HC Deb 03 May 1833 vol 17 cc948-57

The House then resolved itself into a Committee of Supply.

Mr. Ellice

said, that as the number of men necessary for the service of the year had been already voted, it was only necessary for him briefly to recapitulate the statement, already made to the House by his right hon. predecessor (Sir John Hobhouse), The additional force required for Ireland this year, as compared with the last, exceeded 3,000 men, and it was thought necessary to increase the force in the colonies, chiefly the West Indies and the Mauritius, nearly to the same amount. The total increase, therefore, was 6,000 men. In England, he was happy to be able to say, it had been found practicable to diminish the military force to the extent of about 4,000 men, and he did not see at present how any greater reduction could be made. He knew that his hon. friend, the member for Middlesex (Mr. Hume), intended to propose a large reduction; but he hoped his hon. friend, when he made his proposition, would state the specific details of the reduction he contemplated. He could only say, that some reductions had been made by his predecessors in office, that some were now in progress, and that, if much more was not done, it was not for want of an anxious desire to reduce, but because further reductions were found to be impracticable, and inconsistent with the maintenance of the public interest. All he could do was, to take care that a strict control should be kept over the expenditure of the department with which he was connected. In order to secure this, he should take care that that House and the public should be afforded ample means of inquiry into those details which were generally supposed most capable of reduction. The pay and emoluments received by the higher officers in the Army had often been the subject of invidious and unfair observation. The exceptions were frequently stated as the rule; and it was supposed, because it might have happened in one or two cases, that it was constantly the case, that the emoluments of general officers exceeded the fair reward to which they were entitled for services rendered the country. A more unjust conclusion could not be come to. To prove that Government had no desire to withhold anything on this subject, they were willing to refer everything connected with emoluments of officers of a high rank to a Committee up-stairs. The right hon. Gentleman then proceeded to make some observations with regard to the clothing of the Army. He admitted, that this was a proper case for inquiry, and that the present system should be sifted to the bottom, in order that it might in future be placed on a footing creditable to the Army and beneficial to the public interests. As to the pay and emoluments of general officers, he thought everything connected with that branch of the service would be better considered by a Select Committee up-stairs, than by a Committee in that House. Though he was willing to submit the subject to a Committee, he begged not to be understood as assenting to that course because he did not fully appreciate the claims of the higher officers of the Army upon the justice and liberality of the country. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving, "that a sum of 3,168,216l. be granted to his Majesty, to defray the expenses of his Majesty's land forces at home and abroad, from the 1st of April, 1833, till the 31st of March, 1834 (both days inclusive)."

