HC Deb 13 March 1835 vol 26 cc990-1004

The House having resolved itself into a Committee of Supply,

Lord Ashley

rose for the purpose of proposing the first vote. It had fallen to his lot to bring under the consideration of the House, the Navy Estimates for the ensuing year; and in doing so, he felt that he stood peculiarly in need of the indulgence of the House; for having been recently appointed to the office which he had the honour to hold, he could not obtain that assistance and advice from his colleagues, which those placed in similar situations might easily procure. In bringing this subject under the consideration of the House, he had adopted the course which had been taken by his predecessors, and divided the estimates for the ensuing year under three great heads; namely 1. the Effective Service; 2. Non-effective Service; 3. Service of other Departments of Government. He might, he hoped, be permitted in the first place, to observe, that there would be 232,000l. less to be asked for in 1835–6, than in 1834–5. He did not mean to ground upon this reduction any boast that the present Government was more economical in this department than that which had preceded it, because he was satisfied that had the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Cumberland, remained in office, he would have had it in his power to call the attention of the House to a diminution in the expenditure of this department as great as that which he then brought under their notice. The present economical management of this department was, he was perfectly willing to admit, the result of a system which had commenced under the Duke of Wellington, and which had been followed up most successfully by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Cumberland, who had introduced a spirit of economy into every branch of this part of the public service, and who, at the time of his quitting office, had left that department over which he had presided, in the most effective state. The diminution, however, which he had announced, was, he thought, the best answer which could be returned to those who maintained, that the return of Conservatives to power would be attended by the return of the system of unjust patronage and sinecures. With respect to the first great head, namely, the Effective Service, he had to inform the House that there was a reduction of 2,000 men of full wages, in 1835–36, compared with those employed in 1834–35; but in consequence of the success which had attended similar experiments in former years, 1,000 boys were to be added to the Effective Service. As, however, 1,000 boys were only equal to 500 men in wages, the next reduction was equal to 1,500 men in wages. The next point to which he would direct the attention of the House was the item which referred to provisions, for which a smaller sum would be required for the ensuing year than that which was expended in the last, by 56,736l. In order to show the diminution in capital expended on provisions which had taken place since the year 1830, he should submit the following items:—In the year 1830, the value of stock of provisions, &c. in hand

was £422,517 16 6
In the year 1834, value of same 255,651 1 3
Difference 166,866 15 3
In 1830, vote for provisions, &c. £603,200 0 0
In 1835–36, vote for provisions, &c. 339,825 0 0
With respect to the stores and repairs he had to announce that the estimates on this head would be less for the ensuing year by 60,277l.
In 1834–35 there was wanting to complete the full establishment of stores £583,360 0 0
Insertion in the estimates for that year 450,050 0 0
Difference £133,270 0 0
This difference was the sum less than the amount which was required to complete the establishment.
In 1835–36 there was wanting to complete the establishment £428,550 0 0
Inserted in the estimate for this year (1835–36) 363,130 0 0
Difference £65,420 0 0
This would show that a spirit of economy had prevailed in every part of the establishment.

In order to show that there was an increased stock with a diminished expenditure, he proceeded to say that there were in store, timber eight per cent beyond the establishment; cordage, fifty-three per cent, ditto, ditto; hemp equal (full establishment in store); spars, 133 per cent beyond the establishment.

Expenditure per cent on Stock.
In 1829, 1830, 1831, 1832, 1833, 1834.
Per cent. 42 31 20 24 19 17 On Timber,
Per cent. 34 40 33 22 17 28 Cordage & Hemp,
Per cent. 12 12 12 8 5 Spars, Canvas & Sails.
There was also a diminution of 28,269l. on new works, medical stores, and miscellaneous service, upon the estimate for the ensuing compared with that of the last year.

The second great head to which he intended to call the attention of the House, was that which embraced the non-effective. Under this head there was a diminution—

For Half-pay of £28,257
Military pensions 653
Civil pensions & allowances 10,633
This, he should mention, was the actual reduction in the vote for half-pay, including retired pay, since 1828. He need scarcely observe that this was a branch of expenditure which, in consequence of lives dropping off, must be diminishing every year.

