HC Deb 06 March 1818 vol 37 cc862-76

The report of the Mutiny Bill being brought up,

Lord Althorp

rose to move the Reduction in the Army Grant, of which he had given notice. In bringing forward this motion, he could not help expressing a wish, that some member more competent than himself had undertaken the task. After the discussion which had taken place a few evenings ago, he should not feel it his duty to enter at great length upon the subject. In the present state of the country, when the finances were in such a situation, when we were involved in so many difficulties, he could not but think that the army was larger than it ought to be. There scarcely ever had been a time when the country had been so distressed. Last year the income had been 51,000,000l., and the expenditure 65,000,000l.; that was, there had been a deficiency in the income, when compared with the expenditure, of fourteen millions. Without any great knowledge of finance, it must be obvious to every man, that it would be impossible we should be able to preserve the situation we had held, or to resist any aggression that might be made upon us, unless by some means our income and expenditure could be brought nearly to an equality. Either the expenditure should be lowered to the income, or the income should be raised to the expenditure. It would be obvious to every one, that, whether the deficiency should be supplied by loans or exchequer-bills, it would be still money borrowed. The out-standing exchequer-bills amounted now to 56,000,000l. Whether the military establishment or any other were under discussion, it was plain that they were considering the question—whether any new tax should be laid upon the people, or any reduction should take place. The question was, whether they would keep up the establishment with which they were so over-burthened last year, or what reduction they would make that might diminish the burdens of the country. Three thousand men, or less, was the only reduction that had been proposed by government. He did not mean to trouble the House by entering into any of the details of the forces; to that, indeed, he felt himself unequal. He did not possess any information on the question, whether more or less might be necessary in any particular department. His hon. friend, the member for Rochester, had compared the establishment of this year with that of 1792. Being the last period of permanent peace, it was certainly the best criterion to go by; but the noble lord opposite had objected to that. He should not have the least objection, however, to allow the noble lord to choose any year between the American war and the war with France. As this was the third year after the present peace, he would take the third year after the American war—that was 1786 Before he entered on the comparison, it was necessary that he should state what part of the estimates of the year he would put entirely out of the question. One part of the forces he should not take into the account, was that employed in the colonies acquired since the time when the estimate to which he had referred was brought forward. The noble lord had, he believed, stated those forces at 12,600; but, not to enter into any particulars, he should leave out in that part 13,620. There were 24,000 for the colonies, and the force for Ireland, that were deserving of consideration. The Irish force was agreed, by most men acquainted with that part of the kingdom, to be necessary. But why were they necessary? That was a matter for which his majesty's ministers were responsible. Why were they necessary, when the constitution of Ireland was the same as that of England? when the people of that country enjoyed the same laws as we did? when they ought to have the same privileges and liberties? Why was it that the state of the country was such, that they could not be tranquil with what was supposed so great a blessing—the English constitution? The state of Ireland arose, no doubt, from a system of mismanagement. The only striking difference between England and Ireland was, that the great mass of the people in the latter country, were deprived of many of those privileges which were enjoyed by the people of England. Ministers were responsible for the state to which Ireland had been reduced; but in the condition in which that country was, he should not press for any alteration in that part of the estimates. He should merely take them as they regarded England. He should proceed to state the estimates which the country had had in 1786. He should not detail the difference between that year and the present, but only give a general view of the leading points of difference. In 1786, the estimate for England had been 17,638 men, and for the colonies 9,546. There were some Irish regiments erupted, amounting to 2,000 men; the whole of the estimate amounting to 29,780. But now the estimate for the old colonies was 24,000 men, and the whole of the estimate, with the exclusions he had made, amounted to 53,780. The whole difference would be, taking it as he had stated, upwards of 24,000 men. The noble lord had accounted for part of the difference from the alteration of the mode of relief. He had set apart upwards of 6,000 men for the purpose of relief. Such a number could not have been required upon his principle of excluding the new possessions, and therefore he would take that part at 2,000 men. That accounted, then, for an increase of 4,000 men since the American war. There remained still, however, upwards of 20,000 men unaccounted for. He should not enter into the detail, but ministers were bound to show a necessity for every one augmented item of the estimates. The population of the country was adduced as an argument for an increase of force. He had been really surprised to hear that held forth as an argument. It had been our pride and triumph, that when the despotic governments were obliged to maintain themselves by a military force, we, with all our privileges, were not molested in their enjoyment by an army. He could not allow of that argument at all; but if he could allow that a large army was a necessary consequence of a great population, he should be very far from approving of our present force. In 1786 the British force was 17,000 men, and now it was 29,000; so that there was a difference of nearly 12,000 men. But taking that argument to have its full weight, he did not suppose it would be available in considering the forces for the West-Indies. In 1786 we had got out of a war which was very different from the last in which we had been engaged. We had then to guard against both foreign enemies and domestic danger. Now, we had borne the conquest of Europe, and had an immense army in France, ready to preserve us from any sudden aggression. It appeared, indeed, that any argument on the subject would tend rather towards a reduction of the estimates than an augmentation. We had no occasion for such a force in the colonies. The only possible danger to the foreign colonies was to be apprehended from America, and that country had a standing army of 8,000 men; and to watch this, we were to keep up an army of 24,000 men in our old colonies. That number was so much beyond any calculation to which he might refer, that he could not for a moment think it was proper. His arguments, it might be said, went considerably farther than the reduction he intended to propose. The reason why he had an intention of moving so small a re- duction was, that one of 10,000 men had been lately refused by so large a majority of the House, that he had no hope of carrying one at all approaching that number. Indeed he might say, he had no hope of carrying his present motion; but certainly there was more hope of that than of one for the reduction of a greater number. In point of economy, the reduction of 5,000 men, which he should propose, would certainly be a saving to the country of 180,000l. That was a sum of considerable importance at the present moment. It had always been a favourite argument with him, that a large standing army was a dangerous thing for this country. Indeed, the policy of the country had been very much changed of late years. It had formerly been the practice to keep up the force of the navy, but that was not the case now. At no previous period had there been voted for Great-Britain a larger force for the army than for the navy. Between 1786 and 1792, there had been voted for the army 17,000 men, and for the navy 19,000. Now, there were for the army 29,000 men, and for the navy 20,000. Though we had attained great honour as a military nation, could any man believe that we should ever have reached that, if we had not been a great naval power? In former times, every success depended on our navy, but the navy was becoming so much neglected, that he feared it would be difficult for us to maintain the high station we had hitherto claimed, in case of any future contest. If the army increased, it should be narrowly watched, as it augmented the influence of the Crown. It was evident, that since the abolition of a trade which filled our West-India colonies with discontented slaves, a smaller force must be required for their protection. We had 100 battalions, which, in 1786, consisted of only 400 men each, but at present of 800. He should propose to take 50 men from each of those battalions, the strength of which would not be materially impaired by being reduced to 750 men.—The noble lord concluded with moving an amendment to the bill, by leaving out "113,640 men," and inserting"108,640 men, "instead thereof.

