HC Deb 08 March 1808 vol 10 cc980-91

The house resolved itself into a committee on the Mutiny Bill.

Lord Castlereagh

said, he would explain shortly the reasons on which, he was induced to recommend the proposition he intended to submit to the house. All the reasonings and statements connected with the Army were so familiar to the house, that he would have held himself bound, in regard to the time of the house, to offer his motion without any preface, if the right hon. gent. opposite (Mr. Windham) had not, very causelessly, in his opinion, taken alarm, as if this motion contained in it a principle ruinous to the military system introduced by that right hon. gent. a short time since. To many parts of the right hon. gent's system he had no objection; the inducements held forth to certain descriptions of men, by the liberty to engage for limited service and by the creation of additional pensions, he highly approved of. But what he complained of was, that the right hon. gent. considered his measure as prescriptive, to be preserved without addition or alteration, contrary to what had ever happened with respect to any other measure. He had no objection to limited service, and he had formerly promoted to a certain extent, engagements limited in space as well as in time. But why should limited service be in a manner enforced, to the total exclusion of unlimited service, even when the men were perfectly satisfied, and desirous to enter without limitation. On former occasions, the men for limited service were kept in separate battalions. The right hon. gent. mixed them. It was not intended to interfere with this any more than with any other part of the right hon. gent.'s arrangement. The right hon. gent. complained much of the change about to be introduced in the exclusive form of his measure: but no measure, no military system, could reasonably claim an exclusive and unalterable sanction. The right hon. gent. might hold himself discharged from all responsibility for his measure, after the alterations proposed to be introduced. All responsibility in matters of this kind, belonged properly, if not exclusively, to those who were bound to supply every thing that was deficient, to correct every thing that was vicious in the existing system. The house would form its judgment without any of that alarm which the right hon. gentleman felt, in his opinion without any ground. The right hon. gent. had no right to complain of this as a premature interference with his measure. The right hon. gent's. system was as prematurely and abruptly introduced to the abrogation of the Additional Force act, then growing into full efficiency. The right hon. gent.'s measure had been passed two years ago, and had been in operation twenty months; and when the returns should be examined, it would be found distinct from every other in this respect, that it made no addition to the prior strength of the army. From the year 1803, to the present time, the army had been, year after year, progressively increased from 232,000 men to 291,000, exclusive of 10,000 which were wanting to complete the militia, and which would be furnished in the course of the next month. In this progressive increase, the right hon. gent.'s administration had added but 6 or 7,000 men, which were derived from the Additional Force act, and therefore not to be attributed to the right hon. gent.'s measure. The regular disposable force was, in 1804, in number 141,000, and in 1808 it was 204,000; of which the right hon. gent. could claim credit only for the before mentioned 6000, derived from the Additional Force act. In the 18 months preceding the commencement of the operation of the right hon. gent.'s measure, 30,748 men were raised. In the 18 months during which that measure had been 26,040 being a diminution of 4,000. In point of comparative value it was to be considered, that of the preceding number 17,000 entered at once for unlimited service, and the remaining 14,000, though entering at first for limited service, afterwards extended their engagements without limitation. He repeated, that he was of opinion the principle of limited service ought always to make part of our military code; and he was satisfied, that without it, the numbers of our army could not be kept up. But let it be seriously considered, what would be the consequence of making it the exclusive principle. With no less than 90,000 men now employed in foreign and colonial service, how would it be possible to maintain an efficient army in our distant possessions, if it would be necessary to bring home the men at the termination of a short period of service. Every soldier sent to India cost 100l. for his conveyance out and home; and if a regiment was to be sent out, the whole, or the greater part of which would be to be brought back at the end of 3 years; he begged the house to consider how little service would be had for so enormous an expence. He allowed, that a limited engagement might answer very well for European service. But all he wished was, a fair option to the individual to form his engagement, so that some portion of our army, and that as large a portion as might be, should consist of men engaged for life. Let it be considered how large a portion of our army was already engaged for limited service only; and here he could not help expressing his satisfaction, that it was not now the object of consideration how an army was to be raised, but how a very flourishing army already in existence should be maintained. The present regular army of the line consisted of 204,000 men, and he was sorry to say, that of these, including the men enlisted under the right hon. gent.'s measure, full 70,000 were engaged for limited service. The number raised under the right hon. gent.'s measure was 26,000, and they were all for limited service. All the foreign corps were, from their origin, engaged for limited service; the garrison battalions were also limited; and the volunteers from the militia, with the exception of 6 or 7,000. It was matter of very serious consideration, to think that the 36,000 enlisted this year would all be entitled to their discharge at the same period, seven years hence. It was also very material to consider how this principle, if exclusively acted upon, would affect our peace establishment. Supposing a peace establishment of 100,000 men, and 36,000 of these to be discharged in one year, and a war to follow in that year or the next, what would be the state of the country. He contended that the right hon. gent.'s measure would not cover its own waste, and that of the army in general. He maintained that the enlistment for life of those who, on having the option should prefer engaging for life, would not discourage others from engaging for years. He could not understand how good faith was violated, when no extension of an existing engagement for limited service was demanded or allowed, and when all that was intended was to allow a liberty of a larger engagement to those who were free and willing to make it. The right hon. gent. opposite might say, that though the ordinary recruiting under his measure was not equally productive as the ordinary recruiting before, combined with the Additional Force act, it was superior to the previous ordinary recruiting alone. Certainly so it was; but then the Additional Force act was becoming every day more productive, when it was repealed. The ordinary recruiting was made more productive under the right hon. gent's plan, by multiplying the number of recruiting parties beyond measure, and also by the threat of reduction hold out to the 54 additional battalions, unless they should complete their establishment to 400 men each before six months. One part only of the right hon. gent.'s plan was not speculative, and that was the permanent burthen of 450,000l. a year which it imposed on the country, in the shape of additional pensions, an incumbrance which must increase continually. These reasons, he conceived, would be fully sufficient to satisfy the committee of the propriety of not depriving such men as were inclined, of a fair option to enlist for life. He therefore moved, that a clause be introduced allowing that option.