The third great head related to the service of other departments:—

For army and ordnance departments and convict service, there was a diminution of 25,475l.

In convict service there was a reduction of 14,810l., and this arose from the diminished cost in the transport of convicts; for 1830, the transport of a convict per head was 12l. 6s. 9d.; in 1834,7l. 6s. 2d.

There was then a saving in last year, by victualling convict ships for six instead of eight months, of 15,181l.

He would next proceed to prove, that there was a larger number of men kept up now than in former years, with a diminished expenditure.

The total of effective service was—

For 1835–36 26,500 men £2,416,300
1817 22,944 men 5,327,306
1823 26,314 men 3,992,735
So that to maintain 22,944 men in 1817, required 2,911,006l. more than 26,500 men in 1835–36; and 1,576,435l. more to maintain the same number in 1823 than in 1835–36. As compared with still more remote periods, the House would observe that less was demanded for effective service, in the present estimates, for 1835–36, than was expended in 1792, by 426,383l. There was expended for effective service, in 1792, for 17,360 men, 3,016,703l. In 1835–36, 2,590,320l. was demanded for effective service, including credits for old stores, for 26,500 men. Thus there was 426,383l. less for 26,500 men in 1835–6, than for 17,360 men in 1792.

In order to show that business had increased in the civil departments, he should next inform the House of the average of letters received at Whitehall-office annually.

In 1792 3,526
1833 31,330
Number of letters dispatched—
1792 8,242
1833 47,866
In the year 1834, the number of letters received at Somerset-house (mostly accompanied by a mass of documents) amounted to no fewer than 2,453; while in 1792 the number was not a tenth part of that amount. The total number of letters received by the various civil departments of the navy in 1834, was 113,783. The amount of pensions, &c., in 1792, was only 218,632l.; while in 1835 (with a proportionate number of claimants) the amount was 1,561,423l. In 1792 the payments of the pensions were half-yearly; at present they were quarterly; in 1792 the artificers' wages also were paid only quarterly; at present they were paid weekly, circumstances which considerably increased the labour of the various offices; and yet in 1792, the number of clerks was 260, while at present the number was at most 210, and that to do tenfold the business. He would not detain the Committee any longer, but was prepared to give any further explanations which might be required; trusting he had shown that there was every disposition on the part of his Majesty's Government to carry economy as far as was wise and practicable into this department of the public service. The noble Lord concluded by moving his first resolution; namely, "That it is expedient that the number of 26,500 men, including 4,500 Royal Marines and 2,000 boys, be employed in his Majesty's sea service, for the year ending 31st March, 1836."

Mr. Labouchere

felt disposed to give credit to the present Government for the reductions they had made, and for a disposition to economy; but his noble Friend had told them, that in the reductions of the present year, they were only following up the plans that had been adopted by the late Administration. He must add, that though he gave the Government of the Duke of Wellington credit for having made many reductions, and for a disposition to make more, had he continued in office, he could not give him credit for his reductions in this particular department of the navy. By the reductions made, and the economical system pursued by his right hon. Friend, the Member for Cumberland, 1,200,000l. had been reduced in that department, and the navy left in a more effective state than that in which he had found it. He knew there were some who objected to such extensive reductions, and who urged that the arsenals had been left denuded, and the stores deficient; but it, no doubt, must be a consolation to those who had made such objections, and to a noble Lord, in another place, to find, that so far from the navy in any of its departments having been left defective, the very first vote which the present Government produced to the House was lower than the estimate of the last year. In fact, the present Administration had found that no additional stores were wanted. He would not enter into any details of the estimates at present, as he did not intend to offer any objection to the vote. He had no objection to the number of boys kept up in the service, for he knew that these grew up the best men in the service, and that their number tended to diminish the necessity of impressment, a subject to which he was happy to know that his right hon. Friend (Sir James Graham) was still directing his attention. With respect to the number of clerks at the Admiralty, and at Somerset House, he could truly say, from personal experience, that they worked in a manner which often gave him great pain, and so far from wishing their number diminished, he would not be undisposed to increase them.

