HL Deb 20 May 1806 vol 7 cc271-83

The order of the day being read, for the second reading of the Additional Force Repeal bill,

Earl Spencer rose

and observed, that if there were no other ground upon which to justify a call upon their lordships to pass the present bill, than the experience of 22 months, during which the country had had sufficient proof of the utter inefficiency of that measure, for the repeal of which the present bill was introduced, that alone would have been a sufficient reason in his mind, why the house should, without further discussion, agree to the 2d reading, which he now rose to move. After the usual mode of recruiting had been carried on with the utmost exertion, for increasing our army to its necessary strength, it was still found requisite to suggest some other modes than those already employed for that purpose, and with this view the Army of Reserve bill was adopted. But after that had been tried to its utmost extent, without being productive in the degree expected, the measure of the Additional Force bill was then propounded, as one which was to obviate all the inconveniencies arising from the Army of Reserve bill and all the other modes of recruiting then in operation, and to supply all these defects by immediately procuring the number of men necessary. This was the object, avowed by those who brought forward the Additional Force act; but, as he had at the time predicted, it had utterly failed, and turned out to be a measure, not for raising men but money; and he would appeal to the papers on the table, whether or not his apprehensions had been well founded. He claimed no merit for peculiar discernment upon this ground, for many of their lordships entertained originally the same apprehensions; but, however unwilling he was now to trespass on their lordships' time, he felt it necessary to dilate a little in the examination of the measure itself, and its real operation, comparatively with the objects to effect which it was proposed, and to shew whether it had tended most to impede or promote the recruiting service. The original object, as he had already stated, was to supply all the deficiencies arising from any other mode of recruiting for the time; to aid which purpose permanently, it was proposed gradually to diminish the militia to its original amount of 40,000 men. At the time this bill passed, the whole number of men deficient from the proposed force of the country, was about 26,000, who were to be almost immediately made good by the bill. But from the beginning of Oct. 1804, when it came into operation, until the 24th of the same month in the following year, the number of men raised was but 1834, leaving a deficit of 24,900, and an amount of penalties incurred by the parishes, no less than 481,800l. It might be said the bill was not then in full operation, and, indeed, it must be remembered, that for a considerable time it was almost forgotten; but, notwithstanding the subsequent exertions that were made to render it produc- tive; the circular letter addressed by a noble lord (Hawkesbury) to the lords lieutenant of counties on the subject; the mission of inspecting officers, and recruiting-officers, to instruct parish-officers, to teach them how to understand the bill, and tutor them in the trade of recruiting; still was its operation found so utterly defective, even up to the 18th of April last, that there were then deficient of the number of men proposed to be raised, no less than 21,458; and a sum of penalties incurred by the parishes throughout England and Wales, to the amount of 442,320l.; besides a sum already enforced, to the amount of 39,420l. In those estimates which included England and Wales only, he feared he was not quite correct; but certainly rather under than over the full amount; and if he included Ireland, then the total deficiency in the force of both countries, which the measure proposed to supply, would be 41,455 men. In support of these statements, the noble lord went into a minute detail of extracts from the documents on the table, and shewed the progressive deficiency of men, and growth of penalties, in successive periods of 6 months; he also compared the number of recruits raised for the line by the ordinary modes of recruiting in use before the passing of the bill, with the progress of recruiting under its pretended aid; from which he argued that, from the 1st month the bill came into operation, the general recruiting service, instead of advancing, had considerably and rapidly diminished; that, in fact, instead of being a measure of aid to that service, it was a ruinous impediment; that it imposed a duty upon a set of men, the parish-officers throughout the country, totally inconsistent with their habits, and which, in the first instance, it rendered utterly impossible for them to perform; for it expressly limited them to three-fourths of the bounty offered within their districts by recruiting-officers for the line. The parishes too were punished by a penalty of 20l. per man, for those deficiencies which the bill rendered unavoidable; and thus threw an enormous and partial burthen upon the landed property. Having, in fact, completely failed of effect under its natural operation, when it did become, under recent and extraordinary exertions, in any degree productive, it, was rendered only so by a violation of its own principles; namely, by the employing of crimps, by recruiting out of the limited districts, and by offering (and that upon the suggestion of high authority) bounties considerably higher than the regimental recruiting-officers, and thereby not only creating a rivalry in bounties with the regular service, but impeding the business of recruiting. He trusted it would not be thought too much for him to ask, that this obnoxious and unproductive measure might be removed out of the way of the recruiting service, to which it had been an impediment. His lordship concluded by moving, "that the bill for the repeal of the Additional Force act, be now read a 2d time."

