HC Deb 08 March 1841 vol 57 cc34-43
Sir H. Vivian

, in rising to bring forward the Ordnance Estimates, said, that it would have afforded him sincere pleasure, as it would, he was sure, have gratified the Committee, if, like his right hon. Friend, the Secretary at War, he had been able to state, that there was a diminution in the estimates for the expenses of the Ordnance department for the present year, as compared with those of the last year. He regretted, however, to state, that the exigencies of the service required a very considerable increase, amounting, upon the whole, to 186,903l., the cause of which he should endeavour, as briefly as possible, to explain, and, by stating the grounds of the increase against each vote on which any addition had been made, he trusted he should succeed in showing, that the increase in the expenditure was absolutely necessary, and he hoped also to show, that it had not been carried to too great an extent; he feared, indeed, there might be some who would be of opinion he had not carried it far enough. The first vote was for the expenses of the Ordnance civil establishments at the Tower, Pall - mall; Woolwich, out-stations of the United Kingdom, and foreign stations. In this vote there was an increase of 2,757l., which arose in a great degree from the increase of salaries in the department for length of servitude, as also from the appointment of two additional storekeepers at Montreal and Sierra Leone. In the second vote, for the royal engineers and sappers and miners, there was an increase of 2,688l., which was occasioned by an additional company of sappers and miners to be employed at Bermuda, at the suggestion of the Governor of that colony, made through the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, in consequence of the impossibility of procuring artificers, and labourers to perform the works without very great additional expense. In the next vote there was a decrease of 1,212l., which arose from the fact of a larger quantity of clothing having been made up last year than was necessary for the service of the year, and consequently a less quantity was required for the present year. With respect to the royal artillery no alteration was made. The 576 men that had been added to that corps during the last two years, had enabled him to relieve the companies on foreign stations, with one exception only, shortly after the expiration of their period of service. To do this, however, he had been compelled to reduce the number of men employed in some of those stations, but he had not found it necessary to ask for any increase in the present vote for the royal artillery; but should the large number now employed in the colonies continue to be required there, he feared in a future year he should have to ask the House for an addition to the present force. In the fourth vote there was an increase of 96l.; this was occasioned by some addition to the barrack establishment. The next vote was for the ordnance works and repairs of the United Kingdom and the colonies, building and repair of barracks, barrack expenditure, &c. In this there was an increase, which had arisen from the Ordnance having been called on to erect new barrack and ordnance works, or to add to those now existing. He would explain the items. At Waltham Abbey, to increase the means of manufacturing gunpowder, it is proposed to expend 11,000l. in building and machinery. At Birmingham, also, in consequence of the necessity for supplying the army with new muskets, an establishment had been formed at an expense of 5,000l. It had cast 6,500l. to repair the damage done by a late storm to the sea-line at Portsmouth; 14,800l. to expedite the works at Halifax; 2,870l. for the Cape frontier; 2,200l. for the works at Gibraltar, on the re-commendation of the committee appointed to inquire into the state of the defence of the garrison, by the authority of the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Colonies. Complaints had, for a long time, been made of the defective state of the sea-line at that station; it had been from time to time patched up, but the application of steam navigation had occasioned so great an alteration in the circumstances of any fortification liable to attack from the sea, subjecting it to be approached with so much greater facility and certainty, that it had become the duty of the Government to provide against attacks under this altered system of navigation, both at Gibraltar and other important out-stations. Sir John Jones, the officer who had been so successfully engaged in reinstating the works in the Netherlands after the late war, was now employed in preparing estimates and plans for the works required at Gibraltar. Those estimates and plans were not completed, but a rough estimate had been submitted to the Government, and it was thought right to take a vote for 20,000l., to enable them to carry on the works, without loss of time. The next cause of increase was for the erection of barracks on the Cape frontier. The expence here proposed to be incurred was 8,857l. The next item was for the barracks in the central districts of this country, 20,000l. In the northern districts it had been found necessary to have a greater number of troops there than there was barrack room for. Some troops there had been lodged in temporary barracks for eighteen years. Two years ago, he (Sir H. Vivian) went down and examined the barracks in that district; many of them were much out of repair, and in a very bad state. This was more particularly the case in Bolton and Bury, and he thought it was his duty, holding the situation he did, to take care, if it were necessary to continue so large a number of troops, beyond what there were permanent barracks already capable of accommodating, that they should be properly and comfortably lodged. 