HC Deb 26 June 1806 vol 7 cc844-55

On the motion of Mr. Secretary Windham, the house went into a. committee on this bill. That clause being read which confined the operation of the bill to England

Mr. Yorke

rose to express his opinion of it. He approved of the general principle of the bill, as far as it was similar to that which he had the honour to bring in on a former occasion, and thought it, in the present state of Europe, of essential importance to the safety of the country. United with the militia, the men levied under this bill would form a second line to. the regulars, should the enemy effect a landing. So much for the general principle of the bill; but it must undergo considerable modification, before it could meet his entire approbation. He should afterwards shew, that, instead of confirming, it abridged the royal prerogative; but he should at present confine himself to that clause which limited its operation to South Britain. Now he could see no reason why Scotland should not be subject to the same burden, and possessed of the same means of defence with England. He would therefore propose, that the words "Great Britain " should be inserted instead of "England."

Mr. Secretary Windham

acknowledged, that there was much weight in what the hon. member had observed, and that all must be agreed in distributing the burden and defence as equally as possible. But he should state the reasons which induced him to confine the present operation of the bill to England. In the first place, to a great part of that country, especially that part called the Highlands, the bill would not apply, and besides, from the general habits of the people, it was less necessary. In Scotland the people were also better trained and more military than here. The state of the volunteers was superior, according to what he had learned, not in point of numbers, for he did not know that in this respect they exceeded their proper proportion, but in point of discipline. But then came the objection, that the numbers of the volunteers would be much diminished by withdrawing the June allowances. Though gentlemen seemed to hold out such considerations as these, somewhat in the way of a menace, yet he was willing to hope that this menace or expectation was ill-founded. It ought to be considered, that if the allowance was diminished, the duty was also diminished. To that part of Scotland, called the Lowlands, certainly the bill might be more applicable; but still it was thought proper to try the experiment in England, and not to include Scotland in the first instance. There might be reasons why it should not extend to Scotland at all, though he rather thought it might at some future time; but at all events it would be imprudent to extend it to Scotland now. Another reason was the advanced state of the session, when many gentlemen of that country were out of town, and, therefore he would oppose the amendment.

Sir James Pulteney

saw no reason why the provisions of the bill should not extend to Scotland. It might not apply to the highlands; but why not extend it to the Lowlands, which was the more populous part of the country, and that part too which was most exposed to attacks from the opposite coast. He allowed the excellence of the volunteers in that country, but it was to be considered, that on account of the distance from the capital, there was but a small regular force kept there, and therefore it ought to have the advantage of every other mode of defence. Whether or not the volunteers would be diminished, he should not say, but he hoped that, whether the provisions of the bill were to be applied to Scotland this year or not, they would be afterwards applied to it.

Mr. Perceval

observed, as to the point of the bill's not being applicable to Scotland, that the provisions of the bill of 1803 had, in fact, extended to that. country. The reasons given for not extending this measure to Scotland were perfectly nugatory, for they would apply equally well to many parts of Wales, Cumberland, and Westmoreland, in the mountainous districts of which the population was very much scattered. But at any rate there was no reason why the bill should not extend to the Lowlands of Scotland. Though the people might be more military and better trained, still the king ought to have the power of calling them out; and this he might exercise according to his discretion, and exempt particular districts, as circumstances should require. There was no difficulty in executing the militia laws in Scotland, and why should not this measure be extended to that country, when the principle was the same? But then it had been said that the volunteers were in a better state there. It was certainly to be considered, that these were to be deprived of the June allowances, and scarcely any motive but their zeal would remain to keep them together; and here the reasoning of the ministers themselves, that a variety of motives, such as the ballot for the militia and the army of reserve, were necessary to induce men to continue in these corps, might be turned against themselves. He would certainly, therefore, support the amendment.

Colonel Wood

observed, that the militia laws were new in Scotland, and had at first occasioned considerable dissatisfaction there. He thought, therefore, that it would be better to wait for another year, before the principle of this bill should be extended to Scotland.

