HC Deb 13 June 1828 vol 19 cc1356-64

On the Order of the Day for going into a Committee of Supply,

Colonel Davies

opposed the Speaker's leaving the Chair, and moved as an amendment, "that it is Expedient to Reduce the Expenditure of the Country to the lowest possible amount within the limits of Public Security, and to reduce the Army Estimates to the amount of 1823." They ought to remember that the evidence before the Finance Committee in favour of the present scale of estimates was given by the very men who were implicated in the extravagant expenditure which had weighed down the country, and who could not therefore be expected to pronounce their own self-condemnation. The Finance Committee were not, perhaps, to blame in taking that evidence, because it was the best which was open to them. His object was, to ascertain, why the estimates could not be reduced to the amount of those of 1823, when, from the unprincipled aggression of France upon Spain, the country must be considered to have been sufficiently prepared for national purposes. In 1823, the total amount of the revenue was 61,300,000l. In 1827, it had fallen to 58,417,759l.; and, notwithstanding this reduction, the army estimates were yearly on the increase. The hon. and gallant member then read a calculation, to show, that exactly in proportion as the means of the country had been diminishing, the military expenditure had been increasing. If this diminution of revenue were to occur, as the expenditure of the country increased, how could faith be kept with the public creditor, or the dividends paid? The hon. colonel proceeded to' advert to the state of our garrison troops. He complained that regiments had been kept twenty-five years in India, and that our garrison troops which amounted to thirteen thousand, were inefficient, and served only to swell the amount of our army at home. He complained of the inattention paid, both in and out of doors, to the subject of reduction. In the various petitions which were presented to that House, the petitioners, in most cases, instead of seeking for the redress of any practical grievance, sought only for the imposition of new burthens upon their neighbours. The landed proprietors and the farmers sought for a high price for corn, and the manufacturers were clamorous for high prohibitory duties. The hon. member read an extract from the report of the Finance Committee of 1817, which recommended a system of retrenchment, and a husbanding of the resources of the country in time of peace, in order that they might be prepared for a war whenever it should arise. That extract should be written in letters of gold, and posted on the walls of that House. History shewed them what were the effects of excessive taxation in other countries. Excessive taxation ruined Holland, and produced the Revolution of France; and God grant that they might never see the day when excessive taxation would be the destruction of England ! If they did not adopt a system of rigid economy and reduction, the most deplorable consequences would ensue. The hon. member concluded by moving,"That it is Expedient to reduce the Expenditure of the Country to an amount consistent with the Public Security."

Mr. Alderman Waithman

strongly recommended a rigid system of economy.

Mr. Monck

insisted upon the absolute necessity' of reduction, in the present state of the country.

Mr. Hume

said, that the general apathy which existed on this subject appeared to him very extraordinary. In 1822 and 1823, that House and the country were clamorous for reduction in the public expenditure; they now scarcely heard a word upon the subject, although some millions had been added to the expenditure. If they did not adopt a system of reduction now, what could they do when a war should come? They were now about to vote upwards of 16,000,000l. for the naval and military services. Now, in 1792, 4,600,000l. defrayed the expenses of the whole military and naval establishments of the country. In 1792, they had forty-six thousand troops; in 1822 they had seventy-two thousand: and in the present year, the army amounted to upwards of ninety-thousand, exclusive of the colonial troops. Now that the country was at peace, why should they have an army of ninety-thousand men, an artillery amounting to eight-thousand four hundred, and a naval force of thirty-thousand men? The yeomanry and the Irish constabulary amounted to fifteen thousand. Where was the necessity of having one hundred and thirty-eight thousand men actually in arms? There was, besides, the militia staff, amounting to five-thousand. Such an enormous force was perfectly unnecessary in the present state of affairs. He contended, that the number of officers in the army and navy was at present unnecessarily great. While one thousand officers would be amply sufficient in the navy, they had five-thousand; and in the army, where five-thousand would do, the officers amounted to sixteen-thousand. He hoped the new Secretary at War would do something towards reducing the expense of the army. If he paid the same attention to that department as he had done to the Ordnance he would certainly effect some good.