10,000l. was proposed to be expended in increasing the barrack accommodation at Brecon. When the disturbances took place in South Wales last year, in consequence of the want of barrack room the troops were lodged in public-houses, and afterwards in mills and other buildings, that were hired for the purpose. He had visited the stations in that neighbourhood, and found the troops, as far as a temporary accommodation went, very comfortably lodged, but at the desire of the Secretary of State, for the Home Department, he had directed an officer of engineers to go down and prepare plans, &c., for the erection of barracks, at different stations where it had been recommended barracks should be provided, but he hoped any great expense for that purpose would yet be unnecessary. No estimate was therefore now made except for the barrack at Brecon, and that expenditure, even, he hoped might not be required, he would endeavour to avoid it if possible. It was also proposed to take 10,000l. for the erection of a fortified or defensible barracks at Pembroke. This had become a most important station, and the provision for the lodging of the troops there was found to be most incomplete. It was found, that at an expense comparatively small, a barrack might be erected that would afford accommodation to the troops, and be effective as a means of defending the town. In the sixth vote for military and civil contingencies, including surveys of the United Kingdom, and army extraordinaries, there was an increase upon the last year's estimate of 5,414l. The next vote, which was for ordnance and military stores, was an important one. The increase here was 121,000l. This increase had arisen principally in consequence of the necessity of supplying the troops with percussion arms. For many years great complaints had been made of the arms with which the soldiers of the British army were furnished; in many respects, no doubt, the musket was a good and a powerful arm, bat in others it was defective, the lock especially so, and the consequence was, a very large proportion missed fire, he might say as many as one third. Now he thought it was due to the British soldier, when sent out to fight the battles of his country, to place in his hands such arms as he could depend upon; his conduct at all times fully entitled him to this consideration. He now, therefore, proposed the large sum of 130,000l. for supplying our troops with percussion fire- arms. The subject of improving the firearms had been mooted, when he (Sir H. Vivian) entered upon his present office of Master-general of the Ordnance. He had taken very great pains on the subject, and had a musket of every description made, and when he had obtained what he considered to be a good one, he applied to his noble Friend, the Commander-in-chief, to name two experienced officers to serve on a committee to examine and report upon the fire-arms submitted to them; as president of that committee, he placed his gallant Friend the Storekeeper of the Ordnance, and he should not do them justice if he failed to take this opportunity of expressing his sense of the pains they took in investigating this most important subject. They decided in favour of a particular musket as a pattern and also upon a carbine and a rifle, and he immediately ordered a certain number of each to be made up and sent, some to the troops in Canada, others to those in England and in Ireland, for trial. He had, at the same time, requested Lord Hill to direct, that a report should be sent from the officer in command of the different regiments to which these arms were sent, the reports were in the highest degree favourable. New arms it is well known are supplied to the troops once in every twelve years, and at the present time in consequence of there being a doubt as to the description of arms to be supplied. No less than twenty-six regiments are in want of arms, these then will have at once or at least as soon as possible, to be supplied with percussion arms, therefore it is, that a very large sum is required in order to provide them. He had obtained from Lord Hill reports of the opinions of those regiments which as yet have received the new muskets, and all agreed, that "the arms which had been then supplied to them were far more useful and better calculated for the service than those with which they had been previously furnished." The right hon. and gallant General then read the opinions of the officers commanding the grenadier guards, the 7th dragoon guards, the 13th and 14th light dragoons, the Coldstream, the 72nd, the rifle brigade, and other regiments, all of which spoke of the arms as most excellent, and decidedly superior to those previously in use. He therefore considered it his duty as fast as possible to go on with the manufacture of these arms, and this was absolutely necessary, inasmuch as if occasion should arise for calling the troops into the field, it Would not only be most injudicious, but it would be unjustifiable, to send them out with flint locks against an army provided with percussion locks. In proof of this, he might mention, a circumstance which occurred whilst he was in the command in Ireland, when at a review, during a violent shower, the pans became so wet, that not a single musket in one of the regiments would go off. There was also an addition of 15,000l. for other stores, and a further addition in the military store branch of 10,000l. The unprovided list amounted to 5,579l. Of that sum, 100l. had been laid out for the purchase of the land on which the tower of Bagenbon, near Fethard, in the county of Wexford was situated, and the remainder was for the purchase of some ground necessary to the completion of some of the new works, at Kingston in Canada. The whole amount of the votes was 186,903l. more than last year. If any hon. Member was desirous of further explanation he should be most happy to give it, when the vote was proposed on which it might be required. The right hon. and gallant General moved:— That a sum not exceeding 119,631l. be granted to her Majesty for defraying the salaries of the civil establishments at the Tower, and Pall-mall, Woolwich, the out-stations in the United Kingdom, and foreign stations, for 1841–2.

