HC Deb 10 May 1819 vol 40 cc260-74
Mr. Goulburn

brought up the Report of the Committee of supply, to whom the Army Estimates were referred. On the motion, that the first resolution be agreed to,

Sir Henry Parnell

rose and complained of the large military force which the government seemed, if possible, determined to maintain, in a time of general peace. There were, from the report, 29,000 men for Great Britain; 20,000 for Ireland; and 30,000 for the colonies. The noble lord opposite had as yet made out no case whatever to justify the maintenance of such a force. He had not shown that the country was able to support such a burthen, or how far it ought to be upheld, consistently with the public liberty. The report did not state how or where this large force was to be applied. It merely intimated that a reduction of 50,000 men had taken place since the year 1817. He contended for the necessity of showing some adequate justification for the enormous expense which so large a standing army must entail upon the country. It was not enough to say that the present grant was smaller than a preceding one; it must be also shown that it was just, and absolutely necessary. In looking at the report of the Committee of Finance, the estimate of the income and expenditure for the year 1819, would be fully seen. It appeared that the expenditure for this year would amount to 68,000,000l. and the income only to 54,000,000l. leaving a deficit of 14,000,000l. Against this deficit was to be set off 16,000,000l. the amount of the sinking fund, which would leave a balance of about 2,000,000l. available only. Even in this calculation, the Committee of Finance admit, that they cannot reckon with precision upon the produce of a certain portion of the taxes upon exciseable articles, amounting to 3½ millions, unless the illicit trader shall be effectually put down; neither was there any ground in the opinion of the Committee, to expect any immediate improvement in the state of the finances of the country.—They intimated no more than half a million for the improvement of the revenue in 1821. He repeated, that he was at a loss to see the necessity of such a standing army. England was in peace with her foreign relations: domestic tranquillity might be said to reign. Besides, in the discussion that had taken place upon this subject, no allusion had been made to the degree of protection the country had from the naval force which was kept up. It had been said that Ireland required a large army for internal purposes in aid of the civil power. Why not rather reform the state of the civil power in that country, and put it on a footing more resembling the same power in England? Why not diffuse more generally the blessings of a good government, and give the people an interest in the maintenance of the laws? The hon. baronet then reviewed the expenses of the various offices in the Irish government. The secretary at war, for instance, had an establishment kept up for him in the castle of Dublin, and another in the Phœnix Park. Why was such an office placed on a more extensive scale in Ireland than in England? There was also the office of army accounts in Iceland, the board of general officers and other departments, which he thought ought to be considerably economized. The staff in Ireland cost the country 19,000l. and in Scotland it cost only 1,900l. Surely such an expenditure ought to be inquired into, with a view to a suitable reduction to meet the exigencies of the country. He said, that if the system of government in Ireland was changed; if obnoxious laws were repealed; in short, if pains were taken to gain the confidence and the affections of the people, there would be no necessity for a standing army in that country, and a great saving in this branch of the public expenditure might be made. He next adverted to the different public military offices, many of which he considered as unnecessary, and each of which had a number of boards, clerks, and officers—the expenses of these offices amounted to 150,000l. per year. There was the war office, the army account office, and controllers of army accounts. These simple and obvious modes of reduction had, however, escaped the observation of mi- nisters. It was to be lamented that any fair subject of retrenchment should escape them at a time like the present; he trusted, however, that every member would make every effort to diminish the public expenditure. It was with that feeling, that he had trespassed upon their attention. He should now only express a hope, that the gentlemen who saw the thing in the same light that he did, would persevere in a constitutional opposition to the increase of the public burdens, and to the support of a large standing army.

