HC Deb 03 March 1818 vol 37 cc756-69

On the order of the day for bringing up the report of the Committee of Supply, to which the Army Estimates were referred, being read,

Mr. Lyttelton

took occasion to call the attention of the House to a subject which he had, in the course of the last session, felt it his duty to bring into discussion,* and against which he thought the secretary at war had adduced very inadequate grounds of objection—he meant with regard to the affidavit which an half-pay officer was compelled to make, to entitle him to receive his half-pay, namely, that he had no other emolument from, or employment under the Crown. This he could not help considering as a restriction, equally inconsistent with liberality and justice. To the half-pay he thought all *See Vol. 36, p. 523, officers entitled as a matter of right, in remuneration for their services; and, considering the inadequacy of that remuneration for the maintenance of a gentleman, he deemed it peculiarly ungenerous that an officer should be deprived of it, unless he swore that he had no civil employment whatever under the Crown, from which he could derive any additional means of subsistence. These were the grounds upon which he had felt himself called upon to resist this restriction in the course of the last session; and if he remembered correctly the objections of the secretary at war to the removal of that restriction, they were extremely imperfect. The noble lord, if he recollected rightly, had observed, that this regulation was necessary, in order to keep up the military character, and to prevent officers from engaging in civil pursuits, which might unfit or indispose them for the resumption of military habits; so that, according to the noble lord, the return of a soldier to the habits of a citizen, or the engagement of an officer in any civil office, was so likely to degrade his mind, or to estrange him from the feelings of the military profession, that in the event of a new war, it would be difficult to bring him back to the military character. Without dwelling upon the principle of an opinion so novel, and as lie apprehended so unconstitutional, he should only say, that it was unfounded in practice, and that it formed no valid ground for excluding half-pay officers from any employment which the government might think proper to confer upon them; for after all, it would depend upon the government to decide whether any such officer should be appointed to a civil office; and he apprehended, that unless it were thought that the possession of a civil office was calculated totally to corrupt a soldier's mind, there could be no good ground of objection to the making of such appointments. He could not, indeed, imagine any principle of justice or expediency that should wholly disqualify half-pay officers from the acceptance of such appointments. Therefore he objected to this affidavit, and the extraordinary restriction to which it referred. The removal of such a restriction would, indeed, in his judgment, be rather a measure of wisdom; because the more a military man was allowed to partake of the bounty of his country, the more he was likely to feel an interest in its fate, and the more he must be disposed to contend for its security. It was, besides, to be considered, that many, very many, of these officers were quite unable to support themselves upon the small pittance of their half-pay. He appealed, therefore, to the liberality of the House, and to that of the government itself, in favour of a body of gallant men who had served their country amidst so much danger, and with so little profit; and he appealed with the more confidence of success, because the removal of the restriction to which he objected would be attended with no additional expense to the country, while the government would still have the discretion of appointing any military man to a civil office. But it was quite unjust that the discretion of the government to make such an appointment should be fettered by the restriction to which he referred.—There was another point to which he also felt it his duty to call the attention of the House. He understood that a circular was issued, or about to be issued, from the War-office, stating, that no widow of any officer who had died since December last, should be entitled to the pension of an officer's widow, if it appeared that, from any source whatever, she derived an annuity equal to double the amount of such pension. This arrangement he thought peculiarly unjust, because it might happen, that the annuity, which was thus to deprive a widow of her pension, might be the effect of an insurance upon her husband's life, which insurance was paid for, perhaps, by a material sacrifice of the means of subsistence by both husband and wife. Would that House then consent, upon the ground of such an annuity, to exclud'e an officer's widow from her pension? Yet the circular alluded to would have that effect. The whole charge for widow's pension's amounted, he observed, only to 90,000l., and possibly the result of the circular referred to might possibly produce a saving of 20,000l. But would the House, for such an object, acquiesce in an act of obvious injustice? He was among the warmest advocates for retrenchment and economy; but such retrenchment as that which he had mentioned was not the kind of economy for which he looked, or which the country desired. On the contrary, he believed that the people unanimously wished that the widows of their gallant defenders should be liberally provided for. Ministers could not therefore calculate upon gratifying any class of the community by the arrangement to which he objected; on the contrary, such an arrangement was likely to give rise to invidious comparisons between the treatment of those poor widows, and the extraordinary gratuities afforded to others who happened to be nearer the source of favour—to the commissary-in-chief for instance [Hear, hear!]. He felt that it was the duty, and lie hoped it was the inclination of the House, to interpose its authority upon such an occasion, in order to prevent a profusion of character under the pretence of some economy—to guard against a sacrifice of justice with a view to produce an insignificant saving.

