HL Deb 01 July 1859 vol 154 cc510-21

rose, to ask the Undersecretary of State for War what were the intentions of Her Majesty's Government with respect to Volunteer Corps; whether they adopt the views of the late Adminis- tration, or whether they are disposed to supply a sufficient quantity of arms for practice purposes? He ventured to take this the earliest opportunity of eliciting from the Under-Secretary for War some information with regard to the intention of the Government on a subject of great importance, and one which demanded immediate attention and decision. In the month of May last, two circulars were issued by the late Secretary for War with reference to the formation of rifle corps. Under the conditions of one of them, arms and accoutrements were not to be supplied to rifle corps without expense. He much regretted the mode in which the matter had been treated by the late Government. He felt that the conduct of the late Government showed that they were making a concession to a public feeling, at that time very strongly expressed, rather than exhibiting any wish for the formation of these corps. In fact, that circular, he believed, tended rather to thwart than to aid the efforts of those who wished to see such corps established. Being Lord Lieutenant of a sea-board county, bounded on the one side by the English on the other by the Bristol Channel, and which had Plymouth—rather a tempting bait to an invader—at its eastern extremity he felt it to be his duty to afford every encouragement to the formation of volunteer corps, and he addressed a letter to the late Secretary for War, suggesting that it was desirable that a certain supply of arms should be issued to the proposed corps for the purposes of practice. Unfortunately his suggestion was not attended to, although he represented that in his county a large and efficient force might with such aid from Government be raised. What he wished to ascertain was, whether the present Government was disposed to encourage volunteering in the country, and especially in the sea-board counties, by supplying arms to corps that might be formed. He ventured to hope that Her Majesty's present Government would give more encouragement than the last to the formation of these important means of national defence, not only by supplying them with a sufficient quantity of arms, but that they would appoint competent non-commissioned officers for instructing them in the use of arms, and drilling them.


thought, that the claims of the Militia should be considered. He begged to ask the Under Secretary at War what steps had been taken, or were proposed to be taken, to afford instruction in musketry practice, or the use of the rifle, to the Staff of the disembodied Militia, so that they might be competent to teach their men; and whether Enfield rifles had been issued to them, or to the regiments of Militia ordered for training? He found that a large proportion of the disembodied militia regiments still used the old arm, and that the officers were unable to give the men any instruction in others of a better description. He had brought this question before the Government for a year and a-half; but now that other noble Lords were mooting it, and as large bodies of men seemed anxious to come forward and join these volunteer corps, he thought it his duty to claim the attention of the Government and to express a hope that it would be given to this subject in regard to the militia, and to put in what he considered this prior claim for rifles, and instructions he w to use them.


