HC Deb 31 May 1860 vol 158 cc1795-803

said, he rose to call attention to the effect of selection of Lieutenant-colonels of Regiments upon the relative positions of the Guards and Line in cases of Exchange; and to ask, Whether the grade of salaried full Colonels might not be abolished (as regards the future) without disadvantage, and so as to effect a considerable saving; whether Aide-de-Camps are subjected to adequate examination (as in a certain foreign service), and whether they have regimental pay when not on regimental duties; whether there is any ground for a difference between Guards and Line as to the necessity of certain officers going on half-pay before they can go on the Staff; and whether it is true that any Guards' Officers have as much as eight months' leave for the year? It appeared to him that such a system of selection, as the first part of his question referred to, would inevitably lead to difficulties and complications. It was in the power of an officer in the Guards, by exchange, to acquire the position of the selected officer in the Line, without any guarantee being afforded that he was fit to discharge the duties of so responsible a post. There were a great many Lieutenant-colonels in the Guards; and this was, therefore, a very important question. The next point related to the abolition of the salaried Colonelcies. The manner in which one of these places had recently been filled up was universally held to be so indefensible, that it had excited suspicion as to the propriety of maintaining these sine- cures. It was understood that they were intended as rewards to be conferred on Officers for distinguished military services, and as such were justifiable, although he thought the reward might be bestowed in a more direct and satisfactory manner; but no excuse could be offered for the appointment which had just been made, and which could be characterized only as a most iniquitous job. His next question was as to the examination of Aides-de-Camp. This class of Officers enjoyed very high pay, and important duties, and he thought they should be required to pass through the Stall College. His next Question was, Whether it was true that Officers of the Guards had eight months' leave of absence in the year? The expense of maintaining the Guards was very considerable. There was a Colonel-in-Chief of the Grenadier Guards with £2,200 a year; another for the Coldstreams with £2,000; and another for the Fusileers with the same pay. He was satisfied that on the three regiments of Guards alone as much money could be saved, without any difficulty, as would provide Her Majesty with more than one complete regiment of the Line. The extra allowances of the Guards were very large, in comparison with those of the Line, and might well be reduced. He was told that, by some sort of underhand arrangement, it was possible for an Officer in the Guards to obtain leave for eight months in the year; and as the rule was that after five years' service he became a Colonel, he might attain that position by actual service for only twenty months. He wished to know whether that report was true?


My object in rising is to call on those hon. Members who have expressed the opinion that these Estimates are extravagant to come forward and state upon what grounds they consider them to be extravagant; and I especially address myself to the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer and to the hon. Member for Birmingham, if they happen to be in their places, because the right hon. Gentleman, in introducing his Budget, spoke of them as enormous, though he trusted only temporary, and the hon. Member for Birmingham has been going through the country denouncing them as extravagant and useless. I invite all hon. Members who agree with the hon. Member for Birmingham who may be here to come forward and state the grounds on which they consider them extravagant, and how they propose to reduce them. For my own part, I have no hopes whatever that a reduction of expenditure can be accomplished by a reduction in these Estimates. There is one point on which we should all be perfectly agreed, and that is that it would be a great advantage if it were possible to fix some permanent peace establishment, which would not be subject to these sudden augmentations and reductions, and squaring of the Estimates, which are not only detrimental to the service, but must always lead to great uncertainty as to the amount of money to be voted and variation in the Estimates. By the peace establishment I mean the number of men necessary to perform the ordinary duties of the army in time of peace, including the garrisons and colonies abroad, and sufficient to protect this country from any attack that would be made upon it. I am aware that the House of Commons labours under a great difficulty in forming a correct opinion upon the subject, because they are not yet in possession of the same information which the Government and the highest military authorities possess. I might have had some hesitation in alluding to the confidential Report of the Secret Committee appointed by the late Government, to which I belonged, if two of the Members of that Committee had not been examined before the Organization of the Army Committee — namely, his Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief and Sir John Burgoyne. I know that I am not in order in referring to evidence which is not before the House; but, as it is shortly to be presented, it would be affectation in me to pretend ignorance of the fact that it is the opinion of the highest military authorities that there is not a sufficient amount of regular forces in the country, and that every means should be taken to increase it; and I take it for granted that the present Government coincide in that opinion, because they immediately proceeded, without waiting for the authority of Parliament, to augment the army by the addition of 6,456 men, raising the total amount of Her Majesty's forces from 229,356 to 235,852. In addition they proposed an army of reserve of 20,000, of which we have heard very little. This augmentation had no reference whatever to the requirements of India, because at that time a large number of men were returning from the East. The number of men on the