HC Deb 13 December 1803 vol 1 cc319-32

The House having resolved itself into a com- mittee on the Volunteers' Amendment Bill;

Mr. Secretary Yorke

observed, that it would not be necessary for him to take up the time of the Committee, by going at large into the exposition of the bill before it, which he had fully explained on Saturday. The object he had now in view was merely to explain the points which it had been found necessary to introduce into it, in order to remove some doubts which existed respecting the former acts. Doubts had been entertained respecting the exemptions which volunteers claimed, and in many instances the commandants of corps had omitted, from their not being acquainted with the provisions of former acts, to make the returns before the day specified in those acts, namely, the 21st of September, on or before which the return should have been made to entitle the individual to exemption. There could be no question as to the Reserve, because three periods of the year were specified for making the returns, and if they should not be made before the 21st of September, they might in January. This first clause, therefore, was intended to enable commandants of corps to make returns at any time after the passing of the act, to make returns, and to legalize such as had keen made since the 21st of September, each of which was to exempt the individual from the ballot for the militia, as well as for the reserve. This clause was also to enable commandants of corps to make special returns, where the individuals had conformed to the provisions of the act. It had, in many instances, been found utterly impossible to issue the quantity of arms necessary for the use of the volunteers, and as the terms of the act required that the returns should be made of men fully armed, equipped, and accoutred, the commandants had a difficulty of making the returns where the arms had not been issued. But if the individuals had attended with pikes for the purpose they would, in his opinion, be entitled to be returned as properly armed. In every instance also, where the quantity of arms proposed under the act, to be issued by government, which was one quarter of the number in the inland counties, and one half in the maritime, bad been delivered, be considered the members of the corps as entitled to the return, if they attended the regular number of days at exercise. The second clause, therefore, would authorise the colonels of corps to make such special returns, where the members had attended the full number of days at drill, muster, and exercise, for the purpose of being trained, even though the arms should not have been issued. The second part of the bill related to the establishment of uniformity is a regulations respecting the exemptions. By the first Volunteer Act only one period was fixed for making the return, namely, the 25th of March, and five days attendance previous to that was required to entitle to the exemption from the militia ballot. By the second, three periods were fixed for mating returns, the 1st of January, the 1st of May, and the 1st of September, and in each four months previous to each date, four days attendance was necessary for the cavalry, and eight for the infantry, to give a claim to the exemption. From the present situation of the country, it would be perceived that the nature of the voluntary services under the former act would not be effectual, and, therefore, he proposed that the same number of days should be necessary to entitle to an exemption, as well from the militia as from the army of reserve, and that it should not be less than twenty-five. He had stated the object of the bill, and as most of the amendments were verbal, it would not be necessary for him to trouble the Committee on each; he should, therefore, content himself with calling their attention to such as should be material.

Mr. Pitt

said, as 'far as he could collect the provisions of the bill, it was calculated to attain the desired object. Upon one part of what was stated by the right hon. gent, he could not help animadverting. The right hon. gent, seemed to suppose, that though a corps might be armed with pikes, the commander might have returned them properly armed and equipped; he (Mr. Pitt) thought, on the contrary, that if a corps had been raised, and accepted as a corps of regular infantry, that the only proper arms for such a corps were muskets, and that if they were armed with pikes or pitchforks, or any other weapon, that the commander could not return them as properly armed and equipped. With respect to another point, he could not conceive bow it was possible, that a commander could return his corps as effective where there might be only arms delivered in the proportion of 25 to 100 men, and he had received a letter upon this subject from the Secretary of State, expressly slating, that no corps could be returned as effective, unless the men had had the opportunity of learning the use of arms, which prevented many commanders from returning their corps as effective, where they had not been supplied with a sufficient quantity of arms. If 24 days attendance under arms was to be considered as sufficient, it must follow that in those corps where only a fourth part of the requisite number of arms had been delivered, that there must be four times the number of days of attendance in order to give every one the opportunity of learning the use of them.

Mr. Rose

said, he held in his hand a certificate which he had given of the corps which he commanded, stating, that they were perfect in all the manoeuvres of light infantry, and that they had attended muster and exercise three times the number of days required, with what arms they could procure, none having been furnished them by government. This certificate was returned by the lord lieut. as insufficient to enable them to exemption under the act, who referred to a letter from the Sec. of State as his authority. The gentlemen of the county, however, construed the act more liberally, and took care that the corps should be exempted. As to the description of arms which had been alluded to, it would never be said that riflemen were to be armed with pikes.

