HC Deb 15 March 1821 vol 4 cc1258-63

On the motion for bringing up the report of the committee of supply,

Mr. Bernal

said, he conceived the guards to be the most expensive force that the country could be called upon to maintain. They had become a sort of military police, and he was at a loss, to conceive what reason could be assigned for stationing a subaltern's guard at the West-India Docks, a Serjeant's guard at the British Museum, or a corporal's guard at so many different posts in every direction. They might be very proper at the Tower; but certainly a commercial body, like the West-India Dock company, were capable of protecting their own property. Neither could he admit the fitness of a military guard for protecting the medals or rarities deposited in the British Museum. Now, the 100 men stationed at these two last-mentioned places would render a force of 400 necessary in order to afford reliefs. He was convinced, that 4,000 effective rank and file of foot guards would answer every purpose, and that the cavalry might also bear a considerable reduction. He wished for these reductions, if it were only as a pledge that this country was not to be made a theatre of experiment for introducing the military and despotic systems of the continent.

Sir H. Hardinge

contended, that to assimilate the guards to regiments of the line would considerably add to the present expense.

Mr. Lockhart

said, the House acted with regard to the public expenditure, like a prodigal, who first determined to spend a certain sum, and then proceeded to consider how he should get it. He objected to the report being brought up upon these principles, and maintained, that the committee was falsely termed a committee of ways and means. They did not consider the real ways and means by which the country might meet the expenditure, but merely recommended a given service to be supported by a given expenditure without estimating the means of the country. How could he tell that the repeal of the last malt duties, and of the husbandry horse-tax, might not be carried, and a deficiency consequently arise in the ways and means of the country to support the proposed expenditure?

Sir H. Parnell

said, that the prospect before the country was sufficiently lamentable, for the reasoning of ministers was, that if there were no reduction of the army, there could be no diminution of expenditure, and consequently no reduction of taxation. The hon. member proceeded to advert to the military force kept up in Ireland, and contended, that the civil establishment in that country was not placed upon a proper footing. The great defect of the system was, that constables were appointed by the grand juries, and consequently were not sufficiently under the control of the magistrates. He was satisfied that if the civil force were placed upon a proper footing, the army in Ireland might be considerably reduced.

The report was brought up.

On the motion, that the first resolution for fixing the number of men at 81,468, be agreed to,

Mr. Hume

said, he was under the necessity of moving, by way of amendment, that the number, instead of being 81,468 should be 71,468 men. He would take that opportunity of clearing himself, from the charge of having cast an imputation upon the guards. It was true he had said that some of them were kept up more for idle parade than real utility; but he meant this as no reflection upon the men; he merely wished to impress upon the House, that if a greater number were maintained than was necessary for the wants of the country, the only ends they could serve were those of idle parade. The great object which he thought most desirable in reducing the military establishment of the country, next to the saving in point of expense, was the necessity it would impose upon the magistracy of the country to depend upon the civil rather than the military power upon civil occasions. The occurrences at Carlisle, Dublin, and other quarters, ought to be so many lessons of caution to the House how they afforded facilities, by keeping up large military establishments, for the constant calling out of the military upon public occasions. As to the reliefs for the guards, he must say that they were created by the unnecessary manner in which that branch of the force was applied; for instance, it was impossible to pass into that House without seeing soldiers stationed in the avenues: there was actually a barrack in the House of Commons. Many evil consequences besides the expense arose from this practice; the regular civil police became relaxed and ineffectual. When any popular meeting took place, the peace was to be preserved by soldiers; a message was to be sent to the lord mayor to know how many guards he wanted, for there were plenty at his service. He had no wish to trench upon the comforts of the soldier, whose pay was doubled since 1792. [A cry of "No."] It was, he repeated, doubled. In 1792, the pay was sixpence a day; it was now a shilling. This was his arithmetical calculation; and he reminded the noble lord that he promised to be a match for him in arithmetic. His object was to reduce the numbers, and not the allowances of the soldier. He concluded by proposing his amendment.

Colonel Davies

said, that as the chief objection to reduction had been the necessity of reliefs for foreign garrisons, he should show that the proposed reductions could be made without taking from the troops applicable to reliefs. The old colonies had now 17,000 men. In 1787, they had 12,245, and in the latter half of 1792, 13,277. If the garrisons of those colonies were reduced to the standard of 1787, 4,700; if to that of 1792, 3,700 men might be reduced. With respect to the force at St. Helena, he thought that every purpose of safe detention might be accomplished with one-half the garrison now maintained. One regiment of cavalry might, lie thought, be reduced. He challenged any professional man to defend the maintenance of the waggon train, which was altogether useless. He thought the reduction proposed in the amendment could be safely carried into effect.

Mr. Martin

, of Galway, said, that as the hon. member for Aberdeen, who might be called the leader of the Opposition, had proposed to reduce the pay of the soldier to one-half, would he get his party to pledge themselves to that measure?

Mr. Hume

disavowed having made any proposition for taking away half the pay of the army.

