HL Deb 09 May 1809 vol 14 cc435-9

Upon the order of the day being read, for the second reading of this bill,

The Earl of Liverpool

observed, there would not be great occasion for his entering into a detail of the principle and provisions of the bill upon the table. The principle was the same with that of other acts of parliament which had passed for augmenting the militia. On account of the late volunteering of the militia into a more regular and disposable force, the regiments had been considerably diminished in their numbers, and it became necessary that those vacancies should be speedily supplied. In the regular course, this deficiency would have been supplied by ballot in the different counties; but as that mode in the present times might be considered rather hard upon that class, on whom the ballot would immediately fall, it had been thought advisable, by the present bill, to enable each regiment of militia to supply their deficiencies by enlistment for a limited time; and after that period, if it should turn out that this mode had not been successful, it would then be necessary to recur to the old and regular method of ballot. This provision would be attended with considerable advantage to those who would have been liable under the former militia acts, and would cast the burthen and expence more equally upon the public. The noble earl, after shortly explaining the nature of the bill, expressed himself as having no apprehension of its meeting with any objection from their lordships.

Earl Fitzwilliam

said, he so far approved of the bill, as containing a provision, that in completing the deficiencies of the militia establishment, the burthen and expence were to be removed from the counties, and laid upon the public. But he expressed considerable regret, that the principle of the militia had in modern times been so much departed from, and that the militia regiments should have been made a recruiting, or perhaps, if he might use the expression, a crimping fund for the supply of the regular army. He did not particularly direct his observations to the bill before them, but it was with regret he saw the militia more and more altered from those principles upon which that force was first established.

Lord Harrowby

defended the measures which had been resorted to in regard to the militia establishment of the country. He was induced to express his sentiments upon the present occasion, because he conceived himself in justice bound to do so in opposition to the arguments urged from such a respectable authority as that of the noble earl who spoke. He considered the expression used by that noble earl as too severe and degrading; for whatever might be justly felt by those who took a pride in the discipline of their own regiments, they could have but one ultimate desire, that of forming them to be the most useful for their country. If, therefore, they rendered them fit for immediate service, and for entering a more regular and disposable force, their exertions ought to be more satisfactory to themselves, when these men volunteered into the regular army. For his own part, he had several years been a captain in the militia; and although not so high, or perhaps so interested in the service, as the noble lord opposite, he always felt a considerable par- tiality for that kind of force; yet be must say, the measures which had been resorted to for the supply of the regular array, did not incur his disapprobation without altering his former opinions on the subject. His lordship then took a view of the principle of the old militia acts, and shewed there was no alteration adopted in the present instance, which did not accord with the principle of past alterations.

The Marquis of Douglas

concurred in what had been stated by the noble earl (Fitzwilliam,) nor did he think the expression alluded to at all too severe. It correctly described the mode resorted to of recruiting the regular army out of the militia establishment of the country. Whatever consideration might be paid to the other species of force, so much supported by the sacrifice of the militia, he could wish the house to recollect, that perhaps the time was not far distant when we should stand most in need of an internal force adequate to resist the attack of an invading enemy. The disposable force of the country, so much attended to, might be employed in expeditions, when the country would at length, and that probably very soon, feel the great want of an effective and internal force for its own preservation.—Looking at the late achievements of our army abroad, he would have been as ready as any man to have praised the valour and courage displayed; but when he recollected the Convention, he felt too much as a Briton not to lament the purposes for which that army had been employed.

The Earl of Westmoreland

contended there was nothing objectionable in the provisions of modern times respecting the militia. If the old principle had been attended to, and the men had only served for three, four, or seven years, and at that period they had returned from the service, the noble lords would have found themselves without those men who had been so carefully taught their discipline. He trusted, out of that house they were more disposed to give assistance to the bill being carried into execution, and that their regiments would be the most forward; but if their language in that house were to be attended to, no such consequences could be expected. That army which had displayed its superiority on the Tagus, and which, afterwards, amidst the greatest difficulties, embarked with honour and glory, was composed of men chiefly taken from regiments of militia, and he was induced to approve of such a system as strengthened the most useful force of the country.

The Earl of Hardwicke

declined entering into those topics, which, in his opinion, had been irrelevantly introduced into the discussion on the merits of the present bill. But he would call the attention of the noble secretary to the preamble of the bill, where it was said the men should be raised by the beat of the drum. He conceived this a deviation from the principle of the militia, and from the principle of all former bills. He hoped he should be excused for troubling the house with any observation, as he had not been present at the commencement of this discussion.

The Earl of Liverpool

said, if the noble earl had been present, he would have heard his explanation of that part of the bill. His lordship here stated the purport of what he had before expressed on the reason of providing that the men might be raised by way of enlistment for a limited time. In reply to the arguments of other noble lords, he argued, that, without any interference, after a man had learned his duty as a soldier, be would naturally be disposed to continue his services by going into a superior force.

The Earl of Rosslyn

considered there was one objection to the present bill, which had not been mentioned in the course of the debate. It pretended to raise the men for the completion of the militia, by taking the burthen off from the counties, and laying it upon the public; this was a false pretence, for it would do no such thing. The bill provided the men might be raised by enlistment, at a bounty of twelve guineas, any time before June, 1810; and if the quota should not be raised before that period, it is then provided the ancient method of ballot should be resorted to; so that all deficiencies should be supplied before the October following. Of course it was well known there was 20l. fine on the man ballotted, and 10l. more was permitted by way of bounty; and if it should happen the substitute was not procured before October, there was an additional fine of 40l. on the county, so that it must be evident the bounty after June would be from 30l. to 70l. a man; whereas before June it could be no more than twelve guineas. The consequence, from the nature of human reasoning, must be, every man would decline accepting the bounty for enlistment, knowing it would be much better for his interest to wait till this period should elapse. It was on this ground he felt particularly hostile to the bill, because it pretended to do that which his majesty's ministers must be convinced of themselves it could never effect.

The Earl of Selkirk

observed, that the most favourable point of view in which he saw the present measure, was from what had fallen from the noble earl who had just sat down, that it was not likely to effect what it pretended to do, the completion of the militia establishment. The present establishment was, in his mind, so radically wrong, that he had no desire to witness its completion.

The Bill was then read a second time.