§ The House then went into Committee of Supply on the Ordnance Estimates: Mr. Bernal in the chair.
§ MR. HUME
appealed to the noble Lord the First Minister of the Crown to allow 262 the Ordnance Estimates to stand over until Monday, to afford time to hon. Members to read the report of the Committee on that subject, which had not yet been issued to Members, although he was assured that it would be ready by Saturday.
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
begged to remind the House that they had met that day—the 12th of July, and at a very late period of the Session—for the purpose of considering the Ordnance Estimates proposed to be voted for the year from the 5th of April last to the 5th of April next. He had certainly been in hopes that some time ago the Committee which had sat on the Ordnance and Army Estimates would have been able to make some report, However, the evidence and the consideration of that evidence had taken till the present time. The question put by his hon. Friend was whether, that being the case, he would not agree to put off the Ordnance Estimates till Monday next. Now, he must say it appeared to him that if there was to be a postponement at all, that would not be a fair time to postpone it to, because there ought to be sufficient time to enable the Board of Ordnance and the Government to consider the report, and to mature their judgment upon the various points connected with it. Now, that might require till the end of the present month or sometime in August, perhaps towards September, He certainly thought that were the hon. Member for Montrose and the other Members of the Committee, who had had several months to consider the points involved in the report, to avail themselves of their knowledge to press objections upon the Government, without the Government having had time to consider the report, and without their being able, therefore, to enter upon its discussion—that would be an unfair mode of discussing the report. It seemed to him, therefore, that they should either proceed to the consideration of the Ordnance Estimates for the present year then—of course listening to any objections that might be stated to them by hon. Members, but deferring the consideration of the views propounded by the Committee with regard to the preparation of the estimates for next year—or else postpone the consideration of the estimates for not less than a fortnight from that time. He submitted, that to postpone the consideration of the estimates till August, when there would necessarily be a thin House, would be a very unsatisfactory mode of proceeding; and that the better mode would be to 263 proceed now with the estimates, and leave the report of the Committee to be carefully considered during the recess, and discussed in detail next Session.
Motion made, and Question proposed—
That a sum, not exceeding 361,800l., be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the expense of the Pay, Allowances, and Contingencies of Ordnance Military Corps, which will come in course of payment during the year ending the 31st day of March, 1850.
§ MR. HERRIES
said, he was quite sensible that this was the 12th of July, and that the Session was far advanced; but the House was in this position—in the early part of the Session the estimates had been referred to a Select Committee, in order that they might guide the House to a correct decision thereupon. That Committee had fully considered the subject, but their report was not yet in the hands of Members; and it was in those circumstances that they were invited to come to a decision upon the Ordnance Estimates without the knowledge of the important advice which was given to the House by the Committee. He would gladly avoid delay in the consideration of the estimates; but, undoubtedly, the House would be placed under great disadvantage in coming to a decision upon them unless time was afforded to Members to become acquainted with the advice of the Committee. [Lord J. RUSSELL: Why not the Government?] The noble Lord has mentioned two parties—the Committee and the Government. But he had apparently forgotten a third party—namely, the House, which wanted the information which the Government possessed already. He felt the disadvantages of delay, but, at the same time, admitted the validity of the objections of the hon. Member for Montrose. In fact, the whole position of the affair exhibited strongly the evil of referring the estimates to Committees. Exactly the same thing happened last year, and, after all, the estimates were voted without their having the report before them. He would not, however, divide in favour of the postponement.
§ MR. COBDEN
concurred with his hon. Friend the Member for Montrose in requesting that the noble Lord would not press the estimates that evening. The noble Lord surely could not have understood the case put by his hon. Friend, or he would not have answered as he had done. On Tuesday afternoon the Committee completed their report. It would be printed and in the hands of the House on Saturday; 264 but between Tuesday and Saturday—that interval of three days in which it was impossible for the House to read that report, or to learn what the Committee had been doing for the last five months—was just the interval seized on by the noble Lord for bringing on these estimates. The noble Lord had assumed that his hon. Friend wished the estimates postponed till August; but he wished no such thing—all he asked was, that they should be postponed till Monday next, when the report, as amended, might be in the hands of Members: at present the amended report had not even been seen by the Members of the Committee. Under these circumstances he did not think that the House should consent to the proposal of the noble Lord to proceed with the estimates that evening.
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
said, the hon. Gentleman who last spoke had entirely misrepresented what he (Lord J. Russell) had stated. In the first place, he must correct the hon. Member, when he said he (Lord J. Russell) had taken the House by surprise in the interval between the report being announced as ready, and its delivery to hon. Members. The course he really took was to inform the noble Chairman of the Committee that there was a period when the Government would have to go on with the estimates—that the Session was becoming late—and that he (Lord J. Russell) could not delay the estimates later than the 12th of July; at the same time asking the noble Chairman if the House would be in possession of the report before that period. The noble Chairman told him that, in his opinion, it would be laid before the House considerably before that day; and, having heard that opinion, he (Lord J. Russell) fixed the Ordnance Estimates for July 12, not on the supposition that the House would have to vote them in ignorance of the report, but, on the contrary, that they would be in possession of it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stamford observed very fairly that it was not the Government nor the Committee that had to decide this question, but the House. At the same time, the right hon. Gentleman weuld not differ from him when he stated that the Government must be responsible for the proposition they made to the House, and that it would not do for them to say, "Here is a certain sum, but whether it is a proper amount, or whether it should be diminished or increased, we are unable to say." It 265 was for that very reason he said the report would probably be delayed till August, because there must be time not only for the Government to consider the report, but the evidence on which it was founded, so that when any hon. Member objected to any vote, as excessive or otherwise, the Government should be able to say on what grounds it could be defended, and be prepared to stand by their own vote. It therefore was not enough for the Members of the Committee to be in possession of the report. The Government should have it likewise. It seemed to him a great inconvenience to postpone the vote to so late a period. He quite agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that it was an embarrassing position to be placed in; but the right hon. Gentleman knew well that if it were deferred so long, there were other steps consequent upon the vote, such as the Committee of Ways and Means, and the passing of the Appropriation Act, which would take up considerable time and necessarily protract the Session. Considering the great importance of obtaining votes such as would keep the service in a state of efficiency, and of not making any hasty retrenchments, he thought it bettor for the House not to make any alterations without due consideration, and not to postpone the votes any longer. He begged to remind them again, that the Government, which brought them forward, was alone responsible for the estimates.
