§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Sir, in the first place I have to express my thanks to the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sharman Crawford) who had a Motion on the Paper for leave to bring in a Bill to extend the powers for hiring land for the use of poorhouses in Ireland, and who had given way, not only on my own 1057 part, but on the part of the House, for giving me this opportunity of bringing forward the Motion of which I have given notice; a Motion which I certainly do not make for my own gratification, but one which I could not have submitted to the House at this early period of the evening, but for the kind manner in which the hon. Gentleman has given way. I must also express my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, and to the hon. Member for Cork, for the consideration of the convenience of the Government and of the House, which they have shown by allowing my Motion precedence. I will now state the grounds on which Her Majesty's Government think it desirable to move for the appointment of two Committees; one to inquire into the expenditure of the Navy, Army, and Ordnance; the other to inquire into the expenditure of the Miscellaneous Services; and I think I shall best consult the convenience and the wishes of the House by prefacing my Motion for the appointment of both Committees by only one speech. It is perfectly well known to hon. Gentlemen, that it has been customary from time to time to appoint Committees to inquire into the income and expenditure of the country; sometimes into both, sometimes only into one of them. It was a matter of consideration to the Government a short time after its accession to office, whether it would not be desirable to appoint a Committee to investigate the general expenditure of the country. I confess, when I sat on the benches opposite, I saw, not without great uneasiness, the increase which had taken place in the expenditure of the country; and I thought, with the hon. Member for Montrose, that it was a subject which fairly demanded inquiry on the part of the House. The hon. Member stated, as I state now, that the expenditure in those branches of the public service which relate to the Navy, the Army, and the Ordnance, had increased from 11,730,000l. in 1835, to 17,340,000l. in 1847. The increase of the Army has been very small. [An Hon. MEMBER: What of the Miscellaneous Expenditure?] What I propose now to the House is to appoint two Committees: one to inquire into the expenditure of the Navy, Army, and Ordnance; the other into the Miscellaneous Expenditure of the country. They stand in a different order on the list of notices of Motions; but I put them in the order of what I conceive to be their relative importance, that is to say, I 1058 consider that an expenditure of 17,340,000l. is of greater importance, as a subject for consideration, than an expenditure of 3,782,000l. I began, therefore, by saying that the expenditure for the Navy, Army, and Ordnance, had increased from 11,730,000l. in 1835, to 17,340,000l. in 1847. The increase in the expenditure for the Army is inconsiderable; the increase in the expenditure for the Navy reaches to 3,500,000l.; and the expenditure for the Ordnance is now more than double the amount which it was in 1835. I think that this forms a very fitting subject for inquiry; but at the same time I am not prepared to say that this expenditure was not perfectly justified by the circumstances which called for it, and in fact it has received the sanction of Parliament in different Sessions. No objection has been taken by Parliament to the increase which was from time to time proposed in the expenditure; and, more than that, a very considerable portion of the expenditure has been pressed on the Government by the general wish of the House. I remember perfectly well that during the four years in which I filled the situation of Secretary to the Admiralty, I constantly had to defend that Board against the charge of not having spent enough, and of not providing sufficiently for the defence of the country. That the House will readily recollect was the case; and, generally speaking, these recommendations to increase the expenditure came either from independent Members of the House, or from officers of the two services. I do not think, therefore, that cither the late or the present Government are so much responsible for this increased expenditure, as the representatives of the people. But I do not think that on this account there is no reason for inquiry, and I am ready to allow that the most convenient mode is to appoint a Committee of this House. I may state to the House that almost immediately after the accession of the present Government to office, my noble Friend intimated his intention to appoint a Committee to inquire into the Miscellaneous Expenditure of the country. That was at the end of the Session of 1846, and my noble Friend repeated the same assurance in the course of last Session; but as a new Parliament was about to assemble, it was thought more convenient to postpone the appointment till the present Session. Subsequently to that intimation by my noble Friend, the hon. Member for Montrose suggested that it would be more expedient 1059 to appoint, not a Finance Committee, but a Committee to inquire into the whole subject of the expenditure of the country. The Government, however, thought that an inquiry so extensive would be apt to lead to no useful result. A very wide field of inquiry would have been committed to their charge, and, as far as I can remember, one which has never yet been executed by a single Committee. In 1817 and in 1828, the reference of so wide a subject to one Committee was objected to—and on the latter occasion by the hon. Member for Montrose himself—on the ground that it would be more convenient to conduct inquiries of this kind separately, and to divide the expenditure into different branches. But although this course was taken by the hon. Member on a former occasion, he has now suggested a much wider field for inquiry. He has suggested that there should be a general revision of our whole system of taxation; but we think, if we are to hope for a practical and early conclusion of the inquiry, that it will be far better to confine our investigations to one branch of the subject. The Government, then—not entertaining, as I have said, any objection whatever to this kind of inquiry, but, on the contrary, thinking that an inquiry into our expenditure is desirable, nevertheless, at the beginning of the Session, considering how many important Committees must be appointed—such as the Committee on Commercial Distress, the West India Committee, and others—thought that it might be better to postpone any inquiry into our naval and military expenditure for the present, inasmuch as a great number of those Gentlemen who were of the greatest experience and standing in the House, would necessarily be engaged upon other Committees. It is certainly not without some fear of this kind that the Government have now determined to appoint a Committee to inquire into this subject; but after the misapprehension which has so extensively prevailed, we think it better to run the risk of this inconvenience, than that we should appear to decline any investigation into the reasons for this expenditure. We have no wish in doing so to shrink from that responsibility which attaches to all Governments. It is their duty to submit to Parliament the amount of establishments which they consider necessary. We have not shrunk from that duty, and have submitted to the House the various estimates of the sums which in our opinion are required for the Navy, Army, and Ordnance. 1060 So far, therefore, the Government have performed their duty on that subject. But although the Government felt the objection which I have stated to the appointment of a general Finance Committee, they have thought it desirable that these estimates should be submitted to a Select Committee of the House. I think it desirable that they should inquire how far the increased expenditure even of our military establishments is in reality owing to increased establishments, and how far the increase has been occasioned by our efforts to improve the condition of our soldiers and sailors in actual service. There is a considerable increase in the expenditure arising from increased pay to petty officers, and in various other ways. I mentioned the other day, as an instance of this, the abolition of poundage on pensions, and the increased rates of pay to various classes in the Navy, making an increase on the average of 2l. a man on the whole number of men voted. An objection has also been raised in this House with reference to the distribution of the forces; and hon. Gentlemen have said that a different distribution would have made them as available for the defence of the country as they can be made by the arrangements proposed by the Government. This may be a proper subject for inquiry. For these reasons, when we are about to make a demand on the public in the shape of taxation, it seems to us that the reasons in favour of the appointment of a Committee, outweigh the objections which may be urged against it. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire desired me when I moved for this Committee to come properly prepared with precedents. I do not mean to say that I am about to quote any precedent precisely in point; but I do not think that it would be any advantage to do so. Hon. Gentlemen opposite may think that it is a great advantage to do as our forefathers have done many years ago, and that no change of circumstances will warrant a departure from ancient usage. That may be the opinion of hon. Gentlemen opposite, but it is not mine. I do think that circumstances may afford an abundant justification for not adhering in too servile a manner to the precedents of former times. But if the hon. Gentleman asks for instances in which similar inquiries have taken place, they are to be found in abundance. I do not find that, in former times, it was considered improper for the Government to submit 1061 such questions to the consideration of Committees of this House. I do not think that Mr. Pitt was a Minister very likely to shrink from responsibility, and yet he appointed three Committees of this kind in the years 1786, 1791, and 1797. In 1807, a similar Committee was appointed. In 1817, Lord Liverpool's Government—whose stability I am not aware was doubted, and which, in fact, continued to hold power for some years afterwards—appointed a Committee to make a searching investigation into the expenditure of the country. In 1828, the Government of the Duke of Wellington, at that time strong enough, I believe, in the estimation of the country, appointed a similar Committee. Again, in 1834, Lord Stanley, when Secretary of State for the Colonies, had a Committee appointed to inquire into the number of men employed in those colonies, and the distribution of this force. The same