HC Deb 04 March 1825 vol 12 cc925-36

The House having resolved itself into a committee of supply,

Lord Palmerston

rose to bring forward the Army Estimates for the year. In rising to state to the House the nature of the supply at present demanded, he said, he should begin by pointing out the difference between the items of the last and those of the present year. The total increase of force for the year 1825 was 8,923 rank and file, exclusive of officers, at a charge of 229,684l. At the head of the estimate, title "land forces," the addition seemed to be 11,920 rank and file; but this was counterbalanced by several reductions which he would presently state. Upon the item of "staff," there was no material alteration—a small sum of 828l., merely, arising from the transfer to that department of some new expenses, in the public departments there was an increase of 1,880l. The House would probably be aware, that the duty of examining the accounts of all the regiments of Ireland, and also of all accounts connected with the militia, had been transferred from the audit to which they originally belonged. It would be easily conceived, that this transfer had occasioned a considerable increase of business in the office to which it had come. He had endeavoured to provide for it by internal arrangements, and hoped still to be able to do so; but business of that description involved a great deal more labour when it first came into new hands, than it would do afterwards. In the article of medicines there was an increase of 1,078l.; in the volunteer corps, a decrease of 6,038l.; in the recruiting troops and companies of regiments in India, an increase of 7,080l. The next item was the Military College; upon this there was an increase of 1,768l. in the vote, but there was a considerable diminution in point of actual charge. The estimate as to the Military College was prepared thus:—on the one hand, the whole amount of expense was stated; and on the other, the probable amount of debts to be received: the one item was then deducted from the other, and the difference formed the estimate. It so happened, that in the present year there was a diminution of 11,000l. in the expense; but the expected amount of subscription from the cadets had diminished in a still greater degree. On the army pay of general officers there was a diminution of 17,647l. The garrisons were nearly the same as last year. The full pay for retired officers was diminished by casualties 3,442l. The half pay in the same way, 38,844l. Foreign half pay was less than last year by 1,550l. In-pensioners of Chelsea and Kil-mainham Hospitals, 427l.—a small difference, arising chiefly in the price of provisions. On the out-pensioners of Chelsea Hospital, there was an increase of 21,495l. On the military Asylum, 970l. The widows' pensions had increased 4,118l; the compassionate list, bounty warrants, and pensions for wounds, were nearly the same as in the last year; the superannuation had increased, within a trifle, 2,800l. and, on the veteran battalions, as they were to be reduced, there was a saving of 73,538l. —It now became necessary for him to explain the grounds upon which this increase of force was asked: and next, the manner in which it was proposed to be effected. Upon the first point, he had, at least, this advantage—it could not now be urged by the advocates of reduction, that the additional military force demanded was wanted to terrify or coerce the country. In England, he saw nothing but prosperity, and confidence between the government and the people; and, even in the less favoured region of Ireland, there appeared rays of brighter omen than parliament had been accustomed to. In dropping this observation, he by no means alluded to the vote which had passed the House a few nights since. He trusted that that vote had already gone forth through the empire, as a harbinger of peace; and believed that its principle, if carried into full effect, would do more than thousands of soldiers could ever do to maintain tranquillity in Ireland: but, in what he now said, he meant to point merely at those symptoms which had been apparent when the estimates were made; and the general improvements which had taken place in the state of Ireland justified him in saying, that there was nothing in the aspect of that country, which ought to weigh in favour of extending our military force. The grounds, indeed, upon which this increase of military establishment was meditated were purely external. It might be a fair question of speculation, perhaps, how far it was for the benefit of a country to possess colonies—whether it was better that she should confine herself to commerce and improvement at home, or form settlements abroad; but there could be no doubt as to the course which ought to be pursued by a country, having already in its possession such colonies as belonged to England. As far as civilization extended in the world—from the most northern point in America, to the southernmost extremity of Asia—the formation of British settlements, and the accumulation of British wealth, was to be found. To abandon possessions gained at the cost of so much blood and treasure—many of them important outposts for the protection of our commerce, and the security of our dominion—would be a violation of public faith, and a forfeiture of national honour. In estimating the amount of force necessary for the service of our colonies at present, it was impossible to be guided by the force which had been sufficient for us in any former period of peace. It was not only requisite that adequate garrisons should be provided for every station, but it was also necessary, that we should have a surplus force, in order that we might have the means of sending reinforcements, from time to time, to places at which they might be called for In the present state of our army this could not be done. It was almost impossible, with such means, to furnish strength for the ordinary duties. But reinforcing any where could only be accomplished by abstracting the troops wanted from the garrison of some other place; and, on a recent occasion, when the East-India Company had been compelled to desire a reinforcement of 5,000 men, there had been no means at all of complying with that demand, but by stopping five regiments which were under orders for England, and which had already been on foreign service more than twenty years. And this fact led him to another consideration, which was, that the colonial service of a country like England ought not to be converted into a perpetual banishment for all who were employed in it. When a man entered the army, he devoted his health, his hopes, his prospects, to the service of his country. The feeling which carried him forward was one of a paramount description: it rendered him superior to all considerations of fortune, of personal convenience, of death. But, the case was widely different, when, after going through the dangers and fatigues of a twenty years' war, the same man was sent to consume the rest of his days in a pestilential climate, and on a duty which was unpleasing to him. It was hard to tell brave officers who had fought through field after field, in a protracted contest, and whose names would be found in every legend which recorded the victories