§ SIR J. GRAHAM
quite agreed with the opinion expressed by the right hon. Member for Stamford, that it was not for the Committee or the Government, but for that House, to decide upon the estimates. He was very sorry his noble Friend the Chairman of the Committee was not present. Every Member of the Committee would bear testimony to his noble Friend's exertions; and he believed that those exertions had been so great as to render it necessary for him to leave England for a milder climate. As to the report, it had been presented—it was, in fact, then on the table of the House, and would be in the hands of Members by Saturday. On Friday last he had himself proposed that an intimation should be made to the House, that it would not be expedient to postpone the estimates until the report was laid before it. As the hon. Member for Montrose was not then present, nothing was done; but at that time there was not an immediate prospect of the report being concluded. On Monday last considerable progress was 266 made with the report. He, however, now frankly said, that, considering the details of the various services on which advice had been tendered, and that the Government could not have sufficient time to consider those details, it would be fairer to go on with the estimates as they had been prepared up to April last, without losing time now in discussing details which neither the House nor the Government had an opportunity of considering. He thought that at the commencement of next Session, the Government, having in the recess weighed the recommendations contained in the report, and instituted the inquiries in distant colonies which were recommended by the Committee, should, upon their responsibility, lay the Ordnance Estimates upon the table in the amended form which they might think would pass. If they proceeded on Monday next to debate those estimates with reference to a report which would not be in the hands of Members until Saturday, and which could not be fully weighed without fully considering the evidence, which was very voluminous, he very much doubted that their debates here would be of much assistance in regard to the estimates of last year. If they proceeded with the debate on the estimates now, of course the Members of the Committee would be perfectly at liberty to avail themselves of all the information which they might have acquired during the deliberation of the Session. The Members of the Government would be present to answer any objections that might be urged. The House would have the opportunity of hearing the objections and weighing the answers; and he did not think that, in order to the fair discussion of the entire question, it would be necessary to await the presentation of the report on Saturday, for the purpose of discussing the details on the Monday; and that it would be quite impossible to read the evidence and the report in the interval; and without reading them, a fair judgment could not be arrived at. He was most anxious that Her Majesty's Government should give its attention to the recommendation in the report. He was of opinion that considerable savings of the public money might be effected, if those recommendations were received in the spirit in which he thought Government ought to receive them. He was quite sure, also, that those savings could be effected only by the Executive Government. To do this efficiently, time and consideration were absolutely necessary; 267 and he was certain that it was only upon the responsibility of Government that savings to that extent could be safely and per manently made. On the whole, therefore, he was of opinion that there was no advantage in not proceeding at once.
§ MR. HUME
contended, unless it were intended that the report of the Committee was to be a perfect farce, that they should not now proceed with the estimates. He had been detained in the House by the Scotch Bills, and he himself, though a Member of the Committee, actually did not know one of the conclusions to which they had come. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon thought it better for them to discuss these estimates in ignorance than in knowledge. He (Mr. Hume) did not at all agree with that view of the case. There were forty-one orders of the day upon the Paper; there was, therefore, plenty of business for the House to proceed with, and he once more called upon them to postpone the estimates until Monday. He wanted to show the immense sums of money that were wasted in the Ordnance Department, but that he could not do without the report. If he possibly could, he should prevent their proceeding with the estimates at this time, and he begged to move, therefore, that the Committee report progress, and obtain leave to sit again.
§ MR. FOX MAULE
said, that last Friday the impression in the Committee was, that the report would not be ready by the Tuesday, and under that impression he proposed to the Committee that they should inform the House of the position in which the business stood before them, in order that it might judge whether it was expedient any longer to suspend the consideration of the estimates. On the Monday, however, business made greater progress, and in consequence, the report would be ready by Saturday. He begged to remind hon. Members that the Navy Estimates were considered in Committee of Supply, in the same manner as it was proposed to consider the Ordnance Estimates; and there could be no better guarantee to the House with regard to the manner in which the Government were disposed to attend to the recommendations of the Committee, than the manner in which they dealt with the report on the Navy Estimates, and gave effect to it during the period that Parliament was adjourned. He believed the same course would be taken now as to the Ordnance Estimates. It was; there- 268 fore, neither just to the House, which had no time to consider the evidence on which the report was founded, nor fair to the Government, who were as ignorant as any Members of the House could be of the proceedings of the Committee, longer to post pone the consideration of these estimates; for he confessed that, as a Member of the Government sitting upon the Committee, he had not thought it to be his duty to report to the Cabinet from day to day what was going on in the Committee, in order that they might keep pace with the proceedings therein.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
was of opinion that the question really was whether by a postponement the House could be put in possession of the report and evidence, so as to become fully informed on the subject. But, to obtain due advantage from the labours of the Committee, sufficient time must be afforded to consider not only their recommendations, but the grounds on which these were based. Was it not the more advisable course to take the estimates on the responsibility of the Government, these estimates having been laid before the House, giving the Government an opportunity to avail themselves of the labours of the Committee by considering the report and evidence during the vacation, so that next Session they might be able to state what course they on their responsibility would be prepared to adopt? He agreed with his noble Friend, that reductions to be effectual must be made by the Executive Government after due deliberation. Before Monday, or any early day, they could not consider and digest the evidence, but they would have it in their power, early next Session, to state what were the reductions which, after due deliberation, they thought the circumstances of the country would enable them to adopt.
