HC Deb 14 May 1863 vol 170 cc1693-702

Order for Second Reading read.

SIR GEORGE GREY moved the second reading of the Bill.


I expressed on a former occasion my regret that the present Bill had not been laid upon the table previous to the Vote for the grant for the Volunteers, as many of my objections to that Vote would have been much modified by the perusal of the provisions of this Bill. One, for instance, which I think was greatly misunderstood by hon. Members on the opposite benches, was, that in cases of popular tumult, the defence of their arms could not, under the then state of the law, be intrusted to the Volunteers. Under the provisions of this Bill I find that this objection is met in a satisfactory manner. I think the Bill requires, and no doubt will receive ample discussion, as it deals with many important points. The provisions for compulsory taking of land for rifle ranges and training grounds, for instance, will require careful examination. There can be, however, but one wish on the part of every Member of the House, that the organization of the force to which it relates, now that it has taken its place permanently as a part of the military force of the country, should he raised to the highest point of efficiency. I cannot leave the subject without expressing, as I have upon all other occasions upon which it has been mooted, my sense of the debt of gratitude which the country owes to the Volunteers, whose spirit, energy, and patriotism have completely altered the opinion formerly entertained by continental nations of the want of military spirit on the part of the English people. They have shown that they are the true descendants of those who, in the beginning of this century, rose as one man to repel the threatened invasion of the first Napoleon, and demonstrated to every military intellect that henceforward the idea that England can he successfully invaded is an idle dream.

THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON (who had just entered the House)

said, he owed an apology to the House for not having been in his place to move the second reading of the Bill. The cause of his absence was, that he did not expect that the measure would be reached at so early an hour of the evening. He did not intend to enter into the political causes which had led to the first rise of the Volunteer movement. It was sufficient, for his purpose, to say, that in the spring of 1859, owing to those political causes, several corps offered their services to the Government, and were accepted, under the provisions of the 44 Geo. III. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huntingdon (General Peel), who was then in office, at once accepted the services of the corps thus offered, and expressed his willingness to give them every assistance in his power. When the present Government came into office, they found thirteen of those corps established, eleven of them having been formed under the new regulations, and two of them having existed for some years previously. At the same time the spirit of volunteering had become very extensive throughout the country, and offers of the services of corps were arriving almost every day for acceptance of the Government. The conditions under which their services wore at that time accepted were these:—They offered their services, neither receiving pay nor any form of assistance from the Government. Their services were perfectly gratuitous, neither receiving arms nor ammunition. The first step the late Lord Herbert took towards granting them assistance was to offer to supply to the corps from 15 to 25 per cent of the rifles and the ammunition they required. The noble Lord, however, very shortly found that so much inconvenience would arise, particularly in active service, from the want of uniformity in the pattern of the rifles supplied by the Government and those which were furnished by the Volunteers themselves, that it was determined by the Government to issue from their own stores the whole of the rifles required by the Volunteers. The noble Lord had also extended the organization, which had hitherto only contemplated the formation of companies, by forming, wherever it was practicable, battalions containing several companies. The next step was to provide those battalions with the assistance of adjutants, as it was found quite impossible for the corps themselves, even if they had the means, to obtain, without the assistance of the Government, the services of gentlemen competent to instruct them as soldiers. The noble Lord also instituted what was called the administrative organization, which united under one administration disjointed and scattered corps, whoso headquarters were at a distance from each other. By that means they were enabled to reap the benefit of practising their drill together at certain times, and the then Secretary of State was able to secure for them the services of an adjutant to attend and instruct each of those scattered corps. The only addition made since the appointment of adjutants to the assistance rendered by the Government was at the end of last year, when the Secretary of State provided, at the public expense, sergeant instructors for the instruction of Volunteers in drill. That arrangement was found necessary for the same reason as induced the Government to supply them with adjutants—namely, that the corps themselves could not provide such instructors.

