HC Deb 01 August 1853 vol 129 cc1109-12

Order for Committee read.

House in Committee.


said, that he was about to make an acknowledgment to the Committee which he regretted that he had not had an opportunity of making in the presence of his noble Friend the Home Secretary, who had just left the House. He was about to say, that when the great question with respect to the militia had been brought forward six or seven months ago, he was one who had not been sanguine in the belief that voluntary enlistment for service on shore in the United Kingdom would take place to the extent which had been already witnessed. He did not then very firmly believe that the present generation, gallant as he knew them to be, were fired with that martial spirit for the defence of their native country which would immediately have induced them in such large numbers to come forward to volunteer for military service. He had heard upon a former occasion his hon. Friend near him (Mr. Mackinnon) refer to the system of naval service which existed on the opposite shores of the Channel. No doubt, there was a large population living on the shores of the Mediterranean, of the Atlantic, and the opposite shore of the British Channel, all of whom were brought under a system of compulsory service the most perfect which the ingenuity of man could devise. There was not a seafaring man on the shores of France who, within a certain age, was not compelled to serve in the public marine. It was a system as perfect as ingenuity could make it; but it was altogether compulsory. He (Sir J. Graham), however, was most anxious to adhere to the principle which had been laid down by his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bath (Captain Scobell), which was, that he should exert every endeavour to obtain the service necessary for the safety of this country by inducement rather than by compulsion; and, acting upon that principle, he had lately discussed the operation of it with respect to the regular service of the Queen's Fleet. He was now anxious to call the attention of the Committee to the extension of the same principle to enlistment for the defence of our shores by means of a system of naval volunteering, analogous to the system which had been established for the home defence by means of the militia. The present Bill was based exactly upon that principle. There was a very large number of men living upon our shores, such as fishermen, bargemen, lightermen, and men employed in the coasting service, who, he had every reason to believe, would not in a time of peace be unwilling, as the men who had joined the militia had not been unwilling, for a short period in each year to be trained to the use of great guns. These persons having more or less marine habits and experience, such training would be easy to them; it would accord with their habits of life, and would not be uncongenial to their past manners or present tastes. It was proposed in the Bill which was now about to be brought in to hold out to them exactly the same pecuniary inducement which was Altered to landsmen joining the militia service, and which had been found to work so successfully. The bounty would be 6l., paid in such sums, and distributed over such a period, as the Admiralty might recommend. The number of men that they proposed to raise in the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands, and time Isle of Man, was limited to 10,000, and their period of training was to be limited to twenty-eight days. That training ought to take place either ashore or afloat, subject to the condition, if they were afloat, that they should not be taken more than sixty leagues from time coast of Great Britain or Ireland. It was proposed that their pay should be equal to that of able seamen in Her Majesty's service. The period for which the enlistment was to take place was not to exceed five years. Power was given to Her Majesty, in the event of an invasion, or of imminent danger of invasion, to call by proclamation for the services of those men afloat for a period not exceeding one year, except in case of the extension of that danger for a longer period, where, under the special circumstances specified in the Bill, and subject to those circumstances being laid before Parliament, the power of extending that service to two years was given to Her Majesty in Council. In this ease, however, an additional pay of 2d. a day would be given to each man. In the event of service afloat under those circumstances, there was a power, by proclamation, to extend the distance from the shores of Great Britain and Ireland from 50 to 100 leagues. In no case would the volunteers be asked to extend their services to a greater distance from their native country. There was also power taken by the Bill, under proclamation, to compel the service afloat of pensioners of the coast guard and of seamen riggers. In the event, which he hoped and believed was far distant, of any such danger as the Bill contemplated being either imminent or apprehended, he believed that a force could be readily provided of somewhere between 18,000 and 20,000 men, which, considering that they would be men trained to arms, in the prime of life, and partaking of the national character of British seamen, would, when combined with the advantages of a steam fleet, be amply sufficient for the defence of our native shores. He did not think that it was necessary to detain the Committee further in stating the general outline of this measure. He believed the clauses to be unexceptionable in their character, and he trusted that in the course of the morning he should be enabled to pass the Bill through Committee.


said, when he suggested the other day that the example of France should be followed with regard to a rescription of seamen, it was far from his intention to recommend a forced contribution; but it struck him that in the event of volunteers not coming forward in the numbers required, whether it would not be as well to have a list of available seamen, who might be applied to—not to be forced, but to volunteer into the service; by which means there would be a tolerable certainty of finding a number of men who might be induced to enter the service.


said, that virtually the ballot, which had heretofore existed with regard to the land service, had been abandoned on account of the success which had attended the voluntary system. He was therefore anxious to try the same plan with respect to the coast defences, entertaining very little doubt that voluntary enlistment would answer every purpose.


said, he had often objected to the political government of the Navy; but as long as that system continued, he thought he might congratulate the country on having the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Navy. He had already done great service to the Navy; and he would remind him that he possessed great power, and if he only carried out the principle of encouragement to serve in the Navy, he would be placed in a proud position, for he would be known as one who had given encouragement to the British seaman; he would receive a reward while he lived, and his name would always be remembered in the naval service. He (Capt. Scobell) had doubted that volunteers could be found for the militia, and he was glad that they had come forward. It was, however, he believed, the bounty which caused it, and he believed it would have the same effect under this Bill. Though he did not object to this Bill, he should have preferred the plan of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Portsmouth (Sir F. Baring), which had received the sanction of the House, but had been laid aside by the late Government. That Bill referred only to seamen. This Bill spoke of "men," not "suitable men," so that landsmen might be taken. If so, twenty-eight days' training would have little effect in making them efficient. The men chosen ought to be first-class men, in the first instance, so as to form the nucleus of crews. He thought it would be better to enrol 20,000 than 10,000 men. The Bill, however, deserved a fair trial. As to the French plan, that could not be attempted in this country. The question was not how the French got the men, but the fact was that there were 60,000 seamen ready to embark at a week's notice. He thought that everything should be done to have the means for manning our ships, so that in the event of war we should not be outnumbered; as one victory over us, or even a drawn battle, would be fatal to our naval supremacy.


said, he had opposed the Militia Bill, and though he should support this Bill, he did not do so because its principle was the same as that of the Militia Bill. In the first place there was no ballot, and in the next place there was a less number of men and less expense, besides which it was the popular service, which the people of England would never say a word against. Although he always tried to keep down the estimates, this was an expense for which he would stand up.

Bill considered in Committee, and reported as amended.