HC Deb 07 March 1823 vol 8 cc511-20
Lord Palmerston

having moved the order of the day for going into a committee of Supply,

Mr. Creevey

said, he was anxious to offer a few words, before they went into a committee for the purpose of voting away more than six millions of money, in a House certainly the thinnest that he had seen this session. And first, he begged to remind the House of a few facts, which really it at present appeared to have no notion of; namely, that the country was at that moment afflicted with a great and overwhelming calamity, called agricultural distress: that thousands upon thousands, under the pressure of this evil, were daily falling from comparative opulence to beggary and ruin; that an actual revolution was going on among a very great and numerous body in this country. He begged to remind the House also, that from every county of England the petitions of the people had been repeatedly presented to parliament, for the adoption of measures of retrenchment and economy; that they had been urging the necessity of a reduction of salaries of all kinds, that had been augmented during the late depreciation of the currency; and that they bad, been calling for the abolition of all useless offices. Nothing could be of a more serious nature than these requests and petitions; and no time more fitting for their consideration than when the House were going, in a committee of supply, to vote away six millions for the supply of the army; more especially if they recurred to the amount of the army estimates in 1792, and contrasted with it this estimate, to which there would be to be added, no doubt, for army extraordinaries about one million more. It was quite impossible to suppose, that great reductions might not be effected in this, as well as in all other departments of the public expenditure, or that government could not effect considerable reductions in all salaries, the amount of which had been augmented during the late depreciation of our currency. He knew very well that government had done so, with respect to the lower order of officers; namely, the unfortunate clerks, whose salaries they had cut down: but the sinecures, and the salaries of the great officers, it was much more necessary for them to look to, in consequence of the disgraceful measure of 1817, in respect of sinecures; by the operation of which a few of those sinecures were abolished, and many retained; while the members of the government, those high and efficient public men, as they were pleased to call themselves, took a large compensation in return for such abolitions. He wished to remind the House of these facts, that the country might know what sums were voted, and by what houses they were voted, in the face of their sufferings and in the midst of their petitions. By way of amendment, he would move, "That it appears to this House, from the estimates laid before it for the service of the army for the present year, that the same amount to 6,084,898l. 2s. 10d. exclusive of the army extraordinaries, which of late years have in general amounted to one million more, whilst the supplies for the army in 1792 amounted only to 2,331,149l.; that; in the present state of unparalleled distress and ruin in which the agricultural interests of these kingdoms are involved, it is the bounden duty of this House to reduce the estimates for the different public services of the year to as near the amount of 1792 as the safety of the state will admit; and, above all, that it is the bounden duty of this House to accede to the universal prayers and petitions of the people, in reducing all salaries or allowances, of whatever description, which were augmented in consequence of the late depreciation in the value of the currency, in abolishing all sinecures and useless offices, in reducing the salaries of all such officers as are overpaid, and in regulating, upon principles of the strictest economy, all such other offices, the duties of which are now performed by deputy."

Sir T. Lethbridge

concurred in the general principle of the resolution; although he could not go the length of supposing, that the military estimates could be reduced, consistently with the honour and safety of the country, to the standard of 1792. He thought the reduction made in the salaries of public men during the last session, was by no means sufficient. They appeared to him to be remunerated beyond what the country could well spare. Every measure of reduction and economy should be adopted, that could be resorted to with safety.

Lord Palmerston

thought, that if the hon. mover had any objections to urge against the estimates, it would be more consistent with the usages of the House to discuss them in the committee.

Mr. Jones

denied that, with a military establishment, reduced below what it now was, we could keep the colonies which we had conquered in the last war. As to the public officers, he thought them rather underpaid than overpaid. He likewise contended, that reduction and economy had been carried as far as was consistent with the honour and safety of the country.

Mr. Hume

contended, that a more correct and proper resolution had never been proposed to the House. The six millions which they were now called upon to vote for the army, did not contain all the items of expenditure. There was one million for the extraordinaries, half a million for the yeomanry, and a great expenditure for the commissariat and barrack department. He had expected to find a much larger reduction in the estimates than had absolutely taken place, now that the government had changed its policy, and withdrawn itself from the holy alliance.