Mr. W. Smith

said, he was quite sure the country could not bear the burthen which was thrown upon it. It was perfectly clear that their expenses were increasing, while they ought to be diminished. The utmost amount of debt reduced since 1813 was 2,700,000l. Certainly they ought, during fourteen years of peace, to have made an incalculably greater reduction. He had for a long time wished to see a government formed strong enough to try, whether the principle of reduction might not be determined on. He wished to see a government that would depend on the good opinion of the people at large, and not on the assistance of those who were interested in keeping up, because they participated in, the expenditure of the country. Minute reductions, a thousand pounds here, and a thousand pounds there, would never put the finances of the country in a safe state. In the event of a war, a sense of honour might induce us for a time to persevere; but it would be impossible long to bear so heavy a burthen; and after a few years something like national bankruptcy must take place. National bankruptcy—not national revolution; for such was the strength of our constitution, that he firmly believed it would survive even that shock.

The amendment was negatived. The House having resolved itself into a Committee of Supply,

Sir H. Hardinge

said, that in submitting the Army Estimates to the committee, he did not mean to occupy any great, portion of their attention. He confessed that he came before the committee under some degree of disadvantage; because he had not been able to render himself so completely master of the details as he could wish. Much of the inconvenience was, however, removed by the discussion which had taken place, about two months ago, with respect to the force which was intended to be kept up. On that occasion his noble friend had got a vote of money on account, preparatory to the in- troduction of the Mutiny bill. That vote was for 2,200,000l. leaving 4,386,343l. to be provided for; at the same time, the question of the number of men to be ultimately voted was left open to discussion. With regard to the proposition involved in the first resolution, his gallant friend opposite had objected to the course about to be taken, because he conceived that the vote was infinitely too large; and he had argued that they should go back to the course adopted in 1822. He begged leave to observe, that two thousand seven hundred men of the colonial force to which allusion had been made, did not constitute an addition to the amount of the estimates in reality, as it was merely a transfer from the army extraordinaries to the army estimates. In the fourth page, the number of men was stated to be ninety-thousand five hundred and nineteen, but from the sum charged for the maintenance of that force, they were to deduct 80,000l. for the pay of non-effective men: five-thousand non-effective men were here to be taken from the nominal establishment of the military force, and that force would be probably reduced still more; as the standard had been raised from five feet six to five feet seven. A greater difficulty would thus occur in maintaining the number of troops, as a smaller number of men would be recruited. The reduction would be about 100,000l. His gallant friend had strongly advocated the propriety of keeping up colonial corps on a large scale. He said, that, though he did not wish to garrison the whole of our colonies with such corps, yet he wished to carry the system much farther than it was at present carried. Now, in his opinion, if that plan were adopted, it would be destructive of the character and the efficiency of the army. He believed his gallant friend would be the last man who would like to see brother officers of his own condemned to that species of banishment. His gallant friend must be aware that the sixtieth regiment was for many years employed solely as a colonial corps, and was always treated as such. It was, he believed, for thirty or forty years a condemned corps; and scarcely ever, except for some purpose of patronage, was a respectable officer attached to it. If they deprived the army of that fair and laudable ambition which was very properly cherished in it, they would very soon break its spirit and destroy its efficiency. With regard to the objection of his gallant friend, to the Dépôt companies, he contended, that they were most useful in feeding the service; and when regiments came from abroad, in refraining them with the greatest possible speed.—The gallant officer then ran through a statement of the disposition of our troops. There were twenty-nine battalions of infantry in Great Britain; which were barely sufficient to furnish reliefs to the seventy-four battalions abroad. Those reliefs were granted every ten years; so that seven battalions a year were required for the purpose. The force had, therefore, been brought down to the; lowest possible scale. As a proof, there were fourteen battalions now reforming in Great Britain, which had returned home only two years; and which in two years more, must be sent out again. The gallant officer concluded by moving, "That 1,210,694l., be granted to complete the sum for the expenses of the land forces at home and abroad, except in India, for the present year."

Colonel Davies

maintained that if colonial corps were established to the number of twenty or thirty thousand men—there would then be no stigma attached to them. They would be well officered; and being well officered would be as effective and valuable as any other troops. He admitted, that there were advantages attendant on the dépôt companies; but their great expense was objectionable. We really were descending from that 'vantage ground which our insular situation gave us. While we retained the command of the sea, it was impossible that any foreign power could invade our West-India islands, before we could send out a force capable of resisting. The military men of this country argued as if we were a continental state. If we were like Austria, or Prussia, then, indeed, we must always maintain a large military force, however the expense of doing so might depress our commerce or agriculture. But, in our insular state, the maintenance of such a force was unnecessary.

