HC Deb 27 June 1879 vol 247 cc917-25

, in rising to call attention to the removal of the North Gloucester Militia from Cirencester to Horfield, and to move a Resolution, said, he would touch as briefly as he could upon the various circumstances involved in this matter. He had always understood that the system of local depot centres, which was adopted in accordance with Lord Cardwell's scheme, provided as part of the arrangements that a regiment of Militia should be quartered in the neighbourhood of the depôt centre, in order that it should be exercised with the troops of the Line who might be quartered at that centre. He had also understood that the ordinary arrangements were that some 200 men of the Line were quartered in the depôt at the centre, and that substantial buildings were erected for their accommodation, and that extra buildings such as store-room and armoury were provided for the Militia, and that the Militia were encamped in the neighbourhood in order that they should be practised with their comrades of the Line. At Horfield, the place on which the Royal North Gloucester Militia was intended to be removed to from Cirencester, very few of the advantages which were supposed to be part of the arrangements were secured. The field at Horfield was about 15 acres in extent, and consisted of deep lias clay, which the weather they had recently had converted into a swamp. The sufferings of the Militia who had been encamped upon it would be related to the House by the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Price). There were only 15 acres of land available for the purpose of exercising at Horfield, where the Militia were now encamped, and, at present, there were only two companies of the Line there, consisting mainly of invalids and boys. Therefore, the advantages would not be very great from associating the Militia with their comrades of the Line whom they might find at Horfield. The next objection to Horfield arose from its situation; and he might say it was not upon the main line, but upon a branch of the Great Western Railway, three miles from Bristol. The expense of collecting the Royal North Gloucester Militia from its recruiting grounds to Horfield would be very serious; payment was made to the men by mileage on the railway, and the distance which some of these men would have to travel from their residences was perfectly incredible. It appeared that if men started from Painswick in the morning, it took eight hours to reach Bristol—it was thus a longer journey than from London to Liverpool. From King Compton to Horfield was four-and-a-half hours. Cheltenham was as accessible as any part of the journey, and that occupied two-and-a-half hours. And yet the regiment was not more than 20 miles from any portion of its own recruiting ground. Without local knowledge, it would be impossible to form any idea of the difficulty of collecting men at King Compton and then to proceed to Didcote, thence to Swindon, and thence to Bristol, and, having got there, to start again by the small branch line to Horfield. In seemed to him incredible that such an arrangement as the removal of the regiment to Horfield could have been made with the full knowledge of the circumstances which it involved. He could only believe that the order which lie understood had been issued, not from the War Office, but from the officer commanding the depot, had been made without consulting the War Office. He could not believe such an order could have been issued with the full knowledge of the authorities. He had put two Questions to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Secretary of State for War upon the subject. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman declined to suspend the order for the removal of the regiment. Therefore, he had no alternative but to take that opportunity, although in the absence of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, to call the attention of the House to the facts of this case. He would briefly, in the next place, glance at the advantages possessed by the regiment at Cirencester. The county had erected buildings for the Militia at Cirencester at a cost of £150,000, and the accommodation in every respect was most ample and sufficient. There was a covered drill-shed, and Lord Bathurst's Park, which was close adjoining, formed the most favourable drill-gronnd in England, and was placed at the disposal of the regiment by its noble owner. The regiment, when at Cirencester, could collect from its own recruiting ground by 10 o'clock in the morning and march to any place at that hour. The regiment, moreover, was very popular in Cirencester, and there was no occasion to billet the men. There was a preference register kept of people who provided lodgings at a reasonable rate. He would next refer to the relative effect upon the morale of the troops by being quartered at Cirencester and at Horfield. The Royal South Gloucester Militia, after three months' training at Cirencester, had only averaged two defaulters per diem. But when the same regiment went to Horfield, he was informed that every man in the regiment had a mark against his name, except one. That man had since been regarded as a perfect miracle, and it had been found that he resided at Horfield. He had been told that the camp of the Royal South Gloucester Militia last month, during the whole period of their residence in Horfield, presented a scene of discomfort that was hardly possible to conceive. His hon. Friend opposite would be able to give the House some particulars of what had taken place, and he could state that they had sometimes 80 defaulters per diem. This, therefore, contrasted very unfavourably with the result of their training at Cirencester. He thought he had shown that Horfield was unfavourable for the encampment in several ways, and it must be borne in mind also that the Militia were not always called out in spring, or at a favourable time of the year; but occasions might arise when they might be called out at any other time, and what would be the condition of these men if they had to come out in any unfavourable time of the year? At Horfield they would have to endure snow, and sleet, and wet, under the most distressing circumstances possible, encamped on the blue has clay field. What would become of what was at present a remarkably fine regiment if that were done he did not know. The result of such management as this was deplorable, and, in all probability, the entire regiment would be broken up next year, for those men who retained their liking for martial life would join the South Oxfordshire or the Warwickshire regiments. He did not suppose for one moment that the present Government were responsible for what had been done. Horfield was invented by Lord Cardwell. There was no reason why certain spots should be chosen, and he did not see any reason why they should be absolutely adopted. The system of selection of these centres seemed to him to have taken certain points, without the least reference to local convenience or railway systems. It might be that the necessity of concentrating the Militia at the depot centre was to prevent the inspecting officer having to travel down to another place to conduct the inspection; but it surely could not be very difficult to obtain the attendance of the inspecting officer for once at the head-quarters of the regiment, at a different spot from the depot centre. He could see no reason whatever why the present arrangements should be allowed to continue, if any possible harm had been shown to result from them. It was understood that the removal of the Militia, having been postponed, would not take place, and they had hoped that the evil had passed. He believed that remonstrances were forwarded repeatedly to the War Office, and he was likewise informed that the inspecting officer reported against the removal. His right hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary of State for War said that he was aware that circumstances were not satisfactory at Horfield, but that he intended to make some improvements upon the field of blue has clay into which it was proposed to empty the Royal North Gloucester Militia. He had not been able to obtain an assurance from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that the Order would be rescinded. In fact, his right hon. and gallant Friend expressed himself ignorant of the circumstances. In conclusion, all he could say was, that if this order had been made in deference to the arrangements that had been originated under the scheme of Lord Cardwell's Government, he trusted that it would not be thought necessary to sacrifice the welfare of a fine regiment to the supposed necessities of the scheme.


