§ The House resolved itself into a Committee on the Navy Estimates. On the vote of 438,250l. to complete the Half-pay of Naval Officers,
§ Mr. Hume
remarked, that, if the House was at all disposed to deal with the estimates as they ought, this vote would attract its attention. When he stated that the year before the last French war, the whole charge of every sort for naval half-pay was 172,900l., and that it now amounted nearly to 1,100,000l., including only the two items of the half-pay, and the superannuations, pensions, and allowances, the House surely would not disregard what he was saying. This was the only branch of the public service where the expense was unlimited by parliament, as the king or the lord high admiral might add as much as he pleased to it, by giving commissions to young officers, who became, by their half-pay pensioners for life on the public purse. The excessive number of the officers in the navy was quite appalling. There were altogether five thousand five hundred and fifty-eight officers in the British navy, but the whole number 814 in effective service was but eight hundred and forty, there being only one out of seven in actual employment. The consequence must be, that the dead-weight would go on increasing, and the public could have no hope of relief. Last year two hundred and fifty-two officers were added to the list, exceeding by forty-four the number who were, by death and other means, removed from it. He would not refuse promotion to officers engaged in such a battle as that of Navarin; but it was too much, that with two hundred admirals, one thousand six hundred captains and commanders, and three thousand six hundred lieutenants, there should have been an addition of one vice-admiral, one rear-admiral, thirty captains, seventy-nine commanders, and one hundred and forty-nine lieutenants in the course of last year. If there was any one branch of the public service that required to be put under proper control, it was this. Nothing but an absolute prohibition on the part of that House, could prevent the prevalence of that influence which was successfully exerted in the appointment of new officers in the navy. He, for one, protested against this practice in the present state of the country, and he could not believe a word ministers might say as to their regard for economy, until they prevented the growth of this evil. Had not the people of England a right to complain when the deadweight was greater now in the fifteenth year of peace than it was the year after the war, when we had one thousand ships at sea? This was a reproach to government, but ten times more a reproach to that House; and nothing could account for their conduct, but the fact that their connections participated largely in the benefits derived from this abuse. It was notorious, that the members of their families were pensioned by these means; and nothing else, he believed, could have induced them to support such a system so long. Every year he had been calling on the House, in vain, to do its duty, and, while the numerous class of men, living as pensioners on the public taxes, was increasing, year by year, he would go on protesting against so wanton an expenditure of the public money.
said, the question was, whether there was to be any reduction at all in the public expenditure? If there was, the House should attend, in the first 815 instance, to the unlimited power of the Admiralty. He would say more, but that he looked with anxiety to the labours of the finance committee.
§ Admiral Evans
said, that, if the hon. gentleman thought that, with a reduced navy, they could maintain the country against the other powers of Europe, they might, discarding all gratitude for past services cut down the estimates to their notions of economy. As to the promotions, did they suppose that age would not affect naval^ men, as it did all others? Young men must be brought forward; otherwise, if a war took place to-morrow, the navy would be found filled with old men, unfit for the toils and perils of the service. It was easy for gentlemen, who had lived during the war in comfort and composure, while the navy were defending them from invasion, to talk slightingly of the debt of gratitude they owed to that service; but let them not, by mistaken reductions, impair its efficiency, when it would again become necessary to them.
agreed with the gallant admiral, that it was hard that an officer who had served his country bravely in war, should pine in want and obscurity during peace. But the amount of the deadweight was a matter of serious importance. In the army it was nearly three millions, and in the navy upwards of one.
Sir G. Cockburn
contended, that a fair proportion of old officers had been brought forward in the recent promotions; but it was a principle he had always maintained, and in which he had been supported by that House, that a certain portion of young officers should be included with them. Among the lieutenants recently made, there was a large proportion of midshipmen, who had passed their examination in 1815. It was absolutely impossible to refuse promotion to those who were in constant service, or to such claims as arose from events like the battle of Navarin, or from exposure to climates, like the coast of Africa or the West Indies. It would require a hard heart indeed to tell men, on their return home, after years spent abroad in such places as these, that they should not be promoted. He would not argue the question by reference to the feelings of the House, because he knew by experience that he could carry them with him; but he acknowledged, as one of pure policy, it was attended with great difficulties. When he was told by the 816 finance committee, that he should have a whole day to settle this point with them, he was prepared to tell them, with as much freedom as he might assume, that this was as fair a question as they could, in a room by themselves, dispassionately examine and discuss. He trusted they would then make a report; and he had no doubt that the House would deal with it in the way that would become them, feeling for the individuals, and yet having due regard to the finances of the country.
§ The several resolutions were agreed to, and the House resumed.