HC Deb 05 March 1838 vol 41 cc404-15
Mr. C. Wood

said, although there were many hon. Gentlemen who never before had the opportunity of discussing the estimates, yet the simple form in which they were now laid on the table, together with the full explanation which accompanied each item, would render it unnecessary for him to trouble the Committee at any great length. On going through the heads of the estimates, the Committee would observe that in No. 1, for men and wages, there was no difference. Under the head of victuals, there was a considerable increase arising from circumstances over which the Admiralty had no control—chiefly from the rise in price of several main articles of consumption in the navy. In the Admiralty-office, there was a slight increase of charge, one of the Lords of the Admiralty, from whom a house had been taken, being now put on the same footing as a Lord of the Treasury. Another increase arose from an improvement which they made last year in the situation of the clerks of the Admiralty. A clerk might, according to the former system, be seventy years in the service before attaining the maximum of salary. That was thought unjust to old and meritorious servants, and a change had, therefore, been made, by which second class clerks should rise 15l. a-year, and the first class, 20l., for length of service. With respect to the registration of seamen, there had been a small increase in the number of clerks. It would be gratifying to the authors of that Bill to know that the important objects it was calculated to serve had already been realised beyond their most sanguine expectations. When the office was instituted, the number of registered apprentices was only 5,400, while on the 1st of February this year it was no less than 19,400, showing a positive increase since the establishment of the office of 14,000 registered apprentices. Under the next head, the scientific branch, there was a diminution of 5,000l. Last year he stated it was necessary to take a considerable sum for the purpose of bringing up the Nautical Almanack, so as to be generally available for merchant vessels. He was happy to state his object had been accomplished, and that the Nautical Almanack would shortly be published three years in advance of the present time; so that a ship going out for the, longest voyage would now be enabled to avail herself of the same means of safety in coming home that she had in going out. It was only requisite to carry it another year in advance, and therefore so large a sum as last year would now be unnecessary. In the next head, "establishments at home and abroad," there was no material difference, any diminution taking effect in one place being countervailed by partial additions in others. The next head was the most considerable one, and included the vote for naval stores. The system acted on in 1832, of consuming the stores which were then spoiling in the storehouses, was found during the three succeeding years to reduce them far below the average amount, and he stated two years ago that there must soon be a considerable and progressive increase under this head. The estimate prepared under the right hon. Baronet's Government, was the lowest ever taken for the maintenance of the stores of the navy. In pursuance of the warning he formerly gave, it had now been found necessary to increase considerably the vote for stores, in order to put them in such a state as the importance of this main branch of the naval administration evidently demanded. Connected with this vote there was one announcement he had made in the course of last year, from which, under altered circumstances, it had been found necessary to depart. He then stated, that from the arrangements which had been made as to the store of timber in the navy, they would be prepared to throw open the contract to public competition; and, but for the addition of the post-office packets which had subsequently been thrown on the naval department, they would have been prepared to act upon that engagement. But it was found necessary to provide timber of a particular description far beyond what was usually required for the service of the navy, and which could not be obtained without taking a much larger supply of other sorts of timber at the same time; and, therefore, it was found advantageous to continue the contract for the space of two years, when it would be again thrown open to public competition. The next head of expenditure was that of new works and improvements in the docks and yards—and here he would fairly state, that but for the circumstances in which the revenue of the country had been last year, the Government would have brought forward a larger estimate under this head for the present year. But looking at that circumstance they thought, that whilst they did not postpone any service that was urgent, they were justified in postponing any new works which were not urgent, and of which the non-construction would do no harm to the public service. One of the new works for which he now called on the Committee to make provision, was the erection of a building at Woolwich, for the manufacture and repair of engines for steam-vessels. From motives of economy the General Steam Navigation Company had determined to erect a building for the manufacture and repair of the engines of their vessels; and learning that that establishment had saved that company great expense, the Admiralty had determined to have a similar establishment for the navy. The charge for the head of expenditure, No. 12—namely, that of medicine and medical stores, was the same this year as last—it was 20,000l. Under the head of expenditure, No. 13, for miscellaneous services, there was a charge of 30,600l., for the contracts for the conveyance of mails by steam to and from Falmouth and Gibraltar. Though there was an increase on this head, he expected that it would be ultimately found that this was the most economical mode of conveying the mails to and from this country and the place which he had just mentioned. He had now gone through all the heads of the effective service, the total of which amounted to 3,085,000l. In the heads 14, 15, and 16, which included the half-pay and the military and civil pensions and allowances, there was no novelty this year, except so far as regarded the insertion of service pensions; they had been granted in pursuance of an order in Council, dated the 12th of July, 1837, founded on the recommendations contained in the report of the Select Commit- tee of the House of Commons on army and navy appointments, and amounted to 4,200l. Under the head, No. 18, which related to the transportation of convicts, there was a diminution in the nominal amount of the grant, in consequence of the Irish Government having undertaken to transport its own convicts. But this was rather a transfer than a diminution of expense. The item would not appear in the navy estimates, but would be transferred to the Irish miscellaneous services. He felt, that it was unnecessary for him to make any further observations on the general estimates for the naval service. He assured the Committee that in framing them every attention had been paid to economy, consistent with a due attention to the efficiency of the public service. He then moved a resolution to the effect, that there be employed in her Majesty's fleet for the next thirteen lunar months, ending on the 31st of March, 1839, 33,665 men, including 2,000 boys, and 9,000 royal marines.

