HL Deb 02 March 1860 vol 156 cc2134-42

said, he was very much surprised to find that no Vote had been proposed this year, in the Army Estimates, for the annual training of the Yeomanry. The omission to call that force together for drill and exercise was of very-rare occurrence—indeed, he believed the only year in which they had not been assembled for that purpose since 1815, was the year 1857. Even at the time of the Reform Bill, when politics ran high, and when the Government, it might be supposed, had no particular affection for the Yeomanry as an agriculutral body, their annual gathering for exercise had not been dispensed with. It was certainly very remarkable that at a time like this, when the Government were exerting themselves so strenuously in various ways to form an available reserve of troops at home, this valuable and old-established force should be neglected. If it were susceptible of improvement or re-organization, let the necessary measures be carried out; but he did not think the Government should bestow all their patronage on the infantry Volunteers, to the exclusion of the Yeomanry. In 1857 the excuse made for not calling them out was that they were so efficient that they did not require it; but the opinion of all persons of experience in such matters was that it was impossible for them to be in a state of proper efficiency unless called out every year for exercise and training. Another point to be considered was that the horses of Yeomen were entitled to exemption from the horse-tax if they had performed a certain number of clays' exercise; and he hoped that, if the Government persisted in their intention not to call out the Yeomanry this year, they would follow the precedent of 1857, and grant exemption from the horse-tax to all horses that had been out for service in the preceding year. He did not wish to disparage the Volunteer Force, but was it reasonable, when they were assisting a new force, that they should neglect and render inefficient an organization which already existed? It was impossible to keep up the esprit de corps among a body of men when it was a matter of accident whether they would be called out or not; nor was it worth while, for the sake of a trumpery saving of £35,000, to diminish the efficiency of the Yeomanry, when, at the same moment, they were taking a Vote of £15,000 for the pay of adjutants for Volunteer Rifle Corps. It was all very well to say that the Yeomanry were so efficient that it was unnecessary to call them out. They would not believe that this was the true reason, and he trusted that their Lordships would not see a repetition of the policy of 1857, when the Yeomanry were treated with similar neglect, but that they would be allowed to assemble for duty, so that they might be enabled to serve their country in case of need with credit and efficiency. He wished to ask the Secretary of State for War, Whether it is intended to assemble the Yeomanry either for permanent Duty or for Training and Exercise during the present Year?


said, that it was not the intention of Her Majesty's Government to call out the Yeomanry during the present year, either for permanent duty or for training or exercise. He could not help thinking that the noble Earl's mind was haunted by the apprehension that there was some hostility to the Yeomanry force on the part of Her Majesty's Government, or some design fatal to their existence. But he could assure the noble Earl that nothing was further from the intention of Her Majesty's Government, or of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War. The noble Earl had alluded to the large amount of the Army Estimates for the present year. Those Estimates for the Army and Militia alone amounted to more than £15,000,000. Under these circumstances the Government thought it their duty to reduce the expenditure upon all points were reduction was possible. There could be no doubt that some of the causes which rendered this high expenditure necessary were of a temporary nature. The noble Earl said the Yeomanry would not believe that they were not called out because they were already so efficient; but the Government had given this reason in perfect good faith. The reports relative to the Yeomanry last year were remarkably satisfactory. Only two years before the Yeomanry were not called out, and the same course was pursued as in the present year. The noble Earl, if he did not mistake, then made the same prophecy, that the Yeomanry would become inefficient. So far, however, from their efficiency having decreased, the reports of last year showed that it was as high as ever it was. He could assure the noble Earl that the Secretary of State for War, who was himself a Yeomanry officer in a distinguished corps, entertained a high appreciation of the services rendered by the Yeomanry whenever they were called out. In determining that it was not desirable they should be called out during the present year his right hon. Friend had acted from no desire to impair the efficiency of this force, but simply from the wish to keep down, as much as possible, the amount of the Army Estimates. Here was, no doubt, an old-established force of high reputation and proved efficiency, and his right hon. Friend (Mr. S. Herbert) thought he might call upon the patriotism of the officers, in consideration of the demands upon the finances of the year, to forego the advantage of being called out during the present year. The noble Earl had instituted a kind of comparison between the Volunteer corps and the Yeomanry. Such comparisons were, he thought, to be deprecated; but, when the noble Earl complained that the Government were giving assistance to the Volunteer corps, he must remind him that while the Volunteer force, numbering from 70,000 to 80,000 men, would not cost the Government more than £15,000, the expense of the Yeomanry corps was £88,000 for about 14,000 men. He had no doubt that, although the Yeomanry might not be now called out, they would be found when they were assembled next year, in an efficient condition, and that two years hence the reports would show that the Yeomanry were in the highest state of efficiency. His right hon. Friend had only been induced by a sense of public duty and by a desire to reduce the expenditure to defer calling out the Yeomanry for the present year, and had pursued that course with great regret and under the pressure of necessity.


