HC Deb 27 April 1838 vol 42 cc624-36
Sir H. Vivian

, on moving the Ordnance Estimates, in Committee of Supply, said, that on all former occasions these estimates had been moved by the hon. Member who filled the office of clerk of the Ordnance, but his hon. and gallant Friend, the late clerk of the Ordnance, within a short period, had resigned his seat in that House. That officer was, in fact, the proper person to open those estimates to the House, as the whole of the details connected with them came under his notice; and he feared lest on that account he should not be fully able to answer at once, and in a satisfactory manner, the questions which would probably be put to him, and he must, in that case, request the indulgence of the House; for, as Gentlemen must be aware, he, as master-general of the Ordnance, could not have time to make himself familiar with all the particulars of all the estimates required for the different departments of the service. He must state, at the outset, that the increase in the estimates did not arise from any want of vigilance to enforce economy, but from extraordinary circumstances which had led to increased expenditure. Members would find the first item of increase in the second vote, which was 2,131l. more than that of last year. But this increase was merely a transfer of so much from the first vote, the charge of the Dublin commissariat establishment having been moved from the first to the second vote. The next increase above the estimates of last year was of 9,171l. upon the regiment of artillery. With respect to this, he wished to state to the House, that in the year 1819 a reduction took place both in the regular army and the artillery, by which the artillery were reduced to eight companies; but while the army had been materially increased since that year, the artillery had experienced no augmentation; yet there were great demands for this corps on foreign stations. No less than 574 men were wanted for foreign service; hence there were left at this time only 321 effective men at Woolwich and were they not assisted by the marines and the rifle brigade, it would be quite impossible to maintain the garrison there. The Duke of Wellington had established a rule that there should be five companies of artillery to relieve the colonies, but these had since been reduced to three companies, and the consequence was, that owing to the detachments sent to Canada and to Bermuda, the former of which had sailed that day, there was not now a single man left to relieve the colonies. Additional men, therefore, were wanting, and must be supplied. After adverting to the increase on the votes for erecting fortifications, and building barracks, the gallant Officer said the article of stores was 15,000l. more this year than last, in consequence of an increased demand for small arms, In all other nations altera- tions had been made to a great extent in small arms, and, as was well known, a Committee had been appointed, and had sat for some time, to consider what alterations it might be expedient to make in the small arms of the English army. He himself was extremely anxious for improvement in this respect, for he thought it most unfair to men who hazarded their lives in battle that they should not have arms on which they could depend. He thought, too, that a better opportunity could not have been found than the present for effecting this alteration, as 900,000 stand of arms which were in store had been reduced of late to a little less than 200,000. When he was in Ireland he had paid great attention to this point, having inspected the arms of each man separately at reviews, and he found that one musket out of five, and sometimes one out of four, missed fire. That, he submitted, was not a fit state for a British soldier's arm to be in. He might mention also, that in most cases the muskets at present used in the army required so strong a pull at the trigger in discharging them as almost certainly to pull them out of the right direction. Under these circumstances, it was impossible that the soldier could feel so confident as he ought to do. The Committee had, therefore, decided on a pattern carbine and a pattern rifle, which he hoped would prove satisfactory. This was the cause of the addition of 15,000l. to this estimate. The next item of this vote was for shells, shot, &c. Now he fully agreed with the hon. Member for Kilkenny in many of the objections he was accustomed to urge against the accumulation of stores, and from the moment that he had come into the office he had the honour to hold, he had made every endeavour to enforce this principle with respect to every article of stores, and he must say, that since the year 1815 this had been the practice of the department. Since that date stores to the amount of above 2,000,000l. of money had been sold off, and the stores in hand had been in consequence reduced as low as was expedient. The gallant Officer next referred to those items in which there was a decrease of expenditure, and then said, on the whole, there was an increase of 51,205l. above the estimates of last year; but the whole amount to be voted this year above last would be 148,708l., in consequence of the receipts from the Treasury not having been so great this year by 97,503l. He must repeat, that it had been his great object to reduce the expenditure of the Ordnance ever since he had come to the direction of the establishment, and he wished it to be remarked that since 1830 in the two first articles—that was to say, in the civil departments at the Tower and at Woolwich, no less than 32,000l. had been saved. Much had been said in depreciation of the activity and industry with which the department of the Ordnance was conducted, and it was stated, that it ought to undergo considerable reductions, in reference to which he begged to observe, that the business in that department was at present so great, that those who were employed there had almost more to do than they could dispose of. It was only yesterday that the principal clerk in the Board of Works had told him, that however early he rose in the morning, and however late he went to bed, he could hardly, after all, get through his work. It would give some idea of the degree of business in the Master-General's-office if he mentioned that in one year the number of papers and documents which he looked over and made minutes of was 1,500, and the number of letters he answered was 7,000. The minutes of the board occupied 13,673 pages; and there were 36,000 letters received, and 50,000 sent out, in the course of last year. As to what had been alleged of want of economy, he would say, that an establishment in which a saving of 32,000l. had been made in one department could not be an uneconomical establishment. In conclusion, he could with truth assure the House that ever since he had had the honour of being appointed to preside over the Ordnance department, it had been his anxious and constant wish and endeavour to reduce the expenditure as much as possible, as far as that could be done consistently with the maintaining of its efficiency. He felt, however, that he should fail in his duty to the House and to the country if he carried the reduction to such an extent as to impair the efficiency of the establishment. He would now move the first vote in the estimates, namely, the grant of a sum of 60,408l. for salaries &c., of the civil establishments of the Tower and of Pall-mall.

