HC Deb 28 July 1807 vol 9 cc977-86

The house having resolved itself into a committee of the whole house, on the Militia Transfer bill,

Lord Milton

rose. The emergency to call for a measure so oppressive as this, was not, he said, made out. If the French fleets had been victorious, then indeed there might have been a ground for some strong compulsory measure. The militia was the constitutional force of the country, and ought not to thus tampered with and degraded, especially when the object at present was not to procure a force for foreign service, but for the defence of the country. It Was impossible now to look for conquests on the continent, or to expect to stop the progress of Bonaparte. At the first establishment of the militia the service was in a great measure of a personal nature. Now, however, it was merely a tax on the country, and a tax which, by the operation of the ballot, Would be most partially and most unjustly levied. It was levied entirely on the landed property, and not on the whole, but on a part of it, Peers were exempted, and clergymen and infants, and lands mortmain. And on this account he would always object to the militia, except so far as they formed a garrison for our homes. It ought also to be considered whether the families of those who volunteered in this manner, were to be chargeable to the parishes, in the same manner, as if they had still continued in the militia. Whether they were or not, the present measure was equally objectionable. It they should be entitled to the relief, then this would be imposing a most grievous burthen upon the parishes, which would be charged both with their families and with the families of those who were to replace them. It their families were not to be provided for, it was a most cruel injustice to the men, and to those families which might thus be left destitute. But he had another strong objection to this measure. It had been clearly made out that it interfered very materially with the military plan of his right hon. friend (Mr. Windham), a plan which the present ministers seemed to wish to subvert by a side wind. This plan had been highly successful for the time it had been in operation as appeared from the returns on the table. He knew it had been successful in the country, and had the approbation of those who were to carry it into execution. It was said that there was an emergency, and that we must make a sudden exertion; but the danger was, that by these continued exertions the country would be exhausted when the most pressing occasion arrived. Emergencies might thus be said to have arrived after the battle of Austerlitz; after that of Auerstadt, and that of Friedland. But the population of the country must be prepared for a long protracted war, which it could not be with these continual paralysing efforts, resting principally on the landed property. There was no vigour in the present measure, but if there was, he should doubt of its propriety; for by these exertions we must exhaust ourselves before we had run half our race. The plan of his fight hon. friend below, was exactly calculated for our present situation; for it was intended to meet a long protracted war, and had every appearance of being sufficient to answer that important purpose. That plan would be rising in its efficacy every day. The present measure would be constantly decreasing in its effects, and not only do little good itself, but prevent the other plan from having its proper influence. For these reasons he had voted against the measure: but, however, after the decision of the house, he would not at present oppose the Speaker's leaving the chair; but he had thought it incumbent upon him to state his reasons for his former vote, and the grounds on which he thought the present measure not only useless but mischievous.

Sir Thomas Turton

declared that he would rather wish to augment than diminish the militia. But he had strong objections to the system of ballot, on account of the malignity with which it operated. The ballot might fall upon a man of no property, or it might fall upon him (sir T. Turton). As to the chances, they were on an equality. But for 20 guineas he could procure a substitute, and this was nothing to him; but it might he every thing to the other, and therefore it was that the tax was grossly unequal. He thought the late ministers deserving of great praise for having suspended the ballot, and he really wished that some means might be found, by which the expence of this measure should be more equalised.—Indeed, he entirely approved of what the late ministers had done with regard to the continent, with one exception and that was, that they had not promptly assisted our allies alter the battle of Eylau, for then there appeared a prospect of stopping the career of the French, when they had received this check from the Russians. If he had had any influence over the councils of his majesty, he certainly would have advised that a strong force should have been sent to the continent on that occasion. He had always disapproved to sending expeditions to the continent to save Europe; for if Europe was not able to save itself, it was impossible that it could be done by Great Britain. We, therefore ought to reserve our forces instead of sending them on these foolish expeditions. But now, whether we should be at peace or not, we must always be armed, perhaps for a century. Since we must then be a armed, in God's name, let us have the force as constitutional as we can. He would cheerfully consent, however, to give ministers the force they wanted for the line, if they thought it useful for harassing the enemy, provided it could be done without the evils arising from the inequality of the ballot. The principle of the army of reserve, however, which had been so much insisted upon by those who themselves formed a sort of political reserve in that house, he thought even more objectionable than that now proposed to be adopted. It was true, more men were procured by the Reserve act; but at the same time it occasioned a great deal more hardship and oppression. He expressed his approbation of the volunteer system properly conducted. This ought to be encouraged by paying the volunteers for their loss of time. He thought some inspecting field-officers necessary, and observed that the expence of the whole was small in comparison with the benefit. He denied, however, that the numbers of the volunteers were so great as they were stated. He concluded by saying, that he should have no objection to the measure, provided the inequality of the ballet could be remedied.

