The Chancellor of the Exchequer
, in moving the order of the day for the House resolving itself into a Committee of Supply, wished to say a few words, for the purpose of laying before the House what he conceived would be sufficient grounds to justify it in entering upon the consideration of the Navy Estimates, previous to its receiving the Report of the Finance Committee. On the appointment of that committee, it was expected that it would be enabled to make its Report in sufficient time to admit of being taken into consideration, antecedent to voting the estimates. In the course, however, of their investigations they had met with difficulties and delays, which in all probability, 732 would protract their sittings, and, if the House were to wait for their report before any estimates were voted, it would retard the public business. It was the opinion of the committee of finance, that the consideration of the estimates ought no longer to be delayed.
§ Lord Althorp
would not now have offered himself to the notice of the House, if he had not observed that the chairman of the finance committee was not then in his place, to confirm the statement of the right hon. gentleman opposite, relative to its being the wish of the committee that the mode now suggested for the disposal of the estimates, should be adopted. There was another reason which induced him to address the House. He alluded to a question of great public importance, on which it had long been his anxious desire to submit some observations; namely, that of impressment in the navy. He wished to state his opinions upon the subject, because he knew that he went to an extent upon this point, to which others refused to go. He felt there were many and great evils in the system of impressment, but he believed that much of the evil was necessary and unavoidable. It would be impossible for us to maintain our naval superiority, or to man our fleet so efficiently and quickly as was desirable in the event of a war, without possessing the power of enforcing compulsory service; but many things might be done in mitigation of the evils occasioned by impressment. As matters now stood, circumstances rendered it impossible to dispense with the power of impressment at such a time. If we could not man our fleet rapidly, the commerce of the country might be ruined at the commencement of hostilities. Besides, the principle of compulsory service was not confined to England—the practice, in one shape or other, existed in all countries of the world. He did not exactly know how America was circumstanced in this respect. He would point out some of the evils connected with the practice of impressment. In the first place, he reckoned as an evil, the interference with the personal liberty of the seaman, who was, perhaps, at the time, serving aboard a merchant vessel; and the circumstance of his being deprived of the right to choose the nature of his employment. But this was an evil which, as if formed the basis of the system, he feared it was impossible to get rid of. Another 733 evil was, that the seamen who, at the breaking out of a war, happened not to be on board ships in the merchant service, were obliged to hide themselves, as if they had committed crimes and offences against the law, for the purpose of avoiding impressment. It was melancholy to reflect, that a class of men, on whom our greatness as a country chiefly depended, should be placed in as great difficulties as criminals, and be obliged to conceal themselves in the best manner they could. Again, our seamen aboard ships having been compelled to serve, were obliged to be watched, in order to be retained in the service into which they had been forced to enter. They seldom or ever could obtain leave of absence, and at times, during the late war, the indulgence was prohibited altogether: it being, doubtless, apprehended, that if the men received leave of absence, they would desert. If a boat came ashore it was necessary to watch the sailors lest they should abscond. These evils might be removed, in a considerable degree. Where the merchant service received so great a degree of protection from the royal navy, no doubt the state had a right to claim the services of the seamen engaged on board trading vessels, when it became necessary. But he proposed that the circumstance of a seaman serving for a certain number of years on board a king's ship, should exempt him ever after from impressment. He would not say how many years' service should confer the exemption; that would be matter for after consideration. The adoption of a practice such as this would, in all probability, induce men to enrol themselves as volunteers in the royal navy. If this were once done, the mode of treatment of sailors aboard king's ships was so much better, and the degree of comfort which they enjoyed there was so much greater, than in merchant vessels, that there would be little difficulty in procuring a sufficient number of seamen for the public service. He hoped by these means that at the beginning of a war there would be no necessity for impressment; at least, no necessity for putting it in practice to any thing like the present extent; and that, in the progress of the war, there would be little or no occasion for resorting to compulsory service. Concealment, too on the part of seamen would be unnecessary. He wished to throw these hints out for future consideration.
Sir G. Cockburn
said, he should be glad to induce men to enter into the navy voluntarily, instead of compelling them to serve. At the same time, he agreed with the noble lord, that we could not give up our power of impressment without endangering the naval superiority of the country. He admitted that it was our duty to restrict the exercise of the power within as narrow limits as possible, and that the necessity of resorting to impressment should always be made apparent whenever it was practised. The House had done much to mitigate the evils complained of in the navy in the course of the last war. By giving pensions to the men, the practice of desertion was greatly diminished, and the present situation of the navy was such, and the facility of obtaining sailors so great, that the Admiralty had been obliged to issue strict orders, restraining the officers in all the ports from taking men from the merchant service. Although this was the present condition of things, he feared insuperable difficulties stood in the way of the noble lord's proposal, and that the system on which he proposed to act was impracticable. However, every attention would be paid by the Admiralty to that, or to any other suggestion that had for its object to lessen the necessity for impressment.
§ Mr. Sykes
said, that in the course of the last war, he had witnessed scenes of horror arising out of impressment, to get rid of a repetition of which no exertion ought to be wanting. During the whole of the war he had seen the port of Hull disturbed by broils and contests, brought on by the state of the law as it regarded compulsory service. Men who had gone long voyages, and had just come home to enjoy the society of their friends and families, were put on board king's ships, and kept afloat six or seven years. To avoid so terrible an infliction, men would go to all extremities. He remembered an instance of some men, who, having picked up a little of the Prussian language, all swore they were Prussians, with a view to escape. It was a shocking state of things under which men could be so seized and torn from their families for years. Arbitrary punishment was another great evil in the navy; and the consequence was, to occasion among seamen a dislike to the service. If any plan could be devised to induce seamen voluntarily to enter the service, it would be ex- 735 ceedingly desirable to adopt it. What he complained of was, that no other mode than that of impressment had yet been tried.
§ Sir J. Yorke
said, the noble lord had chosen a singular time for introducing the subject. It would have been much better if he had asked for a select committee. Whenever such a committee should be called for, to examine the knotty question of compulsory service, he would be one of the first to recommend investigation, with a view to improvement; for he was satisfied that many modes might be devised to mitigate or do away with a vast deal of the horrors which had been so forcibly described.
spoke of the length of time the discussion of the estimates had been deferred. The whole of them, it was agreed, should be submitted to the finance committee, under the expectation that it would have been able to examine and report upon the subject this year. The House, however, was now given to understand, that the committee had not gone fully into the evidence connected with the estimates. But the committee, though unable to make a report, was in possession of a great deal of information, which would, in all probability, prevent its members from voting for the estimates, as now proposed by ministers, for the adoption of the House. Thus, the members of the finance committee were in possession of information not calculated to induce them to approve of these estimates, while the House was shut out from the information referred to. It must be allowed, that there was a great deal of difficulty in the situation of the House in this respect, yet it was called on to exercise that judgment which it would have had to exercise if no finance committee had ever sat. Again, the committee must deal with our existing establishments, and report upon them as if the country was in a perfect state of peace, for the committee had not, and ought not to have, any political information upon the subject of peace or war; therefore the House would also have to judge of the estimates with respect to the present state of the country, and without reference to future contingencies. But the difficulty which the House must feel in dealing with the estimates consisted in this circumstance—that the chancellor of the Exchequer had not stated in what state the country really was. The House 736 had received no information on the subject, and yet it was called on to vote a grant for thirty thousand seamen. We were without the slightest information as to the state and temper of other European powers: we only knew that something like war had taken place, yet we could hardly pronounce the affair at Navarin the commencement of hostilities. We had a large force in the Mediterranean,—yet no statement was offered to enable the House to judge of the propriety of concurring in the votes about to be proposed. Ministers, before calling upon us to vote away twenty millions for the support of our establishments, ought to say, whether the country was in a state approximating to war, or in a condition of profound peace. Before a single seaman was voted, they ought to state what was the situation of the other powers of Europe. Under all circumstances, it was for the House to deal with the subject exactly as if the finance committee were not sitting.