Mr. Wynn

said, that he had to state a difficulty in his mind relative to the proceeding of the noble lord, which was, whether, supposing the House should agree with his motion, it would be productive of any effect whatever. A similar amendment had been moved in more instances than one, and carried, which seemed to have made no diminution in the number of troops maintained. The number of troops was never an effective part of the mutiny bill; but its principal object was, to make provisions and regulations according to which the conduct of the army was to be arranged. Indeed, if the House looked back into the history of mutiny bills, they would find that they had frequently stated no numbers whatever. In the year 1715, 9956 men had been voted, which the House of Lords had diminished to 8050. From that year no number had been specified in mutiny bills. In the year 1724, the number 12,434; men had been inserted in the mutiny bill, though the supply had been voted at 14,294: the army continued at that number: the bill went up in despite of the limitation of the mutiny bill, and a farther augmentation of 4,000 men was carried. In another year the supply had been voted for 18,000 men: the House of Lords made a reduction: but when the estimates were examined, the numbers would be found to continue at upwards of 18,000. With these instances before him, he did not know in what way the noble lord's amendment could operate. He agreed most cordially with most of his statements. With regard to the augmentation of force in the colonies, the noble lord would observe that that had been maintained in a great degree by themselves. He would find that Jamaica had had a regular establishment: that they had kept up two battalions. The hon gentleman concluded with declaring that, though he agreed with many of the noble lord's statements for the reasons he had stated, he could not concur with his motion.

