HC Deb 30 May 1856 vol 142 cc798-807

On the Motion that the House at its rising do adjourn till Monday next,


said, he hoped the House would excuse his availing himself of the motion for adjournment in order to bring under its notice a subject of quite a different character—the subject of the allowances proposed to be made to the officers and men of the militia regiments discharged upon the restoration of peace. The question of the compensation to be allowed to the militia on disembodiment had been frequently before the House; and it had been understood that the surgeons were to receive twelve months' pay, and subalterns and paymasters three months', as gratuities. When the regulations were originally made, the paymasters were placed in the same position as the surgeons; but now they were given to understand that this rule only referred to cases of ten years' service. The rule had been relaxed in favour of surgeons, and should be equally so in favour of paymasters. He thought that the surgeons and subalterns had no reason to complain of the manner in which the Government had treated them; but there was, indeed, this additional argument on behalf of the paymasters, that their duties and responsibilities by no means ceased, as did those of other officers, on the disembodiment of the regiments; for they continued responsible upon their securities, and could not leave the country until they were absolved, which could not be until their accounts were audited, which might not be for a year and a half. He desired, moreover, to direct attention to the case of the noncommissioned officers and privates of the militia. They were told they were only to receive the remainder of their bounty. But though this was a proposition which might have been recommended by economy, it could not be reconciled with justice or equity; for they were already entitled to the remainder of the bounty, and its payment could be no boon. It had been decided, at the end of the last war, that the militia were to receive a certain number of days' pay, to enable them to get home with a few shillings in their pockets. This was but right and just; and he did not think the militia of the present day less worthy of consideration. Unless this was done, it was difficult to see how many of them could get home, especially if not allowed to take the military clothing; besides, many of them were under stoppages for their summer clothing, which had only just been issued. It would be cheaper, after all, to give the men some small gratuity, and then retain the clothing, to be reserved for a future occasion. Let it be remembered that the militia had supplied large reinforcements to the ranks of the regular army, and that a great many regiments had voluntered for foreign service; thus enabling the Government to send the regular troops to the scene of action, their places being supplied by the militia. The militia had supplied 33,000 men to the regular army: besides this, they had furnished the Mediterranean garrison, and if the Government had felt at liberty to accept their offers, 10,000 militia might have been procured for service in the Crimea, or any other place where the country needed their services. And the number would have been much larger had it not been for the regulations unfortunately adopted with regard to the officers, who, when the regiments were reduced to a certain number by volunteering into the ranks of the army, were dismissed until the strength of the regiments was restored—a regulation the result of which was, that the officers, to whose energy and zeal the Government were indebted for these large reinforcements gained by the regular army, found themselves seriously injured by their zeal. These being the considerations which he (Colonel Gilpin) urged in favour of the militia, he would now advert to the troops of the Foreign Legions. They were to receive a year's pay upon their disembodiment, although the expenses connected with that corps had been such, that he was persuaded every one of them had cost as much as three militiamen. They had never seen a shot fired, and never been in service; yet Lord Panmure had recently said— I trust that when the time comes for dispensing with their services we shall not forget the zeal they had shown in rallying round the standard of England, but shall treat them with such liberality that our name may be respected throughout Europe; and should occasion arise again to invite their services, they may cheerfully respond to our call. Now, surely this language might far more justly be applied in favour of our militia, who had "rallied round the standard" of their own country. Surely, "our treatment of them ought to be such as to make our name respected throughout Europe;" and that "when again invited to our service they may cheerfully respond to our summons." If, indeed, we should again be involved in war, he (Colonel Gilpin) hoped that whoever might be then at the head of affairs, he would not at the first sound of hostilities rush to foreign countries for recruits; but would rely rather on the patriotism of our own people. In order that we might do so, however, it was necessary to treat with justice and liberality that militia which had enabled us to carry on the war, and to conclude peace.


