HC Deb 25 February 1853 vol 124 cc652-8

said, that previous to the House going into Committee of Supply on the Army Estimates he wished to bring under the notice of hon. Members the expediency of gradually increasing the numbers and efficiency of our reserved force of pensioner battalions without detriment to the established militia and regular forces. It was not his intention to follow the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel North) into the remarks which had fallen from him; but he wished the House to consider, not the amount of our forces, which would be moved for to-night, but whether we might not obtain much greater advantage from those forces than as yet we had received from them. The Army ought to be regarded in its two branches—the active army and army of reserve; but it had been too much the custom to look only to the active army. More attention had, however, been recently directed to the reserve branch, and a militia had been formed, perhaps hurriedly, but he would not at the present time discuss the value of a militia. All parties wished the cost of the standing Army to be reduced so far as was consistent with the security of the country; but no considerable reduction could be made until we possessed a powerful reserve force equal in every military respect to the regular troops with which it might be called upon to act, whether in garrison or in the field. Some years ago the noble Lord now at the head of the Army organised a system of pensioner battalions, fitted to form the nucleus of an army of reserve. Before that time, it was true, the pensioners might be called out on any emergency; but it was to Lord Hardinge that the country was indebted for their organisation; and now we had a force of some 30,000 enrolled pensioners, ready to be called out at a moment's notice, at a cost of 40,000 a year, or little more than 25s. per head. A portion, indeed, of these veterans of fifty-five years and upwards had never yet been called out, and never would be except in case of emergency, when very possibly they would act in garrison or in some other position where experience and coolness were more requisite than strength and energy; but the remainder—those ranging from forty to fifty-five years, and amounting to from 16,000 to 18,000—had been called out, and were duly exercised every year: from their steadiness under arms, and the precision of their movements, it was clear they might render the greatest service in eases of sudden emergency; but no one could expect them to be equal to the wear and tear of a long campaign. Neither were they in numbers sufficient to form an army of reserve; but happily we had the means! of increasing those numbers, and rendering them efficient for all purposes. How this could be accomplished he would endeavour to show. In the first place, our Army at present consisted in round numbers of 150,000 men. The right hon. Secretary at War would to-night ask for 100,000 for the home and colonial stations: we had 30,000 more in India; and there were also the artillery, sappers and miners, and the marines, making about 30,000 more; giving a total of 160,000, or (exclusive of commissioned officers) 150,000 in noncommissioned officers and rank and file. Now, if these 150,000 men were by annual rotation to be renewed every tenth year, then each year would successively throw out, if enrolled, some 12,000 or 14,000 men, which would give us, in ten years, an army of reserve of 100,000 men. This was much more than we required; but he wag only showing what a powerful machinery we had at our command for raising an army of reserve. From the total number of soldiers annually completing their regular twenty-one years of service, and entitling them to a pension, large deductions must be made for those whose constitutions were so broken down as to be unable to serve in the first-class, pensioner battalions, or indeed to serve at all; but, upon the whole, there were between 1,000 and 1,200 who annually went into the pensioner battalions, and filled up the vacancies caused by death or increasing infirmity. The influx thus did little more now than supply the efflux; we must, not, therefore, under the present system, expect to extend our pensioner battalions to much more than from 16,000 to 18,000 men. He wished to say nothing in disparagement of this body of men; but it was clear that they were not equal to the exigencies of national defence. But those exigencies might be met: that national defence might most safely and advantageously be derived from our regular Army. Now, in looking at that Army, the first thing that arrested his attention was the fact, that although the men were well paid, well fed, well clothed, and well treated in every respect, yet the service was not popular with the class from which it should be recruited. The proof of this was apparent from the number of purchased discharges that took place, and the privations to which the relations of young men who had enlisted would submit in order to buy them off. A clearer proof still of the unpopularity of the Army was the fact that so many men who had been twelve or fourteen years in the service, and would in a few years longer be entitled to a pension, were found desirous to forfeit their pension rather than continue in the service for the lengthened period of twenty-one years. That is, to sacrifice what was even then worth from 100l. to 200l. Now, in all the other departments of the State so long a term as twenty-one years was not insisted upon before the parties were entitled to a pension. Our excisemen, custom - house officers, tide-waiters, and coast-guardmen were under certain conditions entitled to superannuation after ten years' service, and there was a graduated scale for longer periods. Why, then, should the Army be placed in a worse position than the civil services in this respect? Why should our soldiers not have the option of retiring on smaller pensions for shorter periods of service? If that boon were conceded, it would do more to popularise the Army than any other measure that he could name. By making the pension commensurate with the reduced term of service, they would lower the average age, and largely increase their number of pensioners without increasing the charge to the country. The amount of pension paid to these men would be rated in proportion to the number of years they had served, and without going into abstruse calculations of the values of lives, it might fairly be asserted that two men upon a pension of 6d. a day would not cost more than one man upon 1s. a day. But, while this plan would not add a shilling to the public charge, it would double the numbers and quadruple the efficiency of the army of reserve. We must consider also, that after twenty-one years' service, a soldier's habits are formed, and it becomes