Mr. Bankes

said, that the motion of the noble lord was strictly conformable to usage. That House, and that House alone, had the proper control over the mutiny bill. In certain instances, it was true, the other House, when they considered the grants made by that House as extravagant, thought proper to make a seasonable reduction, and the House of Commons acceded; having granted too much by a hasty vote, they thought proper, upon reconsideration, to concur in its reduction. He hoped that if they now agreed to the reduction of 5,000 men, as proposed by the motion of the noble lord, that it would not be competent for the government to go beyond it. In time of peace it behoved them to look at every possible mode of reduction which was safe and warrantable. He admitted, however, that a large establishment, such as ours had been for years, could not be suddenly reduced. This could only be done gradually. He varied much from the opinion of the secretary at war. That noble lord had stated that Mr. Pitt was greatly mistaken in proposing a peace establishment which was too low; seeing that, in the war which broke out shortly afterwards, the country was put to very serious expense in raising the army to a proper standard. But the maintenance of a large standing army, when of no use, in order to be prepared for exertions which might possibly be required afterwards, was improper in every view, and utterly repugnant to the spirit of our constitution. Last year it might be perhaps maintained, that a considerable force was necessary to restrain the turbulent and disaffected; but the case was now happily changed, and we could do with a less force. He thought that three regiments, consisting of 2,400 men, might be deducted from the home service, and, that in the colonics a reduction to the same extent might be effected.

