the customs, was it too much to desire that a similar line of conduct should be pursued with regard to officers in the army? This he submitted to the House as a fact, that instead of any increase having been made to the pay or even to the allowances of officers in the army from the very earliest periods, the allowances to which they were entitled in the year 1695 were infinitely more considerable than they now were in the year 1811. If this was so, and he was sure it was, he asked of the House whether they would not on this account be the more inclined to pay attention to their other claims? He might be told that the pay of captains in the army was increased in the year 1806; but what was it? They received an increase of 1s. 0½d. but the 1s. was immediately afterwards taken from them, and the ½d. alone remained. He did not mean to exempt the officers in the army from the Income Tax: that was a measure which might seem to admit of dispute. The fact which he wished to impress on the House, was this, that they had less now than they had 150 years ago. Captains were originally allowed contingent men for the repair of arms, which was changed into 25 days? pay for three men, and he now called on the House to consider if 6d. per day was no more than sufficient for defraying this expence 150 years ago, whether it might not be supposed to have increased in the same ratio with the pay of the soldiers, and of course, at this moment to have doubled its original amount? It might be objected to him, that the army for whom he now volunteered as the advocate, had made no remonstrances, had put in no claim upon the subject; to this he should answer, that if the army had put in any such remonstrance, or had forwarded any such complaint, he would have been the first man in that House to resist, in the most strenuous manner, any such claim, because he thought it hostile to every principle of the constitution that an armed body should become deliberative. After some further observations, he concluded with moving, That a Committee be appointed to inquire into the state of his Majesty's Land-Forces so far as relates to the distribution of money granted by parliament for the pay and allowances thereof.

Mr. Taylor

supported the motion. It was matter of general observation amongst foreign courts, that a country so wealthy as this was should place her military establishment, as far at least as related to captains in the army, upon an establishment comparatively so low.

Lord Palmerston

said, he felt as strongly as the gallant general himself for the comfort and convenience of the English army. He was sure they deserved well of their country upon all occasions, but at the present moment, in particular, they had proved a claim to its regard which should not be met with any parsimonious or illiberal feeling. The situation, however, in which he stood was far from a gracious one; obliged to resist a proposition which was considered favourable to those upon whose behalf it was made, he felt that his situation was one of difficulty and embarrassment. He acquitted the gallant general of seeking popularity by the motion, or pursuing any other object than his duty in bringing it forward; but at the same time be could not help regretting that he bad thought proper to do so. He was sure that the good sense of the officers of the army would give full credit to the House and to his Majesty's ministers for deciding upon a full and impartial consideration of the subject. He would not follow the gallant general in the statement he had given of the pay of the army, nor was he inclined to agree in all the conclusions drawn from that statement. The income tax was certainly a reduction, but the gallant general himself allowed that they should not be exempted from it; and in so allowing, had overthrown a great part of the argument upon which he rested his case. There was a material distinction to be observed between the pay of the soldier and the pay of the officer; that of the soldier was intended to supply him with the necessaries of life; but that of the officer was more in the nature of an honourable reward for his services, the value of which he would appreciate not so much by the sum it contained, as by the principle upon which it was granted. Besides, every officer entered the army with his eyes open, he knew what the remuneration was and the House might depend that it was not by the addition of a few shillings in the day that they would obtain men who would be more ambitious of the glory of their country. The captains had obtained an increase of pay, and the allowance for forage, lodging and travelling, had been greatly increased. As to the allowances to those embarking on foreign service, it was submitted to a board of general officers who would report their opinion. But was it wise, was it prudent for the House to refer a question of this importance to the consideration of a Committee? The measure was not for a general increase, but for an increase in favour of one rank. The appointment of such a Committee would give rise to expectations, which it would be wrong to encourage, and might produce correspondent claims from the navy. If the House could be assured that this was a measure which would give full satisfaction to the army, there might be some reason for the motion, but if its effects would only be to open a wide field of inquiry, it was a useless and injurious speculation. The warrant to which the gallant general had referred, limited the stock purse to 20l. and was it fit that the House should exceed that limitation? The greatest compensation that could be given, was given by Mr. Burke's Bill, and the army was now in a better condition than formerly, whatever might be said to the contrary. He was persuaded, that when they considered the mischief which might arise from setting afloat such ideas in both services as the motion was calculated to give rise to, and reflected how much better any change would come from another quarter than from a Committee, the House would agree with him in giving a negative to the motion.