§ Mr. Calcraft
declared it to be his fixed opinion, that impressment was necessary in the navy, under existing circumstances. The state had a right to command the services of its subjects in its defence. The navy was our principal defence, and must be supported by compulsory service until a substitute could be found. The principle of compulsory service was also recognised in our militia system. From what he could collect, the naval service was now infinitely more popular among seamen than formerly, in consequence of the wants and comforts of the men being attended to, and great improvements having taken place in the whole system. The hon. gentleman proceeded to argue, that we were not at war. The occurrence at Navarin could not be denominated war. We were at peace, though not, perhaps, in a profound peace. He was surprised that the finance committee had not made a report on the subject of the estimates. It had now sat three months, and the only report that had been obtained from it was that respecting annuities. He therefore thought that the committee proceeded rather tardily in its labours, and that the House had a right to expect information, which, he was sorry to say, had not been afforded. His hon. friend, who preceded him, was in possession of information obtained as a member of the finance committee, and could, therefore, discuss the estimates with additional advantages, 737 However, he was ready, without the advantage of his hon. friend's information, to take the estimates into consideration. He did think them calculated on too large a scale, or that the number of seamen proposed was too great, and he should therefore support the vote, except he heard something to convince him that he ought not to do so.
§ Sir H. Parnell
defended the finance committee from the charge of the want of due diligence or discretion in the course of its labours. It had had already forty-seven sittings; thirty-eight witnesses had been examined: it had ordered the production of three hundred and thirty-seven accounts, and two thousand sheets of letter-press, the results of its investigations were already actually printed. He thought, therefore, there had been no lack of diligence. On the subject of discretion, with respect to the course it was prepared to follow, no blame attached to the committee. It had acted upon the principle, that no report should be made to the House until it was in possession of every thing which could enable it to report with accuracy upon the important subjects submitted to its consideration. The committee was well aware of the wish of the House for a report from it on the public estimates; and it had already gone through those of the army, navy, and ordnance, in a general way. In attempting to prepare reports upon these branches of public expenditure, the committee found that its inquiries went to such an extent, as to render it impossible to make any thing like a perfect report. Had it originally taken up one branch the result might have been different. However, as the case stood, it appeared that public business would have been greatly delayed, if the right hon. gentleman had been compelled to wait for the committee's report; and, accordingly, the present course was resorted to as the best that could be adopted.
§ Sir M. W. Ridley
said, that the hon. baronet had completely justified the committee from the charges of negligence and inefficiency. With respect to the subject of impressment he was sure that a disposition existed to remedy as far as possible the evils to which it gave rise, but he was completely satisfied that it was a power that never ought to be relinquished.
§ Sir J. Newport
said, that on sitting days the finance committee had seldom or 738 never less than twenty members present, who commenced their sitting by five minutes after twelve, and continued in deliberation until the House met. It was impossible for any committee more diligently to discharge its duties.
§ Mr. Hume
said, it was impossible for one committee to do the duty devolved upon this. When he stated to the House that the committee had as yet only taken up three branches of the public service out of twenty that ought to come before them, and that it had not yet got half through these, it would be perceived that hon. members must exercise their patience. He had before stated that several committees would be necessary to perform the duties devolved upon one. The hon. member for Wareham had as good a chance for obtaining information as the finance committee, for they had as yet only had before them official men, who, without attempting to convey any personal imputation on their honesty, were, generally speaking, disposed to defend the establishments with which they were connected. In consequence of this, the committee had only succeeded in obtaining general information. Under all the circumstances, he thought the House must regret that so much time had been suffered to pass without taking the estimates into consideration. As far as he knew at present, there was no intention on the part of government, to reduce a single pound of the expense of any one of the estimates. If we went on as we did last year, we should be unable to pay our expenditure, without having a loan from the Bank. There was not an amount of income sufficient to defray the expense of the estimates then on the table; and he should, therefore, oppose them as long as they continued on their present scale. He called on the ministers of the Crown to say what reduction they contemplated on the whole of the estimates; and he did this because he was aware it rested with, the minister, and not with the finance committee, to reduce them. The committee calculated upon what was necessary in a state of peace. And he was ready to say, that if we were in a state of peace? We only required the same number of seamen as we had in 1793. Why ask for thirty-thousand seamen if we were in a state of peace? The ministers ought to declare in what condition the country really was, as it regarded, our foreign relations, and it 739 would then be seen whether we could spare a single man.
Mr. V. Fitzgerald
said, that the hon. member for Montrose had stated, that it was impossible for the finance committee to diminish the amount of the estimates, and he had added, that the right of determining that point rested with his majesty's government. Now, he must say, the decision upon this subject rested neither with the finance committee, nor with his majesty's government, but with parliament. There was no wish on the part of the government to throw any difficulty in the way of inquiry, or to prevent the examination of any person able to give information. The hon. member had stated his main principle to be, that the naval service required no more men now than was required in 1792. Now, without considering that the naval powers of other countries had grown up and assumed an important aspect, he would leave the House to consider, whether the principles of the hon. member were just or not. He believed, that the best course the finance committee could have taken was to recommend this grant to be received by the House, without making any report, which at present they were not prepared to make.
Mr. Wilmot Horton
said, that, as he was a member of the finance committee, he would say a few words on the present subject. The hon. member for Aberdeen had told them, that the House and the public would be greatly disappointed by the report of that committee. On that assertion he would merely observe that, if the country was disappointed, it would be owing to the exertions of the hon. member himself and others, who had systematically deceived it on all matters of this nature. The hon. member had told them that great reductions ought to be made, he believed to the extent of seven or eight millions. Now, in examining the truth of such a position, he should have no occasion, in the course of his remarks, to bring any principle into dispute, for no difference could exist as to the propriety of remedying abuses, when they were once detected, or reducing the establishments as low as was compatible with the interests of the country. The difference existing amongst them was a difference as to the degree of reduction. The House would certainly he disappointed if it expected that the committee, keeping faith with the national 740 creditor and pensioner, should recommend them to cut away 7,000,000l. from the 14,000,000l. which it annually voted, in support of the different establishments. He would say, speaking practically, that no such retrenchment could be made, and that the finance committee had never entertained any proposition to such an effect. The principle for which the hon. member for Aberdeen contended was not whether we should support establishments necessary to the public service, but that, though the establishments were necessary for the public service, yet, if the finances were not in a flourishing condition, those establishments should be cut down to a level with the finances. Now, he would contend, that no establishment ought to be maintained which was not necessary to the public service, but that if an establishment was necessary, it should not be done away with because the state of the finances happened, for the time, to be unprosperous. As to the state of our finances, he thought the hon. members opposite had not aright to allude to it, as it had never yet been placed before the finance committee, nor subjected to their investigation. He protested against the principle that we were bound to reduce our establishments to the level of our revenue. He thought, that we were bound to reduce our establishments to the level of the public service and, by so doing, to reduce the expenditure by which they were maintained; but he conceived it to be unworthy of a great nation to reduce its necessary establishments, on account of the pressure on its resources in any one particular year. The hon. member for Aberdeen had told the House, that the finance committee had merely looked at the expenses of the different establishments belonging to the different departments. He thought that, when the House saw the nature of the investigation which it had instituted into the Ordnance department, it would be of opinion, that instead of merely looking at it, it had actually picked it as clean as could be; and that, if an analytical examination of the details of that department formed one of the duties of the finance committee, it had faithfully performed it. He did not intend to quarrel with the terms in which hon. members had spoken of the finance committee, though he did not like to hear that committee spoken of as if its labours would not tend to the public benefit. When the report of that committee should be printed, if the 741 evidence were printed along with it, the House would have abundant proof of their anxiety to discharge the task which had been imposed upon it, faithfully to the House and honourably to themselves. With regard to the estimates of the year, it appeared to him a wise and expedient course to proceed forthwith to their consideration. There was no prima facie case made out for their reduction, and therefore no harm could be done by confirming them in their present state for another year.
