HL Deb 18 February 1858 vol 148 cc1586-92

said, that in moving that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for Returns of the Establishment of Militia Regiments now embodied and their actual Strength on the 1st of January, it appeared to him that this might be a good opportunity of calling the attention of the noble Lord opposite (Lord Panmure) to a subject connected with these Returns. The House was aware that within the last few days the Army Estimates for the ensuing financial year had been laid on the table of the House of Commons; and as they had thus become in some sense public documents, he would venture to refer to them. He had observed with surprise that of the total charge for the effective and non-effective services of £11,500,000 in round numbers, which those Estimates involved, £150,000 only was appropriated to the embodied militia. He might be wrong in his views, and if so, the noble Lord the Secretary for War would set him right; but it appeared to him that this was a very small charge in itself, and still smaller when compared with the charge in former years. In 1854–5 the number of men voted for the militia, taking the embodied and disembodied together, was 124,000, and the charge £998,000. In the following year the number of men was 136,000, and the charge £3,800,000; and in 1856–7 the number of men was 126,000 odd, and the charge £3,150,000, which was afterwards reduced to £1,000,000. This year the total charge for the embodied militia was £150,000. He did not say that it might not in former years have exceeded its proper limits in some respects; but if there had been a somewhat lavish expenditure in one year, that was no reason why it should fall into the opposite extreme in the next. Under the circumstances, therefore, it was scarcely unfair for him to assume that it was contemplated either to reduce the number of regiments embodied or to keep up an ineffective force. They had been told on the commencement of the Session that our relations with foreign nations and foreign Sovereigns were of a friendly nature, but no one with the experience of the last six years to guide him could venture to say how far we could depend upon the permanence of those relations, more especially when we looked at the present aspect of affairs abroad. Considering that the late Russian war and the Indian mutiny had suddenly and unexpectedly burst upon us when the political atmosphere was perfectly calm, it would be irrational to base our calculation upon the continuance of a favourable aspect of foreign affairs; and should an untoward circumstance arise, nothing could absolve the Government from the responsibility which would attach to them, should it be found that they had neglected their duty in making full provision for national defence and the security of the country. The great principle which ought never to be lost sight of by any Government, was to provide for the sufficiency of our home defences, whatever might be our foreign policy, or whatever the state of our foreign relations. That was in the end the most economical policy as regarded the tax payers, as well as that which was the best calculated to uphold the national dignity by enabling the Government on all occasions to maintain an independent tone in our relations with foreign countries. One important element of national defence was unquestionably the embodied militia, and therefore he was anxious to know whether there was to be any and what reduction in the amount of the force intended to be kept up. He assumed that there was to be a reduction, for he could not understand how this £150,000 could be sufficient provision even for the number of regiments now embodied. Taking the cost of each man at £30 per annum, which was, he believed, the lowest calculation, it would not provide for more than 5,000 men. The total number of regiments now embodied was 28 English, 5 Scotch, and 14 Irish, making 47 altogether; and the average number of men to each regiment was 400. This would give, at the ordinary rate of £3 per man, a total of £564,000, or an excess of £414,000 over the proposed Vote. He had thought it right to call the attention of the House to this matter, and to ask the noble Baron opposite to afford them some information as to the amount of embodied force which it was intended to maintain.