Colonel Wood

had hoped, that in the present situation of the country, all party considerations would have been laid aside; and expressed his astonishment at the sentiments that had been promulgated on this subject. With great reluctance he gave his consent to the deterioration of that most constitutional force, the militia; but when he reflected on the present state of Europe, it was impossible for him to withhold it. He thought, that the plan of his noble friend was the only one that could give the desireable force. A right hon. gent. had last night said, that we had nothing to apprehend, because Bonaparte and his army were at such a distance; but in six months they might be on the opposite shores. He then entered into the best mode of defence in case of invasion, end recommended strongly the erection of Martello towers, and the fortifications of our arsenals and dockyards, which were now unable to resist a, siege of a fortnight or three weeks. He should give the present question his decided support.

Mr. Davits Giddy ,

although he could not approve, in every point, of the plan of the late right hon. secretary of state for the war department, yet thought that, if suffered to proceed, it would be very productive, and he regretted that the noble lord's plan would interfere with it. Still, however, it appeared that some sort of compulsion was necessary to provide a large military force, but he did not altogether see the utility of the volunteering from the militia, and expressed his preference of a ballot directly for the army. As a majority of the house, however, had determined in favour of the noble lord's plan, he should cheerfully acquiesce in that determination.

Sir G. Warrender

repeated his former arguments on this subject, and contended that the disposable force now existing was amply sufficient. His grand objection to the noble lord's plan was, that it applied a temporary remedy to a permanent evil, while the plan of his right hon. friend opposed a permanent remedy to a permanent evil. If a proper object for expeditions presented itself, he was far from disapproving of them, provided they were properly conducted. When the French were driven out of Italy, and an expedition was sent to the Helder, which at first promised to be successful, he thought that a good ground existed for the volunteering of the militia into the line at that time. But now there was no opportunity for any great expedition, and therefore he thought this measure of very little use, while it occasioned a great deal of mischief. But after the decision already come to, he could not expect to succeed in any opposition he might now give to it. It ought to be considered however, that the regiments were far removed from their respective counties, and that a great deal of difficulty would attend the collecting of the recruits. If the measure should pass into a law, he should undoubtedly do his endeavour to give it effect. Notwithstanding, however, the partiality he felt for the gentlemen on his side (the opposition side)#x2014;a partiality of which he certainly had no reason to be ashamed—he assured the gentlemen on the other side, that he would have opposed this measure though it had come from those whom he thought much better entitled to his confidence.

Mr. Babington

was of opinion that our regular force ought to be much augmented; and though he approved of this measure so far as it went, yet he thought that the addition of 36,000 men was much too small. It was not enough to have a force large enough to meet the enemy at the onset. We ought to have a reserve in case we lost one or two battles. He was surprized that so little stress had been laid upon the training of the population of the country; as the population of our enemy was military, it was necessary that ours should be military also. The actual enforcement of some measure for training the people, would have the effect of bringing many recruits into the line. This had happened in the case of the Army of Reserve act, for at that time many had entered that service from the idea that the Defence act was about to be enforced; for they reasoned in this way, that if they must serve, it was as well to do it in one way as in another. He concluded by declaring his assent to the measure.