Committee was reappointed on the proposal of the right hon. Member for Oxford. I do not think that hon. Gentlemen opposite will say that Lord Stanley was likely to yield in any sort of way to a pressure that ought to be resisted. I say, therefore, that when we adopt the course suggested by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose, we cannot be accused of shrinking from any responsibility that properly belongs to us. We have prepared those estimates which we have thought right, and by them we are willing to abide. It has been said that such Committees have never inquired into the war establishments of the country. But the report of the Select Committee of 1817 begins thus:—The Select Committee have proceeded to investigate the principal establishments of the country, beginning with the Army. In this department, the first object that presents itself is the numerical amount of force. Your Committee are deeply sensible of the extreme difficulty of ascertaining the precise point at which our military establishments should be fixed, on account of political considerations, and others of a still more delicate nature, which must necessarily involve themselves in the question.They had submitted to them the estimates for the year, and the probable amount of expenditure not only for the year in which they sat, but for the year after that in which they sat. If the hon. Gentleman will refer to the report, he will find that this Committee made no recommendation to the House, and made no alteration in the estimates; but the whole were nevertheless submitted to them. In like manner, in the year 1828, these matters were 1062 submitted to the consideration of the Committee then appointed. The Committee of 1828 reported upon the terms on which Long Annuities were granted; then upon the Army, Navy, and Ordnance; and, lastly, upon the general expenditure of the country. The only witness whom they examined on the last branch of the subject was the right hon. Gentleman opposite the Member for Stamford, who also drew up the report, so that in this respect he performed all the functions of the Committee. Referring, however, to the naval and military expenditure, what is their report? This is an extract from it:—The Committee thought it proper to commence their proceedings with the examination of the estimates of the Army, Navy, and Ordnance, because they expected, by taking this course, to be able to report their opinion on each of those branches of expenditure before the period would arrive when the public service of the country would render it necessary that they should be brought under the consideration of the House.It was here proposed to carry out a very extensive investigation; and they expected to be able to present their report to the House in time to be of some service in the consideration of the various estimates for the year. The result proved, however, that they were unable to overtake so wide a field. They had to consider in detail the revenue and expenditure in each department; and they found themselves unable to go beyond one department—the Ordnance. We had the advantage, however, of their opinions and recommendations on several important points. Lord Hardinge was examined before the Committee, and gave most valuable information on the subject of the Ordnance Department. In the Naval Department it is well known to the House that in 1830 and 1831, great and important reforms were introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Sir J. Graham), then First Lord of the Admiralty. Since that time, it is true that the expenditure has very materially increased; and I do think, therefore, that there is great necessity for a strict and searching inquiry on the part of a Committee of this House into all the departments connected with the public force of the country. I have no doubt that much of the increased expenditure which has taken place will be found to have been justified in each succeeding year; though I am not prepared to say that in some of those departments it may not be possible to effect a reduction of expenditure. I have now to refer to a point 1063 which I mentioned on a former occasion, and with regard to which I find that I laboured under some misapprehension. When I last night referred to former Committees of Inquiry having been appointed by this House, I then thought that all those Committees had been Secret Committees, and I stated that I intended to follow the precedents laid down on those occasions. I certainly do think it indispensable that the Committee I am about to propose should have the power—as, indeed, I believe it will have—of suppressing any portion of the evidence taken before it which it may think fit; also of excluding from its report any documents which it may think proper to exclude; and that they also should have the power, if they think fit, to exclude from the room any person or persons during their sittings. In the case of the Committee of 1828, I believe that no person was ever permitted to be in the room. I have spoken to a Friend of mine, who was a Member of that Committee, and he states that, to the best of his recollection, he never saw any person present at the meetings of the Committee. I propose, therefore, simply the appointment of a Select Committee. I admit, frankly, that I was wrong when I spoke of the former Committees of this description as Secret Committees; and I believe that it is not in reality necessary to constitute them into Secret Committees, in order to give them a power which they certainly ought to have, namely, that of excluding such evidence and documents as they might think fit. With this explanation, I do not think it necessary to say more than simply to move—For the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the Expenditure on account of the Navy, Army, and Ordnance, and to report their Observations thereupon to the House; and also the appointment of another Select Committee to inquire into the Expenditure for Miscellaneous Services, and to report to the House whether any Reductions can, in their opinion, be effected, or any Improvement made in the Mode of submitting this Branch of the Public Expenditure to the consideration of Parliament.
§ LORD GEORGE BENTINCK
I am relieved in a great measure from the necessity of continuing the opposition which I gave last night to Her Majesty's Ministers, because Her Majesty's Ministers have abandoned altogether the declaration which they then made. The great objection I made to the Committee was that it was to be a "Select and Secret" Committee; and considering that that announce- 1064 ment was accompanied by a declaration that Her Majesty's Ministers proposed to make a large addition to, and not to diminish the estimates for, the Army, Navy, and Ordnance, it certainly left to me the impression that Her Majesty's Ministers were going to abandon on the part of the Crown one of its great prerogatives, that of deciding upon the conduct of the Army and Navy, and to a great extent upon the defences of the country. But when that proposition for appointing a Secret Committee to inquire into the propriety of an increase to the Army and Navy Estimates has dwindled down to a sort of jumbling up of two Committees, one to inquire into the Miscellaneous Estimates, and the other into the Army, Navy, and Ordnance Estimates, it makes a very great difference in the state of the case. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said he has no exact precedent for his proposition; but my noble Friend (Lord John Russell) took credit to himself last night that he had no less than five exact precedents for the proposition which was announced to us. It was stated last night that the proposition would be for the appointment of a Select and Secret Committee; but it is now confessed on the part of my right hon. Friend, that had he persevered in that Motion of which he gave notice last night, that he would have had no precedent whatever for such a Secret Committee to inquire into the Army, Navy, and Ordnance Estimates. If my right hon. Friend had persevered in that intention, I should have persevered in my opposition to his Motion; for I think nothing can be more dangerous than that any question connected with the national defences and distribution of the force of the Army and Navy should be referred even to a Select Committee of this House, but, above all, to a Secret Committee. My noble Friend (Lord J. Russell) on Friday night, announced to the House that it would be necessary to increase the Army Estimates to the amount of 43,000l., the Ordnance Estimates to the amount, I believe, of 245,000l., and the Navy Estimates to the amount of 194,000l.; of which, 94,000l. alone, I believe, was connected with the increase of the Navy. There was also, he said, to be an increase of 150,000 for the militia. I presume now the inquiry to which the attention of this Committee will be called will not he an increase or decrease in the armaments, either Military or Naval, or the Ordnance forces, but that the subject 1065 submitted to the inquiry of the Committee will be considerations connected with the possible diminution of expense, apart from any increase of the effective force of the Army, Navy, or Ordnance. I conclude that my noble Friend does not mean to relieve himself from the responsibility of coming down to this House, recommending a certain force for the defence of the country, and standing by that recommendation. I am well aware that on many former occasions there have been Finance Committees appointed to inquire into the general expenditure of the country; but then I believe those inquiries were on each and every occasion when it was proposed to reduce rather than to increase the expenditure. I believe there is no precedent whatever for a Committee of Inquiry to consider whether the national defences should be increased, or the Army, Navy, or Ordnance added to. In the year 1786 the question of the fortification of Portsmouth came under the consideration of the Government of Mr. Pitt; but that subject was not referred to a Select Committee, or to a Secret Committee upstairs, but it was referred to "the arbitration of a Board of Land and Sea Officers," consisting, in the language of Mr. Pitt, of everything that was great and respectable in the two professions. If the question be now whether any further fortifications should be constructed, or whether or not the service should be added to in particular departments—whether the steam portion of the Navy should be strengthened—whether the marines should be increased, or the number of artillery added to—if these or any one of them be in question, I trust they will not be made subjects to be submitted to a Select Committee upstairs; and, making this protest against the inquiry of the Committee being permitted to take the course of encroaching upon the proper functions of the Executive Government, and of the prerogative of the Crown, I shall not offer any objection to the proposition of my right hon. Friend.
