HC Deb 10 December 1803 vol 1 cc235-9
Mr. Secretary Yorke

in pursuance of the notice he had given yesterday, rose to move for leave to bring in a bit to explain and amend the acts of 42 and 43 GEO. III. so far as they related to the exemptions to be enjoyed by volunteers. From what he had heard in the House yesterday, and what he had learned from other sources, he knew that much difficulty existed in the interpretation of these acts. It was indeed hardly to be expected that every person should hue read them over, so as to know precisely their provisions in the manner the law required He therefore thought it right to prefer this bill for the purpose of explaining those acts in that part where explanation was most immediately necessary. The bill which he meant to prefer would go only to regulate the exemptions. There were other points also, he was aware, which required explanation, and it might perhaps be necessary to go into an entire review of the volunteer system, in order to correct and strengthen it; but as this should be done not hastily, but with mature consideration, he thought it better to defer it till after the recess. The object of the bill he meant to propose would be, first to enable such commanders of corps as had not given in their returns to give them in now, and to provide that the certificate of such commander should be effectual to secure the benefit of die exemption to the individual. This exemption extended equally to the militia and the army of reserve. The return should specify, whether the men attended with arms and otherwise accoutered, so as to be considered as effective; if he attended without arms, there was to be a special return, stating the reason why, and this special return, and the certificates founded upon it, should also give a title to the exemptions. It was extremely advisable, while the exemptions were secured to every person who was entitled to them, to do every thing that could be done to prevent abuses arising from too much relaxation: he thought it necessary to provide that from the 1st of May next, 24 days regular attendance in training and exercise should be required, to give a title to the exemptions. The former of the acts which the bill would go to explain and amend, being passed in time of peace, required only five day?. It would be obvious to the House, that a longer attendance would be necessary in time of war, and particularly in such a war as the present, than in time of peace. He proposed therefore, that 24 days attendance should be required of the infantry, and 12 of the cavalry. The returns would be made three times a year, and therefore 8 days in every four months would be required of the infantry, and four days of the cavalry. He concluded with moving for time to bring in a bill to explain and amend the said acts.

Mr. Curwen

was sorry the right hon. gent, was not prepared at present with any measures to enforce the continuance of the service, of the volunteers. The danger was, that many of them as soon as the present ballot was over, would attend no longer, and thus being lost to the militia and the army of reserve, would be lost also to the volunteer corps. He wished therefore, that the present measure were coupled with some general regulations for the corps. He thought it wise in ministers to be as saving of the public money as was consistent with the public interests, and the public safety, but at the same time he thought it would be wise to enter on some general plan for the improvement of the volunteer corps. He did not think that the plan proposed last night (by Mr. Pitt) would go down. The volunteer officers were pledged to their corps to accompany them where ever they should be ordered, and of course they would not tike that a field officer should be put over their heads, neither would the appointment of such an officer be agreeable to the volunteers who composed the corps. He thought it would be much better to give serjeant-majors and adjutants in greater numbers, to give a second serjeant, and a corporal, with permanent pay. It was well known that the discipline of the men depended on their haying good non-commissioned officers. He was sure too much could not he said of the honourable principles and feelings of the volunteers in general. But though an ignominious discharge from the ranks would have the fullest effect in many instances, it would not in all. He thought it better that intoxication, disorderly and unsolder-like conduct should be punished by a small fine, peremptorily and immediately enforced. He was-sure that the effect of this, and some similar regulations, would produce a degree of good conduct and emulation, which would extend with the most beneficial effect to the army and militia, as well as volunteers Looking to the military face which the country wore at present, every thing should be done to realize the appearance, and if ministers deferred for a time bringing forward such regulations is as were necessary to this effect, he hoped it was only to bring them forward in a more systematic and digested form, at no distant period. He wished ho House also to bear in mind, that in the country, where several corps were called together from their home and from their daily labour, by which most of them subsisted, obliged to give up their usual emoluments and to live at public houses at an unusual expense, it would be impossible to find men. and unreasonable to expect there without allowing them pay. The additional expense would noble more than ten shillings a man n the year, perhaps not more than five.—The general officer of the district in his attendance at he reviews, and the inspecting field officer on Sundays could guard against any abuses. He considered, that with some advantages of this kind the volunteers would soon be as good a force as any we possessed for defence; that we trust to them wit security, and spare our regular forces for foreign expeditions. The spirit of the volunteers was a proof that this reliance could he placed on them, and they were animated With this spirit, because they felt that the contest in which we were engaged was unavoidable.

