HL Deb 15 April 1864 vol 174 cc1064-73

, in rising to move for a Return of the Strength of the Reserve Force, said, it would be in the recollection of their Lordships that previous to the recess a noble Earl (Earl Desart) called the attention of the Government to the large number of men whose period of service in the army was about to expire, and who, it was to be apprehended, would not re-enlist. Having since then looked more thoroughly into the question, he (the Earl of Lucan) was of opinion that the apprehension of his noble Friend was well founded. He believed that a very large number of men were about to leave the service. In the year 1854, the first year of the war in the Crimea, as many as 33,000 recruits entered the army. Oddly enough, the military authorities, as he was informed, were unable to say what number of those men were still in the service; but it was calculated that about 10,000 men would take their discharge. He hoped it might be found to be an over-statement, but, at all events, the number would be very large; and it should be borne in mind that the same thing would happen next year. In 1855 as many as 29,600 men enlisted, and therefore it was to be presumed that next year 7,000 or 8,000 men would be entitled to their discharge; and it should be observed that many of the long service men, or those who had enlisted under the original law, would also be leaving the service. When it was remembered that we had now an army of above 210,000, a large portion of which was in India, and therefore subject to enormous casualties, the state of things would be admitted to be alarming. It was a question sufficient to create great anxiety, and he believed that such was the feeling of the military authorities, or they never would have resorted to the lowering of the standard, and a relaxation of the medical examination. Lowering the standard was a serious matter, for though a man of 5ft. 5in. was tall enough for a soldier, it was well known that men of that height had not the strength or muscular power of a man taller 5ft. 6in. or 5ft. 7in. And did not the relaxation of the medical examination imply that men were to be taken into this service of less robust and objectionable constitutions? The noble Earl the Minister for War assured the House, on a former occasion, that the question of the discharge of the men to whom he had referred was under his consideration, and that he hoped he should be able to adopt some course which would induce the men to continue in the service. But the noble Earl also added that it was not his intention to take any legislative action. Now, that was to him (the Earl of Lucan) a matter of extreme regret, and if possible of greater surprise; for he could not understand, if such evils were to be attributed to the Limited Enlistment Act, that the noble Earl should have so unhesitatingly and distinctly assured the House and the army that there was no intention to repeal or amend it. At all events, it was time that the House and the country should know thoroughly what the views of the noble Earl and the intentions of the Government were on this important subject. When the Act was passed seventeen years ago, the noble Earl (Earl Grey), who bad charge of the Bill, stated that his main, if not his only, object was to create an army of reserve, which was indispensable for the safety of the country, and that the men of ten or twelve years' service were to form the army of reserve. No doubt the noble Earl indulged in the illusion that we were to have a sort of Prussian landwehr—some force which would add materially to the strength of the country; but he believed it would be found that instead of a landwehr, instead of a formidable army of reserve, we had some 300 or 400 men and no more, scattered over Ireland, Scotland, and England. At all events, whether the number were greater or not, he found, on referring to the Army Estimates, that the modest sum of £7,000 was asked for the pay of reserve forces. The whole thing was a failure, and if the noble Earl would allow him to give him advice, it would be to get rid of the reserve forces at once, and to get these 300 or 400 men to join the militia. It would appear that Lord Herbert, when Secretary for War, was not altogether satisfied with this Limited Enlistment Act; and accordingly in 1859 appointed a Commission, of which a noble Lord, a Member of the other House (Lord Hotham), was Chairman, and several officers of distinction were Members, to inquire into the subject. They devoted twelve months to the inquiry; at all events their Report was dated fifteen months after their appointment; and it was not until the summer of 1861 that the Report was presented to Parliament, since which time, with the exception of some changes not of much moment, it has remained a dead letter. Lord Herbert's health unfortunately failed in the autumn of 1860, and in the spring of 1861 he resigned, and was succeeded by Sir George Lewis. That right hon. Baronet was perfectly new to the War Department and everything relating to the army, and he probably found quite enough to do without grappling with the vexata quœstio of recruitment. There can be no doubt that Lord Herbert's intention in having a Commission was thoroughly to sift the question, and that had he lived he would have taken some step towards disposing of the matter in some way or other. What was the Report of the Commissioners with regard to this Limited Enlistment Act? They said— When we consider the difficulties with which the recruiting service in this country has at all times to contend, and the increased demands upon it which the wants of that portion of Her Majesty's army stationed in India will create, we see no reason why enlistment for one period only should be allowed. And they went on to say— And as we are led to believe that the certainty of a pension at the end of sixteen or eighteen years with a third good-conduct badge after thirteen years, would operate as an inducement to enlist