said, that he too must claim the attention of the House for a few minutes, as he also was a member of the finance committee. He was sorry to say, that there had been greater irritation among the members of the finance committee in the course of the discussion of that evening, than had ever been felt among them during all its former sittings. He would say, that in the whole course of his parliamentary experience, he had never known any committee appointed to examine into an important subject in which greater harmony and good feeling had prevailed, than had all along prevailed in this committee; and he believed that there would be a general admission by individuals of all parties, that nothing could be more fair than the examination of the witnesses which had been brought before it. He differed entirely from the views which had been taken of the labours of the finance committee by the member for Aberdeen, and by his right hon. friend, the member for Newcastle. Both of them had spoken as if little was to be expected from the labours of the committee. The impression on his own mind was very different. He anticipated a considerable result from its labours; not, indeed, in any great reduction of the naval estimates, but of the expenses of the other departments. He had already seen enough in the finance committee to be convinced, that there was a great deal in them, all which required regulation, and which, when judiciously regulated, would be productive of a considerable saving to the country. His impression was, that it would, before it concluded its sittings, confer considerable benefit upon the community. This was one of the few committees of finance which had been conducted upon fair principles; and in which some person had not been employed on behalf of the ministry of the day to throw out some plan for the consideration of the 742 committee, to which it was expected the majority of members should ultimately agree. In the present case nothing could be fairer than the spirit in which all questions had been put and agreed to by the committee; and he was really of opinion, that any fair and rational proposal for reduction—he did not mean any of those extravagant notions in which the member for Aberdeen sometimes indulged—would have prevailed against all the influence of government, supposing it to have been inclined to exercise any.
complained that, though the finance committee was appointed to inquire into the state of the army, the navy, and the ordnance, departments, not a single naval or military officer had been appointed a member of it. The consequence was, that, from its want of professional knowledge it could not conduct its inquiries as well as it ought to do. He censured the right hon. member for Newcastle for the manner in which he had taunted the member for Aberdeen, on account of what he chose to style his extravagant notions of economy. He was one of those who approved of those notions, and, though he did not think that a reduction could be made to the amount of 7,000,000l. or 8,000,000l., he thought that a very considerable reduction could be made, without at all diminishing the efficacy of the public service.
§ Mr. John Wood
said, he had heard with considerable surprise the statement which had been made by the right hon. member for Newcastle. He had said, that hon. members had no right to allude to the finance for the year, as the statement of it had not yet been laid on the table of the House. It was of that very point that he rose to complain. In his mind, a financial statement the House ought, as a matter of necessity, to have, now that it was going to vote the different estimates; for surely, before they voted the establishments, they should know what amount of revenue they had to pay them with. He was not a member of the finance committee; but he understood that a statement of the finances of the country had been laid before it; and, if his information was correct, there was an actual deficiency of 127,000l. for the year 1827, independent of the 5,000,000l. employed in the sinking-fund. Then he begged to know how the 5,000,000l. for the sinking-fund were raised? The 127,000l. was of course borrowed from the 743 Bank; 4,000,000l. and odd were received from the Bank on account of the deadweight, and the remaining sum was raised by an issue of Exchequer-bills, and by other means of a similar description. In the year 1828, the calculation was, that, as regarded the sinking-fund, there would be a deficiency of 3,386,000l., supposing the revenue and the expenditure to balance each other, and the sum due from the Bank on account of the dead-weight to be paid in. We should then have to raise 1,970,000l. to make good the sum destined for the sinking-fund; and how should we raise it? By borrowing it of any person who would be fool enough to lend us it. In 1829, the bargain with the Bank on account of the dead-weight would be at an end, and we should have nothing to receive on that score. That bargain had been pregnant with ruin to the country: it had been denounced at the time it was made, by those who were competent judges, to be one of the most improvident bargains that ever country entered into. Under such circumstances, was it not incumbent upon them to consider whether they could not reduce their establishments to a level with their revenue? All the anticipations which he had stated to the House were formed upon the supposition that the country would remain at peace. What, however, would be the case, supposing we were compelled to go to war? If we were obliged to borrow money in time of peace to support our establishments, what provision could we make for ourselves in case we were assailed with that calamity?
§ Lord Howick
said, the public had some right to be disappointed as to the result of the labours of the committee; but it was the House, and not the committee, who were to blame, the House having put too much upon the committee. The committee ought to carry on its labours without reference to political circumstances. They must, then, consider what the circumstances of the country required. How was it possible to go into a detail of so many subjects in a short time? As to the navy, for instance, the committee must inquire into the best possible means to be adopted for diminishing the expense of ship-building. On this point they must examine scientific men; and this was only a small branch of the subject. The committee should have confined their attention to the actual state of the country. He could not agree with the right hon. gentleman, that certain es- 744 tablishments should be kept up in any state of the finances. The committee ought to inquire what was the amount of the national income, and the expenditure should then be made to meet it. In fact, the House had been wrong in voting the estimates for six months, without any knowledge of the means of meeting these estimates.
said, he would not have risen but for the broad proposition stated by the noble lord who had just resumed his seat. From that proposition he most positively dissented. It amounted, in fact, to this, that not one farthing ought to exist in the shape of public revenue, unless its existence had been previously justified by a proof of its absolute necessity. He could not conceive how any man who looked at the origin of revenue in England, could say it was necessary that we should know the amount of our income before we proceeded to dispose of it in our expenditure. He said boldly, that the manner in which all supplies in that House were voted proved distinctly that the principle on which they were voted was, that all that was possible should be saved to the country. If he was right in that statement, then the whole speech of the noble lord must be founded in error. He agreed with the hon. member for Callington, that, if the House were to judge of the good understanding and harmony of the finance committee from the specimen which they had seen of it that night, it would form a very wrong opinion on the subject. Among the members of the committee who had spoken, there were some who had spoken, as it appeared to him, with more warmth than the occasion required. In none of the committees, at which he had been present, had he ever seen so much cordiality, and so strong a disposition to arrive at the wisest conclusions, as he had seen in the finance committee. It therefore surprised him extremely to hear, from the hon. member for Montrose, so severe an attack upon the committee. It surprised him extremely to hear an hon. member get up in his place and desire them to throw away all hope of good from a committee so discharging its numerous duties. He was surprised to hear the hon. member say, that the committee had regularly taken that evidence which was least sufficient for its own purposes. If that charge were true, then had the finance committee failed most lamentably in its duty; and, what was more to 745 the present point, the hon. member for Aberdeen had failed infinitely far more lamentably than any other member of the committee: for he, having the idea that other members called evidence that was insufficient, should have moved the committee to call for evidence that was more satisfactory. They had heard a garbled statement of the financial condition of the country read to them by the hon. member for Preston—a statement of which he would venture to say that all its results and conclusions were erroneous. He would maintain, when the proper occasion arrived, that the paper which the hon. member for Preston had read could not be called a view of our financial difficulties. He could assure the hon. member, that, whoever had furnished him with that document, was either grossly ignorant or strangely mistaken as to its proper import.
said, that the statement which the hon. member for Preston had read was given to that hon. member by himself, and he would vouch for its correctness.
