HC Deb 07 March 1825 vol 12 cc957-64

The report of the committee of supply was brought up. On the first resolution being read,

Mr. Hume

said, that, having been prevented from attending on the night when the Army Estimates were discussed, he wished to take that opportunity of making a few observations; because he conceived that the explanations given by the noble lord opposite were quite unsatisfactory. If the proposed augmentation were to be temporary, and were justified by real ne- cessity, he should be as ready to support the proposition as any man; but, from the statement of the noble lord, the clear inference was, that the projected increase was to form the regular peace establishment, below which it was impossible the number could be reduced. The question, then, was, are we to be satisfied with the reduction of taxes which has taken place? The committee of 1817,whose suggestions the House had professed to follow, had recommended the reduction of the army to the lowest possible standard; and, in 1821, the House was so sensible of the propriety of the advice, that they had agreed, that the only mode of producing an economical change, and affording general relief, was by reducing our expenditure, or doing away with that absurd system, the Sinking-fund. Now, although it might not be possible to come down to the standard of 1792, still it was the duty of the House to approximate it, as nearly as possible; and he was quite prepared to show, that there was an abundantly sufficient force in our colonies, unless there was an anticipation of war. The large disposable force which parliament had given the government had enabled them to continue that odious and mischievous system of misrule in Iteland, which they had hitherto pursued instead of resorting to the wise and politic system, of concord and tranquillity, which would promote the prosperity of that country, and save to England the expense of ten thousand men. With respect to Gibraltar he differed from his hon. and gallant friend (sir R. Wilson). The state of that garrison was well known, both before and after the visit of his hon. friend. He found, by the last returns, that we had 3,900 men in that fortress; and, with such a force, considered it perfectly safe during a time of peace, when it was defended as much by the faith of treaties as by the force of arms. Another hon. gentleman, had said, that additional troops were wanted in our colonies. He should like to know in what colonies. Was it in the Ionian Islands, or at the Cape of Good Hope? He allowed that the condition of the Ionian Islands had been much improved since the accession of the present governor; but he still believed, that if Greece were free, the inhabitants would shake off our protection, in consequence of the insulting regulations with which it was accompanied. At the Cape of Good Hope we had a governor who was exciting discontent by the most arbitrary proceedings, and who was compelling the most valuable part of the colonists to return home to England, to obtain shelter from his oppression. If fresh troops were wanted to confirm the authority of arbitrary governors, he for one should be unwilling to grant them. Indeed, be was of opinion, that if we tolerated the present augmentation of the army, we should never again hear a reduction of its numbers mentioned; but that the amount at which it was now fixed would be taken as the proper amount of our military force in a time of peace. Instead of increasing the regular army to 86,000 men, he would reduce it to 68,000 men; and by so doing, he would get rid of the window-tax, and have a considerable surplus to spare for other purposes. If we were to have an excess in any part of our armed force, it ought to be in our navy; which was our best and most effectual defence. An hon. member had said, that we ought to have our garrisons in a permanent state of defence, so as to be prepared for war. To this he would reply, first of all, that we wanted no permanent garrisons; and next, that he did not expect that we should speedily have occasion to go to war. We had had a twenty years' war, and he could not see any reason why we should not have a twenty years' peace. Indeed, he thought that the probabilities were all in his favour; since the world grew wiser as it grew older. To put his sentiments upon record, he should move a resolution, which he knew would meet the approbation of the people out of the House, whatever might be its fate with their representatives. The hon. member then moved, by way of amendment, "That, in the opinion or this House, it is not necessary, in a time of profound peace, to maintain, for the service of the current year, the number of 86,438 regular land forces, exclusive of those for India, and also exclusive of 9,000 Royal Marines; of about 7,800 of Royal Artillery and Engineers, of 53,258 enrolled Militia, Yeomanry, and Volunteers in Ireland; and of 55,000 Militia, and 43,000 Yeomanry and Volunteers in England, and of 3,000 Veterans; making, in the whole, 257,496 men actually in arms, or ready to be called out, if necessary, exclusive also of Colonial troops at Ceylon, the Cape of Good Hope, and in Africa, amounting to about 4,000 men, not included in the above numbers."

