HC Deb 14 December 1854 vol 136 cc303-12

moved the second reading of the Militia Bill.


said, he would be the last Member of the House, particularly as an old soldier, who would endeavour to raise any impediment or delay to this measure; but having carefully examined the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, and having given it, he hoped, an impartial consideration, the noble Lord must pardon him for saying that, situated as he was, there were certain matters of detail in that Bill to which he thought it was his duty as commanding a regiment of militia to call the attention of the noble Lord, before he gave that sanction and approval to the measure which he desired to give to it. There might be some persons, for instance, who would object to their loss of time if they were sent to Malta or any other place for a lengthened period; and there might be also married men, with large families, who would also object to going abroad under such circum- stances. He trusted, therefore, that no imputation would be permitted to rest on these persons, if when asked to volunteer for duty at Malta or Corfu, they preferred to remain as militiamen in this country. He (Colonel Sibthorp) was prepared to do his duty as a soldier and a citizen, and he hoped the noble Lord would, in Committee, or at some other stage of the measure, direct his attention to the points to which he had referred.


said, he should not think of interposing any obstacle in the way of measures intended on behalf of the gallant army now fighting our battles in the East. He, however, entertained great objections to the present measure: and, first, he believed that immediately these militia regiments were sent abroad, the recruiting for that service would be most seriously checked. But his great objection was, that a force meant morely for the internal defence of the country would, according to the provisions of the Bill, be greatly diminished. Indeed, to such an extent was he influenced by the gravity of these considerations that it was his intention to have moved that the second reading of the Bill be postponed until that day six months. Still, if the noble Lord would give an assurance that on volunteers offering for foreign service the militia force at home would be again recruited to its proper standard by the enlistment of fresh recruits, so that the internal defence of the country would be maintained, he would be willing to allow the Bill to pass without any further opposition.


said, that according to the Bill, either whole regiments, or portions of regiments, which volunteered for service abroad would remain the militia of the counties to which they belonged, and it was not intended to raise another body of men in the respective counties equal to the number so volunteering. These militiamen would still continue part of the militia of the country, and when their services abroad ceased, and they returned, they would fall back to their condition of part of the militia. He wished to make an observation on a point raised by a noble Friend of his on a former day, who desired it to be clearly understood that officers of the militia who might not volunteer their services under the present Bill should not be liable to any imputation of a want of spirit or proper sense of the duty they owed to their country. He quite agreed with his noble Friend, and wished it to be most distinctly understood that the Government were perfectly aware that a great many persons of rank and property, who had duties of a social description to perform in this country, and whose absence from the country would on that account be a very great public inconvenience, had handsomely entered into the militia chiefly for the purposes of giving that service the countenance and support which their local influence and connections might carry with them. Those were not the description of officers whom the Government wished to see serving abroad. They were, many of them, far more usefully engaged in performing those duties which belonged to their situation in this country than they could be by mounting guard or commanding a regiment or portion of a regiment in garrison abroad; and, therefore, it could not be too distinctly understood that, while, on the one hand, no imputation whatever could be cast on officers of that class who should not volunteer their services for garrison duty under the present Bill, so, on the other hand, should any officers of such a class volunteer their services, and, on the comparison of candidates for foreign service, should their services not be accepted by the Government, they must not consider it any disparagement of themselves to see other persons in a different position preferred. He said this because there happened to be in the militia a number of men who had belonged to the Army, and had had great experience as military men. Now, these would evidently be officers most useful with respect to the services which the militia might volunteer to perform abroad; and, therefore, he entirely concurred in the hope expressed by his noble Friend that it might be clearly understood that the present Bill was not meant to extort offers of service from persons who had entered the militia with totally different views, and for purposes purely connected with their position at home. The House would see also that, with respect to privates, it was most distinctly enacted, as part of the Bill, that no man should be forced to serve abroad. If a man should serve abroad, it must be by his own free consent, and for this purpose each individual would make a fresh engagement, so that he could not, against his will, be involved in the necessity of leaving the country with his regiment, even if the greater portion of it should volunteer to serve abroad.

Bill read 2°.