Mr. Hume

had been for the last eighteen years recommending a simplification and consolidation of the various departments of the Ordnance, which he was sorry to say had not been attended to. Every article required for the use of the Ordnance department, except, perhaps, guns and muskets, might be supplied by contract annually, the same as in the army, a plan which he contended was much preferable to allowing a mass of articles to be piled up for years in store-houses at an enormous charge to the country for ware-houses, keepers, &c. He thought that a department which required at present nearly 60,000l. a-year might be as well and as effectively conducted at one-tenth of that sum, if the expenses of storehouses and officers were done away with. Keeping articles in storehouses in large quantities for years was a useless incumbrance to the country, as well by reason of the great expense as of the risk and loss upon perishable articles. This he was glad to perceive was, at length, though reluctantly, admitted by the head of the department. In the army every thing was supplied by annual contract, without the expense of storeroom or the risk of decay and destruction. He should not do justice to preceding Masters-General of the Ordnance if he did not state that a considerable reduction had taken place every year for the last eight or nine years. He thought, however, that it would still admit of much greater reduction. The Duke of Richmond's report, dated February, 1837, recommended a consolidation of the military departments. The recommendations contained in that report had never since received the smallest consideration, much less had they been carried into effect. The report of the Duke of Richmond was signed by Lords Howick, Palmerston, Russell, and others now in office. Why, he asked, did not some one of those noble Lords bring forward a motion for the purpose of carrying the recommendations contained in that report into effect? Their omitting to do so, was downright negligence, and he must say, that if the House of Commons did its duty, which it did not, it would make Ministers do theirs. He was anxious, that the noble Lord, the Secretary at War, should state to the House what the intentions of the Government were respecting the consolidation of the different military departments. He wished to know whether or not it was the intention to place the ordnance and artillery departments under the control of the Commander-in-chief of the Forces, thereby saving the expenses of the board. He was most willing to acknowledge that no army in the world had a better engineer or artillery corps than the British. He wished also to ask the right hon. Gentleman, the Master General of the Ordnance, whether there was any of the Ordnance stores to be supplied by contract, the same as in the army? and whether there was any necessity for having vast numbers of great coats lying idle in storehouses? Might not they be contracted for? If it was found beneficial to the army to contract for clothing, why should it not be equally so for the Ordnance? Nothing, it was true, could be more satisfactory than the manner in which the books of income and expenditure were kept, but still there was no necessity for keeping up so expensive an establishment. He wished also, to know what was to be done about consolidating the departments abroad. The Master General of the Ordnance had made a most important statement, and one well deserving the attention of the House, respecting the state of the muskets in the army. He stated, that not one musket in four, and sometimes in five, was fit for service. What an imputation was that to cast upon the previous management of the department! He had made the same statement before, and its truth was now admitted by no less an authority than that of the Master General of the Ordnance. He recollected having heard when he was in India, that the muskets which were sent out from this country for the use of the army, were frequently without touch holes. The expense of a man was ten times as great as that of a musket, and yet soldiers were constantly exposed to danger and loss of life from the defective condition of their arms. The right hon. Gentleman had informed the House that the number of muskets kept in store had