HC Deb 10 March 1812 vol 21 cc1240-50
Lord Folkestone

rose, agreeably to the notice be had given, to call the attention of the House to the subject of the number of Foreigners at present in the employment of this country. He should divide these into three heads: first, Foreigners who held commands not in foreign corps: second, Privates serving in British regiments: and thirdly, Foreigners on the staff of the British army. He should not go the length of saying that ministers acted contrary to law, in having so large a number of foreign troops in the pay and service of this country; but this he must say, that these corps had been suffered of late years to increase in a very rapid manner. Formerly they amounted only to 5,000 men; now they amounted to about 30,000 men, and the increase within the last year was about 6,000. He should not say that this was contrary to law, considering that years had been allowed to pass without any complaint having been regularly brought forward on the sub- ject; but this he thought he might with safety say, that it was still a subject well worthy the attention of the House. The acts by which his Majesty was enabled to avail himself of the services of foreign troops, and particularly of foreign officers, were the acts of the 36th, and of the 39th and 40th of the King. If these acts were necessary to authorise his Majesty to receive foreigners into the pay of the country, it was clear that till then he had no such right. A Bill had formerly been introduced to indemnify ministers for bringing 16,000 foreign soldiers into this country; and if circumstances should occur to render it expedient to withdraw those foreign troops now in our service, from the place where they were now, (he confessed, meritoriously engaged,) it might become necessary to bring in another Bill to indemnify ministers for bringing into this country 30,000 foreign soldiers. He was not pleased that it should ever have been thought desirable to introduce into this country 16,000 foreign troops, and it was not, therefore, to be expected that he could be indifferent to the possibility of that number being increased to 30,000. These corps contained cavalry, infantry, and artillery. They had a staff of their own, and were in themselves a complete army. The act of the 36th of the King, did not go to justify the employing of foreign officers, except as officers of foreign corps; and did not admit them to any superior rank above that of officers serving with such corps.—There was another thing which he was sure it did not justify, namely, the appointment of German generals to British regiments. This, surely, could not be rendered necessary on the ground that officers ought to be acquainted with the language and manners of their soldiers. He should mention one instance of this kind, though he did not say it consisted with his own knowledge—he meant one baron Linsingen, who was or had been general of the eastern district. This was not the only instance; there were two or three others, both in this country and in Ireland. Such appointments, he contended, were contrary to the common law and to the act of Settlement. The noble lord, to shew the peculiar jealousy with which the introduction of foreign officers into our service had been regarded, went into a history of the progress of the 60th regiment. By the act of the 29th of George the second, foreign officers, who were Protestants, were permitted to serve in that regiment, for the protection of the states of Maryland and Pensylvania. This, however, it was to be observed, was for the protection of America, and not of our own country. The number of officers so to be employed, too, was limited to fifty; the engineers were limited to twenty in number; and it was expressly provided, that the corps should be commanded by a natural-born subject. By the act of the 39th and 40th of the King, the limitations as to the number of the officers, and the restriction as to religion, were taken off; but still it was declared, that the regiment should serve only in America. The House would be surprised however to be informed, that it appeared from the Army List that an officer belonging to this 60th regiment was on the staff of our army, serving in Sussex, in the very teeth of this regulation, that they should not serve out of America.—The next subject to which he begged to call the attention of the House, was the practice of admitting foreigners into our own native corps. Not above 10 or 12 years ago, a young man, a foreigner, who was recommended as deserving of promotion in our army, was refused, on the express ground, that he was unfit, as being a foreigner. This feeling, however, was now completely done away, and it was no uncommon thing to see gentlemen promoted from the German legion into the 10th hussars. It surely could not be necessary to introduce such officers into our own army, on the ground of their being better acquainted either with their manners or language. He thought however, that there was a great deal too much of these attempts to Germanise our troops. We were not now to have German officers merely, but German soldiers. He was informed that a number of deserters had lately been liberated from prison, and entering into the 10th regiment of hussars, contrary to all our ancient feelings on such a subject. While this was done, however, and while ministers were willing to receive foreigners into that regiment, he understood that a resolution had been come to, not to admit into it any Irishmen. If this was so, he must be allowed to say, that it was highly improper. A proclamation had been issued by the magistrates in the neighbourhood of Nottingham, by which soldiers were authorised, in certain events, to act without calling in the civil power. If the 10th hussars had been quartered in that neighbourhood, however, would not the entrusting such a power to foreigners have been dangerous? It had been held, as he understood, by lord Mansfield, and more recently by the chief justice of the court of Common Pleas, that the character of citizen did not merge in that of soldier. He was afraid, however, if foreigners were to be admitted into our native regiments, that little protection would be found in this relation of citizenship. There had recently been some trials for the crime of desertion from our service and entering into that of the enemy. Great as he esteemed this crime to be, and highly as it was deserving of punishment, he thought it had rather an awkward appearance that we should endeavour ourselves to seduce foreigners to be guilty of a similar offence. There was one other thing to which he begged leave also to advert, and that was the appointment of a foreigner, an alien, to be one of the commissioners for managing his Majesty's private properly. No foreigner could hold property in this country, and the noble lord thought it strange that be should be able to do for another what he could not do for himself. He objected both to the creating of this German regiment, and of this German fund, of which parliament was to know nothing. He concluded by moving for a return of all persons serving in the array not being natural born subjects of this kingdom, or whose parents were such, with the exception of those serving in foreign corps.