The amendment was negatived without a division. The House having resolved itself into the Committee, to which the Army Estimates were referred,

Lord Palmerston

said, it was not his intention to occupy much of the attention of the House, because the difference between the estimates of this year and those of the last was very trifling. The amount of force had not been varied, except by a small addition of two companies in the West Indies; and the amount of charge was 18,000l. less this year than it had been during the last. The House would recollect, that he had stated to it last year his expectation, that the estimates this year would be 50,000l. more than they had been last year. The reason of that was, that a number of troops were going and returning from the East Indies, and that they were maintained on their passage at the public expense; yet notwithstanding this circumstance, in consequence of the reductions which had been made, the diminution of expense altogether amounted to 18,720l. The increase of expenditure, from the circumstance he had alluded to, had not amounted to more than 28,590l, owing to 10,000l. deducted for men who had not returned to England, as was expected. On the ex- penses for staff officers there was a diminution of 7,000l.; for the public departments 8,138l.; for medicines 8,300l.; and for volunteer corps, a diminution of 26,435l.; leaving a balance of decrease for the year, on the first class of estimates, of 21,156l. On the charges for recruiting troops and companies there was a decrease of 3,000l. On the retired charges, there was an increase of 7,000l. On the charges for the military college, a diminution of 2,000l. On the pay of general officers an increase of 394l. In the charge of garrisons there was an increase of 238l. Upon a general balance drawn from the increased expenditure in some items, and the decreased expenditure in others, the estimates for this year were less than those of last by 18,720l. The estimates for the year amounted in round numbers to six millions; of which fall one-half did not belong to the active and existing establishments of the year, but to past and gone-by services; so-that, in comparing the charges of the army now with those of any former period, this circumstance ought to be taken into consideration, seeing that one-half of the expenditure could not be saved, even if the whole of the army were to be disbanded. Taking all the charges for the army, including ordinaries, extraordinaries, miscellaneous, &c. the estimates were less than those approved of by the finance committee of 1817, by 950,000l.—The noble lord then moved his first resolution, "That a number of Land Forces, not exceeding 69,440 men, and also 2,691 men for service in the Royal Veteran Battalions in Ireland (exclusive of the men belonging to the regiments employed in the territorial possessions of the East India Company, commissioned and non-commissioned officers included), be maintaind, for the service of the united kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, from the 25th Dec. 1822 to the 24th Dec. 1823, both days inclusive, being 365 days."

Mr. Hume

did not think that, under the present circumstances of the country, the number of troops embodied was too great. He objected, however, to the number of foot-guards and cavalry, which now amounted to 14,000 men. Any person, who looked at the state of this species of force in 1792, must be astonished at its amazing increase.

