HL Deb 14 June 1858 vol 150 cc2002-14

inquired, whether any Steps are in contemplation, or have been taken, to refer to a Commission or a Committee of either House of Parliament the present Establishment and Organization of the Permanent Staff of Regiments of Militia, with the view to render the Staff more effective both when the Regiments are disembodied or called out for Training? Also, whether it was intended to call out for training this year all or any of the regiments of militia which had not been recently embodied; and if it was intended to do so, how were these regiments to be quartered—in barracks, billets, or otherwise? Their Lordships might not be aware that the permanent staff now consisted of an adjutant and sergeants on reduced pay. The number of sergeants was too small for the instruction and command of the regiment when out; and the difficulty of obtaining good non-commissioned officers for the newly-raised battalions of the line sufficiently showed how difficult it must be to obtain additional non-commissioned officers from the line when a militia regiment was called out. Then their pay was so small when their regiments were disembodied, that the non-commissioned officers who had no pension could not subsist without working at some trade; and the result of this was that they had no time to attend to their military duty, and to undergo a proper course of instruction and exercise in the Minie rifle, and therefore when called out they were not so efficient as they ought to be. Another obstacle to the men in the militia regiments obtaining the requisite knowledge of the Minie rifle was that the weapons served out to them for drill and exercise were frequently nothing but the old flint-lock muskets converted into percussion locks. Then the adjutants of militia regiments were required to live at head quarters and had an allowance for lodging money of 10s. a week; but this was frequently inadequate. In the case of the regiment he commanded, the adjutant, he knew, was not able to obtain a house at a less rent than £50 or £60 a year. It might be said that the position of adjutants afforded a very comfortable retirement for officers of a certain rank in the line: but he thought they should look entirely to the efficiency of the officers who were appointed to such an important post. He understood that it was the intention of the Government to issue a Commission to inquire into the constitution of the militia staff, and other matters connected with its organization, and he would not, therefore, enter further into those topics than to express a hope that if any militia regiments were called out during the present autumn a sufficient number of non-commissioned officers would be attached to them to secure the efficient training of the men. As to the second question which he had put, he wished to remark that, with the exception of the regiments recently embodied, none had been called out since 1856. Now, if the force was to be kept in an efficient state, it must be called out periodically; not merely for muster, but for real training and instruction. With respect to the quartering of the regiments to be called out—whether in billets or in barracks—he would only allude to the case of Scotland. He did not believe that there was at present an unoccupied barrack in that country; and although there was at Berwick-upon-Tweed a barrack amply sufficient to accommodate a regiment, and in a healthy situation, it was unfit to be occupied on account of its condition, which was such it was not considered safe to raise the flooring to inspect the joists, lest the whole place should tumble down. Great complaints had been made of the billeting system in Scotland, and the result of that had been to abandon the old system, under which soldiers were billeted on the inhabitants generally, and to quarter them now only on the publicans. A consequence of that and of the limited number of public-houses or hotels (as distinguished from mere whiskey shops, upon which the men could not in general be billeted), was that there was great difficulty in billeting the militia in small towns, and that there was severe pressure upon the hotel and tavern keepers, upon one of whom in Edinburgh he knew as many as fifty or sixty men had been quartered. He knew that a large number of men might be billeted in Edinburgh or Glasgow, or other of the large towns; but he trusted that it would never be attempted to billet a regiment of militia in Glasgow or Edinburgh, for he believed that the effect would be most demoralising, and that if they marched in 600 or 700 men in the evening, they would not be able to muster more than sixty or seventy at parade next morning.


thought it ought to be clearly defined what the real object in calling out the militia was. It had been asserted by some that the only object of the militia was to form a nucleus for the regular army. He did not mean to say that it might not be necessary at times to take into the line a certain number of men from the militia, but he condemned the plan of sending down recruiting sergeants from the Horse Guards, who kept the men in a constant state of intoxication, and destroyed the discipline of the regiment. A regiment, to be efficient, must be efficiently disciplined, and at present the time devoted to training was far too short. Twenty-eight days were as little as they could be called out for; but of those twenty-eight days, at present ten were wasted in marching there and back, four Sundays, &c.; and, in fact, there were only thirteen clear days for training, which was insufficient. It would be better, in his opinion, to have fifty-six days every other year. As to what bad been said by the noble Duke about 10s. a week being insufficient for the rent of an adjutant's house, he begged to differ from the noble Duke, for he thought a very good house could be got in the country for £26 a year.


