HC Deb 06 June 1867 vol 187 cc1671-82

in rising to call the attention of the House to certain of the recruiting orders of Her Majesty's regiments of Foot Guards, and to move a Resolution on the subject, said, the subject was noticed by him a short time ago on the occasion of the introduction of the Oaths Bill of the hon. Member for Clare (Sir Colman O'Loghlen). He then stated that, as a general rule, Irishmen and Roman Catholics were not admitted as recruits into the Brigade of Guards, and that it was only as a matter of favour that exceptions to this rule were allowed. At that time he was able to refer positively to an order of only one of the regiments. Since then the recruiting orders of the three regiments in force January 1, 1867, had at his request been laid on the table of the House, and he found that the accuracy of his statements was borne out quite as fully and plainly as he anticipated, and it was no longer possible for anyone to say that he had made an assertion for which he had insufficient authority. In the recruiting orders of the Scots Fusileer Guards, page 8, it was directed— Natives of England and Scotland only to be enlisted, unless special permission is given to the contrary. In the orders of the Coldstream Guards, page 4, it was set forth— Owing to the impossibility of your obtaining the requisite information respecting age and character, natives of England and Scotland only are to be enlisted. Why it should be impossible to ascertain an Irishman's age and character he was at a loss to know. The order of the Grenadier Guards, page 5, was— Natives of England and Scotland only to be enlisted. Should a man offer himself to be enlisted who is a Roman Catholic, the sergeant will ask the permission of the regimental Adjutant before he enlists him. He admitted that the strictness of these orders had been in certain exceptional instances relaxed, and the result only tended to strengthen the case of those who asked for their total abolition. The few Irishmen who were admitted into his late regiment, the Coldstream Guards, were, as a rule, well conducted, some of them had attained high posts as noncommissioned officers, and the universal testimony was that no taint of disloyalty had ever manifested itself in the Irish soldiers of the brigade. The Coldstream Guards went over during the first disturbances in Ireland, and only one or two cases occurred in which any attempt was made to tamper with the Irishmen in the regiment, and then, without exception, the men had delivered over to the civil power those who were rash enough to try the strength of their fidelity to the Crown. In the Crimean war, when men to fight were wanted, an anxiety even was shown to enlist Irishmen for the Guards, and the Irish recruits did themselves no discredit in that campaign. When peace came the old rule of exclusion came into operation again, as if to show that Irishmen might have the fighting, but not the privileges. The rough work of the service might be their portion; faithful before the enemy, they were not to be trusted at home. But some one might say — "Have not the recent disturbances in Ireland shown the wisdom of this policy, and that Irishmen are not loyal enough to serve in these regiments?" One fact was a sufficient answer. What corps was it that proved itself most effective in that emergency, and by its loyalty restored public confidence and earned the thanks of all? It was the Irish constabulary; a force recruited entirely in Ireland, and composed chiefly of Irish Catholics. The secret of their fidelity was that they felt that confidence was placed in them; they were true, because they were not suspected of being false; for, in Ireland, to manifest distrust was the surest way to promote disaffection. He did not want to interfere with the prerogative of the commanding officers of the Guards, who might, without assigning any cause, accept or reject whom they pleased; but a man's nationality should not be a bar to his entrance into the favoured regiments, and the issuing an order for the exclusion of Irishmen from these regiments was naturally regarded as a slur upon the whole Irish nation. Such an order, printed and put into the hands of every recruiting sergeant, could hardly be called private. Its existence was no secret. More than once when in Ireland he had suggested to men that they should enlist in the Brigade, but he had been met with this answer, "They won't take Irishmen if they can help it." It was no wonder that men were offended at the refusal, and formed too low an opinion of English generosity. There was no Irish regiment of Guards, but he wished there were. It might be many years before it could attain the high prestige and historic associations of the older corps. It might—he hoped it would — have to wait long for opportunities which Vimiera, Badajoz, Salamanca, and a hundred battles more gave to Irishmen to show how bravely they could fight, but when the time did come it would not fail. Ireland was taxed equally with England and Scotland for the support of the army, and its recruits should have an equal right to enter even the more honourable parts of Her Majesty's service. It was, perhaps, a little thing that they should be excluded; but it was one of those many little things the removal of which would foster a better feeling and tend to unite the two countries in a firmer bond. He begged therefore to move that in the opinion of this House no order should exist which has for its object the exclusion of Irishmen from Her Majesty's Regiments of Foot Guards.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, no order should exist which has for its object the exclusion of Irishmen from Her Majesty's Regiments of Foot Guards,"—(Mr. Herbert,) —instead thereof.