Sir Edward Codrington

complained that justice was not done to that meritorious class of men, the pursers. Their half-pay was 3s. or 4s. a-day, and no increase had lately been made in it, as had been expected, in consequence of an arrangement formerly entered into. They might ultimately derive some advantage from it, but they had none at present. These useful men ought, however, to have some immediate advantage from that arrangement. Men who were injured in the naval service were not so well treated as those who suffered in the land service. Would the House believe that if a man lost an eye, there was no compensation for him, although it had formerly been considered tantamount to the loss of a limb? He recommended one man to the Admiralty under these circumstances. They gave him at first 9l., then 4l., and the third time he applied he could obtain nothing. Clerks in the civil departments were better paid than officers, no matter what their length of service.

Captain Berkeley

said, that when he attended the Board, he always found that the loss of an eye in battle was always considered as equivalent to the loss of a limb, and had an allowance made for it accordingly.

Sir Edward Codrington

had applied to Sir George Cockburn in one case of that kind, and met with a refusal.

Mr. Hume

said, that in 1818, when there were only 20,000 men kept up, the expense was 6,521,000l., and he strongly urged the great extravagance of the estimates of that day. He had objected to the great expense of the dock-yards, and other departments. At that time most of his propositions had been rejected as unreasonable, but they had all been adopted since, and the public had been largely the gainer by them. He must now protest against the notion, that the present scale of the estimates was to be considered as the minimum. The noble Lord had made a comparison between the amount of the estimates and the charges in 1792, and those of the present year, but the comparison did not hold good in many points. He wished to know from the noble Lord, whether the number of men he now took on the estimate, were actually borne on the books. [Lord Ashley said, that there might be a difference in the early part of the year, but at the end of the year the two would be equal.] He should be glad to know, why a larger establishment was kept up now, than in former years of peace? What circumstances were there in the state of Europe at the present moment, which called for a large naval establishment at present? It might be thought that these were the lowest estimates of any year, but there had been many lower. In 1817, the number of men voted for the service of the navy was only 19,000; in 1818, 20,000; in 1819, 20,000; in 1820, 22,000; in 1821, 22,000; in 1822, 21,000. What, he would again ask, was there in the state of Europe, to require 10,000 men more now than were required in 1792? He hoped they should hear some explanation on this head, from the right hon. Baronet. There had been circumstances during the struggles in Greece, and the South American States, during which an increased naval force on our part might have been required, but none of those circumstances existed in the present day. He should propose that a reduction should be made in the number of men to 20,000, or, in other words, that the number should be brought to that in which it stood in the year 1818 or 1819. He would put it to the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, to state upon what grounds Great Britain should be called upon to keep up such a force of seamen and marines in the present state of Europe; for, although there was, as he was ready to admit, a reduction of 232,000l. in the present estimates upon those of last year, he still believed it to be in the power of an economical Administration to reduce them 1,000,000l. more. Although the expense had been reduced, the House had a right to expect that some information should be afforded why the number of men required, still exceeded the estimates both of the years 1792, and 1818 or 1819.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that the hon. Member for Middlesex had, in the course of his observations that evening, remarked that when once a given number of men was submitted, there was never any reduction. The hon. Gentleman seemed to forget that 26,500 men were now only demanded, whereas formerly 32,000 was the fixed number. The hon. Member asked him to prove that which, in his judgment, was incapable of demonstra- tion; he alluded to the number of men necessary for the public service in this department. He would appeal to those who on the present occasion, could have no prejudice upon the subject—to those formerly connected with the Board of Admiralty— to the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Cumberland, who was entitled to the fullest credit for the reductions he had effected during the time he was at the head of this department of the State, who was indisputably an impartial witness—indeed, he would appeal to all hon. Members who took a comprehensive view of the subject, and knowing the demands made for protection by the commercial interest, whether it would be safe or prudent to make a further reduction of 6,500 men below the estimates of the past years. The hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Labouchere) was well acquainted with the demands which had been made upon the public service, in respect to commercial protection, and to him with all the others he had mentioned, he would renew his appeal, whether or not it would be consistent with the interests of the country to make such a further reduction in the number of seamen. It had been asked by the hon. Gentleman, why the present Government should keep up a greater naval force, than was required in the year 1792. He would ask the hon. Member whether the difference of circumstances existing in the years 1792 and 1834, did not justify the maintenance of a fleet in the Mediterranean. He would again take the case of the West-India station, a station affected by the experiment made recently for the abolition of slavery, and would it be denied, that in this quarter it was, to say the least, useful to maintain a good force, to give effect to an experiment, not tried in 1792, interesting to the best feeling of humanity. Such a state of things did not exist in 1792, the favourite year to which the hon. Member for Middlesex was wont to allude. In the South American States, perhaps, the hon. Member would not say, that there was greater danger from piracy than in 1792; but if the hon. Member referred to the commercial interests of the country, he would find that demands had been made for protection against piracy; and, that if those demands were neglected, an ultimate demand would be made to Parliament for assistance. It appeared to him that it was not so much necessary for England to main- tain her supreme position, as an equality with other States of Europe; and he left it to those hon. Gentlemen to whom he had referred, to determine whether or not, they thought it would be safe for his Majesty's Government to propose a further reduction.