Colonel Palmer

passed a strong eulogy upon the merits and services of colonel Quintin.

Sir John Sebright

observed, that there were regiments marked for the admission of foreigners. But why introduce them into native corps? No doubt the character of colonel Quintin was highly respectable, but the motion had no reference to individual character, and its principle was, in his opinion, extremely salutary. It had been a distinction peculiar to the English army, that desertion was almost unknown in it; and it was therefore most important and desirable that this character should be carefully maintained, and not endangered by lessening those feelings and that national spirit, which the appointment of foreigners to commands was calculated to effect.

Lord Palmerston

stated, that he was perfectly ready to meet the noble lord who brought forward the motion, as to the law upon the subject. All that had been done with respect to the enlistment and employment of foreigners, was fully justified by the 46th of his present Majesty. If the noble lord would be at the trouble of reading the statute, he would find that the third section authorised every part of the conduct adopted by his Majesty's government. It was there enacted, that it should be lawful to admit into the service such foreigners as should be desirous to enlist into the British army, and to grant commissions and letters of service to foreign officers and engineers. Was it then fair, if such persons should distinguish themselves, to deny them promotion? The cause of baron Linsingen's name appearing so high in the Army List was, that his rank entitled him to a much higher command than he enjoyed, having only the super-intendance of a depôt. The 44th, by which the German Legion was raised, might be quoted to sanction the practice now complained of. The noble lord had laid the citizen was never entirely lost in he soldier, and was the foreign soldier to be called upon as a British citizen? To his he should answer, that a foreigner being merely a civil inhabitant, was as much bound by the laws as a native Englishman. The provision of the Act of Settlement on this head was done away by the late statutes; but supposing this lot to be the case, was there no difference in the circumstances of that period and the present, and the views of national advantage which were then and were now applicable? A foreign sovereign was then on the throne, and the people had not been, as they now were, generally familiarized to the use of arms, the whole standing army being then not above 20,000 men. There then existed no war like the present, in which we saw Buonaparté sending Spaniards into the north, Germans into Spain, and Poles to preserve the tranquillity of Italy. Was there, then, any serious ground of apprehension for the liberties of the country, when we knew that the number of foreigners in our service was limited by law to the number of 16,000, and that of those the far larger proportion was employed abroad? There might be danger to some of the connections resident abroad of foreigners in our service, by the publication of their names, but this objection certainly did not apply to the return of their numbers.

Sir John Newport

read the preamble of the act quoted by the noble lord who spoke last, and shewed that the word 'therein' limited the admission of foreigners into our military service, to foreign corps. The noble lord had, therefore, put an unfair construction upon it. He had treated those who appealed to the Act of Settlement as persons who overlooked the great change of modern times. He confessed he was one of those old-fashioned persons who still thought the best way of supporting the public interest in times of difficulty, was by observing the fundamental principles of the constitution. It had been the pride and glory of lord Chatham that he found an army full of foreigners, and dismissed them all, and it was acknowledged that by so doing, he greatly raised the spirit and hopes of the country.