Mr. Maurice Fitzgerald
agreed with the noble lord, that on going into the committee they ought to be guided by one principle; namely, the means of meeting the expenditure; but he did not agree with the noble lord, that no vote ought to be granted until a necessity for the grant was shewn actually to exist. Such a principle could not be reduced into practice. If the Crown should think it necessary, for the support of the public honour, to go to war to-morrow, the question would not be whether there was enough in the Treasury for the war, but how best to supply the means of supporting what the Crown had determined on. It was not the principle of the constitution, or the practice of the country, to suppose that any means preexisted. He expressed his anticipations of much benefit resulting from the finance committee. The hon. member for Aberdeen supposed a vast saving could be effected. He disbelieved this; but he thought that, if they assented to the appointment of a committee, they should allow no appeals from it to that House; at least until its report was laid before them. Nothing had been publicly heard upon the subject 746 until that evening; and now, for the first time, two members of the committee were found in violent conflict on the sum of eight millions of the public money. It was certainly not a very convenient mode of doing business, for a committee to be sitting up stairs on the whole question, and then to call upon the House, without any report, to decide difficult points, on partial grounds. If so, the better mode would be to put an end at once to the select body, and to let the whole subject be discussed and inquired into by the House at large. No doubt, the appointment of the committee had shortened the sittings; and he had expected, that when once the hon. member for Aberdeen was upon it, there would, for a time at least, have been an end of his speeches upon public expenditure. He had another feeling regarding the committee, and it was this—that it had been meddling with matters which he should be sorry to see in their hands. He had no objection that they should inquire into all the details of the revenue; but surely they were not likely to throw much light on the general policy of the country. The government might very reasonably not be unwilling thus to shift the responsibility and perhaps the members of the finance committee deemed themselves very competent on all points; but he, for one, must say, that he should no more think of leaving to their decision questions of general or colonial policy, connected with the army, the navy, the ordnance, &c. than he should be willing to intrust it to my Uncle Toby or Corporal Trim. Those two very respectable and amusing personages might be excellent judges of fortification, but as incompetent, though not more so, to other matters, than any of the members of the finance committee. If he were called upon to point out one body worse qualified than another for such wise inquiries, he should at once direct attention to the committee of finance. The members of it were chosen for financial inquirers, for inquisitors, and ferrets into various sources of expenditure; but the very narrowness of their observations disqualified them from viewing correctly a wider range of objects. The committee was named to effect a saving of pounds shillings and pence? and if, instead of pursuing this practical and useful purpose, it directed its attention to extraneous topics, the country would be grievously disappointed. He feared that there was no greater delusion than to represent that that 747 body would effect any thing extensively useful. He knew nothing, indeed, but what he had heard, like every body else, in the streets; but he had asked the question, whether it was likely that the committee would accomplish a saving to the extent of five millions? That sum would be little enough; and as it was less than the country had a right to look for, a very trifling impression would be produced by it; but when he found that the retrenchment to be effected would not exceed a million and a half or two millions, people at large would not give the members any great credit for their exertions, or think that their appointment had been attended with corresponding advantage. He did not object to the original appointment of the committee; but if it was to be troubling itself with subjects that did not belong to it, he feared it might be converted into a dangerous instead of a useful instrument. He understood they had extended their inquiries to the Ordnance department; and this again brought him to the question, why was that to he accomplished through the medium of a committee which ought to be done on the responsibility of the different departments? The noble duke now at the head of the government was formerly at the head of the Ordnance, and it was said he had completed all practicable reductions. If, then, the committee went beyond the point to which he had proceeded, the probability was, that it would only do mischief by its interference. It seemed to him, that the members of it were ignorant upon all those points on which they ought to be informed. He could say of such of his friends as were upon the committee, that they were competent to the ordinary purposes for which members of parliament were intended, but it was extremely dangerous to allow them to go beyond their tether, and to touch great subjects, for the management and investigation of which they were never intended, either by nature or education. He had heard that ministers had been defeated in the committee; and perhaps they had been no parties to this intrusion into their peculiar province. Unless the members of the committee sat for years, examined all persons who could give them information, and, in fact, went through a complete reeducation, to qualify them for the task, the result must, at best, be delusive, and might be perilous. Concurring entirely in the principle, that the House was bound 748 to consider the means of making good the estimates, before it resolved itself into a committee, he thought the warning of the hon. member a little ill-timed. The House was not to be converted into a court of appeal from the finance committee, without due notice, and without any of the information that had been laid before the select body.
Mr. Fyshe Palmer
said, the information of the right hon. gentleman was not altogether correct. As an humble member of the committee, he was able to state, that that body did not think great national questions within its province. The subject of colonial policy, for instance, had been placed entirely out of view on that account; and it had been determined that it belonged to the executive government.
Mr. Alderman Waithman
expressed his conviction, in accordance with his previous sentiments, that neither the House nor the country would trouble itself much about the labours of the finance committee. He had much confidence in the exertions of the individual members; but he maintained that, however proper it might be to appoint a finance committee, it ought not to supersede the functions of the government, and that the discussions on the estimates ought not to be postponed. He looked at that appointment chiefly as an expedient for getting over the session, and not with any expectation that its labours would produce any effect on the estimates. Late as it was in the session, it was still the duty of the House minutely to investigate every thing relating to the expenditure of the country, more especially under the admission, that in the last year the receipts had fallen short of the expenditure. Whether the finance committee had travelled out of its proper course, was not a question for the House at present to consider; but whatever had been done by the select body, it was the duty of ministers to come forward with some proposition to meet the exigencies of the country, by making a most material reduction. The first point was, to consider what the country could afford, and not what it wanted. In 1817 lord Castlereagh had stated the amount of the army and navy he considered necessary; and what had happened since that year, to warrant an increase of eighteen thousand or nineteen thousand men in the former, and a proportionate augmentation in the latter? The 749 country was as much at peace now as then; and, although at this moment, many parts of it were severely suffering, they were all quiet. Hence, it was not necessary to keep an army on foot to overawe the inhabitants. But, in 1817, when the military force was so much less, the House was employed in devising schemes to keep the people down, by passing various acts destructive of their rights and liberties. It was very easy for hon. gentlemen to turn round and ask, "will you not support the honour and dignity of the nation?" and it was just as easy to answer, that that honour and dignity would be best consulted by securing the affections of the people.
§ The House then went into the committee of supply.