Mr. Windham

spoke at considerable length against the clause, the substance of which he contended, was not only mischievous in itself, but also as it was intended to do away the system established two years since with the full approbation of the house, after long and deliberate consideration and mature discussion.—He objected to the mode in which that system was thus covertly undermined, by those who did not dare to make it the object of open attack. A clause of this kind was rejected in 1806, because it went to counteract the general effect of the measure; and a great part of the house had declared the same opinion since. He did not complain that this proceeding was brought forward in the shape of a Clause in the Mutiny Bill, but that it was brought forward in so late a stage, without any notice, and at a time when the Mutiny Bill must be passed with so little delay as to allow no adequate length of deliberation or discussion. It was only on this day se'nnight that an indistinct declaration of his intentions on this head was wrung from the noble lord by him; and only last night that he had seen the noble lord's motion in the form in which it was to be offered to the house. His measure had been, like the present, brought forward in the shape of a clause in the Mutiny Bill. But the nature of that measure had long before been detailed to the house, and the clause itself had been printed and circulated among the members, and repeatedly discussed, long before the house was called to decide upon it. The present proceeding was like putting a parcel into the hands of the driver of a stage coach, while he was yet going on, with a hint that he should suffer no one to examine its contents, but plead, against every call to stop, the lateness of the hour and the necessity of his arrival at the pointed minute. It was a species of proceeding which he supposed he must not call a trick, but which, in strict legal definition, he must be allowed to call a fraud, if a fraud was quod aliud agit, aliud simulat. The clause now proposed, by gradually changing the enlistment from limited to unlimited service, would go to undermine and destroy the system introduced two years ago. The effect of the clause would be most important, and the house ought to have the fullest notice and the fairest opportunity of considering it in all its bearings. He reminded the house, that when, on a memorable occasion, some propositions were made with respect to Catholic soldiers, to which no objection was foreseen at the time, upon its appearing afterwards that objections might be expected, the propositions were withdrawn from the Mutiny Bill, and put to the sense of the house in a separate bill. It was disgraceful that the present measure should be brought forward in the present form. He was glad to find that the noble lord had so far corrected his former sentiments, as to allow that it was material to the army to allow the liberty of engaging for limited service. The noble lord and his friends had formerly contended, and contended with great vehemence, that the men who embraced the profession of arms were equally ready to enlist for life as for a term of years. He was now compelled to abandon this opinion; yet could not prevail upon himself to relinquish it altogether, but, by the most absurd of all arrangements, would have part of the army on one footing, and part on the other. Did the noble lord intend that the men engaged for unlimited service should be kept in distinct bodies, and appropriated to foreign service. It would be easy to see the inconveniences that would result from that course, and the impossibility, indeed, of executing it. As the numbers were to be unequal, how were they to be distributed between the two battalions? On the other supposition, the discontents that would prevail in the army, and the injuries that would be done to discipline by having men enlisted, in an inconsiderate moment, for unlimited service, along-side men who were engaged only for a term of years, were too striking to require elucidation. He would come now to the statements, as set forth on a paper printed by consent at the close of the last session, and arranged in opposite columns for the greater convenience of comparison. The noble lord denied him the credit of making any addition-to the army. It was a credit that he had never claimed. His measure had been in full operation, not, as the noble lord had said, for eighteen months, but for twelve; and during those twelve months, such had been its effects, and such, above all, the manner of producing those effects, as might leave to the advocates of the measure, nothing to be required, however much might have been expected, from the result of any further trial. In the first quarter, it had produced at the rate of 11,000 men a-year; in the second quarter, at the rate of 13,000; in the third quarter, at the rate of 21,000; and in the fourth quarter, at the rate of 24,000. It was certainly no little praise that it so soon equalled the effect of the ordinary and extraordinary recruiting which was in force before it; and the manner in which it effected its purpose, was, in itself, sufficient to give it a superiority over the measures which were now brought into comparison with it. The noble lord's boast, that his measures had done as much, was much the same sort as that of gentlemen known at Astley's and Hughes's by the name of Mr. Merryman, whose office in the piece was to repeat whatever had been done by the leading performer, but with the omission of the only circumstance which could render the feat of any value. Should the principal tumbler, for instance, throw what is called a somerset, that is to say, turn heels over head in the air, Mr. Merryman instantly rolled over on the floor, upon his head and his breech, and then looked cunningly round to the spectators, as who should say, have not I done the same thing. If the rider at any time vaulted into the saddle by placing his hand on the pommel, Mr. Merryman climbed up by the mane or the tail, and triumphed in the idea of his being equally seated. It was the merit of his measure that it raised the men by the ordinary recruiting alone; while the measures with which it was compared, procured them by means expensive and violent, and which exhausted the sources of recruiting in future. The comparison between the extraordinary measures of other