HL Deb 02 March 1854 vol 131 cc175-88

, having moved, pursuant to notice, for an account of the expense of the militia in 1852 and 1853, the number of men enrolled in each regiment, and the number of men who failed to attend the second assembling for training (in continuation of the Account No. 42); and an account of the complement of each regiment of militia, said: I may now perhaps state to your Lordships the result of the returns made up to the 14th August of last year. Unless a very material change has taken place in the numbers enrolled, my noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Aberdeen) was wrong in stating that 80,000 militiamen had been raised. It would rather seem that 63,000 have been enrolled, and that, of these, 60,000 only have come forward. But, in looking over the lists, one cannot but be struck with this remarkable circumstance, namely, the very great deficiency which occurs in the number of men raised in the counties of York and Lancaster, especially the West Riding. In each of these coun- ties there appears to be a deficiency of 2,000 or 3,000. It is most remarkable that the population of these particular districts are those who are to receive the largest share of the favour of the Government in the new distribution of political power, under the Reform Bill submitted to the other House of Parliament, and it is precisely there that the population have contributed little or nothing to the national defence. I have throughout taken a very great interest in the success of this measure; I have done what I could in my own county to carry it into effect, and it was satisfactory for me to observe that in that county, at least, the steps taken to enlist the requisite number of men were attended with great success, one of the regiments having obtained its full complement, and the other very nearly its full complement. And this, my Lords, I must take the liberty of stating, as the result of the consideration I have given to the subject and the observation I have made, that in every case where the gentlemen having influence in their different counties have exercised that influence among their neighbours, especially if they were aided by the farmers, and where they would take the trouble of endeavouring to engage volunteers, the full complement of men would soon be enrolled. I must admit there is one very great advantage ancillary to the exertions of individuals in this matter; I must say, in my opinion, there is very great facility in carrying into effect the provisions of the Bill in all those counties in which there is a large police force. There is no doubt that the members of that force are the very best recruiting officers that can be employed, especially stimulated as they are by that most useful provision, that the person who brings in a recruit shall receive 5s. for doing so. Very considerable effect is likewise to be attributed to the apprehension of the ballot. It is impossible to say to what extent that apprehension operates; but there can be no doubt that it has its effect. With respect to what may be done by individuals, I have observed, that when particular individuals and the farmers have taken an interest in the success of the measure, so many volunteers were brought forward in particular parishes, that if all parishes had come forward and produced their volunteers in the same proportion, not 60,000 effectives, but 170,000 effectives would have been enrolled. I recollect most particularly that a captain of militia, a gentleman of no considerable property, but of great zeal and energy, marched into Tewkesbury at the head of the body of volunteers, equal to the number of those which he was to command, entirely obtained by his own exertions and activity. It certainly occurs to me that it would be most advisable that Her Majesty's Ministers, desirous as they must be to obtain the full complements of the militia regiments, should avail themselves of the clause in the Act that makes the militia districts conterminous with the superintendent-registrars' districts. The boards of guardians are a most important and valuable machinery for the purpose of effecting any great measure of public utility within their unions; and if the chairman of the board of guardians—himself generally one of the most influential persons in the Union—will only use his influence with the guardians, who are also generally persons of some importance in the Union, I have no doubt that they, with their friends and connections, will always be able to carry out this Act in the agricultural districts. But it is most desirable that they should be able to state to those whom they desire to induce to enlist, that it depends upon the number furnished by that Union whether or not they shall have the ballot, or any other infliction which may be substituted for the ballot. I am persuaded that, if that course were adopted, this measure would be carried out with much greater efficiency than hitherto.

But I must remind Her Majesty's Government of a measure which was recommended by the Committee of the House of Commons at the end of last Session, which I understand they promised to take into their most favourable consideration—the proposition for an extension of the rural police over the whole country. Not only has that measure many circumstances to recommend it, independently of its connection with the militia, but I feel confident that if would practically, be found the most efficient means of procuring volunteers for the militia and of finding them when wanted after you have obtained them. There is another provision that might be adopted should it be found difficult to obtain an adequate number of men for the militia—that of increasing the bonus, or premium, at present 5s., paid to each person who brought a recruit.

But, my Lords, there is a matter of very great importance, and one which must be enforced on the attention of the Government, and that is, whether resort shall be had to the ballot to supply the deficiencies that exist to so great an extent in particular districts. I feel all the difficulties of, and all the objections to, the actual operation of the ballot; and I think that, instead of at once resorting to that measure, however necessary it may become ultimately, it would be highly desirable, at least in the first instance, to substitute a penalty, to be levied on the parish which did not produce the necessary number of recruits. I think that, if Her Majesty's Ministers were to exercise the powers granted them by the Act to make districts conterminous with poor-law unions, and were then to obtain power either to enforce the ballot, or to levy a fine of 10l. on such districts for every recruit short of their quota which was furnished by them, I believe that that measure would have the most powerful effect, and that there would in future be no difficulty in obtaining the quota of men required.

