HL Deb 01 April 1867 vol 186 cc896-902

, in presenting a Petition praying for the Industrial Employment of Troops in their leisure hours, said, that it was a petition which had been agreed to at a large public meeting in Colchester, and had been forwarded to him by the Mayor of that town. The subject was one of considerable importance, and had already engaged the attention of Parliament. It appeared to the petitioners that the condition of the troops required some alteration in order to improve their sanitary condition and increase their usefulness, and they represented that if the soldiers were more regu- larly and more usefully employed it would tend not only to the improvement of their discipline but also to the improvement of their sanitary condition. At present the soldier had about eight hours out of every twenty-four, which he spent in idleness and dissipation, to the injury of his health. It was well known that on various occasions when our troops had been called into active service, and especially during the Crimean war, those of the troops who had previously been stationed in large towns found their constitutions so much damaged by the life they had led that they were unable to bear the ordinary hardships and privation of the campaign. The petitioners thought that the various stations where Her Majesty's troops were permanently placed—as at Aldershot—it would be well, after the exercise of the day, to employ the men in some useful work which would tend to their instruction and the improvement of their general health, and which might also be remunerative to them, and the money they thus earned might be husbanded for them by the Government until the end of their term of service. They thought the troops might be taught the use of the spade, and gardens might be allotted to them, and they might also be taught to repair their own arms and construct their own barracks. Four hours a day out of the eight which were now given up to idleness might be thus employed, and if they were to receive 1½d. an hour for the time, they would have at the end of their twenty years' service a considerable sum to draw, which might be of very great advantage to them.


said, that the subject was one which had attracted considerable interest and had been much considered of late years by the War Office and others concerned. The late Lord Herbert and Sir George Lewis took great interest in it, and invited Committees to report upon it. This interest had been fully maintained by their successors up to the present time; and Parliament itself had been well informed in the matter. He would mention a few of the papers laid before Parliament since 1862 which he now had before him. In the year 1862 a Report was presented on Soldiers' Recreation Rooms. The next the Report of a Committee of 1863 was on the Instruction and Employment of Soldiers in Trades. The Sessional Paper No. 181 of 1863 contained Correspondence as to the Employment of Soldiers in Trades. In 1864 there was a valuable Return respecting the Success of Soldiers' Workshops in India. In 1865 there was a Return of the soldiers instructed in trades, &c.; and in the same year there was a Report of garden grounds allotted to troops, and a Return of regulations of army libraries and recreation-rooms. These documents showed that Parliament had not been idle. The reason why greater progress had not been made was the expense; because if all the recommendations of these Committees had been carried out, a much greater expenditure would have been incurred than Parliament could reasonably be expected to sanction. There were, however, Votes in the Army Estimates of the present year of £1,000 for soldiers' workshops; £5,000 for schools; £8,000 for gymnasia and skittle grounds; £5,000 for reading-rooms; and £4,500 for supply of books. The question of the employment of soldiers in trades was one of considerable complication. It was spoken of as a simple and easy project which was certain to be followed by satisfactory results; but satisfactory results did not always immediately follow these excellent proposals. It might be possible, as the noble Earl's (the Earl of Hardwicke) petition seemed to contemplate, to make on paper an accurate distribution of the soldier's time, allowing eight hours for sleep end recreation, eight hours for military duty, leaving a balance of eight hours for industrial employment; but in practice the calculation would fail. The only instance in which the experiment of employing soldiers in workshops had been fairly tried was in India. There the circumstances were peculiarly favourable, because there were there a large number of troops who had a great amount of leisure time and not much military duty to perform. Lord Strathnairn, whose energy in war had not failed him in peace, had personally visited every workshop at every station within his reach, and the result appeared in the Return moved for in April, 1864, by Sir Harry Verney—a very valuable paper, well worthy of their Lordships' attention. It was comparatively easy to withdraw a number of soldiers from their regimental duties for a time and employ them in military work. This was sometimes done in the case of the Engineers and other troops; but it was by no means so simple and easy to provide tools and workshops, without interrupting their military duties, for soldiers who might be disposed to work for two or three hours or at odd times in the intervals of their drill, &c. The question was put some years ago to several soldiers of the old school—among others, to Sir George Brown, who was second to no officer in the army in the interest which he took in the real welfare of the soldier; but who saw great doubts and difficulties in the way; and his opinions was shared by many other officers. At the present time, however, from the information he had received, he (the Earl of Longford) anticipated the most cordial assistance on the part of every officer whose co-operation in these schemes might be invited. There were two or three foreign stations—such as the Mauritius and Hong Kong—in which the system was now in operation, but from which no exact reports as to the results had been received. The circumstances of the army at home were known to their Lordships. The troops were kept in constant movement, and were consequently unable to commence any scheme which required a settled position and a greater command of leisure than the military authorities were enabled to place at their disposal. As to the proposal for allotting garden grounds to soldiers, it was obvious that the scheme could be carried out only at a few stations where the soldiers being fixed for a length of time would reap where they had sown. The soldiers themselves had exhibited a desire to undertake any useful work; the public seemed to approve the proposal; and, as both War Office and Horse Guards were entirely favourable to the project, he hoped progress would be made in the right direction, and that before long Returns would be presented to their Lordships showing results at home as distinctly favourable as those in places where experiment had firmly established the feasibility of the scheme.