Lord Palmerston

observed, that as the affidavit alluded to was provided for by a section in the Appropriation act, the case did not apply on the present occasion. He denied the justice of the hon. gentleman's statement, that the half-pay belonged to an officer as a matter of right, as that half-pay was in fact granted merely for the subsistence of officers during the cessation of their services, and as a retaining fee for their future services, when it should become necessary to call upon them for the defence of the country. But if officers were allowed to accept civil apointments, it was felt, and justly felt, that it would be difficult to recall them to military duties when occasion should require it. There was indeed reason to believe that if officers were so appointed, they might be come so much engaged in civil pursuits as to be disqualified for, or indisposed to, the resumption of military habits. On those grounds, then, the affidavit objected! to by the hon. gentleman was deemed necessary; but this affidavit was, in fact; nothing more than persons connected with other departments of the public service were called upon to make; for those who enjoyed superannuation or retired pensions, were obliged to make the same affidavit, namely, that they had no other emolument under the Crown. It was also to be recollected, that the requisition of this affidavit was not an innovation, but the old established system. Then as to the circular letter alluded to by the hon. gentleman, the regulation to which it referred did not originate with government, but was recommended by the finance committee, which was of opinion, that the same rule which prevailed in the other departments of the public service should be applied to the army.

Mr. Lyttelton

asked, in what part of the reports of the finance committee the recommendation alluded to by the noble lord was to be found, for he had not seen any such recommendation? As to the noble lord's reference to other services, he thought it only an aggravation of the principle to which he objected, that it should be extended to the army; and as to the alleged antiquity of the practice, with respect to half-pay officers, he could not admit that that antiquity afforded any defence for such practice.

The Report of the Committee was brought up. Upon the first Resolution being put,

Sir W. Burroughs

rose, and urged with additional force the objections which he pressed last night against the amount of the proposed establishment. Compared with the peace establishment of 1792, this amount was peculiarly objectionable, unless it was shown that there was something in the internal condition of the foreign relations of the country which called for a greater force at present than in the year 1792. But what was the fact? Why, that while we were at present in a state of profound tranquillity, at peace with all the world, and without the slightest apprehension, as ministers themselves assured parliament, of any breach with foreign powers, we were in 1792 in very different circumstances; for at that period the French Revolution was in its vigour, while its poison was spreading throughout the world. That poison was perhaps no where more widely diffused than in this country, through the medium of the Jacobin Clubs. Insurrections had, indeed, actually taken place, and Ireland was on the eve of rebellion. France was also in a state of extraordinary strength, and obviously preparing to make war upon this country. But what was the contrast at present? The Revolution extinguished—Great Britain and Ireland in a state of tranquillity—and France not only indisposed and unable to make war upon us, but depending for the preservation of its peace upon an army of 22,000 Englishmen, under the command of the celebrated Wellington. Was not this contrast, then, an additional reason for a reduced establishment at home, in this the third year of peace, and without the remotest probability of the disturbance of that peace especially by any foreign power? Now, the whole of our force in Great Britain, in 1792, was only 15,000, and in Ireland only 12,000. Thus the total force for Great Britain was only 27,000, in 1702, while for the present year it amounted to no less than 57,270:—thus creating an excess of 29,526, or forming more than double our peace establishment in 1792. But, in addition to this excess, we had at present a yeomanry force of 23,809 for Great Britain, and 41,000 for Ireland. Thus we had in the aggregate an excess of force, at present, beyond that of 1792, amounting to no less than 94,335 men. What, he would ask, could be the reason for such an enormous excess? But it had been said, that as 1792 was the last year of rather a long peace, the comparison with our present circumstances was not so admissible. He would take, then, the next year, 1793, which was the first year of the war, in which we were engaged with France, and how stood the account? In 1793 the force voted for Great Britain was only 17,000 men, and that for Ireland was 16,000, which, with the volunteers in both countries, formed a total of about 70,526 men. This force, then, compared with the proposition for the present year, would leave an excess of 11,121. Such being the excess between a year of actual war, and the third year of universal peace both internal and external, he could not imagine how the noble lord and his colleagues could account for the difference. It might be said that the militia of Great Britain and Ireland were called out in 1793, and their total amount exceeded 53,000 men. Thus the total amount of force at that period might be estimated at about 123,000 men; but even this number compared with the regular army and the yeomanry of both countries for the present year, would leave an excess of no less than 23,307. Such was the difference between the extent of our military establishment in this the third year of peace, beyond that of the first year of the most extraordinary war in which the country had ever been engaged. But what was the difference between our force in the present and the last year? Why, only 1959 men. Yet the difference between the circumstances of the country in those years was extremely critical, according to the authority of ministers themselves; for at the beginning of the last year, those ministers alleged the state of the country to be so very alarming from the existence of plots, conspiracies, and insurrectionary movements, that they thought it necessary to call for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act. The history of that year was, however, pregnant with evidence to show, that a large military force was not necessary to preserve the peace of the country. For even the so much talked of rebellion at Derby was suppressed by one magistrate, one officer, and eighteen dragoons. Yet this was the only insurrection in the country in the course of that year, to quell which any recourse was had to the aid of the regular army; for the rebellion at Huddersfield was put down by the yeomanry. It appeared, indeed, that on that occasion, one yeoman was fired at when he was seen alone, but the corps to which this yeoman belonged had scarcely presented itself when the whole of the Huddersfield insurgents or rioters immediately fled. But what was the case with respect to the insurrection in London? Why, that the lord mayor, seconded by one alderman, took possession of the baggage and standard of the insurgents before any military force had appeared—nay, the Royal Exchange, of which the insurgents, it seemed, took possession, was surrendered to these two municipal officers, unsupported by any military force whatever. The hon. baronet farther illustrated the contrast between the circumstances of the country at present, and at those periods to which he had referred, expressing his astonishment at the system of military expenditure which ministers appeared disposed to pursue, and his desire to know how it was proposed to maintain such an expenditure, especially in the present melancholy condition and prospects of our financial resources, which resources those ministers held out no hope of relieving by any probable reduction of that expenditure, or by any attention to the essential principles of public economy. The hon. baronet concluded by moving to leave out, "113,640" men, and inserting "103,640 men."