in answer to the question put by the noble Duke (the Duke of Buccleuch), begged to state that Her Majesty had been pleased to grant a Commission to inquire into the subject to which he had referred. The instructions to that Commission had not yet been framed, but he might state generally that its object would be to inquire into the establishment and organization of the permanent staff of regiments of militia, with the view of rendering the staff more efficient for military purposes; and when he said military purposes, he included in the words the question whether the militia might not be effectually used for recruiting the line. The Inspector of Militia had recently made his regular tour of inspection, and had reported most favourably of the general condition of the permanent militia staff, which since September had furnished 8,000 men to the line. He might state that the question relative to the pay of non-commissioned officers, and nearly all the other matters referred to by the noble Duke, would come under the consideration of the Commission that was to be appointed, With regard to training, he had to inform the noble Duke that in autumn a certain proportion of the regiments that had not been previously on duty would be called out for training purposes. As to the third question, relating to billeting, he could assure the noble Duke that his right hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary for War, had paid the closest attention to that subject; and his noble Friend was aware that it was at the present moment under the consideration of a Committee of the other House. In England a proportion of the regiments would be put in barracks, and another provided for by billets; but it was impossible to say what the proportions would be. In Ireland there were a number of small barracks, which would be available for the accommodation of the men, and therefore the same necessity for billeting would not be required there. With regard to Scotland, he was obliged to the noble Duke for the suggestions be had thrown out, and he could assure him that they would meet with the utmost attention from his gallant Friend the Minister for War. He was not at present in a position to say exactly how the troops would be quartered when they were called out, but he would repeat that all the suggestions the noble Duke had thrown out would receive the most marked attention.


was glad to hear that a Commission was to be appointed, but hoped that the scope of its inquiries would be more extended than seemed to be indicated in the statement of the Under Secretary for the War Department. They ought first to determine what was the object of the militia—whether it was to be a mere recruiting ground for the army, or an efficient reserved force for a case of emergency. Unless we made our minds up to one or other of these objects, we should fail in both. When the militia was first formed, we were told that it was not to be permanently embodied even in time of war, except there was an apprehension of invasion. Directly we were engaged in the Russian war, however, although there never was a time when this country was more free from the risk of invasion, a large portion of the force was embodied. That force came in contact with the line in recruiting, for both forces drew their recruits from the same class. And the result was that we kept 65,000 militia men permanently embodied, who, with the exception of a few regiments in the Mediterranean, were perfectly useless except as furnishing a supply of recruits to the line. More than this, the House ought to consider how far this system was likely to be an economical and advantageous one. It was a very common practice for the militia to desert and to absent themselves, and the utmost care of the adjutants could not enable them to deal with the evil; and there was no means under the present system of checking it. In many cases men had enlisted into five or six different regiments; and he had even heard of one man who had enlisted in as many as a dozen. It appeared by the returns up to June, 1856, when the system had been in operation two years, that no fewer than 39,500 out of 193,500, had been struck off the regiments for desertion or absence without leave, and that was one-fifth, or one man in five of those to whom a bounty had been paid. He was told on good authority that if the return were continued up to the present time, it would be found that the proportion was much larger, and that at this moment they had actually given bounty for upwards of 100,000 who had not done duty, and who were struck off the rolls of their regiments for desertion. While they were carrying on this system with reference to the militia, how did re- cruiting go on in the meantime in the regular army? They might talk as much as they liked about the militia, but it was to the militia in war that the regular army had to trust to for a prompt increase in, and a speedy supply of, the exigencies that happened in its ranks. From an instructive return that had been laid before the House, it would be found that when the war in Russia began there was a deficiency in the army below the Estimate voted by Parliament of 28,800, including the Artillery and Sappers and Miners, and also the Colonial Corps; and the entire of the army under this head was 151,000. During the whole war they never brought the force up to anything like the number that was voted by Parliament. He found that during the year 1855 the ordinary deficiency was somewhere about 48,000, and at one time not less than 55,000, below the number voted by Parliament; and in April, 1856, at the termination of the war, it was still 44,800 short of its proper complement, the total amount of the army at the time being 188,300. So that during this war, with all the expense that was incurred and all the stimulating that took. place in recruiting, this was the state of things—after allowing for the wear and tear of war, they were only able to increase the army by 37,000, and the total force, including the colonial corps, to 188,350. Looking at the amount of armed force this country maintained during the great French war, and the immense subsequent increase in the population, was it not surprising that in a war of two years' duration they should only add to the strength of the army by the contemptible amount of 37,000? These were facts which he thought required very careful consideration; and he hoped that, if the Commission were appointed, its inquiries would not be limited to the mere consideration of what was the organization of the permanent staff of the militia, but that it would go somewhat further, and consider well the arrangements that were now in force, both in keeping up the militia and in adding to the army in time of war. His firm belief was, that if proper arrangements were adopted they might increase the advantages of the regular soldier, and provide a reserve force in connection with the regular army, which in time of war would enable them immediately and promptly to increase their regular force in a manner that would meet the exigencies of the case. If they carried out the militia system as it was originally intended to be —if they maintained it, as in his opinion it ought to be, as a strictly local force, not to be permanently embodied even during war, but composed of persons who could not afford to leave their homes permanently, but who were willing to come out for a short period and defend their country and their homes, and not competing with the regular army, they would thereby reduce the expense of the militia, and thus enable them to provide the means of a permanent augmentation of the regular army, commensurate with the requirements of the country in the event of a war unfortunately taking place. What he wished to insist on was, that the question of the militia could not fairly be considered apart from the great question of the mode of recruiting our regular army. The two were only branches of one great subject that ought to be considered together, and the attention of Government could not too promptly be turned to the question how, at an economical outlay, to provide efficiently a competent reserve force for the public service, on which they could rely in the emergency of war.