§ Sir George Clerk
rose for the purpose of detailing the estimates for the naval service in the present year. It would be recollected, that in the early part of the session, only half the sum to be required had been voted, under the expectation that the finance committee would soon make its report, regulating the expenditure of the different departments. The labours of that body having been unusually extended, it had become necessary to call for the remainder of the money; and it was proposed only to take the balance of the estimates, as originally laid upon the table. Hence he should secure the acquiescence of the hon. member for Wareham, who had said, that he should not object to vote the sum remaining due upon the estimates some months since laid upon the table. The number of seamen and marines was thirty thousand; and he was sure that no man who had turned his attention to the subject would wish that number to be reduced. Although the nation was at peace with all the world, its commerce was spread to every corner of it. In many parts of the globe serious disturbances prevailed, and a large naval force was therefore necessary for the protection of our trade, independent of the depredations to which it had been exposed in the Levant and in the West Indies. It was unnecessary for him to say more upon this point, because not a single member had stated that he thought the number too great, excepting the hon. member for Montrose; who, as usual, had insisted upon the naval establishment of 1792. When the hon. alderman (Waithman) expressed his surprise at the addition to the naval force since 1817, he 750 seemed to have forgotten the extent to which piracy had been carried, and that a complaint had actually been made in this House against the Admiralty, for not keeping an adequate force in the West Indies. In the East of Europe, and for the same cause, it had also been necessary to keep an additional number of ships of war; and the extensive markets opened to our commerce in South America also required protection. Although it was true that the amount of force was the same as last year, the estimate of expense had been reduced. 130,000l. which reduction had a certain bearing on all the establishments. Nothing but the most rigid economy could, make the money voted equal to the purpose for which it was intended. The principal saving had been made in the Dockyards, by lessening the wages for the labour of artificers, and the amount of stores. On these heads a saving of 150,000l. had been effected; but on the other hand, there had been a slight increase in the department of transports, which lessened the actual saving to 130,000l. A larger number of transports than usual had been required for the conveyance of convicts to New South Wales. Some very extensive works were still in progress, connected with our naval establishment; and, with any regard to the interests of the country, they could not be entirely suspended. The smallest possible sum had, however, been taken for them. He would now move the first Resolution, "That thirty-thousand men be granted for the sea-service for seven lunar months, including nine thousand royal marines."
§ Sir H. Parnell
said, that when he last spoke, it was in his capacity of Chairman of the Committee of Finance: he now appeared in his own character—that of an individual member of parliament. He felt no disposition, under the circumstances, to resist the vote; but if it was proposed as the final peace establishment he should decidedly object to it. He did not think that any correct standard could be arrived at by referring back to former periods of undisturbed tranquillity. There was one part of the service in which he was of opinion that a reduction might properly be made. The committee of finance had taken into consideration the expediency of continuing the coast blockade, and, from the evidence taken, he, for one, had arrived at the conclusion that it might be dispensed with. The object of preventing 751 smuggling, it had been shewn, was sufficiently secured by the preventive service, and by the other existing arrangement; and as two thousand seven hundred men were employed on the coast blockade, he should propose an amendment to effect a reduction to that extent. These men were quite independent of any consideration of the defence of the country and its trade. As to the reduction of 130,000l. in the estimates of the present year, there was no reason for placing much reliance on the continuance of that reduction. It had been accomplished, in a great degree, by lessening the purchase of stores; the deficiency in which must necessarily be made good at some future period. So far the reduction was not substantial and bona fide; and even the saving of 130,000l. could not be calculated upon for next year. The reasons for the increase in the transport service had not been stated, and there were great objections to the manner in which the navy board provided transports. Whenever stores were to be sent abroad, instead of going into the market and hiring transports, they employed their own, which were made part of the establishment, and cost the country a much larger sum than it ought to do. To put an end to the coast blockade, he would move, that the vote be reduced from thirty thousand to twenty-eight thousand men.
§ Sir J. Yorke
congratulated the House and the government, that the chairman of the finance committee had been able to do no more than suggest a reduction of two thousand seamen. It was well understood that the coast blockade was, as it were, the dépôt of the Admiralty, from which, on an emergency, it could be furnished instantly with men for three or four vessels if needed; and for this reason he should vote against the amendment. Me was rather surprised to find that no report had been made upon the subject of the experimental squadrons, which had been built and sent out in order to try the respective merits of particular modes of construction. The scientific individuals who were engaged in building the vessels had themselves commanded them; or, in the language of the turf, they had jockied their own horses. No expense was spared; various alterations were made in the placing of the masts, and in the size of the sails, in order that the experiment might end satisfactorily; and he hoped that the prin- 752 cipal adviser of the lord high Admiral, would give the House a history of the trials, and of their results. There was another subject on which the naval service had some right to demand information at the hands of the right hon. gentleman. He alluded to an order for regulating promotion in the navy, signed by the revered name of John Wilson Croker. By this order it was provided, that post-captains, approved by the lord high Admiral, should be deemed entitled to promotion as flag-officers of the fleet, provided they had commanded one or more rated ships of the line four years during war, six years during peace, or five years during a period partly of war, and partly of peace. Now by this order, it appeared, as if the whole character of the service was considered to depend on a certain number of years of command. It did appear to him extraordinary, that the lord high Admiral's council should have established such a criterion of merit. By means of this order, they might keep back any officer they pleased to exclude from promotion. There was no chance for a captain, without great interest, ever succeeding to the command of a ship of the line. There were eight hundred captains in the service, and but fifty ships by serving in which they could obtain this indispensable qualification for promotion. Was it not plain, then, that it was impossible for the great majority of the captains on the list to qualify, unless fourteen or fifteen captains were appointed to each ship? It was evident that, under such an arrangement, the majority of the captains on the list must wait in vain for promotion. The present orders were ten times more severe in this respect than the old ones. He trusted that some amendment of this portion of them would be effected by his hon. and gallant friend near him. He knew a captain of the standing of 1801, who had but five months to run before he qualified; and yet he had no chance of getting a ship, The truth was, that out of eight hundred captains, only about two hundred could be eligible for promotion, according to the existing arrangements. He conceived that the present estimates had been brought forward upon a very moderate principle, under the present aspect of affairs.