Mr. Hume

had hoped, that the Committee would have been in a situation to make a considerable reduction in the amount of these estimates this year, as the circumstances which had induced them last year and the year before to keep up a greater force in the Mediterranean and the Tagus than was usual had ceased to have any force. Some reason ought to be given why so large an increase had taken place lately in our naval expenditure. For his own part, he was not aware of any circumstance at that time existing in the world which justified an increase in the naval estimates. He recollected well that, in the year 1819, when he, in common with several of her Majesty's Ministers, sat on the Opposition benches, they had pressed the Government of Lord Castlereagh hard, because he proposed to employ for the service of that year 20,000 men, including marines and boys. They had told that noble Lord, that such an establishment was enormous and extravagant, and yet it was now quite evident that since that year they had been retrograding instead of proceeding in the career of reduction. In the year 1825, Sir G. Cockburn, a very efficient naval officer, had pleaded the disturbed state of the South American provinces as a reason for increasing our naval force, but had stated that as soon as those disturbances ceased, there could be no reason, at least he could see no reason, if peace continued, why our naval establishments should not be reduced as low as they were in 1819. Lord Grey, too, on taking office in 1830, had pledged himself to the strictest economy in all the departments of the public service. And yet, notwithstanding that pledge, the naval estimates had gone on increasing regularly year after year, and that, too, without a word of explanation from the Government of the day. Let the Committee just observe what had taken place with respect to the effective and the non-effective service of the navy. The effective service cost 3,000,000l. and upwards, whilst the non-effective, consisting of the half-pay and other allowances, cost 1,500,000l. He thought that this amount of half-pay and pensions required looking into. After twenty years of peace it ought not to amount to any such sum, and it was only kept up to that amount by the present injudicious system of promotions. He wished Ministers would explain what the circumstances were which compelled them to keep up a force of 34,000 seamen and marines now, after the service of the country had been well done in the years 1819, 1820, and 1821, with a force of 21,000 men. The numbers in the two cases were very important: for unless they could reduce the number of men employed, they could not reduce the amount of materiel necessary to support them. In point of fact, we were keeping up large fleets in the Tagus and elsewhere, where we had no right to interfere. He called upon the Secretary of the Admiralty to explain why we kept up so large a force at Lisbon, where a single man-of-war ought to be sufficient for the protection of British commerce.

