§ Bill read 3a (according to Order).
THE EARL OF WICKLOW
said, he was anxious that their Lordships should give a little more attention to this measure than they had yet bestowed on it. Upon the two former occasions when it had come before the House very little had been said upon the subject, and it had been read a second time before he had had an opportunity of seeing it. Considerable interest, however, existed in Ireland with reference to it, and he had been requested to take steps with the view of rescuing Irish officers of militia from the evils to which the Bill subjected them. By the Act of Geo III., to which the present Bill referred, certain property qualifications were required for militia officers in Ireland, which were much higher than those required from officers of a corresponding rank in England. He believed that very few persons in Ireland who were in the habit of signing militia commissions, and of certifying to the possession of certain qualifications by militia officers, were really aware what those qualifications were. He had been a colonel of militia so long ago as 1810, and he was ashamed to say 1941 that until he had looked into the provisions of the proposed measure he had not been aware of the qualification necessary. Their Lordships would be surprised to hear how different the qualification was in the three countries. He found, upon investigation, that the qualification for a colonel of militia in Ireland was to be in possession of 2,000l. a year, or to be heir apparent to 3,000l. a year; while in England it was to be in possession of 1,000l. a year, or to be heir apparent to 1,000l. a year; and in Scotland it was to be in possession of 600l. a year, or to be heir apparent to a similar amount. The qualification for a lieutenant-colonel in Ireland was to be in possession of 1,200l. a year, or to be heir apparent to 1,800l.; while in England and Scotland it was respectively to be in possession of, or to be heir apparent to, 600l. and 400l. a year. The qualification for a major in England was 400l., or heir apparent to the same; in Scotland, 300l. a year, or heir apparent to the same; in Ireland 300l. a year, or heir apparent to 600l. The qualification in England for a captain was 200l., or heir apparent for the same; in Scotland, 200l. a year, or heir apparent for the same; in Ireland, 200l. a year, or heir apparent to 400l. a year. The same discrepancy was observable throughout the inferior grades of the service, and he was at a loss to understand upon what grounds it was that militia officers in Ireland should be required to possess so much higher qualifications than were required in the case of English and Scotch officers of the same rank. He proposed that the qualification should be the same as in England and Scotland; for he was convinced that unless a provision of that kind were introduced, the consequences would be very disagreeable. He had no objection to their making any regulations with regard to those officers who might be newly appointed, but he was most anxious that the rights of those whose appointments were not of recent date should be preserved. Many officers had been put to an enormous expense in order to render themselves available for immediate duty, and he thought it was extremely hard that those officers who had shown such laudable zeal for the service of their country should now be called upon to lodge a qualification which be believed a large proportion of them would be unable to do. There was another arrangement which, in his opinion, was very objectionable. Many officers of the Irish militia who had now joined their regi- 1942 ments were of old standing, and had served during the last war, or between that period and the present year. Their Lordships were aware that in consequence of the great distress which had prevailed in Ireland a vast change of property had taken place under the Encumbered Estates Act, and he himself knew captains, and, he believed, field officers, in the militia, who, at the time they obtained their commissions, were perfectly qualified under the Act, but who, in consequence of having been obliged, through the pressure of the times, to part with the whole or a large portion of their property, would not be qualified. He begged to propose two amendments—the first with a view to reduce the qualification of officers in the Irish militia to the same amount as that of officers in the English and Scotch militia; and the second, to enable any officer who was qualified under the Act to make a return of the qualification which he possessed at the time he received his appointment.
§ LORD PANMURE
said, that from the speech of the noble Earl one would suppose that the principle of the Bill was to impose pains and penalties upon officers of the Irish militia, whereas it was of a protective character, and there was nothing whatever in its provision to alter the qualification of officers on their admission to a regiment, or the penalties to which officers were liable who obtained appointments without being duly qualified. When the Irish militia was embodied it was found that during the time it had existed in its disembodied state, officers had been appointed without reference to any consideration of qualification, and that they had entirely overlooked the provisions of the law, which required them to register their qualification at the time they took up their commissions. The object of the present act was to protect the officers from the penalties which such an oversight had subjected them to. He did not believe that more than one case of prosecution had been or would be instituted against any officer, but it was absolutely necessary to protect them from those penalties to which they had subjected themselves, and it was proposed to do that by giving them three months in which to register their qualification. It was not proposed to alter the qualification itself. He was free to admit, however, that the difference in the qualification in Ireland, and in England and Scotland, seemed to him to stand upon no 1943 substantial ground, and, if their Lordships did not see any objection in point of law, he did not see any objection in point of principle to put the three countries upon exactly the same footing. That, however, might be done by another Bill, the principle of the present measure being merely to give the officers protection against the penalties consequent upon their having omitted the requirements of the law as it stood.
§ Amendments made; Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.