HC Deb 09 March 1821 vol 4 cc1172-84

The Chancellor of the Exchequer having moved, "That the order of the day for the House to resolve itself into a committee of the whole House to consider further of the supply granted to his majesty be now read,"

Mr. Creevey

said, he felt it his duty to oppose the motion. They had hitherto voted nothing more than the annual malt duties; but they were now on the point of proceeding to vote specific sums upon estimate. He thought it right, therefore, that they should bear in mind what their situation was; during the seven weeks that they had been sitting, there was scarcely a day on which petitions had not been presented, setting forth distresses and grievances of every kind. In no one instance had it happened that those complaints were not borne out by statements of hon. members. The government had, however, taken no steps to afford redress, had held out no hope that the causes of complaint would be lessened or withdrawn. Two attempts had been made, one by the hon. member for Abingdon, who had proposed the removal of 2,000,000l. of taxes, and another by the hon. member for Cumberland, both of which had met with the same fate. In other words, two applications to reconsider the present system, and to alleviate the public burdens, had already been made and rejected. Having thus turned their backs upon the country, they were now preparing to vote away the public money with as much apathy, as if, instead of being on the verge of bankruptcy, we were in a most flourishing situation. What, then, was the course which under such circumstances it was incumbent on the House to pursue? It was impossible for him to participate in that insensibility towards the distresses of the nation, which the House was too much in the habit of showing. He was far from wishing to give offence to individuals; but he must say that there were vices and defects in the constitution of that assembly, which prevented a due regard being paid to the rights and interests of the people. I In the first place, it appeared by one of their reports, that seventy members of that House held offices or pensions, the emoluments of which amounted to 150,000l. per annum. The public had evidently no chance of fair play, whilst these annuitants were sitting in that House and deciding every question. This, then, was the first national grievance which ought to be redressed before the House resolved itself into a committee of supply. Another referred to the offices of receivers of the land tax and distributors of stamps. These he also looked upon as the property of members of that House; and if any hon. gentleman entertained a doubt of it, he had only to move that these receivers and distributors should be called to the bar, and then asked as to the value of their offices, and from whom they received them. There were seventy receivers of the land tax, and as many distributors of stamps in England and Wales, to 6ay nothing of Ireland, all of them great sinecure offices, and all given away by hon. members to their families, dependents, or supporters. When he alluded to these sources of influence, let not the noble lord, however, suppose that he shut his eyes to the other streams which took their course also through that House, to India, to the Customs, to the Colonies, to the subject of the' forthcoming estimates themselves. What an array might there be found of comptrollers, of cashiers, of accountants, and the Lord knew what! All were but parts of the same system, and were kept together at the same allowances as when money was but half its present value. By this state of things the House had become too strong for the people. With these impressions he should propose, as an amendment, "That this House will take into its immediate consideration the subject of members of this House holding offices of profit or pensions under the Crown, together with the expediency of diminishing the number thereof, it appearing to this House, from the third report of a committee of finance, made in the year 1808, there were then upwards of seventy members of this House who held offices of emolument or pensions under the Crown, amounting together to the annual sum of 150,000l. and upwards; and it further appearing to this House, that, in the present state of universal and unparalleled distress in which the nation is involved, no substantial relief can be expected by the people, except from an independent and disinterested House of Commons."

Lord Palmerston

said, that if he really could think the hon. gentleman serious in pressing his motion in the shape in which lie had put it, he should be disposed to enter more fully into reply than he was now about to do; but, as he rather thought the motion was intended to record upon the Journals the opinions which he held, he did not mean to enter at length into the merits of the questions which the motion involved. If the hon. gentleman was serious in meaning to stop the whole supplies for the service of the country, until all the great questions to which he had referred were satisfactorily adjusted, then, indeed, the motion was a plain indi- cation on the part of the hon. gentleman, that So far as in him lay, he was determined to obstruct the whole machinery for carrying on the government of the country. Did the hon. gentleman consider, that the vote for the payment of the army was only up to December last? Did he recollect that the mutiny act would expire on the 24th of the present month?

Colonel Davies

wished to know from his hon. friend, whether it was his intention to press his resolution of refusing all supply until the reform stated in his amendment should take place, or until the House pledged itself to the measure?

Mr. Creevey

said, he was not prepared to state in what supplies he should concur, until he saw the fate of his motion, upon which he should certainly take the sense of the House.

