HC Deb 25 January 1809 vol 12 cc158-67
Lord Casdereagh

then rose and said, that in calling the attention of the house to the important motion of which he had given notice for that evening, he had the satisfaction of feeling, that although the subject was of the greatest magnitude, it would be necessary for him to trespass but very shortly on their time at the present period. The necessity for taking measures to encrease the regular and disposable force of the country without impairing the home defence, had been recommended to the consideration of Parliament in the gravest manner in the Speech from the throne, and he was convinced, that on no topic of that Speech was there a more general concurrence of sentiment in that house. It was unnecessary for him to point out to the. attention of the house the general circumstances of Europe, and the particular situation of Great Britain, which rendered it a paramount duty to provide a solid and efficient military establishment. It was evident that events might possibly occur which would make it absolutely necessary for the country to have a considerable military force at its disposal; and it was desirable that there should be a solid foundation of military strength at home, in order that the best interests of the country might not be sacrificed or endangered, while we were discharging the duty we owe to other nations, of succouring them as far as it shall be in our power. This principle would, he was sure, be admitted on both. sides of the house, and the only difference of opinion that he apprehended was, with respect to the best and most effectual means of procuring the increase that was necessary in our army. As he trusted the house would grant him leave to bring in his Bill, he should have opportunities hereafter to cuter more fully into a defence of the measure which he intended to propose. He did not wish, on the present occasion, to go into any general arguments, but merely to put the house in possession of the general outline of the plan he wished to submit to the consideration of parliament. He was enabled in submitting the measure he had now to propose, to relieve parliament from an anxiety they must naturally feel as to the success of every attempt of this kind, by showing them that they were proceeding not upon his judgment or opinions, nor upon the impressions of his majesty's ministers, but upon the result of experience, which had recently proved that the. principle, upon which it was founded, was the most effectual, and by far the most expeditious means of supplying a deficiency in the regular military force of the country. In 1807 the plan was adopted of allowing a certain number of men to volunteer from the Militia, into the regular Army, and it was attended with the most beneficial consequences. It was now perfectly ascertained, that there was no mode in which the disposable force of the country could so rapidly and easily be increased, as by availing ourselves of the zeal which the Militia uniformly displayed on every occasion, when the exigencies of the country rendered an appeal to them necessary. No measure had ever turned out so completely beneficial as that introduced in the year 1807, by which it proposed to increase the Army by encouraging transfers from the Militia, to the extent of 28,000 men. The addition which this, measure actually produced was upwards of 27,000 men within twelve months. Many of these had since fought at the glorious Battles of Vimiera and Corunna, and had been honoured with the thanks of their country for their services. He was convinced that a considerable portion of the existing militia panted for an opportunity of extending their services. As there was little doubt, therefore, of the efficiency of the measure which he meant to propose, so also he hoped that as little could be entertained of its policy. It would give the country in the least possible time the largest possible disposable force. It would throw the temporary weakness on the defensive army rather than on the disposable. The reverse would be the case were the Army of Reserve to he renewed, He allowed that the levy of Militia, in order to supply the place of 28,000, who, by the Bill of 1807, were permitted to volunteer into the line, pressed heavy on the country, but it showed what the country was capable of doing when called on for exertion. Parliament had demanded 45,000 militia men from Great Britain and Ireland; and (thanks to the zeal and activity of the different counties) within six months after that demand 41,500 joined their respective regiments. He was perfectly aware, however of the pressure of the measure, and that it ought only to be resorted to on a great emergency, as also that it was the bounden duty of government, if possible, to mitigate the evils of the ballot, and render it less onerous on the people. It was his intention in the Bill which he should submit to the house, to restrain the volunteering within the same limits as those within which it was formerly restrained. In other words to propose that no regiment should be reduced below three fifths of its full establishment. The last time, however, the legislature adopted this measure, they determined not only to replace by ballot, the loss sustained in the militia regiments, by the volunteering into the line, but to raise an excess; making in the whole three fourths of the full establishment, viz. 36,000 in England, and 9,000 in Ireland. Now, however, he thought it only necessary to propose to cover the transfer from the militia, for which purpose only half of the establishment would be required, viz. 24,000 men, instead of 36,000. He apprehended that it would be impossible to get rid of the ballot altogether; but still an effort might be made to obtain men by a milder process, and to relieve the counties from the great pressure which they had been exposed to formerly. For this purpose he should propose that a great part, if not the whole, of the expence of raising the men should be defrayed not by the counties, but by the public. He should propose that the public should pay the bounty for enlisting, not altogether as high a bounty as would be given for enlisting for more general service, but what he thought would be a sufficient bounty—about ten guineas. If the voluntary enlistment did not succeed, and the country should be compelled to have recourse to a ballot, it was his intention, in that case, to propose that the bounty of ten guineas should be given to the ballotted man as a bounty, if he should serve in person, or to assist him in procuring a substitute. When the country gentlemen and militia colonels should find that the expence was to fall upon the public, arid not upon the. counties, he had great hopes that their local exertions in support of the measure would be more effectual. He was very sanguine in believing, that by this means a sufficient number of men might be got without any material or very sensible pressure upon the country. If, however, his hope was disappointed, and a ballot should be absolutely necessary, even in that case the pressure of the ballot upon individuals would be much diminished by the assistance which they would receive from the public purse. —He was satisfied that this measure would not interfere in any material degree with the regular recruiting, as it was his intention to propose that the bounties to the Militia should be lower than those for the Line. He was also convinced, there was not a man in the country who would not cheerfully submit to the ballot, if the exigencies of the country required it. This was merely to repeat a measure which had already been tried with success; and that, too, under a qualification which must do away a great part of any objectionable feature for which it was before distinguished.—Having thus put the house in possession of the general outline of the plan which he intended to submit to the consideration of parliament, he concluded by moving for leave to bring in a Bill, to allow a certain proportion of the Militia of Great Britain to volunteer into the regular army.

