HC Deb 11 May 1821 vol 5 cc681-93

Mr. Ward moved the order of the day for going into a committee of supply. On the motion "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the chair,"

Mr. Hume

said, he could not permit the Speaker to leave the chair, without placing on record his sentiments with regard to the Ordnance Estimates. Having compared the expense of the Ordnance department at the present moment with that of past years, he was called on to lay the result before the House, to show the extravagant scale, on which the Ordnance establishments were now conducted. He was the more anxious to do this, because on a, former occasion the clerk of the Ordnance, had taken upon himself to declare that the utmost anxiety had been manifested by the noble duke at the head of that department to adopt economical measures in all its branches. He thought he should be able to show the House that no part of that statement could be supported by facts. Now, what was the amount of the estimate on the table which they were about to consider? It was no less than 1,327,000l. That they were informed, was the lowest possible scale on which the Ordnance estimates could be presented to the House in the present distressed state of the country. On a former occasion he had made some observations on this subject; and every honourable member must recollect in how triumphant a manner the right hon. gentleman had stated that he (Mr. Hume) had made a gross mistake with respect to 50,000l. Ten minutes before he addressed the House on that occasion, the manuscript copy of the estimates was handed to him, and he had taken the sum down in pencil; so that, even if he had made a mistake, it would have been excusable. But the House would be surprised to hear that so far from making any mistake, his, statement was exactly correct. In one case, by giving credit for stores, a reduction was certainly apparent upon three items, upon one of which it amounted to 19,000l. The right hon. gentleman, had, been himself misled, and the whole charge, without including stores, would be found to amount to 1,327,000l. In the year 1820 it was 1,383,000l. He might here I observe, that he bad before called the attention of the House to the comparative scale in the expenditure of this department. Its average amount for the years 1791 and 1792 was 473,043l., whilst for the years 1818, 1819, and 1820, the average for each year was 1,286,666l., being nearly an increase of two-thirds upon the former charge. He was now anxious to bring under consideration one very important circumstance. It might naturally be supposed, that the whole expenditure of the Ordnance department was comprehended in the estimates directly relative to that subject. But the fact was otherwise: these estimates had, on various,-occasions, proved to be short of the sum total by several hundred thousand pounds;. In the year 1817, the sum voted by estimate was 1,229,296l., and, including the charge for the sea service, amounted to 1,278,736l. Would the House believe, however, that the actual expense was not less than 1,441,000l.? In the year, 1818, the sum voted in the usual estimates was 1,267,289l., and the real charge 1,407,000l. In 1819, the estimated charge was 1,212,000l., and the actual expense 1,535,000l., or upwards of 300,000l. than the apparent amount. Had he con- fined him self to a single year it might be urged, that the whole sum voted for the service of one year was not always expended in it, and that the balance was carried forward. He had therefore taken three successive years, with the view of guarding against any error of this description, and apprehended that he had thus acquired the means of forming a correct Judgment. The result of his observations was, that a sum of 623,607l. had been expended beyond what appeared by the estimates submitted to their consideration. This was a circumstance which he hoped would be satisfactorily explained, although he was disposed to think he could himself account for the discrepancy. He had remarked, that in these estimates no charge whatever was made for the twelve vessels employed by the Ordnance, and which could not cost less than 15,000l. or 16,000l. Why this part of the establishment was to be kept in concealment he did not know; but he supposed it was one of the items which went to compose that excess of charge, above what appeared on the face of the estimates themselves, that he had already alluded to. Another head of expense, amounting to 27,000l., consisted of extra pay and allowances to the staff officers of the artillery: but he had now pointed Out enough to show the necessity of having before the House estimates of a very different description. Whilst he admitted that the right hon. gentleman had readily acceded to all his motions for the production of different returns, he had still to lament, that although more than twenty in number, they did not afford above half a view of the subject. At the same time he did not mean to deny that they presented much valuable information. It appeared by them, that the charge for the Tower department, which Used to be 18,000l., was now 62,000l., there being a larger sum in addition to the estimates, on account of gratuities. The right hon. gentleman had stated, on a previous occasion, that 68 clerks and agents had been reduced since the year 1816; and this fact was held up as an example of economy in the administration of the noble duke at the head of the Ordnance department. It might be seen, however, that the pension list, which had grown as long as a tailor's bill, was in creased in the same proportion in and (What was yet more material) that 67 persons, under the name of clerks and storekeepers, some of whom had never before been in the public service, were newly appointed. Many of them were very young: for instance, not above seventeen or eighteen years of age, whilst those more advanced in life had been removed and placed on half-pay, or on the pension list. This was the case, on a plea that there was no employment for them, with several individuals who had served for not more than five or three years in the West Indies. But, whilst it was thus maintained that there was no fit employment for these persons, others entirely new were introduced into the service. The assertion; therefore, of the right hon. gentleman, that economy and the public interests had been attentively consulted, was not borne out; and he apprehended that there was some secret to the case. Some of the young men appointed were taken from the academy, military promotion being now rather slack, and amongst them were the sons of certain freemen at Queen borough. One of them, named Marshal, had been placed at Woolwich, and was only seventeen years of age at the time of his appointment; and another named Bouton was only fifteen years and ten months. All this was at variance with the statement of the right hon. gentleman; according to which, if it meant any thing, these 67 appointments must be regarded as creating so many new officers. It was clear therefore that the Board of Ordnance had no claim to the credit of having effected any retrenchment; and indeed, when a noble duke was found to say, that there would be no saving if the whole establishment were done away, perhaps it was not to be expected that attention would be paid to small sums, or even to annuities on lives, however young. The House had heard it also triumphantly stated, that there would be found a considerable reduction in the present year. But although the charge was 33,000l. less than the estimate for the last year, it was 115,000l. more than the charge for 1819, and 40,334l. more than the average amount in the years 1818, 1819, and 1820. It was in his judgment monstrous that the House should be called on to vote so enormous a sum for this branch of the public service at such a period as the present. When he examined the scale of pay, and allowances in this department, he found it was extravagantly high, and he had not met with a single person out of doors who did not coincide with him in opinion, that in no department was greater waste or profusion to be discovered, that in none was there more, ample room for the exercise or economy. He wished to place some facts upon record, and he hoped that the House would not refuse to sanction a resolution for recommending to the committee that they should endeavour to make every practicable retrenchment.—The hon. gentleman concluded with moving, by way of amendment,