for a longer period, we are disposed to recommend the expediency of so arranging the terms as to give the option of enlisting for sixteen years in the Infantry and eighteen in the Cavalry and Artillery, with a right, on termination of such period, to a pension, retaining, also, their good-conduct pay. It was said that the Limited Enlistment Act would produce a better class of non-commissioned officers; but, if their Lordships would refer to the evidence, they would find the very contrary to be the result, for those men, anxiously waiting for their discharge, would not give themselves the trouble of qualifying themselves to he noncommissioned officers. It was also said that the effect of the Act would be to facilitate recruiting; this again has been a disappointment, as it was found that many men would not enlist because they could not depend upon being allowed to re-enlist. He had been told that the right of re-enlistment was not recognized by the War Office. If that were true, it was a breach of faith towards the soldier and towards Parliament, for a pledge had been given that men were to have a right within six months to re-enlist. Unless they were allowed to continue their services they could not entitle themselves to a pension; and all men, Irishmen in particular, attached more value to a pension than any other consideration. He believed that the great object of this unhappy Enlistment Act was to drive the men out of the army and save their pensions. Of that he had no doubt whatever. If economy were the object, could the Act be recommended on the score of economy, when these men are now at any price to be brought back to the army to earn the very pension which the Act was passed to save? He had heard that the men were now to be allowed £1 on re-enlistment, together with the full bounty and the recruit's kit; and instead of being allowed to re-enlist within six months, the time was to be extended to twelve months. How would that work? A man in India whose term had expired would come to England at the expense of the country; and, after remaining ten or eleven months, would take £1, the bounty, and the kit, and would re-enlist. At what expense to the country? There would be the cost of bringing the man from India, and sending his substitute to that country, at a frightful expense. And yet the Act had passed to get rid of these miserable pensions. In the discussion which had taken place lately in another place, the representative of the War Department asked that the Act might receive a further trial. Why it has received a trial of seventeen years; and it is to be further tried when all are alarmed at its monstrous effects. He had never heard in the army a favourable opinion of this Act. It may be said to have passed under the protest of the army, He would, however, allow that the late Duke of Wellington had voted for it. But how did he speak. He said that it was the duty of the Government to keep steadily in view the object of retaining old soldiers in the service during the whole time they were capable of rendering service—namely, until they reached the age of forty years, The Government could not do better than carry out the recommendations of the Commissioners; but his own opinion was, that the term of service ought not to he less than fifteen years for infantry, and sixteen for the cavalry and artillery. Power should be given to the men to re-engage, but former services should only be allowed to count towards pensions when they re-enlisted in their own corps. The noble Earl concluded by moving an Address for "Return of the Strength of the Reserve Force."


said, the subject was one of much importance, and he was not surprised that the noble Earl, from his connection with the army, should have brought the matter forward, or that he should have expressed the views to which he had given utterance, remembering that he had been an active and vigorous opponent of the Act of 1847 when it was before the House. Before discussing the wisdom or propriety of that Act, he would glance at the present military position of the country in relation to the number of men likely to be discharged during the present year; and he was happy to tell the noble Earl that he was greatly mistaken in the estimate which he had formed — of course without the advantage of official data. The noble Earl had spoken of 10,000 men as likely to take their discharge—but in giving that number he had fallen into the not unnatural mistake of setting down the number of men who were entitled to take their discharge as the number who would actually take their discharge. He had ascertained from the Horse Guards that 10,400 men at the outside would be entitled to take their discharge in the present year, but that only a portion of them would actually claim that privilege. The statistics on this head, unfortunately, were not as complete down to a recent date as was desirable; but his attention had been already directed to the matter, and, with the co-operation of the illustrious Duke at the head of the army, he hoped to effect an improvement in that respect. Up to the last quarter of 1860 an experience of three and a quarter years had been gained of the operation of the Act of 1847, and he found that in that time 7,335 men completed their term of service; 3,845 of that number re-engaged at once, and the remainder, 3,490, were discharged; 650 of these re-joined the army within the next six months, reducing the total of those who quitted the army to 2,840. Others, no doubt, enlisted again after the expiration of that six months; but he put these aside for the purposes of the calculation. Applying the same proportion to the 10,400 men who would this year be entitled to their discharge, and judging from the best information in the possession of the military authorities, it was expected that a loss to the service of about 4,000 men must be looked for in the present year. On the other hand, there could be no doubt that the Act had a very considerable