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


in seconding the Motion, maintained that it was both impolitic and mischievous to draw invidious distinctions between men coming from different parts of the United Kingdom; and said, that the adoption of the rule in this case was a very bad return for the services rendered by Irish troops in the British army from the days of Cressy and Agincourt downwards.


wished briefly to state for the information of the House the system of recruiting for the brigade of Foot Guards. The Grenadier Guards was an English regiment, and had from time immemorial been recruited from England, with a few exceptions, when they were recruited from Scotland. The Coldstream Guards, also an English regiment, were almost exclusively recruited from England, but occasionally from Scotland. The Scots Fusiliers were, of course, a Scotch regiment chiefly recruited from Scotland; but on certain occasions, when sufficient men could not be obtained in that country, the recruiting had been supplemented in England. Under that system each of those regiments had established a local connection—that local connection of the very description which had been so much approved by the Recruiting Commission. The result was that not only were men induced to enlist, because their friends and relatives were in these regiments, but the officers in charge of the recruiting were enabled in a great measure to ascertain the character and antecedents of the men offering themselves for enlistment. Now, the order to which his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kerry (Mr. Herbert) took exception remain in the enlistment books because the class of Irishmen who offered themselves as recruits in England or Scotland were naturally travelling Irishmen, about whom, speaking generally, little information could be gained. But so little exclusive was the rule to which his hon. and gallant Friend objected that every recruiting sergeant received this instruction—that if any likely-looking Irishman offered he was to make the fact known to the officer in charge of the recruiting, giving a description of the man and stating what he alleged of himself, that the officer in London might make the necessary inquiries for the purpose of deciding whether the recruit should be accepted. How did that system work? He had a Return of the Irishmen serving in the Brigade of Guards. They were 116 in number. In the battalion to which his hon. and gallant Friend so recently belonged there were sixteen Irishmen, and among them were the sergeant-major, the senior drill-sergeant, and, he believed, the pay - sergeant of his hon. and gallant Friend's own company. It might be said that that was a very good reason for at once filling the ranks with Irishmen; but he maintained that it was the very manner in which they had been selected which I enabled those Irishmen to rise after they entered the Brigade of Guards, when it could not be denied that they had every justice done them. The patronage rested entirely with the colonels of battalions, who did not select a man if he was unfit, and the fact of his being an Irishman was not allowed to stand in the way of a good soldier's promotion. With reference to the praises which had been bestowed by the last speaker on the conduct of Irishmen, he was bound to say they had been too lavish; for he must admit that the conduct of a few Irishmen in the Guards had recently been open to reprehension. When the first battalion of the Coldstream Guards was a short time since sent over to Dublin in consequence of the Fenian difficulty, it contained three Irishmen, and two of those were reported by the delectives soon after their arrival to be regular attendants at Fenian meetings. It was in consequence thought desirable, with a view to prevent disgrace being brought upon the regiment, that the two men should be sent back to London to rejoin the remainder of the force under observation. But, apart altogether from collateral matters, he saw no occasion for the Motion before the House; our Brigade of Guards was now above its strength—so that it could not be said the change was needed in order to gain men; the regiments in question were second to none in the world, and those who were responsible for the maintenance of discipline within them should be permitted to continue a system of recruiting which had proved to be simple, economical, and eminently successful.


asked, if he was to understand the last speaker to infer that an Irishman should be presumed to be of bad character unless he was proved to be the reverse? [Sir CHARLES RUSSELL dissented.] There was no doubt that the object of the order of the Horse Guards under discussion was intended to keep out Roman Catholics rather than Irishmen; and he asked whether it was right to continue such an order in force, seeing that it was a slight to a whole country, and created an ill-feeling unnecessary for any military purpose.


said, the hon. Baronet was in error in describing the order as an order of the Horse Guards; it was but a regimental order. And as for the question at issue, he should leave it to the officers of the Guards to decide whether it was judicious upon their part to issue such an order; but if Irishmen were excluded from the Guards in time of peace, it would be unreasonable to expect that they should accept invitations to enter the brigade during the time of war—such as that which had been addressed to them during the war in the Crimea. He would remind the House that the Horse Guards were not averse to receiving Irishmen; special missions had even been sent to Ireland to recruit for them. He, however, had always recommended men to enlist in regiments of their own nationality, and he did not think it was likely that an Irishman would chose to enlist in any regiment which was not recognised as the peculiar pride of his countrymen.


