HC Deb 17 February 1862 vol 165 cc394-404

Sir, it will not be necessary for me to trouble the Committee at any great length in bringing under consideration the Supplementary Estimates for the Navy, the principal cause of which is pretty well known. It will only be my duty to give a detailed explanation of the various votes; but previously to doing so I wish to answer the question put to me by the hon. Member for Evesham, (Sir Henry Willoughby) regarding the balances which are available for the naval expenditure. The hon. Member asks whether the sums now to be voted are to be appropriated according to the Estimates laid before the House, or in aid of any other votes than those mentioned in these Estimates. I can assure him that the intention of the Admiralty is to deal bonâ fide with the expenditure in the manner set forth in the present Estimates. The hon. Baronet also asked another question, as to the state of the balances remaining after the expenditure of the present year, as provided for by the Estimates for the year. I believe I may say that if it had not been for the late expedition to protect our North American colonies, and the consequent large increase of the expenditure on transports, it would not have been at all necessary to come to the House for any excess whatever upon the expenditure, and I rather think we should have had some considerable surplus. With respect to the present Estimates, the first charge is under No. 1, for the wages of seamen and marines. This charge, I am bound to tell the Committee, does not arise in consequence of the late preparations for war. The Government had proposed a considerable reduction in Vote No. 1, in consequence of the cessation of hostilities in China, the Admiralty thinking that they could in the course of the present financial year greatly reduce the number of men. The reduction has taken place, but it did not take place so quickly as the Government anticipated. In the first place, matters did not settle down in China quite so soon as we expected. There was, in the second place, some delay in the return of the ships, while we had, moreover, to deal principally with continuous-service men; and it was, I think, a wise policy on the part of the Admiralty rather to exceed the vote than to do anything which would have the appearance of breaking faith with these seamen. We thought it right as the ships came home that they should be paid off, and that such men as were not continuous-service men should be discharged. The only other reductions which have taken place are, I may say, due to the common casualties of the service. Thus much with respect to that part of the Vote No. 1, which has reference to the pay of seamen; but then there is an additional reason, and one which, I am bound to tell the Committee, cannot be regarded as altogether satisfactory, why a part of this sum is now asked. We have taken a sum in that vote for slop clothing for the navy. That description of clothing is, as the Committee is aware, no source of ultimate loss to the public. The general rule is that sailors purchase their clothes and repay the cost to the nation, with the exception of a small allowance made to them on joining their ships. On the occasion of which I am speaking the supply which was due in the course of the last financial year, and which ought to have been brought in and paid for, was not forthcoming, and consequently a considerable sum—indeed £50,000, half of the sum for which I now ask—is due for slop clothing which ought to have been paid for during the last financial year. I have thus accounted for the sum of £100,000 asked for under Vote No. 1. Vote No. 2, which relates to the provisions of the fleet, must, of course, depend as to its amount on the number of seamen we employ; and the fact that that number has not been reduced quite so quickly as we anticipated will, of course, account for the larger sum which is asked for under this head. During the autumn the House granted the sum of £250,000 for the purchase of iron-cased ships. That sum has not been nearly expended, and it was the intention of the Admiralty—having, of course, in the first instance, obtained the sanction of the Treasury—to apply the surplus which remained on hand to meeting the excess in the case of the two items to which I have called attention. There still remains Vote 17, for which we ask a sum of £234,338. This demand is, as the Committee is no doubt aware, entirely due to our recent preparations for the defence of our North American colonies, and it would, perhaps, be interesting to hon. Members that I should state the number of transports which we engaged, and the amount of stores and troops which we forwarded for that purpose. I may, in the first place, observe that in the summer the Great Eastern and the Golden Fleece were employed by the Government to take considerable reinforcements to our North American colonies, and that the whole cost of that expedition is included in the sum which I have just mentioned. The number of steam troop-ships engaged on monthly pay was, I may add, eight, while there were six steam troop-ships hired for the voyage, and six steam store-ships. Besides these four contract mail packets were employed to convey as passengers for the voyage—not hired for the purpose—large detachments of men. These vessels took out the following force to British North America:—16 batteries of Royal Artillery, 4 companies of Royal Engineers, 11 battalions of Foot, a large body of the Military Train, and also Staff and detachments; making a total of 706 officers, 13,730 men, and 207 horses. The expedition was, moreover, accompanied by 250 women and 360 children. The stores which I am about to enumerate were carried out on this occasion, and I am anxious to enter into these details because I think the fact that so large a force could be despatched to its destination at a cost so reasonable and a celerity so great reflects some credit on all the parties connected with the matter. Fifty guns and their carriages were conveyed to our North American Colonies, 91 ammunition and other waggons, and 9,707 tons of army stores, in addition to the baggage and equipment of the troops; while the cost of the whole expedition was as nearly as possible £16 per head. The Committee will, I think, on looking over the accounts, be disposed to think that the steam shipping companies have been very moderate in their charges, and that the whole business has been conducted in a manner extremely satisfactory. I need not, I am sure, add a single word to the statements which I have already made on this head, and I entertain no doubt that the Committee will be disposed to agree to the Estimate I have laid before them. I should, therefore, at once sit down but that I wish, before doing so, to answer a question which was put to me the other night by the hon. and gallant Member for Portarlington (Colonel Dunne), and to which, although the subject was to me a source of considerable anxiety, I was then unable to reply. The hon. and gallant Gentleman stated, with reference to the transports Adelaide and Victoria, that they no sooner got to sea after leaving Queenstown, than it was found there was a great leakage in their decks, and that, as a consequence, the troops who were on board suffered much discomfort. Now, I have instituted very careful inquiry as to whether diligent examination was made with respect to that particular point before the vessels set out on their voyage, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman will, I feel certain, have no doubt on the matter when I tell him that I have been informed that not only were both these vessels duly inspected, but that their engines were repaired, and that their decks were thoroughly caulked in order to prevent any probability of leaks. That being so, the Committee will perceive that every precaution was taken which could be adopted before our gallant troops embarked to provide for their safety, and that if they experienced the discomforts of which the hon. and gallant Gentleman complains, it is to be attributed to the fact that these vessels encountered unusually heavy gales, which vessels of war are often unable to resist without leakage. It only remains for me, Sir, to move the vote which I now place in your hands.

