Debate in the Commons on the Navy estimates

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DEBATE IN THE COMMONS ON THE NAVY ESTIMATES.

November 8. — In the Committee of Supply, Mr˙ BULLER moved, "That 45,000 Seamen, including 10,129 Marines, be employed for the year 1777."

Sir GEORGE YONGE said, he should not oppose the motion, though he must condemn the service for which the greatest part of the seamen were destined. But while he approved of putting this country in a proper state of defence, he must reprobate that ruinous system upon which the present civil war was founded. He adverted to the declaration made by Lord and General Howe, and positively affirmed the Ministers were by that declaration pledged to a reversal of their system with America.

The Honourable Mr˙ LUTTRELL said, that the naval strength of this nation, for the protection of Great Britain and Ireland, was by no means equal to the account publickly given by some of the most responsible characters in office. So far from twenty-three ships-of-the-line being fit for sea, as was asserted at the opening of Parliament by the first naval authority in Great Britain, and positively insisted on by a noble Lord over the way [Lord George Germaine] in contradiction to real, though melancholy facts stated by another right honourable member, [Colonel Barré ] we had not, on the first day of the present session, a sufficient number of men to complete the complements of thirteen sail of the twenty-three guardships then in commission, so as to render them in a condition to encounter an enemy; and yet the highest war establishment of this couutry is lower as to numbers than that of any other naval power in the universe. He conceived it to be the immediate duty of Parliament to take measures for putting these kingdoms in a proper state of naval defence, and not suffer the most useful of the ships, and the flower of your seamen, to be sent three thousand miles off, on a fruitless, romantick attempt to reduce the vast continent of America to unconditional submission; utterly lost to these dominions, (to borrow the words of a very emphatick orator [Mr˙ Solicitor-General] of the long robe,) "by the folly of a few, the madness of some, and the evil designs of many, who have gone headlong into these enterprises." Let us be the more careful of what yet remains of empire and of liberty, nor leave these islands in a defenceless state, while our confederate enemies of France and Spain actually command all the European seas with a fleet of fifty men-of-war. We should be told, perhaps, that it is highly improper thus publickly to expose the weakness of our Navy to those inimical Powers, of whom such strong apprehensions are now expressed. If there was a ray of

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hope consistent with common sense, that such specious falsehoods of Government could impose upon the clear-sighted statesmen on the other side of the Channel, or upon their Ministers or emissaries on this side, we might allow that we had in the noble Earl the best Commissioner of the Admiralty that ever presided at that board; I mean so long as the safety of the nation depends upon concealing or disguising the truth; for I verily believe him to be the only man of his rank and education in these realms — I am sure he is the only professed moralist — who, after reiterated detection in the grossest impositions and deep-laid fictions, can rally again, and return to the charge with so sanctimonious a composure, so dauntless an effrontery, that the rarity and perfection of the vice almost constitutes it a virtue.

Mr˙ ATTORNEY-GENERAL called Mr˙ Luttrell to order, appealing to the Committee, whether such language, and so personal an attack, ought to be suffered?

Honourable Mr˙ LUTTRELL said, he would persevere in his privilege as a representative of the people, to set forth, in as strong colours as he pleased, the official faults or iniquities of any of the publick Ministers of this country, where he was ready to support his allegations by circumstantial proofs.

The ATTORNEY-GENERAL insisted, that as there was no accusation formally before the House, Mr˙ Luttrell could not, consistently with the rules of the House, proceed any further.

