HL Deb 04 August 1859 vol 155 cc904-14

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.


My Lords, I cannot allow the opportunity to pass without expressing the strong sense of gratitude I feel to the Commissioners who have recently published their Report on the Militia. Not only have they brought forward many valuable suggestions for the improvement of the Militia, but they have appended a body of evidence to their Report which contains the most valuable although not the most satisfactory explanation, but, because it is not satisfactory, therefore the more valuable, since it shows in what condition we really are. With one of their principal suggestions I entirely agree—that the Militia should be recruited locally in particular districts. I also approve their suggestion that the period of training should be considerably extended. The Government, I suppose, are apprehensive of the increased expense; but it is quite obvious that unless the period of drill is very largely extended we shall not derive all the advantage we ought to derive from the Militia, for it cannot become a force capable of acting with regulars in the field. It is most imprudent, too, on the part of the Government, except upon extreme emergencies, to recruit the Line from the Militia. The more advisable course is to consider the Militia as the foundation of our military defence, and to have it, as far as possible, in a state of integrity. A perfectly new system has lately prevailed of embodying a considerable number of regiments at the same time. That system has been adopted under the impression that it is a good principle and a great improvement upon the original plan, and the regiments thus embodied having attained a degree of efficiency equal in many respects, if not altogether, to that of the regular army. It has been considered an advantage to embody one-fifth of the Militia every year, and at the end of five years to send back the formed soldier into the body of the population. I trust that no Government will lightly adopt the principle that this is a better plan than training the whole, as it destroys the character of the Militia into which it is customary for a man to volunteer for a short period only. When the whole Militia are called out for training a man knows that he only leaves his family upon a short period of service: but the moment you embody a regiment for a year you change the character of the service, and, in my opinion, very materially injure it. I do not object to the Bill now before the House, because, although it provides that there shall be a ballot and that it shall be suspended in successive years, yet, with respect to the Militia as it now exists, it was originally intended to be raised by the voluntary system, the ballot being only held over in terrorem. When the Militia was first formed in this country, it was very much more efficient than it now is; and I feel satisfied that if country gentlemen would adopt the same system of obtaining volunteers which was in use when the Militia was first established, the result would be very different, and we should be able to maintain the efficiency of the Militia. I think that the period of training ought to be extended to eight weeks in every year for all the regiments instead of embodying only a portion. This period might either be taken all at once, or—what would be more agreeable to both officers and men—might be taken at two different periods of the year. Less than that I do not think would be sufficient. This extension would involve a small addition to the expense, but it would be more than counterbalanced by the increased efficiency of the force. Looking forward to the event which I consider likely—as almost certain—to occur, under the changed circumstances of this and other countries, through the establishment of railways and the introduction of steam navigation, which give so great an advantage to that Power which takes the initiative, I cannot but desire to see at once that organization which in a moment of danger and alarm cannot be established, which no genius and talent can supply, and which time alone can provide. I should desire to see, in addition to what I may call the ordinary Militia of the Line, a further and more numerous Militia raised by ballot, solely for the purpose of being mustered, so that at the instant of war the whole force might be called out in an organized state. The only object of this force being to defend our own country against invasion, it would be idle to apprehend they could be used for any aggressive purpose. I throw out this suggestion for the consideration of the Government, which ought to take care and provide the certain means of national defence. When I look to the changes made in the military institutions of all the great States during the last twenty or thirty years, I feel perfectly confident that, unless we alter very materially our military institutions, we shall gradually decline from the station we have hitherto occupied, and shall no longer be considered one of the five great Powers of Europe. We offer too many temptations to be able to disregard our national defences. If we cease to be strong we shall be irretrievably lost.