Mr. Bennet

said, that the object of his hon. friend's amendment was, that parliament should give some pledge to the people, that as, on the one hand, they took away the people's money, so, on the other, they would endeavour to gratify their wishes and relieve their distress. He hoped he would repeatedly bring such questions before the House.

Mr. Calcraft

said, he was not prepared immediately to decide upon so important a question as that which his hon. friend's proposition involved: neither was he prepared to take a step, which went to embarrass, not the particular administration, but the general government of the country. Strong as was his hostility to ministers, he could not take this mode of gratifying any party feeling. He yielded to no man in a desire for strict economy and a constitutional reform in that House. He concurred in many of the observations made by his hon. friend; but he could not vote so extensive a measure without having had an opportunity of hearing it fully discussed. With respect to the army estimates, he should object to the amount of force proposed, thinking it too large for the exigencies of the country; but as he knew that there must be some army, and as that army must have some pay, he could not oppose going into the committee.

Mr. Creevey

explained, that his only object was to pledge the House to take into its consideration the number of official persons sitting among them, who were directly interested in the estimates.

Sir J. Newport

said, that though he sincerely wished the whole of the econo- mical resolutions of his hon. friend carried into effect, he could not see how that could be done by the immediate course pointed out by his motion.

Mr. Huskisson

reminded the House, that if the motion were carried, that could not that night go into the committee of supply.

Mr. Monck

declared his readiness to support the motion. He saw nothing in it to prevent their going into a committee of supply. All it involved was a pledge on the part of the House to retrenchment and reform, which he thought they were bound to give to the people.

The question being put, "That the words proposed to be put stand part of the question," the House divided: Ayes, 172; Noes, 38. Majority against Mr. Creevey's motion, 134.

List of the Minority.
Althorp, viscount Lambton, J. G.
Barrett, S. M. Lushington, Dr.
Benyon, B. Martin, John
Birch, Jos. Monck, J. B.
Bury, viscount Ossulston, lord
Cavendish, Henry Palmer, C. F.
Coffin, sir I. Pares, Thos.
Crespigny, sir W. Parnell, sir H.
Denison, Wm. J. Phillips, W. R.
Duncannon, visct. Ricardo, D.
Fitzgerald, lord W. Sefton, earl
Glenorchy, lord Talbot, R. W.
Guise, sir Wm. Webbe, Ed.
Harbord, hon. Ed. Whitbread, Sam.
Hobhouse, J. C. Wilson, sir R.
Honywood, W. P. Wood, M.
Hornby, Ed. Wyvill, M.
Hughes, W. L. TELLERS.
Hume, Jos. Bennet, hon. H. G.
Hutchinson, hon. C. Creevey, Thos.
James, Wm.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer then moved, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the chair."

Mr. Hume

said, that in rising to object to the motion, he could assure the House that he did not adopt this course with any wish to oppose unnecessarily the business of the committee of supply. His object was to place upon record the present state of the military force and expenditure of the country compared with its state at former times. He reminded the House that the committee of finance of 1817 recommended the adoption of the same military expenditure that was estimated for 1792, and which the committee deemed sufficient, or nearly so, for every exigency. It was impossible, without the most, rigid economy, to afford relief to the country; and they were bound to adopt every economical recommendation, and more especially when such were sanctioned by the investigation of one of their own committees. The chancellor of the exchequer had a few nights ago led them to believe that there would be a saving of upwards of 1,000,000l. sterling in the estimates for the year. After looking at these estimates, he could not see where such a saving was to be effected. The estimates for the army this year were stated at 6,643,968l.; but he begged the House to recollect that the sum was only two-thirds of what they would be called on to vote before the termination of the session. Last year the estimates amounted to 6,897,000l.; but if any hon. gentleman looked at the act of appropriation, he would find that the several sums voted last year for the army amounted to more than 9,000,000l. there being here a difference of 3,000,000l. voted away in driblets, after the regular estimates had passed the House. It was indeed a fact worth notice, that nearly fifty votes had been taken for the military establishment of the country. Hon. gentlemen might perhaps suppose that the 6,000,000l. standing on the estimates was all that they would be called upon to vote for the army; but he now warned them that before the close of the session they would find 9,000,000l. required for the military department alone, exclusively of the Ordnance, which ought to be an item of the military establishment.

