HC Deb 10 August 1843 vol 71 cc532-5

On the motion, that the Chelsea Hospital Out-Pensioners Bill be read a second time,

Mr. T. Duncombe

wished to know what was the object of this bill, as it appeared to him, that it was of a dangerous character. Was it a bill for increasing the army, or was it intended by it, to make a new constabulary force in England and Ireland, as the Home Secretary might think fit. He should be glad if the gallant Secretary-at-War would furnish some explanation as to the intentions of the Government with respect to this bill.

Sir H. Hardinge

replied, that when he introduced this bill, he explained the object of it, and stated, that last year he introduced a measure, which received the sanction of Parliament, by which it was enacted, that the out-pensioners of Chelsea Hospital should be paid for the future, by half-pay officers named by the proper authorities. These men, when under proper control, might be found to be a most fit force to assist the civil power, and they might be called out tinder the command of the half-pay officers who paid them their allowances, and might be armed in case of emergency, for the maintenance of the peace. Last year it was found necessary to call out bodies of these men in various parts of the north of England, and they could only be armed with staves. The men when thus called upon to serve, had no option as they were old soldiers in receipt of pensions from the Crown. He conceived, that it was not just, that they should be placed in such a position, that they could hardly defend themselves when called out to maintain the law against those who were breaking it. There was no constitutional ground to object to such a body, for objection might be raised on the same ground to any yeomanry or volunteer force. This body could only be called out and armed on the responsibility of the Government, and when the Secretary for the Home Department declared that it was necessary for the maintenance of the public peace. At present, the men could only be summoned by the magistrates to act as special constables, whereas, it was proposed by this bill, that they might, under certain emergencies, be called upon to serve as soldiers under the officers of the district who paid them. The hon, Gentleman wished to know what new necessity there was for this. He would reply, that last year, during the disturbances at Manchester, upwards of 300 of these men armed with constables' staves, were obliged to fly before the mob; and, he believed, that if they had been properly armed, that they would have produced a great moral effect. When he recollected what occurred last year in the manufacturing districts, he thought that this was a proper precautionary measure, which ought not to excite jealousy, as the men could not be called out until the necessity arose.

Lord Clements

was satisfied, that this bill was of a most objectionable tendency, to enable the Government to bring out these men as an aid to the army. He thought also, that the measure was a great hardship to these men, who might be called away from their families at a moment's warning to perform their duties.

Sir Henry Hardinge

observed, that the Crown could now at any time compel the service of these men, and this certainly might at particular times be attended with hardship. In 1819 he felt this, when ten veteran battalions were formed from these men. All that was now proposed, was, that these men should act as it were as leaders of armed special constables, and not in veteran battalions or in garrison, as they might be called to do at present. The bill, therefore, as far as it went, was an exemption for this class of men, and could not operate against them.

Mr. T. Duncombe

did not see why these men should be placed in a better situation as regarded their being armed, than special constables. It appeared, that this measure was to follow up the act of last year, by which these men were placed under the orders of half-pay officers. From what had fallen from the right hon. and gallant officer, it almost appeared as if it were intended, that the half-starved people were to be put down by the bayonets of these men. The right hon. Gentleman did not mention Ireland, but it was obvious, that this bill was introduced in reference to that country. He understood, that 500 of these pensioners were to be found in Liverpool, and if the same proportion was to be met with in other places, a large addition to the standing army could soon be made. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of these pensioners as if they were all old men, whereas, a large proportion of them were in the prime of life. It was an underhand and indirect way of extending the standing army, or of establishing an armed police. He begged to move, that the bill be read a second time on that day three months.