But, my Lords, whatever may be the means adopted to obtain a full complement of men, and whatever may be their success, all this will be of little practical value if the Government do not—as they may do by Order of the Queen in Council—extend the period of drill beyond twenty-one days. It is impossible for any one who has seen a battalion at the end of the twenty-one days' drill not to have experienced the greatest regret that the period of drill was not longer extended. I had the satisfaction of seeing the battalion in my own neighbourhood, and I am sure that there is no officer who would not have desired to command troops similar to them. But it is impossible for them in twenty-one days to obtain sufficient practice to render them efficient in the field. I am most desirous that, at least under the present circumstances, and during the present year, the period of drill should be extended to fifty-six days. There is this further reason for such a step, arising out of the present circumstances—that whereas hitherto, in consequence of the presence of a large body of regular troops in the country, it has been possible to furnish each regiment of militia with a considerable number of non-commissioned officers and soldiers of the line for the purpose of drilling them; it will be impossible to furnish the same assistance to the militia when the number of regular troops at home is diminished; and a consequent diminution in the steadiness of the battalions will be the result. It is a question whether it would not be desirable to use the military pensioners permanently for the assistance of the militia regiments; but of this I am certain, that not being able to rely on the constant presence of so many soldiers as have been heretofore taken from the regular regiments, it is absolutely necessary, in order to obtain the same degree of steadiness, that you should have a much longer period of drill. I am, indeed, most desirous that while we are at war, as we are or shall be, we should have the whole of the militia on permanent service. I think this would be most advantageous, in order to enable us more freely to dispose of our regular force, while it would enable us to obtain for the militia regiments the services as officers of a class of persons very superior to those whom we could expect to have under present circumstances, while the militia is only out for a short period and at an uncertain time. If the militia were permanently embodied during the whole of the war, I should think that we were laying the foundation of permanent public security, and that circumstance I should deem as one of the greatest advantages we could obtain, and as an important compensation for the evils attendant on the state of war in which we are likely to be involved. I must admit that I look with much greater anxiety than I should otherwise do to the determination which Her Majesty's Ministers may come to upon the subject, in consequence of my entertaining a very great apprehension that the resolution to detach so many troops to Turkey is at least premature, and that it is desirable to see daylight in the Baltic before we decided on detaching so large a proportion of our disposable force. It is, indeed, quite true that, if our fleet be reinforced by the French naval force stated to be destined for the same service, the squadrons of the two allied Powers in the Baltic will be amply sufficient to secure us against any hostile attack from that quarter, and to establish our predominance in that sea. But without that reinforcement from France, undoubtedly such preparations as I have yet heard of, with respect to the naval force to be provided by this country alone, will not be sufficient for that purpose; and I must say that, however gratified I may be to see the presence of a French fleet in conjunction with ours—however desirous I may be of seeing the preponderance of the two great allies established in the Baltic—it is not satisfactory to me to think that England must depend upon the assistance of France to produce in the Baltic a fleet superior to that of Russia—that is, practically, to defend our own shores;—for if we should not produce such a superior fleet in the Baltic, our own shores will be open to attack, and every port we have will be exposed to a disaster like that at Sinope. That is not satisfactory to me, nor can it be satisfactory to the noble Earl on the cross-benches, who only the other night talked of England as capable of beating all the naval Powers in the world. I see in practice that it is only by the assistance of France that we are enabled to produce a force superior to that of the one Power of Russia. That is not in accordance with my recollections of former times. Nor is it in accordance with that which I think ought to be a principle of British policy. I say that I regret, at such a period, to see so large a detachment of British troops sent on a distant foreign service, because I cannot tell that they may not be required at home. The true point for us to look to is the Baltic, not the Black Sea. If we establish a superiority in the Baltic we are safe. How can we tell that, in the course of the next three weeks, a demand will not be made upon us for troops for the Baltic?—that, as in 1807, Sweden may not ask us to assist her with troops to maintain her independence? Sweden and Denmark are both increasing their forces. Why? Because they apprehend attack. We may be called upon to assist them in the defence of their shores. But where are our troops? Gone to Turkey. We should look nearer home than we appear to be doing, and before we venture to make great detachments of troops on foreign service, we should be sure to secure the key of our own position. But it is not only in support of Sweden and Denmark that troops may be required. It is not impossible that it may occur to the distinguished Admiral in command of that fleet—as great a man ashore as afloat—that it may be extremely desirable, if not essential to our naval operations, that we should occupy some island now in the possession of Russia in the Baltic. Nothing is more probable. But where are our troops? Gone to Turkey. I feel satisfied that if we had 20,000 men disposable for the Baltic, and it were known that we had them, the presence of those men so disposable would have more effect in occupying the troops of Russia, and in detaining them on the shores of the Baltic, than any detachment of the same number of men to the Black Sea. Depend upon it that it is in the Baltic that the essential battle must be fought; and that the chief point is to obtain superiority and predominance there. We ought to have troops ready to attack a Russian island or arsenal; or rather, I should say, we ought to destroy two Russian arsenals before the breaking up of the ice shall allow the fleet to leave Cronstadt. We ought to strike the blow which was intended in 1801, and not wait till we are attacked. But of this I am sure, that if we had this force disposable for the Baltic, the influence of that force in detaining the troops of Russia on the shores of that sea, instead of allowing her to detach them for service elsewhere—the influence of that force on the policy of Sweden and Denmark—the influence of that force upon the mind of Germany—the influence of that predominance upon public opinion at St. Petersburg—would have been far beyond anything which, gallant as they may be, well appointed, well led as they may be, those 20,000 troops can possibly produce at Constantinople, or at any point in Turkey to which they may be despatched.

