HC Deb 18 May 1821 vol 5 cc846-53

The order of the day was read for going into a Committee of Supply to consider further of the Ordnance Estimates. On the question, "that Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair,"

Mr. Chetwynd

said, that at a period like the present, when so much distress prevailed, when so many manufacturing towns were on the verge of insolvency, and when so many taxes were so patiently borne, the people, of England were looking with anxious eyes to those who represented them in the great council of the nation. They had crowded the table with petitions, with the strongest prayers in the most courteous language. In the discussion of the Army and Navy estimates, great efforts had been made to effect reductions, but they had failed. Those exertions had, however, had the effect of clearly exposing to view a system of extravagance of which he, for one, had no idea, and which had induced many well thinking persons to say, that if the House did not reform itself within, a revolution must take place without. He believed that the first would be the case, for he would prophecy that no war minister would next year bring down such estimates as those of the present year: if he did, he would be addressed in the language which his majesty recently used when he saw the head of Charles the First in the vault at Windsor,—"Take it away! it is too horrid to contemplate." He hoped nothing would induce the gentlemen opposite him to relax in their exertions for economy. He, for one, would remain by them till Christmas to oppose a single shilling being voted beyond what was absolutely necessary. The distress of the country was such, that if relief was not given, the yeomanry must be annihilated, and it could not but excite the utmost disgust that, under such circumstances, extravagant establishments should be persisted in. He would move, as an amendment, "That it be an Instruction to the said Committee, that, duly taking into consideration the present distressed state of the Country, they will proceed to enforce a system of the most rigid Economy, as far as the same can be effected without detriment to the substantial interests of the State."

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he did not deny the general proposition, but he would deny that there existed any necessity for the instruction proposed.

Mr. Maberly

said, that the wanton extravagance of ministers was not to be endured. Seventeen millions were spent annually upon our military establishments in time of peace. What must it be if a war were to break out? He was satisfied that a saving of four millions might be ef- fected in the whole expenditure. Economy ought to begin at the head of the state, and proceed downwards; and he was convinced that the king himself would set the example. He applauded the manly straight forward course pursued by Mr. Pitt in 1792, compared with the low shuffling of the present ministers. He admitted, however, that in forming a scheme of expenditure, on the estimates of 1792, it would be fit to make allowance for the increased price of things, for the half pay, and the increased pay of the navy.

The Marquis of Londonderry

objected to these preliminary discussions, because they enabled gentlemen to make bold and exaggerated assertions, the fallacy of which could not be detected until the details were entered into in the committee. The lion, member had stated the expenditure at 17 millions, forgetting that 5 millions was a dead expense for pensions, half-pay, and other allowances: so that 12 millions only remained for the government of this immense empire; and from this the hon. gentleman maintained that 4 millions might be saved. The hon. gentleman would not have risked such a statement in the committee. There was no practicable economy that ministers were not desirous of making.

Mr. Calcraft

was happy that this resolution had been brought forward. When, night after night, such vain attempts at reduction were made by a few, against overbearing ministerial majorities, such motions could not be too frequently made. The greater the dead expense which must be borne, the more necessary it was to economise in those charges that could be diminished. He saw plainly that the principles of a military government were in a gradual course of introduction; and he was much more suspicious of so large a standing army under the control of the present ministers, than of other persons. He was quite sure that large savings might be made in the Ordnance department, as he would show when the House came to the items.

Mr. Huskisson

contended, that as the civil list was granted for the reign, no reduction could be made in it, though he admitted that both it and the collection of the revenue might be proper subjects of debate. The instruction to the committee, if carried, could have no effect, as the utmost economy had been observed in the formation of the estimates. It was very convenient for the other side to keep it out of view; but the House would not forget that the estimates for this year were a million and a half below those of the preceding.

Lord Milton

said, that when the gentlemen opposite declared the impossibility of reducing the estimates, he could not forget a similar declaration made in the same quarter a fort night before the House of Commons deprived the ministers of the property tax. On that occasion, the secretary at war declared he could not reduce the army estimates; yet a fortnight after the repeal of the property tax, his noble friend came down with reduced estimates, although a week or two before, all, economy was declared impossible. Let them now look to the pension the and say if it was not possible to reduce that branch of the pubic expenditure. Let them look to that part of it filled by the names of members of that House. He did not allude to the noble marquis opposite, nor to the chancellor of the exchequer, nor to the president of the board of trade—all these he should always wish to see members of that House; but let them look to the right and the left, and say if there were not some members in their view who ought not to hold their pensions and their seats. Against the inordinate expenditure of the government he must protest; its inevitable effect, if continued, must be to break down altogether the middle classes of society. There would then only remain the very rich, and very poor, and the valuable link hitherto connecting both, would no longer remain. He could not help thinking that government incurred great deal of this unnecessary expenditure, in consequence of their not being sufficiently acquainted with the real state of the country.

Mr. Hume

contended for the right of parliament to review the amount of the civil list, and hoped that before the year was expired, the amount of that establishment would be reduced. If ever a House of Commons had been indifferent to the people's purse, it was when they established the civil list at 870,000l. a year—a sum now, from the change in the value of money, equal to 1,400,000l. It was said, that the estimates for this year were a million and a; half less than those of the last. In answer to this, he would assert, that the Ordnance estimates for the present year exceeded by 100,000lthose of the last.

The question being put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the question," the House divided: Ayes, 65; Noes, 40: Majority against the Amendment, 25. The House having resolved itself into a Committee of Supply, Mr. Ward moved, That 14,631l. 5s. be granted for the pay of Civil Officers and Clerks belonging to the Office of Ordnance on Foreign Stations for 1821."

