HC Deb 06 March 1826 vol 14 cc1131-9
Sir H. Hardinge

, before be proceeded to propose any vote, begged to make a few observations relative to the Ordnance Estimates for this year. It would be seen at once that an increase bad taken place in the amount of the whole sum to be voted. That increase was, however, no actual increase of the expense of the Ordnance department, but arose from the transfer of certain items from the army extra ordinaries and navy estimates. From the army extra ordinaries the sum of 210,260l., far the repair of works and buildings, &c. had been transferred to the Ordnance estimates, and would have the effect of not only cawing a diminution of expense, but of placing the item within the control of a corps that had the best means of executing the duty. There would also be an advantage in having various expenses, which were formerly scattered and separated, collected under one head; and of placing every thing connected with works and buildings in the engineer department in one estimate; so that hon. members would in future be enabled to see the increase or diminution at a glance, and to propose any curtailment winch might tie deemed proper. Another transfer had also taken place from the naval department, Which would swell the Ordnance estimate beyond what it would otherwise have been, to the extent of 98,133l. The total amount of these transfers was 318,393l., which made the whole estimate amount to 1,754,403l., of which 1,436,110l. only was for the ordnance. The excess of the estimate for the present year over the last was 45,495l. but it was much smaller than during any of the thirty years preceding 1825. One part of this increase, amounting to 22,500l. arose from an addition to be made to the royal artillery regiment. It was proposed to make up each company to seventy men. Formerly there was a driving company, which was now borne upon the artillery, and, therefore, comparing the present with the last year, it would be found that there was only an increase of 350 men. This increase did not arise from any dread of foreign war, or internal discord; for if there were any dread of either, it was evident that such an increase would be productive of little advantage. It arose, in fact, from the condition of the artillery regiments, which, as they were at present composed, were found inadequate to the duty which they had to perform. With regard to the number required for the colonies, it had been found absolutely necessary to have five companies more than there were last year, as it was impossible for the service to be performed with less than forty companies, a great number of them being generally sick; at one time there were no less than 500 invalided. It might be asked why more were required to carry on the service this year than for the last four years? He should answer, that circumstances were different now from what they were three years since. The colonial troops were then relieved by veterans who were able to bear up against the climate. The troops they then sent were mostly what had composed the army of occupation in France. These men were now entitled to return, and those sent out to supply theft places were mostly recruits, who would not be so well able to endure the change of climate, and the other consequences of the service. It had therefore been at first thought proper to ask that the number of men in a company should be increased from 70 to 80; but on account of the present difficulties of the country, that design was abandoned, although, undoubtedly, such an increase would be required next year. During the war, the proportion of artillery-men to soldiers of the line was as one to nine, but now that proportion did not exceed one to fifteen. The proportion of dismissals was this—four out of five artillery men were dismissed, and the fifth was kept up; while in the- line, two out of three were dismissed, and the third was kept up. The proportion of artillery men had been lowered, since the peace, beyond that of any other men in the, service. The present measure was, therefore, one of absolute necessity; and he hoped it would not be received with the worse grace, because it happened to be made at a most unfortunate period. He wished to add, that the augmentation of the companies had taken place without any augmentation of officers. He would now refer to the item of cadets. The number of cadets at Woolwich was 146, in the year 1821; they now only amounted to 40; but in the estimate they were stated at 80, because it was supposed that the artillery corps could not be supplied with skilful officers, unless that number of students was kept up, and it was therefore necessary to provide the means of maintaining that number.—The extra ordinaries, formed but a small item in the present estimates; and an increase of 16,919l. of those to be voted for Ireland, was attributable, partly to the expenses of the Irish survey, partly to the difference occasioned by the payments being made in British instead of Irish currency, and also to some expenses incurred in repairs. Perhaps he ought to take that opportunity, of saying, that the Irish survey was in a state of great progress. It was going on as rapidly as such a work could be carried forward. The corps of sappers and miners were employed upon it, and by that means, much labour and expense had been saved to the country. The Irish country gentlemen had called for the survey, which they expected would be productive of the greatest benefit. Maps had been drawn, allowing six inches for a mile, as the scale of measurement, in. order to afford the fullest means, of information on the subject. The barracks were the next item to which he wished to call the attention of the House. The sum required for the barracks in England was 165,087l.; in Ireland it was 135,703l., the expense in Ireland being 6,898l. less than last, years. The increase in England was caused; principally by the alterations which had lately taken place in the King's Mews, and which amounted to 25,000l. The barracks had been removed from the front to the rear of the King's Mews, in order to make way for the new buildings intended to form the front of that place. There had been a great diminution of barrack accommodation in this country. The number of men formerly capable of being accommodated in barracks amounted to 170,000 in England, and to 80,000 in Ireland, making a total of 250,000 men. At present, barrack accommodation could only be afforded to 76,000 men in England and to 42,000 in Ireland, and this reduction had taken place since the peace. In the military store branch there was a diminution of 11,309l.; and he begged to observe, that the military and civil stores-had been divided into two branches, in order to meet the suggestions of the hon. member for Aberdeen. He had now come to the supplementary estimates. A great number of military works had been dismantled and taken down. This was In consequence of the reports of the commissioners appointed to examine into the whole system of our military defence. The commissioners had found many useless forts, but they had also found places of defence which it was absolutely necessary to repair. They had examined into, the dimensions of the buildings, the materials, &c., and when what they had pointed out as necessary had been done, there would be a great saving. There had been barracks built at Sierra Leone, which had cost 27,000l. He would not enter upon the question of the expediency of that measure, but should observe, that as long as it was desirable to keep that colony, so long would it be desirable to preserve the lives of the soldiers. Every soldier was worth from 100l. to 150l., so that, looking at it merely in an economical point of view, the country would gain by the erection of these barracks. He concluded, by moving, "That 52,349l. be granted for defraying the salaries to the master-general, the principal officers and clerks belonging to the office of' Ordnance, at the Tower and Pall Mall, for the year 1826."