Indian establishment last year was 92,490, and I have on a former occasion pointed out that it is a far larger number than any one could anticipate the Indian Government would require or could be prepared to pay for during the whole of the financial year. Neither could the augmentation have any reference to the war with China, because with the exception of one battery of Artillery and one regiment of the Line, all the troops in China have proceeded from India, and have been transferred from the Indian establishment. There are also 4,600 Native troops in China, who are not included in the troops voted by Parliament, and will be an additional augmentation of our army. There is no provision for them in these Estimates, but they will be paid, I presume, out of the China Vote of credit of £500,000, which is supposed to be sufficient to cover the whole expenses of the Chinese war. I think I am justified, therefore, in saying that the Government must be of opinion that an addition to the regular army is required for the proper defence of the country; and, indeed, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War, in his able speech in introducing the Estimates, fully succeeded in proving by comparison with the armies of other countries, and the proportion of troops to population, and considering the duties that they had to perform, that the number he asked was extremely moderate. He also proved, and I think very clearly, that the addition he proposed to the Engineers would be actually an act of economy. Then comes the squaring of the Estimates to which I have alluded, which was rendered necessary by the introduction of the Budget before the Estimates were voted, a proceeding which has rendered the revised Estimates, not the Estimates of the Secretary for War, but of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The proposed augmentation of 6,456 men vanishes, and the total number is reduced below what was voted for the previous year; that is to say, that instead of a larger number, the total number is less than it was last year. [Mr. SIDNEY HERBERT: Not less than last year.] Yes, upon the whole army. We have got an additional provision for pay and allowances of £257,000, equal to the pay of 8,500 men; although I shall show there is only a nominal increase of 1,900; and of those 1,900, not one more will be available for the defence of this country than last year. They were all present in this country before in depôts of the regiments in India. The only difference is, that they are transferred from the Indian to the British establishment; and we have to pay for them, instead of the Indian Government. I am perfectly satisfied that this re-adjustment of the account for pay and allowances was necessary; otherwise there would have been, as I pointed out when the first Estimates were laid upon the table, a large excess upon these Votes. Then there is the embodied Militia—and I quite agree that it is necessary to take all the Votes together. There is £320,000 for the embodied Militia, or pay and allowances for 10,000 men. The return of the British regimental establishment for 1860–1, of ail ranks, exclusive of the Staff, shows 140,000; so that together there are pay and allowances for 150,000 men. On the 1st of April last the return of the number of effectives on the British regimental establishments, and of embodied Militia, was 153,195; or 3,195 in excess of the number voted by Parliament. I know that that excess may be met by the disembodiment of Militia, but you of course reduce in proportion the number of men you have hitherto thought necessary to keep in this country, and unless the Indian revenue bears the expenses of a larger number of men than is fixed for their establishment, which I do not think they are likely to do if they can help it, you will have an excess upon the Vote for the regular army. You have got, as I have said, upon that Vote money for 140,000 men exclusive of the Staff—you have deducted the pay and allowances of 4,000—from the 145,269 as pay of men wanting to complete the establishment, but they are only wanting because they have not yet been transferred from the Indian establishment. They are all raised, and on the 1st of April, instead of men being wanted to complete, there was an excess upon the numbers voted by Parliament in the whole army— namely, effectives in British Establishment 133,962; Indian Establishment 94,829; Staff 1,121; total 229,912, against the number voted 228,854, or an excess of 1,098. Now, I am not finding fault with the number of men you have provided for. I think 150,000, exclusive of the Staff, would be sufficient for the British Establishment, although it would not supply the number of men considered by the military authorities, to whom I have alluded, as necessary for the defence of the country. The amount of regular troops necessary for the defence of the country must always depend upon the amount and efficiency of the Militia and Volunteers, who must be looked upon as the Reserve. Now, it was my opinion from my first entering office, that the Militia, as at presented constituted, is a very expensive and, comparatively speaking, very inefficient force. The quota of the regiments are no indication whatever of the real strength that might be relied upon; and I think further, that twenty or twenty-eight days' training in a year is not sufficient to make them soldiers; it would be quite sufficient in the case of those regiments who have been embodied, and who have only to practise what they already have acquired, but I believe the larger portion of the Militia have only lately been supplied with the Enfield Rifle, and that many of the regiments have never had an opportunity of learning the use of them. Now I quite agree with the Secretary of State that the Militia should be what it is intended to be, an army of reserve, and not to be embodied in time of peace, unless under very particular circumstances; but I think that if one-third of the Militia were sent every year to the camps of instruction, and kept out for a much longer period than the usual time of training, then the ordinary period of training for the next two years would be all that is necessary. Now do not let it be for a moment supposed that I am underrating the