Mr. Curwen

expressed his astonishment that the hon. gentlemen opposite did not consider it their duty to make any reply to the convincing arguments that had been so eloquently advanced by his hon. and learned friend. If on a question of such constitutional and financial importance, that was to be the mode of discussion adopted by the House, it was high time for a reform of parliament.

Lord Palmerston

observed, that if what had passed that night in the House was calculated to show the necessity of a reform in parliament, he presumed it was from the very scanty attendance which the opposite benches testified on the discussion of so important a subject. If reproach was applicable any where, it was to those whom some persons considered as the great defenders of the public purse, and who, it appeared, had no time to employ in an investigation of the army estimates. He should think himself fully justified were he to abstain from making any reply to the so often repeated arguments of the hon. baronet. He meant him no personal disrespect, but he could see in his observations no one point, which had not been already stated and discussed. The speech of the hon. baronet was entirely made up of thread-bare references to the establishments of 1792, and it really appeared to him that an allusion to the period of the Saxon heptarchy would be as applicable to the present circumstances of the country. To retrace a comparative view of this nature, would be an idle waste of the time of the House. He considered it sufficient to recall to their attention generally the prodigious changes which the events of war and the operation of various causes had introduced into the internal situation of the country. Let them look at the increase of our population, and the consequent increase of turbulent spirits. [Hear, hear, and a laugh from the opposition.] He could recognise no one point by which any identity could be established between the circumstances of the two periods. The additional charge upon the revenue was created by the increased pay and allowances, and he had not understood that any hon. member was prepared to recommend a reduction in those branches of expenditure.

