HL Deb 29 March 1867 vol 186 cc804-13

moved— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for, Return of all Regiments of Militia in the United Kingdom; showing the Number of Companies in each Regiment, the Establishment Number of Privates in each Company, the Number of Privates present with the Regiment at the last training in the Year 1866, the Number enlisted between the 1st Day of April 1865 and the let Day of April 1866, and the Sums paid in each Regiment for such Enlistments. The noble Marquess, who addressed the House at some length, but whose remarks were inaudible, was understood to refer to the diminution of the numbers of the militia, to suggest that measures should be taken for raising the force to its full numbers.


said, he had no objection to the production of the Papers for which the noble Marquess had moved; on the contrary, it was desirable that as much information as possible on this subject should be laid before their Lordships. He thought, however, that the noble Marquess had taken rather too desponding a view of the state of the militia force; because, although it was true that a considerable diminution annually took place from deaths, expiration of time, and other causes, still he found from the figures which had been placed in his hands that in the last two years in which recruiting had been carried on with vigour the result had been satisfactory—the numbers having approached the prescribed quota of 120,000. In 1862–3 the number of new men enrolled was 29,233, in 1863–4 it was 29,236, and in 1865–6, when the previous efforts began to be relaxed, 23,449, therefore, though possibly all these men might not appear at the time of training, the figures he had quoted were sufficient to show that the decline in the strength of the force could not be going on at the rapid rate the noble Marquess seemed to suppose. The fact was that in 1864 a change was introduced, and a reduction was made from 120,000 to a lower quota. The explanation given was that several of the regiments were of an unmanageable size, and having to assemble at places where there was very limited accommodation, their very numbers were found inconvenient. A departmental order was therefore issued that not more than 600 men should be enrolled for each regiment. He had been informed that the result of that change was to introduce some uncertainty into the minds of commanding officers, and the recruiting, which before had been prosecuted with vigour, was relaxed, as it appeared to be possible that further reductions might from time to time be made, whether from financial, or other considerations. The change had naturally a prejudicial effect upon the strength of the force; but he understood from those whose business it was to watch this force that they did not anticipate that any difficulty would be found in filling up the ranks again to the higher quota if an order to that effect should be issued. If the size of the militia regiments was objected to a remedy might easily be found in dividing them, though that might involve some increase of the staff; but the slight extra expense of such an arrangement was of little importance compared with the benefit that would result from preserving in efficiency so large and valuable a national force. The noble Marquess had mentioned that in 1852 the militia force was revived. At that time the staff had dwindled down to 715 persons, and the whole militia force enumerated on the Army List covered only three pages and a half. But, in 1852, Parliament took up the question vigorously; since then no less than sixteen special Acts of Parliament had been passed on the subject, and in 1859 a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into the state of the force. The year 1852 was one of considerable political movement, a change of Ministry took place, and a general election soon followed. There was, however, at the time, a general concurrence of opinion in favour of the revival of the militia force. One Government introduced a Bill with that object at the commencement of the Session, and although they did not pass it, their successors carried the measure in a somewhat altered form. There was a great difference of opinion at the time and some hot discussions took place. While it was advanced on the one side that we had no respectable military force in the country, and that a revival of the militia was absolutely necessary, persons equally competent were to be found on the other, who were of an entirely opposite opinion. But even those who admitted that an addition to our military strength was necessary, differed as to the way in which it should be made. Some were for an increase in the regular army, some for a local militia, and some for an army of reserve. He had read in Hansard that one experienced Member of the House of Commons informed the Ministry that he had shown them how they may have a reinforcement of almost any amount of regular troops in an army of reserve, at almost no cost. He had not heard that that project had been realized—perhaps the author had not lived to carry out his plan; but if any friend had inherited the details, the War Office would be very glad to hear from him. Some opponents of the militia scheme at the time grounded their objections upon the assumption that the force could never become efficient on account of the limited period of training. And this was said of those very militia regiments which, two years afterwards, most efficiently did the duty of regular troops both at home and abroad. And now, when he heard it whispered that the militia were falling away he reflected upon the predictions of 1852, and tried to reassure himself by the thought that the force which had grown efficient in such a short period, might still perhaps maintain its efficiency, notwithstanding the omens of decline which some thought they noticed at the present time. The noble Marquess had adverted to the deficiency of numbers now existing. That deficiency amounted to something like 800 officers and 7,000 men. The deficiency of men might be accounted for by the uncertainty to which he had before referred, which affected the recruiting; but the deficiency of officers was a more serious matter. It was gradual, but still in the same unfavourable direction. The Commission which sat in 1859 had considered the position of the officers of the staff, but not that of captains and subalterns, and had made some recommendations with regard to the former which had been adopted. Notwithstanding, the officers of the permanent staff were