§ After a few observation from Mr. W. Keene, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and lord Castlereagh,
§ Mr. W. Dundas
rose, to move for the number of seamen for the ensuing year. He observed, that the naval expences had exceeded in two branches—that of vic- 70 tualling, and that of wear and tear; which last was imputable to the extended nature of the service on which our navy had been engaged. He moved, that 140,000 seamen be employed for the service of the ensuing year, and 31,000 marines.
§ Mr. A. Baring
, considering the numerous, but, he believed, necessary expences, which the state of affairs imposed on the country, was surprized that no relief was to be afforded from the naval service; but that, on the contrary, there was an excess in that department. It was with regret that he found this motion made at so very early a period of the session, for the service of 1814. He would not prejudge on the necessity of the vote; but in the present unsettled state of affairs, he could see no necessity for urging it immediately. Looking at the map of Europe, and considering what our navy had at present to do, he could not conceive the necessity for so large an armament. In France, he observed that, according to the pressure of circumstances, some branches of public expenditure were so proportioned as to assist the necessary demands incurred by others, which were of a more exigent nature: whereas we continued to keep up full charges in all branches, as it appeared to him, unnecessarily. For years past, we had had nothing like a formidable enemy at sea; and at the period of the battle of Trafalgar we had 10,000 seamen less than now. We had a few years ago all the ports of the peninsula against us and we had the Baltic to guard, besides our own operations against enemies' colonies. There was now a considerable prospect of our clearing the ports of Holland. He would venture to say, that there was no man, with tolerable information, who followed up the conduct of our naval administration for the last year, but must be surprised at the little that had been done effectually on the North American coast. On that subject, he should not then enter particularly; but, judging from the use made of our great navy last year, he saw no reason for giving to the Admiralty Such great means. Was it meant to be contended, that this immense armament was required on the American stations, for assuredly no where else could it be necessary? From the information he and many other individuals had received, he was inclined to think, that the force already on the other side of the Atlantic, if properly applied, was more than equal to the 71 task it had to perform. The Americans had not more than 3 or 4,000 seamen to oppose to the 140,000 this night to be voted; but he was far from believing that the naval strength, under sir John Warren had been employed to the greatest advantage. Why, he asked, were forty, sail stationed off the Chesapeake, to the disgrace of this country, committing depredations, burning a few sheds, and taking a few stray tobacco ships; when three or four men of war, with due vigilance, could completely have effected the purpose? He would venture to assert, that one-third of the force now stationed off the republican coast, properly distributed, would be fully adequate to blockade the enemy's harbours. It was a known fact, that the preservation of our North American possessions depended upon maintaining a naval superiority on the Lakes; but in what condition were we by the last accounts? Our ships had been expelled from Lake Erie; and on Lake Ontario, with all his gallantry and all his ability, sir James Yeo was not able to face the American force brought against him. So that the state of things was this:—that the naval affairs, either here or abroad, were so ill administered, that where a large naval equipment was required, only a small force was detached; and where but few vessels were necessary, an enormous fleet was stationed.
§ Mr. W. Dundas
would not now enter into any vindication of the Admiralty; but if any direct motion of censure were hereafter produced against the board, he should be happy to meet and to refute it. Until proof of negligence or inability were adduced, he knew the House of Commons too well, to think that they would condemn. With regard to the early period at which this vote was brought forward, the hon. gentleman would find, on consulting the Journals, that it was always the first vote of supply of the session, and he (Mr. Dundas) should have been deficient in his duty if he had delayed it longer. As to the charge, that 140,000 seamen, were not at this time necessary, the hon. gentleman had answered himself; since he acknowledged that the navy must not be disbanded; and because we had at present the superiority on land, were we to lessen our pre-eminence at sea? In his view no policy could be worse, than that because a peace might perhaps take place, it would be fit to reduce our naval strength. If at any, future period 72 such an event should occur, parliament would have the power of limiting our naval power; but in the present posture of affairs Bonaparte could wish nothing better than to see all our ships laid up in ordinary and our seamen turned adrift upon the country. The hon. Gentleman had said, that our navy now had comparatively little employment. What had become of the enemy's fleets formerly so much talked of?—Where was the Toulon fleet?—At Toulon ready to put to sea on the first opportunity. Of how many sail did that consist? Of not less than 25 or 26 sail.—In the Scheldt there were how many?—Twenty-seven nearly ready for sea.—Was not this a formidable armament for our navy to meet?—At Brest, Cherbourg and in the Texel, there were also many ships, of which the hon. gentleman (Mr. Baring) seemed to have no recollection. He recommended that every individual who brought forward serious charges of this nature should be better informed.