wished to draw the attention of the Secretary for War to the state of the law with regard to the Irish militia, which was wholly inapplicable to the existing state of things. It prevented the holding of courts of inquiry and courts martial, and it was almost impossible to maintain discipline. He hoped that this subject would form one branch of inquiry by the Commission. With regard to the calling out of the militia, he agreed that under the present system it caused an excessive and unnecessary waste of money, and there was no doubt that men enlisted several times in different regiments. He agreed with the noble Duke (the Duke of Cleveland) that it would be better not to call out the regiments often for short periods of training, but to call them out less frequently for longer periods of exercise—for such a time as would go far to make soldiers of them. The Irish regiments were called out for twenty-one days' training, which was a perfect farce, and amounted only to calling the muster-roll. With regard to the question of billeting, the point was, when the Irish regiments of militia were called out where were they to go? Practically there were no barracks that would hold an entire regiment. From returns he found that not much less than a million of money had been laid out on Aldershot, and a considerable expenditure had been made at the Curragh in Ireland; but at the same time the barracks in Ireland were in a very unsatisfactory condition. He wished to point out the necessity of having some better barrack accommodation in the south-west of Ireland, where, if we were engaged in a serious European war, it would be absolutely necessary to have a large force of troops. He doubted whether it would be advisable to call out the Irish militia at all, until after an inquiry had been made into the organization of the staff.


