HC Deb 09 March 1804 vol 1 cc823-30
Mr. Secretary Yorke,

immediately rose and moved the order of the day upon the Volunteer Consolidation Bill.—On the clause for allowing adjutants and quartermasters half-pay,

Mr. Whitbread

observed, that there were many persons who had never been in the regular?, but who, from the excellence of their conduct as adjutants in volunteer corps were, he thought, equally intitled to half-pay. He was of opinion, that it should depend upon the report of the inspecting field-officer as to the good discipline of the corps, whether the adj. of such corps should be entitled to such pay or not.

Mr. Secretary Yorke

said, it was necessary to lay down a general principle with respect to the half-pay to be allowed to adjutants, as otherwise, persons who acted as adjutants in volunteer corps, and who were wholly incompetent, might become entitled to it, and thus saddle considerable expense upon the public. To this rule, however, there might be some exceptions, as, if the inspecting field officer reported the good qualifications of an adjutant, it certainly was intended to represent such case to his Majesty, with a view that such adjutant might become entitled to the allowance in question.

Mr. Pitt

said, he agreed in the general outline with respect to adjutants receiving pay. He thought however that where there was a difficulty in getting good adjutants, that serjeant-majors, from regular troops might be resorted to as adjutants for volunteer corps. He then adverted to, and re-stated his former proposition, with respect to transferring officers from the line as field officers in volunteer corps.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, it was the strong disposition of ministers to agree to any thing that could tend to improve the discipline of the volunteer corps, consistent with the nature and principles of the constitution. It was his opinion that the purpose of the right hon. gent, would be better answered by the appointment of inspecting field officers who were appointed from officers of the line. He objected to the proposition of the right hon. gent, for the appointment of field officers to volunteer corps from the line, because the volunteers should not be led to suppose that it was intended to graft upon the system any thing not congenial to its nature. He knew that a degree of jealousy had been caused in some volunteer corps by the appointment of inspecting field officers, because they were liable to a sort of compulsory inspection by persons receiving pay. He was convinced, however of the necessity of appointing inspecting field officers, and that the volunteers could not be an efficient force without them; but if field officers from the line were introduced info the volunteer corps, it would necessarily I create jealousy. It had been made part of t the proposition, that field officers from the line should not be appointed to volunteer, corps without the consent of the commanding officers; but this was placing a commanding other in a situation of great difficulty and delicacy. If he recommended the appointment of a field officer from the line, it might be considered as a confession of his own insufficiency; whilst, if he refused to I assent to a recommendation of that nature, he might be liable to censure; add to this, there were many volunteer corps which already had the benefit of the assistance of I military officers of great experience, either as commandants, or as holding commissions in such corps. At the same time it was his wish that it should be a part of the instructions from the commander in chief to the general officers commanding districts, to spire field officers from the regulars, where- ever it can be done, in order to perfect the discipline of the volunteer corps. He repeated that the object of the right hon. gent. was answered by the appointment of inspecting field officers, and also by the appointment from the line of adjutants and serjeant-majors.

Mr. Pitt

said, as to the appointment of inspecting field officers, it was obvious that could not interfere with his proposal of appointing field officers from the line to assist in disciplining volunteer corps, as the persons appointed inspecting officers held the rank of lieut. colonels—whilst he proposed to appoint persons, probably captains, from half pay. At least they might try whether any such persons might be obtained; at any rate, the two descriptions of persons were wholly distinct, as no one was appointed an inspecting officer who had not been a field officer in the army, whilst he proposed to take field officers for volunteers from those in the line who held subaltern commissions. The right hon. gent, had said, that such a measure would be likely to create jealousy: he was sorry to hear it, but certainly the appointment of inspecting field officers was not sufficient to render volunteer corps in any degree well disciplined. Some of those officers had half a county to attend to, and he would ask, whether they could in that case do much more than relate what they had been told by others, with respect to the discipline of corps, instead of being intimately acquainted with it themselves? He was now, however, told, that because persons had been appointed to see that instructions had been given to volunteer corps, that it was unnecessary to appoint persons to instruct them: he could not conceive this to be very conclusive reasoning. He did not believe I hat any jealousy would be excited by the appointment of field officers of the description he had alluded to; it would rather be caused by the appointing inspecting field officers, who were superior to the commanders of the regiments. Add to this, that inspecting field officers were appointed by a compulsory regulation, whilst ail he proposed was to provide fried officers where it was requested by the commanding officers of corps, therefore there was still less cause for jealousy. Another ground of objection was, that commanding officers would be placed in a situation of great delicacy; but he did not see the force of this objection. Suppose the commanding officer were to recommend the appointment of a field officer from the line to his corps, lie would only indicate that he was a man of common sense, and that lie was more anxious to do his duty than to be actuated by trifling vanity: on the other side, if he declined such accommodation, he might be liable to censure for not doing that which he ought to do. As to any objection of economy, the saving which might arise from not pursuing the regulations he proposed, ought not to be put in competition with the advantages which would arise from its adoption. For these reasons he was still inclined to persist in urging the propositions which he had before made.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that if the description of persons alluded to by the right hon. gent, were appointed, they might assume an importance which would be inconsistent with the general system of the corps. He instanced the volunteers of Ireland, who had had no such officers, and who had displayed the best discipline, as well as the greatest courage and zeal.

