HC Deb 03 March 1864 vol 173 cc1376-88

rose to move— That the discontinuance in the present year of the assembling of the yeomanry cavalry for the accustomed period of six days' training on permanent duty would be detrimental to the efficiency of the force, and contrary to the recommendation of the Committee appointed by Lord Herbert in the year 1861, and is inexpedient, and said—Sir, I rise to bring forward the Motion of which I have given notice, and must say that I do so with some little feeling of delicacy, considering that there are on both sides of the House officers senior to myself, who would have dealt with the question much more efficiently than I am able to do; but, as far as I can see, the whole subject lies in a nut-shell, and I expect there will be very little difficulty in explaining to the House the view I entertain of the question. In the first place, I wish to express in the strongest terms my indignant protest against this pitiful economy on the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and in passing simply say this—that it is not my opinion only, but the opinion of a large majority of hon. Members, that the manned in which he is about to deal with the yeomanry cavalry is of his own seeking; and the rest of the Government, or, at all events, a majority of her Majesty's Ministers, are opposed to it. That is my own surmise. Still, I venture to say it is the impression of nearly the whole of the House of Commons. Sir, I wish to express my indignation at the Chancellor of the Exchequer this year declining to call out the yeomanry for its annual period of eight days' training, and this, too, in the face of a contemplated large surplus. And what is the result of that reduction in the Estimates? "Why, it amounts to the trumpery sum of six-and-forty thousand pounds, or, to give the exact figures, to £46,276—a mere drop in the ocean, beneath the consideration of the House of Commons under all the circumstances. Sir, it may be said by Members of the House that I am an interested party. Well, Sir, I will not deny that I am interested as an Englishman and a Member of the House of Commons. I am also interested as the commandant of a regiment that has done some good service to the country, having received the thanks of the Government, at all events, on one memorable occasion; and I consider that I am also interested in the manner in which the yeomanry force of England is in future to be maintained. The colonels of the yeomanry regiments have a responsibility which can scarcely be overrated. I have seen letters, within the last few days, from a great number of field officers, and especially colonels of regiments, disapproving of the step of the Government. I trust I may have credit for sincerity in reiterating my conviction, that it will be contrary to the wishes and welfare of the whole of the corps. Sir, I feel the deepest interest in the force admitted by our best general officers to be an efficient auxiliary to the regular army. It has been admitted over and over again by a distinguished officer, the late Secretary for War, who I am always proud to see in his place on this side of the House, and also by Major General Sir James Chatter-ton, who himself has inspected sixty-nine regiments, that the yeomanry cavalry, as a body, performed the duties required of them in a most satisfactory manner. Then, Sir, it seems that some credit is due to that force of which I am such a humble member. It is a question whether the yeomanry cavalry is of any use or no use at all. If it is of no use, disband it at once; but if it is of any value as an institution of this country, as a domestic force of our own, in aid of the civil power and for other important duties, for heaven's sake do not attempt to disable and discourage it, and impair its efficiency in the way you now propose, but give it a fair chance of keeping up the credit it has always maintained in England and out of England. If it is of use, why select this time to discourage it, when every power in Europe is engaged in military preparations on a gigantic scale, and trembling at the threatened earthquake of war; we see almost every nation on the face of the globe bristling with arms; when we see France and Russia, and Prussia, Austria, and Italy, in fact every country in the world, prepared at any moment should a blunder occur, which is very probable, on the part of our Foreign Secretary—for he has not made very few mistakes in the short period he has been in office— when a slight mistake of our Foreign Secretary might plunge the whole of Europe in war, and create such a flame as would take half a century to extinguish. Why, it was only the other day our little army of regulars was reported to have been under orders for Denmark. In such an event, I ask, what strength have you left to rely upon at home for the preservation of order. This is the position in which we are placed now, when we talk about reducing our army and navy and domestic forces—one of our domestic forces at any rate. This, I repeat, I attribute entirely to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who seems to delight in neglecting and disparaging the yeomanry. Not long ago, to effect a miserable saving of expense, it was considered necessary that the officers of the yeomanry should be mulcted of their wretched pay, and this was actually done for one year; but it produced such an impression of disgust amongst the officers of the force, that a meeting was held at a nobleman's house in London, and a committee appointed as a deputation, of which I was one, to represent the case to the War Office. We had a long interview with Lord Herbert, but produced no impression. Not satisfied, we made an appeal to the Law Officers of the Crown; they gave an opinion in our favour, and we compelled the Chancellor of the Exchequer to disgorge every shilling that he had so misappropriated. That is the secret of the punishment which we are about to suffer at his hands. But there is another reason. The money needlessly wasted on the Crawley trial by having the court-martial held in England will cost the country something. Probably the Chancellor of the Exchequer may have had that payment in his eye when he made up his mind to snub the yeomanry. If report speaks true, the