HL Deb 13 March 1818 vol 37 cc1062-8

On the order of the day for the third reading of the Mutiny Bill,

Earl Grosvenor

rose, in pursuance of the notice he had given, to move for an alteration in the preamble of the bill. After what had passed on a former evening on the subject of the army, their lordships would not be surprised that he should enter his solemn protest against the maintaining such a force as it was proposed to keep up in a time of general peace, and at a period when the finances of the country were in a most deranged state. A large standing army ought never to be maintained in this country, unless its liberties were threatened from abroad, and its existence at stake. Unless the outposts were actually forced, and the country, exposed to danger from an invading. enemy, there could be no excuse for retaining a great body of troops in pay. Their lordships were well aware of the objections which had been entertained by their ancestors to a standing army, who had always considered the maintaining of a military force, under the control of the Crown, as the measure, of all others, most dangerous to the liberties of the country. This was a principle which they not only maintained by argument, but in support of which they had shed their blood. Did the noble lords opposite pretend that they were either wiser, or understood the constitution better, than those great men by whom it was founded? The noble lord opposite had promised, when the question respecting the army came fairly before the House, to prove that the force at present maintained was not larger than the service of the country required; but he could not conceive by what chain of reasoning their lordships could be induced conscientiously to adopt such an opinion. It was true that the proposition for this force had been carried in another place, but there lordships were also aware, that on a motion for reducing the army, only a few more than sixty persons could be I found in an assembly consisting of 658 members to agree in opinion that so large a force ought to be maintained. He should not take up much of their lordships' time by entering into details. In the view he took of the reductions which might be made, he would pass over the army in India, and also the army in France. With regard to Ireland, however, the force for which was 20,000, he thought a very great deduction might be made. Their lordships were aware of the assurances which persons well acquainted with that part of the empire had given of the loyal disposition of the people. When it was considered that Europe was completely at peace, and that there were no less than! 40,000 yeomanry cavalry in Ireland, it was impossible to conceive any reason for maintaining a standing army of 20,000 men in that country. In the colonies, the extent of the force proposed to be maintained was equally objectionable. The establishment of the year 1786 appeared a proper period for making a comparison with the present, in estimating the force which ought to be maintained. That year was, like the present, the third after the conclusion of a general peace. It was impossible, therefore, to find a more suitable point of comparison, though the result was very unfavourable to the views of ministers. In 1786, not one half of the force was allotted for the colonies which it was now proposed to maintain in them. It had been said, that a greater force was necessary for the security of Canada; but he could not see any force in that argument. We were at peace with the United States; there was no apprehension of an attack on our colonies from any quarter; and he could net therefore understand the necessity of keeping up a large force for their defence. Why should more troops be now maintained in Canada, than when it was surrounded with hostile Indians, and war was apprehended? Making every allowance for the increase of the colonies, which had been much dwelt on, there could certainly be no good reason for appropriating to that service double the number of troops employed on it in 1786, It ought to be recollected, too, that at that period our debt was not equal to one-fourth of its present amount. At present, such was the weight of the public debt, that it was no longer possible to impose a tax on any article. The revenue could not be augmented., and there was no resource to which their lordships could resort to rescue the country from its present embarrassments, but economy in the expenditure. This was a consideration which ought to weigh with their lordships, and it was one which almost precluded the possibility of any comparison being made between the force maintained in 1786, and that which ought to be maintained now. Last year, when there was an alarm, though an alarm created by ministers themselves, there was some pretext for maintaining a considerable force in this country. The noble lords opposite had then something in the shape of argument on their side. That ground was now, however, taken from under them. By their own confession, there was no pretence for any alarm of plots and conspiracies at the present moment. Another reason which had been assigned for maintaining a greater force than in 1786, was the increase in our population. This was a reason, the force of which he could not admit. He thought too well of his countrymen to believe that the increase of their numbers produced disaffection to the institutions of the country. On the contrary, he believed that as they grew in numbers, so also did their attachment to the constitution grow. He certainly did not understand attachment to the constitution and attachment to ministers to be one and the same thing. He could not agree with those who supposed that when the people were disaffected to his majesty's ministers, they must also of necessity be disaffected to the constitution of the country. Besides, if an increase of population required an increase of military force, there was no proportion kept in the present case; for the latter was doubled, while the former was only increased one fourth. But, after all the disaffection which this increase of population was said to have occasioned, their lordships could not but recollect that the whole treason which had created so great an alarm last year, had been put down by a sergeant and his command. He might, therefore, fairly suppose, that a corporal and his file would be sufficient to meet all the mischief which could be expected now.—He came next to notice that part of our force which composed a portion of the 100,000 men maintained on the frontiers of France. He had always disapproved of the employment of our troops in this way. The noble earl opposite had indeed said, that the army in France did not cost this country a shilling. He believed, however, that notwithstanding what was paid by treaty, there were many incidental expenses, such as the waggon-train, and other things which were borne by this country. That part of the question he, however, did not think it worth while to discuss. If there were even pecuniary advantage in keeping our troops on the French frontiers, he should consider that profit greatly overbalanced by the evil which must arise from placing them in such a situation. Their contact with the troops of despotic powers could not fail to infuse into them ideas to which military bodies were, from their constitution, too prone, but which were hostile to the principles of the British constitution. Great alarm had been expressed on the subject of emigration from this country and some persons had gone so far as to propose an absentee-tax. He, however, regarded this alarm as equally groundless with that which had been made the foundation of the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act. Attachment to British liberty and the constitution, was too strongly implanted even in the most humble of the natives of this country, to suppose that foreign allurements could have any serious effect. Even to the poorest, Dear is that shod to which his soul conforms, And dear the hill that liftshim to the storms. Every Englishman might exclaim in the words of the poet:— Where'er I roam, whatever realms to see, My heart untravelled fondly turns to thee, Still to my brother turns, with ceaseless pain, And drags at each remove a length'ning chain. Such, he was sure would be the feeling of every Englishman long absent from that land in which he had been habituated to the best and most noble feelings of humanity. If, however, it was wished to drive people out of the country, no better mode could be adopted than that which ministers had resorted to in the last session of parliament. To accomplish such an object, it would only be necessary to repeat the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act, and to expose them to all the machinations of spies and informers. From the view he had taken of the state of our force, he thought that a deduction of 13,640might be made. He should therefore move, that, instead of the words,"113,640 men, in the bill,"100,000 men," be substituted.

