HC Deb 12 April 1858 vol 149 cc878-83

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


said, he had on a former occasion given notice of his intention to move, on going into Supply, that the Estimates be referred to a Committee of Inquiry. The opinion which he held on this subject had been entertained by some of the most eminent persons in that House in former years, and the necessity for a Committee was never greater than at the present moment, when the Navy and Army Estimates exceeded by many millions any that had ever before been submitted to Parliament. It was the duty of the House to look narrowly into these Estimates, and to exercise its supervision over the expenditure of the public money; but that could only be done efficiently by referring the Estimates to a Select Committee. His proposal for a Committee could not be opposed on the ground that there was a want of time, for the House had already voted Supply for a period of four months; and if his Motion were adopted, he would be prepared to show that enormous reductions might be made without in any way affecting the efficiency of the public service. The Navy and Army Estimates now on the table amounted to £20,300,000; and, in order to enable the House to institute a comparison with previous years, he would refer to the amounts voted under various Governments for the same services, even to those which were submitted to what was called "a borough mongering Parliament." In 1830, when the Duke of Wellington was Premier, the Army and Navy Estimates were £6,350,000 less than than those of the present year; in. 1832—the last year of the unreformed Parliament—under Lord Grey's Government, they were £7,257,000 less; in 1834 —the year after the Reform Act came into operation—when Lord Melbourne was in office, they were £8,200,000 less; and in 1835, when Peel and Wellington were in office, they were £8,650,000 less. He now came to 1852, when the Members of the present Government were last in office. They then adopted the Estimates which had been prepared by the Government of Lord J. Russell, and he called their attention to the fact that the Navy and Army Estimates of that year were £5,500,000 less than those now on the table. He hoped some Member of the Government would explain why they proposed Estimates so much larger than those proposed by them when last in office. In 1853, under Lord Aberdeen's Administration, and when hostilities were apprehended, the Estimates were £4,360,000 less than those on the table. He did not, in speaking of the present Government, mean to say that he held them responsible for the acts of their predecessors; but he did not think that they ought to seek shelter under the responsibility of the late Government for extravagancies such as he had pointed out. He had to mention, however, in justice to the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Admiralty (Sir J. Pakington), that he had reduced the Estimate of the late Government by a sum of £318,000. If the House would refer the Estimates to a Committee, he was certain a much larger reduction would be recommended. An impression existed in that House and out of it that a great portion of the additional expenditure was caused by the unhappy state of affairs in India, That was not the case. The Company had defrayed every shilling of the expense caused by the mutiny; and be far from the disturbances in India having been the cause of increased expense to this country, they had been the means, last year, of our saving £800,000, on account of that large portion of our army which the Company had employed and paid. Now, could the war in China be said to be the cause? The whole of the force required for the taking of Canton was only one battalion of infantry, a few marines, and some steam gun-boats. He regretted to see a desire existing in the highest quarters for a vast increase of the standing army. Advantage had been taken of the glorious acts performed by our army in India to increase the feeling in favour of the army. Now, the army of India had done no more than our army had done at all times in the face of an enemy. He had never heard of our army turning its back on any enemy. A great deal had been said lately on the dreadful state of the barracks in this country. A Commission had reported on their unhealthiness, and on the mortality that it had caused among the troops. The late Secretary for War contradicted the statements in the Report, and said that the state of the barracks was not so bad as it had been represented to be by the Commission; and the noble Duke the Commander in Chief had made a speech at a public dinner calling for more money, finding fault with the House, and calling upon the country to make pressure upon Parliament in order to place at his disposal large sums to lay out in barracks. He thought that if the Commander in Chief had taken the trouble to ascertain what the expenditure upon barracks already amounted to, he would not have ventured to ask for more money. He had in his hand Returns of the amounts expended upon barracks since 1824, a period of thirty-four years, and he found that they amounted to £7,450,000. Now, barracks were not things that perished in a day, or even in an age, if properly constructed; and the House should bear in mind that, at the conclusion of the French war, we had sufficient barrack accommodation for a very large army. What had become of them? He was told that they had been pulled down because no longer wanted. But taking the whole amount of £7,450,000, and comparing it with the present number of soldiers required for the home service, the result would be a sum of £82 for each man for barrack expense. For this sum a four-roomed cottage might be built and furnished. His belief was that jobbing had been at the root of the want of adequate barrack accommodation for the army. He might add, that in the sum of £7,450,000 which he had mentioned, no charge was included for heating or furnishing barracks, nor did it include the barracks for marines. In the present Estimate the bedding and furniture were put down at £133,000. He trusted the House would not imagine that he wished to deprive the soldier of those comforts to which his gallant services so justly entitled him; but he could not help thinking that this might be done with some sort of regard to pounds, shillings, and pence; and, so vast had been the sums expended upon this branch of the service, that he thought they would form a fitting subject for the inquiries of a Select Committee. He had yet to refer to another subject of very great importance. At the present time there were upon the Army List no less than 346 generals in the army, and 33 generals in the marines. A few years ago there were only three generals in the marines, He did not include in these numbers the generals in the Indian army. Now, if all these generals had been promoted for really active service, he would not complain; but their promotion took place, not according to merit, but in a great measure according to favour. Take the Admiralty again:— In 1846 there wore only 153 admirals in the service of the country; in 1851 that number increased to 235; in 1857 there were no less than 316; and the House would scarcely credit him when he told them that provision was to be made in the present Estimates for 345. In point of fact, therefore, they had two generals for every regiment in the service, and an admiral and a half for every ship, of every size, in commission. This he thought was a state of things which could not be properly dealt with in that House—it ought to be referred to a Committee, which could ascertain the causes of this vast expenditure. He begged to ask the late First Lord of the Admiralty what was the reason of the clothing of the marines costing 25 per cent. more this year than last year? The marines had always been well clothed, and whenever they were seen in company with regiments of the line, their superior clothing was always marked and distinguished. He would then take the army clothing. In all the Army Estimates he had ever seen since he had been in the habit of investigating these accounts, there had appeared a statement of the cost of the clothing of every regiment; but in the Estimates for the present year there was no statement with regard to the clothing of the line regiments. In point of fact, the Army Estimates were a mass of confusion from one end to another. But there was a distinct statement of the cost of the clothing of the Guards, and that clothing was this year 40 per cent. more than it was the last year the Duke of Wellington was colonel of the Grenadier Guards. When they saw the Guards about the streets in their new uniforms, the men looked more like the officers of former days; but after the clothes had been worn a short time the uniform became of perfect brick-dust colour. Why was this? Because there was jobbery. It appeared, from a Report on the subject that a system of bribery beyond belief prevailed with regard to the clothing of the army, and that a contractor could hardly venture to send in a tender unless he was prepared to bribe somebody. When the present Chancellor of the Exchequer was in office in 1852, the difficulty he had in providing for the Estimates of that year led to his Government being turned out of office. He should like to know how the right hon. Gentleman meant to override the difficulties he would have to contend with in respect to these two departments of the army and navy alone. The noble Lord the late Premier was a member o the Governments of Lord Grey and Lord Melbourne, and he would ask the noble Lord to be good enough to state why the Estimates for these two branches were required to be £7,257,000 more than they were in 1832, and why they were required to be £8,200,000 more than they were in the time of Lord Melbourne? He (Mr. Williams) would also ask why the Army and Navy Estimates of the Duke of Wellington and Sir R. Peel were £8,650,000 less than the Estimates of the present year? Believing that this increase was uncalled for, and in the hope that some reduction might be made in these Estimates, he would now move that they should be referred to a Select Committee.

