HC Deb 03 July 1806 vol 7 cc904-16

The report of the committee on the Training bill was then brought up; and on the question being put, that the report be now read,

Sir Henry Mildmay

said, that he thought the country had reason to complain that ministers had delayed bringing this measure forward till so late a period of the session, when it was now impossible to ascertain the real sense of parliament on the subject. It was certainly desirable, considering the wild notions which have been lately introduced into the construction of the regular army, and that it was intended to suspend the laws which relate to the militia, that an efficient force should somewhere be created on which the country might rely in case of any unexpected emergence: but disapproving of the principles on which this bill was founded, and the provisions it contained, he did not consider it as that best calculated for such a purpose. It very much resembled the plan brought forward at the commencement of the war, in many respects, though it essentially differed from it both in the circumstances of the country at the time it was suggested, and in some of the must prominent features of its character. The former bill was introduced when we were at the beginning of a war, with our own military establishments on a very reduced scale, while the enemy had a large and well disciplined army actually on foot, with which he threatened us with immediate invasion. At such a moment any plan was judicious which placed arms in the hands of such a proportion of the loose population as the government thought canal to any necessity that might arise. But this was not the case at present: we had now a larger military establishment than the country had ever known; our militia., by long experience and discipline, was little inferior to the regular army and we had 300,000 volunteers, most of whom had been reported fit to act with troops of the line. There was nothing in the situation of the country to create dismay, or to justify calling on the public to submit to the onerous and oppressive operation of this bill. The bill of 1803 gave a distinct option to the country, either to raise the number of volunteers prescribed by government, or to incur the inconveniences of the levy-en-masse. The country did not hesitate to accept the alternative, and the number of volunteers were raised without the least difficulty, and the government might have had three times as many if they had chosen to accept them. It was a distinct bargain made with the country, that by raising the volunteers, they should exempt themselves from compulsory training. After the country had scrupulously performed their part of the covenant, the government was precluded from resorting again to the measure which was now brought forward, without a manifest breach of public faith. The bill was also very objectionable, as it imposed an intolerable tax on the lowest orders of the labourers, the manufacturers, and the artisans, of whom this force was to be composed. The ordinary earnings of such persons might be taken at three shillings a day, whereas the pay allowed by government would amount to only is. so that each man would lose 2s. a day for every day he went out. This would amount to no less than 480,000l. supposing the whole 200,000 men called out for twenty four days. The bill was also partial and unjust as applying to Eng- land alone. Why was Scotland excepted? If the bill was a benefit, as some contended, why was that part of the united kingdom to be exempted from such benefit? or, if it was a burden, what had Scotland done to redeem herself from her share of the pressure? No man could doubt the zeal and loyalty of that part of the kingdom, and no man could doubt that in case of invasion the coast of Scotland was as much exposed to attack as that of England; and why were they to be defended both by men and money at our expence? The bill had been called an experiment, and as such should be first tried on a cow fined scale: that might be a very good argument to Scotland, who was exempted from the burden, but would hardly be satisfactory to us who were to bear the whole expence. As to the volunteers, this plan was not calculated to encourage them: it took from them not only much of their allowances, but also many of those advantages which had contributed to raise them to the high state of discipline which they had attained. The language of contempt which had so lavishly been bestowed on that system, coupled with the provisions of this bill. must effectually damp the spirit and activity of the volunteers. It could not be expected from men, who served at great inconvenience and trouble to themselves, to continue in the service when they had so much reason to think that their exertions were undervalued by the government. That feeling generally prevailed. There was hardly a single volunteer who did not feel himself disgusted with the expressions and conduct of the secretary for the war department It was rather singular also, that he should be the person to revive ballot and commutation of personal service for money, who had so pointedly reprobated both those measures. The concurrent jurisdiction of the constable and drill serjeant was ludicorns, and perfectly useless, unless indeed the drill serjeant was to be used as a crimp for the regular army. He proceeded to comment on several clauses or the bill. and contented that all that was meritorious in the plan was stolen from the act of the former administration; that it contained a distinct recognition of all that was considered most exceptionable in Mr. Pitt's additional force bill, and wholly unworthy of a government who assumed such super-eminence of talent, and had promised so much to the country. He concluded by moving that the word "now" should be left out, and the words "this day three months" substituted in its stead.