§ MR. DISRAELI
After the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I thought it might be considered that I shrunk from the challenge which he has accepted so gallantly, if I did not notice his observations. I expressed an opinion last night that no precedents could be produced in favour of the measure of the Government; but I did not mean for a 1066 moment to lay it down as a principle that Her Majesty's Government were to be always hampered in the discharge of their duties by a strict observance of precedents: quite the reverse. But when the Minister comes forward to recommend a particular course, and wishes to establish the propriety of that course to the House by an elaborate and almost pedantic reference to precedents—and when on examining those precedents we find they do not in the least coincide with the course he recommends—I am, I think, perfectly justified in expressing my doubts as to the propriety of the course that Minister has taken. If the Government of the present day are so independent of precedent—if they are so satisfied with the step which they are recommending to the House that they do not think it at all necessary to be in any way influenced by the conduct of their predecessors—why were we told last night by the Government, and why was the statement re-echoed by some great authorities on this side of the table, that from the year 1785 down to the year 1828, at decennial periods, this course had been pursued? If you wish to recommend your proposition by the precedents you produce, every one of us will bow with respect to the authorities you bring forward. If you mean to say that in this enlightened age you will not be guided by precedents, but recommend a course on your own responsibility, I do not doubt that you will find many supporters; but do not come forward as the followers and respecters of precedents on one night, and on the next when you find they do not exactly suit your case or fit your purpose, claim credit from the House for discarding them, and look for a cheer from the Liberal benches, because you are a Government independent of the authority of those that went before you, and confident in the creative faculty you possess of striking out a new line for yourself under difficult circumstances. I entirely differ with the Government as to the value of precedents. In this case, as in others, precedents are not mere dusty phrases, which do not substantially affect the question before us. A precedent embalms a principle. The principle may be right or may be wrong—that is a question for discussion; but at the first glance it is right to conclude that it is a principle that has been acted upon and recognised by those who preceded us. Now, Sir, the 1067 Chancellor of the Exchequer told us, that in submitting these estimates to the Committee, he did not feel justified in pretending that it was not in the power of the House to effect considerable reductions in those matters. But I read in the Message from the Throne, which was placed on this table within a very brief time, this address to the Gentlemen of the House of Commons:—Her Majesty has given directions that the Estimates for the next year shall he prepared for the purpose of being laid before you.This is said about the end of November.Those Estimates will be framed with a careful regard to the exigencies of the Public Service.What! those estimates framed only a few weeks ago with a careful regard to the exigencies of the public service, now brought forward by a Chancellor of the Exchequer, who cannot take upon himself to say that considerable reductions cannot be made in them! And in the first place, I do not observe, in the Address from the Throne, that appeal on the part of the Sovereign towards the House, which, to my mind, makes a great difference between the present case and those instances which have been brought forward on the part of the Government. All those instances at decennial periods from 1785 to 1828, were what are called Finance Committees—Committees to inquire into the revenue and expenditure of the country. Of course, having to inquire into the revenue and expenditure of the country, it was absolutely necessary that those Committees should inquire into the cost of the public establishments. But in every one of those instances the inquiries into the military and naval establishments of the country are corollary—they are merely inter alia, and incidental to the great inquiry. And, accordingly, what do we observe in every case which has been referred to by the Minister? There is not one from 1785 to 1828, in which there has not been an announcement of the intention of the Government in the Speech from the Throne. On the very first occasion, and in the most solemn manner, the Sovereign informed the House of Commons that it was the intention of the Crown to refer the subject to the investigation of a Select Committee. And one can easily understand the reason of that. In taking the examination of the estimates out of the hands of a Committee of the whole House, every Member is deprived of an important con- 1068 stitutional privilege; therefore it is necessary that it should be announced in the most public manner, and that the announcement should be for a considerable time before the House and the country. Every Member gives up his peculiar privilege of examining those estimates in a Committee of the whole House, because there is a great public emergency which requires that the subject should be submitted to the particular control of a Select Committee. In the year 1817, this is the language of the Prince Regent—"I recommend the state of the public income and expenditure to your early and serious consideration." Well, of course when the public income and expenditure are recommended to the early and serious attention of the House of Commons, on the first day of the meeting of Parliament by the Message from the Throne, there can be no mistake as to what the intentions of the Sovereign are. It is that a comprehensive view of the establishments of the country should be taken with reference to economy. Is that the present case? Had we that ample and sufficient notice? What occurred in the year 1828, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tamworth was leader of the Government in this House? We had a Speech from the Throne—We are commanded by His Majesty to recommend the early attention of the House of Commons to an inquiry into the revenue and expenditure of the country.Now, I ask the House, is there any analogy between this instance and the one before us? A sacrifice was required of the House—every Member was called upon to give up his right and privilege of criticism on this important subject—the House had a fair warning of what was to occur; but have we had a fair warning in the present instance? We met yesterday for a Committee of Supply; and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer suddenly rose up and said, "I am going to prevent all criticism in this House, and will send the estimates upstairs." He did so, to the astonishment, I am sure, even of Gentlemen sitting on his own benches—in fact, to the astonishment of every Gentleman who has not a place in the Cabinet. And what are his reasons? The right hon. Gentleman has not given any reasons; he has given us precedents, and they do not apply. 1069 In the year 1828, the right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Peel) proposed the appointment of a Finance Committee in this House; and what did he say on that question? The passage is very short and instructive, and applies admirably to the present case. He said—I do not propose this Committee with the object insinuated—of deluding and deceiving the people of this kingdom, or of procuring from it a recommendation for increased taxation, or founding on its recommendation a proposition for increased taxation.But the most curious thing is, that the right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Peel) in that instance—as in other instances former Ministers had done—proposing a Finance Committee for the purpose of constitutional reforms, and, being perfectly justified in this course—used language which is really a censure on the conduct of the present Government, because they are proposing this Committee for exactly different purposes. They are not proposing it for economy; but they are proposing it—I will not say to delude or deceive the people, but they are proposing it—"to procure from the Committee a recommendation for increased establishments, and founding on its recommendation a proposition for increased taxation." Well, Sir, I think it will be admitted that the question of precedent cannot be insisted upon; and if there be no precedent to support it, let us look to the principle involved in the course proposed. It is neither more nor less than shifting the responsibility of the Government upon a Committee of the House of Commons. If, in fact, a Committee of the House of Commons is to assume the functions of a Committee of Supply, why also should not a Committee of the House of Commons assume the functions of a Committee of Ways and Means? If a Committee of the House of Commons, exercising the functions of a Committee of Supply, is to prepare the estimates, why not leave it also to that Committee of the House of Commons to ascertain the means by which those estimates are to be paid? As far as I can form an opinion of the temper of the House, it would perhaps be more easy and more convenient for the Government to propose the income-tax in a Committee upstairs than in a Committee downstairs. This is not a proposition that can be separated from the rest of the financial exposition with which we were favoured the other night. You may permit the present step 1070 to be taken without any opposition to the Government; but are you also prepared on Monday night to be equally goodnatured? I think the Government have made a great mistake in the course they have recommended to us; but you don't mean to oppose them. Happy men! whose very blunders only prove the anxiety of their opponents to assist them. I cannot understand why panic should pervade the land. The noble Lord was expected to announce the necessity of large armaments; but he has made an appeal to the passions rather than to the purses of the country. People are excessively alarmed. Many believe that the deficit is produced by new fortifications. But the speech of the noble Lord authorises no such conclusion. As to the militia vote which he intends to propose, a Committee on the Militia Estimates is appointed every year, and this vote he might with great propriety have left to a Committee. It is the character of the Militia Estimates, as contradistinguished from the other estimates, to be prepared by a Committee of the House. Such Committee might have constitutionally prepared the estimate they might think necessary, and then the noble Lord might have signified a gracious message from Her Majesty recognising the loyal labours of the Committee. Though I shall follow the example of the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn, and not oppose Her Majesty's Government in the present instance, I cannot allow the occasion to pass without entering my protest against the course which they have taken. It is quite unauthorised by the practice of Parliament, and is little conducive to the dignity of Her Majesty's Government. If it had been proposed in a Speech from the Throne, there would have been the appearance of a dignus nodus. But that we should be called upon here to meet in Committee of Supply; and that, without notice or preparation, in a hasty, hurried, inconsistent, and incoherent manner, Her Majesty's Government should come down to do one thing, and rise in their places and do another thing—is conduct which I cannot think calculated to raise the character of public men, or of an Administration in this House.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