Honourable Mr˙ LUTTRELL replied, that he would, at all hazards, proceed in acquitting himself of his duty. He knew (with great deference to that learned and respectable gentleman) he was within the law of Parliament, and the rights of every individual member of it; and that the plea of wanting a formal accusation was a chicane which should avail nothing; for if the Ministry would suffer him to carry a motion for the returns and state of the Navy on which to ground his charges, he assured the House he would do no less in consequence of those abuses and mal-practices which must on inquiry come out, than follow such a motion by an address to his Majesty, "that he would be graciously pleased, for the welfare of his people, to remove the Earl of Sandwich, not only from the office he now holds, but from the royal councils and presence forever." He then proceeded and observed, that to give the First Commissioner of the naval department the palm of specious falsehoods, while he had so many competitors in the Ministerial fraternity, was indeed no trifling compliment. He acknowledged he was run hard by those men who give out to the world, that they have offered conditions of peace, and a real redress of grievances to the people of America, which offers have been rejected by those men on the Treasury-bench, who advance, that the Congress have disavowed every purpose of conciliation short of indedendence. What conditions of peace, founded on a redress of real grievances, have been offered to the Congress, or any delegates in whom the Americans put a trust? Shall we again be insulted and nauseated with your ambiguous, hypocritical, and insidious placards and proclamations, tending only to allure and cajole a few dastard renegadoes from the cause of constitutional liberty to your tyrannical standards? We were told by a noble Lord the other night, "that he would never allow the legislative claims of this country to be a grievance." These were his very words; I took them down in writing at the instant he uttered them. One of the first Crown lawyers added, that nothing could satisfy Government short of unconditional submission. "The Americans have no terms to demand," said he, "from your justice, whatever they may hope from your grace and mercy." Sir, when the Heathen Emperor, Claudius Ccesar, held Caractacus and all his British warriours in chains at his chariot wheels, he talked not so proud a language to his captives, as these Christian Ministers, while they invoke the special interposition of the Almighty, hold forth to their own countrymen hitherto superiour to them in the lists. In short, strip off the mask and specious falsehoods from every department of the State, as it is now modeled, and the war is a war of taxation, a war of injustice, impiety, and endless bloodshed.

Mr˙ WOMBELL warmly defended Lord Sandwich, and gave a long panegyrick upon his private virtues, publick talents, and industry; said he was the best Minister, and perhaps the worthiest man in this country; [here the House laughed heartily;] that he was not to be hurt by the shafts

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of that vehement member who spoke last. His Lordship ought to be revered and honoured by every honest man in this country for his services in the department where he presides; there never was his equal in office; he gloried in calling him his friend; nor was there a man so admired and approved of by foreigners.

Mr˙ LUTTRELL made a short reply, and ended by saying, he verily believed that foreigners approved much of our having at this conjuncture such a man in such an office, and that he might perhaps be worshipped by the savages of Otaheite. He meddled not with his worthiness in social life; but he thought no good subject of this country held him worthy of his publick trust.

Lord MULGRAVE said, he was glad to find the honourable member intended to move for a serious parliamentary inquiry into the conduct of his noble friend at the head of the Admiralty Board; that whenever the truth came out, the honourable member, however prejudiced he was at this time, by vague, ill-founded, and empty conjectures, would, if he had any candour in his nature, become a convert to a better-founded and more just opinion: for that the British nation had never known a first Commissioner of the Admiralty equal to the present in capacity and meritorious services. He therefore wished the honourable member to move a fair, publick test of the noble Earl' s conduct; and he, as the noble Earl' s friend, would stand as forward as any gentleman in opposition could do to second it.

Lord NORTH also got up in behalf of Lord Sandwich; said, his Majesty had in that noble Earl a very capable and zealous servant, who ought not to be thus attacked in his absence, from a collection of loose surmises, and low newspaper abuse; that, if the honourable member would inform himself of the real desert of the noble Earl, in his official character, he must retract his imputation, and admit that the most laborious and eminent publick services had been rendered this empire since he came to the naval administration; neither could any of his predecessors (upon the whole) boast equal pretensions to the applause of this country, and the respect of every unprejudiced individual.

Lord PALMERSTONE spoke in support of Lord Sandwich, and the present Board of Admiralty; but he said, that in commending the noble Earl' s assiduity and talents, he would not be understood to detract in any degree from the praise due to Sir Edward Hawke (now Lord Hawke,) with whom he had likewise been in office. His Lordship acquitted himself with a propriety of temper, and in terms becoming the peculiar situation of having served his Majesty at the Admiralty Board, under three successive Administrations.

Mr˙ BULLER stated the number of mariners in the British ports as sufficient for the defence of these dominions, and maintenance of our national honour upon the seas, against any combined powers whatever that might attempt hostilities.

[Mr˙ LUTTRELL rose to reply to the several advocates for the noble Earl; but some strong expressions falling from him, which seemed applied to Lord Mulgrave, the latter was entering upon too warm an altercation, when a cooler dialogue was recommended to both gentlemen by Sir Edward Astley and Sir Fletcher Norton, the latter of whom desired the Chairman to read the resolution, in order to preserve order, by keeping both the honourable gentlemen to the proper subject contained in the resolution.]

