Commons Sitting of 30 May 1806 Series 1 Vol. 7

  1. MINUTES. 321 words
  2. cc414-9
  4. cc419-54
  6. cc454-81
  7. Mr. Canning rose , and said:—I cannot reconcile it, sir, to my sense of duty as a member of parliament, to suffer a question of such magnitude to be hurried to a decision in this extraordinary manner. Instead of that precipitancy which now appears to be intended, we surely ought to proceed with more than usual caution in a case which involves so important an innovation in one of the most important establishments of the country. Ministers must either have a most extraordinary confidence in themselves, or expect an unlimited confidence from others, if they imagine that the house can be prevailed upon to concur in a measure of such magnitude, and to sanction changes so hazardous with no better reasons than they have yet assigned, and no more satisfactory explanation than they have yet condescended to give to the objections which have been stated. I cannot but consider the manner in which this subject has been brought forward, as being, almost as great an innovation in the constitutional practice of parliament, as the measure itself is in the system of our army. This, I believe, is the first instance in our parliamentary history, in which it has been attempted to introduce a fundamental change in an established system, merely by a clause introduced in a committee upon a bill, and that bill one which must of necessity be passed within a limited time, at the hazard of leaving us without an army. The mutiny bill has already been renewed three tunes in the course of the present year: the last which we passed will expire on a given day; and we are plainly told, that we must abridge our deliberations on this bill which is now before us, in order that it may receive the sanction of the legislature, before that which it is to replace expires. I desire the house to consider, whether this was a fair and fit situation in which to place us, for the discussion of a question requiring so much caution and deliberation. I have always understood it to be the practice of this house, when any matter of great importance, and especially any matter that goes to affect the fundamental establishments of the country, was to be submitted to its consideration, to multiply the stages of discussion, by originating the subject of the bill in a previous committee of the whole house. In that committee, it may be matter of debate, whether any measure upon the subject shall be received for discussion; and after that question has been deliberated and affirmed, then remain all the ordinary stages in which the bill itself is liable to discussion. But I am confident that this is the first instance in which the opportunities of deliberation have been diminished in proportion to the novelty, magnitude, and doubtful policy of the measure; in which a project for effecting a complete revolution in one part of our national defence has been proposed to be passed into a law through fewer stages of deliberation than a turnpike bill. I beg pardon the first it is not; my right hon. friend (Mr. Yorke) has already referred to the solitary and disgraceful precedent of the last year of queen Anne, when a clause of similar purport was introduced into the mutiny bill, apparently without the notice or knowledge of the parliament of that time. But with this exception, the right hon. gent. will not easily find any thing in history to countenance his practice; and I am sure he will not find any thing to justify it. The right hon. gent. has reduced parliament to the dilemma either of foregoing the due exercise of its deliberative functions on a measure so momentous in its consequences, or of suffering the army to disband, while we are considering on the best mode of maintaining it. And if this observation applies to this house, where we have the bill now before us, and where, I trust, we shall persist in keeping it as long as we continue to entertain doubts of its policy, how much more forcibly does it apply to the House of Lords, where, in exact proportion to the difficulties which are felt here, and the time which is taken to remove them, the, means and opportunities of that discussion which the lords are equally entitled to give to every subject of national interest, must necessarily be abridged and taken away! How much more forcibly does it apply to the third power of the constitution, to the crown; to whom it is probable that this bill, changing the whole tenure by which the army of the crown is held, must be presented for that approbation which is to pass it into a law, within a period so near to the expiration of the present mutiny bill, that the king can hardly have a moment to pause, much less to exercise his judgment and discretion! I admit that this last objection would not generally apply to a measure introduced into the house by the king's ministers, because the introduction by them would generally imply the approbation and recommendation of the crown:—that this is not the case in the present instance, we have but too much reason to apprehend—I should rather say perhaps we have great reason to hope; because I should trust that there might be a chance of some interposition on the part of the crown, if not in the legislative enactments, at least in the practical execution of this measure, such as might remedy, in some degree, the consequences, if it