HC Deb 25 February 1828 vol 18 cc655-64

The House having resolved into a committee, to which these Estimates were referred,

Sir G. Clerk

said, that as future and fitter opportunities would occur, he should not go into any detail of the items. At present it was proposed only to take half the sum that would probably be required for the service of the year. He moved, "that the sum of 2,208,233l. 13s. 9½ d. be granted to his majesty on account, towards defraying the Naval Service of the year 1828."

Sir J. Yorke

said, that although he was one of those who were anxious to shorten the debates of that House, he was not altogether at his ease, when he saw that his hon. friend intended to shorten into a single vote a discussion which had often occupied the House more than a whole night. He conceived that there were items in/the present estimates, which the Committee of Finance ought to treat in a very inquisitorial manner, and which, if they did so treat, were certain to be reduced considerably. It was stated, the other night, by the Secretary to the Ordnance, that the duke of Wellington had made considerable reductions in that department of the public service, and that by those reductions he had not only increased its utility, but had stimulated the zeal of those who were employed in it. He trusted that similar reductions would be speedily made in the naval department, with similar benefit to the public service. He should like to know why his hon. friend below him, who had so often played first fiddle on occasions like the present, and the music of whose voice he was happy to hear again from his former situation, had again come forward to propose these votes, instead of his hon. and gallant friend (sir G. Cockburn), who had been first appointed to propose them. He wanted to hear from his hon. and gallant friend, what reductions were meditated at the Admiralty. He was afraid that we were at present between two stools, and that, what with the Finance Committee on the one hand, and what with the Government on the other, we should be in a pretty state before long. He wished to ask his hon. and gallant friend, what quantity of shipping it was determined to keep in actual force. He saw that there was 800,000l. to be voted this year for timber alone. He was sure that that grant might be very considerably reduced. We had, at present, one hundred and ten sail of the line building and in ordinary. Did government intend to keep up the whole of that force? Now, when he looked at the estimates for 1792, and again at the estimates for 1828, there did appear to him a mystery which it would be difficult to unravel. In 1792, we had 414 ships of all classes; and in 1828 we had 504. In 1792 the number of officers and shipkeepers were 4,224; and in 1828, 2,780. Indeed, it was impossible to look at these estimates, as compared with those of 1792, without seeing the wide difference in the expense of the men; 2,780 men cost at one time 105,815l., while at another 4,224 cost only 93,000l. He earnestly hoped the Finance Committee would look close at these things; and particularly at the cost of the manufacture of shipping. He was not a man to war against authority, and he therefore looked, not to the lord high admiral, but to the council who advised him; and if they gave his royal highness evil advice, we betide the executive. He was not in the House the other evening when his gallant friend had alluded to the fifty thousand seamen's jackets which had been turned up. These were charged 12s. 6d. to the seamen, and the taking them back left the country minus the Lord knew what. The council had advised his royal highness to get rid of these jackets, and the Navy-office had flung the business from their Atlean shoulders upon the feebler back of the Victualling-board. On these fifty thousand jackets, there was, perhaps, a loss of 10s. upon each, which made a good round sum. But, "Oh," said his gallant friend, "we have taken the seamen out of the hand of the Jews: the poor tars were previously in the habit of going to these infernal fellows, the Hebrew Jews." Into whose hands, then, had he put them? Why, he had taken them from the Jews to deliver them over to the Gentiles; for the Victualling-office was to charge them 24s. for these jackets. Thus, when a fine athletic sailor came on board, scrub him well was the first thing to be done, then put proper clothing on his back, taking care, however, that his debt to the government for these slops should be squared, so that he did not owe as much as would make it worth his while to run away. There was nothing so capricious as this system of clothing. Officers knew not, from day to day, how far they were safe in the official pattern of their uniforms. By arithmetic a man might cast up his accounts, and know how he stood; but there was no arithmetic to gauge the clothing for the circle of a man's person, to regulate the rotundity of an admiral's belly, as compared with the sparer shape of a midshipman's. Lately they had done away with the whole cut of the naval uniform, and for no purpose upon earth that he could understand. Why, it was only last summer, that at the very best dinner he had ever sat, Mr. Speaker's, he (sir Joseph) was complimented as the best-dressed man in the room. The compliment came from his rev. friend, the Speaker's chaplain. For forty years had he been in his majesty's naval service, and improvement after improvement, as it had been called, had been made in the pattern of his coat, until it had been reduced to what they now saw, with hardly a skirt upon it. Their coats were now reduced to trumpery jackets of the most extraordinary appearance. It might be convenient for the service to shorten the jackets, because it was not always fine weather; but was it equally convenient for the pocket? There was the rub. How long was this little jacket to last? Would his gallant friend, in the language of the famous Liverpool speech, give him a guarantee that this uniform would last a twelvemonth? Would he say it would not be penal to wear it at the end of the year? He hoped the Finance Committee would look to this particular grievance.

