HC Deb 09 June 1820 vol 1 cc1010-22

The navy estimates having, on the motion of sir George Warrender, been referred to a committee of supply, it was moved by him, "That a sum not exceeding 1,980,566l. 3s. 11d. be granted to his majesty, for further defraying the ordinary establishment of the navy, for the year 1820." The hon. baronet observed, that it was a satisfaction to him to be able to inform the House, that there was a diminution of the expenditure of 114,000l.

Sir M. W. Ridley

said, he had no objection to the grant, and admitted that a reduction to the amount of 114,000l. had taken place within the last year. The lords of the Admiralty, and the commissioners for the victualling department, were still as numerous as in the year 1815. He thought that some further reduction could be effected. There was another subject to which he hoped that an answer would be given, relative to the clerks, who having been engaged in men of war, had not been raised to the rank of pursers, and were not, therefore, entitled to half-pay.

Sir G. Cockburn

explained the causes of the clerks not being raised to the rank of pursers. The number of them was considerable; and if the system of raising their rank was to continue, no end could be put to the number of persons who would require half-pay.

Sir Joseph Yorke

observed, that nothing was more flat, stale, and unprofitable, than the generality of discussions in that House upon the expenditure of the public money, and especially with respect to the naval estimates of late years. His hon. friend who had just sat down, had stated that there was a reduction of 100,000l. in the estimates of this year; but the reduction ought to have been, in his view, much more material, considering that we were now in the sixth year of peace. He animadverted upon what he called the lumping sum of 3,000l. allowed for fire, lamps, and postage for the Admiralty, which he thought much more than was necessary. This, indeed, was an item of the naval estimates which he had never been able to understand. Then there was the allowance for superannuations to persons who were healthy and strong, and who were likely long to live, but which they were to enjoy until, according to the modern language, they ceased to exist." Where were the means of defraying such expense to be found, as money was so scarce? The noble lord (Castlereagh) might make one of his consolatory speeches, and tell the House that a considerable saving would in time be made on this head, by what, in the modern language, was termed the "ceasing to exist"; oat, notwithstanding this "ceasing to exist," they still found this item of expenditure increasing. But, whatever ceased to exist, the expenditure did not: on the contrary, it appeared to be "the never-dying worm" of this county. How it was to be continued he did not know; and, unless the right hon. the chancellor of the exchequer had laid up treasures for them in heaven, they would be without any, for he was sure they would have none upon earth [A laugh]. With all those burthens, the first cannon shot that was fired would, in his opinion, reduce the 3 per cents as low as 30; and that would be eaten up by superannuations. How these could be provided for he did not know, unless the chancellor of the exchequer had some private resources; and perhaps he had; but with all the difficulties under which we laboured, we found that situations were doubled, trebled, and quadrupled, in all directions. We had two or three lord chancellors walking about, and commissioners of the navy, commissioners in the Victualling-office, and many others of that sort in abundance; all of whom were very comfortably provided for, and might live a thousand years. What a saving might be made in such things. But none such was meditated, while expense was going on to beautify and adorn the great house at the Admiralty. Again he asked, amidst such public distress and public expense, what was to become of the country in the event of war? He did not mean to say that war was now probable with our great and old rival, as both governments appeared to be on pretty good terms. Neither, indeed, seemed inclined to war; perhaps, because no money was to be found in the exchequer of either.—After objecting to some late arrangements with respect to our dock-yard in Nova Scotia, the hon. member animadverted upon the expense incurred for constructing a wharf near Gibraltar. The order for building this wharf was originally made by that gallant admiral, earl St. Vincent, in 1802, and an expense of 4,000l. a year had since been saddled upon the country, making in all 72,000l. which had been spent to build a wharf that had not yet made its appearance above water. It reminded him of the child which was growing eleven inches every year, and yet had never come to its full growth. This intended wharf had sums expended on it year after year, and its head could not yet be perceived above the water. It seemed to him that instead of the money going for the wharf, it had been applied to uses not so good. Having now made an opposition speech, he would say something on the other side. He was glad to see the hon. baronet (sir G. Cockburn) looking into the business of the navy, as a great deal of good was to be expected from his capacity, industry, and knowledge of the subject. He also expected much advantage from the superintendence of his hon. friend the comptroller of the navy, who was so well worthy of his place, and who would not, he was sure, allow any ex-pence that could be avoided. But parsimony might sometimes be as unjust and more injurious than expense. For instance, he had been lately at Sheerness, when a tremendous order came down from the Admiralty for the discharge from the yard of 200 navigators; that is, fellows who worked with spades and wheelbarrows, and that convicts should be employed in their place. Thus were suddenly thrown out of bread no less than 200 honest men, who had no means of subsistence unless they contrived, if possible, to become convicts themselves. He had, indeed, heard of strange questions put by these poor men at Sheerness; for instance, whether, if they applied to the noble secretary for the home department, he would make them convicts, or give them the employment and subsistence which convicts enjoyed? He might as well apply to his right hon. friend on the floor to make him a maid of honour [A laugh]. The question, however, of these poor men, was not extraordinary; for the fact was, that rogues and felons were of late much better provided for in this country than honest industrious men; for what a bustle had we about the building and improvement of gaols and the construction of penitentiaries; yet we had 1,500 convicts employed on our coast, who would "rader go to Bottom-house Bay, in de Vest Indis." Yet those convicts were taken such peculiar care of, that if, upon being taken out to work, a cloud appeared, one of Mr. Capper's men immediately exclaimed, "Bring them back, it is likely to rain." Here the hon. member happened, by a movement of his arm, to strike of the hat of a member near him, to whom he apologized, stating that a man was never attended to upon subjects of this nature unless he spoke with vehemence [A laugh]

