HC Deb 30 May 1806 vol 7 cc454-81

Saxe's opinions many years before. What do we learn from the hon. colonel to have been Marshal Saxe's opinion upon this subject? He prescribes that faith shall be inviolably and invariably kept with the soldier, that the discharge when due shall be given to every man that claims it; and does he then reckon upon their not claiming it? No such thing; on the contrary, he follows up this recommendation with a proposition, which shews at once his persuasion that the discharges, will be claimed, and his sense of the difficulty which will arise from granting them in time of war. And what is that proposition? The hon. colonel tells us that he suggests something very like the present system of conscription in France. This I confess, sir, is the very thing which I have all along apprehended as the ultimate and-most undesirable end of the right hon. gent.'s refinements and theories. The right hon. gent. is offended by the word theories as applied to his system. He will permit me at least to class them with the meditations of Marshal Saxe: and, as the Marshal was not ashamed to characterize them by the name of reveries,.I shall, unless I am positively, prohibited, take the liberty of applying the same term to the speculations of the right hon. gent. If that may not be, let us contrast, the whimsical, fanciful, visionary reveries of this same speculative marshal, with. the solid practical judgment and profound military knowledge of the right hon. gent. Marshal. Saxe did not reckon upon the re-enlistment; the right hon. gent. does:—but I think the right hon. gent. must at least agree with Marshal Saxe, that if the re-enlistments do not. take place, and if, good faith is kept as to the discharge, and if the mere prospect of that discharge has not been found sufficient here, as it was not found sufficient in France, to keep up the army by voluntary enlistment to the establishment requisite for war; the right hon. gent., I say, must see, as Marshal Saxe did, that some other means then must be resorted to; and in the state of things which the right hon. gent.'s system will have produced, after it has been a few years in full operation, I should be, glad to know what expedient for that purpose the right hon. gent. himself has in view. short of conscription. The right hon. gent. has told us very truly, that there are but three ways by which a military force can be raised; either by voluntary enrolment, or by compulsory; or by a mixture of the two. The compulsory enrolment he deprecates; cuncta prius tentanda; he would resort to it only in the last extremity; but my complaint against the right hon. gent.'s system is, that it tends directly and inevitably to bring this extremity upon us. It is against all experience that voluntary enrolment alone should suffice for all the military purposes of a great nation; there is no instance in the world in which it has been found sufficient. Recognizing this truth, we have in this country had recourse to a mixture of compulsory service; we have applied compulsion in its most mitigated form, and to borne service only; for foreign service we have recruited by voluntary enlistment, but finding the difficulty of filling our ranks by those means, we have not hitherto thought it wise to increase that difficulty by multiplying threefold the opportunities of quitting the service. This the right hon. gent. now proposes to do. He proposes, in addition, to discourage, more or less,—in some instances he has suspended, and in some he has abandoned, the modes of compulsory enlistment. I ask him, if his theory should fail, what refuge has he left him but conscription? I say that his attempt to square every thing to a theory will lead to the necessity, at some time or other, of employing rude force; that his delicate and fastidious refinements will be the parent of a severe and undiscriminating necessity. It will be too late to retread our steps when the hour of that necessity arrives. In God's name, let us not precipitate it; at least, let us not be persuaded to do so, by such arguments as we have heard this night! What argument in fact have we heard upon this subject, to solve the obvious difficulties which are in every body's mind, but more especially that difficulty which of itself is conclusive against the adoption of the right hon. gent.'s system, as a general system, and which I have reserved to this period of what I had to say, as that which distinguishes the case of this country from that of any other; and as that to which, unsatisfactory as the answers from the other side of the house have been upon every other point, they are so peculiarly and singularly unsatisfactory, as to provoke not remark only, but indignation! The house will readily apprehend that I allude to the colonial service. It is plain, that if the example of all other countries, if the example of France, were as distinctly encouraging as they have been shewn to be the reverse, till the extensive colonial possessions of this country, and the great proportion of our army which it is necessary to employ in their defence, would alone be sufficient to discourage the adoption of the system by this country. I will not take up the time of the house by pointing out the obvious difficulties and dangers arising from this system to the defence of our colonies;—but mark the answer, and the only answer which has been attempted to be given to them!