HC Deb 17 February 1860 vol 156 cc1235-8

said, he would beg to ask the Secretary of State for War if it is the intention of the Government to provide grounds for the target practice of the Volunteer Rifle Corps? According to the present regulations, the different corps were required to provide their own practice grounds, which should in no case be less than 200 yards in extent, and it was found that in reality a much more extensive range was required. The difficulties in their way, especially in populous localities, were so great that, unless some assistance were afforded by the Government, he believed it would require considerable time before these corps acquired that efficiency which was so very desirable.


said, he would answer the questions as far as he could in the order in which they had been put to him. In reference to the question put by the noble Lord (Lord Elcho), he could only say that if the volunteer artillary corps wished to extract from the Government rifle carbines of the best description the Government would not be able to comply with the demand, because there was not yet a sufficient supply for the regular forces; but if the corps would accept carbines of an inferior description, the Government would be very happy to place them at their disposal. With respect to the question put by the hon. Gentleman below him (Mr. Wyld) he had to state that it was not the intention of the Government to purchase practising grounds for the use of volunteer corps. If Government were to undertake to perform any such duty as to provide ranges for rifle corps, the cost to the country would be something enormous. Where volunteer corps, having strong local influence and strong local connections, could hire or buy, perhaps obtain gratuitously, ground for such a purpose, it should be done; for if the Government came into the market there was a peculiar tendency in the value of property to rise in consequence, and of this he had had so much experience that he should be very much dissatisfied at any attempt to extend the practice. As to the question of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Hassard), he was sorry he could not give him an answer that would be satisfactory. The College at Sandhurst was not financially in a very satisfactory state at present, and an extension of the privileges of that institution to the sons of Indian officers at the present rates would only tend to involve the college in further embarrassment. It must be recollected that the officers of the local army of the Indian Government received higher pay, and their widows obtained higher pensions, than was the case with officers in the Queen's service, though the latter had a counterbalancing advantage in the right of sending their sons to Sandhurst. An officer in the Queen's army received £127 half-pay, and he paid £40 a year for the expenses of his son at Sandhurst, leaving a balance of £87; but an Indian officer received £365, and had to pay £100 for his son, instead of £40, leaving a balance of £265. That established at once a very great difference. However, he did not wish to preclude himself from dealing with this question in the future. To the question of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Ellice) whether the Army Estimates upon the table contained all the sums which it was likely Covernment would require for the military purposes of the year, he answered, in the first place, "No," because there was a Vote that would have to be taken for the disembodied militia of upwards of £500,000; but if the right hon. Gentleman referred to any Supplementary Estimate, in addition to those before the House, he (Mr. Sidney Herbert), would guard himself first by saying that subsequent to the Estimates of last year two Supplementary Estimates were proposed; but he would say that the Government had no expectation of being called on to ask the House to vote any additional sums over and above those already before them. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that the Estimates were large enough in all conscience. He should have to explain that evening what were the causes of this great—he might almost say—lamentable increase; but regretting that increase as strongly as any one, he should shrink from his duty if he did not avow that these sums were necessary in the peculiar circumstances of the country, but he repeated that there was no intention of asking for any additional sum. It was true there were items for fortifications in the present Estimates of no very inconsiderable amount, but as the Commission on this subject had given in their Report it would become his duty as Secretary for War to form his opinion on the course best to be pursued; and if, having come to a conclusion as to what was necessary, he could persuade the Administration to adopt his plans, and they could obtain the assent of the House of Commons, well and good; but he repeated that they had laid on the table of the House the exact sum which they had reason to believe Parliament would be called on to vote for this year. With regard to the sum taken for China, it must be remembered that the Vote of credit asked was about £1,350,000, part of which would be applied in the present financial year, and the remainder be thrown upon the next.