HC Deb 24 February 1843 vol 66 cc1326-36
Mr. Sidney Herbert

said that at that late hour he would compress into the shortest space the statement in elucidation of the estimates which had been laid on the Table. Last year he had to claim the indulgence of the committee in undertaking the task of moving the estimates for the first time; on the present occasion he had to ask the same indulgence on a different ground, namely, in consequence of the absence, from indisposition, of a gallant Friend of his, a member of the Board of Admiralty, whose high professional and personal character invested him with the highest authority on naval matters; and procured for his opinions a respect as creditable to those who paid it, as to him to whom they thus deferred. In the course of the preliminary discussion to going into committee of supply, the improved state of the relations of this country with respect to certain foreign nations had been so fully explained that it was not necessary for him to say a word more on the subject. That discussion showed in what manner the Government had been able to make a reduction of 4,000 men in the naval service of the country. This partly had arisen from the termination of the war with China, and partly in consequence of the state of our foreign relations in Europe being such as to enable us to make a reduction in the number of the fleet in the Mediterranean; but the force would be found quite sufficient for the exigencies of the service. The reduction of the number of 4,000 seamen in round numbers, would of course I would be in the recollection of some hon. make a material reduction in the amount of the estimate required for their pay and provisions this year as compared with that of last year. In the next vote, for the purchase of provisions and victualling stores, a saving would be found to be effected in addition to that resulting from the smaller number to be victualled, by the great reduction that had taken place in the price of provisions. In the next vote, namely, that for the Admiralty-office, there was a small increase, arising in two ways. In the first place, after the adoption of the new postage the Admiralty estimated the charge for postage at 6,000l.; and a vote to that amount for the purpose had been taken for the last few years; but the charge for postage had uniformly been found to exceed that sum. Under these circumstances, it was determined to ask for 2,000l. in addition, which would be about the sum required; and, therefore, the sum proposed to be taken for postage this year was 8,000l. The other increase, under the head of Admiralty-office, arose from the circumstance that the clerks for lengthened service were entitled to a small additional pay, and it was therefore necessary to make a small addition to the vote. There was also a charge for the salary of a deputy accountant-general of the navy. By the act for the consolidation of the officers connected with the navy at Somerset-house, it was intended that an efficient check should be established over the navy expenditure, and that the bills, after having been passed by the accountant general, should be countersigned by a Lord of the Admiralty. This plan, however, was not found to afford an efficient check, for large piles of papers were constantly accumulating, which it was impossible to examine, and which were necessarily signed without being verified, so that a signature of the Lord of the Admiralty was not a sufficient check. For the purpose of remedying this evil, is was determined to appoint an efficient and responsible officer under the accountant-general, entitled the deputy accountant-general of the navy, who should devote himself entirely to the naval accounts. The next head of expenditure under which there was an increase was the scientific branch. There was some diminution of charge for printing scientific works, but this was more than counterbalanced by a charge for the establishment of a compass department at Woolwich. It would be in the recollection of some hon. Gentlemen opposite that complaints were made to former Boards of Admiralty respecting defects being found in compasses that were used for the navy. In consequence of this, in 1826, a commission was appointed, at the head of which was Professor Barlow, to institute an inquiry into the subject. This commission was formed of several scientific men and experienced officers, and, by the report which that body prepared it became manifest that great errors were often to be imputed to the compasses, which had often been productive of the most serious consequences; the commission, therefore, recommended the appointment of an efficient officer to superintend the employment of a test for the regulation of compasses. The officer appointed to this department was Captain Johnson, who had been strongly recommended by Captain Beaufort. Under this head he might observe, that at the present time a great number of surveys were being carried on in various parts of the world. For instance, surveys were being made on several places on the coast of England, particularly at the mouth of the Thames; on the coast of Ireland; at the Orkney Islands; in several parts of the Mediterranean; at the