Sir T. B. Martin

defended the superannuation allowances alluded to by his hon. friend, and as to the convicts, he stated, that when these people were idle and unemployed, scenes of tumult and vice perpetually prevailed among them, while, through employment, they were rendered industrious and regular. An allowance of 3d. per day was granted to each of those convicts, in remuneration for his labour, one half of which was reserved and allowed to accumulate until his final discharge, in order to furnish him with the means of defraying his expenses home, and thus to provide some guard against the temptation to repeat the commission of crime.

Mr. Hume

observed, that, from the statement of the estimates which he held in his hand, he could not see that the saving in the estimates this year was so large as was stated. He was at a loss to know how such a saving as had been mentioned could be shown. There was a reduction in the total amount of salaries, but this was overbalanced by the excess in the half-pay and superannuations. In the very large items for build- ings and repairs, he could see no saving that deserved mention. It was in 1819, 1,145,430l.; and in 1820, the sum was 1,142,580l. He now wished to call the attention of the committee to the Navy Pay office. He found that the expense in this department was very nearly the same, now that we had only a sum of six millions to pay, as when the payment amounted to two and twenty millions. He did expect that some very considerable reductions would have been made in this department, after the reports of the finance committee respecting it. There were, indeed, some few clerks with trifling salaries reduced, but none of the higher offices were touched. The same objection would apply to the Navy-office. The House had received two reports on the subject of the navy estimates, in one of which a recommendation was given for the reduction of the number of commissioners, but no such reduction had taken place. One deputy-comptroller was reduced, but the allowance for house-rent granted to three commissioners was equal to the salary of the comptroller. He put it to the House whether the same expense in this office was necessary at a time when there were only 15,000 seamen and 8,000 marines kept up, as had been incurred at a time when our naval force required 145,000 men; and yet with this immense difference, the amount of expense at present in the Navy-office was very little less than what it was at the period to which he had alluded. In the victualling office there was the same ground of complaint. The expense of conducting that department was this year 97,287l.—a sum not much less than that which was required when we had 1,000 ships in commission. How could the continuance of this enormous expense be accounted for at this period of peace? In the dock-yards also the committee would find that a proportionably extravagant scale of expense was continued. Reductions had been recommended, but none had taken place. Making a comparison of the years since the peace, it would be found that in the sixth year of peace, when every thing was said to be reduced to the lowest peace scale, only a very paltry reduction had taken place. It was now nine months since he had moved for a return of the number of ships employed in the years 1792, 1793, and 1794, and also in the years 1817, 1818, and 1819; but that account had been laid on the table only a few days back. On looking over it, he was surprised at the extraordinary increase which had taken place in building and repairing. From the 5th report of the finance committee, it appeared, that the whole number of ships in the navies of Europe and America amounted only to 169—but the number kept up in this country was 594, of which there were this year 38 not included in the fifth rates. Of this number, there were not more than 112 at sea at a time. With this number, however, the proportion of expense in building and repairs was much greater than at any former period. On looking over the returns to which he had alluded, it would be found, that he was not so very much out in the calculation he made on a former occasion, when speaking on this subject, and when his information was derived from the Journals. In the year 1791 the expense of building and repairs amounted to 440,000l. In 1792 the sum was 381,920l.; and in 1798, including some improvements which were then made, it amounted to 387,000l. Let those sums be compared with the expenses in the same department for the last three or four years, and a mighty increase would be found, though we were now in the sixth year of peace, when we had no shattered