HC Deb 23 April 1858 vol 149 cc1602-21

On the Motion of going into Committee of Supply,


said, he felt bound to express his regret that as yet they had had no general statement from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Secretary for War on the subject of the Estimates. On a similar occasion to the present, in June, 1856, the right hon. Gentleman the present Chancellor of the Exchequer called on the Clerk of the Ordnance not to proceed with the Estimates without such an explanation as the House and the country had a right to expect, and he protested against the responsible Minister of any department contenting himself with merely putting a piece of paper into the hands of the Chairman without deigning to give one word of explanation to the House. That remonstrance of the right hon. Gentleman applied with double force now, for the attention of the public had been drawn of late to a great many important matters connected with the army. There had been published, for example, the Report of a Commission as to the condition of the metropolitan barracks, which contained statements that startled the public, and there was an anxious desire to know who were responsible for the evils there complained of. If his right hon, and Gallant Friend made no statement regarding that and other military matters, the jealousy now prevalent in the public mind as to the reserve that was kept up on military questions would be much strengthened. There was one most important point on which the House and the country would like to hear something from his right hon. and gallant Friend; he meant the position of our national defences, with which many persons were not satisfied. The disembodiment of the militia was another matter which had attracted considerable attention, and in reference to which some statement from the Minister charged with the War Department was desirable. There was also the subject of admission to Woolwich, and he hoped, therefore, that before going into Committee the fullest explanation would be given on these subjects and of the nature of the Estimates generally.


