rose to bring forward his promised motion, in consequence of the notice he had given on a former day: that motion he felt it necessary to preface by some observation 73 on the subject of the enquiry it was his object to propose for their lordships adoption; and he apprized their lordships, that the tenor of his motion would be directed to the appointment of a select committee to enquire into the abuses which had obtained in the naval department. It was particularly worthy of remark, that the long list of papers for which he had moved in the month of March last, and which had been refused to him by his majesty's ministers, had been since granted, upon the motion of an hon. member in the other house of parliament. In order to enable their lordships to enter into a full enquiry upon this subject, it would not only be necessary for them to investigate those papers, but several others for which it was his intention to move, should the house think fit to adopt his motion for the committee. In the investigation to which he had no doubt their lordships would readily be induced to accede, he desired expressly to disclaim all views of personal asperity towards any officer of his majesty's government. Public justice was his sole motive; nor had he any other object than to render justice to those who should be found to have deserved well of their country, and to discover and bring to account those whose conduct had been of the contrary tendency. The papers for which he had already, and might hereafter move upon this subject, were for the purpose of enabling the house to form a comparison between the conduct of the late and present board of admiralty, and to ascertain which had acted most meritoriously for the public service. Whether that board had acted most wisely and efficiently for the public defence, who had dismissed from the public service a number of useless ships which crowded, without strengthening our navy; which declined the giving contracts for ships to the merchant builders, and preferred the building of our vessels of war in the king's yards; which dismissed useless and ineffective officers and artisans, and employed only those that were active and efficient; which directed investigation into abuses and peculations in the various departments of his majesty's dock-yards, and put a stop to the most flagitious and profligate system of profusion and waste of the public money; or that board 'of admiralty, which reversed this system, and by giving contracts for ships to the merchant builder, increased the number, but most materially impaired flit strength of our navy, by crowding;.it with 74 ships at an. enormous expence, but absolutely,useles to the service. The papers now on their lordships' table, consisting a the reports of commissioners appointed by the other house of parliaments,abounded. with strong instances, and laid before their lordships sufficient parliamentary ground, to shew the necessity of going into the enquiry. In looking over those papers, one of the first objects that struck his . mind, was the purchase of some ships of war from the merchant builders, at the enormous rate of thirty-four pounds per ton; some of which, nevertheless, so far from being serviceable to the navy, or adding to its strength, were absolutely useless. He would select two for the present, and the house would be best able to judge, from the report of the officers appointed to command them, whether or not they were of use to the service. The one was called the Hindostan, and was attached to admiral Russell's squadron; and he would read from the report a letter for the captain commanding that vessel, his opinion of his fitness and efficiency; the other was called the Mediator, of which the house would also be enabled to judge from the letter of her captain. The noble lord read the letters from the captains of both ships;. from which it appeared that both were so ill built, so utterly disproportioned in their masts, rudders, ropes, rigging, and guns, and so high above the water, as to be totally unmanageable and unfit for service. They were both under fifty guns, and yet they cost the government as much as seventy-four gun ships built in his majesty's dock-yards; and, what was still worse, some ships of the, line were actually stript of a principal part of their crews to man those useless vessels; and thus the means of our defence, instead of being strengthened, was considerably weakened, and our navy reduced to a state much below what it was at the time when a noble lord sat at the head of that department, who retired from office, and who had been, by certain persons to whose proceedings he was not friendly, censured for his conduct in directing the affairs of the navy, which, in his (the noble speaker's) mind merited the universal approbation and gratitude of the country. What he would wish was to contrast the state of the navy at present with that in which it stood under the direction of his noble and gallant friend. It might indeed have a greater number of ships, but were they so well manned, ap. 75 pointed, or prepared to meet that active and enterprising enemy with whom we have to contend, and, who has never relaxed out moment in his exertions to increase his strength, and facilitate the accomplishment of his views against this country? He would ask his lordship, whether, when his noble, gallant, and venerable friend was at the head of the admiralty, any such event had occurred, as two formidable fleets of the enemy triumphantly proceeding to sea, and roaming no one knew whither, in despite of our boasted navy and blockading system; while our West India islands were attacked and ravaged by another of the enemy's squadrons? Let their lordships judge, from this circumstance, to which praise or censure was most due, the late or the-present board of admiralty. Another ground of condemnation was, the system of taking ships from the merchant contractors, instead of building them in the king's dock yards, by which means a number of competitors, encouraged by those contracts, were brought into the market to outbid the government in the prices of labour, timber, and every material for building and stores. Thus the expences of building in the king's yard were increased almost in a double ratio. If their lordships would be at the trouble of examining the papers upon their table, they would perceive a most striking instance of this kind resulting from the contracting system, where, in the space of a few weeks, no less than 170 able shipwrights; in the prime of life, quitted the service in the king's dockyards of Deptford and Woolwich only, for the purpose of being employed at much higher wages in those of the merchant contractors, to build those very ships which, he would contend, but for this system, could be built considerably cheaper, as well as infinitely better, in the king's. yards; and he would aver that those 170 men were competent to build the ten seventy-four gun ships now contracted for at 361. per ton. Could any case be stronger than this to prove the badness of the system on which the business of ship building was conducted? But if flagrant cause for, censure existed in that department, it was still worse in the contracts for repairing. for it appeared that the repairs of the Magicienne, the Andromache, the Flora, and another. vessel, which he named, cost, in 1793, the enormous sum of 65;000l. by contract, and might have been built at the then contract price for little. More than 40;000l. 76 Here then was a palpable instance of the ruinous principle of repairing by contract. It was said, that in the king's yard there was not room for laying down first rates. He denied the assertion, and stated that there were in all the yards, twenty slips large enough for first rates, which supposing each to require two years in completion, would be competent within that time to increase the number and strength of our navy greatly beyond any necessity. But the number of hands engaged in on. dock-yards (greatly reduced, on account as was alledged, of the numbers dismissed by the first lord of the admiralty) appeared by the papers to be greater when lord St. Vincent went out of office, than a present. From the bad supply of timber, and the shameful mismanagement of mixing hands, all sorts, good and bad, and paying all equal wages, instead of striking the men into classes, and employing each upon the work to which they were most competent, the business of the yards was most tardily conducted, and at an enormous expence. The persons who proceeded in this shameful manner seemed to have forgotten the voluminous report on their lordships' table, or to suppose at least that they were deterred by its magnitude from looking into its contents. Not intimidated by this consideration, he had looked into it minutely, and felt himself every where appalled by the enormity of the peculation, and also the profusion which it exhibited. Not wishing to go into particular detail at this moment, he would just advert to the sixth report, which exhibited such scenes of perverseness, mismanagement, and criminal profusion, as he did not think it possible could have existed in any system, and more especially under the eye of a navy board, appointed to conduct the business of a great nation, and formed of men professing character and competence for their post. Among other instances which this report presented, was one, where a charge had been made for certain repairs and additions to a ship at 10s. and in another place, for work executed precisely in the same manner, 10l.; and yet both charges were signed by the navy board. How it was possible so gross and shameful an instance of extortion upon the country, as that of charging pounds in lieu of shillings, could have passed the vigilance of any public board, unexamined, was to him utterly inconceiveable.—The noble lord then proceeded to examine 77 many other parts of the report, and upon the whole condemned, in the strongest terms, the criminal and atrocious instances of negligence, profusion, waste, and peculation, it exhibited. Again, the noble lord disclaimed all personal views. in this enquiry, yet he could not but feel that the noble earl behind him (lord St. Vincent) was deeply interested. He should not advert to the malicious rumours which had been industriously circulated, nor the virulent pamphlets, and other scandalous libels that had been directed against that noble earl. The noble earl had been termed, by some authority too, the greatest enemy. the country ever saw. But standing there as the friend of that noble earl, only because he believed him to be the friend of his country, for he had the honour of very little of his personal acquaintance, he could not sit down without giving (however unnecessary it might be) the. most decided contradiction to such slanders [hear! hear!] That noble earl, after having vanquished the enemies of his country abroad, and crowned her standard with trophies in every quarter of the globe, had returned to vanquish her still worse enemies at home. That noble lord was not the patron of peculators, but the detector of abuses. He did not, however, call their lordships' attention to the situation of the noble earl upon any consideration of his his public services, brilliant and invaluable as they had been to this country; he merely besought for him justice at their lordships' hands, against the base and unfounded imputations rumoured by those who, in revenge for his detection of their misdeeds, had endeavoured to injure his character. Instead of being the worst enemy of his country, he would aver him to have been her best friend. By him it was that the enquiry was set on foot, which led to the detection of so many and such enormous frauds upon the country. He had set his shoulders to the wheels, and in spite of art, influence, and evasion, undaunted by the number as well as the magnitude of those impediments he had to encounter, he pushed that enquiry to the utmost, and set an example to that house, which his country had universally applauded, and which the noble lord hoped their lordships would adopt. Lord Darnley concluded by moving,"that a select committee of their lordships be appointed, to consist of the duke of Clarence, the marquis of Buckingham, lord Winchelsea, lord Albemarle, lord Ducie, lord Auck 78 land, lord King, and four or five other peers, to take into consideration the several papers on the table, respecting the state-of the navy."
