HC Deb 24 February 1823 vol 8 cc241-3

The report of the Committee of Supply on the Navy Estimates being brought up,

Mr. Hume

rose to notice one or two circumstances. The first was, the prac- tice of the government with respect to the promotions in the navy during the last year. The House, he thought, was hardly aware of the amount of the expense which had been incurred, by the number of officers which had been added. He found that 5,689 officers, of the rank of lieutenants and upwards, were receiving half-pay, and that their half-pay and allowances amounted to nearly one million. He did not grudge the half-pay; but what he contended for was, that ministers were not justified in the additions they had made. It was his opinion, and that of many other persons, that promotions in the navy had now become the greatest means of patronage, and the extension of favour to individuals connected with that House. He intended to move for a return of the numbers promoted last year; and he should then show, that many of those persons were not entitled, by their services, to the situations in which they had been placed. The consequence of this had been, that many old and deserving officers had been passed by, who had become disgusted, and unwilling to serve on any future occasion, because young men of family or political interest had been placed over them. The injurious effect pf this measure was apparent, when it was recollected, that the prosperity and glory of the country must mainly depend upon the sufficiency of its marine. The returns would show, that the conduct of ministers in this respect, had been utterly inconsistent with the professions of economy from the throne. He was not then prepared to move upon this subject; but if it should appear, that the increase of the half-pay and allowances, in consequence of these promotions, amounted to more than all the reductions in the civil department, he thought the House must be impressed with the importance of the subject: 780 persons had been promoted since the peace, and the consequent increase amounted to half a million sterling. There were, last year, no less than 120 promotions, which appeared to him to be a unnecessary. With regard to the estimate, it was impossible to regard what the reduction really was, because the hon. baronet (sir J. Osborn), whom he did not now see in his place, had stated, that certain items had been taken from the amount of the estimate this year, without specifying what those items were. Now, he should like to know what had been deducted from the estimate, and what the amount of that deduction had been. The estimate for 25,000 men was, he observed, no greater than the estimate for 20,000 men at a former period. It turned out, however, that some items had been reduced, which might occasion the difference. It would be proper, therefore, to state to the House what items had been taken out of this year's estimate, in order that they might clearly perceive how it stood with reference to the estimate of last year. As to the marine service, the knowledge of the House was extremely imperfect. He wished to have an estimate of the expense of the marines, of the same nature as the annual estimate of the expense of the military force.

Sir G. Clerk

said, that with respect to certain promotions to which the hon. gentleman had alluded, it was unnecessary for him to enter into any explanation, as the hon. member intended to bring the subject under the consideration of the House by a specific motion. When the hon. member made that motion, the admiralty would be prepared to show, that they were perfectly justified in the course they had taken. Those promotions were made from persons belonging to the class of midshipmen, on those stations. If they were not so made, the vessels on foreign stations would soon be without officers. With respect to the question of the marines, if the hon. gentleman showed a fair parliamentary ground for requiring the information to which he had alluded, proper attention would be paid to it; but till he so introduced the question, it was impossible that a general answer could be given to it. The hon. gentleman observed, that alterations had been made in the navy estimates, by which the expense of wear and tear, &c. had been reduced, but that some new items were inserted in those estimates. The House, however, would find, that though the present estimate exceeded by 4,000 men the estimate of last year, yet there was a reduction on the former, as compared with the latter, of 220,000l. That saving was made under the head of victualling, and the wear and tear of ships. This might be accounted for, by referring to the great reduction in the price of provisions and timber, and also the reduction of the rate of wages in the dock-yards.

The resolutions were then agreed to.