effect in facilitating the re- cruiting for the army. The noble Earl passed very lightly over one portion of the subject, and attributed the diminution which had taken place in the death rate of the army to a long series of measures extending over several years. No doubt these were the causes of the salutary change; but among them, whatever the noble Earl might think of it, the Act of 1847 was certainly one. Taking the death rate for the years 1850, 1851, and 1852, it amounted to 29.7 per thousand; in 1860, 1861, and 1862 it had been reduced to 18.4 per thousand—showing a reduction equivalent upon the average numbers of the army to 2,200 men yearly. Had the old system continued in existence, it would have been necessary to replace those losses every year. Improvements in barracks, sanitary precautions, and other measures of a like nature had done much for the soldier, but most of these improvements were of a much more recent date than the Act of 1847, and, therefore, only entered partially into the calculation he had put before the House. He quite agreed with the noble Earl as to the value of maintaining in the army a due proportion of old soldiers; but he did Dot apprehend that it would be desirable to retain for long periods of service the whole of the men who enlisted. On the contrary, he believed that the views of those were sound who, in passing the Act, fully expected that a certain number of men would annually take their discharge. It was highly desirable to maintain the losses at something like an equable amount; but it was hard to do this when the enlistments at one time were much larger than at another. As we were now about to feel the effect of extensive enlistments during the Crimean war, he had felt it right to take some measure to encourage men to re-engage; and the noble Earl, instead of treating those measures as inadequate, as he had rather anticipated that he might do, spoke of them as involving a serious expenditure. One of the changes consisted in giving to a man when re-engaged a bounty of £1, in addition to the advantages held out by the existing regulations. A free kit must be given, if not to the soldier re-enlisting, to the recruit who took his place, and this £1 he looked upon as the value of the manufactured article over the raw material. The arrangement really involved no pecuniary loss to the public, because enlisting and recruiting expenses would involve as great an outlay. It had been mentioned by the noble Earl that a soldier formerly had a right to engage after the lapse of six months, and carry on his former service. That was the rule up to 1854; in the beginning of 1855 that period of six months was extended to two years, and the arrangement was acted upon till 1861. His right hon. Friend the late Sir George Lewis then took a step, in which, with the utmost respect for his high authority, he thought he had gone too far. He reduced the period of two years to six months, he reduced the service from whole service to half, and he added the further condition that the man should have had a good conduct stripe at the period of his discharge. He thought that those changes went too far, and he, therefore, proposed to allow full service to a man who re-engaged within the period of one year, and he did not intend to make the actual possession of a good conduct stripe a matter of necessity. The man must have been a man of good conduct, but he might have forfeited his stripe just before his discharge, and still be a fit man to be re-enlisted. The noble Earl appeared to think that questions of the re-enlistment, as regarded individuals, were settled at the War Office. In this he was mistaken. Such questions were dealt with not at the War Office, but by the Adjutant General's Department. One of the consequences of the Act of 1847, and one that was foreseen when that Act passed, would be a considerable loss of men per year; but he was prepared to accept that consequence, and he thought that it would be unwise to attempt by the expenditure of considerable sums of money upon large bounties to attempt to escape it. Another charge made by the noble Earl was, that the difficulty of obtaining recruits had led to a reduction of the standard, and to a relaxation of the medical examination. It was true that, as recruiting was not going on so rapidly as might be desired, the illustrious Duke, the Commander-in-Chief, had reduced the standard to 5 feet 5 inches—it had been as low as 5 feet 4 inches—but the noble Earl was mistaken in supposing that there had been any relaxation of the medical examination. What had been done was to abolish the regulation which provided, that if a surgeon passed a recruit who was afterwards rejected for medical reasons, he should pay the expense of the subsequent examination. This charge on medical offi- cers had given great dissatisfaction, and the reason of the proposed change was, that it was the opinion of the military authorities that the effect of this regulation was to cause the surgeons to reject many men who were perfectly fit to be admitted into the army. He now came to the Act itself, which had been so severely arraigned by the noble Earl. He could not agree with the noble Earl in thinking that the Act of 1847 had realized none of the anticipations which were formed when it was passed. The formation of a large army of reserve was not the main object of that Act; its object was to make the service more popular with the classes from whom recruits were principally obtained, and he could assure the House that that object had been attained. The Bill originally contained a proposition for the establishment of deferred pensions; but he believed that that was struck out while the measure was passing through Parliament. The present reserve force was not the creature of the Act of 1847. It was established by his noble Friend Lord Herbert in 1859, and although it had not answered the expectations which were formed at that time, the number of men of which it now