Azores, at the Bay of Fundy, in the West Indies; at the Falkland Islands; a surveying expedition, on an enlarged scale, had also been recently despatched to the coast of China. Again, a survey was being made on the coast of Australia; and, in addition to these, there was the Antarctic expedition. With respect to the last, accounts of the most satisfactory nature had recently been received from Captain Ross, who had penetrated ten degrees further than any one before him, and who was now refitting at the Falkland Islands, after having been three years engaged in this service. That gallant officer had sent home a most valuable collection of magnetic observations, which would stamp the character of the expedition as of the utmost importance in a scientific point of view. [Captain Pechell: What was the date of the last accounts from Captain Ross?] September last. The estimate for the home establishments was less than that of the previous year, notwithstanding the establishment of a steam department at Woolwich dockyard. Upon reference, however, to the estimate No. 8, it would be found that in the wages to the artificers, labourers, and others, employed in her Majesty's establishments at home, there was an increase of upwards of 20,000l. This arose in some measure from the additional labour in the engine-factory at Woolwich, amounting to about 10,000l., and an additional expense for the labour of the yards, which arose, not from any increased establishments, for that remained the same, but from the sum taken last year being found insufficient for their payment, not having been varied. In the estimate for the naval stores for the building, repair, and outfit of the fleet, &c, there was a considerable diminution, as compared with the previous year, of about 200,000l., which was owing, in a great measure, to the reduction in the price of materials. There was an increase, however, in the charge for the half-pay amounting to nearly 30,000l., which was accounted for by promotions, the removal of officers from full to half-pay, consequent on the great reductions in the fleet, and the additional allowance to pursers; but when the successful termination of the wars of the past year were considered, and the gallantry with which that war was carried on, and the commercial results likely to accrue from its success, that would scarcely be thought an extravagant expenditure. In the charge for freight, &c, on account of the Home Department, there was an increase of about 4,000l., and also of 2,000l. in the packet service of the post-office department. The latter increase arose in consequence of certain alterations made in the contract for steam-packets, the effect of which was the acceleration of the mails. There was also a considerable increase of expense in the works of the dockyards; in consequence of the construction of machinery for testing machines, engines, saw mills, and other important and necessary works, all of which in their result tend to great economy in the public expenditure. At Woolwich, it is right to state that the basin and dock had been continued beyond the vote of Parliament, it being found necessary for the public service. But the principal work at Portsmouth was the new steam-basin. The House was well aware that steam-power and navigation had made great advances of late years; but the steam factory at Woolwich was the only Government factory of that kind. He believed that, when first the steam factory at Woolwich was commenced the number of Government steam-vessels was fifty-five, comprising 6,443 horse- power; now there were ninety-six vessels, of upwards of 14,301 horse-power. In France, with an inferior steam navy, they had five steam establishments; in England one. By the establishment of this one, a great saving had already been effected; the repairs of steam machinery cost less than 3l. instead of 5l. per horse-power. If an engagement with a hostile force were to be fought in the channel, a disabled steamer could scarcely ever succeed in reaching the Thames. On the whole, the greatest economy had been exercised, but, at the same time that reduction had been made, the efficiency of the service had been most carefully regarded, and he hoped that the House would find that next year the navy would be in a more efficient state than it had been in for some time past. Great attention had been paid to every department connected with the organization of the service; the demonstration-ships had been put in proper serviceable condition, and if an exigency should arise, which God forbid, he felt assured that our means and our preparation were such that there would be no difficulty in instantly coping with any enemy. He wished only further to observe, that the total savings on the year's estimates would amount to 435,000l., and having stated thus much, he left the estimates with confidence to the House assured that there had been no negligence on the part of the Admiralty, but that every effort had been made to put the navy in a secure and effective condition. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving, that 39,000 men including 10,500 Royal Marines, and 2,000 boys be employed for the service of the year to March 1844.