vessels to repair, as we should have in time of war. With a number of ships less than we employed in 1801, our expense for building and repairs were—in 1817, 1,139,270l.; in 1818, 1,230,990l.; in 1819, 1,145,430l.; and in 1820,1,142;580l. This enormous increase, though not condemned by the committee of finance, was very well commented upon in their eighth report. The report said—"They" (the committee) "conceive, that the amount and preparation of ships of war must be left to the sound discretion of the government generally, and of the board whose duty it is more particularly to manage this most important department of the state; always bearing in mind, that not ships and stores, and military arrangements, are alone necessary for the safety or the glory of the country in the event of war; but that finances recruited during peace, and wealth and industry generally diffused through the nation by all practicable savings of expense and consequent diminution of burthens, are at least of equal importance, while they mainly contribute towards the happiness and comfort of all classes of society at the present time." He had, as far as it had lain in his power, consulted persons conversant with naval affairs, and he found such persons generally of opinion that very large sums, expended by government, had been and were absolutely thrown away. An hon. baronet, whom he then saw in his place, had stated to the House—at least so he had understood the hon. baronet-that the longer ships remained in ordinary, the better they became; that a ship three years in ordinary was better than a new ship; and that a ship ten years in ordinary would be still more valuable. He really could not coincide in that opinion. It was not his wish to reduce too hastily the force of our navy; he only wished to reduce it to that point which would leave us in possession of twice as many ships of war as could be sent forth by the united efforts of the whole world. He felt confident that whenever the time should come (and he trusted that time was far distant) which should involve us again in war, the sums which we might save in this item of public charge would be far more service able in maintaining a contest than the result of those sums expended in the manner in which it was now proposed to expend them. No man could say that 590 ships could be kept up at any thing like a reasonable expense. From the very perishable nature of the wood of which those vessels were composed, the thing was impossible. If the present system were persevered in, the country would find too late, when she came to a contest, that she wanted that money which at this moment she was wasting. An expense of 451,000l was proposed for alterations and improvements in the yards in this very year. We could scarcely do more if we anticipated a war at the beginning of the next. The hon. member concluded with a declaration that he did not seek to shake off, or throw out of employment, the poor and meritorious individuals whose earnings were paid out of the estimates in question; he aimed at reductions less distressing to the individual, and more serviceable to the public.

Sir T. B. Martin

said, that since the peace, 374 ships of war had been sold, and 178 broken up—a reduction almost equal to the number now remaining. He thought that ministers were open to a charge directly contrary to that which had been urged by the hon. member, and that they had been too hasty in diminishing the strength of our navy. We had now a formidable fleet ready to go to sea at a moment's notice; but those vessels would, from time to time, require repair. There were perhaps some of them that would be fit for service only for three or four years to come; and it was surely better to keep up those vessels as long as they would last than to find ourselves, at the commencement of a war, destitute of a navy to protect our commerce and our colonies. Subsequent to the American war, from the year 1783 to the year 1790, the workmen in the yards were employed three hours a day extra in summer, and an hour and a half in winter, in repairing ships, and putting them again into a condition for service; and, in the course of those seven years, they put out of hand 75 sail of the line, and 78 frigates. The hon. member opposite had spoken of increased expenses. Was it strange that the expense of repairs should be doubled since the period stated, when the price of timber, and of every description of shipbuilding materials, was trebled? The hon. member then stated, that no fewer than 68 clerks had been discharged from the Navy-office; and an equal number from the Navy pay-office.

