HL Deb 28 May 1878 vol 240 cc828-31

in rising to put a Question, and to move for a Return, according to a Notice on the Paper, said: My first intention was, before Easter, to have put the Question at 5 o'clock in the more usual, although less formal, manner. However, the noble Viscount, who for a short time has represented the War Office in this House, objected to that course, and it is very immaterial which of them is adopted. Indeed, the course which he preferred has one advantage not belonging to the other. It enables the commanders of Militia regiments to deliver their opinions to the House, as to whether it would be judicious to render their branch of the Auxiliary Forces more available for foreign service than it is at present. A Government might urge that unless the opinion of Militia officers was fully ascertained, they could not make up their minds as to the policy of what had been suggested. For instance, if commanders generally thought that recruiting would be more difficult when the sphere of the Militia was enlarged, it would not be prudent to enlarge it. If, on the contrary, it seemed to them that a remote contingency of foreign service would be attractive to the rural population, a change in that sense as regards the Force itself has much to recommend it. I venture to engage Militia officers to furnish information upon this and other points to-night; nor shall I be in their way for more than a few minutes. The primâ facie ground for now considering whether the Militia should be only a domestic, or what is sometimes termed a sedentary, Force, occurs to anyone who recollects the time and manner in which the Volunteers, as they are constituted now, were brought into existence. The period was 1859. It was then con- sidered that the French Government, however friendly it had been in the Crimean War, was uncertain in its aims, and, therefore, capable of enterprize in any possible direction. Some new defence at home beyond the Militia, which had been re-organized in 1852, was thought to be appropriate. So, down to 1870, the co-existence of the two Forces for aims completely insular, exclusively domestic, had a plausible excuse, although not, perhaps, a thoroughly convincing one. In 1870, that excuse may be considered to have vanished. Security from France became greater than it had ever been during the century. The system of confining two large Armies to the United Kingdom lost the basis it had formerly possessed. The question which then arose would naturally be as to disbanding one, or giving to the other greater elasticity. If the Militia were available abroad, Volunteers at home would be essential to replace them. But while the Militia is unavailable abroad, Volunteers, now that the danger which suggested their formation has passed away, can hardly urge their previous title to the expense which they involve. Now, the policy of employing the Militia in some degree on foreign service is not at all a new one. It was conspicuous in the Peninsula. Regiments volunteered and took their part in the campaigns. There is an Act of Parliament, the 54 Geo. III. c. 1, to regulate the new position they assumed, and Clode on the Military Forces of the Crown, has amply discussed it. The inconveniences, however, of such a fragmentary and precarious arrangement cannot be denied. It cannot possibly obtain one great advantage in diplomacy. The knowledge that so large a Force might join in any service the Executive required would lead to a desirable effect, although not a regiment quitted our shores. At present their moral value depends on their material exertion. It remains to defend the Return I move for. The number of effectives in the Auxiliary Forces illustrates the force now locked up; and, if given under the different heads of Militia, Volunteers, and Yeomanry, would show to what extent the two latter are sufficient for the object to which all three under the present system are confined. Let me add, in concluding, that, although the Question I put is, no doubt, a form of recommending to the attention of the Government a military change, it is only in connection with the difficulties of the Eastern Question I have urged it. It has been stated that a Congress at Berlin is likely to take place. Having resided during the adjournment in that capital, and become convinced by intercourse with diplomatic and political society that such a Congress only tends to war, I cannot reproach myself for bringing before the House at least one method or preparing for it. At the same time, I do not ask the Government to commit themselves to an opinion, if reluctant so to do, as to the use of the Militia. The Return, I trust, they will not hesitate in granting.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for Return of the number of effectives in the Auxiliary Forces at the beginning of the financial year.—(The Lord Stratheden and Campbell.)


said, the noble Lord had brought this irrepressible question respecting the Militia before their Lordships at least four or five times this Session. First of all, it appeared in the form of a Question to Her Majesty's Government, as to whether they were disposed to make any change in the constitution of the Militia—which change the noble Lord had since shadowed forth more than once. The present Question had been upon the Notice Paper of the House at least six weeks, and during that period it had been several times altered in its form, and the day upon which it was to be asked, without the slightest consultation with those whose duty it would be to answer it. He must say that it would be more convenient for their Lordships if, in future, when the noble Lord gave Notice of a Question, he would study its form, and ask it on the day on which it was set down. As to the Question itself, he had no hesitation in answering it. The noble Lord asked whether they had in view any proposal for the alteration of the constitution of the Militia? Now, from time immemorial, the Militia had been enlisted for service within the United Kingdom. He would not follow the noble Lord into precedents of the time of George III., but he would state for the information of their Lordships that, by the Militia Act of 1875, sec. 50, it was enacted— It shall be lawful for Her Majesty to employ in the Islands of Malta, Guernsey, Jersey, Alderney, and Sark, the Isle of Man, and the garrison of Gibraltar, or any of them, such part of the Militia as may make a voluntary offer, duly certified by their respective commanding officers, so to extend their services, and as Her Majesty may think proper to permit to extend their services in consequence of such voluntary offers as aforesaid. That was the basis upon which the Militia was now enlisted, and on which he hoped it would always be enlisted. During the last war, it was employed to garrison the Mediterranean, and the Militia were sent to Malta and Gibraltar with their own consent. The noble Lord now asked, in effect, if the Government proposed to change the character of that Force, and make the Militia available for foreign service everywhere without going through the preliminary of asking their consent? If any such fundamental change were made in the Militia, it would be necessary to release every militiaman from his engagements, and they would be in this position—that, instead of adding to the Defensive Force, they would really have no Militia at all. Her Majesty's Government were not going to advocate any such change. Indeed, there was no necessity for any such step, as, under present regulations, any militiaman willing to enlist for general service could be transferred to the Line, and receive a free kit for doing so. They were quite satisfied that the Militia, on its present basis, would satisfy the requirements of the country. With regard to the question as to the Returns of the effective Auxiliary Forces at the commencement of the financial year, if the noble Lord referred to the ordinary sources of information, he would find on their Lordships' Table a Return of the number of Militia, Yeomanry, and Volunteers; but, if he did not wish to trouble himself by doing so, he would inform him that in February, 1877, the total number of efficients on the dates on which the several regiments were inspected in 1877were—Militia, 102,877; Yeomanry, 10,736; Volunteers, 193,026; total, 306, 639.

LORD CAMPBELL rose to make some answer, but the adjournment of the House having been moved, was prevented from doing so.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.

House adjourned at Six o clock, to Friday next, half past Ten oclock.