His object was to make the charges of the army at present approximate as nearly as possible to that of 1792. It appeared that corn was now at the same price as in 1792, and he saw no reason why there should not also be something like equality in the expenditure. In the year 1792, there were 15,919 men for Great Britain, and 17,323 for the colonies. In Ireland the House of Commons voted at first 12,000 men, and afterwards 3,232 were added, so that there were in all in Ireland 15,232 men and officers. In Great Britain, Ireland, and the colonies, 48,474. At present, we had in Great Britain 27,852 regulars; in the colonies 32,476; and in Ireland 20,778, making a total of 81,106. He entreated the attention of the House to the fact that we had at present 32,632 men more than in 1792. He was willing to make an allowance of 12,000 men more now for the extended establishments of the country; but still he found a surplus of 20,000 regular troops. He would not recommend the, reduction of such a large force at once; but he would certainly wish to see 10,000 men reduced, which would allow 12,000 men for the colonies, 2,000 for reliefs, and leave a surplus of 10,000 beyond the year 1792, an allowance sufficiently liberal. In 1792, the number of the artillery was 3,730, and from 4,000 to 5,000 marines. He found no charge made in that year for staff-militia, and, therefore, he did not know whether they were embodied or not; but he should suppose that all the militia called out iii 1793 were ready to be organized in 1792; and, joining them to the artillery, be found a force of 25,757 irregular troops, as he would call them. At present we had 7,872 in the Ordnance department, while the marines had been augmented to 8,000. By an estimate he held in his hand, he found that we had at present 51,998 militia. In Great Britain there were 37,391 yeomanry and volunteers ready to be called out, and in Ireland 20,231 volunteers. Taking, therefore, the whole of these, we had in the United Kingdom a force of 125,492 men in arms, or ready to be called out. Let the House then compare the establishment of 1821 with that of 1792, and let those gentlemen who complained of agricultural distress, consider whether it was not their duty to reduce the public expenditure, and thus lighten the public burthens. Bearing these estimates in view, it was impossible that any gentleman could have economy at heart, and not vote for a reduction of the military force.

He would next call their attention to the unavailable part of the military force, comprising the life-guards, the horse-guards, the foot-guards, the dragoon-guards, and the dragoons; and as these were the most expensive regiments in the service, he believed the House would agree with him in thinking, that there was no reason why there should at present be nearly double the number of life-guards and foot-guards that had been found necessary in 1792. The life-guards and horse-guards were increased by 360 men since 1792; the dragoon-guards, in 1792, were 696—in 1821 they were 2,66S men, being an increase of 1,972; the dragoons in 1792 were 2,080—in 1821 they Were 5,152, being an increase of 3,072; the foot-guards in 1821 were 5,760—in 1792 they had been 3,126—the increase was 2,634. He begged to observe, that none of these troops could be sent to the colonies; they were chiefly confined to the duties of the metropolis, in which there was an unnecessary number of guards and sentinels. In 1792 there were in the metropolis 363 men, horse and foot, employed in the guards of the metropolis, relieving 159 sentinels; in 1816 (the time when the last return had been made) there were 936 men on guard, affording 238 sentinels. The expense of the troops who did this duty was much greater than that of troops of the line. The expense of the life-guards was 70l. per man; of the dragoons, 48l. 10s.; of the foot-guards, 34l.; of the infantry of the line, 31l. He should have no hesitation, therefore, in proposing a considerable reduction in the horse-guards, life-guards, and dragoons; because, even if they were not more expensive in time of peace, they were less efficient, as they could not serve in colonial garrisons. He should, before parliament separated, move for an account of the average expense of supporting; regiments of the guards as well as regiments of the line. He had no hesitation in stating, that even if the guards were kept up with the same economy as regiments of the line, still the duty would be more efficiently performed by the latter, ft; saying this he meant no reflection whatever on the horse or life-guards, he was aware that no men had conducted themselves with greater bravery and gallantry than the guards in our late campaigns on the continent. What he meant to say was, that the horse-guards were not equally available for public service with regiments of the line. For instance, we could not, in a case of emergency, send the guards to Ceylon, the Mauritius, or the West Indies. They were only fitted for home duty, and that duty, too, which was of the least public worth—that was, show and parade. The amount of those troops was three times as much now as it was in the year 1792, and being supported at an enormous expense, went to swell considerably the general account, which lit was his object to reduce.