Sir F. Ommanny

said, that such was the reduced state of the navy that he believed no naval officer in that House could go on board a common guard-ship and find men enough on board to man a boat in an officer-like manner. He thought the lords of the Admiralty had not discharged the duty which they owed to the country, in reducing the navy so low as they had done; and said, he was not one of those who believed that the continent was in such a state of security as to justify the dismantling of our army and navy.

Sir Isaac Coffin

said, that as an hon. and gallant officer had, for once, made an opposition speech, he would make a mi-material speech, and declare, that he thought his majesty's ministers had neglected nothing which could contribute to the happiness and security of the navy.

Mr. Tierney

hoped that the opposition speech which had been made on the other side the House would produce more effect than those which proceeded from the quarter in which he was standing; and he further hoped that the hon. member who made the opposition speech would follow up that measure by giving an opposition vote. If there were some branches of the naval service in which expenditure had been too profuse, there were others, he thought, in which an undue parsimony had been exercised. A petition had some time since been put into his hands, which could not be read by any man without the deepest feelings of compassion and regret. The petition of which he spoke proceeded from two ladies of respectable family, one of whose ancestors had not long since filled the office of sheriff in the county of Cornwall, and who, by the loss of nearly all their relatives in the military and naval services, were literally so beggared as to be in the high road to a workhouse. These women were the daughters of a gentleman of small fortune, who had devoted his limited means to the education of seven sons, in the hope of their success in the service of their country. Six of these sons had entered the navy, one had gone into the army, and all had lost their lives in the performance of their duty. Worn down by disappointment, the father died of a broken heart; and, after his decease, the only surviving son, who was then an officer of artillery, aided his sisters to the utmost extent of his means; and they endeavoured to eke out a scanty subsistence by keeping a day-school. This young man, however, died at Gibraltar; one of the sisters became ill; they were obliged to give up their little school, and were absolutely left to starve. Under these circumstances the unhappy females had applied to the duke of York, reciting the facts which had been detailed to the House, and asking a pension as the sisters of an officer who had died in the army, stating the names of their brothers, and the services upon which they had been employed. No one who knew any thing of the character of his royal highness could doubt the feeling with which that petition had been received; but it was intimated to the ladies that, under all the circumstances, their application would more properly be addressed to the Admiralty. They did so, and no fault could be imputed to lord Melville for answering, that there was no fund at the control of the Admiralty out of which the petitioners could be relieved; but he would ask the House, if it was honourable or decent that lord Melville should have been compelled to give such an answer? It was not, Mr. Tierney continued, until these ladies had for some time suffered the extremity of penury that their petition had been placed in his hands. He had made the strictest inquiry into their characters, and had received the most ample testimony to their conduct. He had then, previous to presenting the petition, stated the case to an hon. member opposite, and to the chancellor of the exchequer; and he was bound to acknowledge the kind reception which he had experienced, the chancellor of the exchequer having undertaken immediately that the unfortunate ladies should receive a pension from the civil list. It was no longer necessary that the petition in question should be laid before the House; but he should not discharge his duty to the navy, which he ever wished to see the favourite service of the country, if he did not endeavour to establish some provision for similar exigencies. In the army there had been at one time a fund for the aid of sisters, but that was now taken away, and the services both stood in the same situation. He had no connexion with the ladies for whom he had fortunately obtained relief; but he wished that some measures should be taken in favour of similar sufferers. Not that he would lay down a general rule, that the sisters of officers should be entitled to pensions; that would throw too heavy a load upon the public; all he wished was, that a fund should be placed at the disposal of the army and navy boards, to be resorted to only in those cases where a sister had no reliance but upon the protection of her brother; because such a woman stood exactly, in the same situation to her brother as a daughter who depended for maintenance upon her father. The want of such a fund was a disgrace to the service and to the country. Doubtless there were many cases in which a father brought up his son to the army or navy, trusting to the success of his son for the safety of his daughter. In such cases, a daughter acquired a most direct and unqualified claim. He would make no motion to the House upon the subject; but, if ministers should be accused of profusion for applying a fund to the purpose which he had mentioned, he, for one, would most cordially lend his aid to their defence.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that the statement just made by the right hon. gentleman could not but interest the feelings of the House. He could not agree, however, with the right lion, gentleman as to the expediency of extending the limits which it had been deemed expedient to apply to the granting of pensions. Pensions had increased to so great an extent that it was thought proper to confine them to the wives and immediate descendants of the gallant officers who had fallen in the service of their country. No doubt such cases would arise as that to which the right hon. gentleman had alluded; and, when they did arise, he trusted that they would always, as in the instance in question, be considered to afford fit opportunities for the bounty of the Crown. Still he did not think it advisable to open a door to applications of that description. The army and navy were upon an equal footing; each had their compassionate fund. Certainly, the compassionate fund could not afford relief to that extent which might be necessary in some cases, and particularly in such an instance as that which had been cited by the right hon. gentleman; the assistance of the Crown, however, would not be wanting, where such assistance was merited. As the right hon. gentleman, however, had made no motion on the subject, all he thought it necessary to say was, that the attention of government would be directed to it before another session of parliament.