On the Motion that the Bill be committed To-morrow,


feeling that this was a measure of the very greatest importance, and one which demanded the greatest attention, would appeal to the noble Lord to postpone the committal of the Bill until Monday, in order to allow of colonels of regiments, and others competent to form an opinion, making whatever suggestions they deemed necessary in reference to the provisions of the Bill. He confessed he himself entertained the very gravest apprehensions as to the measure, believing that it would strike a fatal blow against the existence of the militia force; for though the Government might, in the first instance, get a larger supply of men in a short space of time than they could do in the ordinary course of enlistment for the regular army, yet the result, in the long run, would be unfavourable, because it would check, or even terminate, that readiness which prevailed, on the part of the people, to enlist voluntarily into the militia, which had been so great a support to the Government. The measure of the Government, in his opinion, was at present wholly unnecessary, and could not be justified until the Government had fully exhausted the natural resources of the country. In having recourse to such a proceeding it might be said Government was expending its capital instead of its interest; and he would, therefore, earnestly hope that in Committee the Bill would be so amended and modified as might serve to mitigate the evils which he dreaded. If, therefore, the noble Lord—who, it was evident front the not very exuberant programme of public business, as announced that evening, would have ample time for the purpose—would consider the subject, and agree to postpone the further progress of the Bill until Monday, he believed the country would feel no surprise at such a result, while it would be passed in ample time. He knew it might be said that no evil could accrue under this measure, because no individual could be sent abroad except by his concurrence; but although formally and legally that might be the case, all knew that, practically, it was not so; for the appeal would be made to a great body of men, many of whom would not have the strength of mind to refuse it. Now, he knew himself that one of the greatest difficulties experienced in enlisting for the militia arose from the alarm felt by the female relatives of the peasantry at the act of enlistment—they feared that it might lead to the recruits being first carried out of the county, and then sent abroad. That alarm, however, had been in a great degree dissipated by the assurances given to them by persons of influence connected with the force, but he feared it would be revived by the present Bill, and he would venture to warn the Government that if they got the hearth of the cottage against them they would find obstacles thrown in their way that would most severely peril their future operations; and although he was not prepared to oppose any measure brought forward at an emergency like the present, he could not refrain from expressing his regret at the resolution of the Government. But, with regard to this measure for transferring the services of the militia to foreign garrisons, and also with regard to the other measure to which the noble Lord had referred—that for the enlistment of foreigners in Her Majesty's service—he must say he could not but regret that, in the first year of the war, the country should appear to be obliged to have recourse to measures which he believed ought only to be had recourse to when they had approached the last extreme of its resources. He could not think that, with the population of this country, with the high spirit by which it was animated, and with the cheerful feeling with which all classes had clustered round the Throne to support Her Majesty in the great war in which she was engaged —he could not think it was necessary as yet to have recourse to the measure they announced so soon. But, although he entertained strong feelings upon the subject, still, knowing the responsibility which every person must incur by resisting a measure of this kind, he would be content for the present with an assurance from the noble Lord that the Committee on the Bill would be postponed until Monday.