Having said thus much of the army, he now came to another branch of our expenditure, which had increased to a large amount within a few years; he staff! Indeed, the increase which had taken place in all our public establishments was almost incredible. Let any member open any page of the returns on the table, and they would find the increase enormous. they would, for instance, find many clerks retired upon an allowance as half-pay which was sufficient to support any independent gentleman. In the War-office department they would find such items as l,400l. year to the first clerk, 1,000l. to another 800l. to another, and so on. He would ask, whether such extravagance was to be allowed in the public expenditure, at a period when every branch of our industry was suffering under great privations? He maintained, that under such circumstances we ought to exert ourselves to bring our military establishment down to the standard of 1792. According to the appropriation act of 1792, the expense of the regular and irregular troops of Great Britain amounted to 1,814,800l. The expense for Ireland during the same year, was 516,349l. making together a sum of 2,331,149l.; while the total sum for the present year was 9,500,216l. showing an increase of 7,169,067l. Was it fit, then, that the House should go into a committee of supply without coming to a resolution on the gross amount of these estimates? It might be said, that in stating this excess, he had not looked at the charge of the non-effective force. He admitted that the expense under this head amounted in 1792 to no more than 500,000l. while at present it was 2,000,000l.; and consequently this accounted for a part of the increase which had taken place in the estimates. But he contended that, taking the aggregate amount for the years 1792 and 1821, there was a positive increase of 7,000,000l. exclusive of the non-effective force. As to the plan of the noble lord, for reducing the number of men in each battalion instead of reducing whole battalions, he must say that such a mode of reduction was not only contrary to the opinions of the best judges, but contrary to the opinion which the noble lord himself had expressed on a former occasion. The noble lord had in 1817, submitted a proposition to the finance committee, in which he maintained that 8,000 men: might be kept up in the form of 10 battalions, for 74,000l. a year less than it would cost to keep up the same number in the form of 20 battalions; and, there fore, upon the noble lord's own principle, if the 93 regiments of 650 rank and file each, which formed our present establishment, were thrown into 75 regiments of 800 rank and file each, there would be a reduction of expense to the amount' of 212,000l. He knew that there were persons who differed altogether from him upon the merits of that system of arrangement, and who said—"let us have skeletons of regiments for the convenience of rapid filling up;" but surely 75 regiments of 1,000 men each, with the aid of second battalions giving a force of 150,000 men, would be sufficient for any emergency. It was objected, that there were legal difficulties in the way of the course which he advocated—that men could not legally be drafted from one regiment to another; but why not adopt the measure pursued in India, and suffer men to volunteer from one corps to another encouraging them by small bounties or by the hope of promotion?

He would now briefly take notice of the Staff a department throughout which, in the committee, he intended to insist upon reduction. It was almost too much to look back to the cost of the Staff in the year 1792, only 6,427l.; and to advert to the amount at the present day, 28,485l.; giving a difference of 21,958l. Of this enormous increase 15,782l. was to be traced to the commander in chief's office, an office which did not exist in 1792 or 1794; and he meant no reflection upon the royal duke at the head of that office, nor upon those who acted under him; for he thought that the duty at the Horse Guards was done as well as that of any office under government; but still he called for reduction, because the thing, however well done, was done upon too expensive a scale.—But, he should go farther, and look at the expense of the staff maintained abroad. The expense of the staff in the West Indies, North America, and the Mediterranean, in 1792, was 17,000l.; in 1802, it amounted to 19,935l.; and in the year 1820 it stood increased to 82,529l. being, for the old colonies, which formerly cost 19,935l., 51,490l. and for the new colonies 31,039l. Now, considering that England was at peace with all the world, that she was in a situation to reap, if she could ever reap, the advantages resulting from the treaties and alliances which the noble lord opposite had so fortunately brought to bear, certainly she could not need even so heavy an establishment as she had maintained in 1802. Of what advantage was peace, if we were to continue keeping up our wear establishment? To him it appeared that the truest and the cheapest mode of defending our colonies was to give them an interest in defending themselves; to get rid of the system which refused to our fellow subjects of the colonies the birthright of Britons. What had been our policy? We had refused to the Mauritius, to Ceylon, to Trinidad, and to Malta, the privileges and protection of the British constitution. Did the noble lord recollect the noble defence made by about 500 Dutch troops when the Cape of Good Hope was first attacked by several British ships of war? Did the noble lord suppose that Englishmen would fight less bravely on a similar occasion? No: but the difference was this, the Dutch bad their rights and privileges to fight for, while our colonists have no such rights to defend. The only privilege of this constitution which had been extended was the trial by jury to Ceylon, and even that concession went far to tranquillize the minds of the inhabitants. He had on a former occasion stated, that our new colonies ought to pay for the protection afforded to them; and so they would, if they were not obliged to pay 10,000l. to one man, 5,000l. to another, and so on. This money was paid, in great part, to sinecurists and pensioners, sent out from this country by government influence. In page 6 of the army estimates was to be found a single item of 1,048,000l. for paying and clothing of colonial troops. Before we got possession of those colonies they supported themselves; when we got possession of them, not only did they absorb the whole of their revenues, but they became a drain upon this country. What else could be expected, when they were obliged to pay thousands to men who did not reside in them, and to boys who had never seen or perhaps heard of them? He was not one who would advise the giving up of any one of our colonies; but he would have them made to contribute to their own support.

