§ House in Committee of Supply.
§ Mr. More O'Ferrall
proposed, that the sum of 1,142,504l. be granted to her Majesty to defray the charge of wages to seamen and marines, and to the ordinary and yard craft, which will come in the course 785 of payment during the year ending the 31st of March, 1841.
§ Sir T. Cochrane
wished for some explanation from the hon. Secretary, as to some parts of the paper which he held in his hand, which purported to be the naval balance sheet for the last year. He also wished for some explanation as to the addition to the estimates that appeared to have occurred in the course of last year, more especially as regarded the charge for naval stores, for the wages of artificers, and also for the conveyance of troops, &c. Previous to putting this question, he wished to state, that he had intended to have proposed a motion for returns, which would have given the House adequate information respecting the present state of the navy; but when he was told that the motion would be opposed on the ground that furnishing the returns would embarrass the Government, he felt it to be his duty not to press for them. He confessed that he thought it was very questionable policy to adopt a course of concealment as to the state of the navy of this country. He did not think that any disclosure that the Government could make respecting it could do one-half the injury that the system of concealment respecting our naval force was likely to produce. No one who had not been recently abroad could be aware of the extent to which the feeling prevailed, that the naval force of this country had declined, and it was believed, that it was in such a state, that it was utterly impossible for us to enter upon a war with a great naval power. He could not see why the Admiralty could not follow the example of the French government, which annually made a clear and elaborate statement as to the naval force of that power. If there was any deficiency in the navy, he was sure that the country, and the House, would not hesitate to come forward, and supply any defect that might arise, and if it appeared that, notwithstanding the statements that had been made, we had a large naval force, it would cause the country to be respected by any power that had a hostile feeling to it, and it would command the confidence of our friends. He was convinced that the system of concealing the real state of things must prove deeply injurious to the best interests of the country. He now wished to ask the hon. Member for Kildare explanations as to two points which he found in the naval balance sheet. In the first place, 786 he found last year the actual charge for the wages of seamen and marines fell short of the sums voted, by not less than 74,892l. 12s. 10d., and there was also a falling short in the charge for victuals for seamen, &c, to the amount of 46,340l. 4s., making together the sum of 121,232l. 16s. 10d. Now, this sum was somewhat about equal to the charge for the maintenance and wages of 2,160 seamen for one year. It appeared, also, that there were great additional charges in other departments connected with the Admiralty, and these additional charges had been liquidated out of this falling short of expenditure in comparison with the income. It would appear, then, that the Admiralty was falling back into the system that was pursued some years ago, of transferring the balance of one vote to the deficiency of another. He had always understood, that when the right hon. Member for Pembroke introduced the balance sheet, that the system he had adverted to was never to be pursued again. He knew that the right hon. Baronet strongly condemned the system, and thought it to be so objectionable, that he introduced a clause on the subject into the act, for the regulation of the civil department of the navy. Indeed he had always understood, that the chief reason of the balance-sheet was to show that the money voted for one purpose was not devoted to another. He therefore hoped that the Secretary for the Admiralty would explain how it happened that sums of money which had been voted for the wages of seamen, and for their victualling, had been applied to dock-yard establishments, to the wages of naval artificers, and to the purchase of naval stores.
§ Mr. More O'Ferrall
replied, that with reference to the motion for returns which had been alluded to by the gallant Officer, he could only repeat what he stated on a former occasion, namely, that the Admiralty felt that they could not be given in consistency with the welfare of the service; but if the gallant Officer, or any other naval officer chose to call at the Admiralty, he should be very happy to furnish him with the information which he required. With respect to the devoting the surplus of one vote to any deficiency in another vote in the year, he could only reply, that it was a practice which had always been followed at the office to which he belonged. He had never heard it com- 787 plained of before, and it was hardly possible to avoid doing so in certain respects, in consequence of the system of paying the wages of seamen.
