The MARQUESS of LONDONDERRY
submitted the following questions to Her Majesty's Government: "Whether the Bill now introduced into the House of Commons by Her Majesty's Government for limiting the time of service in the Army has the sanction and approbation of the Commander-in-Chief, and if it has originated on his recommendation to Her Majesty's Government; or if any opinions have been taken by any board of general officers or other military authorities on the measure? Whether it is the intention of Her Majesty's Ministers to advise Her Majesty to issue Her Royal Warrant, as in October, 1806, for fixing and raising the pensions of non-commissioned officers and soldiers who become entitled to their discharge by reason of expiration of certain periods of service—namely, to non-commissioned officers, to 1s. 10d.; to privates, 1s.; thus returning to the standard thought advisable at that period when limited service was first introduced, instead of remaining at the diminished pensions now established?"
§ EARL GREY
The noble Marquess 547 would, of course, anticipate, with respect to the first question, that the only course open to Her Majesty's Government was to refuse to return any answer whatever; because although in the present instance he (Earl Grey) might do so without any inconvenience, still, to recognise the principle that questions referring to confidential communications between Her Majesty's servants and persons holding high station, such as that of Commander-in-Chief, could be answered in Parliament, would be to establish a system most injurious to the public service. With respect to the second question of the noble Marquess, he (Earl Grey) had only to inform him that no warrant to the effect mentioned was in contemplation by the Gorernment.
The MARQUESS of LONDONDERRY
said, that after what had fallen from the noble Earl, he felt it his duty to move—That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for Copies or Extracts of all Communications that have passed between Her Majesty's Government and the Horse Guards, or general Officers, relating to the Limited Service Bill, now under consideration; also for a Copy of the Warrant of his Majesty King George the Third, of the 7th October, 1806, fixing the Pensions of Noncommissioned Officers and Soldiers, by reason of Expiration of certain Periods of their Service.The course which the Government was adopting, was not only rash, but opposed to the opinions of all practical men. It was, he thought, to be regretted that it should so happen at the present time there was not any military officer in Her Majesty's Cabinet, and consequently the Government had not in their deliberations the benefit of any practical experience to guide them in the conclusion to which they had arrived. If the noble Duke at present at the head of the War Department had approved of the measure, it would have been satisfactory to know it; but if he had not, it was not fair that the Government should shelter themselves under his position. If, on the contrary, the Government had the opinion of the noble Duke in their favour, such was the general confidence reposed in his judgment and ability, that he was sure that the public and the Army would confirm whatever views he might entertain upon the subject. He felt it was his duty as one who had seen active service for some years, to protest against the course which the Government were about to take in this respect. The Bill, it was true, was not directly before their Lordships, and upon that account he might be open to the accusation of bringing the subject prema- 548 turely before their consideration; but his reason for so doing was, in order, if possible, to urge upon the Government the advisability of affording the country at large, and the Army, an opportunity of recording their opinions before the Bill passed through its remaining stages. The introduction of the principle of limited enlistments would, in his opinion, be inoperative of good, whilst it might entail upon the service a great amount of evil. What would have been the consequences if, in the case of the Peninsular war, the major part of the Army went to the noble Duke then in command, and demanded their discharge? But there was another objection against limited enlistment, and it was to be found in the fact, that shortly after the country had made a soldier efficient, he could claim to be discharged. It was impossible to make a good cavalry soldier under five or six years' discipline; but if this measure were to pass into law, shortly after the soldier had been made as perfect in his profession as it was possible to make him, the benefit of his services would be lost to the country, which had been put to the expense of educating and maintaining him. Our service as at present constituted, was not a life service: for under the admirable arrangements of his noble relative Viscount Hardinge, when late Secretary of War, the soldier had no difficulty in getting his discharge, if he had conducted himself well. It was found during the operation of the last Limited Service Bill, that the principle proved a vicious one, for the soldiers became, towards the close of the period of their enlistment, if not mutinous, at least difficult to govern, and from their conduct and example, very likely to taint the corps with a spirit of insubordination. Whilst he wished to be understood as in opposition to the principle of the measure, as far as it regarded limited enlistments, he did not wish it to be supposed that he condemned the other provisions contained in the Bill, such as a barrack reform, and other regulations affecting the condition of the soldier; but when the Government allowed themselves to be led away by false theories, and to act in defiance of all established practice and experience, he could not refrain from directing their most serious attention to the dangerous nature of the trial they were about to attempt. He agreed that liberal pensions ought to be awarded to the soldier after long and arduous services. He thought the most advantageous measure would be to bring back 549 the old system of pensions. It was but a miserable economy on the