said, that if the order in question had specified that no Irishman was to be enlisted it would have been an insulting order; but it did nothing of the sort. The last regiment in which he had the honour to serve—the Royal Irish Fusiliers—was almost exclusively Irish, in the same manner that two of the regiments referred to were almost exclusively English, and the third almost exclusively Scotch. It was the pride of the regiment to be Irish, and he could say of it that it was as distinguished a corps as there was in any army in the world. The fact was that it was a common practice to recruit regiments in particular localities, and that system naturally afforded facilities for ascertaining the character of the men offering themselves for service. The Guards had no recruiting party in Ireland, and it would therefore be difficult for them to select the proper kind of men from that country. Nothing could, he was sure, be further from the thoughts of those who had framed the order referred to than to throw a slight upon those whose countrymen had ever shown the greatest desire to uphold the honour of England on many a glorious battle-field.


supported the Amendment on the ground that it was advisable to do away with all distinction between Irishmen and Englishmen. It appeared that the regiments referred to had already some Irish in them, so that they could not be regarded as exclusively English, and it was absurd to keep in existence an order which was not strictly adhered to. If exclusiveuess were to be the rule, however, why should we not have a regiment of Irish Guards as well as of Scotch and English. He believed that such a step would be extremely popular.


said, that there were regiments which were entirely enlisted in Scotland, and regiments entirely enlisted in Ireland. Of the latter were the 86th, 87th, and 88th. It therefore ought not to be considered any affront to Ireland if the three regiments of the Guards were exclusively English and Scotch, though, in point of fact, those regiments were not so very exclusive, as they appeared to have received a certain number of Irishmen. On the other hand, there was no regiment of the line exclusively enlisted in England. When, therefore, the exclusive character of the Guards was complained of, Englishmen might, in like manner, say that it was an insult to them that they were not allowed to enlist in the 87th (Irish) Regiment. With regard to the suggestion to add another regiment to the Brigade of the Guards, he could only say that he would be glad to see any addition to the army which the House would sanction.


observed, that the question was whether Irishmen were to be excluded from serving in the privileged Guards, who enjoyed superior rank and pay, who were never sent to unhealthy climates, and who had better barrack accommodation than other regiments.


trusted that the Secretary of State for War would express the opinion of the Government on this subject, as it was one with regard to which Irish Members felt a great interest. They did not complain that a great portion of the recruiting for the regiments of the Guards went on in Scotland and England; but what they complained of as a great injustice was the existence of regimental orders distinctly excluding Irishmen from those regiments.


hoped that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War would not express an opinion in favour of maintaining those orders. All that was required was that the orders should be struck out of the regimental books, and that it should be left to the discretion of the recruiting officers to enlist what men they thought proper. That was a reasonable request; and if it were not granted it was only fair that, as there were English and Scotch regiments of the Guards, there should also be an Irish regiment of the Guards. Speaking as a Scotchman, he confessed that if regulations were in existence excluding his own particular countrymen from serving in the Household Brigade, he should feel it as a reproach. It was not to be forgotten that the Guards formed a corps d'élite, and it was therefore not to be wondered at if Irishmen sought admission to their ranks.


said, the House was no doubt aware that the system of recruiting for the Guards was upon an entirely different footing from that of the other regiments of the British army. An hon. Member had referred to the question of the interference of the authorities at the Horse Guards in this matter; but the fact was that neither the Horse Guards nor the War Office had anything to do with it. Recruiting for the Foot Guards was entirely regulated by the officers commanding the regiments. On the whole, after listening to what had been said during the debate, he confessed it did not appear to him that Irishmen alone had any peculiar cause for complaint. It had been pointed out by the hon. and gallant Member for Berkshire (Sir C. Russell) that the Grenadier Guards were chiefly recruited in England, and the Scotch Fusilier Guards in Scotland, and the hon. and gallant Member for Oxfordshire (Colonel North) had alluded to his own service in a regiment which consisted almost exclusively of Irishmen, and in which the admission of any man who was not a native of that country was regarded with considerable jealousy. ["No!"] He hoped, however, it would not go forth as the opinion of the House or the feeling of the Government that anything like ingratitude existed in regard to the services of the Irish soldiers. On the contrary, every man of right feeling was ready to do justice to their gallantry; indeed, it was impossible to deny that the future of England, in the various wars in which she had been engaged, would probably have suffered materially had it not been for the valour of the Irish portions of the army. After what had passed he felt some doubt whether there really was a rule excluding Irishmen from the Guards. He was not aware that any such regulation existed. No doubt, preference was given to English and Scotch recruits. He wished, however, to call the attention of the House to two peculiarities in the system of recruiting for the Guards. One was, that no man was admitted to their ranks, no matter to what country he belonged, unless he received a good character; and the other was, that the recruiting was carried on chiefly in country districts and not in London, in consequence of which the proportion of Irish soldiers necessarily could not be large. It was quite clear that both Irish soldiers and Roman Catholics were admitted. In fact, a Return had been presented to the House showing the proportions of Roman Catholic soldiers in the regiments of the Guards. He believed that a considerable number of Irishmen were now serving in those regiments. He trusted that the course which the debate had taken would be satisfactory to the hon. Member for Kerry (Mr. Herbert). For his own part, he was quite averse to anything like au exclusive rule of the nature referred to; and if the hon. Member would withdraw his Motion, he would make it his duty (although the matter was not one coming under the control of the Secretary of State for War) to communicate with the officers of the three regiments of Guards, and express his opinion that if there was in their recruiting rules anything that could be considered offensive or painful to Irishmen that rule should be rescinded.

