HC Deb 29 February 1856 vol 140 cc1575-82

On the Motion that the House at its rising do adjourn until Monday.


said, he rose to ask the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for War the question of which he had given notice—namely, why, during the year 1855, the Edmonton Royal Rifle Regiment of Militia, commanded by Lord Enfield, had not been called out for the purpose of being trained and exercised. He took up the subject because it had attracted public attention, and been made the subject of comments in the newspapers. Several Members of that House were officers of the regiment, who from delicacy might not feel that they had the same liberty of raising the question as an independent Member would have. He found, by reference to a Return moved for by Colonel Wilson Patten, that the regiment had been called out for training on the 2nd of October, 1854; and by a Return moved for by the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Alcock) it appeared that the cost of the rates for the county of Middlesex up to that time amounted to £9,050. 6s. He (Mr. Evelyn) understood that the staff and band of the regiment were still kept up at Brentford. In the next year, while we were engaged in a most important war, the regiment was not called out, and he would therefore ask why it was not called out to be trained and exercised, at a time when we were sending to America for recruits, and risking our relations with foreign States. Much was said about the army in that House, but I very little about the Militia. He did not profess to understand minutely Acts of Parliament, but it appeared to him that by the Act of Parliament all regiments should be called out and exercised, and it certainly was a loss to the country that this regiment was not so trained and exercised I in 1855. In making these remarks, he begged to say that he cast no imputation on the officers of the regiment, whose object, no doubt, was to make it as effective as possible—the imputation he made rested on Her Majesty's Government, and no one else.


said, that the explanation of the proceeding lay in the difference between the embodied and the disembodied militia. The embodied militia was always on foot, and were a great expense to the country, but the disembodied militia were no expense to the country except during the period that they were under training. There was a very small number of regiments not embodied—only about fifteen or sixteen in all, and the Edmonton Rifles was one of the number. The practice of the War Office—to which department this business had been transferred from the Home Office—in calling out the disembodied militia, had hitherto been to wait for an application from the lord lieutenant of the county, and to leave it to him to name the period at which it would be most convenient to call the force out for a month's training. It appeared that this regiment had not been called out since October, 1854, when by the established rule, every regiment of militia should be called out once in each twelve months. In this case sixteen months had elapsed, which was four months beyond the prescribed time; but the reason was, that the Lord Lieutenant of the county of Middlesex had made no application to have the regiment called out for training. It was certainly desirable that, in the course of the next seasan, the regiment should be called out for the purpose of being trained and exercised.


thought the country was greatly indebted to the hon. Member for having called attention to the long period which had elapsed since this regiment had been called out. Just to show what a nice little family party there was in the regiment, he would read the names of some of the officers. The full colonel was Lord Enfield; the lieutenant colonel was the hon. Member for Tavistock (Mr. Byng); Mr. Grenfell, one of the nephews and the private secretary of Lord Panmure, was a captain; his brother, the hon. Member for Windsor, was another captain; the hon. Member for Bedfordshire (Mr. Russell) was a lieutenant; and his juvenile friend, the hon. and learned Member for Devonport (Sir E. Perry), was another lieutenant. He hoped his hon. and learned Friend would obtain more rapid promotion in his own profession than he was likely to do in this regiment. Speaking generally, he must say that this regiment was one of the greatest jobs ever perpetrated. Before sitting down he must complain of the delay which had taken place in presenting some returns for which he moved during the last Session of Parliament relative to the staff and other officers serving in the Crimea. He had moved for those returns with special reference to a Motion which he was about to bring before the House as early as the month of May, and this Motion he had repeatedly postponed upon a promise that the returns should be made; but until this very morning he had not received one of those returns. He then received but one—a return of the staff appointments, and he had only obtained it by continually asking and pressing for it. Of course, it was of no use, so far as the purpose it was originally intended to serve was concerned. Either the Government should say frankly that they would not give the returns, or they should give them honestly and at once when they were asked for.


said, that no one was more indebted to the hon. Member for Surrey (Mr. Evelyn) for putting this question than the officers of the regiment which had formed the subject of the inquiry. Last year statements appeared in the newspapers containing reflections which, if they had been correct, would have been most discreditable to the officers of the regiment. The regiment had been called out for three consecutive trainings, and he believed that the reports of the inspecting officers were perfectly satisfactory; at all events, the words used by the inspecting officers on parade were complimentary to the officers and men who were present, and he presumed that their private reports to the Horse Guards would not differ from the public expression of their opinions. He could assure the hon. Member for Surrey that it was a source of great regret to the officers of the regiment that it had not the usual twenty-eight days' training last year. The disembodied staff was perfectly efficient; and he was convinced that whenever the regiment should be called out for training or should be embodied, both staff and regimental officers would do their best to render its discipline perfect. In reply to the insinuations that the appointments in the regiment had been made the subject of a family job, he would state that, with the exception of the colonel and the lieutenant colonel who were certainly related, he did not think that any other two officers were at all connected by relationship. It was quite true that Lord Panmure's private secretary was an officer in the regiment; but he had held his commission in it for two years before he became private secretary to Lord Panmure. The hon. Member for Bedfordshire (Mr. Russell) had held a commission in the army, and also one in another regiment of the militia, and he (Mr. Byng) did not see why relationship to another officer should prevent the services of an officer who had served in the army being most advantageously employed in a militia regiment. He was sorry to have trespassed upon the attention of the House in the matter, to which the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Layard) had attempted to give something of a personal character. The hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Evelyn) had made no such attempt, and to him the best thanks of the officers of the regiment were due for the courtesy which he had displayed in putting the question, and for the reply which he had elicited.