said, he was grateful to his noble Friend (Lord Vivian) for having given him the opportunity which his question afforded of stating to their Lordships what were the intentions of Her Majesty's Government in reference to a subject which had excited great public interest, and which had received much attention from many of their Lordships. His noble Friend had reminded them, to a certain extent, of the position in which the question stood when the present Government entered upon office. As he had stated, early in the month of May last, the late Government gave their sanction to the desire expressed by the public for the formation of volunteer rifle corps in different parts of the country; and in the course of that month two circulars were issued from the War Office—one on the 12th, and the other on the 25th—the first of which, addressed to the Lords Lieutenant of counties, informed them that it was the intention of the Government to sanction the formation of those corps upon certain conditions. Those conditions were that the formation of the corps should be recommended by the Lord Lieutenant of the county; that it should be formed in accordance with the provisions of the Volunteer Act of 44th Geo. III.; that the members of the corps should take upon themselves all the expenses of the corps; and that the rules and regulations for the government of the corps should be submitted to the approval of the Secretary of State. Up to the present time only 12 companies had been formed under the circular so issued. The second circular contained able directions with regard to the management, discipline, and organization of these corps, but did not in any respect change the principles laid down in the first. When his right he n. Friend, the present Secretary for War entered office he found affairs in this condition. There was a large number of projects for the formation of rifle corps; but, as he had already stated, only twelve had actually presented themselves in an official shape. The Government readily acknowledged the public spirit and loyal feeling which had actuated so many of Her Majesty's subjects in coming forward to form these corps; and it was their full intention to carry out the views of the late Government in respect to the sanction and encouragement which should be given to them. When his right he n. Friend entered office the turning point seemed to have been readied with regard to this question, and upon the course which the movement might take in the next few months, or even a shorter period than that, appeared to depend whether these corps would be really military bodies in the proper sense of the word or be mere rifle clubs. The only advantage which could be derived for defensive purposes from institutions of the latter class was, that they might thereby obtain a considerable number of persons throughout the country who would be practised in shooting with the rifle; but in any other sense they would not be military bodies. Desiring to give encouragement to the feeling which had actuated so many persons in forming these corps, and at the same time wishing to ensure, as far as possible, that the utmost benefits should be derived from these voluntary organizations, the Secretary of State and the Government had determined to deviate from the course which had been followed by the late Administration in one or two points, one of them of special importance being that which his noble Friend had alluded to in the latter part of his question. Instead of declining to supply any arms whatever to these corps, and leaving them to be provided entirely at the expense of the members, the Government had determined to issue arms at the rate of twenty-five stand of rifles for every hundred men who might be enrolled, and to issue them upon certain conditions. These conditions were four in number and would be made necessary preliminaries to the sanc- tion of any corps. In the first place, the Secretary of State would require to be satisfied that they were able to provide a safe and adequate range for rifle practice; an officer would be appointed to inspect the range proposed to be established, which must at least be 200 yards in length, and that officer must be satisfied that it was fitted for the purpose for which it was intended. The second condition was that the corps should provide a safe place for the custody of the arms entrusted to them, and also a competent person to take charge of them. The selection of that person, and the expenses necessary to be incurred for the purpose, would be left to themselves, subject to the sanction of the Lords-Lieutenant. In the third place, the Government would require that the rules and regulations for the government of the corps should be submitted to the Secretary of State, and be approved and sanctioned by him. And lastly, the corps would be subject to inspection by a proper military officer to be sent down for that purpose by the Government. When these conditions had been complied with and sanction given to the formation of the corps, rifles in the proportion he had mentioned would be issued for instruction and drill, and the Government would be prepared to arm the volunteers completely in the event of that of which he trusted there was no present danger, an invasion. In addition to this the Government had decided—still following in the steps of their predecessors in office—to allow the staff of the disembodied militia to be employed for the purpose of instructing the rifle corps in drill, for which the corps would be required to pay them a shilling a day, and to provide them with sufficient billet or lodging. And now, in reply to the question which had been put to him by the noble Baron (Lord Aveland), he believed he might say that it was in contemplation to provide means for instructing in musketry, at the Hythe School of Musketry, a certain number of adjutants and sergeants of the stuff of the disembodied militia. The matter was not yet finally settled, however, but was waiting the decision of His Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief. He believed it was contemplated to afford means, in the course of the present summer, for the instruction of something like twenty-five adjutants and 100 sergeants of the disembodied militia, at Hythe; and, of course, such a measure as that would add greatly to the facilities for drill of either the militia or the volun- teer rifle corps. The drill sergeants ought not to constitute a permanent charge to these corps, because, so far as the ordinary purposes of drill were concerned, they would, before long, be able to provide themselves with instructors from the members of their own body. But to secure to them still more advantage in respect to musketry instruction His Royal Highness had decided that a modified course of musketry instruction at Hythe should be open to the officers and members of the volunteer corps, to commence at the end of July and to continue fourteen days; the expense, of course, being borne by the officers themselves. His (the Earl of Ripon's) remarks up to this point had applied chiefly to rifle volunteers; but Her Majesty's Government entertained an especially strong sense of the utility of forming artillery corps, and trusted that the Lords-Lieutenants of maritime counties would use their best endeavours to promote in their districts the establishment of corps of that kind. In accordance with the decision of the late Government, guns, ammunition, and instruction would be supplied to such corps; the guns and ammunition to be under the charge of the Royal Artillery. In the event of invasion those artillery corps would prove most valuable, by setting free the Royal Artillery for service in the field. His right he n. Friend the Secretary of State thought that it was necessary to proceed in regard to these matters somewhat cautiously. The movement was as yet in its infancy, and it was undesirable to come to any positive decision until they could see what course its development would be likely to take. Consequently, it was only contemplated at present that the organization should be by companies; and that any other arrangement should be left for consideration hereafter—but a circular would be issued to the Lords-Lieutenants of counties as soon as possible, containing the conditions upon which these corps were to be formed. Her Majesty's Government, he might repeat, were fully sensible of the public spirit which had animated those who had come forward to organize these corps, they believed that corps of this description would be very valuable for defensive purposes and it was the object of his right he n. Friend to make them as efficient as possible consistently with the principles that must govern corps of volunteers. With regard to the second question of the noble Lord (Lord Aveland) as to the supply of Enfield rifles to the militia, he believed that assistance of that kind might be given to the staff of the disembodied militia as soon as there were persons upon that staff who had been at Hythe, and were capable of instructing the rest of the staff in the use of those rifles. Indeed, as to the disembodied militia generally, it was naturally the wish of the Government to supply them with the rifles; but that must be a gradual process, and dependant upon other demands for the supply of rifles; he was therefore unable to inform the noble Lord when it was likely that the views of the Government in that respect would be completely carried into effect.