Mr. Secretary Yorke

observed, that if government thought it necessary to alter the mode of arming the volunteer corps, and to furnish, for instance, the front rank with muskets, and the rear rank with pikes, he could not perceive that there could be any hesitation in the commanders of these corps in returning them properly armed and equipped. As to the case of a fourth part only of the requisite number of arms being furnished to any corps, he conceived that if such corps had the opportunity, in the course of twenty-four days, of learning the use of arms, that they might have been returned as effective. As to the certificate mentioned by the right hon. gent. (Mr. Rose), it was insufficient, because it was not in conformity with the act of Parliament.

Mr. Pitt

said, he did not wish to prolong the discussion, as the bill went to do away the doubts which had arisen. With respect, however, to what had been said, that any arms might be given to a corps, his objection was, that if a corps of infantry was accepted as such, without any explanation as to the mode of arming, that it must be considered that such a corps was to bearmed in the regular way with muskets, and that it could not be otherwise denominated "properly armed and equipped."

Sir William Young

thought that some distinction ought to be made with respect to exemptions, between those volunteers who so honorably came forward in the first instance, impelled merely by their zeal and their patriotism, and those who enrolled themselves after the passing of the act for making a general array. By that act, if three-fourths of the first class in any district came forward, the district was exonerated from the compulsory clauses; these persons therefore only commuted one service for another, and therefore, in his opinion, were less entitled to exemptions from the militia and the army of reserve. This description of volunteers included a great part of the peasantry of the country, who might be induced to enter into the army, whilst he former description of volunteers were wholly of a different class. This subject, he thought, deserved serious consideration, and he should press it upon the House after the recess.

The Attorney General

observed, that it there were any case in which the lord lieut. of any county adopted a mode by which some individuals would be released, and the burthen of a ballot would be flung upon others, it was one that was not authorized either by the legislature or the government of the country. Particular cases might admit of some partial modification; but these could only extend to things which were not in themselves of material import. What he understood by persons being duly armed was that their service should have been tendered to and accepted of by government, and that arms should have been delivered to them in consequence. As to the strict meaning of a soldier being duty armed, that was a question more for a soldier than a lawyer to determine. According as he conceived the meaning of the law, it was requisite that, to obtain exemption from the militia service, a man should have been disciplined in the use of arms on rive distinct or separate days at least, and to gain an exclusion from the ballot under the army of reserve act, it was necessary that he should be at least twenty-four days in training to military exercise; that is, that a man should be drilled for such a number of times on so many separate days without specifying any particular number of hours in each day, or supposing by any means that ho was to be kept the entire of each day at exercise. Government, it appeared to him, would have a right to exercise their own discretion as to the number or the particular species of arms which they should issue.

Mr. Secretary Yorke

explained, that, with respect to the issuing of pikes, it had been originally considered as a sort of temporary armament, until a sufficient number of muskets were in readiness to be issued: however, they had afterwards become mote generally adopted.

Dr. Laurence

stated that he differed materially from the right hon. and learned gent. who spoke last but one (the Attorney General), and that that rt. hon. gent, also differed materially from himself on a former occasion, when stating his opinion on the subject which was now under discussion. Pikes were said to have been originally brought into use only as a temporary sort of armament, till others were procured j therefore any deviation from that must be irregular. As to the other case, namely, where 25 stand of arms only were issued for 100 men, the commandant would then by law, that is, if he acted according to the strict construction of the act, be under the necessity of giving a certificate of service to every individual according as each completed the number of drill days which was required before he could obtain an exemption. From the hurry with which acts of Parliament were frequently drawn up, inaccuracies must unavoidably occur sometimes in the manner in which they were framed; but it would be a dangerous principle to admit that, on account of the necessity which existed for their alteration, the laws could be dispensed with on any account whatever; and in each of the cases to which he had alluded the law should have been more strictly adhered to.

Lord Granville Leveson Gower

stated that, in the county of Stafford, three weeks ago, not a single firelock had been received from government for the volunteer corps.

Mr. Secretary Yorke

stated, that orders had been given to provide arms for the volunteer corps, but it was thought necessary to furnish them in the maritime, counties first.

Mr. Tierney

thought a distinction ought to be taken upon the subject of arms. When corps made their offers of service, they generally stated what they would provide themselves, and what they expected government to furnish. A corps that he was connected with had stated that they would provide themselves with clothing and other articles, and that they expected government to furnish arms and ammunition. By arms was certainly meant muskets, but if government thought proper to send arms of a different description, for instance, pikes, he should conceive that such a corps would be properly armed. As to the case of only a certain proportion of arms being furnished to a corps, he apprehended that supposing only 25 muskets to be furnished to l00 men, each man might exercise with a musket, twenty-four different times in 24 days, so as to be returned as effective, and that for the purpose of the return it was of no consequence whether there were 25 muskets or 100. To illustrate this, he would suppose a case of five learned doctors having only one brief amongst them yet if they all perused the brief, each would consider himself entitled to a fee.