—The right hon. gent. expressed a hope, in which the hon. colonel faithfully followed, that the danger might not be quite so great as it appeared; and that before it actually occurred, means might be found to remedy it: and this is all!—After so many years debate, after so many months of official deliberation, the right hon. gent., in bringing forward a plan for the complete alteration of the established military system of the country, is no otherwise prepared to meet the objection which every man in this house, and out of this house; which every man who has either written, or spoken, or conversed, or thought upon the subject, has had uppermost in his mind, than by a vague and distant hope, that at some time or other, somebody or other may, in some way or other, discover something or other, which shall, some how or other, remedy someone or other, of the manifold inconveniences and dangers which we all concur in apprehending!—As to the right hon. gent. himself, he washes his hands of it: it is not to him that we are to look for the solution of the difficulty; and with this explanation parliament is to be satisfied! Sir, to such a plan as this, introduced in such a manner, supported by such arguments, fraught with such difficulties and dangers; a plan unnecessarily invading the prerogative of the crown, and unadvisedly committing the faith and discretion of parliament,—I cannot but give my most decided and unqualified opposition. I do not thereby mean to pronounce any opinion against the expediency of trying the experiment of limited service.—The crown has already the power to try it. Let the right hon. gent.—let the king's ministers exercise their constitutional right to advise the crown to make the trial, if they shall think fit: but let them not insist upon making parliament a party to their experiment. No practical advantage is gained by our interference; and by abstaining from interposing, we shall at least avoid many practical disadvantages which may result from it.

Mr. Secretary Fox

rose, in reply to the right hon. gent. He said, that before he entered into any discussion of the principles of the bill, he must first answer some interlocutory objections that had been made. As to the complaint of its being hurried forward with such precipitation, just as the mutiny bill was going to expire, he must remind that right hon. gent. (Mr. Canning) and his friends, that, a few days ago, they had contended that the discussion should be delayed two days longer, as they had wished the discussion not to come on before Monday next. If he and his friends persisted in fixing it for the present night, and not putting it off, it was merely that parliament should have as much time for the discussion as could be given before the expiration of the Mutiny bill. If they had fixed it for Monday, the complaint would have been, why did not you bring it in sooner; why did not you give us more time to discuss it? This was a tolerable sample of the general style of the right hon. gentleman's arguments. If the measure had been introduced in the Mutiny bill, it was because such was the constant usage of parliament. The right hon. gent. next found fault with popular assemblies, and parliament's meddling, with the army of the crown. Where was it that he made that objection? In a house where the Mutiny bill is annually, passed, for the avowed purpose of subjecting the army of the country, in some measure, to parliamentary controul. "But," said the right hon, gent., "we spent our time much better when we were in administration; we never interfered with the army of the crown; but we provided a constitutional and a parliamentary army to be a balance to it, and at the same time to assist it with recruits." For his part, he must say, he never heard of a parliamentary army before, except in the year 1641; and as for the distinction which had been made, of royal army and parliamentary army, it was what no writer, no speaker, nor no man at all acquainted with the principles of the constitution, had ever taken notice of. Every army in this country was royal, and every army was also parliamentary. The right hon. gent. seemed to consider the disposable force as the king's army, and every other description of force as a sort of balance to it. The militia, indeed, from its composition, and the description of its officers, might be, in some degree, considered in that light; but as to the additional force raised by the parish bill, nothing could be more ridiculous than to call them a parliamentary force, which was to be a balance to any other, as they were offered by persons appointed by the crown, and taken from the king's army. An hon. general (sir J. Pulteney) had, on a former night, roundly asserted, that no other nation in Europe had ever adopted the limited service recommended; but that night he was pleased to retract something from his assertion, and only said, that the general practice of the European nations, was against it. The hon. general had not stated the case fairly, when he represented, that, if old France adopted the system, her armies were the worse for it, and that in the 7 years war they had been every