I beg now to move for an account of the expense and force of the militia, in continuation of the account ordered to be printed on the 15th August, 1853, and to ask what are the intentions of Her Majesty's Government with respect to calling out the militia this year, and with respect to the corps either not formed or much below their complement?


My Lords, with reference to the first part of the noble Earl's inquiry, whether it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government that the militia should be embodied and drilled during the present year for a longer period than last year, I have to reply that it is the intention of the Government to have the militia embodied this year, not certainly for the long period of 56 days, suggested by my noble Friend, but for a longer period than last year—namely, for 28 days. The noble Earl has also moved for a continuation of returns presented to this House at the close of the last Session of Parliament. Of course, there can be no objection on the part of the Government to that return being made as speedily as possible, together with the additional information to which he has referred. But when the noble Earl complains of the number of men who are already enrolled in the militia, compared with the number—80,000—which we are authorized to enroll under the present Act, I would beg to call his attention to the number enrolled on the 1st January of the present year—66,280—as compared both with 80,000, the full force, and with the number of men—51,560—who were assembled in the course of last year, I believe that no necessity has yet arisen, either to enforce the ballot or to resort to any other penal measure, such as that which the noble Earl has advocated so strongly. I do not think that, unless we are compelled by circumstances, this is the moment to resort to measures of a penal character. The most patriotic and noble spirit has undoubtedly been evinced by the whole population of the country, with regard to enlisting either in the naval or military services; and I think that Her Majesty's Government would be making an ill return for such a spirit if they took any measures to compel that which the country are ready to do so voluntarily and so well. When we compare the numbers that have volunteered with the quota, and recollect, moreover, that even when the last return to which I have referred was made up, we were still enabled to maintain hopes that peace would be preserved; and when we recollect that the spirit to which I have referred was not then aroused, I think we have no great reason to complain of the success of the measure for raising a militia, or of the spirit evinced by the people. My noble Friend has alluded to the number of regiments not yet formed. He has stated with great accuracy that, out of the seven regiments which are in this category, four belong to the great manufacturing districts of Lancashire and Yorkshire. He did not, however, state accurately the whole of the facts as to these two counties. He said that no enrolment had taken place—that we had, in fact, no militia force at all in those counties—


I said that the enrolment in these counties had fallen short by 3,000 or 4,000 men.