(1.) £100,000, Wages for Officers, Seamen, and Boys, employed in Her Majesty's Fleet, in excess of the numbers authorized.


said, he had listened to the statement of the noble Lord with some regret, inasmuch as he had intimated that the Admiralty had some intention of reducing the number of our seamen. For his own part, he always looked with great suspicion on the announcement at that period of the Session of those contemplated reductions, whether in the army or the navy, because he invariably found that that indicated a leaning to a system which, of all others, was, he believed, in reality the most wasteful and extravagant—the cutting down the number of men in the first instance in order to lay the Estimates in what was deemed a more acceptable shape before Parliament, and subsequently having recourse to increased expenditure in order to meet the requirements of the public service. He should like to know whether it was true that a portion of the proposed reduction was to take place in the number of men and guns of a certain class of ships. That was a most objectionable proposal, for it would produce no saving in expense, but a decided falling off in point of efficiency. In the event of any sudden emergency ships on a distant station would find themselves in an inefficient condition, and would be unable to procure the supplies of men and guns which they required. He hoped his noble Friend would announce that Government did not intend to send to sea any ships which were not fully equipped both in men and guns. He was also of opinion that the transport service would be in many cases better and more cheaply performed by a certain number of troopships of the Himalaya class, which vessel had paid her cost ten times over, than by relying almost entirely upon hired vessels. It was not only a question of comfort to the troops, but of loss of time when time was the most important consideration. If troop-ships were always ready for sea, the men might be put on board within a couple of days; and occasions sometimes arose when days were of importance. He also wished to know whether a number of transports were not detained in the St. Lawrence on account of the weather, and whether they were not paying for the use of those vessels as if they were on active service. He would like to see a larger number of troop-ships kept in Commission, for the hiring of transports, to the extent at present practised, was essentially penny wise and pound foolish.


observed that he had understood his noble Friend, the Secretary to the Admiralty, to say that the first two items of the vote (for seamen and victualling) would in any case have been incurred. His noble friend also made a statement which he did not exactly comprehend, as to the application of a surplus on some of the votes. He wished to know whether any portion of any such surplus had been applied to the sending out the reinforcements to Canada, and whether the sum of—234,000 covered the whole cost of those measures? As they were all aware, owing to stress of weather, some of the reinforcements had not yet reached their destination, and he believed that several of the transports which had arrived in Canada had not yet returned to this country. He made that inquiry because his noble Friend would agree with him that in making a statement of this kind there should be no disguise, and that the House should know clearly and fully what expense had been incurred. He might add, that if there ever was a case in which disguise was unnecessary, the present was one. Had the estimate been considerably larger, he was sure there would have been no disinclination on the part of the House to vote the money. But if the sum of £234,000 really represented the whole cost incurred in sending troops to Canada, he must congratulate the Government on having at so cheap a rate conducted the vigorous preparations which did them so much credit, and for which they had received, if not altogether, yet very nearly, the unanimous approbation of the country. To these preparations he believed they were indebted in a great measure for the concessions of the American Government and for the prevention of that great misfortune—a war between the two countries.


