Sir James Graham
said, he had now to propose a vote for a small sum of money, to supply a deficiency in one of the Estimates connected with the Naval Service. The sum he should ask for was inconsiderable, but the principle involved in the grant was important. It had been the practice in the Victualling and Navy Boards to consider the sums voted for each branch of the Naval Services as applicable to all the votes contained in the Naval Estimates. That practice had been condemned in that House, and when he first undertook the duties of the office which he now held, he determined to prevent its continuance. Orders were, therefore, issued by the Admiralty to each of the subordinate Boards, to furnish them with an estimate of the money required for each head of service, and on no account to allow the sum expended to exceed the amount of the estimate. The specific deficiency for which he now asked a particular vote had arisen since that time, and could easily have been supplied in the manner in which 897 such deficiencies were formerly supplied; but to have adopted that course would have been to depart from his own principle, and he chose rather to come down to the House, state the deficiency, and ask for a vote to supply it. The system of accounts at the Victualling Board was not a correct one. That Board was at once a Board of Account and a Board of Audit. That was an evil to which Government had directed its attention, and he was a member of the Commission created for that purpose, and consisting besides of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Secretary at War, and the head of the Board of Ordnance, and with that subject was connected that of the Audit of the Exchequer. It was proposed, that in each instance a draft should be sent forth for the particular service for which the sum of money was required; the Exchequer was to examine these drafts, and then it would appear, of the sum voted by Parliament, how much had been appropriated; and if there was any excess, the Exchequer should stop it in the amount of the draft. Still more to further this object, the Admiralty had called on the Navy and Victualling Boards to furnish monthly accounts of the sums supplied and paid, so that the Admiralty might be able to take care, that there was no excess of expenditure beyond what Parliament had sanctioned, and that no new work was engaged in without the consent of Parliament. The deficiency he now asked Parliament to supply, arose partly from the imperfect estimates of the architect, and partly from the mode of forming the estimates, by which the annual sum appropriated to this particular branch of the service was not sufficient, and the Government had not thought fit to supply the deficiency out of the sum voted for the general Naval Service. The particulars which composed this deficiency, amounting to27,000l., were these; 6,000l. of monies, reserved on outstanding contracts, which ought to have been in the estimates intended to be paid last year; 7,400l. for expensive machinery for a bakehouse, at Weovil, ordered, in the first instance, without the authority of Parliament; 4,200l., arising from the failure of a Sea Wall, which, under the superintendence of Sir John Rennie, was now to be erected in a stronger manner, and for the failure of which the contractor was not liable; and 7,000l. from the deficiency in the calculation of expenses, from the 898 want of accuracy in the measurement of the wall, and from the badness of its foundation. The right hon. Baronet then moved, that a sum of 27,000l. be voted for the Works in the Royal Clarence-yard at Gosport, &c. in addition to the sum voted last year.
said, that under any other circumstances than those mentioned by the right hon. Baronet, he should have objected to the vote without an opportunity of fully examining the whole details. It was much to be regretted that the public service should be conducted in so loose a way as to allow of these deficiencies. He trusted the Committee sitting at present would fully go into all the expenditure connected with the naval service. The subordinate Boards were nearly as expensive as in time of war, and he was convinced that great savings could be made under an improved method of management. Many articles furnished for the naval service could be supplied by contract at a much cheaper rate than they were now obtained. He would instance meat. The cattle were bought in the London market, which was the dearest in the world, and salted at Deptford, instead of the meat being procured in Ireland, where it could be had as good, and at half the cost. He knew a person who would undertake to provide, preserve, deliver, and warrant it good at that rate. Private establishments were competent to provide the necessary articles, and the immense expenditure of the Victualling Office, amounting, he believed to upwards of 1,000,000l. sterling, might be greatly reduced. All the supplies for the army were contracted for, but instead of pursuing this plan in the navy, they had recently increased the naval establishments by a baking machinery, which he understood was likely to cost 70,000l. for steam-engines to grind flour, and 7,400l. for baking biscuits. He should have thought this had been more than sufficient to bake all the bread used in the kingdom. His great desire was, to have all these items of expense clearly explained. He hoped to see accurate accounts of the cost of all kinds of provisions supplied to the navy. He knew the objections to contracts were, that the articles supplied could not be depended on as good; but he thought that difficulty might be overcome by proper care and management.