Mr. Hiley

Addington was pleased with the bill that was proposed, but at the same time he concurred in the propriety of what had been said by the hon. gent, who had just sat down. He was sure that the plan proposed last night would not do; if it would be compulsory, it would excite discontent and if it were to be optional, it would be nugatory, as very few would be inclined to avail themselves of it. He believed at present there were only four or five corps in the kingdom that had field officers of such a de cription. He was sure an adjutant would be a more effective person; and it should be recollected that five years service in the army was necessary to qualify those adjutants—But whether those adjutants could be expected to attend drills 84 days without a larger allowance It was impossible for day labourers, of which description of men the greater number of country corps consisted; that with he had the honour to command consisted of them exclusively, to attend without pay. He had taken upon himself the risk of having his corps imperfect from the want of an officer of that description recommended by the hon. gent. Ser- jeant-majors, who, he thought with the hon. gent, were absolutely necessary, were never allowed only to corps 1000 strong. He asked whether it was possible for an adjutant, who had only six shillings a day, and no horse allowed him, to attend a number of separate parishes, as he was now obliged to do, in the parts of the country which were thinly inhabited. The right hon. secretary, from being long a colonel of militia, must know that the description of officers recommended by the hon. gent, were most essential. But as the volunteer laws now stood, few could avail themselves of this benefit. For himself, he knew the want and the benefit of them by experience. Others., he was sure, were in the same predicament.

Mr. Secretary York

said, there was this general regulation at present to render the volunteer corps complete and effective; that the corps would be disbanded, and the compulsory clauses resorted to, if they were not filled to the amount required by his Majesty's government. This was the standard which it was thought fit to adopt at present. Several other regulations may be useful, but ha thought better not to press them now. He did not think his Majesty's ministers would be justified in entering at once into the expense which would be required for the measure recommended by the hon gent. It was the best way to commence with an expense as low as possible, which could be increased if that was found necessary, whereas, if we communed with a high expenditure, which we afterwards found we could not reduce, the improvement could not be made without the evidence of our actual loss. He begged also to impress the point urged by a noble lord (Castlereagh) last night, that it would be impossible to furnish such a number of officers from any; army so much drawn upon already There were 1500 corps, and if an adjutant were to be allowed to each at 100l. a year, the ex-pence of this alone would be 150,000l. Permanent pay should not be given unless permanent duty was performed, and in the country these things were not always performed in the strictest manner. He hoped every measure would be taken which would tend to render the volunteer army effective, but he hoped that gent, would not press the introduction of anything into this bid but the single principle on which it was founded.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

concurred in what had fallen from his hon. friend, and in a great measure with what had fallen from the hon. gent, over the way (Mr. Curwen). He concurred in the principle of what had been proposed last night, as far as it was consistent with other principles, and parti- cularly that of carrying with ns the feelings of the volunteer officers, and the volunteer corps. The suggestion of the propriety of brigading the corps had his concurrence; but he doubled whether the introduction of field-officers, whatever advantage it may give in respect of discipline, could be reduced to practice. He fared it would hurt the feelings of the commanders of corps, that it would tend to diminish their respectability in their own opinion, and to impair the respect and influence whit h, on very just grounds, they at present have with their corps. He agreed that every facility should be given to the introduction of adjutants and serjeant majors; at the same time, as the whole of these subject required consideration, he wished that these points should not be pressed now, and that the present bill should not be incumbered with any thing extraneous. Every one concurred in the propriety of every thing that could improve the discipline of the volunteers, without violating their feelings.—The question being put, leave was given to bring in the bill, which was read a first time. On the question for the second reading, in answer to a question from Sir W. Milner, who said that doubts existed on this point, the Attorney General stated from the acts, that of last session being to be understood with reference to the act of the session before, that all corps whose services were accepted by his Majesty, were entitled to the exemption.—The bill was ordered to be read a second time on Monday.

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