§ MR. HERRIES
said, that one question of considerable importance, which had not been touched upon by the noble Lord or the right hon. Gentleman was this, were they to abandon all hope of effecting any reduction in the present year? If they were to be told by Government that notwithstanding the knowledge they possessed of what had been passing in the Committee, they were yet unprepared to adopt any of their suggestions, so as to effect in the current year any reduction of the estimates, then the House would know what conclusions to come to. But he understand that they were not prepared even 269 now to say that they could not effect some reductions in consequence of the recommendations of the Committee. If that were so, and if it were the fact that the recommendations in the report were so clearly and distinctly stated that Government and the House might be able to avail themselves of those excellent suggestions, then he said the case did become rather strong in favour of hon. Members having before them the report at least, in order to be enabled to form a judgment whether they could or could not carry some of those useful suggestions into effect in the course of the present Session. If they could save some money to the public before the Session of 1850, it would be achieving something which would prove a highly satisfactory part of their duty. If, on the other hand, he was told that there was no chance of deriving any benefit from the labours of the Committee in the present year, then he should be disposed to ask himself why the Committee was appointed in the shape in which it had been appointed. In that case they might have taken the estimates early in the Session, and appointed a Committee with reference to future estimates. But the House had been waiting up to this time under the impression that even in the current year they might derive some advantage from the labours of the Committee. So that, taking the case as it was put by the Government, it seemed to be necessary that they should see the report.
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
said, the right hon. Gentleman had inquired whether they were to abandon all hope of effecting any reductions within the present year? His answer to that was, Certainly not. When the report of the Committee should be seen and considered, it might turn out upon investigation that there were some reductions and changes which might be made in a very short time; but he certainly was astonished that the right hon. Gentleman, with all his knowledge of the mode of carrying on the public business, should expect that on Monday next, there being perhaps a proposal for a reduction of 100,000l. in the service, the Government should at once say that it was prepared to make that reduction without any further consideration. Suppose, for example, a reduction were proposed in stores, he should certainly like to write to Sir T. Hastings before giving any answer to such a proposition. There was another course open to them, and that was to adopt the 270 proposals of the Committee as absolute law. ["No, no!"] Well, if not, he could not see what advantage was to be gained by postponing the estimates from Saturday to Monday. How could the Government in that time make up their minds to any reductions that might be proposed? for, at the present moment, he must observe, that he had no knowledge of one single reduction that the Committee proposed. He was sure if the right hon. Gentleman were himself in the Government, he would scorn such a course, and would say that it was utterly impossible to adopt it.
SIR W. MOLES WORTH
said, the noble Lord had observed that there was not one single reduction proposed by the Committee of which he was aware. He could inform the noble Lord of some reductions proposed for military works in the colonies. The Committee had unanimously agreed that certain military works in Bermuda, the Mauritius, and the Ionian Islands, should be suspended until the Government should have full time to consider the propriety of continuing those works. If the House read that report they would see that reduction recommended upon such evidence—Earl Grey's and others—that they would insist on the Government postponing these estimates.
§ SIR J. GRAHAM
thought the right hon. Member for Stamford would agree with him that when once the House had sanctioned the amount of force, the expenditure had so far been determined. With respect to the Ordnance force, the House had already voted the number of men. The other branches of expenditure in that department immediately under control of the Executive Government with reference to economy were only two, stores and new works, which had each two subdivisions, according as they related to stores and new works at home, or stores and new works in the colonies. With respect to stores, it was hardly possible for the Government to come at once to a decision as to what for a peace establishment should be the permanent amount of stores to be maintained; and six months were not too much time to allow the Government to make up their minds on the subject. He had heard the evidence, and he should be sorry if any hasty decision were adopted. It was absolutely necessary that time should be given and taken. So also with respect to that most important and expensive branch, fortifications and works abroad, similar inquiry must be made; and the 271 Committee pointed out different cases in which they thought such inquiry necessary, though it might occupy considerable time. The hon. Member for Southwark had referred to three cases in which the suspension of certain works was recommended till inquiry had been instituted. Nothing could be more reasonable than that the suspension of a vote of 30,000l. on which the Clerk of the Ordnance and a Colleague agreed with the Committee, should be anticipated. To that extent he (Sir J. Graham) should be perfectly willing to go; as he should on other points as they proceeded. But when the number of men had been voted for the year, the inquiry with respect to stores would lead to difficulties; and so with respect to fortifications and works, especially in the colonies, he did not think the report itself would be a safe guide. The value of that report depended on the evidence which it had occupied five months to take, which embraced 10,000 questions, and which involved considerations of extreme intricacy. The Ordnance Estimates were the most difficult to understand of those submitted to Parliament; and they, as well as the Government, would be misled if they came to an immediate decision. They must recollect that, in this matter, they were dealing with the defences of their own country, and of the colonies. He had made up his own mind; but it remained for the Government to consider what objections they had to the propositions of the Committee; and he was perfectly prepared, at the commencement of next Session, to weigh those objections. For the sake of the public service he entreated the House not rashly or prematurely to come to a decision even on those suggestions of the report which recommended an increase in certain cases.