Sir H. Hardinge

said, that English gentlemen were the best officers in the world. If regiments were permanently established in the colonies, they would be deprived of the greater part of those officers.

Mr. Hume

referred to the case of the troops in India, who were permanently established there; and who, nevertheless, were as good soldiers as any in the world. Great economy would arise from having troops stationed in the colonies, instead of constantly removing them. What he had principally risen for was, to observe, that the gallant officer had not stated why there was so great a difference between the establishment of infantry in 1822, and at the present period. In 1822 that establishment consisted of only sixty-nine thousand men; now it consisted of eighty-six thousand. What were the circumstances which rendered this increase of seventeen thousand men necessary? Many of our colonies were overloaded with troops, by which means a great expenditure was incurred; as also in providing reliefs. A great reduction might take place in that respect, and also in the troops in Ireland. If ministers were sincere in their wish for economy, ten thousand of the twenty-three thousand troops in Ireland might be withdrawn. Why were the regiments of guards fuller than before? What necessity was there also for so large a body of cavalry? Why make such a fuss about discharging a few clerks in the public offices, while they were keeping up thousands of cavalry, every horse and rider of which cost the country 150l. a year? There was another most extravagant item. Great merit had formerly been assumed by government, for diminishing the number and increasing the size of the battalions. Now, however, we were reverting to the old system of small corps, and an addition of fifty-four battalions was made to one hundred and four. The depots were also most expensive. No fewer than six hundred and fifty officers were employed in drilling troops. The whole of the Recruiting establishment might be cut down with the greatest advantage.

Lord Palmerston

said, the fact was, that the establishment of each regiment now consisted of seven hundred and forty men, or ten companies, but with no more officers than if the rank and file of each regiment had amounted to eight hundred men. In 1792, the same number of officers would have belonged only to four ! hundred men. It was his sincere opinion, that the present organization of the army was the best that had been formed within his memory. He denied that the officers of the dépôt companies were employed in recruiting; but he admitted that they were occupied in drilling and training recruits. The only officers employed in re- cruiting were those belonging to regiments abroad; from which they were detached, in order to superintend the recruiting. There was only one from each regiment, and his allowance was no more than would cover his incidental expenses. As to the difference of expense between the guards and the line, it only amounted to 7s. per man in favour of the line.

Colonel Trench

said, that the system of the war department reflected equal credit on those who had gone out, and those who were in. He was anxious to make a short statement in opposition to that of the hon. member for Aberdeen, in justice to the memory of an illustrious individual, now no more, under whose superintendence the army had arrived at its present improved condition. He then entered into various calculations, to prove that the cost of the same number of cavalry and infantry, in 1792, was precisely 453,000l. more than it was in 1822, allowing only fifteen per cent for the difference in the value of money at the two periods, although great authorities had calculated that difference at from twenty-five to forty per cent.

The resolution was agreed to. On the resolution, "that 12,995l. 15s. 8d. be granted for the charge of the Royal Military College, for the year 1828,".

Mr. Hume

observed, that this was a most useless vote. It was a charge for educating young men for the army, which the country ought not to pay. The sum we had already paid during the last ten years, amounted to232,437l., which, for five hundred and forty-six young men, amounted to upwards of 425l. per man. This, in the present state of our finances, was too much. Why not allow parents to educate their children at their own expense. If this establishment was to be kept up, let it not be at the expense of the country.

Sir A. Hope

said, that as one of the commissioners to whom the confidence of the Crown had committed the superintendence of this establishment, he felt it his duty to defend it against the attacks of the hon. member. The establishment was not, as the hon. member had said, for boys. It was for the education of the staff. In 1792, a favourite year with the hon. member, we had no education for the army; and the exercise of firing by platoons, or a general salute to a commanding officer, were the only education of our officers. In the war in Flanders, to the disgrace of our army, we had to ap- ply for captains of a foreign staff to instruct our troops; and an Austrian captain, now a general officer in our service, was one of those employed. Since the establishment of the Military College, the case was different. We had a number of officers educated for the staff, and fit to take their station in any department of the army. Of the men who had been educated in that college, a vast number had been distinguished in staff employments. There were three quarter-masters-general, one of whom had not only been distinguished in our service, but chosen quarter-master-general of the allied army of occupation. There had been besides, two thousand and fifty cadets educated there. The Finance Committee of 1817 had inquired into the state of the college; and the establishment was now on the plan recommended by that committee.

The resolution was agreed to.

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