Colonel Davies

said, that even if he were to agree in all he had heard on this subject from ministers—that even if he were to take for granted the case made out for ministers, in order to justify the present extent of the military establishment—granting all this, he yet would prove, that without diminishing that force, there could be effected a saving in the army for England and the colonies of 120,000l. a-year. To prove this, it would be necessary to go somewhat into a dry detail. In the course of last autumn it was pretty currently reported among the military circles, that it was in the contemplation of government to reduce three regiments of cavalry; but now, from the statement of the noble lord, he had to conclude, that such is not the intention of ministers. He would now only say that the report gave great satisfaction to the public. He would now proceed to show what saving might be effected in the cavalry department of the army, without impairing its strength. Here the hon. gentleman went into a minute calculation, to show, that if three regiments of cavalry were reduced on the one hand, and on the other, if the different cavalry corps, consisting now of 380 men, were increased to 450—which he contended might be commanded by precisely the same number of officers, commissioned and non-commissioned, as a corps of only 380—that, with the reduction of allowance, men, horses, forage, &c. there would, in the cavalry department, be effected a saving of 30,000l. a-year. The saving on the infantry, he said, would proceed on the same principle. The present state of the infantry was seven battalions of foot guards, and 99 battalions of infantry. Of these he would confine himself to the number in Great Britain and her colonies, being 84 battalions, amounting to 54,600 rank and file. Now, if fifteen of these battalions were reduced, sixty-nine would remain; and if these sixty-nine battalions had each 800 men, instead of 650 men, which was the present force, they would amount to more than 54,600 men; and he would appeal to every military man in the House, whether the same number of officers and non-commissioned officers which now commanded the battalions of 650 men each, would not be fully sufficient to regulate and to keep in order a battalion of 800 men. This plan would by no means impair, but, on the contrary, increase the strength of the army; and yet it would save the public no less a sum than 90,000l. a-year. To this he knew it might be objected, that by thus reducing the number of battalions, a sufficient foundation would not be left for the army, should a state of war render it necessary to increase it; but he did not apprehend that such an objection could have any force, when the present enlarged scale of the army was considered—a scale much larger than any peace establishment hitherto, and three times as large as the peace establishment immediately after the American war. It was, he said, perfectly absurd to keep up the present enormous staff; it gave no strength to the army, whilst it greatly increased the public expenditure. Adverting to items of saving, so necessary at this period, he did not, he said, see any reason for the present enlarged establishment of the Military College; he thought that a saving might be made, particularly in the reduction of the junior branches of that establishment. In recommending the reductions in the army, he did so, he said, with considerable pain; it could not be without pain that he could propose to take from those brave officers one half of the pittance which they so well, so dearly, and so valiantly had earned; to many of them he had the honour of being known, and nothing but an imperative sense of public duty could induce him to make the proposal. When he looked at the state of the country, the extent of the public distress, and of public misfortune—when he saw petitions every day coming to that House from the agriculturists, praying for relief, and petitions from the manufacturers, praying for legislative protection, to save themselves and their families from starving—in such a melancholy and calamitous situation, if he could but save one thousand pounds to the nation, he felt that he would betray his duty if he did not suggest the mode of saving it. This honest and painful sentiment would, he trusted, at once, justify him in the face of the country and of the army. The hon. colonel concluded by moving—"That, instead of the sum of 2,258,776l. 11s. 2d. to be granted for the land forces in Great Britain, and on the stations abroad, excepting the regiments employed in the East Indies, from the 24th December 1818, to the 24th December 1819, there be inserted the sum of 2, 38,776l. 11s. 2d. for the said purposes."