rose, and spoke as follows:— My lords; the noble lord has stated now, as he did when he moved for some of the papers on your lordships' table, two charges against the conduct of the board of admiralty, at which I, had the honour, to preside. The noble lord has accused us of incurring a great and unnecessary expence by purchasing vessels which were useless. and unfit for service. He has also charged the admiralty with having been grossly in error, in building ships in the, merchants' yards. To these charges I trust I shall be able to answer to the satisfaction of your lordships; and the noble lord will do me the justice to recollect, that I never made any objection to the enquiry which he proposed to institute, being always ready to meet it; nor did I refuse my consent to the. production of most of the papers for which he called, though I objected to one of the motions of the noble lord, because I was satisfied that it would create unbounded trouble in the public offices to prepare the papers to which that motion extended, and because the production thereof would only burden your lordships, table, without any useful information being derived from them. How far I was well founded in this conclusion your lordship will now be enabled to judge.— One volume out of three, of which that correspondence consisted, is upon your lord ships' table; and the only use the noble lord has made of it has been to quote from it two letters, It may therefore be presumed, that if, the whole of that correspondence. had been produced, it, would have been of but little, if any, use what ever.— In reviewing the arguments which the noble lord has introduced, I cannot help thinking, that he has totally mistaken the, object of his own enquiry, as it does not. go to institute a comparison between the conduct of the board of admiralty at which I presided, and the former board of admiralty, but a comparison of the conduct of every board of admiralty that has subsisted for these twenty years past, the board at which I presided .having only, followed the example of every preceding board during that period, with respect to building in the merchants' yards. At present I only make this observation generally, as I shah have occasion, in the sequel, to enter into a de 79 tailed illustration of the fact I have stated.— I now come, my lords, immediately to the charge which the noble lord has brought against the admiralty, for having purchased vessels which were unfit for service, and for having had many of these vessels fitted and repaired in the merchants' yards at a great expence.—With respect to the purchase of ships, if there be any crime in it, I plead guilty to the charge. Let me, however, entreat your lordships to recollect what were your own opinions and your own feelings, when a noble marquis, somewhat more than a twelvemonth ago, proposed to bring forward a motion relative to the defence of the country. Every one knew the object of that motion to be similar to one that had been brought forward in another house, but more especially with the view to increase the number of Vessels of the smaller and lighter classes, of which we had not then by any means enough for the service for which such vessels were more particularly wanted,— namely, to contend against the flotillas which were collected at Boulogne, and other ports on the French, Flemish, and Dutch coasts. Serious apprehensions were entertained at that time upon this subject; in consequence of which I thought it my duty to give my earliest attention to it.—With the view therefore of appeasing the clamour and removing the dissatisfaction, which, from the want of vessels of the description I have just mentioned, had been so generally expressed, I lust no time in ascertaining the exact state of our resources in so far as regarded every description of vessels, which were either then at the disposal of the crown, or which might be obtained in the shortest possible time; and I found that to the force allotted for the service of the north sea, for the blockade of the enemy's ports in the narrow part of the channel, and for the protection of our own coasts in that particular direction, considerable additions might speedily be made. I therefore desired that fifteen armed transports, which were lying at Spithead, and seven, which were in Loch Ryan, should be immediately ordered to join lord Keith, whose force, when I-came into office, amounted to one hundred' and twenty-one ships and vessels of war, exclusive of hired ships and craft of various descriptions.—To the above twenty-two tired transports, which were all coppered, I found,that by giving a premium of not more than 8000l. a further addition might quickly be obtained of thirty-nine sloops 80 and gun-brigs, which, just before the change at the admiralty, had been contracted for. The whole of these. vessels were, in consequence of this encouragement, brought forward with the greatest expedition, some of them months, but all of them several weeks, earlier than they would have been furnished according to the terms of the' contracts.—Besides the vessels already. mentioned, orders were given, as will be seen by the papers on your lordships' table, to purchase and to build the ships, and Vessels therein described, amounting in the whole to seventy sail.—It was still thought necessary to make a further addition to this force, and with this view the gun-brigs and mortar vessels have been contracted for since the first of June last, as will be seen by a reference to that document: these amount to thirty-seven sail;—so that the whole force either actually added, or in a state of forwardness, appears to amount to one hundred and sixty-eight vessels more than there were on the day of my succeeding to the office of first lord of the admiralty.—With regard to the expence incurred for the purchase of the vessels that were brought into the service, little can, I think, be said in objection to it, although the noble lord, who opened the debate, has endeavoured to lay considerable stress on that point, as well as upon the unfitness of some of those vessels, from the circumstance of their being a little crank from want of sufficient ballast, and from their not having exactly the qualities which vessels built especially for the purposes of war generally possess.—The Hindostan, Mediator, and Hyæna, the ships to which the noble lord particularly objected, are now all upon distant service, whither they have been detached with valuable convoys; and such other of the purchased vessels.as are not now actually employed in the blockading squadrons off Boulogne, or off the Flemish and Dutch ports, are also appropriated to the convoy of our foreign or coasting trade, whereby we have been enabled to allot, for other services, ships of superior qualities, which must necessarily have been appropriated for convoy, if we had not had recourse to this measure, which circumstances at the moment so imperiously called for. Upon this part of the subject now under your lordships' consideration, I trust that this elucidation will be found to be satisfactory.—Having stated what I think will be sufficient to explain to your lordships the 81 grounds on which I was induced to recommend the increase of vessels of the smaller classes, and the measures taken for that Purpose, I will freely confess that, although the chief dissatisfaction prevalent in the public mind was on account of the deficiency of small vessels, my own apprehensions were infinitely stronger when I contemplated the state of the superior classes of ships, but more especially those of the line: and the more I looked into this subject, the more serious those apprehensions became.—I shall now state to your lordships how far measures have been taken to restore the British navy to that strength and vigour of which I do affirm it stood in need, and which the situation of the country required at the time I entered upon the duties of my office at the admiralty.—For the purpose of obtaining accurate information upon the subject, I desired that a return might be made out, of the number of ships of the line then in commission, together with their state and condition. This return was accordingly prepared, by which it appeared that the state of the ships of the line in employ was as follows:viz. thirty-seven, which might probably last five years; twenty-seven, three years; and seventeen were considered as fit only for home or limited service; making altogether a total of eighty-one ships of the line.—Considering the situation in winch the country then stood, I do explicitly declare, that this was not such a state of the fleet as circumstances appeared to me to require. Eighty-one ships of the line were certainly inure than adequate in point of number to the ships of the enemy, including those both of France and Holland; which, according to our intelligence, amounted to about sixty-five sail; but the enemies' ships might probably, in one respect, be considered as superior to those of this country, from the circumstance of their having been kept almost constantly in their own ports during the greater part of the late war, and being consequently in a better condition, than ours, which had been perpetually employed on the most active and arduous services. Many of our ships had been employed in the blockading service; the tendency of which at all times, but particularly in.the winter season, and when the ships have been long in service, is to cause a rapid and destructive wear of those so employed. Besides, it is necessary to observe, that the report of the state and condition of our ships was drawn up 82 in rather too favourable a manner, as many, of them had been already a considerable time in service; and though in the ten months subsequent to my entering upon the duties of my office, ten or eleven additional ships of the line were put into commission, they only sufficed to replace those which had been put out of commission in consequence of being unfit for further service. —Thus, at the end of ten months, notwithstanding this accession of fresh ships, the number of those of the line remained much the same as they were when I entered upon the duties of my office. But when I found, from the report to which I have alluded, what the situation of the navy really was, it naturally led me to enquire what were the resources to which we could look for the purpose of increasing it, or for replacing such ships as must ere long, become unfit for service.—This naturally led me to enquire what ships of the line were building, and when they, were likely to be completed; and I found, from the answers to my enquiries on this subject, that on the 15th of May, 1804, there were six ships of the line building, one of which was laid down in 1802, another in January 1803, a third in November 1803, a fourth in 1802, and two which had been laid down so far back as the year. 1792. Of these six ships, three were expected to be finished in 1805, one in 1806, and another in 1807. Upon this part of the subject I shall trouble your lordships with but few observations. My object is to state facts, and to let those facts speak for themselves.