been reduced from 900,000 to 200,000. He was very glad of it, and only wished the remainder had been thrown into the Thames. He was informed that the French and Belgian armies were supplied with arms of an infinitely superior description to those used by the British army. There was no economy in getting a musket for 19s. It would be much better to give 40s. for a good one. He hoped the Master General of the Ordnance would at once get rid of all the old arms, as no soldier ought to be exposed to the risk of having a defective weapon. Now with respect to the increase that had taken place in our military force, he thought it was not required. The three companies of artillery that had been added, were, in his opinion, unnecessary. The country could do without them, and their addition was the less defensible when the present state of the revenue was considered. He also objected to them, because the circumstances which had occurred, and which were urged as the ground of the increase were brought about by the resolutions which had been agreed to by both Houses on the proposition of Ministers. The right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, had thrown the blame of the revolt in Canada, on the Ministers, and yet he had voted for those resolutions. Did hon. Members consider, that for the last three years, there had been a progressive increase of expenditure? In 1835, including the interest on the debt and all, the expenditure had been 48,764,000l.; in 1836, it increased to 50,749,000l.; and last year, it amounted to 51,319,000l., thus showing an increase in the whole expenditure of more than 2,500,000l. In every branch of expenditure there had been an increase. The army in 1835, cost 6,400,000l.; in 1836, it cost 6,472,000l.; in 1837, 6,521,000l.; and in the present year it cost more than 7,000,000l. The navy cost in 1835, 4,100,000l.; in 1836, it amounted to 4,200,000l.; in 1837, it cost 4,751,000l.; and in the present year there had been a considerable increase. In this year, by the accounts already laid on the table, it appeared that there was an expenditure of 710,000l. beyond the income. He stated on a former occasion, that the West-India loan cost the country 24,000,000l.; but before the end of the Session he should be able to show, that from the bad management of that loan, the country would have to pay 25,000,000l. There was also an increase of the interest of the unfunded debt, though the actual amount of the debt had been diminished. In 1835, when there were 29,000,000l. of Exchequer bills out, the interest was not more than 700,000l., but now, when the amount of the unfunded debt had been diminished, the interest was about 900,000l. This was caused by bad management on the part of the Government. He had no doubt that 1,000,000l. would not cover the difference between the income and expenditure. He did not intend to divide the House on this vote, for it was a farce to go to divisions on matters to which hon. Members did not seem to have given much consideration. Before he sat down he wished to put a question and to ask whether Government had taken any step towards effecting the consolidation of the military departments, to which he had alluded, and whether it was intended to continue the present commander of the forces as at present. As long as Lord Hill continued at the head of the forces, and the Ministers, as at present, possessed no power over the army, there would be no reductions.

Viscount Howick

said, that the Ministers were not to blame for not carrying into effect the consolidation of the military departments to which the hon. Member had alluded. They admitted, that the present arrangement was defective, but not to the extent which the hon. Member had stated. Whatever was in the power of that officer to effect had been done by the present Master-General of the Ordnance. He admitted, that the system was very defective though, if he were to introduce a bill for its amendment, it would meet with great opposition. The discussion of such a measure would take up a considerable time, and any one who should look at the order-book and see the state of other business in the House must see, that to bring forward such a measure at present would only embarrass the business of the House.