Mr. Calcraft

said, that his reason for not wishing to extend the provisions of the bill to Scotland, in the first instance, was, that the experiment might not be tried on too great a surface, but that it ought to be confined to the country were it was most applicable. As to the act of 1803, it was to be considered that it had not been carried into effect; and it was questionable whether, at the time it was brought in, it was intended to be carried into effect.

Mr. Bastard

contended, that whatever might have fallen from the hon. secretary, the volunteers of England were not one jot behind those of Scotland either in discipline or in zeal. Besides, there was no certainty whatever of raising men under the present bill. It was in fact a money bill, since upon paying a fine of 5l. any man might be exempted from its operation; and he thought that all who were by any means able to afford it would rather pay the fine. This would make the bill liable to the same objections as the parish bill. Was not Scotland bound to bear a share in the general expence of the country, and why should a burden be imposed on this country from which Scotland was exempted? He spoke with great warmth of the enthusiasm of the volunteers in that part of the country with which he was best acquainted. and thought that the defence of the country might be safely intrusted to them. If the volunteers of Scotland were well disciplined, they had also been liberally paid, since a much greater number of corps had been there upon the June allowance, than in his country.

Mr. Secretary Windham

observed, that gentleman argued as if he had said that the lateness of the session precluded him from doing what he would otherwise have done. He had said no such thing, for though this might be a motive for the house to oppose the amendment, he allowed that it was no justification of ministers. But he had said, that at whatever time the measure might have been brought forward it ought not to apply, in the first instance, to Scotland. As to the general principle of applying to one part what was not applied to another, the gentlemen on the other side ought to think of their own practice, and not insist on the principle of equality too broadly, because in that view Ireland also ought to be included. There night be reasons why the bill should not apply to Scotland for two or three years. Perhaps it might never apply, although he rather thought that it might some time hence. The militia ballot too, was in force in Scotland, and this would be a motive for the volunteers to continue in their corps. As the situation of Scotland was not so favourable to this bill, we might, in applying it, also lose the good will of the people.

Lord Castlereagh

said, that the right hon. gent's arguments did not appear at all satisfactory to his mind. If he wished to make an experiment merely, he should recommend it to him to try it on a. much narrower scale, and to confine, for the present, this boon of his to the county of Norfolk with which he was best acquainted. As to Ireland, no argument whatever could be founded on its not being proper to apply the bill to that country, in favour of the exemption, of Scotland. The state of the two countries were totally different. The circumstance of the militia-ballot being still in force in Scotland pointed out to him a defect in the right hon. gent's military system, of which he had not before been aware. The militia-ballot was to be given up here because it injured the recruiting service. But now it appeared that it was still retained in that place where the recruiting could succeed best. He thought that both countries ought to be included in this bill.

Mr. Whitbread

contended that this bill was totally different from the parish bill, in respect of fines, for the people were fined so enormously, that they could not pay, for not doing what they could not by any possibility perform. There were few labourers who would not choose rather to he trained 24 days, with Is. a-day, than to pay 5l. If gentlemen went on a principle of equality, the bill ought to extend to Ireland; there were reasons against this, and so there were for extending it to Scotland. He was of opinion that none of the volunteers of Scotland would withdraw themselves, on account of being deprived of the addition. I allowance.

Mr. Bankes

observed, that he had never heard a measure supported on such slender grounds, or by so little good sense. The bill was to be considered both in the light of a benefit and a burden, and he could see no reason for confining its effects to one part of the country. With regard to the most extensive and populous part of Scotland, whatever was applicable to England was also applicable to Scotland. As to the bill being a matter of experiment, he would ask, was a small surface selected, when it was proposed to extend the experiment to all England? and why should England alone be selected for this experiment, which, it not found to answer, was to be withdrawn, after the feelings of Englishmen had been sported with? Were we so vile and contemptible as to be called upon to bear this burden alone? From all he had heard of the volunteers of Scotland he was disposed to speak of them with respect, but it gave him pain to listen to the invidious and unfair comparison that had been made by a right hon. gent. this night. He would ask him, what he had to complain of as to the zeal or discipline of the volunteers of England? On the whole he thought, that Scotland, where the great body of the people had the same manners and habits with the people of this country, should not be exempted from a burden which this country was to bear. With regard to the number of men that would come forward to be disciplined, he was not very sanguine on that point. It would be a material drawback with many, to consider that they were liable to be drafted into any regular regiment, for an unlimited period, as might happen to be the case under the bill.

