HL Deb 31 May 1847 vol 92 cc1288-90

EARL GREY moved the Third Reading of this Bill.


said, he was under obligations to the noble Earl opposite for his having postponed, at his request, the third reading of this Bill from Friday to this day. It was rather sharp work to carry it the first day after the Adjournment, and many officers and noble Peers interested not in the House. However, he found that that short delay would have no effect in relieving the Army from deserters or the mischief of this Bill, which he had ever thought so mistaken and injudicious in principle, that he would not attend during the Committee upon the Bill, being satisfied that no change would he accomplished to make it palatable to the profession to which he belonged. He understood that, in the Committee, some important and valuable changes affecting our troops in India, were introduced by a noble Earl (the Earl of Ellenborough) greatly competent to judge of the question; and that had determined him, and probably others, no longer to oppose the measure. He confessed, therefore, under those considerations, that it would be unbecoming in him, having so often trespassed on their Lordships on the subject, to force another division against the opinions of those who had become more reconciled to the Bill, and probably be subject to a smaller division. It appeared also, in Committee, that the noble Duke (the Duke of Wellington) adopted a tone more conformable to the views of the Government than he did in the commencement of this discussion. Still, he must say his Grace's opinions were of a variegated hue; and he did not think he would show or hold any ill-will towards him for respectfully but pointedly protesting against this measure. No argument had been adduced in answer to the great points he had alleged against the Bill. Destruction to the discipline of the Army at the period when the men approached the end of their servitude, when they would become insolent and insubordinate, and would make the good steady soldiers so also, while there was also a great injustice done to the old men; and, as to inducing a superior class to enlist, it was perfectly absurd, and one of those powerful theories on which his noble Grace's legislation seemed to be founded. It was preposterous, surely, to hope that they would remain in the Army if they could get equally good means of living out of it, any more than school boys would stay happily at school. But all those and innumerable other objections had been so much dwelt on, that he would not trouble the House further. Whatever mischief might arise, it was hardly probable, under the will of Providence, that he should live to witness the unhappy results of this measure; but he heartily hoped the noble Earl (Earl Grey) might be spared, and when he saw a tenth annually of 72,000 men, being the average of our colonial force, having the right of their discharge in the colonies, and who must be brought home, he hoped the noble Earl might do him the honour of remembering his prophecies, when he or some less theoretical Minister would then, or probably long before, return to the unlimited service, which was far more in unison with the duties of the British Army than the enlistment for limited periods, which had so often been tried, and had always failed. He was ignorant whether the noble Earl had cast his eyes on the able speeches of Sir H. Douglas in another place: they were printed, and in a small compass, and he would do well to read them. The extracts from the speeches of the Duke of Wellington were very remarkable and fatal documents to the noble Earl's Bill. In conclusion, he owned that he did not envy the noble Earl's feelings in carrying this measure. It had been passed through both Houses by small majorities; it had been squeezed out of a murder which, from various reasons and delicacies, he would not further allude to. It had been passed against the opinion and feeling of all the oldest, most experienced and ablest officers of the British Army. It had been passed in their Lordships' House by the aid of the right rev. Bench, who were manifestly as ignorantly of everything relating to a soldier as the Secretary at War had proved himself to be in his speech, and as the noble Earl had shown himself to be, of the conduct and character of commanding officers of regiments in the service.

Bill read 3a and passed.

House adjourned.