HC Deb 08 May 1806 vol 7 cc68-73

The house resolved itself into a committee on this bill. As the chairman was reading the proposed alteration in the clause respecting the penalties now levied,

Mr. Yorke

wished the rt. hon. gent. (Mr. Windham) would state, generally, what was the nature of the alterations he intended to propose in that respect?

Mr. Windham

said, it was his intention to propose, that those penalties which were due under the act should not be enforced, and that those which had been paid should be refunded.

Mr. Yorke

wished also to know, why the Army of Reserve act had been mentioned in the clause?

Mr. Windham

replied, that it was because the Additional Force act repealed the Army of Reserve act, and it might, therefore, be doubted whether the repeal of that act would not be a revival of the Army of Reserve.

Mr. Bankes

said, that although he was friendly to the principle of the bill, he would rather abandon it altogether than agree to such a clause. As to the bill itself, he wished it to be repealed, because he was sure it had completely failed; and although a sufficient time had been allowed for it to produce its effect, it was found not to be the permanent and perennial source for recruiting our armies that it was expected to be; but as to the clause, he thought nothing could be more unjust than to place upon an equality those who had diligently and successfully exerted themselves to carry the law into execution, and those who from supineness and negligence made no such exertions. As to the repaying the penalties, it was a principle he never before heard of. He well remembered the Shop Tax, which was highly condemned by the rt hon. gent (Mr. Fox), as oppressive and unjust; but it never had entered into the head of that rt. hon. gent. or of the numerous petitioners for the repeal of the tax, that whatever had been raised under it, ought to have been restored. They were contented then with the repeal of the act of which they complained. There were only two petitions on the table of the house, for the repeal of act: the one was from Berkshire, and the other from the parish of Mery-la-bonne, but the petitioners had never thought of asking for repayment of the sums they had paid under this act. If this were done, it would appear that they were foolish people who complied with the act, and the wise people were those who paid no attention to it; for those parishes who raised men had deprived themselves of so much of their population and their wealth to no purpose. It would be an exceedingly bad precedent to make the breach of a law more profitable than the observance of it. In some cases, indeed, he knew it was impossible to comply with this law, for the apportionments were so strange, that some parishes had only three-fourths of a man to find, and he knew two parishes that had but one man to find between them, and the apportionment was, that one was rated at nine twenty-fourths of this man, and the other at fifteen twenty-fourths. In such cases the parishes had no option but to find the money.

Mr. Secretary Windham

admitted that the clause was certainly not without some inconvenience, but the question was now only, whether any less inconvenient mode could be pointed out. There were three ways in which the house might proceed; either to retain the penalties paid and remit the remainder, or to suffer the bill to continue, or to remit the penalties due, and to refund those paid. The first was liable to weighty objections, though he did not think as highly so as others. As to the feeling that those parishes might entertain, who had raised men, he could not entirely enter into the feelings of those who required that, to console them for their sufferings, others should suffer too. Solamen miseris socios habuisse doloris. If the question were about stopping an infectious disorder, a yellow fever, or a plague, and it should be said, that, as one half of the people had already died of it, it was but fair and just to let the other halt die too, he could by no means admit the force of that argument. There was no reason to suppose, that it was from any reluctance, or ill will, that the parishes did not find their quota, and if it was only because it was impossible to get the men, it would be unfair that they should be fined on account of this impossibility. If those parishes, who raised some men, did it by a breach of the law, there was no reason that they should be rewarded for that breach of the law, and if the others did not raise them because they would not break the law, it would be hard that they should be punished for not breaking the law. Dr. Moore had told a story of a review at Berlin, where a soldier, whose hat was blown off, was severely Punished, and although it was an unavoidable accident, yet it was observed that such accidents occurred seldomer after that time. It was perhaps in the same kind of way that some gentlemen supposed that whatever might be the cause of the parishes not producing the men, it would be the best way to punish them. The parishes however had shewn the greatest readiness to do all that was in their power to do, which was the paying the money As to the men, it had generally been found impossible to procure them according to the act; and the counties of Denbigh, Anglesea, and other places which had furnished their quota, had only been enabled to do so by sending to Manchester and other manufacturing towns to get the men in the usual way. It was certainly odd, that the hon. gentlemen, who had so often said that they wanted men, and not money, .now thought it right to inflict so excessive a burthen upon the parishes, as the fines amounted to. But, having once got the cash, 'non datur redditus;' the money was like the mouse, in a trap, and was never to be relinquished. There were not, it was true, many petitions against the Additional Force bill; but if a general understanding had not prevailed that it would be repealed, the table would have been loaded with them. It had been universally felt, that the bill must be repealed; and his Majesty's ministers, convinced of the impossibility of its being complied with, never could have pur- sued so unworthy a purpose as that of making people pay fines, amounting to near a million sterling, for not doing those things which they were utterly unable to do.