Sir R. Peel

Sir, there must be some Gentleman on that side of the House connected with the manufacturing districts, who knows what was the state of those districts last year, and what pressing applications were made to the Government for the despatch of military force to preserve the public peace. And what was the consequence? In order to fulfil that paramount duty, we had to send a battalion of guards to Manchester, thus making an unpleasant display of military force throughout the country. Whatever may be the distresses of the people (and which we are most anxious to alleviate), they can afford no justification for any breach of the public peace, and do not exempt the Government from the responsibility of that which, indeed, is the first duty of a Ministry—protection of property, and the preservation of the peace. It is really for the interests of the people themselves that those who are disposed to disturb the public peace should be curbed at the outset. This is a force which will lay dormant till actually required, and then will only be used on the responsibility of one of the chief Ministers of the Crown. With men accustomed to military discipline, it is far better that their old habits of obedience and order should be maintained; rather than that they should be allowed to act in small isolated independent bodies, with none of the organization to which they are habituated, exposed on the one hand to the likelihood of inefficiency, and on the other to the probability of abuse. Those who know what was the responsibility of the Government last year, will not only deem them justified in bringing forward this measure, but bound to do so by their duty to the public, and I hope the House will see how serious are the dangers against which it will guard, and how great the advantages which it will secure.

Mr. G. Wood

said, undoubtedly the people of the north owed gratitude to the Government for their prompt energy on the occasion of the unhappy disturbances last year; and he thought this a very desirable measure, calculated to render the pensioners efficient, by bringing them into service under that discipline to which they were accustomed, and for want of which they had not been so effective as they might otherwise have been on the occasions adverted to, when they were called upon by the civil authorities. He hoped he was not indifferent to public liberty; but he felt the value of public peace, and should support the measure as certain to favour the one without endangering the other, and as presenting no ground for reasonable suspicion.

Mr. Hawes

thought the effect would be an addition to our standing army, but if the Government believed it required that addition for the public peace, he would not resist the measure.

Lord Ingestre

deeply felt the importance of such a measure from his experience of the evils attending the intimidation practised by immense mobs such as those which disturbed the northern counties last year. He thought a less objectionable mode of strengthening the hands of Government could not have been devised. And every one admitted the measure would be justified by the necessity suggested, he would ask, how could the exigency be met unless provided for before it actually arose?

Mr. Collett

asked, as the measure was to apply to Ireland, where the arms were to be deposited?

Sir H. Hardinge

replied, that there would be a depot in the barracks of each town, and they would only be issued when required.

The House divided on the question, that the word "now" stand part of the question:—Ayes 53; Noes 4: Majority 49.

List of the AYES.
Allix, J. P. Forster, M.
Bodkin, W. H. Fuller, A. E.
Boldero, H. G. Gaskell, J. Milnes
Bramston, T. W. Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E.
Brotherton, J. Gordon, hon. Capt.
Bruce, Lord E. Graham, rt. hn. Sir J.
Corry, rt. hon. H. Greene, T.
Cripps, W. Henley, J. W.
Darby, G. Hale, R. B.
Denison, E. B. Hardinge, rt. hn. Sir H.
Douglas, Sir C. E. Hawes, B.
Eliot, Lord Henley, J. W.
Ferguson, Sir R. A. Ingestrie, Visct.
Flower, Sir J. Knatchbull, rt. hn. Sir E.
Lincoln, Earl of Smith, rt. hn. T. B. C.
Lockhart, W. Smollett, A.
Mackenzie, W. F. Somerville, Sir W. M.
Masterman, J. Stanley, Lord
Morris, D. Sutton, hon. H. M.
Nicholl, rt. hon. J. Waddington, H. S.
Norreys, Sir D. J. Wawn, J. T.
Peel, rt. hon. Sir R. Wood, B.
Peel, J. Wood, G. W.
Rashleigh, W. Wortley, hon. J. S.
Ross, D. R. Young, J.
Rushbrooke, Col.
Sandon, Visct. TELLERS.
Scott, R. Clerk, Sir G,
Scott, hon. F. Pringle, A.
List of the NOES.
Clements, Visct.
Collett, J. TELLERS.
O'Connell, M. J. Duncombe, T.
Pechell, Capt. Elphinstone, H.

Main question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.