"That the sums voted by parliament for the service of the Ordnance of the United Kingdom, in the years 1817, 1818, and 1819, upon the Estimates laid before this House, amounted to 3,764,034l.; that the sums entered in the appropriation acts for those years, amounted to 3,69.5,336l.; and that, the sums stated in the annual Finance Accounts for those three years, as actually paid for the Ordnance service, amounted to 4,387,241l., being an excess of 623,207l. more than was estimated to this House;

"That the total supply voted by this House upon estimate, under the different heads for the service of the Ordnance for the years 1790, 1791, and 1792 (exclusive of about 35,000l. a year for Ireland) amounted to 1,419,126l. (being 473,042l. per annum on an average of these three years); that the total sums voted for the Ordnance of the United Kingdom in 1818, 1819, and 1820, amounted to 3,860,666l. (being 1,286,666l. per annum on an average of these three years); that the estimate for 1821, although 53,000l. less in amount than the estimate for 1820, is 115,000l. more than the estimate for 1819, and 40,334l. more in amount than the average of the estimate for 1818, 1819, and 1820.

"That, as the actual expenditure, of the Ordnance service of the United Kingdom for the three years 1817, 1818, and 1819, for which the Finance Accounts have been laid before this House, exceeded the estimates on an average of 207,735l. per annum, the expenses of the Ordnance for the year 1821 may be taken at a total of 1,534,735l.

"That, therefore, it be a recommendation to the committee to effect every practicable reduction in the Ordnance Estimates now laid, before this House for the year 1821.

Mr. Ward

said, that if the hon. gentleman wished to take the debate upon this question, he was ready to reply to his statements now, or, to postpone his explanation till the House went into the committee.

Colonel Davies

thought it would be more expedient to take the debate upon this question, and to put off the committee of supply till Monday.

The Marquis of Londonderry

said, that the preliminary resolutions of the hon. gentleman were, in fact, incapable of being discussed. It was quite impossible, before going into the committee, to reply to the variety of details upon which the conclusion of the hon. gentleman was founded; and, after all, that conclusion was a mere truism, which nobody was disposed to deny, namely, that it was expedient for the committee to observe all possible economy, and make all practicable reductions.

Mr. Bernal

thought the annual excess of expenditure above the sums voted in the estimates might be explained without inconvenience before going into the committee.