I have no objection to the production of the returns moved for by the noble Earl. In presenting these Estimates to Parliament, it must be remembered that the Government has a double duty to perform—to consult, on the one hand, the efficient defence of the country for which they are responsible, and, secondly, to prepare the Estimates with a due regard to the taxation of the country. In considering the Estimates the Government thought that 130,000 men would be a sufficient number of the land forces to meet the demands upon us both abroad and at home. I have only taken a Vote of £150,000 for the embodied militia of next year, because, from the rapidity with which troops are coming to our standard we are encouraged to believe that that sum will cover the maintenance of the embodied militia for six months, by which time we hope the ranks of the regular army will be filled up to the number voted by Parliament, and then we shall have no further need for the embodiment of the militia. I think I am justified in that expectation, for since the 1st of January in the present year we have enlisted no fewer than 8,500 men, and during the last week no less than 2,059. That is a very large proportion as compared with the numbers recruited in previous years, and if recruiting goes on at this rate, in two or three months we shall have replaced the force sent out to India between last July and the present time. On all these accounts we think—and we have the opinion of officers high in station in India to the same effect—that we shall not be called upon to send any fresh regiments to India, although we shall have to send out large drafts to replenish the regiments already there. The health of the army in the field, notwithstanding the length of the marches they have made and their exposures to the climate, is in a remarkable state. Still we must expect that when the rains and the hot season commence there will be a great many casualties from disease and other circumstances. I do not think we ought to calculate upon sending less than 1,500 men per month to India; but whether it will be advisable to send them mouth by month during the unhealthy season will depend upon the exigencies of the case. If that is not done, I propose to send them as far as the Cape of Good Hope or Ceylon, where they can remain in a healthy station till the season will permit them to be sent on to India. Under these circumstances I. do not propose to ask Parliament for a very large sum for the embodied militia. It will be in the power of this or any other Government to propose to Parliament to increase the Vote and the number of the force; and there are some advantages in this course, for if it should be necessary to ask for an increased force we shall give to Parliament an opportunity of expressing an opinion upon the increase so asked for. We think that the number of men we have proposed will be sufficient for the requirements of the country, and that, at the present rate of recruiting, by the time the Vote is expended we shall be enabled to do without the assistance of the present embodied militia, so that they may return to their homes at a season of the year when their labour will be valuable.


—The noble Lord stated that he had recruited 8,000 men since January 1; if he went on at that rate he would soon be able to restore the force of the regular army to its full complement, and to make good whatever casualties might arise. He believed that for that purpose they would require 40,000 men, which the ordinary means of recruiting would take a considerable time to supply. The noble Lord was very sanguine in supposing that he would raise 8,000 men a month through the year. No doubt a large number of men had been obtained; but then it must be remembered that this was a season when there were usually a large number of men in the agricultural district out of employ and likely to enlist. It was also to be borne in mind that they had recently increased the bounty, given free kits, and reduced the standard to five feet three inches. This was, at least, evidence of the difficulty they had experienced in obtaining men at one time; and this difficulty might occur again. They would require, he believed, at least 50,000 to supply the exigencies of the service, and keep up the force in India up to its full numerical strength. If so they would have, after all, to fall back on the militia. It would therefore, in his opinion, have been better to take a larger vote in the first instance, which need not be expended if it should turn out that it was not required, rather than to propose a smaller vote and come forward afterwards for a larger sum. He did not think this was a time when they ought to be unprepared for any accident that might occur. A militia force that had been called out but for a few weeks only could scarcely be expected to be, very efficient, and would require to be put under discipline for some time before they would become so. He could not help thinking, therefore, that a larger embodied militia force would be desirable. When he looked to circumstances of which they were all aware, and heard it asked in the House of Commons "whether it was their intention to offend the Emperor of the French by the tone they adopted"—when he heard language like that used by the chief Minister of the Crown to the House of Commons, it certainly did lead him to think that the state of our foreign relations was not altogether so satisfactory as could be wished. And when he remembered also that we had another war—carried on with what object or for what purpose they did not know, but which would absorb much of our means of relief to the regiments serving in India and the Colonies—he thought it was a time when the Government might have ventured to ask for a larger sum than £150,000 for the embodied militia. Under these circumstances, he agreed with his noble Friend who had asked for these papers, and should be disposed to support the Government if they proposed to be a little less near in this matter. He did not know what the Government intended to ask for the civil service this year, but he understood that the total amount of the Miscellaneous Estimates was to be something like £9,000,000. This was a class of expenditure which had greatly increased of late years, and in conquence of the largeness of the demand had attracted a considerable share of public attention. He would suggest that if reductions were to take place they might be made in the charge for these civil services with much less danger than in the military Estimates.


