HC Deb 17 February 1860 vol 156 cc1258-63

said, that in calling the attention of the House to the great expense incurred in raising and training a Regiment of Militia so as to make it fit for permanent duty, he would beg to ask the Secretary of State for War what arrangements he contemplates to fill up the vacancy in the numbers of the Army that will be occasioned by the disembodiment of the Militia Regiments? This was a question of great importance, especially at the present moment, when the affairs of foreign nations were in a state of great derangement, and nobody knew how soon our Militia might he required. Great as the talk about the power of England was, it should be remembered that the policy which one ministry pursued might be immediately reversed by the succeeding ministry, and they had no large standing army to carry into immediate effect the policy of the Government. A short time ago the country was frightened out of its propriety by a fear of invasion, and there were Volunteer Corps, Rifle Corps, and Artillery Corps raised all throughout the country. In addition to this they had the Militia—a force raised and commanded by the gentry of the country, who organized and drilled those regiments at great expense and inconvenience. When they were drilled, however, they were acknowledged to he a force that could he in every way depended upon, and if, instead of disembodying that force, as he regretted to hear was intended, they were to reorganize and put it on a permanent footing, it would form a reserve from which they might enlarge their army at any time by whole regiments and battalions. The Militia force was a force no Government ought to hastily get rid of. Was there anything in the state of foreign affairs which justified them in disbanding 12,000 of the Militia force they had in order to replace them by regiments coming home from India? If, I when those regiments came home, they found their depôts in a perfect state of efficiency, there might be no objection to such a course: but no regiment coming home from abroad was in so perfect a state of discipline as the Militia. He would much rather keep up an embodied Militia as a permanent reserve, for the purpose of garrisoning the fortified places existing, and those which he hoped to see erected, than see the force disbanded, and their place supplied with troops coming home from India. If the Government would confine themselves in ordinary times, when there was no fear of an invasion, to a force of 10,000 men, enrolling them for five years' service these men would be glad after that period to enter into the line, and would prove a most valuable and experienced force. In this way they would avoid the objectionable practice of calling out a very large body of the Militia at once. It was generally supposed that the agricultural labourer was only required for getting in the harvest, but he was equally required for other purposes, such as draining, ploughing, and the hay harvest. If they had a permanent force of 10,000 Militia, the injury to agricultural interests, inflicted by the sudden calling out of the Militia, would be avoided. To what extent was the reduction to be carried? The Estimates gave the House no information upon the subject. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman would explain that, but he must excuse him for calling his attention to the matter. However peaceable might be our relations with France every minutiæ with regard to our army was deeply studied in that country. He would also refer the House to a statement of the accoutrements with which a French marine was furnished, as appeared on the occasion of a visit by Admiral Desforres to the fleet at Toulon. Amongst the rest each man was provided with a six-barrelled revolver, a hatchet, and grappling-iron. The Commercial Treaty did not seem to be going quite so smoothly as Government had perhaps at first supposed. It had been said in that House that the Government, were so sanguine they should be able to pass this measure, and that it would re-unite the bonds of peace so strongly, that they had not thought it necessary to consider what the effect of its rejection would be on the minds of the French Emperor and the French people. That, however, was a most important ingredient in the case. The French people were not so accustomed to the inconsistencies of our Legislature as we were, and he thought it extremely possible that if the Treaty were not adopted by that House some feeling of irritation would be created in their minds. Entertaining that opinion, he thought it would be most dangerous and ill-advised to disembody one single regiment until this matter were settled. It would be most unwise to do anything that should diminish the defences of the country. Whatever the number of regiments to return from India, he should, at the present juncture, welcome their approach with the greatest satisfaction. Even with them, with the Militia, and all the volunteers that could be raised, there would not be a man too many. When a Ministry had difficult negotiations on hand, or a difficult policy to follow, the best force he could have was a large army well appointed.


