HL Deb 21 February 1862 vol 165 cc532-42

rose to put a Question to Her Majesty's Government which, he said, he had fixed for Monday last, but which he had then postponed in consequence of an application which had been made to the Government by a noble Lord in reference to the proposed Volunteer review at Brighton on Easter Monday next. He had pursued that course in the hope that the noble Lord to whom he referred would receive some reply to his application; but he was sorry to say that up to that moment none had been vouchsafed. Before he put his Question he wished to make a few remarks in relation to the general subject of the Volunteer Force, and more especially in regard to what had occurred last year at Brighton. In the first place, he wished to observe, that although the subject might not be a matter of high interest to their Lordships, it was one of great importance and of very serious interest to the public out of doors, but more particularly to the Volunteers themselves. Having some reason to apprehend, whether rightly or wrongly, that the Government was about to depart from that system of non-interference with the Volunteer movement which they had hitherto so wisely maintained, he had ventured to put his Question on the paper with the view of eliciting from them, if possible, whether or not they proposed to adhere henceforward to that system. He need not say it was well known that there existed from the first a feeling—he would not say of jealousy, but of rivalry, between two noble Lords, each of whom aspired to be the leader of this movement. That rivalry had, he believed, existed without any strong animus; and, indeed, had it been otherwise, he should not have felt it right to allude to it at all; and if, in the course of the remarks he was about to make, he should have occasion to mention the names of those two noble Lords, he should do so without transgressing the proprieties of their Lordships' House. At the commencement of the movement the commanders of metropolitan corps held a meeting and passed resolutions in relation to field-days of their own corps in the neighbourhood of the metropolis and several other subjects; and it so happened, that although the metropolitan commanders occupied no representative position in regard to the Volunteer movement throughout the country generally, yet, from the fact that they were for the most part men of high position and influence, and living in immediate proximity to the public Departments, those resolutions unquestionably met with a considerable amount of consideration from the general Volunteer body throughout the kingdom, and acquired greater importance than the Government appeared to imagine. Last year, Lord Ranelagh, in consequence of applications that had been made to him, asked to be permitted to have a Volunteer field-day at Brighton. He (Lord Truro) believed that the authorities at the War Office and at the Horse Guards at first thought it doubtful whether they ought to accede to that application; but, acting with that consider rate spirit which had always marked their conduct towards the Volunteers, they acceded to the request, and General Scarlett was appointed as the inspecting officer on the part of the Government upon that occasion. By the course they then adopted the authorities conceded the principle that the Volunteers themselves should be allowed to have the nomination of the commander on review lays. A belief, however, prevailed, not only that that sanction was unwillingly; given, but that the Government expected that the review itself would be an eminent failure. On the contrary, however, it turned out to be an eminent success; and, seeing the steps that had since been taken, there was some reason to apprehend that the alteration which it was understood was contemplated, was owing to that success. It had been frequently urged that a Volunteer force could not be handled with efficiency upon occasions of great field-days unless a military man was placed in command. The object of placing a military man in command was, it must be presumed, to give the Volunteers the best possible instruction; but he could not help thinking that the best mode of ensuring that instruction was to intrust the Volunteer commanders with the management of those large operations. One of the most valuable means of instruction was practice—without practice theory and study were useless. He had also heard it stated that it would be inexpedient that the Volunteer officers should attain to that amount of military capacity which, if they should happen to be factious citizens, would give them the power of rallying large bodies of Volunteers to their standards in troublous times, and thereby endangering the public safety. Such an argument as that was perfectly absurd. Under the present regulations there was no power of taking a Volunteer force out of one county into another without the consent of the Lords Lieutenants of both counties being obtained; and not only that, but it could not be assembled at all without the sanction of the War Office. Hitherto there had existed between the Volunteers and the Government a spirit of subordination and respect on the one side, and, on the other, an earnest desire to promote the welfare of the force; but the Volunteers and the gentlemen of England especially, who were devoting their time and energy to bring the force to perfection, now pressed on the Government the necessity of giving them every opportunity of perfecting themselves in the higher branches of military knowledge, so that, if called upon hereafter, they might be able to take a prominent part in the military defence of the country. It had been said that it was necessary to have military men of great experience to move large bodies of Volunteers. But at the present moment there were not twelve officers in this country who had ever commanded 