HL Deb 11 July 1856 vol 143 cc625-32

THE DUKE OF BUCCLEUCH rose for the purpose of putting to the noble Lord the Secretary for War a question of which he had given notice. His question was this:—What was the intention of Her Majesty's Government with respect to the Constitution and Pay of the Permanent Staff of Regiments of Militia, and as to the Retention of Acting Quartermasters on the Permanent Staff? He had paid very considerable attention to this subject, and he believed that every single officer connected with the militia, whose opinion had been taken on the matter, concurred in the view which he took as to the importance of keeping up a proper permanent staff for the regiments of militia. Great exertions bad been made, both on the part of the Government, and on that of individuals, to bring the militia force of the United Kingdom to a state of efficiency; and he believed he might say that it had been brought to that condition during the late war. However, all the energies in this respect would be wasted and thrown away unless means were taken to retain the militia in that high state of discipline; in fact, unless such steps were at once taken the militia would within a very few months be in the condition in which it was before the breaking out of the late war. For many years before that war there was in reality no militia force in this country. It was quite true that during the entire of that time a permanent staff was kept up; but those staffs were found to be nearly inefficient when their services were most required. The members of those staffs were for the most part old worn-out men, who, having had no opportunity of refreshing their memories as to the duties of active service, had forgotten much of what they had formerly known, and were, therefore, totally inefficient for the duties for the performance of which they were required. He trusted it was not the intention of the Government to suffer the militia to fall again into such a state of desuetude. The inconvenience of such a state of things having become manifest, a very strong opinion had been expressed in both Houses as to the necessity, as well as the expediency, of keeping up a strong militia force; not a mere nominal one, but one that would be really efficient in case of emergency—one with which, in case of war breaking out, this country or the colonies might be garrisoned, or which might be sent—as militia regiments had been during the late hostilities—in service companies wherever the service of fighting men might be required. It was in a condition such as would enable them to fill such positions as that he wished the militia regiments to be kept; but in his opinion, and that of all militia officers with whom he had conversed on the subject, the numbers put upon the permanent staff under present regulations were not sufficient to keep up the efficiency of the militia regiments; and the consequence would be that in the event of the active service of those regiments being hereafter required, the authorities would he obliged again to have recourse to non-commissioned officers of the line, or to pensioners who had grown rusty for want of active duty. Two sergeants to a company were the present allowance. Now, he thought that number clearly insufficient. The regiments were to be called out for training during a certain number of days in each year. Now, how could they keep up drill duty with two sergeants to a company? Besides this, those sergeants were allowed so small a remuneration—10s. 6d. a week—that they would be obliged to employ themselves at trades, or at avocations other than their militia duties. This was, in his opinion, an unwise arrangement; for those men should give their undivided attention to the duties of their regiments, if those regiments were to be maintained in an efficient state. The pay of the sergeants was too small. They should, at all events, be allowed rations, and a 1d. a day as was allowed to recruiting parties. Without a drum-major it would be impossible to get on, and paymasters and orderly clerks would be required. It had been conceded that quartermasters should be continued in certain regiments at a reduced pay of 5s. a day. Surely, if a quartermaster was required in one regiment, such an officer was required in every other that was to be called out for annual training. There was a regulation requiring persons to accept of a subaltern's commission on being appointed to the office of quartermaster. Now, competent persons had declined to accept the office on such a condition. He trusted that the whole subject of the maintenance of a permanent and efficient militia staff would receive the careful consideration of the Government, for the expense of the maintenance of such a staff would, after all, be but a very trifling matter as compared to the advantage which, in a time of emergency, this country would derive from having ready for service, not a nominal, but a thoroughly efficient militia force.