part of Government which they now practised, in not giving men after hard service those rewards they were so justly entitled to. It was said that the Bill, as originally proposed, was to attach to the existing Army as well as the new Army. It was said that the Bill, as originally proposed, was to effect the present existing Army as well as future enlistments; but if the alteration which excluded the present Army had been carried into effect in consequence of the intervention of high authority, it would be well for them to look again for advice to the same distinguished authority, and endeavour to take another leaf out of his book. He believed there was not at the present moment the slightest necessity for the measure. The Army never was in finer or more effective condition; and he put it then, whether at such a time it was advisable to recur to a principle which had signally failed on three or four previous occasions. He had in his possession a letter from an officer of high standing in the Army, which, containing, as it did, the opinion of a practical man, ought to carry some weight with their Lordships. It was not necessary to state the name of the writer, but the letter was to the following effect:—My dear Lord—I am flattered by your Lordship asking and setting any value on my sentiments as to the momentous change which is now pending in the mode of enlistment for the Army. As with me it is purely a professional, and not at all a political question, I have no scruple or hesitation whatever in openly avowing them. I well recollect the former partial and temporary trial of the experiment whilst in command, and the inconveniences that then resulted from it. Its pernicious effect on discipline was sensibly felt, chiefly through the independent and unruly deportment of those soldiers whose period of service approached its expiry, and who, by their bad example, tainted those who were enlisted for unlimited service. I was heartily glad when we returned again to the present mode of enlistment. Abstractedly speaking, the plan seems plausible enough; but I apprehend it will prove practically a perilous experiment in the end, for I fear that the restrictions to be attached to it are insufficient to palliate the mischief, or effectually to avert the danger at the critical moment when we may want out utmost strength. To some arms it must prove quite a ruinous measure; and most particularly so to the artillery, and next to the cavalry. To the infantry, perhaps, the mischief may prove comparatively trifling. In the artillery it will be quite impossible to maintain its present reputation under the circumstances that this Bill must inevitably produce in this branch of the service. And, after all, I think it will be found a great mistake to suppose that we shall, by this measure, obtain one of the chief advantages which its advocates 550 hold out to us, viz., a very different and very superior description of recruits. To me it appears that we shall continue to get pretty nearly the same materials as at present, only rendered less manageable by an unruly spirit of independence. The men on the point of claiming their discharges will, as they did before, bid defiance to discipline. To sum up, you will have a wretched corps of artillerymen, and a very indifferent body of cavalry, compared to what you have had. It is all very well to say that the mischief will not be irretrievable, and that you may track back again, as you have before; but such changes are most pernicious and inconvenient to the service, and unsettle the whole of the machinery of the Army. Such are my notions on this subject. They may be erroneous, and I hope I may be mistaken in my anticipations of the pernicious effects of the measure.—I remain, my dear Lord, most sincerely yours, * * *.March 29, 1847.In addition, there was the opinion of Mr. Canning in 1806, who stated that he could not allow a question of such magnitude and importance as an alteration in the limitation of army service, to be made without the fullest and most deliberate consideration of all the attendant circumstances. The noble Marquess concluded by moving for the returns.
§ EARL GREY
assured the House, that, in rising to reply to his noble Friend, he would not follow the noble Marquess through the very elaborate details into which he had entered. The noble Marquess had prefaced his observations by suggesting that perhaps it would have been better for him to have postponed his observations until the question was brought legitimately before them. With that expression of opinion he (Earl Grey) entirely concurred; and he would carry out the principle involved in it, although the noble Marqness had in practice diametrically opposed that which he had himself advocated. He assured their Lordships it would be highly inconvenient to enter on a debate upon a subject then not before them, but which would in a short time be brought under their consideration in the regular way; and upon that account he would postpone any remarks he might have to make upon the merits of the measure. In answer to the observation of the noble Marquess, expressive of regret that there was not any gentleman of high military ability in the Cabinet, he feared Her Majesty's Government would have to labour under the censure. All he could say, with reference to the Motion with which his noble Friend had concluded, was, that his speech did not contain a single Parliamentary reason for asking the House to furnish the papers. 551 It was a most inconvenient thing, as their Lordships would all admit, to make the consultations that might have taken place between officers of the Crown and Members of the Government upon any particular measure winch should be submitted to Parliament a subject for discussion; and, in his opinion, to consent to afford such information as the noble Marquess required, would be subversive of the efficiency of the public service; and he, therefore, confidently asked their Lordships not to agree to the first part of his Motion. With regard to the second, as the Warrant of 1806 would no doubt be found among the old army warrants of the period, he had no objection to it.
