HL Deb 17 July 1868 vol 193 cc1350-9

, in rising to ask Her Majesty's Government a Question, respecting the Organization of the Reserved Forces, said, there had of late years been a determination, in view of the improved equipment of Continental armies, to increase our forces to any extent which might appear desirable, so as to place the country in a condition to meet any emergency. Successive Governments had considered the subject, and as far back as the time of the late Sir George C. Lewis a scheme was drawn up with a view of organizing a Reserve Force, while the present Administration had wisely set about the organization of such a Reserve. Its numbers were, however, at present only 4,000; it was in a most unhappy condition with regard to officers, and there was very little chance of its numbers being speedily recruited. The Artillery was likewise in a most unfavourable condition, there being only 180 guns available for the support of the Regular and Volunteer; Forces, the Militia and Pensioners, amounting in all to 300,000 men. He thought public men had not as yet taken a proper view of the Volunteer Force, which ought in his opinion to be regarded as the great defence Army of the country. If, as some of our statesmen believe, the next war should be "a word and a blow," we could not expect two months' notice; and what would be our position? We should have 40,000 or 50,000 men of the Regular Army, 150,000 Militia, 180 guns of the Artillery, the Yeomanry, Pensioners, and Volunteers. In case of an invasion it might be necessary to divide the Regular Army into two or three bodies, and, excellent as the Militia were, he did not believe they would be comparable to the Volunteers. He believed the result of any alarm would be that we should have our Regular Army increased to 300,000, our Militia to 300,000, and our Volunteers to at least 1,000,000. Now, what was the amount of Artillery with which we should be able to support that force? He knew there was an impression at the Horse Guards that the Volunteers were not a body whom it would be desirable to use as field artillery. Now, without attempting to make too much of the Volunteer Force, he could not help urging the great expediency of seeing whether there was not some mode by which the Volunteers might be instructed in artillery at a comparatively small cost, but in such a manner and with such a sufficient supply of guns as would render them available, in case of need, to give support to the body of men to whom he had alluded. He did not think it desirable to describe what the condition of this country was at the time of the Crimean War; but it was generally known that the number of guns was so inconsiderable as to do no credit to the mode in which the public Departments had been carried on. He would, therefore, venture to press on the Government the extreme necessity of considering whether it might not be desirable to put the Volunteer Force—our national defence Army—though at present they might not be looked upon with, he was going to say, a degree of pride—in such a condition that they might be available, no matter what occasion for their services might arise. He, for one, could not say that he looked back with satisfaction on the administration of the War Department under the present Government. Circulars had been issued by the Department, which showed a want of acquaintance with the present state of things that one would not have expected. For instance, a Circular had been issued to Lords Lieutenant in which unity of action between Volunteers and Militia was recommended; but which showed that the War Department was not aware that in time of war the Volunteers and Militia would come under the control of the Commander-in-Chief. Then another Circular was issued, informing the Volunteers that they were to be brought in aid of the civil power. No greater error was ever committed, nor one which would more seriously interfere with the efficiency and popularity of the Volunteer system. The Circular was afterwards withdrawn and was judiciously emasculated; but was re-issued in a form which he regarded as absolutely nil. He was aware that their Lordships were always averse from any question of a personal character, and he could assure them that he would be the last person indiscreetly to trench upon the rule which was so rigidly maintained. But the question which he now wished to bring forward was not in one sense of a personal character, and though it related to an individual, it was to an individual who had long been engaged in the public service. He referred to Colonel Erskine. Colonel Erskine had served in the Military Train, and on Colonel M'Murdoch being appointed to a higher command he succeeded that officer as Inspector General of Volunteers. While holding that office he had 160,000 Volunteers under his command, and in the discharge of his duties was lauded by almost every Volunteer in the service. Colonel Erskine had performed the duties of Inspector, he believed, to the satisfaction of every Minister of War under whom he served. It was with deep regret that he read that Colonel Erskine had been removed from his position in the War Office, not to a higher position, or one which would have been a due acknowledgment of his valuable services; but, on the contrary, he was, so to speak, put back to the Military Train, from which he had been promoted, and that on a salary less by £400 a year. The pay of military men was not so considerable that a loss of £400 a year would be of no moment to Colonel Erskine. He would venture to ask the noble Earl (the Earl of Longford) who was Colonel Erskine's immediate superior, whether he was cognizant of the removal of Colonel Erskine before it occurred? and he hoped that was a question which the noble Earl would answer. It might be said that Colonel Erskine would have held his situation only two years longer; but the reply to that was that there was a loss to Colonel Erskine of £800 solid money by his removal. Did their Lordships conceive that a Minister of State should have been so indifferent to the interests of his subordinates as to state in his place in Parliament that the position to which Colonel Erskine was removed was an inferior one, and that the salary was lower? He was stating what had appeared in print, and what the Minister was reported to have said in Parliament, and he ventured to say that a more off-hand mode of dealing with a valuable subordinate could not be. And let it be remembered that Colonel Erskine was a man who by the Volunteers and the public was acknowledged to have discharged his duty in a faultless manner; and not only had he discharged it faithfully and zealously, but in a manner the most modest and becoming, while he had never made any remonstrance against the treatment which he had received. He begged to ask Her Majesty's Government, Whether any Scheme has yet been prepared for the Organization of the Reserved Forces?