This, then, was the position of the Government, with regard to the Volunteers, at the commencement of the year; they afforded them no pecuniary assistance, but simply provided them with that which was necessary to secure their efficiency. They gave them rifles, because it was necessary that they should all have arms of the same pattern, and they gave them the assistance of a sergeant instructor, because they could not be supplied in any other way. Last year, in consequence of representations made to the Government, a Commission was appointed, to inquire into the state of the Volunteer force, and the Report of that Commission was before the House, and had probably been read by many hon. Members. That Report stated, that not owing to any diminution of the Volunteer spirit—not owing to any want of spirit amongst the men, but entirely owing to the fact that a larger sum than had been expected was necessary to meet the incidental expenses of the corps, and the heavy expenses which were about to fall upon the men for renewing their clothing, it was to be feared, that unless some further assistance were rendered by the Government, a very serious diminution in the strength of the Volunteer force would occur. The recommendations of the Committee were before the House; and the principle having been already affirmed by the House that the Government should give some further assistance to the force, the late Secretary for War, in moving the Army Estimates, proposed an additional Vote of £198,000 for the Volunteer corps beyond the sum voted the year before. The Committee passed that Vote with little observation. He believed it was the almost universal opinion of hon. Members that it was right and proper that the Government should do something for men who had offered their valuable time and services gratuitously to the country. The Government having proposed to give additional pecuniary assistance to the Volunteers, it became necessary for the War Department to institute some further measures to secure the proper application of the grant. Some new regulations therefore became necessary, which involved in some respects an alteration of the law. At the same time, it was thought that that would be a good opportunity to consolidate the Acts of Parliament under which the Volunteer movement had been conducted, and hence the necessity for the Bill before the House.

He would shortly explain the principal points on which the Bill proposed to alter the existing law in regard to Volunteers. The first essential alteration of the law was with regard to the position of the permanent staff. In the old Act there was no express provision for the permanent staff. The sergeant instructors were therefore enrolled as Volunteers, an arrangement which enabled them, if they pleased, to quit the service upon giving fourteen days' notice. It was proposed to attest the sergeants of the permanent staff in the same manner as those of the militia, for a period not exceeding five years. Under the old act, the sergeants of the permanent staff, being in receipt of pay from Her Majesty's Government, were nominally placed under the Mutiny Act. The opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown was, however, taken on the point in reference to a case that arose, and it was found that the provisions of the old Act, under which (hose sergeants were enrolled, were so complicated, by reason of various regulations for the army, the militia, and Volunteers, that in the event of a prosecution it would be impossible to procure a conviction. It was therefore provided by a clause in the Bill that a court should be established by which, in case of necessity, sergeants of the permanent staff could be tried. That court would consist of five members of the permanent staff of the county, with the adjutant, and it would be presided over by a field officer of the Volunteer force.

The next essential alteration proposed was that relating to the subject of efficiency. The old Act provided that a Volunteer should be considered effective by performing a certain number of drills in the course of the year. By the Bill it was proposed to diminish the number of drills, but that each man should show a certain amount of proficiency in military exercises, in order to enable him to receive a share of the grant voted by Parliament. The old Act contained a definition of the standard of effectiveness, but it was not considered necessary to embody in the Bill the various rules upon the subject, but merely to enable Her Majesty in Council to decide upon the conditions; and in order that Parliament might have proper control, the Order in Council should be laid upon the table of the House for a month before it would have any effect. Another essential alteration in the law was that which gave a legislative sanction to the administrative organization which hitherto only existed under War Office regulations. It was proposed to give to that organization legislative sanction, to place the adjutant and all the members of the staff in each administrative organization directly under the control of the commanding officer of the battalion, and not, as at present, subject to the control of each commanding officer in the battalion.

