HC Deb 14 March 1823 vol 8 cc575-9

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

Sir John Osborn

said, he would submit certain items to the consideration of the committee. These were for the wages of labourers and artificers employed in the dock-yards; next, for the charge of timber and other materials for the building of ships, the charge for pilotage and other contingencies: under this head there was a considerable reduction, which was to be attributed, in a great degree, to the improved and effective state of the navy, and to the prudent reductions that had been made in the different dock-yards. Under the second head, there was also a considerable diminution; there were considerable reductions in the half-pay, and in the widows' pensions; there was, however, an additional charge of 310,000l. for Greenwich hospital. The third part of the estimates was an estimate of the sums paid in the nature of superannuations to reduced officers and clerks. The next charge was for the building and repairing of ships. Upon the whole, there was a reduction, as compared with the estimates of the last year, of 216,864l. 16s. 3d. The amount of the estimates of the last year was 5,480,405l., to which was added 310,000l. for Greenwich hospital, making 5,790,405l. From that sum was, however, to be deducted the amount of the sale of old stores, &c. The amount of the estimates for the present year was 5,442,540l. 6s. 8d., and, as he had already said, there was upon the whole a reduction of 216,864l. 16s. 3d. as compared with the estimates of the preceding year. When it was considered that we had 4,000 men more employed than were employed in the last year, it must give great satisfaction to the House and to the country, that the estimates were considerably lower. But it would give still greater satisfaction, when he stated, that the navy of Great Britain was never in so efficient a state as it was at the present moment. The hon. member concluded by moving, "That 55,406l. 5s. 1d. be granted for Salaries and Contingent Expenses of the Admiralty Office."

Mr. Hume

said, he understood that the state of the navy now, was not better than it had been three years ago. All the reductions that had been made this year might have been made seven years ago; but, better late than never. The reductions in the dock-yards ought to extend not merely to the workmen, but to every other class. The workmen were hardly dealt with. They had now the same rate of wages that they formerly received; but they were compelled to work ten hours in the day; whereas, they formerly worked but six hours and a half. As to the works in the yards, he was happy to see a reduction of 30,000l., though the expense was still greater than could be wished. He now came to the vote just proposed. Since last year there had been a reduction of 2,000l. in this estimate, on account of the vote of the House, which abolished two of the lords of the Admiralty. It was now 55,406l. From this he should propose to reduce the salaries of paymaster of marines 1,000l., and six clerks 1,770l., and the paymaster of widows' pensions 600l. and the clerk to ditto 80l., in all 3,450l. One assistant to the paymaster of the navy would be amply sufficient to perform all the duties of these establishments. So long ago as 1811 the inutility of these offices had been perceived, and a minute had been directed from the Treasury to the Admiralty, submitting the propriety either of transferring both offices of paymaster of marines and widows' pensions to the treasurer of the navy, or at least of uniting the two first offices. Two years and two months after this minute was issued, the secretary of the Admiralty had replied in a letter, which was too long for hint to read to the House, that the continuance of the offices was warranted by expediency or economy. He should, therefore, propose the reduction of the sum he had mentioned, as well as of the 200l. paid to the secretary of the fund for the relief of widows, the duty of which was done by the secretary of the Admiralty.

Sir G. Clerk

said, it was a great mistake to suppose, that the office of paymaster of marines could be abolished with advantage. If the business were transferred to the office of the treasurer of the navy, it would be necessary to appoint a cashier with a considerable salary; so that there would be no saving. It was not alone in making payments that this officer was employed, as the whole of the barracks of the marine corps were under his control. The correspondence which this officer had to keep up, was quite sufficient to employ him and the six clerks. As for the paymaster of widows' pensions, and the secretary to the widows' fund, the management of that fund was vested in a distinct and particular corporation, so that the business of it could not with propriety be transferred to the treasurer of the navy.

Mr. Hume

said, that the treasurer of the navy was once the paymaster of the widows' pensions. He was of opinion, that the marine barracks might be placed under the same control as the barracks of the military.

Sir J. Osborn

said, that the duties of the paymaster of widows' pensions had been greatly increased of late years, not only by the number of pensions being increased ten-fold, but by the payments being made, instead of once, four times a year.

Mr. Croker

said, he was not aware that his letter of 1813 was so long and tedious, until the hon. gentleman had conclusively proved it to be so, by showing that, diligent as he was, he had never read it. The hon. gentleman said, that in that letter it was affirmed, that the paymaster of widows' pensions had been once the treasurer of the navy. Now, this was not the fact. In that letter it was distinctly stated, that the paymaster of widows' pensions, had been not the treasurer, but the paymaster of the navy. The managers of the widows' fund were, in fact, a separate corporation, who might choose any one as their secretary. They had chosen him, because, from the office he held, he had greater facilities for carrying on the extensive correspondence connected with the business of the fund. The late Mr. Rose had given it as his opinion, that the business of paymaster of widows' pensions might be done by the treasurer of the navy; and so, as far as mere payment was concerned, it undoubtedly might; but this was the least part of the business. The main part was the business of inspection and correspondence. As to the paymaster of marines' office, the hon. gentleman proposed to transfer the business of payment to the treasurer of the navy, and that of the barracks to the ordnance. But, if this were done, an increase of officers would be necessary, so that nothing would be saved. To revert to the secretary ship to the widows' fund—the secretary of the Admiralty had been first appointed to that office in 1754, at a salary of 200l. a year; there were then 300 pensions, and about 4,000l. a year to pay. The salary now remained the same, and the pensions had increased to 4,000, the sum to be paid to 150,000l., and the payments were made, instead of once, four times a year. The House would hardly believe him, when he said, he received from 30 to 40,000 letters a year on the business of that office.

Sir. F. Ommaney

said, he was satisfied that, at the present crisis, four lords of the Admiralty were too few, and should move an addition to the present vote of 1,000l., in order that a salary might be given to a fifth lord. He then referred to the destitute condition of the widows of assistant surgeons of the navy, who were not allowed any pensions; and complained, that, when he had represented the hardship of the case to the secretary for the Admiralty, that gentleman had replied, "You need not trouble yourself on the subject, for greater men than you have taken it into consideration." Unless he obtained a satisfactory answer, he would bring the case of the widows of assistant surgeons under the notice of the House. He should now move, to add 1,000l. to the vote, in order that a fifth lord of the Admiralty might be appointed.

The Chairman

apprehended, that it was impossible to increase the amount of the estimate.

Sir J. Yorke

did not see why the committee might not augment, as well as reduce the estimates.

Mr. Croker

was sorry the hon. baronet, had chosen to remember words which he (Mr. C.) had never spoken, and to forget others which he had uttered. He had told him merely, that the subject had been long under consideration, by a committee of naval men; adding, that if inquiries were made of him (sir F. O.), he might say that he was not responsible, as the matter rested with the lords of the Admiralty.

Mr. Ellice

was opposed to any delay in voting the navy estimates, but would support the amendment.

Sir I. Coffin

insisted, that of late years every attempt had been made to grind; the British navy to dust.

Sir J. Yorke

said, it was not true, that endeavours had been made, of late years, to grind the navy to dust. On the contrary, five millions were going to be voted for its support, and 4,000 seamen added, to the number hitherto kept up. Englishmen knew that what the gallant admiral had said was unfounded; but what would the French say to such a statement? Did the gallant admiral really think that he had spoken truth? He ought to blush for having made such a statement. He trusted that the gallant admiral would make the amende honorable.

Sir I. Coffin

declared, in the face of the House, that the navy of England never was in so naked a state as at present.

The amendment was negatived. After which, the several resolutions were agreed to.