Mr. Hume

observed, that the Committee had not only to inquire into the number of troops which it might be deemed expedient or necessary to employ, but also into the means and capabilities of the country, and what number of troops it could afford to maintain. He would state the grounds of his opposition to the present grant, and leave the Committee to judge how far it was expedient to persist in it. In the first place, then, he must observe, that the 89,000 men set down in the present estimate, formed part only of the establishment for whose support the 3,168,000l. was demanded. There were other items included in that sum which were for the maintenance of establishments which were unnecessarily kept up. Of the 3,168,000l. there was a sum of 60,000l. for extra allowances; another of 63,000l. for the expense of the recruiting service, and 110,000l. for the Chatham dépôt, and other contingencies, which might be (if not abolished altogether) at least materially reduced. With regard, also, to the number of troops, he considered that, of the 89,000 the Life Guards formed too great a proportion when compared with former periods; and the expenses of the Cavalry, as well as the proportion of that class of troops, was much greater than it had formerly been. As for the grant made for the especial maintenance of the house-hold troops, he must observe that wherever any control existed in other countries over the expenditure of the Government for the military, there was no instance of a sum of money being granted for that purpose of which no account was furnished to the public; and in this case there was no audit of the money paid for the household troops, which there ought to be. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would reform this error, and lay those accounts before Parliament, in order that, if, as he heard was the case, the disbursement of this money was particularly economical, the other branches of the service might be benefited by the circumstance, and if not, that some Reform might be introduced in its management. The principal error in the present army arrangement was, however, to be attributed to the mode in which the regiments had been reduced in the number of rank and file, whilst a full complement of officers had been retained for each. He, therefore, should move for such a reduction as would lessen the number of regiments by fifteen, the men composing which could be drafted into other regiments to complete their number, and thus a great proportion of unnecessary officers would be got rid of. He should also comprise in the reduction on the present grant, which he intended to move, a certain proportion of the items included in the term "contingencies;" for instance, 60,000l. for the recruiting service, an establishment wholly unnecessary, now that so many able-bodied men were roaming round the country, glad to get service any where. By this means the extensive staff of the recruiting service might beat once reduced, and the money saved. Another item, and one, too, which was a source of great jealousy to other troops, was the 6,000l. granted for the annual expense of the table of the Light Dragoon Guards at St. James's. He would have their allowance put, in this respect, on the same footing as all the other regimental messes throughout the service. He also objected to the items charged for law expenses, and for the distribution of Bibles amongst the troops—the latter, because he doubted the application of the volume amongst the soldiery. Of the item 120,000l., charged as contingent expenses, a great part might be saved, in his opinion. These, however, were not the only reductions he hoped to see effected. The whole military force of the empire was greater now than it was in 1822, 1823, or 1824. In 1821 the troops did not exceed 81,000; in 1822 they were reduced to 68,000; in 1823, they were 69,000; and in 1824, their amount was 73,000 men. In 1825 they were again raised, and he would, therefore, moot the question, whether even taking the disturbed state of Ireland into consideration, there was any necessity for so large an increase of troops as 89,419 exhibited over the numbers of the years he had just cited. The average expenditure of these years was 2,609,000l. whilst, the sum now demanded was 3,168,000l. an increase of 569,000l., or, in other words, of 2l. per cent above those years. At a time like the present, when all classes groaned under the pressure of taxation, was it not the properest way to inquire into the means of affording relief by reducing the establishments of the country? And, if so, the present was the fittest opportunity for commencing the work of retrenchment. It was not fair to the Ministry for the House to vote for the repeal of the Malt-tax, and yet to refuse them the means of sparing that impost by continuing to support such extravagant grants of public money. If he were asked by the right hon. Secretary for the details of his reductions, he would say that England, instead of 40,000 men, ought to have but 20,000; and that the colonies also had double the number of troops they required. The Motion, therefore, which he felt it his duty to make, as an Amendment upon the Resolution before the Committee, was to effect a reduction of 19,000 men; or, in other words, that, instead of the sum of 3,168,216l., the sum of 2,888,720l. be inserted, thus cutting off 279,496l. exactly six months' pay of the number of troops he objected to, as a surplus upon the average number of troops maintained in the years 1822,1823, and 1824.

Sir Henry Hardinge

could assure the Committee, that it was not his intention to prevent his right hon. friend from taking as early a vote as possible, but he thought he could not remain silent after the speech of the hon. Gentleman, the member for Middlesex. He thought it preposterous to make the reduction proposed—a reduction, in short of 19,000 men. Looking to the circumstances in which the country was placed, he felt assured that the Committee would not accede to the Amendment proposed; and for his own part he would support the Resolution as proposed. The hon. Member had gone over the details of years past; he had taken, among others, the year 1823; but, in doing this, he had forgotten to state what had been the expense incurred by the public by the alternation of reductions, and increase from year to year. These alternations had been productive of very heavy expense to the country. He could show by details that, in the year 1820, there had been an addition of 110,000 veterans made to the army on account of the disturbances in England; in 1821, these men were disbanded; in 1822, a great reduction of 21,414 men took place; in 1823 and 1824, 4,560 infantry or six battalions, were raised. So in successive years similar changes had been effected, and what was the consequence? Why, the soldiers were pensioned, and, being pensioned, they were not brought back into active service. When he had the honour of holding office it was considered that if the expense of these alterations from reduction to increase had not been incurred, there would have been a saving to the country sufficient to have maintained 5,000 additional men. He believed that a calculation was made at the time which went to prove that, out of every thirty-six men, fifteen were pensioned. He merely rose to say, that the mode proposed by the hon. Member would prove most expensive to the country. The hon. member for Middlesex had maintained that by diminishing the number of regiments a great amount would be saved in the pay of the officers, but this he (Sir Henry Hardinge) denied; and, in confirmation of his own opinion, he would cite the evidence which had been given before the finance Committee. The gallant General defended the establishment of military dépôts. The troops sent out to the colonies were the most healthy persons, amongst whom the mortality (since regular dépôts had been established) was in many cases less than it was in home service. As to the objections of the hon. member for Middlesex relative to the recruiting service, he would contend, that it would be bad policy to allow regiments to be weakened by being compelled to keep up detachments to recruit for them. He should not have troubled the House further, but, that having seen a report in a public newspaper which de scribed a servant of the Crown as having drawn the attention of persons to the reduction which had been made by his Majesty's present Government, he trusted the Committee would pardon him if he contradicted a statement which had been made. He would beg to advert to what was the state of things when he left office, and what was the fact in the present year. When he left the War-office, in the year 1830 the cost of the effective of the army was 3,370,558l.; in the present year it was 3,537,914l.; showing au increase on the present year of 167,356l. The non-effective of the year 1833, as compared with that of 1830, showed a decrease of 216,496l. arising from great mortality in respect to persons receiving pensions, half-pay, and superannuations. Now, deducting from the decrease in the non- effective the increase on the effective, the remaining real decrease would be, in round numbers, about 50,000l. The hon. and gallant Officer concluded by saying that he meant to make no invidious distinction or comparisons in regard to what had been done by his Majesty's present Government, because he felt that they had done everything in their power, and they should have his support in reference to this vote.