said, that after what they had heard from his noble Friend (Viscount Hardinge), it was evident that the best thing that could be done would be to issue a Commission on the subject under their consideration. By this means they would be enabled to avail themselves of very important suggestions which had been made from various quarters. He thought he was justified in saying that the inquiry was to be very full in its nature—so he understood from the answer of his noble Friend—and, therefore, he did not intend to trouble their Lordships with any lengthened observations upon this topic. If he felt called upon to descend into particulars, he should have to enter very much into detail to answer all the questions and observations that had been made; but there were one or two matters to which he wished to advert. It had been urged, and in his opinion not unnaturally, that the militia were very inconveniently circumstanced with reference to the period at which volunteers were called upon to enter the army; but he might inform their Lordships, that in accordance with a regulation which had been laid down by the late Government, it was ordered that no officer or non-commissioned officer of the line should be sent down to any regiments for volunteering purposes until the time had arrived when those men who had volunteered were actually to be made over to the line. Now, he had no reason to think that that rule had not been acted upon, while he was ready to admit that some of those irregularities of which complaint was made might previously have existed. In the opinion that no volunteers for the line ought to be sought from the militia, he, for one, could not concur. Without entering into any details as to the object for which the latter force should be raised, he should contend that it might very advantageously he made available for that pur- pose, while it might by the exercise of a strict surveillance on the part of the proper authorities be maintained in so complete a state as to be rendered adequate to all the purposes of national defence. In reference to the complaint which was made, to the effect that great difficulty was experienced in obtaining the services of qualified noncommissioned officers for the militia from the line, he could only say, that owing to the sudden demand for the services of our troops which had been created by the outbreak in India, it had been found necessary to place a check upon the system. It would, indeed, be impossible to dispense with the services of those non-commissioned officers, if not only the ordinary regimental duties, but the mere routine duties of the barrack-yard, were to be carried out with efficiency. It had, therefore, been deemed essential, in order that the line might be kept upon a proper footing, that the services of those men should be retained. With respect to the question of billeting the troops belonging to the militia, he had no hesitation in stating that if it were possible to lodge them in barracks, that would, in his opinion, be the proper course to adopt. In order to effect that object, however, it was obvious that our present barrack accommodation must be largely increased, while it was equally evident that, even in the event of the country being disposed to make the outlay necessary for that purpose, a considerable number of years must elapse before the new barracks would be completed. The emergency, however, was of a pressing nature, and he was prepared to admit that one of the most important points for the consideration of the proposed Commission was, where the militia force was to be located when called out. So far as the military authorities were concerned, they would, of course, be found prepared to place at the disposal of the militia regiments any accommodation, whether in England, Scotland, or Ireland, which they might happen to have at command. There was, however, but a very small amount of such accommodation vacant; he was, therefore, afraid that but very little could in that respect be effected. As regarded the calling out the militia for embodiment during the late war, he apprehended they were embodied for the simple reason that we had no regular troops whatever in the country. At the present time a great portion of the army was in India, and in order to make up the deficiency a certain number of militia regiments had been em- bodied. As the subject of recruiting in the army had been touched upon in the course of the discussion, he might take that opportunity of informing their Lordships that nothing could be more satisfactory than was the progress which recruiting was making at the present moment. Even now, when labour in the fields was naturally in considerable demand, the ranks of the regular army continued to receive large additions to their numbers, and he could assure their Lordships that if they were only aware of the details connected with the subject, they would be astonished at the good feeling which was daily evinced by the inhabitants of all parts of the kingdom in coming forward at the call of their country. As, however, there was a Commission to be appointed whose province it would be to investigate in detail the various matters which had been brought under their Lordships' notice, he should not upon that occasion trespass upon the time of the House by adverting to them at greater length.


was of opinion that the principle of constituting the militia force the feeder of the regular army, and making that one of its main functions, was one which called upon the colonels of regiments to perform a duty upon the discharge of which it was not consistent with human nature that they could enter with any degree of heartiness. A colonel naturally took pride in his regiment, and did not like to see the best men draughted away from it, thus subjecting him to a task somewhat like that of Penelope's web, of going over and over again the same process in order to place his regiment upon an efficient footing. The object of the militia ought to be to enable us on an emergency to send the whole of the regular army abroad, while it should act as a reserve force at home. He believed the reason why recruits were not readily obtained for the regular army was that the men who enlisted were not treated well or paid sufficiently. Our military system was self-condemned already by the mere fact that soldiers could not be obtained without a bounty. Why should such a vicious practice be necessary? Ample military spirit existed throughout the country, and he believed that recruits might be readily obtained if their condition was properly raised. It was clear that we still got the worst part of the population to enlist in the regular army, and the greater part of them were only induced to enlist by a system of intoxication and imposture. After a short time those that could do so obtained their discharge, while an undue proportion deserted. The proper system, he apprehended, would be to give the soldier the advantage of the bounty at the end of his period of service instead of at the beginning, and to introduce some plan of saving and of accumulation which would give him an interest in conducting himself well and continuing in the service. As regarded the militia, it was certain that they were not in a satisfactory condition at present. Many militiamen belonged to several regiments at once; and he had been informed, on good authority, that if the whole militia were now to be called out forty per cent would be missing. He could not but hope that this subject would be fully considered, and that the Government would not be content until they had a good defensive reserve force to maintain at home in case the regular army was called out on foreign service.