said, he did not deny the general justice of the right hon. Gentleman's observations as to a volunteer militia, and as to the proposal that men who had volunteered originally for the purpose of defending the United Kingdom should be sent abroad to keep the garrisons of any of our colonial or foreign possessions. But he thought the right hon. Gentleman wrong when he said that, although there might be an emergency which would justify the Government in calling upon them for this service, he should expect that emergency rather to occur at the latter end of the war than at the beginning. The case was directly the reverse. He would not enter into the question whether our peace establishment was too large; at all events, everybody would agree that it was a peace establishment. With that peace establishment we could not have, in the first year of the war, a very great army. It was very easy to say that we had a population of 28,000,000 or 30,000,000; but we could not immediately convert that population into soldiers. They required a certain time to be exercised, trained, and drilled, so as to be efficient soldiers. Besides that, we had not the means possessed by the great nations of the Continent of resorting to a conscription, and raising 100,000 or 150,000 men in a single year. We had a volunteer system of enlisting for the line; and although it was quite true that in the course of last summer Parliament had voted the number of men that Government asked with a readiness and a patriotism to which he had always borne willing testimony, yet it did not follow that the 40,000 extra men voted could be rendered efficient for the purposes of war in the course of a single year. On the contrary, during three or four months of summer the volunteering went on at the rate of 450 or 500 in a week; and that was not more than double the number sufficient to replace the ordinary casualties in time of peace. Therefore, it would be much easier at the end of three years of war to have a large army on foreign service, and at the same time to occupy our garrisons, than in the first year. It was in consequence of the operations that were thought necessary in the first year of the war that our army was found insufficient to perform those operations, and at the same time to furnish all our garrisons. Therefore, the emergency had occurred now. He had no doubt that at the end of no very long time we should find our army so increased that no measure of this kind would be necessary, and the regiments of militia might then return to this country. He begged the right hon. Gentleman to pay attention to this circumstance, that it really was in the first year of the war that the pressure was so great; we should have a sufficient number of men hereafter. He wished the House to remember that we were now attempting to do what we had never done in previous wars. Looking back at the two last great wars, he found that it was not until 1799 or 1800—having been at war from 1793—that we could have a regular force that was at all formidable to an enemy; and in the following war, which commenced in 1803, it was not until 1808 or 1809 that the same thing occurred. We were now attempting to do that which, in fact, had not been done in the first year of any great war. With respect to the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman, if it was the wish of the House rather to take the Committee on Monday than to-morrow, in order to afford time for consideration, he should readily agree to that proposal, provided it were understood that when the House went into Committee and the provisions of the clauses were settled, there should be a readiness to proceed with the Bill in its future stages, so that it might speedily go to the other House.


was anxious to know whether it was the intention of Government to send the militia to far distant colonies, such as Canada, the Cape, and Australia? He thought such a step would be looked upon by the Colonies as a mark of distrust on the part of the mother country, especially by Canada, which had an efficient militia of her Own. He wished to know whether Her Majesty's Ministers had not received an assurance from the Government of Canada, that not only were the people of that colony willing to occupy their own garrisons, but likewise, that they were willing to contribute reinforcements? For if that was true, he thought the number of men required by our Government was overrated, while the resources of the country were underrated. He hoped, also, the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Colonies would inform the House as to the sum of 20,000l. recently voted by the Canadian Legislature in aid of the Patriotic Fund; and whether, in connection with that most encouraging and gratifying expression of the willingness of the colonists to co-operate in the present struggle of England, the still more important assurance to which he had just referred had not also been received? In the face of such an assurance, he believed it would be an insult to the people of Canada to attempt to occupy their country with English militia regiments, while they ought never to have recourse to a Foreign Enlistment Bill until it was seen what reinforcements might be sent us from the Colonies, Whose loyal attachment to the mother country was well known.


said, the hon. Gentleman had totally misapprehended the object and intent of this Bill, if he thought it was founded in the slightest doubt of the loyal feeling that existed throughout the Colonies to the British Crown, and their attachment to this country. He was happy to assure him that that loyalty to the Crown and attachment to this country and its institutions had been manifested in many of the most important British colonies, since the declaration of war with Russia, in a manner the most gratifying. He had only abstained from laying on the table of the House the information received from Canada, because it had not reached him in any official form; and, indeed, a reference to the proceedings of the Legislature of Canada showed that the Council had not yet concurred (though lie had no doubt they would do so) with the expression of opinion that had been made by the Assembly. The fact was, an Address had been agreed to by the Assembly and sent up for the concurrence of the Council, and he had no doubt he should soon hear of their concurrence, intimating their readiness to place 20,000l. at the disposal of this country, not exactly in aid of the Patriotic Fund, but for the relief of the widows and orphans of the allied forces, English and French, engaged in the war. No distinct offer had been made of men to serve in the British army; but in the course of the debates in the Assembly, an intimation was certainly made by a Member of that House, and though the time might not yet have arrived, they felt that the time might come when their desire to see the country successful in the war might induce them not to limit their offers of assistance of money, but to tender even their lives and services in our support. But no offer of that kind had yet been made. Addresses of the most loyal and gratifying character had also been recently received from Van Diemen's Land and South Australia, accompanied with 2,000l. from the former colony, to be applied to the same general objects. In South Australia the subscription, which was yet in progress, amounted to 3,900l.; and the Governor intimated that it would be transmitted as soon as it was complete. Other colonies had transmitted messages, expressing their cordial sympathy with this country in the struggle in which it was engaged, and their sincere wish to see our arms successful. With whatever latitude the Bill might be worded, it certainly was not contemplated that the services of militia regiments should be employed in Canada, or any of those distant colonies. It was intended to send them to those possessions of the Crown which might be more strictly denominated garrisons than colonies. Exigencies might arise rendering it necessary to send the militia abroad, but that was not at all in contemplation at present; and, with regard to Canada, there was no necessity at all for sending militia there, as they had taken means for raising a militia of their own, and they were as competent to do that, and to discharge the duties of troops as efficiently as any regiments of the line or militia that might be sent there. He should have great pleasure in laying on the table of the House copies of any Addresses that might be received.


