HC Deb 20 June 1828 vol 19 cc1450-6

The House resolved itself into a Committee of Supply, to which the Army Estimates were referred. On the resolution "for granting 36,898l. 10s. 6d. to defray the charge of Garrisons at home and abroad, for the year 1828,"

Colonel Davies

said, he did not rise to oppose the resolution. He had very often pointed out parts of the military expenditure which might be saved; but, as he saw no disposition in the House to make any reduction of the public burthens, he thought it would be absurd to take up the time of the House uselessly.

Mr. Hume

said, he thought there were a variety of items, which, with a view to economy, might be saved. The sum now called for was composed, in a great measure, of sinecures. Now, whether a sinecure was civil, military, or clerical, he felt it right to make war upon it. After enumerating the different garrisons where governors received salaries, although there were no garrisons at the stations, the hon. member expressed a hope, that the government would allow these sinecure garrisons to expire with the lives of their present possessors.

Sir H. Hardinge

did not defend these garrisons upon any other principle, than that they were gifts in the disposal of the Crown, for the reward of long and distinguished services. If the present mode of disposing of them could not stand upon that principle, he readily admitted they could stand on nothing else. There were many general officers, of forty years standing, who had not more than 200l. a year; and he contended that they must suffer from this inadequate remuneration, if the Crown had not a power of rewarding their services, by the appointment to garrisons.

Colonel Davies

said, the danger was, that these sinecures might be bestowed on individuals on account of political connexions, and not in consequence of public services.

Mr. Hume

said, he should be glad to know what were the meritorious services of the governor of Dartmouth?

Sir H. Hardinge

replied, that the situation had been, for upwards of a century and a half, in the same family.

Sir J. Wrottesley

said, that many officers received 500l. a year, though they had never served curing the war. He preferred the power to grant a government rather than a pension for service; because it was more agreeable to the feelings of an honourable man. But he wished to see them bestowed upon those who really deserved them. The case of Dartmouth was a very strong one. No one could have a vested interest in a thing which parliament voted annually.

Sir James Graham

said, that Dartmouth had been in the hands of civilians of the same family for a long time; not for any laudable purpose, but for the most suspicious possible. The holder of it had great interest in the borough, which returned two members to parliament. He should feel it his duty to move, that the grant be reduced by 173l. 17s., the amount of the salary of the governor.

Captain Bastard

said, he believed the fort had been built by the family, in whose hands the office of governor had so long remained.

Mr. Maberly

thought, that, as a finance committee was sitting, whose business it would be to investigate all matters of this nature, the subject had better be left to them.

Sir J. Graham

said, that if the right hon. gentleman would postpone the grant until it was ascertained whether the fort had been built by the family, he would postpone his motion.

After a desultory conversation,

the committee divided: For sir J. Graham's Motion 38; Against it 76.

Sir H. Hardinge

next moved "that 283,193l. be granted to defray the charge of disembodied militia of the united kingdom, for 1828." This sum was voted under an act of parliament, but he hoped that a reduction would be made next year.

Mr. S. Rice

thought that much of this large expense might have been saved. This militia had cost the country 2,500,000l. in the last twelve years, and no adequate value was given for it. The expense was under three heads:—training and exercise, enrolment of men, and expense connected with their effective strength. First, as to training, there had been only three trainings in the last twelve years, which had cost the country a large sum each. What possible benefit could the service have derived from three trainings in twelve years? And yet those three trainings had cost upwards of 300,000l. If the training and exercise were not required, of what use was the balloting and enrolment? In the metropolis and the adjacent counties, balloting was a system of mere fraud and perjury. He believed that if the militia were called out in the districts he had mentioned, no available force could be obtained. The same observations applied to all parts of the country. The balloting caused an annual expense of 24,000l., besides occasioning considerable trouble to the home and foreign offices, and the lords lieutenants of counties. Any person who looked at the present strength of the militia staff must be satisfied, that it was greater than was require. By the 57th George 3rd, a power was vested in the Crown for reducing the militia staff. Immediately after the passing of that statute, lord Sidmouth proceeded to effect a reduction. Now, he was desirous that government should receive from parliament a similar discretionary power with, respect to the whole militia service, and exercise it, if they should find occasion. A more preposterous job than the present establishment of the Irish militia staff had never received the sanction of parliament. In Ireland, there was no ballot and no training; the expense of the staff, however, was greater than in England. The service in Ireland was merely a source of patronage to the colonels of the regiments, ft was their custom to form their men into bands, for the entertainment of their friends at their mansions. He did not complain of the taste for pomp which those gentlemen displayed, but he did not think it right that they should indulge it at the public expense. It might be urged that the maintenance of the Irish militia was necessary, to preserve the public tranquillity; but it should be recollected, that there exsited an efficient police for that purpose, and he believed that the country would not be more disturbed than usual if the whole of the Irish militia establishment were put down.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that the imputations cast upon government were not warranted by facts. When he was a member of the Irish government, he had brought in a bill to reduce the militia staff of Ireland, by which a saving had been effected to the country. He thought that parliament would very properly object to invest government with a power to deal with this constitutional force according to [their discretion. Whatever power was granted to the executive by the legislature on the subject, ought to be strictly defined. He would not maintain that it might not become expedient to alter the constitution of this force, in a manner which might save expense without depriving the country of the benefit of the militia service at the breaking out of a war. He denied that the present system of ballot and training was not useful. The ballot gave a certain number of men, who were bound to perform duty when called upon; and it was necessary to know where men were to be found on a sudden occasion. The government would submit a plan to the House when it was prepared, by which a reduction might be made by definite rather than general powers to be granted by the legislature.