Amendment proposed,— To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words, "the Army and Navy Estimates be referred to a Select Committee," instead thereof.


said, he would not follow the hon. Member into the question of the clothing of the marines, or the system of promotion in the Navy, or those other matters of detail which he believed the hon. Gentleman himself must feel had very little to do with the point then at issue, which was merely whether or not it was desirable that the Army and Navy Estimates, instead of being taken at once into consideration by the House, should be referred to a Select Committee. He could not assent to the proposal of the hon. Gentleman, and he hoped the House would not think that any sufficient ground had been adduced for its adoption. He was very much disposed to think that, if the hon. Gentleman were to succeed in his Motion, he would himself be very much disappointed at the result, and that he would find the Estimates would come higher out of the proposed Committee than they had gone into it. The hon. Gentleman had referred to what had occurred under the Administration of the Duke of Wellington; but any argument founded on the state of our army at the time that Administration was in office, was utterly inapplicable at the present moment. The hon. Gentleman had also referred to what had happened under the Government of Lord Grey and under the former Government of Lord Derby, as well as under the Government of Lord Aberdeen; but he (Sir J. Pakington) believed that, if he were allowed to bring forward in Committee the Navy Estimates for the year, he would be able to show that the proposals of Her Majesty's present advisers were fully justified by the circumstances with which they had to deal. He would not detain the House any further upon that occasion. He hoped they would be of opinion that no reason had been established for the proposal of the hon. Gentleman, and that they would at once assent to the Motion for going into Committee and considering the Estimates.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 161; Noes 24: Majority 137.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

House in Committee; Mr. FITZROY in the chair.