said, there was one point in the observations which had fallen from the noble Earl who had just spoken to which he wished briefly to advert. The first condition which he understood was laid down by the Government before they would consent to supply volunteer corps with arms was that they should procure a space of ground for practice to the extent of 300 yards free from all danger, and that their proceedings should take place under the inspection of a public officer. Now, that appeared to be a very proper course to take; but he must remind his noble Friend that all these new rifle corps must, in point of fact, be Bet on foot in towns, inasmuch as it would be found quite impossible to establish them in the country districts, where the population was so widely distributed. Now, that being so, their Lordships must bear in mind that there were in the vicinity of towns so many footpaths that, unless Parliament interposed, it would be impossible to find a sufficient length of ground for the necessary practice of the various corps. The Legislature might, he thought, so far interfere as to give authority to the commanding officer, by public notice, and the posting of sentries, to cause the footpaths to be stopped up during the hours of practice; otherwise no efficient training in the use of the rifle could be carried on.


said that, although their Lordships might be willing to pass an Act of Parliament for the purpose to which the noble Earl referred, yet it would, he feared, be extremely difficult to procure the assent of the House of Commons to such a measure.


said, he understood that 25 per cent. of the rifles necessary for the practice of volunteer corps were to be supplied to them by the Government. He should like to know whether that 25 per cent. was to be regarded as a loan for practice only, or whether each of the 100 men who composed a company were to provide their own rifles.


said, the noble Earl must bear in mind that the corps in question were merely volunteer corps, and that the 25 per cent of rifles would be supplied to them merely for the purposes of practice.


said, there was one word—the word "invasion"—which had occurred in the speech of his noble Friend the Under Secretary for War, and to which he wished to advert, because he believed it to be a word to which the same idea did not attach on this as upon the other side of the Channel. Entirely different opinions were entertained here from those which prevailed in Prance as to the motives by which an invasion of this country might be prompted, and the results to which it might lead. The English were a cold-blooded, calculating people, who sought to know the value of a thing in coming to a decision with respect to it. They could not understand the meaning of such a wanton effusion of blood and treasure as would be occasioned by any attempt on the part of France to invade our shores, unless they coupled with the idea of the will to do so the expectation on the part of Frenchmen to succeed in conquering England. Now, that was a very logical view to take of the subject, but it was not French. He did not believe that the idea of conquering this country had ever entered into the head of any sane Frenchman, any more than any sane Englishman had ever entertained the notion that we should allow ourselves to be conquered by Franco. He felt assured that no Frenchman had ever dreamt of taking possession of this island; but he felt almost equally certain that every Frenchman living dreamt both by day and night of humiliating this country, and robbing her of the position which she alone maintained among the nations of Europe—that of possessing an inviolate soil. Thousands of persons in England scouted the very thought of an invasion, They asked, "What is the use of it?" They said, "It could have no permanent result." The people of France were aware that it could not; but then they did not adopt the same mode of reasoning on the subject. A forlorn hope might enter some miserable village inhabited by six fishermen and a ploughboy, a bulletin might be signed on British soil, proclaiming the glorious triumph of French arms; the French eagles might stream from every steeple from Acton to Ealing and from Ealing to Harrow; the very prospect was enough to throw every Frenchman into a transport of joy, and that, too, although he might be perfectly aware that not a single one of his countrymen would return he me to tell the tale. Such a state of feeling was incomprehensible to a cold, calculating Englishman. He should, however implore their Lordships not to indulge in the cut-and-dry supposition that an invasion of our shores was a thing impossible, or to measure the probability of it by mere politico-economical considerations. It must not be imagined that because there were so many material and industrial interests involved in the question it ought not to be viewed in a serious light. He had heard similar arguments urged in 1830 against a change of dynasty, and in 1848 against the possibility of a revolution breaking out in France; yet their Lordships knew what had taken place on both these occasions—he hoped it would not prove the same on the third occasion. He should, above all things, beseech their Lordships not to have recourse to sentimentalities. He knew well what the Imperialists thought of the English alliance. They said nothing against it. They seemed to look upon it as a very fine idea, a very excellent thing in its way. They spoke of it as the French philosophers of the Encyclopédie had spoken of the Christian religion at the end of the last century. They called it a beautiful invention, but one that had performed its task. They said, "son temps est fait." He did not make these statements lightly or for the mere pleasure of doing so. He resided in France, and his social relations were chiefly in that country. Nothing, therefore, could be a greater misfortune to him than that such an event as that to which he alluded should take place. But breathing the atmosphere by which he was surrounded in France, he could not help hearing and seeing that the great motive which had urged the Emperor Napoleon to wage war against Austria was to make a general, though a tacit appeal to all the nations of Europe, except that of which he was the head, to unsettle themselves. The appeal was made to Poland, to Hungary, perhaps to Ireland—in a word, to every country—for the purpose, as it were, of producing a general dislocation of the affairs of the world; with what object he could not say, inasmuch as he could not presume to fathom the depths of the mind of him who now acted a chief part on the Continent of Europe. He should not venture to divine what might he the next move of His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of the French on the political chess-board. He could not prophesy whether he would checkmate the world or he checkmated himself. But, be that as it might, he was anxious that the Government of England, be it Whig, Radical, or Conservative, should be as well aware as he was that the only way to unite together all parties in France—Republicans, Imperialists, Orleanists and Legitimists—would be to enter into a war with this country. Such a war was the only one which would ever be universally popular in France, and, however reckless the attempt to invade England might be—however devoid of all rational hope of success—there was not a single widow in France who would not give her last son, or a single beggar who would not give his last penny, to carry out such a project.