Dr. Laurence

contended, that there was no analogy in the case cited by the hon. gent. As to pikes, they could not, he said, be considered as proper arms in the cases mentioned.—Upon that part of the bill which related to the number of days of attendance,

Mr. Rose

observed, that there were some volunteers who were paid for 85 days, and ethers only for 24; he thought it, therefore, not just that the former should only be required to attend 24 days for the purpose of being exempted. He wished also that something should be done to enforce discipline; he had heard of some irregularities committed, and he thought they ought to be checked.

Mr. Secretary

Yorke said, that as the law now stood, volunteers were equally exempted in complying with the act by attending twenty-four days. As to enforcing discipline, his majesty had the power of making regulations for that purpose, and it was, perhaps, unnecessary to pass another act upon the subject, as it was highly desirable that too many regulations might not be made. There was a great improvement in the present system over that of last war, as the volunteers were now liable to be called out to meet the enemy, which they then were not.

Mr. Rose

again contended, that these volunteers, who were paid for 85 days, ought not to be allowed an exemption for attending 24. He was well aware, he said, that his Majesty had the power of making regulations with respect to the discipline of the volunteer corps, but his Majesty had not the power of imposing fines for irregularity of conduct.

Mr. Secretary Yorke

said, that volunteers would only be paid for the number of days they actually attended 5 and as to irregularity, any person misconducting himself might be expelled with disgrace from the corps to which he belonged, in which case he would be entitled to no exemption.

Mr. Giles

said, that the bill now before the Committee went to alter the number of effective men. At present, every man who appeared, properly armed and accoutred, five days, was entitled to exemption from the militia; and if he appeared for 24 days, properly armed and accoutred, he was en- titled to exemption from the army of reserve. The object of this bill was to make an alteration in that which made the volunteers effective men, and if this was done without the consent of the volunteer, it was a breach of: good faith with such a man. If this bill passed in the form in which it stood now, the condition of the volunteer was to be altered by it: he had not what was promised to him when he entered, and therefore this measure was a breach of good faith towards him, and that by Parliament; good faith ought to be strictly observed by every body, but more especially by Parliament. It was extremely important to observe, that in this volunteer service there was at present no sort of discipline in this great body, except the terms on which they had been accepted. Many of them had discipline within themselves, and which they observed for their own regulation and internal arrangement; but if Parliament interfered to impose on them some discipline to which they did not agree at the time their services were accepted, it would do that which it had no right to do, because it was altering the condition on which the volunteers entered, and they were entitled to insist on the terms on which they entered; and here he could not help saying, that part of the speech of the right hon. gent, under the gallery (Mr. Rose) appeared to him to have a mischievous tendency, because it went to favour that breach of faith. It was impossible, without breaking the condition on which the volunteer entered, to alter any of it, or to subject him to any thing else without breach of faith. It was said to be desirable to put the volunteers with the regiments of the line. That was indeed the case of those who might be called out under the defence act, but it was expressly otherwise with regard to the volunteers; for Parliament had expressly declared that the volunteers should not be called upon to join the regiments of the line, and to do otherwise now would be to violate the faith which was the basis of the volunteer service; and if it was persisted in to make that alteration, the engagement between government and the volunteers was dissolved; and if measures of this kind were to be insisted upon, he was afraid the country would be deprived of a great deal of service it might otherwise have. The volunteers were an immense body of men, and they were, of course, very-attentive to what passed concerning public affairs, and particularly respecting themselves; and care should be taken to bring nothing forward that was inconsistent with the faith which Parliament had pledged itself to keep towards them. He was, however, confident, that ministers would not countenance, nor would Parliament pass, any measure that was contrary to good faith, in any shape or on any condition. There had been a great deal said some time ago on the subject of a breach of faith with respect to property, and he wished the House to be as attentive to the question of a breach of faith respecting liberty.

