HL Deb 08 June 1871 vol 206 cc1669-73

THE EARL OF LONGFORD moved an Address for a Return of the estimate of soldiers above 20 years of age who will be required as volunteers from corps of all arms at home to complete the establishment of corps and of drafts ordered to proceed to India in the season 1871–72. He moved for the Return for the information of their Lordships, because it had lately been announced by the Under Secretary of State that it was intended to resort on a larger scale to the practice of drawing volunteers from regiments remaining at home to complete the regiments ordered to proceed to India. Now, the embarkation for service in India of soldiers under 20 had been properly condemned on medical grounds, and perhaps the course contemplated by the War Office was the only way of obtaining sufficient soldiers for India of the requisite age in time for the ensuing season; but the practice of volunteering, except in emergencies, had always been deemed objectionable, for one regiment was thereby completed at the expense of others; and the recent Orders, under which soldiers above three years' service had been invited to volunteer for the formation of a Reserve, complicated the matter. The 2,500 soldiers who had put down their names for the Reserve were still with their regiments, owing to some change of system, and he understood that the formation of the Reserve was suspended. It might, however, be renewed at any time by the Secretary of State, under his statutory powers; and if soldiers of above three years' standing were invited to join the Reserve, while men of the class next below them were invited to volunteer for India, the regiments at home would be seriously disorganized. And the inconvenience would not be limited to this year, for if the reinforcements for India must be soldiers of 20 years and upwards, and recruits could only be obtained between 17 and 18 years of age, some special means must be adopted for filling up the vacancies. That would give rise before long to a question of too much importance to be incidentally discussed now, but which would bring itself into notice before long—namely, the question of providing a special Army for India. At present, however, his only object was information as to volunteering, which was spoken of too favourably on Monday night.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for the following Return: Estimate of the number of soldiers above 20 years of age who will be required as volunteers from corps of all arms at home to complete the establishments of corps and of drafts ordered to proceed to India in the season 1871–72.—(The Earl of Longford.)


wished, before the noble Lord's Question was answered, to ask how the short service system was to be adapted to India. Great expense would be incurred if the men sent thither only served six years—though, perhaps, that expense would be counterbalanced by the mortality among the men who stayed in India. There must either be a special term of enlistment for India, or the system of long service must be retained pari passu with the new system. The Government gave an assurance last year that the latter course should be pursued; and had noble Lords on his own side anticipated the issue of an Order entirely abolishing the old system, they would have strongly opposed the Bill of last Session, which seemed in effect to vest a carte blanche in the Secretary of State to do what he pleased in regard to enlistment.


wished, before his noble Friend the Under Secretary of State for War answered the Questions put to him, to say a few words in amplification. He should be glad to know whether it was proposed, in the case of regiments about to embark for India in the course of the relief season of 1871–2, that all men under 20 years of age were to be left at home, and that their places were to be supplied by the transfer of men from other regiments. This was an important question, because, as had been before mentioned, in some corps a considerable proportion of the men were under one year's service. The 44th Regiment, which he believed was the first under orders to embark for India, had, on the 1st of April, no less than 450 of the rank and file in that position. Now, if those 450 men were to be left in England, and their places supplied by men from other corps, it was evident that a considerable portion of these regiments would be reduced to a state of disorganization. Now, he wished to have stated the exact intentions of the Go- vernment in that regard. He might take the opportunity of expressing his gratification at the statement made the other night by the noble Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies; for though he objected to the system of volunteering to fill up regiments as an ordinary measure of organization, it was one that might properly be resorted to on occasions of emergency. He inferred from it that the official mind was at length convinced of the obligation which really existed, and which was pointed out by the Commission of 1866—namely, that no man should be embarked for a tropical climate who had not completed his twentieth year. That conviction tardily forced upon the War Department, was one from which they could not now depart.