§ MR. COBDEN
said, the right hon. Baronet had warned the House not to be rash or hasty in making reductions; and for that reason they advocated the postponement of the estimates till Monday. That would surely he less rash than voting them then. Let the House avail itself of the result of the Committee's inquiry; lot hon. Members have the report in their hands, and they would be in a better position to vote the money than when in perfect ignorance of it. It was said the report would not be sufficient without the evidence. He believed very few Members would ever read the evidence; probably not a large number would ever open the book. The report was a digest of the 272 evidence; for the noble Lord the Chairman of the Committee possessed a remarkable talent for giving a lucid summary of a vast mass of evidence. But if it were bad to go to the vote without reading the evidence, it must be still worse to do so without either the report or the evidence. The noble Lord at the head of the Government had placed the House in such a position that it would be impossible for them now to vote on these estimates. He said there were questions involved in the report on which they would be called on to decide; and the hon. Baronet the Member for Southwark said the report recommended the suspension of certain works in foreign stations. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon said he was ready to vote for the suspension of those works; but the right hon. Gentleman was a Member of the Committee—he had for the last five months given these matters the most laborious attention, and had, therefore, great advantage over other hon. Members. If hon. Members would wait till Saturday, and would read the report, they would not only see the recommendations referred to, but the grounds on which they were made. They would see an extract from Earl Grey's evidence on the subject. If hon. Members proceeded now to vote this money, they would proclaim trumpet tongued to the country that which the country strongly suspected, that their voting of money was nothing but a farce, and that the House of Commons, instead of being the guardian of the public purse, was nothing but a screen for the Government.
agreed that the report was most ably drawn up; but as it contained references to the questions, hon. Members ought to be able to refer to the evidence also. He was extremely anxious there should be no further delay in passing these estimates, on account of the inconvenience which would thereby he caused, not only to the Ordnance Department, but to the public service generally. He hoped the hon. Member for Montrose would not persist in his Motion. Any objection that he might make to the votes, he (Col. Anson) was prepared to answer. As to the works at Mauritius, and other places, it would be extremely rash for the Government at once to say they would scratch these items out of the estimates. All they could do was to make the strictest inquiry, and to promote the views of the Committee, if, on due inquiry, they found it desirable to do so.
§ MR. COBDEN
, in explanation, stated that the report had been finished on Tuesday, sooner than was expected; and he had rather the House had voted these estimates without the report at all, than that the Committee should have been hurried in their report, and it should then not be brought before the House. To avoid any detriment to the public service, if any such could arise by postponing these estimates till Monday, or if money was wanted for paying the men, let the Government take a vote on account.
§ MR. SPOONER
should support the hon. Member for Montrose, if he pressed his Motion to a division. After this Committee had sat two years, the estimates ought certainly not to be voted, in ignorance of their report. It seemed to him most astonishing that the noble Lord at the head of the Government should be in utter ignorance of the recommendations of the Committee. Even in the absence of the evidence, the report would be some guide in discussing the estimates; and it would be monstrous, after waiting till Thursday, not to wait two days longer.
§ COLONEL RAWDON
advocated the proceeding at once to the consideration of the estimates, when hon. Members might take the sense of the Committee on any item to which they objected.
said, if the Committee had been one in hostility to the Government, weight would have attached to the arguments of the noble Lord; but the Committee having been appointed by the Government, being in fact their own, it ought not to be assumed that their recommendations needed watching with so much suspicion. The Government having professed themselves ignorant of the Committee's recommendations, and being responsible for the estimates, they ought certainly to be made acquainted with this report of their own Committee before the estimates were discussed. It was not to be supposed that the House would be entirely led by the report of the Committee; hon. Members would doubtless exercise their own judgment. If the Committee had not suggested any great reductions, there was no harm in seeing the report; if it had, how should they stand with the country in thus slurring over the Committee's recommendations?
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
said, the essence of the proposal of the hon. Member for Montrose was, that the report being issued on Saturday, the estimates should be dis- 274 cussed, and great reductions made on Monday. Last year the Committee had reported on the Navy Estimates; and this year there had been a reduction of 700,000l. or 800,000l. on those estimates. Such reductions ought always to be proposed after due consideration, not upon forty-eight hours' notice—with a view to the real interests of the country, and not for the sake of a good speech on the hustings.
§ MR. HUME
said, he had never made use of the expression "large reductions to be made immediately." He had only stated, that a great increase had taken place in this department beyond what the resources of the country would justify. In his demand he considered he was reasonable in every point, and that Her Majesty's Government were unreasonable in every point.
MR. VERNON SMITH
said, he must vote against reporting progress. The question was, whether they would enter into those estimates now or on Monday, after the report was printed? They would only vote now, as they would do if the Committee had not sat at all. The report of the Committee referred to recommendations which they suggested should be taken into consideration during the recess, and it was absolutely impossible that they could be carried into practice now. There were only two votes which the Committee recommended to be suspended. With regard to these two, he hoped the Government would attend to the suggestions of the Committee. But with regard to the others, he thought that they might proceed with them now.
§ Whereupon Motion made, and Question put, "That the Chairman do report progress, and ask leave to sit again."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 43; Noes 80: Majority 37.
MR. B. SMITH
did not think the noble Lord at all justified in urging on the vote, when there was other business which might be proceeded with, and when the report of the Committee was not yet in the hands of Members, He hoped the noble Lord would accede to so reasonable a request as the postponement of the vote. If the noble Lord persisted in going on with it, he should move that the Chairman quit the chair.