Colonel Johnston

seconded the amendment, and expressed his astonishment at such an unexplained augmentation of the army.

Mr. Wilmot Horton

contended, that the proposed augmentation of the army was rendered necessary by the increased population of our colonial dependencies, and the increased duty to which some of our garrisons abroad had recently been exposed, in consequence of certain occurrences. Indeed, the duty which some of our colonial garrisons were obliged to go through was so harassing, as to be destructive of the health both of men and officers. The state of the West Indies rendered it necessary for us to have efficient garrisons in every island; and almost every governor had sent pressing requisitions to the government at home for an increased number of troops to defend them. The same was the case in New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, where the military had to perform the duties of the police. Under these circumstances, he had no doubt that the House would see that this increase to the army was required by imperious necessity, and was not of a nature to excite fear in any friend of constitutional liberty. The hon. member had, as heretofore, alluded to the numerical military force of 1792; but he had overlooked the great change that had since taken place, not alone in the number of our colonies, in the increase of the population, and in the comparative military strength of other countries. These were considerations which the House was bound to bear in mind; and not the mere abstract question of the numerical difference between the establishments of 1792 and that called for by circumstances at this period.

Mr. Bright

said, that if the duty to which our army was subjected was as harassing as it had been represented, ministers were deeply to blame for not having come forward before to relieve it. He did not, however, believe it to be so severe as to require this augmentation in time of peace. He recollected that, last year, 4,500 men had been voted, on the express ground that they should be sent to defend the West Indies. He wished to know whether that force had been sent there, and if it had, whether it had been found insufficient? He complained, that we had now been engaged in the Algerine, the Ashantee, and the Burmese war, without any information being given by ministers to the House. He contended, that the proposed ex- tension of our army was utterly uncalled for, and that the circumstances of the country required a reduction of it, rather than an increase. Ministers, though they had gained, had not yet deserved any popularity by their reduction of taxation. In point of fact, they had not reduced the revenue by it; but had obtained the same revenue from a diminished taxation, in consequence of the spirit with which the people of England entered into all commercial transactions.

Sir R. Wilson

should not have risen, had not his hon. friend, the member for Aberdeen, seemed to think him mistaken, when he said, that the present garrison of Gibraltar was inadequate to its defence. His hon. friend had said, that Gibraltar might as safely be left with its present garrison, since it was defended by the faith of treaties. It might be so; but he should think the government very criminal, if it left Gibraltar to that species of defence, while the French army were in possession of Cadiz, and a large French fleet was cruising in the bay. He believed his hon. friend had been at Gibraltar; but, if he thought it could be defended by 4,000 men, he had never looked at it with the eye of a soldier, or the knowledge of an engineer. He was quite as great an economist as his hon. friend, but he was a provident economist, and would spend 1,000l. now upon our garrison, to prevent our spending millions hereafter.

Mr. Trant

said, he had recently been at Gibraltar, and begged leave to add his testimony to that of the gallant officer, to the inadequacy of the garrison to perform the duties of the place.