Sir F. Burdett

expressed some surprize that those principles which he had always been accustomed to regard as established and incontrovertible, should now be represented as altogether obsolete and inapplicable to the circumstances of the present time. He was himself so little versed in the modern lore of the right hon. gentlemen, as still to retain the belief that the true means of upholding the country when surrounded with difficulties and dangers, was to adhere steadily to the fundamental laws. But it seemed that this was a new æra indeed. From all that he knew of the history of the country, he held it to have always been the distinguishing feature and universal characteristic of Englishmen to feel a jealousy of foreigners, and particularly of armed foreigners, being introduced into this service. In Magna Charta it was stipulated by the barons in arms, as a previous condition to the laying them down, that the 2,000 foreigners then in the kingdom should be immediately sent out of it. If we looked to later periods, passing over many important intervening stages, and coming down to that sera of struggle and difficulty, the reign of Charles 1, dignified, indeed, by some with the title of Martyr, but who appeared to him to be only a martyr to his own obstinacy, if the House would refer to the famous Remonstrance of 1641,* they would find that one of the grand grievances then complained of was the employment of foreign troops, and this afterwards formed one of the charges against that misguided monarch. If we referred to the period of the Reformation and the brilliant reign of Elizabeth, who had certainly * See Parliamentary History of England, vol. 2, p. 946. to contend with enemies as numerous and powerful comparatively as those who now threaten our independence, when Spain, assisted by the machinations of the Guises, threatened the liberties of Europe; when Scotland was divided, and Ireland yet more disturbed than at present, that wise queen placed not her dependence on foreigners, but appealed to the constitution and to the people, in whose hearts, she reigned, for assistance against her enemies.—It was said, that these foreigners were merely Germans, and he was ready to confess, that he saw more danger in a few mercenaries within these walls than in the employment of thousands out of it. The hon. colonel had eulogized colonel Quintin, but although this might be perfectly well merited, he thought the benefit of his services in teaching a new mode of riding might have been procured without raising him over the heads of native officers.—But while we were thus admitting foreigners, was it not extraordinary that any regulation should subsist against the enlistment of Irishmen; and would it not be a more expedient policy to reconcile that large body of his Majesty's subjects, and call in their aid under the pressure of so many difficulties?—The noble lord who had attempted an answer to the 'motion, had treated the Act of Settlement as a repealed act, but the preamble read by the right hon. bart. was pretty satisfactory on that head. Much as was talked of the constitution, the right hon. gentlemen on the other side did not seem very able to state what it was. In his opinion, the Act of Settlement was a contract between the crown and the people of these realms, equally binding upon both, and on which the right of allegiance essentially depended. As to the practice of enlisting foreigners at the same time that the government were prosecuting our own seamen for high-treason in serving under the enemy, it appeared to him to be altogether unjustifiable. He could not perceive the analogy between this case and the offences constituting, on other occasions, the crime of high-treason; and he hoped this consideration might serve to prevent the execution of the unfortunate men lately tried and convicted. With respect to the material part of the question, he was inclined to argue very differently, from the consideration of the perilous and distressed state of the country. He would say in such circumstances, 'Adhere to your fundamental laws, remove those grievances which are notorious, and which excite the murmurs and the loud complaints of the people, and strengthen their affections towards you by an unremitting attention to their interests and desires.' Instead of all this, it was now recommended to us to dismiss the Act of Settlement as inconvenient, and to guard against the establishment of a foreign despotism, by the erection of a domestic one among ourselves. He had now only just to notice the objection of the noble lord, grounded on the danger of publication, and would beg leave to ask, if their names were not already in the Army List?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, the question was not whether the acts of the 44th and 46th of the present reign ought to be repealed, but whether they justified the practice now adopted? Did the facts of the case made out before the House justify the description of the hon. bart. in stating all the fences of the constitution to be broken down? As to what had been said with respect to the impolicy of admitting foreigners while prosecuting our own seamen, suppose the case of our having employed the troops under marquis Romana, who had been forced into the enemy's service, instead of sending them to Spain, would that have been improper? Now, the clause in the Act of Settlement itself, prohibiting the employment of foreigners, was subsequently introduced, for the purpose of guarding against a particular contingency. It was true, as stated by a right hon. baronet, that the preamble was the key of the statute, but he could not think it was to lock up the fair interpretation of any particular clause, uncontrouled by any definition in the preamble. The right hon. gent. then read a clause in the third section, in order to shew that the only distinction between it and the two former was, that the latter justified the present practice, and authorised its continuance.—Some might think it justifiable to allow the enlistment of foreigners into separate regiments, and yet be of opinion that they ought not to be engrafted into British regiments. If the noble lord thought fit, he might attempt to get the third section repealed. All that he contended for was, that as the law stood, government were justifiable in enlisting foreigners into British regiments. But, admitting that foreigners ought not to be admitted into British regiments, still the extent to which they were admitted was of material consequence. If this prevailed only to a small extent there might be the less reason for altering the law.—There was another subject introduced by the noble lord which he was not prepared to expect, as no notice had been given of it, and it had no necessary connection with his motion, and that was the appointment of count Munster to be one of the trustees of his Majesty's private property. He acknowledged himself, if that nomination were a violation of the law, to be alone accountable for it, having distinctly and individually recommended that gentleman to the situation; for being himself in perfect ignorance of the extent of his Majesty's private property, and thinking that part of it might be connected with the Hanoverian dominions, it occurred to him, that hardly a person could be appointed more likely to give information concerning it than the individual in question, from the situation which he had lately held. If the House should think this nomination illegal, it would at least be allowed, that what he had done was very natural. At any rate, it was unconnected with the present discussion. He doubted whether it was possible to return all the foreigners employed in our service, as many of them might be unknown, even to their officers; and it would be necessary to send to Portugal and to the East and West Indies, before a complete return could be made.