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
had postponed this estimate from time to time, in the hope that the report would be presented to the House; but when the middle of July had 275 nearly arrived, he felt it would be impossible for him longer to wait for the report before taking this estimate, and he had accordingly proposed last week to fix Supply for this day. There were, no doubt, thirty-seven orders on the Paper; but, as he had stated last Friday that he would take the Ordnance Estimates to-night, it would not be fair towards those Members who wished to discuss other measures on the Paper, to proceed with them before Supply. He hoped, therefore, the House would go on with the Ordnance Estimates, because, if they delayed doing so to-night, it would prolong the Session for a fortnight beyond the time anticipated for prorogation.
§ MR. HUME
said, there were other estimates which might be taken that night, and, therefore, no time need be lost. He should leave it to the country to judge who was right and who was wrong. What reason was there for pressing forward those estimates before the information contained in the report of the Committee with respect to them was in the possession of hon. Members? A vote had been taken of 100,000l. for barracks; but that was only a third of the charge. He wished to place before the public the enormous expense of barracks, incurred for no other reason than because the Government acted on unconstitutional principles. It was full time that those estimates should be fully inquired into, and he should, therefore, vote in favour of postponing them till the report was in the hands of Members.
wished the hon. Member for Montrose to state whether there was in the report any objection to the vote before the House? If there was, he should vote for postponement.
§ MR. HUME
was glad his hon. Friend had asked the question. He appealed to the right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon whether he had not in the Committee objected to the great increase in the artillery, and whether the right hon. Baronet had not stated that it was for the House, and not for the Committee, to decide as to the number of men? In 1828 the number of men voted for the artillery was only 8,200; now it was between 14,000 and 15,000.
§ MR. AGLIONBY
thought there was something unreasonable in the noble Lord pressing this vote against so respectable a minority as forty-three, many of whom were the usual supporters of Government. He would suggest the adjournment 276 of the debate till Monday. It was true, the noble Lord had given notice that he would take these estimates tonight; but it was before he knew that the report would be so soon laid on the table.
was one of those who voted in the minority; but he was anxious not to offer any vexatious opposition to Her Majesty's Government. He had opposed the appointment of those Committees from the first; but he was now most ready to admit that they had been of great service. That upon the Navy had been conducted with the utmost fairness; and that being the case, their reports were valuable. He was decidedly in favour of postponing the discussion until the report was printed.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
admitted that at an earlier period of the Session this would be a fair and reasonable request; but it was the opinion of the Government that without the evidence the House would not be able to form a fair opinion upon the report, the Members of the Committee having been divided. The mere possession of the report would not really and truly give the House any information which would aid it in forming a proper judgment. If a postponement until Monday took place, it would lengthen the Session by a week.
§ MR. HUME
said, that that argument only went to prove that they ought to have the evidence as well as the report before they voted this money. The right hon. Gentleman talked of the Session being prolonged, as if hon. Members were not there to do the business of the country, and to do it properly. If they consented to take the report without the evidence, the Government ought to be the last to find fault with so short a postponement for that purpose. The Government was treating the House as if it were nothing, and saying, in effect, that the five months' labour of the Committee in collecting information was thrown away. Why, deducting the Members of the Government, who could not vote as they pleased, and one or two Members of the late Government, he had a majority in favour of postponement.
§ MR. SPOONER
said, he would not vote for postponement a second time, feeling that he was bound by the decision to which the House had already come.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 21; Noes 90: Majority 69.
|List of theAYES|
|Alcock, T.||Mowatt, F.|
|Baillie, H. J.||O'Connell, J.|
|Cobden, R.||Osborne, R.|
|Conyngham, Lord A.||Pearson, C.|
|Duncan, G.||Pilkington, J.|
|Fox, W. J.||Salwey, Col.|
|Gibson, rt. hon. T. M.||Thompson, Col.|
|Harris, R.||Walmsley, Sir J.|
|Henry, A.||Williams, J.|
|Lushington, C.||Smith, J. B.|
|Molesworth, Sir W.||Hume, J.|
§ MR. HUME moved that the Chairman do now leave the chair. When he saw that every town in the kingdom was calling for economy and reduction, and when he found that the Government would not allow time for further inquiry, he thought he was fully warranted in offering every obstruction to their proceedings.
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
said, that the division which had just taken place showed clearly that it was the opinion of the House that they ought to go on with the estimates; and that the great majority of the House was against the vexatious opposition of the hon. Member for Montrose.
§ MR. BAILLIE
said, that the noble Lord had no right to complain of the House dividing. He should be glad to know why they were to pass these estimates in such a hurry? Why were these estimates not brought forward before? Because they were waiting for the report of the Committee. They only asked for a few days to have the report in their hands, and the noble Lord accused them of vexatious obstruction. He was not one of those who thought that this report, when it was laid upon the table of the House, could make any great alteration this year; but he did not think they ought to be called upon to come to a decision upon the estimates until some information, which was upon the table of the House, should be in their possession.