not altogether satisfied with their position now, and numerous memorials were received from them: representations were also made by captains and subalterns who attended training, complaining that the expenses they were put to were considerable, and calling attention to their inferior billets, and other matters. Some cases had certainly been made out for favourable consideration on the part of the authorities, and the heads of the Department were ready to consider them. It was well known that from year to year there was a Massacre of the Innocents at the time of the preparation of the Estimates, and many a wise and large-hearted project disappeared or died the slow death of postponement to a future opportunity. It should not be forgotten that the nomination of the officers of the militia was a matter with which, as yet, the public Departments had no concern. There was no disposition to trench on the functions of the lords-lieutenant of counties, with whom these appointments rested, and until the lords-lieutenant came forward of themselves and begged to be relieved of the task—which he hoped would not be until a very distant day—the Departments could not interfere. In the county management of the militia there appeared to be some anomalies. For instance, they were under no military jurisdiction when they were assembled for drill, they did not report themselves to the General Officer of the district, and the present system of inspection was not altogether satisfactory. As the Inspector General of Militia was unable to inspect the whole force, military officers were taken from the neighbouring stations to perform this duty. They usually passed a very pleasant day, and were generally able to make a very favourable report of the regiment they inspected. But there was one point which they frequently pointed out as calling for some attention—namely, the state of the storehouses, the armouries, and quarters for staff-sergeants of militia. The law on this point had been altered, and the practice now was very uncertain. The Royal Commission reported as follows:— We find that in 1853 counties were required, under the provisions of the Militia laws, to provide quarters for at least one-half of the non-commissioned officers of the permanent staff; that in the subsequent year an Act was passed leaving the provision of such quarters to the discretion of the magistrates of the county; and that, practically, many counties have not even provided accommodation for the proportion above alluded to. We therefore recommend, with a view to the maintenance of discipline, that the whole of the non-commissioned officers of the permanent staff be provided by the counties with proper quarters in or near the storehouses, and that a quarter be also provided for the residence of the drummers and buglers of the permanent staff. This, however, had not been done, and the result was very great inconvenience, and injury to the discipline of the force. Besides the quarters in or near the storehouses, the law originally required that yards should be provided for the mustering and drilling of the men. This also had been neglected, and there were some stations at which, practically, the whole business of the militia, was done in the street. The drill-ground was often at a distance, and the result was great loss of time, as well as other inconveniences, and the few days allotted to exercise could not, under such circumstances, be turned to the best advantage. This question came before the authorities lately, in connection with reports from different localities, as to the insecure position of the arms of Volunteers. Similar reports were made of the militia stores; and it was found that in some cases only one, and in others no sergeant at all, was in the armoury. This was a matter of serious consequence; but it was also a point involving great expense. He had heard of counties which had spent £13,000 £15,000 in providing stores and quarters. He had no doubt that this was money well laid out, if the scruples of economists at quarter sessions could be overcome. The noble Marquess had alluded to the proposal respecting an Army of Reserve, which had been mentioned in the other House of Parliament. The details were not yet published, for, owing to the change in the head of the War Office, and to other causes, some delay had taken place. As regarded the militia, the proposal was that certain soldiers whose first period of service had not expired might have permission, after eight years' service, to commute the unexpired portion of their term for a double period of service in the militia; and that a certain number of militiamen ready drilled—a limited number—might, on receipt of extra bounty, be joined with those soldiers in the first reserve, both being under an obligation to join the ranks of the army on any emergency should their services be required. Until this emergency arose they would do duty with the militia, as they did now, and possibly might complete their whole service without being called upon to serve in the line. It was intended, he might observe, if the scheme was adopted, that the quota of the militia would be restored to its original strength of 120,000, in order that, after the withdrawal of these soldiers and Volunteer first reserve men, the remainder of the force should be not below its present establishment of 94,000. He had sometimes heard it said that the the organization of the Volunteer force had to some extent superseded the militia in public view. The Volunteers, no doubt, had the advantage of novelty; their dress was, perhaps, more picturesque, and they were more seen and heard than the militia. Nevertheless, there was plenty of room for both. The total of our regular and auxiliary forces did not exceed together 1.7 per cent of the population. In reality, therefore, the militia had very little cause to regret that their patriotism in coming forward for the public defence should be shared by others. Although those who had charge of public Departments acknowledged cordially the spirit and good feeling with which so many had come forward to sacrifice money, time, and personal exertions to maintain and develop the auxiliary forces, of which the militia was the first and the oldest, nevertheless much remained to be done by local effort. Acts of Parliament and acts of administration required corresponding efforts and support from those who were interested—as all were—in the institutions of the country. The noble Earl concluded by stating that the papers moved for would be supplied.