administrations, and his measure, was just the same as that of a man with 100,000l. capital, with a man having 40,000l. a-year. The former could exceed the other for a period, even of a couple of years, by 10,000l. a-year; but, at the end of that time, the capitalist would be in gaol, while the other would be jogging on at the same undiminished rate of 40,000l. a-year. His measure had been but twelve months in force, when its produce equalled that of the prior ordinary recruiting and the additional force act together, during the six months that they were most productive. When the noble lord talked of 36,000 men from the militia, it should never be lost sight of that many of these were enlisted into the militia as substitutes, costing, at times, 60 or 70 guineas, to which was to be added, the further bounty for entering into the line. As to the reflection on the number of boys in-introduced under his measure, he knew not on what the idea was founded. The system of limited service had apparently no more tendency to get boys instead of men, than other systems had to get boys instead of girls. If there was any such tendency, it would be the highest recommendation of the measure, as it could proceed from nothing but the greater readiness with which parents would part with their children, when there was a hope of their return, than when they considered the service as carrying them away for ever. On this topic of boys, he should be glad to know if what he had heard was true, that in certain militia regiments, some of them not far from the place in which he was speaking, there were not only numerous boys received, but paid also in a way different from what they were in the army, that is to say, placed upon full pay. As to the increased allowances from Chelsea, that was a measure which stood on its own grounds, and required to be adopted on the bare considerations of justice and humanity. An attempt was made to account for the success of the late system by the increased number of recruiting parties, and an insinuation conveyed at the same time that they were encreased for the purpose. The multiplication of recruiting parties arose, not from the government, nor from any desire to promote the execution of his measure; it proceeded from a quarter decidedly adverse to his measure. It was besides well known, that the multiplication of recruiting parties beyond a certain proportion, diminished, instead of increasing the number of recruits; the competition so excited was not of that sort by which, as sometimes happens, production was increased, but that of which the only effect was, to add to one what was taken from another. Nothing could betray more a want of correctness in thinking, than the mistake that prevailed in this respect. The persons who urged this topic fell to work like school boys, and said, if so many recruiting parties will produce so many men, how many more will be produced by a number so much greater: but they forgot the condition, that the parties must have enough to work upon, and that, without that, they could only pull against one another. The fifty-four second battalions, let it be remembered, to which allusion had been made, were created by the preceding administration. With a full establishment of officers, and no men, they could not be left a burthen on the country. It was hard to oblige the officers to complete the numbers to a certain amount: but it was a hardship that was necessary; and when the increase was called for, it was inevitable to allow the regiments to send out their parties. The permission given to the Irish militia to volunteer, and the competition between the regiments, each seeking to get its share, was another cause of the multiplication of recruiting parties; and in all those cases the government had nothing to do with the matter. With respect to the desertions, the number bad decreased under his measure. Without troubling the house with figures, he would generally say, that from the commencement of the year 1805, to the introduction of the late system in the middle of 1806; whether the trial were made by quarterly periods or half yearly; whether in G. Britain alone, in Ireland alone, or in G. Britain and Ireland taken together; whether by head quarters recruiting, or district recruiting, or by the two combined, in whatever way the comparison was; the regular recruiting had gradually declined; that after the introduction of that system it had gradually increased, and that since the noble lord came into office, it had again gradually declined. In the last half year of the last system, the ordinary recruiting alone had heat the ordinary recruiting of the corresponding period in the preceding year, with the Additional Force Bill into the bargain. The former exceeded 11,000 men, while the latter only rose to something above 10,000. This new proposition would not get a man more for the army, but on the contrary, would go to keep many men out of it. On this head, some deference was due to the authority of himself and his friends on the subject, as the measure which the clause meant to affect originated with them, and as they had distinctly declared, and shown by their conduct, that they thought that such a clause would destroy the effect of the measure. The military plan which he had proposed, proceeded on the principle of meliorating the future condition of the soldiers, by the prospect of future advantages, it was necessary therefore that confidence should be inspired into the people to give it its due effect. But the clause now proposed went to destroy confidence and to diffuse distrust. If it was expected from what had been said the other night by a noble lord, it was intended eventually to allow those soldiers who had enlisted for a term of years, to change that term for life, this would be an atrocious breach of faith; for the prohibition which now existed was the protection of the soldier, and were it to be removed he would be exposed to the solicitations and ultimately to the vengeance of his officers. After arguing at considerable length on these topics he concluded, by expressing his hopes that the house would rise with one common feeling of indignation against the insidious attempt, which was made without any plausible pretext whatever, to destroy that which after deliberate and repeated discussion had received the solemn sanction of parliament.