—When I looked for the supply which I was to expect for keeping up the British navy, I found the number of ships which I have just stated building in the king's yards. Let us, therefore, my lords, see what was done by the late board of admiralty with respect to the building ships of the line from February 1801 to May 1804. In that period it appears that five ships were ordered to be built in the king's yards and two in the merchants' yards. But when I enquired into the state of these five ships of the line, so ordered to be built in the king's yards, I found that not even the keel of any one of them had been laid down; and the reason given for this delay was, that the ships could not be proceeded on without more materials and more hands. All the hands in the king's yards were certainly fully employed in repairing and refitting ships; and this they must necessarily be during a period of 83 war. To whom the want of materials may be imputable I do not pretend to say, I only state the fact. In order, however, to obviate this difficulty, I exerted every means in my power to replenish our naval arsenals, as will be seen upon a comparative view of the account now before your lordships. The report made respecting the state of the two ships in the merchants' yards was merely that they were building, without stating what progress had been made upon them.—Surely, my lords, after I became informed of all the circumstances which I have here stated, it would have been a dereliction of my public duty, not to have looked to some other source of Supply from whence the navy might be kept up; I therefore advised that recourse should be had to the merchants' yards; but when the orders were given to carry this advice into effect, I found that a peremptory negative had been put by the preceding board of admiralty, upon building in the merchants' yards. The negative put upon this mode of building by so high an authority, induced me to investigate the subject minutely. However, when I found that there existed no other source from whence the navy could be kept up, my public duty demanded that I should advise that recourse should again be had to the merchants'yards.— I found also that it was not only necessary for us to have recourse to the merchant builders for new ships, but that it was absolutely expedient for us to avail ourselves of the benefit of their yards, for the purpose of repairing such ships of the line as their docks might be capable of receiving. With this impression upon my mind, I did not hesitate in recommending the adoption of the measure, which was in consequence carried almost immediately into effect; and I have the satisfaction to say, that we are at this moment deriving very material benefit from it. Upon looking over the ordinary of the navy, I observed that there were a considerable number of sixty-four gun ships; I therefore determined to see what could be done in regard to the repairing of such of them as could be readily taken in hand. Eight sixty-fours, one of the small seventy-fours, and fourteen frigates from forty-four to twenty-eight guns, were agreed for, and of those there are already several actually at sea, so expeditious have the merchant builders been in fulfilling their agreement. 'The sixty-fours are, I am 'aware, a class of ships which is a getting much out of fashion; 84 but I am nevertheless of opinion, that it will be always necessary for this country to have a certain number of them, as they are the description of ships which is probably, under all circumstances, the best calculated for the service of the north and the east seas, and are, in respect of force, equal if not superior, to the major part of the Dutch marine.—Since the measure of repairing in the merchants' yards was carried into effect, I further advised that ten seventy-four gun ships should be built there without delay, for the purpose of keeping up our fleet; and, in giving this advice, I certainly expatiated most fully on the policy, as well as the expediency of the measure.—Your lordships may probably expect that I should explain the grounds on which I formed my opinion in favour of building and repairing in merchants' yards. When I looked to the number of slips for building in the dock yards, I found there were only twenty-five in all. It may be said that these slips ought to have been appropriated to the purpose for which they were intended; but I found that only five ships, as I stated before, had been ordered to be built by the late board of admiralty: I found also that, day after day, ships came in, requiring to be docked, repaired, and refitted.—In the course of ten months, that is, from the 15th of May, 1804, to the date of the returns now on your lordships' table, six hundred and one vessels have been docked, repaired, and refitted, one hundred and eighty-two of which were docked in the king's yards, and forty-seven in merchants' yards. May I not ask, then, whether it could have been possible to have brought forward new ships, by building in the king's yards during,that period; or whether it is possible to keep up our navy, by building in the king's yards during the pressure of war? If, my lords, in advising that recourse should be had to the merchants' yards, I had been pursuing a new project of my own, I might have been more diffident of the measure; but if I am blameable for recurring to the merchants' yards for keeping up the British navy, I am so, with the example before me of lord Sandwich, lord Keppel, lord Howe, lord Chatham, and lord Spencer. During the whole period, comprising the naval administrations of those noble lords, commencing with the year 1771, it was uniformly not only their respective opinions,that, during the pressure of war, recourse must be had to the merchants' yards for the 85 purpose of keeping up our navy, but it was invariably their practice whenever great exertions were required.—Some of the best ships in the service were built in the merchants' yards, and of the ships of the line in commission when the late board of admiralty retired, thirty-five were built in those yards; a stronger evidence of the wisdom as well as of the necessity of the measure, to which I have alluded, cannot, I conceive, be adduced. I think I need not ask your lordships what would be the situation of this country if we did not now possess those ships.—From the year 1771 to 1782, during the administration of lord Sandwich, greater exertions were made to increase the navy than at any former period; for in the course of that time one hundred and fifty-five ships were built in the merchants' yards, of which thirty-five were of the line. During the administration of lord Keppel, in 1782 and 1783, thirty-four ships were built in the merchants' yards, of which nine were of the line. From November to the end of December, 1783, no ship of the line was ordered to be built either in the king's or merchants' yards. From 1783 to 1788, there was profound peace, during which time no ships of the line were built in the merchants' yards. From 1788 to 1792, there was still peace. After which, from 1793 to 1801, was a period of war, during which we find that the proportion of ships built in merchants' yards to those built in the king's yards was seventeen to five.—Thus we see,that during peace the building of ships of war has been confined to the king's yards; but that during war, recourse has invariably been had to the merchants' yards, from which three-fourths of our ships have been obtained. These facts entitled me to conclude, that there never was a time of pressure occasioned by war, when the merchants' yards were not considered the chief resource to which we had to look for keeping up our fleet.—Your lordships will thus perceive that I am not singular in the opinions which I have entertained, neither do I stand alone in the practice of employing the merchants' yards for the purpose of building or even of repairing ships for the crown. No, I have done this in common with lord Sandwich, lord Keppel, lord Howe, lord Chatham, and lord Spencer; and these are names that cannot be mentioned without respect, neither can such authorities fail to add weight to any practice which they may have uniformly and invariably pursued. 86 But, my lords, this is not all: I am not only borne out by the opinions and the practice of the noble lords whom I have mentioned; but I am even supported by. the authority of the noble lord himself who preceded me in office. I shall shortly stale to your lordships the grounds which authorise me to say so. The. noble lord is now present, and he can contradict me if I am wrong. Wrong, however, I cannot be in. regard to the f[...]eets which I shall here state. Your lordships will judge of the inference to be drawn from them as you may think proper, and the noble lord can give such explanation of them as he may conceive to. be requisite.—Some communications it seems had passed between the first lord of the admiralty and the comptroller of the navy relating to the building of ships of war in the merchants' yards. In one of these, on the 16th of December, 1802, sir Andrew IIamond thought it his duty. to suggest to lord St. Vincent the propriety of condescending to keep the merchant builders in good humour, in case their services should be necessary. He afterwards wrote a letter to his lordship to the following effect "Not having heard from your lordship on the subject of our conversation on Thursday the 16th instant, respecting the merchant builders, I cannot help feeling anxious thereupon, and therefore take the liberty of writing to your lordship this letter, to prevent any unnecessary- delay, not having had any communication with them on the subject."—This letter was written on the 28th of December, 1802, and the day after, the noble lord returned this answer:— "Rockets, 29th December, 1802. Sir; It must be fresh in your recollection that I have seldom conversed with you on any subject, without introducing the urgent necessity of entering into contracts for building as many seventy-four gun ships as you could find fit persons to undertake, in every part of the kingdom; I cannot therefore refrain from expressing considerable surprise at the favour of your letter to me of yesterday, which requires that I should repeat in the strongest terms the opinion I have so frequently given. I am, &c. ST. VINCENT."—This letter, my lords, evidently can bear but one interpretation. The noble earl's sentiments are most strongly expressed, and his opinion is given in the most unequivocal manner.—Is it then possible, my lords, after this, that any man can say, that to 87 the other eminent names which I have already mentioned, I am not to add that of lord St. Vincent, who, by his own letter, so strongly recommends the very practice which the noble lord who brought forward the motion has condemned in me? For here is evidence that lord St. Vincent ordered (and with a pretty sharp rebuke to sir A. Hamond) that contracts should be made for building as many seventy-four gun ships as could be undertaken in any part of the kingdom.—Is it then reasonable that I should be condemned for what has been the uniform practice of my predecessors for these thirty years past, not even excepting the noble earl himself, in so far at least as his practice can be collected from his opinion and orders here expressly given.—But immediately after these orders had been given, it happened that the first lord of the admiralty absented himself on account of indisposition; and those to whom he left the conduct of the business, during his absence, 'do not appear to have entertained exactly the same opinion on the subject as that which the noble lord conveyed in his letter to sir Andrew Hamond.