said, that remembering the power and vigour with which the noble and gallant Lord (Lord Sandhurst) urged on Monday night the inhumanity of sending men under 20 to India, thought there was some inconsistency in his now protesting against the measure adopted to remedy the evil, on the ground that it would, in some degree, disorganize the regiments at home. Surely the lives of the men and the efficiency of the force were of greater moment than a mere temporary disorganization. The Secretary of State had directed that as far as possible—for every individual case could not be guarded—all the men sent to India should be above 20 years of age. He admitted that, though Commissions and medical men had urged the necessity of sending men of mature age and considerable training, this had not hitherto been satisfactorily accomplished; but the noble and gallant Earl (the Earl of Longford) must know, from his official experience, the difficulty which it involved. He could assure his noble and gallant Friend (Lord Sandhurst) that the "official mind" was fully alive to the importance of the subject. Since his noble and gallant Friend's speech the other evening, he had made inquiries, but he had not been able to lay his hand upon the remonstrances made by him on the subject when Commander-in-Chief in India. The noble Viscount (Viscount Hardinge) need anticipate no difficulty from the present term of service, for five or six years was a period sufficiently long in a tropical climate. It was believed, indeed, that both economy and efficiency would be promoted by not allowing men to reengage in India on their regiments being ordered home and by requiring them to return home, it being undesirable that they should continue in a tropical climate for long periods. The rate of mortality went on increasing every year that they remained, and diseases which at home might be cured became there serious and fatal. He denied that the assurance given last year had been violated; for in the Artillery and Engineers the old system of enlistment was still in operation, whereas in the Infantry, now that it had been got up to the mark, short enlistments were advantageous with a view of increasing the strength of the Reserve, while care would be taken to retain a sufficient number of old soldiers in the ranks. This was "the day of small things;" but a beginning had been made with respect to the means of quickly and efficiently filling up the ranks of the Army in the event of war. He admitted the disadvantages connected with men volunteering from other regiments to complete the regiments and drafts for India; but he was not aware of any other course that could have been taken under existing circumstances. It was not desirable to force the power of transferring men from one regiment to another, and it would only be exercised in the case of men unfit to proceed to India. As to the Return, it would be difficult to give the estimate moved for; but if the noble Earl would consent to amend his Motion so as to confine it to a Return to the number of men above 20 years of age, who have volunteered from corps of all arms at home to complete the establishment of corps and drafts ordered to India, he should have no objection to grant it at the end of the season.


said, he distinctly recollected the assurance given by the Government last year that the then existing system of recruiting would not be interfered with by the Bill; and he agreed with the noble Viscount that had the course since pursued by the War Office been foreseen the Bill would have met with a very different reception. The noble Lord the Under Secretary for War had appeared to assume that all the Indian regiments were composed of men who had six years' service before them, whereas some of the men might have already served three or four years. What he was anxious to learn was, what would happen with men who had only three years to serve?


said, he was willing to alter his Motion in the way suggested. He had the highest respect for the "official mind," having once had an "official mind" himself; but he was sorry the noble Lord did not perceive the grave inconvenience involved in what he called the temporary disorganization attendant on volunteering.


denied that he had exposed himself to the charge of inconsistency, as alleged by his noble Friend. He had in his possession Returns—which not being before the House he was not at liberty to quote—as to enlistment in 19 regiments, which showed that there would be considerable difficulty in the execution of the measure announced by the Government. In speaking of disorganization, he had merely wished to point out how military organization and the efficiency of regiments were affected by such changes, however necessary they might be.


wished to say, with reference to the charge of breach of faith, that the Government gave no pledge last Session as to the way in which they would carry out the powers given them by Parliament. What they then stated was, that the power of retaining the old system of recruiting was not taken away by the Bill; that the intention was to apply the system of six years with the colours and six years with the reserve to Infantry, but not to the Engineers and Artillery; and that a sufficient number of old soldiers would be maintained in the Infantry regiments. Men who had served a considerable part of their term before proceeding to India would be dealt with precisely as heretofore. Whether the term was six years or twelve years made no difference in this respect, for men who had more than two years to serve were now sent to India with their regiments.

Motion amended, and agreed to.

Ordered, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for the following Return: Number of soldiers above 20 years of age who volunteer from corps of all arms at home to complete the establishments of corps and of drafts ordered to proceed to India in the season 1871–72.—(The Lord Silchester.)

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