HC Deb 20 February 1827 vol 16 cc591-9

The resolutions of the committee to which the Army Estimates were referred being brought up,

Mr. Hume

said, that seeing the chancellor of the Exchequer in his place, he wished to ask him whether the estimates, as they stood, were meant to include all the expenses of the expedition to Portugal, or whether he intended to propose some addition at a future opportunity? He thought it was time for the right hon. gentleman to be looking about for the ways and means with which he was to pay the estimates.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, it was impossible for him at that moment to say whether he should propose to the House that the additional expenses incurred by the expedition to Portugal should be defrayed by an addition to the army extraordinaries, or by means of a separate vote. In whatever shape it might be presented, he did not think it would be so formidable as the hon. member seemed to fancy.

On the first resolution being read,

Mr. Warburton

wished to know whether all the expense of the Portuguese expedition would be defrayed by this country, or any part by Portugal; and if so, what part?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that this government was not to pay the expense of the subsistence and the charges for barracks of the troops in Portugal; which were to be defrayed by the government of that country.

On the resolution for a grant to the Royal Military Colleges,

Mr. Hume

objected to the great expense incurred in the education of young men for the army at the Military Colleges, which bore no proportion to the number of cadets. In the last year only thirty-eight cadets, who had been educated at the Military Colleges had entered the army, and he believed that for some years there had not been more than ten young men at Woolwich.

Mr. Secretary Peel

thought it was necessary that officers should be educated in such a manner as would qualify them for entering the service. The hon. member was mistaken in supposing that only thirty-eight cadets had been educated; for in time of peace two hundred, and in war four hundred, were educated at these colleges.

Mr. Maberly

admitted that our officers ought to be properly educated for the service; but thought that that education should be at the charge of their friends. He was persuaded that, if the subject were referred to a committee above-stairs, a saving of ten thousand a-year might be effected.

Mr. D. W. Harvey

thought it would be very advantageous to refer, not only this particular subject, but the whole of the estimate for the Army, Navy, and Ordnance, to the consideration of a committee, by whom they might be minutely discussed, with a view to public economy. Such a mode of proceeding would also have the effect of doing away with much desultory conversation.

Mr. Secretary Peel

observed, that that was precisely what had been done in 1817, when a committee above-stairs had fixed the scale by which this part of our expenditure ought to be regulated.

Mr. D. W. Harvey

thought it would be serviceable to the country, if such a committee was appointed every seven years.

Mr. Alderman Waithman

complained that there was no symptom of retrenchment manifested in the army. The country could not go on with a military establishment of 87,000 men. The navy was never more efficient; and on it the safety of the country mainly depended. It was on the principle that retrenchment ought to take place, that he had opposed the grant to the royal duke the other night; not on account of the sum proposed to be granted, but because he conceived it an outrage, that such a proposition should be brought forward at a time when they were planning the banishment to foreign countries of the flower of the people, through the absolute inability of subsisting them at home. The expense of the country was enormous, and he protested against it altogether. The distresses of the country must be taken into consideration, and the sooner the ministers sat about it the better.

Mr. Lombe

remonstrated against the enormous expenses of the country, and particularly against the estimates for the land forces.

Mr. Monck

maintained that the estimates ought to be referred to a committee, The situation of the country had so materially changed within the last ten years, that it was necessary to revise the report of the committee of 1817. With respect to the particular vote before the House, he fully agreed with his hon. friend, that the whole effect of this very large expenditure was the education of thirty-eight young gentlemen.

On the grant being proposed, of 36,272l. for maintaining his Majesty's Garrisons at home and abroad, for the year 1827,