wished to know if the officers of militia regiments thus sent out of the country were to have army rank?


said, the Bill did not give army rank to militia officers. The militia regiments certainly deserved all the praise that could be given them for the mariner in which they had behaved since they had been embodied; and he was glad to take that opportunity of expressing its thanks to their colonels, who had in the most liberal manner given every assistance to the Government to promote the recruiting of the Army from their ranks. And those who had been in the command of regiments, knowing the trouble which it took to bring men to a state of efficiency, could estimate the sacrifice thus made. But in estimating the services of the militia regiments they must take care not to depreciate those of the regular army. If they were to confer army rank upon all the officers of those militia regiments who might be sent to the Mediterranean, for instance—a service which could not be put in comparison with that at the seat of war—they would be putting militia officers over the heads of those in the regular army—a proceeding which would lead to very great dissatisfaction, founded upon a considerable amount of injustice. He spoke not of what the country might do in a last struggle in order to get men, when an emergency might justify almost any course; but, in the service contemplated by this Bill, it would not be just to the officers of the Army to allow the officers of the militia to obtain rank over their heads. With regard to pensions, by the Bill as at present drawn all officers of militia receiving wounds would receive pensions. The widow of any officer who was killed would also receive a pension, but it would be better to omit any provision to that effect from the Bill; not, however, in order to deprive the widows of militia officers of their security for their pensions, but simply because the same object could be attained by means of a Queen's warrant. In the Army the pensions were given by warrant, and not by Act of Parliament, and, therefore, to grant pensions in the case of the militia by the machinery of an Act of Parliament would be to give militia officers a vested right in their pensions, which was denied to the Army. The case stood thus:—The widow of an officer in the Army received a pension, but she received it subject to the condition of good conduct; and the widow of an officer who had been repudiated by her husband of gross misconduct during his lifetime would not, under the army regulations, be entitled to a pension. In other ways also pensions were forfeited by misconduct. Now, if such pensions were to be given by Act of Parliament, and not by Queen's warrant, those who received them would enjoy them as a kind of freehold over which no control could be exercised. It would, therefore, be better that militia pensions should be given by Queen's warrant, and not by Act of Parliament. Of course, length of service carried a pension with it in the militia as well as in the regular army, but half-pay followed army rank, and was not given excepting after twenty-one years' service; and, therefore, he thought that the question of half-pay for militia officers could not be entertained.


said, he did not mean to say a word upon the question now put, because he thought it would be more proper to discuss it in Committee. But still, as the question was raised in reference to the rank proposed to be given to militia officers, and as the right hon. Gentleman had given an answer to it, he (Lord Hotham) gave notice when the Bill went into Committee, that he would ask the noble Lord the Secretary for the Home Department or the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary at War, to state how it was proposed to deal with the case of militia officers now on half-pay sent into large garrisons abroad. He would ask, in the case of officers of militia regiments, what rank Government intended to give to such when placed in the position to which he had referred?

Bill committed for Monday next.

House adjourned at a quarter before Seven o'clock.