Mr. M. O'Ferrall

observed, that he was quite ready to admit that some economy was shown in the estimates now laid before the House, but that he was not at all satisfied that further reductions might not have been made, or that those now proposed were judiciously apportioned. He thought it was decidedly irregular to take the vote for the payment of the ships' companies now expected home from China, as it appeared that it was purposed to take it. When he was in office, he was told that if a vote was required for a particular service, it ought to be taken in a distinct form; but it now appeared, that the Government had one set of rules for proceedings when out of office, and another set for use when they attained power. For his part he saw no reason whatever for departing from the established regulations. With regard to the appointment of a new officer at Somerset-house, he really could not discover on what grounds such an office was proposed to be created. The only object it could serve would be the removal of some responsibility from the Admiralty, and if they were to go on in this way, creating deputy accountant-generals, why should they not have deputies in every other branch of the civil departments of the service? Such a proposition seemed to him to be virtually a re-establishment of the old Navy Board, with all its abuses, and of any such arrangement he certainly could not express any approbation. With respect to the scientific departments, the increase in the estimates appeared to be some what strange, when it was recollected that the votes for these objects had been already doubled within the last ten years. He should not however, object to this increase, nor to that addition to the votes which was intended to apply to the formation of steam machinery; indeed, he was glad to see that the Government was in these respects following up the principles of its predecessors, and that where they had in their last estimates departed from these principles, they now found it advisable to retrace their steps. Respecting the stores, he thought a due regard to liberality was always the best economy in the end, and instead of making a reduction in this part of the estimates, he should have been glad to have found that the miscellaneous items were reduced. Under the last head, indeed, he could not but particularly remark the vote proposed for extra payment to clerks. Surely, when the business was decreasing it was odd, to say the least of it, that more clerks should be required? But perhaps the Government anticipated a little agreeable additional patronage from this source; and, indeed, this consideration appeared to be a very ruling motive with them in framing the estimates generally, for he could not but observe that whenever he found a small excess it was always under some head where the Administration might employ some small additional patronage. These observations, however, were not of a sufficiently important nature to justify him in longer detaining the House, and he should not, indeed, have made any remarks on the subject at all had not the hon. Gentleman taken credit to himself for such a strict regard to economy. In all the votes in which the efficacy of the service was concerned, the Government might count upon his support; but on other points he must certainly, for the present, reserve his opinion.

Mr. W. Williams,

previous to the question being put, desired some information as to the cause of the increase of the pensioners in the civil department. He also wished to know what were the duties of a Major-general of Marines? There was a gallant Admiral, at present one of the Lords of the Admiralty, who filled one of these seemingly anomalous situations at the same time that he was receiving his admiral's half-pay and his salary as a naval lord.

Mr. S. Herbert

replied that the appointment to be General of Marines was an honorary distinction bestowed for distinguished naval services. It had been approved by the commission for inquiring into the army and navy.

Mr. Hume

called attention to the number of yachts, and the expense they cost.

Sir Robert Peel

referred to her Majesty's late trip to Scotland, when she was obliged to hire a steam vessel. He was sure, that in the present state of steam navigation when steam-vessels were so much superior to sailing vessels, that the House could but desire that her Majesty should have a steam yacht for her own use, whenever her Majesty might require one. They must all be glad that her Majesty should be capable of using one, and all must be glad that her Majesty should visit every part of her dominions. It was only proper that if the Queen of England chose to do that, she should have a steam yacht of her own, and not be obliged to hire one of a steam company. The expense for fitting such a vessel for her Majesty's use had not exceeded by 2,000l. the sum required for building similar vessels in the customary and ordinary manner. Her Majesty had expressed a wish that the vessel should be so constructed as to be adapted to the exigencies of the public service, and not be appropriated exclusively to her use. The expense, therefore, would only be a small sum greater than was required to build such a vessel in the ordinary manner of 400 horse power, or 30,000l.

Mr. Williams

had not one word to say against building the vessel, but he was glad to hear the explanation, because an impression had gone abroad that the ship was to cost a sum far beyond the ordinary expense of a steam man-of-war.

Captain Fitzroy

thought it was extremely proper in discussing these estimates that Gentlemen should cast their eyes abroad and be careful not to reduce our establishments so as to render them inefficient to meet any increase in the establishment of foreign powers. At present it was incumbent on us to extend our steam navigation, and make our steam vessels as efficient and complete as possible. It was not necessary for him to allude to the places where great exertions were making abroad, it was only necessary to mention the subject, and point out the caution it indicated. The hon. Member for Kildare had objected to the appointment of a deputy-accountant, but he thought the services of some such officer was necessary. The more the responsibility was increased, the greater would be the efficiency of the public service. At the present time the Admiralty had quite as much work to do as they could get through, and in time of war it would not be possible for the Lords of the Admiralty to execute all that was required of them. The hon. Member had objected to the Navy Board; but that board, or some equivalent officers, were able to bestow minute attention on details which could not be bestowed by the Lords of the Admiralty, and which was at the same time very useful. Far from objecting to our establishments, he wished to see preparations for building steam vessels at all our ports, and he thought that it was indispensable that the Government should have an establishment of its own for making steam machinery, instead of being dependent on private manufacturers. At present we had only one establishment to repair steam machinery. He hoped, too, that the Hydrographic Department would receive the attention of the Government. It should be remembered that this department had lately trained a number of officers, who had been of great use in China. That department, in fact, was now of greater service than ever it had been before. It should be remembered that steam vessels, from the rapidity of their motion, could not rely so much on the lead, or keep so good a look out as other vessels; and, therefore, it became more than ever necessary to supply our vessels with good charts. At present the Hydrographic Department was overloaded with materials; the chambers of the hydrographic were crowded, and there was no room to work. He hoped that this subject would be taken into consideration, and that both our steam and hydro-graphic establishments, would be extended.

