HC Deb 14 February 1825 vol 12 cc348-52

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

Sir George Clerk,

in rising to move the Navy Estimates, observed, that it could scarcely be necessary for him to remark, that it was proper that we should have a portion of our naval force in every part of the world, more especially in the neighbourhood of our new foreign relations, in order to prevent inconveniences which might otherwise arise from the contending parties at war. In the West Indies, the nest of pirates on the coast of Cuba had been considerably diminished: yet we must not flatter ourselves that it was utterly destroyed, or that, if any relaxation in our efforts were to take place, it would not revive. There were other circumstances also which had added to the charges beyond the amount of last year, increase had been rendered necessary. In the course of that year material changes had been made in the mode of victualling the navy, for the purpose of adding to the comforts of the seamen. Amongst these was the abolition of banyan days, and an increase in a small degree of wages in consequence of a diminution in the usual allowance of grog. These changes, he believed every naval officer would pronounce advantageous. An excess of spirits had the effect of rendering the men quarrelsome, and of course increased the necessity for punishment. In order, however, that there should be no just ground of complaint, it had been determined, that the saving on rum should be paid to the men in the shape of an addition to their wages. It had been calculated that that saving would amount to about two shillings a man per month; and this addition had in consequence been made to all the seamen and petty officers, but not to the warrant or commissioned officers. A small addition had also been made to the pay of the men when on foreign stations. In order to carry these alterations into full effect, it was necessary that his majesty's government should have the sanction of that House; and the treasurer of the navy would shortly bring in a bill for that purpose. In the mean time, it was intended that the two shillings additional pay a month should be issued to the men, on the responsibility of government. The great; increase in the price of provisions since last year, had rendered it necessary to increase the rate of victualling a shilling a man a month; making the whole increase three shillings a man a month. The rise in the price of other articles, particularly of iron which had increased 100 per cent, had also rendered it necessary to add two shillings a man a month to the vote for wear and tear. The hon. baronet concluded by moving, "That 29,000 men be employed for the Sea Service, for thirteen lunar months, from the 1st of January 1825, including 9,000 Royal Marines."

Sir J. Yorke

was very desirous that the committee should know how far the seamen liked the exchange of a portion of their grog for tea; which it seemed probable they would consider as little better than clover dust. Had any broils or dissentions taken place upon this diminution of the allowance of grog to the seamen? He also thought that the doing away with the banyan days required some explanation.

Sir G. Cockburn

said, that from all the naval stations, except one, the accounts with respect to the manner in which the change was received by the seamen, were most favourable; in fact, they cheered when it was announced to them. The distribution of tea had nothing to do with the seamen's grog. The portion of grog stopped from the men they were paid for to its full value. This was done, because it was found that when men went into port without money, they were frequently induced to run away; whereas, by giving them a little pocket money, they were enabled to amuse themselves without being liable to any such temptation. With respect to the banyan days having been done away with, that also had met with the approbation of the seamen. Before that arrangement took place, they were nominally allowed 6lbs of beef per week, while in reality they only received 4lbs, a quantity of flour being substituted for the remainder. Again they were allowed large quantities of pease, enough, in fact, to serve a hog-stye, but they never ate them, and so that article, or at least its value, went into the pocket of the purser.

Sir I. Coffin

was surprised that his hon. friend should object to the new arrangement, as he must be aware that grog was injurious to the men, and that they were paid for the quantity stopped from them.

The resolution was agreed to: as was also a resolution, "That 923,650l. be granted for wages; 603,200l. for victuals for the said 29,000 men." On the resolution, "That 320, 450l. be granted, for the wear and tear of the ships in which the said 29,000 men are to serve,"

Mr. Hume

thought a more explicit account ought to be laid before the House of the expenditure of the former year, so that they might compare it with what was proposed for the present. They ought to be informed what was the amount of articles made use of, and what was the expense of wear and tear for each ship.

Sir G. Gockburn

said, the expense which might be incurred for wear and tear of vessels at sea was quite uncertain. The vote of last year having been found short, 2s. a man additional was required by the present vote, which, it was computed, would cover the deficiency.

Sir J. Yorke

observed, that the sweeping phrase of "wear and tear," meaning the wear of hulls, masts, and spars, and the tear of canvas, had been in use for many years. Now, he could see no reason why the commissioners at the dock-yards could not give a more detailed account of this sort of expenditure. They might state what had been the wear of hulls and masts, and the tear of sails, for any given period. He did not know why the particulars of this expenditure should be wrapped up in these old-fashioned words.

Mr. Croker

said, the wear and tear included the consideration of the size of the ships, the service on which they were to be employed for the current year, and other matters of so high a political nature as to render it inexpedient to adopt the mode suggested. This vote of wear and tear was, in some degree, a vote of confidence to government. The estimate of the last year was always made the foundation of the new estimate. But he doubted whether it would be very convenient to make public the scheme of our naval force all over the world; which would be the effect of making such a disclosure as had been alluded to. He submitted to the hon. member, whether, taking an enlarged view of the question, without any reference to the present pacific state of Europe, it would not be impolitic to disclose the state of our naval force.

Mr. Maberly

never before heard such an explanation given in that House. What did the hon. Secretary say? He stated, that this was a sum voted in confidence to his majesty's ministers. Now, he thought it really was a vote for wear and tear: if so, why not produce a regular estimate? But the hon. Secretary said, there was something beyond that. ["No, no," from Mr. Croker.] More would not be expended than was absolutely necessary for wear and tear; and should there be any surplus, that was, he supposed, as this was a vote of confidence, to be disposed of as ministers thought fit.

Mr. Hume

asked, what could be the danger of furnishing a detail of the wear and tear of the navy, when it was known that there was a person named Murray, who published a list which gave a detailed account of the amount and rate of our naval force, together with the station of each particular vessel? He wished for nothing which would in any way impede our service, or interfere with political subjects; but surely it was not too much to expect, that, when a large grant was to be voted, they should be furnished with those details, which were given in the expenditure of the army, and other branches of the public service. As to granting money in confidence, he protested against it. Where money was to be expended, he had no confidence in any man or set of men.

The resolution was agreed to.

On the resolution, "That 94,250l. be granted for Ordnance for Sea Service on board the ships in which the said 29,000 men are to serve,"

Mr. Hume

said, he observed an item "for boats hired at Queenborough 23,000l." Now it was notorious, that, of the persons employed in these boats, 160 out of 190 were freemen of Queenborough. Queenborough, it should be observed, sent two members to parliament, who were returned by those persons. When 94,250l. was placed in one line, as the sum necessary, at 5s. per man, it looked as if every man in the fleet participated in it. Would it not be better to simplify the matter, and to state clearly the different heads of expenditure? Much as he admired the wisdom of our ancestors, he thought the experience of the moderns produced greater benefits. Formerly, votes of money were passed in complete confidence. Those who agreed to them could not say whether one half the amount was really called for. The case was now, however, altered.

Sir G. Clerk

said, that the sum proposed was found to be the lowest for which ordnance for the sea service could be supplied for the current year.

Mr. Maberly

said, it was a complete annuity to become a freeman of Queenborough, for he was sure of getting one of these boats, to sail up and down the Thames, half-employed and half idle. With respect to this vote, if every item was enumerated, a considerable saving might be effected.

The resolution was agreed to.