5,000 men. Supposing that an extraordinary emergency—such as an invasion—were suddenly to occur, and some 500,000 or 600,000 Volunteers, with the Militia, were called out, where would the Government be able to lay its hands on officers capable of taking command of large bodies of men? It was, therefore, of the greatest consequence that the Government should give the Volunteer officers every opportunity of practising their duties on a large scale. It was rumoured that the Government, in order to extricate themselves from a position of some difficulty—for it was well known that they were unwilling to run counter to the wish of the Volunteers who had asked permission to go to Brighton for the purpose of holding a field-day—it was rumoured that they had invited the greatest commander of the day, as he (Lord Truro) believed he might call him, to take the command upon that occasion. Now, he was persuaded that there was no man who proposed to take part in that review that would not feel it an honour to act under that noble Lord (Lord Clyde). But he confessed that it was with regret he saw that the noble Lord had allowed himself in that case to be made an instrument in the hands of the Government for the purpose of enabling them to get out of an unpleasant position. That was a politic move; but he thought the reiterated expression of the wishes of the Volunteer force would induce the Government eventually to depart from the course on which it seemed disposed to enter—namely, to refuse, on all future occasions, large commands to Volunteer officers. He much feared—indeed, he had always had some apprehension—that as this force grew to perfection, and as it developed itself and became both important and powerful, the authorities would draw a somewhat tighter hand over its movements and the commands which might be held; and he confessed, that if the rumour that had been circulated was true, that Government had appointed an officer to take the command at Brighton, the time would come when Volunteer officers would be refused not only the honour of commanding on field-days, but would have brigadiers put over them and be denied the command even of brigades. If that were so, the Volunteer Officers would have just reason to complain. It might be that the Volunteer officers were thought to be too ambitious; but if it were so, it was a quality which rather entitled them to approbation. He had intended to have said more upon this subject, but he had only just come from a meeting of Volunteer officers, and therefore he felt that he was not able to do full justice to it. He had every reason to thank their Lordships for the consideration which they had shown him, and he sincerely hoped that Her Majesty's Government would not, by appointing Lord Clyde to command on the occasion at Brighton, make it a precedent for excluding the Volunteer commanders at once and for ever from the only means by which they could obtain that instruction which they had looked forward to. There was another subject to which he desired to advert. It was this:—That the meeting of metropolitan Volunteer officers which took place subsequent to the review at Brighton was not a meeting which in any degree expressed the general feeling of the body. At that meeting Lord Elcho came down and proposed to the metropolitan commanders a resolution that in future no commander should hold field commands who was not a military officer. Now, he (Lord Truro) confessed that he was one of those who heard that resolution with great regret, for at a previous meeting held in 1860 nearly the whole of the metropolitan officers, to the number of twenty-eight, unanimously passed a resolution that a Volunteer commander should have the command on field-days. Now, it so happened, that notwithstanding the success of the meeting at Brighton, Lord Elcho came down to the meeting he had referred to and carried a Resolution that in future on field-days no Volunteer officer should take command; and there was no doubt that that resolution was drawn with the sanction and the knowledge of the Under Secretary for War. [Earl DE GREY AND RIPON expressed dissent.] He (Lord Truro) believed he was warranted in saying that the Minister of War saw the resolution, and he believed it was in consequence of that resolution that subsequently a memorandum was issued to the effect that in future they would be debarred the privilege which they had hitherto enjoyed. He believed he was expressing the sentiments of the whole force when he said that Lord Ranelagh was a man who had from the beginning—and he might observe that he had not by any means always acted with him—given what advice and assistance he could to the authorities, and that he had displayed an honest zeal, and had throughout discovered an unselfishness, which had done him honour, and which was felt throughout the Volunteer force, and especially that part of it—to the number of no less than sixty commanders—who wrote to him for the purpose of inviting him to do what he could towards obtaining another field-day at Brighton; and they would deeply regret the slight, for he could call it nothing less, that had been put upon him. He would again say that he had never been a partisan of Lord Ranelagh—indeed, it was supposed last year that he was inimical to him. He had never taken part on one side or the other, and he thought no man in the country had worked more honestly and more zealously for the development of the movement to which in future, beyond all question, the nation must look for a great part of its defence, than had Lord Ranelagh. The question he wished to ask was, Whether any application has been made to the Minister for War in relation to the command on the proposed field-day of Volunteers at Brighton on Easter Monday next; and, if so, if they are willing to State the determination at which they have arrived?