services of the Militia, or underrating the services they have performed to the country. Without the Militia we should have been unable, in my opinion, to put an end to the Indian mutiny, as a sufficient number of regular troops could not have been spared if the Militia had not supplied their places, and also supplied their ranks by the number of volunteers they furnished to them. I must also bear testimony to the efficiency which these regiments attained, rendering them equal to regiments of the Line, and it is because I wish to see the numbers of the Militia kept up, and more opportunities given them of becoming efficient when not embodied, that I make these remarks. I appointed a Royal Commission to inquire into the organization of the Militia, which had not reported when I quitted office; but I trust that upon their recommendations the Secretary at War will be able to make great improvements. I have to congratulate the Secretary of State on the success of the Volunteer movement, and I am sure that every Englishman must look with pride and satisfaction to the magnificent army that is growing up for the defence of the country, composed of men whose zeal, assiduity, and intelligence, will speedily secure their efficiency. Still I trust that the Volunteers will ever be looked upon as auxiliaries to and not substitutes for a regular army, and that constitutional army of reserve—the Militia. There is another force also to which I think the country is greatly indebted, and which I sincerely regret it is not proposed to call out for training during the present year, I mean the Yeomanry, to which my hon. Friend (Major Edwards) has called attention. I fear that our not doing so will interfere with the power of officers to keep up their numbers, and must also interfere with their efficiency. If the period of drill given to the Militia is not sufficient to form an infantry soldier, still less is that accorded to the Yeomanry sufficient to make a cavalry one; and unless you keep up these corps, to at all events a certain standard of efficiency, you had better abandon them altogether. You are only going to useless expense in maintaining them. Now in stating that I consider the number of men to be voted for the regular army sufficient to perform the duties required from it in time of peace, I am making ample allowance for the assistance that is to be expected from all these forces in defending the country. The number of the regular army in this country will still fall far short of those considered necessary by the military authorities I alluded to, and are only sufficient to perform those duties which none of these other troops can be called upon to do. The system of relief laid down as necessary for our regiments on foreign service has never been able to be carried into effect, and one of the greatest boons and benefits that ever was promised to the British army has been hitherto unavoidably denied to them. It was laid down that for every ten years' of foreign service, each regiment should have five years at home—but what has been the practical result? I take regiments without any selection whatever, and by mere accident I met an officer belonging to a depot battalion, and asked him to give mo the period of services, at home and abroad, of the regiments composing it; and this is the result. The 1st Battalion of the 1st Foot had served 24 abroad and 6 years and 8 months at home. The 1st Battalion of the 6th Foot had served 33 years and 8 months abroad and 5 years at home. The 54th Foot, 34 years and 3 months abroad and 6 years and 5 months at home. The 56th, 40 years and 10 months abroad and 11 years and 11 months at home. The 66th, 26 years and 7 months abroad and 13 years and 2 months at home. The 88th, 26 years and 9 months abroad and 8 years and 9 months at home. It appears by this that only one regiment out of the six I have referred to has been at home one-third of its time. I think I have stated sufficient to show that there is no hope of any reduction being made in these Estimates dependent upon a corresponding reduction in the number of men. On the contrary, there is an element which will create a great increase in the expenditure which does not appear in the Estimates. With regard to the Votes themselves, that for the Volunteer Corps it is quite evident must be increased. The sum set down this year towards the payment of their expenses is only £15,000. Clearly, you will have to take a much larger sum next year. I think that you must also provide for calling out the Yeomanry next year on permanent duty. You have saved some £40,000 by not calling them out this year. Although you propose by the Estimates to increase the number of men, you have reduced the Vote for clothing by £18,000. This is owing to a God send of £233,000 due from the Indian treasury for clothing furnished and paid for out of last year's Estimates. With regard to the barrack accommodation there is no probability of any diminution being made in the Vote under that head. We are building new barracks in Chelsea, in Nottingham, and in Glasgow. In future years, instead of a diminution of expenditure under this head, I think there will be rather an increase of it for the purchase of adequate sites for those buildings. With regard to the fortification Votes, it is perfectly impossible to say what the expense in that particular will be until all the plans are before yon. Any addition to this Vote for fortifications must naturally lead to a large increase in other Votes. You cannot have fortifications without men to occupy them, guns to mount on them, ammunition, stores, &c. All these considerations have I nothing to do with party questions, and my only motive for calling the attention of the House to them is, that we should fully understand what is the exact amount of defence for the country which is proposed by the Government. With regard to the Motion of which notice has been given by my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire (Mr. Adderley), I am of opinion that it is much too important a question to be discussed incidentally in a debate on the Army Estimates. I hope, therefore, that it will be brought on separately in the shape of a substantive Motion for a Committee to inquire into the subject.