Mr. Secretary York

said, be could not see the clause now in discussion in the light in which the learned gent viewed it: he did not see how it could be considered as a breach of faith. This was a remedial bill, to exempt volunteer corps from certain hardships to which they were at present exposed tinder the strict letter of the Jaw. It was not intended by it to do any thing unfavourable to the volunteers. This clause was prospective it was not intended to take place until after the 1st day of May next. But with regard to the exemption of volunteers, it was to take place immediately. The other part would in truth be as if Parliament never made any alteration in the law respecting these volunteers, and the learned gent, insisted en it, that Parliament had no right to make any alteration in the law in this respect; that he would never admit. The fact was, that it would be in the power of those volunteers to dissolve, who should not like this new regulation; they might quit the service if they did not approve of it, and did not choose to continue; the only consequence would then be, that they would have no exemption, but would be subject to be ballotted for the militia, or the army of reserve, and the deficiency which might thus be created in the corps must be filled up out of the classes specified in the defence act: but the alteration proposed, he apprehended, would not have the desired effect, for the number of days of attendance being limited to five, was applicable to a time of peace, whereas the measure must now be adapted to a rime of war.

Sir William Young

considered the volunteers as divided into two classes. Those? which came under the regulations of the 42d of the King, and those under the act of the 43d of the King. The first he considered as volunteers superior, in consideration of their offers, to the second; for the first came forward without any view, expectation, hope, or idea of any exemption whatever. The second, although he did not mean to dispute their spirit, zeal, or patriotism, yet they came forward-volunteers under the idea of a commutation of duty—to be exempt from other military duties that would have been imposed upon them by law, the Army of Reserve, Militia and Defence Act; fee therefore submitted the propriety of making some distinction between these two classes of volunteers.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

thought the hon. baronet alluded particularly to the volunteers of the county of Buckingham, who had acted much to their credit, in coming forward as they did without claiming any exemption; but he could not allow of any distinction between the volunteers of this county, either as to those who entered previous to the war or subsequent to the war. Distinctions between men actuated by such noble motives were invidious. It should not be insinuated, that all the volunteers did not enter from one motive—the glorious one of defending their country, and to preserve its honour. He did therefore beg leave to vindicate the volunteers who entered since this war, as well as those who were in that character before it. Their having become volunteers was purely voluntary; they had no conception of what they are now emitted to by the Act of Parliament; it was impossible they should, for the great bulk of them had enteied before that clause in the act had been so much as mentioned, or even hinted at. It was no> motive of commutation of duty OF exemption that induced the volunteers to come forward: no it was a spontaneous burst of genuine zeal in their country's, cause, unmixed with any thing selfish, uncontaminated with any thing impure; it was a glowing spirit of patriotism, that made them rush forward in the service (c)f their country. This was-nothing more than was? due to them from him as a member of administration, and, unless he was much received, would be paid to them by that country which they were enrolled to serve. Having paid this small and well-deserved tribute to the volunteers, he could not help saying he concurred entirely in the sentiments expressed by the learned gent. (Mr. Giles) on the other side of the House. He was confident that no man in the House, or in the country, would be-less disposed to countenance a breach of good faith in any case than his right hon. friend (Mr. Yorke.) The truth was, that in this ease he did not depart from good faith, for although five days were sufficient to entitle? volunteers to exemption from the militia, and 24 from the army of reserve, yet that was the regulation in time of peace, and he proposed that the attendance should be greater now in time of war. It was not proposed, however, that 6be alteration should begin to operate until the month of May next; and even then no volunteer would be bound by it, for then every volunteer would have the option whether he would continue as a volunteer or not; and it was for the House to consider, whether it was worth while to make this proposition for the sake of changing the number of days of attendance from five to twenty-four days. He owned he thought that the improvement that this was likely to introduce into discipline would be worth the experiment, and that the more especially when he reflected that volunteers now by their own consent met a greater number of days than were here proposed. But what he rose chiefly for was, to claim on behalf of all the volunteers of this country every credit that was due to their zeal, patriotism, and independence, and that there was no invidious distinction to be made between them. The House would determine whether this difference of time was to be adopted.

Mr. Rose

said, that the learned gent. (Mr. Giles) referred in so particular a manner to what he had said, that he was under the necessity of saying a few words in his own vindication. The learned gent, had imputed to him a mischievous speech now, said Mr. Rose, whether my speech or the speech of the learned gent, was most likely to produce mischief, I leave to the Committee to determine; and I trust I may leave that matter safely there. He seemed to insinuate that my speech was against the volunteers. There is not one man in this country more a friend from his heart to the volunteers of it than myself. There is no spot near or in the neighbourhood of my house in which there dwells one man who is not a volunteer. Two corps in my neighbourhood are commanded by relations of my own, and a third corps is raised by myself:—I therefore leave it, on these facts, to the Committee to judge whether I am against the volunteer system. "What I meant was to have them as perfect in their discipline, so as to render them as efficient as possible, not through the medium of a breach of good faith, for that I am as much an enemy to as the learned gent and upon that subject the right hon. gent, has removed every shadow of difficulty, by saying, that if the alteration should take place, such volunteers who disapprove of it shall be at liberty to withdraw. Having quoted the provision of the statute of the last session of Parliament upon this subject, the right hon. gent, concluded with-saying, that both as a member of Parliament, slid as a magistrate and country gent, and in every situation, he had been a friend and zealous supporter of the volunteer system, and therefore he could not help feeling himself hurt, by having imputed to him a mischievous speech.

