§ THE DUKE OF NEWCASTLE
My Lord, I have to move—That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, to return Her Majesty the humble Thanks of this House for Her most gracious Message and to express the just Sense entertained by this House of Her Majesty's Care for the Security of the Country, manifested by Her gracious Declaration that she will call out and embody the whole or such part of the Militia of the United Kingdom as to Her Majesty may appear most expedient.
§ EARL GREY
My Lords, I do not rise with any intention of offering any objection to the Resolution, but at the same time I think we ought to know somewhat more of the intentions of Her Majesty's Government. It has been pointed out to me that if this measure shall be adopted in the manner that it is commonly thought it will be adopted, an act of very questionable justice will be done to some of those who have volunteered into the militia. One colonel of a militia regiment has mentioned his own particular case to me, and it seems worthy of consideration. Soon after the Act of 1852 was passed, when it was intended to embody the militia in the county to which this gentleman belonged, an attempt was made by a number of persons calling themselves the Peace Society, to prevent 313 men enrolling themselves in the militia, and the argument was, If you enrol yourself in the militia, it is true you are promised that you shall not be called out for duty except the country is actually in danger; but when you are once enrolled, those terms will not be adhered to, and the engagement you have contracted will be made more severe than you intended. The gentleman told me that this argument produced a considerable impression on the minds of many who would otherwise have volunteered, and that he attended a meeting, and told them they might safely volunteer for the militia, that the terms were defined by Act of Parliament, and there was no danger of those terms being departed from. This had a considerable effect in inducing them to enrol themselves. But his informant not unnaturally complained of the position in which he now found himself. He said—I advised these people to volunteer, because here was the Act of Parliament as a guarantee that they should not be called out unless under certain circumstances; and now comes another Act which takes away this guarantee and alters the circumstances under which their permanent services may be required. It is very hard upon these militiamen. The country came forward very handsomely upon the appeal made to it, and now, while they believed themselves to be secure of being called out only under certain circumstances and at 3s. a day, they are now exposed to be called out to service for a longer period than they had ever intended for only ls. a day.He (Earl Grey) did not know whether the complaint was well founded, but it appeared to be so; and, therefore, without in the least objecting to the militia being called out if the Government thought it fit, he did wish to know whether, as was usually the case when any changes were made in the regulations with respect to any portion of Her Majesty's forces, care was, in this instance, taken not to alter the terms of any engagement to the disadvantage of those who had entered into it? He should be glad to be informed whether, if the militia were to be called out as proposed, those men who had volunteered into it on the faith of a different engagement, and who might consider themselves aggrieved by this alteration in the terms of their enlistment, would have the option of retiring from the force when the period of their enlistment had expired?
§ THE DUKE OF NEWCASTLE
I cannot give my noble Friend the assurance that Her Majesty's Government contemplate any such extreme course as that he mentioned and recommended — namely, 314 that of allowing those persons who have volunteered under a former regulation to retire from the militia, if they state that they have an objection to serve under the Act that was passed two or three days ago; but it is the intention of the Government to meet the case in another way, which I hope will be satisfactory to your Lordships and to the noble Earl. For the first year your Lordships are aware that it is not intended to embody the whole of the militia force. At present it is the intention of the Government to embody a force of about 15,000 men; and those regiments will be selected who have expressed already their perfect readiness, and in some instances even their wish, moreover, to be embodied. It will not be necessary in some instances to embody whole regiments; and in that case leave of absence will be given to those who cannot from their vocations come forward, and those only will be selected who may be disposed to attend, so that no serious inconvenience, if any at all, will be felt. So far as we have at present the means of ascertaining, there is the greatest readiness on the part of those regiments that are intended to be called out to answer the call that we propose to make upon them.
§ THE EARL OF EGLINTON
inquired whether the Bill would apply to Scotland, or whether a separate enactment would be required?
§ THE DUKE OF NEWCASTLE
said, the object of the measure was just this:—the former Militia Act enabled the Government to have the militia embodied in time of invasion. Now, this power of embodying the force in the time of invasion did not, of course, meet the present case, and, therefore, a short Act was necessary to enable the Government to call out the militia under existing circumstances. Of course, the same power would be called for as regarded Scotland.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
said, he did not question the propriety of the intended measure, but he did think there was great force in the argument of the noble Earl (Earl Grey), that the proposed alteration should, as little as possible, have a retrospective bearing, and should not appear to involve any breach of faith to those who had volunteered into the force under somewhat different circumstances. The main principle, the fundamental principle, of the Militia Act of last year—and one which had been attended by the greatest success —was, that enlistment was entirely and 315 purely voluntary; and, in adopting such a measure, calling forth as it did a noble and patriotic feeling throughout the country, it was right that no one should have reason to suppose that men were entrapped into engagements different from those which had been laid before them at the time. From the explanation given by the noble Duke, however, he was almost in hopes that, although not technically and in terms, yet that practically the result attained would be an adherence by the Government to their original engagements. If he understood aright, although the noble Duke did not lay down the principle that persons who were unwilling to serve under the terms of the new Act should be absolutely free to do so or not, as they chose, yet the Government intended in the first instance only to select for embodiment those regiments which, as a body, were desirous of acceding to these conditions, and in whose case, therefore, the further embodiment would be equivalent to a voluntary act. Then, again, he understood that in the regiments thus selacted—each consisting perhaps of 900 or 1,000 men—if 500 or 600 were willing to serve when called upon under the new measure, it was proposed to give the remaining section an opportunity of being released from attendance. If that pledge were specifically given to the country, no injustice would be done, and in that case he should entirely approve of the course that was to be pursued. He hoped the noble Duke would further confirm what he had been understood to state already, and say that he (the Earl of Derby) had not misinterpreted what were the present intentions of the Government.
§ THE DUKE OF NEWCASTLE
You have not in any respect misinterpreted what I said. The only difference is that you stated it more fully and clearly than I did myself.
§ EARL GREY
thought that to adhere most scrupulously to good faith in those matters was a point of the greatest importance; for our whole system of enlistment for the Army, Militia, and Navy, and the success of the whole of the present arrangements, really rested upon this ground, that confidence should be placed in the State, and that under no circumstances should strict good faith be departed from by the State in its dealings with those who contracted with them. Hitherto this country had kept a high character upon that subject, and he was very glad to find 316 that nothing would be done on the part of the Government calculated to detract from that character in the eyes of the people.
§ Address agreed to, Nemine Dissentiente; and the said Address to be presented to Her Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.