wished to know whether he was to understand the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer as intimating that the Committee were to inquire with closed doors into the distribution and disposition of Her Majesty's forces?
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I never said, the Committee was to sit with closed doors. I was under a misapprehension when I stated that Committees of this kind were secret. What I did at the time intend to say, and what I now say is, that the Committee ought to have the power of suppressing any part of the evidence, or any of the documents laid before it, the publication of which might be injurious to the public service. I think it proper that they should have the power to exercise if they find it needful; but otherwise I do not propose that they should be invested with that power.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I shall, perhaps, best answer the hon. Gentleman by reading two resolutions adopted by the Committee, which sat in 1834, on the military and colonial expenditure. They express their opinion, first, that the Government ought "not to reduce the number of the garrison of Gibraltar;" and, secondly, that in certain contingencies "the force in the Ionian Islands may be diminished." That, I apprehend, applies both to the distribution of the forces, and to their amount.
§ MR. HUME
wished the Committee to be properly constituted, so that it might do its duty fairly. If a large proportion of those who were on the Committee were Members accustomed to support large estimates, the Committee would not be properly constituted. But he hoped Her Majesty's Government would take care that the larger proportion of the Committee should not consist of those who had been hardened—if he might use the expression—into callousness when dealing with estimates. Unless the Committee were so selected, it would not be satisfactory to the public. An hon. Gentleman had read some passages of a Speech from the Throne; it was to be regretted that Ministers had not made a similar recommendation on the present occasion. He (Mr. Hume) had not contemplated additional taxation; but when called on to renew the former taxation, they ought to consider the general state of the revenue. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth had made a most important change in taxation, having introduced a principle which, being sound, ought to be extended to the taxation of the country in general. A Committee ought to be appointed to consider how so many 1072 millions of taxes were raised—to ascertain whether they were raised in the best manner—and to determine whether changes could not be introduced in the mode of raising them, with less oppression to the subject, less expense in the collection, and more in conformity with the principles which the right hon. Gentleman had introduced. Objections had been made to devolving on a Committee of the House powers and duties which properly appertain to Her Majesty's Government. But the circumstances of the country placed the matter beyond the ordinary formal rules. They had adopted a new principle which ought to be carried out. He hoped the Committee would consist of Members who would give their undivided attention to the subject, and who had not grown familiar with large estimates. He trusted the Government would not ask the House to vote any more men than were voted last year till the Committee had reported, because if there was one thing on which the country was more united than another, it was in thinking that there should be no increase in public establishments. He should be misleading the Government as to the general feeling of the country if he did not tell them that there ought to be no increase till the Committee had reported.
§ SIR R. PEEL
The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) has referred to some remarks which I made on the subject of this Committee; but he certainly misapprehended me if he thought my observations went to show that the course Her Majesty's Government proposed to pursue was sanctioned by the precedents which were alleged. I intimated an opinion that there was a difference between the precedents and the course they proposed to pursue. My chief object yesterday was to consider whether precedent would sanction the appointment of a Secret Committee to inquire into the expenditure of the country. My recollection was at variance with that of the noble (Lord J. Russell) and of the right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer). Though former Committees had exercised a discretion, and most properly so, in withholding information most material for them to receive, possibly most material for the public interest to conceal, yet my impression was that those Committees were "Select" Committees, not "Secret" Committees. The right hon. Gentleman may have been misled by the course which Mr. Pitt followed in appointing Committees by ballot. In 1817, when 1073 Lord Castlereagh was in office, a question was raised on the subject. There was, however, a departure from the precedent given in the time of Mr. Pitt, and the Committee was appointed by nomination instead of by ballot. I believe I am strictly right in saying that in former times Committees were "select," without powers of secrecy beyond what their own good sense and discretion suggested. It would be very unfortunate, and the result would not be likely to give satisfaction to the country, if there were any departure from this rule. If any good is to be effected by the Committee, it will be by giving information on a great many points. Though I do not oppose the appointment of the Committee, I was perfectly ready to give my opinion on the estimates submitted by Her Majesty's Government. And the noble Lord, I am sure, will concur with me in thinking that no Select Committee can suitably discharge functions which properly belong to Her Majesty's Government. It is for Her Majesty's Government to state the amount of the force which the public exigencies require. I certainly did not understand that this Committee was to be appointed with a view to get rid of executive responsibility—to redeem the Government from any of the duties which can only be performed by the Government. I was prepared to consider the estimates as proposed on their responsibility. I speak from too recent experience not to be aware how heavy that responsibility is. I believe the imputations thrown on the Executive Government in reference to an increase of the estimates are utterly unfounded. It is the interest and it is the desire of a Government generally to bring down the estimates so far as they can be brought down consistently with the public service; and those impressions in the public mind, that the object is to secure the power of making new military appointments, of having commissions to give away, and so of gratifying the supporters of the Government—the impressions which exist on that head are, I believe, utterly erroneous. I believe that it is decidedly for the interest of a Government, looking to the stability of its administration, to make the estimates as low as they can. It is my firm impression, if there existed a Government impressed with other views than those which had reference to the public necessities, their manifest interest would be to gratify the House of Commons by reduced estimates. After the panic which prevailed in this country 1074 about a month since, I am glad to find the tide has ebbed so fast, and that the alarm on the subject of invasion has visibly abated. I was afraid the Government might have been unduly influenced by that alarm; and I am relieved when I learn that it is not intended to make any increase in the military or naval force. I read a letter published by a noble Friend of mine, the Earl of Ellesmere, stating the course which would be taken in a certain event by the Guards—to walk out of London; and the duty which would be imposed upon the Lord Mayor—to convert the Mansionhouse into a place where billets would be found for the French army. I thought that that letter presented a most imperfect and unjust account of the spirit of Englishmen—not only of the spirit of the military, of that splendid corps the Guards—which my noble Friend indeed afterwards relieved from any imputation—but of the strength of the country, and the spirit of the men of mature age—nay, I say, of the oldest men and the oldest women. I firmly believe, if the Lord Mayor, instead of taking steps for the defence of the metropolis, were to undertake the duty of finding billets for the French army, he must do so in secret. I defy him to show his face in Cheapside. If an attempt were made to subject this country either to invasion or insult, it is difficult to estimate the spirit with which such an attempt would be repelled. I say nothing against the propriety of taking proper precautions; for, though I know perfectly what would be the ultimate result, yet I know also that even the most partial success must be accompanied with ruin to many, with loss and misfortune to others, and with great desolation. But, I confess, after hearing the account of the estimates stated—after the comments made by the most liberal as to the necessity for enormous precautions—that so far from being astounded by the propositions of the present estimates, I was relieved when I found that what I thought a wise decision had been come to, not to increase the naval or military force. I am glad there is no increase. None