Captain Boldero

felt called upon to offer a few words on some of the observations which had fallen from the hon. Member for Kilkenny. That hon. Member's reflection upon the noble Lord in the command of the forces, that as long as he (Lord Hill) continued in that command there could be no hope of any reduction, was, to say the least of it, ill-timed. The noble Lord had no more to do with the reductions than the hon. Member for Kilkenny. He had only the distribution of the forces. The reductions were in the department of the Secretary at War. The hon. Member had said, that any increase in the artillery was unnecessary. In that he was much mistaken. Three companies of artillery had been embarked that day, and there were at present not more than 300 effective artillery men at Woolwich, and the duty at the arsenal and the places adjacent required not fewer than eighty sentinels, so that nearly one-third of the men were to be on duty each day; but, taking the casualties, and the fact that some of the men were employed in cooking for the others, it would be seen that the men would be out of bed every other night. In fact, the artillery at Woolwich was in that state, and the duty so severe, that, unless a regiment were sent to assist them, it would be absolutely necessary to increase the force. While the reliefs intended for some of the West-Indian islands would, in all probability, be delayed more than twelve months. The duties of the artillery were of a most arduous nature. They were called upon to act as infantry soldiers, sometimes as cavalry; and they had besides, to devote a large portion of their time to study and to the practice of gunnery. At the Cape of Good Hope there was only one company of artillery, and in order to make the most of that small number, there were only two gunners to each gun, assisted by the natives; so that, if called into action, and the two gunners were wounded, the gun would become useless. He denied, that the stores were superabundant. The artillery and engineers bad no staff appointments, which was a great evil, but it proceeded altogether from that spirit of parsimony of which the hon. Member for Kilkenny was so great an advocate. The artillery had not officers enough, and the duty of the few was very severe, they could not claim one day's leave of absence, whilst other officers were frequently allowed three months. There was one point to which he begged leave to draw the attention of the House. Crime had of late considerably decreased in Woolwich, and the punishments now, as compared with former years, was as one to forty. The chief crime prevalent was the sale of necessaries, and he wished that the purchasers could be severely punished.

Sir Robert Peel

, adverting to the ordnance surveys of the counties of England, observed, that all must concur in thinking that such a work should be completed in as uniform and perfect a state as possible. In his opinion, that could be effected only by having them completed in as short a time as possible. Such extensive alterations were constantly making in the country by the formation of railroads and other projects, that if the completion of the ordnance surveys were spread over thirty or forty years, so far from being uniformly perfect, there would be the greatest inequality in that respect between the maps completed in the early and the maps completed in the latter part of the survey. In his opinion it was a false economy, that would prevent the desirable object of completing the ordnance surveys from being carried into effect with as little delay as possible. He wished to take the present opportunity of asking the noble Lord opposite whether the statement in the public papers, that an application from the Spanish government for a supply of arms, which applicacation was founded on the existing treaty, had been complied with, was true? Adverting to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Kilkenny, he observed, that that hon. Gentleman frequently placed hon. Members who did not wish to see the establishment of the country cut down in a very difficult position. He must be permitted, however, to tell the hon. Member for Kilkenny that he never knew an instance in which the lapse of time had so completely mellowed an opposition to large public expenditure as it had done in that hon. Gentleman's case. He did not know the cause; but the fact was, that the difference of the hon. Gentleman's tone on such questions now, as contrasted with his tone when he (Sir R. Peel) was at the head of the Government, was as great as between a musket primed and loaded and a musket without a touchhole. The hon. Member now "roared like a nightingale." For instance, there was the subject of the mission to Canada. The hon. Member for Kilkenny seemed to consider the proposition of her Majesty's Ministers on that subject a most reasonable one. When he was in office, the hon. Member warmly objected to the allowances proposed to be given to Lord Gosford. But when he (Sir Robert Peel) and his friends expressed their opinion that the allowances which had been given to Lord Gosford were sufficient for Lord Durham, the hon. Member thought very differently, and voted with her Majesty's Ministers on that occasion. It was very hard, when they hoisted the hon. Member's colours, to be thus deserted by him.