Mr. Calcraft

regretted as much as the noble lord the thin attendance which was given on all sides on a question of so much public interest as the Army Estimates. The reproach applied generally, and he should be sorry were a division to exhibit their scanty numbers to the observation of the country. He must contend that no satisfactory answer had been made to the objections to the amount of the estimates for the service of England and Ireland, and he had no hesitation in declaring his belief that the reduction of 10,000 men was practicable. When measuring the extent of an establishment, how could they proceed without adopting some basis, and what better one could they select than the peace establishment of 1792—unfortunately the last year of general peace winch could be adverted to? But to this the noble lord replied in a declamatory way, that the year 1792 was not the year 1818, and that, therefore there could be no similarity or point of comparison between the two periods. This was extraordinary logic for the representative of the University of Cambridge. The only cause assigned for not making larger reductions was the present system of reliefs; but against this, it was but fair to set the operation of the recruiting service. With regard to the increase of pay and allowances, the charge thus created was only an additional reason for scrutinizing the establishment, which could not be separated from the consideration of our finances. He observed, too, that the security we derived from the army of occupation in France was never adverted to, and yet he apprehended that this force would gradually return, and that it could not be disbanded immediately upon its return. The situation of Ireland was now one of complete tranquillity; but in 1792 a large body of united Irishmen were in correspondence with the French government. He had himself proposed reductions in a former year, which had not been assented to. In one instance, he had recommended a diminution of 3,000 men on a foreign station, and he was described as an ignorant prejudiced person, who entirely misconceived the matter, although, a short time after, his counsel was adopted, and the reduction actually took place. What he had then urged, applied only to the service of the year; and he trusted, therefore, that similar recommendations of retrenchment, although opposed in the House, would be attended to out of it. He was not one of those who felt any despondency with respect to the financial resources of the country, but he put it to the noble lord (Castlereagh), whether he and his cabinet conclave of fourteen were not bound to press down the expenditure to the lowest point that was consistent with public security. When the House considered the great number of battalions of infantry, and of regiments of dragoons, and dragoon guards, of which the establishment consisted, it would be seen that the reduction proposed by his hon. friend when applied equally to the whole force, would occasion but a small diminution of numbers in any particular corps. It should be recollected, that our present system of finance was, as it were, living from day to day; that the chancellor of the exchequer, the great stock-jobber for the country, was, in the ordinary course of gambling, taking advantage of every little variation in the interest of the paper which he was enabled to throw into the market. That paper, consisting of unfunded exchequer-bills, amounted to fifty six millions; and although he did not wish to speak harshly of the transactions of the stock exchange, they formed but an inglorious pursuit for the government of a great country. All the success, however, of which the right hon. gentleman could boast in his dealings, was the reduction of three millions upon eight hundred millions of debt, a boast which he apprehended would but little mitigate the pain that a right hon. gentleman who sat beside him (Mr. Huskisson) must feel, after the solemn appeals which he had once made to him on the urgent necessity of bringing the expenditure within the income.

Mr. Peel

accused the hon. gentleman of misrepresenting what he had last night said respecting the state of Ireland. For although he had stated it to be a source of satisfaction to the House that the internal state of Ireland was much improved, yet he had given it as his decided opinion that no force of a less amount than that proposed was compatible with the safety of Ireland. This was his opinion: the opinion of others might be different. But certainly he was more confirmed in his opinion when he considered that the only two members who differed from it were the hon. gentleman who spoke last, and the hon. baronet—the former had no personal knowledge, and the latter had not set his foot in the country since his return from India. It would be agreed on all hands that nothing could be more injurious or unsafe than a sudden reduction in the military force on Ireland; and he was sure that the House would be of opinion that a reduction beyond that made in the present estimate was consistent with the internal security of that country.

Sir John Newport

felt himself bound to express his sense of the obligations which were due to the right hon. gentleman for the course of policy which he had pursued with respect to Ireland, in substituting the civil for the military authority in the preservation of the peace of that country. The reduction of the military force in that country should be gradual and progressive, for it could not be doubted that any sudden abandonment of the policy hitherto acted upon would be productive of very bad consequences. He thought that with respect to the colonies, they should be made to contribute at least in some degree to the support of the force maintained for their protection.

Mr. Marryat

observed, with reference to the colonics, that they were not in a situation of contributing to the maintenance of the troops, with the exception of Jamaica. He did not think that a smaller force could be voted for their protection and safety.