Sir George Cockburn
said, that the hon. baronet (sir H. Parnell) and other gentlemen of the finance committee, had stated the partial evidence taken be- 753 fore them on this occasion, as the ground of their motions. Now, he objected to this course as unfair. If any member of that committee would state, that the majority of the committee were agreed on any one point, he would bow to their decision, however he might differ from it. But having convinced a large portion of the committee when he gave evidence before it, that the view he presumed to take was correct, he felt himself awkwardly situated in answering the hon. baronet on a subject, as to which nobody in that House knew anything but himself and the other members of the finance committee. He knew not what his hon. friends on his right and left had been saying in their evidence. The hon. baronet brought it down with him to the House; but he (sir G. C.) was not permitted to see it. He was not afraid of any evidence that might have been given, as he had told the committee what he honestly thought; but he appealed to the House whether he was not placed in an unfair position with respect to what he had said in his evidence months ago? The hon. baronet came down with portions of evidence in his hand, for his particular purpose. Why not bring up a report from the committee? The hon. baronet stated, that he had proof that two thousand seamen were employed in the coast blockade, whose duty might be better performed by the preventive service and the Custom-house officers. There could be no doubt, as he had said before the committee, that smuggling might be kept down by the Customhouse officers and the men of the preventive service, somewhat cheaper than the duty was now performed. But he had told the committee, that he considered that force of vital importance, and that it had preserved us from great charges in fitting out two or three armaments. The coast blockade did essential service in the protection of the revenue, and would be found a great saving instead of a loss. He regarded it as a sort of sinking-fund for the navy, which enabled us to remain quiet, and watch passing events. The hon. baronet said, the finance committee had evidence which proved that the reduction in the wages of the artificers was fallacious, because it had not been adhered to. Now, he denied that statement. The fact was, the condition of the fleet was so complete, that we had more workmen than were necessary to keep the vessels in their proper state. The question then was, whether 754 they should reduce the number of the shipwrights who had served the country so long or keep them in employment on reduced wages? It was decided to reduce them one day a week. He would not stop to argue whether this was a wise or unwise measure; but by reducing the time they worked, government did not use so many stores, nor lay out so much in payment of wages to the workmen. He would now answer the questions put to him by his gallant friend (sir J. Yorke). First, as to the experimental squadron; it was most true that we had taken considerable pains in endeavouring to improve the model and principle of our shipping; and he was happy to state, that our efforts to build ships of a different construction had been attended with the most beneficial results. Formerly, sloops of war used to be beaten in sailing by our frigates. Now it was otherwise. He was not prepared to say whose principle was the best; because the vessels, in their trials of skill, had such different advantages; but he pledged himself that, on the whole, there was an immense improvement. All the new sloops beat the frigates on the old construction; and they were the best ships on the stations to which they had been sent out. He was not able to assign any particular reason, why a report on this subject had not been brought down to this House. If his gallant friend wished for a report, he might have it; but it would be something novel to make a report of the proceedings of an experimental squadron. But he had not the slightest difficulty in stating, that the success of the experiment was decided. Nor was it wantonly made; nor had the country been put to any expense by it. These ships were wanted; and they must have been built on the old plan, if this experiment had not been successfully made. Now, with respect to the order for regulating the promotion of flag officers. It was the original practice of the Navy Board to select such captains to be appointed admirals as the Admiralty pleased. While that rule existed, his gallant, friend was promoted; and the Admiralty was not then in such bad odour with him as it was at present. About the year 1745, a certain degree of dissatisfaction was shewn, in consequence of some officers, who had served gallantly in the preceding Spanish war, being passed over in the promotion that followed, and younger officers being made flag officers over their heads, under whom they were obliged still to serve as captains. 755 In consequence of a remonstrance from these officers, an order was passed by the King in Council, by which it was declared, that all officers who had served gallantly against the enemy in that particular war should not be passed over, but should be made yellow admirals. This continued to be the law for thirty years, by which time there was nobody left alive who had served during that war. Then a second order in council was issued, which extended to any officer who had served well, during any war preceding his promotion. So the law stood, up to the other day; and on it the Admiralty had acted during the last forty years. In lord Howe's time, some discussions took place respecting the cases of some officers who had been passed over; and ever since that period the Admiralty, as a boon to the service, held these officers not only entitled to the yellow flag, but to be made active officers, if they had served in any way during the preceding war. From this time, only those who had not been in active service had the yellow flag. Under this regulation sometimes very extraordinary hardships were inflicted. In a recent promotion there were instances in which officers, who had served a week or ten days in the preceding war, were promoted to active flags, though absolutely bedridden; while other officers, who had served in rated line of battle ships in action, not having had the command of one during the last war, were passed over, in favour of the man who had hoisted his pennant for a week.—Another evil attended the principle of this order in council, the words of which applied only to commands "in the next preceding war." When this country went to war, for six months, with Algiers, that event excluded every body from promotion, but the officers who were employed during those six months. Indeed the order was altogether so open to objection, that it could not be acted on. It was, therefore, thought proper to alter it. The good principle on which all these regulations were founded was, that no man could be deemed fit and capable to command a fleet who had not previously commanded a line of battle ship for some time during the war. What was done was with a view to ameliorate the rule of promotion, by placing it on the most fair and reasonable principle. In every rank, a certain service was deemed requisite to entitle the officers to ascend to a higher station. It was hardly to be expected that a post captain, who had re- 756 mained at his country-house, and taken no share in the toils and perils of war, should be promoted to a flag which he would only bring into difficulty and disgrace. It was considered by the lord high admiral in council, which would be the best course to pursue; and it was finally decided, that the person who had commanded a ship of the line for four years in war, six years in peace, or five years in war and peace together, should be entitled to a flag. Whether the term was too much or too little, the principle was evidently fair and reasonable. With respect to the officers to whose cases some allusion had been made, the House was aware, that though the peace of Amiens was signed, the fleet was never completely paid off; and the war came again so quickly on us, that it could scarcely be reckoned a bona fide peace. His gallant friend might remark, that the Admiralty, to which he then belonged, insisted that that peace was sufficient to exclude the officers from promotion, when the new war commenced. But when the case of these officers was considered, before the lord high Admiral, it was thought too much that these gallant officers should be deprived, by the peace of Amiens, of what they were otherwise entitled to. His majesty, therefore, was graciously pleased to allow an order in council, that for this purpose the two wars should be considered as one. His gallant friend said, there were eight hundred captains on the list and that it would be impossible for the majority of them to find ships in which they could qualify under the existing orders; but his gallant friend should recollect, that above two-thirds on that list had already qualified. His gallant friend had spoken of an officer who wanted but five months of having qualified. He did not know who the individual was, but he was aware of a gallant officer in similar circumstances, and he had written to him, at the desire of the lord high Admiral, requesting to know whether he would prefer an active flag, or a captainship at Greenwich hospital. He preferred the latter, and was accordingly appointed to it.
§ Admiral Evans
said, that as he was one of those officers whom the gallant admiral had called "yellow admirals," he must tell the House, that the yellow flag was formerly the signal for punishment in the navy, and that he considered the allusion entirely gratuitous on the part of the gallant admiral,
Sir G. Cockburn
begged his gallant friend's pardon. He did not anticipate that a familiar term like that would have given him offence.
§ Admiral Evans
said, that as his gallant friend had disclaimed any reflection on him, he was satisfied. The reason that induced him to intrude upon the House, was his desire to vindicate his profession, He would say, that knowing the privations naval officers endured, and the anxious hours they passed, it was the duty of the House to save them from disappointment and injustice. The officer in the navy looked to a flag as the pinnacle of his ambition; but if, by patience and perseverance, he finally became a post captain, it was as much as he could ordinarily expect The gallant admiral had asked, what right the naval officer had to expect to be an admiral, because he might be on the post-list? He answered that he had every right. If there was nothing against his character, he had a right to look to a flag. Not one officer out of ten who entered the service, attained the rank of post-captain: yet, if he served with an unblemished character, he deserved all that the country could bestow on him. Under the present system, a man served for six years, and then, by interest, or excellent conduct, was made a lieutenant, and placed on half-pay. He thus became an annuitant on the public, a burthen to himself and to the country. Perhaps he was made a commander, and after serving a few years with credit and distinction, by special favour, good luck, or great merit, was appointed on the post-list. Then he was to be told by the gallant admiral, that he had no right to expect a flag. His royal highness, the lord high Admiral, he was convinced, had every inclination to consult the benefit of the service. He looked towards the exertions of his royal highness with the utmost confidence; and, in his opinion, the placing of that illustrious person at the head of the navy was one of the greatest boons that was ever conferred on that service. He hoped that in future the vacillating system of which he complained,—the system of issuing orders in council on one day and retracting them the next—would be effectually corrected.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that his hon. friend who moved the present amendment had been unfairly alluded to, on account of his having referred to the evidence given before the finance committee. Now, he 758 did not see how it was possible for his hon. friend to withhold the information he had derived from that source. Those who were members of that committee must, he contended, form their opinion on that information. They could not, otherwise, give their votes on this occasion. Undoubtedly their connexion with that committee gave to those who belonged to it more information on the subjects which came before it, than other members of that House possessed: but it should be recollected, when they were blamed for making use of the knowledge which they thus obtained, that on these occasions ministers generally had information in their possession when the House had none whatever. His hon. friend had proposed that a reduction of the number of men called for by the resolution should be made, the contemplated reduction being equal to the force now employed on the coast blockade service. According to the statement of the gallant officer, the coast blockade force ought to be maintained, for two considerations. They were to be viewed, not merely as a body of men necessary for the protection of the revenue, but as a corps of reserve, out of which the navy might be speedily recruited. Now, he was ready to consider the coast blockade with reference to both these points. It appeared to him, that the men employed on the coast blockade duty were under the direction of the Admiralty; whereas, the preventive service corps, who were especially intended for the protection of the revenue, were under the control of the board of Customs. The consequence was, that there must be some jealous feeling between the two services. He certainly should consider that the best course would be to put them both under the board of Customs. By confining the whole to the preventive system, a number of men might be spared. The duty of the preventive service was to seize contraband goods, and to assist in carrying them on shore, which might be effected by a comparatively small number of men. Whereas, the stations of the coast blockade were so near each other, that a much larger force was required than would be necessary if the other system was adopted. He therefore thought it would be much better, if the whole force employed for the prevention of smuggling should be placed under the superintendance of the board of Customs.—He should now advert to the argument, that it was proper to 759 keep up a corps of two thousand, seven hundred men, the number proposed to be reduced, as a reserve for recruiting the navy in case of necessity. Those men had certainly been called into service when a pressing necessity occurred; but naval officers generally asserted that there was not a worse school for officers than this service, which occasioned them to be constantly stationed on shore. They did not consider the coast blockade service as a fit school for rearing up skilful officers; neither did they look upon the men themselves to be so well disciplined as those who passed their time on shipboard. He thought, therefore, that this was not the best mode of creating an efficient body of seamen, and on these grounds he should support the amendment.