Earl Camden

said, that as he was the person who had originally proposed for their lordships' adoption the bill which it was now proposed to repeal, he felt it his duty, thus early, to rise in the defence of that measure: though he was ready to admit the bill had not been so productive as was originally expected, yet it certainly had been, in a very great degree, much more so upon a comparative scale than his noble friend had seemed disposed to admit. He was not, however, so wedded to the bill, as to insist upon retaining it at all events; but still he thought it would behove their lordships to pause before they consented to repeal a bill which had been productive of considerable advantage, until at least they saw some measure proposed as a substitute for it. Much as had been said against what was termed the oppressive principle of this measure, he begged to call to their lordships' recollection, that previously to the original adoption of this bill, such was the military state of the realm, and so inadequate the produce of recruiting by ordinary means, that the government and legislature found it absolutely necessary not only to retain, but to extend the compulsory system, which had been originally adopted in the militia, and which was afterwards followed up in the Army of Reserve act; a measure he highly approved. He believed it would not be expected of any minister to ensure the success of any untried measure proposed by way of experiment. The most that the wisdom of man could do was to suggest a plan the most likely to be successful in practice; and he believed it would be admitted, there never was any plan which, in theory, promised to be attended with more certain and rapid effect. However, he would acknowledge, that the result had certainly not been equal to the expectations formed of its success, owing in a great measure to the inexperience, misunderstanding, or negligence of those entrusted with its execution. Had the powers of government continued a little longer in the hands of his majesty's late ministers, it was their intention to have suggested some amendments in the bill, such as enlarging the districts for recruiting, and the time for making returns by the parish officers, which, with some other minor alterations, and the experience these officers would have acquired, would have considerably facilitated the operation of the bill. The noble lord then went into a short series of comparative calculations; to shew that the bill, even under all the objections made to it, had not been so unproductive as had been represented. He wished to give his majesty's ministers time to prepare such a measure as was fit to be substituted in its place; and he concluded by moving an amendment, that, instead of the wo[...]d "now" in the motion of his noble friend for the 2d reading of the repeal bill, the words "this day three weeks" be inserted.

Lord St. John

thought the best substitute for the act would be to repeal it, and to leave the recruiting service to act freely, and without impediment. He contended that the act had, in its operation, been found totally inefficient; and that it was absurd to suppose that parish officers could be converted into recruiting officers with any beneficial effect. It was true, that inspecting officers had been sent round the country to teach them their new duty, but, the parish officer only holding his situation for a year, no sooner was be taught in this new military school how to act in his new character, than he went out of office, and another succeeded, equally ignorant, who had to go through the same course of instruction. The act, he contended, had been invariably found either nugatory or oppressive in its operation, without producing any benefit whatever to the army, but, on the contrary, impeding and embarrassing the recruiting service; and therefore he should support its repeal.

The Earl of Westmorland

said, he objected to the repeal of the Additional Force bill on the strongest grounds which at such a dangerous crisis could be stated: he meant that it would be a prelude to the entire dissolution of our military establishment. Unhappily for this country, when the war commenced, we were in an unprovided state—[a cry of 'hear, hear,' from the ministerial side]. Since the assertion at tracted so much notice, he would repeat it, "Unhappily for the country, we were in an unprovided state." And to what was it to be attributed? To the reduction of the military force under the administration of the noble lord (lord Sidmouth) whose particular attention the observation seemed to have excited. The bill now opposed was not only designed to raise a competent army during war, but it was to perpetuate the same means of security, so that, whether in a belligerent or a tranquil state, we were to be prepared for all the exigencies of our situation. This bill was a most beneficial expedient, and worthy of that great statesman who framed it; and he would confidently assert, that neither could the crown repose in safety on the head that sustained it, nor could the liberty of the people be secure, if the greatest caution was not employed in the new projects of military arrangement. It was said, that the bill had injured the recruiting service: it had done so, but this was the most satisfactory proof of its success. No doubt a contrivance by which 15,000 were annually obtained for the army must take out of the recruiting market no inconsiderable supply. But what was to be substituted for this advantageous scheme? We were to have limited service, or a periodical disorganization of the military force.

Earl Spencer

spoke to order. Nothing had been said about the limited service, and it formed no part of the question before the house.

Lord Mulgrave

thought his noble friend was perfectly in order. It was a military measure, and he was correct in examining the immediate consequences of the repeal; Which must be the adoption of some other device.