where defeated. The hon. general should not have confined himself to the 7 years war, but should have also taken the war preceding it. In that war he would have found, that though the French lost the battle of Dettingen, they won that of Fontenoy, and were, in the whole of the war, most conspicuously successful. Even in the 7 years war, the conduct of the French armies was by no means treated with that levity in the writings of the king of Prussia, that it had been by the hon. general. As the ordonnance subsisted from 1710 to 1787, it was not fair merely to take 7 years of that period as a criterion, when for 77 years they had acquired and supported a high military reputation. The argument which his right hon. friend (Mr. Windham) had drawn from the Swiss, was, in his opinion, a very strong one, and completely unanswered. If it were said, that the moral excellence of the soldier's character was destroyed by the thoughts of leaving the service and returning to his home, he should ask, do not the Swiss also feel a strong desire of returning to their native country, and have not the Swiss been at the same time good soldiers? Has not even the circumstance of their joyful return to their homes and families, been made a means of encouragement to others to inlist? When the young men of the country saw the soldier return to his borne with more reputation, more happiness, more of every thing that could give satisfaction to mankind, they wished to embark in the same career. As for the measure proposed being a novel theory, he should only say, that it had been urged in that house 25 years ago, and it was no less than 16 years since his right hon. friend had stated the advantages which might be expected from changing the term of service. In the system proposed, he thought great advantages would be derived, both from the soldiers who stayed after their term was expired, and from those who left the service. Every one who left the service would show to his townsmen, or neighbours, the liberty that was granted to soldiers to return to their homes, and this, he thought, would immediately have a strong effect in recruiting the army. It was strange, that those who had so often argued that there was something in real service, and in the regular army, which attracted persons who inlisted for home service, should, upon the present occasion, contend that it had no such attraction, and that every one must prefer the home service. It was no wild speculation or theory, to calculate upon the common sense and common feelings of mankind. There was no doubt but, that any body who had a horse to dispose of, would rather sell him for twenty guineas than for ten; and there could be no doubt, but that the military profession must be rendered more attractive by being made more eligible. A right hon. gent. (Mr. Yorke) had asked, was it necessary to extend our military system? Had we not an army which, both in discipline and in numbers, was every thing that could be wished; which was fully efficient for every purpose? For his part, he could not allow that we did possess an army efficient for all the purposes of the country. It must be remembered, that in the unfortunate campaign on the continent, the country was placed in such a situation, as to witness the defeat of its allies, without a British soldier having an opportunity of striking a blow in their defence. If it be said, that the country had, at that time, an army fully efficient, what must be thought of those ministers who did not apply the means they were possessed of for the annoyance of the enemy, and the support of our allies? That most disastrous campaign was decided without a British arm being raised, or a musket fired, in defence of the continent of Europe. What would the great duke of Marlborough have said, if the ministers of that day had told him, "you are certainly the best general in Europe, and our army is very fine, and efficient to all the .purposes of the country; but we cannot give you any force, either to protect our rallies or to attack the enemy?" It has been often said, What occasion has this country for a great army, when its fleets ride triumphant in every sea? He felt considerable confidence in our navy, and shared in that pride which every Briton must feel at the brilliant victories our fleets had obtained over the enemy; but at the same time he must say, that by our naval superiority alone we should never be able to prevent France from extending her conquests over the continent of Europe. O! but, say others, we have plenty of money; we can afford to subsidize nations, and hire foreigners to fight our Cattles. In answer to that he must observe, that all history shewed that such are not the means by which greatness and national honour are to be defended. This country had, at many periods, made great and astonishing exertions. When William III. was at the head of the confederacy of Europe, this country acquired considerable renown. Again, in the reign of queen Anne, when the duke of Marlborough commanded our armies, although the native British troops that he commanded were a small portion in number to their German allies, yet they ranked high in military reputation, and contributed powerfully to the common cause. In the seven years' war, a few British regiments, under