Mr. C. Wood

observed, that it was undoubtedly true that he had not stated the reasons why it was deemed necessary by the Admiralty to keep up the present amount of force. But as the House had concurred for the two last years in thinking that that amount of force was necessary, and as some hon. Members had even stated, that in their opinion it was not even large enough, he had not deemed it necessary on this occasion to enter into such a statement. The same state of European affairs which had justified Ministers on a former occasion in proposing an increase of the naval force, remained at the present moment unchanged. He thought it would be a most imprudent measure to diminish the navy, while the other maritime powers kept up navies so powerful, and maintained an attitude so imposing. The number of Russian ships of the line in commission far exceeded that kept at sea by this country for many years past. The French navy had also been recently augmented, and the squadron stationed in the Mediterranean increased. Though he was happy to say that at present there were no grounds for apprehending a rupture with any foreign state, he should be sorry to see other great powers keeping up large fleets at sea, while this country had no countervailing force.

Sir E. Codrington

said that, at this time, when every other country in Europe was strengthening its navy, we were neglecting ours. Our navy was indeed most neglected, as he had frequently represented, but without his representations being much regarded. There were midshipmen and mates that had been thirty years in that situation. There was no class of men under the Government who did not retire from service with a greater amount of remuneration than the highest officers of her Majesty's navy. Such was the want of proper management, that if they wanted to-morrow to man five line-of-battle ships they would not be able to do it. The half-pay of a lieutenant was 5s. per day; if he were sent to sea, he got only an additional ls. 6d.; the masters had only 5d. additional for service. He was glad to find that the Government were at last about to take the matter up, and he sincerely hoped that they would do so with a determination to render the navy justice. He would ask, ought a navy officer to retire from the service in such a situation as to be obliged to send his daughters to a charity—and that a private charity, be it remembered? He called on the noble Lord to say whether he meant to go to the root of the evil, sincerely intending to remove it.

Sir J. Duke

trusted that the Admiralty would take into their consideration some measure to improve the pay and condition of the petty officers before the mast. He complained of the inequality of the pay as compared with the service.

Captain Pechell

said, there was not sufficient encouragement in the navy. There were 363 midshipmen as they were formerly called, but they were now called mates. The first three were forty-one years of age; the next thirteen were thirty-four years. The average amount of their pay was 50l. 12s. 8d. They were sometimes called on to fit themselves out at an ex-pence of about 150l. There were 203 midshipmen, sixty-one of whom appeared to have served on the average nine years beyond their time of qualification. What was their pay? Why, it was 31l. 4s. per annum. What was their half-pay? Last year he stated what it was not: it was nothing a day, and find themselves. There were 175 who served as volunteers at 12l. a year; of these he would not speak, as they were pleased to serve. The total number of the three classes he had mentioned, all of whom came under the denomination of midshipmen, was 741 persons; the expense was 27,200l. a year. There was one case of hardship to which he felt bound to call the attention of the House: it was that of a Mr. Dennyson, who was a mate for seven years, and had been for sixteen years in the navy. In the performance of his duty he had dislocated his ankle-joint and fractured his leg, and was discharged subsequently from the hospital with a wooden leg. He was now performing duty on board, but with the greatest pain and difficulty; that gentleman was, however, capable of performing the duties of a higher office, to which he thought he ought to be promoted.

Mr. C. Wood

did not think it expedient to refer to particular cases; but that which had been last mentioned was the case of a gentleman who met with an accident while in the service of the customs. This he could, however, say for the Admiralty, that when the case was brought before them by the customs it would be attended to. He assured the hon. and gallant Admiral (Sir E. Codrington), who had repeated the cases of some officers which had been before mentioned by him, that the gallant Admiral was much mistaken if he thought that these cases had not attracted the attention of his hon. Friend and himself.

Mr. Hope Johnstone

referred to the gallant achievements performed by Captain Charles Napier, who had been in the service of the Queen of Portugal, and who had, he thought, some reason to complain of the manner in which his name and the services he had performed were introduced into the estimates. Captain Napier was an officer in her Britannic Majesty's service, and had a pension at the time that he entered into the service, of the Queen of Portugal. He was removed from the service of the King, and he also lost the pension allowed to him for the wounds he had received. On the arrangement of the affairs of Portugal he had been restored to his rank, but his pension was still lost to him. Captain Napier, in his opinion, complained with much justice of the manner in which his name had been brought before the public. Only a partial account had been given of his services, and upon his complaining of this he could obtain no redress. Captain Napier felt exceedingly jealous of his being considered a burden upon the country, unless the services he performed were so clearly stated that there could be no doubt about them. As this was the only opportunity on which he could make them known, he felt bound thus to make his appeal to the House.