saving will about cover the cost of that trial. But I complain bitterly of this feeling on the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which he has shown on so many previous occasions, when he has an opportunity of giving the yeomanry a kick. Now, I yield to no man in the country in appreciation of that magnificent force, the Rifle Volunteers, who have become, I trust, a permanent institution of the country. In my own district, I may venture to say that no man has exerted himself more in co-operating with others to establish regiments than I have, and I am happy to say that we have succeeded, and I feel a great pride in witnessing and bearing testimony to their zeal and efficiency. The Rifle Volunteers, or I may now call them the national guard of the country, have in their ranks 150,000 men, the nucleus of a large army for the defence of this country — such an army as we had in 1803 and 1804—when I believe the Volunteers numbered 400,000. Well; it is in times like these that we ought to have such an army to depend upon; and my own impression is, that if they had not been in existence, if that magnificent institution had not been formed, we should not have been on terms of peace, at this moment at all events, with one of our nearest neighbours and allies. Whilst I thus bear testimony to the national value of the Rifle Volunteers, I do not see why the yeomanry cavalry of this country, the older institution of the two, should be met with kicks from the Government at every corner. Is it right, considering that they have always done their duty when called upon, that they should receive such treatment at their hands, when they are prepared at all times to act for the purpose of keeping order in the country? The Rifle Volunteers, as at present constituted, are for the defence of the country from invasion; but it seems our gallant yeomanry force of 14,000 men must be treated like Denmark, and driven out of the field, in order to cull a little popularity in the manufacturing districts. Sir, I was speaking not long ago on the responsibilities of colonels of regiments throughout the country, but more particularly in the manufacturing districts, where we all know that tumults arise occasionally and that we have not always had a sufficient force to protect property and keep order. I would instance the memorable riots in the North of England in 1842. Upon the yeomanry cavalry you may always rely; and if you attempt to get rid of this force, which appears to be the wish of one or two Gentlemen on the Treasury bench, I think the country may have reason to regret it. I would repel such an attempt with indignation, as being unwise and impolitic. The ungracious and gratuitous attempt made by Colonel M'Murdo, who has ever shown a hostile and jealous feeling towards the yeomanry, to substitute mounted volunteers for the old constitutional domestic force, utterly failed as to numbers; and up to this moment they do not amount to one tenth of the latter, the proportion being, I believe, as 1,200 to 14,000 men and upwards—besides the fact of this new subsidiary force being utterly unavailable, except in the event of invasion. I rest my case on the Report of the Committee appointed in the year 1861, by the late Lord Herbert, to inquire into the present organization and establishment of the yeomanry. That Report is a document of great importance, and I will now proceed to read to the House one or two of its paragraphs. I find in it the following statement on the subject of the comparative position and relation of the mounted Volunteer corps to the yeomanry:— We find that a yeoman is at all times liable to be called out in aid of the civil power, and, further, to perform escort duty at the shortest notice. A mounted volunteer is exempt from these services, and is not liable to be taken away from his home, even for a day. A yeoman, on the other hand, is not only liable to hold himself and horse in constant readiness for service throughout the entire year, but in addition to attending drill in his own vicinity (as the mounted volunteer does), he is bound to leave his home and avocations for eight consecutive days in every year for the purpose of being instructed in regimental movements, when, as already stated, he receives only sufficient pay to cover his necessary outlay. It contains another important paragraph in reference to the question of permanent duty. That paragraph is as follows:— As regards the present system of training for six consecutive days (exclusive of marching days), as compared with fewer day's permanent duty and a larger amount of troop drills, the evidence we have taken shows that any diminution of the period of permanent duty would be detrimental to the efficiency of the force. We do not, therefore, recommend any reduction of the number of days usually devoted to this duty. We consider the assembly of regiments upon permanent duty so essential to the efficiency of the force, that we recommend that they should invariably be called out for this duty, in preference to assembling them for exercise under the Act of 44 Geo. III., c. 64. I will now read the concluding paragraph, which is, in my opinion, deserving of special consideration; and as the appointment of the Committee was a measure adopted by the War Office, and as Lord: Herbert himself nominated its Members, it ought to have special weight with hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House. In their concluding paragraph the Committee state:— We cannot conclude our Report without adverting to the circumstance of the yeomanry force having from year to year maintained its numbers. we are confident that the country may rely upon a continuance of the loyalty and zeal of the members of this force to keep the ranks effective with horses as well as men; and we are satisfied that they will not only, as heretofore, prove equal to the duties required of them in times of disturbance, but also be found a valuable auxiliary to Her Majesty's regular forces for national defence. After such a testimony to the value of the yeomanry, I believe that if Lord Herbert were now alive he, at all events, would never sanction this attempt to disparage that corps on the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I now make one last