HC Deb 21 July 1870 vol 203 cc692-7

Bill, as amended, considered.


said, that some of the most experienced officers were of opinion that the Secretary of State ought not to have the power of putting into the Reserve men who had served only three years in the artillery, the cavalry, and the engineers. They thought the period should be extended to seven years. He concurred in that opinion, and, therefore, he begged to move, in Clause 4, line 25, to leave out "Army service," and insert—"the infantry, and seven years in the cavalry, artillery, and engineers."

Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 25, to leave out the words "Army service," in order to insert the words "the infantry, and seven years in the cavalry, artillery, and engineers,"—(Colonel Barttelot,)—instead thereof.


said, he hoped the House would adhere to the decision they had come to in Committee. The hon. and gallant Gentleman having been defeated when he brought forward a somewhat similar Motion in Committee now attempted to go still further. In Committee the hon. and gallant Gentleman moved five years.


said, that the figure five got into the Amendment instead of seven, owing to the mistake of one of the clerks.


said, that at all events the Committee decided against five years, and now the House was asked to adopt seven years. The proposal in the 4th clause was not one to fix the time the soldier should serve, but the minimum of time at which it would be competent to the Secretary of State to remove him into the Reserve if he were not further required for active service. At present the soldier was enlisted for 12 years, or as long within that period as Her Majesty might require his services. After the Indian Mutiny it became necessary to considerably reduce the Army, and no one could forget the moral effects which resulted from throwing a large number of men out of employment. The proposal in the Bill was one in the interest of the soldier and of the nation, because it enabled the Secretary of State to place in the Reserve soldiers who had served for three years. He was astonished that hon. and gallant Gentlemen who had the interest of the soldiers at heart should oppose such a proposition. No doubt it took a longer time to train a cavalry, artillery, or engineer than an infantry soldier; but that had nothing to do with the proposal. What he said was this—that it would be far better, both for the soldiers and the public, that the Secretary of State should have power to put the men into the Reserve than, as had been done in former instances, that they should be suddenly disbanded and turned out upon the country without any provision whatever. He trusted that the House would adhere to the decision which it had already arrived at.


said, the right hon. Gentleman was under an entire misapprehension as to the views of hon. Gentleman on the Opposition side of the House. Those hon. Gentlemen did not wish to place any difficulty in the way of increasing the Reserve; but what they protested against was the short period of enlistment. The men should be enlisted for 10 or 12 years, and then, if it were necessary, every facility should be given them to leave the active Army at any time, and to pass into the Army of Reserve, their places in the active Army being filled by recruits. The right hon. Gentleman had got rid of a great many more soldiers than he was likely soon to get in the Army of Reserve. He had got rid of 23,000 men in the course of two years, and he (Sir Percy Herbert) wished to know if the country would not give a great deal, under the circumstances of the present moment, to have those men back again. At the present moment — and he challenged contradiction on this point—we were without a single battalion which was fit for service, or fit even to form part of our Army of Occupation for Belgium. ["Oh!"] He was quite prepared for those cries. But perhaps hon. Gentlemen were not aware that we were bound by honour and by our treaties to ensure the neutrality of Belgium, and to defend her against aggression. Had not every one seen in the papers the demand addressed by the French Government to Belgium, whether it was able to defend its neutrality, and did they suppose that the French or the Prussian Government, either of which was equally suspicious, would have asked such a question if there were a corps of 25,000 British soldiers occupying the line of the Scheldt, without menace, but with a determination to uphold the Treaty? The present Government was mainly the same as that we had 16 years ago. He repeated, what was matter of notoriety, that many impartial men were of opinion that it was owing to the character of the late Earl of Aberdeen and the right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government that the Crimean War had broken out. For the Emperor of Russia and his Minister could not believe, after the speeches that had been made, that the British Government would ever go to war. He warned the Government not to be too sure that the same thing would not occur again. A very pacific Government, which took every step and precaution to prevent its country from being in a fit state for defence was the very Government of all others which was likely to force a manly nation like England into war. Other nations knew the unprepared state of such a country, and placed affronts upon her which they would never venture to offer under other circumstances. Our regiments now mustered only 500 on paper; on parade they did not average 300, and if we were to send 25 battalions into Belgium to-morrow they would not average more than 300 each. He would, therefore, support the Amendment.