Mr. Giles

disclaimed all idea of imputing to the right hon. gent, any intention of creating mischief by his speech, but he did think that it would have that tendency but for the explanation which followed. He was glad he had started this conversation, because it had produced a declaration that would do away any uneasiness which the volunteers might have felt on the subject of alteration in the terms of their continuance as a body, but now it was openly declared that no alteration could ever take place by the terms on which they entered, without affording them the option to withdraw if they disapproved of such alterations, losing, of course, by so doing, all the exemptions they are now entitled to. Such a declaration was necessary to be made, for it set at rest much uneasiness that might have followed.

The Attorney-General

observed, that so much had been said on the matter of exemption of volunteers, it was needless for him to add any thing, especially as upon that subject there was no difference of opinion. Now, as that was the leading and the only part of this bill that was pressing in point of time, he should submit to his right hon. friend, whether the remaining part of the bill might not as well be deferred until after the recess, to allow gentlemen time to turn it in their minds, and to prepare for its future discussion, for it was not proposed that that part of the bill should begin to operate until the month of May next. If any thing that amounted to a breach of good faith could possibly be proposed, which he was assured there could not, by any member of administration, he was sure the House would never assent to it, but perhaps there was no use in dwelling on this measure further now, if his right hon. friend would adopt his suggestion, in postponing the latter part of the bill.

General Norton

said, it was a fact, that the last Volunteer Act clashed with the army of reserve. If that act had not passed, the 50,000 men would have been long since completed.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer,

in further reply to Sir W. Young, begged leave most completely to differ from the right hon. baronet, as he was thoroughly convinced that the volunteers, instead of taking any advantage of their situation, were, upon all occasions, actuated by the purest and noblest motives of loyalty, patriotism, and public spirit; they were a body of men whose valour and disinterestedness conferred an honour on themselves, and shed a lustre on their country:—to see men of rank, independence, and elevated characters enrolling themselves in the ranks of their country, was, in his opinion, a circumstance which conferred the greatest honour en any age or nation.

Sir W. Wynne

said a few words on the danger of giving the volunteers the option of withdrawing their services.

Mr. Pattison

said, that in the last war he. had a corps of 150 men. On calling them together in April last, when he got permission to raise a second corps of 350 men, he found that 30 of them had entered into the King's service. Since that, several had gone in the same manner, either into his Majesty's service, or as substitutes into the militia, the supplementary militia, or the army of reserve; and though be might have some regret at losing a good soldier, he never thought himself at liberty to interfere to detain them. This was a proof that the volunteer system, instead of impeding, assisted the recruiting service: so far as to the men, now how was the fact as to the officers? This touched him more nearly, as it affected his own family. His eldest son, who had been one of his officers, had gone into the East Norfolk militia; his second son, whom he was educating with the greatest care, to assist him in his commercial pursuits, had conceived so strong a partiality for a military life, and for the King's service, that he held himself under the necessity of yielding to it. He was one of his ensigns, and had never conceived any notion of a military life, till the corps had been ordered to Yarmouth; and new he had written to him in a most pressing manner to obtain him a commission in the Kind's service, and he would be much obliged to the hon. Secretary if he would procure him one.

Colonel Cranfurd

said, it was true a private may be turned out of his corps for impertinence to his officers; if he was to be turned out by his officer, the case was clear; but if it were to be done by the Committee, it should be recollected, that the majority of that committee would be privates.

Mr. Yorke

thought it would be a very difficult matter indeed to define the precise quantum of assistance to be given to the wives and families of such volunteers as were sent on actual service, as that must depend on a variety of circumstances; it must be first ascertained who stood in need of any assistance at all; then, whether those families, who sought assistance, were wholly dependent on the professional exertions or manual labour of those persons sent on actual ser- vice; then the quantum of assistance to be afforded such families, which must vary ad infinitum, according to the number and helpless state of such families, &c. &c—Such has been the difficulty of ascertaining this point that even in the constitutional militia, where such provisions were always made, it depended on the time of absence and interruption from business, as it frequently happened, after devoting part of the day to drill, they apply the remainder of the day to business, which would consequently diminish, in proportion, the assistance his family was to receive from government, &c. these various points required the most mature deliberation, as they were extremely intricate, and should not be precipitated through the House.—The report was ordered to be received tomorrow.