§ Mr. Croker
said, the first objection made by the noble lord was, that the coast blockade and the preventive service being placed under different authorities, were likely to be mutually jealous of each other. This, however, was not the case. The two services were perfectly distinct, and never came in contact with one another. The coast blockade began on the coast of Kent, and extended down the river Thames, and part of the river Lea, to Chichester. Whether on the extreme point, where the services met, there might not be some collision, he could neither affirm nor deny; but even if there were, that did not constitute a reason for doing away with the coast blockade. Elsewhere, there could not be the least contact between the two services. The noble lord seemed to be of opinion, that the preventive service was more useful than the coast blockade, because they got information from the revenue department: but did he not know that the king's ships were also employed against smugglers, and that the coast blockade were enabled to give information to the officers of those ships? For his own part, he did not think the proposition of the noble lord was of any great moment, one way or other; because either the preventive service or the coast blockade must act on any information given to them. The noble lord had observed, that the coast blockade was not the best school for officers. Perhaps it was not for those who were going to sea; but he could not therefore consent, that, it should be altogether thrown overboard. That force was commanded by officers of the navy. They were lieutenants; and whether the school 760 was a good or a bad one, those individuals had performed the duties allotted to them most satisfactorily. The other day, when a draught was made from the coast blockade to man the guardships, in consequence of the expedition to Lisbon, the captains were so well pleased with the conduct of the men, that they requested they might be allowed to remain in their ships, in a greater proportion than the admirals were advised to allow. This, unquestionably, was a proof of their usefulness. No economy would arise from the reduction of the proposed grant. If a reduction of two thousand seven hundred men were made, it would be the duty of the Admiralty to full-man the guardships. Thus, the same expense would be incurred by the public without any return of service. He verily believed, that the number sought to be reduced would be found to amount to little more than the force they would be obliged to substitute in their room. Here, however, was a body of men ready to be employed at the shortest notice; and the House must be aware that they had been employed three times in the course of the last fifteen months. There was, in consequence, a saving to the public of the expense of a complete and efficient force, which otherwise they must have kept in the guard-ships. They had heard a great deal against the practice of impressment. Now, he would boldly say, that if it were not for the coast blockade, his majesty must have sent out press-warrants, on account of the expedition to Portugal; as had been done in the case of the Spanish armament. When hon. members felt so strongly the horrors attending impressment, and were so anxious for economy, it was rather extraordinary that the very first proposition they made for the reduction of these estimates would, if successful, have the effect of inflicting on the government the necessity of having recourse to impressment, while it would rather add to than diminish the expense.
said, that in deciding on this question, his object was, in the first instance, to consider whether the reduction proposed was a fair and proper one. Now, under ordinary circumstances, he should have been stopped, in limine, from proceeding with such an investigation; because official gentlemen alone were usually in possession of the facts. But now, when, as a member of the finance committee, he had obtained information, was he to be 761 told that it was not fair to make use of it? In justice to the gallant officer, he would say, that more full, candid, explicit, and able evidence than that given by the gallant officer had not been submitted to the consideration of the committee. Therefore he considered that he was doing nothing unfair in referring to it. The gallant officer had laid great stress on the saving of labour and stores which had been effected. With respect to labour, he gave the hon. baronet no credit at all for its reduction: and for this reason—if he understood the evidence rightly, no more ships of war were wanted—but the number on the stocks was near thirty; and to keep up the complement of shipwrights, a sum of 30,000l. was required annually. The labour of these workmen was, it appeared, reduced one day per week; but, in his opinion, one-half of that labour ought to be put an end to. In point of fact, if they were continued, not one quarter of their labour would be wanted; for, if employed at all, it must be in repairing and not in building ships. He therefore did not give the hon. baronet credit for the reduction of labour, but felt surprised that it was not curtailed to a much greater extent. The gallant admiral stated, that there was great difficulty in disposing of the shipwrights. It appeared that government did not now want them; but they kept, them because they might want them next year or the year after. If they proceeded to finish the thirty ships, it was clear they would have no further employment for those men. The question then was, whether it was better to finish the labour by degrees, or to put an end to it at once? So far from his hon. friend deserving censure from the gallant admiral, on account of this amendment, he ought to have moved for a much larger reduction. Such a reduction he hoped would be made, and that without delay. They were called on to vote thirty thousand men—a body that occasioned a very large expense; and he certainly had heard nothing that could justify such an expenditure.
§ Sir E. Knatchbull
thought it would have been much fairer, if the evidence given before the finance committee had not been referred to. He thought the committee, and even the country, was likely to receive injury from the course which had been taken. It was most true that the gallant officer, and other members of the government, had given their evidence 762 in the fairest and most honourable manner: but when it was found that that evidence was noticed in the House before the labours of the committee were at an end, was not such a circumstance calculated to induce a sort of reserve, or circumspection, with respect to persons who would hereafter be examined, which would lead them not to give so much information as they would otherwise have done? With respect to the proposed reduction, he could see no economy in the amendment. He believed that the system of smuggling was much contracted in consequence of the employment of the force which it was proposed to reduce; but the impression on his mind was, that if it could be avoided, seamen ought not to be employed in that way.
§ Mr. Curteis
thought, that in the present circumstances of the country it would be most unwise to reduce the force of the navy. Perhaps it would be soon found necessary to raise ten thousand additional seamen, instead of disbanding two thousand. That, he thought, was not at all improbable. The preventive service, under the board of Customs, had put an end to smuggling. He did not mean to argue whether the system was or was not good in itself, but certainly the end for which it was established had been answered.
said, a gallant officer who was employed in the coast-blockade-service, had informed him that the transactions in which the individuals connected with that service were employed, were such as greatly deteriorated the character of British seamen. If he voted for the amendment of his hon. friend, he did not think he should be doing any mischief to the naval service. It would be given with a view to the reduction of the coast-blockade-service, and not with any desire to weaken the naval service generally.