—In consequence, however, of this sharp rebuke, sir Andrew lost no time in advertising for contractors to build some seventy-four gun ships. A fortnight only had however elapsed, after he had received the letter from lord St. Vincent directing him to proceed, when, to his great astonishment, the board of admiralty informed the navy board, that the measure could not be allowed; that contracts were not to be made; that no ships of the line were to be built any where except in the king's yards, and that the use of the merchants' yards Should be entirely discontinued.— Is it to be supposed, my lords, that the board of admiralty would have ventured to give an opinion, and. issue orders so diametrically contrary to those which had been issued by lord St. Vincent, without his concurrence and authority? No, certainly not. I take it for granted that the board acted under his sanction. Admitting this to be the fact, I cannot, my lords retrain from confessing that the inconsistency and contradiction are beyond my comprehension. They are such as I can. not Oven attempt to explain; for I am sure that the attempt would be vain. To what is it possible to ascribe this total and Complete alteration of opinion which took place in one fortnight? The noble earl may possibly be able to assign some reasons for 88 all this, but I am at present entirely unable to conceive what they can be. The cause could not proceed from any change in the urgency of the case. The ftate of the country and of the navy was the same at the one period as at the other. The king's yards were no more able to supply the demand at one time than at the other; and the urgency could not have ceased on account of the five ships that had been ordered, for not even the keel of any one of them was then laid down. It could not have ceased on account of the six which were coming forward, as there was one even of those whose keel was not laid down till after the period alluded to and as the others had been on the stocks two or three years before the time at which the noble lord stated the necessity to be so extremely urgent.—If then there was nothing in the state of the fleet that could in the least degree supersede, the necessity which the noble lord had mentioned in his letter, where are we to look for the cause of this strange alteration? To what possible circumstance can we attribute the propriety of this change of sentiment so complete, and at the same time so sudden? My lords, I confess I never was more at a loss. it is totally impossible for me to account for it. If I look to the state of the country, I shall look in vain. Was there any thing so very different in our situation in the lapse of a fortnight, after his lordship wrote the letter to sir Andrew Hamond, that could justify such a total change? Surely, my lords, it will not be necessary for me to contend that there was not. For it is certain, that there was no alteration in our condition, either as to security or to power, though, on the other hand, our enemies were equally powerful and equally disposed to convince us of it, But, my lords, this is not all; there is something further to be considered. Was the country so very secure of the continuance of the late peace, that all exertions to augment our navy were rendered unnecessary It is well known that it was stated from very high authority, that the late administration never considered the peace as likely to continue long, after having had but a very short experience of the manner of proceeding adopted by our enemy. It was only a hollow truce, and understood to be so; a sort of calm that often precedes a storm. Almost from the day that the definitive treaty was signed, the conduct of our adversary shewed that peace 89 could not continue with safety, for we I could not look supinely on, and see him every day making new accessions to his already too extended dominions, increasing his power, his resources, and performing every act of aggression and tyranny; though none of the nations on the continent thought of opposing him, either because they were unable to do so, or because they were blind to their own interests. —With the evidence of these facts, may we not enquire, whether such exertions were made during, the peace (such as it was), as rendered every application to the merchants' yards unnecessary, or diminished the urgency of the case? There certainly were not, as the papers now before your lordships evidently shew. I shall therefore leave it to the house to decide, whether or not I. am warranted in what I say. Surely, then, from all these circumstances, and from the state of the fleet, the preparations in the, dock-yards, the few ships that had been ordered to be built, the condition of those that were expected to be brought forward, and the state of the country even from the day when the definitive treaty was concluded, I can draw no conclusion whatever that can justify the alteration of opinion which took place in the mind of the noble lord, or that could in any degree supersede the necessity of resorting to the merchants' yards. —It is clear that there was nothing, so far as we can see or conceive, that rendered the necessity of ships of the line less urgent at the time when the orders for resorting to the merchant builders were recalled, than there was but a fortnight before. I must therefore declare, that, in my own opinion, from the system which has been adopted of not haying recourse to the merchants' yards, the greatest injury has been sustained by the navy of the country. There is besides, another circumstance that certainly could be of benefit to it; for though it is of a very, different nature, it is nevertheless of so material importance, that I feel myself called upon to mention it. Soon after the correspondence to which I have adverted the comptroller of the navy was orderer to drop all communication whatever with the first lord of the admiralty. At this ,circumstance I was, as your lordships may probably be, truly astonished; for I am decidedly of opinion that the business relating to the affairs of the navy cannot be expeditiously and properly conducted with 90 out very frequent communications between the comptroller and the first lord of the admiralty; but it must be even more protracted if they be at all at variance (lord St.Vincent nodded.) Does the noble lord assent to this? If he does, I would beg leave to ask him this question: If he could not have any communication with the comptroller of the navy, in consequence of any differences which might subsist between them, why was the comptroller allowed to remain in his situation? Why was he not removed from his office? This is the course which, in my opinion, ought most unquestionably to have been pursued; for I am convinced that it is not possible for the first lord of the admiralty and the comptroller of the navy to conduct the business properly without frequently, fully, and intimately communicating together. It really is not within the compass of natural possibility. A man might as well attempt to walk without legs, to speak without a tongue, or to write without hands. So utterly impossible is it, that I am astonished how the, noble lord could think of dropping all communications with sir Andrew Hamond, and yet retain him as comptroller of the navy. The opinion which I have formed of the necessity of a free and intimate communication between the first lord of the admiralty and the comptroller, of the navy, is founded on the experience which I derived whilst I presided at the admiralty board.—Having thus trespassed on your lordships' patience, I should be sorry to add any thing more than what may be absolutely requisite. Indeed I cannot but regret that I have found it necessary to be thus long (hear! hear!); though circumstances, have compelled me, to state these facts for your lordships' serious consideration, as in the situation in which I stand it was impossible for me altogether to refrain from saying something in answer to the accusations that. have been thrown out by the, noble lord who brought forward this motion,I have, however, endeavoured to compress. my observations as much as possible; and I hope your lordships will ascribe the present trespass on your patience, rather to the particular, circumstances of the case than to any unnecessary prolixity on my part.—Before I sit down, it will be necessary for me to say something more upon the subject of building ships of the line in the merchants' yards; but after the state, 91 ment I have now given it will, I have no doubt, appear evident that no choice whatever was left us. Ships are absolutely wanted, consequently the expence of building them there must be incurred. I allow that the price to be given is very high. though I am convinced that the ships might. have been built for much less money, had they been undertaken some time before. As things were, we had no alternative. This is the real state of the case; and although I do not wish to dwell upon this point longer than may be necessary, I must nevertheless observe, that if the noble lord had adhered to the sentiments which he conveyed in his letter to the comptroller of the navy, and had not yielded to the opinions of persons who probably were not so well qualified to form a judgment, the ships in question would not only have been nearly ready for service, but a great deal of expence would have been saved to the nation, as the builders have raised their tenders, since the above mentioned period, no less than ten pounds per ton, their demand being now thirty-six pounds per ton for a seventy-four gun ship, instead of twenty-six pounds, which was the price required in their former tender; so that the expence on each ship will be increased dearly one-third.—If then, my lords, the expence be greater than might reasonably be expected, I hope your lordships will not lay the blame to me and my colleagues, as we have only acted as the necessity of the case and circumstances required. If there be blame any where, it must surely attach to those who neglected the opportunity of executing a service, so absolutely necessary, when it might have been performed at so much less expence. In any event, it is surely unfair to condemn us on this occasion. I trust therefore that your lordships will view the matter with your usual candour, discernment, and moderation; and when you shall have made up your minds upon the subject, I have no hesitation in saying, that I feel confident you will be of opinion that instead of censure we have rather deserved commendation.— To your lordships then I shall leave the matter, with a full conviction that you will do what is just and proper. The difficulties which we had to encounter, were great, and we have taken, what we conceived to be the best means of overcoming them; but how far we have succeeded, it rests with your lordships to determine.—It may be proper here to refer to the extraor 92 dinary assertion made by the noble lord who opened the debate. He stated, that the navy is now in a worse condition, than it was when lord St. Vincent retired; and to prove this, he said that the enemy's squadrons had been of late traversing the seas without interruption.—The noble lord does not, surely, mean to maintain that the naval strength of the country was in a better state and condition when I succeeded the noble earl than it now is, with the additions which have been since made to it. In the loose sentences which his lordship delivered on this subject I presume he intended to shew that it is under worse management than it was at the period to which he alludes. Upon that point, however, I desire to assure the noble lord, that if he should think proper to bring forward any charge against the military conduct of the service during the time I had the honour to preside at the admiralty, I shall the nation, as the builders have raised be most ready to meet him; but at present I cannot be so irregular as to enter upon the subject, more especially as there are no materials before your lordships from which you might he enabled to form a judgment.