Lord Palmerston

said, he would not pursue the question of regularity in the proceedings which had been alluded to. That he should leave to members better qualified than he was; but he would meet the question of reduction on its own ground, and show, he trusted, to the satisfaction of the House, that no sufficient reason had been given for that diminution of the forces which the noble lord had called for. The noble lord had taken the ground of former periods, and comparing the forces then kept up with those which were now proposed, had concluded that the latter were much more than were necessary. He had gone back to the year 1786, and stated the comparatively small number of men kept up at that time; but the noble lord had omitted to notice, that in 1786, and from that year to 1792, we had in our pay a body of 10,000 Hessians, which, though they were not within this island, were at least available in cases of emergency, and should have been counted in enumerating the force kept up at that period. With respect to the year 1792, he did not think it was fair to compare it with the present year. The circumstances of the country at both periods were wholly different, and he should fur- ther observe, that it was a mistaken policy to have reduced the establishment so low at it was made in the early part of that year. Mr. Pitt was deceived in the view which he had that year taken of the state of the continent, and he severely felt the effects of the reduction afterwards. He came down to parliament, and, in his proposition for the reduction of the land forces, he observed, that looking at the then state of Europe, there never was a period when the country might with more confidence look forward to a continuance of peace for fifteen years. The army was reduced to a small number. But what was the consequence? The internal troubles which soon afterwards broke out, rendered it necessary to call out the militia, and the government were obliged to apply immediately to parliament for an increase of the military establishment. But that was not the only ill effect which followed. It was found that the disbanding of so large a body of regular and disciplined troops, crippled the exertions of our forces for a very considerable time after, and so it would ever be, during the first years of a war, when the conclusion of peace was followed up by an immediate disbanding of so great a number of men. The question before the House was not strictly whether the force kept up in the year 1792, was too great or too little, but whether the circumstances of the country at home and of our colonies required the force which was now proposed? If in this view the state in which Europe had been placed for the last twenty-six years was the extraordinary and sudden changes which had so frequently taken place, and the powerful coalition which was made against us at one time—if these circumstances were considered, he was satisfied that the proposed force would not be deemed more than was required. He did not mean to uphold the principle, that the increase of population rendered a proportionate increase of our military force necessary, or that a numerous population ought to be governed by the edge of the sword; but he appealed to the experience of the last few years, whether an increased population depending upon agriculture and commerce, might not, from particular circumstances, such as a change of sea-eon, and want of employment, be worked upon in such a manner, and brought into such a state of fermentation, as to render life and property unsafe, without the protection of a large military force? Most of the gentlemen present had seen a proof of this in the riots which took place on the subject of the corn laws about three years back, when a large military force was necessary to protect them from insult in their passage to and from that House. This he conceived was one fair ground of the present force proposed for Great Britain. With respect to the colonies, he did not conceive that the forces to be kept up there were too numerous when the circumstances of their situation, with respect to those of other powers, were considered. When the House had admitted the necessity of an army of occupation in France, they laid a very strong ground for the principle on which the present force was proposed for the colonies. He was sorry to be obliged to trouble the House with a repetition of the details respecting the disposition of the several forces which he had given on a former evening, but he found it necessary, in order to show the noble lord that there were none kept in any place which were not called for by the circumstances of the case. In Great Britain the force intended to be kept up was 26,000 men, but it would be necessary to look at the manner in which these were to be applied, and from thence it would be seen, that after the deductions which he should mention, there would not remain in England a disposable force exceeding 18,000 men. The House knew that in relieving and reinforcing the regiments abroad it was necessary to send out a certain number every year. Taking the average service of any regiment abroad it might be stated at ten years, beyond which, except under particular circumstances, it was not thought fit to extend the foreign service of any regiment. This would render a draught of a fifth of the whole number of our colonial troops necessary to be taken every year from our troops at home. This he would estimate at about 5,000 men, and then with the time taken in going out, and the returning of the other troops, it might be said that there was this number of men ineffective every year, though of course they were still paid for. This number deducted from the troops at home, would reduce them to 21,000. But this was not the only reduction, for it was to be recollected, that in lieu of the men sent out there were frequently only the skeletons of regiments returned home, from which, on examination, it was afterwards found necessary to discharge a great number of men as unfit for further service. The amount of this might be fairly stated at 2,000, which, with the 1,000 men for Guernsey and Jersey, would reduce the whole number from 26,000 to 18,000 men. This number could not be thought unreasonable for the protection of the country, when it was considered, that a considerable number of them must be rendered ineffectual by sickness and other causes; that a grat number were necessary for the protection of the metropolis, and for the dock-yards and other places. With respect to the force proposed for Ireland, it was not insisted that that was too great, and he should therefore make no observation upon it. As to the colonies, he did not think that the force there ought to be diminished, when the changes which had taken place in many of them were considered. In Canada, for instance, the great extent of it, and its proximity to a state which might at a time of war invade it with such facility, it was necessary that a respectable force should be kept up. In the West Indies the force was very little greater than what it was in 1792. In Jamaica and the Bahamas the force in 1792 was 2,200, and at present it did not exceed 3,000. In the Leeward Islands there were 3,200 in 1792, and at present there were only 3,400. It was also to be considered, that though we were obliged to pay these troops, the colonies were obliged to provide their rations. Then, as to the new colonies, the very circumstance of our having taken possession of them rendered it necessary to keep up a greater force there than might have been necessary under other circumstances. We had conquered them, not merely for the intrinsic value of their soil and productions, but as to points of military possession, and in that view it was necessary to keep up a large force there. The noble lord had urged this as an objection to the number of troops which were kept up; but he should have recollected that it would be useless to retain these places unless they were properly strengthened. On the whole, he did not consider that there were any places at home or abroad in which a greater force was kept up than was necessary. No argument had been advanced to show that a reduction was necessary, for it was not fair to take the establishment of 1792 as a criterion by which to judge of the necessity of the establishment of the present year. The circumstances of this country, and the changes which had taken place in almost every other country in Europe, were the only things which should be considered. On all these grounds, he should vote against the noble lord's motion.