I must point out to the hon. Member that as he has not given Notice of the terms of his Resolution he is precluded by the Rules of the House from moving it.


said, that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Secretary of State for War had refused to rescind this order; but had promised to go down to Horfield himself to see the condition of affairs. His hon. Friend the Member for East Gloucestershire (Mr. J. R. Yorke) had asked him (Mr. Price) to give some account of his experience of the training of the Royal South Gloucester Militia in the field at Horfield. He did not feel justified in going into details at that time of the night; but he might say, after some 15 years' experience in the Army and in the Militia, he had never seen any such discomfort, and to so little purpose, as occurred at the training of his regiment at Horfield this year. If the House would allow him, he would mention the circumstance that a great deal of wet weather occurred in the middle of May. The day before the regiment went to Horfield, about the 3rd for 4th of May, there was a snow storm, and two days after the regiment arrived at Horfield and went into camp there was another. When the regiment had been in camp three days a very heavy rainfall occurred, and while the officers were assembled at mess, the news was brought to them that the men would not turn into their tents at tattoo. The mess was broken up, and the officers were ordered to join their companies and look after their men, and they found that the latter were not to blame for not turning into their tents when the bugle sounded, there being no disposition on the part of the men to be insubordinate; but it was found that, owing to the water in the tents, it was absolutely impossible for the men to turn in. The men were literally up to their knees in water in their tents, and every bit of straw there was saturated. It seemed that the reason for this was, that at the end of the field where the men were encamped, the blue has clay, being badly drained, caused the water to accumulate. It was drained in a manner which anyone acquainted with agricultural draining could at once see was utterly absurd, It was pointed out that all they could do was to endeavour to prevent this occurring another time. It had been mentioned by his hon. Friend that the regimental defaulters' book showed, undoubtedly, a very serious increase of crime on this special occasion. He might say that the reason for that was, that 200 or 300 men of the Royal South Gloucester Militia had houses within a radius of two or three miles from the field in which the camp was situated, and many went off to their homes, returning to their duties next morning. On behalf of the officers, both of the Royal South Gloucester and the Royal North Gloucester Militia regiments, he might state that they had not the slightest desire to find any fault with any duties that might be imposed upon them. Both officers and men of these regiments were willing to do all that they were called upon to do; but he could not help thinking that what had been done would have a very serious effect upon the recruiting of both regiments, and especially on the regiment with which he had the honour to be connected, as there were various regiments whose head-quarters were not far from Bristol in which men could enlist in preference. He was very much afraid, therefore, if this arrangement were effected, that the Royal South Gloucester Militia would become almost depleted. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman had said that he had intended himself to go down to Horfield and see what could be done; he was sorry that he was not then in his place; but, probably, he would hear afterwards what had occurred. He wished to point out that the barracks of Horfield contained quarters for the brigade depot of the 61st and 28th Foot, and for a battery of Artillery; but there was no reason why the battery of Artillery should remain there. If the battery of Artillery could be got rid of — and it was a very bad place for Artillery—the part of the barracks then disused might be cleared, and accommodation might be provided at a small expense for one regiment of Militia at a time. If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman went down, then he wished to ask him to ascertain whether or not accommodation could not be provided for one Militia Regiment at a time in those barracks, instead of occupying about one half of the field by the encampment, which rendered the position of the training ground left available very inadequate for the purpose?


