HC Deb 18 March 1839 vol 46 cc802-4

On the motion that the order of the day for the House going into a Committee of supply, be read,

Mr. T. Attwood

rose and said, that he was convinced, that the present supply of men for the army was insufficient; but he believed, that there was a much greater deficiency in the supply of men for the navy, and it was his intention to take the sense of the House upon the question, whether the House should not recommend the Committee of supply to reconsider the vote of 34,165 men for the navy; for he was convinced, that when the number of boys, artisans, and marines were taken away, the 23,000 men left for the real naval service must be insufficient. When he looked at the state of the Russian navy, and at the state of the navies of France and America, and when he considered the state of our foreign relations generally, he thought the House would agree with him in opinion, that it was fit and proper, that the vote should be rescinded. It was a most serious subject, and in the course of a few months it might be too late to rectify the error which was about to be committed. A very small matter in Persia, or in Canada, or in the Mediterranean, would give rise to affairs such as Navarino, and involve us in conflicts with Russia. For instance, if by any accident Sir Pulteney Malcolm had attacked the Russian fleet in the Black Sea, it would have led to an attack on England by the Russian fleet in the Baltic. We had no naval force sufficient to repel such an attack. He did not desire to see the navy augmented at the expense of the army; on the contrary, he thought the army was much too small. But, at any sacrifice, we ought to put our navy in such a state as would render it the defence of the country. We ought at any rate to have a fleet competent to beat the Russians if necessary. There were 30,000 of the best English sailors in the American navy, and he would have every one of them back again. But it was said, "how will you get them?" Why, pay them better than the Americans pay them. But where were they to get gold? Look at mortgage rentals and the funds. The Russians, those barbarians, those second Danes, if they came, the hon. Member for Kilkenny would say "buy them off" [Mr. Hume: No.] We bought off the Danes ten or twenty times, and the oftener we bought them off the more of them came. He wished the safety and honour of England to be protected. What, when they gave twenty millions to the negroes, could they not afford five millions to British sailors. Could not our pension laws be altered? Could not our navy be made equally advantageous to that of the United States for sailors? Why did they not make the royal navy of England the most attractive service in the world. The honour of it was greater than any other country in the world, and the national pride of every Englishman was, thank God, not yet gone. If twenty more line of battle ships were fitted out—fully manned, not half manned—he should be content. Looking to the whole circumstances of the navy of the country, he felt it to be his duty to move, that it be an instruction to the Committee to reconsider the vote of 34,160 seamen and marines, and to enquire whether it would not be advantageous, in the present state of the country, considering its foreign relations, to make an immediate and considerable increase?

The Speaker

Who seconds the motion?

Mr. Attwood

I suppose some honest man will second it.

Sir John Tyrrell

seconded the motion.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

objected to the motion, as instructing the Committee to do what it was not in its power to do. A Committee of supply could reduce, but it was inconsistent with parliamentary or constitutional usages for it to increase a vote proposed by the Crown.

Mr. T. Attwood

I do not propose more money; I only propose more men.

Sir R. Peel

said, that if the hon. Member for Birmingham had confined his motion to an instruction to the Committee to reconsider their vote, he could then have raised an argument; but having proposed, in addition, that the Committee should enquire into the expediency of an increase of the number of men, he came at once within the restriction imposed by parliamentary usage. It was, he conceived, most important, both in practice and in principle, that the House should not have the power to increase a vote proposed by the Crown. The question involved a great constitutional principle. Once establish the practice of increasing particular votes, and the same thing would be done with all the estimates. The result would be a general adoption of this indirect mode of increasing the expense of the public establishments. He did not mean to controvert the arguments and statements of the hon. Gentleman; but on the constitutional principle he had adverted to, he objected to the course proposed to be pursued.

Mr. Attwood

certainly would not wish the motion to be negatived, because out of doors that would look like defeat. He believed that there was scarcely a Member of that House who did not think that the navy ought to be increased. He had no objection to withdraw the motion and bring it on another time.

Motion withdrawn.