HC Deb 25 February 1828 vol 18 cc664-9

On the Order of the day for receiving the Report of the Committee upon the Army Estimates being read,

Sir John Brydges

said, that before the report was brought up, he believed he should not be irregular in saying a few words upon that subject. He had hoped, when the provisional grants for the different branches of the public service were passed the other evening, including that for the yeomanry-corps, that some hon. member would have taken the opportunity to have done that justice to them which they were so fully entitled to; but that not having been the case, he should trouble the House shortly upon the subject. Instead of offering any objection to the vote proposed on that head, he had to express his regret, that it was not to a greater extent. It had been his intention to have submitted a motion to that House having for its object the consideration of the measure of certain corps of yeomanry-cavalry having been recently disbanded by his majesty's late ministers; but, understanding that it was in the contemplation of the present government to make some alteration in that establishment, he had declined to fulfil his intentions. He felt, however, he should be guilty of a dereliction of duty, if he suffered that grant to pass, without shortly bringing the services of those corps to the grateful recollection of that House and of the country at large. He did not desire unnecessarily to impugn the conduct of his majesty's late ministers! They were, happily, defunct, and peace be to their manes: all he should apply to them was the epitaph on sir John Van- brugh, an architect of merit in his day; but remarkable more for the ponderosity than the elegance of his structures— Lay heavy on him, Earth; for he Laid many a heavy load on thee. Neither would he take up the time of the House in eulogising that establishment, whose loyalty, and efficient services, on all occasions, for more than a quarter of a century, were beyond all praise; but the cold and ungracious manner in which a portion of it had been dismissed called upon him to bear this public testimony to their great deserts. Economy was urged as the motive for their reduction: but this economy, he said, was false: it was being penny wise and pound foolish. For how could so cheap, and so constitutional a force be obtained by any other means? Disband the yeomanry, and the standing army (that never-ceasing subject of vituperation with the Opposition) must be augmented for home service; whereas these corps, composed of the brave yeomanry of the land, the independent country gentlemen, and the nobility of the realm, were always ready, and had been so for thirty years, at considerable personal expense and inconvenience to themselves, and at little charge to the state, to leave their homes, and to forego their private interests, for the public good. He concluded with expressing an earnest hope, that some more gratifying and more suitable acknowledgment than the paltry grant to the Staff only, of such as had been disbanded, would be extended to those who already had been, or who might hereafter be, released from the service, and that it would never fail to be registered in the recollection of a grateful country, that although it had not been the fortune of these corps to earn Waterloo laurels, they had proved themselves the patriotic protectors of their altars and their homes.

Mr. S. Rice

said, he could answer for the noble marquis, lately at the head of the Home Department, that in reducing the yeomanry corps, nothing was further from his intention than to cast the slightest reflection upon any one individual connected with them, or to manifest an indifference to the services which those corps had rendered to the public. The government felt grateful to the yeomanry forces for its past services; but there was an extent beyond which that feeling should not be carried. The extent of service rendered by that force bore no comparison with the expense which its maintenance cost the country; and the late administration felt that the public at large ought not to be taxed for the support of such a force, because in certain districts, and in certain times, services had been performed by it. Would it be said, because a particular portion of the yeomanry, on a particular occasion, had discharged their duty, that therefore the public should be burthened with the expense of the entire body? It was a principle of economy which animated the late administration in carrying this reduction into effect. But before the hon. member cast his censure so unsparingly upon the late government on account of this measure, he would request him to inquire how many members of the present government would be included in that censure. Because certain corps had been efficient in certain districts, was that a reason that those corps which were perfectly useless should be maintained at the public expense? For several years, the yeomanry corps in the county of Devon had cost annually 14,000l. and during the last ten years they had never upon any one occasion been required to afford their aid to the civil power. This was a sample of the system which the hon. gentleman would support, and these were the forces for the reduction of which he so freely lavished his censure upon the late administration. The reduction of the yeomanry corps was effected by the late administration, because it did not look forward to exist as a government of force—because it did not desire to be a government of military strength—but because it depended upon its measures and its regard to the principles of economy, for its claim to the public support. By the late reduction a saving of two-thirds of the charges for the yeomanry corps had been made. Those corps which had proved themselves a really efficient and useful force had not been reduced. He was confident that this reduction would meet with the approbation of the House; and the opinion of the country, with the exception of a few persons who were pleased with the amusements of soldiery, and whose personal vanity was mixed up with the establishment of yeomanry corps, had been already pronounced in favour of the measure, as one of great utility, and from which no detriment could arise to the public service.