appeal to hon. Members on both sides of the House. You must recollect that the whole of this Vote does not amount to more than £46,000; and, in justice to the yeomanry of England, in justice to the field officers placed in command of that force, whose responsibility is so serious, and in justice to the Committee which inquired into the subject, I ask you not to run the risk of impairing the efficiency of such a valuable element in our means of national defence by withholding that amount. I was very much astonished the other day at receiving a copy of a circular addressed by the War Office to the Lord Lieutenant of the county with which I am connected, as well as to the other Lord Lieutenants of counties throughout the country generally. That circular is as follows:— My Lord,—I have the honour to acquaint your Lordship that the corps of yeomanry in the Riding under your Lordship's charge will not be called out, either for permanent duty or for training and exercise, during the year 1864–5, Her Majesty's Government being of opinion that, as the force generally is in a high state of efficiency, such services may be dispensed with for the period in question.—I have the honour to be, my Lord, your Lordship's most obedient humble servant, DEGREY AND RIPON. That is to say, in other words, that because we have accomplished a most desirable object, we must abandon the means by which it has been attained. That is adding insult to injury. I again implore the House to do justice to a corps which so well deserves justice at their hands. The hon. and gallant Member concluded by submitting his Motion to the House.


seconded the Motion. He believed it had become too much the habit of the Government and of Parliament to treat the Yeomanry as a force maintained for the sole purpose of assisting the civil power in maintaining the peace. But it really occupied another and most important position—it was a portion of the constitutional defence of the country, and was entitled to rank with the militia and Volunteers as a subsidiary to the regular army. The Volunteers Act of George III., under which it was originally constituted, assigned to it that position, and directed the assembling and marshal ling, not only of the Volunteers, but of the militia and all other subsidiary forces, and it gave power to the Lords Lieutenant of counties, on any apprehended invasion, or even on the approach of a hostile fleet towards our shores, to call out such forces — "all or any of them." Such was, like wise, the object and intent of the Volunteer Act of Her present Majesty. The fifth section of that Act made provision for regulating the command of the Volunteer, Yeomanry, and militia forces when called out for actual military service. It was clear, therefore, that Parliament had hitherto contemplated one common course of action to be observed by the subsidiary forces of the kingdom, including the Yeomanry. Last year an additional sum was voted, in the most unhesitating and most generous spirit, for the Volunteer Rifle Corps and the Volunteer Artillery, and the only condition attached to the grant was, that the money should be distributed ac cording to the efficiency of the corps as reported by the inspecting officers. He trusted, then, that Parliament would not this year withhold from the Yeomanry their customary allowance. The War Office might say, as they had said in the circular read by his hon. and gallant Friend, that the reports of the inspecting officers, as to the efficiency of the Yeomanry, had for many years past been so very satisfactory that it would be quite unnecessary to call them out for service in the present year. It appeared to him that weaker ground could not be taken; for, if the Yeomanry had been made efficient, by all means let them be kept so, and do not allow them to go back. As an old Yeomanry officer, he could bear his testimony to the great importance of keeping the force together. He believed, indeed, that the non-assembling of them, even for one year, was highly prejudicial, inas- much as it led to the loss of some of the most valuable men and of the most practised horses, induced many of the men to return their clothes and accoutrements, and perhaps leave their regiments, from a feeling that they were not treated fairly by the Government, and created dissatisfaction and discontent among the whole body. It should be recollected, moreover, that in the opinion of all military authorities it was much more difficult to train cavalry than infantry. It would be a heavy discouragement to many Yeomanry officers younger than himself if the Government persevered in the intention it had announced. Unwearied attention had been displayed by many commanding officers, great expense had been incurred for riding schools, accommodation for the staff, and the storing of accoutrements—matters in respect to which the Yeomanry were in many cases not surpassed, and scarcely equalled, by any regiment of regular cavalry. He said, then, that the move contemplated by the Government was most ungracious. No very friendly feeling appeared to be entertained towards this force in official quarters. The hon. and gallant Member for Beverley (Colonel Edwards) had imputed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer a rather discourteous proceeding towards it. Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member went too far in his description of the right hon. Gentleman's treatment of the Yeomanry officers, when he said they had received a kick from him; but he would still ask the right hon. Gentleman, in the spirit of the old play— It is true that you did not dissemble your love, But why did you kick us down stairs? He earnestly hoped that the House and the Government would pause before they finally determined on withholding the usual annual grant from one of the most valuable elements in our national defences.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the discontinuance in the present year of the assembling of the Yeomanry Cavalry for the accustomed period of six days' training on permanent duty, would be detrimental to the efficiency of the Force, and contrary to the recommendation of the Committee appointed by Lord Herbert in the year 1861, and is inexpedient,"— (Colonel Edwards,) —instead thereof.