Mr˙ LUTTRELL told Lord Mulgrave, he was not apt to become a convert in principle or persuasion, after he had once formed his mind upon the best lights his understanding could furnish; that the two noble Lords on the opposite bench did him injustice, when they imputed his conduct and accusations to anonymous slander, or a vague unsubstantial testimony of any nature whatever; that when this boasted service of the noble Earl came to be inquired into, it would be found he had been entrusted annually with twice as much of the publick money as any one of his predecessors in office; therefore he ought certainly to have the fleet in a more formidable and respectable condition; but certain it was, that a great part of this treasure was not applied to the uses for which it was granted; there had been a multitude of errours and much corruption, which he was prepared to produce evidence of, whenever the House would give a candid hearing. He thanked Lord Mulgrave for offering to second his inquiry, but could never have expected such a favour from a member for Huntington.

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Sir HUGH PALLISER closed the arguments in Committee, by saying, he hoped the House would take confidence in the present strength of our naval establishment at home, and sufficiency of ships and men.

The question being put, was agreed to. The House was resumed, and Mr˙ Speaker took the chair.

Honourable Mr˙ LUTTRELL then moved, as the first evidence necessary, on which to establish the truth of his charges, and even for the material information of Parliament, independent of the proposed address to the King, to displace the Earl of Sandwich; "That the proper officers do lay on the table the latest weekly accounts received at the Admiralty, prior to the opening of the present session of Parliament, from the Admiral, or Commander-in-Chief of all his Majesty' s ships and vessels at the several departments of Portsmouth, Chatham, and Plymouth; together with the latest week' s account received at the said Board, prior to the commencement of this session, of all ships and vessels of war employed on Channel service, or on the coast of Great Britain or Ireland." Mr˙ LUTTRELL said, that he would show by these accounts, that the information given to both Houses of Parliament and the publick, on the first day of this session, of the state of the Navy, when it was officially alleged, that we had twenty-three ships-of-the-line fit to take the seas, and many more in great forwardness, and that our fleet at home was then a full match for the combined squadrons of France and Spain, should they visit these coasts, was a dangerous, wicked, and willful imposition on Parliament, and the whole nation. We had not, he said, near seven thousand effective men in the twenty-three guard-ships put together, and, to complete their complements for war, near double that number would be requisite. Our frigates, sloops, and small craft, were most of them upon remote service; and those ships-of-the-line, put lately into commission, alleged by the American Secretary [Lord George Germaine] to be "in great forwardness," had not, one with another, a twentieth part of their war complement; neither were the returns of the impressed men in and about this metropolis, on the first night of issuing the warrants, above one third in number of what the runners of Government were ordered to spread abroad. At Portsmouth and its environs, the intention of impressing men was known to

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all the seafaring people twenty-four hours before the press-gangs were in motion; so we succeeded but ill in that quarter, and still worse on the western coasts. In short, if the people of England knew the real state of our marine power and resources, and the great superiority of our natural enemies in these seas, they would scarce suffer so many ships and men to be despatched to the furthest quarter of the globe, even on a more rational and profitable pursuit than the reduction of our American Colonies to despotism, before we had secured the seat of our empire from invasion and ruin. He was confident, after what had passed, after the impatience of the noble Earl' s friends to bring him to a fair ordeal, he should be seconded in this motion by one of the Lords of the Admiralty, or the noble Lord [Lord Mulgrave] in his eye.

The ATTORNEY-GENERAL argued strenuously against receiving the motion: and the friends of Administration were for throwing it out without further discussion.

Right Honourable T˙ TOWNSHEND, after showing that the motion was strictly parliamentary and of material import to the business then before the House, seconded it; and asked what opinion any unprejudiced person could entertain of those gentlemen who so strenuously encouraged the honburable gentleman in his inquiry, and now shrunk from the trial. This clandestine and unwarranted step of withholding the first official papers called for by the honourable member, would stamp a sentence on their friend and patron, not much to his honour or his advantage.

Mr˙ H˙ W˙ HARTLEY likewise supported Mr˙ Luttrell, and drew a mournful picture of this country in its present condition, and a very odious one of the Administration, and the systems on which they act.

Honourable Mr˙ LUTTRELL insisted, that the absolute management of the maritime power of the British empire was too arduous, too solid, too important a trust, to be committed to a bon vivant of Lord Sandwich' s levity of disposition and known depravity of conduct, especially now the piping hours of jubilee and dalliance are at an end; and we ought to prepare for naval operations of the most substantial and critical import to the safety of these islands.

The question being put, the motion was negatived without a division.