§ Mr. Calcraft
supported the original resolution. Government had told the House, that 30,000 men were necessary, and that, if they did not choose to employ a portion of these men in the preventive service, it would be expedient to fully man the guardships, where the seamen did nothing; but as in the case of Portugal, the country derived benefit from the labours of the men occupied in the preventive service. Surely, then, they would not deprive the navy of such a force, which might next year be wanted in the Mediterranean. It would be most impolitic to deprive the navy of upwards of one, 763 fifteenth of its whole strength. Now he wished to ask, if the inconveniences which he had anticipated before the discussion began, of relying on the evidence taken before the finance committee, had not been fully illustrated. What had the members of the finance committee and of government done? Why, they had flatly contradicted each other. Now. how was he to come to a satisfactory opinion upon the contending statements? There was but one way. Let him read the evidence. From that he was for the present shut out, because this finance committee had made no report. The finance committee had either made up their minds or they had not. If they had, why did they not report? If they had not, why did they come forward to give the House information? As to the general question, he was of opinion that government were perfectly right in maintaining a sufficient naval force, under the present circumstances of the country. He thought they did not ask too much when they required thirty thousand men; and for his part, he would not give his vote for the reduction of a single man.
§ Sir H. Parnell
defended the finance committee from the censure of not having made a report. The House would recollect, that the finance committee of 1817 did make a report, but he would ask any hon. member to point out the good which resulted from that report. Any hon. member who would take the trouble to refer to the report, would see at once that the committee and its report were used merely for the purpose of helping the government to accomplish the measures they had in contemplation at the time, and that no advantage was derived from the labours of the committee, with reference to the financial condition of the country. The present committee had avoided the errors of its predecessors, by taking time to become possessed of all the requisite information before they ventured to make a report. When he addressed the House before, he had pointed out, as an individual member of the House, the objections he felt to the vote of thirty thousand men, and he had availed himself, as he had a right to do, of the information he obtained elsewhere. When, therefore, he was asked to vote money for the naval service, and the prevention of smuggling, he thought he had full right to make use of any information he 764 possessed, as a means of opposing that which he considered unnecessary. With regard to the observation of the hon. member upon the subject of smuggling, he stated it as a fact, that the gallant admiral declared he conceived the blockade men were not necessary for the putting down smuggling; and he must repeat that the gallant admiral did say so, and, therefore, he objected to the additional force employed for that purpose. With respect to the vote itself, he thought he had put it on the right footing when he described it to be not so much an expense of 200,000l. as an addition to the force of the country.
Sir G. Cockburn
, in explanation, observed, that he did certainly say, in his evidence, that the coast-blockade force was not absolutely necessary for the suppression of smuggling, but he had added, that there were considerable naval advantages to be derived from it in other ways. In his evidence before the committee he had said, that the suppression of smuggling, might be provided for in another way, but not so effectually. He at the same time took occasion to point out to the committee the advantage which the naval service derived from the blockade service in cases of emergency, and the great saving which resulted from their being substituted for Customhouse officers.
§ Mr. Hume
said, he had never before heard, that a member of a committee was precluded from giving an opinion on any subject before that House. He had not a single page of the evidence by him; but if he had thought that, such a question would have been raised, he would have brought down the whole, and read from it every syllable which bore upon the subject. Why were they, in the present state of the country, to vote thirty thousand men, when, at former periods, a smaller number had been found necessary? At other periods, whenever an increase was proposed, it was considered the duty of the person proposing it to state the reasons of it. Every augmentation of our force had been declared necessary, from the existence of new services; but as those new services ceased, our force had not been diminished; and no reason had been assigned for continuing a force when the cause which created it had ceased to exist. What was the reason that they should now keep up such a force as this, when they had not the 765 means of paying for it? He called upon the House to reduce this number, unless a satisfactory reason were assigned for keeping it up. They were told that the finance committee had not made up their minds on this subject; but why had they not? Because the mass of business which had been thrown upon them had precluded the possibility of their giving the subject due consideration. The gallant admiral had stated, that this force was necessary in order that they might be prepared for armaments; but could there be any comparison between the situation of this country in 1792, with fifteen or sixteen thousand men, and the situation of the country now, with the vast increase which had been made to its forces? Every foreign power was reducing its navy; and why should we be keeping up ours? Why should we be exhausting our resources in time of peace? Was it that when war came, the country should be unable to bear the expense of it? He thought they ought to reduce every establishment. He did not confine his observations to the navy, which he believed to be the principal arm of England; and, if he thought that a reduction would injure it, as far as purposes of national defence were concerned, he would not support reduction. He thought, however, that our naval force might safely be reduced by one-tenth. Nothing could be more dangerous than to keep up a war establishment in time of peace; because nothing was more likely to make them thrust their heads foolishly into other people's quarrels. The gallant admiral had stated before the committee, that a large naval force was necessary to protect our commerce; but did he recollect that America had not one-tenth the force afloat that we had? And yet he would venture to say, that the commercial flag of America was as much respected as that of England. There was a positive deficiency in the Ways and Means; how was this to be provided for except by reductions or new taxes? He thought it an important fact, that they were called upon to vote nine thousand marines, and yet live thousand of them were always at home. At the same time, too, the military force continued the same, and therefore they could easily spare two or three thousand marines. He was sorry that his hon. friend had not proposed this reduction as well as the other. He would contend that they were now leaving it to ministers to 766 decide what force should be kept; and, if this were to be the case, the sooner that House was shut up the better [a laugh]. Yes, he would rather see the affairs of the country managed by one responsible individual, than by a House of Commons inattentive to the wants and interests of the people. Now, they had ministers who represented his majesty; but had they any responsibility? No more than he had. Nay, not half as much as he had; for he was responsible to those who sent him there. A reason for keeping up this force ought to be assigned. If peace was to be preserved, the force was too great; if war was expected, let ministers say so, and he would not say another word.
§ Sir C. Cole
said, that, with respect to the blockade service, he was ready to admit that the execution of that service was apt to lead men away from what would be called proper and correct service; but there was no service in which a seaman's courage and abilities were more exercised. Why, then, should they take it away? If he were appointed to the command of a ship of the line, nothing would give him greater pleasure than to have one hundred men from this service to serve under him. He did think the proposal of reduction was very extraordinary, when it was notorious that all the other powers, and especially France, were increasing instead of diminishing their naval force.
§ Sir J. Beresford
said, that since the year 1792, every power had been endeavouring to get the better of the English navy. The proposal for reduction, therefore, seemed to him to be a most extraordinary one. If it were agreed to, and there should arise an American or any other war, in what a condition would this country be placed?
Sir James Graham
said, he had not been prepared, on entering the House, for the proposition of the hon. baronet, and he had listened with great attention to the arguments on both sides—prepared, if he should see reason, to urge upon the government the observance of that economy which the finances of the country required. But, after the able arguments which he had heard from the Secretary to the Admiralty, and from the hon. member for Wareham, he could not vote for the proposed reduction. He was bound to believe on the authority of ministers, that if this force were done away with, it would be necessary to man the guard-ships, and 767 that thus a great increase would be occasioned in the expenditure. Considering the delicate posture of affairs, he thought that ministers had exercised a sound discretion in not reducing the estimate. A declaration of war had been made by Russia against Turkey. If we wished to preserve peace, we must not deprive our right arm of its vigour. Besides, it would be unworthy of this country to acknowledge to Europe, what indeed was not the fact, that our resources were so completely exhausted that we were incapable of maintaining a naval force of thirty thousand men. Nay, he was sure that, if it were necessary, there was not a Briton who would not join in an effort to double the number.
§ The amendment was negatived, and the original motion agreed to. A conversation then took place on several of the resolutions. After which, the chairman reported progress and asked leave to sit again.