of England—it was hard to tell such men, that they must be doomed, now their country was at peace, to end their lives in some remote colony, compared to the service in which, their former perils formed an enviable condition. He was quite sure the House would go along with him upon this subject. The service of these obscure and distant stations was ten times more trying, both to the mind and the bodily strength of an officer, than the severest labours which could be imposed upon him in a European campaign. There was the climate wasting his life and strength; the mere formal duties, with our existing establishment, extremely harassing and constant; and, what was still more galling, there was not the smallest hope of acquiring distinction. He did trust that the House would feel, that this was a state of things which ought not to continue; and that, while it was but their duty to place at the disposal of government the means of properly defending our colonies, they ought also, for the sake of our brave soldiers, to furnish the means of relieving our foreign garrisons at a proper time, and, what was scarcely less important, at a proper season always of the year.—Assuming, therefore, that such obligations as these did exist, he would next proceed to the question, how the necessary increase of force was to be raised? There were three modes of doing the thing. First, it was possible to add a certain number of rank and file to the existing establishment of each regiment. Secondly, new regiments might be raised, of the same calibre as those already existing. Lastly (and this was the course proposed to be adopted), new companies —not merely fresh rank and file—might be added to the regiments already existing. Now, the first plan would have been the cheapest, because there would have been no increase of officers above the rank of sub- alterns. But the objection was this—the country would not then have obtained at home such a disposable reserve as was necessary to make proper arrangements for relief. The second plan would have been free from this objection as to relief; but then it would have been too expensive, from the great cost of staff appointments and regimental allowances. The last plan combined the advantages of cheapness, with the production of a disposable force; and he would shortly describe the detail by which it was to be carried into execution. The army was formed at present of battalions of eight companies: the strength of each battalion being 576 rank and file. It was now intended to add two companies, so making each battalion consist of ten; and these ten companies were to be divided into two distinct classes of force. Six companies were to form what would be the service battalion, and these would consist of 86 men each; the other four companies would be the battalion of reserve, or of depot, and would amount only to 224 men altogether. Thus, when the regiment was at home, the whole would be considered as one battalion, and quartered together; but when it was ordered on service, only the six strong companies would go abroad; the other four remaining at home to recruit, and to provide for casualties. In this way, the garrisons abroad would be made more effective than they were at present; because there was necessarily a heavy delay, under the existing system, after any casualty occurred, before reinforcements could be sent out. Troops had, at present, whatever the emergency was, to be raised and disciplined. This occupied a long time; and, before one casualty was provided for, another had occurred. But, the reserve companies would afford a fund, always ready in case of necessity, from which draughts could be made, subject to none of the delays which hampered us under the existing arrangement. This alteration would also materially assist the business of relief. At present, when an officer abroad was sent home by a medical certificate, the commander-in-chief could only grant him a limited leave of absence, because his duty pressed hard, in the mean time, on those who were left behind him. But, under the proposed system, nothing could be more easy than to station an officer so situated at once with the dépôt battalion; and to send out in his place some other indi- vidual, better able to support the climate or the service. Here would be a great advantage gained to officers; for they would not be compelled, as now, on sudden emergencies, to exchange to half-pay; and the soldiers, too, who were invalided from foreign service, and were now discharged altogether on their arrival in England, might, many of them, become perfectly effective at the depot for home duties, and the training of recruits. Upon the whole, it was his clear opinion, that an increase of military establishment upon the principle now proposed, would not only be useful as assuring all convenience to the country during peace, but become a valuable frame to hang a larger force upon in case of war.— He now came to the subject of the Veteran Battalions—a force which it was intended to disband altogether. It was one of the conditions upon which pensions were granted to soldiers, that they should be forthcoming always for garrison or veteran battalions, whenever the Crown thought fit to call upon them. When the veteran battalions now embodied had been called out in the year 1821, nobody had supposed that the necessity for keeping them together could have been of long continuance. It was now between three and four years that these men had been embodied; and the House would probably think that government had entertained a proper feeling upon the subject, when he declared that it was determined to disband them. The doing this was, of course, to be considered not as a matter of regret, but as an act of grace: but it was thought right, after so many years of service, to let them retire to their homes, to enjoy in peace the moderate pensions which the justice and the gratitude of their country had afforded them. If it should be found necessary again to assemble them in arms, the present indulgence would not lessen their alacrity to obey the call. The grounds, then, on which the present increase was called for, was the service of the colonies; and he begged distinctly, that it might not be supposed, that in seeking such an addition to its military strength, government had the least reason to apprehend a breach of those friendly relations which subsisted between England and other powers. It would be obvious, indeed, that with any view to war, such an increase as that proposed must be entirely inadequate; but, at the same time, the House would be aware, that the success of this country in- war, and her policy in peace, had given her a commanding influence among the nations of the world, which no other country at any time, perhaps, had ever possessed. This influence it was the duty of England, as well as her policy, to use for the advantage of mankind; but it was an influence which she never could maintain, unless foreign powers saw that every part of her dominion was adequately defended. For these reasons, he should move, "That a number of Land-forces not exceeding 86,893 men (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 maintained for the service of the United Kingdom, from 25th Dec. 1824, to 24th Dec. 1825."

