HC Deb 10 June 1808 vol 11 cc849-57

This bill was read a third time. After which,

Lord Castlereagh

introduced a number of new clauses by way of riders. Four of these, supplying omissions of the bill, were read and agreed to. On the fifth being brought up, which went to confer on magistrates the power of allotting at their discretion, to persons giving information of offences against the said act, a part not exceeding one third of the penalty, on conviction,

Mr. Barham

objected to this mode of introducing new provisions into a bill, without affording any opportunity of duly considering them.

Mr. Windham

concurred in the opinion of the hon. gent, declaring that he thought five riders upon one horse were too many, however long his back might be.

Lord Castlereagh

stated, that all the clauses which he had hitherto proposed, contained nothing more than what was necessary to carry into effect the provisions of the bill.

Sir J. Newport

thought this clause of much importance, and that it was of still greater importance, not to allow this new practice of adding so much additional matter, without a possibility of ascertaining its precise tendency.

The house then divided. For the clause, 61; Against it, 15.—Majority, 46.

Lord Castlereagh

then proposed a clause, enabling the magistrates to call out the Local Militia in cases of riot; and providing that whatever number of days they should be out in this manner, should be deducted from the subsequent number of days of drill.

Sir F. Burden

opposed it as shifting the power lodged by the constitution in the sheriff to the magistrates.

Mr. Windham

thought the clause would be vesting enormous powers in the magistrates; and that it would be useless in its operations, as it would be easier to call in the regular troops, than to assemble this force when dispersed.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

defended the clause. If any disturbance existed in the country, to whom could the house intrust the power given by this clause, more safely than to the magistrates.

Mr. Whitbread

characterised the clause as a great innovation on the constitution.

Mr. D. Giddy

denied that it was any innovation on the constitution.

Sir S. Romilly

contended, that as it was a perfect novelty, and involved in it most important principles, it ought not to be introduced by way of rider to a bill, but ought to be brought forward in a separate form, and deliberately discussed.

A division ensued; for the clause 97; against it 30; Majority, 67.

Mr. Whitbread

was desirous of proposing a modification by which this obnoxious clause might be amended, if this were the proper time to do so.

The Speaker

informed the hon. gent. that this was not the proper time.

Mr. Sheridan

could not conceive that any amendment could render this clause tolerable. It was one of the most direct infringements on the constitution that he had ever known. Its dangerous tendency could be equalled only by its absurdity. If it were thought advisable to give to the magistracy this power over the Local Militia, why not give them the same power over the volunteers, over the old Militia, or over the regular army? Nothing could be more ridiculous than the present proposition. How would it be possible to collect the Local Militia for the purpose of suppressing a riot, and if collected how were they suddenly to procure their arms? He presumed, that if a riot took place on Saturday, the notices for the Local Militia to assemble were to be affixed to the church doors on Sunday, and that early on Monday morning they were to begin to set to work to restore tranquillity. He gave the clause his most decided opposition.

Lord Castlereagh

stated, that this clause was literally copied from the Volunteer acts, and as a considerable number of the volunteer corps were likely to become a Local Militia, it was desirable to have the same provision applicable to them in case of their being called out on this service.

Mr. Windham

argued against the clause, because the regular troops, in case of being called out to suppress a riot, acted with a degree of caution which would not be exercised by an undisciplined force.—

On the question that the clause be read a third time,

Mr. Whitbread

proposed as an amendment, 'that the magistrates, or deputy lieutenants, calling out the Local Militia incases of riot, should not be officers of such Militia;' which was negatived.

Mr. Sheridan

proposed that some personal notice should be served upon the members in the Local Militia when called out on such occasions, before any penalty could attach; but that suggestion was over-ruled; after which the clause was added to the bill by way of rider.

Several amendments were then proposed and made to the body of the bill. On the clause directing that the surplus of the amount of fines and penalties, over the amount of fines paid into the Bank, should be defrayed out of the county rate,

Mr. C. Wynne

objected to that provision, as likely to produce an injurious and unequal effect, and moved an amendment to leave out the words, "that a separate account be kept of fines and penalties." Some short conversation took place upon this amendment, but it was negatived without a division.—On the motion that the bill do pass,