§ Sir Thomas Cochrane
observed, that he should not feel himself justified in going to the Admiralty, and looking over the papers in question, as he could not afterwards avail himself of any information that he might acquire from them there. What he wished for was, that the House and the country should be put in possession of this information in a tangible form. He confessed that the explanation of the hon. Secretary as to the balance-sheet was not satisfactory. The question was not as to the custom of transferring the surplus of one vote to the deficiency of another, or as to whether it was good or bad; but it was a rule laid down by Lord Grey's government, and, if he was not mistaken, declared in an Act of Parliament, and this was a departure from it. He believed that Lord Grey's government introduced the naval balance sheet, with a view of putting a stop to the system. In the year 1831, the right hon. Baronet, then First Lord of the Admiralty, denounced the system in the strongest terms, and said that it was illegal, and if he was not much mistaken, that he had taken the opinion of counsel as to the propriety of undertaking prosecutions for it.
§ Mr. C. Wood
stated, that he was the person who should, properly speaking, have been hauled over the coals by the gallant officer for this transfer, which appeared in the balance-sheet. The gallant Officer stated, and truly, that the right hon. Member for Pembroke, in 1831, blamed the Admiralty for the transfer of any surplus to other votes. He admitted that, according to the rule then laid down, this was an apparent departure from it, but circumstances had arisen which fully justified it in this instance. In the summer of 1838, when affairs bore a more hostile appearance than they had previously done, it became necessary to make some considerable addition to the naval force, which there was no opportunity of providing for immediately by a vote. Since the year 1836, they had been gradually increasing the naval establishments of the country, and it was attended with great inconvenience and expense to make a large increase at once. The course which was pursued was to 788 make a gradual increase in the votes for wages, for the yards, and for stores. A greater increase, however, became necessary in 1838 than was anticipated, and more particularly in the charge for stores. The chief portion of the additional charge arose from the necessity of purchasing vessels and stores for ships in the lakes of Canada. He trusted that this explanation would satisfy the Committee as to the excess in the three votes which had been alluded to. He would now say a few words with respect to the naval balance sheet. He admitted that the right hon. Member for Pembroke drew up a rule for the limitation of the expenditure of the Admiralty to the estimates of the year. He was sure that the hon. Member for Stamford would confirm him in asserting that there was no branch of the public service where the rule could be applied with so little strictness as the navy. There could be no doubt as to the payments in the yards, but as to wages, victuals, and stores, it was impossible that the charge could completely concur with the vote. This was more particularly the case as regarded the payment of the wages of seamen. At present a portion of their wages went to their families, another portion was allowed them in the shape of pocket money, and the remainder was paid when the ships were paid off, after a service of four years. Now, it was impossible so to equalise the payments of their wages, that they could always make the charge correspond with the estimate. By the bill of the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Pembroke, it was enacted, that immediately the year was out, the credit for the votes expired at the Exchequer, and this might be at a time when large sums were required for wages. If, therefore, these additions were not paid from the surplus of other votes, they could not be provided for during the year. For several years there had been a most extraordinary equality between the amount of the estimates voted and the charges; but still occasionally circumstances would arise, over which the Admiralty had no control, to occasion these additional charges in the votes which must be provided for. The great advantage, as he understood it, of the balance sheet was, that no transfer of payments could be made without their coming before the House and the country.
§ Mr. Warburton
wished to be informed 789 whether returns from the medical department of the navy, similar to those made with respect to the army, would be made?
§ Sir T. Troubridge
said, that statistical accounts had been in the course of preparation for some time past in the medical department of the navy. They were in a state of great forwardness, and he would take care that they should be brought forward as soon as possible.
§ Sir Charles Adam
answered, that a regulation, by which seamen received a monthly allowance, had been in existence ever since the time at which the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Pembroke, held the office of First Lord of the Admiralty; but it was a system which had been much complained of by the officers, as producing habits of intoxication. He was persuaded, however, that in its ultimate effects it would be found to be a proper and useful measure. With regard to any further allowance being paid—that was a subject which required mature deliberation, and it should receive his anxious attention.
§ Sir George Clerk
wished to correct an error of the hon. and gallant Admiral, who had answered the question of the hon. Member for Kilkenny. The practice to which he alluded had existed for fifteen years.