Mr. Hutchinson

confessed that he was not convinced by the arguments of the noble lord either of the impropriety or unseasonableness of the motion made by the gallant general. He did not, therefore, then rise to defend observations which, in his opinion, remained unrefuted; but, in one part of the noble lord's speech he had complained of the ill effects to be apprehended from agitating the discussion of so delicate a subject in that place. This objection to motions originating on that side of the House was certainly by no means a novel one; but it was not for that reason to be the less censured. It was one of those objections which was more to be resisted on account of the principle upon which it rested, than from any force actually in the objection itself. A member of parliament was not to be deterred from pursuing that line of conduct which his own conscientious sense of public duty pointed out to him. He was not to be diverted from that line of duty by vague charges of exciting discontent out of doors. If there was any use in the Commons House of Parliament, it was in the right and opportunity it afforded of discussing all public measures, and investigating all alleged grievances with the freedom of truth. And there could not be a more dangerous innovation upon one of their oldest and most essential privileges, than the attempt to resist the introduction of any question, by creating objections against it out of the imaginary bad consequences which it was presumed would arise from its discussion. With respect to the motion before the House, the assertion of the gallant general, that the pay of the captains of the army had experienced no increase for the last hundred years, with the solitary exception of a shilling a day, was not contradicted by the noble lord, and was in itself a sufficient ground for the inquiry moved for. He was aware of the delicacy of such questions, but the present was not a new one; an increase in the pay of a department of the navy had taken place within a few years. The increase now proposed would not exceed 80 or 90,000l. a year; what was that sum to take out of the Treasury compared with the importance of the object to be effected? A trifling economy in sundry parts of the different public estimates would more than pay the difference. The income tax, in his opinion, operated most harshly upon those officers who were out on foreign service, and whose private income was perhaps extremely confined. He thought that they, at least, should be exempted from that tax. He spoke in the hearing of those members of the government who had thought it necessary to raise their own salaries. He did not complain of this; so far from it, that he believed it to have been absolutely necessary. Men high in public office, were so poorly paid by their respective salaries, that, while discharging great public trusts, they were living upon their own private fortunes; therefore he did not complain of that increase, but he thought it was an argument by analogy in favour of the increase now sought for. The noble lord had said, very truly, that the British officer did not enter the army merely to obtain a subsistence; no doubt he did not. The British officer entered upon the career of his profession with too much glow of heart to think of less than the fame of a soldier; but, at the same time, the country was not the less bound to lake care that the British officer should not suffer, because he thought infinitely more of his professional honour, than his private emolument, of that country's interest, than of his own. Let the noble lord make this the test of the inquiry. Could the officer live upon his pay? Were they not bound in justice to provide that the officer should have at least enough to live upon? The answer must decide the propriety, or impropriety, of the present motion. But, it was apprehended, that the agitating this question, might excite unreasonable expectations on the part of the army. Was this doing justice to the army? It was said, an unfavourable result might produce dissatisfaction. Was this, he asked, to be expected from the British officers? As for their conduct against the enemy, it was above all praise. Mania and Busaco spoke a more intelligible language in behalf of the British army than mere praise could do. But he would venature to say, that if we were capable of suspecting such men of being tempted for a moment by any grievances, real or imaginary, to forget their great duty to themselves, their honourable profession, and their country, we were unworthy of such an army.

Sir James Pulteney

was of opinion that the proposed mode would not accord with the feelings of military men, and that although the general object was desirable, it ought to be accomplished in a different manner.