Mr. Eyre

objected to the bill because it was unnecessary. We ought only to resort to compulsion in the last instance—cuncta prius tentanda. At present we could have a sufficient number of volunteers. He adverted to the injury which the labour of the country would sustain from withdrawing such a number of men from it for 24 days in the year. As to the volunteers, he believed they would be completely destroyed by this measure. The volunteers relieved their districts, but under this bill the system would have a contrary effect, for the young, the active, and those who had most time to spare, would avoid the ballot by going into the volunteers, and leave it to fall upon others. The rt. hon. gent. complained of having been misrepresented. It might be so; but how could he explain away the sarcasm in this bill, which reckoned 300,000 volunteers as nothing? This was one sarcasm on the volunteers which he could not by any ingenuity explain away. If, however, he adopted the clause proposed by the rt. hon. gent. below (Mr. Yorke), which went to relieve the counties from the onus in proportion to the number of volunteers, his objections would be in a great measure done away.

Sir R. Williams

asked, whether, in the present situation of the country, we were to give ministers no credit for saving 5 millions in 3 years? This measure did not destroy the volunteer system, but put it on its original footing; for it was well known that, at first, the volunteers were accepted only on condition of clothing themselves. Much as he regretted the loss of the late great minister; much as the country had to lament him; much as he deplored his death; yet, while the measures of the present ministry went to promote economy and the real interests of the country, as he thought they had, for the most part, hitherto done, they should always have his warm approbation. and cordial support.

Mr. Fonblanque

supported the bill. He denied that it could have any such tendency as that of putting down the volunteer system. He thought it was the bounden duty of his majesty's ministers to take every precaution for securing the country against the danger of an invasion; and with that view, to avail themselves in the utmost extent of the physical force of the country, and to render that force efficient by a timely training, instead of waiting until the last moment, when absolute necessity should demand the levy en masse, and when they must be assembled as a tumultuous, confused, and disorderly rabble, instead of trained men fit to be attached to and act with regular regiments. The hon. gent. had said, that the:volunteer spirit of the country had been damped. He would take them at their words; and if their own assertions were true in this point, they offered the strongest argument for adopting this bill, which so far from depressing, would support the volunteer system, and, in all events, secure the country against the mischiefs which must result from the volunteers choosing, if they should ever do so, to withdraw their services, and desert their standards. His rt. hon. friend felt, they had a right, by the term of their service to do so, and it was his duty to be prepared against it, by a measure which would secure to the country 200,000 trained men, in case of emergency.

Mr. Bastard

complained that the measure was brought forward without any estimate of its probable expence, or any ground whatever upon which even to guess what it would cost or how many men would be induced to train under it. There did not appear even a chance, that one-fourth of the number of 200,000 men would be secured by it, as .every man who could pay the fine would, no doubt, exempt himself from the service. He disliked the bill for its compulsory principle, and was convinced that the yeomanry of this country would at any time of public danger, he more ready to act under the direction of their landlord, and the gentlemen of the country, than under any compulsive system like this, the effect of which would be to render them sulky and discontented. The hon. gent. took occasion highly to commend the spirit and liberality of the duke of Northumberland, in arming and training, at his own expence, the tenantry on his estate, who, he was convinced, would be found to act in the day of danger under an illustrious branch of the house of Percy, as a 'Theban band;' and he verily believed, like their brave ancestors the 1500 valiant bowmen at Chevy- chase, should they come to encounter any enemy in their native land, that Children yet unborn would rue The fighting of that day.