I am glad that the noble Lord by his Question has enabled me to state to your Lordships the views and intentions of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War upon a matter on which there appears to exist in the mind of the noble Lord and of many other persons a considerable amount of misapprehension. I do not intend to follow the noble Lord into those private and personal matters into which he has to some extent entered. I regret that the noble Lord should have alluded to gentlemen not in this House, and who, therefore, cannot reply to the remarks which he has made. I am not in a position to give any explanation as to the charge which the noble Lord has made with respect to Lord Elcho's resolution. It is, however, impossible that that resolution could have been submitted to me as Under Secretary of State for War before it was moved, because I at that time had not the honour of being connected with the War Office. With respect to the real question before your Lordships, it is necessary, in order to make the matter intelligible to those of your Lordships who have not followed the details of Volunteer matters, that I should explain the rules which have been acted upon by the War Office in dealing with assemblies of several corps of Volunteers. These assemblies are divided into two classes—namely, those which do not exceed in amount the strength of a brigade, say of 2,000 men, and, secondly, those which go beyond that strength. With regard to the first, or brigade field-days, the regulation which has been in force since June, 1860, which remains in force, and of which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War fully approves, provides that when the necessary sanction of the Lord Lieutenant of the County, and of the Secretary of State, has been obtained for the meeting, the senior Volunteer officer present shall take the command. With respect to the other and more rare cases of meetings which bring together large masses of Volunteers, the provisions of the Regulations are different. The regulation which applies to these lays down that the Volunteers who desire the meeting should first—as of course is necessary, looking to the constitutional position of Lords Lieutenant—apply to the Lord Lieutenant of the county where the meeting is to be held, for his approval. If the Lord Lieutenant approves, the application is forwarded by him to the Secretary of State; and when his sanction has been obtained, the corps which desire to attend send in their names to their respective Lords Lieutenant. When the Secretary of State is acquainted with the number of corps to be present, and the arrangements which it is intended to make for the field-day, he then appoints an officer to take the command. With regard to this particular case, in answer to the first portion of the noble Lord's inquiry, I have to state that no strictly official application of the kind to which I have alluded has, up to this time, been received. No official application has been made by the Lord Lieutenant of Sussex to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War with regard to this matter. But I believe the noble Earl the Lord Lieutenant of Sussex has this day—in fact, within these few hours—received an official application from Lord Ranelagh for permission to hold the field-day. The noble Lord states that Lord Ranelagh applied some time back to the Secretary of State for permission to have a field day at Brighton, and that he has received no answer. It is true that a letter was received from Lord Ranelagh some time ago stating that he was in communication with the Lord Lieutenant of Sussex, with regard to an intended field-lay at Brighton, and asking the Secretary of State whether he would give his sanction for that field-day, permitting it to be carried out under the same arrangements as last year. To that letter an answer was sent from the War Office some days ago, informing Lord Ranelagh that the Secretary of State was not in a position to give him an official answer to the inquiry until he knew whether the intended review met the approval of the Lord Lieutenant of Sussex. That, your Lordships will consider, I am confident, was the only answer which at that time could be given. There was not the slightest delay in sending the answer, which concluded with an assurance that as soon as the Lord Lieutenant communicated with the War Office, Lord Ranelagh should be informed of the determination come to. With regard to the question as to the officer to be appointed to the command on this occasion, your Lordships will see that that turns of course, to a certain extent, upon the number of Volunteers that may assemble. If the assembly should turn out to be only a brigade meeting, according to the ordinary rule the senior Volunteer officer present will take command. I can assure my noble Friend that there is not the slightest intention to depart from the practice which has hitherto obtained on this subject. But if, as I believe will be the case, the metropolitan Volunteers and others take advantage of the convenient opportunity of Easter Monday to hold in the neighbourhood of Brighton a large gathering to a number perhaps between 10,000 and 20,000 men, then the noble Lord has been rightly informed by the public journals that it is the intention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to appoint Lord Clyde to take command on that day. That distinguished officer, who has always shown the deepest interest in the Volunteer movement, has been selected for various reasons. Amongst others for this:—In the year 1860 the Volunteers were honoured by being reviewed in large numbers in Hyde Park by Her Majesty. No such review took place last year; and, of course, under the melancholy circumstances of Her Majesty's present affliction, no such review can take place this year. The Brighton gathering, then, is likely to be the greatest Volunteer meeting of the year. My right hon. Friend therefore thought it his duty to take those measures which seemed