§ MR. COBDEN
had observed the exultation of some hon. Members when the hon. Member said that the report did not recommend an alteration in the estimates this year. If there was one thing which was more established than another, it was this, that no estimate had ever been altered in the lifetime of any person present after it had been presented to the House. These estimates, when once printed, were 278 always adopted; he never remembered a majority of this House varying an estimate. There had not been a vote since he had been in the House to disturb the items of an estimate. ["Hear, hear!"] He said advisedly that there had never been, during the eight years that he had been in the House, a vote to alter the estimates. With what hope did independent Members discuss them? With the hope that they might bring public opinion to hear upon them. How could they be discussed if there were not facts and figures on which to form a conclusion? To go to this discussion without this report, and to deprive hon. Members of the opportunity of benefiting from the five months' labours of the Committee, was a most monstrous piece of injustice, and most ridiculous management. He would not discuss the estimate; he would rather walk out of the House. If they had not facts or figures, and if they had not the report of the Committee, how could they go into a discussion of the estimates? If it were done purposely to defeat the time and labour of the House, it could not be done more systematically. He had not heard one statement why they should not go into a consideration of the report. He asked the noble Lord to give his reasons. All that the noble Lord had said in the shape of argument was, that they would lose a week, if they did not go into the estimates to night. He apprehended that to lose a week was to save the money of the country. He did not know what the Government were talking of. If any Members ought to give a week more to the Session, the Members who sat on that (the Treasury) bench should do so. He agreed that in a constitutional Government you must be governed by a majority; but there were forms of proceeding by which a minority in a deliberative assembly might be trampled on by brute force and in defiance of reason. If an attempt was made to trample upon him, by the force of a majority, on a question of gaining 24 hours to give time to discuss a question of importance to the country—he said that if ever there was an occasion on which he was justified in using the forms of the House to get delay—and it was only delay that was wanted—that was that occasion. If the hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose persevered from this time to midnight, and renewed his Motion to-morrow, that the printer might have time to prepare his report, he would go on with his opposition.
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
The hon. Gentleman said that they were endeavouring to overcome opposition without reason, and by mere brute force. He thought they had given sufficient reasons. There were two important Members of the Committee who gave their reasons—the right hon. Member for Ripon, and the right hon. Member for Northampton—who both stated at some length their reasons, they being Members of the Committee, and having attended carefully to the Committee, being anxious for reduction and economy, that they ought to go into these estimates to-night, and not postpone them till Monday. The only Member who opposed this who had attended much to the Committee was the hon. Member for Yorkshire. The hon. Member for Montrose did not attend.
§ MR. HUME
said, that he attended always until the last three days. The noble Lord was much in error in taking credit for the speeches of his two right hon. Friends. Their reasons were for delay, although their vote was against him. The reasons of the right hon. Gentlemen were such that any hon. Member would have expected that the noble Lord would have come to a different conclusion.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
said, that he understood that all were agreed that these votes on the Ordnance Estimates, which were reported against unanimously by the Committee, should be postponed till the report of the Committee was before the House; but the noble Lord said, that if one single vote were postponed until after the report was printed—namely, till Monday next—they could not finish their supply on Friday, and another week was gone. There was no loss of time in postponing all the estimates beyond what would be lost in postponing one. Were they prepared to agree to a vote to-night, against which a Committee had unanimously reported? The right hon. Member for Ripon said, if he understood him correctly, that with regard to these particular votes, he thought there was ground for postponement, but they might go on with the rest. It appeared to him that the House had been proceeding upon something like a misunderstanding, because he was quite sure that the course which the majority of Members were willing to take was to postpone the votes which were reported against by the Committee. If it was not, there was no meaning in the question put by the hon. Member for Paisley. If the Government 280 succeeded, the world would say that it was their generalship that got them through the estimates. It was the interest of all parties to have a useful consideration of the estimates; and he therefore hoped it would not be deemed a factious opposition. The first division showed that there was a large majority of independent Members, nearly all who were present, who were for postponement. He must remind the hon. Member for Surrey, when he said that it was the duty of a minority to submit to a majority, that he must consider how that majority was composed, and ought, therefore, to count all the Members of the Government only for one. If he took that view of the question, he would find that the majority of independent Members of the House were for the postponement of these votes. He did not like to embark in an opposition that was factious, or one which, by being abandoned, showed that it was ill considered when it was commenced; if he embarked in an opposition he was prepared to persevere in it, because he would not have taken the first step without it was founded in reason and justice.
Two other divisions were then taken upon Question being put, "That the Chairman do now report progress, and ask leave to sit again:"—Ayes 20; Noes 113: Majority 93;—and Ayes 18; Noes 118: Majority 100.
§ MR. HUME
protested against the course pursued by the Government. There were other estimates, such as the militia, on which no information was expected from the report, and with which the Committee might proceed, if the saving of time was an object. If Government had determined on the course they were now taking, why had they delayed their estimates so long? If they had brought them forward in ordinary course, the House might have discussed them item by item; but they had been delayed for this report, and now it was ready, the House was not to see it. If the Government had not intended to take the House by surprise, they would never have acted in such a manner. Last year they made large reductions without any report, and took credit for so doing, and their altered conduct on the present occasion proved that the economical course was to be followed no longer. He held in his hand a statement of the expenses of 1825, 1835, and 1848, and it afforded such a frightful picture of increase as fully to justify the House in refusing to pass the present estimates without the most ample 281 discussion. He should be glad to see Gentlemen on that (the Ministerial) side transferred to the other. When there before they had supported him for six weeks against the Army Estimates, and none more strenuously than the noble Lord the present Secretary for Foreign Affairs. Why, in the worst of the boroughmongering times such a proceeding as the present could not have taken place. There were no estimates more requiring investigation than the Ordnance Votes—three millions of money to be taken from the public without inquiry! Again he protested against the course of the Government. All he asked was, that they might take the unopposed votes, and postpone the others until Monday. The House was not aware of the necessity there was for inquiry respecting the Ordnance. The Board acted merely as a blind to deceive the public. People might suppose that they consulted together; but the fact was, that each Member was uncontrolled in his own department, and expended the public money without any interference from his coadjutors. To expose this and other abuses, the time of hon. Members had been consumed; and the Committee, instead of touching the Army, had confined their inquiries to the Ordnance Estimates, and had ferretted out the whole system. They had prepared a report; but now, when the subject-matter of their inquiries came before the House, the report was not to be produced. It was not fair to the Committee, to him, or the House, to press on these estimates with such unseemly haste, and with such a determination to prevent any discussion likely to result in economy. The Ordnance Estimates rose from 1,035,000l. in 1835, to 3,078,000l. in 1849. Was not that a subject to be inquired into? He appealed to the noble Lord once more to give the House and the public time to examine these estimates and the report of the Committee, which, if time were given, they would, after this discussion, examine more closely than they had any other report. It was not he who was acting a factious part, it was the noble Lord, who persisted in refusing an opportunity of fairly examining these estimates. He felt bound to move that the Chairman now report progress.