Lord Cochrane

thought the unequal operation of the ballot the most serious objection to the plan of the noble lord. At the same time, he entirely approved of permitting the militia to volunteer into the line: the present emergency called for a large disposable force, and he thought the best way of getting that force was the one proposed.

Colonel Bagwell

did not think the numerical force of the line would be so much increased as seemed to be anticipated.

Mr. Windham rose ,

not for the purpose of going at length into the consideration of the bill, but because some very important points relating to this subject had been mistated. The gentlemen on the other side seemed to confine their attention to one or two points only, of the measures which he had brought forward; but there were others, such as the Training act, which they had abstained from speaking of altogether. If the noble lord (Castlereagh) only found fault with some particular points of his bill, he would allow that, like all other bills of a general nature, it was capable of improvement, but he would not allow that there was more to be corrected or supplied than in other bills of this nature. He was ready to join the noble lord, or any other gentleman, in correcting whatever part of his bill might require correction. When he had brought forward the Training act, it was his opinion that it would constitute a great reservoir to feed and supply the regular army. He could not conceive what title the plan of the noble lord had to be called a grand measure, even to meet an emergency. What was it more than the difference between 36,000 men raised for the militia, and the number which the former plan would have raised? He thought that it had very little claim indeed to the character of a grand measure. He did not, however, wish to press that consideration farther at present, as there would be another opportunity of discussing the merits of the bill. Nor was it his wish now to answer at any length the objection which had been thrown out against the conduct of the late administration in the remission of fines to the different parishes. He should barely state, that the question on that point was, whether or not those fines could be levied without injus- tice? It was not stating the matter correctly to say, that by this means, parishes that had made no exertion, and had incurred no expense, were placed exactly on a footing with those who had made exertion. The fact was most notorious, that there were many was parishes that used every exertion which the law allowed, and could by no possibility obtain the men, while others obtained the men by exertions which were not allowed by the law. The question then was, whether those latter parishes should have an advantage over those who had done every thing which they could legally do, without being able to procure any men. The difference between the present bill and the one he had the honour to propose, appeared to him to be exactly that difference which was described by his noble friend (lord Milton), when he described [...] as the difference between a present and a permanent measure. He denied that any measure of his had produced the diminution in the number of volunteers which had been stated.

General Tarleton ,

said that the measures of the right hon. gent. had certainly contributed very much to dispirit the volunteers, as he himself had witnessed in the different districts with which he was best acquainted. He could not agree with the opinion of those who stated that the inspecting field-officers were of no use, and that their duty could be sufficiently discharged by the general officers of the district. The district which he commanded, comprised seven English counties, and 3 Welch ones, and 170 volunteer corps: it would be absolutely impossible that one general of a district should superintend so many corps who were widely dispersed over his district. He was therefore very glad that such power Was lodged in the inspecting field-officers. He considered that the improving the nature of the volunteer force would supersede the necessity of the Training act, and many other oppressive measures to which the people must otherwise be subject. He thought most highly of the militia force, and had a much better opinion of them than of the second battalions. He considered that the militia regiments possessed in a high degree the health and stamina of the country; and if the English and Irish militia would readily interchange their services he considered that there would be no occasion for the present measure. It was merely because he did not find the superior officers of the militia ready to make this interchange, that he thought it advisable to draft, from the militia. He was surprized that gentlemen on the other side of the house should not perceive an emergency which called for extraordinary measures, when the first general of the age had collected such an immense army, and was now more completely at, leisure than he was at any former period, to direct his entire attention to the subjugation of this country. He had seen many of the second battalions, and from the number of boys among them, he considered that they were much inferior to the militia regiments as they were at present.

Mr. Shaw Lofevre

observed, that the county of Leicester, to which an hon. gent. (Mr. Babington) belonged, who had taken a part in this debate, had employed means contrary to law to raise men by crimps and excessive bounties. Knowing, as he did, the hardships imposed upon individuals by the different mode of applying the ballot, he still considered, that the army of reserve plan was an easier and cheaper means of raising men, than the plan proposed by the noble lord. He expressed doubt whether the supplemented militia could be raised to the full extent proposed by the measure, whilst there was a certain proportion of the former supplemental militia at serving in the militia.

