HL Deb 28 June 1852 vol 122 cc1333-6

On Motion that the House go into Committee on the Militia Ballots Suspension Bill, and the Militia Pay Bill,


said, he wished to make a few observations on this Bill before their Lordships went into Committee, as he had not yet had an opportunity of stating his opinion—which, perhaps, might be of little value—upon any of the recent measures regarding the defence of the country. He could only concur in the present measures for regulating the militia on the ground that the state of our defensive preparations required some improvement, and that no other measure less exceptionable had been proposed. His opinion was, that it would be better for us to have an additional regular force than any militia at all; and he agreed in every word which had been said the other night by a noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lansdowne) on that subject; and with regard to the whole proposal, he had only this to say, that he regretted that those means for augmenting our forces had not been provided many years ago, when the highest military authority in the country lamented that our means of defence had been allowed to fall so low. Let their Lordships look to the consequences of not doing the right thing at the right time; for now, when they were proceeding to do it, they were asked by every Frenchman they met, "Is there any ground for alarm? Is the French Government not to be trusted? Is there any doubt as to the friendly feeling of the French people?" The only answer that could be given to such a question was this, "No, there is no such doubt—there is no such alarm—we are only doing now what we ought to have done 20 years ago, and which if we had then done, no such umbrage and no such suspicions in regard to the proceedings of the French Government or the French people, as your question seems to anticipate would have arisen." His opinion was that any scheme of the nature of a militia was one of the worst modes of raising troops that could be imagined. It acted as a tax on one class of the community, and as a compulsory service on another. It was also a tax exacted by lot; and, if the objections on that ground were got rid of by any system of insurance or mutual guarantee, or any system of clubs to equalise the pressure, still it operated as a poll-tax, and was open to the worst charge next to that of drawing lots who shall pay the tax, namely, that it was a tax imposed by head without any regard to the capacity of the party on whom it fell. For these reasons he thought that a militia force was the worst species of force which we could have resort to. Objectionable as the plan was to get troops, it did not enable you to get what you wanted—good troops. You expended your money for purposes of war, and got a bad instrument for your purpose. You got very bad troops, until they had been trained continuously for months, perhaps years. Nothing but the circumstance that this Bill was the only plan proposed, induced him to support it. He trusted, however, that before many months elapsed, a sounder plan would be proposed.


rose to move that certain Minutes which he held in his hand from the Adjutant General's Office, be printed.


said, the noble Earl was out of order; he could not make such a Motion at that time: he must make a separate Motion, after the present Motion had been disposed of.


said, that the House would perhaps allow him to proceed with his remarks. The Minutes to which he alluded were those which had been ordered to be produced on a former night in consequence of its having been alleged by a noble Earl on the opposite benches that cetain troops had been embarked in the Birkenhead for the Cape of Good Hope who had not been instructed in firing with ball cartridge. The noble Earl, on looking into those Minutes, would find that he was mistaken upon that point. But, even supposing that there were any defect in that part of their military instruction, the soldiers embarked in the Birkenhead had shown that they were not deficient in all the higher points of military discipline. Never was there a more brilliant or a more beautiful exemplification of discipline than that exhibited by those gallant but unfortunate soldiers. Standing on the brink of death, they were steadily obedient to their officers to the last. They allowed themselves to be swept away into the tomb without a murmur, in order that they might secure a safe escape for the women and children on board the vessel from the common danger which they remained to brave. The noble Earl then proceeded to observe, that in his opinion Her Majesty's Government had done well in adopting this plan for raising a regular militia; for in the present condition of the representatives of the people, he thought that it would be impossible to procure from them a permanent vote for the support of a large Standing Army. Referring to the scheme which had been propounded for arming volunteer corps throughout the country, he said that in his opinion a more dangerous force could not be established than voluntary corps of men spread over the country, under no control and under no discipline—nay, even incapable of discipline—in the possession of arms which could not be taken from them, as they would be their own property, and which might be diverted to illegal purposes. He trusted that Her Majesty's Government, to which he was a sincere well-wisher, would succeed in this measure, and, indeed, in every other measure they might undertake. He must, however, call their attention to the situation of many officers in the militia regiments at present who were not qualified for the command entrusted to them. He hoped that old age, surrounded by numerous troops of friends and relations, would not be considered the best qualification for such offices. He knew a regiment in which the colonel, the lieutenant-colonel, the major, and six captains, were all sixty years old, and where every one of those officers were totally unacquainted with military movements.


was glad to hear that the soldiers on board the Birkenhead had been properly instructed in ball practice; and certainly he was very glad he had mentioned the subject, because a rumour to the contrary had been very current in town, and it was not right such a rumour should be current without being inquired into. He begged to remind their Lordships that he did not make the statement as of his own knowledge, but as a statement which he had received, and which he thought deserved inquiry. He entirely concurred with the noble Earl opposite in admiration at the discipline of the troops in the frightful calamity which befel that unfortunate ship. He concurred in believing that far more real courage and discipline were manifested by the mode in which they met their dreadful fate, than by the greatest gallantry which British soldiers had ever displayed on the field of battle. It was proof of their possessing all the higher qualities of a soldier. He admired the conduct of both men and officers, and he rejoiced very much to hear that the reports which the noble Earl had laid on the table were satisfactory.