HC Deb 09 May 1815 vol 31 cc223-6
Mr. Addington

rose to state the grounds on which he should move for leave to bring in a Bill to enable the King to accept the services of the Local Militia, either in or out of their counties, under certain restrictions. The Bill, in fact, which he intended to propose was a revival, with certain modifications, of the Act of the 53rd of the King, which expired on the 25th of March last. Under the particular circumstances of the period when that Act was passed, such a large portion of our regular army and militia had been called away to serve under the duke of Wellington, that, lest the fortresses should be denuded of troops, the Local Militia had been allowed to volunteer for garrison duty. The present situation of affairs had called on the Government again to propose such a measure to the House, in consequence of a great part of the regular army having been embarked for the continent, while a considerable portion of the remainder had not yet arrived from America. The alteration he should propose in the present Bill was, that the time during which they might remain on duty, which in the former Act had been 42 days, should be limited to 28 days, the longer term having been found inconvenient, particularly in the agricultural counties. He concluded by moving, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to enable his Majesty to accept the services of the Local Militia, either in or out of their counties, under certain restrictions."

Lord Milton

contended, that circumstances did not warrant this measure. At the time when the last Act was deemed necessary, every body was anxious to give all possible assistance to the country, under the very extraordinary situation in which it was placed, and, however unconstitutional the measure, no objection was made to it. But in the way ministers were proceeding, the Militia and the Local Militia Acts were a mere nullity, for there was never a session in which some alteration was not made in them. Every step led to another, and it was impossible the men could have any con- fidence in the promises of the Government, while they were thus trifled with. He trusted that the delusion would not prevail, that the war in which we were about to embark would be one that would terminate in a few months: he should therefore hold the contents of this Act to be as durable as the war. To draw on men to volunteer beyond the period or places for which they were enlisted, was unfair towards them; and he considered the conduct of officers to be reprehensible, by inducing the men to take a step which they themselves had never thought of. It was like shaming the men into volunteering, as the being unwilling to be left behind by others who had turned out was a part of the natural character of a soldier. The Act would go completely to falsify that system which caused the original formation of the Local Militia, and would erect it into precisely what the old militia formerly was. Indeed, he should not be surprised if next year the right hon. gentleman was to bring in an Act to enable the Local Militia to volunteer abroad; and also, with respect to the old militia, to renew indefinitely that measure which was temporarily adopted in 1813. As he considered all measures for tampering with the militia to be so many breaches of faith towards the men, he should oppose the motion.

Mr. Addington

explained, that the regular militia being at present very incomplete, the object of the present Bill was to enable the Local Militia to supply the vacancies, or to move out of their respective counties, if necessary, to take garrison duty, that the regulars and old militia might increase the effective force of the country.

Mr. Holme Sumner

was of opinion, that an understood bargain existed between the Legislature and those men who were now enlisted, which ought not to be broken in upon. He should not oppose the motion, though he must confess that his right hon. friend had disappointed his expectations in it.

Mr. Wrottesley

thought the measure might be salutary, as the House had agreed on the necessity of additional means of defence; but he thought, instead of accepting the volunteering of whole regiments, it would be better to take a few men only from each, and thus leave those who had families or business in their counties to attend to them. As the emergency was as great now as it was in 1813, be could see no possible objection to the measure.

Lord Stanley

said, the present Bill was a subversion of the militia system, as at first established. When the regulars were called from their respective counties, the local militia, at great inconvenience, undertook their duty, but upon condition, that they should not be sent from their own district. With what justice could they now be put to this inconvenience, when several of the regiments, whose removal had first caused this change, were about to return from America? in fact, part of them had actually reached some of the ports in Ireland. He therefore hoped the Bill, if enacted, would become nugatory.

Mr. W. Elliot

objected to this system of recruiting, on the general principle, that the men were induced to give a reluctant consent, by being placed in a very odious situation if they refused. He trusted nobody would doubt his earnestness for the defence of the country, but be did not think the circumstances in which it was placed rendered the present measure indispensable.

Mr. Bathurst

admitted, that the American army was on the eve of its arrival in this country, but its services were likely to be called into action for purposes which might render its removal necessary. The only question was, whether it was likely that the public interest should at a future time require the service of the local militia for 28 days in particular places. If such an event was probable, he trusted the House would agree to the Bill.

Mr. N. Calvert

was of opinion that the measure would altogether fail in its effects. It could only succeed where great influence was used over the men, such as was possessed by lord Rolle. In some parts, all the officers might turn out, and none of the men might follow.

Mr. Babington

thought that much of its success would depend on the facilities which would be afforded for providing for the families of the men during their absence.

Leave was given to bring in the Bill, which was brought in accordingly, and read a first time.

Lord Milton

observed, that as very few persons in the country were aware of a measure of this nature, it was proper to allow due time for its consideration before it should be read a second time.

Mr. Addingion

said the Bill was merely a revival of the measure brought forward eighteen months ago, and therefore that its character and object were fully known to the country.

The second reading was fixed for Friday, and the Bill was ordered to be printed.