General Loftus

was convinced of the necessity of the and only wished it had gone much farther. It was necessary to use every exertion winch the physical force of the country afforded for security at home, in order to enable us to act with effect abroad. Our chief danger from invasion lay in the vast extent of our coasts; and he would venture to assert, that it our armies were double or treble their present numbers they would not he sufficient to ensure our security without such a measure as this. Let it be recollected that though our fleets at present commanded the seas, yet it might happen not always to be the case; and even with all the force and vigilance by which we were guarded, yet one night might waft to our shores a formidable enemy. To encounter such an enemy on the first alarm, he could wish to see the population of every town, village, and district in the realm ready trained and fit to march at a moment's warning. He could wish to see them properly classed for the purpose, and he considered such a plan perfectly practicable, from what he herd seen of the populace in Ireland at the time of the rebellion, and how formidable a force they composed; and only with pikes. The same might be done with the populace here, or a great portion of them. When he recollected the important services performed by the volunteers of Ireland in that rebellion, and that they had by their loyalty and valour, saved the country to England, he could never he supposed to undervalue the services of volunteers in recommending the training of such a force as he described. But these men every where armed and ready to form on any part of the coast against ail enemy aided by detachments of artillery, before volunteers, quartered in towns, could be got together in force, must he of important service. As to the practicability of a formidable invasion suddenly, and in ships of war, he had a proof before his eyes; for being quartered at Yarmouth some years since, when admiral Duncan commanded a fleet in the North Sea, that gallant commander came into port, and swept the sea of all the Dutch fishing-boats in his way, to prevent their giving intelligence of his return to port. By desire of the admiral, he had marched down his garrison to the water's edge, in order to try how many Men each of those schnyts where capable of conveying; and he found that each boat could conveniently carry fifty-five fighting men, with their arms, ammunition, and knapsacks; of such boats the Dutch have many thousands in their ports employed in the fisheries or. in smuggling to our coasts, of which they know every creek where a landing,might be effected, a ad every shoal and sand-bank over which their boats would float at any given time of the tide, with perfect safety. Seeing this to be the case and knowing it to be the firm opinion of admiral Duncan, that the landing of an enemy in such a way was practicable,he could not feel the country secure against danger even with all the protection of our formidable fleets at sea; and,therefore he thought our force at home could not be too,formidable: for this reason, he highly approved of the bill.

Mr. Matthews

considered the measure as unnecessary and injurious. It was singular, he observed, that gentlemen on the other side talked of the expenditure of millions as of a matter of insignificance, and yet they rested upon economy as the great recommendation of their course of proceeding with respect to the volunteers. The hon. gent. remarked upon the facility with which the present ministers contrived to change their principles with their places.

Mr. Giles

vindicated the character of tho measure under consideration, to which, he maintained, the charge of involving any breach of faith towards the volunteers was totally inapplicable. This assertion the learned gent. sustained by referring to the levy-en-masse act, from which the charge was professedly deduced, and also to the circular letter front the secretary of state, which was published subsequent to that act. From both he inferred, that nothing like a permanent pledge was given that it a certain number of volunteers offered for any district, such district should, be uniformly exempted, from the operation of any measure of the nature of that before the house.

Mr. Ryder

considered the bill as wholly unnecessary at present, on a comparison with the period and circumstances under which the former training bill was brought forward by his right hon. friend; for at that time our regiments of the line were reduced to skeletons, our militia but just called out, after having been disbanded, and the regiments nut one-third full, or disciplined; our volunteer corps but just forming, and scarcely initiated in their drills; and invasion threatening us every hour. But though he was by no means disposed to undervalue our danger, or the force of the enemy, yet he could not forget the vast difference of our comparative situation. The naval force of that enemy had been since destroyed by our fleets, while our army was increased above 100,000 men, and our volunteer force amounted now to 300,000 disciplined troops able to act with any corps in the field.

Mr. C. Wynne

thought the best way would be to let the hon. gentlemen answer each other. Some of them objected to the bill,because it destroyed the system of equality which existed among the volunteers, while others objected to it because it introduced equality. With respect to putting the volunteers on the August allowance, he certainly approved it highly, as he thought it would be the greatest injustice, that one body of men should receive 85 days pay, when another would receive only 26. It had been said by some, that this measure would only tend to increase the volunteers, and, by others, that there would not be room for so great an augmentation. These, he thought, were reasons which might be allowed to pair off together; but he could not help observing, that there would be one advantage in it, namely, that the country would have the service of so many men for nothing. The hon. gent. concluded by saying, that his chief reason for approving of the measure was not the immediate advantage that would be derived from it, though he did not wish to undervalue the services of 200,000 men, trained for 26 days, but because he thought that it would infuse a military spirit into the country, which would render it invulnerable.

Sir Robert Lawley

thought this bill would have the effect of rendering the volunteer system permanent, and was therefore of opinion, that the discipline of the volunteers should be rendered permanent, with a view to which object he had an amendment to propose.

Lord Kirkwall

asserted, that the opinion which the volunteers had been naturally induced to form, as to the views of the right hon. author of this bill,had served materially to damp their zeal and diminish their numbers. In support of this assertion the noble lord stated, that he had the honour to command a corps of volunteers, which consisted of 460 strong and effective men, 12 months ago, but which at the last muster returned no more than 80. A similar reduction was, he apprehended, to be generally looked for, from the language and projects of the right hon. secretary.