The hon. member proceeded to state the expenses of the new colonies when we first got possession of them with what they now cost, and contended that, unless the present system was altered we should lose, rather then derive advantage from them. Adverting to the expense of hospitals, he observed, that the expense under that head in 1792 was 23,450l. where, as at present it amounted to 132,484l. The war department, consisting, in 1796, of twenty-one clerks, cost 8,227l.;—on an average of the last 10 or 12 years, it cost upwards of 60,000l. a-year. The office of the secretary of war now consisted of two departments, one for correspondence and accounts, which cost 34,118l.; the other for making up what were called the arrear accounts. The business of the office having been in arrear, it was thought better to appoint a separate department to make up those accounts, and let the other clerks go on with the usual business. It was given in evidence before the military commission, that the arrear accounts could be all made up in three years; now, though several years had elapsed, they were still unfinished; and would continue so as long as that House voted the sum proposed for paying that department. He, for one, was of opinion, that these accounts ought not to be brought up: he thought it too bad, that widows and orphans should be now called upon to account for the acts of their husbands and fathers, or for the negligence of government; he was convinced that the collection was productive of much vexation and hardship to the parties from whom it was taken. Suppose he had been a paymaster, and had tendered his accounts, which had been refused by government, would it not be too hard to call upon him at the end of 30 years, for those accounts, when, perhaps, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for him to make them out? He thought that no account of more than ten or fifteen years standing ought to be called in. Little saving could be made by the money called in, as the office itself cost the country 17,136l. a year. The hon. member, after enumerating several other considerable items of expenditure in the War-office and military staff, concluded by observing, that it was unfair, when such opportunities for retrenchment offered, to call upon the country, pressed as she was by mutiplied distresses, to support so large an expenditure. He then moved to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the question, in order to add the words, "That it appears, by the official returns before this House, that the total military establishment of Great Britain and Ireland for 1792 (exclusive of the East Indies, and of the artillery, militia and marines), consisted of 48,474 men, namely, 15,919 for Great Britain, Guernsey, &c.; 17,323 in the colonies abroad; and 15,232 in Ireland; and, that the total military establishment of Great Britain and Ireland for 1821 (exclusive of India, the militia, and marines) consists of 81,106 officers and men; namely, of 27,852 in Great Britain, Guernsey, &c.; 32,476 in the colonies abroad; and 20,778 in Ireland.

Sir R. Wilson,

in seconding the amendment, coincided with his hon. friend in his views of general retrenchment, but deprecated any sudden diminution of the military force of the country.

The question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the motion'' was then put and agreed to. The Speaker was about to put the question for his leaving the chair, Mr. Hume said that he had intended to allow a negative to pass against his two first resolutions, and to divide the House upon the third. Under the present circumstances, however, he did not clearly see how that measure was to be carried into effect. The Speaker said that the House having decided that the words proposed to be omitted should form part of the question, that question must be put to the House.

Mr. Tierney

thought that the value of the resolutions proposed by his hon. friend would be lost by the course just proposed. At that late hour it would be out of all question, to go into the army estimates. The better way would be, to adjourn, and so give his lion, friend an opportunity of shaping his motion on this important subject.

The question "that the Speaker do leave the chair" was then put and negatived, and the committee was deferred till Monday.