HC Deb 09 July 1868 vol 193 cc948-59

Before the Secretary for War replies to the hon. Baronet who has just sat down, I should like to introduce one other subject to the notice of the Committee, as this may be the last appropriate opportunity of doing so this Session. Two months ago the Secretary for War made some observations regarding the expenditure of the present Government, and accompanied them by an attack upon the administration of the late Government. The right hon. Baronet referred principally to the increases in the Votes for Men and for Armaments, and the effect of his observa- tions was to give currency to an impression that the increase which the present Government found it necessary to propose had been brought about, at least to some extent, by the negligence and parsimony of the late Government. Respecting the first item the right hon. Baronet said, "Look at the state in which you left the ranks and look at their state now." But I deny the late Government was negligent in this matter. In the first place the House will remember that the two or three years before the late Government left Office were most trying to the recruiting staff. Many of the men who enlisted at the time of the Crimean War were claiming their discharge, so that a great want of troops suddenly arose, and this unfortunately occurred at a time when employment was plentiful, and when men were consequently scarce. The Government considered its position in the light of this extraordinary combination of circumstances, and concluded it would not be wise to take immediate steps to meet the difficulty; they were especially unwilling to resort to offers of increased pay or larger bounty, and thinking the whole subject of sufficient importance, they referred it to a Royal Commission. These being the facts of the case, I do not see that the increased expenditure which has been incurred by the Government on account of the men can fairly be attributed to the negligence or parsimony of the late Government. Now, respecting the armament, the right hon. Baronet has said on one or two occasions—and he has been supported by the right hon. and gallant Member for Huntingdon (General Peel)—that the late Government did next to nothing in the shape of armaments. I have explained the policy of the late Government on this head already; I have asserted the late Government provided fortifications only for those forts it was absolutely necessary to arm, and I maintain the late Government acted wisely in this respect; indeed, the right hon. Gentleman confesses as much himself in the speech to which I allude. He said he could not give the late Government credit for knowing' what was likely to occur, and he held that the fortunate result was perfectly accidental and could not be put down to prescience. But is it possible that at the time when the controversy between Sir William Armstrong and Mr. Whitworth was going on, when the 7-inch gun was being tried against the 9-inch, and when the best method of rifling was as yet un- decided—is it possible those who were superintending those inquiries could have been unaware that we were still far from perfection in the construction of heavy armaments? We all knew in those days that while we could make an efficient and expensive gun it was probable that in the next year we should be able to make a better gun at less cost, and that in the following year greater perfection and greater economy would most probably be secured. We have been told it would be necessary to spend £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 oil that item. I should be very glad to hear what are the details of that Estimate; but, taking the calculations made by the right hon. Gentleman, it is impossible to discover how that estimate has been arrived at. He says it will be necessary to provide 1,000 heavy guns, and about 3,000 guns of lighter construction. Assuming that it would be necessary to arm the forts with 1,000 large guns, I think that estimate was made when guns were made smaller than they are now, and that a fewer number of our present large guns would suffice. I presume the right hon. Gentleman would say that it would not be necessary for those large guns to be on an average of a larger calibre than nine inches. I suppose that some other guns, 7-inch or 8-inch, will be necessary; but I think we shall not be wrong in taking the average as 9-inch. Nine-inch guns could be made for about £800 each, and 1,000 of them would therefore cost £800,000; and doubling that sum for carriages and ammunition the total cost would be £1,600,000. A furthersum of £1,200,000 for the smaller guns would raise that total to £2,800,000, and he was curious to know how the right hon. Gentleman had doubled that already sufficiently large Estimate. The right hon. Gentleman has said, "Look at the state in which you left the breech-loaders. The late Government have done nothing with regard to breech-loaders." I think that assertion hardly justified. I will remind the House very briefly what has been done. Two years before the accession of the present Government to Office the late Government appointed a Committee which decided in the first place that breechloaders ought to be introduced into the army. That may not seem much but at that time there was great difference of opinion on the subject among military men. That Committee having decided in favour of breech-loaders, the late Government instituted an inquiry as to the best mode of converting muzzle-loaders into breechloaders. The result was that no system was presented to them which was entirely satisfactory. But experiments were conducted under the orders of the late Government which resulted in the adoption of Mr. Snider's method, and in the perfection of the cartridge which bears the name of Colonel Boxer. In moving the Estimates of 1866 I was able to state that 40,000 muzzle-loaders would be converted that year. Now, what is the statement of the right hon. Gentleman? He has said, if reported correctly, which I can hardly believe, that we had only converted eighteen or nineteen, but had ordered 40,000 to be converted, whereas my successor undertook to convert 200,000 by machinery, at the cost of a £1 apiece. Now, when the right hon. Gentleman informed the House that circumstances had made it necessary in his opinion that conversion should go on faster than we had intended, he stated that there was nothing in the conduct of the late Government which he could find fault with. Now, the eighteen or nineteen muzzle-loaders that were converted were only intended as samples; we had resolved to convert 40,000, and all that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Huntingdon did was to increase the number that was to be converted in the Small Arms Factory and also to be made by the trade. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir John Pakington) had shown that it cost £1,300 to test a 9-inch gun but that was a process which was seldom resorted to, and then only to test the endurance of any new gun which might be adopted. The Estimates which I had the honour of moving in 1866 amounted to £14,095,000; the Estimates of this year amount to £15.455,000, showing an increase of £1,360,000. Vote 1, which is the Vote for Pay of the Men, has been increased 'within these two years by £387,000; Votes 12 and 13, which bear the whole expenditure of the Manufacturing Departments have been increased by £98,000; making an increase under these heads of £485,000. Therefore, on a total increase of £1,360,000. only £485,000 are duo to the increase under both these heads; and therefore the total expenditure on the army in two years has been increased at the rate of 9 per cent, while on these two Votes the increase has been only 7 per cent. Now, it is impossible for me, or for any independent Member of Parliament, to go through the Votes and say what Votes have been unduly increased. On the contrary, I think that, when there is not one Vote in the Army Estimates which has not been increased, it is for the right hon. Gentleman to come down and show the House what the necessity was for that increase. I say it is impossible for independent Members to criticize the Votes in detail, or to say where reductions might be made, because we have not got the information. There is only one Vote in which I could say that there has been a perfectly unnecessary increase and that is the Militia Vote. There is one thing about which no complaint has been made, and that is as to the number of men in the Militia and Volunteers, and yet there has been a very large increase in the Militia Vote. That increase has been due to these two circumstances—the pay of the Militia has been raised 2d. a day, in my opinion a perfectly unnecessary and wasteful increase; and in the next place the right hon. Gentleman has raised the Militia establishment from two-thirds, at which a great many of the regiments stood for some years, to the full establishment. I think, and a great many Militia officers agree with me, that 1,000 men is a greater number than it is possible to train within a period of eight weeks. If they were in garrison it would be a different thing. It may be said that this increase of the Militia establishment is part of the Reserve plan; but it is no part of the plan of the right hon. and gallant Member for Huntingdon. I have reason to believe that whenever an emergency arose it would be easy to get as many men as would be required; and therefore I say that this increase of the Militia establishment is perfectly unnecessary. As I have said before, it is impossible for independent Members to go through every Vote in detail; but I have made these few remarks because the statement of the right hon. Gentlemen has led to the impression that the increase in the expenditure was due to parsimony of the late Government.


I came down here with great curiosity to know how my noble Friend) the Marquess of Hartington) was to justify that address which he has made to his constituents—in which he has said that the present Government have greatly raised the Army Estimates without securing increased efficiency—while ho is prepared to maintain that the Government to which he belonged maintained the army in efficiency with an expenditure much less than that which is now incurred. Now, there can be no graver accusation brought against a Government than an increase of Estimates without a corresponding increase of efficiency. As I am responsible for much that has been done, I wish to say a few words. If the Army was in that state of efficiency which my noble Friend wishes us to believe, why was it necessary in 1866, before any of those events occurred on the Continent, which made nations look to their defences, that my noble Friend should appoint a Royal Commission—to do what? Why, to ascertain how it was that they could not get the men they wanted. If the army was in the state of efficiency he describes, why was the late Government called upon to appoint a Commission? Of whom did that Commission consist? There were five politicians upon it. Among the Members were Lord Dalhousie, Viscount Eversley, the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread), and the hon. Member for Longford (Major O'Reilly) sitting on the other side of the House, and the subject of recruiting was not the only point on which they reported. Another question referred to them was how we were to obtain an Army of Reserve. Then, again, will my noble Friend say that the army was in a state of efficiency when it had not enough men, when it had no Army of Reserve, and when it was armed with muzzle-loaders? Does he imagine that he could provide the army with breech-loaders without an increase of expenditure? As to the additional 2d. a day which was given to the troops, I do not believe there is a man in or out of this House who grudges this addition. The House will bear in mind that in 1867, in addition to the ordinary casualties amounting to more than 50,000, there were 22,000 men entitled to their discharge—not, as my noble Friend supposes, on account of the recruiting which went on during the Crimean War, but of the second battalions raised during the Indian Mutiny. I can tell you that these men were waiting to know what you would do for them; and if you had not added then to the pay of the army, every one of them would have taken his discharge. Do not therefore let it go forth, just before a General Election, that the present Government were extravagant in increasing the Estimates, whereas the late Government reduced their Estimates, at the same time maintaining the efficiency of the army. But then my noble Friend says, "Were not your Estimates in- creased?" No doubt they were, and why? Because you made wrong calculations from beginning to end. There was a deficiency in the first seven of your Votes to the amount of no less than £300,000. Then, says my noble Friend, "Why increase the number of the Militia?" Because this arose out of the recommendation of your own Royal Commission. Instead of 40,000 breech-loaders, as you proposed, the supply to the troops was raised to 200,000. If this had not been done, not only would you not have been able to send them to Canada, but I doubt whether your troops in Abyssinia would have been supplied with them. If the Government are accused of extravagance on account of this extra expenditure, I question whether the country will find fault with it. I have no personal interest in this matter. It is not my intention to go into Parliament again; but I warn the noble Lord that, so far from finding fault with increased Estimates, if he comes into Office again he will probably have to increase them still further. With regard to the fortifications and their armaments, the noble Lord says that under the late Administration these were proceeding gradually. Yes, they certainly were—very gradually. The Fortification Vote is not one for which the present Government is responsible. You had planned the fortifications, and you did not provide a single gun for them. Surely, my noble Friend does not pretend to say that all this can be done without an increased expenditure? At any rate, when he declares that the late Government were excessively economical, and the present Government excessively extravagant, I agree with him, that the country must judge between us.