Lord Holland

admitted he was, if the plan of limited service were the necessary effect of the repeal: but the one had no such influence on the other; they were considerations intirely distinct.

Lord Hawkesbury

was inclined to think the allusion of his noble friend was not am improper reference to what had been said in another place; it was adverting to a matter of notoriety all over the kingdom But should it be thought by noble lord not strictly parliamentary, a single mono-syllable, a qualifying if, would remove every reasonable objection.

The Earl of Westmorland

proceed d. He was afraid, he said, that in stating such wild speculations it would not be believed that they had actually any existence. He deprecated the consequences of enlisting men for limited time and discharging them in time of war. Under such a practice, after the end of the first term of service, 15,000 men at the least would be discharged annually; this, added to the average annual number of 15,000 men, to supply casualties and deficiencies, would make 30,000 men; a number which it would be impossible to supply by all our means of recruiting. He contended that the act was a great measure, and that time ought to be given to allow of its full operation. He denied that any improper means bad been used to carry the act into effect; if any means had been used not exactly within the letter of the act, those who used them acted loyally illegal, and with the view of assisting his majesty's service. He called upon a noble lord opposite, who had formerly opposed the repeal of this act, on the ground that it ought to have a fair trial, now also to oppose it on the same ground, as the act had not yet been sufficiently tried it had now begun to be efficient, and this was the period chosen to propose the repeal of it, without proposing any substitute.

Lord Sidmouth

said, that, for reasons which some of their lordships would think sufficient, he was disposed to have been silent on the present question, but the noble lord who had just sat down had left him no alternative; he had adverted to him in a way that it was impossible not to notice, and he hoped he should reply in a manner consistent with the respect due to their lordships. He was desirous not only to reply to what had devolved within the purview of the subject, but to what more immediately and personally affected himself. The noble lord asserted that the country, at the commencement of the war, was in an unprovided state, and he rather more than insinuated, that the culpability for its weakness was attributable to him (lord Sidmouth). It was true that, at the beginning of hostilities, the militia had been disbanded; but their lordships would recollect, that this was not in consequence of any act of his majesty's ministers, but by the operation of the law. He said, by the operation of law, not because there was any positive regulation on the subject, but the men were released from their regiments, because the statute was so loosely worded, that, construed in the popular sense, it was so understood. In such a case, the government did what he hoped every future administration would do: instead of availing themselves of the strict letter of the law, they admitted the more liberal construction to prevail. It was also true, there was, some reduction of the army on the cessation of the war; but on this subject there was but one opinion, so that it was with some surprise he heard an objection at this time urged to that diminution of the force, and especially from his noble friend. But to what extent was it carried? No part of the infantry was withdrawn, excepting from the guards, to produce a nearer approach in the height of that regiment. A full and complete answer to every charge of want of precaution in the administration referred to was this: that at the time of the renewal of the war, there was double the number of men on the establishment than at any former period of tranquillity. He might be permitted to go one step further. By the papers on the table their lordships had seen, that in 1801 the numbers were 77,574; before six months were expired, they were increased to 88,765, shewing an augmentation of more than 11,000 men, in that short interval. Could the reflection be justly applied to the administration of that day under these circumstances? There was another point to which he would solicit their lordships' attention. It had been said that the extent of desertion was in proportion to the number of men raised for the service. This was not found to be particularly correct. The number raised in the last year did not ascend to 20,000 men. yet the desertions at home only amounted to 5954. In 1803, when the men raised were greatly more numerous, the deserters were fewer by 2000. The fact was that the desertion was not in proportion to the number raised, but to the mode of acquiring men. It was inaccurately observed, that no particular exertion was made in 1803, to enhance the public force; but by referring to No. 1, on the table, their lordships would see that 85,519 men were raised, and of the army of reserve 40,000, forming a, total of 125,519 men.

Earl Camden

explained the qualification with which he had made the remark.