said, that having had some considerable experience as a militia officer, he felt perfectly satisfied that it was impossible to maintain the Militia in an efficient state with its present organization. The requisite number of men could not be kept up without the aid of the ballot. The voluntary system had been tried for some time, and might in appearance be successful; but in reality there had been no increase. For the county of Durham the number of men raised under the old system was 460; the number under the new system was nominally 1,760; but then it was better to have a small force upon which they could depend than a large one which merely existed on paper. In 1858, for instance, in his own regiment, the number who answered to the call was only 320, and in 1859 only 206, out of the whole strength of 700 men. At first sight this might create some surprise; but when they considered that these men were called out for only three weeks, and that for the remaining forty-nine weeks they had to obtain employment for themselves, it was not to be wondered at. If they called them out for a longer period of service—for eight weeks, as the noble Earl suggested—he felt confident that they would have at least double the number of men answer to the call, and appear upon the training ground. It was perfectly absurd to hope for anything like efficiency with only twenty-one days' drill in the year. Besides, in point of fact the men did not have more than fourteen days' training under the present system, for of the remaining seven days four were occupied in marching to and from the training ground, the giving out and restoring the arms and accoutrements, and then there were the three Sundays. At the most, under the most favourable circumstances, there could not be more than fourteen days' drilling. Now the experience of all military men showed that three months' constant practice was the least time that was required to complete a man's drill, and make him fit to take his place in the ranks. Some men might take less time, and others greater, but with the average of men that was the very least time required to make them efficient. It was desirable to have the militia force as one of the material defences of the country, some means more efficient than these now in practice must be adopted. The Militia were as badly off for officers as they were for men. Of eight lieutenants and eight ensigns on the muster roll of the Durham Militia, only five lieutenants and not a single ensign appeared for training. This state of things required to be corrected, and he hoped that before another year was passed some means would be adopted for that purpose.


also contended that it would be impossible to keep up the Militia regiments under the existing system, in. as much as men could not be induced to join them for so short a time. His opinion was formed after a service in the Militia extending over forty years, that the old system was better than the new. He hoped the Government would take into consideration the position in which they found the Militia, in reference to the small number of men called out for training compared with the number really on the roll. He cited the case of the regiment in which he himself served. On an occasion when they were embodied they were ordered to Ireland and they could only muster between 500 and 600 men, and were obliged to leave behind 400 whom they never could find. He likewise considered that the present system of recruiting was defective, particularly as regarded the age at which recruits were received. The order now was to recruit from the age of sixteen to forty-five; and by this rule the two branches of the service clashed in some respects; but if recruits were not received in the Militia until after twenty-two years of age—the age beyond which they would not be received into the Line—the two services would be kept entirely distinct, and the Militia would be composed of a class of men who were only eligible for that force. The mode in which volunteering from Militia regiments was carried on was most injurious to the discipline of the regiment and unpleasant to the officers. If men in the Militia who were eligible for the Line could be passed over at once, it would, he thought, be a great improvement, and the intervention of the recruiting sergeant would thus be got rid of, by means of which the men were now kept in a state of drunkenness and bad discipline for days. He hoped the Government, as they were about to take this question into consideration, would also keep in view the points to which he had called attention—namely, the mode of recruiting, the mode of transferring men to the Line, and lastly, the age at which they were to be recruited.


said, he was sorry to state that in a militia regiment of which he had cognizance, the strength of which was established at 1,000 men, but 400 men could be mustered on the last occasion of its being called out. He expressed an earnest hope that the Government would see the necessity of adopting some stringent measures by which Militia regiments might be kept in a state of efficiency, and which would have the effect of enabling the full strength of this army of reserve to be speedily assembled in the event of the occurrence of any sudden emergency.