said, he was glad the noble Earl who had just spoken on the part of the Government had borne testimony to the efficiency of the Yeomanry. If, however, they were in an efficient state it was desirable to keep them so, and that could not be done without training and exercise. If they were not called out, the feeling that they were not properly trained and made efficient would spread, and they would begin to think of dissolving themselves. In 1857, when they were not called out, great doubts existed among them whether the Yeomanry force was not speedily coming to an end. When they now saw the Government assisting another force with £15,000 they could not understand why they should not be called out. He trusted that when the Yeomanry were again called out the Government would supply them with a better carbine. He did not believe there could be a much more useless weapon. The Yeomanry were almost ashamed to use it, and there was the greatest difficulty in prevailing upon them to practice with a weapon that hardly ever hit the mark.


said, he agreed with the noble Earl (Earl Powis) that the Government had been guilty of a very serious mistake in not calling out the Yeomanry force, and he quite agreed with what had fallen from the noble Earl opposite with regard to their arms. But that was only one of the first consequences of what he must call the extraordinary courage which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had displayed, in dashing at everything which could contribute to make up his financial scheme. Owing to the courtesy of the other House of Parliament, he (the Earl of Malmesbury) had been present during the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech, and had then heard one of the most eloquent statements that perhaps had ever been made in that House. In that speech he spoke of two sources of revenue which he had cut off by the reduction and abolition of duties, and one of which he called his great chasm, and the other his little chasm. This little chasm he created by sponging off a number of small articles that in the aggregate brought a large sum of money to the revenue. Among these were nuts, liquorice, and eggs, each yielding a considerable amount; and he (the Earl of Malmesbury) ventured to say, that if these three articles which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had determined to sponge off had been retained, they would have given him a sum large enough to pay the expenses of calling out the Yeomanry Cavalry. He was truly sorry that the Yeomanry were not to be called out this year, for considering that when they were out they had only eight days' training in the year, and that from this time two days had usually to be deducted for travelling, &c, the force could not be expected to become very efficient, especially if the ordinary yearly training was interrupted.


thought the Government had taken a most unwise and unfortunate course in not calling out the Yeomanry. That force was by no means so perfect in discipline as to warrant the Government in dispensing with the usual training—they equally required improvement in their arms and in their discipline.


was under-stood to say that it would be impossible for the Yeomanry to retain their efficiency unless a more effective system of training were resorted to.


said, he had heard with deep regret the determination of the Government, because he felt sure that the efficiency of the Yeomanry corps must greatly suffer if a year elapsed without their being called out for training. It was a strange argument that because the Yeomanry force was last year in an efficient condition it was unnecessary to assemble them as usual; it certainly did not seem to be the wisest mode of maintaining that efficiency. These were times when it was to the last degree important that all our disposable forces should be developed to the utmost extent, and maintained in the best condition, as there was no knowing when their services might be required. It was pitiable to see the Government of a great country like this adopting such a paltry piece of economy—ill-timed as regarded the present, and most prejudical in respect to the future.


