HC Deb 22 May 1835 vol 28 cc39-44

On the Motion that a sum not exceeding 118,111l. 4s. 6d. be granted to defray the charge of the general staff officers,

Mr. Hume

said, he thought the charge for the staffenormous. and wished to know whether it was the intention of the Government to attend to the recommendation of the select Committee on the subject? The Report of that Committee was dated in 1831, and they recommended that the staff of the army should be placed on the same footing as the staff of the navy. It was notorious that in the British Army, certain officers were treated with partiality and favour; and one half of the whole number of general officers had been selected from the officers of the household troops. If the Commander-in-chief of the army was unwilling to alter this system, it became the duty of the House to express their strong disapprobation of it. The question next arose, whether the Commander-in-chief, or the Secretary-at-war, who was responsible to that House, should regulate the amount of the charge for the army. He regretted to say, that for the last four years the Commander-in-chief seemed to have been the master of the Ministers. Until the period when Lord Grey became Minister, it was always understood that the Commander-in-chief should be a person appointed by, and politically attached to, the Administration; but since that time something had taken place which prevented that rule from being acted upon. The consequence was, that the expenses of the army never could be diminished, and all the patronage was disposed of in a manner hostile to the interests of a liberal Ministry. The only excuse the present Government had for not making a change in the department of the Commander-in-Chief was, that they had scarcely been long enough in office to allow of their turning their attention to the matter. It had been admitted by two Secretaries at War, (the right hon. Member for Dundee and the right hon. President of the Board of Control) that the reductions in the staff proposed by the Committee to which he had alluded, might be carried into effect; and he wished to learn from the noble Lord, what opinion he had formed with respect to the recommendations of that Committee.

Lord Viscount Howick

stated, that there was every disposition on the part of Government to attend to the recommendations of the Committee alluded to by the hon. Member for Middlesex, and especially to that part of it respecting the staff at head quarters, and the consolidation of the different military departments. At that moment, however, they laboured under difficulties, owing to the short time they had taken office; he need hardly say they had not had time to come to a determination on the points alluded to by the hon. Gentleman. They were anxious, if possible, to act upon the principle adopted by his right hon. Friend the Member for Cumberland with regard to the Navy—namely, consolidating the different departments, provided this could be done with advantage to the service. He regretted that the hon. Gentleman had chosen to mix up with his advocacy of consolidation an attack upon Lord Hill, respecting the distribution of the patronage of the Army. He had not had much experience on the subject, but he believed, from all that he had seen, that the charge was not borne out. With respect to any difference that might exist on political subjects between Lord Hill and the present Government, he would only say, that his Majesty's Ministers did not desire, that the patronage of the Army should be made subservient to the support of the Government. They only desired that the patronage of the Army should be distributed in such a way as to promote the good of the service—in the same way, indeed, in which the Navy patronage was distributed under their immediate direction. He hoped and believed that the sole object that those who possessed the patronage of the Army had in view, was to promote the good of the service, and at the same time the strictest economy in the public expenditure.

Sir Rufane Donkin

felt bound, as a soldier, to bear his testimony to the honest and impartial manner in which Lord Hill had distributed the patronage of the army. He believed that never, for one moment, since that noble Lord had taken office had he given way to private feeling or political bias in his distribution of the army patronage at his disposal. Although opposed in politics to Lord Hill, he felt it his duty to bear his testimony to the impartiality always manifested by the noble Lord.

Mr. Cobbett

said, that the nation had just right to complain of the enormous number of officers in the army. Taking both full and half-pay, there was an officer to seven men and three-quarters. The people looked to a Reformed Parliament for a reduction of the expenditure, but notwithstanding it had existed two years, nothing had yet been done; and if they did not do so, the people would cease to look to the Parliament for what they chiefly cared for, retrenchment, and as a consequence the removal of the burdens that oppressed them.

Sir Charles Dalbiac

also vindicated the character of Lord Hill. He was satisfied, from a strict examination of the Estimates, that the consolidation of the Army and Ordnance, as well as the consolidation of the various civil departments of the Army, would not be productive of those advantages and that economy anticipated by the hon. Member for Middlesex. That hon. Gentleman had stated, that if the Church in Ireland was reformed as he recommended, the Army in Ireland could be so reduced as to effect a saving to the amount of one million annually; and yet the whole charge of the Army in Ireland, including the staff, did notexceed 840,000l. a-year.