Mr. Hutchinson

considered the exertions of the hon. member for Aberdeen to redound as much to his own credit, as they would ultimately prove of advantage to the country. When the House had been voting an extravagant estimate on an impoverished country, he did not envy the feelings of the hon. member, who had endeavoured to turn into ridicule the efforts of those who exerted themselves to lessen the burthens of the people. He was proud of being one of those who had joined in those efforts: he acknowledged no leader: he had looked at the distresses of the people, the state of the finances, and the policy of the country, and he declared, as a man of honour, that he believed the vote to be extravagant and unnecessary.

Mr. Bankes

said, that had he been present last night he should certainly have voted for the reduction of 5,000. In 1816 he had enforced the necessity of reducing the estimates so far as it was practicable to the scale of 1792. In the committee of finance, in 1817 he had pressed the same necessity, from a conviction that every attempt ought to be made to approximate the present with the former peace establishment as nearly as possible. Circumstances might, undoubtedly, render a greater number of men necessary at present than our situation in 1792 called for. The different system, for instance, on which reliefs were now conducted, could not be met by so small a number of men as was heretofore employed. There was, however, one point which strongly inclined him to think that the numbers now kept up were more than the present situation of affairs demanded. He alluded to the fact, that the establishment voted in 1819 was not so large as that now proposed. For his own part, he could see no reason whatever for voting a single man more than the force which in 1819 was considered sufficient. Looking to the state of the country, he saw nothing, either at home or abroad which could lead him to apprehend danger. The severe pressure of the times might, however, he was ready to confess, induce him to go farther in point of reduction, than perhaps he would be otherwise inclined to do. He would willingly vote for a reduction of 5,000 men; but he could not go as far as 10,000.

Mr. Wilberforce

could not but think that the number of troops proposed to be kept up was considerably too great. Those who were at the head of the military establishment might be of opinion that the force called for was not more than sufficient; but, on the other hand, it was natural enough for the people, who were to defray the expense, to wish that the number proposed should be lowered. In such a state of things, the parliament ought to make itself, in some degree, responsible for voting a lower establishment than ministers themselves would like to propose. If at a future period a greater force were wanted for our internal or external security, the country would much more cheerfully respond to the call, if it were now shown that the House felt a due commiseration for the distresses of the people. The force for domestic service, especially for Ireland, appeared to him to be too great. Whether this was the case with respect to the colonies, where the superficies to be defended was so extensive, he could not say; but, looking to the entire vote, he thought the House would not perform its duty if it agreed to it without modifications.

Mr. W. Smith

was of opinion that in the Colonies a considerable reduction might be made in the military force. All the force necessary for their defence was one of sufficient magnitude to guard them from surprise by a coup de main Now, which of the powers, in any one quarter of the globe, was likely to surprise, in a hostile way, a colony of Great Britain? Not one of our colonies stood in danger, either in prœsenti or in prospectu. If they reduced their foreign garrisons, the saving would be more considerable than any that could be effected in any other branch.

Lord Palmerston

said, that the increase since 1819 consisted of the augmentation of the regiment at New South Wales, from 650 to 1,000 men, which was effected in consequence of the representation of the governor of that colony. A regiment had also been appropriated to the service of Heligoland, &c, instead of proceeding on the old system of drafting companies to those places. He called on gentlemen to mark the situation in which the country would be placed, if they only voted 70,000 rank and file, which would be the number granted, if the amendment were carried, exclusive of the veteran battalions. There were at present afloat 4,550 rank and file, a body not now available for any purpose to which the army about to be voted was applicable. There were non-effectives of the line 4,400 men. There were at the depot at the Isle of Wight 3,100 raw recruits belonging to regiments abroad. Here, then, was a total of 10,250 rank and file to be deducted from 70,000, which the gentlemen opposite proposed. So that, in fact, they were only giving to government 60,000 men disposable for all the purposes which required a military force.

The question being put, "That the words proposed to be left out, stand part of the said Resolution," the House divided: Ayes, 116; Noes, 46: Majority against the Amendment, 70.

The resolution was then agreed to.

List of the Minority.
Althorp, lord Crompton, S.
Allen, J. H. Evans, W.
Bernal, R. Fergusson, sir R.
Bright, H. Farrand, R.
Bankes, H. Grant, J. P.
Calcrart, J. Guise, sir W.
Campbell, hon. J. F. Gordon, R.
Graham, S. Robertson, A
Gaskell, B. Robarts, col.
Hamilton, lord A. Rice, G. R.
Harbord, hon. E. Smith, R.
Hurst, R. Smith, W.
Hutchinson, hon. C. H. Smyth, J. H.
Stuart, lord J.
Jervoise, G. P. Sykes, D.
Lloyd, J. M. Tulk, C. A.
Lockhart, J. Tennyson, C.
Lennard, T. B. Tremayne, J. H.
Milton, lord. Webb, C.
Moore, P. Whitmore, W.
Parnell, sir H. Wilberforce, W.
Palmer, C. F. Wyvill, M.
Rickford, W. TELLERS.
Ricardo, D. Hume, J.
Robinson, sir G. Davis, C.
Back to