said, he also wished to congratulate the Government on the reasonable cost at which they had been enabled to convey their reinforcements to Canada. He would have cheerfully supported a much larger vote, had it been necessary. Some explanation, however, was required from the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty as to the prospective reduction in the navy. He hoped that that reduction would not be effected by a reduction in the armament of Her Majesty's vessels-of-war, but he had been informed that the Euryalus had landed 16 guns, and that the Shannon and another frigate had also been deprived of a number of guns. Was that done because these ships could not carry so many guns? Was it because they were overmasted? Admiral Elliot, in his report on the Channel Fleet, had, in three different clauses, recommended that the masts of the ships should he reduced, for, generally speaking, they were so much overmasted as to labour heavily at sea. The fact was, that a frigate or a line-of-battle ship could not, on that account, be sent to sea without working so much in every gale that she had to go into dock and incur a costly bill for repairs. He trusted the noble Lord would make some inquiry into the matter. He agreed with his hon. Friend (Mr. Bentinck) that five or six troop-ships of the same class as the Himalaya would conduct the transport service in a manner which no hired vessels could approach. At the same time he must say that the transports lately engaged to carry troops across the Atlantic had, with few exceptions, performed the duty very efficiently. It was a mistake, no doubt, to send those vessels up the St. Lawrence at such a season of the year, but they had been well handled, and he thought the House would do well to express its sense of the very able manner in which the respective commanders had done their duty. From information he had received he could state that the Captain of the Parana had shown great skill in managing his ship under very grave difficulties. Great praise was also due to the Captains of the Persia and the Adriatic for the extreme skill with which they had conducted the operations intrusted to them.


said, that since he had had the honour of a seat in that House he had never seen an Estimate which pleased him more than the one before the Committee. He had expected, and he believed that the impression was general, that these four men would have cost the country a million each; and he was glad to find that, in vindicating the honour of the country so ably as the noble Lord at the head of the Government and the noble Earl the Secretary for Foreign Affairs had done, the cost had been so small. He was glad to find that the cost, so far as the navy was concerned, was not more than £234,000, and that even that sum included £25,800 for provisions and medical comforts of the troops while on board ship, which would have been required equally whether the men were at sea or on shore. The actual cost, therefore, of sending out these troops, so far as the Admiralty are concerned, seemed to be little more than £200,000. They could not, of course, with only that Estimate before them, arrive at the whole cost of the expedition; but it appeared that the charge for the army was only £609,000, so that they might take the whole expense at £1,000,000, or one-quarter of what the country supposed it would be. Therefore, he for one was highly satisfied with the result; and he only hoped that when the ordinary Navy Estimates appeared they would be as moderate in proportion as these supplementary votes. The hon. Member for Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck) had suggested the employment of Her Majesty's troop-ships instead of hired transports in such emergencies. The Transport Committee, of which he for two Sessions was chairman, had, however, arrived at the conclusion that it was much more economical for the country to hire transports as they were required than to maintain permanently a fleet of transports. Their recent experience had proved that they might with confidence rely upon the merchant marine for the supply of all the transports which might be required in any emergency, such as that which arose with regard to America, How prompt merchant seamen were to come forward in defence of the honour of their country was proved by the fact, that when war appeared imminent, the numbers of men on the list of the Naval Reserve rose rapidly from 2,000 to 10,000, and all the men who were entered expressed, in those noble addresses which every Englishman must have read with admiration, their willingness to serve their Sovereign wherever they might be required.