Mr. Hume

remarked, that there were no grounds for stating that in former years the commercial interests of this country had been unprotected. He contended on the authority of Returns in his hand, that during the last five years the commerce of Great Britain had been duly protected with an average number of men in the naval service of 20,600 men, marines included. He was at a loss to understand why one ship more should be required in the Mediterranean than in the year 1792, and why, therefore, the recommendation of the Committee appointed in 1792 upon the Navy Estimates should be departed from. There were no peculiar circumstances which could have required alteration, neither was there a necessity for any additional protection to trade. If, however, the number of men in the service was not to be reduced, at all events an end ought to be put to the building of any more ships till the ordinary was reduced. Many noble ships of 130 and 120 guns were rotting in our harbours; and yet new vessels were on the stocks. If the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government would take a lesson, he would advise him to look at the estimates of the year 1792, when he would find that the expenses of repairing ships or building new vessels were accounted for to the very pound on every ship. In this respect he could not but complain of the manner in which information was afforded to the House, and though much credit had been claimed for the reduction which had taken place in these estimates, yet he must say that, in their details, they were less clear than any others laid before the House. He especially referred to the manner in which the marine service was dealt with. The number of field officers, captains, lieutenants, and commissioned officers, ought to be specified, as in the army. Such was not the case; and in conclusion he would move, as an amendment, that the number of men be reduced to 20,500.

