HC Deb 12 February 1828 vol 18 cc339-50

On the order of the day for bringing up the Report of the Committee of Supply,

Mr. Hume

expressed his determination to oppose the motion. He thought that the House ought not to have been called upon to vote any money, until ministers had made a general statement of the scale at which the whole of the establishments of the country were to be maintained, He would not be deterred from condemning what he conceived to be the profligate waste of the public money, because the hon. Secretary for the Admiralty had stated last night, that the same course had been pursued for nineteen years. Ministers required thirty thousand seamen for the present year, which was precisely the amount voted last year. From this he thought he had a right to infer that they did not intend to reduce the establishments at all. Yet it was only last session that a minister, who was now unfortunately unable to keep the pledge which he made, declared that our finances were in such a precarious state as to render the most rigid economy absolutely necessary. The existing state of the world was not such as to require the maintenance of a large naval force. The piracies in the West Indies and in South America, which had been urged as a plea for increasing our navy, had been completely put down. The Turkish fleet, too, had been destroyed. On what pretext, then, was the present establishment required? After repeating the observations which he made in the committee last night, the hon. member concluded by moving, that the report be brought up on this day week.

Mr. Croker

observed, that the statement with which the hon. member commenced his speech might be taken as a tolerably fair specimen of the correctness of the statements with which he was in the habit of indulging the House. Referring to something which had passed in the committee last night, the hon. member had said that he would not be deterred from criticising the scale of public expense and the waste of public money, because he (Mr. Croker) had told him, that the same course had been pursued for nineteen years. That was the statement which the hon. member had not hesitated to make in his place in that House. Honourable members who were present in the committee last night would know what credit to give to the assertion of the hon. member; but such members as were not present on that occasion would be surprised to hear what the fact really was. He certainly did, last night quote nineteen years' experience upon a particular point—not with respect to expense, or to the extent of establishments, but merely as to the form in which a notice was entered on the Notice-book. Whether the notice referred to five thousand men or one hundred and forty thousand men; to 100,000l..or 1,000,000>l., was not the question at the moment. The hon. member took up the Notice-book, and stated that the notice was not in the usual form. Re (Mr. Croker) then stated, that the notice had stood in the same form for the last nineteen years. He would now leave the matter with the House, as a specimen of the credit which was to be attached to the statements of the hon. member. The hon. member expressed his apprehensions, that ministers were desirous of' maintaining the establishments on the present scale, >coute qui coute.> Now, the very fact that the vote passed last night was for only six months, instead of for a year as usual, was an admission, on the part of ministers, that the amount of the establishments was to be kept open for the decision of the finance committee, and finally of the House. He must, however, be allowed to state, that the present amount of our naval establishment was not too large for the demands of our commerce. No less than twenty thousand seamen were at that moment employed on the foreign stations, in protecting our trade. He believed that England never had a smaller disposable idle force at home than at that moment. Out of the thirty thousand seamen, the whole of our force, not less than twenty-seven thousand were actually at sea. It might be objected, that too many guard ships were kept up; there were three at each port. It had always been the practice of England to maintain these ships, and he thought the practice was wise. It was those guard-ships that had enabled us to make an effectual effort in Europe last December, when our troops were embarked, and on their way to Portugal within twenty-four hours after the public were aware that the expedition had been determined on. The hon. member for Aberdeen might, perhaps, be in possession of some new lights as to the mode in which our navy ought to be managed; but the navy of England had always been conducted on the present system in time of peace; and in his opinion it was the wisest and the best.

Mr. Bernal

was of opinion that some expressions which had fallen from the right hon. member for Liverpool last night required explanation. The right hon. gentleman had distinctly stated, that the projected finance committee had nothing to do with the amount of the civil and military establishments; that it was not within the scope of any finance-committee, to touch upon those delicate topics. If this was the case, what was the committee to do? and what was the House to do with its report when made? What was the meaning of taking the vote of seamen for six months only, if it was not in anticipation of some effect to be produced by the report of the committee? If, however, that committee was to be restricted in its operations—if it was only to report that our finances were in a delicate situation, he would call it a splendid humbug on the country. For his own part, he could not see any thing unconstitutional in the committee determining the amount of our military as well as our civil establishments. If it had not that object, what was the use of postponing the other grants until it was formed? Unless some redaction was contemplated, he could not see why the amount of all the grants for the service of the year should not be stated at once. It would not do to approach our financial difficulties gently. They ought to be treated in a bold manner. The wound should be probed to the bottom. No temporary applications would be sufficient. If the intended finance committee was not appointed for such object, he cared not a straw for its appointment. He hoped the right hon. gentleman opposite would give the House some explanation on this point.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, that after the appeal which had been made to him, he could not remain silent. He would admit that the estimates, as laid before the House, were those which had been prepared by lord Godcrich's administration. It was asked, whether he was prepared to pledge himself to those resolutions? He would answer, that they were, he believed, made up with reference to the present wants of the country, and that every reduction had been made consistently with those wants. More than that he would not say. With respect to the finance committee, he trusted that as only three days would elapse before it would be appointed, he should be excused for deferring any explanation respecting it till then.