Earl Bathurst

observed, that not with- standing all that the noble earl had said of the force in Ireland, he had not heard any thing from him that tended to prove the number of troops proposed to be kept up in that country unnecessary. With regard to the foreign possessions, the noble earl had preferred to make a comparison with the year 1786 rather than the year 1792. On the contrary, the latter was the fitter period; for the establishment of 1792 was adopted after great deliberation by Mr. Pitt, at a time when that minister did not calculate on an interruption of the peace which the country then enjoyed. So much for the judgment by which the noble earl had been guided in his choice of a period of comparison. In alluding to the force requisite for our foreign establishments, he had taken no notice of the colonial acquisitions which had since been made. If the increase in the establishments to be defended, both in the West and East Indies, were fairly considered it would be found that the increase of force was far from being in due proportion. But the noble earl had spoken of the home force of this country, as if it were maintained for no other purpose except that of enslaving the people. He had said, too, that when a motion for reducing the army was made in another House, the members of which amount to about 660, there was only found 60 of that number to oppose the proposition. Let the noble lord, however, view the other side of the case he alluded to, and he would find that in that assembly there were only forty who would support the proposition for reducing the force of the country. This way of putting the argument was at least as fair as that of which the noble earl had chosen to avail himself. However, with regard to the enslaving of the people, of which the noble earl seemed so much afraid, he should say a few words. The whole number of troops allotted for North Britain was 2,500. Did the noble earl think the Scotch so destitute of spirit and courage, that this force was sufficient to impose chains upon them. This number was to be deducted from the troops for home service in Great Britain. If their lordships also deducted the number of troops necessary for protecting the dock-yards, and guarding the coast, a very small proportion would remain available for other purposes. It was necessary to guard the coast to the land's-end, to check a sort of free trade which found many supporters in the country; and, in fact, when those troops, and those employed in the dock-yards, were deducted, there remained not quite 4,000 men applicable to the enslaving of the population of the metropolis, and twenty-five miles round it. He had only one more observation to make, which he believed would prove convincing to the noble lord himself. The number of men employed should be compared with the duty they had to perform. In all former peace-establishments it had been thought necessary that the number of men should be sufficient to allow them to be three nights in bed and one on duty. Such, however, was the present state of the home-service, compared with the number of the troops, that it admitted of their being two nights in bed and one on duty. He could therefore, by no means accede to the propriety of the noble earl's motion.