Mr. Hume

said, that it had been objected to his statement as to the extent to which economy was practicable, that the cost of the Army in Ireland was only 840,000l.; but it should be borne in mind that this sum was the amount of the mere pay of the men. What, he would ask, became of the expenses of the artillery, commissariat, and other departments?

Colonel Sibthorp

said, the hon. Member for Middlesex might send forth his venom if he pleased; this he knew, that it would not affect him. The hon. Member first said he had nothing to charge against the noble Lord at the head of the Army, and then, with a peculiar inconsistency, he alleged against the noble Lord that his conduct was marked by partiality. He believed the noble Lord to be incapable of the conduct imputed to him, but when the hon. Member for Middlesex made that charge, he was cheered by the other side of the House. [Cheers.] Oh yes, they must cheer him—"similis simili gaudet,"—birds of a feather—all fowls of the same plumage. What could the hon. Member know of the Army? He had been but a short time in India, and then only in a medical capacity. He thanked God that they were not obliged to swallow any of the hon. Member's physic.

Mr. Hume

had just one remark to make. It was gratifying to him to think that there was one dose the hon. and gallant Member and his Friends had swallowed, which was the "Russell purge," and it had been he was happy to say, very effectual.

Sir Robert Inglis

said, the hon. Member for Middlesex had not stated a single instance of the partiality he had charged. Those who supported the hon. Member with their cheers, should support him with some statements of fact.

Mr. Finn

said, Ministers ought not to allow their political powers to be in abeyance; such had not been the course of the Duke of Wellington. They had the Church, the Army, and the Corporations, arrayed against them; but having the people with them, they would nevertheless maintain a fair position, if they gave power only to those by whom they were supported.

Mr. Cobbett

The hon. Member argued that because Ministers had the people with them, they would carry all before them: but they had not the people with them; and he trusted they never would have, till they did something to relieve the people. The people expected that some of the taxes which oppressed them should be taken off; they would not allow themselves to be led away by mere professions. For his part, he saw little difference between the Whigs and the Tories. The people would never be satisfied till they ceased to play into one another's hands—till they dissolved partnership.

Mr. Feargus O'Connor

must declare, in reply to what had just been stated, that it would give his constituents great regret to see the Gentlemen who now occupied the Ministerial benches displaced by a Tory Government. He would not, in their support, go quite the length of voting that black was white, though perhaps he would do so in the sense that was meant by the hon. Member for Middlesex when he made that declaration; but he certainly would consent to receive even less from the present than he would be contented with from a Tory Government, because he knew the difficulties they had to encounter, and that they would, at least, put an end to that domestic cruelty which had for years been practised in Ireland.

Lord Howick

observed, there was an old saying, that none were so deaf as those who would not hear: and applying this to the hon. Member for Oldham, he must declare that he despaired of producing any effect on that hon. Gentleman. As regarded, the mere reduction of the burdens of the people, suppose the Whigs had done nothing else during the four years they were in power, had they been quite as unsuccessful as the hon. Member would represent? Had the hon. Member for Oldham forgotten, that during the period be had referred to, the taxes reduced amounted to nearly 5,000,000l.? The whole of the vote required for the Army was under 6,500,000l.; therefore in the course of the four years, neatly the whole of that charge was saved to the country. The votes for the Army alone were, previous to the year 1830, never less than 7,300,000l., and frequendly more; at present the sum demanded was 6,490,000l.

Mr. Ruthven

said, the Government had shown a disposition to do good, and he hoped they would have nerve enough to proceed as they had commenced.

Dr. Bowring

recommended a more systematic arrangement of the Estimates, so that hon. Members might make themselves masters of the subject, and follow the discussions with greater facility.

Captain Parry

recommended, that officers on half-pay should be allowed the option of the first vacancies that occurred, which would enable them to obtain full pay.

The vote was agreed to.

Upon the vote of 106,000l. being proposed for the pay of general officers, in his Majesty's forces,

Lord Howick

remarked, that it was his intention to propose, in accordance with the wish expressed by the Committee who sat on this subject, that general officers not having a regiment, should be allowed the pay of 400l. per annum each. This charge was apt included in the present estimate; but he intended to introduce it in a supplementary estimate, to which, he was sure, the House would readily assent.

Vote agreed to. Various other sums were voted, and the House adjourned.