Colonel Davies

said, that if he could take the case to be precisely as the noble lord had described it, he certainly should refuse to vote the increase of force which was demanded; but, as he believed that there was in our foreign relations abundance to call for such a measure, he found himself reluctantly compelled to give his assent to it. The hon. member then adverted to the unnecessary quarrel into which England had been forced with the Burmese. It was clear, from the despatches, that the war might have been avoided, by the slightest portion of management; and the ground of dispute had been an island, not worth the first charge of powder which would be fired in defence of it. With respect to the troops in our colonies, he agreed that they ought to be relieved as often as circumstances would admit; but his complaint was, that the force kept up in those colonies was needlessly large. He deprecated the mode in which the proposed increase was to be effected; and insisted, that battalions of six companies were not adapted to manœuvre in the field.

Mr. Hobhouse

objected to the granting so large an additional force at such a time of peace, without having a full explanation of the principle on which it was demanded. He did not care about the details of the manner in which, when raised, they were to be divided. It was to the principle that he objected. It would appear that few cared about the details; for there were now not a hundred members present on an occasion when the House was called upon to grant so large an addition to our standing army. He had heard, that the increase was without reference to the situation of any of the European powers; and he was sorry that that consideration should have been overlooked, at a time when the country of one of our allies was held in military possession by another European power. Was the House to receive no information on this point? For his own part, he thought that such information was so necessary, that he would not vote a single man in addition to our present force, until he received some satisfactory explanation on this point. He wished to know, whether the proposed increase had any reference to the possession of Spain by the armies of France; and whether the present was to be considered as the last augmentation of our peace establishment? With respect to the augmentation of our forces in India, he would admit that, however the present contest there had arisen, whether we were right or wrong, it was necessary that our military operations there should be pushed with vigour. If 25,000 men were not sufficient for that purpose, he would consent to an increase. But he could not sanction such a large establishment at home.

Sir R. Wilson

admitted, that every item which increased the expenditure of the country should be closely examined, and particularly when it had reference to the increase of our standing army. That army he looked upon in general as an excrescence forced upon us by foreign pressure, and not the natural growth of the British constitution. However, looking at the situation in which we stood in relation to the powers of Europe—looking at what was passing in Europe, and at the results which might, at no distant day, follow from the present posture of affairs, he was of opinion, that the increased force now demanded was not more than circumstances required. He was glad to find that the situation of Ireland did not call for any part of the proposed increase; and he hoped that the time was not far distant when that country, administered by equal laws, would have no need of any armed force to secure its tranquillity. But, there were other parts of the British dependencies to which an increase of an armed force might be very properly applied. He had had an opportunity some time ago of witnessing the state of the garrison at Gibraltar; and, though it was kept up with order and discipline, it was altogether insufficient, in point of numerical strength, for the protection of the place. This he conceived was a risk which ought not to be hazarded. Was it possible that we could permit the occupation of Spain by the French troops? Was it possible that we should suffer our ally Portugal to be menaced, for its disposition to adopt a constitutional form of government? We had recently taken an important step, which must lead to the speedy recognition of the South American states. Recent news had informed us, that the genius of Bolivar, aided by the bravery of his troops, had succeeded in putting an end to the power of Spain in South America. The steps to which this would lead would cause great heart-burnings in particular quarters. Exigencies would arise which we ought to be prepared to meet. He would therefore give his vote for the augmentation of the army.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, it was unfair to infer from the thin state of the House, that the absent members were neglectful of their duty. The fair inference was, that they were fully sensible of the reasonableness of the vote, and that it would not be opposed in that way which might require their personal attendance. From the speech of the gallant general who spoke last, it was evident that an increase of force was required. The gallant general had borne fair and honourable testimony, as a military man and a man of honour, to the situation of the garrison of Gibraltar, and had stated his opinion, that it would not be for the interest of the army that it should continue in its present inefficient state. When the House heard, from such a competent judge, that this was the situation of the only garrison which he had visited, it was fair to assume, that similar defects existed in our other foreign possessions, and that an increase was required in most of them.