Sir T. Troubridge

declared that he only spoke what were the feelings of his colleagues when he declared his willingness to acknowledge to their fullest extent the gallant services that had been performed by his personal friend Captain Napier. In the notice that was given in the estimates not the slightest disparagement to his gallant exploits were intended; and if Captain Napier's wishes had been earlier known, there could not have been the least possible objection to their being put in the estimates. In the case of Captain Napier, as well as that of others, they had adopted as their model the forms employed in the army. All that was intended to be done was, not to put on record all the services of an officer, but such as were sufficient to justify his being put upon the pension list. Withresp ct to Captain Napier, be wished to add, that he (Sir T. Troubridge) had received a severe reprimand from the late Sovereign for attending a meeting in the city to vote a piece of plate to Captain Napier, and he begged to thank the right hon. Baronet the Member for Pembroke (Sir James Graham) for the courteous manner in which he had communicated that reprimand to him, He could assure the hon. and gallant Individual who had been so much spoken of, that it was far from the wish of the Lords of the Admiralty to keep back from the world a knowledge of the gallantry and bravery he had always displayed. On the contrary, it was their desire to reward them, and to give them that praise to which they were most strictly entitled.

Captain Gordon

observed, that every person in the navy was an admirer of the gallant services of Captain Napier. He did not approve of what was called pensions for meritorious services. He was sure that it must bring complaints from many officers. He wished to know whether the pensions were confined entirely to merit?

Captain Deans Dundas

joined most cordially in praise of Captain Napier and his services, and expressed a hope that he, as well as the gallant Member for Westminster, might be created a Knight of the Bath, an honour he well deserved, and which would be most acceptable to the naval service. He begged also to express his approval at the announcement of a commission to inquire into the state of promotion and pay of the navy and marines, and that that commission would also embrace the service pensions of those old and meritorious officers the major-generals of marines; and whose cause, he hoped, would meet with consideration and justice.

Admiral Adam

must, he said, join in the expression of the opinions entertained with respect to the services of Captain Napier. The Board of Admiralty thought it would have been a work of supererogation to put in the estimates the services of that gallant officer, which were known to all the navy. They put in merely so much as would satisfy the House of Commons that they were justified in going down so far in the list of post Captains as the name of Captain Napier. As they could not give him the out pension of Greenwich-Hospital, they wished to refer to facts which authorised them in giving him a pension. He referred to the names on the list, and he was sure it would be agreed upon all sides that they had acted with justice and fairness in placing them on the list. If they did not or had not acted with fairness in respect to this list, he hoped it would be stigmatised by the House of Commons. He was sorry to hear, from any one connected with the navy, that the present plan of pensions had created dissatisfaction. He heard of this for the first time. He wished to state that when officers had not an opportunity of performing a distinguished action they turned to see if he had not been eighteen years in command of a ship. The pensions which were submitted by the Admiralty had been prepared with great care and attention to the services of each, and he should be much surprised if they had not succeeded in their object of doing justice to all. He agreed with the hon. and gallant Member for Devonport that it would be very desirable that the mates should have retiring pensions; but a Commission was about to take the whole subject into consideration.

Captain Wemyss

could assure the House, that Lord Exmouth thought Captain Napier's services of the highest order, and it was, therefore, hard that Captain Napier should be put on the 150l. list without his services being stated. He thought that but for the services of Captain Napier the Queen of Portugal would not now be on the throne of that country.

Sir E. Codrington

said, that he, for one, thought the services of Captain Napier were such as fully to entitle him to be placed on the list; but there ought to be a statement of those services made, in order to put out of the question any jealousies that might otherwise arise.

Mr. Gillon

thought, that the time of the House was wasted in discussing this particular point. He wished to call back the attention of the House to the real question before them. He could not understand why they should be called upon to vote 13,000 more men than during the profuse Tory administrations. Her Majesty, in her Speech from the Throne, declared that this country was on the most amicable footing with all foreign powers, and he therefore could see no reason for thus largely increasing our naval force. As he meant to propose several reductions of taxation, he felt bound to take every opportunity of putting it in the power of the Government to carry these reductions into effect.