I am sorry to have to add anything to the not very long, but very effective speech of my right hon. and gallant Friend (General Peel). But the noble Marquess referred so directly to me, especially in connection with a speech made by me in this House, that I must be allowed a few words in reply. In addressing his constituents the noble Lord says that under the present Administration the Army Estimates have been largely increased, and he is prepared to maintain that, while under their predecessors the military expenditure gradually decreased, the efficiency of the army was in no degree diminished. Now, I do not wish to make any unfair imputations; but it is difficult to read this extract without coming to the conclusion with my right hon. and gallant Friend that there seems to be some desire to impress the country with the idea that, while the late Government was extremely careful, the present Government was extremely extravagant, In justice to the present Government I must state distinctly that I do not think the noble Lord has it in his power to justify that address. There has been no extravagance on the part of the present Government, and, moreover, I maintain there has been no increase of Estimates which the noble Lord himself would not have been obliged to adopt if he had remained in Office, and a change of Government had not occurred. He says to his constituents that under the late Government the efficiency of the array was in no degree diminished. Well, but our object was that the efficiency of the army should be increased, and that efficiency could not be increased until, in some way or another, breech-loaders were supplied to the army. That is, in fact, the question of the hour. With regard to the speech which the noble Lord criticized, he was unable to establish anything like inaccuracy in it; and lie admitted the truth of my statement that when he went out of I Office there were only 20,000 or 30,000 breech-loaders, made by hand, at a large expense. I do not mean to say that he was going to provide the whole army with them at that rate of expenditure. But that was the state of things which compelled my right hon. and gallant Friend (General Peel) to increase our expenditure upon that item. The noble Lord says that I accused the late Government of negligence and undue parsimony. I made no such charge. The speech to which he refers was not made as an attack upon the late Government. It was made because the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone), without any notice, assailed the Estimates of the present Government, using harsh language, and declaring that our conduct respecting the Estimates was a subject of discredit and dispraise. Surely, the House will admit that, although I had no notice whatever of that attack, it was my duty to vindicate the Government as far as I could, and in doing so I referred to the fact which the noble Lord has entirely admitted, that it is to the present Government and the administration of my right hon. and gallant Friend (General Peel) that the credit was due of providing the army with those breech-loaders, which were indispensable to their efficiency, and which of course could not be provided without an increased charge. But let me deal with the statements of the noble Lord a little more closely; and as the noble Lord gave me private notice of his intention to mention the subject I am able to do so. Let us see the amount of the Army Estimates for the last five years. In 1863–4 they had risen to the large sum of £15,000,000. The noble Lord boasts that the late Government gradually decreased them. Well, in 1864–5 they were decreased by £200,000—I give the round numbers. In 1865–6 there was a further decrease of £500,000. 1866–7 was the last year in which the noble Lord prepared the Estimates, and they were then £14,340,000. In the summer of that year there was a change of Government, and what was the first act of my right hon. and gallant Friend (General Peel)? It was to ask the House to assent to an increased expenditure of £245,000 in order to effect that great object of providing the army with breech-loaders. Including that expenditure, the Estimates stood at £14,340,000. In 1867–8 the Estimates were prepared by my right hon. and gallant Friend; but it devolved upon me early in the year to undertake the administration of this Department. Well, that is the only year in which there was an increase of Estimates. And what was it? It amounted to £912,000, and I can account to within Is. for that increase, so as to show that the present Government are not open to the charge of extravagance. The main cause of the increase was the addition of 2d. to the pay of the Army, wisely proposed by my right hon. and gallant Friend. He adopted this plan in deference to the Report of the Royal Commission, which, under the pressure of absolute necessity, from want of men and difficulty in recruiting, was appointed by the noble Lord opposite. The Commission advised certain modes of improving the condition of the soldier. It was thought advisable to improve their rations, to give them certain articles of clothing, and in various ways improve their condition. But my right hon. and gallant Friend (General Peel) said, "If you want to improve the condition of the soldier, and tempt a better class of men into the Army, give more money;" and he decided on giving the soldier an extra 2d. a day. What would have been the financial result if the plan of the Commission had been carried out? Would there have been any economy? No, Sir; I believe that if my right hon. and