Mr. Windham

congratulated the house upon the lessons which it had received in the course of the evening, in the science of legislation, by the different processes of erasure, engrossing, &c. which used to be transacted out of doors. These processes, however, had occupied so much of the time of the house (no less than five hours) that he should now compress what he had to state into a small compass. He observed in setting out, that the military establishment of this and every other country was composed of two divisions, the army and what was not army. Of the former division he did not now intend to speak; respecting the latter, it was constituted upon two principles, either of being incorporated or not incorporated; and this distinction formed the great, ground of difference between himself and the noble lord. The noble lord was of opinion; that the whole subsidiary force of the country should be regimented; he thought, on the contrary, that the enrolment, and a certain degree of training, was all that was necessary; and that the incorporation proposed to be carried into effect by the bill was a great burthen, and would be attended with very little benefit. No man would seriously contend, that these regiments of local militia would be fit to be placed in the line of the army in case of invasion; and if they could not be so employed, incorporating them in regiments was locking up a part of the population of the country, starving the army, and absolutely purchasing weakness at an enormous expence. With respect to the advantage of discipline, it would not be great in either case; indeed, it might be so little, that the value of the difference must be considered evanescent. But the species of force it gave the country for the expence was the consideration; and for what object was this expence to be incurred? Why, for nothing else but to have an incorporated force, officered by the topping men of the district, such as Mr. Such-a-one, the general dealer, and Mr. What-d' ye-call him, the attorney. It was ridiculous to place any dependence on a species of national defence so arranged. Would any man, who knew what had taken place on the continent of Europe, be so credulous as to believe such men able to cope with the disciplined armies of France, which, if they should come at all, must come flushed with conquest? He, at least, who was a volunteer officer, and an unmilitary man, must be allowed to apprehend great danger in depending upon such a description of force, and of locking up in it such a portion of our population, within the ages of 18 and 30, and this at an enormous expence, an expence almost exceeding the belief of most men, and which went not to purchase strength, but actual weakness. Did the noble lord think, that by such a force he would frighten Buonaparte, and strike terror into the invading armies? What was it then that the army clothier could produce? If their being stuck into regimentals would produce this surprising effect on the enemy, it was a wonder that the noble lord did not follow up the measure, and render them more formidable by encouraging the growth of whiskers. If the house should feel willing to accede to the principle of this measure, and to rest its hopes upon a tumultuary force, or upon the refuse of an army, let it at least profit by the experience which the fate of other countries must have afforded. If the country was to employ and pay for dirt, for God's sake let it be English dirt. Let it employ its stout athletic colliers and coal-heavers. Let it pay its aspiring chimneysweepers for their exertions. They could in their own way annoy the enemy; and when pursued, could climb the trees with the facility of squirrels. But the noble lord was friendly to the bustle of the thing. He liked to see men marching out of this village in order to be drilled in the contiguous one. He conceived the public would be struck with its efficacy and execution, for the noble lord might be assured that it would take great effect. The number of the undone would be considerable, and at least amongst the poor persons ruined by its operation, he would be enabled to furnish a large Gazette of killed and wounded. He concluded by observing, that the arguments of the noble lord accorded with the arguments of the vulgar, that what was most expensive was best: it reminded him of the story of the countryman who came to town to have his tooth drawn, who, astonished at the little pain with which the operation was performed, refused paying the operator half-a-guinea, saying, that in the country he could have the job done for half-a-crown, and be dragged round the room into the bargain.

Sir F. Burdett

expressed his disapprobation of the measure, both as oppressive and unconstitutional. The bill united in itself all opposite defects. It was at once oppressive and ineffectual; harrassing to the subject, and at the same time completely impotent as a measure of national defence. It ought rather to be called a bill of pains and penalties, than a bill for the defence of the country, as it contained no less than eleven penalties, without counting those which might have been annexed to the clause brought up by the noble lord this evening. He did not think that we ought to trust for our defence to a standing army alone, after having seen it fail in so many instances in other countries. But we ought to look at the internal condition of the people, upon which the existing taxes already bore too heavily, and which would certainly be rendered much worse in consequence of the oppressive enactments of the present bill. He professed himself to be a great enemy to the practice of flogging, as detrimental even to the service itself; and in this opinion he was supported by the rule of the French armies, where this practice was wholly exploded. The noble lord seemed to act on the principle of 'evil, be thou my good;' he had altered the system of the right hon. gent. on this side (Mr. Windham), which must in its natural tendency have considerably added to the eligibility of the situation of a soldier's life; and he now proposed to pervert the character and habits of the British people at large. If such a system was to be carried into execution, if the poisoned cup was to be coolly administered to the lips of Englishmen, it was fit that it should be furnished by the self-same person that had viewed with coldness the scenes which had been witnessed in Ireland. A delicate word: might sometimes be used to express a cruel or a barbarous action, and in this; light, the delicate term 'discipline' might be used to convey an idea of lacerating men's backs; of tearing, by means of the scourge, the live flesh off men's bones. This was by some called flogging; but, if the noble lord through delicacy called this 'discipline,' the hon. bart. said he had only to wish that he might keep his delicate hands off the backs of Englishmen.