Mr. Littleton

said, that with him the only question was, why the dismissal of the yeomanry had so long been delayed? In 1817, he had propounded the same idea; and as he was connected with a regiment in Staffordshire, he trusted the House would give him credit for the purity of his motives. If there was any thing wanting to convince him of the good intentions of the late government, he should find it in the fact, that they had not regarded their own private feeling in favour of the yeomanry, when they deemed themselves called upon by public duty to dismiss the body.

Sir R. Heron

thought that the only question to be asked was, why the whole body had not been dismissed? He could not see that any portion of them was necessary. In time of peace they were utterly useless, nay, they were worse than useless; for, from proofs of their acts, the painful particulars of which he would not bring to the recollection of the House, they had shewn how unsafe it was to employ them, and how much more preferably the regular soldiery might have been engaged to undertake the business. For his part, he thought they ought to have been abolished ten years ago.

Lord Palmerston

said, he did not see how the present topic was connected with the question before the House, but he was quite prepared to take the fullest responsibility upon himself for the measure. It had been a saving to the country of 86,000l. a year, and that, too, without the sacrifice of any thing that was necessary to the well-being of the state. As to those corps which were retained, he thought that in that particular the noble marquis had exercised a sound discretion.

Lord Morpeth

observed, that the hon. baronet had compared the late government to sir John Vanbrugh; nor did he object to that comparison, for he was quite willing that they, as sir John had been, should be the envy of the superficial, and the abuse of the ignorant; confident that they would inherit the well-founded admiration of posterity.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, that upon every occasion, the yeomanry had distinguished itself for the public good. It had always merited and received the approbation of the country; and the same disposition still pervaded the body at large to contribute its exertions whenever necessary in future. He was justified in saying so by the fact, that many corps had tendered their services without any pay whatever, whenever they might be called upon; and he was confident that if the public service required their assistance, they would be found ready to come forward to devote their best efforts to its maintenance and support.

On the question being put, "That ninety-one thousand and seventy-five men be maintained for the service of the United Kingdom for the year 1828," Mr. Alderman Waithman moved, that the number of men be reduced to eighty-one thousand and seventy-five.

Mr. N. Calvert

thought that, as long as Ireland was in the state in which she was at present, the army could not be safely reduced. It was beginning at the wrong end to think of reducing the army: they should rather seek for some way to tranquillize Ireland.

Lord Althorp

rose to explain why, upon this occasion, for the first time he believed, he should vote against reduction. They were at present only called upon to vote the estimates for six months, which were absolutely necessary, and nothing which passed now pledged any member to a particular line of conduct hereafter. He trusted that, in the Finance Committee, they should be able to reduce the military establishment of the country. In the existing state of their foreign relations, he did not think that the force specified in these estimates was too much to be granted to ministers for a period of six months [hear].

Mr. Alderman Waithman

said, the House was called upon to make every effort to reduce the expenditure of the country. He should not, however, press his amendment to a division.

Mr. Sykes

did not see any reason why reduction should be postponed, on account of the appointment of the Finance Committee. When that committee should make its report, the session would probably be near its close, the members would be out of town, and, under such circumstances, parliament would be called on to discuss this most important question. He was unwilling to vote so large a number of men as ninety-one thousand. Such a force was not required in time of peace. They had not such a force in 1792, nor in 1817, nor even in 1823. He could not see what were the peculiar circumstances of the country which rendered such an enormous force at present necessary. Looking at the difference between the expenditure of the country and its resources, he felt himself imperatively called on to vote for the reduction of the army; and for that reduction he certainly should vote, again and again, whenever it was proposed.

Sir M. W. Ridley

was of opinion, that, in the peculiar circumstances of the country, it would be only a delusion to hold out a hope that much relief could be obtained by reducing the army. This was a mere fallacy; and there was another which had gone abroad, namely, that by reducing the expenditure in other respects, great benefit might accrue to the nation. The total annual expenditure was about fifty millions, and of this there were not more than nineteen or twenty millions for the army, navy, ordnance, &c.; any reduction, therefore, that could possibly be made of these twenty millions of expenses, could not make a material difference, or meet the expectations of the public. The largest part of their expenditure was that which was connected with the interest of the national debt; and until they could reduce that, with perfect justice to the public creditor, it was clear that they could not make such a reduction as would satisfy the nation. Taking this point into consideration, it was, he conceived, very hard to expect from the labours of the Finance Committee that which they could not effect. He believed that the committee would prove to be an honest and efficient body; and nothing, he was sure, would prevent them from entering into a full investigation of every subject that might be brought before them; but it was unfair to expect impossibilities from them.

The amendment was negatived, and the original resolution agreed to.