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Army—Our Military Resources

Volume 203: debated on Tuesday 2 August 1870

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Question

wished to ask the Secretary of State for War to give some more precise information than he had done with regard to the supply of breech-loading rifles. In the statement made yesterday the right hon. Gentleman was reported to have said that there were 300,000 brooch-loading rifles in store, and that he had issued 61,000 to the Reserved Forces. Were all the Regular troops now armed with breech-loaders—were all the infantry not only in England, but in India and the Colonies, so armed? Were there breech-loading rifles for the Marines? He wished to know whether the 300,000 breech-loaders mentioned by the Secretary of State were in excess of what was required for the Regular infantry. He also wished to know whether the right hon. Gentleman intended to proceed immediately with the arming of the Volunteer forces with brooch-loaders. He considered that the Government was greatly to blame for not having taken steps months ago to arm the Volunteers. In saying this he was not referring to the present emergency; but surely if the Government had confidence in the Volunteers—and if they had not it was unlikely that they would submit Votes for them to Parliament year after year—that force ought to be supplied with weapons something better than more walking-sticks. It was also important that the House should have a correct estimate not only of the men, but the horses, guns, and stores that were available for the public service. Some people seemed to imagine that it was detrimental to the public service to ask for information on such points; but he had no doubt that every Government in Europe were as well, if not better, informed by means of their agents, of the state of our military affairs as the Gentlemen who were connected with the administration of the Army. Those who knew least about their own defences were the people of this country, He wished therefore to know whether the right hon. Gentleman would take stops to place the people of England in full possession of the necessary information about men, arms, horses, and so forth. The right hon. Gentleman was further reported to have said that our forces available for a foreign expedition amounted to 110,951 men. But if he really did say so, the assertion seemed to render his whole statement worthless, and he was, though doubtless unintentionally, misleading the country as to the condition of our military preparation. When we had only 90,000 regular troops at homo, a considerable portion consisting of depôts, to say that we could send 110,000 men abroad appeared to be an assertion not only incorrect, but so astonishingly wide of the truth that he could not understand how it could be made by a responsible Minister. This he know, that large deductions must be made from the forces on paper for the forces available. In France, out of about 600,000 men, leaving out the Garde Mobile and the National Guard, they were not able to put above two-thirds on the frontier. And yet in this country we were able to send on a foreign expedition forces much larger than the Regular Army. Then the House had been told that we had 105 batteries. Was he to understand that we had 105 batteries of field artillery and that those batteries were horsed? He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would explain all the circumstances of the case.

said, he believed that the purchase of horses for the belligerent Powers was going on in different parts of the country, and that in London at this very moment agents of both belligerents were at work endeavouring to obtain horses for their military services. He was told it was doubtful whether that could be brought within our neutrality laws; but an enactment of 16 & 17 Vict. enabled the Privy Council to issue an order restraining the export of any articles which might be required by ourselves for warlike purposes. He understood that the horses available for our cavalry had been largely reduced since the present Government acceded to Office. The other day, in one of our "crack" cavalry regiments, he found that, whereas within the last two years there were about 430 horses, they were now reduced to 300. Under these circumstances, he put it to the right hon. Gentleman whether he was likely to be able to remount our cavalry if the exportation of horses were allowed to go on at its present rate?

said, the Executive Government were the persons who should be able to judge what force ought to be kept up; but, as we could not compete in numbers with the large Armies of the Continent, our force, though small, ought to be most effective, according to its size, in every branch of the service. He asked, whether it was true, as was rumoured, that while there was a talk of arming the Volunteers with breechloaders we had at this moment some of our Regular troops armed only with the muzzle-loader?

said, he believed he spoke the sentiments of every Volunteer officer in the House when he said the men would not be satisfied if they were not allowed an opportunity of learning the use of the breech-loader. He hoped the Enfield rifle would be converted into the Snider, which was a better weapon than that adopted on the Continent. The conversion would cost only 10s. per gun, and the whole of our Volunteers might soon be furnished with those improved weapons.