said, that whatever prospects might open favourable to retrenchments in our necessarily great public expenditure, the House might be assured, would be readily embraced by government. In no preceding year had the difficulties attending the due distribution of our naval forces been greater than during the last year. If we had not had assistance of the Russian fleet, he did not believe that we could have made it effectual for all purposes. That we had no formidable enemy actually at sea, was among the number of the existing difficulties. The House and the country ought to know, that, notwithstanding the immense pressure which had been made on the enemy's naval resources for many preceding years yet he had not relaxed his maritime efforts; and that he had still fleets in most of his leading arsenals, ready for sea. He had, in fact, been accumulating his marine forces by rapid strides. The demand on the American station had been prodigious. The Baltic had also been a great pressure on our means, in consequence of its vicinity to military operations. We might, but for our naval exertions there, have seen, not a part, but the whole of the army of Demark put in the motion under the direction of France. He trusted, that the House would feel, that government would not necessarily keep up our naval forces; if they shewed such a disposition, it was in the 73 power of the House, at all times, to recal them to their duty. The numbers of seamen now actually serving, approached very closely to the vote now proposed, which was precisely the same as the last, and brought forward at the same period of the session. Whenever, under all the circumstances which engaged us with our allies, or concerned our operations in the peninsula, retrenchments would be justifiable, he trusted that ministers would vigilantly turn their attention to every practicable and wise means of reduction. But parliament would recollect, that it was our duty to proceed with prudence and foresight. If we suddenly disbanded, it would not be so easy a task, on an emergency, to recal our seamen to the naval force of the country. He was not now prejudging retrenchments, but merely voting for the usual provision.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
would say a single word on the subject of reduction in consequence of the accommodation of different branches of his expenditure by the enemy. He thought the hon. member had been better informed respecting the state of the French finances, than to have made this assertion. His opinions might be corrected, by adverting to the published statements of them. It was quite clear, in this view, that France had not lost sight of her marine, nor had neglected any means of supporting it. All that we now proposed was, to maintain our marine at the same rate as before, should it be necessary. At any time previous to the Appropriation Act, the House had it in its power to make such alterations as it saw fitting.
§ Mr. A. Baring
said, with respect to the point of time, that the House very seldom sat so early as they did this session. The motion might have been postponed till the matter was better understood. The 30 or 40 vessels in the Chesapeake to which he had alluded, had disgraced the country by their ineffectiveness, or rather by their injurious mode of warfare. All the arguments used on the opposite side would apply as well to the extension of one naval force to 150,000 seamen. Surely the fleet in the Scheldt could not be in a state of such perfect readiness for sea, and he doubted much whether that at Toulon was. The question with him was, whether, at present, greater exertions could not be made by land, through retrenchments at sea. Next year he thought that France could not be able to do much at 74 sea; all her resources would be wanted to meet her dangers by land. Our means should be directed to great ends, and not flittered away.
§ Mr. Croker
rose, and stated, that not long ago the French fleet in the mouth of the Scheldt amounted to 16 sail of the line, to all appearance ready for service. In the Texel there were not less than five, sometimes ten, in the same condition of preparation. Although some might believe that the enemy had withdrawn many of his seamen from his fleets, yet it would have been an improper confidence on the part of government, on a public rumour, so as to reduce our armaments as to permit them, so near to our own coasts, to move about, insufficiently watched and guarded. The hon. Member's opinion concerning the Toulon fleet was monstrous; since it was but recently that government was accused of neglect in that quarter; of having a naval force inferior to that of the enemy; particularly on the occasion and of L'Emeriau's once coming out to sea, and returning to harbour. Did not an enemy's force of 50 sail of the line require watching? If the Admiralty were the victims of those illusions of the hon. Member, they would indeed become liable to reproach. As to the time at which the motion was now made, it became necessary to make it in the last month of the last year's expenditure. It was also necessary that our brave seamen should be paid and fed: but then it might be said, "put it off till January." Why the necessity of this motion was among the other important reasons, why parliament was assembled so soon this session! But all that was now intended or proposed was, to vote one half of what was wanted. All the civil part of the navel expenditure, new buildings, repairs, and other items, on which a difference of opinion might fairly arise, were kept back for the period of the ordinary estimates, three or four months hence. Government might have adopted another mode, by proposing a rateable sum, for a few months' expenditure; but they had not done so, because they must then have forced upon the House, at the early period, the whole affairs of the naval department, to be printed and voted. It was thought much preferable to ask now, for no more than what appeared necessary for the payment of our seamen, and the expenses of our ships actually at sea, leaving all the rest for future consideration and discussion. 75 Whenever the hon. member should think proper to move any propositions on this subject, he should have, as far as his (Mr. C.'s) humble abilities went, every assistance in his power to afford him; being confident that an enquiry would redound to the credit of the Admiralty, and prove the hon. member to be misinformed. He could not tell why sir J. Warren had 30 pennants in the Chesapeake; but the hon. member might be a better admiral than sir J. Warren. That admiral was responsible for his conduct. He had done what he thought proper in his situation. With 120 pennants, he might have had 30 in the Chesapeake: he did not know that he had, and he thought he had not. He wished to put in his plea for those brave officers and men who had been blockading that coast during dreadful weather, that their characters might not be hinted away. He wished the officers had not been alluded to. The naval administration would be found perfectly ready to defend itself; and as to officers, he hoped the House and the country had full confidence in them; for what had they not to acknowledge, or to expect, from the tried skill, courage, and valour of British seamen?
§ Mr. A. Baring
said, that the enemy's fleets might not require to be watched by a fleet equal to theirs; but our numerous force on the American coast had done nothing essential, and the service appeared to have been much neglected. That was his decided opinion from all he heard respecting it, which had been from many quarters. Whoever was in fault, the navy had been neglected. It did not follow from what he said, that he was a good admiral. All he pretended to say was, that the force employed had been very ill directed to its objects.
said, that this question could only be discussed fairly at a future time. It should not have been opened up now. Whatever might be thought of particulars, the general exertions had enabled as to contend in America without any prejudice to operations in Europe.
§ The Resolution, and the other usual ones for the respective sums, were put and carried.