Mr. Langdale

said, that there was a subject which had been scarcely alluded to in this discussion, but which he thought it was right to mention, namely, the subject of impressment. He would not go into any long argument on this subject, except to state, that as he was prepared to vote for the abolition of impressment, he felt bound to take into consideration the necessity of increasing our force in the proportion that we deprived the Government of the means of assembling that force when any emergency occurred. It was dangerous to reduce the naval force of the country to such an extent as to be unable to collect a sufficient force when the necessity for so doing occurred. He was, therefore, prepared to vote for the whole amount of force proposed, as he should be prepared to vote for the abolition of impressment when the subject was before the House.

Mr. Hume

should like to know how the service was carried on when they had 13,000 men less than they were now called upon to vote? He was as desirous as any man in that House to put an end to impressment, and, indeed, he might say, that very few had brought forward that question so often as he had. He was not one who would refuse encouragement to the sailor, on the contrary, he wished to see the discipline and pay such as to induce men voluntarily to enter the service. But would the extravagant vote proposed do any thing towards effecting this purpose? The House was called upon to vote for the service of the ensuing year 34,000 men, out of whom there were but 11,694 seamen; so that the whole naval force of England consisted in fact of 11,694 seamen. To what extent he would ask was this giving encouragement to the naval service? He would ask the House whether they were not in fact weakening themselves in keeping up a large establishment under the delusive idea of being always prepared to meet an enemy? The only effect of keeping up large establishments of this kind was to add to the half-pay list, thus encumbering the country, and preventing that House from paring down the establishments. He must complain of the manner in which promotion in the naval service was obtained. The public money ought not to be misapplied in the promotion of individuals who had nothing but their birth and connection to recommend them over the heads of more meritorious but less advantageously situated officers. He must, however, say, that it was not right to complain that justice was not done to the naval service, as the number of officers to seamen was altogether disproportioned. The number of officers was much too great. He saw no reason for voting 34,000 men, when in the six preceding years they had had but 26,000. The vote appeared to him extravagant, and he therefore felt bound to object to it.

Captain Jones

said, that if the suggestions of the hon. Member for Kilkenny were adopted, it would prevent young men from entering the naval service.

Vote agreed to.

On the question that a sum not exceeding 112,637l. be granted for defraying the expenses of the salaries to the officers and the other contingent expenses of the Admiralty-office being put,

Mr. T. Attwood

wished to put two questions to the Secretary for the Admiralty, namely: first, whether our channel fleet was at present in a condition to meet twenty-six Russian line of battle ships, if they should make their appearance? and, secondly whether our Mediterranean fleet was in a condition to meet sixteen line of battle ships of the same power, in case we wished to pass through the Dardanelles?

Mr. C. Wood

said, he believed that we had not twenty-seven sail of the line afloat in the channel, but he doubted not that if the Russian fleet were to make their appearance there, we should be in a condition to meet them. With respect to the Mediterranean, he was inclined to think that the hon. Member had overrated the extent of the Russian fleet in the Mediterranean. He believed that they were only nine in number, and not sixteen. He believed that the British fleet on that station would be in a condition to meet the Russan whenever occasion offered.

Vote agreed to.

On the vote of 554,383l. for naval stores for building and repairing of the fleet, being proposed,

Captain Pechell

took occasion to express a hope that means would be taken to provide swifter ships as cruisers after slavers; and that the captains of the British service should no longer be liable to see a slaver before them and not be able to capture her. An instance of the latter kind he remembered, wherein a ten-gun vessel, after giving chase for two days to a slaver without being able to overtake her, would have had to give up the pursuit altogether in despair, the slaver having got out of sight, when she fell in with another ship, named the Columbine, to whom she pointed out the track of the slaver, and who then pursued and overtook her. It was impossible that the slave trade could be successfully put down until this defect was remedied, and the ten-gun ships now employed in the service, condemned to the same fate as the slavers themselves, namely, sawed in two and pulled asunder.

Vote agreed to.

Several other grants were agreed to.

The House resumed.