to him most likely to promote the efficiency of the Volunteers, and give them the best possible means of instruction; and that he could not appoint a better man than Lord Clyde. I must say that it appears to me to be inconceivable that there should be any Volunteer in this country who could imagine for a moment that any slight was put upon him in being requested to serve under so distinguished a general as Lord Clyde. The noble Lord who put these questions says that, in taking this course, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has departed from all previous practice. This, however, is an error. Since the first establishment of the Volunteers there have been held twenty-five great Volunteer gatherings, bringing together a larger number than would constitute the strength of a brigade. In only three of these cases has the command been taken by Volunteer officers. The course now taken is not, therefore, inconsistent with precedent, and the War Office has merely followed the rule acted upon in the vast majority of instances. The noble Lord says, that the great object in view at these meetings is that the Volunteers present should receive as much instruction as possible. No doubt of it. But are they not more likely to receive efficient instruction in military manœuvres, and in the probable movements of masses of troops assembled for actual service, if they are placed under the command of Generals who have had experience in the field of the movement of large bodies, instead of that of men who, however zealous and able, have to learn their business as they go along? The doctrine of the noble Lord is that Volunteers are to command on these occasions in order that they may learn how to command hereafter. But the rank and file will receive more benefit if they are commanded by a distinguished officer like Lord Clyde. It is certain that there is only one person who will not receive the practical instruction of which the noble Lord talks under the arrangement of the Secretary for War. The brigades will be commanded by Volunteer officers under Lord Clyde, so that the brigadiers will have the best means of instruction; and thus only the single position of commanding officer will be in the least affected by the arrangement. I venture to think that the act of the Secretary of State will be in accordance with the universal judgment of your Lordships' House, and that it will recommend itself also to the approbation of the volunteers themselves. My right hon. Friend has taken this course solely from a desire to promote to the utmost the efficiency of this most valuable force. I can assure the noble Lord that nothing was further from the intention of my noble Friend than to cast any slight upon Lord Ranelagh. I admit the services which have been rendered by Lord Ranelagh to the volunteer movement; I am quite ready to acknowledge the ability with which he has raised and organized his own regiment; and I trust that he will not slacken his zeal or diminish the importance of his services by conceiving that any slight can be intended to be put upon him when he is asked to serve under the gallant officer who has been appointed to command at Brighton.


in explanation said, that he had, in conversation with Lord Elcho, told him what he was going to say, and he undoubtedly understood his noble Friend to say that the Under Secretary of State for War had looked over the Resolution referred to.


said, he believed the answer just given by the noble Earl the Under Secretary for War would be perfectly satisfactory to the great body of Volunteers; and he would venture to say that every Volunteer would take especial pride in serving under the distinguished officer who had been appointed to command on Easter Monday. Further than this, in spite of what had fallen from the noble Baron, he ventured to think that the Volunteers, generally, were proud of serving under military men. Everybody acquainted with military affairs knew the difficulty of handling large bodies of troops, and the Government, he thought, did quite right to give the Volunteers on these occasions the best men they could find as commanders. The noble Earl said that in three instances only out of twenty-five had large bodies of Volunteers been commanded by Volunteer officers; that proved that military men were generally popular as commanders of the Volunteer force. In the county of Kent last year several thousand Volunteers were assembled, and not only was the commanding officer a military man, but every staff officer was a military man, and no complaint was made on this head by any Volunteer officer or private. As to the charge of the Government interfering with the Volunteers, that could not be so; for the War Office merely applied to the Horse Guards for a commanding officer, and the Horse Guards assented; so that the Volunteers were no more under the control of the Horse Guards than the disembodied Militia were. He saw no reason why Volunteer officers should rehearse, at the expense of their men, parts which they would never be called upon to perform in case of invasion. Upon such an emergency Volunteers would not be likely to be employed as a separate corps d'armée under the command of a Volunteer General. He believed the question had arisen from the doubtful wording of the Regulation. He was glad to hear that the War Office intended to adhere to the plan which had been hitherto followed; and as to the Regulation, he would suggest, with a view to prevent future misapprehension, that the word "military" should be inserted in connection with the word "officer" in the Volunteer Regulations; there would then be no doubt about the matter, and this would set at rest a question which was only the medium of throwing the apple of discord, and creating jealousy and bickering among Volunteer officers. Volunteers should bear in mind that they are auxiliaries to the army of the line, and that if their services were ever required in the field, they would be brigaded with the line and the militia.