Colonel Eyre

considered, that for a permanent military arrangement, there was too much of severity in this system. The people of England were ready to bear those hardships which appeared necessary, but not those burdens for which they could see no necessity. When there was a pressing danger, the volunteers appeared sufficient to meet it; and if there was any relaxation in their discipline, or deficiency in their numbers at the present time, it was merely because the danger was less urgent.

Mr. C. Wynne

thought the provisions of the bill not applicable to Scotland at present. When it was now argued that this bill, by inflicting a fine, imposed a great burden on the people of England, he must beg leave to remind the right hon. gent. (Mr. Yorke) who brought in the other bill, that that was supported merely by arguments on what was called the undoubted prerogative of the crown, and that there were no means given of escaping its operation even upon the payment of a fine. It must, therefore, evidently appear that the former bill was a greater burden imposed upon the people of England. An hon. gent. was mistaken who supposed, that because the fines were remitted which were due in consequence of the parish bill, that, therefore, the fines must be remitted which would become due under this bill. The reason that the fines were remitted to the parishes on the former bill was, that it was conceived unjust that they should be fined for not raising men, when it was impossible that they could have raised them-Nobody, however, would say, that there was any impossibility to prevent the service of those who should be balloted under the present bill.

Lord Binning

thought, that whatever there was of good or of evil in the present bill, should be extended as well to Scotland as to England. He did not like a gratuitous and unnecessary distinction be- tween one part of G. Britain and the other. He thought the principle of the present bill was generally applicable to Scotland, for there was not more than a fourth of the whole population of that country under the circumstances which were stated as an objection. There were several parts of England and Wales that lay open to the same objection, but he did not see why the whole of Scotland should be exempted on account of the Circumstances of a part. As to the volunteers of Scotland, they were entitled to every degree of praise, but at the same time, he thought, that equal credit, was due to the volunteers of England, and therefore that the argument founded on a distinction between them was entitled to little weight.

Colonel Matthews

was of opinion, that the experiment would completely fail, and therefore, it was not of much consequence on what scale it was tried.

Mr. Huskisson

perceived a great inconsistency in the arguments of the supporters of the bill. At one time, they spoke of it as an experiment, which, in another year, might be extended to Scotland; and, at another time, they spoke of it as inapplicable to Scotland, on account of the smallness of its population. This last objection had no sort of connection with the former; for whether the experiment succeeded in England, or whether it failed, the mountains of Scotland would not disappear and the Highlands would remain just as they were. As to the argument of freeing Scotland from the burden on account of the number of the volunteer corps, he must observe, that the more volunteer corps were scattered over the country, the less would be the pressure. If there were fewer corps in England, of course it was more difficult for men to escape the operation of this act, by entering into them, as men could not in every part of the country find a volunteer corps to join. There was another argument which had been stated, but which he could by no means assent to. The mover of the bill supposed that there was great dissatisfaction in Scotland about the militia. He would confidently assert, that, although there might have been some ferment in 1797, when the militia was first introduced in Scotland, yet, at the present day, there was no dissatisfaction upon that subject.

Mr. Calvert

thought that the great advantage would be rather in the enrolling the men, than in the training of them. As to the enrolment, he could see no reason why that should not take place in Scotland; and as to the training, that was a thing which might or might not be acted on according, to the circumstances of the country.