Mr. Ward

said, that the question of the hon. gentleman admitted of a very easy answer. The difficulty arose entirely from the manner of keeping the Ordnance accounts. Many sums granted in one year were not expended for two or three years, and in some instances there were sums credited for six or seven years. That, indeed, only happened during the war. In 1819 the finance accounts stated an excess, of 200,000l. above the grant of the year; but a part of that excess arose from a payment in 1819 for services of the year 1818. To give an instance to the House —some years ago there was a sum granted for the fortification of Bermuda.: Bermuda was not fortified for two or three years, and indeed the fortifications were not yet finished; so that a part of the sum granted in 1816 might be expended in 1819. There was another material circumstance to be considered. The Ordnance department did not confine their operations to the mere Ordnance service, but they were required to hold themselves in readiness for any civil services. The expenses of the preventive service were paid by the Treasury, though they appeared to form part of the Ordnance expenditure. This arose from the defective manner of keeping the accounts. The excess of the unprovided of one year over the unprovided of another was another material article material article. Thus in the year 1829, there was an excess of 40,000l. over the unprovided of 1819,

The Question being put. "That the words proposed to be left out, stand part of the question," the House divided: Ayes, 110; Noes, 56: Majority against the Amendment, 54.

List of the Minority.
Benett, John Macdonald, J.
Buxton, T. F. Maxwell, John
Boughton, sir C. Milbank, M.
Bernal, Ralph Milton, lord
Birch, J. Monk, J. B.
Bury, Visct. More, P.
Chetwyn'd, S. Newman, W. R.
Chaloner, Robt. O'Callaghan, J.
Calcraft, J. Palmer, C. F.
Cavendish, C. Pryse, Pryse
Crompton, S. Ramsden, J. C.
Crespigny, sir W. De Robarts, G.
Davies, col. Rowley, sir W.
Denison, W. J. Russell, lord J.
Duncannon, visct. Russell, lord W.
Grattan, J. Smith, hon. R.
Griffiths, J. W. Smith, Wm.
Haldimand, W. Sefton, lord
Harbord, hon. E. Tremayne, J.H.
Hobhouse, J. C. Tierney, rt. hon. G.
Honywood, W. Warre, J. A.
Hornby, Ed. Western, C. C.
Hurst, Robt. Whitbread, S. C.
Hutchinson, hon. C. Williams, W.
Johnston, col. Winnington, sir E.
Jervoise, G. P. Wood, alderman
Lemon, sir W. TELLERS.
Langston, J. H. Hume, Joseph
Maberly, J. Bennet, hon. H. G.
Maberly, W. L.

The House having resolved itself into a Committee of Supply, to which the Ordnance Estimates were referred,

Mr. Ward

made a variety of prefatory remarks, calculated to prove the entire necessity of the present extensive arrangements adopted in the Ordnance department, and the consequent expense occasioned by them; and he contended that, comparing the present period with the time of Cromwel, when the charge for Ordnance (exclusive of the half-pay), and for England only, was upwards of 120,000l; the present estimate for the united kingdom and colonies, and half-pay, though exceeding 1,000,000l. was a less charge in proportion. As to the excess of expenditure above the grants which had been mentioned by an hon. gentleman, he rather took credit to himself for keeping it down. At the end of the American war that excess was upwards of l,800,000l.; at the end of the last war, the department did not owe a shilling of such excess. If hon. gentlemen would look to the various reports which had been published by finance committees, he thought there could be no reasonable charge made against the Ordnance department, for not having attended to them. In 1816, such a saving was effected—that being in fact the first year of confirmed peace—as had met the approbation of the House, and had been recommended as a model for the imitation of the other departments. The House would keep in its remembrance, that formerly the half of the naval stores charge was included in the Navy estimates; but for many years past, down to 1818, the whole amount of those stores was charged in the Ordnance estimates. In 1817 the Ordnance estimate was 2,307,000l.; in 1819, 1,255,000l. Since 1818 there was a reduction of 23,000l. in this estimate, notwithstanding the addition of 53,000l. occasioned by this charge for naval stores; and but for this circumstance, the reduction would have been upwards of 70,000l. In 1820, there was an increase of 19,000l.; but in 1821 it would be found that there was a decrease of 53,000l. He had understood the hon. gentleman to say, that though there Was nominally a reduction of 53,000l., there was actually one of 3,000l. only. He was at a loss to know how the hon. gentleman proposed to make this out. Practically speaking, in drawing those comparisons which were so often made on these subjects, it was for hon. gentlemen to look to no particular year, but always rather to the exigencies of the time. The hon. member for Aberdeen looked always to 1792; and he was not much surprised that he should do so, after the report of the committee of finance. But, with submission, he thought the committee was as wrong as the hon. gentleman in the conclusions which it had come to. The true comparison was with other times in which the country had been similarly situated; and here he would just ask the House to look back with him at our history for the last hundred years. He begged hon. gentlemen not to be alarmed at such a proposition, for he meant to take only four periods of that term. In 1699, the total charge for the Ordnance was only 25,000l.; in 1702–3, it was 70,000l. The average charge per annum for eight years after the War, was 128,000l.; and on the average of three years after the peace of Utrecht, it was 96,000l.: a sum greatly exceeding two very active years of the war, just before the battle of Blenheim. Then, the reduction was about-one fourth; the reduction now proposed, as compared with the like years of war, was three-fourths. The peace estimate for 1821 was 1,366,000l.; deduct from this the dead charge of half-pay, namely, 386,000l., and it was reduced in fact to a charge of 980,000l. He contended, therefore, that considered with relation to different periods of our history, they had now made a larger proportionate reduction in this estimate, after a certain duration of peace, than our ancestors had ever done. He contended also, that the comparison with the year 1792 in particular was not just, because the value of money was greatly altered; a guinea now would not purchase so much of the necessaries of life as it did in 1792; and though capitalists might, by way of contract, find that they could procure as much of them for the same amount as in 1792, clerks in public departments, who had their salaries only, found that to be the case which he had just mentioned.