but the Government can perform the duty of considering what ought to be proposed for the national establishments. But when their proposition is made, the circumstance must be very peculiar which would induce me as a private individual to offer opposition to the proposal so made by the responsible Government. I should not feel called upon to oppose what the Government, acting under 1075 a sense of the heaviest resposibility, considered conducive to the public welfare, as affecting the security of the State, and the most vital interests of the country, unless, indeed, I saw on the face of the measure that it was manifestly injurious to that security and those interests. Looking to the state of the world, at our immense colonial empire, and the disposition to extend it, almost from year to year—New Zealand one year, some new Australian settlement another year, then Hong-Kong—the same being done every year with the goodwill of the community, and especially of the mercantile body—seeing all this increase of our colonial empire, I am not surprised that the necessity of keeping up large military establishments exists. I cannot see what has happened in China within a very recent period without feeling that it is impossible to foretell what may occur in remote regions of the globe, and how soon the necessity may arise of providing for increased demands of our possessions. There is no increase proposed in the regular military or naval forces. There is an increase in the marine force, and in that corps connected with the artillery, which it is impossible to organise without a considerable time for discipline. I am not prepared, if the Government say it is desirable to add to the marine force, or to that force of the artillery which cannot be increased upon the instant—if they, on their responsibility, state that it is for the public service, I should not find myself in a condition to oppose what was so brought forward on the responsibility of any Government. I shall not fall into the error, into which, perhaps, the noble Lord has fallen, of dwelling on the increase of force made by particular Powers. But, looking at what is passing in our extended empire—looking to the state of India—looking to the progress of events in Spain—looking to what has taken place in Mexico, and to the spirit which animates the American republic, greatly, I believe, to its own detriment, and to the detriment of public interests—looking to the circumstances of the times, with no other means of information than any hon. Gentleman possesses—I do not think it unreasonable to propose that in the present year the Army and Navy shall not be reduced. That is the conclusion to which I come, founding it upon what every Gentleman may observe for himself. I was, therefore, prepared to discuss, and to give my assent generally to, the estimates at the present moment, 1076 without this Committee; but as Her Majesty's Government invite the co-operation of this House in considering, at least, all the details of the estimates, in considering the establishments connected with the military force, and the mode of conducting the military service of the country; and as it is not proposed that the Committee shall interfere with the discretion of Government in regard to the amount of force to be maintained, but shall merely exercise the fullest latitude with regard to all the branches of expenditure—I think it is possible that public advantage may be gained by the appointment of such a Committee, as I think that public advantage has arisen from Committees of a similar nature in former years. I agree with an hon. Member, however, that the amount of this advantage will greatly depend upon the construction of the Committee. If it is not exclusively composed of men who are, as has been said, "hardened in favour of large estimates"—if it is not exclusively composed of men devoted to mere views of economy without regard to other considerations; but if it is composed of men of official business habits—of honourable and independent men, who will give their minds to an impartial consideration of the public expenditure—it is probable that a reduction may be made, and considerable advantage gained to the public service with regard to the mode, of conducting it, particularly considering that twenty years have elapsed since any such Committee was appointed. Retaining my opinion, then, that I depend upon seeing a Select Committee as distinguished from a Secret Committee, with its information as patent to the world as is consistent with a due respect to the public interest, I acquiesce in the appointment of the Committee, expressly concurring in the just observations of the noble Lord (Lord G. Bentinck). that I think it would be highly objectionable for the Government to abandon their proper functions and duties as an Executive to the proposed Committee; and I give the best proof of the sincerity of my adherence to that opinion, because I was prepared to give my assent to the estimates generally, without this preliminary inquiry.
§ MR. BRIGHT
said, that the panic referred to by the right hon. Baronet who had just sat down, had been created by a belief that an attempt was to be made, as in former years, to increase the military expenses, and therefore unnecessarily to in- 1077 crease the taxation of the country. The House was aware, that some years ago the Russians were expected in the Thames; and very soon afterwards there was an increase in our military expenses. After that, a French Prince wrote a very foolish pamphlet; and another increase in our expenditure followed that. His firm opinion was, that the cry raised on those and subsequent occasions, with respect to the defenceless state of the country, had its origin entirely in the wishes of a party out of doors, connected with the military department of the country, to increase our expenditure. He did not charge military men with unpatriotic motives in doing this; but it was admitted, that when men's minds were directed to one department and to one object, they were likely to entertain a very exaggerated notion of its importance. He repeated, that the recent panic in the public mind had arisen from the fear that the taxation of the country was to be unnecessarily increased, at a time when the sufferings of the country were extraordinarily great. The right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) had made one mistake in the course of the observations he had made. He had stated, that there was to be no increase in the Army. Now, if he had understood the statement of the noble Lord aright, as well as what had been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary at War, the fact was, that in consequence of the cessation of hostilities in India, 5,000 men were coming home to England to be added to the permanent force here, which he regarded as tantamount to an increase in the military force of this country. It was quite clear, that if there had not been these 5,000 men to provide for, there would have been a decrease in the Army Estimates of the present year. The right hon. Baronet had also made some observations respecting our colonies, which he hoped the country would take to heart. If the colonies had had more responsibility—if, when they quarrelled with the native tribes, they had been made to pay for the wars which they originated—he suspected there would have been fewer quarrels and fewer wars. If the New Zealand Company and the Now Zealand colonists had had to bear the brunt of the squabbles which had been created in New Zealand—if the colonists of the Cape of Good Hope had been made responsible to some extent for the expenses of the war with the Caffres—he suspected there would not have been 1,100,000l. to pay for it. He begged to notice one other point which 1078 the right hon. Baronet had introduced, respecting the responsibility of the Executive Government. He acknowledged that no man living knew more of that than the right hon. Baronet. He (Mr. Bright) was willing to make as much allowance for the Government as any man in the House; but at the same time he could not forget that every individual Member of that House had a responsibility within certain limits as solemn as that which attached to the noble Lord. What was his own responsibility, for instance, as the representative of one of the largest constituencies in the United Kingdom, observing, as he did, how pauperism was increasing, and the country suffering from one end to the other; seeing that the taxes were at present larger than ever they had been before in time of peace; and knowing that there was a great and increasing dissatisfaction in the country with the want of economy on the part of its representatives in that House? He admitted the high responsibility of Government, but he could not forget his own; and, standing there as he did, the representative of a large constituency, who were suffering from the present stagnation of trade, and who were watching, and reading, and knowing everything that was done in that House, he could not sit in silence, and allow estimates to be brought forward which were larger than usual—not very much, perhaps, but still increased without any good ground stated for it. The noble Lord, it was true, did not propose a sudden great increase; but, from his speech, he understood that the policy of past years, which had been to make a gradual increase, was still further to be pursued; and, seeing that the military estimates had been increased from eleven to seventeen or eighteen millions in the course of eleven or twelve years, he would ask what security had the country, or the House, that the Government would not in ten years more raise the estimates five or ten millions more? It was impossible to conceive a course more dangerous than that of the House allowing this unlimited and constant increase of expenditure to go on. He trusted that, whatever the responsibility of the Executive Government might be, the House would never forget its own; but insist that for every 1,000l. of public money expended, there should be a good reason rendered why. With regard to the sensitiveness of some hon. Gentlemen with respect to the Committee to be appointed, was it to be said 1079 that the Army, and Navy, and Ordnance, were services so sacred, that they must be withdrawn from the control of the House? If the Committee recommended anything unwise, or if the House should determine anything imprudent with regard to the Estimates, Her Majesty's Government did not need to comply with the recommendations of the Committee or the House unless they liked. They could abdicate their office if they could not comply, and leave upon others the responsibility of the changes which should be made.