said, he merely rose in consequence of what had just fallen from the noble Lord (Lord Churston) with regard to volunteering from the Militia. He was at a loss to understand to what the noble Lord alluded at the present moment; for he was not aware that any volunteering was going forward, or had taken place for a considerable time. There had never been any objection or indisposition on the part of the Line to take volunteers from the Militia; but at present it rested very much with the colonels of Militia regiments whether they chose to give men to the Line or not. No demand whatever had been made on the Militia within this year. He did not agree with the noble Lord that the Militia officers and their medical men ought to have the power of furnishing men ad libitum to the army. He did not suppose that they would palm off from their regiments any men who were not fit for the army; but it was still of the utmost importance that they should be examined, and he could not help thinking, from the experience which he had now had, that many men would in that event be passed from the Militia to the Line who would be of no particular advantage to the Line. Under these circumstances, he should be sorry to see that very wholesome check taken off which he knew had always hitherto been the practice of the service. But while he should earnestly deprecate any course that would interfere with the efficiency of the Line, he admitted, on the other hand, that it would be extremely impolitic and unwise to make the Militia inefficient for the sake of the Line; but he was one of those who thought it always of the greatest importance to keep up the Line, not at the expense, but certainly with the aid, of the Militia. With regard to the general question, he rejoiced that it had been brought forward by his noble Friend, for he himself had always expressed the opinion that, whatever force they had, they ought to know that it really existed. Nothing was so unfortunate as a fallacious return. There could be no greater mistake than to induce the country to suppose that we had in reserve a nominal force of 120,000 men, whereas, in case of emergency, one-half of these at least would be absent. The country would have, he thought, a right to say, "If you had told us you had not 120,000 men, we should have been prepared to have acted on some new arrangement by which a larger number of recruits would be forthcoming; but, having been always told that the Militia consisted of 120,000 men, we had a right to assume that such a force, within a fraction at all events, would be likely to be embodied." And they would call on those who were responsible to say how this discrepancy had occurred. The truth was that this discrepancy had occurred because the new system had never been fairly tested till now. Some time ago, when the whole of the Militia were embodied, the matter was very simple, because there was no doubt that numbers of men would voluntarily enlist in an embodied regiment, while they would refuse to join one which was disembodied. The result of two or three years' experience had shown that the embodied regiments were, generally speaking, pretty full, while the numbers in those which were not embodied were very incomplete. This evidently showed that there was something wrong and that a remedy ought to be applied. He was quite certain from a conversation which he had had with his right hon. Friend now at the head of the War Office, that he was quite alive to the importance of this subject, and he hoped that some Member of Her Majesty's Government would express an opinion somewhat in accordance with that which he had now ventured to deliver; but at all events, he was sure that the subject at such a moment as this was well worthy of their consideration, and that it would not be neglected by Her Majesty's Government. The observations which he had now made he had put forward simply from a desire to see an efficient reserve force maintained, and in doing so he did not believe that they ought in any way to be regarded as offensive or objectionable in any quarter whatever. He was one of those who thought it necessary to keep up the military establishment of the country independently of any other consideration;—and he believed if this were done panics such as they saw from time to time would not arise. Because, if they knew that their resources were in hand and were available, and that at any moment they could put their finger upon them, everybody, he thought, would be satisfied with the state of our preparations; and, even in times of depression and anxiety, they would be con- tent to leave the management of these resources in the hands of whatever Government might happen at the time to be in power. He again repeated that he thought it of the greatest importance that our resources should be always kept in hand, and thus they would prevent those continued panics which he was convinced were highly detrimental to the interests of the country.


expressed his regret that the old Militia system should have been departed from with a view of establishing an army of reserve, which was quite a different force, and which was, he thought, perfectly compatible with the Militia system as it formerly existed. Nothing could be more objectionable than the way Militia regiments were commanded in Ireland, where there were three different classes of colonels, each with a separate position, standing, and description of patronage: and he thought that in the appointment of officers more weight should be given to the recommendation of the officer actually in command. He thought it was also to be lamented that the aristocracy should virtually have been deprived of the power of raising a force for the defence of the country, and that the placing of the entire force in the hands of the Executive was a system that was attended with danger.


said, that he had found in his experience that practically every attention was paid to the recommendation of the officer in command of a regiment. The pay of the subalterns was not sufficient to meet the necessary expenditure of the officers, and as the Militia offered no career to a young man of ambition, holding out to him no prospect of promotion such as was afforded by the Line, he was not surprised that the Government found it difficult to get properly qualified young men to serve as subalterns. This was a point of great importance, and he hoped that the attention of the Government would be directed to it.