Sir James Graham
said, he would reply 899 to his hon. friend, by showing that his principle could not be carried into effect in all cases, as for example, with an article of the first importance, gunpowder. That had been supplied by contract, but it was found and proved to demonstration, that individuals had the power of keeping up the price of saltpetre and the other materials, so that government had no control over the prices, and the system was found to be so disadvantageous, that it was necessary to make other arrangements. Again with regard to salt provisions, which his hon. friend had asserted could be procured at half their present cost. All he could say was, that the quantity required was thrown open to public competition, and the contract given to the lowest tender. The general rule of supplying articles by contract was adopted with every other article but bread, and that must be made an exception, because it was necessary that it should be made from flour of the best description, or it would not keep in foreign voyages. With regard to the machinery by which it was to be made, it had not been adopted since his accession to office, but he was bound to say, it was of a most ingenious description, was attended by a great saving in manual labour, and produced a very superior article. The Victualling Board would be enabled to supply biscuit in any quantity, and however great the first cost had been, he had no doubt it would cause an ultimate saving.
said, he fully concurred with regard to the general principles of contracts, as laid down by the hon. member for Middlesex, but there must be exceptions. It was impossible to examine gunpowder with that degree of nicety which it required unless it was manufactured in Government establishments. He knew, with respect to this article, that when the public required large supplies suddenly, the manufacturers had charged their own prices for it. Again, after being some time exposed to the damp of a ship's magazine, it became deficient in strength, and had to undergo a process which was performed in Government establishments, by which it was regenerated. As to the establishments themselves, the great cost had been incurred in creating them, and he apprehended the expense of keeping them up was not of equal importance to their usefulness in insuring the goodness of two such essential articles as bread and gunpowder. Notwithstanding this, how- 900 ever, he was extremely happy to hear the general position laid down, that Government manufactories were inexpedient. He believed and hoped, that considerable savings could be made by consolidating the subordinate naval Boards, particularly the Victualling establishment, which might be reduced to a sort of store department.
§ Sir George Cockburn
said, he was glad to hear, that the propriety of supplying certain essential articles from Government establishments was admitted. All who were acquainted with the case knew, that when bread was made of bad flour it soon spoiled, produced disease among the seamen, and consequently, rendered the ships less effective, besides exposing the country to the additional cost of then procuring better. He was sure that in time of war these mills, of the cost of which they had heard so much, would be found of the highest importance. As regarded the cost of meat, it was necessary to have some Government establishment to prevent monopoly, of which an instance occurred about three years ago, when the cost was suddenly raised in Ireland to a great extent on finding, that the public had a necessity for a supply. They were then enabled to procure it at another place, and the consequence was, the price of meat in Ireland had not since been enhanced.
§ Sir John Newport
knew, that a monopoly of salt provisions had formerly existed in Ireland; but recently, competition had opened the trade, and he could venture to assert, that any quantity might be procured there at a fair rate.
said, he hoped the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Admiralty would examine into all the expenditure of the subordinate Boards thoroughly. He was convinced the system was erroneous. It would be better to supply all articles by contract, even bread. He was convinced it might be obtained in any quantity, and of good quality, and the same rule would apply also to gunpowder. He should take an opportunity himself of looking into all the circumstances very narrowly, with the hope of being able to reduce some of the Government establishments.
said, the public establishments were defective in the mode of keeping their accounts. It would be easy to shew the cost of the articles manufactured in such establishments, and by comparing it with contract prices, ascertain the profit or loss.
§ Vote agreed to.