He was not able to enter so fully as he could wish into details; for unfortunately, not expecting the subject to come on at so early an hour, he was not provided with the papers to which he wanted to refer. He would state, however, for the information of hon. Members connected with the Volunteer force, the conditions upon which the Government proposed to distribute the sum of money which had been voted by Parliament for the Volunteer force. Those conditions embodied in substance the recommendations of the Commission. It was proposed to give to every man of the Light Horse, Engineer, and Rifle Volunteers, who should come up to the prescribed standard of efficiency, 20s. a year; and it was further proposed, if he could go through the prescribed course of ball practice, to give him 10s. in addition. It was proposed to give to the Artillery Volunteer 20s. a year, who should attain a certain standard of efficiency, and for certain other acquirements 10s. a year more. For that year, however, as heavy expenses would fall upon the force, and as the regulations with respect to efficiency would not come into operation until the end of the year, it was proposed as a temporary arrangement, to advance every corps, except the Artillery, a sum of money equal to 15s. for every effective upon the returns of last year, and for every Artillery Volunteer 20s. That arrangement would leave the Government a surplus in hand of the money voted by Parliament. The accounts of every regiment would be balanced in a return made every year. In regard to the standard of efficiency, some trifling alterations would be made which were based upon the recommendations of the Commission. He should have referred to one important feature, which had been alluded to by the noble Lord opposite (Lord Lovaine), a feature which had been embodied in the Bill. The Act which was passed at the instance of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Selwyn) gave the Volunteers facilities for acquiring lands for the purposes of drill and ball practice. That Act was embodied in the Bill, and they had also added some further privileges, and fur this reason—that it was now proposed to require that all Volunteers who received a share of the Government grant should show that they had attained a certain efficiency in ball practice. He was happy to inform the House that the Inspector General of the Volunteers had reported that body to be in a most satisfactory state of efficiency. The number of the force had not sensibly diminished, but it was feared, that unless the Government came forward to assist them, it would shortly fall away. The total number of Volunteers in the United Kingdom was about 159,000; and he was sure, when they heard of such feats as those which had been performed the other day at Brighton—feats that had elicited the highest encomiums from a most experienced and distinguished officer, who was not supposed to be particularly liberal in that respect—they need be under no apprehension of the force suffering from any laxity of discipline. In that force he believed there was a body of men well fitted for the object for which they came into existence, the only object for which a Volunteer force should ever be required. Military men say that we have not acquired much additional information upon any scientific point in the art of war from the contest now raging in the United States; but he thought there was one exception to that remark—from that war we might learn very many useful things in connection with the services of Volunteers. The army of the North, which seemed to be imperfect in discipline, and which was wanting in esprit de corps, had not been found efficient in aggressive war- fare; but the army of the Southern States was composed of men animated by very much the same feeling, and drawn from the same class as our Volunteer force. To that Southern army our Volunteers were, he felt persuaded, superior in physical appearance and strength; in discipline and epuipment, too, they were superior; while he could not bring himself to believe that they were inferior in courage; and hon. Members had seen how the Southern army, which corresponded in so many essential particulars with our force, had fought in resisting the attacks of the invader. If, then, the soil of England should be invaded—and it was only in that event that it was contemplated the services of the Volunteers should be called into action against an enemy—we had at our command over 150,000 men as efficient for the purposes of defence as any army which could be called into the field. In conclusion, he might observe that Government claimed no merit for having originated the Volunteer movement. The movement was entirely the spontaneous effort of the English people, fostered, encouraged, and brought to perfection by the exertions of such men as his noble Friend the Commander of the London Scottish (Lord Elcho). What the Government did claim credit for was, that they had done nothing to cool or impede the spirit of the Volunteers; but, on the contrary, had afforded them every facility in their power to promote their efficiency and their usefulness.


