HL Deb 10 June 1819 vol 40 cc1032-4
The Earl of Darnley

made some observations on the papers, relative to the state of the navy which had been lately laid on the table. From the perusal of those papers, he admitted that in no former period of our naval history did the navy appear on the whole to have been in a state of greater efficiency in, time of peace. He spoke strongly in approbation of the exertions of Mr. Seppings, whose improvements had been of great advantage. But, notwithstanding the praise which he thought generally due to the Admiralty, there were some particulars with respect to the state of the navy which he thought it right to notice, as they might be of importance in the case of the country being involved in a contest. He could not overlook the naval power of America, which the events of the last war had tended to raise to a state of consideration. It appeared from the papers, that means had been taken for building ships of larger dimensions, corresponding with those of the same rates built by other powers. It was known that the American 2 deck ships were superior to those of the same rated built in this country, both as to guns and men. He did not, however, think that it would be advisable to have all the ships in the British navy raised to the same scale. To attempt such a measure would be only a useless waste of money. The American frigates were of a very superior class compared to the scale on which British frigates had formerly been built; but he could not think it necessary that all the British frigates should henceforth be built on so enlarged a scale. He thought it would be better to build frigates of a size between those formerly fitted out by this country and the American frigates. This seemed the more advisable, as the latter could not be expected to be very numerous. In the present state of the country, economy in every department was most desirable, but he did not think the naval service one in which economy ought to be too rigidly enforced. Every reduction that could be made, consistently with the great object of having the navy in an efficient state on the commencement of a war, ought to be carried into effect, but nothing more should be attempted. He thought the number of ships in active service on foreign stations might be more, and the number of guard ships less. This change would produce a state of greater efficiency without materially augmenting the expense. He had heard that the regiments of marines were reduced in numbers below what might have been expected, but he hoped that useful corps would be preserved in such a state of efficiency, that, in case of a war unfortunately occurring, it might be employed with the usual advantage to the service. The practice of impressing seamen had been long a subject of complaint and regret. He was afraid, that on a sudden emergency, the navy could not be manned without the impress. It would, however, be advisable for their lordships to consider how far the evils of that practice might, without public inconvenience, be diminished. He concluded by moving that the papers be printed.

Lord Melville

expressed his acknowledgments to the noble lord for the candid and handsome manner in which he had spoken of the state of the navy. He concurred in the propriety of this country building ships on a scale similar to those with which our navy might probably have to contend. It was the duty of the legislature to be prepared to maintain, on any emergency; that naval supremacy which the country had acquired. With respect to the dimensions of ships of war, it was true that some were building on a scale considerably, beyond what had formerly been thought proper for the same rate. He did not, however, think that all the two-deckers of the navy ought to be raised to that scale. Many vessels were wanted for convoy and other purposes in time of war; and frigates and ships of the line might be so employed, though not constructed on so large a scale as those of other powers with which the country might happen to be at war. At the same time he did not concur with the noble earl in his opinion, that it would be proper to build ships of an intermediate size between the scale hitherto adopted in the navy and that of other countries. He did not think it right to place the officers of the British navy in a situation which would compel them to go into action with a great disparity of force. With regard to what the noble lord had said, as to the number of guard ships compared with the other ships in commission, he thought that upon reflection he would perceive that there was no disadvantage in that arrangement. The men employed in the guardships could be removed to others at a moment's notice; and the having them ready for such a transfer would be very useful on any emergency. The noble earl had alluded to the state of the marines, and he concurred with him in his view of the propriety of maintaining that corps in an efficient state. No force was, in his opinion, more useful; and any report of an intention to reduce them to a scale lower than that of the last peace establishment, was founded in mistake.

The papers were ordered to be printed.