Sir Henry Parnell

said, he had heard the statement of the right hon. Secretary at War with great satisfaction, as he drew thence a favourable augury that the service generally would be henceforward gradually, but effectively, put on a reduced scale. He certainly thought with the hon. member for Middlesex, that the establishment was pitched at too high a point, and that the example of other countries had wrongly been taken as a basis by which to regulate the military force of England. The hon. Member, however, had in this instance proceeded upon what he considered to be mistaken notions of economy; for supposing that the amendments proposed by him were agreed to, the House, by voting for the reduction of so many men, would only be disbanding them, and throwing them upon the pension list of the army, from which they could not be recalled to active service. The example of the Duke of Wellington was that which he was particularly anxious to point out as worthy of imitation; for when that noble Duke held office, his only plan of reduction consisted in omitting to fill up the casualties which annually occur in the army, and if these, the average of which was very considerable, were suffered to remain unfilled, the hon. Member's object would be very soon attained. There never yet had been accounts placed before the House of so fair and explicit a nature as would enable that House to control the vast expenditure of these establishments. An improvement of the kind would be of the utmost advantange to the public.

Major Beauclerk

entreated the present Ministry not to oppose the expression of the public voice now so loudly uttered in favour of extensive and important reduction in our expenditure. Having voted for the reduction of the Malt-tax and Assessed taxes, he should feel it his duty, after this Motion was disposed of, to move that the numbers of the army be reduced 7,000 men. This was far short of the reduction proposed by the hon. member for Middlesex, which he thought went too far, and he believed this moderate reduction would not at all impair the efficiency of the army.

Sir Matthew White Ridley

said, that, although he was apprehensive he might, in this instance, give a vole little in unison with the present expression of public opinion, he was prepared to resist the reduction proposed by both hon. Members, as tending to diminish too much the efficiency of the service, and support the vote proposed by his Majesty's Ministers.

Major Handley

thought some saving might be effected in the staff of the army, and also by consolidating together the duties of two officers, one of whom was often capable of performing the duties of both. Many officers in public offices—for instance, at the Horse Guards—filled civil office, and had a command. There were four such, who, besides their offices, actually had regiments, and were so far pluralists.

Sir John Byng

said, that the pluralists at the Horse Guards would be speedily subjected to the consideration of a Committee appointed to take the subject into their serious consideration. Nothing could be more judicious than the recommendation made by the right hon. Baronet (Sir Henry Parnell), and he hoped his recommendation would be acted upon. In Ireland there was a necessity for an increase of force, and in the state of the Mauritius an increase of force was also necessary.

Lord Althorp

would not acquiesce in either of the reductions of our military force proposed by the hon. members for Middlesex or for Surrey. They were both of them too large to be safe. The only effectual economy within the reach of Government, at the present period, was that suggested by the right hon. member for Dundee—namely, the putting an end to the recruiting for the army. At present his Majesty's Government did not feel it safe or expedient to reduce the army; but if an opportunity should arise during the present year, when it might be deemed proper, he assured the Committee that opportunity would be embraced by Government, and the reduction would be attempted in the mode proposed by the right hon. member for Dundee. That project had been adopted by the Government of the Duke of Wellington to a great extent, and with considerable success. Indeed it was the only mode of doing it safely. It was the wish of the Government to make the reduction as quickly as possible, provided the effectiveness of the force was not impaired. His right hon. friend would propose a Committee on the subject, to which he would accede, and he hoped the result would be satisfactory to the country.