said, none of their Lordships who were acquainted with the present state of the Militia would be surprised at this discussion. The statements of the noble Earl and the noble Duke opposite were confirmed generally by the accounts which reached the War Office. He agreed with the illustrous Duke on the cross benches that in the present state of affairs it would be not only useless but unwise to conceal the real state of facts as to the condition of the Militia. There could be no doubt but that condition justified the description of the noble Earl (the Earl of Ellenborough). The disembodied Militia was 40 or 50 per cent below the proper quota, and although the embodied Militia was something better, it was still far from being in a satisfactory state. On behalf of the Government he begged to thank the noble Earl for bringing forward this question, as well as for the manner in which he had brought it forward. In many of the views expressed by the noble Earl he entirely concurred, and could assure him that not a few of them were under the consideration of the Government. One most important point related to the prolongation of the period for the training of the disembodied Militia. It was said, and he thought truly, that twenty-one days was too short a time; and although as at this season of the year most of the regiments either had been out, or were just going out, it was not the intention of his right hon. Friend at the War Department to make a change this year; but he proposes hereafter, in accordance with the recommendation of the Militia Commission, to extend the period for training to twenty-eight days. He knew the noble Earl (the Earl of Ellenborough) would not consider that period sufficiently long; but his right hon. Friend, upon a consideration of the whole question, and taking into account the Report of the Militia Commission, was not at present prepared to go further. There was another matter, which was under the consideration of the Government—namely, whether the recruits should at once undergo a certain amount of drill at the head quarters of the regiment—a sort of preliminary training. He could not now express any opinion how far such preliminary training might be supposed to stand in the stead of the ordinary training, but it certainly was a subject which well deserved attention. As to the embodied Militia, there was no doubt the men would be better trained and drilled when embodied for a certain length of time. They would, then, no doubt, have more perfect battalions; but they must also take care not to change the character of the force, nor make it too closely resemble that of the Line, for that would be to keep men away from their families for a longer period, which would make it more unpopular. Instead of being for the recruiting officer, as at present, the people would be against him. If it were necessary to have a certain number of battalions maintained for a continuance, then it would be better to increase the regular army. As to the now supplementary organization which had been suggested, he felt quite sure their Lordships would not now expect him to give any opinion upon the question offhand. Every such suggestion which fell from the noble Earl deserved the best consideration that could be given to it, and he felt convinced would have the attention of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War. The fact was that the question of recruiting was at the bottom of the whole; and this, with the other parts of the subject, would be well and carefully weighed by the Government during the recess. Some of the suggestions of the Report of the Commission the Government were most anxious to adopt at once, and for that purpose a Bill had been brought into the other House of Parliament by his right hon. Friend, who, however, would, at this period of the Session, only attempt to pass into law such recommendations as would cause no great opposition. As to the proposal of the noble Duke (the Duke of Cleveland) to lower the quotas of the Militia, he agreed with him in thinking it was better to have a smaller bonâ fide force really available, than one which only looked large upon paper; but he thought they ought to see if they could not recruit up to the present quota, which had been fixed proportionately to our population, before they determined to reduce it. As to volunteering from the Militia into the Line, he entirely agreed with the illustrious Duke that it was desirable that both Militia and Line should go on concurrently—that one should not be sacrificed to the other, but that both should work harmoniously together. As to the observations of the noble Earl (the Earl of Leitrim) upon the Irish system, he must remind him that the Militia there was substantially under the control of the Irish Government, and therefore he was less acquainted with it; he believed, however, that the system there was the same as had been followed from time immemorial in this country. He could assure their Lordships he, in common with every Member of the Government, felt deeply impressed with the importance of the whole question, as well as with its urgency. We must have a Militia force, and it was desirable, and indeed necessary, that it should be made efficient for the purposes of defence, as an army of reserve, and not for purposes of aggression, or as directed against any foreign Power in particular, so that we might have nothing to fear, and so that we might be enabled to continue to maintain that high position which England had hitherto occupied.


explained, that he had not objected to volunteering, but only to the mode in which the men were passed into the Line.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read 2a accordingly; and committed to a Committee of the whole House Tomorrow; and Standing Orders Nos. 37 and 38 to be considered, in order to their being dispensed with.