—The noble lord has now, as well as before, said, that, his object is to examine into the comparative state of the navy at the time it was under the management and control of the board of admiralty at which the noble earl presided, and the board of admiralty at which I had the honour to preside. Upon that subject the noble lord will not, I trust, say, that I have shewn any backwardness to meet him.—I am perfectly ready to admit that there is a greater appearance of activity in the fleets of our enemies than there was twelve months ago; consequently it may be supposed that their naval force is now in a more efficient state than it has been since the commencement of the present war, or than it was even during some years towards the conclusion of the last war. If this be the fact, and of which I have but little doubt, it evidently shews that no relaxation whatever should have taken place in regard to the exertions necessary for preserving the naval superiority and pre-eminence of Great Britain; and this can only be maintained by having at all times such a number of ships in complete repair and good condition as may be capable of meeting the fleets of our enemies, let their numbers be what they may. It is on this ground my opinion has been formed, that if this object cannot be accomplished by 93 the exertions of the king's yards solely, recourse must necessarily be had to the merchants' yards for that purpose.—There are various modes of conducting the operations of our fleets, with a view to ensure safety at home, protection to our trade, and security to our colonies and foreign possessions.—With respect to the system of blockade, experience has shewn that too much dependence ought not to be placed on it, however persevering and vigilant our officers may be; besides the great wear and tear which it causes in our ships is matter for serious consideration. Yet I am nevertheless decidedly of opinion, that at certain times the blockading of the ports of the enemy may be not only highly politic but necessary, and may also essentially conduce to the interest and the security of the country. To blockade the enemy's ports at the beginning of a war, and when our resources may require some time to be brought forward, is highly proper. In every war, the security of the mother country is the first consideration. Every thing else must, in the nature of things, be considered as secondary objects. At the beginning of a war it may frequently happen that this country is not exactly in such a state of defence us might be wished, to repel any sudden or serious danger. In this country too, however great our resources may be, it generally happens that they are not put very rapidly in motion; consequently it is necessary, until measures are taken for the security of the country, to blockade the enemy's ports as closely as the nature of the service and circumstances will admit. But when the country is placed in a respectable state of defence, and when nothing serious is to be apprehended for our security at home, then I do contend, that it is extremely unwise to confine ourselves to a blockade only, instead of turning our attention and our efforts to other operations. I consider it to be unwise, because we find it to be impossible to do it with complete effect, from the changeableness of the winds, the boisterous gales with which our fleets have constantly to contend in these seas. These circumstances have, in spite of our best efforts, enabled the enemy to get out at certain times, and to elude the vigilance of our fleets. Upon this topic I shall therefore only add that, when the Rochefort squadron made its escape, the channel fleet was actually at sea, and a detachment of it allotted to the blockade of that port; but, owing to 94 some untoward circumstances, the enemy's squadron had sailed some time before intelligence thereof reached either lord Gardner or his majesty's government. The nation will not, however, I am convinced, notwithstanding this or the other circumstances to which I have adverted, be satisfied if the blockading system be entirely abandoned, and this induced me to continue it under modified instructions.—Permit me now, my lords, to state farther what has been done since the commencement of this year.—Having caused a survey to be taken of all the ships in ordinary, with the intention of ascertaining what number could be repaired for active service; the expedition with which the repairs could be effected was not precluded from my consideration, and the result may be found in the papers now before you.—My object was to endeavour to make the fleet equal in point of number to what it was during the late war, when it rode triumphant on the ocean, after gaining and securing its superiority by the most splendid victories that now adorn the annals of this country.—The result of the inspection is, as you will perceive, that measures have been taken by which. no less than 26 ships of the line are to be added to the strength of the fleet before the month of September next. This addition, with the seven ships still in the merchants' docks, and two new ships to be launched at Deptford and Woolwich, will make the whole force amount then, in ships of the line, to near one hundred and twenty sail, a force not only adequate to our wants at home, but sufficiently numerous to guard our foreign possessions also.—Instead then of depending only on the uncertainty of following the fleets of the enemy, by finding out their destination, and by sending squadrons in pursuit of them, we may then have fleets ready to meet them where ever they may go. Our commerce will then be pursued with a spirit proportioned to its increased security. Without such a security the merchant and the planter will be perpetually in a state of apprehension and anxiety. The greatness of the country depends very materially upon its commercial and colonial prosperity; and to secure and protect our commerce and our colonies will be the principal means of supporting this greatness, and of increasing the happiness and wealth of the nation. Still, my lords, I am aware that much remains to be done: for unless we can procure more men, these numerous ships can- 95 not be of much avail. A method might, however, I think, be devised, whereby men might be procured, and in a manner equally beneficial to the interests of the mercantile and military marine, and whereby the two services would become more united: Something might also, I think, be done to gain more completely the hearts of those employed in our navy, so as to make the service not only popular, but desirable. But these are points which I leave to his majesy's ministers, being sensible that any projects of this sort can only be effectually brought forward under their sanction and authority. They are in possession of the ideas and sentiments I entertain upon this subject.—I shall now proceed to that part of the noble lord's speech, in which he adverts to the shipwrights of the dock-yards at Woolwich and Deptford, who thought proper to discharge themselves. The noble lord says that great mischief has arisen from this circumstance, and from these men having gone to the merchants' yards for employment. But before this point be conceded, he must shew that their services were indispensable at those yards; he must also prove, that they would have been more useful in the king's yards than they have been in the merchants' yards. The fact is, that these people who thus discharged themselves, were, with but few exceptions, men on whom no dependence could be placed; as it was doubtful, from their unsettled disposition, whether they would have continued, even supposing there had been no employment in the merchants' yards.—However, notwithstanding the secession of these men, I have the satisfaction to observe that by the abstract account of the number of shipwrights borne in the king's yards on the 1st of March last, there appears to be only sixty-seven less than there were on the 15th of May 1804, the day on which the noble earl retired from the admiralty; and since the 1st of March the numbers have been increasing: of the other descriptions of artificers, the numbers are augmented in most of the classes, and upon the aggregate, the increase (including all descriptions of persons) is no less than two hundred and sixty-eight since the 15th of May, 18O4. The retreat of the Deptford and Woolwich men will, I apprehend, now be considered as a matter too insignificant to be repeated, even by those noble lords whose minds may, from partial or exaggerated reports, have received a contrary impression. At any rate, it 96 is, I trust, evident that no mischief whatever has arisen from this circumstance.— With regard to the supply of timber and stores for the navy (upon which I have as yet only slightly touched), that is certainly an object worthy of the most serious consideration; and I am most clearly of opinion, that the yards ought, if possible, to be kept completely supplied with stores of all descriptions sufficient for three years consumption.—During the ten months that I presided at the board of admiralty, it was my endeavour to obtain stores by every means that could be devised. But in order to ensure a regular supply, some settled plan must be adopted; for while the profits of agriculture (which must, most undoubtedly, he encouraged) are so great, people will naturally prefer the speedy returns yielded by this mode of employing their lands, rather than turn their attention to the growth of timber, which, though ultimately of great value, is yet too slow in making a return for the capital so employed. It is evident that sonic general system ought to be adopted for securing a sufficient and permanent supply to our navy; and in promoting such an object, I think we ought all to agree, whatever may he our differences of opinion on other points. Before I left the admiralty, I made no reserve of the sentiments I entertained as to what I thought essentially necessary in this respect—It only further remains for me briefly to advert to the allusions which the noble lord has repeatedly made in the course of his speech to the sixth report of the commissioners of naval enquiry. He says, he has only lately read that report; and that the facts which it contains afford many strong additional reasons for going into the committee he recommends. If the noble lord, or those with whom he acts, be of that opinion, I cannot help expressing my surprise at his not having given an earlier attention to it, as that report has been on your lordships' table during the whole of the session. Is it not therefore strange that its merits should have been but just now discovered? I have not been so slow myself in regard to it, for I long since read it with great attention; and having therein observed that a reference was made, in terms of approbation, to the mode of conducting business when sir Charles Middleton was comptroller of the navy, and that particular regret was expressed that a careful digest of the regulations for the conduct of the dock-yards 97 had not since been kept up; I conceived that I could not better promote the interests of the navy, or the objects pointed out by the commissioners of naval enquiry, than by humbly entreating his majesty to issue a commission for the purpose of taking into consideration the reports of the commissioners of naval enquiry, and for examining into the reforms therein suggested, and reporting the best and most effectual means for carrying into execution all such as may appear to be useful and practicable. A commission was in consequence appointed, with sir Charles Middleton (now lord Barham) at the head of it, assisted by two able and respectable flag officers, and by two gentlemen whom sir Charles strongly recommended, from an experience he had had of their being eminently qualified, by their abilities and habits of business, to give substantial aid in promoting the objects intended for their consideration. The commissioners are now proceeding in the investigation of the documents referred to them, in which they have made material progress;. and I have a perfect confidence that, in their hands, the objects which the noble lord may have in contemplation will be more speedily and effectually attained than they could be by a committee of your lordships. I hope that I shall not be misinterpreted by any noble lord in what I now say, as it is my particular wish to do full justice to the eminent and distinguished qualifications of the illustrious and noble persons, whose names are included in the list which the noble lord who made the motion has proposed. But those noble persons having many avocations, their attendance in the investigation of the business which he proposes to refer to them, cannot consequently be expected during the recess of parliament.