HL Deb 28 March 1804 vol 1 cc1053-8
Lord Hawkesbury

moved the order of the day for the consideration of his Majesty's message relative to the offer of the Irish militia to extend their services to G. Britain.—The message being read, his Lordship rose and observed, that he should deem it unnecessary to trouble the House on this subject at any length, as it was an affair of a partial nature. When the measure should come in a fall and regular manner before the House, then would be the time to enter upon the discussion of it. It was now in the contemplation of his Majesty's ministers to submit to Parliament a measure for the general defence of the United Kingdom, which would comprise several improvements in the militia systems of G. Britain and Ireland.; and when this was brought forward, the matter would no doubt undergo a thorough investigation, suited to its importance. In the mean time, the House would be pledged for nothing, as the motion which he would now submit to their consideration, was little else than an expression of thanks to his Majesty for his communication. It was, however, impossible for him to withhold his tribute of applause from the noble, spirited, and patriotic offer of those troops, whose conduct had occasioned this message being presented to the House. He was of opinion that it would be of the highest advantage both to G. Britain and Ireland. It was of the utmost consequence that the two countries should, as much us possible, be united in sentiment, in feeling, and in the mutual employment of their means of defence This unity would be prodigiously accelerated by this patriotic conduct of those troops who had extended their services; and he had no doubt, if occasion should call for it, that the English militia would not be behind hand in spirit and public zeal. But this extension of service would be highly useful in another point of view. It would increase the disposeable force of the empire, and enable us to turn our energies with more effect against the enemy. It would consolidate the strength of the empire, and by that means render its application more easy and formidable. Without troubling the House, at any greater length, only again repeating the high sense he entertained of the spirit of loyalty and patriotism of the troops who had offered to extend their services, he would move, "That an humble address be presented to his Majesty, expressive of the gratitude of the House for his communication, and stating, that their Lordships would most readily concur in the measures that should be adopted to give effect to the offer which was made."—The question being put upon this motion,

The Duke of Montrose

said, he fully agreed in the tribute of applause that had been paid by the noble Sec. of State to the spirit, loyalty, and patriotism of the troops in question; but when he concurred in this tribute of applause, he could not Suffer it to pass without a few remarks, and, among others, that he thought it unsafe and impolitic to encourage that spirit of deliberation among armed bodies, that led to voluntary offers being made. He was far from being insensible to the praiseworthy motives by which these troops were actuated, but he was averse to the principle of deliberation among armed men. He was averse to those measures which tended to impress an idea among the troops, that certain services were more of a voluntary nature, than an exertion of duty. If his Majesty's ministers thought that the services of the Irish militia were necessary in England, let them propose a measure to that effect. If they thought the services of the English militia necessary in Ireland, their services ought, by act of Parliament, to be extended to that country. This would be the true and manly course of proceeding on the part of ministers; and in such a case these services, instead of being a favour, would become a duty. He knew there were many who thought that there was something inconsistent with the nature of a militia force in this extended service, and that it could not properly be changed. Perhaps so at the same time it ought to be recollected, that the circumstances of the times called for a more permanent, efficient, and numerous force than usual. It ought to be recollected, that the relative situations of the British empire and of France were materially changed. It was now necessary that this country should become a more military nation than it had ever been. A notion was entertained by several people respecting the militia, that in case their services were extended, we might lose many valuable people in that establishment, but that loss would be made up by the efficiency of the force. We should lose many old men who commanded the militia, and we had a good deal of experience. But he was of opinion that we ought to have not only young men in the ranks, but also in command. An old man of experience would avoid mistakes, but his attention would in general be directed to that point, instead of thinking how to gain a victory. A young man, on the contrary, would be thinking how to gain a victory, and would probably gain one at last, though he committed several mistakes in the road that led to it. Most of the victories mentioned in history were gained by young men; and the histories of the young and the old King of Prussia was an apt illustration of what he had been saying. In the mean time, however, this ought to be a military country, and it ought to be a point of honour with the nobility and gentry of the' nation to make themselves acquainted with military affairs, and serve either in the regulars or the militia. He would not oppose' this motion, as it was merely an address of thanks for his Majesty's communication; but he again expressed his disapprobation, of the deliberative principle among armed men.