Lord Castlereagh

replied, that the objection was a legal, not a political one, but declared it to be his opinion, that alter the supplemental militia had been reduced or incorporated with the original militia, it was perfectly competent to his majesty and the legislature to call out the amount of supplemental militia proposed.

The house then resolved itself into a committee on the bill, in which the various blanks were filled up, after much discussion, conformably to the general outline of the plan opened by the noble framer. When the bill had been gone through,

Lord Castlereagh rose

to propose a clause which should have for its object, to allow the militia an option either to enter into the army for the term of 7 years, or for life. He by no means conceived that the plan of the right hon. gent. (Mr Windham) held out those superior inducements which gentlemen on the other side appeared to imagine. He could state one circumstance that strongly inclined him to think that it did not. When it was judged necessary to encourage men to volunteer from the militia for the expedition to Holland, the terms given, were ten guineas bounty to every man who volunteered for general service for five years in Europe. At the same time, lord Cornwallis, who was then lord lieutenant of Ireland, thought it would be better to try whether he could not get the men to volunteer from the Irish militia for general service for life. For this purpose, he proposed 10 guineas to those who enlisted for five years; and 12 guineas to those who should enlist for life, and yet out of 9,000 who enlisted, there were only about 250 Who did not prefer the additional two guineas with the condition of serving for life. This was a strong fact against the measures of the right hon. gent. He thought that the gentlemen the other side, ought to be very glad that such an opportunity was afforded of immediately comparing the effect of the two systems. One great object which induced him to bring in the clause, was the serious mischief which would result from discharging such a large proportion of an army in the same year, as they would become entitled to their discharge nearly at the same time.

Mr. W. Smith

had one general objection against offering the option proposed in the clause, because it would materially interfere with the system now in existence. The necessity of bringing up such a clause a strong argument against the measure of the noble lord.

The Secretary at War ,

in confirmation of the argument of his noble friend, sated that the force that would be raised within the present year by his measure, and by the ordinary recruiting, would amount to 43,000 men; and if so large a proportion of our military force were to be entitled to their discharge at the end of seven years, it might be productive of much mischief.

Mr. Littleton

should give a decided negative to this clause, thus surreptitiously introduced into the bill without notice, to subvert the system at present in force. Why had the clause not been produced at first on the face of the bill?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

to correct the mistake of the hon. gent., reminded the committee, that his noble friend had, in the first instance, stated his intention to bring forward this clause in the committee. The reason why they had not introduced the clause on the face of the bill was, that his noble friend wished to take the sense of the house on the general principle of his measure on the second reading of the bill, without endangering its adoption, if there should be any general objection to such a clause. For the same reason, he chose to take the sense of the committee on the clause, which, if rejected, would not affect the general measure. This enlistment was to be only of a temporary nature, and therefore, to allow the option would not be to depart from the uniform permanent mode or recruiting. On their own principle, the gentlemen opposite ought to agree to the clause, because, though their system was at first to apply to all men serving in the army who had served 21 years, they had been deterred front acting upon it, when they found that the number to be discharged amounted to 6,000. To be consistent therefore, they who were afraid to discharge 6,000 then serving, but not raised under the provisions of their system, should not object to giving an option that would have the effect of preventing the whole of so large a force as 23,000 men, not raised under their plan, from being entitled to their discharge at the same time.

Lord G. Cavendish

argued against the clause, and contended, that it would be nugatory, because for the same bounty any man must prefer the limited to the unlimited period of service.

Mr. Babington

felt rather jealous of any measure that went to disturb that which had already been laid down for limited service, and from which it was most natural to expect the most beneficial result.—A long conversation then took place on the merits of the clause, between lords Castlereagh and Milton, general Phipps, Mr. T. Jones, Mr. Ward, general Tarleton, Mr. Giddy, the Secretary at War, and Mr. Lockhart. Afterwards a division took place: For the Clause, 73; Against it, 10; Majority, 63. The house being resumed, Mr. Hobhouse brought up the report, which was ordered to be received to-morrow.