Mr. Denman

said, it appeared to him, that all the votes on which the committee was likely to be engaged that evening, ought, under existing circumstances, to be considered as merely provisional. The state of the country, at that moment, might he very different from its state in four and twenty hours. Every fresh arrival was likely to decide the fate of its foreign relations, and accordingly as that was decided, must its establishments be regulated. He allowed, that if peace could he preserved, reduction ought to be carried to the fullest extent. His vote had always been in support of that principle, being convinced that, while the maintenance of peace was practicable, taxation ought to be reduced, and that that could only be effected by a proper diminution of the expenditure of the country. He could not, however, avoid observing, that in the present aspect of affairs, he looked at the subject with very different feelings. It appeared to him, that till lately the extravagant feats of folly and despotism, which some of the rulers of the continents had thought proper to exhibit in the face of day, had not been credited by the people of England. The eyes of the country seemed to have been almost closed to the frequent delinquencies of these monsters in the shape of men. Their plans and projects seemed to have been considered as a mere fable, and to have been neglected, as if they were too absurd and too iniquitous to be contemplated, even by the most barbarous tyrant that ever ruled over the most barbarous of nations. It was only now, when they heard that France avowed and defended the same monstrous and abominable views by the lips of her first minister, that the people of England were convinced that the question was approaching them in a practicable shape. He should not pretend to point out to the committee the measures which the country ought to pursue in such a state of things. That would be better explained by those in whose hands its destinies were placed. He regretted the absence of the secretary for foreign affairs. Had he been present, he should have put certain questions to him, which he was now prevented from doing. He trusted, however, that the right hon. gentleman had not only tried every species of negotiation to prevent the war from breaking out, upon the principles and for the objects for which it was avowed to be undertaken; but that he had also given a direct intimation to the parties most concerned, that if the war was undertaken against Spain, it would be met by the most determined hostility on the part of this government, in vindication of its own honour, and for the support of the general independence and liberty of the world. That was the only course which a great and free country ought to adopt. No man could be more rejoiced than he had been by the accounts of what had been said at Harwich and at Liverpool. He rejoiced above measure at finding a minister of the crown avowing himself a friend to the extension of civil and religious liberty all over the world; but he must say that liberty, civil as well as religious, would be extinguished for ever, if this country should remain an inactive spectator of the atrocious aggression which was now meditated against Spain. He would put one or two plain questions to the committee. Was Spain to be overrun, and suffered to become a province of France? If it were, what was to be the condition of Portugal? Or was the war to be protracted? If it was, was it not clear that the balance would be turned, by an irruption of the barbarians of the north into the fertile provinces of western Europe, and by an attempt on their part to settle in regions where no man of common prudence could wish to see them established? What would be the feelings of Spain towards us, if she should be either conquered or successful, without the interference of England? Were we not to lay any claim to the gratitude of that gallant and high-spirited nation? Was she to be left to work out her own salvation, or was she to be subjugated without England outstretching her powerful arm in her defence? He mentioned this now, because the question was every hour coming closer and closer to our own bosoms; and the committee might depend upon it, that, if the claims of the tyrants by whom the continent was now infested, were not manfully resisted, our own liberties would be in danger, and our own independence would be more than compromised. The war of France upon the liberties of Spain had not, indeed, yet commenced. He trusted that a strong remonstrance had been made to the infatuated junta who now misruled that fine country, informing them that the moment a French army crossed the Pyrenees, or fired a cannon on the southern bank of the Bidassoa, France would be considered as in a state of positive hostility with England. If they did not now determine to meet, as became the natives of a free country, the danger with which every free country was menaced by the arbitrary tyrants of the holy alliance, they might be sure that the danger would come upon them; and he would ask, could they ever meet it under more favourable auspices than they would do now, when the indignation of every honest heart was excited to the uttermost, by the monstrous principles of aggression and tyranny that had been unblushingly avowed by the government of France, and when every breast beat high with the desire of humiliating those haughty monarchs who had compelled it to propound doctrines so derogatory to the dignity of man? He knew that the sentiments which he was then uttering were the sentiments of by far the largest portion of the people of England; and he likewise knew, that they were sentiments which would increase, if hostilities were actually to commence. Besides, the committee ought to recollect, that Portugal had determined to make common cause with Spain. The cause of Spain was clearly the cause of Portugal; and the situation of the one was replete with all the dangers which threatened the other. Now, putting out of view the great question of national independence, we were bound by treaty to prevent Portugal from being overrun by any foreign power, and to lend her our assistance whenever that assistance was invoked. That assistance, he was given to understand, had already been invoked; and the reply given to it was, that England would not be backward with her aid, in case the invasion of Portugal should be attempted. If this were really the case, and he judged that it was so, from the state paper which had appeared in all the public journals, how could Portugal be secure, when Spain was invaded? He did not pretend to know what ministers were doing, but he trusted they were making preparations for the worst that could happen, knowing that they were certain of the active co-operation of the people of this country, in case they should determine to resist the invasion of Spain.

Mr. H. Sumner

did not believe that the learned gentleman expressed the feelings of the majority of this country, when he advocated the propriety of our interfering in the approaching war. The learned gentleman had stigmatized as mad, the conduct of France in attacking Spain. He would allow it to be mad; but he asserted, that this country would be still more mad, if she were to volunteer a was in defence of Spain. He should be opposing the popular feeling, if he were to advocate the expediency or the justice of the attack which France now meditated upon Spain; but he should be opposing it still more, if he were to urge the necessity of England going to war, to prevent the success of that attack. The cause of Spanish liberty would not, he thought, suffer much from that attack; for he believed that there was just about as much real liberty in the Spanish constitution, as there was real property in the Spanish bonds; and that the subjects of the one and the holders of the other would equally be sufferers. He contended, that it was not in the physical power of France to conquer Spain. The experiment had been made by Bronaparté, but it had failed. The remark was as old as Charles 5th, that army was beaten; if with a large army, it was starved. The best interests of this country were involved in the preservation of peace. He applauded the prudent course ministers had hitherto pursued, and hoped that they would carry into full effect their professions of strict neutrality.

Sir W. de Crespigny

also advocated the propriety of our observing a strict neutrality.