General Tarleton

said, that in any other country he should think the principle of limited service a good one; but in this country he thought it would be dangerous to adopt it, on account of the extent of its colonies. There was likewise another point of view in which he considered it as very objectionable, namely, the necessity that there was of having a large army at all times in readiness to oppose those schemes of invasion which it was beyond a doubt Buonaparte never for a moment lost sight of, in the prosecution of the present war. The hon. general, however, did not confine himself to the question immediately before the house, but availed himself of the latitude of debate permitted in a committee, to take a general view of the defence of the country. And in order to establish its security on a firm basis, he Was of opinion that it would be highly expedient to assemble all the regulars, militia, and volunteers, in different camps round the metropolis, and there to keep them in constant exercise, so that when the hour of danger came, every man might know his place. He wished also, that a part of the artillery should be thrown into the rear of the army; and, for this purpose, he should be extremely glad if the half of Woolwich could be transferred to Nottingham. From England the hon. and gallant general passed over to Ireland; and, for the defence of that country, he proposed, that four different corps-d'armée should be formed and stationed at Dublin, Athlone, Mallow, and Brough. From Ireland he passed to America, and, in contemplating the possibility of a war with that country, he thought that it would be right to set up an army in Canada. From America he passed to the East Indies, and recommended the precautions necessary for frustrating the projects of Buonaparte upon our possessions in that part of the world. Glancing at the present situation of Sweden, the hon. general pronounced it to be his opinion, that no British troops should be sent to the aid of our ally; but that he should be supported by large pecuniary succours, and by the German legion, the casualties of which would be more easily supplied abroad than in this country, as it consisted entirely of foreigners. The rest of the army ought to be concentrated in England and Ireland; for, in one or other of these countries, the battle must be fought, and thither, we might depend upon it, all the force which he had employed upon the continent would be sent. The heart and entrance of the kingdom ought therefore to be guarded with the utmost vigilance. When Buonaparte invaded our shores with his numerous and formidable legions, would it be sufficient to oppose to him Magna Charta, our constitution, or a friendly and conciliating opposition? It would, perhaps, be objected to him, that military men were fond of war; but the hon. general assured the committee, that this was by no means the case; at least he, individually, was not fond of war, though he had fought and bled, and was ready to die in defence of his country. On these grounds the hon. and gallant general gave his decided support to the clause of his noble friend, empowering recruiting for life.

The Secretary at War

was not sorry for giving precedence to the gallant general. The sentiments that fell from him were just and correct, and he fully concurred in them. It was not his intention to follow the right hon. gent. (Mr. Windham) through the long speech delivered by him, which was as usual characterized by brilliancy and eloquence. The right hon. gent. had dwelt at considerable length on the shortness of the notice given, and on the mode of proceeding adopted; but when it was considered that this subject had been frequently before debated, and had excited much of the public attention, he trusted the house would feel that the notice given, which was upwards of a week, would be deemed reasonable. The principle of the amendment was to remedy a very serious inconvenience, which would arise from the army being deprived of a great number of men, who, had they the option proposed, would continue in it. He contended, that this would remedy the evil to be apprehended to the public service, which would materially suffer without its adoption.—A division then took place, when there appeared for the clause proposed by lord Castlereagh 169; against it 100; majority 69.