Mr. Tierney

saw no occasion for any increase of our force destined for foreign service, till the house should be informed what was the nature of the foreign service in which they might be employed. No case had been made out by the noble lord of any deficiency existing in the disposable force of the country, which rendered a measure such as that now proposed, necessary; and he conceived that before the house gave their consent to it, it was their duly to enquire what had become of the great force placed in the noble lord's hands two years ago, at which time he had himself declared that the country stood in a proud situation, and that its military strength was adequate to every exertion that could be required from it. What deficiency had arisen in that large disposable force the noble lord had himself termed sufficient, neither he (Mr. T.) nor any man in the house knew. Before he could consent to impose upon the people the additional burthen which this measure would create, he must be satisfied, not only that a further regular force was necessary, but that the hands into which the disposition of that force was to be entrusted were equal to the confidence reposed in them. At present, all he knew on the subject was, that the army had been most shamefully wasted by the noble lord. Without meaning to cast the slightest reflection on our gallant officers, whose skill and valour entitled them, on the contrary, to the highest praise, he was convinced that the house and the country must deeply feel that the military power of England under the auspices of the noble lord had experienced a more disgraceful discomfiture than any to which it had ever hitherto been exposed.—He made these observations on the present occasion at this early stage of the business, to guard himself from being supposed to assent to the proposition, that his majesty's ministers had a claim on the country to have a further force placed at their disposal, without having first accounted for the way in which they had employed that already entrusted to them.

Sir T. Turton

thought our army had not been treated as it deserved, and he would not consent to the drawing of a single sixpence out of the pockets of his constituents for the purpose of adding to our disposable force, till he knew how the dispoable force we already possessed had been managed. Had they not last year voted 120,000 men for general disposable service? How galling, then, the reflection, that only 28,000 could be collected when we went to meet a numerous enemy in a country, which we were so much interested in defending! The army had unquestionably displayed its wonted valour, and would, he was sure, always do its duty; but it was a melancholy consideration that this valour had only been sufficient to secure a retreat, not to reap the. fruits of a victory. It did not appear, that more than 36,000 men had at any time been employed in Spain and Portugal; and he trusted that they should never again hear of an expedition of that description being sent to oppose the numerous armies of France. In every stage, therefore, of the present bill he should oppose it, and would not agree to any further increase of the army, until it should be shewn what had been done with the army voted lost session. Under this impression he had come down to the house to vote against the measure in the first instance.

Lord Milton

observed, that it was now but seventeen months since the house had been discussing a measure similar to that proposed by the noble lord. He had the misfortune to differ from the noble lord at that time, and consistently, with the opinion he then entertained, he was bound to oppose the present measure. On the former occasion the noble lord expressly stated, that it was a measure only to be resorted to upon an extraordinary emergency, and not to be looked to as a general system for supplying the army. Now, it appeared that it was to be adopted as a regular system for supplying the army; and the principle upon which these bills went, was nothing less than raising the regular army by a conscription on the people of this country. He was glad to hear what had fallen from the hon. bart. upon the subject, because, certainly, the hon. bart. could not be actuated by any party feeling in his opposition to the measure.Af- ter the disasters which had been sustained, he asked, whether even the noble lord could mean to send another expedition to Spain to turn back the tide of success of Bonaparte's army? Or did he mean to send another expedition to Sweden, to return as the last did, the ridicule of the world? He hoped, however, that if another expedition was sent to Sweden, it would not be a hostile expedition against that country. He thought it absolutely necessary for that house, as representatives of the nation, to make a substantial inquiry into the conduct of the last campaign in Portugal, into the expedition to Sweden, and into the conduct of ministers with respect to Spain, before they should agree to the measure. He could not see why the noble lord wanted more disposable troops, or to what part of the world he could send them, with advantage to the country. He considered that in the present situation of affairs in Europe there was no point to which an expedition could be sent, and consequently that, instead of sending large armies to foreign countries, we ought to shut ourselves up within ourselves, and think of that description of force which would be most useful in the. defence of our own country. Such being his view of the true policy of the country, he felt it his duty to express his opinion upon the present occasion; and he could not consent to increase the burdens of the country, for the sake of putting a large disposable force in the hands of his majesty's present ministers.