could not entirely prevent the first effect of the rashness and precipitancy of ministers;—I say I should hope this, if it were not that the clause which we are discussing, is so framed (and I must say I think must improperly so framed) as to take away all discretion from the crown hereafter, in the executive regulation, no less than in the legislative provision; to curtail and abridge the royal prerogative, in that particular in which it has been the practice (and I think the wisdom) of all states to leave the executive government in possession of the fullest control, namely the discipline and internal economy of the regular army. I am not now arguing the expediency or inexpediency of the limitation of service; I am not talking of the merits or demerits of the project I shall come to that by-and-by: but I am at the outset protesting against the course which ministers have followed, which is such, that even if the measure itself were in my judgment unexceptionable, I should still object to the mode of its introduction. If limited service be ever so desirable an experiment, still why incorporate it in the mutiny act? Why make it the subject of legislative enactment at all? Why not pass the mutiny act according to its usual form, for the purpose of giving to parliament the constitutional control over the crown and its army? (which the mutiny act alone enables the crown to raise and maintain), which it alone enables the crown to pay; and under that controul, why may not the mode of raising and maintaining the army be safely left, as it has always hitherto been, to the executive government? If there be one political truth more undeniable than another, it is this, that no good has ever arisen from the interference of public assemblies with the military force of the state. Any attempt on the part of such assemblies to become popular with the army, is sure to lead to difficulty, and in the end, not seldom to confusion. The plain proof of this is what we know to be historically true, and what we feel at this moment in our own instance, that every such act of interference must be accompanied with a donative or largess, as a sort of compensation for our intrusion; we have at this moment an estimate on the table, of an additional charge of 300,000l. annual expenditure—the first fruits, and, we may depend upon it, the very least part of what 'we may expect from restless and meddling spirit of regulation; and this price we pay for liberty to confer what is represented as a benefit to the army—the change of the term of service. How, if some years hence, when this device shall have failed, and it shall become necessary to repeal it, how shall we find funds sufficient to accompany and alone for such an alteration? I think, sir, we have seen symptoms that this truth is felt, and that its consequences extend beyond the army even, to the other services of the country. I grudge .nothing that is given in bounty or in kindness; but I think the recommendation to such acts is best and most safely lodged with the crown; and I am not willing to purchase, at an unnecessary expence, a right of interference which I think dangerous in its exercise. The right hon. secretary (Mr. Windham) has contended, that in new-modelling the army according to his plan, parliament, will be doing no more than it has been accustomed to do at all times, but especially since the beginning of the present war. What, he asks, has been the business and occupation of the administration which preceded the present, but to frame measure after measure, and to propound law after law, for the augmentation and regulation of the military force of the country?—Undoubtedly for the augmentation and regulation of that part of the military force, which is more immediately of the cognizance of parliament; which cannot otherwise be raised than by parliamentary measures; which is obtained from the country by different modifications of a compulsory process, none of which the crown could possibly be enabled to originate or to apply, without the specific authority and detailed regulation of parliament. The militia, the army of reserve, the additional force, are all of this description; constituting the defensive and limited force of the country, and that which may fairly be called the parliamentary army, in contradistinction to that regular army of the crown, which the crown has at all times raised for itself, subject to the controul of the annual mutiny bill. All these measures therefore which the right hon. gent. cites as precedents, are in fact directly in contrast with that which he now recommends. They were in fact enabling statutes in aid of the prerogative of the crown; to give to the king a power of doing that which was necessary for the safety of the state, but which he could not do without the direct assistance of parliament. This is, to limit or take from him a power which he already has, and to subject him to restrictions and disabilities, at once encroaching on the prerogative, and prejudicing the service of the country. The right hon. gent. opposite appears to doubt the truth of this construction. I ask, in what possible way any statute can operate upon the prerogative of the crown, except in one of these three;—either as giving some power, which the crown had not before; or as explaining and confirming some doubtful or obsolete prerogative (as was the case in the bill for