Mr. Brougham

said, it became the Commons of England—as many, at least, as were then assembled there—to insist, that the number of troops to be maintained, especially in this country, should not exceed what it was in 1792. In a year of profound peace, and when all danger of internal commotion was allowed to have ceased, it was for ministers, and not for those who sat on his side of the House, to show why the force should be increased beyond what it was at that period. The people of England had a right to be governed at the smallest possible expense; and if he showed that the state of the country did not require any extraordinary measures, the onus was on ministers, to establish, step by step, the necessity of maintaining every battalion, and every troop of the line, which they now proposed to the House. The noble secretary at war had said, that there was a great increase of population, and, of consequence, a great increase of turbulent spirits in the country; but did he mean to say, that because the population was increased to the amount of five or six hundred thousand, that the army must be kept up to the present numbers? In that case, allowing his position to be true, instead of an increase in the army of ten per cent., it would be increased to at least one hundred per cent. What was there in the state of the country so different from what it was in 1792, as to justify the necessity of augmenting the army in this degree? Was the year 1792 more particularly tranquil than the other years which had succeeded it? He would maintain, that if ever there was a period in which the constitution of this country was exposed to danger, it was in the year 1792. France was then threatening to sow discord and sedition in the country, and great apprehensions were entertained for our external and internal welfare. But the terrors which the French revolution had excited were now passed. That revolution, indeed, had long fallen into disrepute among the nations of Europe, and the danger which it was said to have inspired was now on the other side. The danger which now existed was not a danger to be apprehended from the people—it was a danger that arose out of the doctrine of legitimate governments, to be maintained and supported by military force—it was a danger that the governments would go too far in trampling on the rights and liberties of their subjects. And yet this was the time in which the ministers of the Crown thought proper to desire so considerable an increase of the standing army, compared with what it was in the year 1792. It was admitted, that Ireland was the most disturbed part of our dominions, and that England was the most tranquil; but, in framing the estimates, this view of the empire was entirely overlooked, and the increase of the army in England was much greater than the augmentation which ministers had made for the sister country. If they wished to remove the discontent which unfortunately existed in that part of the empire; if they were desirous of governing Ireland, not by the sword, but by the laws; they would turn their attention to those subjects which formed the principal grounds of murmur. The noble lord and his colleagues would readily understand that he alluded to the Catholic claims; which, if granted, would have the effect of restoring tranquillity in every part of the kingdom. It was scarcely necessary, at that time of day, to observe, that standing armies were utterly inconsistent with the spirit of our free constitution; but he would venture to say, that it was one of the most calamitous signs of the times, that, in every country, armies were kept up for the purpose of spoliation, and of exciting terror in the minds of the people. If any change in the affairs of the world had rendered it necessary for England to deviate from her ancient policy with respect to a standing army, that change took place previous to 1792; and, therefore, he again placed his foot on that year, as the standard which ought to govern our proceedings, and he called on the noble lord to show what there was in the state of Europe which could warrant him to propose the present enormous establishment. He was persuaded that it was quite preposterous and unnecessary; and he lamented that so little attention had been paid to the discussion of the estimates this year. He would freely admit, and he regretted to be forced to observe, that the little attention which had been devoted to them, did as little credit to those who sat on his side of the House as to those who sat on the other; but he hoped it might arise from some accidental circumstance. Having stated thus much, he should merely add that he felt it his duty to oppose so large a standing army, and most heartily approved of the amendment.

Lord Castlereagh

could not allow the question to go to a division without saying a few words. It was not from not feeling the great importance of the question that he had not sooner offered himself to the attention of the House, but because he had heard nothing urged in the course of the debate which was an argument against the proposed establishment; and he referred to the thinness of the House on the present occasion as evincing a feeling, that after the previous discussions, the opinions of members were settled as to the necessity of the amount of force proposed. The hon. and learned gentleman wished to take the year 1792 as the standard, according to which the estimates of the present year should be regulated. Now, with respect to the establishment of 1792, he begged the House to recollect that Mr. Pitt, in that year, when he proposed the estimates, stated, that he had framed them on the prospect of a long period of profound peace. In this it unhappily proved that Mr. Pitt was mistaken, for the war broke out the very next year; and the consequence of the lowness of the establishment, in the year 1792 was, that this country suffered very much from an extreme degree of military feebleness during the first years of the war. The hon. and learned baronet thought that we could do at present with a force of 10,000 men less than that in the estimates, but then he forgot to state the particular quarter in which the reduction was to be made. Was it seriously said, that any reduction could be made in the 26,000 men to be kept up for the home service? In which part of the home establishment would the hon. and learned baronet make his reduction? Not less than 11,000 men were required for the service of the metropolis and the dockyards; and could 16,000 be thought sufficient for that of all England? He assured the House that ministers intended to make every possible reduction which would not be inconsistent with the interests and safety of the country.

Mr. Bankes

thought that the present vote was larger than the necessity of the case required. Last year, from the agitated state of the country, he had not thought any reduction could safely be made in the force proposed for England; but now that order and tranquillity once more prevailed, he was of a different opinion. As to the army in Ireland, he wished it to be reduced gradually.

The question being put, that "113,610 men" stand part of the question, the House divided: Ayes, 51; Noes, 21.

List of the Minority.
Althorp, visc. Lyttelton, hon. W.
Brougham, Henry Monck, sir C.
Bankes, Henry Newport, sir John
Babington, Thomas Ord, Wm.
Curwen, J. C. Sharp, Richard
Duncannon, visc. Smyth, J. H.
Douglas, hon. F. S. Smith, W.
Fazakerley, Nic. Symonds, T. P.
Gordon, Robert Warre, J. A.
Grenfell, Pascoe TELLERS.
Hurst, Robert Burroughs, sir W.
Lemon, sir W. Calcraft, J.