§ COLONEL SIBTHORP
protested against the Select Committee. He augured no good from it. Everything would be wrapped up in mystery; and not only would the House not get the whole truth, but they would get no truth at all. If it must be appointed, however, he hoped it would take into its serious consideration the salaries of the public departments, which were far beyond what they ought to be. He had no confidence in the present Government. Where to get a better he did not know—for nobody would take office after them—but worse they could not get.
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
I think it right to correct a misapprehension into which the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire fell in the course of his speech. The hon. Gentleman stated that the appointment of a Select Committee on this subject was equivalent to an abandonment by the House of its privilege of voting on the Estimates, and that Members were making a sacrifice thereby of their power to vote on such occasions. Now, the fact is, that nothing could be more mistaken than the views of the hon. Gentleman in this respect; because the appointment of the Select Committee, although it may put the House in possession of information which may perhaps be useful for its guidance, does not deprive the House of any of its powers whatever. The hon. Member charges my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer with not having brought forward any precedents for the appointment of this Committee. Though, perhaps, the precedents of former years have not been cited which bear immediately upon the present cases, yet good authorities have been shown for the course the Government is now taking; and, considering the last occasion of the appointment of a Committee of this kind, I think it fair to say, when the income of the country was less than it is at present, and 1080 when our expenditure was greatly contracted, there was only one Committee to which the whole question of our finances was referred. And now when our income is greater, our expenditure increased, and the extent of the empire much larger, it can hardly be expected that all the various questions in connexion with the financial policy of the country ought to be referred to a single Committee; and therefore Her Majesty's Government have thought it right to divide the subject. But in referring these questions to different Committees, the House does not by any means abandon its power over them. The hon. Member is quite right in saying that the resolution to propose the appointment of these Committees was not taken by the Government at the commencement of the Session, but that it was adopted unexpectedly. I confess I did not, at the beginning of the Session, think it necessary to do more than appoint a Committee on the Miscellaneous Estimates; but in consequence of the misapprehensions which appear to prevail as to the other estimates that have been prepared by the Government, and laid on the table of the House, I afterwards thought it advisable to have the matter calmly and dispassionately considered by a Select Committee. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tamworth spoke quite correctly when he said that, with respect to two great branches of the service—the Navy and the Army—we do not propose any increase; and whatever increase we have proposed as regards the Marines was not in consequence of any alarm which has lately affected us, or any publications which have lately appeared; it was distinctly announced last year, and was only not carried into effect because it was not deemed advisable then. So far, then, from proposing any great armament, we have proposed the same number of men. for the Army and the same number of men for the Navy; and as regards the Marines, we have only proposed a small addition, which we announced our intention to do last year, but which was not then carried into effect. So much in reference to the misapprehension that we were proposing a large increase to the military and naval forces. It was a misapprehension which I really think was not likely to have lasted long; but still I have thought it advisable, in consequence of that misapprehension, to have the subject examined by a Committee of this House, and to have the advantage of any suggestions of 1081 economy they can offer with respect to certain branches of expense. I must say, that of late years those who used to take a prominent part in enforcing economy have interfered very little in that matter; while those who took the most active part in the debates on the estimates have been professional Gentlemen connected with the Army and Navy, who, as the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright) has said, without meaning to reflect upon them, were naturally enough more intent upon the improvement of the Army and Navy than in enforcing any strict economical considerations. The consequence of this pressure upon Government has been that the estimates have been increased rather that diminished. So far as we are concerned, we have not given way to this pressure, except in cases where we thought there were just claims; but still, no doubt, the general effect has been a very considerable increase. But, with regard to the number of men to be voted generally for the Army, the Navy, and the Ordnance, I declare again what I stated last night, the Government do not wish to get rid of any portion of their responsibility. I think that the consideration of such questions properly belong to the Executive Government; and that with them rests the responsibility of saying what is the amount of force which they think in the present state of the world is necessary for the efficiency of the public service. The hon. Member for Manchester is quite right in saying that the House has functions to perform as well as the Executive Government. If the House should think the estimates extravagant, they have an undoubted right to cut down 10,000 or 20,000 from the Army, or 10,000 or 5,000 from the Navy, if they should think it desirable. It is not for the Government to resist the economy of the House; their remedy in such circumstances, as the hon. Member for Manchester has shown, is to abdicate their power. I am sorry to hear that in such an emergency Her Majesty will not have the services of the hon. and gallant Member for Lincoln (Colonel Sibthorp), who, while lamenting the defects of Government, declines to come to the rescue of the Crown. Before I sit down I wish to take the opportunity of correcting a misapprehension into which the hon. Member for Manchester has fallen with reference to my speech the other night. The hon. Member attributes to me the avowal that it is the policy of the Government to in- 1082 crease the estimates year by year. Now, certainly, whatever language I used, this was not my meaning. I have heard much—perhaps more than the public have heard—of the insufficiency of our forces, and that we had never made any preparation for sudden hostilities. Now, I wished to show that so far was this from being the case, that we had already made the very preparations which persons wished us to make; that we had year after year been increasing our forces; that we were therefore in a situation of as great strength as we were required to be; and that we had nothing to fear from a sudden outbreak of hostilities, however unexpected it might be. It is evident, however, that unless we had gone on gradually improving our defences year by year, we could not have been in this position of strength. If some of our dockyards, for instance, had required additional defences, and if we had not begun to improve them in 1840, it might be that in 1850 we should have to vote a much larger sum for that purpose. It was in that way that I spoke of the increase going on continually, and to show that that which those who were disposed to talk alarmingly of our situation said had never been done, and was neglected by repeated Governments, had, in fact, been doing, and that we were carrying into effect all the plans neccessary for our defence in case of an outbreak of war. I thank the hon. Member for Manchester for giving me this opportunity of making this explanation. I agree with him that there are points well worthy of our consideration, such as the one he adverted to with respect to the Capo of Good Hope. A very large incursion of the Caffres took place, which was not known for a long time to the Government at home, either the former or the present. The Governor upheld the power of the Government, but incurred very great expense. No Government here could have prevented the expense being incurred; but it is a point of consideration, and in that I agree with the hon. Member for Manchester, whether a considerable portion of the expense so incurred shall not be borne by the colony. I admit at once, that the Government of this country, being the Government of a great Power, must defend the lives and property of Her Majesty's subjects in whatever portion of the world they may be placed. In no one colony belonging to Her Majesty can they allow either the life or property of a British subject to be destroy- 1083 ed—they must use every means in their power to afford protection; but still I consider it would be hard upon the people of England that the whole expense should fall upon the mother country. In the same way it is always contended that wherever British subjects are to be found, in whatever part of the globe they settle, they expect, and naturally, in any case of danger or outrage, whether from the assault of a foreign country or a popular insurrection, that their property and lives should be protected by a British force. That makes a large force necessary. For whether at Messina or Palermo, whenever disturbances break out, the first question asked is, "Where is the ship—where is the British flag—to afford protection?" It is the same also in the Canton river; whenever there is any infraction of the treaty, the immediate cry is, where is the flag of England for our protection? Any Executive Government will be very much to blame, and liable to censure, if the name of a British subject is ever less respected than it is now by foreign Governments. The House will feel the force of these observations, and in a Committee of the whole House I shall not shrink from the responsibility which I have taken upon myself by the propositions laid before the House. I can assure my noble Friend the Member for Lynn, that I will not shrink from that responsibility, and I want no Committee for the purpose of screening me from its consequences.