Mr. Bernal

said, that having just got through the Army Estimates the Ordnance Estimates were now to be considered. In both of these branches-of expenditure he could find no diminution, but, on the contrary, a considerable increase. He could not conceive why the army, navy, and ordnance estimates, should amount to such enormous sums. Those statements were the precursors of the budget, the opening of which was so anxiously looked for. He could not forbear expressing a fear, that the chancellor of the Exchequer would not find sufficient sums to meet the heavy expenditure which the House was called upon to support. Night after night immense sums had been voted for various purposes. No show of retrenchment had appeared. It was painful to observe the lavish manner in which the public purse was squandered at a time when the country was suffering from the effects of a deep and heavy shock. Was the right hon. gentleman aware that the Customs must fall short? How, then, were those increased expenses to be satisfied? That was a question which he hoped and trusted the right hon. gentleman would be enabled to answer when called upon to give his promised but prolonged statement. We were told we must have 89,000 men and a large navy; but, was the right hon. gentleman prepared to say that he would be enabled to satisfy all those expenses? He sincerely hoped he would; but it could not be denied that there were gloomy reports abroad respecting the decrease in the Customs, and those reports when coupled with the general feeling of despondency caused by recent events, and the apprehension that other disasters were about to happen, could not fail to create alarm. He hoped that the predictions of the desponding might prove groundless; but he felt it his duty to call upon the right hon. gentleman to explain why the opening of the budget was postponed.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that the particular circumstances which had taken place in the course of the session had hitherto precluded him, without any fault, and certainly without any desire of his own, from presenting to the consideration of the House those statements to which they might look for the means of giving effect to the measures already agreed upon, as well as to that at present under discussion. He would, however, now undertake to promise, that on that night sunlight, he would certainly submit to the House the view of his majesty's government upon the actual state of the finances of the country; and he entertained no doubt that, making allowance for any reasonable defalcation which the revenue might have sustained from the peculiar position of commercial affairs, it would be found fully adequate to all the measures which were proposed for the sanction of the House.

Mr. Hume

said, he had expected, after all the promises held out of the consolidation of offices, that the country would have had the benefit of reduction; instead of which, he was sorry to observe an increase of expenditure in every item. He had already shown that the department of the army was going on in a progressive ratio of expense. The same, it now appeared, was to be the case with the Ordnance, until at length the country would be destroyed by a load of taxation to support all those enormous establishments. The Artillery were now to be augmented to seventy men each company, and next year they were to be increased to eighty. The hon. member said, that thirty-five companies of Artillery could not be dispensed with, but he really believed that ten companies were quite sufficient. We were not in a state of war: the colonies needed no defence; the twenty companies required for their relief were altogether superfluous. He regretted very much to observe the disposition in his majesty's ministers to extravagance. In 1792 the whole amount of the expense for the Artillery was only 445,000l. There was no occasion for having two establishments, one at Pall-mall, the other at the Tower. The salary of the treasurer had been increased, without any reason, from 1,200l. to 1,500l.; and the secretary to the Master-general had also had his salary increased from 1,100l. to 1,400l. It was quite hopeless to expect that any reductions would be made; but he had done his duty in protesting against the extravagance.

Sir H. Hardinge

defended the present scale upon which the Ordnance estimate was framed; and said, that so far from its showing an increasing expense in the particular department alluded to, there was a reduction of 67,000l. as compared with the estimates of 1820, and of 193,000l as compared with those of 1821. He also insisted that a system of economy was apparent in the details.

Sir Joseph Yorke

said, that with reference to the reduction in this branch of the public expenditure under Mr. Pitt's government in 1792, he must say that the great pilot who weathered the storm, never made a greater yaw (to use a nautical phrase) than he had done on that occasion; for it afterwards exposed this country to the necessity of sending the duke of York, with a mere corporal's guard, to the continent, to protect England from insult. He would rather at once cut away the dead weight, of which he formed himself a distinguished part, than diminish in these times one single effective man of the army or navy.