The Snider, Sir, is the best breech-loader in the hands of any troops in the world, and every regiment of the Regular Army and also our Marines are armed with it; but, in speaking of the Regulars, I must except a por- tion of the force in India. According to a rule laid down by the India Office, as I stated the other night, when any regiment goes out from this country armed with the Snider, the reliefs go out without their weapons and get them when they reach India. With that exception, all our Regulars and Marines are armed with breech-loading rifles. As to the cavalry, at the end of 1856, when the reductions were made after the Crimean War, the cavalry regiments consisted of 470; they are now 483 of all ranks. The rank and file were 408; they are now 407. We had then 300 horses; we have now 300. But that was thought at that time too large an establishment, and when the great reduction occurred early in 1857 the numbers were 19 regiments, in each of which there were 412 of all ranks, and 326 rank and file, with 271 horses. On the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny the numbers were increased to 660 of all ranks; 529 rank and file, with 428 horses. This year we have not put them down to the point they stood at in 1857; but they are 483 of all ranks and 407 rank and file, with 300 horses. After that I hope we shall hear no more of the excessive reduction of the cavalry. As to the troops at home, the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. Sinclair Aytoun) calls me to account for saying that we could send to the Continent an expedition of 110,000 men and upwards. Now, I never made any such statement; and I should be much surprised if any other Gentleman had understood me to say anything of the kind. It was my duty, in giving an account of our comparative forces at various times, to state how many men in this country were under engagements which rendered them liable to serve abroad if called upon. I gave the numbers from the date of the reduction after the campaign of Waterloo down to the present time, and I showed that we had in this country at this moment twice as many men liable to serve abroad as we had when the Duke of Wellington was Prime Minister, and a larger number liable to serve abroad than we have had in any year since the reductions after the campaign of Waterloo, with the single exception of 1856, before the reductions had been effected after the Crimean War. That is the statement which I made yesterday; it is quite accurate, and I adhere to it. As to the force in this country, it is, according to the Adjutant General's Return at this moment between 82,000 and 83,000 men. That of which I spoke was the distribution of Regulars provided in the Estimates, which will be made up when the troops now under orders from the Colonies have returned. I gave them as being in 1870 89,051, as against 87,505 in 1868, and the Reserves as 21,900. I believe that is strictly accurate. I am asked whether the 105 batteries of artillery are all provided with horses. No, they are not. A considerable portion of them are garrison batteries. I have not said that we have 105 batteries of Royal Artillery all provided with horses; but that we have batteries and horses for an army of 60,000 men. I said that the guns are all horsed, and that all the horses that require to be trained are there. The draught horses for the waggons are not there. I said that to keep those draught horses was a larger provision than in times of profound peace a just sense of economy would justify. With regard to arming the Reserve with breech-loaders, it is hard that the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy should talk to me as if I desired to withhold breech-loaders from the Reserve Forces. I believe I began to give breech-loaders to the Reserve, and that what had been done when I came into Office—although if I am wrong on that I shall, no doubt, be corrected by the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir John Pakington)—was to arm the permanent Staff, and nothing beyond it, with breech-loaders. But we have distributed within the last two years more than 53,000 Snider breech-loaders to different regiments of Militia, arming, I think, 64 regiments, and we have also distributed over 7,000 Westley-Richards breech-loaders to the Yeomanry, making together 61,000; besides which we have also armed that useful force the Pensioners in a similar manner. Do not let the hon. Gentleman then come down and charge me with having refused breech-loaders to the Reserve. We do not take hundreds of thousands of these weapons and distribute them in an hour, but we proceed gradually, and I repeat that we are just beginning to arm the Volunteers with breech-loadors—notsuddenly thrusting them into the hands of every Volunteer, but acting according to rule, and thus putting that valuable force in a position to take its place in the defensive forces of the country. I have great pleasure in assuring the hon. Member for Kendal (Mr. Whitwell) that, although he is himself an active and efficient Volunteer, he cannot have a more earnest desire to see that force thoroughly efficient than I have. The hon. and gallant Member for Stamford told us we have not in store 20,000 breech-loaders. [Sir JOHN HAY: I said I understood so.] Well, when a Gentleman so likely to be well-informed on warlike matters as I must admit the hon. and gallant Member to be supposes that our store of breech-loaders, instead of being what it is—namely, 300,000—is short of 20,000, I hope the House will be so kind as to acknowledge that the statements which are sometimes made, and which may obtain currency in very eminent quarters, when touched with the spear of proof and put to the test of fact are really not entitled to credit. I make this appeal because I think it is a great public mischief that idle stories of this kind should obtain currency.

said, he wanted to know whether it was intended to supply the Volunteers with the Snider rifle before all the Militia regiments were supplied?

said, that the supply of the Snider to the Militia would be continued till all the regiments were armed with that weapon, and then Sniders would be gradually served to the Volunteers.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.