Sir E. Hartopp

said he thought it would be an injustice to his constituents, who had raised their full quota of men under the act, if they were to have no indemnification for their trouble, expence, and exertions, whilst other counties that had failed of carrying the act into execution, should be released from all penalties. The parishes that did exert themselves, and procured the men for the defence of the country, ought to be paid for their trouble, as an encouragement to zeal and loyalty for the future.

Sir W. Milner

observed, that some reflections had been attempted to be cast upon the parish of Mary-la-bonne, for not haying raised any men under the additional force act. The fact was, they were not able to raise a single Man by the provisions of the bill: they would not have recourse to the illegal means of crimping, though others had done so; and even though the same person (one of those called crimps) that had been employed by others, offered his services to them, they still adhered to what was lawful and honourable.

Mr. G. Vansittart

Supported the clause. He thought that those counties that had exerted themselves to get the men in the.manner pointed out by thelaw, but had failed, were more meritorious than those that had procured them contrary to law.

Mr. Shaw Lefevre

recommended that a clause should be inserted, in the bill, ordering the amount of the fines remitted or refunded to.parishes, to be put to the fund for the relief of the poor in each Parish or district. He denied that there was any unwillingness on the part of the people in any place that he had any knowledge of, to exert themselves in support of the provisions of the bill. The fact was, so many different militia were brought forward in quick succession after each other, that it was totally impossible to procure the men.

Mr. Windham

observed, that there was a clause in the bill, directing the application of the money to those purposes.

General Tarleton

observed, that several members had stigmatised the men raised by the Parish bill. For his own part he could assert that he had inspected the rolls, and saw several of the men, and he never saw finer men in his life. The inspecting officer would not have passed them if they were defective. He would also say that if the fines were not remitted, the country would in two months have 5000 men. The remitting of the fines would now encourage people to break acts of parliament. He observed that it might be expedient in some instances to commit a breach of regulation for the defence of the country, and in that case the breach would be more honourable than the observance.

Dr. Laurence

said that it was to him one of the most extraordinary assertions he had ever heard in a legislative assembly, that it would be right to break a positive law. With respect to the qualifications of the men for military service, there were letters on the table which shewed there was a secret understanding by which men; to be raised under the act then discussing, were allowed to be taken two inches under the usual standard, and ten years older than they would be admitted into other military bodies.

Mr. Ellison

said, he had opposed the Additional Force bill in all its stages, because he thought it a measure of false pretences, and injustice to many parts of the country in which it was impossible to carry it into effect. Yet he thought this clause objectionable, as leaving the whole burthen on those countries that had obeyed the law, and releasing from all penalties those that had neglected so to do.

Mr. Fuller

said that the act which was now to be repealed, was a mere act of experiment, and the experiment had completely failed. In his part of the country it was absolutely impossible to raise the men, and therefore he thought it would be very unjust that the parishes should be subject to the penalties.

Lord Castlereagh,

said, as the house seemed now to have adopted the proposition for the repeal of the act, it was in vain for him to renew his objections to that course of proceeding. The question now was as to the wisdom of returning the fines, and he was firmly of opinion, under all the circumstances of their becoming due, that by so doing, the legislature would surrender its authority and its respectability. He doubted whether the committee was proceeding formally in the discussion of such a question, as the money must be considered to have been paid into the exchequer, and to be now at the disposal of the executive government, for the purposes of the Country at large. He apprehended no injury would result, if parliament would appoint some time by which the defaulting parishes should be required to furnish the men, or be subjected to the in- fiction of the fine, If they were really to have the money returned, compensation ought certainly to be Made to those which had furnished men at So great an expence, at well under this act as under the Army of Reserve. The Militia laws, and all military measures were liable to the same objections, with respect to penalties, as the Additional Force bill; but the existing Militia laws particularly, as under them a parish might become subject to a fine of 400l. per man, if it neglected, for an extended period, to furnish men? The noble lord concluded, by expressing his hope, that parliament would maintain its dignity, and enforce the fines,if, after a reasonable notice the parishes did not comply with the provisions of the act.— The gallery was then cleared, but the bill passed through the committee, without a division, and the report was ordered to be received to-morrow.