Lord Palmerston

hoped the House would give credit to his majesty's ministers for their wish, on all occasions, to save every expense which it was possible to spare. But in so doing, however anxious the House might be to exert the most rigid economy, it should consider whether it was better at once to adopt an ascertained and permanent establishment, of which the expenses were submitted to them; or by rejecting that, and endeavouring to reduce it to an impracticable scale, to find itself hereafter involved only in greater expenses and difficulties. The hon. gentleman opposite, he thought, had greatly over-rated the saving which the adoption even of his own plan could effect. In fixing the peace establishment of the country, the House would see that it was not only necessary to consider what was a fair and reasonable force, but that it was requisite to give to our army, in the event of a war, should that ever unfortunately happen, the means of its augmentation with promptness, vigour, and efficacy. In this view he really thought the proposed establishment combined as many advantages as it was possible to incorporate into any one. It was evident that, whatever was the establishment proposed, there would be many to dispute its eligibility—many who would contest even the hon. gentleman's arrangement. There would be a wish to make even his scale still lower. Certainly, he (lord P.) believed, that in some cases, it would be less expensive to have higher establishments than he proposed; but great inconvenience would inevitably result from that system, in the event of a war. Supposing the establishment of the regiments was fixed at 800 men, in what manner would they be able, on the breaking out of hostilities, to augment them? Why, they might propose to add 200 men to each, and so form an unmanageable, unwieldy establishment; and to effect that they must either resort to new battalions or to fresh recruits. It might be said, that that was the case with the regiments in the West Indies; but what would be the consequence, he repeated, of such an arrangement in case of war? The result of keeping up too low an establishment would be equally disadvantageous; for, supposing the regiments to consist of 400 men each, and say that 600 shall be added in war time, making their full complement 1,000 men, on the war breaking out, they would beat a most enormous expense in filling them up. The hon. gentleman had said, that the saving to be effected by reducing three regiments of cavalry and fifteen battalions of infantry would amount to 120,000l. This appeared to be greatly exaggerated, He had understood the hon. gentleman on a former occasion to say five regiments of cavalry; and therefore the advantage, in the calculation which he (lord P.) had made on the subject, was all on the hon. gentleman's side. Now, he believed it would be found, that even upon the hon. gentleman's own arrangement, the saving would not exceed 31,958l. The total saving indeed, upon that plan, would be 175,000l. But against this last amount were to be placed the unattached pay of general officers, the half-pay of the reduced officers, military allowances, allowances for clothing of officers and men, and also for out pensioners, to Serjeants, staff-serjeants, private soldiers, and other men belonging to the different regiments; besides 41,958l. for remaining miscellaneous services, making altogether a total of 143,042l., which would reduce the saving to 31,958l. They would have, besides, to disband their regiments for the purpose of reducing them, and be at the additional expense of raising fresh men, in case of war, to complete them; so that allowing the amount, after these additional deductions, to be 13,802l. the utmost at which it could be estimated, it would not be worth while accomplishing. Now, taking the establishment proposed at 28 regiments of cavalry, and 18 battalions of infantry, by the addition in the cavalry of only one captain, one Serjeant, and one private; and in the infantry, of one lieutenant, two Serjeants, and one Corporal, to each company, they could at any time raise the cavalry to 5,880, infantry 26,705, or 32,585 additional men; by which means, on any emergency, they might have their regiments almost as effective as at any period during the war. The expense of recruiting would be almost a trifle; but the dif- ference of expence between keeping up this establishment, and raising new regiments, would not be less than 303,000l. per annum—that is, including the whole staff, which it would be necessary to raise also. He trusted, therefore, chat the House would not agree to the hon. gentleman's motion, seeing that the proposed establishment combined all the advantages of efficacy, with the most guarded economy, both as to present and future arrangements; and that it afforded the means, whenever it might become necessary, to raise an army; of doing so with infinitely more vigour, and economy too, than a higher establishment could offer. The hon. baronet seemed to think that the offices of secretary at war, comptroller general, and paymaster-general, were not necessary to be held by separate individuals. He would not now enter at length into any argument, to prove that the office of secretary at war was one of the most indispensible which could well have been mentioned; his duties and his responsibility were of the most important character. The paymaster-general was a public accountant, responsible for all the monies that passed through his hands. Now, the idea of making an accountant-general audit his own accounts, by amalgamating his office with another, was quite inadmissible. It was the duty of the comptroller-general to examine the extraordinary expenses of the army; and to them the treasury referred the consideration of every measure connected with military expenses. It was, therefore, most important to consider them at all times as quite distinct and separate from each other.—The noble lord proceeded to remark upon the estimate for the military college; and was very happy to hear the hon. gentleman bear testimony to its merit. It was very necessary there should be at its head, a person so eminently qualified as the present governor (sir A. Hope). The hon. gentleman had stated, that our whole peace establishment in 1787 (including Ireland) cost us only 1,039,000l., which he had appeared to consider sufficient at the present time; whereas his own estimate, exclusive of Ireland, was upwards of 2,000,000l. Now, when it was considered that the present establishment included not only Ireland, but the whole force necessary for our additional colonies in the East and West Indies, Ceylon, and the Mauritius, he put it to the House, whether it was higher than might be expected.