Lord John Russell

would answer the right hon. Baronet's question respecting the arms sent to Spain as correctly as his not being prepared would allow him. A request, founded on the existing treaty, had certainly been some time ago made to her Majesty's Ministers by the Spanish government for 100,000 muskets. It was thought by her Majesty's Government that the application ought to be complied with, and about six months ago the last 50,000 of the 100,000 asked for were sent to Spain. The Spanish government subsequently requested that the remainder of the number for which they had originally applied should be sent to them. The British Government replied, that the whole number of muskets for which the government of Spain had applied had been furnished. Her Majesty's Government considered that the terms of the existing treaty bound them to comply with their request.

Sir Robert Peel

did not perfectly understand the statement. It appeared one hundred thousand stand of arms had been sent, of which only 50,000 had reached their destination.

Lord John Russell

repeated, that the last 50,000 of the 100,000 had been sent off about six months ago.

Sir Robert Peel

observed, that the Spanish government complained that they had received only 50,000.

Lord John Russell

could only repeat that 100,000 were furnished. The Spanish government certainly represented that 50,000, or some less number, had not reached them.

Sir Robert Peel

Perhaps they fell into the hands of Don Carlos.

Sir Hussey Vivian

, in reply, begged to assure the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, that the trigonometrical survey would be completed as soon as possible, but he found that under no circumstances could the maps be made so perfect as the right hon. Gentleman suggested they should be. Those which had been already begun, without laying down the railways which subsequently intersected them, must be finished. With reference to the objections of the hon. Member for Kilkenny, the right hon. and gallant Officer observed that great difficulty was involved in the principle which he sought to establish. The corps of the royal artillery and of the royal engineers were, of course, two scientific corps, and it was not in a day, in a month, or a year, that men could be so trained as to be effective in either service; and, therefore, it was the greatest possible mistake to attempt to reduce their numbers. He thought, to use a homely phrase, that this was being "penny wise and pound foolish." If, at the period of 1793, when the French war began, instead of sending out a miserable body of men—miserable in point of numbers only he meant, because no men could have behaved more gallantly—but if this country had sent forward 25,000 men (as he had said before ten years since), he believed the long and calamitous war which followed might have been avoided. When we had the same game to play in 1815, we raised 30,000 men at once, and by this determined mode of action the battle of Waterloo was gained. Again, to have only young regiments to act upon a sudden opening of hostilities had been found from experience to be a most objectionable system. Young men were soon fit only for hospitals, whilst old regiments bore the fatigue infinitely better. The hon. Member for Kilkenny continually recurred to his favourite period of 1792. The artillery were then between 4,000 and 5,000 strong; they had been since increased to 7,000. But what was the fact? Eleven colonies had since been added to the empire, and the services of 1,400 men were required; and it was impossible to relieve those who were on service in the West Indies. The hon. Member for Kilkenny complained of the amount of stores; and he (Sir Hussey Vivian) had already stated, that he objected to the system, but, at the same time, it was possible to reduce them to too low a scale, and he instanced powder. With respect to great coats, he found they were supplied much cheaper than they could be obtained in another way. He found that the old coats were sold even as a great boon to the poorer classes for about 4s. each. Again, where they had stores of every description in all the colonies, &c., it was impossible to do away with the office of storekeeper.

Vote agreed to, as were several others, after a conversation on the advantages to arise from the establishment of libraries for the army, improving military prisons, and providing places in which the soldiers could enjoy recreation and manly exercise, the result of which was, that it was the intention of the Government to supply the different military stations at home and abroad with books for the use of the soldiers.

Captain Wood

also complained of the exclusion of soldiers from the gardens of the Parks, and said, that he could see no reason why they should not have as free access to those places as any other of her Majesty's subjects.

Lord J. Russell

stated, that the exclu- sion had existed since the reign of Charles 2nd, but he saw no reason why it should be continued.

Captain Boldero

suggested, that establishing savings banks or benefit societies in the army would be advantageous, as by that means men who were discontented with the service would be enabled to lay by as much as would purchase their own discharge.

Lord John Russell

said, that the commanding officers with whom he had communicated on the subject seemed to disapprove of any proposition of the kind. His own opinion, however, was favourable to any plan which would put the soldier in the way of resuming with advantage to himself habits of industry.

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