HC Deb 10 July 1820 vol 2 cc355-8

On the motion for bringing up the report of this agreement,

Mr. Calcraft

begged to call the attention of the House to a subject which came to his knowledge on Saturday. He understood it was intended to build barracks in the Regent's Park for 437 men of the Life-guards, in lieu of the barracks in King-street, Portman-square. That fit barracks should, if necessary, be built, he had no objection; nor had he any that the Regent's Park should be the spot selected. But he thought the terms upon which those barracks were to be erected rather novel. The expense of erecting them was to be defrayed by annuity. The reason for this was, that the sum paid for the buildings now occupied by the soldiers was 5,400l. a year. Upon this sum the builders were to have an annuity for 31 years. So that at 5 per cent, interest these barracks would cost 84,000l. and upwards. Now the barracks at Glasgow, for 348 men, were to cost the public 15,600l.; and those at Leeds, for an equal number, 28,250l. And yet, though the ground in the Regent's Park would cost nothing, yet for an additional 100 men, there would be an extra charge on the public of 60,000l. His objection was not so much to the largeness of the sum as to the principle. He thought this required explanation. He understood that the barracks were actually begun. If so, the right hon. gentleman had much to answer for, as the House had not voted a single shilling for the purpose, nor had parliament even been consulted upon it. It was said that they had already voted the 5,400l; but then they had only voted it for one year, and that, too, only to pay the lodging money for the troops.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he considered there was a good reason for accepting of the contract before them. If the regiment in question were to have been removed from London, it might perhaps have been argued, that so large a sum should not have been expended for their accommodation But if any garrison whatever were to be kept in London, the Horse-guards surely ought to be preferred, their good conduct being justly admired and praised. It was about eight years ago since a proposition for building a barrack for that regiment in the Regent's Park had been made; the estimate of the expense amounted to 120,000l. The estimates made by the surveyor of the barrack board, on the plan now proposed, did not amount to more than 70,000l. The annuity proposed to be paid by government to the contractors of 5,400l. for 31 years, would amount to 70,000l. and after the expiration of that period the barracks would become the sole property of the government, and the annuity of course would cease. He allowed, however, that the matter was not publicly advertised.

Sir J. Newport

strongly condemned a proposition of this sort having been introduced at the close of a session. He condemned the mode proposed as changing altogether the principle upon which the country had heretofore acted with respect to barracks. The right hon. gentleman had said, that if the House should not approve of paying an annuity of 5,400l. they might build the barracks at an expense of 70,000l.; but the House had not determined to build any barracks at all; why, then, should ministers take it for granted that the House would approve of the building of those barracks? He could not but protest against ministers taking the opinion of parliament for granted.

Mr. Williams

did not see any reason why this regiment should have been quartered at London. If ministers would look at Croydon, they would find barracks there, built at great expense, almost entirely empty. He saw no reason for going to the enormous expense for the erection of new barracks.

Mr. Ellice

intreated of the House to reflect on the consequences which might follow the barrack system—they might shelter an armed force, which could be turned as a means of attack upon the people. He entreated the House to consider how far they would go towards the creation and support of a military government, which they might afterwards vainly deplore, as fatal to the liberties and happiness of their country. As to the financial part of the question, his objections to it were equally strong: it appeared to him as if ministers determined that the public expenditure was in no instance to be diminished, and that the calls for retrenchment were never to be attended to.

Lord Palmerston

said, that instead of asking to raise a sum of 70,000l., his right hon. friend simply proposed to continue an annual existing charge of 5,400l. for thirty-one years, at the expiration of which, these barracks would become the sole property of the public. With respect to the other objection—if the erection of these barracks would have the effect of introducing one additional soldier into the metropolis, he might see some force in the objection, but not one single man would be added to the regular force in consequence of the erection of these barracks. The object of the work was merely to provide better accommodation for the soldiers, who were now in a most inconvenient state. The officers and the men were divided, whilst the latter had too much opportunity of mixing with the neighbouring inhabitants.

Mr. Gordon

reprobated the grant, as one which must ratify an usurped privilege on the part of ministers, as well as sanction a most suspicious transaction. He objected to the principle laid down by the noble lord, as repugnant to that of our ancestors, who thought the best security they had for their liberties consisted in their maintaining closely the connexion between the citizen and soldier, and not treating the interests of one as separated from those of the others.

Lord Binning

was surprised at the nature of the objection. Had his right hon. friend been compelled to ask a vote for a large sum of money, there would have been a colour for the opposition offered. Here it was proposed to effect a considerable object, by most convenient advances, from time to time, on a fair estimate, and finally the public would reap the advantage by having acquired a specific property in the buildings thus erected.

After some farther conversation, the House divided; Ayes, 48;Noes, 34; Majority, 14. The report was then agreed to.