said, that he did not rise for the purpose of following the hon. Member for Inver- ness (Mr. H. Baillie) in the observations he had addressed to the House on the proposed reduction of the army. Although the hon. Member did not think proper to accede to the request of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, that he should postpone his remarks till they had gone into Supply, still he trusted it would not be thought that he was treating either the hon. Gentleman or the House with disrespect, if he said he felt that it would be more convenient if he were permitted to defer any observations which he had to offer on the reductions about to be proposed, and, among others, on the reduction of the number of men for the regular army, until he made his statement in Committee of Supply. But as he understood that the hon. and gallant Member for Beverley (Colonel Edwards) intended to press his Motion to a division, he thought it necessary then to say a few words, in order to explain the grounds on which the Government had acted in resolving not to call out the Yeomanry for permanent duty this year. At the same time, perhaps, he might be excused if he did not enter at that moment into any lengthened observations as to the necessity under which the Government had felt themselves placed to frame the Estimates of this year with some regard to economy. As hon. Members were no doubt aware, considerable charge had been brought upon the Estimates by exceptional circumstances, and especially by the war in New Zealand. At the same time, the Government had not thought that they would be justified in calling on the House or the country to make any extraordinary exertions to increase the large contributions which had, for so many years past, been made towards the expenses of the army. It became necessary, therefore, to frame the Estimates with the strictest regard to economy. In doing so, it was perfectly inevitable that they should be obliged to neglect or postpone certain services, and not to spend all the money they might wish to do in various directions; and among other items in regard to which they thought a saving could be effected without materially diminishing the efficiency of our force, the Government came to the conclusion that it would be advisable not to call out the Yeomanry for permanent duty this year. They, however, utterly disclaimed any intention to disparage in the slightest degree the services of that corps by this step. On the contrary, he and his Colleagues entertained the highest respect for the Yeomanry force, and had the greatest confidence in its efficiency and utility; in fact, if required to give a description of that distinguished volunteer force, and especially of the officers who had the honour of commanding it, he thought he could do so in a more flattering manner than the hon. and gallant Member for Beverley had done when he spoke of those officers as meeting together to protest against the reforms that a Committee which the hon. and gallant Gentleman himself had most emphatically praised and recommended to the Government. The hon. and gallant Member had represented the Yeomanry officers as placing such a pressure upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to compel him "to disgorge" the two half-crowns which he had earned by cutting down their pay to 7s. The hon. and gallant Member, however, did not tell the House that that reduction of pay was made by the recommendation of the Committee which he had so much lauded. The hon. and gallant Gentleman and the hon. Member who followed him had made a very ingenious use of the Report which they had quoted. The hon. and gallant Gentleman had dwelt on the concluding paragraphs —praising, and justly, the efficiency of the Yeomanry corps; but he omitted to cite the passage in which an opinion was expressed, that the sum of £1 10s. a year was enough to support the force in an efficient state. The officers, however, protested against that, and by bringing pressure to bear upon the Government, got the sum increased to £2. Then the hon. and gallant Member read the paragraph in which the Committee state that they did not think the period of permanent drill could be diminished with advantage. But the Committee were appointed to consider certain definite questions, and among those questions was the present system of training for six consecutive days, exclusive of market day, as compared with fewer days of permanent duty and a larger amount of troop drill. The Committee considered that subject, and arrived very properly at the conclusion that permanent duty was more beneficial to the force than an increased number of days of exercise. But they were never asked to give an opinion whether it would ever be advisable, under any circumstances, not to call out the Yeomanry for permanent duty at all. Of course, he did not say that it would add to its efficiency not to call it out. Officers interested in the efficiency of their regiments would naturally prefer that they should be called out. But he would remind the House that this was not the first time that that measure had been taken. On two former occasions, the Yeomanry had not been called out, and he was bound to say that, from the Reports of the Inspectors in the subsequent years, it was impossible to find that the regiments had suffered in any material degree in their efficiency. Therefore, the passage which had been read to the House from the circular that had been referred to was not conceived in any ironical spirit. The efficiency of the Yeomanry regiments was admitted; and although it might to some extent be impaired by their not being called out this year, yet experience showed that it would not sustain any serious detriment. He was unwilling to follow the hon. and gallant Gentleman into the observations he had made, from which it might almost be inferred that an invidious distinction was intended to be drawn between the treatment of the Volunteers and Yeomanry. He thought it would be unfortunate if such invidious comparisons were made in that House. The organization of the two forces was quite different. Even this year, when no sum was taken for calling out the Yeomanry, they were spending per man a considerably larger sum of money on the Yeomanry force than on the Volunteers. He could not, therefore, think that any useful object could be served by raising invidious comparisons between them. He was quite certain none was intended to he made by the Government; and he could only repeat that they were fully persuaded of the efficiency of the body, and had no intention to discredit them in any way whatever. The reduction that would be proposed had been dictated solely by motives of economy. They were obliged to cut down where they were unwilling to reduce, and they hoped the sum proposed would be saved without materially diminishing the efficiency of the force.


