HC Deb 14 May 1811 vol 20 cc130-4
Mr. Secretary Ryder

rose to move for leave to bring in a Bill to permit the interchange of the British and Irish Militia respectively. He was convinced that gentlemen would be surprised that a measure like the present had been so long delayed, rather than that it was now proposed. This, he presumed, the House would feel, on the principle that when the two countries were indissolubly united together, it ought to follow that what was the interest and duty of the one, should be so of both. At the same time, the House would not forget, that the power of France had not, till lately, made those gigantic strides towards universal dominion which now marked her course, and rendered less probable a permanent and lasting peace. Whatever opinion gentlemen might entertain as to the mode of proceeding to be adopted by us, and however much they might disapprove of our continental efforts to check the enemy, still there could be but one opinion, as to the necessity of united efforts at home; and this could never be fully attained while our militias were confined to one country. He knew he might be told that they had formerly volunteered an interchange of their services, and that they would be ready to do so again. But this did not apply, and it was to be hoped that no such event as that would again occur. The proposition he had to make did not need instances to illustrate it. But he might refer to the campaign in Portugal of this year, where nothing was now left to be done, but as to which all our fears, anxieties, and expectations were now converted into joy and exultation; and he might ask gentlemen if when they were anxiously waiting to hear of reinforce- ments reaching our brave countrymen, from Sicily and from Halifax, they would not have supplied them with pleasure, by dispatching to the relief of our country-men those valuable troops in Ireland, whom, if the present measure had then operated, we might have spared from that country. If so, who would say that we should not now resort to such a measure?

He should not discharge his duty, however, if he confined his view of the present measure merely to a consideration of its military advantages. We should not, even in a military point of view, have done all we were called on to do, if we did not do this. But the moral and political effects to be expected from it were infinitely greater than its military advantages. No man could be blind to the advantages of this plan. No man could talk on such a subject as a true Englishman, without feeling as an Irishman; nor as a true Irishman without feeling as an Englishman. This measure would do away the ignorance under which each nation laboured as to the character of the other. New connections, friendships, and distances would be formed, not confined to one class or degree, but extending generally through both nations. The advantages thus to arise were not to be expected, but were certain. He should feel entirely happy on the subject, were it not that he feared the opposition of a certain class of gentlemen connected with the militia service. No man was more ready to confess the services of this class of gentlemen than he was. When they came, however, to weigh the advantages of the present measure, and to perceive that they were not now called on to make sacrifices equal to those they had formerly made, he hoped they would not oppose what he had now to suggest. If the militia were by this measure to be removed at a greater distance from home than usual, this, he admitted, would be subject deserving of consideration. The fact was, however, that in many cases in England, and almost universally in Scotland, they were sent to a greater distance from home at present than if they were sent to Ireland.—He did not wish that the English militia should be sent to Ireland, and the Irish to England, for an indefinite period. The plan he proposed was, that not more than one-third of either militia should be sent from one country to the other at one time. That the English militia should not continue in Ireland more than two years, nor the Irish in England more than three years at one time; that they should not afterwards be sent but in rotation; and that in no event should either be sent to the other country, but by an order from his Majesty. He also proposed that they should have the power of volunteering, and that the Commanders should inform each regiment that their services were purely voluntary. This was the outline of his Bill; and the effect of it would be, that supposing the measure immediately to have operation, in the course of eight years the whole of the English militia will have served in Ireland. He concluded by moving for leave to bring in a Bill to the above effect.

Mr. Tighe

asked, whether the Roman Catholic officer and soldier were to be allowed the free exercise of their religion when in England? This ought to be attended to. If the ministers thought the Irish militia would be so useful in defending the country, they ought to adopt the measures which would remove all impediments to such a desirable object. They ought to put an end to all religious distinctions, and then they would have the whole army disposable for those speculations and objects which the Secretary of State had mentioned.

Mr. Wynn did

not mean to object to the bringing in of the bill, though he saw some difficulties that must attend the adoption of the measure. It ought to have been carried into effect at the time of the Union, or shortly after, when there was an interval of peace. The officers, who might be averse to this plan, might then have retired, without being subject to any reflection upon their conduct. At present, many of them might, by the operation of this bill, be put to very great inconvenience. As a proof that there might be some objection to it, he reminded the right hon. secretary that such a measure had been in contemplation 1804, but had been abandoned, probably on account of the resolutions passed at meetings of lord lieutenants of counties disapproving of it. He allowed that this would increase the disposable force, but so would the sending the militia abroad. This was very different from the volunteering into the line, for there the soldier left his officers, and when the fixed period ended, the matter was at rest. He further observed, that this might have a very injurious effect on the volunteering from the militia, as the soldier must be almost cer- tain of being sent abroad as soon as he volunteered. It would also prove a material obstacle to the procuring of men for the militia during the winter;

Lord Castlereagh

said, that there never had been a negative on the interchange of services. In 1804, the object was to accept the voluntary offers of 10,000 of the Irish militia to serve in England, to replace that number which had volunteered from the English militia into the line. That there were difficulties in the way of the execution of this measure, he admitted; but it generally happened that the difficulties of a plan were in proportion to its utility. The difficulties, how ever, were not insuperable. He was satisfied that there would be a very general disposition in the militia officers to extend the benefit of their services.

Col. Bagwell

said, that some from habit might be averse to the interchange; but the measure ought not to be given up on that account, considering its extensive utility. He was persuaded there would be a general desire to extend their services, if the measure appeared to be a beneficial one. The officers got their commissions without purchase, and might relinquish them without loss.

Mr. Herbert

of Kerry strongly approved of the measure.

Sir John Cox Hippesley

stated, that though general orders had been issued not to restrict the Catholic soldiers in the exercise of their religion, they were but partially attended. Even when the Catholic soldiers were permitted to attend their chapels, they were often marched afterwards to a church of the establishment, which, by the canons of their own church, subjects them to excommunication. The observation of his hon. friend (Mr. Tighe) therefore, required some notice. He also stated the fact, that out of 3,000 recruits sent to the depot at the Isle of Wight, only 160 belonged to the established church. Most of the rest, he presumed were Catholics.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that the militia of Ireland though in this country, would still be the Irish militia and would, therefore, by law be entitled to the exemptions and privileges which they had in Ireland.

Mr. Whitbread

was hardly satisfied with this off hand opinion. He wished that the opinions of the law officers of the crown should be taken, that the House might know how the matter stood. If there was any doubt as to the law, that doubt ought to be removed. He did not oppose the measure, but it ought to be really and entirely optional with the men and officers, whether to comply or not, without being subject to any reflections in case of refusal. The measure would soon put an end to the qualification required from the militia officers, and for that they ought to be prepared.

Sir John Newport

approved the measure, but thought that every doubt as to the maintenance of the exemptions of the Catholic officers and soldiers ought to be done away by a provision in the bill. In looking over the act for securing the succession, he was far from being satisfied that no legislative enactment on this point was required.

Col. Bustard

adverted to the hardship of placing the militia officer in a situation where he must alter the nature of his engagement, or subject himself to the odium of government.

General Tarleton and lord Jocelyn approved of the measure. After a few words from colonel Lemon, the motion was put and carried.