difficult for him to revert to his former calling. He is, too, in the receipt of a pension which just enables him to "get on," as it is called, and there is danger lest an idle and perhaps not a particularly sober person be thrown upon the public. If, on the other hand, you gave him a small pension, after ten years' service, he would not at the end of that time have so far forgotten his early occupation as to be unwilling or unable to revert to it. At all events, he would find work more easily, and not having wherewithal to live without it, would seek for it more zealously. The Government would thus raise the whole tone and condition of the Army, and might ultimately so change a large portion of the recruiting service. There was another reason for adopting the plan of short pensions for short service. The Short Enlistment Act had been about five years in operation, and the first series of men who had completed their term of service would ere long be turned loose upon the world. Each successive year there would be a like number of men entitled to their discharge under this Act, and it was highly desirable they should not be cast adrift, and lost to the Army. Lord Panmure, when Secretary at War, proposed a clause entitling these men to a small pension upon completing a short additional term of service; but this clause was unfortunately withdrawn. The colonies furnished an additional argument in favour of his plan. There were now 2,000 pensioners doing good service in Canada, Australia, Van Diemen's Land, and the Cape of Good Hope. If the House should adopt his suggestion of materially increasing the number and lowering the average age of the pensioners by reducing the number of years of service in the regular Army, it would soon be in the power of the Government to encourage the emigration of a body of military settlers, whose presence would afford the colonies an admirable means of defence; while the regiments now there might be withdrawn, and the expense of their maintenance and transit would be saved to the home country. The only objection to his plan was, that it would drain the Army of some of the best and most valuable soldiers. But is a reluctant, although an old soldier, really so very valuable? At all events, the pensioners under his plan would be available for their country's most pressing service, and at a moment's notice. The best period of a soldier's service was between his sixth and twelfth years—and this the regular Army would retain; while the country would have the prolonged benefit of his active or latest services during the whole extent of his military life: many of the soldiers who would be entitled to their discharge, would, he had no doubt, prefer to remain with their regiments. These willing and experienced veterans who do form the backbone, and give heart and tone to a regiment, would, in no degree be affected by his proposal, which would only drain off, and usefully drain off those men, who from various causes, grown weary of the service, not unfrequently degenerate into schemers and grumblers. He did not intend to interfere with pensions as they now stood. Let the full-time pensions and full-time service remain, but let it be accompanied also by small pensions for short service. By such a mode they would give alacrity and cheerfulness to the Army, at only an extra expense of 40s. or 50s. a year per head for annual enrolment and exercise. The plan he proposed would, by providing a reserve force large enough for all purposes of national defence, relieve the country of those periodical alarms which reflected so much discredit upon it, and which not un-frequently caused it to run into not very wise, although very expensive, temporary expedients.


said, he had listened to the statement of his hon. Friend in reference to the advantage which would result from a different system of organisation for the pensioners of the Army, and had heard also a similar proposal made by him last year in a very ingenious and elaborate argument, in which he endeavoured to show that his plan offered a preferable substitute for the militia. It appeared to him (Mr. S. Herbert), however, that the proposal of substituting an army of pensioners, whose services could not be secured until the expiry of a period of ten years from 1847, under the Limited Enlistment Act, would not give us a force at all commensurate for the purposes of defence with that which had been given by the militia. At the same time, he must acknowledge that, in consequence of the alteration as to the term of military service, very properly introduced by Lord Panmure, his predecessor in the office he held, it would become necessary to take some measures for replacing the organisation of discharged pensioners as soldiers available for any exigency. He did not himself believe that the effect of such a measure would be so great as the hon. Gentleman thought, because when the system of discharging men after short periods was first introduced by Lord Har-dinge, the expectations entertained as to the increased number of persons thus become habituated to the use of arms, by no means justified the result. When men who were formed into soldiers had the power of leaving the service when they chose, very likely the temptation to do so would be diminished by its being placed within their reach. The men of ten years service and upwards formed the real strength of the Army, from their length of service, experience, and habits of attachment to their standards; but the House would be surprised to find how few they were. He believed that when ten years of service were performed, it would be found that, instead of availing themselves of the opportunity of leaving the Army and settling in some of the occupations of civil life, the majority would be inclined to continue in the service. He did not adduce this as any reason whatever against making some alteration on the principle advocated by the hon. Gentleman, because he thought it a very sound position that they should not disperse throughout the country a very large body of men inured to arms, and who could render great service to the State if necessary, without keeping some hold of them, and having the means of securing their service in case of emergency. It would be matter for consideration how this should be effected—whether by deferred pensions, or by temporary pensions granted for short periods after ten years' active service. At present, the commanding officers of regiments were very unwilling to lose men of ten years' service; and no doubt the discipline and spirit of regiments depended very much on men who had served in it for some years. He would not detain the House by entering further at present into a question which was well worthy of consideration, and to which the military authorities were disposed to give their best attention.