Mr. J. P. Grant

conceived that the arguments of the noble lord, however well they might apply to a very low establishment, were not at all relevant to the one in question. They could only apply to such a one as that settled by Mr. Pitt, in 1792. That suggested by his hon. and gallant friend, was 25 regiments of cavalry, and 91 battalions of infantry. Now, when he heard the noble lord propose, as the permanent peace establishment of the country, 18 battalions of infantry, which 18 were to be more numerous than the 91, he really could not see why the noble lord's reasoning was to be made equally applicable to high as to low establishments. He could not hear it proposed to keep up such an enormous establishment now, looking at what it was in 1792, when the prospect of peace was much less promising without entering his protest against it. There were gentlemen who heard him now, he believed, who were upon the committee of finance of 1792, and voted for that establishment: he called upon them to come forward and "state upon what grounds they could give so inconsistent a vote as should support the one at present proposed. The establishment in 1792 was 11,000 men in all, while 30,000 and upwards were now proposed for Great Britain alone. It was, no doubt, very disagreeable for gentlemen to hear these arguments so often repeated; but let it be remembered they had never been replied to. They had, however, had their effect: some reductions at different times had taken place. Those reductions were not owing to government. They had told the House, year after year, that the estimates were as low as it was possible to fix them at; and yet they had been reduced. The noble lord had said, that this was to be the permanent peace establishment; yet he (Mr. Grant) had no doubt, that although the noble lord might be as little disposed to reduce expenses as any of his majesty's ministers, he would have to submit his estimates on a diminished scale [The cries of "question" here became loud and continued]. He contended, that this was a question of the very first importance; if there was one man in that House who thought it was not, he entreated him to return to his constituents and account to them for his conduct [A laugh, from the ministerial benches]. Notwithstanding the ridicule which came from certain gentlemen on the other side, year after year, he would oppose such establishments as these. He implored gentlemen to revere the principles upon which their ancestors had acted, and to consider what were the peace establishments they would have voted for. Among the estimates he found an item relative to an Ophthalmic establishment. He should not now oppose any motion upon it; but if the noble lord had no objection to furnish him with the necessary papers, he would hereafter bring the matter before the House. His principal object in rising that night, was to enter his protest against the noble lord's establishment.

Mr. Goulburn

believed that these establishments had been very nearly the same in principle for a great number of consecutive years. All the points alluded to by the hon. gentleman had been fully explained and discussed by his noble friend on introducing the estimates, and he thought it too much for the House to be called on to acquiesce in the views of the hon. member, who had not thought proper to go into any details, nor inquire into the necessity of any one branch of the service. The peace establishment of 1792 had been represented as the true standard; and he fully admitted that reference should be had to it, whenever a material change of circumstances, or the increased number of our foreign possessions, did not make such a comparison altogether inapplicable. In forming a fair judgment on this subject, it was essential to revert to the policy which we found it expedient to adopt at the commencement of the last war, for the purpose of suddenly raising a force which should be equal to our defence at home, whilst it was also disposable for foreign operations.

The original resolution was put and carried; the amendment was consequently lost.

It was then moved, that a sum not exceeding 118,021l. Is. 3d. be granted to his majesty, for the support of the Staff, exclusive of India.