Sir Charles Forbes

contended, that we had been the aggressors, and not the aggrieved party in the Burmese war. The marquis Wellesley and lord Hastings were not men likely to permit themselves to be bullied; and yet they had both avoided a war with the Burmese, when there was great provocation to commence it. He maintained, that we had no prospect of succeeding in a war with that people; and said, that, even if we gained possession of the Burmese capital, we should have done but little to subdue the spirit of that gallant nation. He regretted that we had not sent 15,000 or 20,000 men to the East Indies; as the sending of such a force would place our empire in the east out of the reach of all danger. He complained of the manner in which the troops were sent to India. The vessels which conveyed them to that country were noble ships; but then they were crammed and loaded in a manner which almost defied credibility. The "Inglis," had on board of her the other day 700 troops, and was so much crowded, that before she left the Downs, her captain requested, but in vain, that 100 men might be taken out of her. Intelligence had arrived that day of an accident which had befallen another of the company's ships, in which a similar number of troops were packed together; and had it not been for another vessel which fortunately came in sight, every soul on board must have perished. He could not but express his astonishment at a very singular practice of the East-India Company's sending out each ship singly, when they had two or three sailing about the same time to the same place of destination. It might have been expected that they would be glad to send them together, in order that they might afford assistance to each other in case of accident; but he believed that they were sent separately, with the express intention that they might not assist each other. His reason for thinking so was this:—Two vessels had sailed about the same time from China to England. In passing through the Straits of Sunday one of them got aground; the other quickly came to its relief, took out part of her cargo, and, by the exertions of her men, saved the vessel to the company. On his return home, the captain of the vessel which saved the other made a slight claim of 1,500l. on the company for demurrage. The company refused it, under the idea, that one of its servants would never think of going to law with it for such a claim. The directors were, however, mistaken. The captain brought an action against them; and, instead of recovering 1,500l. demurrage, recovered 12,000l. for salvage. The company, therefore, determined that no two ships should ever sail again together, to prevent their ever being called upon in future to pay for salvage. The directors had a right, if they thought fit, to risk their tea in this manner: but they had no right so to risk the lives of the brave men who were going to fight their battles in India.

Mr. Lindsay

stated, that the ships provided by the East-India Company for the conveyance of troops, were better and more commodiously arranged than those of the government at home, and had 18 inches room allotted to each soldier's birth, while 14 were only allowed in the British service. It was also an arrangement with the former to allow one-third of the troops to be always on deck. He hoped his majesty's government would unite with the East-India Company in doing something handsome for the ship which had so providentially rescued the crew from the outward-bound vessel, the Kent, which had unfortunately taken fire at sea.

Lord Palmerston

denied, that the object of the proposed increase in the army was to extend the patronage of government. With regard to promotions, they would be made without any regard to interest, and with the view of promoting those officers only whose service entitled them to it. The lieutenants who had been promoted were those of seventeen years standing. This was sufficient to prove that the charge was undeserved. As to the garrisons on foreign stations, he was willing to rest that question on the testimony of the hon. and gallant officer (sir R. Wilson), on whose opinion he was sure, both the House and the country would place the fullest confidence.

Sir R. Wilson

asked, whether government would effect the arrangement which he had suggested on a former evening, with respect to the quarterly payments of wounded officers on half-pay.

Sir C. Long

said, that since he had the honour of holding the office which he now filled, the number of pensioners who were paid quarterly, instead of half-yearly, was doubled. It did, however, so happen, that the class of officers alluded to by the gallant member, had not received their pensions quarterly; but, if any one of them had only communicated their wishes to receive it four times a year instead of twice, to the proper quarter, he had no doubt that the intimation would have been complied with. He had taken measures to carry such an arrangement into effect: but it would not be practicable to have it commence before the 24th of June. He took that opportunity of expressing to the hon. and gallant officer how much indebted he was to him for the suggestion.

Lord Milton

could not approve of the present estimates, which exceeded, by half a million of money, and 12,000 men, the estimates for the year 1823. This augmentation was attempted to be justified upon the apprehension of impending dangers from abroad, which were, he thought, quite unreasonably felt by some honourable members. Did the colonies now require treble the amount of force which Mr. Pitt thought sufficient in the year 1792? He certainly thought not; and believed that it would look much better in the eyes of foreign powers, to place the strength of Great Britain upon the foundation of her national wealth and prosperity, instead of the numerical amount of her military force. He should therefore protest against this uncalled-for increase of the standing army.

Sir F. Ommanney

strongly recommended that the quarterly payments to wounded officers should commence forthwith, instead of in June.

The House divided: For the original resolutions, 102. For Mr. Hume's amendment, 8.

List of the Minority.
Bright, H. Palmer, F.
Howard, H. Wood, M.
Hutchinson, C. TELLERS.
James, W.
Milton, lord Johnson, col.
Monck, J. B. Hume, J.