Mr. Lennard

said, that, as the Government did not seem disposed to pursue on this subject the plans of economy which they had recommended when out of office, he should feel himself obliged to vote with the hon. member for Middlesex. The public expected great and extensive reductions in the public departments. The more he was disposed to maintain faith with the public creditor, the more was he determined to enforce economy, when practicable, in every department.

Mr. Briscoe

said, he should not be doing his duty if he gave a silent vote. The question now at issue was, not a reduction of force, but a reduction of expense. If the Government would have a reduced expenditure in the military establishments of the country, they could relieve the people from the House and Window-duties. He was compelled the other night to give a most reluctant vote; but he could now tell his Majesty's Government that unless they reduced the expenditure of the country, that House and the Government would lose the confidence of the country. This was his honest opinion, and therefore it was that he had fearlessly stated it.

Mr. Hodges

felt objections to the proposed reduction of the hon. member for Middlesex as too extensive, and likely to be attended with great expense on the score of superannuations, incidental to his plan. He should, for these reasons, support the vote proposed by his Majesty's Ministers.

Mr. Hume

said, that the object of his Motion had been misunderstood. He did not want any reduction of the number of men, if the reduction of the expenditure could be otherwise accomplished. He wished to see the surplus officers of the blues and of other regiments reduced; and to see the expenditure reduced in every possible manner. He confessed that he was at a loss to understand the principle of the vote of the hon. member for West Kent. If that hon. Gentleman allowed that the whole country desired a reduction of the public expenditure, why not set about it at once? The hon. Member had voted the other night for reducing the taxes. Now it appeared to him, that it was not acting fairly towards his Majesty's Ministers to vote for reducing the taxes, and not to vote for reducing the expenditure.

Mr. O'Connell

was in favour of the reduction proposed by his hon. friend. It was singular that in England, with a population of 16,000,000, not more than 12,000 infantry were required; whilst in Ireland, with a population of only 8,000,000, 20,000 infantry were now to be voted. With the English gentlemen this might be a reason why they would support the estimate. For the last twelve months half the 20,000 were employed in enforcing tithe, and they would not have their amusement for nothing; but with him it was a decided reason why he would support the reduction of the hon. member for Middlesex.

The Committee divided on the Amendment: Ayes 70; Noes 238—Majority 168.

List of the AYES.
ENGLAND. Romilly, J.
Aglionby, H. A. Romilly, E.
Attwood, T. Staveley, J. K.
Bainbridge, E. T. Strutt, E.
Beauclerk, Major Thicknesse, R.
Bolling, W. Thompson, Ald.
Briggs, R. Trelawney, W. L. S.
Briscoe, J. I. Turner, W.
Buckingham, J. S. Vincent, Sir F.
Buller, C. Walter, T.
Clay, W. Warburton, H.
Ewart, W. Wason, R.
Faithfull, G. Watkins, J. L.
Fellowes, H. A. W. Wood, G. W.
Fellowes, hon. N. SCOTLAND.
Fielden, J. Gillon, W. D.
Gaskell, D. Maxwell, Sir J.
Grote, G. Maxwell, J.
Guest, J. J. Oswald, J.
Guise, Sir B. W. Wallace, R.
Hawes, B. IRELAND.
Hawkins, J. H. Bellew, R. M.
Humphery, J. Blake, M.
Jervis, T. Finn, W. F.
Lennard, T. B. Fitzgerald, T.
Lister, K. C. Fitzsimon, C.
Lloyd, J. H. Lalor, P.
Methuen, P. O'Brien, C.
Morrison, J. O'Connell, D.
Palmer, General O'Connell, M.
Parrott, J. O'Connell, C.
Philips, M. O'Connell, J.
Potter, R. O'Connell, Morgan
Pryse, P. O'Connor, F.
Robinson, G. R. Roche W.
Ruthven, E. S. TELLER.
Ruthven, E. Hume, J.
Vigors, N. A.

Paired off.

Molesworth, Sir W.

Vote agreed to and the House resumed.