the command of prince Ferdinand, contributed essentially to the victory at Minden. It was this way the country acquired renown, "Sic itur ad astra." It was by the valour of her troops, and not merely by the power of subsidising foreigners, that, in the best times of her history, she had gained so high a character among the nations. These wars had been undertaken, in a great measure, to preserve the balance of power; and, however this idea might be ridiculed, our ancestors saw, what we have felt, that this balance of power could not be destroyed without the most serious evils resulting to Europe, and without our being exposed to the domineering influence of France. The situation in which the country was placed was this: it must either trust entirely to its navy, its commerce, and its ships, and patiently submit to see the power of France extending over every nation in Europe; or else, it must think, at some future period, of being able to afford some relief to nations that are oppressed, and of preserving its connection with the continent of Europe. If this was the determination of the house, it was evident, that the only means of accomplishing these things was, to improve our armies; but if the country should prefer what he considered the ignominious alternative (which he, for his part, would never consent to) of separating itself from the interests of other nations, and endeavouring to preserve an insulated greatness, he conceived that such a conduct would be still more dangerous, than it would be to follow a more generous policy, and one more befitting the character of the British nation. He should also have an objection to the alternative, even upon constitutional grounds. It was known, that the character of the House of Brunswick was to resist every attempt that might be made against the constitution of this country, and especially any attacks which might be made by France, or with French assistance. The character, however, of any other family which had reigned in this country had been very different. If, then, it could ever be supposed, at some remote period, that any sovereign of this country could act on the principles that sonic sovereigns had acted on, when there was a compromise between England and France, that one was to rule by sea, and the other by land, the assistance of France might be requested against the liberties of the subjects of this realm. Although he did not state this as a case very probable, yet he thought the bare possibility of it made it an object worth consideration. As to the navy, he bad such a high opinion both of the skill of its officers, and of the great reputation it had gained (a reputation which would do more than any thing else to preserve its superiority), that he felt confident that France and Spain could never equal it. He therefore differed much from some of his honourable friends on the subject of invasion. He by no means dreaded invasion. He thought we had, in the first place, a powerful security in the superiority of our navy; and, in the second place, in the spirit of the British nation, which, he was convinced, was abundantly sufficient to triumph, ultimately, over any army that could invade this country. When he was asked, then, why do you want a greater army? have we not soldiers enough to defend the country? he should answer, "we have enough, and more than enough." So far from thinking the number too few to defend the country, he would state most distinctly, that if he saw any prospect of recovering for Europe what had been lost in the late unfortunate campaign, he should have no objection to risk a part of the army we possess in the attempt. He thought, that we should think of acting offensively in the war, as far as our powers extended. Although the disposable force of this country bore but a small proportion to the French armies; yet, it did not follow, that we should not be able, at some future period, to give a powerful and effectual assistance to some of those nation which France, in her ambition for extending her power, may hereafter choose to attack. He was always an eager and ardent friend of peace, and he was still a friend of peace. He indeed wished for such a peace as could be made on tolerable terms; but then the character of the peace he wished for was, that it should preserve our connections with the continent of Europe, and not give up any thing which the point of honour forbade us to give up. If such a peace were made, he hoped the nation would not uselessly retain the passions of war in a time of peace. As to what regarded the point of honour, he considered it still, as he had often stated it, as a matter of the highest importance among nations, and one of the few legitimate grounds of war. In the consideration of the force that the country required at the present time, it would not be sufficient to talk of what it was in the time of king William and queen Anne, and say, that it is now double or treble what it was at that time. The question was, what was sufficient for the circumstances in which the country was now placed, and for the objects it had in view? If its objects were, us he conceived they ought to be, to be able to render, at some future day, important services to the continental nations, it was evident that our army ought to be