The Marquis of Sligo

joined heartily in the tribute of applause that had justly been bestowed upon the noble and patriotic men who had come forward with a voluntary offer of an extension of their services. He rejoiced in the prospect that it had opened, of having the services of the militia of both countries being made reciprocal, as it would go to establish that principle of unity which ought to subsist between G. Britain and Ireland. The sooner a complete union, in every point of view, was effected, the better it would be for both countries. He heartily joined in the address which it Was now intended to present to his Majesty, and would only farther say, that he apprehended this was no partial offer, but that it was made by the whole militia of Ireland.

The Earl of Limerick

begged leave also to join in the applause that had on all hands been given to the patriotic offer of the troops in question. He was aware of the incalculable advantages that would re-suit from it, both to this country and to Ireland. He heartily agreed, that the two countries should, as much as possible, be assimilated. The Irish troops had thus shewn their love for the country, their seal and attachment to the constitution, which he knew distinguished not only the troops in question, but the whole army is Ireland. But to pronounce their eulogiun did not become a person in his situation; that he would leave to other Lords: and it was his intention to have contented himself with a silent vote on the present occasion, but something had fallen from a noble Duke (of Montrose) to which he could not but advert. He had, said, if his money served him rightly, that it would be manly in ministers to bring forward a measure which would reader the extension of the militia service a duty, instead of a favour. It might be manly, perhaps, but it ought to be recollected that it might also be dangerous to force men who had enlisted for one service to engage in another. It would, besides, be a positive instance of bad faith, that ought to be particularly avoided. He saw no danger whatever in accepting a voluntary offer of extended service; and he deprecated all idea of forcing men to undertake a service for which they had not been enlisted, nor had in their contemplation at the time. The men had engaged for a particular service, and beyond that they could not be carried without their own consent. He gave his warmest approbation to the address.

Lord Grenville

observed, that as this motion did. not go to pledge the House to any thing, but was merely an address of thanks to his Majesty, stating the satisfaction of the House at the offer which had been made, he did not mean to throw any difficulty in its way. But he certainly entirely agreed in the sentiments that had been delivered by the noble Duke, (of Montrose). He was fully convinced of the impolitic and injudicious nature of introducing into the army a deliberative spirit, which had its origin in the volunteer system. Parliament was the place where deliberation ought to take place; and they ought, in the first instance, to adopt measures which it would be incumbent on the military of every description to obey, instead of having their deliberation dependent upon any voluntary offers that might be made. It was impossible certainly to withhold the highest tribute of applause from the men who had made the present patriotic, spirited, and loyal offer of an extended service. He did not at all mean to throw any reflection upon them. He most entirely concurred with what the noble Marquis (of Sligo) had said, that the two countries ought to be united closely together, not in name only, but in effect; and lie believed that the reciprocal services of the militia of both countries would be a desirable thing; but it ought to be recollected, that his Majesty's ministers had been advised to extend the services of the militia of Ireland, when they were raised at the beginning of the war, to this country. They were raised by bounty, not by ballot, but the advice was rejected. It had been said, that our hands were tied by good faith to the militia: it was true; but to whom was this owing? It was to those ministers who rejected the sound advice given them, when that might easily be done which was now impossible; and thus their Lordships were compelled, instead of originating a measure, to follow the lead of these voluntary offers. The offers of the militia, during the late war, to serve in Ireland, had arisen from the spur of the occasion, and were therefore properly accepted and appreciated. But it was now the fault of ministers, that it had been left to the patriotism of the Irish militia to make an offer of their services to England. He had nothing to offer on the motion itself. He admired the patriotism of the Irish troops in quesion, and agreed in the applause which had boon bestowed upon them, but he wished to impress the House with a sense of the danger of encouraging deliberation among armed bodies of men.

Lord Hobart,

in reply to Lord Grenville, observed, that he recollected no such advice as had been referred to, but now it was impossible to break our faith with the militia. He concurred in the applause bestowed on the troops in question, and said, that from his long residence in Ireland, he knew that an equal spirit of patriotism prevailed in the whole army in. that country.

Earl Darnley

only rose to advert to a point mentioned by the noble Sec. of State. He could not perceive how the reciprocal services of the militia of both countries could augment our disposable force. He agreed in the applause bestowed on the troops in question, but the message was worded in such a way, that there was no understanding whether the offer had been made by all the militia, by whole regiments, or by parcels of regiments. This was a point of some importance to ascertain.

Lord Grenville

wished that the subject should be properly understood. Was it all the militia who had offered, or some regiments, or was it some parcels of regiments?

Lord Hawesbury

said, that as far as his recollection served, it was made by whole regiments.—"The question on the address was then put and carried without opposition.