— But, with regard to the commissioners appointed by the crown, it will be their duty to pursue their researches until the objects, for which they have been selected, shall be fully accomplished.—Having submitted such observations as I had to offer upon the motion of the noble lord, I have no hesitation in declaring that I feel no anxiety as to its result. I shall therefore put no impediment in the way, but leave to the wisdom of the house to give it such countenance as your lordships may, in your judgment, think best calculated to promote the interests of the nation and the good of the king's service.
Earl St. Vincent rose,
and spoke. to the 98 following effect:—My lords, the noble lord having thought proper to. go out of his way for the purpose of bringing charges against me, I trust I shall be justified in shortly trespassing upon your lordships' attention, in order to repel those charges. The inconsistency the noble lord has so much dwelt upon, I can readily explain. I own the intention of contracting for as many 74-gun ships, of the smaller class, as the navy board could find fit merchant builders to undertake; but when I was able to attend the board, it was shewn to me, that his majesty's dock-yards were so lamentably unprovided with timber, that it would have been bad policy in the extreme, to have accepted any of the tenders for building ships in the river Thames, and a resolution was accordingly made to suspend the entering into contracts-for building ships in that river, until the more important measure of furnishing the royal arsenals with timber was accomplished. I maintain that 10 ships of the line may be launched from the dock-yards of the king annually, without impeding the necessary repairs of ships in service, or incurring any additional expence in the wages of artificers; and when it is considered how wretchedly most of the contract-built ships lately furnished to the navy have been fastened, with ragged bolts from 7 to 11 inches long, (many of which rolled out, or were drawn out by hand) instead of bolts two-and-twenty inches long forelocked on the opposite side, noble lords will see the positive necessity of performing the whole work of the navy, as it relates to building and repairing, in the arsenals of his majesty.—With respect to the ministerial communications between the first lord of the admiralty and the comptroller, it is one of the great vices of the navy board, and serves no other purpose but to skreen them from all responsibility; for when called upon to account for disobedience to the most positive orders from the superior board, the constant reply is, that the comptroller explained the reason, in a ministerial communication with the late first lord. In short, since the ill-fated measure of putting the commissioners into committees, and the parliamentary authority for secret measures, concerted between the comptroller and first lord, all responsibility has ceased, and much gross abuse has arisen in the missions under the comptroller's auspices. With respect to that erson, I certainly should have availed my 99 self of the proposition of my noble friend (lord Sidmouth) who was then at the head of his majesty's government, to remove him, had not his conduct been under the investigation of the commissioners of naval enquiry, the result of which will, I am confident, occasion his ignominious dismissal; and, if complete justice is done, it will extend to the whole board, with the exception of Mr. Osborne Markham; for, exclusive of him, there is not one member who does his duty to the public, or is competent to his office. As to the noble lord's personal attack upon me, I shall treat it with the contempt it deserves; but I shall consider the rejection of the motion of my noble .friend as an act of great injustice done to myself.
§ The Duke of Clarence
spoke at considerable length in favour of going into the proposed committee. His R. H. took a view of the progressive increase of the British navy, and of the means that had been adopted for many years past, in different administrations, for keeping up, and for increasing the navy of Great Britain. He had seen mid known of so many instances of waste, and of shameful and flagitious abuse in the. naval department, from persons in comparatively high stations down to those in the lowest, that he had reason to bless the day on winch .his noble friend earl St. Vincent was called to the head of the naval administration of this country. He also spoke in very high terms of praise of the administration of earl Spencer, when at the head of the admiralty. His R. H. next proceeded to praise the exertions of the commissioners of naval enquiry, who had been proposed by the noble earl, and informed the house, that he should, 'very soon after parliament met next session, bring before their lordships' consideration the matters contained in the sixth report, which were of the highest importance to the naval department, in many essential points. It was reported, that the most enormous and flagitious thefts and peculations had been practised in different departments of the navy, and as that report came from au authority which could not be questioned, he thought it peculiarly incumbent on the house to look narrowly into the subject which was now before their consideration. When the immense amount and value of the stores which were annually supplied for the navy were taken into consideration, it was evident that the most enormous and 100 incalculable abuses might prevail, if those who were at the head of the navy did not discountenance them as much as possible, and endeavour to detect them. In this he thought at least the naval part of those who managed the navy should lend their assistance to the first lord of the admiralty. He thought that his noble friend (earl St. Vincent) when in office, ought to have had the assistance of the navy board, and of the comptroller of the navy. He thought that in time questions respecting the dock-yards, he should at least have had the assistance of the deputy comptroller of the navy, who had himself worked as a shipwright; he, however, had understood that his noble friend had by no means met with that co-operation that he might have expected. He should now consider the question of the building ships for the navy. The royal navy of England now consisted of a tonnage of 530,000 tons, of which, to the honour of this country, 114,000 had been captured from the enemy. Of what remained, no less than 260,000 had been supplied by contract. It would therefore appear, that but a small proportion indeed had been built in the king's yards. The number of shipwrights, however, who were in the king's yards bore a very great proportion to the whole number in the kingdom. In all England the, number of shipwrights were only stated at 5200, and in the king's yards alone, 2800 of them were employed. He could therefore very well suppose, that when the merchant-yards had been able to furnish such a number of ships, the king's yards employing no less than 2800 shipwrights, might easily equip ten sail of the line annually, in addition to the repairs which our ships might want. His majesty's dockyards employed a sufficient number of hands, and if there were not docks and slips enough, it would be easy to make more. It appeared to him that it ought to be in the king's yards that the king's navy should be built. The noble viscount (Melville) had spoken with an air of. triumph of the number of small craft that had been built under his administration, and of the great superiority we had over time enemy's flotilla at Boulogne. He looked upon the flotilla. with great contempt; but if the noble viscount thought it sufficient to appeal to the superiority of our fleet off Boulogne, as a proof of the goodness of his administration of the department of the navy, he should ask, whether that su- 101 periority was more decided now than it was under the administration of the noble earl ? Could the noble viscount pride himself equally on the protection of the other interests of the empire? Administration had been informed, or they ought to have been informed, that the West Indies was the destination of the enemy's fleets, and yet they left the West Indies without any adequate protection. It was not possible for them to be deceived by the reports we had heard of something going forward between this country and Russia. They had persevered in the system of blockade, but without preventing the enemy's fleet from putting to sea; they had received considerable sums for secret services, without learning any thing about the motions of the enemy, and the Rochefort squadron had been for six weeks triumphant in the West Indies. If the commander of that squadron has done nothing more, if he has not got the absolute possession of the soil and property of our islands, he is deeply responsible to his own government for his weakness or cowardice, for if any English commander did so little with such a superior force, he would probably be called to a most severe account. Had the Toulon fleet sailed on the same destination, Jamaica and the most valuable parts of our West-Indian empire were still in the extremest danger, and yet there was no noble lord, who could pretend to say whether they had not sailed for the West Indies; whether they were now in Cadiz, or whether they had ever returned to that port. His R.H. concluded an able speech in support of the motion, in which, both by general and detailed arguments, he shewed the propriety of earl St. Vincent's conduct, to whom he paid very high eulogiums; and pressed upon the house the justice and the necessity of going into committee of enquiry upon a subject so important to the feelings and character of that noble lord, of the house itself, and of the whole country.