I thoroughly agree with the hon. Gentlemen who have just spoken, and regret that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary of State is not here to answer this Question. I must remind the House that my right hon. and gallant Friend has gone through two very severe days, and everyone who knows what the strain is in fighting paragraphs of a Bill through Committee will, I am sure, accept my apologies for his not being present tonight. When the Question was put to him, my right hon. and gallant Friend said that notice should be taken of the matter, and that he was quite prepared to make inquiries upon the matter, and even to go down personally and inspect the place. My right hon. and gallant Friend was not responsible for the selection of the spot in question; but he had felt it his duty to inquire into all the circumstances of the matter. I am quite sure that my right hon. and gallant Friend or one of his Colleagues would have been present to-night in order to hear what has been said, had it been thought that this Motion would have come on. Looking at the Paper, we hardly expected that this Motion would have been brought on, as it was the last of a series of Motions; and you, Sir. have noticed that, although my hon. Friend has stated that he would call attention to the subject and move a Resolution, he did not put the terms of that Resolution upon the Paper. That encouraged the impression that the Motion was not likely to be taken. On behalf of my right lion. and gallant Friend. I can assure the House that the matter will be brought to his notice, and that he will pay great attention to the question, the importance of which he thoroughly acknowledged.


did not wish the impression to be made upon the Government that the matter which had been brought forward concerned only one regiment. When a Militia regiment was quartered in a town where it got on so well as the Royal North Gloucester Militia had in Cirencester, it was a very great pity to move it to a central depot. But what had been said of the evil to the removal in the case of the Royal North Gloucester and the Royal South Gloucester Militia regiments applied to the case of many other regiments. In his opinion, a great deal of mischief would be done by drafting Militia regiments into these depots, and taking them away from their surrounding recruiting grounds, and the result would be that they would not be anything like so efficient. The regiment of which he had the honour to be the colonel was very full of men, and very efficient, and it was a great pity that these Militia regiments should in any way deteriorate or lessen in number. At any time they might be called upon to take their part in the defence of the country; and as he thought the matter was one which concerned the efficiency of the Militia he was entirely in its favour.


said, in his opinion the Militia constituted the real Reserve of the Service, and he was very glad that this debate had been brought forward. A want of consideration appeared to have been shown to the Gloucester regiments; and it was a pity that any course should ever be adopted by the War Department which, from giving just cause of complaint, might be liable to produce deterioration in, or lessen the strength of, our great Constitutional Force. In the interests of the Militia, it should always be recollected that the Militia was not only our most reliable Force for home defence, but formed the best Reserve for our Army in war. That Army was mainly composed of men lately drawn from the Militia which, under Wellington, gained that victory which gave Europe upwards of 50 years of peace. He was satisfied that they ought at once to enforce a fair Ballot Act, not the unjust rich man's Act. Those who had most to protect should contribute most to its defence, and, instead of a payment for a substitute, a sum should be paid for exemption in proportion to income—a man earning or possessing £20 a-year should pay 1 , £40 a-year £2, and so on; £1,000 a-year £50. Every man in the Militia who had seen two trainings should be allowed to volunteer for the Line. This would insure that the Militia would be brought up to its full strength; and he was satisfied that the result upon the Army would be, at the same time, that they would have no difficulty in recruiting for it. He said that a Ballot Act, with a graduated exemption, was suggested by him in speaking on the Army Estimates in May, 1875.


thought that if the whole county of Gloucester could have been searched through, a worst place could not be found for the head-quarters of the two Militia regiments than Horfield. He was perfectly satisfied with the assurance they had received, that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Secretary of State for War would go down and inspect Horfield.

Motion, " That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," by leave, withdrawn.

Committee deferred till Monday next.