Sir G. Cockburn

said, that, after his extraordinary speech, he could not help complaining of his gallant friend's not being in his place on the occasion to which he had referred, as he had thought proper in so loose a manner to quote the proceedings. His gallant friend had no right to put words into his mouth which he had never uttered, for the sake of answering them in his own way. What he had really said was, that an order had been given for a better description of jackets, but not for fifty thousand; and that, after experience of their quality, it had been deemed advisable, when a large stock was on hand, to reduce the amount to three months supply, and the rest were sold. The charge to the seamen was 11s. 6d., the cost price being 9s. 6d. The loss was not of such importance to the public, as to induce the Admiralty to continue the sale of these jackets, especially as the seamen would so much the sooner, after they were discontinued, obtain a comfortable suit. He had said that the jacket now sold was of a much better kind at the same price; but he had said, also, that as it was desirable to place the best kind within the reach of the seamen, the best that could be made were sold to them at 24s., the same as were commonly selling at the ports for 40s. and 50s. The Finance Committee were going into all the points connected with the expenditure of the navy. He had been twice before the committee, and he could state that they did not seem inclined to suffer any thing to pass unnoticed.

Sir Joseph Yorke

said, he was quite surprised that the government, in the manufacture of the Finance Committee, had not put upon it one, or two, or three professional men, connected with the navy, army, and ordnance, who could unravel the matters connected with their departments with technical dexterity. Upon it, however, there was not a single great gun; no, not even a pistol, or a patterero.