§ Sir C. Adam
That was quite true, but the allowance had been increased since its first establishment.
§ Sir G. Clerk
believed a seaman was entitled to two months' pay before he left the harbour, which, with bedding, clothes, &c, and (as the case might be) an allotment to his family, together with his 4s. a-month, would leave him without any claim for two years to come. The only doubt on the subject had been, whether, by allowing him thus to become a debtor to the public, they did not rather hold out to him a temptation to leave the service. He did not think it advisable for the Admiralty to call on the House to vote 2,359 men less than would be required to place the ships now employed on their full complements. He considered that course impolitic and inexpedient. If 790 the Admiralty found it necessary to employ so large a number of ships, they ought to ask the House to vote a number of men sufficient to give each ship its proper crew, according to the present standard, without going so far as to complete them to the full war establishment. The House was also asked to vote a sum of only 880,000l. as wages, instead of 963,000l., which would be required to pay the men, if the complements were filled up. He did not pretend to offer any opinion as to whether it was necessary to keep up the same number of vessels, but the Secretary for the Admiralty and the Secretary for Foreign Affairs had told the House that it was impossible to diminish it with safety. He thought, however, that it was most important to give each of those ships its full strength of men, in order that its commander might not have to fear defeat from an adversary with a more numerous crew, but be ready for any encounter at any time. He could not sit down without adverting to the difficulty which had been experienced of late years in manning the navy. During the last five or six years, ships had frequently found it next to impossible to procure an adequate number of men, and had been obliged in some instances, after a long detention in harbour, to quit the ports with a reduced crew. In the event of hostilities unexpectedly breaking out, it was evident that the most lamentable consequences might be apprehended from such a condition. He would strongly urge the Admiralty to allow those seamen to whom pensions for long service had been granted, to receive their pensions while serving on board her Majesty's ships, a privilege which was now denied to them. It was true, that in the year 1816, when those pensions were first granted, a regulation was made that no man should receive it while serving in the navy, but the Committee must bear in mind how totally different the state of our maritime affairs at that time was. There was then an immense number of unemployed seamen in the ports, and it appeared to the Admiralty of the day, seeing that they could only give employment to a limited number of those men, that it was better to prevent them from drawing both pay and pension at once, in order that the means of subsistence might thereby be found for as many as possible. But circumstances were now entirely changed; great diffi- 791 cully was experienced in getting men when they were wanted, and the effect of the regulation was now, to deprive the country of many of its very best seamen, since it operated as a bar against their continuing in the service. It was perfectly clear, that when they received higher wages in merchant ships, and were besides allowed to draw their pensions, they could not be expected to re-enter the navy, where they would get lower wages and forfeit their pensions. He was, therefore, impressed with the conviction, that the rescinding of the regulation he had mentioned would be an excellent means of facilitating the manning of the ships. Looking to the present critical aspect of our foreign relations with various powers, and to the exertions which rival states were making to increase their navies, and place them on an efficient footing, the House must see that it was of the last consequence to give all classes of our ships full and effective complements, and to take measures for improving, if that were possible, the quality and character of the men. In former days it might have been expedient to send out ships with reduced crews, in order that the Admiralty might be enabled to employ a greater number of officers; but now, when foreign navies had greatly improved, it was too much to expect that undermanned British ships could compete with others of greatly superior crews. It was well known that almost every ship which had sailed for the Mediterranean lately, had gone out short of hands, and the sooner such a practice was put an end to, the better would it be for the country and the navy.
§ Captain Pechell
thought it absolutely indispensable to restore to old and good seamen their pensions during their time of service, as the deprivation of them was now an absolute penalty against re-entering the navy. He thought there should be no such thing as a peace complement, and that no ship of war should leave a British port without having its crew complete to the full war establishment.
§ Mr. F. H. Berkeley
said, that the manning of our ships was not so complete as that of other nations. If in the late conflict with the Chinese we had had to fight with Frenchmen or Americans, the consequence would have been disgrace to our flag. It was a vulgar notion that one Englishman could beat three Frenchmen; but though that had long been ex- 792 ploded, it seemed as if it were still entertained at the Admiralty. At present an English 36-gun ship had not more men than were able to contend with a French ship of 28 guns, if well manned and well armed, as the French ships always were.