No one is more anxious than the military authorities to adopt the proposal spoken of by the petitioners; but the difficulties in their way are obvious, and in some cases I am afraid they are almost insurmountable. The position of the troops in England is very different from that of the troops in France. In that country there are troops sufficient for every purpose; but in England the forces are kept down to the lowest point that the requirements of the service will allow. The requirements of the service at home are such that the troops are seldom more than two or three months together at one sta- tion; so that a regiment would think it inexpedient to incur the necessary expense for starting the soldiers in their work, either in the workshop or the garden. If the troops were fixed a long time at one station, there would be nothing to prevent us carrying out the admirable system suggested; but, as a matter of fact, we cannot insure their non-removal, and hence the difficulty. In India the case is different. There the troops remain for long periods in one quarter, and Lord Strathnairn was able to introduce the system of workshops with marked success. I believe the same was done in Bombay and Madras by Sir William Mansfield and Sir Hope Grant. In the Mauritius, too, the same facilities exist; at that station the troops remain for four or five years together, and have time for military duties and also for industrial employment. The opportunities offered by these conditions of military life are such as should not be lost sight of and we take advantage of them; indeed, we are introducing the system in every part of the world to the fullest possible extent; but nowhere do we meet with such difficulties as we are likely to meet with at home. In some cases a regiment is not more than a few months on the same station, and when removed it may never probably return, and these removals would entail considerable loss and disappointment if the men had to leave their workshops and gardens. Indeed, the difficulties in the way of adopting this scheme are greater than the public, and perhaps your Lordships, are aware of. The military authorities, however, from myself down to the junior officers, all appreciate the advantage the army would derive from the adoption of the system, and they will, I am sure, all endeavour to further any arrangements which may be made to carry it out efficiently. The question of expense has been referred to; but in cases where absolute advantage will accrue from additional expenditure no objection to incurring it will, I am sure, be made on the part of the public. The question of troops repairing their own barracks has already been under discussion; that, I think, is employment which soldiers may very well be put to. The vexation caused by the item "barrack damages" cannot well be overestimated; the troops not only object to the charge itself, but think the proportion charged above what it should be. Very little skilled labour, too, is needed for repairing barracks beyond what troops can well perform; so that in this respect we may hope for satisfactory results. For my part, I hope the system will be largely introduced; and, if it should not be so, your Lordships may rely upon it that nothing prevents its general adoption but the difficulties incident to the nature of the service at home.


thought it must be gratifying to their Lordships to hear that the noble Earl the Under Secretary for War and the illustrious Duke who followed him were impressed with the importance of the subject, and were disposed to adopt the system which the petitioners advocated; of the difficulties alluded to he was quite aware, but he believed they would be overcome as soon as the subject received the attention it deserved. He had reminded their Lordships not long since of the great anomaly that when the great establishment at Aldershot was being formed all the draining and road-making—descriptions of work peculiarly adapted for the instruction of soldiers in the requirements of actual service—were executed not by the soldiers but by contract. He had not made that statement on official authority, but he had read it in the newspapers, and it had not been contradicted to his knowledge. That single fact called for improvement, and he hoped the disposition to favour a better system of things would prevent such an incident occurring again.


said, he could not refrain from expressing his satisfaction at the tone of the discussion. He was glad to hear the noble Earl the Under Secretary for War and the illustrious Duke approve the adoption of the system proposed as far as possible. The difficulties were undoubtedly considerable; but he had been led to think them far from insurmountable, especially when considered in the light of the Report of a Committee appointed by the late Sir George Lewis in 1862. The Committee was composed of officers of distinction and experience; they put a series of questions upon this subject to all the General Officers commanding districts in Great Britain, Ireland, and the Channel Islands, and only one General Officer and one regimental Board reported unfavourably upon it. The General Officer was Sir George Brown, who was at that time Commander of the Forces in Ireland, and the regimental Board was one at Dublin, under the immediate influence of that officer. That gave him hope that the difficulties in the way of adopting the system might be overcome. He was quite sure that as soon as it became known that the War Office and Horse Guards desired the system to be fairly tried, commanding officers would be anxious to assist in doing so; and he would suggest that the orders regulating the experiments might not be too stringent; commanding officers should, he thought, at first have great latitude allowed them in this respect, and when experience had given the authorities some solid information to work upon, fuller regulations might be framed for the future.

Petition ordered to lie on the table.

House adjourned at a quarter before Six o'clock, till To-morrow, half past Ten o'clock.