Sir John Wrottesley

said, he did not think it right to abolish the militia force. In 1793, the military establishment was so small, that the country, at the breaking out of the war, was absolutely dependent; for its security upon the militia. He would, however, point out a plan by; which the efficiency of the militia could be increased without any additional expense. Within the last thirteen years, the infantry of the line had been greatly improved, whilst no attention had been paid to those improvements by the militia; and were a war to break out, the Serjeants of militia would know nothing beyond what they were informed of at the close of the last conflict. There ought to be a permanent militia force kept up, with a due proportion between the numbers of officers and men, and a constant system of exercise should proceed, so that all the men would be trained in a few years. The militia, might then do the duty of the veterans, and be made useful in many respects.

Colonel Wood

said, it was not desirable to break down a force like the militia, which was capable of being called into active service at a short notice. If war were to take place with France, now that the facilities of steam navigation were so extended, the services of the militia would be indispensable. It might be desirable to give government the power of suspending the ballot; but even that should not be done lightly and as a matter of course; for it had been before refused by parliament, on the ground of its being unconstitutional. He was colonel of a corps of militia, which consisted of one thousand two hundred men, and he had that morning asked his adjutant how many men would be likely to turn out if they were called on. The adjutant replied that one thousand men would assemble in the course of a few days. Upon the whole, he was inclined to think that some reductions might-advantageously be made, but he would never consent to any proposition for putting down the service altogether.

Mr. Warburton

said, that the expense of their regular force during the last eleven years had amounted to 5,410,000l. or about 490,000l. a year. Now, was it worth while to keep up that enormous expense to guard against the possible event of our being taken by surprise with respect to hostilities? The gallant colonel seemed to apprehend danger from steam navigation. But, in a contest of that kind, this country must necessarily have the advantage. We had made the greatest improvements in steam-navigation and machinery, and possessed the best coal-mines in the world.

After some further conversation, the resolution was agreed to. On the resolution, "for granting 1,500l. to the Royal Cork Institution, for the year 1828,"

Mr. Hume

asked, why were they not called on to make similar grants to Limerick or Waterford, as well as to Cork?

Mr. R. Gordon

saw no reason why Cork, which was a wealthy city, should not maintain a literary society, if it chose to have one, at its own expense.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, the institution was established in 1802 by private subscription, and was continued' until 1807, and then its members made application for parliamentary aid. It was a literary society, and lectures were given there gratis, to the middling and more humble classes of society. Upon this ground it was that it had been fostered by government, at an expense of from 1,600l. to 1,800l. a year. It was, however, to be but a temporary grant, and he had limited it this year to 1,500l., a sum which he did not consider ill spent, in disseminating knowledge through a large portion of the Irish people.

Mr. S. Rice

was of opinion, that unless the pesent Finance committee took up all these subjects, and reported on them as that of 1817 had done, seriatim, it would not do its duty. The grant had been acceded to in 1807, by the right hon. member for Waterford, for the purpose of sowing the good seeds of education and scientific improvement in the south of Ireland; but on an understanding that, when the association was more matured, the grant should be made in favour, not of Cork, but of some city which required it more. 36,000l. had already been expended in this way at Cork, whose institution was not, after all, so praiseworthy as that of Belfast.

Mr. D. W. Harvey

said, he had, last session, suggested the expediency of establishing one or more committees to inquire into such subjects. Discussions, such as the present, were productive of no good, and only served to sink the House of Commons in the estimation of the country.

Lord Morpeth

said, it was high time retrenchment should be introduced in every branch of expenditure, and he should therefore move, as an amendment, that the vote be reduced from 1,500l. to 1,000l.

Mr. Hume

remarked, that whilst we were contributing to improve the people of Cork by hundreds of pounds at a vote, their own contribution to the object in view amounted to no more in hand than 170l.

Mr. North

was apprehensive, if the reduction was so sudden, that the institution would be deprived of means to defray the salaries of the highly scientific lecturers in the institution. The argument that England maintained its own scientific, literary, and mechanics' institutions, was not fairly applied to the question, because England was wealthy; Ireland excessively impoverished. As things were in Ireland, unless parliament contributed to the support of institutions like this, there would be none. He hoped the noble lord would, for these reasons, withdraw his amendment.

Lord Morpeth

said, that the reduction was very moderate, and he should certainly divide the committee on the question.

The Committee divided: For the Amendment 26; Against it 66: Majority 40. After which, the Chairman reported progress.