said, although he had not the honour of being connected with the Yeomanry, he could not refrain from expressing the regret with which he had heard that it was not the intention of Her Majesty's Government to call out that force during the present year. That was a measure which could only be justified on the ground of extreme necessity, and he could not see that any such necessity had arisen. It was a step which was entirely contrary to the whole policy of the Government, which had been mainly directed—and very properly directed—to the strengthening of the defences of the country. In this particular case they seemed to have thrown away—wantonly thrown away, as he thought—the present services of a body of 14,000 cavalry; and in doing so, they would necessarily impair the efficiency of the force when called out in another year. He would not say the Yeomanry force was not susceptible of improvement; for example, in the mode in which they were armed and drilled, they might be greatly improved. He thought also a portion of them might he drilled as mounted riflemen. But the greatest advantage would result in increasing the value and efficiency of this body of 14,000 men, by calling them out for training for longer periods. He must say he thought the noble Earl, the Under Secretary for War, had spoken a great deal too lightly on this subject, which was one of very great importance. It was no light matter, considering the way in which the principal landowners and farmers, and other respectable people in each county, came forward and at great inconvenience to themselves, devoted a considerable portion of their time to the public service, that they should be treated with disrespect by the Government. It appeared to him, when the Government found it necessary to diminish the public expenditure, that they might have selected other items than that relating to the Yeomanry for reduction. The great object now was to augment the security of the country. Were there no Miscellaneous Estimates, which had grown enormously year after year, until they now threatened to swallow up the best portion of the revenue? Was it impossible to make a reduction in those Estimates to the amount of £35,000, the sum which would be gained by not calling out the Yeomanry? If the Government felt strong enough, and were disposed to do their duty, as he thought they were, and if they were permitted by the House of Commons to cut out of the Civil Estimates all the charges which had originated in crotchets and self-indulgence, in luxury, in shams, and in jobs, they would be enabled to place this country in a state of absolute security, without laying any additional charge upon the people. He did not accuse the present Government, or any preceding one, of any misconduct in having allowed those Miscellaneous Estimates to grow up to the extent they had done. He believed it was the House of Commons, and not successive Governments, that the country had to blame for the great increase which had taken place in that branch of the expenditure. He remembered the late Sir Robert Peel on one occasion saying there had been much more jobbing since the passing of the Reform Bill than before. "Before," said Sir Robert, "the jobbing was for individuals, but now it was for constituencies, and that was a great deal more expensive." The lower we descend in search of a constituency the lower will be the representative we shall find, and we shall only increase instead of diminishing this source of scandalous expenditure. If the Government would economise the expenditure of the revenue drawn from the people, they must firmly resolve, at any risk to themselves—and he believed they would be supported by the country—to cut down those scandals, which were overwhelming the State, giving us things we did not want, or ought not to desire, under circumstances of national difficulty, and depriving us of things which were absolutely essential to the national security.


said, an impression, to which his noble Friend who had just sat down had given distinct expression, appeared to prevail among some of their Lordships that his noble Friend the Under Secretary for War had spoken slightingly of the Yeomanry force. But he was certain that nothing could be further from the intention of his noble Friend than to convey any such meaning, and his speech had certainly not produced that effect on his (the Duke of Newcastle's) mind. His noble Friend who had last spoken appeared, moreover, to infer from the speech of his noble Friend the Under Secretary for War that there was a feeling of disregard for the Yeomanry on the part of Her Majesty's Government. He (the Duke of Newcastle) scarcely thought it necessary to defend the Government from any such imputation. He believed that no feeling of the kind was entertained by any one of them: it certainly was not entertained by the members of the Government generally. Speaking for himself, he did not hesitate to say he regretted that there should be any necessity in any single year for not calling out the Yeomanry, for it was impossible that some detriment should not result to the efficiency of the force from such a measure. But Her Majesty's Government had found it necessary to reduce the Estimates in some Departments, and his right hon. Friend at the head of the War Department thought that the item relating to the Yeomanry was one which he could curtail without any serious detriment to the public service. His noble Friend who had just addressed the House had said, that if the Government had been disposed to do their duty, as he believed they were desirous of doing, and if they had not been controlled by the House of Commons, they would have re- duced the Miscellaneous Estimates. But he could assure his noble Friend that when those Estimates came before the House of Commons it would be seen that the Government proposed to make very considerable reductions in them. He knew that those Estimates had gone on increasing from year to year until they had reached what might be called gigantic proportions. It was also true that each successive Government had found a difficulty in keeping down that branch of the public expenditure, partly from extraneous causes and partly from the feeling of the House of Commons on the subject. But in the present year the pruning knife had been applied to the Estimates for civil purposes to a much greater extent than the amount of the cost of calling out the Yeomanry. When his noble Friend, the late Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (the Earl of Malmesbury) sought to mix up the affair of the Yeomanry with the Budget of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he (the Duke of Newcastle) was utterly at a loss to conceive what connection there could be between the two subjects: and when his noble Friend talked of "the little chasm," he fully expected that he would have put on his full Yeomanry uniform, and, like the Roman general of old, have thrown himself into it as a martyr. As Lord-Lieutenant of a county possessing two efficient Yeomanry regiments he could speak personally of their value, and although the Government did not intend to call out that body this year yet they had no desire to depreciate its merits.


considered that his noble Friend's reference to the Budget was quite as germane to the question under discussion as the noble Duke's example of Quintus Curtius:—he believed, however, that the Gentleman's name was Marcus Curtius. He, however, did not understand from the noble Duke whether it was intended to allow to the Yeomanry the same exemption from horse-duty which they would have enjoyed had they been called out for duty.


said, he was not prepared to give a positive answer to the noble Earl's question, The subject was one for the decision of the Treasury, and he had not had an opportunity of ascertaining what was the opinion which they entertained with respect to it. But he felt confident that on an application being made from the War Office to the Treasury the exemption from horse-duty which had been granted upon former occasions of the same description would be allowed during the present year.