General Tarleton

observed, that a return was sent to the War office every year, containing the name, age, place of birth, and nature of service, of every man in a regiment. With respect to the employment of foreign troops abroad, he thought, in the present state of the world, we could not have too many of them; but with respect to taking them into English regiments, he was in direct opposition to such a measure. Mixing Germans and English together into one regiment, was like mixing baser metals with gold and silver. The highest testimony had been borne to the superiority of English soldiers in former times, by such men as marshal Turenne and marshal Villars; and this superiority we had" still maintained. Would Great Britain ever allow herself to be over-run, and her character to be debased, in the manner of Prussia and Austria? He was of opinion, therefore, that government might take as many foreigners as they pleased into pay; but let them still be called mercenaries:

Lord A. Hamilton

complained of the hardship of inlisting foreign officers into British corps, at a time when there were many British officers willing and anxious to be employed, but who could not get employment.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that these foreign officers would cease to hold commissions within a limited time after the termination of the war.

Mr Bennet

said, that two or three years ago he bad seen a good deal of the peninsula, and when in Gibraltar he saw about 600 men in our service there, who had belonged to Dupont's army, among whom a great number were Parisians. They told him so themselves. He would ask a gallant colonel near him, why foreigners were taken into the 10th regiment, in preference to Irishmen? Was such an indignity to be put upon the Irish people, that they were to be considered as unfit to serve their country? This was really something beyond human patience to bear.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

knew nothing of the circumstance mentioned by the hon. gentleman.

Colonel Palmer

said, the reason why they had not enlisted Irishmen was, that the description of Irishmen met with in this country were liable to desert, and it was difficult to get them back again.

Lord Folkestone

in reply said, he did not wish a return of the names of the foreigners in each corps, but merely of the numbers. It was necessary to have such a return, to know to what extent the practice had been carried, that, if necessary, it might be put a stop to. How could government know whether they had not more than 16,000 foreigners employed, if they did not know the numbers serving in British corps? With respect to the 3d clause of the act, he was aware that he was contending with fearful odds, when he had to argue with the right hon. gentleman about the meaning of an act of parliament, well knowing both the influence and legal knowledge to which he was opposed. Besides, he did not know if the right hon. gentleman had not had himself some hand in the framing of the act, as he believed he was then attorney general. In his opinion, the 3d clause merely gave authority to those foreigners who were to be admitted to serve, to do so without breach of law. The wording ran; "And be it lawful for such subjects to be enlisted," &c. But this clause would never justify the engrafting fo- reigners into British regiments. If it did, he was sure it was not in the contemplation of parliament at the time of passing the act. The right hon. gentleman in speaking of the Act of Settlement stated, that the period at which it should begin to operate was limited; but he would recollect that it was not limited as to duration. He had thought that it ought to cease when the king was no longer a foreigner; but he seemed to forget that the object of jealousy was the foreign possessions belonging to the King. These foreign corps belonged to these possessions, and were attached to his Majesty. He must say, that he entertained great jealousy of these Germans. Though they might be employed abroad, he should not like to see them employed to defend this country, when he knew how they had defended their own; for if men would not exert themselves to defend their nearest and dearest relations, they would hardly exert themselves to defend strangers. The Hanoverian army was a great body of men, and might have done something to defend their own country. That they were able to do something was evident, from what they contrived to do for themselves, having stipulated that they who surrendered should receive pay till their return home, and contributions were levied for that pay on the people they were hired to defend.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

had no objection to furnish the returns for the regiments at home.

Lord Folkestone

having agreed to withdraw his motion,

The Chancellor of the Exchequer moved for a return of the number of foreign officers and soldiers serving in the different regiments of this country, distinguishing the regiments in which they served.—Ordered.