Mr. Hume

entered, into a review of the several items which composed the vote. He said that all the Ordnance establishments abroad ought, to be considerably reduced. The Gibraltar establishment ought to be diminished: so ought the Malta, which had been considerably augmented since 1808. In Barbadoes the Ordnance expense was increased from 487l. to 880l.; the Ceylon from 1,150l. in 1808, to 3,270l. In the Ionian islands, where 500l. ought to be sufficient, the Ordnance expense was 1,258l. At the Cape of Good Hope the number of clerks had also been increased. There was another item worth observation; it was that of 238l. for the storekeeper in Heligoland; the person filling the office was in England for six months of the last year, and his only duty was to take charge of the powder for firing the morning and evening gun. Formerly a Serjeant's party of men had charge of Heligoland, now there was a garrison of 100 men. Thus an expense of 10,000l. was incurred for an island, the fee-simple of which was not worth half the money. He thought that a salaries in this department of the ordnance expenditure ought to be reduced one fourth. He should therefore move as an amendment, that the proposed sum of 14,631l 5s. be reduced to 10,973l. 9s.

Mr. Ward

assured the hon. member, that when the salaries of the clerks alluded to had been augmented, they had been deprived of certain perquisites which they previously enjoyed. The Ceylon establishment had been increased, because the Ordnance had not only Columbo to serve but Tricomalee and Pont de Galli. In. Malta, during the war, the local government paid a portion of the expense, which now altogether devolved upon the Ordnance department. It was a curious fact, that the fortifications at Malta, on which 600 guns were mounted, would, if extend into one straight line, occupy 50 miles of ground. With respect to the garrison. at Heligoland, the argument of the. Hon. gentleman was most fallacious. He might as well say, that because when Gibraltar was taken it was supplied with a garrison of 500 men, that therefore it should only have the same complement now.

Mr. Bennet

said, that the right hon. member had introduced a most dangerous doctrine with respect to compensations. He had stated that a certain number of persons had been accustomed, for a considerable period, to receive perquisites and allowances of a particular description, in lieu of which compensation was now made their descendants; so that because A, B, C, and D, were lineally descended from certain public officers, they were to be remunerated, in consequence of an abuse having been removed, by which their ancestors had profited; because a robbery was found out, and it was deemed necessary to prevent its recurrence, therefore those individuals were to receive compensations. No gentleman could think of supporting such a proposition unless he was affected by that sort of mania which pervaded the Ordnance department, where they were so powerfully inoculated with the disease of extravagance, that they could not get rid of it. Unless gentlemen were possessed by such a devil as this, it was impossible that they could state, much less agree to, a proposition of this nature. It reminded him of an attempt made by an individual some time ago to procure compensation; and it appeared to him that the person in question could have borrowed the idea only from the Ordnance department. The magistrates of Middlesex, finding that a number of the most depraved characters were in the habit of visiting Cold-bath-fields prison, set an inquiry on foot to discover the reason of it. At last it came out, that a clerk at one of the police-offices was in the habit of handing up to the; magistrates a list of persons who wished to visit their friends in gaol, and that from each of the applicants, he received a fee. When this was discovered, what did the clerk do? Why, he called out for compensation. He quoted high authorities in his favour, and observed that they had their compensations, and he must have his. What did the magistrates say? They told him that he should have no compensation, because they did not understand the system of rewarding individuals for their misconduct. He entreated the House to consider how they must be regarded by the country, if, after so many forcible appeals to their justice, they should still continue to disregard every consideration of economy. They had been called upon to reduce the expense at Malta, the revenue of which would have been quite sufficient to defray its own expense, if some members of the needy nobility had not been quartered upon it; but such was the case with many other colonies, and with the Cape of Good Hope in particular. The call was, therefore, in vain, because it was addressed to ministers, who maintained their power through the aid of needy nobles and other political adventurers, all of whom sought their own interest at the expense of a suffering and impoverished country.

Mr. Ward

could, not but regret that gentlemen should avail themselves of their privilege to slander individuals who had no means of answering the charges brought against them.

Mr. Hume

denied that he had made any sweeping charges. In challenging particular facts, he had been anxious to confine himself to those facts, and not to indulge in generalities.

Mr. W. Smith

said, that when the Gape of Good Hope was in the possession of the Dutch, it did not cost the government a single stiver. Why, then, should it be expensive to this country? Some inquiry ought to take place on this subject.

Mr. Ward

said, it was a fallacy to argue that the Dutch kept the Cape against a superior, maritime power, seeing that we had taken it from them.

Mr. Warre

said, that every exertion ought to be made to compel the colonies to defray their own expenditure. The salary of the governor of the Cape was 10,000l. a year, while that of the secretary of state in this country was only 6,000l.

Mr. Goulburn

denied that the revenues of the Cape had ever defrayed the expenses of its civil and military establishments, when that colony was in the possession of the Dutch. The civil establishment of the Cape was paid out of the revenues of the colony, and the surplus went towards defraying the expenses of the military establishment. The hon. gentleman complained of the amount of the salary of the governor of the Cape, as compared with that of a high officer in this country, without taking into consideration the enormous expenses to which governors of colonies were of necessity subjected.

The committee divided; For the Amendment, 55; Against it, 86. On the next resolution, "That 56,000l. be granted for defraying the incidental Charges, ordinary Repairs, and Barrack Expenses at the Tower, and the several Forts, Garrisons, and places under the Ordnance, in Great Britain, Guernsey, and Jersey, for 1821," Mr. Gipps objected to the estimate, as being too large, and moved that the sum of 56,000l. should be reduced to 33,000l.After a short conversation, the committee divided: For the Amendment 64; Against it, 99. The resolution was agreed to; after which, the chairman reported progress, and asked leave to sit again.