Mr. Hudson Gurney

said, that he had pretty much the same expectation as to any great good being to be done by the finance committee as had been expressed by the hon. member for Rochester; but he thought the hon. member for Aberdeen could not possibly bring forward any plan of economy less likely to be popular, than any thing materially crippling the British navy; particularly, as he was informed, by a very high naval authority, that the ships were now sent to sea so extremely under-manned, that in case of any sudden collision some very awkward accidents might be expected.

Mr. Monck

said, that the hon. Secretary to the Admiralty had not given a satisfactory answer to the statements of his hon. friend. It did appear, that since 1817, our naval force had been increased from nineteen thousand to thirty thousand men. A thousand men had been for the purpose of suppressing the piracies in the West Indies; then came other additions, in consequence of the Burmese war, the protection of our commerce in South America, and the affairs of the Mediterranean. Now, if all these causes were in operation together, he could easily understand the necessity for keeping up our naval force to its proposed amount; but as most of those causes had ceased to exist, why should the larger force be continued? There were two things to be considered with respect to our naval force: first, what was the amount, necessary to be kept up; and next, what were the resources of the country to bear the expense? As to the first, he could not see why the same necessity for protecting her commerce would not apply to America. She had a commerce to protect as well as England, and yet her naval force bore no proportion to that which we kept up. Then, as to the means for keeping this force up, he thought, the country could not afford it; and he had no doubt, that if such extravagant establishments were maintained, it would lead, at no very distant period, to some dreadful explosion, in which the credit of the country must suffer. Under all the circumstances of the case, he thought there ought to be a delay of a few days, until all the accounts were before the House.

Sir Byam Martin

said, that great public inconvenience would follow if any delay took place in bringing up the report, as the funds were required for the public service.

Mr. Alderman Waithman

said, that was no reason why the House should not do its duty. Why had not parliament been summoned to meet in November, if there was a necessity for having these votes so soon? As to the vote before the House, I he would not concur in it, until a statement of the whole services of the year were laid before them. The only effectual control which the House had over the administration of the country was to withhold the supplies, and he would do so; until the accounts he had mentioned were supplied. He would not consent to the vote on the credit of ministers, or in anticipation of what might be done by the finance committee; for in the labours of that committee he professed he had no confidence.

Mr. G. Robinson

said, he expected much benefit to the country from the labours of the finance committee, but he hoped that they would not be restricted from inquiring into the extent of our civil establishments. With respect to the present ministry, he highly approved of the members who composed it, and he should be glad if their measures were such as he could support.

Mr. Peel

said, the hon. member was mistaken in supposing that such an opinion had fallen from his right hon. friend, as that the finance committee would be restricted from inquiring into the civil establishments of the country. In the course of their labours, they would be allowed as much scope as any other finance committee that had ever been appointed.

Mr. K. Douglas

said, it was impossible to refuse the present vote, without greatly injuring the public service. The increase in our naval force was necessary for the due protection of our commerce in every part of the world. If England did not maintain her superiority at sea, she could not maintain her proper rank amongst nations.

Mr. C. P. Thompson

said, that the representation made of the words which had fallen from the right hon. Secretary for the Colonies was correct. Those words were, that the finance committee "would not examine as to the extent of our establishments." Those were the exact words, and he had heard them with surprise and regret. He said, "with regret" as he thought that the finance committee would be productive of much good. The ministers, he had no doubt, did not wish to keep up large military establishments,; but they were in a great measure controlled by the aristocracy—by those who returned a majority of the members of that House, and who urged them to many measures to which they would otherwise be opposed. Now, having heard the words he had mentioned, he owned he was much surprised at the explanation given by the right hon. the Home Secretary, that his right hon. friend had not meant the civil establishments, the words used were "establishments;" and he begged to ask, whether it did not mean all establishments? This finance committee had been already productive of much misunderstanding. It had been the destruction of one ministry, and he hoped it would not be the means of breaking up another; as it was better to have any one fixed, than to be, as the country had been for some time past, almost without any government. It seemed very strange that it should have occasioned so great a misunderstanding as to its objects as existed between two ministers of the Crown in that House. One of those ministers came down to the House on Monday, and stated one thing, and another came down on the Tuesday and made a statement quite different.

