HC Deb 25 March 1839 vol 46 cc1181-6

On the Order of the Day for the House to go into a Committee of Supply,

Captain Boldero

rose to move an address for a copy of the order issued to the marines, obliging them to provide their, own great-coats. The Admiralty, she contended, had no right to sanction the deduction of a sum out of the pay of the marines for that purpose. There was regulation made which bore date the 20th of September, 1819, which had reference to the proper and sufficient clothing of the marines while doing duty on shore. According to this regulation, as he apprehended, they were entitled to great coats, at all events, while on shore. He had no access to official documents, but had merely been supplied with information through private sources, he conceived, however, that even upon the grounds which he could lay before the House, such a case could be Made out as fully to justify and require its interference. It was perfectly true, that according to one of the regulations, a copy of which he held in his hand, a commanding officer was authorized to cause recruits to be furnished with knapsacks and greatcoats at the expense of the Government and the reason of that regulation was this, that young men joining the marines frequently manifested a disposition to mutiny when they were at their very entrance into the service subjected to such heavy stoppages as the additional charges for the great coats occasioned; it was, therefore, found expedient to remit this regulation in the case of the recruits and confine it to the old soldiers. By an order dated the 15th of August, 1805, the officer commanding was authorized to order watch coats for marines serving, on shore, to cause proper care to be taken of them, and to see, that they were carefully reserved for future occasions; thus, half at least of the men were under the two orders to which he had referred, entitled to great-coats, and all the recruits were entitled to them, so that it would require but very little additional expense to put the remaining portion of the marines upon the same footing as the soldiers of the He would suppose a possible case, that of marines directed to advance upon a military position, encumbered with knapsacks and great-coats. The officers commanding would at once desire them to fling them away; suppose the coats were lost, would it be contended, that the prices, of these coats ought to be stopped from the poor men? Then why persevere in the present absurd and obnoxious practice? Why should they be worse treated on foreign service than at home, or at sea than on short? The evil of which he complained could be remedied at an expense probably not exceeding 5,000l. or 6,000l. a year. He admitted, that the obnoxious practice had not arisen during the administration of the present Board of Admiralty, but that circumstance by no means lessened the obligation under which they lay to remove it; he entreated the House to recollect whose cause he was pleading; it was that of men who had never flinched from the performance of their duty in times of the greatest danger. They were men on whom devolved the painful duty of turning their arms against their own fellow-countrymen, whenever it became necessary to repress mutiny; from that danger they had never flinched, and yet, in many respects, they were worse off than the seamen. He could confidently say, that no men could have discharged their many and arduous duties more zealously or more efficiently than had the British marines at all times, and under all circumstances, and he, therefore, with confidence left their case in the hands of the House. He concluded by moving an address.

Mr. C. Wood

observed, that the hon. and gallant Member had given a very good reason for not complying with his own motion. He alleged, that the Admiralty had no authority for refusing the great coats; if so, how could they produce the order for which he moved. He did not expect, that the motion of the hon. and gallant Member would come on that evening, and he, therefore, could not say, that he was prepared to enter into the question at any length; but probably his hon. Friend near him would favour the House with his views of the question then under consideration. He should only observe, that it had been the invariable practice for marines to find their own great-coats, and the instances which the hon. and gallant Member opposite gave, were exceptions which only proved the rule. The establishment of perfect uniformity throughout every department of the public service would be almost impracticable and if practicable, would be unjust. Marines were for the most part employed at sea, and if uniformity were valued so highly, it should be recollected, that the seamen were not provided by the Government with great-coats.

