HC Deb 31 May 1860 vol 158 cc1791-5

on the Motion for going into Committee of Supply on the Army Estimates, rose to ask the Secretary of State for War, Whether any Correspondence had passed between the War Office and the Treasury, or any other Department of the Government, respecting the omission from the Army Estimates of the usual Vote for the annual training of the Yeomanry Cavalry; and, if so, whether he had any objection to produce such Correspondence? The gallant Major said— Sir, I have ventured to bring this question before the notice of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary at War, not in the hope of eliciting any very satisfactory reply, but that I may seize the opportunity for contrasting the proposed treatment of the Yeomanry Cavalry and the Rifle Corps at the hands of the Government for the present year. The united voice of the country has called for increased measures of national defence, both naval and military. To our naval defences we have given a just prominence, but the application of steam to our vessels of war has so entirely changed the system of naval tactics, that the possibility of a strong invading army being thrown on our shores cannot be doubted. To meet this contingency, a strong addition to our domestic forces, in aid of the regular troops, was the only alternative, a revival of the volunteer system at the commencement of the present century, during the threatened invasion of the first Napoleon, whose ideas his illustrious nephew has declared it his mission to fulfil. In 1803, when the French army occupied the heights of Boulogne, 300,000 Volunteers were under arms in England and Scotland; and in this general formation of our Rifle Corps, promptly and nobly has the country met the emergency, for in little more than twelve months, from 100,000 to 120,000 Riflemen have been raised, thoroughly equipped and prepared to be called upon, at a moment's notice, for the defence of their country. A finer or more soldier-like body of men were never raised either in this or any other country, and in the event of any sudden panic, or serious apprehension of invasion, that number would soon be increased to 300,000 men, not, as in old times, armed with Brown Bess, but with a much more destructive and deadly weapon, the British rifle. It was in vain that the noble Premier attempted to ridicule and quash this movement by calling it a "Rifle fever." It was in vain the hon. Member for Birmingham protested against the expenses that would ensue from making any counter preparations against the naval and military preparations of France. Englishmen valued too highly their independence, their birthrights, and their homes to leave them to the tender mercies of the Emperor. The indignant voice of England called for the general arming of her male population, and the noble Premier and the Cabinet were obliged to succumb to the voice of the nation, and the undoubted feeling of our patriotic Queen, who has so recently shown her approbation and appreciation of the Rifle Corps, by appointing a special levee for the reception of its officers. Now, for the sake of a paltry saving of £35,000, the Government would dispense with the annual meeting and training of the Yeomanry Cavalry, one of the oldest, and, I hesitate not to say, one of our most efficient domestic forces. This miserable pittance, now to be withheld, is but the pay of eight days during the year. It is accepted by the Yeomanry, not as any equivalent for sacrifices necessarily made of time and money, but as a complimentary acknowledgment by Parliament, and their beloved Queen, that they form a contingent of the regular army, and that their services may be required at any moment to assist in quelling intestine commotions, or for the protection of the country in the event of invasion. Many hon. Members, unconnected with this force, may not be aware that during eight months of the year a regular course of drilling is going on by permanent sergeants, in the pay of the Government, generally in the presence of some of the officers, sometimes in detachments at places specially appointed for the purpose of suiting the convenience of the men, often attended in such numbers as to form troops and squadrons; and it is not unusual for whole regiments to assemble (as is every year the case with that f have the honour to belong) three or four times before going out on permanent duty. The Yeomanry, like the Rifles, are for the most part raised from a particular class of Her Majesty's subjects, whose calling in life render them unavailable for the Line or the Militia, and their services would therefore be lost to the country if these branches of the service were abolished. But although we have been able to raise an army of Infantry Volunteers so readily, we must not suppose that any Government can, with equal facility, replace any regiments of Yeomanry they may think proper to disband. A cavalry soldier is not made in a day; and there are only a certain number of men in each county who, from having been accustomed to the management of horses all their lives, are available for the Yeomanry service. Were the Rifle Corps formed to supersede either the Militia or the Yeomanry Cavalry as auxiliaries to the regular troops in the not impossible event of a struggle for our existence as a nation on our own shores? The Yeomanry of England never presumed to place themselves on