The Amendment having been put,

Sir James Graham

said, that having had the honour of being appealed to by the right hon. Baronet (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) to state his opinion as to the number of men necessary for the service, and seeing that the hon. Member for Middlesex still adhered to his favourite standard year, 1792, he would make a few remarks, both in answer to the appeal of the right hon. Baronet and to the opinions of the hon. Member. The hon. Member for Middlesex had drawn a comparison between the expenditure of his favourite year, 1792, and the present estimates, and the whole of his speech had been founded on the fallacy of adopting that year as a guide for the present expenditure. The hon. Member had also stated, that the building of ships should cease, but he ought to remember that ships were liable to decay, and it was necessary either to repair or to rebuild them. This question had been triumphantly answered from time to time, and it was unnecessary for him, at that late hour, to enter into details. It was difficult for gentlemen on his side of the House, who possessed experience, to suit the different opinions and tastes of the hon. Gentlemen opposite; but so far from complaining that the proposed reduction of the naval estimates was not sufficient, he must express his regret that, at this juncture, any reduction whatever had taken place. Whether he looked to domestic or foreign policy—of the latter he had no official information of course—he steadily retained the opinion that any reduction was inexpedient. As regarded domestic policy, if he referred to former Parliaments he knew no point on which the people of this country entertained a greater anxiety than for efficient means, without reference to expense, for the avoidance of the necessity of impressment. Without the proposed means of instruction and the maintenance of the number of boys, it would be impossible on any emergency of a war to collect such a naval force as would render impressment unnecessary. In his judgment, nothing could be more judicious than the proposition for adding to the number of boys engaged in the fleet; they became attached to the service, and would never leave it for any engagement in a merchant's employ. This afforded an effectual means of preventing impressment; but, at the same time, in proportion to their number, men, as a means of instruction, must also be engaged. He had not the professional knowledge possessed by hon. Members opposite; but he felt satisfied that, to maintain and instruct the number of boys proposed, namely 2,000, the number of seamen set forth in the estimates was not too great. An hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite was well acquainted with the advantages which the service had already derived from an experimental squadron for the instruction of beginners, the evolution of which required to be under the control of practical seamen. These were merely considerations of domestic policy. The question with reference to foreign nations was one which the executive Government would be best able to answer. But he could not conceal from himself the fact, that many large and effective fleets were maintained by foreign powers. He put it to the good sense of gentlemen present, whether it was proper, if foreign power were in that state, to incur the risk of reducing the amount of the naval force of this country to the amount proposed. He spoke not from official documents, but from public notoriety, when he stated that Russia had a fleet of twenty-seven ships in the Baltic, and twelve ships in the Black sea. He would ask the House, what proportion the number of men, included in the vote, bore to the crews necessary to man such a fleet.

Mr. Labouchere

justified the increase of the marines, inasmuch as it required some time to discipline a body of men in that service—a service which he thought it was sound policy to maintain efficient. The hon. Member for Middlesex had referred to the subject of ships in ordinary, shipbuilding and repairs; the subject was one which had long been under the consideration of the noble Lord, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the impression on the noble Lord's mind was, that some great improvements were capable of adoption. He hoped that the attention of the Admiralty would be drawn to this important subject, and that, on that head, in future some great reductions in the estimates would be made, but made gradually.

Dr. Bowring

said, that he had intended to suggest an improvement in the form of those estimates; but, as he had a specific Motion on the subject, he would not at present enter into any long details. He considered that great improvement was made in the form of the present estimate, for which the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Cumberland, was to be thanked. Still the estimate was not in such a shape as to enable the House to judge of the whole calculation; in some parts of it there were sufficient details, in other parts there were none, and in several parts there were so many incongruities that hon. Gentlemen could not clearly see their way. He knew that a system might be adopted that would put an end to the faults of the present one. He saw capital vices running through the whole of the present estimate; for instance, the department of expenditure was often made the department of receipt. There was another department of which by the present estimate, no judgment could be formed; he meant the naval stores, &c. It was necessary to know the amount of stock of various articles in the stores, in order to be able to form a judgment thereupon. At that late hour of the night he would not trouble the House with any further observations, but with respect to some parts of the estimates, according as they were submitted to the House, he would with great humility make some remarks, with the view of improving the mode of drawing them up for the future.

Mr. George F. Young

did not think that his hon. Friend (Mr. Hume) seriously intended to divide on the Question of the number of men; it would be more consonant to enter on the other topics before they came again under consideration. He was persuaded that irregularities connected with the civil department of the navy would never be remedied without a Committee of this House, or a Committee of Inquiry.

Sir Edward Codrington

was understood to say, that, to his knowledge, in the experimental squadron to which the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) had alluded, there were officers who had never acted in a fleet before, and were entirely unacquainted with its arrangements and evolutions. He was favourable to the maintenance of the marines, as they rendered effective service both on sea and on shore.

Lord Ashley

was understood to observe, in reference to the observation of Mr. Labouchere, that the Board of Admiralty was continually receiving complaints from admirals on the different stations in respect to the insufficiency of ships, that it was therefore necessary to keep up the supply of ships by building, and Captain Symonds's plan had been adopted, and had been the admiration of all who had seen the vessels built on that plan. When he mentioned that the whole experimental squadron off Portsmouth had been distanced by an American ship, it was necessary to adopt continuous experiments, to provide against the emergency of a war.