Sir Ronald Fergusson

said, that there was no branch of our force which it was so necessary to keep up as the Artillery. It was very expensive to raise such a corps, and, therefore, it ought to be kept efficient. The British Artillery was one of the best arms of the country.

Mr. Hume

said, that his object was, to show that the Artillery had been augmented merely because the infantry had been augmented; and for this augmentation no good reason whatever had been given. If ministers would go on at this extravagant rate, and the House would allow them, he could only say, let them do it in God's name, for he could not prevent them.

Mr. Hobhouse

regretted to find that it was intended to retain a battalion of the guards in the Mews at Charing-cross. It would be much more becoming, constitutional, and seemly to the eyes of Englishmen, if the present opportunity of local improvement on the spot, carrying on under the eyes of sir Charles Long, the Vitruvius of the present day, were taken, to get rid of this infringement of a long-established constitutional principle. It was highly improper to keep a large body of troops close to the houses of parliament, close to the king's palace, close to the courts of law. It might be said, this four or five hundred men could not overawe Westminster. But it was fitting that the military should be removed out of sight; and especially as there was an abundance of barracks in which they might be stationed. Such was the feeling of some of his constituents; and, in compliance with that feeling, he had waited on the duke of York, who received him as his royal highness received every body, but who had told him that it was determined on that the troops should be kept there. God forbid that he should object to men in a red coat. He had as much respect for soldiers as any man, in their proper places; but it was not a fit thing that the military should be obtruded upon the people in places where they had tint been accustomed. It was from such small beginnings that the citizens of free countries had become accustomed to military domination. Though he knew what would be the fate of any motion of his, yet he would make one more effort to remove the military from the heart of the metropolis, where they had the chance of overawing those with whom the free counsels of the nation ought to abide. The gentlemen on the other side stated it as a merit in the government, that they had only barracks for 76,000 men. What would those who went before us have said to this? Did the hon. gentleman who stated that, know what the amount of force was which controlled the counsels of the nation, at a time when the spirit of freedom was at least as strong abroad as at present? Did he know, that with 30,000 men, in the time of the usurper, England, Scotland, and Ireland, were governed?

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, that the hon. member's objection divided itself into two heads—the architectural and the constitutional objection. On the first point, he could not conceive what offence it was against good taste, that human beings should be put in a place where horses had hitherto been kept. Neither could he tell on what the constitutional objection was founded. He should be prepared to contend, when the hon. member brought the subject forward, that it was the more constitutional course to lodge the men in barracks than to quarter them on the citizens. At least in the time of Charles 1st the cry was, that "the soldiers should not sojourn with the free citizens of the country against their will." As to the usage, the hon. member should recollect, that from 1754 to 1776, it was the practice to keep a battalion of guards at the Savoy, and when the Savoy was burned in 1776, the buildings in Somerset-house were appropriated for the same number of troops, from that period to 1789. As a general proposition too, he should be prepared to show, that it was more conducive to the efficiency of the troops, to lodge them in barracks, than to quarter them on the publicans, where they necessarily mingled with characters of the worst description. What the effect of quartering on the publicans was, he would show by a single instance; at that moment there were soldiers quartered at Chalk Farm, and yet it was required of them that they should attend their duty in the Bird-Cage Walk clean and neat in their appearance. There were others quartered in Mary-le-bone, and at Camden Town; and what advantage the country could derive from such quartering in public-houses, he thought it would be a difficult task for the hon. member to make out. But what he objected to was, not so much the inconvenience of the distance, as the ill effect of exposing soldiers in private quarters to the danger of being mixed up with the worst members of society—a danger from which they would, in a great degree, be exempted in barracks.

Colonel Davies

thought there could be no question as to the preferableness of keeping the soldiers in barracks, instead of suffering them to live in public-houses, associating with the most dissolute of the populace.

Colonel Johnson

agreed, that troops were much easier kept in subordination in barracks, than if quartered in public-houses; but the situation of the new barracks was what his hon. friend was opposed to. They would stand in the heart of Westminster, than which he could conceive nothing more objectionable.

Mr. Hobhouse

said, that if he was in error as to his constitutional law, he erred with very respectable authority. Blackstone had written in strong terms against the practice of separating the soldiers from the people. It was said that they were thereby better subjected to military discipline. But he would rather that they should be a little worse soldiers, than be cut off from all community of feeling with the people.

General Townsend

said, that if the House wished to have the soldiers in good order, they must be kept in barracks. In his own regiment it frequently happened, that men were quartered out for want of room; but they generally complained of being billeted among the blackguards with whom they were obliged to mix in the public-houses. The army would soon run to confusion and disorder if the barrack system were abolished.

The several resolutions were agreed to.