Mr. Secretary Windham

said it appeared to him that it was a serious objection to bringing on a measure which would affect Scotland so much at a period when a great number of the Scotch members had gone home and were at such a distance that it could not be expected they would return to be present at the discussion. He could not allow that the fine proposed was any burden at all, as it was only a commutation for a duty which it was allowed by every body that the country had a right to call for. If this duty were performed, there would be no fine, and if any man wished to exempt himself from performing this duty by paying the fine, he certainly could have nothing to complain of. If he had not proposed a greater fine, the reason was that he really hoped that the bill would be efficient, and that a number of men, even of a better description (to whom the shilling a day would be no object), would by their personal service, set an, example to their neighbours, and show that they conceived it no disgrace to come forward and receive that degree of instruction which would be necessary to enable them to defend their country if it should be invaded. In describing the awkwardness of serving personally, an hon. gent. (Mr. S. Stanhope) had rather clumsily expressed himself on a former night when the spoke of the embarrassing situation of a man standing in the ranks between his own groom and his father's chimney-sweep. Now, if a gentleman was obliged to stand in the ranks next to a chimney-sweep, he did not see how it made the matter worse that it was his father's chimney-sweep. All this awkwardness would, however, be done away by the present bill, for if the gentleman did not chose to enter a volunteer corps, he might still be exempted on paying his fine of 5l.

Mr. Yorke

thought it his duty to take the sense of the house upon the present question. The question was not merely about extending a new experiment to Scotland, but it was whether Scotland should be exempted from what it was now liable to by the existing law, the levy-en-masse act; and whether it should be freed from a burden which England was called upon to bear. As to the difference between Scotch and English volunteers, he trusted the right hon. gent. did not mean to rest on such an invidious distinction. The question, then, was merely, whether Scotland should be exempted because a part of that country was thinly inhabited? He could not allow that there was any other objection; for, at the time that he was in administration, had the honour to bring in the former bill, he never had heard a single word of objection from any Scotch member, on the ground of its producing dissatisfaction. Under that bill there was a complete return of the enrolling in Scotland, and he therefore saw no reason why the men who were ready to be enrolled, should not also be trained. As to the thinness of population in certain districts, that ought to be no objection. The bill should be made general and there might be clauses which would confine its operation in districts where there were any local objections. As to the late period of the session, that could not be relied upon by the right hon. gent. as an argument, as several months had elapsed since his opening speech, and he had had time sufficient to have brought in the bill perfect.

Mr. Ryder

observed, that there were many parts of the Highlands of Scotland, particularly in the counties of Dumbarton, and Perth, which were more populous than Wales, Cumberland, Westmoreland, and many parts of England in which the bill was to operate. As to the Lowlands, he conceived them to be exactly in the same situation as England, and that there was no reason why they should be free from this burden.—The committee then divided, when there appeared. For Mr. Yorke's amendment 38; Against it 76: Majority 38.