a par with the regular troops of the country; but as a contingent in times of internal commotion, or a threatened invasion of the country, they have always been prepared to do their duty. The compliment paid by the Secretary for War at this particular juncture, when, snubbing an old constitutional force, he was toadying one only in its infancy, was, under the circumstances, most insulting. The efficiency of the Yeomanry Cavalry depends, of course, on their regular training and annual meetings, hitherto allowed by Government. It is all very well to say you will dispense with this every other year, and allow eight days' training once in two years. What will be the consequence? Why, that you will, by this kind of discouraging treatment, induce men to leave the Yeomanry to join the Rifles, and by degrees you will sacrifice the 14,000 men, with as many horses, which have hitherto been the pride of the country, and prepared at all times to obey the command of their beloved Sovereign. Although of necessity we look to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary at War for providing the annual Military Estimates, I cannot believe that this treatment of the Yeomanry could have originated with himself; on the contrary, I feel more inclined to attribute it to the arbitrary will of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, in one of his economical fits, and setting aside the remonstrances of the Secretary at War, must have dashed his pen through a Vote probably approved of by every other Member of the Cabinet. The Yeoman, who feels a pride in the regiment to which he belongs, keeps a peculiar class of horse as his charger all the year round. If you assure him that his services are no longer appreciated, he will substitute another kind of animal, more adapted for farming purposes, but utterly useless as a charger. During the last two centuries, the Yeomanry have been looked upon as our chief domestic force, and the use they might be made of, should our shores be unhappily invaded, has often been acknowledged by military men in this House, for outpost duties, carrying despatches, cutting off supplies from the enemy, or in escorting prisoners of war. Are we, then, to grudge this paltry sum of £35,000 for the purpose of retaining its services, at a time, too, when we are reducing millions of our revenue to propitiate the French Emperor? Whatever may be the feelings and intentions of the Emperor towards this country is of secondary moment, when we consider that he owes his position in Europe and the safety of his throne to an army of 600,000 men. To the arbitrary dictation of this army, clamorous for employment, he must at all times inevitably submit, be it for good or for evil, for peace or for war. In justifying the measures adopted with reference to this arm of national defence, Mr. Pitt said, in 1804:— Although he entertained as high an opinion as any man of the superiority of our regular troops, yet he was convinced it was necessary to resort to some other subsidiary forces to defend the country. The regular army would always be the rallying point of national defence, but with the benefit of their example and of their instruction, he was convinced that other descriptions of force could be brought forward with great advantage. He wished to see the Volunteer forces of the country brought to the utmost pitch of perfection, in order that the regular army might be used to its full extent in assailing the enemy. He approved the Volunteer system, and would have wished to have it carried to a much greater extent in the counties bordering on the sea coast. He thought the Volunteer system capable of being made a permanent, solid system of defence, and a great source of national energy. The improvements of the system which appeared to him more immediately necessary were the assembling the small companies into battalions, and giving to each battalion a field officer and an adjutant. He also considered the number of days appointed in the year for drills as too small, and that instead of receiving pay for twenty, the Volunteers should receive pay for forty or fifty days. These alterations would certainly cause an increase of expense, but it appeared to him that it would be money well spent. There was much in these remarks that applied equally to the Yeomanry Cavalry and the Volunteer Corps. The volunteer system had become permanent, and if it was to be properly carried out, facilities for drill and exercise must be afforded. The hon. and gallant Member concluded by asking the Secretary of State for War whether any Correspondence has passed between the War Office and the Treasury, or any other department of the Govern- ment, respecting the omission from the Army Estimates of the usual Vote for the annual training of the Yeomanry Cavalry; and, if so, whether he has any objection to produce such Correspondence?


believed that an impression prevailed that the Yeomanry Corps were being looked upon with disfavour by the Government since the commencement of the Rifle Corps movement. He had nothing to say against the Rifle Corps, but thought the Yeomanry were entitled to a more definite answer than had been given to the question asked of the Government on their behalf. All he asked at present of the Government was, that if they had come to the conclusion that no Yeomanry Corps ought any longer to receive pay, fairly to state the fact.