—My lords; I feel it my duty to declare, that every thing I have heard confirms me in the opinion I at first entertained, that no. public advantage can result from the adoption of this motion. I at first entertained very serious doubts as to the propriety of laying before the house papers which I was convinced could not lead to any useful or practical purpose. I thought no charge had been ,brought either against my noble friend 102 (earl St. Vincent) or against the noble viscount (Melville); I therefore did not feel myself called upon to consider, whether a larger or a lesser number of ships have been employed by one or the other, or how they were purchased or contracted for. My opinion on the subject of building remains unaltered, it has been already publicly expressed, and I see no occasion now to repeat it. There are two points to which I shall principally confine myself, the first is, to explain the apparent incongruity between the letter of lord St. Vincent to the comptroller of the navy, and the order immediately given for the increase of our fleets from the merchants' yards. In the summer of the year 1800, the noble earl, from motives highly meritorious, thought it necessary to visit in person the different dockyards in the kingdom. It was this visit and personal inspection that altered his opinion. He returned strongly impressed with the necessity of augmenting the number of ships of the line considerably, and, without any loss of time. Under this impression, he took every necessary step, he took every measure to increase the quantity of timber in the king's docks as the materials for ship building ; but, as he saw that it was necessary to add as expeditiously as possible to the number of ships in the British navy, he was also obliged to contract for them elsewhere. As a proof of his zeal for the procuring a sufficient quantity of ship timber in the king's yards, I need only mention that he had, for this express object, prevailed on a most considerable company (the East India company) to abstain from building large ships for two years. This was in itself a sufficient proof of his anxiety to diminish the price of ship timber, and to increase the supply. The, other point to which I am anxious to direct your lordships' attention is,to some observations which have been made by my noble friend (earl St. Vincent) about the misunderstanding which prevailed between the comptroller of the navy board and the head of the admiralty. I agree with the noble earl, that the intercourse between them should rather be official, formal, and by written documents; but when I make that distinction, I am sure the noble earl must agree with me, that it is very desirable to have a good understanding between them. Indeed, it is necessary that a good understanding and confidence should subsist between all who are colleagues in office. During the period that 103 the noble earl presided at the admiralty, I regretted much that the harmony and confidence which was so much to be wished for, did not exist between him and the comptroller of the navy. I wished most anxiously to have it restored; but when I had reason to suppose that it was impossible, I offered to lend myself to put an end to the connection, which could no longer subsist with mutual confidence and satisfaction. I always thought that connections ought to be dissolved, which could not be continued with harmony or mutual confidence. The noble earl, however, notwithstanding their disagreements, has always spoken to him of the comptroller with kindness and benevolence. Returning to the subject immediately before your lordships, I still argue, that no parliamentary ground has been advanced for the committee. I know that there exists a firm determination to enter into a strict examination of all abuses in whatever department they way be found. I feel it to be my duty to state to the house, that it is the wish and intention of his majesty's present ministers to give effect to all the salutary regulations pointed out in the various reports of the commissioners of naval enquiry, and to reap the full benefit of all their proceedings, I am conscious, that whatever is negligent and corrupt will be amended, and if I were not conscious that such was the disposition of the right hon. gent. at the head of affairs, and his colleagues, I never would have consented to become a member of the same administration. There is only one circumstance in the course of the present discussion, that I find myself under the necessity of regretting, and that arises from my vote being contrary to the wish expressed by my noble friend (earl St. Vincent) for going into the proposed committee. I have so high an esteem for his eminent character, that I must lament this difference of opinion; but I cannot forget that I am discharging a public duty on this occasion in voting against the motion, not perceiving any advantages likely to result from its adoption.
said, that the noble lord who had just sat down (lord Sidwouth) seemed well disposed to defend the measures of the noble earl (St. Vincent) in argument, and to give him fair words, although he would not give him his vote. The noble earl, however, had not been as fortunate as he in getting again into office. 104 Those who found out the abuses, and those who confessed them, had all (except the noble earl) got again into power, and held forth the same lofty promises to the country which had been so often repeated. He did not see how the former promises had been realized, or what grounds there were for relying more upon the present. it was not, however, by assertions, either on the one side or the other, that parliament Ought to be satisfied, but by a regular and formal enquiry in a committee. The question was not, whether ships were ever to be built in merchants' yards, but whether the present administration had not gone to a greater extent in their contracts than was warranted by the necessity of the times. In the year 1803, it was calculated that a seventy-four gun ship could be built by contract in three years, at the expence of 261. per ton; and that a frigate could be built in two years, at 261. per ton; notwithstanding which, the very next year a contract was made for ships at as high a rate as 361. per ton. As to what the noble viscount (lord Melville) had said against blockades, it appeared to him completely ridiculous. The noble lord seemed to have forgotten that he had himself invariably pursued that system while he was at the head of the admiralty. The reasons he assigned were curious. It seems, that the French ships, by staying in their ports, were in much better condition than ours, which had so long kept the seas. On that principle he should have sent to congratulate the people in the city, that the Rochefort squadron had foolishly quitted its port and gone to the West Indies, where it must experience much wear and tear, and considerable damage. Every fleet which France sent against our possessions would, according to this argument, be only injuring herself. He should not enter particularly into the number of small craft, gun-boats, and catamarans which the noble viscount might have built during his administration; but as to the great promises that had been held forth, he expected them to be realized about the-same time that the promised surplus of the revenues of India should come in aid of the extinction of the national debt of this country. In considering, however, the general situation of this country, the want of protection of the West Indies, and the ignorance of the motions of the French and Spanish fleets, he saw nothing upon which he could congratulate the country in the 105 administration of its naval affairs. His lordship concluded by supporting the motion for the committee.