Mr. Hume

said, he could not allow the resolution to grant 118,021l. in part for the staff of the army at home and abroad to be read without bringing to the notice of the House the charge therein for staff to the new colonies, viz. for Ceylon 6,486l. The Mauritius 3,785l., the Cape 2,979l., Malta and the Ionian islands 7,853l., amounting to 21,103l. The hon. secretary to the colonial department had stated, that a great proportion of the increased military expenses of the present year beyond those of 1792, arose from the colonies acquired in the late war, and chiefly those he had named. It behoved this House, therefore, to consider well the circumstances to which those colonies were as to expenses, and the means possessed of defraying them. He did not call the attention of the House to these points on his own opinion alone, but being supported by the authority of a committee on their Report in 1817, he begged leave to read what they had stated to this House: "Your committee cannot leave the subject of governments abroad thus incidentally brought before them without expressing a wish that some means may be devised for rendering the foreign possessions of the British empire more efficient towards defraying the expenses of their own military protection, since their value to the parent state must be greatly diminished by their continuing a lasting drain on its resources. The subject here adverted to may well deserve the attention of the House hereafter, but the papers and information before your committee are not at present sufficiently ample to afford the means of pursuing such an inquiry during the present session to any useful result. They content themselves therefore with giving a very short general summary of the documents which the colonial office at present affords, so far as relates to the dependencies during the war. He concurred with the committee, that it was a subject that well deserved the attention of this House, and regretted that the finance committee had neither in their Report for 1818 or 1819 brought these foreign colonies under their consideration or to the attention of the House. At that period the papers and information before the committee were not sufficient to enable them to make proper inquiry. But he would ask why two years had been allowed by his majesty's government and by the finance committee, to pass away without the requisite papers being produced and the inquiry followed up? The committee at that time suggested that it was desirable these new colonies should pay for the military protection afforded them. On the vote now proposed, the sum of 21,101l. was included as a charge for their staffalone, and no information had been afforded to this House as to the practicability, or impracticability of carrying that suggestion into effect. The House had now before them the Reports of their finance committee for 1918 and 1819, and not a word was to be found respecting them. When such professions of economy had been made, it did appear most extraordinary that no means had been taken, as far as parliament knows, to relieve the nation from the expense of these colonies, which he could assure the House, if properly administered, were capable of defraying every expense civil and military. He did not say so inadvisedly, but assured the House that from the information he had received, such was the deliberate opinions of men who had been resident in, were well acquainted with, and qualified to judge of both the finances and expenditure of those possessions: and if his majesty's ministers had been so disposed, they might easily satisfy themselves on this subject. He had no doubt that the committee of 1817, had had evidence before them to the same effect; and he submitted, whether there was not culpable neglect in some quarter, in not following up inquiry into these matters, important at all times, but particularly at this time of unexampled great financial difficulty. The House would recollect, that these new colonies were not like Jamaica, or any of the old colonies which had councils and assemblies to watch over taxation and expenditure. But his majesty's minister for the colonies (lord Bathurst) and the governors, had the sole direction and disposal of these large revenues. It was a subject that ought to excite the jealousy of parliament both in a constitutional and pecuniary point of view, and he was confident the House was not aware of the extent of power, which the colonial minister possessed and exercised in these colonies, or it would, ere this, have taken the subject into their consideration. When the expenditure of a few thousands, or even of a few hundreds of pounds, required the sanction of this House, and often very properly engaged their attention to a considerable degree, it did appear to him very extraordinary, that the government should have the power of disposing of millions in these new colonies without the sanction or even the knowledge of parliament. It could scarcely be believed, that the annual revenues of the new colonies which he had named exceeded 1,200,000l. and that the whole of these had been, and now were, at the disposal of ministers. There were no documents before parliament, to show the expenditure of any part of that immense revenue! Was that, he would submit to the House, a state of things to be permitted to continue?—He would not state to the House, the amount of those revenues from private information, lest any hon. member should think the authority insufficient; but he would state it as ascertained and reported to the House, by the finance committee of 1817.

The Revenues in Ceylon in 1815 £. 640,444
The Cape of Good Hope in same year 229,495
The Mauritius, and Bourbon for 1814 206,860
Malta for 1815 114,426
£. 1,191,225
To which the Revenues of the Ionian Islands may be added 120,000
£. 1,311,225
These amounts were certainly subject to some modification since that time by the cession of the Isle of Bourbon, and by the constitution given to the Ionian Islands; but he contended, that these great revenues were at the sole disposal of his majesty's ministers, without the check or control of this House, and that they were all expended by them. And farther, that by the vote of this night, they proposed to add 21,104l. The House, he thought, ought to pause before they voted so large a sum to purposes, which a committee of the House had declared, should be discharged by the local revenues, and he therefore should propose to postpone the vote, until accounts should be laid before it, of the receipt and expenditure of each of these colonies. He would not take upon him to assert, that any part of the revenues were actually misapplied, though he had heard such statements; but he would say, that his majesty's ministers-had the power, if they chose, of misapplying them. It was in the power of the minister to provide for any persons, by sending them to these colonies, and creating officers for them, to be paid by the local revenues. It was in the power of government to grant pensions to individuals resident in this country, payable from these revenues, and he believed the accounts of their disposal would prove that. He should ask, whether that was a state of things proper to exist, consistent with the constitutional jealousy of the House of Commons? He had done his duty in bringing the subject before the House, and if it should refuse to enquire into the application of these frauds, in compliance with the suggestion of the finance committee, he must say, that it would be liable to the charge of culpable negligence. He was not aware whether he should, in the present state of the House, submit a distinct motion, or content himself with the statement he had made [Cry of, Move, move!]. He should therefore move, as an amendment, to substitute the sum of 96,616l., instead of 118,021l., being a diminution equal to the amount of the staff for these new colonies.