said, he should have been well satisfied to leave the question of the organization of our Reserved Forces in the hands of the Secretary for War, and of his noble Relative (the Earl of Longford), and he should not have addressed their Lordships but for an observation which had fallen from the noble Lord who had just sat down. While he (the Marquess of Exeter) had every respect for the Volunteers, he must take exception to certain expressions which the noble Lord had used with regard to the Militia. He understood the noble Lord to say that the Volunteers must be regarded as the national Reserve of this country, and that the Militia were not comparable to the Volunteer Force. No doubt the noble Lord intended to say that in point of numbers they were not comparable.


I meant to say that, in consequence of the Militia being out for drill only three weeks during the year and the Volunteers being engaged in shooting and drilling every day of the year—some part of the Volunteers are shooting every day—at all events, they are out on drill—the Militia could not be so good a force as the Volunteers.


said, that the Militia had always been regarded as the constitutional Reserve of the country, from which our regular troops were in times of emergency to be recruited. During the Crimean War the Militia gave nearly 40,000 men to the regiments of the Line, besides relieving the Regular Forces by performing garrison duty within the United Kingdom, and sending out twelve regiments to garrison the Mediterranean stations, thus enabling the Line regiments at Gibraltar, Malta, and the Ionian Islands to reinforce our army in the Crimea at a most critical time. The constitution of the Volunteer Force would not enable them to perform such duty—because if the Volunteers were taken away from their homes to perform garrison duty the trade of the country would suffer. It had often been complained that the Militia was badly officered not only as regarded numbers, but efficiency. Now, as to the alleged non-efficiency of Militia officers, he did not agree with the complaints which were so often urged; for, after long experience, he was of opinion that, considering the short time they were out for training and the few opportunities they had for learning their duties properly, Militia officers as a body did their work very fairly. They would perform it still better if the Government would return to the plan pursued in 1852. At that time Militia officers were allowed to attach themselves to regiments of the Line for an unlimited time. He believed that many of them would be glad to take that opportunity of learning their duty again, and in that case would soon become nearly as efficient as officers of the Line. At present they could only join a Line regiment for a month, and this time was not long enough for them to learn their drill properly. Another point deserving of consideration was whether the Government should not pay the travelling expenses of Militia officers to and from the county town while the regiment was in training. Again, the billeting system required amendment. An enormous amount of billeting money was now spent when the Militia were out for training; and the Government should consider whether it would not be much cheaper to provide barracks or proper accommodation in the county towns, rather than continue a system which was not only costly, but led to great irregularities. It might be worth while to consider also whether the Contagious Diseases Prevention Act might not be applied with advantage in some way in the county towns during the time the Militia were in training. He suggested, too, that the Militia should be formed into divisions; for, in case of war, it would be of the greatest advantage if, instead of the present divided authority, the officer having the military command of the district were able to order out his division of Militia along with his division of his Line.