also advocated the claims of the paymasters, and thought it but reasonable that some compensation—twenty-one days'or a month's pay—should be granted to the men on disembodiment. He also wished to comment upon another point not immediately connected with the subject under discussion. It had been generally believed that some compensation would be allowed to officers who had served in the Crimea; but now it appeared they were only to receive the barren honour of the thanks of Parliament; and, upon their return home, to be thrown at once upon half-pay.


hoped the Government would consider the case of the militia, both as regarded the officers and the men. He wished to know distinctly whether the Government intended to make the men any allowance, or only to pay them the remainder of their bounty? They ought not to be discharged without some sort of gratuity. He desired to know on what footing the disembodied staff would be placed. It was well known that the staff as constituted before the war was useless, and if the staff were now to be placed upon the same footing, the public money would be wasted. To be of any use at all, the staff must be made and kept efficient. He wished further to know distinctly what was to be done in reference to the Foreign Legion. The militia regiments were now marched out of garrison, and the Foreign Legions were marched in. He desired distinctly to be informed whether it was intended to retain them? The noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) the Member for London, when in office, had declared that it was not intended that the Foreign Legion should have any advantages which had been denied to the English troops; but it was plain that they had peculiar advantages, and were intended to retain them.


hoped that the militiamen, especially the Irish militiamen, would not he sent home without proper clothing; for, unless they were so provided, it could not be expected that any permanent improvement would he effected in their condition by their temporary engagements in the militia; and he trusted also that the claims of the surgeons would be considered. The surgeons were gentlemen who, being connected with the militia in its disembodied state, would not avoid taking their share of risk in the time of danger, although it compelled them to abandon lucrative practice. It was his firm belief that the day was not distant when the country would again require their services, and it was most important they should he dismissed with the feeling that, when the time did arrive, their services would he properly requited.


said, he did not find it easy to explain why a gratuity should be given to one class of officers and not to another. He admitted that the more liberal the course pursued by the Government now, the more promptly would the ranks of the militia be recruited on a future occasion. But he did not think the Government ought to look solely to the consideration of popularity. He quite concurred that the manner in which the militia officers and men had done their duty was admirable, and that the duties performed by them were of the greatest advantage to the country during the period of their service; but, on a question like this, the Government must consider whether the duration of that period and the conditions on which militia engagements were made, were such as justified all ranks of that service in entertaining the idea of general compensation upon their disembodiment. As to the permanent staff, it was not intended that they should undertake the recruiting business of the country in the place of those non-commissioned officers and men who were now detached from each regiment of the line for that purpose, but that they should form the nucleus by which the militia might be properly officered and organised, whenever it might be necessary to re-embody it; and, as to placing the surgeons and assistant-surgeons upon the permanent staff, however desirable it might be to recognise their services, the Government would not be justified in placing them or any other officers in a position in which there was no prospect of sufficient duties to occupy their time, and to compensate the country for the necessary expense. With regard to the question why the same gratuity was not given to the paymasters as to the surgeons and assistant-surgeons, he believed, when the hon. Gentleman first spoke on the subject, he expressed himself perfectly satisfied at hearing the paymasters would have the same gratuity as the subalterns. The paymasters, like the subalterns, were not men of fortune. It was but fair that some means should be afforded them, when they retired from the service of the Government, of entering upon a different occupation: and, as he had before stated, the paymasters would have to continue for a considerable time in correspondence with the Government upon difficult questions arising out of the settlement of the regimental accounts. A gratuity as great as the subalterns would receive might fairly be given to the paymasters; but he did not think they were entitled to so high a sum as the surgeons and assistant-surgeons, because those professional gentlemen, when they joined the militia, abandoned the practice they had obtained in their various localities, proceeded with their regiments to the Mediterranean and other parts, and, of course, when they returned, would find their places occupied by others. Upon that ground the Government had determined to make a more liberal allowance to them than to the subalterns and paymasters; and he thought there was a great difference in the two cases. He was asked what was intended to be done for the privates and non-commissioned officers. They would he paid to the day of disembodiment, and would receive at the same time the balance of the bounty of the current year. [Colonel GILPIN: That is their own money.] The hon. Gentleman should recollect that if the militia were continued in an embodied state, the balance of bounty would not be paid until a much later period—perhaps not until the period of training next year; therefore, although it was true they were strictly entitled to the money, still the Government anticipated the period of payment. With regard to the clothing, that for the current year was issued in April last, and upon the disembodiment of the regiments would have to be returned into the Government charge, but the men would be allowed to retain the clothes which went out of use on the last issue, and also their fatigue dress. [Colonel GILPIN: It is their own.] They should be allowed to take away a complete suit of clothing. [Colonel GILPIN: They have paid for it.] There was no analogy, he thought, between the officers of the militia and the privates. A private received 1s. a day, and a subaltern 5s. or 6s. a day, both being in the service of the Government; but, when each sought independent employment, a private was more likely to obtain that employment at 1s. a day than the subaltern at 5s, or 6s. There was, also, no analogy between the privates of the militia and those of the Foreign Legion. There had been a separate convention for the Swiss, German, and Italian Legions, but the terms of those conventions were identical. The reason why the Foreign Legion were offered twelve months' pay on disbandment and a passage to the colonies was, because it was thought that without such an offer, the country would not be likely to obtain their services. The Government were bound to consider how they could most expeditiously raise these regiments, and it was natural that men who were leaving their country, and breaking up their homes should desire to go somewhere else when they were disbanded. He believed that many soldiers in the Foreign Legion would be disposed to avail themselves of a free passage to the colonies. He considered that with the provision which the Government would make, and the period of the year at which the militia would return to their homes, they would have no difficulty in obtaining employment; and that there need be no ground for apprehensions on the part of the hon. Member.