Mr. Calcraft

said, that, looking at the situation in which we stood, he thought that government ought to be put in possession of an effectual disposable force. And he therefore fully concurred in the vote.

Mr. Bernal

believed there were circumstances in the state of the world, which justified the proposed augmentation. He was happy in bearing testimony to the commander-in-chief's great attention to the health and comfort of the soldiers in the West Indies.

Mr. Hutchinson

said, that when he saw the country burthened with upwards of 800 millions of debt, and petitions pouring in for a reduction of our expenditure, he could not vote for the addition of a single soldier on the ground of a confidence in ministers. He therefore opposed the resolution, and for nearly the same reasons on which his gallant friend had supported it. He was unwilling to cramp the energies of our army; but he could not consent to an augmentation of our armed force, unless a case of absolute necessity were made out. If ministers had called for the increase, for the purpose of opposing the Holy Alliance, he would most willingly vote away the last shilling of the country. But, no such object was avowed; and he saw no necessity for the augmentation, in any other point of view.

Sir A. Hope

supported the motion, and defended the plan proposed for the future regulation of the troops to be sent to the colonies.

General Gascoyne

thought that a better mode of relieving regiments upon foreign service might be devised, than that of relieving them by companies.

Mr. M. Fitzgerald

approved of the proposed augmentation, to the army, and would leave the details of it with perfect confidence to the Secretary at War. He had understood from several military officers, that many of our stations were very inadequately garrisoned. That was a state of things which ought not to continue. Though we were now at peace, our fortresses should be prepared for war. So far was he from considering the present an unconstitutional augmentation of the army, that he had regretted many of the reductions which had taken place.

Lord Palmerston

wished to explain a misconception which seemed to prevail as to reliefs. His gallant friend seemed to think, that the system of relief by regiments was abandoned, and that the only relief was to be by the interchange of the officers of the same regiment. This was by no means the case. The regimental exchanges would be carried on as at present, with the addition of these depot companies, which would set the members of each regiment sooner at large. The gallant officer would see, that it would relieve individuals much sooner than the system which was now in vogue.

Sir R. Wilson

begged to ask, whether there would be any objection to follow the same system towards wounded which was now followed towards half-pay offi- cers; by paying them their allowances quarterly, instead of half-yearly.

Lord Palmerston

could not say, that there was any objection to the gallant general's suggestion. The matter, however, did not fall under his department.

Sir C. Long

said, that, if no difficulty was urged against the change in the Pay-office, there would be no hesitation in acceding to it on his part.

Mr. John Smith

wished to draw the attention of the committee to the situation of officers who had received wounds in the service. If they had lost a limb, or received wounds which were considered equivalent to loss of limb, they received a pension proportionate to their rank. Not one word was said in the grant, that it was merely to continue during his majesty's pleasure; and the consequence was, that it was generally understood to continue during life. Now, to his knowledge, several persons who had received severe wounds, had been deprived of such pensions, after receiving them for a considerable time, and had been reduced by such deprivation to a state of great distress. He put it to the committee, whether individuals who had received pensions without any limitation of the time of their continuance, should not be entitled to hold them for life.

Lord Palmerston

said, he had formerly been condemned for the extreme liberality with which these pensions had been administered; and the hon. member for Aberdeen had considered him so prodigal of them, as to say that he would not be satisfied unless they were taken from him. The hon. member for Midhurst, however, was of opinion, that he had been too parsimonious in disposing of them. He left the committee to decide between the two hon. members, and would merely state, that, in granting those pensions, he had always sought to do impartial justice between the public and the officers on whom they were bestowed. The cases in which pensions had been discontinued were but few; and there was not one of them, which had been discontinued, until the army medical board had reported, that the injuries for which the pension had been granted, had ceased to operate to the disadvantage of the individual. If the hon. member would bring any case to him, in which he thought injustice had been committed, by discontinuing the pension, he would examine it impartially, and if injustice were proved, would remedy it.

Mr. Tremayne

contended, that the House was losing sight of the principles laid down by the committee of finance in 1821, and complained that no evidence had been offered to prove the necessity of this increase to the army. He wished to know whether any alteration had been made in the system of causing wounded officers to repair to town for examination by the medical board? when there were doubts as to the propriety of continuing their pensions? He asked this question, because an officer who had a wound open, had been brought up to town for examination, at the expense of one half of his yearly pension.

Lord Palmerston

replied, that, in particular cases, officers were sometimes examined, by surgeons in the country; but stated, that it would be impossible to lay down any general rule upon the subject.

The several resolutions, were then agreed to.