(who was indistinctly heard) remarked, that this was the first time within his memory that the House had proceeded almost to the end of the Army Estimates without any statement having been made, by the responsible Minister, explanatory of the state of the national defences, or the ends and objects for which the force asked for was required. It was said the other day that this was the age of coups de main, and coups de main were much the same in one country as another. For example, on the 14th of last February, the country went to bed thinking they had the strongest Government and the ablest Minister that had existed since the time of Mr. Pitt, but woke up on the 15th and found they had no Government at all. Things changed fast in these days; and as, in the things which occurred amongst hon. Members opposite, he perceived at least a tendency on the part of the House to take upon itself the functions of the Executive, he thought it might not be out of place to ask, what was the amount of force by which we were to be defended, what was its destination, and what the general arrangements were for placing it in the most effective condition? He objected to standing armies, considering them to be the great curse of Europe at the present moment. They not only drained the strength and wealth of the country from the right direction to the wrong, but provoked the same evils in all neighbouring countries. That was not all: it re-acted upon us in another way. Every invention for the destruction of mankind, made or adopted in any one of those foreign countries, was in a manner forced upon us also. For instance, some years ago the Americans built a large class of ships, as large as our sixty-fours, which they called-frigates. When war broke out, taking thorn to be frigates, our Government very unwisely sent out frigates, which were not much more than half their size, to meet them. The consequence was that great loss and discredit betel our navy. We were therefore compelled to increase the size of our ships. Two or three years since, it was the same with the Mine rifle. Our neighbours adopted that weapon, and we were obliged to follow their lead. Now he was told that America was building war ships as large as the Leviathan; and for what? For the service of America? Certainly not. But did they suppose that there was no Power in Europe that would buy them? The other day he saw an ac- count of another new invention—a double-barreled rifle; of course we must have them too. An extraordinary gun had been invented at Newcastle, and we should, doubtless have to introduce that. Other States will not rest till they have done the same. There was another tiling: if these largo standing armies were kept up, you must give them occasions for fighting; since, like a pack of hounds, if you kept them shut up, and did not give them "blood" sometimes, they were not worth a farthing. Standing armies must have war, for it was the trade they lived by; and it was in their interest to do all they could to promote it. If there were a great many attorneys in a town, they were sure to set their neigh-bouts a-quarrelling. To illustrate what he meant in another way, he remembered a story of a party of gentlemen, who, dining at the Thatched House, and hearing a great noise in the room overhead, sent for the waiter and inquired what it was all about. The answer they received was— "Oh, it is only the College of Physicians who have been dining up stairs, and are now drinking 'a low fever' with three times three." The soldier, in the same way, was always ready to hail that which was the greatest curse to the rest of mankind as his best friend. There was, therefore, one large portion of the population of every continental nation that was ever anxious for war, and ready to do all in its power to provoke it. Every nation thought itself the one that ought to be the most popular and admired, and no people liked to be told homely truths; but, for all that, he could give them proof of what he believed a large class of persons but little suspected—namely, that of all people in the world the English wore the most hated on the Continent. What was the cause he would not attempt to explain, but the fact was so. Yet, knowing all this— knowing, as we ought to know, how we were hated, we were nevertheless going on from day to day irritating our nearest neighbours, and insulting them in public and in private. This was habitual with us; but did we suppose they would stand it? We kept a "den of assassins," who were let loose upon our neighbours as opportunity offered. Of course, we were entitled to have any amusements we liked, but it was well to remember what they cost; and a very good observation was made in The Times the other day, to the effect that every assassin costs us a million a year. But it was said foreign Govern- ments had no just cause of complaint against us in this matter. But was it so? We were, in this, like Nell Gwynne's footman, who did not mind what his mistress was, but was very much annoyed at being told of it. It must be recollected that this "den of assassins" we were thus upholding and protecting in this country was no new people. They were the hereditary descendants of those who first began the same game in 1793—those who began by declaring that they would make war upon every people in Europe who did not as they had done—kill their king. In 1839 a very remarkable French state paper was issued, in which it was stated:— The assassination of kings in general, and of him in particular whom France has placed upon the throne, is preached by those persons as a sacred duty. And the idea of the government which is reserved for France, and by which they went to redress the abuses of monarchy, is the Republic of 1793 and the Reign of Terror. In the following year, there was found upon the unhappy man, who had just been executed, secret instructions, given to him from this country, which really meant nothing less than assassination; and it was said—" We know you can't get arms; they won't let you have arms; then let each man make use of his knife and assassinate a sentinel, and thus you will get arms." Let the country, however, continue to encourage this "den of assassins" if it pleased, only let them remember what they would have to pay for it in the end. In 1849 a body of these men went to Malta, and Mr. Hume wrote what he called a dispatch, in which he made a complaint to the Colonial Minister—Lord J. Russell he believed — of these people having been sent away from the island by the Governor. In his answer the noble Lord very properly called them it inerrant revolutionists, whom the Government would not allow to remain at Malta. For his (Mr. Drummond's) part, he could not understand how, consistently, the Government could allow them to remain anywhere else. But he was not a member of Her Majesty's Government. In 1855 one of these persons wrote a letter to the Queen so grossly insulting that there was hardly any passage fit to quote in an assembly like that House, and he referred to it merely to show that there was one uninterrupted course going on from year to year, and that in short these men were purely what might be called political Thugs. Did we suppose that the Emperor of the French would allow us to go on harbouring these people here? He was not standing up as the protector of the Emperor of the French, but he entreated the House to have the common sense to put this country in such a state of defence that we might at least be able to defy those we persisted in insulting. So far as he knew, the conduct of His Imperial Majesty towards this country had always been frank and open, and he knew several persons to whom the Emperor had said "it is neither my interest nor inclination to make war upon you; but this danger I see—you may irritate my people and my army to such an extent that they may be so strong that I cannot keep them back." (A laugh.) The hon. Gentleman opposite laughed—long might he laugh in ignorance — but, nevertheless, he hoped there were others present who took a calm and serious view of the question. He was not suggesting that a great standing army should be kept up—far from it; he thought that in all probability we had kept up too large a standing army—but he wished to show that we possessed within ourselves a most constitutional means of effectual defence. He would not weary the House by going into details of this power—but of course he meant the militia. He complained that if this force was not called out, and asked if the officers were not kept together, how was the staff to be kept in an effective state. The Lord Lieutenant of every county ought—and he had the means in his numerous deputies—to have full information of the force which at any time he could call into action, and of the number of waggons and horses available at a moment's notice for service. These arrangements should be made at once, and not left until it was too late. Whatever friends we might have, we could hardly hope to maintain them with other powers while we took no steps to put down those who preached the right of murdering kings in the abstract—for that was the defence the other day. While we kept people here to preach that doctrine, depend upon it, if the opportunity offered, all the Sovereigns of Europe would join against us—and serve us right. We had attacked a great people. Much had been said about the doctrine of Civis Romanus; but the doctrine we were now contending for, was a great deal worse—it was the doctrine of Lingua Romana—the right to preach doctrines utterly subversive of the governments of other countries, and utterly subversive of peace and order. But whatever we did in this respect, he would advise the House at all events to take care that our means of defence were effective. This could not be done without expense, and therefore, he hoped there would be no penuriousneas in what might concern the safety of the nation.