calling out the levy-en-masse), at the same time prescribing the mode of its exercise; or, thirdly, as directly limiting, restraining, or abolishing some power, which the crown had hitherto been in the habit of exercising without dispute? In which of these three ways does the present measure operate? Does it give to the King, as a new power, the right of raising men for limited service, or has not the crown always had and often exercised that right of limitation? Does it revive or explain any prerogative of doubtful construction? Does it even leave the power and prerogatives of the crown as it finds them? Has not the crown at present, and has it not always had, in addition to the power of limiting the service, that of enlisting men for an indefinite time, subject to discharge at its own pleasure? and will not the clause now under consideration, if sanctioned by the legislature, take that power completely away? And for what object, and from what necessity is this alteration of the constitution projected? Cannot the experiment be tried as well by that authority which has always hitherto exclusively regulated the terms of enlistment and the internal economy of the army; leaving with that authority the discretion of trying it at such times, and to such extent as may be most favourable to the experiment; (leaving the discretion also of suspending that trial, if its result should be found less beneficial than is expected):—cannot, I say, this experiment be made in this way, wish as much advantage, and with much less danger, than by pledging the whole legislature, not only to try it, but to abide the issue of that trial, without any alternative, and without the possibility of retreat? Does not the right hon. gent. feel, that a regulation by the crown would be equally effectual; while, if necessary, it could be recalled, without inconvenience? Does he not feel that a partial experiment in the first instance, will be amply sufficient to ascertain the merits of his plan; while, if unsuccessful, it might be abandoned or suspended, without difficulty? Does he not feel, that by making this great change, the work of the whole legislature, and the rule of the whole service, while he adds nothing to the facilities of experiment, he enhances incalculably the dangers of failure? And if this be the case, I do not ask what necessity, but what pretence, what decent apology can the king's ministers offer, for laying the foundation of their plan for remodelling the army, by dismembering the ancient prerogatives of the crown? These, sir, are the grounds on which I should object to the mode in which the measure is brought under our discussion, even if from the measure itself I entertained sanguine expectations of good, instead of anticipating, as I confess I do, abundant evils and dangers. I object to establishing that as a system, which is confessedly to be tried as an experiment: I object to limiting the king's prerogative, for the undesirable purpose of putting the management of the recruiting and the detailed economy of the army into the hands of parliament: I object to this, even if the experiment is to succeed and the system to become permanent: but if there be the remotest chance of failure, and of a necessity for recurring to the old system again, I object doubly to a pledge on the part of parliament which must embarrass, beyond all calculation, the difficulty of a retreat. But the right hon. gent. and his friends are confident that the experiment cannot fail. One of his friends, indeed, the hon. colonel (colonel Craufurd) is much more sanguine than the right hon. gent. himself, and rebukes the right hon. gent. for having admitted that no immediate good was to be expected. The hon. colonel is of a very different opinion; and, with an estimate upon the table, of 330,000l. annual expence, to be added at one stroke, immediately,—with the admission of the right hon. author of the project, that he looks for no immediate advantage,—the hon. colonel has the boldness to contend that the advantages are immediate, and the inconveniences and burthens, if any, contingent and remote. I can hardly presume to decide between such great authorities, especially when I find them differing upon. a point which they might be supposed to have settled in the course of their daily official communica- tion. But I confess I am inclined in this, though perhaps in no other single instance, to adopt the opinion of the right hon. gent. (Mr. Windham), and to give him credit for the remoteness and precariousness of any possible advantage from his plan; while the paper on your table, containing as it does but one item of the expense to be incurred, is of itself a sufficient proof that some part of the burthen at least is to be felt immediately. The right hon. gent. very ingenuously told us, that he wished he had looked a little more narrowly into the calculations of expence: I wish he had—perhaps it was in some degree his duty to do so; and he would at least have been enabled to make good his argument against his hon. friend (colonel Craufurd) and to correct his inaccuracy in one instance, as he disclaims his sanguineness in another. But as to the powerful effects and inducements which belong to the limitation of the term of service, there is no difference of opinion between the right hon. gent. and his friend. It is to fill the ranks of the army, and to fill them with a better description of people. To this we presume to answer, that if limitation of service be so alluring, we have already tried the force of that allurement, by limiting not the term only, but the space; by inviting men to serve not for a few years only, but for those few years at home: the trial has been not wholly without success; far from it;—but it has not had such striking and splendid success, as (compared with the general term of enlistment) to prove, that the limitations are so all-powerful as the hon. gentlemen represented them; and above it has not, according to the hon. gentlemen themselves, produced a materially better description of men to the service. "Oh!