§ Sir H. Verney
protested against the practice which prevailed among naval officers of the present day, of instilling by complaints in that House, an idea into the minds of the men and officers under their command, that they were not equal to the services which they were called upon to perform. He did not believe that our ships were unable to perform the duties which they were required to execute, and he did not believe, although upon this point, as a non-professional man, he spoke with humility, that our ships were under-manned. In all our great naval victories, we had one-third or a quarter less men than the enemies with whom we were engaged.
could not agree with the hon. Baronet who had just sat down, that naval officers in that House were not to express their sentiments on the state of the navy. He should like to know where they were to speak their sentiments, if not in that House. He quite agreed with the hon. and gallant Member for Brighton in what he had said as to the expediency of fully manning every ship. All that he (Lord Ingestrie) wanted was, that the navy should be in an efficient state, so as to maintain the honour of our flag. He did not think that British officers and men would under any circumstances incur disgrace, but at the same time he did think that our ships should be manned in that proper manner so as to be in a condition to engage with success whenever they were called on to do so. The condition of the mates and midshipmen in the navy was one which he considered imperatively called for amelioration. There were some midshipmen who were actually forty years of age, and one of them forty-four. Now, he thought that twenty-five was quite old enough for a man to be kicked about in the midshipman's berth without any rank or pay whatever. With regard to the mates, many of those gentlemen were put to do the duty of lieutenants, and were obliged to join the officers' mess, and thereby put to increased expenses, although they were not allowed pay. He was of opinion, however, that no further increase was required in the monthly pay 793 of the men, and that it was quite sufficient, if indeed they had not too much already. He must again complain of the profligate manner in which the patronage of the navy had been exercised. There was a young gentleman of the name of Wood who had passed his examination for lieutenant with the greatest credit to himself, and who had obtained several more marks than another gentleman who bore the name of Elliot. The last named gentleman, however, was now a commander of the navy, while Mr. Wood had never received any promotion. He had referred the other evening to the removal of Sir J, Gordon from Chatham dockyard, and he must say, that the appointment of that officer, though he was low in the list, would have been much more palatable to the profession than that of Admiral Fleming to Greenwich. He thought that the removal of Sir J. Gordon was a very hard case. These circumstances justified him in saying, that the patronage of the Admiralty had been exercised in a profligate manner.
§ Sir T. Troubridge
was very reluctant to take up the time of the House, but so much had been said on the subject of undermanning the navy, that, considering the station which he had the honour to hold, and his own connexion with the profession, he felt bound to trouble the House with a few words. He had never shrunk from expressing the opinion which he held of the absurdity of war complements in a time of peace. Such a course must be expensive, and was wholly unnecessary. He admitted that some time ago, in consequence of the alteration made in the complement of guns, it was found necessary to review the complement of men, and the alterations which were proposed had been carried into effect in the new ships, the Pique, the Inconstant, and other ships of that class, and also in some other ships, of a larger size. Now, it would be asked, under what arrangement those additions were made? They were made upon a calculation of the increased amount which became necessary to work the guns of the ship. A gun committee sat in 1828, and the Admiralty had had the opportunity of consulting the very best officers who were connected with the navy, and had particularly studied the subject of gunnery. It was only natural that every officer in command of a ship should wish to have fifty or sixty men more, to make a 794 display with in any port to which he might be ordered. He defied, however, any officer, and indeeed every officer, in the House, to point ont a single case in which our ships, manned as they were at present, had not done their duty. Had our sailors failed in the performance of their duty either on the coast of Africa or on the coast of China? Had they not shown the same skill and the same bravery, and had not their bravery and skill been accompanied by the same success as formerly? Would any man tell him of any disaster they had recently met with? If anything of the kind had happened, he thought that from the situation which he had the honour to fill, he must have heard of it, and yet he had heard of nothing of the sort. There were other charges made against the Admiralty, but they were irrelevant to the vote then before the House, and he would answer them when the items to which they referred came regularly in the progress of the estimates under the consideration of the Committee. He was quite aware of the advantage of taking a vote on this estimate to-night; and he was also equally aware of the impropriety of so humble an individual as himself making a long speech upon it. There were one or two points, however, that he must notice. He had no hesitation in declaring, that in our naval service there were some hard cases, so far as regarded the mates. That was a matter, however, which did not rest with the Admiralty. They could only promote one in three—they had promoted that number, and therefore upon that score no complaint could be made against the Admiralty. The noble Lord had stated that there were a number of hard cases arising from the long service of the mates. No doubt there were; but there were mates upon the list, who, though they had been fourteen and even seventeen years in the service, had not been anything like that time at sea. They had been on board steamboats, they had gone to Australia, they had been in India, and elsewhere, and all for their private emolument. They had not, therefore, the same claim upon the Admiralty as if they had been all the time at sea in the service of the country.