General Loftus

objected to officers being sent from camps or other military stations in the hour of danger to discipline volunteer corps.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, his idea was, that such assistance should be at the discretion of the general of the district.

Mr. Pitt

said, that in the maritime districts such assistance might be provided, but with respect to the corps in the interior, they should be assisted in discipline by officers from half pay.

Mr. W. Dickenson

observed that there must be good officers to make good soldiers. As to economy, it was not a question of conomizing money, but the blood and lives of the people; it was necessary to have good officers to ensure discipline, and it was necessary to have discipline in order to ensure success; and he would ask whether defeats were considered as cheap articles by the present administration r If an enemy were to land, the country might have reason to curse such parsimony. If the bill now before the House was made any thing of, it would be made by the minority, and not by the majority; for if it had passed as originally brought in, it would have been one of the strong instances of the weak conduct of a feeble administration.

Mr. Hiley Addington

said, he would leave to the decision of the House and the public the hon. gentleman's charge of economy against the present administration. He objected to any measure for the introduction of field officers from the line into volunteer corps, as it would for to create dissensions amongst the officers and privates of these corps.

Mr. Windham,

wished to understand precisely the meaning of his right hon. friend's (Mr. Pitt) proposition, as he could not consent to rob the line of officers, in order to discipline volunteer corps.

Mr. Pitt

said, his proposition was to take officers from the half-pay, where they were useless, and to make them useful by contributing to discipline volunteer corps.

Mr. C. Wynne

deprecated the economy of ministers, as its only object was to diminish their expenses, which were to come before Parliament, whilst a greater weight fell upon the people.

Mr. Spenser Stanhope

adverted to the erection of beacons, and instanced one in the West Riding of Yorkshire, guarded by four persons, one of whom had only one leg, another had only one arm, the third had lost the roof his mouth, and the fourth was notoriously drunken, and each of these were paid half-a-guinea per day.

Mr. Secretary

Yorke said, that beacons had been erected in the West Riding of Yorkshire without consulting the general of the district, Lord Mulgrave.

Mr. Spencer Stanhope

said, they were erected by order of the general of the district.

Mr. Secretary

Yorke said, he had understood the contrary.—After some further observations from Lord Temple, Sir Wm. Milner, Sir Henry Mildmay and other members, the clause was agreed to.

On the clause relating to the recovery of fines and Penalties,

Mr. Pitt

suggested that it would be better to give an option in case of non-payment, either to levy the fine by distress, or to inflict imprisonment for two or three days or a week, as the distress might be injurious to the family of the person distressed upon.

Mr. G. Vansittart

was for extending the imprisonment to a fortnight.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

thought the imprisonment of the individual would be more injurious to his family than levying the fine by distress.

Mr. Pitt

explained, that the idea was, to vest a discretionary power in the Magistrate, to imprison, suppose for a week, in the default of distress.

Sir R. Buxton

strongly recommended the allowing a certain number of days, at the expiration of which, if the penalties were not paid, the Magistrate should have the power of committing in the case of default.

Mr. Sturgess Bourne

contended, that the optional power proposed to be given to the Magistrates, proceeded on the most humane and liberal principle that it was possible to introduce into a case of pecuniary penalty.

Mr. Burland

proposed the introduction of a clause, in substance enacting, that in case of a refusal or neglect to pay the fine after a given number of days, it should then be lawful for the Magistrate to commit, &c.