said, that the militia would return to their homes with the testimony of the nation to the independent and honourable manner in which they had performed their duties; but, according to the statement of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. F. Peel) it did not appear that they would carry much compensation with them. These men were to take home the clothing worn previously to the last clothing issued in April. But what was the condition of that clothing? He knew of the case of an Irish regiment which, it had been rumoured was to be disembodied, taking with it the old clothing. Colonel Dickson and the adjutant of that regiment said, "Very well; but the men cannot keep on their backs clothes which they have already worn fifteen months." As commanding a portion of the militia himself, he could bear testimony to the truth of this statement. If the House wanted to know the appearance of a militiaman in the dress which it was proposed he should carry home with him, they would find it in the well-known figure of "Jerry," at Ascot. Such would be the sort of men returning to their homes with the thanks of the House of Commons to cheer them. From the gallant spirit which the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) had sometimes exhibited, he (Colonel Buck) had expected that he would have adopted as his motto, "England for the English;" whereas, instead of employing the English militia to carry the English flag, it had been entrusted to foreigners. A volunteer was much better than a pressed man. His own regiment had volunteered for foreign service, but the offer had not been accepted. What had been the conduct of the Foreign Legion? Why, they had revolted, and the militiamen had been called out to restrain their excesses. He thought the honour of the country ought to be entrusted to British soldiers, who never had shrunk from their duty.


would appeal to the Government on grounds of public policy to consider whether something ought not to be done for the militia? It was doubtful whether those regiments which had been sent abroad could be disembodied much before the autumn. They would, therefore, come home at a time of the year when employment was scarce. The Government ought to consider that these men were those on whom they must rely for having a body of men always at command as a nursery for the army, and for the protection of the country. He should say to the Government, "Do not do anything to disappoint them." If they had a notion that they would not be treated so well as the men of the Foreign Legion, it would throw a great damper upon them. These men had served thir country with fidelity and zeal, and the present was, he thought, an opportunity for showing them consideration. He thought that, upon high grounds of public policy, the Government would have the sanction of the country in making some gratuity to these men, since it was probable that upon them the Government might have to rely on some future occasion.