He should now come to some few facts upon which the hon. member had laid great stress; and first, as to what had been said of the storekeeper at Dover. The hon. member had said that that officer, who had only 120l. a year in 1792, had now a salary of 500l. a year; but the hon. member, when he mentioned this as an increase, should have informed himself of all the facts of the case. He should have recollected that in 1792, besides the 120l. a year, the storekeeper at Dover had a certain poundage upon many articles, that he had several perquisites, such as the wood of broken carriages, and a certain allowance for visiting ships, which amounted altogether to 400l. or 500l. a year; therefore it ought not to be said that he had only 120l. a year at that time. The person who held the office at the time the hon. member first mentioned the case was since dead; but a short time before his death he had received a letter from him, in which he stated that had the salary of 120l. in 1792, with the perquisites, been continued, he should have enjoyed in the present year an income of from 800l. to 900l. a year. It was, then, quite fallacious to complain of 500l. a year as an enormous increase, when, in point of fact, there had been a saving to the public.—The hon member next adverted to the case of the storekeeper at Chatham, who had 500l. a year, with a gratuity of 250l. and a house, ? making his income in all, worth about 800l. or 900l. a year. This salary the storekeeper —than whom there was not a more meritorious officer—fully deserved; but perhaps the. House would feel surprised when he mentioned what was the fact—that had the limited salary given to this officer in 1792, with its perquisites and allowances, been continued up to the present year, his income would now amount to 12,000l. Certainly this enormous sum would not be voted by the House; but it would nevertheless, come out of the pockets of the public, who of course gained the difference by the new system. He had merely mentioned these two cases to show how erroneous must be the calculation which compared the periods of 1792 and the present year in every thing.—The next principal objection of the hon. member had been to the great number of new men who had been appointed to vacant situations in the Ordnance. The hon. member complained that the promises of economy and retrenchment which had been made had not been realized; and he seemed to question his (Mr. W.'s) statement, that the noble person at the head of the department always inquired, when a place became vacant, whether it could be dispensed with; but the fact was, that the 56 vacant places which had been filled up, did not disprove this statement; for though the inquiry was always made, the filling up of the place arose from its being found that it could not be dispensed with. Then, as to the filling up some of the vacancies by men of great and of no age, it mattered little; for, according to the practice, no person was entitled to receive a pension until he had served ten years. There were certainly some exceptions; but they were made in the cases of persons whose offices had been abolished, and who had served in the West Indies, or some other of the colonies, for a few years: to such who had made great sacrifices in leaving their country and friends, the granting of a pension on the abolition of the office was but just. As to persons of no age being appointed, he, upon inquiry, had found one instance of a person being appointed under sixteen, which was the age below which it was not the practice to appoint; and the same inquiry informed him; that that person was within two months of that age, and that he was perfectly competent to the, duty he had to perform. With respect to the new men appointed to fill up vacant situations, he should observe, that many of those situations could not be filled up from the half-pay. There was a case of a new man having been appointed a storekeeper; but it was that of a captain in the army, who had followed the duke of Wellington in most of his campaigns, and who had got so mutilated at the battle of Vittoria, as to be wholly unfit to gain a living by any other employment. To the appointment of such a person, if it were a crime, they had to plead guilty. Then, as to the armourer at the Tower, he was not a new man; he had been a serjeant of artillery since 1801, and had served his country faithfully. Next, with respect to the appointment of Mr. Pakenham to be clerk of the works at the Tower, he also could not be considered as a new man, for he had for a long time been in the service. The right hon. member went through a number of other instances to show that the appointments to the 56 vacant situations were not of new men, but of persons efficient to those situations. There were five or six exceptions; but they were of assistant clerks, whose places could not be filled up from the half-pay. One of these was the case of Marshall, who was only 16 or 17 years old, to be assistant clerk at Woolwich; and it was objected to his appointment, that he was connected with Queenborough; but he would ask, why should that prevent his being appointed, if he was fit for the office, and it was one which could not be well filled up from the half pay?