increased; and he knew no better means of doing it, than by adopting the system which was proposed by his right hon. friend. The military measures which had been proposed in the course of the war, were merely temporary measures. When a great alarm of invasion had been spread, it was natural to call upon all hands to repel it. The object, at the present day, was not so much to repel invasion, as to recover for the country that military rank and influence which it had, till very recently, preserved in Europe. He was more sanguine in the immediate advantages of this measure, than was his right hon. friend, who introduced it, although, perhaps, not quite so sanguine as the hon. colonel (col. Craufurd): he did conceive, that the great obstacle to the recruiting service, at present, was, the prejudices of parents, who conceived that their children were utterly lost and ruined, if they entered into the army, whether in the cavalry or infantry. If this measure could remove this prejudice from the minds of fathers or mothers, it would remove the greatest obstacle that now stood in the way of the recruiting service. It would not only get a better description of recruits, but would make the recruiting service operate on a much more extensive description, by taking in the inhabitants of the country, as well as the population of the manufacturing towns. He was sorry the navy had been at all mentioned; but, with respect to the allusion which had been made by the hon. gent. to a late regulation, upon a principle similar to that now proposed, namely, inlisting them, instead of for life, only for a term of years, or during the war, he was surprised that the hon. gent. was not acquainted who were the authors of that arrangement; he would, however, inform the hon. gent. that it was made by his own friends, the late administration, as the last act, of their official authority, and it certainly was the best of their whole administration; and, so far, as it, went, it was an irrefragable proof of the efficacy of the principle, as well in procuring a numerous and rapid supply of recruits for the marine service, unparalleled upon any former, occasion, as in obtaining them from a better order of men. In answer to the arguments of the hon. gent. Against extending the same principle to the army in general, he could only say, the principle, so far as it had been tried in the case just alluded to, and according to the most general opinions of persons whom he considered the first military authorities, not only in the present day, but some years back, he considered, was a good and an eligible one; and having heard no other plan, as yet proposed, at all likely to produce similar effects, he should, therefore, adhere to and, support this. Much clamour had been raised against this principle, as new and untried; and the alarm was loudly sounded, to warn his majesty's ministers, against its adoption, lest, they should render themselves unpopular to the whole country; but, highly sensible as he was of the excessive solicitude of those who used such arguments for the popularity of those ministers, he must beg leave to say, that however unwilling they were to oppose their, own opinions against those expressed by the majority, or any great portion of the people of England, still they felt it their bounden duty, at a crisis so ardent as the present, not to temporise upon a measure of such vital importance to the security of the, country, under any apprehension of risking a temporary unpopularity; for, if they were to suffer their conduct, in concerns of such importance, to be swayed by such considerations, they might do that which would be popular with one party to-day, and unpopular with another to-morrow, and, in the mean time, sacrifice to popular caprice, or selfish considerations, the real interest and security of the empire, instead of doing that which was their indispensable duty, independent of all minor considerations; namely, adhering firmly to those measures which appeared best in their conviction, regardless of any risk to which their popularity might be exposed: nor did any man, in his mind, deserve the name of statesman, who would not, under such circumstances, firmly adhere to this principle. On the contrary, that minister who would abandon it under such circumstances, would swerve from his duty, and act the part of fool and a coward. In times like these, they ought not to temporise. If they were to be content to go on from day to day, from expedient to expedient, trusting to chance, and consulting every fluctuation of popular opinion, their task would be easy. The course was before them, like virtue and pleasure in the Grecian writer: the path, to which the one led, arduous and difficult; the other, smooth and easy. But, if they wished to be really useful to their country, they must often risk both their power and their popularity. Holding a firm and systematic attention to public good, they might sometimes find it necessary to act against the momentary influence of both; but, if they hesitated to do so, they would be political cowards. They would violate their duty, both as the servants of the crown, and as members of parliament, if they were deferred, by such considerations, from giving their opinions, and pursuing what they, thought right.