General Tarleton

, notwithstanding any unpopularity which might attach upon, him for delivering the sentiments which he should deliver, would not therefore be deterred therefrom. In a debate, at the conclusion of the last war, it was observed by a noble lord, upon a motion similar in its nature to the present, that the time for such motion was not when the country was at war, but that it would be more advisable to agitate it in time of peace. In that opinion the hon. and gallant general concurred, and he still retained the same opinion. The question, in a war of a protracted nature like the present, ought not to be entertained; at the same time he was disposed to admit, that his brave comrades in arms had cause for complaint, for the pay of the army officers, from the rank of field marshal down to that of ensign, was inadequate. It was not sufficient to support them in the rank which every officer in the British army ought to hold; but if the situation of any one class of officers was to be considered, the whole would have an equal claim, The hon. and gallant general considered, that the increase of salary given to officers in the government, the masters in chancery, &c. was properly so given, but from this motion he must dissent; it ought not to be agitated until the termination of the war. He had lived and served long enough in various situations in the world, not to be well satisfied, that all descriptions of troops were ready and wil- ling to do their duty. There was not in any country in which he had served, a class so truly respectable and brave as that of British officers, either in public or private. Having said thus much, he should say a word or two about the army itself. The contest was a serious one, and it was the duty of the government to take the best means of keeping that army regularly supplied. Now, as to recruiting the army, there was but one line of conduct to pursue, and that was, to make the local militia subservient to the regular militia, and the regular militia to the army of the line; so that, in case of emergency, the country might have a well-disciplined force to look to. That was the best mode to be adopted. He had seen in former wars the practical benefit of such a system. The men raised by recruiting from the militia were well appointed, good soldiers, and fought well. He wished to impress on the attention of the colonels of militia that such was the case, and they must take a pride in it. It was such men as fought at Barrosa, at Alexandria, at Maida, and elsewhere that composed the armies. With regard to any dissatisfaction among the officers that the motion was not agreed to, he knew them too well to apprehend any thing of the sort: they were brave and intrepid in fight—cool, and inured to suffer, they would not complain; for the reasons he had staled, therefore, he suggested to the hon. general to withdraw his motion for the present.

Sir T. Turton

supported the motion, and contended that the present pay was very inadequate to the maintenance of the class of officers, the subject of the motion. Much had been said of honour, but would honour buy a man a coat? The hon. bart. adverted to the estimates for the army, and said that many errors were in those estimates; that many of the regiments had not the complements therein stated, consequently that the public were defrauded. This, he said, he could shew the House. With respect to the increase of pay, it could not amount in the year, by his calculation, to more than 47,000l.—a sum which was not an object to the public. He thought that some of the expences of the army establishment might be avoided; for instance, the cavalry might be reduced; there was no occasion to keep a force of that description of 17,600 men; a reduction of 2,000 would save 100,000l. annually.

Mr. J. Smith

was in favour of the mo- tion, because there was among the officers what all must lament, a degree of distress incompatible with the character of the officers of the British army.

Mr. H. Thornton

thought that the object of the House should not be confined to the consideration of what was reasonably sufficient to the comfort and convenience of the army, but what was a sufficient inducement to men to enter into the profession. In another point of view it appeared to him that the nice honour of the military character, and the universal respect paid to it, afforded a material compensation for the necessary difficulties attending it. He had, however, no objection to the proposal of referring the consideration to a Committee.

Mr. Wilberforce

entertained a similar opinion, and suggested for the consideration of his Majesty's government, whether some alteration would not be desirable in the naval service with respect to the attainment of rank. It was to be observed, a considerable time elapsed before an officer, however high his merits could rise, unless he had friends at the Board. He had known a midshipman obtain no higher rank for a period of 25 years, and yet he was an excellent officer. He thought that the system of gradation and succession should be adopted in our service.

General Gascoyne

said, that what he had heard advanced against his motion, appeared to him of so little weight, that he could not consent to withdraw it.

The question was then put, and negatived without a division.