consisted was not quite so small as the noble Earl supposed. According to the Returns which had been made, the number was not 300, but a little over 1,500. The formation of an adequate reserve was well worthy of attention, and was under his consideration. The real reason for the passing of the Act of 1847 was, that there was a reluctance on the part of a large portion of the population to enter the army for an unlimited period, and it was thought undesirable to take young men at the early age of eighteen, and make them enter into a military engagement for life. The present difficulty of obtaining recruits arose from the competition in the labour market. The position of the people of this country had greatly improved during the last few years, and that of the people of Ireland had materially changed. Formerly we got a large number of recruits from Ireland, but now we got very few, and we should not get more, but fewer recruits if we reverted to the old system of permanent enlistment. The noble Earl on the cross benches (Earl Grey) when he introduced the Bill alluded to the effect that it would have upon the mortality of the army, and the soundness of his anticipations was proved by the last Report of the Army Medical Department. According to that Report, the death rate of men in the army between the ages of twenty and twenty-four was 6˙40 per 1,000, being less by two per 1,000 than the corresponding death rate among the civil population. Between the ages of twenty-five and twenty-nine the death rate in the army was 9˙65 per 1,000; among the civil population, 9˙21. Between thirty and thirty-four the death rate in the army was 11˙97; among the civil population, 10˙23. Between thirty-five and thirty-nine in the army, 12 and a small fraction; among the civil population, 11˙63. At forty and upwards in the army, 23˙61; among the civil population, 13˙55. Thus between eighteen and twenty-eight, the ages to which the Limited Enlistment Act applied, the death rate in the army was at its lowest point, and was, on the average, somewhat less than that among the civil population. After those ages the rate rapidly increased, and more rapidly than the ordinary death rate of the country. With these facts before him, he saw no reason for saying that the Act of 1847, having regard to the principles upon which it was founded, had failed to attain the objects for which it was passed. He was perfectly ready to consider the matter in its various bearings, and to receive any suggestion with respect to it which the noble and gallant Earl, or any one else, might make with the view of amending the details of the existing Act. But, looking at the principle on which that Act was founded, and the results which it had achieved, he was bound to say that, in the opinion of the Government, that principle was sound, while the result had not occasioned disappointment.


said, that as the person who had introduced the Limited Enlistment Act in the House of Commons, he must say, he felt, after the lapse of seventeen years, great satisfaction in listening to the speech of his noble Friend the Secretary for War, and hearing the testimony which he bore, with all the means of information to which he had access, to the fact that the objects of those by whom he had been commissioned to introduce the Bill had been accomplished. The reason why the Bill was brought in was simply that at the time it was not only found difficult to obtain recruits from the classes from which our officers wished to see them drawn, but that the service itself among the lower orders of the people of this country had become unpopular. Beyond that, Motions had been repeatedly made in the House of Commons for the amendment of the Enlistment Act, which at the time did not, as was generally supposed, extend merely to a period of twenty-one years, but to enlistment for life. Such a state of things it begun to be seen could not continue, and the measure which he had introduced to provide a remedy for it had the full concurrence of the late Duke of Wellington; without which, indeed, he would never have ventured to introduce it, The noble Duke, when he gave his assent to the measure, said that he had satisfied himself that its effect would be not to induce old soldiers to leave the army, but to increase the number of men and the popularity of the service. He thought it, he might add, a great advantage that the recruit during the period of the short leave of absence which he might have before he re-enlisted should have the benefit of seeing the difference between a military life and the hardships of manufacturing and agricultural occupations. He would thus have time to represent to the people of his district the good results which he had obtained from his service in the army; and if, after a time, a bounty were given him for all the recruits he might bring back with him to the service, a great stimulus would be given to enlistment. There were, he thought, very good reasons to be found why recruiting should at the present moment be somewhat slack in the dearth of labour. One of the main grounds, he was informed, why men in the Guards whose period of service was drawing to a close showed an unwillingness to re-enlist being, that as men who were trained and educated they were picked up by railways at a vastly increased rate of remuneration. The dearth of recruits in Ireland, also, from which we used to procure such large numbers of men, was, he thought, easily accounted for by the present condition of that country. These causes were, however, he believed, only temporary; but a great error would, he thought, be committed, if the present period of enlistment were extended to fifteen or seventeen years, and he was glad, therefore, that his noble Friend near him had arrived at a different conclusion on the subject from the noble Earl.

Motion agreed to; Return of the Strength of the Reserve Force, agreed to.

House adjourned at half past Six o'clock, to Monday next, half past Eleven o'clock.