There are two regiments not yet formed in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and two in Lancashire; but a vast number of men have been already enrolled there, and when we consider the large number allotted to those two counties, it is not fair to say that they have been so backward as might be inferred from the remarks of my noble Friend. And when you compare the number of men enrolled with the allotted quota, and consider the unprecedented demand, and the unusually high rate of wages for labour, which have prevailed in this district during the whole of the time that the Act has been in operation, I must say that I do not think it fair to attribute to them that backwardness which the noble Earl seems to impute to them; and my only astonishment is, not that there should be the existing deficiency, but that that deficiency should not be greater. I come now to another question asked or suggested by my noble Friend, as to whether we are prepared permanently to embody the militia, in the present aspect of affairs. I am not prepared to soy that that measure may not be eventually found necessary; but undoubtedly the Government do not consider that the moment has arrived when it is necessary to put the whole country to the serious inconvenience which would attach to embodying as a permanent force so large a portion of the able-bodied population of this country. I am perfectly certain that Her Majesty's Government are adopting a wise course in not resorting to this measure until the necessity for it is proved; and I am equally confident that when the necessity is proved the men embodied in the militia and the country at large will be prepared to make those sacrifices and bear those inconveniences in their country's cause which they will then see are really necessary for the benefit of the country. I, like any other Member of the Government, must be placed at great disadvantage in replying to that part of the speech of my noble Friend which relates to the preparations for war, and to the mode in which that war should be carried on. I shall not feel it my duty to follow my noble Friend either to the Baltic or to the scene of the other operations to which he directed the attention of the House. I am aware of the attention which my noble Friend has given to these subjects; and I am therefore not altogether surprised that he should, on successive nights, bring forward these topics for discussion in your Lordships' House. But I would, with all deference, submit to him that there are practical inconveniences, not to Her Majesty's Government—for as regards their inconvenience, I have no right to make a remark—but with reference to the conduct of negotiations and to operations of a warlike character, which may be greatly retarded or prejudiced by these observations. It is impossible not to feel that intimations made by my noble Friend as to what this Power or that Power may do are by no means well calculated to convey to them a high opinion of the warlike ability of this country, or of the state of preparation for war in which we are at present. I regret that he should have reiterated what he stated the other night, that the fleet about to proceed to the Baltic is insufficient for the purpose for which it is intended. I am sorry to see on the part of my noble Friend, a disposition to decry at once its number and its efficiency. I certainly do not know whence my noble Friend derives his estimate of its number, for, as far as I understand the question, he has greatly underrated it. Of this I am confident, from the reports received from the naval men who are most competent to form an opinion, that he has greatly underrated both the number and the efficiency both of the ships and of the sailors. He says that we have done wrong in preparing the force which either has sailed or is about to sail for the Mediterranean. I cannot but think, however, that if a force of that magnitude had not been despatched, we should have been told that we were sending on a difficult service a force altogether inadequate to the duty which it was required to perform. I think that to send a small force, and one insufficient for the operations in which it is to be engaged, is not only unworthy of a country like this, but is a dereliction of duty on the part of those who despatch them, because, as every military man knows, such a course is always attended with a much larger sacrifice of life than would be the case if a proper force were sent. The noble Earl is quite mistaken in saying, that we have denuded the country of troops. This is not the case; even without taking into consideration the recruits that are daily coming in, and the augmentation of the Army included in the supplemental estimates which the Government are about to present to the other House of Parliament, I beg to tell the noble Earl, and those who are likely to be influenced by his sad picture of the state of the country, that, if it should be considered by the Government desirable or necessary to undertake the operations to which he has referred, there are in the country, and in addition to the troops to be sent to the Mediterranean, an amply sufficient force to carry them out—trained men who will gallantly serve in any quarter, north or south, when the interests of their country require it. I should be the last man in the world to misrepresent the amount of forces at our disposal; I think it would be unworthy of the British Government to play the game of brag. But in concert with the military authorities I have ascertained that there is no difficulty, so far as this country is concerned, in providing such a force as human foresight and military experience may lead us to think may be necessary. The noble Earl must forgive me if I decline to follow in more detail the observations which he has made. I feel that it is my duty, and that of every Member of the Government, to preserve strict silence on these subjects. As regards the returns for which the noble Earl has asked, we shall be quite ready to furnish the desired information.


stated that there was great willingness on the part of the people of the West Riding of Yorkshire to volunteer into the militia. Although three regiments had been added to the three that already existed, there was no difficulty in filling them all up. Indeed, such was the readiness of the people to volunteer that recruits came into the head-quarters of the 4th Regiment at Leeds by fifty a day. The reason why all the regiments had not been raised was, that it was thought undesirable to enrol men a considerable time before they were likely to be called upon to be trained.


I hope my noble Friend's favourable anticipations are better founded than my apprehensions;—but I believe the Government are dealing with illusions, while I am looking only at stubborn realities. But though I think they are dealing with illusions, I must admit that they are only acting in coincidence with the general opinion of this House and the country. I would, however, venture to suggest to them, that it is at least more straightforward and honourable in a public man to state his objections in limine to a course of policy about to be adopted, and to run the risk of all the censure that may be heaped upon him, should his predictions fail, than to wait until he sees the result of the operations in question—to be silent if they should succeed, and to visit them with animadversion if they should fail. I have taken a different course. I have stated distinctly to the House what my opinions are, and I think my noble Friend at the head of the Government, and not he alone, but at least one other Member of the Government, may recollect that this is not the first time that I have privately stated to them my opinions on the policy to be adopted, and on the danger they encountered by the course which they have taken. I would only venture to suggest to Her Majesty's Government that the true secret of success in war is to leave nothing to fortune which can be wrested from her dominion by prudence and preparation. That is the principle upon which invariably my great monitor acted. That is the principle upon which I have always acted in any operations which I have been compelled to undertake; and while obedience to that principle almost invariably leads to success, its neglect is almost as invariably followed by failure.