§ Mr. BANKES
said, the noble Lord had presented to the House the proposition of his hon. Friend the Member for Buckingamshire in a much wider sense than his hon. Friend himself had intended. His hon. Friend by no means meant to say or had said that the appointment of this Committe would entirely take the subject out of the hands of the House; but he was right in saying that the appointment of the Committee and the report of such a Committee might have a very different effect upon individual Members of that House when they came to give their attention to the subject of these estimates; for it would very often happen that an hon. Member, who would be very scrupulous as to the vote he was to give on his individual responsibility, when he found that a Committee had sat upon the subject, would justify his vote to himself, and, as he thought, to the public, by relying on the report of the Committee. He thought, therefore, his hon. Friend was perfectly 1084 correct in saying, that by appointing a Select Committee they did in a great degree withdraw responsibility from the Ministers of the Crown as well as from individual Members of that House. The hon. Member for Montrose had said, and he agreed, it was very much to be regretted that, if this Committee were to be granted, it had not been recommended in a Speech from the Throne. In point of fact, the Committee was appointed in consequence of a speech of the hon. Member himself—for if he had not made that speech, and given notice of that Motion, there would have been no Committee. He did feel, however, with regard to the hon. Member's Motion, and the appointment of this Committee, that there was this disadvantage attending it—that since they had heard so much on the subject of national defence, and public alarm arising from that cause, so much of the jealousy of foreign nations, who were as anxiously watching our movements, as it appeared we were watching theirs, and turning so minutely to their debates; when it was found that the estimates brought forward by the Ministers of the Crown, without any recommendation from the Throne, were delayed—and delayed they would be—foreign nations, who were troubling themselves as much with our debates as it seemed we paid to theirs, might think there was a hesitation in this country to grant in aid of the Ministers those things that were necessary to prepare for our national defence; and in that respect he thought the delay might be mischievous; but in other respects he concurred with the hon. Member, that in the peculiar circumstances of this country, when distress was pressing so much upon a large portion of the population, it was desirable the people should be satisfied that, if it were found necessary to grant them continued large amounts for the public service, the estimates had been fully and minutely inquired into; and he was glad that financial considerations would come before the House before they went into the examination of the estimates, because he thought it would take off that impression from the public mind that was acting so injuriously and unjustly to our great national services, that the Army and Navy were the cause of these additional burdens to the country. As to what the noble Lord said respecting a misapprehension of part of his speech, he (Mr. Bankes) thought it arose from the noble Lord when he spoke of the militia, and of what he proposed as the establish- 1085 ment of it, having spoken of it as a beginning. The noble Lord spoke of the 150,000l. which he proposed to apply to the militia as the beginning of a new system; but he (Mr. Bankes) hoped they should not hear much more of that militia scheme this year; and if the militia were ever adopted as part of the system of national defence, he trusted the noble Lord would consider it practicable, as he (Mr. Bankes) believed he might, to make it a voluntary and not a compulsory service; in which character it would be highly popular.
§ SIR R. H. INGLIS
must express the objection he felt, and which had so often been made before, to any Government delegating its duties and responsibilities to others and governing England by a Committee of that House. His only consolation in this instance was derived from the phrase in the beginning of the address of his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that if their estimates were not agreed to, they were prepared to abdicate; and from the statement of his noble Friend, that if the Committee should not approve of the estimates which, upon the responsibility of office, he had laid before that House, he would abdicate the functions of which in that case the House would consider him unworthy. In doing so the noble Lord's conduct would be worthy of his high position. If the noble Lord were prepared to adopt estimates framed on a different principle or a different distribution of them from that which he himself had proposed, he would be utterly unworthy of receiving the confidence of that House. It was because he believed that his noble Friend would act up to his high position, and would maintain the propositions he had submitted to the House, that he consented to the Committee. It was upon that ground alone that he could consent to the appointment of a Committee to consider that which he believed the Minister, on his own responsibility, and for the last twenty years, had taken upon himself.
§ CAPTAIN HARRIS
expressed his hope that the appointment of this Committee would not be taken as a precedent sanctioning the same course in future, and said that the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth had cast ridicule on the panic that existed on the subject of foreign invasion. Perhaps in some degree it was deserving of it; at the same time the feeling that gave rise to it was not 1086 without foundation. He could only state that he had heard able officers both in the Army and in the service to which he belonged—men to whom fear was as little known as to any men, say, that steamers might elude our squadrons and throw troops on our shores which we had not adequate land forces to resist. His own opinion was, that looking to what was occurring in Paris, if the war party should get the upper hand in France—[Cries of "Oh!" and laughter.] Hon. Members might cry "Oh!" but to him the reserve of a Minister was not necessary, and he would openly express his opinion, that with the possibility, nay, probability, within a few years, of a body of troops being thrown on our shores, the present land service ought to be made equal to the emergency. There appeared to be now a due appreciation of the danger; and, for his own part, he should give the noble Lord his cordial support in the estimates he had proposed.
§ MR. SLANEY
begged merely to offer one suggestion to the Committee about to be appointed, which he thought was worthy their consideration. It might be well for them to take into account the fact that money produced now a greater quantity of money's worth than it did fifteen or twenty years ago: that, by the diminution of prices of commodities, money now went further than it did then. And the Committee might see whether such a diminution of the sums paid to various persons might not be effected in consideration of the greater length to which their monies would now go, than when their payments were originally fixed. If that could be done, then without giving less salaries than were given fifteen or twenty years ago, and without employing fewer persons, or diminishing the value of their services, a considerable saving to the public might be effected. And if he were right, he was sure the noble Lord at the head of the Government would be the first to acknowledge the possibility of lowering the estimates, and the last to refuse to make such a diminution, if convinced of its practicability. He would only add, that he hoped the Committee would be fairly appointed, and that the Gentlemen comprising it would go to the performance of their duty with a determination to attend to the good of the country.