The resolution was agreed to. On the resolution, "That 1,841,658l. 18s. 8d. be granted for the charge of the Land Forces for service in Great Britain and on the stations abroad (excepting the East Indies) for the year 1823,"

Mr. Hume

objected to the charge for the recruiting service, which was 46,000l. for Great Britain, and 14,000l. for Ireland. He would take the sense of the House upon those items when the report was brought up. The expense of Albany and Chatham barracks was also too great. These establishments might advantageously be united.

Lord Palmerston

said, that from the charge for the recruiting service was to be deducted 14,000l. for dismounting two regiments of cavalry coming from Ireland, which expense would not again be incurred. The establishments at Albany and at Chatham were indispensable, and could not be advantageously united. The one was the depôt for recruits before their embarkation to join regiments on foreign stations; the other was the place at which invalids, on returning home from foreign stations, were examined previous to their transfer to Chelsea. To place these two descriptions of persons together in the same barracks, would be subversive of military discipline.

Mr. Hume

complained, that no less than five clerks and a paymaster were employed at Chatham to pay a few hundred men. He also complained of the large expense of the riding establishment; to him it appeared utterly useless.

Lord Palmerston

said, that the five clerks and the paymaster were necessary, in consequence of the complicated nature of the accounts. As to the riding establishment, no part of our military system was more valuable. It was extremely important, that the system of riding throughout the army should be uniform. Even if that establishment were broken up, the pay of the officers employed in it would remain.

Captain O'Grady

could not see why those who had received instructions in the riding establishment could not communicate their knowledge to the regiments to which they belonged, unless they were like dancing dogs, who were capable of being taught, but incapable of teaching. There was not the slightest ground for keeping up this establishment.

Mr. Bernal

said, the establishment had existed for so great a length of time, that the whole body of our cavalry must be sufficiently instructed. It would be very satisfactory, if the noble lord would give any intimation, when, in his opinion, the establishment might cease without detriment to the public service.

Lord Palmerston

said, it was not sufficient to teach one or two individuals of a regiment, in order that they might communicate their knowledge to others. Unless the roughriders were constantly kept up to a certain point of discipline, the regiments soon relapsed into their old habits. He should propose the maintenance of the establishment, as long as it appeared to him to be essential to the public service. Whenever it ceased to be so, he would propose its reduction.

The resolution was agreed to. On the resolution, "That 134,000l. be granted, for defraying the charge of Volunteer Corps in Great Britain, for the year 1823,"

Mr. Hume

thought that these corps ought to have public spirit enough to serve without any allowance; especially as they could keep horses without paying the tax, and enjoyed several other privileges.

Lord Palmerston

thought that 3l. a man could scarcely be considered an unreasonable sum for the persons, generally farmers, who performed the service. Indeed, the amount was barely sufficient to meet the expenses to which they were exposed.

Sir T. Lethbridge

bore testimony to the valuable services rendered by this constitutional force.

Mr. F. Palmer

thought there would be less objection to the yeomanry corps, if they served, as formerly, without any expense to the country. As to the usefulness of the force, he must venture to doubt. He had, some time ago, gone to a review of what was considered quite a crack corps: be alluded to the Buckinghamshire corps. Their discipline was admired, and they were considered as being altogether well equipped. They were mounted, however, not very advantageously. One man rode a pony, while the next to him rode a horse of 16 hands high. The horses were of all sizes. He left the House to judge what sort of a charge could be expected from such a body of troops. Many of the members of these corps enlisted to save the horse-tax.

Mr. J. Bench

defended the Wiltshire yeomanry, among whom there was not a member who did not ride his own horse. He approved of the grant, because the yeomanry corps were a constitutional force. If any thing would justify the reduction of the regular army, it was the efficiency of these regiments, which were never used as a political engine against the people, and had been most useful in quelling civil riots. Because he disliked the existence of a regular standing army, he approved of an efficient yeomanry force, which was composed, in the essential import of the words, of the people of England.

Mr. Freemantle,

as commanding officer of a regiment of the Bucks yeomanry, could not sit still and hear that regiment treated so slightingly. He would maintain, that a corps was never turned out in more perfect discipline. He thought the country was not very grievously taxed in paying 3l. a man for such troops.

The resolution, together with the rest of the resolutions, were then agreed to. The House resumed, and the report was ordered to be received on Monday.