said, the noble Lord who had introduced this subject had referred to the resignation of Colonel Erskine, and he (Viscount Hardinge) must agree that this was an event which every Volunteer regretted. With regard to the organization of the Reserve Force, no doubt the question was an important one; but, considering how short a time General Lindsay, who commanded the Force, had held that appointment, it was only fair to that officer to withold any remarks until a sufficient time had elapsed to give the new scheme a fair trial. The whole question of the reorganization of our home defences was considered in 1858 by a Committee of General Officers, who recommended the brigading of the Militia with the Regular Forces. This would be a step in the right direction, and was still more necessary now than it was then, when the large force of 170,000 Volunteers had been added to our home defences. In respect to transport, commissariat, and other arrangements the recommendations made were of a valuable character. He did not concur with the noble Lord (Lord Truro) in putting the Volunteers before the Militia; for, although he belonged to the Volunteers, he believed the Militia was the back-bone of our defensive organization. While the Volunteer had twelve days' drill, the Militiaman had twenty-eight, and was liable to be drilled fifty-six days; and he would urge upon the Government the importance of giving facilities to the Militia to be brigaded with the Line. The experiment had been tried at Aldershot this year, and had proved very successful. Seven regiments of Militia had been encamped with the Regulars, and he was told on high authority that nothing could be better than their conduct on parade. He should like to see this system extended, and other Militia regiments sent to Aldershot, Shorncliffe, and Colchester, where, he believed, contact with the Line would greatly increase their efficiency, while the encampment would save them from contracting the prejudicial habits that were acquired when they were thrown together in the towns. The same plan might to be adopted with regard to the Volunteers. Moreover, he thought that if the Volunteers were brigaded with the Militia during the period the latter were out training, a great improvement might be made in their efficiency. He did not believe it was possible in time of peace to maintain a Staff sufficient for a Reserve Force of 300,000 men, and as to a Volunteer Staff, which some put forward so much, he deemed it a chimera, for Volunteer officers had not time to qualify themselves for the duties of Staff officers. It would be quite premature yet to give any opinion with regard to the success of the Army Reserve, but he would remind the noble Lord the Under Secretary of State that a great number of men had been lost this year because the Circular was issued so late. He knew that this was the case in his own county; and he hoped the War Office had so far improved that a repetition of this mistake could not occur. He wished to draw special attention to the deficiency in the number of Militia officers, which at present amounted to 1,400; and he could not help thinking it was an excellent suggestion that their expenses on joining their regiments should be paid, and that that step would do much towards supplying the deficiency. He would also offer another suggestion, which was that after they had served ten years they should be allowed to take their rank and to wear uniform, which would be a privilege and a boon that they would appreciate.


desired to confirm what had been said as to the good conduct of the Militia and the difficulty of finding officers. As reference had been made to Colonel Erskine, he might say he was perfectly certain that anything which could be done by the Government to show their sense of the services of Colonel Erskine and of his predecessor, Colonel M'Murdo, would be most acceptable to the whole body of Volunteers.


, in reply to the Question of the noble Lord (Lord Truro), had to state that there was no scheme for the organization of the Reserve Forces ready to be promulgated, nor had he been able to find the scheme to which allusion had been made, and which was supposed to have been drawn up at the time Sir George C. Lewis was at the War Office. Two Acts were passed late last Session the object of which was to increase the efficiency of the Reserve Forces, and these Acts were coming slowly into operation. An important step towards the organization of the Reserved Forces had been taken by placing the Militia and Volunteer Forces under the direction of one competent commander who was also an Assistant Inspector of the district. Although it was true the deficiency of Militia officers was to be lamented, yet he must say that those we had were quite as efficient as they could be expected to be. There was no better public servant than Colonel M'Murdo, and the Volunteer service could not have been better inspected than they were by Colonel Erskine; but it was obviously an advantage that these different forces should be brought under uniform direction and placed under one commander, and it was to be hoped that their organization would now be developed. Materials were in the hands of the Inspector General, who, with the Militia authorities, would proceed to make regulations on the subject, and several officers had devoted much valuable time to the elaboration of plans for bringing together bodies of troops with their appendages. He hardly wished to enter into the delicate question involved in a comparison of the Volunteers with the Militia, for the Government accepted the services of both, and believed that each was able to play a competent part in the defence of the country. He had hoped the last had been heard of the unfortunate Circular; but it was not the business of the War Office to make the law on the subject. With regard to the resignation of Colonel Erskine, no good purpose was to be served by reviving a matter which was fully discussed four months ago, when the Secretary of State bore the highest testimony to the value of his services. It was thought that an excellent opportunity had arisen for making certain desirable arrangements with regard to the Reserve Forces, and while they were being considered the intelligence was communicated irregularly and informally to Colonel Erskine by a private friend. He had only to state, in conclusion, that the Government fully recognized the importance of proceeding in the direction of complete organization.