Mr. Hume

said, that he had opposed this vote several years ago, and the time that had since elapsed had more and more convinced him of the necessity of adopting some salutary measure of reform, not only in this particular vote, but with regard to others. He objected to this grant, because he was opposed to the system of sinecures; and he meant to show that, with a few exceptions, the vote which the House was now called upon to pass was principally made up of pensions and sinecures. He would show that in this estimate of 36,272l. the country was called upon to pay for a staff in places where no garrisons existed. In short, he meant to show, that the present vote was for the maintenance of a nest of sinecures. When it was proposed to the House in the first instance by the noble Secretary at War, he had said, that his majesty wished to have it in his power to bestow on officers who had distinguished themselves in the service, the appointments to the garrisons at home and abroad as a reward for public conduct. If that feeling had been acted upon in the present instance, he should not have felt it his duty to oppose this vote, but he knew that the opposite policy had been pursued with regard to it, and he believed it to be an undoubted fact, that persons were appointed no better qualified than he was to fill a military station. When he lately passed through Berwick there was not a gun in the garrison; the cause of which he (Mr. Hume) understood to be this:—When the radicals were making a noise in the country, threatening the destruction of property and what not, the governor of Berwick was so alarmed lest the guns of the garrison should fall into their hands, that he actually sent the guns from the place. Every gun in the garrison was swept away, but the governor himself remained. And what did this fear on the part of the governor arise from? Because the people were oppressed beyond their means; for it was nothing but mismanagement on the part of the government of a country that ever tempted its people to rebel. The effect attended upon the cause. He wished from his heart, that the government of this country might never have occasion to revert to a system grounded in fear; and he felt persuaded that the best mode of accomplishing this desirable object, would be to put an end at once to all useless pensions and sinecures, whether in the church, the army, navy, or civil departments. By reverting to a reduction of the church establishment, he felt that he might bring himself under the lash of certain gentlemen who were in the habit of considering church property as an interest vested hi the possessor. He would, therefore, refrain at present from pursuing that topic, and reverting to places and sinecures in the departments immediately connected with government, he would say, let all offices that were not necessary be abolished at once, in order that the public might benefit from the saving. The sum required for the garrisons in Great Britain, for the year 1827, amounted to 23,181l. The governor of Berwick received an annual salary of 568l., which would be paid out of this vote. The lieutenant-governor was also non-resident, and his salary amounted to 173l. The town-adjutant was charged at 69l. and the town-major at 69l. What these people could have to do in such a garrison, he could not tell. The governor of Blackness Castle was non-resident, and his pay was charged at 284l. per annum. There was not a single human being in this castle. The governor of Carlisle was a non-resident; his pay was 1721.; and the lieute- nant-governor, who was also non-resident, received 173l. The governor and lieutenant-governor of Chester received 173l., and were non-resident. The warden of the Cinque Ports was non-resident, and he received 474l. a-year, as governor; the lieutenant-governor received 171l., and the deputy 104l. If these officers were; resident, all he could say was, that the return was erroneous. He should like td know whether a certain officer of Dartmouth had obtained his appointment for military or for parliamentary services. This governor used to be a member of that House, and of course, a ministerial member. This was an instance of the impropriety of these votes. The governor of Dumbarton was a non-resident. There was the appointment of a physician and others, forming a large establishment at the Tower. Some of these officers he found residing in Suffolk, and some in Norfolk. The most improper mode of rewarding services was by sinecures. He should, therefore, move the following amendment;—"That it is highly inexpedient, in the present state of the finances of the country, to keep up garrisons at a charge of 36,272l. for the current year, when many of them are useless, and the offices, sinecures, and non-residents; (as for example, at Berwick-upon-Tweed, where there is not a gun on the ramparts, the estimate for the year is 882l. for governor, deputy-governor, and staff); that, therefore, it is the opinion of this House, that every unnecessary and sinecure office of this kind should be reduced as they become vacant; and that, wherever it is necessary to grant rewards to officers of extraordinary merit, this House will, on due consideration of each case, grant such provisions as shall be; proper, instead of the present practice of granting them sinecure and useless military appointments in garrisons."

Sir A. Hope

rose to oppose the amendment of the hon. gentleman, who had not proved that the situations of which he spoke were sinecures. With respect to the governor of Berwick, he had been sixty-two years in the service, and the lieutenant-governor forty-nine years, making a total of one hundred and eleven years passed in the service of their country. There was no class of officers, he won id venture to affirm, who deserved more from their country than those persons who were appointed governors of garrisons. It appeared that there were thirty-nine governors in all, whose united periods of service amounted to nearly two thousand years. The governor of Chelsea Hospital and himself had seen together a period of one hundred and four years' service. There were, it appeared, five hundred and eighty-eight officers at present on the list, and many had not a higher income than some hon. members of that House were in the habit of giving their head clerks. When it was considered that, however confined their means might be, they were expected to maintain their rank and dignity, the stipends which they received could hardly be considered excessive. It was not true that the army had gone on increasing in its expenditure. To instance one class of officers, he meant the colonels of regiments, they had not received the smallest addition to their pay since the reign of queen Anne.

Mr. Maberly

said, that he had advised his hon. friend long ago, not to press his objections against these estimates, as such subjects could only be examined with effect in a committee. His hon. friend, however, had followed his own course: and, perhaps, after all, he did right in. keeping the subject so constantly before the public. It had, no doubt, the effect of putting a wholesome check to the expenditure of the country. The noble Secretary had admitted, that the committee appointed in 1817 had effected some good. But such a committee, if periodical, would be much more useful. He gave his hon. friend credit for his exertions, and thought that he had, in some degree, checked the prepress of expenditure. But he was of opinion, that these were subjects which could only be effectually treated by a committee; and, for his own part, if he were a member of such a committee, he would entirely concur with the gallant officer, that the services of the army deserved to be recompensed. He agreed, however, with his hon. friend, that the subject of sinecures ought not to be overlooked, and hoped that he would press the appointment of a committee.