—but," say the hon. gentlemen, "that is because you limited too much. The men that we want to get at, are those who wish to serve for a short time, but to serve abroad. You have no receptacle for men of that sort."—Well, then, let us have one; with all my heart—but do not let us make up our minds to have no other sort: for, assuredly, however possible it may be that a reasonable proportion of such men may be found, it is a little too much to expect, that with an army to such an extent as we have at present, with an auxiliary force for home defence, in great part consisting of volunteers, (not one man of either of which establishments has required the inducement of this peculiar species of limitation),—it is, I think, a little too much to expect us to agree, that no other than this limitation can possibly be effectual. But I suppose it is amongst this bettermost description of men only, that the peculiar taste prevails. It is amongst them that we are to look for the persons who, according to the right hon. gentlemen, like very little service, but choose to have that service foreign; like the, man who, describing the sort of weather that best pleased him, declared that be would have "but little wind, but that little high." These are the persons whom the right hon. gent. describes as likely to enter into the army for the sake of seeing the world; who, leaving their village Desdemonas at home, would embark for the West Indies, for the purpose of returning like so many Othellos, with a collection of stories to woo them with upon their return. Unquestionably this theory, is a most delightful one; but I still have my doubts as to the extent, at least, of its possible operation. I cannot help thinking that that class of society, from which the ranks of our army have hitherto been chiefly supplied, must, even after the refinements of the right hon. gent., and all the lectures of the hon. colonel, on the necessary and practical operation of those refinements, still continue to be the only very efficient source of the supply. Upon this class—I mean the lowest and labouring class of the community, the peasant and the inferior artisan, I suppose it is not contended that these fancies will work very powerfully: and as to mounting higher, in order that you may obtain a more numerous recruitment, it seems to me that that notion proceeds upon a false estimate of the relative proportions of the different classes of society. Society has often been compared to a pyramid; but I never yet heard that the point was nearest the earth, and the broadest surface at the top. If that were the true view of it, the hon. colonel would be right, and the higher you mounted, the larger superficies you would have to act upon; but if the lowest class be, as it is, infinitely the most extensive, I do not see that much would be gained by looking in preference to a higher level for your supply. I really believe, sir, after all, that even when this system is in its fullest operation, the hon. colonel must still be content to draw his recruits from the plough, and from the fair, rather than from St. James's Street and the Royal Exchange. But if, after all, we are wrong in this supposition; if there be such a race as the right hon. colonel supposes, of such peculiar and characteristic disposition; of such small, and at the same time delicate stomachs for military service; whom none of the modes of service hitherto invented, have been able to satisfy; I am far from, contending, that this variety of the military species may not be worth comprehending in any general plan of military establishment. By all means, let us have all that we can get; but do not let us, in attempting to catch this rare and non-descript creature, weave the meshes of our laws too close to answer any more useful or general purpose. But by all means let there be a class of this sort of service; let there be certain regiments raised with this particular term of enlistment; let the second battalions, as has been more than once suggested by the hon. genral (sir J. Pulteney), be appropriate to it. For this, no act of parliament is necessary, no new .power need be given. The crown may raise regiments, or appoint battalions for this purpose; and wherever these singular individual; are to be found, wherever the right hon. gent. or the hon. colonel has heard of them, in whatever part of the country they are latitating and circumcursitating, there the king's recruiting writ may run and secure them, if they are to be had, for his majesty's service. But where is the necessity of sacrificing every other chance to try this one, which may as well be tried without it? The right hon. gent. meets this question with an argument the most