HC Deb 20 February 1812 vol 21 cc866-8

On the order of the day for the second reading of the Local Militia Bill,

Lord A. Hamilton

said, he thought that the inconsistency of conduct in the House on the subject of ballot, was a matter of very serious regret. The ballot was now the only source resorted to for supplying the military force of the country, whereas it had been generally declared in that House, within these few years, to be a system which was wholly unfit to be persevered in. Such an inconsistency as this, he was afraid, would seem to justify the suspicion, that the members of that House were not sufficiently alive to the interests of that part of the community, who were more peculiarly exposed to the burden of ballot. There was another objection, which struck him with peculiar force on perusing the present Bill. Not only were persons belonging to the Local Militia, who were guilty of offences, liable to the usual punishments inflicted in such cases, but they were to be liable to the punishment of being continued in the Local Militia beyond the stipulated period of their service; not only so, but even to be sent into the line, and there to be kept, for an unlimited period of service. The noble lord apprehended, if this clause was to be allowed to continue in the Bill, it would be far from palatable with the public. Imprisonment too, his lordship observed, was to be inflicted by this Bill, not as a punishment, but before trial for any supposed offence. This was such a mixture of military law as he could not think of countenancing in such a Bill as the present. There was also a large fine of 15l. a man on the county, for every man not raised. These were all clauses which appeared to him to be highly objectionable, and which rendered the Bill totally unfit to pass the House in its present state. He might be told, perhaps, that the committee was the proper place to have these objections remedied. It surely was so; but he did not conceive he should have done his duty, had he not noticed them in the present stage of the Bill. If the right hon. gentleman should persist in carrying the Bill through in its present state, he would take another opportunity of stating his objections more in detail.

Mr. Whitbread

agreed in thinking that there were many objectionable clauses in the present Bill, but he did not agree in all the objections stated by his noble friend. What he particularly objected to was an alteration in the present system of the Local Militia. The noble lord who originally proposed that measure, proposed it as a measure by which the whole male population of the country might be gradually trained. The greater part of the Local Militia now embodied had already served three years, and would therefore fail to be disbanded in the course of the following year, the men not being capable, by the present law, of continuing embodied more than four years. The present Bill, however, proposed, that on an understanding taking place between the commandant and the men, a certain proportion of the present Local Militia might be continued; Thus, then, was the plan of proceeding in a series, and of training the whole population of the country by degrees, to be abandoned. In his opinion the first plan had been found to be a good one, and ought to be continued, and the clause in the present Bill, introducing the change to which he had alluded, ought to be rejected.

Mr. Secretary Ryder

agreed that the alteration alluded to by the hon. gentleman was a deviation from the original plan of the Local Militia, in as far as it was to that extent a deviation from the system of ballot, which was the corner stone on which the Local Militia system was built. The acceptance of the voluntary service of such corps as chose to offer themselves, a thing which was permitted under the original Bill, was also, so far, a deviation from that system. He was of opinion, however, that the alteration now proposed was an improvement, for several reasons: first, it would produce a much more efficient force; again, relieve the country from a great inconvenience and burden, as it would prevent the necessity of calling persons away from their avocations in husbandry, &c. during the harvest; and, in an economical point of view, it would cause a great saving to an amount of not less than 100,000l. a-year.

Lord A. Hamilton

explained by stating, that he had not said that the system of ballot ought to be laid aside altogether, but that he regretted the inconsistency of the House on this subject.

Mr. N. Calvert

paid a compliment to the framer of the present Bill, which was complete and intelligible in all its parts, and was not, like too many Bills, framed, as it were, with no other object than to bewilder and perplex.

The Bill was then read a second time.