Mr. Hobhouse

spoke shortly in support of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's idea in favour or the mode of distress, as imprisonment would evidently prevent the individual from earning the accustomed provision for his family.

Mr. Whitbread

said, he was inclined to make the opulent private pay in his purse; but would not resort to imprisonment, except where it was indispensably necessary. The proceeding of distress, he thought one of extreme oppression; but as some principle of compulsion must obtain, he thought the option of distress or imprisonment should be given. With respect to the application of these penalties, they were to go to the common fund of the different corps for defraying the necessary expenses, &c. But, in observing upon this point, he must repeat what he had said thereon on a former occasion; he thought it would be a sounder and more manly policy to come forward at once and provide for the payment of such expenses out of the public purse; as he predicted, for want of certain and unfailing funds, the greater number of the corps would fall to pieces and cease to exist. This he said, to a certain degree, was exemplified by the instance of one of the City corps, where, out of the requisite sum of about 11,000l. he understood 7 or 8,000l. or some very large sum remained due.—Several corps were destitute of the most necessary articles. It was now of little consequence, whether the plan of subscription was originally a wise measure. He thought it, now at least, very improper they were providing for a permanent system in the bill. As that was the case, let them do it with their eyes open, let them not blink the genuine question; they should contemplate the danger as it ought to be viewed. There were many articles of expense absolutely necessary to be incurred in respect of the volunteer corps: keeping the arms clean and in repair, was one of the principal items the payment of the drummers was another indispensable requisite: he wished to know whether that was to be provided for out of any particular fund? There was more money thrown away in respect of the volunteers since their institution than would set on foot an immense regular force: let the; private subscriptions and annual contributions be calculated, and see what an immense aggregate they would amount to The present system was one of the most profuse and extravagant that was ever yet broached. Here one or two member's rose, and expressed their sentiments, that what Mr. Whitebread was advancing, was not in order.] Mr. Whitebread resumed. What lie said was strictly in order, and advanced then with a view to save the time of the House; the penalties were applicable to the funds, ids observations were therefore in order. As to the question he reprobated the utter want of economy in the system. A large regular force might have over and over again been put in activity for ness money. In process of time, the present sources would fail; individuals would every year become more weary or less able to pay the contributions. Speaking more immediately to the point in question, were the alternative of imprisonment, resolved on, he should prefer the shortest possible period.

Mr. H. Lascelles

thought that the accumulation of fines should be prevented, as they might run up to an amount that might impede the resignation of a member when lie should so determine.

Mr. Pitt

referred the hon. member to a particular part of she clause, where the case was provided for by the words.

Mr. Rose

expressed his opinion, that the magistrates should be vested with the power of committing to the nearest place or confinement—The clause, as amended, was then agreed to.

Some discussion then took place, respecting a subsequent provision in the bill, similar to the preceding one. in some of its effect?, but principally affecting a superior class of individuals. It was contended on the part of those who supported the bill, that those persons who were able to pay, but who from obstinacy, or other motives, did not choose to pay, should be decidedly compellable; and with respect to those, the option of distress or imprisonment, was proposed to be left.

Mr. Fox

objected to the principle, as regulated by the provisions of the bill. Though the members had agreed to the payment of certain fines, they had no idea of eventually incurring a capital punishment; by such a regulation, the volunteer was put in a different situation from that in which he considered himself, when making his agreement.

Mr. Pitt

observed, that a degree of compulsion in the case under discussion was evidently necessary. They should recollect that the right of the volunteer to resign was admitted, in case he was not satisfied with the regulations. The discipline of the corps was surely necessary to be preserved; and farther, the lines arose out of the regulations agreed to by the individuals themselves. The principle was not new to this act. In the original act a provision to that effect obtained, but it was not modified by the optional power. The points at issue resolved I into two questions: the first, whether in default of distress, proceedings should be had I against the person; the latter was certainly one in analogy to the law of the country 5 and the second, which involved the only new point, was, whether an alternative of subjecting the individual to imprisonment should be allowed, and that this was the more lenient of the two he thought had been clearly established. After considering the topic a little farther, he expressed his concurrence in the, regulation for allowing I the optional power.—Some further clauses and provisions of the bill were then agreed to without observation, when it was agreed to report progress, and ask leave to sit again. The House then resumed, and the Committee were ordered to sit again to-morrow, Adjourned.