singular and the most hardy that can well be conceived. He admits that the trial of this principle has been made; and he admits, or rather contends, that its success has not been all that could be desired: "but," says he, "this failure has proceeded from its having been tried partially: make it the general rule of your service; recruit solely on this principle; leave nothing in competition with it; rely upon it alone, and be assured it will not fail you." Why, sir, this might be very well, if the interests hazarded upon the issue of the experiment, were any thing less than the safety and existence of the empire; and I could understand the argument, if its application were to circumstances directly the reverse to those which are now under our consideration. If the principle of our service had hitherto been the limitation of the term; if the innovation now proposed were to enlist for a term indefinite; if this new method had been tried partially, and had not answered, I could perfectly understand any advocate for indefinite service, who should say: "No wonder this experiment has not yet succeeded; it has not had fair play: and so long as the limited service is suffered to bid in competition with it, its complete success cannot reasonably be expected."—But it certainly is not an equally obvious truth, that the existence of the indefinite service affords a competition which must be fatal to the trial of the experiment of the limited term. I therefore cannot conceive a more unreasonable demand than that of the right hon. gent., that we should consent to abolish a mode of enlistment, which, if not so alluring in theory, has been found effectual in practice, in order to try, with better chance of success, (for which we have nothing but his word,) an experiment which, having failed when we risked but little upon it, he contends we ought now to risk every thing upon it, and try it again. Such being the only temptation which we have, according to the right hon. gent.'s acknowledgment, from the experience of our own country; we have naturally been desired to look abroad for the encouragement which was not to he found at home. Here, I think, however, the assertions of, the hon. gentlemen have been somewhat, mitigated, and their tone, of confidence somewhat lowered since the last discussion upon this subject. We no longer hear the general and sweeping declarations that all the great military powers have uniformly acted upon the system which the right hon. gent. recommends; that we have stood alone among nations, and that it becomes us as soon as possible to conform to the general example. Ancient France is, I think, tonight, the solitary instance upon which the hon. gentlemen rely, to which indeed is added the example of Switzerland, with respect to the troops which she has been in the habit of hiring out to foreign powers. As to the Swiss, it requires, I think, but very few words to shew that the mode of raising troops (however brave and valuable those troops may be), to be employed in the service of other powers, cannot fairly be cited as a precedent for an army upon, which the defence of their native country is to depend. It is perfectly manifest that it might be utterly impossible to induce men to quit their country for life, especially men amongst whom the love of their country exists in so strong a degree; and as to the foreign power in whose pay they served, it is equally manifest that the acceptance of their service for a limited term, proves no predilection or partiality on the part of that power for such a species of service, inasmuch as the troops were to be had on no other. The example of ancient France has been as confidently relied upon by the right hon. gent. (Mr. Windham) as before; but the remarks of the hon. general behind me (sir James Pulteney) have, I think, not a little diminished the force of the argument; and the illustrations of the hon. colonel (Craufurd), who intended, I suppose, to sustain the proposition of his right hon. friend, have done what little was left undone by the hon. general, to demolish it. It is allowed on all hands that faith must be kept with the soldier; that whatever period you fix for the termination of his engagement, at that period when it arrives, under whatever circumstances, under the pressure of whatever necessity, the soldier must have his discharge if he claims it. It follows that no example can fairly be stated in favour of this plan, which does not chew not only that such engagements were made, but that they were kept sacred and inviolable; and one instance, even one solitary instance, of the violation of such an engagement on the part of any government which is held out to us as an object of imitation, ought, in my opinion, to operate not as a light to guide us, but as a beacon to alarm and warn us of our danger. How then stands the example of ancient France? It was stated on a former night by the hon. general, and then sturdily denied, that the engagement of the French government with their soldiery had been violated at the beginning of the American war; that by an ordinance then published, the right of claiming discharges was suspended. Tonight this fact has been admitted; but the admission was accompanied by the right hon. gent. with a whimsical sort of triumph, because forsooth there was but this one instance to be found of such a violation of faith, and because this