§ MR. BROTHERTON
did not think that the hon. Member for Montrose was taking the best mode of accomplishing the object he had in view. He had much rather that they had been allowed time to 282 consider the report before being asked to come to a decision on the estimates; but he did not think that this constant distrust of the Government ought to be shown, especially as it was admitted that they had readily consented to the appointment of the Committee of Inquiry. He was disposed to give the Government credit for a desire to make retrenchments. If they voted the money, it did not follow that they were obliged to spend it. He had always voted for retrenchment; but he believed, in the present case, no good would result from delaying the Committee of Supply.
§ SIR R. PRICE
deprecated these fruitless divisions, and suggested that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose, if he felt so strongly on the matter, should leave the House, and so protest against a course which he found he could not prevent.
§ MR. BRIGHT
confessed that the speeches of those hon. Members who had spoken in favour of the Government were not sufficient to induce him to vote against the Motion of the hon. Member for Montrose. The hon. Member for Salford was a firm ally of the Government, and sometimes he appeared in danger of forgetting the large number of persons he represented down in Lancashire. Personal partialities influenced many hon. Members at times, and those partialities at present seemed to have their effect upon the hon. Member for Salford. The case before the House was a very simple one. The Ordnance Estimates had been postponed for five months, and now the Government were refusing the delay of a day or two in order that the report might be printed and circulated. Now, he would ask the noble Lord at the head of the Government to recollect that within the last fortnight he had granted two days for the discussion of the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire's Motion on the state of the nation, and that there had been some evenings during the Session entirely lost. He believed that there had been less obstruction offered to Her Majesty's Government in the present Session than since the Government had assumed the reins of office. Take the debates. There had been a debate on the Motion of the hon. Member for the West Riding for going back to the expenditure of 1835. It was not discussed for more than a night, because the free-traders were desirous of not throwing any obstacle in the way of the Administration. Then, there was the Motion of the hon. Member for 283 Montrose, for the reform of Parliament, which was also discussed only for a single night. The Irish Church question had also occupied only one night, and he, though anxious to address the House upon that subject, had forborne from offering any observations, simply in order to save time. He was fully justified, therefore, in asserting broadly that the Government had not, during the present Session, received obstructions from any section of the House. He feared hon. Members were too much in the habit of forgetting, when the estimates were before them, what an important item the voting of money was, and that they were sent there for the express purpose of seeing that the public funds were not voted away, without proper consideration, and that no more money was voted than was absolutely required. Now, they had had a most laborious Committee sitting for several months, presided over by a noble Lord, and they had made a report containing certain recommendations. What reason was there for allowing these recommendations to lie over for twelve months? The hon. Member for Salford seemed to think that if money was voted, it did not necessarily follow that it must therefore be spent. But he (Mr. Bright) was very much afraid that, if voted, it would be spent. He was also afraid that the noble Lord at the head of the Government would consider the present opposition as rather personal, particularly as he had already spoken of the opposition speeches as something in the nature of hustings' addresses. The noble Lord had some time since declared that those who knew a deal about the trade of the country were too narrow-minded to consider matters fairly which related to a great empire. If some hon. Members were too narrow-minded, it was a great pity they were in the House; but it did so happen that people in various parts of this country were of opinion that these narrow-minded persons should be in the House to defend the public interests, and to express the public opinions. But were men to be considered narrow-minded because on some occasions they considered their propositions quite as good as those of the noble Lord? He hoped the noble Lord would permit the report to be printed, and hereafter considered, assured that not a single objection would be made to the estimates which was not absolutely necessary, and which could not be defended on the strongest ground.
§ MR. HEYWOOD
said, he had been for 284 some time one of the constituents of the hon. Member for Salford, and that the general opinion in Salford was that he was an independent and consistent Member. He (Mr. Heywood) was in favour of retrenchment in the Ordnance Estimates, and he was sure the Government would attend to the recommendations of the Committee to reduce them.
§ MR. COBDEN
said, that they were beside the question in introducing personalities. The hon. Member for Manchester had spoken in a kindly spirit to the Government and the hon. Member for Salford; and now he (Mr. Cobden) desired to recall attention to this point. They were going to vote 2,600,000l. with a report lying on the table; and the noble Lord at the head of the Government had distinctly stated that notwithstanding the recommendations contained in that report, he intended to take a vote for the money at once. How could the House judge whether the noble Lord was right in withdrawing money from the fortifications at Corfu without having the report printed? The sum of 456,000l. had been voted for Corfu since the Peace. The report states that according to Earl Grey, the works should never have been undertaken until the question was reconsidered. [Cheers.] The right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon cheered him; but did he suppose that the Government had, in the words of the report, "reconsidered the subject?" Or were they to believe that the Government was likely to stop this expenditure? He denied that there had been any recommendation to stop those fortifications; and independent Members of that House should not trust the report of the Committee, but should read and consider for themselves. The most important item was that of stores. They had a stock of upwards of 6,000,000l. of ordnance stores here and in our colonies. The Committee, on the last day of meeting, recommended unanimously that the number of depots should be diminished, and that the expense of them should be saved by profiting by the present means of communication. Was it not right, therefore, that they should know the meaning of this report before they were forced to vote this money?