He trusted that the version which the right hon. gentleman had put upon what his right hon. colleague had said, was the true version. He trusted that the finance committee would be constituted so as to enter on the extent of the establishments of the country, and on the best means of giving it relief; and that we should have a real and not a delusory advantage arising out of its inquiries. He certainly had no intention to draw the right hon. gentleman into any dilemma which might hinder the establishment of the committee on the best possible plan; and therefore he trusted that the right hon. gentleman would not consider any thing which he had just said as an impediment to the mode in which it was intended to construct it. For the same reason, though he should prefer a vote of credit being taken upon the grant which was then before the House, he would not, if the point to which he had alluded was clearly explained, offer any opposition to it. He must, however, be permitted to say a few words, in reply to the observations which the hon. Secretary had ventured to make upon the speech of the hon. member for Montrose. Nothing could be more hypocritical than those observations. The hon. Secretary began by stating, that the vote was only taken for six months, for the House would have an opportunity of discussing it again, when the number of seamen for the year came to be settled; and then the hon. member concluded by stating, that the present number of men was absolutely necessary for the service; thus leaving the House and the country without any hopes of having any reduction effected in this branch of the public expenditure. Now he thought that a great reduction could be effected in this department, and that it was imperiously called for by the exigencies of the country; for it was not now a question of what establishments we could wish to have, but of what establishments we could afford to keep. If we could not afford to pay for expensive establishments, we ought not to keep them. But the argument of the hon. Secretary deserved further notice. He appealed to the experience of the commercial men who had seats in the House, and said, that there were calls made upon the Admiralty by our merchants to give protection to our commerce in all parts of the world. It might be so; but if it was so, there must be something radically wrong in our present system. He knew how vulgar it was deemed in that House to quote the example of a republican government like the United States as a model for the imitation of a monarchical government like that of Great Britain; but he would not be deterred by that consideration, from placing before the House statements pregnant with instruction. It was notorious that American commerce was better protected from insult and aggression by a navy of twenty-eight ships, which was less than an eighth part of our own navy, than the commerce of England was protected by all the floating castles which we maintained, at an immense expense, in different parts of the ocean. It was a very rare circumstance to hear that American commerce had suffered any injury, from the interference of any foreign power. Let the House look at the manner in which the American navy had treated the new states of South America; and at the manner in which it had exerted itself to put down piracy in the Mediterranean. Wherever an act of outrage had been committed upon an American vessel, summary vengeance had been taken upon the perpetrators of it; who had been compelled to make the utmost reparation for it, to those whom they had oppressed and injured. If, therefore, the calls for protection made by our merchants were so urgent upon the Admiralty, and if, with our large navy, we had not ships enough to protect our commerce, there must be, something faulty in the direction of our naval resources, and our complaints ought to be attributed to that source.

Mr. Secretary Peel

observed, that he would leave the House to judge whether the hon. gentleman had any right to infer from any thing that he had said that night, that any difference of opinion existed between himself and the right hon. Secretary for the Colonies on the subject of the finance committee. All he had done that night was to deny that his right hon. colleague had asserted that the finance committee had nothing to do with the extent of our civil establishments. Having said thus much, he trusted he should not be considered as acting disrespectfully to the House, when he declared his intention of postponing till Friday next, any explanation respecting the finance committee. Thus much he would state now, that no limitation would be imposed upon its powers which had not been imposed on the finance committees which were appointed in 1786, 1797, and 1817.

Mr. Maberly

said, he recollected extremely well, that the right hon. Secretary for the Colonies had stated distinctly that the finance committee was to have nothing to do with the extent of our naval and military establishments, but that it was to confine itself entirely to an inquiry into the amount and appropriation of the money votes. He was satisfied with the explanation which the right hon. Secretary had just given the House. If the committee of finance were to have the same powers which had been conferred upon former committees, he should be satisfied. One thing was of importance—the names which the right hon. gentleman would submit to the House on Friday night. He should judge of the committee by the names. He hoped the right hon. gentleman would put those members upon the committee, who, on whatever side of the House they might sit, had most attended to the financial concerns of the country. If the committee was fairly chosen, and did its duty, it would strengthen the government and satisfy the country. As the right hon. Secretary had broken silence that might, he hoped his hon. friend would Withdraw all opposition.

Mr. Warburton

could not agree with the hon. member, that the House or the country would be satisfied with the pledge which the names of the committee afforded. He should look to the powers proposed to be given to the committee not to the names of its members.