observed, that it was perfectly impossible, at a time like the present, to prevent the expression by Members of Parliament of their sentiments upon subjects of such deep anxiety as at this moment engross the country; and he thought that his noble Friend, with the views which he took, was perfectly justified in addressing their Lordships. He gave the Government credit, since they had really put their hand to the work, for having made great exertions towards raising forces and supporting the power of this country; but it was indispensable that the Government and the country should not be deceived with regard to the position in which we stood. The officers who would have to conduct the fleet to the Baltic would have the deepest responsibility imposed upon them, and all their energies would be required to bring that fleet into a proper condition to meet an enemy. He had no hesitation in saying that the Government had been late in their preparations, and that great labour would be required to bring the fleet into a state to meet a force of thirty sail of the line, which had been afloat for a great number of years and was in perfect discipline and order. He believed that there was vast difficulty at this moment in raising seamen in England. That was no secret; it was perfectly notorious. Our ships were being manned in consequence by coast-guardsmen and landsmen, the latter of course quite unused to ships, and the former utterly unfitted for anything but deck work, and unqualified to go aloft. This was a very serious matter. He did not blame the Government for it, for he believed that there were no seamen in the country. It was impossible, however, that they should deceive themselves upon that head, and, as to saying that they must not express an opinion upon such a subject, but must keep it as a great secret, it was absurd to suppose that any Government could venture so far to muzzle the opinions and sentiments of independent Members of Parliament.


thought if they had not sufficient sailors, it must be owing to the policy whereby the sailors did not get remunerative wages; the consequence being that America was enabled to secure the services of the sailors which this country required; but he felt certain that the spirit which had ever characterised the British nation would now show itself, and that they would never want a sufficient number of sailors to man the ships necessary for their defence. Lest his silence on a former occasion should be construed into an approval of the war in which they were engaged, he would take this opportunity of saying that he deeply regretted that a quarrel about the Latin and Greek Churches should be the cause of a war, the duration and expense of which no man could calculate. He gave Her Majesty's Government ample credit for doing all that they possibly could to preserve the peace of the world; but if he had held an office in the Government of the country at the time when this aggression took place between those two Powers, he would have endeavoured to get France, Austria, and Prussia to enter into an alliance with this country, and in the very first instance would have declared to the Emperor of Russia that they would not interfere in his quarrel with Turkey, but that if the chances of war should place the dominions of Turkey within his power, the four Powers would never allow one inch of European Turkey to be added to his empire. If that declaration had been made, the Emperor of Russia would never have taken the steps he had adopted, not only involving his country in war, but creating also the chance of a religious war being waged in Europe. He perfectly coincided with a noble Earl (Earl Grey) not then in his place, but who had spoken on a previous occasion on the subject, that it was totally impossible for that free and enlightened country to uphold a Power on the very verge of destruction, and that if the Christian population of Turkey would no longer submit to the Government of Turkey, it would be impossible for France, England, Austria, and Prussia to resist them. Was it unlikely that there would be a change of opinion in this country on the subject of the war, when the people of England found that they were acting against the Christian population of the East, who were determined to throw off the yoke of the Turkish Government? When they considered the aggressions which those Christians had endured, it seemed strange that 11,000,000 of them should have so long submitted to the dominion of 3,000,000 of Turks. When they assisted to knock off from the Turkish empire one of its best provinces, Turkey became so weak that from that moment it was sure to fall. He had at the time expressed a strong opinion which he entertained, and which had become more decided every day, that when they took possession of one part of the territory of the Sultan, it would have been better if the Powers of Europe had united and established a free independent Christian empire in Constantinople. Did they suppose that, when a war was once commenced, the Poles and Italians, who had been groaning under the yoke of a tyrannical Government, and who had possibly been waiting their time, would not come forth and endeavour to free themselves from that oppression? He feared we were about to be involved in a war of a character fearful to contemplate, and the result of which no man could foretell. England's honour, greatness, and independence required that the whole force of the country should be brought to bear on the approaching struggle—may God grant that he might prove mistaken in his anticipation by the speedy termination of the war!

Motion agreed to.