Lord Sidmouth

resumed, that when the bill was under their deliberation before, he entertained the same opinion of it he did at that moment: he knew that it must be inefficient. Last year, from the convic tion that the experiment had totally failed, a motion was made for its repeal, and it was then justly affirmed that it had been unsuccessful in its primary object, which was the raising of a given number of men for the service of the country It had been said that those who disapproved of one measure should recommend what was preferable to it. Although he was not always disposed to protect himself beneath any negative defence, yet this was not the time to consider the efficacy of other expedients; it was enough to stew that this had miscarried, and he called upon the noble lord not to defend a project which was discovered by experience to be wholly inadequate to the object proposed. If he formerly supported it, consistency did not require that he should persevere in the same opinions when its futility was ascertained; at least there was a consistency of a higher kind affecting his parliamentary character, which his lordship knew how to respect. In stating his sentiments, he should not examine at all the arithmetical computations; he would rather consider the general scope and design of the bill. The intention undoubtedly was to add to the domestic force, and to procure a supply for the army, without interfering with the recruiting service; anti in this it had not succeeded. Before Oct. 1805, 41,415 men were to have been obtained; and of these, 20,000 were to be in the ranks of regulars. Instead of producing this number, it had only raised 7,540; and of these 5,000 only were procured under the provisions of the bill. Their lordships were aware, that he now alluded to the encouragement given to parochial officers to disregard the established law, in order to acquire the men; so that he was entitled to say the success was not real, but nominal, even to that limited extent. A noble lord wrote a letter on September 16, 1805, on the discovery of the insufficiency of the bill; yet with all the united exertions of friends, and lieutenants of the counties, it was incompetent; and another letter was written in the month of December following, to substitute inspecting-officers for the regular, legitimate, constitutional authority of the lieutenants; and thus the whole agency of the bill was changed; but, whatever alterations it underwent, it still preserved the same character of inefficiency. It however succeeded much better when parish officers had no concern in it; and accordingly an augmentation was found on the 29th of April last, which was the latest period of the return. This circumstance led to a suggestion for the employment of agents in various parts of the kingdom, and the policy of this was recommended from the superior success in Scotland and Ireland, where, there being no parish officers, persons of another description performed this duty. In Ireland, 1078 men were raised, and by regimental officers only 272. This variation in the plan was the true cause of the improvement. The question then was not merely if the means employed were legitimate: into that he would not enquire; but if, on the whole, taking the bill in its general effect, it were operative to increase considerably the military force. On this part of the subject, the statement of his noble friend was incontrovertible: he had distinctly proved, that in proportion as the effect of the bill was augmented, the recruiting of the army was diminished. Let them make a comparison between any corresponding periods of six or twelve months, and the pressure of the argument would be evident, and the reduction would be seen to be so great, as to produce annually a considerable loss to the army. The comparison to which he had referred, applied to those who had volunteered, and the number raised by recruiting; and, in this view, he contended there was a detriment, to the number of 3000 men. Besides all this, there was a monstrous injustice in the effect; whatever might be the benefit, in other respects, with which it might be attended. As it was, penalties would exceed 400,000l., even when the regular army was declining. When such facts were stated and not disproved, were those discharging what they owed to their country, who endeavoured to uphold such a bill in the teeth of all this evidence? It had been said, that if it succeeded in one country, it would in another. This view was not correct; the population of the kingdom was irregular, according to the exuberance of the produce, and the state of the manufactures, and this must essentially vary the operation of such a bill. No less than twenty-two counties were incapable of carrying it into execution, and they were to submit to the species of legislative extortion to which he had referred. It was a gross violation of those humane and equitable principles by which all laws ought to be administered. In short, the objections to the bill were so numerous, that he should detain their lordships much too long, if he were to discuss them in detail. A noble friend of his had spoken of the increase of the public force since July 1804. He never would enter into any invidious camparisons; all he wished for was, that the resources of the country should be advantageously employed, by whomsoever the government was administered, and he was happy to commend a measure adopted last year, for the incorporation of a single portion of the militia with the regular army. Whatever might be the success of some of the plans adopted, when he was before in the councils of his majesty, he took no credit to himself and his colleagues; they were encouraged and supported by the country, without which the most discreet measures which political wisdom could have devised, would have been insufficient. He was anxious, at least, to stand so far well, as not to have it supposed that he had shrunk from his duty, which would have been, indeed, most criminal, at a time when the people were united in one great and common cause, and were ready to submit to any privations for the welfare of the state. On the grounds he had stated, he should oppose the motion for the amendment.