Mr. Perceval ,

after apologising for an attempt to trespass on the house at so advanced an hour, promised to do it very briefly, and to confine himself to the question: in doing this, it would be impossible for him to follow the right hon. gent. through the wide and desultory field of argument he had adopted. To some points of his speech, however, it would be necessary to advert. Nobody, at least that he had heard, had made any such assertion, as that it was not necessary to increase the army. The question was not about the necessity of increase, but the mode of effecting it; and the point now for the house to consider was, whether the measure proposed was not much more likely to diminish than to increase the public force, Such was the effect, however, which, he was convinced, it was most likely to have. He was glad to hear from the right hon. gent, such a declaration as, that it was necessary, even in time of peace, to keep up a considerable force, under the existing circumstances of this country and of Europe, considering the kind of enemy with whom we had to contend; and he was the more glad to hear this declaration, because it was so diametrically opposite to an opinion formerly declared by the same right hon. gent., who said that our army ought to be reduced to the lowest possible peace establishment; and that we ought to consider Buonaparte merely as a rival in commerce. He complained much of the predicament, into which the introduction of the proposed measure into a mutiny bill would throw the legislature, .as by the introduction of a clause, having for its object the disposal of public money, if the other house of parliament should exercise a privilege with that clause, which they had been often it, the habit of assuming, the inevitable consequences would be, that the bill would be thrown out by this house, the existing Mutiny bill would expire, and the army of the country be, de facto, disbanded. The house, then, was pushed to the unfair alternative, of either adopting those propositions without discussion, or, in taking time to discuss them properly, incur the risk of disbanding the army. He was, therefore, of opinion, that the Mutiny bill ought not to be clogged with those clauses; but that they should be the subject of a separate bill, and thereby ample time allowed for discussion. The right hon. gent. had affected to ridicule the arguments of those who had before complained of delay in bringing forward those propositions, and now complained of the precipitancy of urging them to a decision: but he would ask, was it not much more ridiculous for those who had so tardily protracted their own proposition, to endeavour to atone for their delay by an unwarrantable precipitancy, in hurrying the house to a decision upon a measure without time to discuss it. Such was the consequence of that miserable botchery of legislature, so disgraceful to ministers, in twice successively coming forward with a Mutiny bill for a month, instead of taking, as he had advised the secretary at war, two months for the last Mutiny bill at once, which would have afforded ample time to discuss those propositions! But he not only complained of the precipitancy with which the house was pushed to a decision; but that they were called on to decide, without being allowed that light upon the subject, which the opinions received from military officers of distinction, by his majesty's ministers, would have reflected. He argued, that the great majority of those officers were decidedly against the discharge of men in time of war; and that the opinions of marine officers, and still more especially of artillery officers, had not been consulted; although it was their unanimous opinion, that the discharging men at the end of seven years would be the ruin of their corps, who would only have completed their training by that time. The hon. and learned member then proceeded to compare the expences at which the country would derive the services of the soldier for a hinted period, with those which it now paid for the services of the soldier for life. In the latter case, the highest bounty was but 16 guineas; upon the former, though the hon. gent. had not condescended to name any rate, yet it could not be presumed less than 12 guineas; and then 5 guineas for renewal of bounty at the expiration of 7 years. The weekly sixpences on the second 7 years, would amount to 9l. 2s.; then the renewed bounty for the last 7 years, reckoned at only 3 guineas; the weekly shillings would add 18l. 4s. more. The soldier, then, supposing he inlisted at twenty, would be aged forty-one years when he would be entitled to his discharge and pay for life, at per day; which, reckoning it only at eight years purchase, and adding it to the former sums, would amount to a bounty, or bonus, altogether, of 230l. per man; while, at present, the country derived the unlimited service of the soldier, for life, at a total expence of only 16 guineas; and supposing the soldier, in the former instance, to claim his discharge at the end of 14 years, he would then have stood the country in 80l, or 90l.; considering, therefore, the comparative expence as enormous, and the adoption of such an expence wholly unnecessary, as the country already possessed ample means of recruiting its armies without, he should oppose the motion,—The committee then divided on bringing up the clause: For the clause 254; Against it 125; Majority 129.

Upon our return into the gallery, we found the house in debate, which lasted till half past six o'clock. The ministers wished to have the clause read a second time. No less than seven divisions took place; four of which were upon a repetition of the motion, "That the chairman do now leave the chair.". The business terminated by the speaker's suggesting, that an amendment should be proposed on Monday, pro formá, so as to admit of a further discussion on the principle of the clause.