said, that his noble Friend who had just sat down had stated very fairly and clearly to the House what his views, and he (the Duke of Richmond) believed those of all other militia officers, were, in respect of the subject which he had brought under the consideration of Parliament. Those views amounted to this, that if they wished to have a militia which would be efficient, they must keep up a permanent and efficient staff for that purpose. Now, the adjutants of these militia regiments did not receive as large a remuneration for their services as they ought to do. He conceived that upon the adjutant depended very much the efficiency of the battalion, not only in its drills and manœuvres, but, what was much more important, in its discipline. It was easy enough to command a regiment of militia that had the advantage of an efficient adjutant and efficient non-commissioned officers; but it was not so if there was an inefficiency in these departments. Now, what was at present done to secure the services of efficient men? Many of the adjutants had raised themselves from the ranks by meritorious conduct, and when they came into militia regiments they had no sinecures; yet they might serve in those regiments for ten, fifteen, or twenty years, without any increased pay for length of service. He would ask his noble Friend opposite (Lord Panmure), who had been himself in the army, whether it would not be advisable to increase the pay of the adjutants, in the same way as the pay of the civil servants of the Crown was increased, for long service? He (the Duke of Richmond) did say that the man who had served seven years as a sergeant-major, seven years as an adjutant of a regiment of the line, and three years in a militin regiment, ought to receive some increase of pay. It was of great importance to promote deserving non-commisssioned officers of the line; and when they placed those officers in a position in which they should keep up the appearance of gentlemen, they ought to allow them pay sufficient for that purpose. They permitted adjutants to keep a horse; but they did not allow them a man to clean that horse, and those adjutants of militia regiments who had horses must clean them themselves. Should not the adjutants have the service of a soldier for this purpose, as they would have when the regiments were embodied? There was another point to which he wished to draw the attention of his noble Friend, and that was, that some regiments of militia had quarter-masters and some had not. The regiment which he commanded had a quarter-master, and he would like to know why those regiments which had just come home should not each have one? He agreed with his noble Friend (the Duke of Buccleuch) that two sergeants to a company were not sufficient. The pay of the staff sergeants was only 10s. 6d. a week; and they got clothing only once in two years, while it was made compulsory upon the counties to find lodging for them. He hoped that the Government would increase the remuneration to the sergeants. If the country had come to such a state that it could not afford to keep 100 militia regiments in an efficient state, for heaven's sake let them be reduced to fifty; but let those fifty be kept in an efficient state. During the late war some regiments of militia had not been embodied at all, and it would have been very desirable to draught the men from those regiments into others which were embodied. He was aware that it was said that the 10s. 6d. a week was only intended to be in aid of the income derived by those persons from their usual trade or occupation; but if sergeants were permitted to carry on their usual trade or occupation they would soon become useless for their military duties, and most certainly recruiting for the various regiments would not be carried on properly. He would now say a few words upon what the commanders of militia regiments were obliged to do in consequence of the inadequate pay of 10s. 6d. a week given, to non-commissioned officers. They were forced to take old pensioners, who brought into the militia regiments all the different systems under which they had served in the line, and the consequence was great confusion and difficulty. Besides, it would be found that these pensioners did not leave their regiments as long as they were really efficient, and he could assure their Lordships that the non commissioned officers and adjutant's of the militia had far more onerous duties to perform than the same class in the well-regulated regiments of the line. It would be a great boon to a valuable class of men if the permanent staff of the militia were permitted to draw their bread and meat from the contractors at contract prices. No charge would thereby be made upon the country. He hoped the Government would keep the militia in an efficient state. If the sum voted by Parliament would not be sufficient to maintain 100 regiments in a state of efficiency, let the number be reduced, because a small effective force would be of far more value than a large ineffective one. What he complained of was, that the Government expected the officers in command to keep up those regiments in a proper manner, and yet they did not give the means of carrying out their desires.