Earl Grosvenor

, in reply, said, that all he had heard only the more confirmed his opinion, that despotism was the ultimate end of the system for some time past pursued by his majesty's ministers. All our ideas of government seethed to be com -pletely reversed, and we were every day approximating to those continental notions, of which the least that could be said was, that they were abhorrent from the feelings of Englishmen. The noble earl had amused their lordships with a strange statement of the disposable force at our dock-yards, and the intrepidity with which another part of it was employed in preventing the aggression of smugglers. In answer to this part of the noble earl's speech, he might remind their lordships, that the yeomanry and cavalry force of England was nothing less than 20,000 men, well armed and equipped. But if this army was not sufficient for the counteraction of internal aggression, had the noble earl forgot the local militia, or the possibility of calling in the army in Ireland and in France to the assistance of the executive? On the whole, it appeared to him, that, owing to the habits of travelling, to our contact with foreign courts, to an admiration of foreign modes, we were rapidly approximating to those feelings and notions which must prove destructive of our liberties. If during the prevalence of this feeling, their lordships felt disposed to tolerate it, he would allude to a foreign tale, though certainly one of past times. Bocaccio, though not in general remarkable for the chastity of his tales, and who rarely had ventured on political ground, had, nevertheless, a story not quite unsuited to existing circumstances, and from which a lesson of admonition might, perhaps, be drawn. In the Decamerone, a story was told of a king who had given himself up altogether to the guidance of his ministers, and had never seen or heard of the affairs of his subjects, but as his ministers thought proper to represent them. The ministers betrayed their trust,and, by keeping their sovereign in total ignorance of passing events, were enabled to abuse his power, and at length provoked the people to acts of violence. A revolution was contemplated, from which, however, the monarch was saved by the wisdom of one faithful courtier, who had, by some means, discovered the danger. This courtier procured a considerable number of monkies: one of these he dressed up in royal robes, and taught to personate the king; the others he adorned with the trappings of state, and made them to imitate the council. He also procured a number of inferior animals, such as dogs, cats, and rats, which were to represent the people, and on these he put chains, all directed towards that particular corner of the room where his council were sitting. The courtier having sufficiently prepared his exhibition, induced his sovereign one day to visit it. The monarch was at first surprised, but displeasure soon succeeded, and conceiving that the exhibition was intended to ridicule himself, he was about to plunge a dagger in his courtier's beart. The courtier prayed for mercy, and permission that he might retire to the country for a year, and promised, (hat if on his return to court, the object of his scheme was not discovered and approved, he would willingly submit his breast to his master's dagger. He obtained his prayer, and on his return found the whole system of government altered, the king emancipated from the chains which the self-interest of ministers had imposed on him, and the country restored to happiness and tranquillity. He should leave it to the House and to his majesty's ministers to apply the fable.

The Amendment was negatived; after which, the bill was read a third time, and passed.