On a subsequent clause of the bill respecting, the numbers to be enrolled,

Mr. Yorke

moved, as an amendment, that these Words should be added, "regard being had to the number of volunteers enrolled and actually serving." He considered that the appointment ought to be, directed now, as on former occasions, by the number of volunteers. For instance, if Lancashire had 18,000 volunteers, and Yorkshire, which was a much larger county, had but 10,000, he thought that re- gard should be had to that circumstance, in the apportionment of the number of men for which these counties should be called on.—Mr. C. Wynne did not think that the appointment ought to go by districts. The individuals who were in volunteer corps were not liable to be called upon in this force; but he did not see why persons who were not in volunteer corps should claim any advantage merely because their neighbours were volunteers.—Lord Castlereagh thought, that in the apportionment each county and each parish should have credit for the gross number of volunteers they furnished, and that a parish that had most of its population engaged in the volunteer service, ought not to be called upon.—Mr. Windham allowed, that it would be a sufficient answer to the call, if a parish could shew that those who were liable were serving in another description Of force.—Lord Castlereagh replied, that if such was the hon. gent.s' opinion, he was at a less to conceive what was the object of his bill. He had always understood it, that he wished to raise 200,000 men in England, exclusive of the volunteers, but now it appeared possible, that the bill would not raise a single man.—Mr. Windham replied, that he did not absolutely undertake that the bill should raise 200,000 men, for if the men who were called upon by ballot to serve should be actually serving in another way, the intention of the bill would be answered as well.—Mr. Perceval then said, that it was possible that the ballot for those 200,000 men might fall upon part of the 300,000 volunteers; who being exempt, not a man would be raised.—Mr. Yorke thought, that between the volunteers who should be balloted, and the men who would pay their fine of 5l. the measure was not to likely to be efficient.—Mr. Windham thought that this was supposing an extreme and improbable case. It could not be supposed that the ballot would fall entirely on volunteers, and persons disposed to pay the fine. The ballot would be from the lists of those liable to serve in the militia. The Volunteers, of course, were not in that list.—Mr. Yorke replied, that the volunteers certainly were upon that list, and liable to be balloted for, although they were afterwards exempted from serving. He complained of the manner the house was treated on the present occasion. They were referred upon this bill to the schedule of another bill, which was to come on after this was disposed of (he alluded to the militia act, which directs the returns that are to be made under it). This was completely reversing the order of things, and putting the cart before the horse.— Mr. Giles said, he should not go into the details, but argued, that as the men were by this bill to be apportioned according to the number of men liable to serve in the militia, the volunteers could not come under this description, as they were not liable to serve. He saw no objection to this act operating according to the returns which were called for by another act (the militia act). It was generally allowed that it would save a great deal of trouble to magistrates and others, if there should be only a single list, and that of the persons liable to serve in the persons liable to serve in the militia.—Mr. Perceval was not surprised that his learned friend (Mr. Giles) had not chosen to go into details, as the bill was in this respect most inexplicable and unintelligible. The right hon, gent. who had brought it in had proved that he did not understand it, and was therefore now very properly employed in consulting other people. (Mr. Windham was then conversing with Mr. Giles and others). He had at first considered that the volunteer's were not liable to the ballot; in the next explanation he said they were, but that it was most improbable that the ballot should exclusively fall upon them; and in his third explanation he talked only of his militia lists, and of volunteer's not being upon those returns. In this third explanation he was found to be equally wrong, and it could not now be denied, that the names of volunteers would be found on those militia lists. When this bill referred to the schedules of another bill not yet passed, it was giving the right hon. gent. a strange degree of credit. He viewed his superstructure before he thought of his foundation; and he then told the house, that although they saw no foundation at present, they might depend upon it that he would hereafter make a foundation to support his building. The house might give him that degree of credit if they pleased, and gentlemen might vote for his bill; but if any person who voted for it pretended to understand what he was voting for, he must say that man was either a conjuror or a prophet, if he could foresee and anticipate those things which had not as yet occurred even to the fancy of the rt. hon. gent., which were altogether in nubibus, and which the right hon. gent. could not attempt to explain.

Dr. Laurence

affected neither to be a prophet nor a conjuror; but, without either inspiration or magic, he thought he could correctly understand the clause of the bill, although it was not to be expected that by a layman minute legal details should be accurately set forth in this stage of the proceeding. His hon. and learned friend seemed to expect a precision in this case, which he himself (Mr. Perceval) could not attain, even after his own bills had been ultimately sanctioned: at least, it was evident, that after he had prepared them (the volunteer acts) he did not comprehend their purport; and one of the statutes to which he had just referred, which was designed for operation in the months of July and August, was not carried into effect until the most ominous day distinguished in the annals of folly and illusion, the first of April.

Mr. Ellison

said, that the rt. hon. secretary was, by his projects, oversetting the whole system of government in this country. Although, said the hon. gent. I wish to support ministers, I will not, and cannot, as they go on.—The amendment as proposed by. Mr. Yorke was then put and agreed to.

On proceeding to the concluding part of the bill, which is intended to regulate the power of his majesty, with regard to the incorporation of these levies with the regiments, in case of invasion,

Lord Castlereagh

again rose to observe, that many material particulars occurred to his mind, which might occasion a protracted debate on this subject; he therefore proposed that the chairman report progress, and ask leave to sit again the next day, which was acceded to, and the report was made, and permission given accordingly.