said, he could not see the necessity for his then trespassing on the indulgence of the House by entering into a lengthened statement with regard to the condition of the army. His hon. and gallant Friend (Captain Vivian) would recollect that he had already offered some explanations to the House upon that point before moving the Vote for the number of men required for the service of the year; and all the details of the question might be considered in the course of the discussions on the various Estimates.


observed, that, when Supply was asked for, it was usual for the head of each department to place before the House the condition of his department. The First Lord of the Admiralty adopted that course the other night, and he hoped the Secretary at War would favour the House with a sketch of the general condition of the army; that he would explain its force and condition, and that he would state what were the reasons which, in the opinion of the Government, might render it necessary to increase or to diminish our military strength. He thought it most desirable that the heads of departments should not merely communicate facts to the House, but that they should also explain the views and policy of the Government, in order that hon. Members might be enabled to express their opinions, not upon mere items of expenditure, but upon its general policy. He hoped there was no inclination on the part of Her Majesty's Government to depart from what had been the invariable practice, for he thought it especially desirable that, with regard to the army, a general summary of their views should be submitted to the House.


said, he was anxious, in pursuance of the notice he had placed upon the paper, to draw the attention of the House to the recent decision of Her Majesty's Government relative to the disembodiment of sixteen regiments of militia. At the termination of the last war the militia regiments which had been doing-garrison duty in England, Ireland, and Scotland were disembodied, but the men received three months' notice of their discharge. At that time, however, a great blunder was committed, the effects of which were yet perceptible. At the time the regiments were disembodied an order was issued that each man should receive a gratuity of 15s. for his maintenance until he was able to obtain work, but by a subsequent order this gratuity was diminished from 15s. to 5s., 10s. being retained as a guarantee for the appearance of the men when they were again required to assemble for duty. The consequence of this measure was exactly the reverse of what was contemplated; it was considered a breach of faith by the men, so that some regiments when next assembled were deficient by one-fourth or one-fifth of their proper complement. In the autumn of last year directions wore issued for the embodiment of certain regiments of militia. The commanding officers were at great pains to get their men together, and officers, non commissioned officers, and men worked most assiduously during the winter to raise their respective regiments to as high a state of efficiency and discipline as possible, supposing that they would be embodied for the year, and that—as in the case of the last war—due notice would be given of an intention to disembody them. He did not know what were the intentions of the late Government, but he could tell the House what the present Government had done, so far as his own regiment was concerned. About a week ago he received an order, and at the same time a letter, from Major General Sir James Scarlett, commanding at Portsmouth and in the South-western district, staling that the Government had determined immediately to disembody sixteen regiments of militia, and among them the Roscommon Militia and 2nd West York, and that the men were to be sent home by the 1st of May. He might add that the gallant general expressed his regret at this sudden determination. He (Colonel Smyth) came to London to ascertain upon what principle the Government had selected regiments for disembodiment, and he found they had determined that every regiment which had not furnished the quota of seventeen per cent of its effective strength as volunteers to the line by the end of March should be disembodied. He believed that a worse principle could not have been adopted, for it would lead to the disembodiment of some of the most effective regiments. The proceeding was also in direct violation of the volunteering instructions which had been sent to commanding officers, and which left the arrangements for volunteering entirely with them. In the case of his own regiment, volunteers were called for about the beginning of January, but the men had not then settled down to a soldier's life, and few came forward. Every succeeding fortnight from that time the men who desired to enter the regular army sent in their names, and his regiment gave more than its quota by the 10th of April, without any drunkenness or disorder. He believed the same system had been adopted in other regiments, and that it had effected a rapid transfer of men from the militia to the line. He was sorry to tell the House that he feared that not even the principle upon which the Government professed to act had been adhered to, but that there were regiments of militia still embodied which had not given their quota of volunteers to the regular army. He complained of the short notice which had been given to the regiments to be disembodied. The orders, he believed, were not given until the 14th or 15th of April, and the men were to be sent home by the 1st of May, so that only a fortnight's notice was given, and it was almost impossible for the men to communicate with friends in the localities from which they had been drawn with the view of obtaining employment on their discharge. He could scarcely think it had been intended to send some 10,000 men to the right-about in so summary a manner, and could assure the House that both officers and men considered they bad been subjected to an abrupt and uncourteous dismissal. He would earnestly press upon the Government the propriety of reconsidering their determination; for, if such a course as he had described were pursued, it would he found that not one fourth of the men would be forthcoming when their services were again required.


