THE EARL OF DESART
asked the noble Lord the Secretary of State for War, Whether the Government have made any Preparation to meet the Difficulties which seemed likely to ensue in consequence of the Operation of the Ten Year Enlistment Act? Those difficulties were so notorious that he thought it would be useful and would tend to quiet the public mind, before Parliament separated for the Easter holydays, to know whether the Government had in view any plan for mitigating the dangers that were apprehended. Unless measures were promptly taken, the army might be reduced to a state yet more inefficient than it was before the Crimean War. In one regiment of Guards alone a loss of 700 men was anticipated. If that were so with the Guards, it was impossible to conjecture what might be the case with respect to the Line regiments, especially those on foreign stations. These soldiers might be replaced as far as numbers went, but it would only be with raw material in place of disciplined troops, and at least £20 must be expended upon a recruit before he was efficient. England at present was regarded in Europe as undecided and untrustworthy. If we could not obtain the number of men necessary to recruit our army we might become objects of contempt to the world, and be unable to meet the consequences which might arise in the present unsettled condition of affairs throughout the world.
EARL DE GREY AND RIPON
thought the magnitude of the evils to be apprehended had been very much overstated by the noble Lord. It was quite true that a period of ten years having all but elapsed since the Crimean War, a considerable number of men, under the operation of the Limited Enlistment Act, would be entitled to their discharge next year; but it by no means followed that the services of the whole number, or anything like the whole number, would be lost to the State. Judging by what had taken place in previous years, there was every reason to 164 believe that not more than half—probably less than half—of those entitled to their discharge would avail themselves of the opportunity. The question was not one of such magnitude as the noble Earl supposed; still, no doubt, a much larger number of men would take their discharge this year and next than would do so under ordinary circumstances; and measures were under the consideration of Her Majesty's Government for holding out inducements to old soldiers to re-engage, either immediately or within a limited period, and giving them certain advantages which they would have enjoyed had their services been continuous. It was not in his power to state the exact steps which might be necessary for the purpose, as the subject was one requiring a good deal of consideration, but he could assure the noble Earl that the circumstances of the time had not escaped attention. If the noble Lord alluded to legislative measures, he was not at all inclined to admit that the operation of the Limited Enlistment Act had disappointed expectation. The termination of the period of service at a given time was one of the features of the Act, and formed one of the grounds on which its adoption was originally recommended to the House. In exceptional periods, such as that now approaching, it was quite right that the Government should take measures to mitigate the inconveniences with which the operation of the Act was attended, and to prevent an unusually large diminution of the army. But those measures should be suited to the emergency, and it was not necessary to accompany them with any reflections upon the Act itself. He had no detailed information as to the case to which the noble Earl (the Earl of Desart) had specially referred. It was true, however, that the Guards were in an exceptional position, and owing to the facilities which they possessed for obtaining employment, probably a larger number of them would take their discharges than would be the case in other regiments. The regiments of the Guards were composed one of three and the others of two battalions each; but he could scarcely believe that so large a number as 700 men were in a position to claim their discharge from a single regiment of the Guards.
§ VISCOUNT HARDINGE
desired to know whether the noble Earl would lay upon the table Returns showing what had been the operation of the Ten Year Enlistment Act 165 up to the present time; and he should also like to know how the proposed reduction of 2,000 men in the strength of the Royal Artillery was intended to be effected. For his own part, he was greatly surprised that any reduction of that arm of the service should have been proposed. Considering that Parliament had just sanctioned an extensive system of fortifications, the importance of trained gunners, and the fact that it took three years to train an artilleryman, this was the very last force in which any reduction ought to be made. Did the noble Earl intend to effect the reduction by discharging trained men or by stopping recruiting?
EARL DE GREY AND RIPON
said, that he should be glad to lay before their Lordships the fullest information which he could afford. With reference to the Artillery, it was not intended to discharge any men but those of bad character; but only to suspend recruiting; and to allow those men who were entitled to their discharge to leave the service. His noble Friend had greatly overstated the amount of the reduction which was to be effected. Instead of 2,000 men, it would amount to only 1,200 in the garrison Artillery, and 100 more in consequence of a re-arrangement of the Horse Artillery, making altogether 1,300. His noble Friend and the House must recollect, that in the course of last year a brigade of field Artillery was brought home from India without relief and converted into garrison Artillery, and that after the lapse of a few months we should have at home the garrison Artillery from the Ionian Islands. The Infantry battalions were last year reduced to the minimum strength at which he and the military authorities thought they could be kept; but the companies of garrison Artillery had been retained at their war strength. [A noble LORD: The Gold Coast Corps?] The Gold Coast Corps was disbanded in consequence of a mutinous and dangerous spirit which had broken out in it, and there had been substituted for it another West Indian Regiment.
§ THE EARL OF HARDWICKE
said, that the noble Lord had spoken of the garrison and field Artillery as distinct and separate, but he took them to be the same body of men.
EARL DE GREY AND RIPON
said, that the Artillery was all one regiment, but it was formed into separate brigades. The garrison Artillery was distinct from field Artillery, and its organization was different.
§ THE EARL OF HARDWICKE
But they served for both. Garrison Artillery was often converted into field Artillery, and vice versâ.