said, I wish to know why the surplus arising under the Estimate for 1861–2 could not be applied in relief of this Estimate; and also whether the seamen who had been discharged from Her Majesty's vessels recently returned from service in China, had had given to them the opportunity of becoming continuous—service men if they wished to do so: if they had not, great injustice had been done them. I am not prepared to condemn the removal of a portion of the bow and stern guns from the experimental—for, at this moment, I can designate them as little otherwise than experimental ships—lately built, as it will render them less likely to strain, and in time of peace this is an object not to be disregarded. Nevertheless, it will be important that such guns, or such supply as might be advisable, should he kept in store at Malta, Halifax, and other foreign stations, in order that they might at once be forthcoming again, to be placed on board those ships from which they had been displaced. I have learnt with extreme concern the intention to reduce the complement of the crews in Her Majesty's ships. I raise my voice against a measure so improvident. I am aware that the crews of ships are regulated by the number of guns they carry still; the ships lately built carry a greater spread of canvas and are heavily masted, and a smart and efficient ship of war is the pride of the service; the reduction will place more labour on the crew and create a heavy dissatisfaction. Moreover, a ship undermanned is subject for serious misgiving in general efficiency for all description of duties which may be assigned her, and under all circumstances in which, perchance, she might be placed; besides, in the event of any sudden emer- gency, ships on a distant station would find themselves in an inefficient condition, and would be unable to complete their crews.


said, he understood that the two first items of the Vote amounting to £130,000 were independent altogether of the expedition to Canada, and that if it had not been for the necessity of presenting a Supplementary Estimate with regard to the other items, the Vote would not have appeared in its present form, inasmuch as there was an excess in the Vote for the year for iron ships amounting to £150,000, which would have been available for this purpose. No doubt by law the surplus of one Vote was with the consent of the Treasury applicable to supply the deficiency on another; but he considered that this was a case in which the application of that principle would be regarded with some jealousy—both on account of the amount of the surplus, and because the money was voted for providing certain permanent property which must ultimately be provided. The practice of diverting items from one head of public expenditure to another was attended with a doubly bad effect. It encouraged the Admiralty, in framing their Estimates, to put down a very moderate amount for stores, and to ask for large sums under heads, such as iron ships, which the nation was willing to grant. The hon. Baronet in conclusion inquired whether the surplus which had arisen on the Vote of £250,000 would be surrendered as a saving to the Exchequer, or applied in any other way.


observed, that the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Lindsay) had spent a large amount of energy in refuting assertions which he had never made. He had never impugned the energy or patriotism of the British merchant seaman, nor had he gone the length of saying that the Government ought to be independent of the mercantile marine for the transport of troops. All he said was, that he thought it would he more economical, and conduce more to the comfort of the troops, if they had a large number of troop-ships of the Himalaya class in the Royal Navy.


said, the £100,000 alluded to by the hon. Baronet (Sir S. Northcote) would at the end of the year undoubtedly be transferred to the Treasury, to be dealt with according to the Appropriation Act. The Admiralty would derive no benefit from it. He was indebted to the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich (Sir J. Pakington) for that op- portunity of stating that all the transports would not have been paid off till after the completion of the financial year. An item of about £40,000 on that account would have to be included in the Estimates for next year, but that sum, when added to the £234,000, would represent the entire cost of transport to the North American colonies. None of the men referred to by his gallant Friend the Member for Christ-church (Admiral Walcott), who wished to enter for continuous service, had been denied the opportunity of doing so. The contemplated reduction of the armament of vessels had no reference to the reduction of men; but it would be attended with beneficial results in increasing their capacity of stowage, in rendering them lighter and more easily handled, and in causing them to labour less in bad weather. There could be no doubt that some of the very large ships were overladen with guns. The introduction of the Armstrong gun in place of the old smooth-bore cannon lightened the weight of a ship's artillery, and greatly increased its power. If he had not already expressed his admiration of the patriotism evinced by the merchant service on a late occasion, he would certainly have taken that opportunity of rectifying the omission. It was his intention when the Navy Estimates were introduced, to express, on the part of the Government, the high satisfaction which their conduct had given. As they were giving credit where credit was due, the House would doubtless give praise likewise to the dockyard officers, whose energy had got so large a number of ships ready in so wonderfully short a time.


observed, that it appeared from the statement now made that the number of officers and men sent out amounted to 14,000 men, but in previous statements made to the public the number was only put at 10,000 men.


said, he wished to know whether it was intended to reduce the size of the ships, as well as the armaments they carried. If vessels were built to carry a certain number of guns, it seemed that the proper course would be to put that number on board; if they were only to carry the reduced armament, and yet were pierced for a larger number, he fancied they were building too large a battery.


said, he would rather discuss that and similar questions when the Navy Estimates were before the House.

Vote agreed to, as were also the following:—

(2.) £30,000, Provisions and Victualling Stores, &c.

(3.) £234,338, Freight of Ships.