Lord G. Lennox
suggested that it would be a good plan to have a supplementary estimate to the navy estimates, and to divide in future the expenses of the marines from those of the navy. The charge of 795 58,000l., which was made for the marines was nothing less than a fraud on that branch of the service. There was a charge of 1,383l. for the pay of one lieutenant-general of marines. Now, that officer belonged to the navy, and never had been in the marines. There was also a charge of 1,037l. for a major-general of marines. That officer, too, had never served in the marines. There were other charges of a similar description. Now, the Committee ought to be able to ascertain exactly what the marines, really being marines, cost the country. We ought not, as his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Sandwich had justly said, to be keeping unnecessarily a number of marines and idlers. He objected to having officers of the navy paid for being officers of marines, when, in point of fact, they were mere idlers. He found that the pensions granted to flag officers, captains, and marine officers, amounted to 4,350l. this year. Would any man who read the words of that estimate believe it possible that not a single marine officer had any share in those pensions? He admitted that two pensions of 150l. a-year had been given last year to two deserving officers in the navy. He was glad of it—he was far from objecting to it; but he should like to see some share in those pensions granted to the marines. He also saw in the estimates one item for eight retired colonels of marines. He wished to ask the Secretary of the Admiralty whether the vacancies occasioned by those eight retirements had been filled up? He believed that two of them were not to be filled up till the report of the Naval and Military Commission which had been so long expected, was made up.
§ Captain A'Court
rose for the purpose of just saying a word or two on behalf of these unfortunate mates. He believed that if the Admiralty persisted in their present system, they would find it matter of difficulty to get young men to enter the service as mates. He wished that the Admiralty would promote 300 of them. It would not cost the nation more than 15,000l. a-year. He likewise declared it to be his opinion that no ship ought to leave this country without being fully manned to meet all emergencies.
concurred with the last speaker in the expediency of having all our ships fully manned. He was, nevertheless, of opinion, that what constituted 796 the full manning of a ship was not a point for the decision of the House of Commons, but of the responsible officers of the Crown.
§ Captain Boldero
expressed his anxiety that this and the next vote should pass through the Committee that evening. The Committee, however, ought not to grant any further votes until it had before it the report of the Naval and Military Commission. They had been told that not more than another sitting of that commission was wanted to complete its report. The Duke of Wellington, God be thanked for it, was now sufficiently recovered to attend to business, and he trusted that in the course of next week, he would be able to give up a day to the consideration and approval of that report. If any grants beyond those which he had mentioned were proposed before that report was received, he should meet them with every opposition in his power.
§ Mr. Labouchere
said, that one of the propositions made by the hon. and gallant officer who had spoken last was reasonable enough. It was quite evident that no reasonable objection could be offered to the two next votes, but he could not agree to the hon. and gallant officer's second proposition, that we should take no more votes upon the navy estimates until the report of the Naval and Military Commission was received. He opined that the Committee would be perfectly competent to decide upon all the navy estimates, even before the report in question was submitted to the House.