was understood to remark that the militiamen were very much annoyed at that abrupt dismissal. He hoped the Government would be prepared to re-consider their resolution in the matter, and that some plan may be discovered by which so large a body of effective officers and men might be retained in the service.


said, he would remind the House that the right hon. and gallant General at the head of the War Department had really had nothing to do with the embodiment of the militia. The onus of this disembodiment really lay with the preceding Government who had embodied a greater number than they were authorized to do. Afterwards, under the pressure of circumstances, they retained them in the hope that they would be absorbed into the regular army. That result, however, had not taken place, and the country now found itself saddled with a greater number of men than had been provided for, and hence arose the necessity for the present measure. He should, however, very much regret if the militia force should be disbanded, and sent to their homes dissatisfied and discontented, for he had always felt that good faith had not been kept with the militia who were embodied during the last war, who had come forward in the most patriotic manner for the service of the country, but whose claims were disregarded when there was no further occasion for their assistance. What he would suggest was, that a general order should be issued and circulated among all the militia regiments, allowing all those men, who had a prospect of obtaining work, to return to their homes. Such an order would at once relieve the force of a large number of men, but with respect to the still greater number who might be expected to remain, he thought it would be a gross act of injustice to disembody them at a short notice, when, if that step had been taken two months ago, they would have been able to find employment. Such a proceeding could not fail to lead to the greatest dissatisfaction, and be did not think that the country was in a position to evince any want of good feeling or good faith towards a force which had rendered such important services to the country as the militia. In reply to the observation of the right hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Horsman) he could not help observing that any explanations with respect to the present efficiency of the War Department ought to be demanded rather of the hon. Baronet the Secretary of the late Government than of the hon. and gallant General.


said, the hon. and gallant Gentleman had quite misapprehended him. He had had asked for no explanation as to the efficiency of the War Department; all he did was to express a hope that the Secretary for War would make the usual statement submitted to the House by the head of the department, and which, he presumed, would have been made in the ordinary course here, had there been no change of Ministry.


observed, he hoped that the Government would be induced to take some measures to retain these men for the present. He was one of those who had highly disapproved of the very abrupt manner in which the militia was disbanded after the late war. Many regiments nobly volunteered to serve two years abroad; their offer was accepted, and yet the moment they came home their past services were accounted as nothing, and they were disbanded. They must bear in mind that a soldier was not merely a man in a red coat; he required to be drilled, and it was utterly impossible to discipline a body of men and make them effective in a very short time. He thought the country would be very much benefited if, instead of reducing the sixteen regiments which had been named, the strength of those regiments only were reduced, and they were suffered to remain as a neucleus which could be added to at any moment. He was confident that the idea of disembodying the militia had created the greatest feeling of discontent in the country, and he hoped that the Government would reconsider the matter and retain the force in a modified form.