, in reply, regretted the economy of the War Office, and said that the noble Earl had not touched upon the mode of increasing the number of recruits.


said, he himself had reason to agree with the noble Marquess in regretting the economy of the War Office, for they had even cut off his half-pay, on the ground that he was now holding an office of profit under the Crown. As to the other point mentioned by the noble Marquess, he must remind the noble Marquess of what he had already stated—that in 1862–3 and 1863–4, there had been 29,000 recruits raised in each year, and, with very slight relaxations, he was informed that a full supply of recruits, whenever required, would be obtained for the militia without the ballot.


said, he was glad to hear from the noble Earl the Under Secretary of State for War that, from the information at his command, he did not acquiesce in the desponding view taken of the militia by the noble Marquess. In 1859, when volunteering for the militia was at its lowest ebb, a Commission was appointed to inquire into the whole question. The recommendations of the Commissioners were considered and adopted by late Government, and had been followed by their successors; and the result of the measures thus taken was that the number of men enlisted increased, and that they were drawn from a more satisfactory class persons—namely, from those resident in the respective counties. Therefore, this recruiting from the militia must have interfered in a less degree with recruiting for the Line. There could be no doubt that those causes, which were considered by the Royal Commission of last year to interfere with recruiting for the Line, in some degree affected the recruiting for the militia. The noble Earl who had just sat down had told their Lordships that there had been of late years no less than 29,000 men raised in the course of a year for the militia within the three kingdoms. It was impossible to say, if there were facilities for raising such a number of men, that they were likely to encounter any serious difficulty in obtaining the number of men required for that force. But the noble Earl seemed to think that a measure of the late Government had had an unfavourable effect on the recruiting for the militia. The noble Earl correctly described the objects of the measure; but he was not quite correct when he spoke of it as being intended to reduce the quota. The quota and the establishment remained just as they were before; all that was done was to direct that the larger regiments should not be filled up to their full strength. That direction was issued in consequence of its having been found that 1,000 or 1,200 men was a larger number than could be properly handled by one commanding officer. To divide the regiments would largely increase the expense; because, although division might not involve having altogether double the number of officers, it would necessitate the doubling of all the staff expenses and seriously interfere with the existing organization. Therefore, it was the opinion of the late Government that by diminishing the strength of the larger regiments and increasing the period of training from twenty-one to twenty-seven days in each year, they were adopting a course which was calculated not to diminish but to increase the efficiency of the militia. It might have turned out—but the noble Earl was better informed on that point than himself—that the measure had had some effect on recruiting; but he could not see how the measure could have had this result. A noble Friend of his drew his attention the other day to a matter which in some parts of the country had had a considerable effect on recruiting for the militia—namely, the change that had taken place in some districts from the system of engaging agricultural labourers by the week to that of engaging them by the year. It was not permitted to the recruiting officers of the militia to interfere with men engaged thus permanently as labourers; and he believed that in some parts of the country this had greatly affected recruiting. He agreed with the noble Marquess that it was of great importance, especially at the present time, when they saw what was taking place in other countries, seriously to consider the question, and to take every step that could be taken to fill up the numbers and to increase the efficiency of this most valuable branch of our military service, which must form—as he took the liberty of observing the other night—the first portion of the home reserve. But the deficiency of officers was a more serious and more pressing evil than the deficiency of men. The noble Earl (the Earl of Longford) had told them that the militia was 7,000 men short of its quota. That was an unfortunate circumstance; but the want of 800 officers was a matter which required still graver consideration. One cause of the difficulty of obtaining officers for the militia of late years was, no doubt, the establishment of the Volunteers. He entirely agreed with the noble Earl that there was plenty of room for both forces, and that both forces were required; but undoubtedly the establishment of the Volunteer force had increased the difficulty found by lords-lieutenant in obtaining officers for the militia. The subject was one of daily increasing importance, and it had occupied much of his attention, particularly during the latter part of his administration at the War Office. He trusted that the present Government would give their serious attention not only to the number of the officers, but also to the quality of the officers to be appointed. It was as important that a due proportion of the officers should be men having practical acquaintance with military service, and some of them should be men of county position and influence. The noble Marquess, in alluding to the introduction of the ballot, dwelt on the great expense which attended the system in former times, and the length of time which it took to raise men by ballot. But in so doing the noble Lord was describing a state of things which did not exist at the present time. In 1860 a measure was passed, on the recommendation of the late Lord Herbert, for shortening the period required for carrying out the ballot, and the operation would now be less expensive and would occupy a considerably shorter time than was the case under the old system. He was entirely of the noble Marques's opinion that it would be a serious thing to entertain the proposal for the revival of compulsory service in time of peace, not only on account of the expense and loss of time which would be involved, but for the obvious reason that it would necessary for the Government which would propose such a system to show that there was an overwhelming necessity for it. Still, he thought that the power of resorting to the ballot in times of war and emergency should be retained. It appeared to him that the system of local taxation which the noble Marquess had suggested would be neither practicable nor efficient.


desired to ask the noble Earl the Under Secretary for War, whether, under the new scheme of army reserve about to be submitted to Parliament, a militia officer bringing 100 men to that part of the militia which was to form a portion of the reserve would be entitled to a commission? If so, there would be a great inducement for the sons of country gentlemen to join the militia. At present they preferred the Volunteer force as being the more popular service. Complaints had been made to him by officers commanding militia regiments, and by captains of companies, that they had had to discharge all the duties of subalterns, and this was regarded as a great hardship.


said, the scheme for the army reserve was not yet before Parliament; and he hoped that he might be allowed to defer his answer to another opportunity.

Motion agreed to.

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