Mr. Alderman Waithman

said, he could not help expressing his astonishment that the House should be called upon to agree to votes on account, without any statement being before them, or any one point marked out in which some reduction was to take place in the expenditure. That he considered to be the proper time for a member of that House to take into his consideration any and all the acts of government into which he deemed it right to inquire, and to demand something like a pledge from them, before he intrusted them with the disposal of large sums of money which might be spent, as it appeared, on their own shewing, that former grants had been, wastefully and extravagantly. It was rather a matter of surprise, that an hon. gentleman should, by way of passing a high encomium on a noble duke, have stated that a considerable effort had been made in the Board of Ordnance, to facilitate economy. The gallant officer had stated, the other evening, that a saving of 300,000l. yearly had been effected, and two hundred and forty clerks discharged. Now, he considered that this statement involved the most serious charge ever brought against any set of individuals concerned in the management of public affairs. It was obvious, on the face of, it, that a scandalous waste of the public money, to the extent of 300,000l. a year, had been continued for many years, and that two hundred and forty useless clerks had been retained in the public service when they were of no use to it; for the gallant officer had gone on to say, that every thing was, since this reduction, as effective and complete as before. The House had a most important duty to perform. They had been told, that they had nothing to do with establishments, nor with the question of peace or war; that it was their duty simply to give money for the wants of the government. That, then, was the only time, when the supplies were under consideration, to decide whether they would restrain or repress the extravagance of the men who held, the public purse. He, for one, objected to the voting of any money until the Finance Committee had done something satisfactory in explaining the mode in which the public affairs were conducted.—He begged the attention of the House to the facts which he was about to state. They were not charges against the present administration or the last, but against all the administrations and all the persons who, during the last fourteen or fifteen years, had been concerned in the management of public affairs. The other evening he had stated, on the authority of the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Peel), that there had been expended, during the last four years, an excess of nine millions and a half beyond the revenue of the country. Now, the House knew that every year when his majesty addressed his faithful Commons from the Throne, he always told them he had ordered the estimates to be prepared with every attention to economy. He would, however, ask the House whether it could be possible that ministers had paid all due attention to economy—whether they had not, in fact, put a falsehood into his majesty's mouth, in order to delude that House—when they made him say so; as it now turned out, on their own confession, that in one single branch of expenditure they had wastefully spent 300.000l. a year, and kept two hundred and forty useless clerks? How could the members of that House agree to suspend their functions, and suffer government to delude their constituents, by throwing every thing on the Finance Committee? He had as much confidence in that committee as any member. He believed they would honestly discharge their duties; but that was no reason why he should not also do his duty. No member could transfer his responsibility to any body else. The right hon. gentleman had taken him to task, the other evening, for not having known better than to introduce, what he called, extraneous matter on this question. But he would contend, that this was the proper occasion. If the right hon. gentleman turned to the speeches of Mr. Pitt, he would find that there was not a single point he now urged, which had not been maintained by that minister. The House had been told that it would be much better to leave the consideration of these affairs altogether to the Finance Committee. So it would be infinitely better, he agreed, for the government, if all were kept out of sight of the public, and talked over only in the committee. Had not the House had professions of economy enough? Yet, had they not seen that the expenditure was not lowered? This session they had voted thirty thousand seamen. Lord Castlereagh, in 1817, had reduced the number to eighteen thousand. They had voted ninety-one thousand men for the army. Not a single man had been reduced in either service. The right hon. gentleman had stated a most extraordinary fact in his recent speech on the finances of the country. He had admitted, that there was a deficiency of eight millions. If the Dead-weight was included, the deficiency would be thirteen millions. How was this to be supplied? Government would not reduce the expenditure: they left all that to the Finance Committee. By act of parliament they were bound to support the Sinking-fund. How, then, he asked again, was the deficiency to be supplied? Did ministers mean to raise money by a loan, or by new taxes? What means had they but by one or other of those courses? They told the House that they would protect the public creditor. So would he; but that could only be effectually done by raising money by taxes, or reducing the public expenditure. Without new taxes, or a reduction of the public expenditure the interest of the debt could not be paid. He had taken the pains to look into the expenditure of 1817, in order to contrast it with that of the present year. That year was rather an unquiet one. There were Spafields meetings, and various other disorders calculated, in the view of government, to create alarm; yet that very year lord Castlereagh stated, that the government would only want seventeen or eighteen millions; which he afterwards reduced, by deducting the expenditure of a former year, to about thirteen millions. If the expenditure since 1823 had not exceeded that of 1817, there would have been a saving, compared with what it really had been, of nine and a half millions. If the expenditure had been regulated according to the statement of the Finance Committee of that year, or that of lord Castlereagh, the saving from 1817 to the present year would have been within a fraction of twenty-five millions. Taking the expenditure at thirteen millions, the sum saved would be sixty-five millions. He called on the House to give its most serious attention to this subject. Had they ever touched the estimates? Had they ever cut down a single item? Had not ministers defended them, and insisted that they were reduced to the lowest pitch? His Hon. friend (Mr. Hume) had endeavoured in vain to effect the saving of 5,000l. here, and 10,000l. there, even in that very branch of the Ordnance in which such great reductions had been effected. But ministers had always resisted every economical proposition; and now they asked for the confidence of the House, and assured it how very saving they were going to become; while they admitted that they had been justifying the most extravagant waste, to the amount of 300,000l. in one department, in which two hundred and forty clerks had been kept of no use to the public. That House was of no use if it was merely to sit, and, by its acquiescence, give a colour to the acts of the ministry. Lord Somers had said, that "parliament was the great inquest of the whole kingdom, to search into all oppression and injustice on the part of the king's ministers." Had that House done so? Had they, in a single instance, thwarted the minister, excepting in the case of the Property-tax? That was the only instance, and let the House mark what followed—an immediate reduction of expenditure. If the House would, in the same manner, reduce the revenue, government would find means to reduce the expenditure. The House had it all in their own power. They might do it in a moment by a stroke of the pen, by withholding the supplies. It was for the House to say what burthen the country should bear, and for the government to make reductions in their establishments accordingly. The Finance Committee could not judge of items, but the individuals at the head of the departments could easily decide on the reforms they would effect; and after the important discovery of this saving of 300,000l. a year in the Ordnance, the House would be criminal if they suffered a single shilling to be voted on account, thereby confiding in ministers who had so greatly abused the trust reposed in them. They should compel ministers to come down with their plans of reform at once, and leave the House to judge how far they deemed them effectual. Lord Castlereagh did not throw every thing on the committee. He brought down a set of lowered estimates. If ministers wanted to know how the public money could be saved, it was easy to point out to them where reductions might be effected. They might get rid of two or three thousand cavalry, and they might cut down ten or twelve thousand seamen. Only a few years ago the number of seamen was reduced to fourteen thousand. Surely eighteen thousand seamen and one thousand marines would be fully adequate to the wants of the public service now. Government had gone on increasing the expenditure year after year. They had laid on one hundred millions of taxes since the peace, and nothing had been done towards the reduction of the debt; for the Sinking-fund had been aptly compared, on high authority, to the attempt of a wooden-legged man to catch a hare. The country borrowed at sixty or seventy, and paid at eighty or ninety. No greater farce or delusion was ever practised. If there was a surplus of revenue it would be wisely so applied, and a surplus there would be, if the public affairs were managed with common economy. He hoped the committee would examine minutely into the establishments, and if ministers were not prepared to defer the estimates until there had been an opportunity to revise them, he would oppose any grant on account.