hoped that the hon. and gallant General would enter into some explanation of the expectations which could or not be reasonably entertained of the men who formed the militia regiments entering the line on emergencies. He was perfectly aware of the great services rendered by the militia, but the Returns before them did not show that, as far as the supply of men from militia regiments was concerned, the expectations which had been indulged in, that it would prove a faithful nursery for our line regiments, had been realized. With respect to the force itself, he regretted to say that the Returns showed that the desertions from militia regiments were very great, and that there were strong indications of the prevalence of a system amounting to almost a sort of trade of repeated desertion and re-entering militia regiments for the purpose of obtaining the bounty. Of course this observation applied only to the worst description of men; but at the same time they found that the best men—those who made really good soldiers —preferred sticking by their own regiment rather than entering the line. If the militia could be called out permanently, he granted it would be an invaluable force, capable of repelling an invasion or performing any other service; but as that could not be, he thought it was not possible that they could remain an effective force under the present system. If men who enlisted for twenty years were allowed to leave the army at the end of ten or twelve years, receiving a sum of 6d. a day as a sort of retaining fee on condition of being called out during a short period every year, and being immediately embodied on an emergency, such a force would be far more valuable than the militia. The men themselves would be in the full vigour of life, about thirty years of age, capable of entering, to a considerable extent, into the ordinary classes of citizenship, they would form a most efficient reserve force, and capable at any moment of acting together as tried and experienced soldiers. Such a system would at the same time give employment to a largo class of deserving officers reduced to half-pay, who might be attached at an advance to these reserve battalions, while the militia itself would be far more advantageous as a local than as a general force for the defence of the country. Called out as the militia were only at intervals, it could not be expected that they should prove a competent force to rely upon in the case of such an invasion as was sometimes anticipated. They could not depend upon them to face some of perhaps the best trained and most efficient soldiers which Europe could produce. In conclusion, he would again express a hope that either the Secretary for War would consider the whole question, or else that a Committee should be appointed to ascertain how far the militia served as a cradle for the regular army, and whether other means might not be found for obtaining a reserve force more reliable and efficient than that at present existing.


thought, notwithstanding what had fallen from the hon. Gentleman, that the militia had furnished a considerable proportion of volunteers to the line, and their services during the late war afforded ample proof of what might be expected from them if a similar emergency were to arise. The hon. Gentleman seemed alarmed at the idea of our counting in the least upon the militia in case of invasion. Now, on this point he totally differed from the hon. Gentleman, and, though he had never served in the militia, he should depend with the greatest confidence upon their conduct in the field. In the old Peninsular war three or four militia regiments actually took the field, and a number of regiments volunteered for active service during the war in the Crimea. Besides this, it was a constitutional force, He was decidedly of opinion, therefore, that no cause of dissatisfaction ought to be given to the militiamen, and regretted very much that the Government had not taken warning by the loud complaints made in so many quarters as to the conduct of the late Ministry at the end of the last war. The manner in which the Government acted towards the militia upon that occasion formed a just cause of regret and indignation in that House, and there was even a mutiny in Ireland occasioned by the disbandment of some men, who were absolutely sent homo without their clothes. The present Government alleged that the militia was called out not by them but by the late Government, hut he maintained that the present Government was bound legally and morally, as well as by policy, to act in the same way towards that force as if they had raised it themselves. He was not particularly well acquainted with the grievances of individual militia regiments, but he thought a great hardship would be inflicted upon many of them if the men should he sent hack to their homes after a fortnight's notice, and this, too, naturally pressed with severity on the subaltern officers, who had been put to great expense six months ago in equipping themselves. It was, he contended, most impolitic, upon grounds connected with the general safety of the country, that the militia force should be neglected, and he should not charge the right hon. and gallant General now at the head of the army with a desire to deal with it in that spirit. Indeed, he believed no military functionary would be disposed to treat our militia regiments with neglect; but it was the misfortune of all military arrangements to be dependent to a great extent upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and he had no doubt that the cheese-paring budget of the right hon. Gentleman who at present filled that office exercised some influence upon the destinies of those sixteen regiments which were about to be disembodied. It would, however, have been better had the right hon. Gentleman endeavoured to make both ends meet by placing an additional tax of a penny upon some article of consumption than by subjecting the country to the inconvenience of being left, as she would be left, without an efficient militia.