Mr. Hume

observed, that as the House was determined to keep up a large standing army, it was certainly desirable that they should have an efficient artillery. It was desirable that this branch of the service should be placed on the best possible footing, and also, that the arms that should be given to the troops should be as good as possible. On this ground, he, for one, should not object to the proposal of the right hon. and gallant Officer for arming the troops with guns with percussion locks. He had no doubt but that the right hon. and gallant Officer made every possible inquiry, and examined the subject fully before he adopted these new arms. He was not at all surprised at the increased expenditure for ordnance stores, when he recollected the recent proceedings on the coast of Syria, where such large quantities of them had been uselessly thrown away. He should not trouble the House to divide on these estimates, but he protested against the large scale of our military establishments.

Colonel Thomas

wished to know whether the troops in India were to be armed with the percussion guns.

Sir Hussey Vivian

replied that the matter was then under consideration.

Vote agreed to, as were several other votes.

On the vote of 525,521l. for ordnance works and repairs, and storekeepers' expenditure, building and repair of barracks, &c. in the United Kingdom and the colonies,

Sir A. Dalrymple

said, that he observed in this vote a charge of 10,000l. for the enlargement of the barracks at Brecon. He wished to know whether the principle of enlarging the central barracks of a district was to be acted upon in South Wales as it was in other districts, instead of having detached barracks at various places?

Sir H. Vivian

replied, that a number of plans had been submitted to him for the erection or enlargement of barracks in other places in South Wales; but he did not intend to make any proposition on the subject until it became absolutely necessary to do so. He had received communications from officers stationed in South Wales, who told him, that although it was found necessary for the present to distribute the troops in a number of places in that district, yet, that they, generally speaking, were comfortably quartered.

Mr. Hodges

asked what steps had been taken respecting the repair of the barracks at Hythe; and also whether it was at all necessary to keep up the barracks there?

Sir H. Vivian

had made inquiries on the subject of the commanding officer of the district. It appeared that last year the roof of the barracks in question was in a bad state, and the officer to whom he had alluded had received instructions to have it repaired. He had entered in to a contract for this purpose, with a person who, it turned out, was not competent to complete it. The repairs, therefore, had not yet been finished. On this subject he bad sent down one of the best officers connected with his department, namely, Captain Pasley, who reported that a new roof was necessary for these barracks, and that the expense would not be very great. With respect to the continuance of the barracks at Hythe, he had no hesitation in saying that they were absolutely necessary in case of war. If, therefore, the present building were abandoned, they would, very probably, in a few years, have to rebuild it at a greatly-increased expense.

Mr. Hume

regretted to find, that whenever any local or temporary disturbances look place, a demand was made in that House for the erection of large barracks. This was the case a few years ago with respect to Lancashire, and it was now to be acted upon in South Wales. If this was the principle that was to be acted upon, there would be no end to the expenditure. The truth was, that in case of disturbances, the Government would avail itself of the facilities of communication afforded by the railways. He did not mean to object to any particular vote, but he rose to protest against the system of studding the country with barracks.

Sir Hussey Vivan

denied that the Board of Ordnance or the Home Office acted upon the principle of having barracks built in a place whenever an emeute occurred. The greatest caution was used, and they were never erected unless after the most mature consideration, and until they were deemed to be absolutely necessary.

Mr. Hume

expressed a hope that the charge of admission to the jewel-room, in the Tower, would be reduced. The principle had been tried with respect to the armouries, and had been attended with the greatest success, and he now trusted that the charge would be reduced still further. He found, from a document, which he had in his possession, that in the year 1837, when the charge of admission to the armouries in the Tower was three shillings, 10,500 visited them, and the sum received was 1,030l.; in 1838, when the charge was reduced to one shilling, they were visited by 41,000, and the sum taken was 2,040l. In the twelve months, ending January, 1840, during which time the charge was sixpence, they were visited by 80,000 persons, and the sum received was 2,000l.; and in the year ending January 1841, the number of persons visiting the armouries was 91,897, and the amount received was 2,297l. 8s. 6d. Was not this a satisfactory proof of the advantage of making reduction in charges? For his own part, he should like to see all public places thrown open to the pubic free of all charge, as there were thousands who; could not afford to pay sixpence. As this, however, was not very likely to be assented to, he trusted that the right hon. and gallant Member would consent to reduce the charge of admission to three-pence, or a four penny piece for each person. He hoped also that before long the armouries would be thrown open to the public, free of all charge, for at least one day in a week. The principle which he had just alluded to should also be applied in the levying of duties; and he was satisfied that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer would consent to reduce the duties on tea and sugar, and other necessaries one half, that there would be no defalcation in the revenue while the benefit conferred on the public would be very great.

Vote agreed to. Resolutions ordered to be reported. House resumed. Committee to sit again.