Sir C. Napier

thought, the Government were the best judges of the propriety of retaining or reducing our establishments, knowing, as they must, the position of our relations with foreign powers far better than could Members generally; but he could not help expressing a doubt whether the reductions in the number of seamen might not be found too great; as in times of public exigency the manning of our ships of war, not the fitting them out was the main difficulty experienced; and it had often occurred to him, that one very advisable way of meeting the difficulty would be that of displacing the marines in times of peace by seamen—the result of which regulation would be, that by dividing the crew of each of our guardships, and filling up the complement with boys, landsmen, &c, two ships of the line could be, at a few days' notice, fully manned and at no additional expense, instead of having to wait, as in some recent instances had been the case, for months. The great burthen of the naval charges consisted in the expenses of keeping up the necessary crews. Then, again, as to the way in which the business was managed at the Admiralty, he could not but think that a change might be beneficially effected. He had found that the business was really, though quite conventionally, and therefore irresponsibly, divided among the different members of the board, so that it was extremely difficult—civil as they were now a-days, and very different in this respect from what they used to be—it was very difficult for officers to find out to which member of the board they were, as to any particular department of the service, to apply. He had no hope now of seeing a naval man at the head of the Admiralty, but he thought the administration would be highly improved by rendering one individual responsible for each department. There should be one head of the dock yards, one of the victualling department, one of the finances, and so of others. And these arrangements should be independent of changes of Government. As things at present were managed, the Admiralty work could not be well got through. It was quite enough to kill the first naval lord. The illness of the hon. Admiral who filled that station now had been brought on entirely through the great exertions entailed upon him by the duties he had to fulfil; which had been found too much for all those who had within living memories occupied the same onerous post, and which had proved positively the destruction of some of the ablest and most valued among them, as Sir Thomas Hardy. One evil of the present system now was, that when the first naval lord was incapacitated by illness, the first lord was at a loss where to find an efficient substitute in whom he could confide. He would observe, too, how differently officers were rewarded in consequence of the views taken by different Boards of Admiralty. As an instance of it, he would refer to the case of Captain Mansell, an officer who had distinguished himself at Sidon and afterwards at Acre. For his services at Sidon he was made Post Captain, but had not been reported. When at Acre, he took a large ship of the enemy, with a small brig. All the other officers, of the same rank, engaged at Acre, were made Companions of the Bath; but Captain Mansell, because he had not been reported, lost that honour. As a contrast to that, there was the case of a Captain Gray, a volunteer, in China, who went ashore with Sir W. Parker, and, although he had no command, received for his services the honour of the Order of the Bath. As to promotion, it seemed that the present Board of Admiralty, when they wished to make any promotions, not only promoted one for every three vacancies, but made special vacancies, and promoted three for every one. With respect to steamers of war, a good deal of attention had been paid to the subject, but we had not made really much advance. We had not really one efficient war steamer. Neither the boilers nor machinery were secure, and they did not carry enough of fuel. He hoped the Government would see to the correction of these defects.

Mr. Labouchere

wished for some explanation of the appointment of deputy accountant-general. He asked for it upon higher considerations than those of mere economy.

Mr. Sidney Herbert

stated, that by the alteration that had been made, they had the signature of a person who really examined the accounts, whereas formerly there was the signature of an individual who did not inspect them.

Mr. C. Wood

expressed his satisfaction at the reductions made in the estimates.

Mr. Hume

thought, considering the state of the country, the reductions might have been still further carried out.

Vote agreed to as was also the vote of 1,259,697l. for wages to seamen and marines for the year 1843, 1844.

The House resumed, the Chairman reported progress. Committee to sit again.

House adjourned at a quarter before one.