Mr. Spring Rice

said, that as they had been told that the committee was to have the same powers as were intrusted to former committees of finance, he would refer the House to the resolution tinder which the finance committee of 1817 had sat. Reference had been made to the finance committees appointed in 1786 and in 1797. Now he would accept with pleasure the pledge of the right hon. Secretary if he were allowed to refer to the powers granted to the finance committee in 1817, but not if he were called upon to adhere to those granted to the two earlier committees. For he found, by the journals, that very different powers had been given in the two cases. The resolution which appointed the earlier committees excluded from their inquiries all subjects of first-rate importance: whilst the resolution which appointed the finance committee of 1817 embraced every object to which inquiry should be directed. He thanked the right hon. Secretary for the explanation which he had just given, and contended that his hon. friend near him had gained by it the full object for which they had been arguing. He thought the present discussion had not been most properly brought on; for not an hour ought to have been lost in warning the country, if it had really been stated from authority, that the finance committee was not to have: the right to inquire into the extent of I our establishments, civil and military. That committee must be fairly appointed ' and honestly conducted, and must proceed right onwards in its duty, to merit the confidence of the country. If it did not so proceed, it would be the greatest of all possible delusions—a mere fence to enable the government to ride over the present session, and to gain a vote the confidence for the support of our present overgrown establishments.

The report was then brought up On the question that it be read,

Mr. Hume

declared his intention to oppose this vote in every stage, until some pledge was given that the expenditure should be examined into, and should be reduced as much as possible. He Compared the opposition, which some hon. gentlemen on the Treasury bench made to him, to the charges which the wolf brought against the lamb, describing himself as the lamb, which the wolf, at all events, was determined to make out to be guilty; for they first accused him of overstating the expenditure, and when beaten on that point, they declared in general terms, that he knew nothing about the matter he was talking of. The hon. member then went into statements which shewed that for many years the force of the navy had been near twenty thousand men, and that, at the present moment, it was thirty thousand men, including the royal marines. The American Fleet, destined to protect their commerce, amounted to twenty-eight ships, while ours amounted to one hundred and forty sail. He recommended that we should follow the example of the Americans, who were preparing for war, not as we were, by continuing an enormous expenditure, but by keeping their expenses within ten millions of dollars per annum, and by paying off in peace the debt they contracted in war, which was now reduced to sixty-four millions of dollars. He repeated, that the American navy consisted but of twenty-eight ships, of which one, the Delaware, was a line of battle ship; four were forty-four gun frigates of the first class, and two of the second class; nine sloops of war of the first class, and eight of the second class and four row boats attached to the sloops. The whole cost of this navy was 670,000l. per annum, while ours cost us six millions and a half of pounds. He contended, that the true honour and glory of a country consisted not in the expensiveness of her armaments, or in her always being ready to go to war at a moment's warning, bat in maintaining her credit, which was only to be done by economy; and he conducted by moving, by way of amendment— That it is desirable, before this House vote any part of the naval and military establishments for the year, that the extent of these establishments, and the estimates for them, should be laid before this House, together with a statement of the ways and means by which these estimates and the permanent expenses of the country are to be provided for; particularly as the expenditure of the country, for the two past years, has considerably exceeded the total income, and which yearly excess of expenditure has been provided for by an issue of Exchequer-bills, and consequent increase of the unfunded debt of the country. That the best interests of the country require that its resources should be renovated and strengthened by retrenchment and economy in time of peace; whereas the amount of interest-charge of the funded and unfunded debt has been increasing yearly for the last three years. That

In the year 182.5 the charge was £28,060,288
1826 28,076,958
1827 28,239,848
That the total expenditure in the year 1792, for the support of his majesty's civil list; for the charges on the consolidated fund; for the expense of the navy, the army, the ordnance, the militia, the miscellaneous services, and appropriated duties, did not amount to five millions and a half in that year; whilst the expenditure for the navy, ordnance, and miscellaneous services (and exclusive of two millions for the civil list and other charges on the consolidated fund), was—
In 1825 £17,211,920
In 1826 19,344,418
In 1827 19,069,061"
This amendment was negatived without a division. Mr. Hume then moved the following amendment on the second resolution:— That it is the duty of this House, in the present state of the finances of the Country, before voting thirty thousand seamen and marines for the service of the navy for the ensuing six months, to take into their consideration what peculiar circumstances of the country can warrant the vote for so large a number, when it appears that sixteen thousand seamen and marines were by parliament deemed sufficient for the naval Service of the country in the year 1792, and nineteen thousand for the service of the year 1817.

Sir J. Wrottesley

said, that under the present circumstances of the country, and when it had been stated, on authority from the Admiralty, that thirty thousand seamen and marines were necessary, he could not take upon himself to refuse the vote. He, however, supported the resolutions of the committee, in the full understanding that the spirit and letter of the treaty of July last would be carried into execution.

The House divided on Mr. Hume's amendment Ayes 8, Noes 52.

List of the Minority.
Dawson, A. Wood, alderman
Maberly, John Wood, John.
Marshall, W. TELLERS.
Monck, J. B.
Palmer, C. F. Hume, J.
Waithman, alderman Warburton, H.