said, that he wished to say a few words upon two points among the various suggestions which had been thrown out in the course of the discussion; but before noticing them he would press on the Under Secretary for War the advisability of laying on the table the instructions to the Commission as soon as they were issued. Upon the extent and the terms of those instructions would much depend the value of the results of such a Commission. With reference to the subject of whether the militia was to be considered as a reserve force or as a feeder to the regular army, he thought that no Report of any Commission was likely to prevent the recurrence by Government to the latter system on an emergency; but it might perhaps guide them to a knowlege of that which it was important to ascertain—namely, how the system had really operated, and whether it had added to the effective force of the army, or whether it was only an expenditure of an additional bounty, and in fact really interfered with the recruiting of the army. The noble Earl (Earl Grey) had referred to the origin of the system in the last war, and the illustrtrious Duke (the Duke of Cambridge) had truly said that the embodiment of the militia during the war arose out of the necessity of sending a large number of regiments of the regular army on active service, and which rendered the militia requisite for the purposes of garrison duty. But he (the Duke of Newcastle) thought that the system had been carried on too long and too far. He looked on it that at the beginning of a war the militia force was an effective means of speedily recruiting the army. In the beginning of a war it was a question of bounty, if it should be necessary to get 30,000 or 40,000 men from the militia; for not only will recruits not come in as fast as is required, but you had to make soldiers of them after they were recruited, while the militia supplied trained men. This system, however, might be carried too far, and he believed it did not result in getting men for the army as easily and speedily as might be expected. Under our present system, in case of war, unless you have second battalions of all our regiments at home, you must have regiments of militia embodied to garrison the different ports and stations at home; but he believed that was the extent to which the embodiment of the militia should be carried, at least after a short time has elapsed after the beginning of a war. It was, in his opinion, a mistake to maintain a militia force not for the purpose of defence at home, but for the purpose of supplying the army with recruits. It was a system which was enormously expensive and extremely demoralising; and at the same time it did not accomplish the end desired. He knew, however, that some persons were of a different opinion, and he was certain that the proposed Commission would only do a portion of its duty if it did not inquire how far this system of recruiting was to be carried. With regard to the question of barracks, the illustrious Duke had said that if militia regiments were embodied it was necessary that they should be billeted, because there were at present no barracks to accommodate them, and it was not possible to erect a sufficient number of barracks for the purpose. He (the Duke of Newcastle) was anxious to say a few words on the subject of barracks. He could state from experience, as formerly Secretary for War, that there was no regular system with regard to barracks in existence. For years every successive Secretary for War and Commander in Chief had gone on upon a hand-to-mouth system, selling valuable sites here, purchasing unsuitable land there, pulling down one day, building up another, and wasting enormous sums of money. He thought that some steps ought to be taken, without any loss of time, to provide barrack accommodation throughout the country upon a fixed and organized system; and he hoped that in the preparation of such barracks due regard would be paid to the sanitary arrangements. At all events, some rule ought to be established on this subject which should be rigidly adhered to. He had felt the importance of the matter so deeply that, notwithstanding the enormous pressure of business in the military departments during the late war, he had pressed it most strongly upon the attention of the late Commander in Chief, and he (the Duke of Newcastle) was devoting his careful consideration to it at the time he left office. That pressure no longer existed, and he hoped the attention of the Government would be directed to the subject, with a view to the introduction of some settled and permanent system. He hoped their Lordships would shortly have before them the instructions issued to the Commission, and then they would have the opportunity, if those instructions were not sufficiently extensive in their character, of pronouncing an opinion upon them.


who was very imperfectly heard, was understood to say that the barracks in Scotland were generally very unsuitable for the accommodation of troops, and that, although some £6,000 or £7,000 had been voted by Parliament for the repairs of those barracks, that amount was not one-tenth of what would be requisite to place them in a fit state for occupation. The noble Lord was understood to suggest that once a year a certain number of men should be draughted from the militia regiments into the line, observing that under such a system the strength and efficiency of the militia regiments would doubtless remain unimpaired, while the regular army might obtain a valuable accession of trained soldiers.

House adjourned at half past Eight o'clock, till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.