HC Deb 05 August 1807 vol 9 cc1062-6

The order of the day for the third reading of this bill having been read,

Colonel Stanley

took the opportunity of expressing his disapprobation of it; contending that the advantages which the line would derive from it, were by no means equal to the injuries which the militia, that great constitutional force, would sustain. He suspected that the Militia establishment was not a favourite with the present government, and yet they should not forget the zeal and spirit with which the Militia regiments volunteered their services to Ireland on a former occasion. He wished to know, from some of his majesty's ministers, whether it was their intention to go upon this system from time to time, and draft from the militia whenever they wanted recruits for the regular army? If it were so, it would become a serious consideration for the gentlemen who had already made great sacrifices, whether they were to continue long in the militia. For his part, it would be with an aching heart that he should part with those men who had grown perfect soldiers, who had formed an attachment to their officers, and whose officers were attached to them. He also wished to know, whether his majesty's ministers had hitherto given any directions to prevent officers of the line from tampering with the soldiers of militia regiments? The reason he asked this question was, that he had received a letter from the lieut. colonel of the regiment he had the honour to command, stating, that from the moment it was first understood that recruiting was to be permitted from the militia, the officers of regular regiments had begun to tamper with the privates of the Lancashire militia, and also that drunkenness and want of discipline had commenced, which was to be expected in a few weeks.

Lord Castlereagh

said, he had always stated that he conceived a periodical or annual drafting from the militia, would be destructive to that service, without producing a correspondent service to the army, as the regular ballot would increase very much the price of the bounty. As to the other point, he must say, that no such general orders had been given, and that he should have thought it presumptuous for ministers to advise such general orders, at least until one branch of the legislature should have agreed to the measure. The regular officers, however, who, contrary to their duty, should tamper with militia soldiers in the mean time, would probably gain nothing by acting in that incorrect manner. For example; if any officers, whose regiments were quartered near the Lancashire militia, expected that they would gain the soldiers who should volunteer from that regiment, they would probably find themselves mistaken, and that some regiment at a greater distance might be pointed out for those men to join.

Sir R. Williams

observed, that if the bill had been brought forward early in the session, the sense of the people would have been so strongly expressed to their representatives, that it must have been rejected, and the gentlemen opposite must have lost their places. He blamed the eagerness with which ministers had subverted his right hon. friend's plan, which he contended, was every day improving in excellence; and remonstrated against the stigma thrown upon the militia, which amounted to an accusation that they were not fit to defend their country.


gave his consent to the measure, not because he was blind to the inconveniences that must, in many cases result from it, but because, feeling in common with every member of the house the necessity of increasing the military force of the country, he did not consider himself warranted in opposing the bill for that purpose, proposed by his majesty's ministers, unless he could offer something better in substitution. He stated the grounds of his approbation of the plan of his right hon. friend (Mr. Windham), and lamented that there were such fluctuations in many parts of the administration of the country, that that plan could not have fair play. It could not be denied that the ballot would be highly oppressive, and would materially injure, and for a time, destroy the recruiting for the regular army. To obviate this latter evil as much as possible, he thought it adviseable that the money given for substitutes should pass alone through the hands of government, and was, therefore desirous, that the fines should not be of such an amount as to preclude this course. The clause introduced in the committee giving the volunteers from the Militia to the line, the option of limited or unlimited service, met with his peculiar reprobation. It was with the most sincere regret that he found this bill was all that it was intended to propose, as he conceived that it was far from being adequate to the exigency of the country. His noble friend had recommended that further measures should be delayed to the next session, but was it certain that in the next session the opportunity of due deliberation would be afforded? Why the Training bill should not be put in force was to him utterly incomprehensible. It had never been considered as onerous, but if there were obstacles to its execution, he did not think it became parliament to separate until an attempt had been made to remove those obstacles. He rejoiced that the volunteer system was reviving, but some other body of force was required in the country, from which in case of invasion the regular army might be recruited. If ever there was any probability of an invasion, that probability had become much increased within the last two or three years. Every thing had occured to facilitate it, nothing to retard it.

Lord Folkestone

opposed the bill. He considered, that not only the particular clause objected to, but the whole of the bill was directly hostile to the plan of his right hon. friend, which, he was convinced, was the best means hitherto prepared for the permanent support of our armies.

General Loftus

regretted that so much opposition had been given to this measure, which he maintained was highly expedient. The former Volunteers from the Militia had given to the army some of the best non-commissioned officers, and even adjutants, and he deprecated the wish to lock up men of similar character, from extending their so here of service.