asked whether it was the intention of the Government to arm completely the volunteer corps as soon as that object could be effected.


thought his noble Friend had sufficiently explained that twenty-five rifles were to be supplied to every hundred men. It was thought that the various corps would thus have ample means of instruction in firing these weapons. Some of the members would, no doubt, supply themselves at their own cost with rifles like those of the Government, so as to be able to use the same ammunition; and, in case of invasion, the whole corps would, of course, be placed in possession of these weapons.


said, his objection to this plan was that by supplying arms to the rifle corps they would be likely to enlist a class of men whom it was the special object of the late Government to avoid enlisting—namely, those who would otherwise join the army or the militia. In proposing to furnish rifles to this extent he hoped the Government had informed themselves as to the actual supply of these arms; for the promise seemed to him a very large one.


admitted that if, in dealing with these volunteer corps they reduced the number of recruits for the army or militia, they would be do- ing great injury indeed. But would that be the case if arms were granted, as proposed, for purposes of practice? Their Lordships must recollect he w very heavy would still be the expense to Members of rifle corps. The Government did not intend to furnish them with accoutrements or with a practice ground; neither were the members to receive any pay; and he was certain that these were not terms likely to be accepted by men who would join the army or militia. It was the opinion of the Government that though it would not be right to throw upon the country any greater expense for the issue of arms than was now proposed, it was not desirable to render these corps too select or to prevent such persons from joining them as would be willing to do so on receiving this very moderate assistance. They thought the corps should be composed of all classes. Another object was attained by the proposed issue, for the Government would thereby acquire a right to insist on the safe custody of these rifles, besides insuring that they should always be found efficient when wanted, and not in such a state as a delicate weapon of the kind would probably fall into if left to individual care and custody. With regard to the other point raised by the noble Earl, he could only say that in Nottingham his first step had been to consult the officer commanding the militia in that county, as to he w far the formation of rifle corps would be likely to impede the recruiting for the militia, and that officer said he was convinced that the enlistment of men for the line and the militia would not be interfered with by the encouragement of those volunteer bodies.


agreed with the noble Duke in thinking that the proposed corps would not be likely to interfere with the enlistment for either the line or the militia, because the men who joined the rifle corps would belong to an altogether superior class. He did not, therefore, object to the course which the Government intended to take in thus going somewhat beyond the scheme of the late Ministry, provided they had satisfied themselves that they would not be unduly encroaching upon the supply of rifles for the regular service, in fulfilling the obligations they had taken upon themselves. The supply of Enfield rifles for the use of the army, whether by the efforts of the trade or of the Government factory, appeared to the late Government insufficient to warrant them in otherwise disposing of any considerable proportion of these arms, and upon those grounds it was that they had not thought it expedient to provide these corps with rifles. If the present Government had satisfied themselves that there was an abundance of rifles, and if they thought they could without inconvenience meet the demands of the volunteer corps, he had not a word to say against such an arrangement; but the late Government had come to a different conclusion.


replied that the question mooted by the noble Earl had been carefully considered by the Secretary for War, who had satisfied himself that from the number of rifles now in store, and coming in weekly, ample means would be provided for meeting the wants of the volunteer corps.


suggested that the disembodied officers of militia should be supplied with the Enfield rifle, so as to he the better qualified to instruct the volunteer corps.


asked whether the Government intended to embody the Irish militia, and said that attention ought to be directed to the use of the arms of those regiments, which were usually found in the very worst condition.

In reply to the EARL OF AIRLIE,


said, he thought he had stated that the Government did not intended to supply these corps with any musketry instruction at the public expense; but the illustrious Duke the Commander-in-Chief had made arrangements which would enable the volunteer officers, if they thought fit, to go through a modified course of instruction at Hythe. With regard to the embodiment of Irish militia, that was a question which he was not prepared to answer without notice.