The noble Marquess has borne ample and willing testimony to the efficiency of the Yeomanry force, that he has cut from under his feet the ground of his own argument. Of all pitiful, penny-wise-and-pound-foolish economy, this proposal is the most extraordinary. If you have made up your mind that the Yeomanry are of no use, why not say so? But you call upon us to vote £41,000 for the permanent staff of the Yeomanry, and yet refuse the trifling sum requisite for the six days' training on permanent duty. Is it possible that the noble Marquess, with the Report of the Committee appointed by Lord Herbert for the purpose of inquiring what is essential to keep the Yeomanry effective, can be so unmindful of its directions? I hope the noble Marquess will at once agree to what is so perfectly evident, and what nobody can deny—namely, that the discontinuance even for one year of the six days' training on permanent duty would be detrimental to the efficiency of the force; that it is contrary to the recommendations of the Committee; and, thirdly, that it would he an inexpedient thing to do. I am perfectly certain if the noble Marquess will look through the Estimates he will be quite able to effect other reductions sufficient to make up the amount.


I hope the House will not be led away by the very enthusiastic speech of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down. We are, as my noble Friend stated, fully sensible of the great value of the Yeomanry force and of their efficiency, and what we now propose does not either imply any want of appreciation of their merits, or, on the other hand, entail any sensible diminution of their efficiency. It is not the first time that the motive of economy with regard to the service of a particular year has prevailed, and the calling out of the Yeomanry has been omitted. There have been many years in which the Yeomanry have not been permanently embodied. I think it is a great disparagement of the Yeomanry not to believe that the efficiency of the force will remain unaffected, although for the space of one year six days' training on permanent duty may be discontinued. They have not been called out for two successive years; but it has often happened that for one year they have not been called out. The unfortunate war in New Zealand has entailed very large expenses incidental to the year, and which, we hope, will not occur in any future year. Looking over the various heads of charge connected with our military arrangements, we have thought the reduction proposed might fairly be made without any diminution of the efficiency of this valuable part of our domestic force. I hope, therefore, the House will not agree to the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member, and diminish by the amount of £46,000 that saving which we think the House may, with every regard for the safety of the country, wisely agree to.


said, he should not have been surprised if the noble Lord had given a silent Vote on this occasion; but he certainly was surprised at what he now said. When the noble Lord presided at the Home Office, and a deputation of Yeomanry Officers waited upon him, including the Marquess of Ailesbury and Lord Eversley, he (Sir William Miles) was also present. The noble Lord received them most courteously, and after hearing the whole of their case, in which they set forth the necessity of the Yeomanry being called out for a longer period, the noble Lord, as it seemed to him (Sir William Miles), was so convinced by the arguments the deputation addressed to him, that he was disposed to extend the period, not only to eight, but to ten days; and if his right hon. Friend (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had not come to the rescue—for the order had been given and disseminated from the Home Office—the alteration would probably have been made.


said, he had nothing at all to do with it.


said, he had thought it probable that the right hon. Gentleman had a hand in it. After this opinion of the noble Lord while at the Home Office, he (Sir William Miles) was surprised to hear the noble Lord say that the efficiency of the Yeomanry could be as well kept up if their calling out were intermitted for a year. His regiment was not called out in 1860, and the result was, that when they were inspected in the following year, every fifth man was found to be a recruit. He could not conceive why this change should be called for. If they did not want the Yeomanry, let them dismiss them, but let them not be dealt with on such a penny-wise-pound-foolish principle. Let the Government tell them, "We want you," or "We do not want you;" but let not the position of the commanding officer be rendered so embarrassing, and let not the proffer of services so valuable be treated in such a manner.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 158; Noes 157: Majority 1.