Mr. Herbert

rose merely to one point, and that he considered of so much importance that he should feel he had not done his duty if he omitted to mention the subject. He had listened with attention to the speech of the noble lord, and was sorry that a proposition which he had suggested in a former session, made no part of it. He was of opinion that greater reliance should be placed on the service of the militia for the defence of the country. The country treated them as well as the regular troops, and in some instances better, as it made a better allowance for their wives and children. The militia, therefore, owed a debt to the country of making their services as efficacious as possible. He wished that, instead of allowing the militia to enter into the regular army, they should be allowed to extend their services generally to every part of the United Kingdom Since the Union the militia laws appeared to him anomalous; and his conviction was, that the greatest advantage would result from making the force for home defence in both countries mutually applicable in any exigency. After enumerating some of the benefits that would flow from the adoption of his suggestion, and obviating some objections that might be made to it, the hon. gent. stated that the interchange of the militia of the two countries might be restricted, to avoid inconvenience, to cases of rebellion, or invasion, or upon addresses of both houses of parliament. Though aware of the little weight he possessed, yet if no other member should take the question up, he was determined in some stage of the bill to bring it under the consideration of the house.

Mr. Calcraft

desired that he might be included in the reservation of his right hon. friend, not to be construed as approving of any project of the noble lord, until the house should be made acquainted with the deficiency to be supplied, and the amount to which the noble lord meant to increase the army. Then they could call upon the noble lord, from authoritative documents, to shew what he had done with the deficiency. He felt great difficulty in intrusting the right hon. gentlemen on the opposite side, with the management of a stronger disposable force, until they should show what had been done with the very efficient force voted last session. This, no doubt, the noble, lord would do. In opening his measure to the house the noble lord had abstained from entering into details, and seemed to think it a matter of course to take 26,000 men from the defensive force of the country for the increase of the regular army. As this was a military subject, he wished to ask the secretary at war when the Army Estimates would be laid before the house, and hoped that they would be presented in such a form as that the house would not have to discuss the Army and Ordnance Estimates on the same night, as happened last session, when, after a long debate upon the Army Estimates, the house at two o'clock in the morning was called on to vote the Ordnance Estimates, exceeding four millions. He hoped, too, that the noble lord would have no objection to lay before the house an account of the effective strength of the army, before the second reading of the bill.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

did not think this the proper time for discussing the merits of the measure, and hoped, that the debate would not be continued to any length. With respect to the question of the hon. member, he was sure that his right hon. friends could have no objection to the production of the fullest accounts that could be desired. But he apprehended, that it would not be necessary to delay, till they should be produced, the discussion of a measure for adding to the strength of the army. If the right hon. gent. really thought that the army had been wasted, shamefully wasted, as stated by him, surely he could not think this the moment, in such times, to delay measures for repairing that waste. It was to protest against this imputation of waste that he had risen; and whenever the question should be brought before the house, he was convinced that his noble friend could feel neither indisposition nor difficulty, to defend the application of the disposable force of the country. Whether it should be desirable or not to send out other assistance to Spain, or whether it would have been wise in his majesty's government to abstain from sending out assistance at any time to that country, were questions, which there would be after opportunities of discussing. But if ever the house or the public should decide in the negative, it would then be for the hon. gentlemen to shew that there had been mismanagement. of that assistance, or how it could have been better applied under their more able management. After the various plans the house had heard for the conduct of the campaign, he was sure that neither he nor his colleagues had any thing to fear from the comparison. He had an impatient anxiety to hear what plan the right hon. gent. could propose, but he suspected that if he could have made any improvement in the plans stated by his friends in a former debate, he would not have withheld the communication. As this was not a time for going into the merits of the measure in detail, he should not prolong the conversation. He, however, would add, that, whenever the merits of the campaign should come into discussion, he should be able to prove, that there had been neither waste from mismanagement, nor dishonour from misconduct during its continuance.

Mr. Tierney

stated in explanation, that he had never said that assistance ought not to have been sent to Spain in the early moments of its national ebullition; neither had he said that the deficiencies of the army ought not to be repaired. What he had said, was, that he would not con- sent to the measure until he should be informed how the troops which had been placed at the disposal of the noble lord had been employed, and next, what the amount of the actual deficiencies in the army were.

Mr. Elliot

expressed deep regret that the regular army should be kept up by these hackneyed expedients, which had the effect of breaking down the militia, and produced the increase of the army by means of a direct, and he must be permitted to say, a fraudulent system of taxation. He lamented the inroads which had been made upon the wise system of a right hon. friend of his (Mr. Windham) then absent from indisposition, but who, he trusted, would attend in his place on the second reading of the bill.

On the question being put for leave to bring in the bill, a division took place, for the motion 77, against it, 26. Majority 51.—The bill was then presented and read a first time.