HL Deb 17 August 1860 vol 160 cc1452-6

in rising to call the attention of the Government to the Expense and Inconvenience of calling out detached Corps of Volunteers in rural Counties to a Distance from their headquarters for the Purpose of Inspection during times of Peace, said that anything which would tend to cool down the noble ardour which the Volunteer force had displayed or to discourage the movement, would be extremely to be regretted. It was, in his opinion, of the utmost consequence to the honour and safety of the country that the movement should not be a mere temporary or feverish effort, but that it should develope itself into a solid and established institution. It had reflected the highest honour upon the country in the eyes of Europe, and he hoped that every month would show an increase of strength and permanence. Now, it appeared to him that, in order that it should maintain that character, the exhibition of the greatest tact and judgment, not only on the part of the commanding officers of the various corps but also on the part of the Government was demanded—a tact and a judgment which his noble Friend opposite (Earl De Grey and Ripon), to whose superintendence the movement had been more especially committed, had in an eminent degree displayed. He had heard but one opinion from the officers and the private members of the corps as to his noble Friend's admirable conduct. But while he had no doubt that his noble Friend would continue to do everything in his power to render the Volunteer Corps as efficient as possible, there were one or two points in connection with the force to which he wished more particularly to direct his attention. It was supposed by some persons, and not unnaturally, that the various Volunteer Corps were of a uniform character. That was not so. They had most of them seen the splendid display made by the Volunteers raised in the Metropolitan counties, and they had been rather accustomed to suppose that the great mass of the Volunteer Corps in this country resembled in detail and in character the corps that they had seen marching in the Metropolis. But the Metropolitan corps and those which were raised in larger and populous towns, were composed for the most part of the sons and relations of our richest tradesmen, and of gentlemen possessing a certain amount of fortune, to whom the expenditure of time and money in devoting themselves to the service were matters of comparatively little consequence. That was not the case with the detached corps in the rural districts, which were formed from among the sons of the small tradesmen and farmers, to whom their lime was invaluable, and the expenditure of anything over a certain amount of money a question of importance. He should be sorry to throw any prosaic feeling into the spirit which had been excited throughout the country, but to any persons it was a question of pounds, shillings, and pence. In populous districts and large towns these corps could be formed into battalions, because a sufficient number of men could be raised for every regiment; but in rural districts, where the population was not large enough to form any body of men beyond a company, and each corps was several miles distant from another, if it were attempted to bring them together and battalionize them at a central point—say the capital of the county—those who were most distant would be put to a considerable expense in marching to and from that central point. He was induced to bring this matter forward because he had recently received a letter from the Lord-lieutenant of his county, informing him that after some correspondence between the War Office and the Horse Guards, the authorities were of opinion that it would be a great advantage if the detached corps were brought together and inspected as battalions. No doubt if it could be done conveniently and without expense to the corps, that course would be most advantageous; but still it must be recollected that these companies had never met together, that they could not act in battalions, and that when inspected they would have to be inspected as so many separate companies. If it were meant that the corps should meet together several days before the inspection, so as to practise together in battalions, it would be impossible that that plan could be carried out without great expense and inconvenience to the men. For instance, it would cost every man of the company to which he belonged some 25s. or 30s. to march to "Winchester and back—that was a considerable sum to tradesmen in a small country town, particularly alter they had just gone to the expense of clothing and equipping themselves. That sum would enable them to provide themselves with greatcoats, which they had been unable to make up their minds to on account of the expense; and it would be far better, on the whole, to wait until these detached companies were fully organized and equipped, and until they were perfect in their company drill before inspecting them in battalions. He should be glad to hear, too, from the noble Lord, whether the Secretary for War had the power of ordering these corps out in times of peace. His impression was that he had not, except in times of disturbance. He understood that the War Office had appointed a very competent staff of Inspectors; they would fulfil all the purposes for which they were appointed by inspecting the various detailed corps at their own head-quarters. That was all that was required at the present moment.


said, he could assure the noble Earl that the Government had no desire to compel these small rural bodies of Volunteers to make marches which, in many instances, would entail much inconvenience and expense; nor, if they had that desire, was it in their power to compel those corps in ordinary times to attend at a distance from their head-quarters. It was only in case of invasion, actual or impending, that this body became part of the regular military force, subject to martial law and treated as any other military body. The origin of the correspondence to which the noble Earl had alluded was very simple. A considerable number of Volunteer Corps, not only in the Metropolis and in large populous districts, but even in some parts of the rural districts, had expressed a great desire to be inspected, and some of them had intimated what a great satisfaction it would be if they could have the advantage which the Corps in London and Edinburgh had enjoyed, that of being reviewed by Her Majesty. It was impossible, of course, with the demands on the Royal time, that all these requests could be complied with. The reviews which had already taken place, so far from checking the progress of the movement, had, on the contrary, been a great encouragement to it. They had been the means of bringing the corps together, and making them acquainted with each other, and they had brought prominently before the public eye the great progress which these corps had made. Under these circumstances, feeling that the assistant inspectors, though very efficient officers, were not of that rank which would enable them to review large bodies of Volunteers, the Secretary of War had written to the Commander-in-Chief, requesting him to take such steps as would enable commanders of districts to hold reviews of Volunteers; and the Commander-in-Chief in reply expressed his readiness to appoint general officers, when sufficient Corps de- sired to be brought together for inspection, to review and inspect them; but it was distinctly laid down in the correspondence that there was no power by law to compel corps to attend. If there were corps which desired to come together to be inspected, opportunities were to be afforded them for the purpose, and commanding officers of districts were desired to inspect them. It was also agreed that the Government should give every facility for carrying out their wishes. Since that arrangement there had been a large review in the county of Lancaster, and he was informed that Lord Derby intended to have a review at Knowsley on the 1st of September, which he had no doubt would be most successful. Certainly it would be a much more agreeable occupation than any other which Gentlemen were likely to have this year on the 1st of September. There might be corps which would not be able to bear the expense of such reviews, and it was certainly not desirable that they should be called upon to undertake any expense which would retard their full equipment. But if such corps were desirous of being inspected, it would be the duty of the Government to afford them the opportunity. He had only to state, in conclusion, that he could not agree with the noble Earl that these detached corps would not appear to advantage when brought together for the first time in battalions. Of course they could execute only simple movements, but both in London and Edinburgh, where there were several battalions the companies of which were never together before, such was the intelligence of the men, and such the zeal and attention of the officers, that these corps were by no means the worst that were present—and that was no small praise.

House adjourned at Half-past Seven o'clock, to Monday next, a Quarter before Four o'clock.