I have had much pleasure in listening to the testimony which the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken has borne to the efficiency of the militia force. It cannot but be satisfactory to the country, as well as to the force itself, that the opinion of so high an authority should be recorded in its favour. I must, however, protest against the doctrine so current in this House and the country, that the chief object for which the militia is maintained is to supply troops to the line. That doctrine I hold to be a mistaken one, and one which, if acted upon, would lead to a complete perversion of the real purpose for which the militia was established. It is, no doubt, a circumstance highly creditable to a militia regiment that it should furnish the line with troops; and we ought to be grateful in those instances in which such is the case, not alone to the men but to the officers, who sacrifice that feeling of honourable pride which they take in the efficiency of their regiments when they encourage their men to volunteer into the regular army. It is obvious that it is the best men who volunteer on such occasions, and therefore it must be a sacrifice of feeling on the part of the officers to give that encouragement. It is also highly useful to the country, as well as creditable to the force itself, that at a moment of national emergency such men should be ready to lend their aid in her defence. We ought, however, to bear in mind that the great object for which the militia was established is, that we should have a dormant force, numerically large, capable of being called out to supply the place of the regular army whenever any sudden emergency might arise for calling for the services of that army abroad. We cannot expect to have a force of more than 50,000, or at the utmost 60,000, men available in this country. We may be attacked by forces very much larger in amount. It is therefore of the highest importance that we should have 80,000, 90,000, 100,000 men, or a larger number, organized, officered, equipped, trained, to a certain extent disciplined, and capable of being called out under arms within the shortest possible period—say a fortnight; and, when called out, able to take an efficient part in the defence of the country. I would, therefore, earnestly impress on the House that we ought not, in my opinion, to estimate the value of the militia force by the number of troops with which it may furnish the line; while I, at the same time, am ready to admit that, since it has been called out, it has done the country good service in that respect. With regard to the question more imme- diately under discussion, the state of the case is simply this. Last year we were under the necessity of sending a very largo force to India—the greater portion of the regular force then in the country. We were then told in this House—and we felt the force of the observation—that it was not consistent with the public security, or with the interests of the country, to leave the United Kingdom stripped of an armed force. Well, the simplest mode of supplying the place of those troops which had been sent out to India was by calling out the militia. We were urged to call out the whole, but we deemed it expedient to call out only a portion of that force, and that portion was embodied upon the distinct understanding that it was intended to fill up the vacuum which had been created by the cause to which I have just adverted. Well, when owing to the rapid progress of recruiting—a progress which is most honourable to the spirit of the country, and which exceeded our most sanguine expectations—the regular army was filled up to the point which we deemed necessary, it, of course, became the duty of the present Government—as it was undoubtedly the intention of Her Majesty's late advisers— to disembody those regiments of the embodied militia whose services were no longer required. When it is said that it is the Chancellor of the Exchequer who forces this measure upon the illustrious and gallant Officer at the head of the army, it ought to be borne in mind that there is no choice in the matter. You have a much larger number of men under arms than your revenue enables you to pay. You must then adopt one of two courses. You must either increase your revenue by means of additional taxation—which I think would not be a proposal very agreeable to Parliament or to the country—or you must reduce the number of men in your military service. I, for my part, am of opinion that, if the alternative lies between your having a larger number of men under arms, and the construction of works —such, for instance, as the fortification of the coasts and dockyards, and the erection of barracks, to afford proper accommodation to your shipping and your troops—as these are things which would contribute to the permanent security of the country, there can be no question but that the latter alternative is the one which both prudence and policy call upon you to adopt.


said he rose to complain not so much that certain regi- ments of militia were about to be disembodied as it was always understood that such a step would be taken when the temporary purpose for which they were called had been answered, but what he did complain of was of the manner in which it was proposed to carry the disembodiment into effect. The regiment with which he was connected, for instance—the Dumfries Militia—had come forward most willingly and most cheerfully when its services were required, and what return had it received? It had been announced that it was the intention of the Government to disembody it, but that announcement had not been made until subsequently to the 25th of March, when the time for hiring labourers in Scotland had just expired, and the men were at once to be sent back to their homes, where they could get no employment whatever until harvest, which, he might remind the House, was usually one month later in the season in Scotland than it was in this country. If financial considerations rendered it expedient that a certain portion of the Militia force should be dispensed with, then he should contend that that object might be attained by means of some more satisfactory arrangement than that which the Government had proposed. He had ascertained, for instance, by a very simple calculation, that a reduction of 10,000 men could be made in the force by sending the married men to their homes, and by diminishing the number of men in certain regiments to 500. It was extremely desirable, he thought, that some such step should be taken in order to obviate, as far as possible, the great inconveniences which would arise if the present intentions of the Government with respect to the disembodiment of the militia were carried into effect. In reference to his own regiment, he would only say that it was very peculiarly situated, and that to disembody it, at the present moment would be to inflict upon it the greatest hardship. He might add that when he had explained to his right hon. and gallant friend the Secretary for War, some time ago, the position in which it was placed, he had assured him on his word that it would not be disembodied, but to his astonishment he found it one of the very first regiments upon which that hardship was to be inflicted. Was it fair, he would ask, or just or right, thus to send these poor men back to Scotland to starve? The disembodiment of the regiment could not at all events be defended upon the ground of its want of efficiency for the highest military authorities had borne testimony to the fact that it was one of the most efficient regiments in the service, and he might add that it only wanted 20 men to complete its quota. It behoved the Government, he thought, well to weigh the step which it was about to take with respect to these Militia regiments, and to consider if it were to act towards them as it proposed whether men would, when a future emergency arose, be found as willing to come forward in defence of their country as in the present instance was the case.