gallant Friend, instead of taking the course he did, had carried-out the recommendations of the Commission, the financial result would have been an expenditure far larger than that occasioned by adding 2d. a day to the pay of the soldier. This addition of 2d. accounts for nearly one-half of the £912,000 increase in the Estimates of that year, and I have a statement of the items which constitute the other half. They are as follows:—Furlough pay, £20,600; increased pay to medical officers under the Medical Warrant, £18,000; unavoidable expenses caused by the extent to which recruiting was resorted to on account of the number of "expired" men which fell within the year, £69,500; increased cost of provisions and forage, £92,700; the taking over of the Straits' Settlements, £76,000; additional charges in connection with Ceylon, £32,000; additional charges for Australia, £20.000; biennial extra issues of clothing, £67,000; and headdresses of Cavalry and Artillery issued quadriennially, £11,300, making a total for clothing of £79,100; leap year, £24,700; miscellaneous charges (including £14,800 for rewards to inventors, £19,600 on account of contagious diseases, and £13,000 for the hospital ship at Hong Kong), £47,400; capitation grant to Volunteers, £15,800; retired full pay of non-effective infantry, artillery, and engineers, £12,040; and out pensions (higher pensions being on an average granted to men on discharge), £9,000; all these items making a grand total of £516,240. These items and the extra 2d. give an inconsiderable amount beyond the difference between the Estimates of the two years. I hope the statement will satisfy the House that the noble Lord has no right, either in Lancashire or here, to accuse the present Government of having indulged in extravagant Estimates, I have shown that the Estimates must have been submitted by himself if he had remained in Office, and that there is really no ground for the charge he has made. Referring to the Estimates of the probable expenditure to which the country sooner or later must be put in order to arm our fortifications with proper guns, the noble Lord alluded to this passage in my speech— According to the calculation of scientific men competent to give an opinion on the subject, it will be necessary, in order to arm the fortifications which are being constructed, to provide 1,044 additional guns of largo calibre—12-inch, 9-inch, and 7-inch guns—and also 2,600 guns of a lighter character. The right hon. Gentleman, says that if a change of Government occurs the future Government must effect a large reduction of expenditure. Now any future Government must and ought to endeavour to effect every economy consistent with the efficiency of the public service; but I presume that the right hon. Gentleman will not be prepared to contend that we are to leave the fortifications of this country without guns in them. It is the duty of the Government to arm these fortifications; and this aggregate number of 3,500 guns of large and small calibre, indispensable as they are for the safety and protection of the country, cannot be manufactured under an expenditure of from £4,000,000 to £5,000,000."—[3 Hansard, exci. 1753.] The noble Lord says this is an exaggerated calculation. In his Estimate the noble Lord brought up the cost of these guns to £3,000,000. I will not enter into the question whether the noble Lord is right or I am; but I made my statement after reference to the most competent authorities. I must remind the noble Lord that not only will a number of guns be required for the new fortifications in progress, but a number of guns will be required on account of the changes in the armament of our fortresses in all parts of the world. With regard to the cost of testing guns, about which my statement was said to be inaccurate, the fact is my figures greatly understated the cost. I believe they were correct as to the 9-inch guns, to which I referred, and the testing of which cost £1,300. With guns of a large calibre the expense is much greater; and since I made my speech I have been informed that in one case the cost was between £2,000 and £3,000; but that applies not to every gun, but to new patterns as they are invented. Therefore, I think that in that speech I did not make any exaggerated statements, and the noble Lord was not justified in casting the imputation ho did on the present Government. In reply to the question of the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Darby Griffith), I must decline to produce a copy of the censure passed by the Horse Guards upon an officer of the Grenadier Guards. We are fortunate in having at the head of the army a most efficient Commander-in-Chief, to whom no one will be inclined to attribute undue severity; and it would be a most dangerous precedent as affecting the discipline of the army to lay on the table such a document as that referred to. In answer to the hon. Member for King's County (Sir Patrick O'Brien,) who has brought forward a case of promotion in the Coldstream Guards, I have to state that it appears to me that what I have already said on that subject is correct, and that the Commander-in-Chief has exercised a sound discretion with regard to it. With reference to the Question about travelling allowances to officers on sick leave, the House will naturally suppose that there is an individual case in point of an officer who came home on sick leave; and he was not in strictness, under the warrant, entitled to the particular allowances that were refused him.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.