Lord Palmerston

said, that the question was not one of detail, but of principle, and was therefore a proper one to be discussed by the House. These garrison appointments might be divided into two classes: those given to inferior officers, to which duties were attached; and those given to higher officers as a reward for services, and to which neither duties nor residence were attached. The first class was not under discussion. As to the latter class, he contended, that the appointment should be left to the discretion of the Crown. The committee of 1817 had recommended that these appointments should be continued. When he looked at the number of officers which an army like that of England must have, even on the most reduced scale, the Crown ought to have the means of rewarding those who had deserved well of their country. The hon. member had referred to Berwick. Now, when he mentioned the name of general Tarleton, would any gentleman suppose that he had obtained his situation for any support given to ministers in that House? It was well known that general Tarleton had, at a former time, though not very recently, performed most essential military services for the country. When he cited the names of lord Ludlow, general Abercrombie, sir Alexander Hope, sir Lowry Cole, lord Hill, lord Combermere, lord Hutchinson, and the duke of Wellington—when he mentioned these distinguished names, he defied any hon. member to say that the offices which they held had not been properly and usefully bestowed. The last part of the proposition now brought forward by the hon. member, was decidedly objectionable. These offices were held by the Crown. The hon. gentleman proposed to take them from the Crown, and vest them in that House. The House was to confer pensions equivalent to these appointments. If the hon. member had merely proposed that the Crown should grant equivalents in lieu of these offices, he should have felt it his duty to object to such an alteration. Rewards of this nature were a source of pride and distinction to those who, by their merit, obtained them. They were associated with the most gratifying recollections of their military career. Pensions would not be the means of exciting such pleasing and honourable retrospections. But, when the hon. member proposed to transfer the power from the Crown to that House, he must bog to remind him, that such an expedient would be a wide departure from the fundamental principles of the constitution. He looked upon the House of Commons as the most essential, and most useful branch of the constitution; but if the House attempted to wrest from any other portion of the legislature its peculiar functions, it would do an act more destructive to the essence of the constitution of the country, than had ever been done by any minister in that House. It did not belong to the House of Commons to command the army; and, consequently, not to interfere in the distribution of rewards for military services. On this ground alone, if he had no other objection, he would oppose the amendment of the lion, member for Aberdeen.

Mr. Baring

said, that his hon. friend the member for Montrose; might possibly diminish his influence in the House by the manner in which he objected to every vote. It was, however, unquestionable, that his vigilance had been an insuperable obstacle to many objectionable practices and designs. It was quite impossible that the government could proceed in their present course, unless the people were called upon for the augmentation of taxes, or the finances were to be ruined. One of these two things must occur. The whole system of expenditure ought to be referred to a Committee of the House. The estimates were of a nature which, under the present state of its finances, the country could not supply. Government might say that such a scale of expenditure was necessary to uphold the honour and dignity of the country; but it was impossible for the people to meet that scale. The difference between those who had to spend and those who had to pay, was immense. It was not for government to say, that this garrison was useful, or that this establishment was essential. The question was, could the country afford it? He thought that the present estimate had been most satisfactorily accounted for by the gallant officer who had recently addressed the House, with whom he agreed in thinking that there were many meritorious officers who would gladly accept of a government of small value as a reward of their services, who would feel ill treated by the offer of a pension to the same amount. If, as had been stated, any abuses had crept in, in bestowing these appointments, the best way to expose them was, by giving them publicity. He was sorry to be obliged to oppose the amendment of the hon. member for Aberdeen.

Mr. Hume

said, he would meet the wishes of his friends, by withdrawing his motion.

Mr. Rickford

moved as an Amendment, That the proposed grant be reduced by the sum of 173l., being the salary of the governor of Dartmouth, who was nonresident, and not a military man.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that allusion having been made to governors who were not military men, he wished it to be understood, that the government of the Isle of Wight had never been considered a military appointment, that officer discharging the ordinary duties of a lord-lieutenant. The father of the earl of Malmesbury had been for a long time employed in diplomatic situations—a sort of office in which it was well known the individuals seldom made fortunes. He had received the reward of a pension and a peerage from his royal master, with the reversion of a part of that pension to his son. That portion of the pension the present lord Malmesbury had resigned for the government of the Isle of Wight, an office which would cease at his lordship's death, as it had in fact been abolished by the act of 1817.

Mr. W. Smith

supported the amendment, thinking that by putting an end to one of these sinecures, he should accelerate the extinction of abuses so often and so justly complained of.

The House divided: for Mr. Rickford's amendment 15; for the original resolution 45. The other resolutions were then put, and agreed to.

List of the Minority.
Baring, Alex. Smith, W.
Dawson, A. Thompson, C. B.
Easthope, J. Wood, John
Harvey, D. W. Wood, Ald.
Lennard, B. Waithman, Ald.
Lombe, E. Warburton, H.
Maberly, J. TELLERS.
Monck, J. B. Hume, J.
Pendarves, E. W. Rickford, W.