said, that in his opinion the Militia and the Volunteers were highly creditable to the country, and that there was ample room for both of them. We might fairly expect good service from them at any period of national difficulty that might arise. He was mainly induced to offer a few remarks to the House by a portion of the speech of his noble Friend (Lord Truro) with reference to the services of Colonel Erskine. He had been at the War Office during almost the whole of the time that Colonel Erskine served in that Department, first as Deputy Inspector of Volunteers, and subsequently on his appointment as Inspector General of Volunteers. He felt that he should fail in his duty to Colonel Erskine if he did not bear testimony in the strongest manner to the valuable services of that officer. Colonel Erskine was a man of untiring zeal, of unusually good sense, and of high administrative talent. Now he did not for a moment complain that the Secretary of State for War had deemed it necessary to amalgamate certain offices, and to bring the Reserved Forces into closer union with one another. Indeed, a similar scheme had been previously proposed; but its principal object was to effect economy, whereas the result of carrying out the plan now proposed by the Secretary of State would have the result of somewhat increasing the cost of the Department. But although it was perfectly right that the Secretary of State should introduce into his Department such changes as he might think requisite, yet when an officer had discharged his duties with zeal and ability every possible consideration should be had for the feelings of that officer. From what he had heard that evening, however, he was led to believe that the feelings of Colonel Erskine had not been taken into consideration. He understood that Colonel Erskine did not learn from the Secretary of State, but from a private friend, that it was intended to remove him from the post of Inspector General of Volunteers. Now, if that were really so, he was bound to express his opinion that the Secretary of State had been wanting in courtesy to Colonel Erskine, who had not received such treatment as an officer occupying so high a position had a right to expect. As to the general question, the noble Earl (the Earl of Longford) had truly said that the Act of last year had not been long enough in operation to enable us to judge of its probable results; but he regretted that the regulations for carrying it into effect were not published at an earlier period. The result of that, if he were not mistaken, was to delay for a whole year the bringing of that Act into operation. Such a result was greatly to be regretted. He confessed he had always entertained some doubts as to the effect of the measure; but as Her Majesty's Government had adopted it, he hoped they would exert their influence in order to make it work beneficially.


said, he thought this was not an unfit opportunity for drawing their Lordships' attention to the fact that when the Volunteer Force was first organized it was distinctly understood that it was not to be in any way a substitute for the regular forces of the country. It was simply intended as a demonstration of moral force which should be felt through- out the whole world, and the worst condemnation that could be pronounced upon it was that it should to any extent—even to the extent of 5,000 men—be a means of reducing the Regular Army. This was a matter of great importance, on which the attention of their Lordships should be carefully fixed. Then the country ought clearly to understand in what manner and to what extent the defence of this country could be efficiently sustained by any military force. This island was small in extent, its dense population were actively engaged in commercial and industrial pursuits, and all its business was carried on by the operation of a vast system of credit, delicate to the last degree, which would be most ruinously affected by the landing upon our shores of an army—he would not say an army which required 200,000 or 300,000 men to repel it—but of an army of even 20,000 or 30,000 men. The mere landing of such a force would act like a universal earthquake, spreading destruction throughout the land, and our power, our prosperity, our happiness, our greatness—everything which made us proud of the name of Englishmen—would be lost. It was upon the waters surrounding this island that our safety must always depend, and he therefore trusted that in the midst of schemes of army organization the attention of the Government and of the country would be always directed to the security of the seas which separated us from the great military Monarchies of the Continent.