§ Lord Hawkesbury
professed his disinclination to follow the noble lord, who had made the motion, into all the details which in the course of his speech he had thought it necessary to submit to their lordships. He observed that, although the debate had branched out to a considerable length, the question appeared to him to lie within a narrow compass. It had been alledged that his noble friend (lord Sidmouth) gave the noble earl nothing but fair words, which was unfair; for that noble viscount had certainly taken a line of conduct which was dictated by the sense he entertained of his parliamentary duty, and at the same time had spoken according to his feelings with reference to the character of the noble earl. But his lordship said he recollected that others, on a former occasion, when an enquiry was moved for, had professed great friendship for that noble earl, but had indeed given him nothing but fair words. Having stated this, because the occasion, as it appeared to him, called for it, he should come immediately to the question now before their lordships, which was, whether certain papers already before them should be referred to a committee, and that was a subject, he confessed, of great delicacy, involving considerations of great importance with a view to the disclosure that must attend it if the motion be carried. God forbid, that he should say, if a grave case was made out, the house would not attend to it, and send it to the investigation of a committee, even at the risk of all the consequences which might follow the disclosure; but nothing short of absolute necessity would induce their lordships to do so, for the disclosure would not only be to the people of this country, but must necessarily reach the enemy, and be a disclosure to the whole world; and before their lordships could be prevailed on to do that, they would take care that the ground on which it was called for was imperative upon them ; that they had hardly a choice whether they should go into the enquiry or not; and he would confess freely, that some of the papers referred to were of such a nature, that he was sorry they were asked for at all. The question then came to this, was there any .necessity, or matter sufficiently important laid before the house to induce their lordships to adopt this motion? The principal 106 points which had been dwelt upon, and which had been most disputed were, on the expediency of building ships in the king's dock-yards, or of having recourse to the aid of merchants' building. He did not feel much confidence in his ability to form a correct opinion upon such a subject; but he believed it would be found the true policy of this country to build as much as possible in the king's dock-yards, but that it was impracticable to build all our shipping there, and that government must have recourse to the assistance of the merchants' yards in that respect. Since then, it was impossible to do altogether without that help, the question reduced itself a considerable degree; and he would then ask, whether what had been done in this respect called for the enquiry of a committee? The subject was of considerable difficulty, as a question to what degree government should contract with merchants for building ships, either to the house itself or to a committee, to form a correct opinion upon it; but that did not necessarily call on their lordships to institute this species of investigation; and here he wished the house to consider, that three years ago an act passed the legislature to enquire into naval abuses, and there were now upon their lordships' table, and also on the table of the other house of parliament, reports of the committee proceeding under that act. These reports contained much important and valuable information; and in consequence of the reports of that committee his majesty had been-advised to institute another commission to enquire into abuses which may be existing, and to provide such remedies for them as shall appear expedient, with a view to the improvement of the different departments, and all other matters connected with our naval service. It appeared, then, the commissioners were in the course of entering into further investigation of all these matters, for the purpose of finding out remedies for any abuses which may be found to exist. He thought it was unnecessary to say more than this as an objection to the present motion. As it was under an investigation in another quarter, it would be more expedient, and, as he thought, more becoming for the house to wait until their lordships saw the result of the enquiries already instituted, before they went into another. He submitted to the house, whether their lordships did not think the commissioners to whom he had alluded were more likely 107 to investigate the subject thoroughly than the committee now proposed; and that that system was more likely to lead to a practical conclusion than that proposed by the noble earl ? He was confident their lordships would not agree to this motion, unless they saw for it a pressing necessity; he submitted there did not appear any such necessity, that no case was made out, no parliamentary ground laid for this motion, and therefore, whatever might be their lordships' opinion of the existence of abuses, or of the application of remedies to them, they were in the course of investigation, and which was a much more expedient mode than the one now proposed by the motion of the noble earl.
§ The Earl of Buckinghamshire
was of opinion, that there was nothing in the conduct of the noble earl who presided over the naval department at the commencement of the war, to call for such an enquiry as was now proposed. When a similar enquiry was proposed last year, it met with his opposition, and he would oppose it now on the same grounds. He resisted it then, because he considered it unnecessary and uncalled for, by a fair reference to what the state of our navy then was, and he would resist it upon the same principles at the present moment. There was also another ground upon which he felt himself called upon to oppose it, and that was the unfavourable inference which had been endeavoured to be made from circumstances which occurred during the latter part of the administration of the noble viscount who had been lately at the head of the naval department. He rose to resist any imputation which might have been attempted to be thrown upon him, for what might possibly have occurred in our West India colonies. The duty of the noble viscount he conceived to have been, to have a fleet always ready, sufficient to overpower any which the enemy could possibly send out from any of its ports, and having done that, he was of opinion he had well performed his duty. Having done so, he would ask what blame could be imputed to the noble viscount? It had been urged as a cause of blame, that only one ship of the line had been stationed at the Leeward Islands. He appealed to the noble earl on the cross bench, whether it was necessary to maintain a greater naval force there ? He was persuaded, that the noble earl, with all his judgment and experience, would not maintain that it was. 108 The appointment of a committee appeared to him unnecessary and inconvenient, and therefore he found himself compelled to oppose it. This was the only point on which he had any inclination to speak, and upon it nothing could have induced him to be silent.
The Earl of Suffolk
bore testimony to the meritorious services of earl St. Vincent, particularly in instituting that highly useful board, the naval commission, and vindicated the noble earl from the charge of not having sufficiently attended to the construction of smaller sized vessels. The noble lord animadverted on the comparison that was made between the noble viscount (Melville), and the noble earl on the cross bench, with respect to the building of ships in the merchants' yards, and observed that this difference was kept in the shade, that although both noble lords resorted to the merchants' yards, they did not do so on the same terms, or any thing like it. For the noble viscount contracted for building such ships at one third more per ton, than the noble earl would have accepted, or could have had them built for. The noble lord complained of the delay that had taken place before any of our naval force was despatched to the West Indies after the Rochefort squadron had sailed. Circumstances had occurred, as well in Europe as in the West Indies, which tended to lower that proud character which our navy had acquired, and always maintained, until within the last few months of the present war. He thought the conduct of the late admiralty was extremely censurable. The noble viscount at the head of it had been guilty of great neglect in not immediately despatching a fleet to the West Indies, to prevent the depredations and insults which had been committed against our possessions in that part of the world, by a squadron, which came out almost in defiance of us, from the ports of France. He had also heard, that some improper preference had been manifested in the appointment of an officer to an important command. That would well deserve to be submitted to a committee of their lordships, for no abuse could tend more to disseminate dissatisfaction among the naval profession, than an undue partiality of that kind. His lordship wished that all those charges should be fully investigated, and seeing no means of doing it more ready than the appointment of a committee, with full powers, he would vote for the proposition of his noble friend.
requested leave to say a few words in answer to the unfounded charges which had been urged against his conduct by the noble earl. He would assert, in direct contradiction to what had fallen from the noble earl, that there had been no delay whatever in detaching a sufficient number of ships in pursuit of the Rochefort squadron. That he would assert peremptorily and positively, in opposition to the charge so unwarrantably preferred, either by the noble earl or any one else. That squadron had sailed from Rochefort full twelve days before it was known to any of the commanders upon any of the stations. On the 14th day, the intelligence was communicated to him, and on the next morning he transmitted those orders, in consequence of which admiral Cochrane sailed for the West Indies. There were many noble lords who could testify what he asserted; and he therefore felt himself justified in repelling, with becoming indignation, the charge of neglect, whether coming from the noble earl, or any other noble lord. As to the charge of a partial preference of a relative of his, that he would peremptorily contradict. Where the noble earl obtained his information, or for what purpose he brought it forward, he knew not, nor was it worth his while to enquire; but he would positively assert that it had no foundation whatever in truth or in fact. If the noble earl should be. inclined to pursue his attacks upon him, he would recommend to his to prove a little more, and to insinuate a little less. Against the noble earl's proofs, he trusted, as in the present instance, that he should always be able to defend himself; against his insinuations he could not hope for equal protection. If the noble earl should scatter his poisoned arrows abroad. some of them might possibly light upon him; but whether such a mode of assailing the conduct of a person who had been at the head of a great public department, was either fair or honourable, was worthy the consideration of the noble earl. He trusted that he would learn a lesson from the imprudence and inefficacy of his attack on this night, that would discourage him from any future rash repetition of similar charges.
observed in explanation, that he had stated the circumstance of the Rochefort squadron having been five or six weeks in the West Indies, unpursued by our fleets, as a fact; but the supposi 110 tion that this delay originated in secret reasons was a report which he believed to be false.
rose in reply, and adverted to the various arguments that had been urged by the noble lords opposite, against his motion. It had been observed, that such an investigation would be, on the present occasion, particularly improper, as it might expose, not only to the public of this country, but to the knowledge of our enemies, such subjects as would be particularly inexpedient. This observation, however, if it applied at all, was applicable only to the discussions that might take place in the house, and not to any enquiries that might be instituted before a committee. A noble lord seemed to think, that the principle on which he had brought forward his motion was his hostility to employing merchants' yards in building ships of the navy. Here, however, he begged leave to set the noble lord right. He had not declared any hostility to that principle. There were many cases, on the contrary, when employing merchants' yards might be very expedient. His objection was only to the degree; and that, considering the expence with which that mode of building ships was attended, was a sufficient subject of grave investigation. A committee of enquiry was also necessary, he contended, in regard to a noble lord (St. Vincent) who had been implicated in another place, and represented by some as an enemy to his country. One great end of his motion therefore was, to ascertain whether that noble lord was meritorious or guilty. This enquiry was due in justice to the noble lord; it was due to the British navy and to the nation, and in opposition to such claims he had yet heard nothing that could lead him to alter his opinion.—The house then divided; contents 33; not contents, 88; majority against the motion 55.—Adjourned.