§ Mr. Herries
could not allow the present vote to pass through the Committee without taking notice of a subject closely connected with it. He alluded to the total want of all information respecting the interruption of our commercial intercourse with the Chinese at Canton. Six weeks ago her Majesty, in the most gracious speech which she then delivered from the throne, made this announcement to the two Houses of Parliament:—Events have happened in China which have occasioned an interruption of the commercial intercourse of my subjects with that country. I have given, and shall continue to give, the most serious attention to a matter so deeply affecting the interests of my subjects, and the dignity of the Crown.Since that speech had been delivered, it had become notorious to all the world that preparations had been made for the 797 departure from England of a considerable armament, destined for the accomplishment of a natural object connected with this very untoward event. The merchants of England were knocking daily at the doors of the Treasury in hope of receiving satisfaction for property worth 2,400,000l., which they had sacrificed at Canton in compliance with the demands of the British commissioner. They had received no encouraging answer to their application. The only answer which had been vouchsafed to them left their demands in abeyance. Now, the House of Commons remained up to this day totally uninformed on this most important topic, except so far as it had been informed by the statements in the newspapers. There was an impression abroad, that there had been very considerable mismanagement in the administration of our affairs in that part of the world. The impression was, that there had been vacillation in our policy from day to day, which was not only injurious to private individuals, but was also highly disgraceful to the country. He did not mean to say, that that impression was true; he was only saying, that it was nearly universal. This, however, was fact—not one single word had been said by any of her Majesty's Ministers in the House of Commons to satisfy the House of Commons, or to give it an insight into the grounds on which the House was called to vote for additional expenses on account of our expedition to China. Hon. Members had asked for information in almost every possible shape. The noble Secretary for Foreign Affairs had given promises on this subject to the country in the most affable and agreeable manner: but, unfortunately, nothing like performance had ever waited upon those promises. When some ten days ago he (Mr. Herries) asked the noble Lord whether he would be able to afford the House during the present week the information which it wanted, the noble Lord said, that he thought that the information would be forthcoming in the beginning of the present week, although he refused to bind himself, that it should be so forthcoming. They had now come to the last day in the Parliamentary week, and it was not forthcoming. The real question then was, had not the time arrived when it was incumbent upon Government to present that information to the House? He (Mr. Herries) was well 798 aware, that in the good old times, if these papers had not been presented to the House after the call which had been made for them, there would have been a motion before now for an address to the Crown to compel their production. He hoped that there would be no occasion for a measure of that description at present, but that Government would at once place upon the Table all the information which the country was now hoping with so much anxiety to attain.
§ Viscount Palmerston
said, that if the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had not himself been so long in office, all that he had said might appear natural enough to the Committee; but every Gentleman who knew, as well as the right hon. Member knew, the cares of office, must be aware, that when the question was to produce a mass of papers which were more or less voluminous, and when those papers had to be printed, it was almost impossible for any man to say, that he would bring down the report on those papers on such and such a day with as much certainty as if he was bringing on an ordinary motion in that House. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman that there had been no unnecessary delay or indisposition in the office over which he presided in preparing the papers which the right hon. Gentleman wished to see; on the contrary, they should be produced at the very earliest opportunity. With respect to the menaced address to the Crown for the production of those papers, he had only to say that the production of them was not an act of courtesy on his part; it was an act of obedience to the House of Commons which had called for them. He had entertained hopes that he should be able to present them in the beginning of the present week, but he had been disappointed. He believed, that they would be ready early in the next. Whatever impression might have gone forth as to the mode in which our affairs had been recently conducted, the noble Lord would see from these papers, that that had been no reason for the misapprehension to which he had alluded. Her Majesty's Government, instead of shrinking from full investigation, absolutely courted it; but the fact was, that their opponents could not produce the documents which were necessary to justify it.
§ Mr. Herries
never recollected anything like the delay which had occurred in pre- 799 paring documents in the present Session. He knew the attention and diligence of the gentlemen employed in the public offices; and, with that knowledge, he could not imagine any reason for the extraordinary delay which had occurred in the production of this information. He supposed that the papers containing it must be voluminous beyond all former precedent, and yet it was announced in her Majesty's speech that even at the time of its delivery, those papers were in preparation.
§ Vote agreed to.
§ House resumed. Committee to sit again.