Mr. Windham

put it to the house to decide, who were right and who were wrong, in the circumstances which detained the house for such a length of time that morning. He appealed to what had just passed. Would it have been proper to have read the bill a third time, without having heard the discussion which had that evening taken place? Unquestionably not. The noble lord had declared, that the subject was exhausted: this was a considerable assumption on the part of any individual. If the forms of the house, and the state of the session allowed, plenty of new topics of objections would arise to the noble lord's bill. It was a standing dish. The house might, indeed, cut and come again. Whether any emergency existed, what was its nature, what measures were best calculated to meet it if it existed, whether this was one of those measures; these were considerations which demanded repeated inquiry. He denied that the number of men gained by the ballot, or rather the difference between that number and the number that would otherwise be gained by the regular recruiting, would in any degree compensate for the mischief that must result from the contest of bounties to the regular recruiting. Adverting to his own measure, he observed, that in the first three mouths of the last year, it had produced at the rate of 11,000 men a year; in the next three months, at the rate of 13,000 men; in the next three months, at the rate of 21,000 men; and in the last three months, at the rate of 24,000 men. Was there any reason for supposing, that this last was just the utmost that the measure could do, and that it would not have gone on increasing? When this result was considered, as combined with the effects which must have followed putting the Training bill into activity; the number that a perseverance in its plan must have produced, and regularly produced, would nearly have equalled the number proposed to be raised by the noble lord's plan, raised by an effort which must palsy all future exertions, After having thus maintained the superiority of his system in raising men, he entered into similar statements with respect to the diminution which it had occasioned, and which, if it had been persevered in, it unquestionably would have occasioned, in the number of desertions. The effect of the noble lord's plan on the Militia, had been described by the gentlemen who had spoken on that subject. For years to come, the Militia would not recover the blow of the noble lord. If it was once admitted that we had a right to plunder the Militia, it was a mere mockery to say that a recurrence of the assumed necessity of plunder would not happen. With regard to the Training act, which would be the grand reservoir from which the regular army might be supplied, on the score of some difficulty in the execution, the noble lord proposed to postpone the consideration of it to the next session. What difficulty? None that he knew of, except the mistake of substituting the Militia lists instead of those originally proposed, the effects of which, however, had in a great measure been removed. He repeated his statements on the subject of the volunteers, and contended, that if, in case of invasion, it were attempted to bring a large body of volunteers to act with the line against some of the best troops in Europe, it would be a most ruinous proceeding, and one which he entered his solemn protest against. He contended this measure would be much more expensive than the former measure, and press as a most unequal tax upon the poor man, who would be ruined by the penalty of twenty pounds whilst his wife and family would be driven upon the parish. Of his own plan it could not be said that any part of it was a job. But when they considered the time, at which the present ministers took measures to court the volunteers, on the eve of a general election, the transaction would have much the appearance of one. Whatever the volunteers might do in a campaign against Buonaparte, they were an effective army in an election campaign. They were a good instrument, and the gentlemen opposite had, even when in opposition, played upon it. He looked upon the destruction of the late system, as having its full share in the object of the ministers in bringing forward this measure. His hon. friend had well said, that the clause introduced into the bill was of no use to it; but was he sure that the bill itself had not been introduced to receive the clause? The whole country was with the system brought forward last year, and certainly one half of it was against the present plan. Ministers had been in office many months without bringing forward this measure, till the session was nearly over, and many gentlemen had left town who would he desirous of discussing it. But the defeat of the Russians had produced an emergency to call for the measure. Had they not sagacity to foresee that event? They seemed to be in the situation of persons walking about in a pleasure ground and coming on what, in the language of modern gard- ening, is called a sunk-fence, but which, he remembered, used to be called, with reference to the exclamation of surprise that it was supposed to call forth, a ha! ha!. Ha! ha! said the hon. gentlemen, so the allies have been beat! I protest I never could have thought it. The French have actually been successful! could any one have looked for such an event? Then they are all confusion and bustle, the watch must be called, their rattles sprung, and next in regular order, the dismantling and breaking up of the militia. The measure adopted was calculated to break up all existing establishments; but he thanked God, that the system of last year had existed long enough to have a right judgement formed of it; and he should be satisfied to go down to posterity With no other claims to merit than that afforded, as compared with the systems of the right hon. gentlemen opposite. Like the eminent Italian musician, who had a piece of music inscribed on his tomb, or the Dutch mathematician who had a calculation for his epitaph, he should desire no other monument as a statesman than that system. He lamented the measure before the house, more from the effect it would have in destroying the existing system, the benefits of which had begun to be felt, than from any consideration personal to himself, or his hon. friends with whom he had shared in bringing forward that system. On these grounds, therefore, he protested against the present measure.—A division then took place on the third reading. Ayes 76. Noes 19. Majority 57.