Sir, I shall only say one word with respect to the concluding observations of the hon. Member for Aylesbury. The hon. Gentleman has insinuated that there has been something improper—something like a job—in the selection of the officers of this regiment. Now, Sir, in making that remark, the hon. Gentleman seems to have entirely forgotten, or to have been utterly ignorant of the nature, the constitution, and the intention of the militia service. The militia regiments are composed of men recruited in and belonging to certain counties and districts of counties, and they are officered by the gentlemen residing in the neighbourhoods. In this way the militia regiments have a link between the gentry and the labouring classes—a link of the highest importance, not only for the defence of the country, but also for that social organisation which is important to the best interests of the community. So far from it being a reproach to any militia regiment that it is officered by the gentlemen of the neighbourhood to which it belongs, I say it is to the honour of the gentry of the neighbourhood that it should be so. In the general organisation of the militia service, the body of the gentry of England, Ireland, and Scotland, have done themselves the greatest honour by the alacrity and public spirit with which they have devoted themselves to that service—with which they have abandoned their private interests, their private pleasures, and their private occupations, to apply themselves to the public service; as also for the high state of efficiency and discipline to which they have brought the regiments to which they respectively belong. Those officers who have so devoted themselves to this task must naturally take an honourable pride in the very high state of discipline to which they have brought their men; but feeling public duty paramount to all other considerations—even to that of honourable pride—these gallant gentlemen have taken the greatest pains to persuade those men whom they had so brought to that most creditable state of efficiency and discipline, to quit the militia regiments in which they had been trained, and enlist in the more active service of the line. Sacrificing in this way all private considerations—sacrificing personal pleasures and the honourable pride which they took in their regiments to the good of the public service, the militia officers of the United Kingdom have given to the line up to this time nearly 24,000 excellently trained and very efficient soldiers.


explained that his connection with the regiment had arisen from his Having, on his return from the continent, just after the battle of Inker-man, felt that it was the duty of every man who had any leisure to devote himself to the military service of his country. He had even offered to go to the Crimea, and had made known his wish to his hon. Friends the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary of the Treasury; though it might seem ludicrous for one in his position to entertain such an idea, he believed it his duty not to shrink from the sacrifices it might have entailed. The result was that he was placed in this regiment.


did not think a satisfactory answer had been given to the hon. Member for Surrey. The regiment was Under the control of the lord lieutenant of the county; but he (Colonel Buck) had expected from the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of the War Department an assurance that some reference would be made to the nobleman or gentleman who filled the office of lord lieutenant of that county, who had not fulfilled his duty in not having called out the regiment during the training days, to know why he had not done so. As an humble Member of that House, and an humble member of the service, he felt grateful to the noble Lord at the head of the Government for the interest he had shown in the militia service; but he would suggest that the lords lieutenant of counties should not be allowed to number the militia regiments as they liked; for the effect of this was, the giving of No. 1 to the regiment which the lord lieutenant himself commanded, while on the ground of seniority, another regiment ought to be so numbered.


complained of inaccuracies in the return respecting the staff officers who had served in the Crimea, to which the hon. Member for Aylesbury had referred. He knew that he was a very obscure officer, and it was hardly for him to complain of the services of one so humble as himself being overlooked; but when he found that those of others quite as humble were not passed over, he felt he had some cause to complain. But all the staff service he had seen shonld have been stated in the return, if there was to be any mention in it of his staff services at all. He had happened to serve for six weeks at Chobham; and he had served for six weeks on the staff in North Britain. The returns stated that those were his past staff services, thus implying that they were all. Now it so happened that he had served for several years on the staff under the Duke of Wellington and Sir George Murray. He had served on the staff in France, in Spain, Waterloo and in America. He found the battles that other officers served in carefully recorded with their names, and he did not know why he should have been an exception. If the army returns generally were so devoid of truth as was the statement in this particular return regarding him, he would say that they were not worth the paper upon which they were printed, or the expense of their circulation.


said, he could endorse the statements of the hon. and gallant General. From a return of officers who were honourably mentioned in the course of the Burmese war, for which he had moved during the last Session of Parliament, there were omitted the names of two officers who had highly distinguished themselves. One of these gentlemen had been twice honourably mentioned in the despatches of General Godwin, had once received the thanks of the Governor General of India in Council, and had led a storming party, the companies supporting which were led by the other officer whose name was omitted. He did not know whether the fault was at the Horse Guards or at the War Office; but if returns were granted, they ought at least to be accurate.


observed that the statement made by the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster was of such a nature that it would be difficult to reply to it in a satisfactory manner unless notice had been given of the intention to make it; but if the hon. and gallant Member would communicate with him he would endeavour to afford him all the satisfaction in his power. With respect to the observations of the hon. and gallant Member for Abingdon (Major Reed), he could only say that he had asked him to mention the officers whose names had been omitted, and, if the hon. and gallant Gentleman would comply with this request, he (Mr. Peel), though not concerned in the preparation of the list, would endeavour to have the omissions supplied. With regard to the complaint of the hon. Member for Aylesbury respecting the delay alleged to have taken place in the preparation of certain returns, he was not aware that any avoidable delay had occurred. He had a strong impression that till the returns moved for by the hon. Member had been presented, if the fact were otherwise; he would thank the hon. Member to particularise the return that was still wanting. The hon. Member had stated that he required the returns in time for a particular Motion, but the Motion in question might have been made in a week or ten days after the returns were applied for—a space of time quite insufficient for the compilation of such information as was required, unless, indeed, the clerks were to be taken from their other employments—a proceeding which would occasion much inconvenience to the public service.


said, he had no objection to mention in public the names of the officers to whom allusion had been made; they were those of Major Christie and Captain Welsh, of the 80th Regiment.

The Motion for the adjournment of the House on its rising till Monday was then agreed to.