said, he wished to see England with a good Army of Reserve; but he did not wish to see that Army created at the expense of the regular Army. He was surprised the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War had not taken a hint from the late Division on this subject. Every military roan who had supported him with regard to the line, had voted against him when it was a question that concerned the cavalry and artillery. The opinion of the Army was most decidedly against the Bill.


implored the House to discuss this measure wholly apart from the question of war, and to discuss it only from a national point of view. We had a perfect right to discuss the great question of the organization of our Army, or the creation of a Reserve Force wholly independent of any circumstances that might exist abroad. He regretted extremely to have heard an eminent British soldier (Sir Percy Herbert) whom they all respected, and whose distinguished services had been of so much value to his country, declare that there was not a single battalion of the British Army which was fit for protective services, and he hoped that it was not a well-founded statement; but he hoped the whole question would be discussed calmly, and wholly apart from those circumstances which they all deplored, but in which they had no part, and in which they intended to take no part.


said, he would not allude to the question of war or no war; but he would like very much to know whether the officers of the Royal Artillery, who were competent to form a sound opinion upon such a matter as this, had been at all consulted as to the short period of enlistment which was proposed under it. From the time he had served in the Royal Artillery, he was led to believe that anything short of seven years' permanent service would reduce that branch of the profession to an utter nullity.


held that the special services of the Army should be dealt with distinctly from the line. What he and those who thought with him decried was that a matter which involved the success of the Army should be left to the option of any Secretary of State. With reference to his own corps, the Engineers, he knew, as a matter of fact, that the force at Chatham was for three years under instruction. Nominally it was for a year and a-half; but, from one cause or another, in practice it came to this—that the force of Engineers was three years under instruction. If, therefore, this Bill were put in force, the whole time of the Engineers would be spent practically under instruction.


believed that the point which hon. and gallant Gentlemen wished to see carried out could be effected by the Bill.


said, that if the Amendment were negatived the material of cavalry regiments would be entirely destroyed, for it was impossible to make a soldier in three years. The right hon. Gentleman wished to have power to discharge soldiers in case of a war coming to a sudden termination; but that power he had already under Acts which he had stated would remain in force. Those, however, were the very men who ought not to be turned away when they were approaching the close of their service. He trusted the House would accept the Amendment.


said, the Bill had two objects in view. One was to increase the power of enlistment, the other was to form an Army of Reserve. He believed the Bill was calculated to effect both objects. The Bill did not limit the power of the Secretary of State for War, nor require him to discharge troops; but it only enabled him to do so if he found the men were ready to be discharged into the Reserve.


said, no one disputed that more men would enlist under the Bill; but the question was, whether they would be worth having after they had got them. The opinion expressed by cavalry officers was decidedly to the effect that cavalry soldiers in an Army of Reserve would be of little use.

An Hon. MEMBER said, that if men were enlisted for so short a period as three years, power would be taken out of the hands of commanding officers to promote young hands to be non-commissioned officers, and which would have the effect of weakening the regiment. The power was not to refuse men going into the Reserve; but what was wanted was to make a man a perfect soldier and then let him join the Reserve.


said, that hon. and gallant Gentlemen opposite seemed to think that it was the intention of his right hon. Friend to dismiss every soldier, whether infantry or cavalry, at the end of three years. As one who had served Her Majesty, he should take exception to any such provision; but there was no such intention in the Bill. Soldiers would be enlisted, as before, for a period of 12 years; but circumstances might happen which would render it-desirable to dismiss a large number before that period had expired, and by this Bill his right hon. Friend would be able to release them on paying them a small retaining fee instead of being obliged to disband and dismiss them them without making any payments. If hon. and gallant Gentlemen understood that, they would not oppose this clause, which would be very advantageous to the soldier.


said, he would not take upon himself the responsibility of voting against the Amendment at this juncture, as it was supported by so many hon. and gallant Members, who had a practical knowledge of the subject.

Question put, "That the words 'Array service' stand part of the Bill."

The House divided:—Ayes 124; Noes 79: Majority 45.

Bill to be read the third time Tomorrow, at Two of the clock.