After the appeal made to me from so many parts of the House, I am bound, I think, to give such explanations on this matter as I can, the noble Lord the head of the late Government having fully stated the absolute necessity which existed for disbanding the militia. It is quite true that in September a large number of the militia—no less than 25,000 men—were called out to fill up the gap occasioned by the despatch of so large a force as it was necessary to send to India. The number of rank and file at that time in the Kingdom was only about 49,000; but when the present Government fame into office it had increased to over 70,000 — with a militia force of 30,000 men; and inasmuch as the whole sum for the embodied militia was only £150,000, unless the late Government intended to ask for a supplementary vote, it is clear that the only result could be the disembodiment of a portion at least of the militia. We came to a resolution to disembody 10,000 men, and the principle which we adopted was to retain such regiments as had furnished their quota of volunteers for the line in the first place, and in the next those who had nearly completed it, and were enabled to do so before the disembodiment of the regiment. Well, Sir, the policy of disembodying a portion of the militia, which was about to he adopted by the late Government, we considered sound, and were prepared to carry out; and, notwithstanding what has been so candidly stated by the noble Lord, I am willing to take upon myself the whole responsibility of doing so. With respect to individual regiments I can only say that I informed every one of the colonels who applied to me that it was with deep pain that I looked upon their cases. I had but one principle to guide me. At the appointed time I requested the Horse Guards to furnish me with a list of regiments which had completed their quota, and without considering the appeals which had been made—for it was impossible to consider them all—I directed that that list should be acted upon. With respect to the time at which the disembodiment took place, I may observe, that the regiments are paid up to the 1st of the month, and if they are not disembodied before the 1st of May, the greatest inconvenience with respect to the accounts must result; and to maintain them during the whole month of May would consume the greater portion of the £150,000 voted by Parliament. With respect to the disbandment, indeed, I think I am liable to be accused of being too liberal, for although the militia was embodied on the former occasion for a much longer period of time, exactly the same gratuities will be allowed as formerly. Both the non-commissioned officers and men will receive fourteen days' pay, so that the men will not only have their slop-clothing but money in their pockets. With respect to the officers I must express my regret than an additional expense has been cast upon them, in consequence of the shortness of the time during which the regiments were embodied, but I trust they will see that that is unavoidable, and that the disbandment is, as the noble Lord has said, a measure of necessity. It is possible that any commendation of mine may be lightly regarded, but I must beg leave to add my most cordial approbation of the militia force of the country to that of the hon. and gallant General the Member for Westminster. It is an admirable force, and I recently saw evolutions and military exercises of the militia at Aldershot equal to any that I have ever seen in the line. And since the order for disembodiment has been promulgated, I have received from one regiment, the Royal Down Light Infantry, an offer to form a second battalion of some regiment of the Line, provided their officers were guaranteed their ranks, the latter undertaking to increase the strength of the battalion to 1,000 men. I was, however, unable to entertain this patriotic proposition, as the number of men and the battalions of the line were already fixed; but the offer shows the excellent spirit with which the militia is animated. I am sure the House will agree with me that I could have taken no other course than that which I have adopted; and that it was not possible for us to have continued the embodiment of a larger number of the force than that which the amount voted in the Estimates was calculated to maintain. I quite agree that it is possible that the establishment of the militia might be a most effective means of recruiting for the line, but I am bound to add that in my view of the case the present state of the law with respect to the militia requires revision. I am very much of opinion that some means should be adopted for making the permanent staff of the militia much more efficient than it is at present. It would be equally for the benefit of the Militia and for the interests of the public service. Under the present circumstances it is possible that the militia may not be called out even for a short period during one or two years. What is the consequence? The permanent staff naturally becomes inefficient, and it has been stated with some degree of truth that the sergeants, instead of being able to drill the men, very often require to be drilled themselves. It may, however, be a question whether at the present moment it is desirable to add to the expense of the permanent staff of the militia; but there is one way in which in my view it might be made extremely useful to the country—it ought to be employed for the purpose of drilling recruits. At present the great complaint is that the recruits come in so fast, that a want of officers is experienced for the purpose of drilling them. On the other hand, we have a permanent staff of the militia doing absolutely nothing; and I think, therefore, that whoever may be the Secretary of State for War, he would do well to turn his attention as soon as practicable to the consideration of whether some such means as I have pointed out ought not to be adopted, which would at once render the permanent staff of the militia more serviceable than at present to the country, and more conducive to their own efficiency.