said, he had not yet had an opportunity of reading the Bill; but, from all that had fallen from the lips of the noble Marquess the Under Secretary of State for War, he felt convinced that the Bill introduced by the Government would be favourably received by the rifle corps generally, and by the country at large. Now that that institution was acknowledged to be one of the great institutions of the country, now the rifle corps was to become a contingent of the regular army, he should cheerfully vote for the second reading of the Bill. But at the same time he must say there might be many provisions in it which might be discussed in Committee and advantageously modified. On a recent occasion—on the occasion of the wedding of their illustrious Prince—the Yeomanry and the Rifle Volunteers were in many parts of the country called out together, and a question of precedence as to the rank of the officers arose, which it was feared might have caused some jealousy between the parties. But the Bill, as explained by the noble Marquess, he was glad to learn, would set that question at rest. The position of the Yeomanry was next to the militia in order of rank amongst the domestic forces of the Empire; and when on duty, they received regular pay and were equally amenable to the Articles of War under the Mutiny Act with the regular army, and at the disposal of the Commander-in-Chief on any emergency in support of the civil power or for other duties. Up to the present moment the services of the Volunteer corps were only available in the event of invasion; but he was happy to learn that it was contemplated in the Bill before the House to place them on the same footing as the Yeomanry Cavalry. As far as he could understand, they would in future be equally liable with the Yeomanry to be assembled for duty by the Commander-in-Chief, at the request of the Lord Lieutenant, to support the civil power in the suppression of riots; and, under the circumstances, there could be little ground for jealousy with regard to precedence of officers of equal rank, as that would be settled by the date of their gazette. Having felt the deepest interest in the Volunteer rifles ever since the organization of that force, he thought the country was under great obligation to certain noble Lords and Gentlemen in that House and elsewhere who had taken so active a part in promoting the object which had produced such an effect, not only in our own country but in foreign countries, that in all probability they had been saved from a danger which not long ago was supposed to have threatened. With 150,000 Volunteer riflemen—which might be trebled in number on any emergency — together with the regular and irregular forces of the country.—well armed, well drilled, and well disciplined—they might bid defiance to the world. He would not trouble the House further, as he merely rose to express his entire concurrence in the Bill as explained by the noble Marquess, and a hope that if it contained weak points, they would he removed or strengthened in Committee.


said, he could not but complain of the conduct of the Government in refusing to extend the Volunteer system to Ireland. During the war with Napoleon, Volunteer corps were formed in that country, and to refuse to her the permission to raise similar corps now for the purposes of defence was to offer an offence to the Irish people. He should in Committee on the Bill take the sense of the House on the question.


said, he wished to call attention to one clause of the Bill. They all agreed, he thought, that the Volunteer force should be a real Volunteer force—that nothing should be done that should in any way militate against the feelings of those who believed they were devoting themselves and their time, which was money, to the service of the country. Up to that time every Volunteer corps had framed its own regulations, and then submitted them for the approval of the Secretary of State; but by the operation of the Bill under discussion those rules would, so far as he understood, emanate in future from the Secretary of State in the first instance, which was a very different thing. The alteration was one which he did not think it would be well to introduce, as he believed that a stereotyped set of regulations would be very unpopular among the Volunteers.


said, he could not agree that individual corps should have the formation of their rules and regulations. On the contrary, he was of opinion that the Government acted wisely in proposing to have a code drawn up for the guidance of the Volunteers. He, for one, had always looked upon those corps as constituting a most valuable force. He did not, however, look upon efficiency in drill as the great object. The great object was numbers. They had sown the dragon's teeth, which would shoot up in arms if the country were invaded. Instead of 150,000 men, he should like to see a million men enrolled as Volunteers. It was important that the House should know what was to be the cost of the force, and what time of drill was to be required. He had heard officers of cavalry corps complain that the thirty days required of them was too much and comparing it with the attendance required from Militia or Yeomanry corps, it did seem too much. He was also anxious to know whether Volunteer corps were to be subject to military law at all times, or only when they were called out in case of Invasion; and what was to be the rule as to the command when Volunteers and regular troops were serving together. He entirely agreed with the remarks which had been made by the hon. and gallant Member for Roscommon, and contended that if the Government thought that the people of Ireland were unfit to be trusted with arms, they ought to give them some equivalent by increasing the efficiency of the militia, or in some other way.

Bill read 2°, and committed for Monday next.