said, he could not help deprecating the practice of discussing large and difficult questions of policy in an incidental and imperfect manner. If there was any objection to the policy pursued by Her Majesty's Government with reference to the management of our military forces at a moment of difficulty like the present, the matter should be brought before the House in such a way as would enable them to give a proper expression of their opinions; but he thought it ought not to be introduced in a slight and imperfect discussion like the present. He did not wish to prolong the conversation, but, as so much had been said, he would take the liberty of adding a five words only to express his opinion that his noble Friend the Secretary for War had acted in this matter upon a right policy. If he understood the explanation that had just been given of that policy, it had been the opinion of Her Majesty's Government that, in consequence of what had taken place in India, a considerable increase of the regular army was absolutely necessary—that it was impossible to wait till that increase had been made, in order to send out the troops urgently wanted in India—that such troops as we had were therefore sent at once, by which our force at home was for a short time unduly diminished, and that in order to guard against any danger which might thus be created and to provide for the defence of the country, the militia had been embodied, while steps were taken to increase the regular army; but that so soon as that increase in the regular army had been effected, the militia was again to be disembodied. A common-sense view of the subject seemed to have been taken by Her Majesty's Government in deciding upon this course; because, if they were to keep the army in India efficient, it was clear that we must keep up in this country a large regular force, from which drafts might be constantly supplied to India. For this purpose every regiment employed there ought to have a second battalion in this country. Considering the tear and wear of Indian service, they never could expect that any regiment exposed to it could be kept in efficiency with a less reserve than a second battalion in this country of equal strength to that in the field. To embody the militia was as expensive as to raise troops of the line, and therefore, when the object they had in view was to keep up the army at home and feed the army in India, it was only common sense that the force raised should be a regular force. He would remind their Lordships, that when the present Militia Bill was brought in, the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) stated that his object was to create a force that would not be permanently embodied even during war, unless under the immediate apprehension of an invasion; and it was very important that this original design should not be departed from, because so long as in accordance with that design, the militia were only called out for a limited number of days for training, they would have a force composed of a class not looking to military service as their chief employment. Married men, and men having various occupations in civil life which would prevent their serving continuously, would be ready to enter into the militia both as officers and soldiers, so long as its original character was preserved. But if it were to be permanently embodied, all such persons must be excluded from it, and its ranks must be filled by men willing to adopt a military life as their profession, so that recruiting for the militia must come into direct competition with that for the regular army; and the result would be, that we should have a force as expensive but less efficient and available than the regular army. It appears from the statement of my noble Friend (Lord Panmure) that Her Majesty's Government have to some extent at least adopted these views, and so far as they have done so I approve of their policy.


thought the noble Earl who had just spoken had taken too favourable a view of the position and efficiency of the troops in India. The noble Earl thought the losses in India would be so great, that every regiment in India required a second battalion for its reinforcement. But at the present moment, while they had in India, or on their way there, sixty-three battalions, he could not learn that there were more than twenty-five regiments which had got second battalions. He did not know what returns the noble Lord had received of the effective strength of regiments in India, but he saw, and he very much regretted to see, in an Indian paper, the Bengal Hurkaru, most minute details of the strength of the army that was in garrison at Delhi, including Greathed's and Shower's columns. He was afraid, if the noble Earl referred to that return, he would find that the sick and wounded were one-fourth, if not one-third, of the whole force. He trusted, then, that no more entire regiments would be sent to India except for the purpose of relieving the regiments which were already there; and that the noble Baron opposite would be able to make arrangements for relieving eight or ten of the regiments which had been most constantly engaged, especially before Delhi. These regiments had gained as much glory as had ever been achieved by any troops. Such an arrangement he was sure would be productive of the best effects upon the regiments at home.


said, he believed that nothing was so unpalateable to a regiment, however weak it might be, as to be withdrawn hastily from a field where it had attained so much glory.

Motion agreed to.

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