Lord Mulgrave

supported the amendment. He disclaimed every wish to oppose ministers, except in such cases as he thought their measures of a mischievous tendency. Could he be persuaded that some fate measures would be substituted in room of the bill proposed to he repealed, he would immediately abandon his objections, however unanswerable he might think them; but the silence of ministers on this subject, after they had so long a period for deliberation, was in the highest degree unaccountable. Another strong argument also, notwithstanding his attachment to the bill, would have great influence with him, could he be convinced that any other salutary measure would be adopted, to abandon his opposition; which was, his conviction that no measure, however good in itself, could be attended with its full success in the hands of persons who were hostile to it. Till he was assured, however, that some measure was to be adopted, he felt himself obliged to give the repeal his negative in the strongest terms. As a compulsory measure, his lordship thought the present the least oppressive. If it had not succeeded so well till the beginning of this year, as had been stated, the circumstance must be attri buted to the bill not being understood sufficiently till that period. The moment it was understood, it had had all the success its, most sanguine supporters could have wished. He was afraid the present ministers in repealing this bill, would apply to the army the remedies of doctor Sangrado, by bleeding it, and giving it warm water at the same time. This was not a likely means of improving, the strength and vigour of the patient.

The Earl of Derby

contended, that the act was impracticable; that it operated a tax upon the different parishes. He explained and justified the conduct of the lieutenancy of the county of Lancashire, where every effort was made, but in vain, to give effect to it. He maintained that the increase that had latterly taken place, was not owing to the bill being better understood, but to the means the late government had taken by their missionaries, sent to the different districts, to direct men to be raised by any means, and that thus, in the very raising of those men, the law had been grossly violated, and the practice of crimping encouraged.

The Earl of Rosslyn

argued against the measure, and maintained the necessity of repealing the act on account of its inefficiency, even if nothing was brought forward in its place. It had in his opinion, no thing of compulsion in it, but vexatious expence and inconvenience.

The Duke of Montrose

wished that miniters, instead of acting upon the defensive, had come boldly forward and suppoted the whole of their intended plan; but here seemed a reluctance in his majestys ministers in that house to uphold the [...]ld and visionary theories of his majesty' ministers out of the house. The consequence of the repeal of that act would me that the Army of Reserve act, a measur he would acknowledge of much energy,and which did great honour to the talents [...]o the noble viscount who was at the head of his majesty's councils, would be repeal also.

Lord Sidmouth

observed, that, from a conviction of the inadequacy of the Army of Reserve at, one of the measures of the last adminiration, of which he formed a part, was to bring in a bill for its suspension.

The Earl of Darnley

gave the bill his most hearty sport. He congratulated their lordships on this measure being brought before them. He had opposed the additional force act, on its introduction as a bill into that house; so well was he convinced of its inefficacy as to the raising of men, and also of the vexatious tendency of its provisions. If no other plan were to be substituted in its place, he should still feel himself bound to give his vote for the abolition of a system at once so nugatory and unjust.

Lord Hawkesbury

said, that if there was any thing in the bill before their lordships, which particularly called for his opposition, it was the abandonment of the principle of he act it proposed to repeal. If it was an insulated measure, he possibly might be induced to relinquish his objections; but when it was notorious that it was brought forward as part of a system, he could not, until the whole of that system was before the house, be induced to give his vote in favour of it. Why did not the noble lords, who were so anxious now to disconnect it with any other measures, and discuss it on its own merits, bring it forward 3 months ago, when they first came into office? His lordship next adverted to the different parts of that system, as embracing the volunteer force, the militia, and the army, and deprecated any change in the practice of ballot, or in the usual terms of military enlistment. He earnestly entreated ministers to pause before they gave sanction to an experiment, which in its developement might effect the complete destruction of the present army. He trusted that if they did persevere in it, it would be so modified as to remove the great and manifold dangers which would inevitably result from it. The military establishment, he contended, was greater by 25,000 men than at any period of our history; and at no period, had such efforts been made for increasing the regular force, as during that administration of which he formed a part, and of which a noble viscount was at the head, when no less than a disposable force of 50,000 men had been created, in the course of a few months.

The Earl of Carnarvon

said he thought, that the Additional Force bill contained the greatest mass of absurdities he had ever known. It had not produced any men but by means of the illegal mode of putting it into execution. He therefore should support the second reading of the bill before the house.

Earl Spencer

replied, and observed that, allowing every possible merit and efficiency to the army of reserve act, he could not approve of its revival, as it would be attended with the former grievance of a revival of the high bounties.

The Earl of Radnor

stated, that his chief reason for voting against the additional force act was its extreme injustice. Had it produced twenty times the number of men it did, his objections to it on that ground would still exist.

Earl Grosvenor

would vote against the act, conceiving it to be unequal, and inefficient; but would not pledge himself to support the rest of the intended military plan.—The house then divided on the motion that the bill be now read a second time.

Contents 71;—Proxies 26 97

Non-contents 30;—Proxies 10 40

Majority —57

The bill was then read a second time, and ordered to be committed to-morrow.