HL Deb 29 July 1862 vol 168 cc976-8

said, that some time ago the Government were made aware that the funds of several corps of the Volunteer Force were not by any means in a sound state, and that unless they received some aid from Government there was little hope of those corps remaining in their present strength or condition of efficiency. Suggestions were made from time to time as to the mode in which aid might be afforded, but the Government paid little or no attention to those appeals; and at last a deputation waited on the Government, to request that a Royal Commission might inquire on the subject. A Commission had been appointed, but no Report was as yet forthcoming. He hoped it would be published before the end of the Session. There were one or two points on which they required reliable information. Certain departments of the Volunteer Force were not in proportion to the others. The Volunteer Engineer force, for instance, was not commensurate with the Rifle or Artillery regiments. He was also of opinion that the Artillery force should be trained to the practice of movable field guns, and not confined to mere garrison duty. He wished to ask the noble Lord the Under Secretary for War, whether the Report of the Commission had yet been received?


said, that although the Royal Commission had not yet sent in their Report, he believed they would do so within the next few days, and he hoped that it would be laid before Parliament before the Session closed. The noble Lord appeared to be of opinion that there had been unnecessary delay on the part of the Government in issuing the Commission. He could assure his noble Friend that that was by no means the case. It was in March that an influential deputation waited upon the Government, and the Government promised that a Commission should issue. The selection of Members was not free from difficulty, because it was desirable that the various interests concerned should be represented, while it was also necessary that the body should not be too large for practical purposes. Some little delay was unavoidable on that account; but by the 16th of May all formalities had been gone through, and on that day the Commission was issued. The first meeting of the Commissioners was on the 21st of May, and since that date they had examined fifty-one witnesses, and 1,488 circulars had been despatched to the commanding officers of Volunteer corps, and 1,212 answers had been received. It was evident, then, that the Commissioners had evinced the utmost diligence in the discharge of their duty. If, then, the Commission should report before the conclusion of the Session, it would be impossible for any one to accuse them of want of diligence, considering both the magnitude and importance of the question with which they had to deal. Whatever might be the recommendations of the Commission, the Government could not take any step without the fullest consideration. It must not be overlooked, that if the Government should come to the resolution to propose to Parliament to give to the Volunteer force additional aid, the character of that Force would be materially changed from that by which it had been originally distinguished—which was, that it cost the country nothing. With regard to the Artillery branch of the Volunteer service, they had always been treated with peculiar favour; and while it might be desirable for the sake of drill to allow them the use of 18-pounder guns of position, he did not think Volunteers could have time to give to the complicated and difficult drill required for field artillery. The Volunteers were peculiarly adapted for garrison artillery, and he was sure their desire would be to fill that position in which they would be most valuable and useful to the country.


said, he could assure the noble Lord (Lord Truro) that the Commissioners had approached the subject with a very deep and strong sense both of the importance and delicacy of the question submitted to them, and were impressed with the importance of a speedy decision. In the course of two months they had examined a large number of witnesses, they had gathered a great deal of information, and their Report was agreed upon that day, and was only waiting for the filial signatures of the Commissioners. The inquiries of the Commissioners had strengthened their sense of the value of the force, and of the depth of the public spirit and the general union among all classes on which the movement was based. They had every reason to believe that that public feeling would remain unimpaired, and that, with a moderate assistance from the Government, any number of Volunteers needed might be enrolled. They had the most satisfactory evidence, that if an emergency should arise, Volunteers might be relied upon to come forward in any numbers to accomplish still further that noble purpose for which they were originally enrolled—the maintenance of the confidence of the country in its own resources, and the exhibition to the world of a united kingdom. The services of the Volunteers in any numbers might be confidently relied on whenever the honour and interests of the country were menaced.