The Secretary at War

defended the system pursued in the British army, against the insinuations of the hon. baronet; and asked how an army could be kept together or be harmless without enforcing discipline? Was not the necessity of discipline manifested by the experience of all nations and of all times?

The Hon. F. Robinson

contended, that the discipline in the British army was milder than in the army of any other country. The discipline in Russia and Prussia was severe to a proverb; and it was well known that the stick was frequently employed in the French army [A loud cry of No, no.] The hon. gent. could only assure the house that he had heard so from persons who were witnesses of the fact.

Mr. C. W. Wynne

supported the measure, as believing that it must be productive of a much better system than the present volunteer establishment.

Mr. W. Smith

denied, from the best authority, that the stick was made use of in the French army, as a mode of punishment. At the same time, though he knew it was by no means general, he could maintain that such a mode of enforcing discipline, was practised here [a cry of No!] Gentlemen might cry No, but he had been an eye-witness of the tact. He mentioned it with a hope that its being publicly noticed might lead to the correction of so gross an error, such a breach of the military constitution.

General M. Mathew

said that he would bring the officer to a court martial who would presume to use any man under his command in the manner that had been alluded to.

Mr. M. A. Taylor

was of opinion, that it: would be improper to have the Local Militia on a different footing in point of discipline from the regular militia.

Admiral Harvey

observed, that both soldiers and sailors in the French service were flogged with a cat-of-nine-tails.

Sir Jas. Hall

in rising to support the bill, begged to have it understood that he was not inclined to do so from any love which he bore to the measure itself, nor from any expectation that the great inconveniences to which it would expose the country, would be compensated by any adequate addition to our internal strength; but as leading to the measure proposed by his noble relation the earl of Selkirk, to which it bore a considerable resemblance in point of form, though very different in spirit and tendency. The difference between the two systems depended principally upon one practical circumstance, by the alteration of which one of these systems might be converted into the other; namely, the circumstance of raising the men required by a ballot upon all persons from 18 to 35, as proposed by the noble lord; or, on the other hand, by calling out all the young men who in each successive year attained the age of 18, as proposed by his noble friend. He had concurred with some of his friends in endeavouring to obtain that alteration in the committee, but without success. In the course of that discussion, however, the noble lord by whom this measure has been brought forward, admitted with great candour, that the characteristic feature of lord Selkirk's plan, by which the youngest persons of the community were exclusively called out in the first instance, was superior to his own, in the abstract; but he was induced to abandon that advantage, and to adhere to the plan proposed, as best calculated to maintain the establishment produced by the volunteer system, to repair the breaches made in that force by the decay of the spirit which first raised it, and to till up the blanks occasioned by its original failure in particular occasions. The hon. member expressed his conviction that the volunteer system was admirably calculated to do away all internal discontent and commotion, and that in this way it had saved the country from the utmost danger; but that the slight degree of military discipline required for this purpose was totally unequal to what our present situation required, threatened as we were by the most tremendous military force. The attachment of the noble lord to the volunteer system, now decayed and superannuated, might be harmless in common times, but it was ruinous at present, by consuming the precious time which circumstances allowed for preparation. The danger to which we were exposed, arose not only from the force opposed to us, but still more from our situation at home; from the strange apathy, the idle confidence, which pervaded this country; an apathy, an idle confidence, no where so conspicuous, or so astonishing as within these walls. A situation never occurred in history more noble, more conspicuous, than that in which the house stood. The bulwarks of humanity were battered down; they stood alone in the breach, an awful responsibility lay upon them; but they had a gallant nation at their back ready to follow every spirited lead, with the more alacrity as it was spirited, but if they were careless and sluggish with regard to such an essential object, what could be expected from the people? This carelessness seemed to arise, not from want of spirit or activity, but from the contemplation of a calamity against which we saw no remedy, and from which we shrunk as from the contemplation of death. The plan before us offered no refuge from this desperate view; but that such a refuge was furnished by the plan of his noble friend, which, by raising this country to the dignity of an armed nation, afforded the means, not only of extricating us from our present difficulties, but also of transmitting the constitution unimpaired to our posterity. As no better could be done, he was induced now to support the plan proposed by the noble lord, which by its practical application, and chiefly by its defects, might be the means of bringing the plan of his noble relation into notice.

General Stewart

supported the measure, and maintained that any private soldier could obtain redress by an application to his royal highness the commander in, chief.

Mr. W. Smith

did not mean to impute any thins; in the least improper to his royal highness, neither did he mean to say that the practice was general.

The house then divided. For the bill, 104; Against it, 26. Majority, 78. The bill was then passed, and ordered to the lords.