was a formal ordinance; as if the formality with which faith was broken in this instance, was a sort of proof how sacredly it had been kept before. But the hon. colonel has not been contented that the matter should rest there, and in order to satisfy us how unwillingly the government of France ever consented to the violation of its engagements, he has quoted the indignant expressions of Marshal Saxe against officers who did not keep their engagements with the soldiery. Marshal Saxe's indignation, virtuous as it was, pro- bably was not without cause. So here is another instance of the same breach of faith; or rather, in all fair reasoning, a complete proof that, even in Marshal Saxe's time, it had grown upon into a practice. What then is the true result of this single example of ancient France? why, surely, that if in that extensive and populous country, a country at all times capable of affording a great proportion of its population to the profession of arms, the government has nevertheless found it impossible to keep its word with the soldiery, it is wild and hazardous in the extremest degree to act upon the supposition, that in a country comparatively, limited in population, and that population called upon as it is to supply such an extent of manufactories, such a prodigious commercial marine, and a .navy which absorbs alone such numbers as bear no small proportion to the armies of the continent, it would be possible in all instances to keep faith with the soldier, if unfortunately this clause should pass into a law. That if we foresee the smallest probability of being driven by any necessity to a violation of our engagement, we ought not to enter into it: that we ought not to run after the example of France in her policy, at the risk of being obliged to imitate her bad faith, is surely not necessary to be argued in a. British house of commons. Having succeeded no better in his history from abroad than in precedent at home, the right hon. gent. has betaken himself, as usual, to analogy, and derives his analogies, as usual, from objects which at least amuse, if they do not enlighten. He admits in some degree the hazard of diminution to the army in the first instance, by keeping faith with the soldier; but this diminution is to be repaid with interest. He is not surprised that a colonel of a regiment, or the captain of a fine company of grenadiers should feel loth to part with any number of his men at the expiration of a limited period. Just so, says the right hon. gent., it goes to one's heart to thin a fine grove of young and growing trees, till we reflect that, by taking some away, the remainder will grow finer and taller. The right hon. gent. hardly needs be informed that this simile is not perfectly accurate, unless he means that the remaining grenadiers are to increase in height and corpulence in proportion as their comrades are removed. Still more unfortunate is the right hon. gent. in the field of turnips into which he has wandered, though led there by an apparently happy ambiguity of words, which might have misled a less ingenious speculator. Does not the drill husbandman hoe his turnips, says the right hon. gent.; and what should prevent the drill serjeant in like manner from hoeing his battalion? The remaining turnips thrive and swell—but here again unluckily is the same mistake of size for number; and I cannot help fearing, that the right hon. gent.'s system of husbandry will turn out nearly as unprofitable as that of the theorist, of whom the story is told in La Fontaine, who contrived to have nothing but the leaves of his turnips to carry to market. I very much fear that the right hon. gent., when, at the eve of any war, or in the middle of any campaign, he is fulfilling his engagements with the soldiers whose services are. expired, will find that he is depriving his battalions of all that forms their substance, their solidity, and their strength, and that what he suffers to remain will be comparatively but the leaves of the turnips. To this apprehension, however, the right hon. gent. opposes the confident persuasion that the men will not claim their discharge when due. The hon. colonel, to be sure, rather differs from his leader in this, as in other respects, and thinks. that they will; but he thinks, that being discharged, they will do a good almost more than equivalent to their military service, by instigating others to take the places which they have quitted, and that their precept will countervail their example. It would really be a great advantage to us in these debates, if the right. hon. gent. and his friend would argue a little more precisely as to their own objects, and would agree upon the expectation which they would wish us to entertain; especially when they are so eager in rejecting the imputation of theory, and desire to be considered as reckoning upon nothing which has not experience and example in its favour. But I am willing to take the hon. colonel's view of the subject as that which their own examples go nearest to establish. The Swiss, I presume, did return home at the expiration of their service; and that the prevailing habit in France was to claim the discharge which became, due, is fairly to be inferred; as well from the ordinance of 1788, as from what the hon. colonel has informed us of Marsha 5,728 words

Lords Sitting of 30 May 1806 Series 1 Vol. 7

  1. MINUTES. 238 words