Mr. Goulburn

remarked, that the hon. gentleman had opened a wide field into which he was certainly not well prepared to follow him. His observations were not simply and exclusively connected with the vote under consideration, but applied to the principle upon which this country had hitherto regulated its colonial policy. The effect of that principle was, in compensation for a monopoly of commerce, to maintain the civil and military establishments of the colonies. Whenever this branch of the subject should be brought forward, he trusted he should be able to show, that this system of retaining in our own hands the sources of commercial profit, was justified by sound policy, and ought not rashly to be abandoned. Another important point to which the hon. gentleman had adverted was, a supposed misappropriation of certain colonial revenues in Ceylon, the Mauritius, the Cape of Good Hope, and the Ionian Islands. With regard to those belonging to the latter, the government of this country had no more control over them, than over those of a sovereign and independent state. The management of their finances had been secured to them by treaty, on condition only that the garrisons were to be supported. The reason why no deduction was made for the staff appointments in that quarter might be readily assigned. If there was any hon. member who had at all turned his attention to the recent history of those islands, to the political changes they had undergone, and the successive spoliations which had been inflicted upon them, he must be fully aware of the state of want and destitution to which the inhabitants were reduced. This distress had been much aggravated, by the want of integrity in the conduct of persons to whom the financial administration had been intrusted. Amidst these unfavourable circumstances, some delay in raising the necessary revenues had taken place; but it was the anxious desire of the government to extricate itself from this difficulty, and its first object the maintenance of the Military Establishment. With respect to those other possessions referred to by the hon. gentleman, his official knowledge did not enable him to offer any material explanation, and he could not help feeling some surprise at the charges made against his majesty's ministers by the hon. gentleman, who had given him notice of a motion on the subject but a few hours before. He could assure the House that there was no disposition on the part of his majesty's government to withhold any information which might be deemed conducive to a clear understanding of the subject; and that whenever a motion for such information should be made, he should be ready not only to produce the documents required, but to enter into a detailed account of the whole system of our colonial administration. From those details, however, he should now cautiously abstain, and confine himself to this general reference to the principles on which its policy was founded.

Sir James Mackintosh

said, he should trouble the House but for a few moments, the question having arisen in a manner still more unexpected to himself than to the hon. gentleman who had just sat down, and had had some hours notice of it. But it was a most important question; and he thought the meaning of his hon. friend in relation to it, had been a little misconceived. He had not understood his hon. friend to object to that system of commercial policy with respect to our colonies, by which, for the sake of their trade, we exempted them from taxation for the support of their establishments: but to state that a surplus revenue was already derived, applicable to this branch of their military defence. If the statement were correct, and if the servants of the Crown were in receipt of a revenue for which they did not account to parliament, he could not conceive a graver case that could be offered to their consideration. In his opinion, a high constitutional duty devolved upon them, for the discharge of which all other questions should be postponed. The subject was introduced, not for the purpose of imputing blame, but of bringing under review a point intimately connected with the privileges of that House, and the practice of the constitution. He thought the ministers of the Crown were bound, however, to make it appear, that such revenues, if existing, were not applicable to the purposes contemplated in the proposed grant. His hon. friend's observations and statement were in the nature of a question put for information; and if there were clandestine sources of revenue either in the possessions alluded to, in Gibraltar, or elsewhere, it was matter of immediate and urgent necessity that a full disclosure should be made.

Mr. Goulburn

observed, in explanation, that he had addressed his remarks to what he considered a charge against his majesty's government.

Mr. Hume

denied that he had imputed blame to the government; he had merely asserted that it was in the power of the Crown to make an improper application of the funds in question. It appeared by a return before the House, that in 1815 the revenues of Malta were 114,000l., and the whole charge upon them but 60,000l.; that there was a clear balance of 20,000l. in the Ionian islands; and that in the Mauritius the amount of revenue was 266,000l.; that of the expenditure 219,000l. He thought that these balances ought to be made applicable to the public service.

The original resolution was agreed to. On the resolution for granting 21,635l. for the Medical Establishment, Mr. J. P. Grant gave notice, that it was his intention to move to-morrow for the production of papers relative to the Ophthalmic Establishment, in order to ascertain how far it was necessary that it should be continued.—The other resolutions were put and carried.