Where, then, had been the waste of public money in this department, of which the hon. member for Aberdeen spoke so much, and stated that those with whom he had consulted were of the same opinion? No doubt the hon. member's friends thought as he did; they were all linked in the same chain, and felt it perhaps their duty to hold the same opinion. But his (Mr. Ward's) opinion, and that of his friends, was on this subject as good as theirs. The hon. member had not succeeded in making out his case as to the enormous waste of money in the Ordnance department. His arguments on that head were yet to come, for he had hitherto stated nothing which gave validity to his assertions. But not to rest upon that, he would show the comparative expenses of the department in 1792 and 1821. He then went into a calculation of the expenses of the two periods, the result of which was (after making the necessary allowances for the difference of the number of troops, establishments, new colonies, and other causes of expense in the present year, above the former period), that the expense of the Ordnance department in the present year above the year 1792, was only in the ordinaries 59,000l. and in the extraordinaries 8,000l., from which 2,000l. unprovided was to be deducted, thereby leaving. 65,000l. as the total difference. This increase of 65,000l. could be well accounted for; first, on account of the rise in prices in the present year, above 1792; secondly, in the arrears incident to a war of 23 years; thirdly, the several millions of stores now in existence which were not then, and which must be regularly kept and accounted for; fourthly, the additional care in works and buildings; fifthly, the half-pay, which was fifteen times greater in the present year, than in 1792; sixthly, the Union with Ireland, which threw on the English department the superintendence of the Irish establishments; seventhly, the more correct mode adopted of remunerating officers; and last, though not least, the improvement and proficiency in the whole concerns of the department. As to the subject of gratuities, he would defend it as a measure of absolute justice, those gratuities having been established for the purpose of putting the officers in the Ordnance department on a level with those in other offices, excepting the Treasury and Admiralty, for they had been worse paid than any other, even including the Victualling office. The average of their salaries altogether was not more than 226l. a year, while in the other offices they were at least 30l. or 40l. more. It was to effect a just equality that those gratuities had been given; that object had been now nearly accomplished, and the consequence would be a reduction of the gratuities. Even before the discussion of the estimates, an order in writing had been issued by the master general to review the gratuities, and he could promise that before next year he should be able to give a more satisfactory account of this office. He then proceeded to reply to a statement of the hon. member, who had said that the 43,000l. for the master general and officers was in reality 63,000l. as there was part of it concealed in gratuities, &c. This he denied. There had been no concealment whatever. The circumstances of house-rent and coals and candles, the expense of which the hon. member had stated to have been concealed, were brought under the view of the House in 1810 and in 1815, and taken notice of in the report of the finance committee. Where, then, was the concealment? He wished that the hon. member would not give himself the habit of indulging in such observations. Did he wish to have government paragraphed as keeping an Augean stable, which would not bear inspection? The hon. member had ransacked every figure, and had gone so far as to ask for an account of the floating batteries: he (Mr. W.) gave him for answer, that there were none; but he would have been glad to have accommodated him with a floating battery, had there been such a thing in the service. He then replied to the observations made with respect to the powder vessels, and said, that the Ordnance was charged so far with part of the expense of the naval department. The military contingencies had been 80,000l. taking all the different stations together.—The right hon. gentleman then moved, "That 43,071l. 12s. 8d. be granted for defraying the Salaries to the Master-general, principal Officers, Clerks, and Attendants, belonging to the office of Ordnance employed at the Tower and Pall Mall, for the year 1821."

Mr. P. Moore

said, that the right hon. gentleman had made a premature display of artillery, and had nearly expended all his ammunition before he had well taken the field; but every night, when it came to the hour of twelve, he would arrest the business, in consideration of his own health and the health of all loyal subjects, that they might take that refreshment of which they stood in so much need. He would therefore move, that the chairman report progress, and ask leave to sit again.

The amendment was carried nem. con.