thought that before their Lordships were asked to consider what should be the militia force in time of peace, they ought to have some information from the Government in regard to the probable expense of the force. When the militia was first embodied an estimate of the cost was laid on the table of the House of Commons, and he wished the Government would now state whether that estimate had been adhered to. Over and over again Motions had been made in the other House with the view of ascertaining what the expense of the militia had really been; but those Motions had uniformly been evaded, and no information, had been given by the Government. It would be no easy matter to decide in what form the militia should be maintained, but he apprehended it would be a hopeless task to attempt to keep up a permanent staff in time of peace. That plan was tried before; but the result was, that after a few years the staff became worn out and inefficient. But, before deciding what form the militia should assume, their Lordships should ascertain from the Government what had been from the first the extent of the force and what the expense; they would then be able to judge how far it might be desirable during peace to keep up any portion of the militia. At present there was a strong feeling in the country in favour of the maintenance of an efficient military force; but they might depend upon it that in a few years the pressure of taxation would work a great change in that respect, and therefore it was all the more necessary that nothing should be done rashly or without due consideration.


who was imperfectly heard, was understood to say, that the Government would listen with great attention to the opinions which might be expressed by qualified persons on the subject of the militia. It was the intention of the Government to prevent the militia falling into the condition in which it existed before the late war, and that it was also their intention with that view to call out for training, if not the whole, a considerable portion of the force in each year. They proposed to maintain a permanent staff, which, although not in itself sufficient to furnish non-commissioned officers for all the regiments, would yet be adequate in time of peace to the discharge of the duties entrusted to it. He could see no objection to a system of that kind, and he could assure their Lordships that the staff would not be stinted in numbers. It was, in his opinion, of the greatest importance that the non-commissioned officers of the militia should, during a state of peace, engage in civil occupations, and, therefore, he could not agree in the remarks which had been made as to the inadequacy of their pay. Their military duties were not sufficient to occupy the whole of their time; and if asked to abstain from other employment—their pay being increased—they would be compelled to spend the greater part of the year in comparative idleness. He saw no great necessity for furnishing them with rations, or allowances in lieu of rations, but the suggestion that they should be permitted to draw their bread and meat at contract prices was worthy of consideration, and might perhaps be adopted. Previously to the late war there were no quartermasters on the permanent staff of the militia; but it appeared to him that their services might be made available in assisting the adjutants to look after the stores. He thought the Government had acted wisely in placing quartermasters on the permanent staff in large regiments, in which there was a quantity of stores; but in small regiments there was not so much necessity for these officers. It was the intention of the Government to maintain, as far as possible, the efficiency of the militia regiments, in order that they might he in a state to assist the line when required; and he could not sit down without remarking how creditable it was to the noble Duke and to the officers in command of most of the militia regiments in the kingdom to have allowed their regiments to be broken up by sending their best men into the line.


said, the regiment with which he was connected had derived great benefit from the appointment of a quartermaster to take care of the stores. He was not aware that there was any difference between acting and permanent quartermasters, and he was therefore much astonished at finding, after the quartermaster of his regiment had acted for two months, that the pay of that officer was to be disallowed. He wished to know whether the Government intended to give any compensation to quartermasters in that position for having discharged their duties for some time without receiving any pay?


also complained that the acting quartermaster of his regiment had been deprived of the advantages to which he was entitled. He wished, also, to know what arrangements had been made for the lodging of the militia in Ireland, and whether the small barracks not now occupied were to be made available for that purpose?


in reply to the noble Duke said, it was well known, when men were appointed to the office of quartermaster, that such appointments would not carry with them appointments on the permanent staff when the regiments were disembodied. If it could be shown that any regiments to which quartermasters had not been appointed had a greater quantity of stores than could be placed under the charge of the sergeant-major, he would take into consideration the appointment of a quartermaster to those regiments. With regard to the question of the noble Marquess, if the Government had barracks not occupied he should recommend that they should be disposed of for the public advantage, and then the counties could come forward and purchase them for the militia.


said, that in the county with which he was connected there were at least six of those barracks; but, surely, the Government would not sell the whole six? It was only two or three years ago that the Government had expended a great sum for building large barracks in Galway, although at the time there were two barracks unoccupied in the same county. The Government had also put a railway company to great expense in order to oblige them to consult the convenience of those barracks, and he believed they had been at law ever since in respect to the question of the building of a bridge for the troops to pass over.