said, that as the hon. Member for the West Riding had referred to the Ionian Islands, he (Colonel Anson) must just point out to the House the very gross misrepresentation that he had made with respect to the money spent upon them. 285 The total of the estimates for new works, Ordnance works, building and repairing barracks, &c., was undoubtedly 476,000l.; but the hon. Gentleman had concealed from the House that of that amount the Ionian Islands were to pay 332,316l., so that the actual charge to this country would be about 148,684l. The hon. Member for Montrose had challenged various statements which he (Colonel Anson) had made; in reply he would merely say that that hon. Gentleman's assertions were as erroneous as that of the hon. Member for the West Riding. Instead of the estimates for the year 1835 being only 1,035,000l., as the hon. Member for Montrose had stated, they were 1,497,000l.—and, instead of his (Colonel Anson's) asking this year for 3,000,000l. for the Ordnance Estimates, he only asked for 2,600,000l.
§ MR. COBDEN
asked whether what he said was not that 450,000l. had been voted by that House? [Colonel ANSON: It was.] Then by what possible pretence did the hon. and gallant Member charge him with misrepresenting? The House of Commons voted that sum, and called on the Ionian Islands to pay their share. They even had it in evidence that there were arrears due by the Ionian Islands which would never be paid.
§ CAPTAIN BOLDERO
wished to know whether on a question of fortification the authority of a civilian could be put in competition with that of the most intelligent engineers serving under the British Queen. Neither the past nor the present Government had exacted from the Ionians the full amount that had been expended in fortifications, &c, in that country; they owed this country not less than 125,000l. He wished to point out to the House a very great inconvenience with regard to these estimates, which might be very easily avoided. A colony, for instance, might require a vote of 7,000l.; but when the vote came to be submitted to the Home Government, it might be reduced 4,500l. Not a shilling of that money was allowed to be expended until the colony was informed that the vote had received the sanction of Parliament. If Parliament sanctioned the expenditure of the money in the month of April instead of July, as at present, the works could be proceeded with three months earlier, and other great advantages would accrue to the colonies and to the mother country. He hoped that the report would be presented to-morrow, or Saturday, and that the consideration of estimates might 286 be allowed to stand over until Monday next.
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
Mr. Bernal, I cannot allow this debate to close after the imputations which have been cast upon me by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester, without making a few observations. The hon. Gentleman is exceedingly dissatisfied, it appears, with the hon. Member for Salford, because he says he speaks in a kindly manner of everybody, and is disposed to place confidence in the Government when they make statements in the House. Having postponed the matter until this time, I thought it was quite impossible fairly to consider the report of the Committee at present, and I proposed that the Ordnance Estimates should be taken; upon which the hon. Member for Manchester said that I must have a dishonest motive in so doing; and that my intention is to prevent the House of Commons from having the report in their hands, and fairly considering the recommendations of the Committee. Why, certainly, if in making my suggestions as to the course to be pursued on this question, I was influenced by a dishonest motive, I should be fairly liable to the imputation of acting in total disregard of my duty. But I certainly had not taken a very skilful mode of carrying out any dishonest intentions on this subject, because it would have been much easier to have said in the month of May or Juno, we had better not wait any longer, and the House could scarcely have refused to listen to that argument. But because I have postponed till the month of July to ask for this report, the hon. Gentleman makes these imputations against me, which I totally deny. I deny that I have acted so corruptly With respect to the dispute which has lasted all this night, the question simply turned on what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose said as to the Committee deriving great advantage from having the report of the Select Committee before them; but we, on the other hand, contended that as that report could not be in the hands of Members till Saturday, the very short time intervening between the sitting of the House on Saturday and Monday—the report being voluminous—would not enable the House to gain sufficient information on the subject; and therefore it would be better not to discuss the various items, or to enter into any very large question of the reduction of the estimates till next year. Now I cannot say at present whether the hon. 287 Member for Montrose was right, or whether we were right on that subject; but it did seem to me that it was a question that might be discussed between us without any personalities—and I should have thought it might be discussed without having resort to those very frequent divisions of the House which have already taken place. I was likewise fortified in the course I took by the opinion of two right hon. Gentlemen, Members of the Committee, who were known to have taken particular interest in these questions of reduction, who were well aware of the claims of the public service, and of the demands of economy, but who thought that the course that the Government took was a proper one for the House to adopt. I, therefore, think that I was fully justified in the course that I proposed to take. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester seems to have supposed that I have made a charge against Members of the House generally, or against those with whom be acts, of having opposed obstructions in the way of public business during the present Session. Now, I made no such charge, and no such imputation against the Members of this House, or against any party. On the contrary, I am glad to be able to acknowledge that I think throughout the Session the Members of this House have shown a disposition to transact fairly the business before them, and that when certain business has been fixed by the Government for certain days, they have generally proceeded to consider that business with a view to expedite it. Therefore, I made no such imputation as the hon. Gentleman supposes. With regard to the Motion that now stands for to-night, I think that we have been right in the course that we have proposed, and that it is impossible, at this hour of the night—having taken up, in debates and divisions, the whole of the evening—to suppose that we could proceed with any effect with the consideration of the Ordnance Estimates tonight. Nor do I think that we should be able to go through the Ordnance Estimates, and the other estimates, in the course of to-morrow evening; therefore, I propose that we shall now report progress, and that we take the British Museum Es mates, and other estimates, to-morrow; and I shall propose to take the Ordnance Estimates on Monday. And I trust that the Committee will fairly consider those estimates, and avoid all unnecessary delay. We shall then be ready, as we were to- 288 night, to state our views with respect to them.
§ House resumed.
§ Committee report progress.
§ House adjourned at One o'clock.