I hope I am not usually over sensitive in respect to unjust imputations; but there are some charges which, even for a moment, cannot be passed over in silence, and one of this character has been made against me this evening, by the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster (Sir De Lacy Evans), which appears to me to be one of the most unjustifiable and unauthorized that was ever made in Parliament. I understood the hon. and gallant General to say that this disembodiment of the militia was occasioned, he was sure, not by the advice of my gallant Colleague the Secretary for War, or any Member of the Government connected with the military service; but he had no doubt it was recommended by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in order to secure the success of a cheeseparing Budget. Now, Sir, whether my Budget deserves that epithet I leave the House to decide. I do not desire to vindicate it in that respect; but this I can assure the House—that nothing can he more unjust or unfounded than the charge which the gallant General has made against me. The decision as to the disembodiment was arrived at, not with regard to any specific measure of finance, but with reference to the general requirements of the country. If the gallant General had only taken the trouble, before making so unqualified and reckless a charge, of reflecting upon what has passed, and which ought to be within his own knowledge, he must have felt how unjustifiable was his statement. He must have remembered that, in the Estimates which were placed upon the table by our predecessors, the item for the embodied militia amounted to but £150,000, which would be sufficient to maintain 30,000 men for two months only. He would have remembered, moreover, that before those Estimates were laid upon the table, the late Secretary for War gave notice of the intention of the then Government to disembody a portion of the militia. Surely, the gallant General, remembering those circumstances, will see how unjust is his attack upon mo. In taking the course we did respecting the disembodiment of the militia, we took a course which, I can assure the House, occasioned the greatest pain to every Member of the Government. No one appreciates more than I do the character and services of the Militia of the United Kingdom. I have on several occasions endeavoured to do justice to their conduct, and to express a sense of the value of their inestimable services. I believe it is of high importance that the militia should be called out every year for training; and I have always agreed with the noble Lord who has addressed us with such generous warmth and candour upon the subject, that the militia is not a more nursery for the regular army, but that it is a great constitutional force—a great national institution. It may please some hon. Gentlemen, like the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster, who, when on the hustings, are fond of dilating on the necessity of a wise reduction in the national expenditure, to come here and make a complaint of cheeseparing arrangements; but I would ask the House calmly to consider how it is possible to carry into effect a wise reduction of expenditure—how it is possible to maintain a prudent economy in the administration of the national resources, if we are not to take a general view of what our powers are in that respect. The gallant Gentleman, without the slightest consideration of other claims on the national resources, and not taking a general view of the subject, on occasions like the present, comes forward as the chief advocate of the militia, identifying himself for a moment with its interests, but at the same time recommending a policy totally inconsistent with the general economical professions he is at all times making. I hope my gallant Friends the colonels of militia will at least acquit me of any want of feeling for the service with which they are connected, and any want of appreciation of their inestimable services.


said, he wished to express his regret that the right hon. Gentleman had felt hurt at what he had stated. He did not mean to say anything disrespectful to the right hon. Gentleman, or anything disparaging to his Budget; he merely meant to say that the Army Estimates were more governed by financial considerations than by circumstances of national importance.

Subject dropped.