Mr. George F. Young

had in his possession a drawing of the ship Vernon, published fifty-four years ago, the draught of which had been submitted to the Admiralty of the day and rejected. Upon this fact, and upon the opinion of scientific men, the plan of Captain Symonds was not new; and as to its efficiency, the Tartarus and the Blazer steam-ships, constructed on that principle, had entirely failed. He wished to ask the noble Lord how it was, as there were to be 2,000 men voted less than there were last year, the sums charged were not reduced in the same proportion, but showed an excess for this year of £11,900?

Lord Ashley

said that, if the hon. Gentleman were to work the question out by a rule-of-three sum, he would obtain the result that Government had taken 10,000l. more in the estimates of this year than it had taken in the estimates of last year on this particular head of charge. The reason was, that a large ship was less expensive than a small one; for instance, 1,000 men on board of a 120-gun ship would be less expensive than the same number of men on board of a seventy-four, for there would be a less number of officers employed. Now, we had fewer first-rates employed this year than we had last, and this accounted for the increase in this portion of the estimates.

Sir Samuel Whalley

on this vote all the others depended. It was now more than half-past twelve o'clock at night, and if a wrong decision were then made upon this vote, how was it to be remedied hereafter? The right hon. Baronet ought to let this vote stand over to another night, as it formed the nucleus of almost every other vote in the navy estimates.

Mr. Charles Buller

hoped that if his hon. Friend, the Member for Middlesex did not persist in this Amendment, he would persist in some Amendment, which would show that the Committee was in earnest in their desire to reduce the establishments. He had voted in a small minority with his hon. Friend on such an Amendment against the Whigs, when they were in office; and he hoped, that his hon. Friend would propose the same Amendment, that he might vote with him against the Tories, now that they were in office. His hon. Friend was bound to bring forward such an Amend- ment, in order to prove, that he had not been actuated formerly by party motives. As to the argument of the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Cumberland, that it was necessary to keep up this additional force of 2,000 boys to meet the public views on the subject of preventing impressment, he had only to say, that the employment of 2,000 additional boys would make no sensible impression in time of war. He suggested the propriety of reducing the estimate, not indeed to that of the year 1792, but to that of the years 1821 and 1822. Instead of his present Amendment, he recommended his hon. Friend to propose a reduction to a less amount of this estimate.

Mr. Hume

said, that the more he heard this subject discussed, the more did he feel it to be his duty to move that the Chairman do now report progress, and ask leave to sit again. [Cries of "Go on."] He would not go on. He did not choose to go on. Would the noble Lord answer him this question? On what principle did the noble Lord vote a sum of money to these men? Would the noble Lord tell him how many admirals, how many post-captains, how many colonels of marines, how many other officers of different ranks, were among them? If the noble Lord could not give him this information, which was given respecting the officers of the army in the estimates of every year, it was unfair to ask them to agree to this resolution at present.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

replied, that these estimates were prepared in the usual form. They had been in the hands of the hon. Member for Middlesex since Saturday last, and if the hon. Member really wanted any additional information respecting them, how was it that he had not moved for the production of that additional evidence at an earlier period of the week? He might have done so on Monday, or any day since—why had he not?

Mr. Hume

said, that at present the estimates were drawn up in such a manner as to be perfectly unintelligible, and till they were rendered intelligible, he should call for such information as he thought requisite to elucidate them.

Admiral Adam

agreed with his hon. Friend, the Member for Middlesex, in thinking that these estimates should be produced completely in detail.

Mr. Warburton

thought, that if the noble Lord would pledge himself to submit the estimates in detail on the bringing up of the Report, the trouble of dividing the House on the present occasion might be avoided.

Mr. Hume

said, that if the number of admirals, post-captains, &c., were given before the Report was brought up, and if he were thus secure of another opportunity of discussing this vote, he would for the present withdraw any further opposition.

Lord Ashley

promised to give this return before the Report was brought up.

Amendment withdrawn and vote agreed to.

House resumed—Committee to sit again.