§ The EARL of CARDIGAN
looked with doubt and apprehension on the measure introduced by the Government in the other House for the limitation of the period of enlistment. The objects of the Bill, he understood, to be these: first, to render the Army more popular; secondly, to facilitate the obtaining of recruits; and, thirdly, to induce a better class of soldiers to enlist. It appeared to him that the most effectual way of obtaining these objects would be to confer a more liberal pension on the discharged soldier, and then to take some means to curtail the length of colonial service, which now amounted to banishment from their native country. He would ask, what advantage or bonus the Bill now about to be brought before the House, held out to induce men of a higher or better class to enlist? They were required to serve in the ranks ten years; they then had permission to enlist for twelve years in what he supposed must be called a reserve battalion, in which twelve days' duty per annum would be required, and at the end of that period they might again enlist for a similar period with the same duty. At the expiration of the whole term, a service of one sort or other of thirty-four years, what then was the boon held out to superior men? They were to retire on a pension of 6d. per day. Sixpence a day was, he believed, the smallest amount of parochial relief granted to paupers: it was the union pittance for breaking stones at the side of the high road. He did not think, with such a pension a better class of men would be induced to enlist. If this Bill should pass the Legislature, and he believed it would, he trusted the Government would take into consideration the propriety of altering the present unlimited system of allowing discharges to 552 be purchased, and of requiring a bonâ fide service of ten years. If, in addition to the present system of discharges, the enlistment was limited to ten years, the Army could not possibly be kept in an efficient state. In the regiment which he had the honour to command, a hundred recruits had been enlisted during the last fourteen months; and every one who knew anything practically of the subject must be aware that a cavalry soldier could not be formed in that time. Other cavalry regiments were in the same position; and, of course, they could not be in the most efficient state at that moment. He would like to ask how the Bill was proposed to be carried into effect. He could understand it in a Continental army; but it was wholly inapplicable to the position of England, when, although we had a large standing Army, it was dispersed into every part of the globe. We had forces at Hong-Kong, in China, on the Sutlej, in Scinde, in various parts of the great continent of East India, in North America, in the West Indies, in the Mediterranean, at the Cape of Good Hope; in fact, there was scarcely an habitable region of the earth in which some portion of the standing army of England was not dispersed. He would ask, then, how were the men in these distant colonies and stations to be relieved, and how the places of those discharged were to be filled up? The expense of sending to all these remote parts of the world would be considerable, and would oblige the Government to keep up a perpetual system of transports to relieve the men as their time expired. They must recollect that regiments were not sent to the colonies for two, three, or five years; but for ten at the least, and often for fourteen or sixteen. It would probably be answered, so much the better for the men thus to shorten the limits of the colonial service; but he would ask what system was to be pursued with regard to the officers? The whole corps of officers would be detained the full period, while the men would be regularly and periodically released. These were the views he entertained on the subject; and, in addition, he had one remark to make in reference to what had passed in another place. In this country, there was now, and always had been, a strong prejudice against large standing armies. It was considered unconstitutional and destructive to the liberties of the subject. But it was dispersed over the colonies, and nothing was left here but a mere skeleton of a standing army; and 553 at some future time, when the people of this country were turned by means of this Bill into a military population, the greatest difficulty would be experienced in cases of disturbance to suppress the riotous, and maintain internal peace with that skeleton. Let them all recollect what had occurred in a neighbouring country. There the troops had been defeated, the Government overthrown, the dynasty subverted, and the greatest excesses committed by the victors. Perhaps the same circumstances never could happen in this country; but it was dangerous to make the people into a military population, accustomed to the sound of fire-arms, and practised in the use of them. He remembered ten or fourteen years ago, in a time of considerable discontent, though he did not just then remember the cause of it, a body of 30,000 men marched through the metropolis, with all the military array they could assume. It was true that great body dispersed quietly; but the Government in the morning of that day feared the contrary. Every man who could be called upon duty was summoned; great precautions were taken; and the roads approaching the place in which their Lordships were now sitting was guarded by troops and patrolled by cavalry. He could not but think that in future, when such bodies as 30,000 men assembled in times of great discontent and excitement, if two-thirds of those bodies were men discharged from the ranks, and accustomed to the use of fire-arms, they would be the more likely to proceed to extremities, and the Government would find it ten times more difficult than ever to suppress them. He concluded by expressing a hope that he had said nothing which was unbecoming in the presence of so high a military authority as the noble Duke (the Luke of Wellington) who was sitting near him.
The MARQUESS of LONDONDERRY
explained, that he had given the Government early notice of his intention to put the questions he had done; and with respect to discussing the Bill before it was before the House, he had taken the course adopted the other evening by the noble Lord opposite, and thought himself perfectly justified in so doing. He thought the noble Earl (Earl Grey) might have done him the courtesy to have stated his views on the subject, instead of leaving their Lordships in entire ignorance. Their Lordships and the country had a right to expect some statement from the noble Earl.
§ First Motion withdrawn; second agreed to.
§ House adjourned.