Sir C. Cole

also expressed the gratifica- tion he felt in joining with the gallant admiral (sir J. Yorke) his surprise, that no person connected with the navy, army, or ordnance, had been placed on the Finance Committee. He had looked into the estimates of 1792, relative to the navy, and those for the present year; and he held it to be a great injustice to make a comparison between them. He would go back to the year 1792, when he was serving in the East Indies. The squadron then was nearly equal in force to that now employed on duty there, though this country had then a smaller interest to protect. The squadron had only to watch over the two sides of the Peninsula, and not quite the whole of them; as there were some places on the coast in possession of other European nations. This country had since acquired immense possessions in that part of the world. We had now not only to guard the Peninsula, but to send a part of our force into the Straits of Malacca and the Persian Gulph after the pirates, both of which places we never visited in 1792. Besides these, we had the Mauritius and the Cape of Good Hope to attend to. The service of the navy was now five-fold, nay ten-fold, greater than it was in 1792. No fair comparison could be drawn, therefore, between the estimates of 1792 and the present year. The House knew, also, that there was the whole service of South America, and of North America, too, which had considerably increased on account of the growth of the navy of the United States. Even in Europe, though the navy of Spain was destroyed, yet every body was aware of the rise of a new naval force in Russia, more effective than any that Spain had ever had. There were sufficient reasons for keeping tip the service of the navy in a fit state to meet emergencies.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, he could assure his gallant friend that, in the formation of the Finance Committee, nothing was further from his intention than to imply the slightest disrespect to the army or navy, by omitting the names of members of either service in the list of that committee. He could likewise assure him, that, so far from such a circumstance contributing to prevent the committee from turning its attention to the details of both services, since its appointment two distinguished military officers, members of that House, had been examined before the committee at great length upon all the points to which reference had just been made. In forming the committee, it was necessary to select its members from persons connected with England, Scotland, and Ireland, and when the smallness of its number was considered, it would be perceived that it was by no means easy to place upon it all those members who had turned their attention to finance, and whose assistance could scarcely be dispensed with. It was the limitation as to numbers which prevented the introduction of any members of the army or navy on the committee. But every military and naval man could attend the committee, and lay before it whatever information it was in their power to communicate.

The resolution was then agreed to.