Mr. Ord

said, that although he seldom offered himself to the attention of the House, he felt himself bound on this occasion to raise his voice, however feeble, against the system of ministers, because it appeared to him calculated to reduce the country to a military government. With respect to the alleged necessity of a large military force for the defence of the metropolis, he could not see that any increase had taken place in the extent or population of this city since 92, which could call for the advanced force proposed by the noble lord, But even admitting an increase of population in the metropolis, according to the noble lord's statement, how could such increase form any argument for the increase of our military force, unless it were argued that the police of London should be managed by the same means, as those resorted to in Berlin or Petersburgh, or the other capitals of military and arbitrary governments? The taste of such governments had no doubt become very prevalent of late years in this country; for there was no levee now without a crowd of soldiers parading the streets, and guarding all the avenues to the royal residence. If our ancestors could witness such military exhibitions, they would be apt to imagine that the French, or some foreign enemy, was actually at our doors. There was obviously no necessity for such exhibitions. And was it only to gratify a foolish, foppish taste for pomp and parade, that ministers proposed, in the present state of our finances, to maintain a larger peace establishment than was ever known before? Time was, when his majesty held his levees without any military to parade the streets, and such practice was, he had no hesitation in saying, more suitable to the character and real dignity of the monarch of a free people, than the practice which had obtained of late years. The enemies of reform and innovation seemed to think an increased military force necessary to preserve the peace of an increased population. But would the ministers generally adopt the noble lord's doctrine, that the mass of the people were so discontented, that nothing but the terror of a military force could prevent an explosion? If so, what a reflection upon the conduct and character of the government! But the fact was not so; or the British people were not so insensible of the value of their constitution, with all its defects, especially in modern practice, as to desire its overthrow. But from the noble lord's language, that constitution was not so very reverently to be regarded; for the good old constitutional objection to a standing army was, it appeared, by himself and his colleagues, deemed quite inapplicable to our present condition. Why, really, from such language, it was impossible to say how soon some other constitutional point of great value, might be deemed equally inapplic able or inexpedient by those ministers; perhaps the trial by jury, or the Habeas Corpus act, or any other sacred characteristic of our free constitution; for the whole career of those ministers was calculated to alarm the friends of constitutional liberty, if not to produce absolute despair.

Lord Nugent

said, that he had seldom heard a speech more honourable to the person himself, or more useful to the House, than that of the hon. gentleman who had just sat down. He did not mean to detain the House long; he would only offer a few general observations. There was one topic on which he could not but animadvert—he meant the employment of foreign mercenaries. There was one regiment, consisting of four battalions, composed entirely of foreigners of different nations. This he thought an extremely exceptionable measure. The only difficulty that could be felt in the disbanding of any regiment was the reluctance to deprive so many of our gallant countrymen of their usual subsistence; but no such difficulty could be felt with regard to the 60th regiment. Why, then, should it be retained upon our peace establishment, especially while so many of our native regiments were disbanded? There was another point also upon which he felt himself called upon to differ, not only from the plan of ministers, but from the opinion of his noble friend who made the present motion, and that was with regard to the army of occupation. He felt a strong objection that so many Englishmen should be kept among such scenes and such society as they were exposed to under a military government, or that British soldiers should be fixed in a situation where they were but too liable to imbibe notions and sentiments which it would be treason to support upon their return to their native land. He was aware that by that treaty which ministers had concluded, and some gentlemen approved, but which he thought the very worst to be found in the history of our diplomacy, we were pledged to maintain a certain contingent in France. This treaty ought, he admitted, to be sacredly observed, as the honour of the country was pledged upon the subject; but he would much rather vote for the supply and support of that contingent by a body of Russians, or any other mercenaries, than have his countrymen placed in the disgusting, odious, and un-English office of upholding military despotism.