§ MR. S. CRAWFORD
had heard no satisfactory reason given to induce him to change his mind. He thought that the public mind ought to be allowed to act 1087 upon the public expenditure. He feared the Committee was only to be used to prop up extravagant demands. If it were not so, he could see no other purpose for which it was appointed. The expenditure of the country ought, in his opinion, to be openly canvassed. Its examination by Committees had had no effect, for it had gone on increasing from year to year. He had no confidence in the operation of a Committee. The public voice would be deprived of its proper force by the appointment of such a tribunal. And he was of opinion that the public voice had not even in that House itself sufficient weight, nor could it have unless there were an extension of the suffrage.
§ MR. COBDEN
I am bound to say, that, for my own part, I cannot concur in the reasons put forward for objecting to the appointment of the Committee proposed. It is assumed that if this Committee is appointed, and the Army, Navy, and Ordnance Estimates are referred to twelve or fifteen Gentlemen upstairs, the discretion of objecting to the estimates, or proposing a reduction in them, will be taken away from this House. Now, I do not understand that to be the case. As I understand it, you are appointing a Committee not only to examine and determine what should be the expenditure of your Army, Navy, and Ordnance, but they will also have to superintend and inquire into the mode of taking contracts and similar things. Now, I do not consent to refer it to them to say whether a certain amount of expenditure is necessary. It is said in this House and out of doors, that there will be some mysterious revelations made before this Secret Committee; that an illustrious and noble Duke will be called before them, and other parties, able to impart many important secrets connected with the defence of the country. Now, I believe there are no such secrets. The newspapers now-a-days give us the secrets of every foreign Government sooner than our diplomatists. I believe also that there are no plots formed in these days. Everything is a matter of discussion among our neighbours across the Channel; they cannot dispose of a five-franc piece without having a discussion upon it in the French Chambers, and making it the subject of a party Motion. This Committee, then, will take from me no discretion in opposing any part of the sum demanded for the estimates that I may think extravagant. I stipulate for this as one condition for assenting to its appointment, 1088 because it is generally the case that as soon as a subject is referred to a Committee upstairs a Member cannot rise and speak upon it without being told, "You must wait for the report of the Committee." Now, I shall consider myself as free to vote with the hon. Member for Montrose for a reduction of the expenditure after the appointment of this Committee as before; and if any one rises to propose a reduction of 5,000 men in the Army and Navy, or of the 5,000 men who are coming from India, I shall hold myself at liberty to vote for it, and shall not consider it a good argument to be told, that there is a Committee sitting upstairs to report upon this subject. We hear a great deal of the responsibility of Government, but we also hear a great deal on this subject that the public will not recognise. The responsibility of the Executive Government is this, that they have the responsibility of proposing certain estimates of expenditure. But there is a responsibility besides with us when we adopt this expenditure. We have to vote the noble Lord the money which is taken from the people, and we cannot screen ourselves under the responsibility of the Government if we vote more than the people can afford to pay. For the pinch is here after all, although you may make light of it—how are the people to pay the money? There may be a dispute how the money is to be raised, whether the people are to pay a property-tax; one party may say one thing, and one another. I am glad it has come to this. I have always said that when the budget came out, common sense would be listened to in the country. There is now a great deal of common sense in the country, and I expect that you will find it difficult to deal with this new feeling in favour of peace. I agree with one remark of the hon. Member for Bucks, namely, that as far as economy is concerned, the Reform Act has proved a failure. In almost every other respect I admit the Reform Act has done wonders, but in this respect it has failed; it has not been followed by the economy in the public service that we expected. If we maintain this doctrine, that the Executive is responsible for the expenditure, and not Parliament, we shall never do anything to effect greater economy. If we admit the doctrine that the Executive Government, and not Parliament, are responsible for the expenditure, and that all we have to do is to vote the money, a Government will be able to raise more money under a represen- 1089 tative system than under any other form of government. I defy any despot whatever to increase the taxation of the people in the manner now proposed if they were in the same situation as the community of this country are at present. Why, he would be afraid of his neck! He dare not do it. If the Executive throw upon Parliament the responsibility of voting this expenditure, and Parliament says the responsibility rests with the Government, who is to be really responsible for it? I hold that this responsibility rests with us entirely. It is said that our Army and Navy expenditure is necessary on account of our colonies; and then the people are flattered about the extent of our colonial dominions. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth has talked in this way, and the people are called upon to maintain our colonial glory. Now, don't let us flatter and mislead the people on the subject, by talking and boasting about "our empire upon which the sun never sets." The Spaniards used to flatter themselves in the same way, and see what has become of them. There is one subject connected with the Navy Estimates which the right hon. Baronet and the noble Lord cannot omit to mention; I refer to the lamentable affair which has taken place at Canton, in the melancholy massacre of six of our fellow-countrymen. I wont allude to the question whether these six individuate were imprudent, or whether the Chinese Government were to blame in the matter. We shall be told that an increase of our naval armament is necessary to protect our countrymen better in this part of the world. Now, when I read in the newspapers the particulars of this atrocity, expecting that this question of the insufficiency of our armaments would be raised, I turned to a return for which I moved of the amount of our force in the Tagus during the last twelve months. I found that this atrocity was committed on the 5th of December last, and that on the 1st of December there were lying in the waters of the Tagus ten ships of war, including four steamers, with 590 guns, and 4,812 sailors—so that while we had this force in the Tagus we had not a single sailor at Canton to protect the trade of our merchants in that quarter. And then, after that disposal of our forces, the Government make this accident an excuse for getting more money and adding to the naval expenditure. I hope that the Committee that may be appointed will have under 1090 their consideration any information that can be given to them respecting the disposal of our fleets, the expenses of the arsenals of our colonies, and such things. If they direct their attention to these and other articles of expenditure, they may do a great deal of good in that way. I think, then, we may profit by the result of their labours, and I do not therefore object to their appointment, always reserving to myself, as I have stated, the liberty to vote against any increase of our expenditure, and holding myself also free to vote with any one who may propose a diminution.
begged to contradict one point of the hon. Member's speech. It was not the fact that there was not one steamer in the Canton river. A steamer was always there, and at the time of the late melancholy occurrence, a man-of-war steamer was in the roads.
§ MR. C. P. VILLIERS
said, that if anything was fresh in the recollection of the House, it was that the agricultural interests were to be ruined if the corn laws were repealed, and that the country gentlemen were to leave the country. He could happily congratulate the hon. Member on being as much disappointed in all his prophecies, predictions, and anticipations as the hon. Member could possibly say of those who sat on that side of the House as to the success of free trade. One of the principles which hon. Gentlemen opposite held most tenaciously was, that the prosperity of the country depended upon the high price of corn, and that the revenue of the country depended thereupon. "How will you collect the revenue," it was said, "if you repeal the corn laws?" Now, what had been the price of corn last year? The price had been higher than for twenty years before, and provisions of all kinds had been dearer. What had been the result of this very high price of corn? Why, that had been the very cause of the depression of trade. One of his anticipations as to the result of free trade was, that they would not have high prices in future. It was impossible to do away at once with all the injuries that the corn laws had inflicted, and it would take some years of free trade to do that. There was only one congratulation 1091 that he could offer to the hon. Member (Mr. Buck)—that he had been wrong in every one of his predictions.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Committees appointed.