believed it would add to the efficiency of the militia force if some little advance were given to the soldiers when they came to, be disembodied. They had in various ways parted with most of their private clothing, and they would have nothing in which to return to their homes but their undress clothing, including their shell jackets, which were their own property and which they were entitled to take away with them. He would suggest that the Government should authorise colonels of militia regiments to make small advances to the privates on disembodiment, upon condition that they should leave their shell jackets in store. The men would receive this as a boon, and it would be a great advantage to have slop clothing ready for the next time the regiments were called out.


thought the militia ought, before this time, to have received information as to the terms upon which they were to be disembodied. He reminded the House that the men had paid for their fatigue clothing, and it was as much their property as the coat upon his back was his. With regard to the captains, they were not all of them at present, as formerly, gentlemen of property, and they had given much of their time to the purpose of rendering the regiments efficient and teaching the soldiers to take care of their arms and clothes, and now they were to be discharged with little or no remuneration; indeed, every captain who had properly performed his duty would probably retire with a loss of about £50. He thought it was not fair that a senior subaltern who had a fortnight ago been gazetted as captain should sacrifice the six months' pay which, as subaltern he would have received. Some remuneration ought to be given to these officers for their services.


I trust that the House does not expect me to enter at present into details on this subject; but I cannot allow this conversation to end without assuring the House that no men can be more sensible than are Her Majesty's Government of the extreme value of this militia force. We quite agree with what fell from my right hon. Friend (Mr. Walpole) that, with reference to the security of the country on all occasions of emergency, the militia force is most valuable, and nothing can be further from our intentions or wishes than that anything should now be done which would indispose either officers or men from pursuing on future occasions the same honourable course that they have lately pursued in coming forward in the most gallant and handsome manner, and sacrificing all private considerations for the service of the country. With regard to the probable date of the return of the regiments from the Mediterranean, I have to state that arrangements have been made which will, I hope, secure their return long before the period anticipated by my right hon. Friend—certainly by the early part of July, before the harvest. With regard to the foreign levies, I think there is a material distinction between the condition of a militiaman and that of a foreigner in those levies, which difference appears to have been overlooked. A militiaman is brought back to his own country, his own home; he falls back into his ordinary pursuits and his regular labour. The foreigner, on the other hand, has been taken altogether from his own country, and is, when discharged, in a much more helpless condition. When, therefore, the offer was made to Germans, Swiss, and Italians, to enter our service, and to be employed in the Crimea or wherever their services might be required, it was necessary to hold out to them some inducement beyond their mere pay during the time of their employment. But let it not be supposed that the reason why foreigners were engaged was, as an hon. and gallant Gentleman had stated, a distrust of British subjects. The reason was simply this—We have no conscription, we do not throw a casting-net over the population, and compel as many as we want to come into our ranks the moment they are wanted. Our army and our militia are, I am proud to say, both raised by voluntary enlistment; and as that is a slower, although an infinitely better, process than conscription, and we wanted an immediate augmentation of our force, we had recourse to the formation of a foreign corps for the emergencies of the war.


said, the noble Lord had made no answer to the suggestion that some gratuity should be given to the privates of the militia. He thought it would be expedient to increase the popularity of the service by giving the men something more than what they were barely entitled to receive. It appeared to him that employment being so uncertain in Ireland, the young militia soldiers might find great difficulty in resuming their accustomed occupation, and they would be forced to emigrate. He suggested, therefore, that some encouragement should be held out to these people to emigrate to the colonies. There was no great practical distinction between a foreigner and a militiaman, as a man was sure to become unsettled after he had been removed for some time from civil life. He also observed that the Irish militia had hardly their fair share in the opportunity to volunteer for sevice in the Mediterranean; but they were quite as ready to volunteer for foreign service as any of the English regiments.