Mr. Warre

could not see the necessity for any larger military force at present, than existed in the year 1792; and if the manner in which the army were generally employed was considered, it would be evident to every rational being that no such necessity could be pleaded; unless it were deemed material to have soldiers stationed as sentinels upon Chinese bridges, to guard French mortars, or to attend idle shows. It was extraordinary, he observed, with what facility ministers could get rid of the authority of Mr. Pitt when it suited their purpose, while they held up that authority as an object of the highest reverence, on other occasions. Because Mr. Pitt had proposed a moderate military establishment, in 1792, in consequence of the probable duration of peace and the embarrassed state of our finances, that minister was, truly, deceived, and destitute of political foresight. The insurrection in the Isle of Ely, about two years ago, was put down by a cornet of dragoons, a relative of the hon. member for Wiltshire. If, indeed, the French Revolution, with its desolating principles, were yet in operation—if the victories of 1814 and 1815 had not taken place—if the treaties of the noble lord had not been signed, then indeed he could understand the arguments of the hon. gentlemen opposite, in support of such an extensive military force. One would suppose there was still the fear of some convulsion. Indeed, from the roundabout manner in which the noble lord expressed himself as to a tranquillity, not yet consolidated, it would seem that the advocates for the present establishment thought so. It was with regret that he saw in the great states of the continent a determination to uphold what the noble secretary had so justly described—a great military monster. But with what consis- tency could Great Britain interpose to obtain its extinction, until she herself first set the example.

The House then divided: for lord Al-thorp's Motion, 42; Against it 63.

List of the Minority.
Abercromby, hon. J. Martin, John
Burroughs, sir W. Nugent, lord
Brougham, Henry Newport, sir John
Bennet, hon. H. G. Newman, R. W.
Barnett, Jas. North, Dudley
Babington, Thos. Ossulston, lord
Calcraft, John Philips, George
Carter, John Portman, Ed. B.
Calvert, Chas. Ridley, sir M. W.
Fergusson, sir R. C. Sharp, R.
Fazakerley, Nic. Smith, Rob.
Folkestone, lord Smyth, J. H.
Gordon, Robert Scudamore, R.
Guise, sir W. Tierney, rt. hon. G.
Grenfell, Pascoe Tavistock, marquis
Hamilton, lord A. Warre, J. A.
Hurst, Robt. Webb, Edward
Leader, Wm. Waldegrave, hon. W.
Lambton, J. G. Wilberforce, Wm.
Lefevre, C. Shaw TELLERS.
Lester, B. L. Althorp, viscount
Mackintosh, sir J. Ord. William
Madocks, Wm. A.

On the numbers being declared,

Mr. Gurney

rose to call the attention of the House to the present total abandonment of the late Mr. Windham's plan for substituting enlistments for limited periods to engagements for life. The hon. gentleman entered into some detail, to prove that life service had never been recognized by the law, nor ever had been brought into practice previously to the accession of George 1st; when the last mutiny act of queen Anne, having entitled the troops to their discharge after three years service, the whig ministry of that day omitted the clause, on the avowed pretext of the great danger of training Scotchmen, and letting them loose, again to strengthen the Pretender's armies. The practice, thus commencing, went on silently till 1749 and 1750, when Mr. Thomas Pitt, supported by generals Conway and Oglethorpe, moved for leave to bring in a bill, to entitle men to their discharges after ten years; which motions were lost by very inconsiderable majorities. In 1807 Mr. Windham carried his measure; but in 1808 the noble lord opposite returning to power, introduced—under the pretext of the great exigencies of that moment—a clause in his mutiny bill giving an option to such persons as chose to enlist for life, We were now at peace again. The necessity for this most unjust and unconstitutional practice could hardly be pleaded in its extenuation; but the simple fact was, that whereas during the war the option had, to a certain degree, been given, at the present moment it was entirely illusory, as all the regiments were enlisting—and enlisting boys—solely for life. The hon. gentleman said, he did not rise to make any specific motion; but as that of the noble lord had occasioned a larger attendance than usual, he advantaged himself of the opportunity of bringing the subject under the notice of parliament.

The Mutiny bill was then read a second time.