Lord De Blaquiere

believed the measure under discussion to be the most inefficient and inoperative that had ever been presented to parliament; yet its inoperation was its only merit.

Lord Binning

called upon the learned gent. on the ministerial bench (the lord Advocate of Scotland) who was not present on a former evening when this measure was under discussion, to state his opinion upon the propriety of extending it to Scotland. If there was any benefit in the measure, the noble lord could not conceive that, neon any principle of fairness, Scotland should be refused a participation of it; and if it were a burthen, he did not think it fair that it should be confined altogether to England. There were many parts of Scotland to which this bill would be as applicable as to this country, and there was no danger of its meeting with anti such opposition as the execution of the militia law formerly did. But that opposition was not, in fact, the effect of the militia, but of that disaffection to the government which, he was happy to think, was now no more.

The Lord Advocate

was surprised at the line and tone adopted by his noble relation who had just sat down, and those who acted with him. They maintained, that this measure would involve a breach of faith, and an invasion of the king's prerogative; would be productive of great expence and oppression; acid yet, said they, 'give a. share of this abomination to Scotland.' They had been abusing the bill for sonic weeks, asserting that it would lead to confusion and pull down the volunteers; and yet, with all their professed regard for Scotland and the volunteers they would have the scope of its operation extended. As to the opposition to the law which had been alluded to by his noble relation, and which had been asserted to proceed from disaffection, he was not disposed to come in to that opinion. He was aware that disaffection, was often stated to prevail very generally Scotland, and that he himself Was de- scribed as one of the disaffected. But if he was disaffected then, he was so still. For he held no principle at that time, which now, in the king's service, did not remain perfectly unchanged, and they should ever continue so. But, to return to the opposition which at the outset the militia law met with in Scotland; that opposition did in fact arise from the general misconception prevailing of that law, and the pride and arrogance of some persons in that country, who would not condescend to communicate with the lower orders, and explain to them its object and provisions. If that law had been properly understood, he ventured to say that it would have experienced no resistance whatever, In the district where he resided, the law was fully explained to the lower orders, and therefore it was carried into execution without any attempt even at opposition,—With regard to the bill under consideration, the learned gent. confessed himself anxious that its principle should be extended to Scotland, and this opinion he had already communicated to its right hon. author. But yet lie would not desire the present bill to be so extended, as in many of its parts it was inapplicable to that country. He would rather wish to bring in a separate bill upon the subject, and he would pledge himself to prepare such a bill in 48 hours as should be perfectly adapted to Scotland. The learned gent. asserted that the former levy en masse act was quite impracticable in Scotland; and concluded with pronouncing a high eulogium upon the conduct, disposition, character and efficiency of the volunteers of Scotland.

Mr. Canning

congratulated the learned lord on the opportunity which had been afforded hint of contributing, as much as in him lay, to extend the boon of this bill to Scotland, and could not help calling upon the house to notice the extraordinary system of carrying on the executive government, which they had now by accident discovered; as it appeared that the lord advocate of Scotland had not even been consulted with, as to the practicability of extending this measure to that part of the united kingdom; but had just declared, that he could, in eight-and-forty hours, frame the bill so as to be applicable to that purpose; whilst the right hon. gent. (Mr. Windham), by the united labour of this wonderful government, from whom so much was expected, and who were said to possess a concentration of all the talents and worth of the empire, had been four months in bringing it before the house, and when it was pressed by hon. gentlemen to extend it to Scotland, had pleaded, that it was too late to do that, which the labour of an individual was thus declared to be competent to, in so short a space of time. The learned lord, rejecting all shallow pretensions of want of time, had stated, that it would be rather a benefit than a burthen to Scotland; and he (Mr. C.), therefore hoped, gentlemen would not be to-morrow in the house, without a bill for extending the training to that part of the country. The right hon. gent. then proceeded to state some of the objections he entertained to the principle of the bill, particularly as it went to violate the faith of parliament, pledged to the public, on their commuting compulsory training for voluntary enrolment, and as affecting the prerogative of the crown. If the object of the measure was to diffuse amongst the youth of the country the practice of arms, he thought the exemption from its operation, allowed for so small a sum as 51. was a radical absurdity. The change of the volunteers had been said to be for the purpose of having an officered, and a disposable force; but lie would give the lord Advocate all the time he had required for framing a bill, to devise, if he could, a description of force that would be less efficient, connected, and applicable to the purpose of regular service, than the 200,000 men, who were to be drawn out in splendid array under a few constables and drill-serjeants. He then adverted to the state of uncertainty which the volunteers were laid in, as to the conduct ultimately intended to be pursued towards them by government; and concluded by observing, that this bill went to discredit a force upon which we could rely, and to substitute the crude produce of an experiment; and that it was as much inferior to the bill it went to supersede, as the mind of Mr. Pitt was superior to that which actuated the present measures.