With reference to the Question previously asked by the hon. Member for Wigtonshire (Sir Andrew Agnew), all he could say was, that the hon. Baronet had mistaken the effect of the warrant. Instead of there being any difference of opinion in the sense in which the hon. Baronet had spoken, his (Sir John Pakington's) own opinion, and that of the War Office authorities he had consulted, were that the hon. Baronet was not justified in the conclusion he had come to.


said, that as the right hon. Gentleman appeared to doubt the existence of the orders excluding Irishmen from the Guards, he would read the orders again to the House. In respect to the Scots Fusilier Guards, it was directed by the orders that natives of England and Scotland only Were to be enlisted, unless special permission was given; and with respect to the Coldstream Guards, it was directed that, owing to the impossibility of obtaining the requisite information respecting the age and character of natives of Ireland, English and Scotch only were to be enlisted. So, with regard to the English regiment, natives of England and Scotland only were to be enlisted; and it was expressly stated that in case any Roman Catholic presented himself permission must be had from the regimental colonel before he was enlisted. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that he had no authority in this matter, and therefore it was the duty of the House itself to interfere.


thought his right hon. Friend the Secretary for War had said enough to satisfy the House that, although it was not his province, he would use his influence with the commanding officers of the Guards that anything obnoxious in this order—and he must say he did think it obnoxious—should be entirely removed. So far as it lay with his right hon. Friend, he had pledged himself to use his influence; and he thought the Secretary of State for War should have some influence with the commanding officers of the Guards to get this matter arranged. He therefore hoped the hon. Member would not divide.


was very sorry he had not heard the statement either of the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for War, or of the hon. and gallant Member for Berkshire (Sir Charles Russell). Certainly, the orders did seem to imply that England and Scotland only could find recruits worthy of serving in those distinguished corps, and therefore they had an invidious, he would not say offensive, aspect towards Ireland. He was quite aware there was great delicacy in the position of the right hon. Baronet with reference to the Commander-in-Chief—


Not the Commander-in-Chief—the colonels of the Guards.


said, whether it rested with the Commander-in-Chief, or with the commanding officers of the regiments of Guards, he hoped the right hon. Baronet would not find it impossible to remove from these orders this sort of stigma upon Ireland, which, looking to the antecedents and services of the Irish regiments and soldiers, he must say was wholly undeserved.


begged to inform the hon. and gallant Member that he had already in his absence given the House an assurance that he would do so.


said, that if the matter rested with the Secretary of State for War, the House might rest contented with the assurance he had given; but the right hon. Baronet had stated that the question did not come within his province. It was therefore essentially within the province of the House, and could be dealt with by the House, because they voted the money by which the Guards were maintained, and they ought to see that no invidious distinctions as to admission to the ranks of these privileged regiments should be kept up.


hoped the hon. Member for Kerry would not divide. The Secretary of State had said all he could be expected to say, and every one who knew his character and his antecedents in that House would place the most implicit confidence in the assurance he had given.


said, he was convinced that, notwithstanding the delicacy of his position, his right hon. Friend would have no difficulty in communicating what appeared to be the feeling of the House to the officers commanding the regiments of Guards. He could assure hon. Gentlemen opposite that nothing in these orders was intended to be offensive to Ireland; but there was a difficulty in obtaining the character of Irishmen casually recruited, because of the distance of their homes from the recruiting stations. He hoped the hon. Gentleman would not divide. The Report of the Recruiting Commission, which had just been laid on the table, recommended that no alteration should take place in the recruiting of the Guards. He hoped, however, that anything which was considered disrespectful to Ireland would be immediately withdrawn.


said, he would withdraw his Motion.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.