said, he rose to express a hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War would, in the statement he was about to make to the House, give them some information as to the intentions of the Government with regard to the militia. It was very important both to the country and to the army that they should have a large force of militia, whether embodied or disembodied; but he was afraid it would be found, when the Return of the hon. Member for Middlesex was produced, that the number of the militia bore a very small propor- tion to the nominal amount voted by Parliament. The number of absentees on the books of regiments had been found to be increasing at every annual training, and the force now available, in all probability, was not over 60 per cent of the Parliamentary Vote. He did not speak without a knowledge of the subject. In the militia regiment he had the honour to command there had been for two or three years an accumulation of absenteeism most annoying to officers and prejudicial to the public service. Had the War Office permitted them to strike off the absentees from that regiment two years ago, there would have been no difficulty in filling up the numbers. During the last two years there were but few fresh absentees, but they were cumbered with the names of those who were nominally members since the conclusion of the Crimean war, but had long since enlisted fraudulently in regiments of the line. The object of these fraudulent enlistments was to obtain the full bounty and allowance given to a recruit who was not a militiaman. In his opinion they would never be stopped until the difference in the allowances of a militiaman and a civilian entering the army was put an end to. He quite appreciated the motives of the Government in not striking off the names from the roll, because it would be impossible to avoid declaring the number of fraudulent enlistments. He hoped the Government would adopt such a course of calling out the militia regiments in turn as would at once prevent their training being a loss to agricultural labour, and at the same time retain for us a valuable body of men accustomed for years to military training. He did not wish to say one word which might be construed into speaking disrespectfully of the Volunteer Corps who had so gallantly come forward to enrol themselves in the service of their country; but he could not help drawing the attention of the Government to the fact that while they must always depend upon patriotic impulse for the volunteers, they had in the militia the old constitutional force of the country, from which they could at any time largely recruit their army.


observed, that he was glad the subject had been brought forward, although he had not met with the support his Motion deserved when he introduced it. They had been on the previous night entertained with a graphic description of certain militia regiments. He did not mean to say that they were com- posed of the very best materials, because it was well known that the great mass of the militia were raised from the lowest dregs of society. He was not ashamed of that, because the fault lay with the rules of their military organization, which deterred any but the lowest classes from entering it. On the contrary, without taking any undue credit to themselves as officers for the discipline and treatment of the militia, when he considered the nature of the material upon which they operated, he thought that they ought to feel proud at the improvement which they had effected in the private character of the men themselves, as well as at the efficiency of the force. He did not object to the disembodiment of regiments which had been long embodied, but he deprecated any general disembodiment, or rather he objected to its being carried out in such a harsh and unfeeling manner. The case of the junior officers of militia thrown destitute on the world was a very hard one; and it was to be regretted that the Secretary of State for War should have met their claims the other night with the simple remark that he thought these young men had derived great advantage from having been two or three years in the service. The promises held out to them had been deliberately broken, and certainly their prospects had not been improved by their two or three years' militia experience. Then as to the injury to the public: he believed the French and other nations were as anxious to avoid hostilities as ourselves; hut, from the questions constantly put in that house, it was clear there was a lurking suspicion in the public mind that the political horizon was not so clear as had been supposed. The Estimates to be asked for by the right hon. Gentleman reached £14,800,000, and with the Supplementary Estimates which would have to be considered, the total expense would reach nearly £15,500,000; and yet the whole number of disposable men of all ranks, exclusive of those in India, was only 143,000. Under those circumstances to disembody a large number of well-trained militia regiments was most unadvisable. There was a Vote of £300,000 for the embodied, and of £500,000 for the disembodied militia. How was that money to be spent? He believed that no Member in the House understood the way in which those Estimates were made up. The expense of the disembodied militia would not much exceed £150,000, which would leave £650,000 for the service of the embodied militia and for the training of the disembodied regiments. But he maintained that that training was thrown away. If we were to have a militia, it ought to he kept in a state in which, should its services be called upon at any moment, it would be found perfectly efficient. A certain number of the regiments should always be embodied, even though the embodiment of each regiment should last only for a short time. Then we might rely upon having, for every regiment that was embodied, six or seven others that would be ready in case of need. In short, he would ask, was the militia to be a service, or was it not? Were the officers to keep their regiments in order, though they were never likely to be wanted? or was the force to be treated as one to which they might be proud to belong? At least, let the militia not he disembodied without some slight recognition of the services of its deserving young officers.