Sir M. Ridley

moved an amendment, that the grant should be reduced 2,000l,the amount of the salary of the two junior lords of the Admiralty, which was rejected.—The resolutions was then agreed to Sir. G. Warrender next moved, "That 1,594,480l. be granted to his Majesty, for defraying the charge of what may be necessary for the Building, re-building, and Repairs of Ships of War, in his Majesty's and the Merchants' Yards, and, other extra works, over and above what is proposed to be done upon the heads of Wear and Tear and Ordinary, for the year 1820."

Mr. Hume

asked if it was proper that a transport board should be kept up at Portsmouth, at the expense of 477l.; while there was another at Cowes, nearly opposite, which cost 368l.? These were parts of the expense of that department, both of which, or at least one of which, he thought might be spared. He had another observation to make. Under the head of "stationery" in the Admiralty Office, he found a charge of 2,000l; but the charge under the same head in the Navy Office amounted to 6,900l.; and he had been told that this great difference arose from the continuance of an old and irregular practice of charging under the same head various articles of totally a different description. For this, however, he had no certain authority, and therefore he should be happy to hear if it was the practice in the Navy office to charge any other articles than paper, pens, and ink, under the head of stationery.

Sir G. Warrender,

in reply to the first of the lion, gentleman's observations, observed, that Portsmouth and Cowes were necessary transport stations, as the embarkation of troops for foreign service generally took place at one of these ports, With respect to the remarks on the; charge for stationery, the excess under that head in the Victualling and Navy offices over the expense in the Admiralty office was occasioned by the greater number of ships' books, and other articles of the same description, which were required in the former. As far as he knew, however, no articles but such as were generally called stationery, were classed under that head.

Sir F. Ommaney

said, that if the hon. gentleman was acquainted with nautical matters, he would readily perceive that the necessity of having transport stations both at Portsmouth and at Cowes arose from the obvious circumstance, that the direction of the wind might be more favourable to embarkation at the one place than at the other.

The resolution was agreed to. Upon the resolutions, that the sum of 389,500l. be voted for the provision of troops on foreign service, and 245,924l. for the transport service of his majesty's navy,

Sir Joseph Yorke

took that opportunity of asking the chancellor of the exchequer, if sir Robert Seppings had yet received the pension which parliament had recommended last year—he meant, had sir Robert actually touched the cash? He needed not remind the committee that Mr. Harrison, who had been one of the secretaries to the Treasury, had stood precisely in the same situation as sir R. Seppings, and had received a sum of 5,000l. over and above his pay as a secretary.

Sir T. B. Martin

bore testimony to the valuable saving of sir Robert Seppings. His services were beyond all pecuniary reward; and the benefit which the country had derived from those services, was incalculably greater than any sum which could be voted for them. He thought the pension had been too long delayed.

Sir E. Harvey

said, that no officer in the civil department had ever done so much for the navy as sir R. Seppings.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that, upon its being considered that some further remuneration was due to this gentleman for the benefit which the navy had derived from his invention, a communication to that effect had been made to the Treasury by the first lord of the Admiralty. In consequence of that communication, it had been arranged that some provision should be made, by which his family would be benefitted, and he believed that this arrangement had since been carried into effect.

The resolution was then agreed to.