Mr. Secretary Windham

began by taking notice of the expressions which the right hon. gent. (Mr. Canning), so frequently indulged in, about ministers claiming all the talent and weight in the country. This was a thing which appeared peculiarly to rankle in that right hon. gent.'s mind, and in the minds of those who sat near him, and entered with so much rapture into most of their speeches. Neither ministers, nor any of their immediate friends, had ever made use of any expression that amounted to such a claim. He could not say whether it was, an injudicious friend, or a splenetic enemy who first used that sort of language to which the rt. hon. gent. so frequently winded. Ministers, however, had repeatedly denied having denied having ever put in such a claim, but they perceived that it gave the hon. gentlemen on the other side an infinite degree of pleasure in repeating it; while on the other side they might be assured that it gave no pain either to him or to his friends. The reason that he had expressly assigned for not extending the bill to Scotland in the present session, was not from any dissatisfaction which he supposed to prevail there, but merely from the absence of the Scotch members, whom he would with previously to consult. As compulsion was the principle of the militia system, it appeared to him most strange, that militia colonels should inveigh against this measure as being compulsory. It put him in mind of an observation he had heard, that the most plausible schemes of retrenchments and paying off the national debt, often came from persons imprisoned for debt in the King's Bench and Fleet Prison. It also appeared to him most strange, that this could be said to be more compulsory, than the Training act of a former administration, when it was recollected, that in the present bill, it was provided, that the service might be commuted for a fine, whereas under the former system no such commutation was allowed. Gentlemen on the other side had often stated, that certain expressions which he was supposed to have used at a former period, must tend greatly to the dissolution of the volunteers. If it were true that he had used those expressions, which he denied, and even if those expressions had been as improper as could he represented to have fallen front any individual, he should ask, what sort of a volunteer army must that be, for a great nation to place its dependence upon, who could be driven from the duties they had undertaken by the expressions of any individual, and who could be disper ed like Virgil's bees—"Pulceris exigui jactú?" If many of the corps were rapidly decreasing in numbers, he could assign a better reason for it. It was, because many officers who had most meritoriously advanced large sums in the origin of their corps, finding themselves unable to continue those advances, and perceiving that went did not wish to pay the expences which were formerly defrayed by individual subscription, now scented to wish to find some point of honour that would give an for a quarrel, which would enable them to resign with a better grace. He considered the assertion, that this bill was a breach of faith, to be altogether unfounded and absurd. The parties to the contract, were not merely the volunteers and the government, but it was the w hole community and the government. The question, therefore, was merely whether the measure was right or wrong, whether it was good for the community or not? If it were good for the community, it would he most ridiculous to tell the community that it would be a breach of faith to them to give them a measure that was for their good; and that government was bound by a contract to them not to adopt such measures as were necessary for their security and protection.

Mr. R. Dundas

wished that it should be distinctly understood front the lord advocate, whether it was intended to bring forward a bill this session, for including Scotland in the levy for training? or whether it was now intended, for the first time, to depart from the system of uniformly defending the country, and making all parts contribute to that great object?

The Lord Advocate

replied, he had no doubt that the measure was applicable to Scotland; but it did not rest with him to introduce a bill, in defiance of the right hon, secretary of state; and he thought the honour of his country sufficiently justified by the understanding, that a bill would hereafter be brought in, for the purpose of embracing it in the operation of the act.

Mr. Rose ,

jun. said, that although the opinions of the right hon. gent. (Mr. Windham), had not much weight with the volunteers when he sat on the opposition benches, it was a very different thing now he was a minister. If they considered him not friendly to their establishment, that circumstance must tend considerably to reduce their numbers.—The question was then very generally called for, and the house divided on the question, "That the word 'now' stand part of this question;" upon which it appeared that there were, Ayes 130: Noes 53. Majority 86.—The amendments were consequently agreed to. Some new clauses were added by way of riders to the bill, and the third reading was fixed for to-morrow.—Adjourned at half after one o'clock.