Sir T. Troubridge

stated the practice to be, that one coat was provided for the recruits upon entering the service, and for this reason, that they could not have any arrear of pay coming to them to meet such extra expense, It was a mistake, however, to suppose that the marines paid full value for their coats; on the contrary, they were furnished with them at a very reduced price. The complaint then made to the House was one which appeared to him to be perfectly new; he had never heard of anything of the sort before that evening. There could be no doubt, if the marines were asked whether they would rather pay for their coats or receive them without payment, that they would prefer the latter; but he professed himself unable to discover any real grievance in the case before the House. If there were any grievance, and that it underwent proper examination by the competent authorities, and was investigated regularly through the several departments, there could be nothing more agreeable to the Government, nothing in which they could feel a greater interest, than redressing such a grievance. It was, however, always the practice of Government to wait till complaints came from the proper quarters, and if those complaints were well founded, the Government had the greatest possible interest in removing their cause.

Mr. Hume

wished, that there should be no distinction between the marines and the seamen on the one hand, and the infantry on the other.

Viscount Howick

said, that in his opinion, the marines were in a situation superior to that in which the infantry were placed; the marines paid nothing for their rations when at sea, while the infantry generally paid. This question appeared to him one with which the House ought not to deal rashly or without full and minute examination, and he hoped, that the application then made would be refused. If there were any species of application worse than another, when addressed to that House, it was an application on behalf of a body of armed men. If the House once began to listen to such applications, it would be regarded as an encouragement, and he did not hesitate to say, that it would be fraught with great danger to the safety of the country. These were matters which ought to be left in the hands of the executive; he even considered, that the mere discussion of them in a popular assembly was not unattended with the possibility of dangerous results.

Sir H. Hardinge,

bad always expressed the strong objection which he felt to discussions of that kind in the House of Commons. The army and the navy ought to look up to the Crown, and the Crown only—by no means to the House of Commons. The military force of the country should be the army of the Crown, and not the army of the Parliament. At the same time he must observe, that his hon. and gallant Friend, the Member for Chippenham, did no more in principle than had previously been done by the noble Lord the Member for Sussex. He should have voted against that motion had he been in the House as he should vote against the present motion, for he thought they were alike in principle, and both objectionable. With regard to this particular question, his opinion was, that wherever, as at the present moment in Spain, a battalion of marines, acting as soldiers on shore, performed the same services as infantry, the Government, as an act of justice, should supply without charge great-coats to the marine force as well as to the infantry. He hoped the Admiralty would hold out a promise liberally to consider the whole matter, and upon that understanding he would urge his hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham to withdraw his motion.

Mr. C. Wood

protested against being considered as admitting this complaint to originate in any grievance. At the same time, if it did, he was sure the Admiralty would be ready fully to inquire into it.

Sir C. Adam

did not think that a primâ facie case for inquiry had been made out; but if any grievances were proved, it would undoubtedly be fit that a remedy should be applied.

Mr. Wakley

could not but admire the delicacy with which the noble Lord (Howick), the hon. Secretary for the Admiralty, and the hon. and gallant Officer opposite, contrived to dispose of this question. The army, said they, belonged to the Crown, and to the Crown must they look in all matters of this kind. But suppose the Crown acted unjustly and tyrannically, what then? There would be inquiry, perhaps, but no redress. He had frequently heard complaints made in that House, and substantiated, of the injustice which had been perpetrated both with respect to officers of the army and navy, but in no case had the grievance been redressed. He lamented to see the "ins" and "outs" hold together on such occasions, because they felt their own authority was impeached, and the manner in which they performed their executive functions. The noble Lord (Howick) was just going out of office, and the gallant Officer was about to succeed him ["No, no," and a laugh]; that was apparently the case, and for himself he wished to see frequent changes in the Government; it was his wish to keep the two factions constantly before the eyes of the people; the deeds of the Tories seemed to be a blank in the eyes of Englishmen at present; but they knew something of the Whigs, and there was a general outcry against them from one end of the country to the other. [Loud laughter.] With the mere exception of the palace, he really did not know where a single Whig could be found. He hoped the gallant Officer who introduced this question would divide the House upon it, unless the Admiralty gave a distinct pledge fully to inquire into the ground of complaint.

Motion withdrawn.

Question again put that the Speaker leave the Chair.