HC Deb 16 May 1867 vol 187 cc672-86

said, he rose to call attention to the system of recruiting for the Army. The question was too large a one to be dealt with as a whole at that hour of the evening. He therefore proposed to confine his observations to one or two points upon which he hoped no serious difference of opinion was entertained. The House was about to be asked to grant a Vote for an increase of pay to the non-commissioned officers and men of the Army. The reason for this Vote was the difficulty of enlisting men in the service, and that difficulty might be attributed to two causes. First, the greater number of men required, owing to the large increase in the Queen's Army. Next, that owing to the Limited Enlistment Act many men left the army after the first period of their enlistment expired. It seemed amongst military authorities to be agreed that these men ought to be retained in the army, and the only question was how this result could be attained. Lord Strathnairn said, in his evidence before the Royal Commission on Recruiting— There is a great feeling among the men that their increased usefulness during their ten years' service is not acknowledged. I have heard that this is the case from officers of a benevolent disposition, who are in the habit of mixing a good deal and making themselves acquainted with their men—Colonel Dillon, for instance, of the 2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade, who was extremely liked by his men—and officers of that class. A very large number of men were coming home from India, 2,000, in the last year of my command. I inquired of Colonel Dillon and others what means they would suggest to induce these men to reenlist. Colonel Dillon said that the feeling among the men was not merely a mercenary one, but that they thought they had learnt a great deal, and had become much better soldiers and much more useful to the army during their ten years' service, and that that increase of utility was not in any way acknowledged. This was the universal feeling expressed by officers and also by the men. They felt that they were better men than the recruit who came from the farm and the plough, and yet they were not better treated. The Commissioners recommended that soldiers engaging for a second period of service should receive 2d. a day additional pay. He was afraid that the small amount of 1d. per day additional recommended by the Government to be paid to the time-expired men would scarcely induce them to re-engage. Captain West and other witnesses reminded the Commissioners that the employers of railway and other labour were anxious to get hold of these men and were prepared to offer larger wages. He would not dwell upon the painful features of our enlistment system more than he could help; but there was sufficient evidence to justify the belief that many recruits were more or less under the influence of drink when they were engaged. Captain Lake stated that men enlisting were more or less under the influence of drink. Sergeant Goddard, of the 23rd Fusileers, who had been eight years sergeant, gave strong evidence on this point, and it would be found even in the evidence of the Adjutant General himself. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman (Sir John Pakington) would establish some system under which the recruit would be less exposed to the influence of drink on enlisting. Another objectionable feature of the present system was enlistment under false pretences. The weight of evidence on this point was so strong as to be overwhelming. Mr. Goddard said he enlisted under the impression that he was to receive 1s. a day, that this amount was to go entirely into his own pocket, and that everything was to be provided for him. Those were the representations made to him by the recruiting sergeant. When he was out on the recruiting service himself he took in others in the same way, and said nothing about the deductions. That system of false representation, he added, was one great reason for discontent in the army. Dr. Nichols, surgeon of the Wiltshire Militia, who had had much experience, and who had taken great interest in the subject, said he had often come in contact with men who, having enlisted for ten years, had declined to re-engage for a subsequent period of eleven years to complete their service for pension. He invariably asked the reason, and in nearly every instance they spoke of being swindled out of their pay for necessaries, being told that they would get 13d. a day, when they got nothing like it. They said— In every instance, if they had got the whole of their necessaries, the shell jacket and blue trousers, and had a stated sum of par, 4d., 5d., or 6d., a day, they should have been perfectly content with it, but that the present system of stoppages for shell jacket and for blue trousers, and for this, that, and the other, they very much object to. The same answer was given over and over again. He (Mr. Whitbread) would here protest against the manner in which it was proposed to expend the public money. The increase of 2d. a day to the pay of the soldier had, he feared, been too nearly promised to be now withheld. But the real grievances under which the soldier laboured were the stoppages. There was but little, if any, complaint about the insufficiency of the pay, and as long as these stoppages remained untouched the real grievance continued unredressed. The addition of 2d. per day would not satisfy the men so long as they felt they were liable to deception on that score. The additional 2d. a day might be an additional weapon in the hands of the recruiting officer; but it would not get rid of the fact of deduction of the 12s. for the fatigue jacket. The soldiers examined did not complain of insufficient pay, they complained of stoppages for these necessaries. The men, in fact, said that recruits had been so humbugged that the recruiting officer would not be believed. Captain West, of the Grenadier Guards, said in reply to a question that he supposed the sergeants, when asked whether the whole 1s. a day would be received, made the best story they could. Brigadier General Campbell said that under such a system only the refuse of the population enlisted. It was on all hands confessed that men were induced to enlist by false representations made to them by the recruiting sergeants. In fact, the whole system was founded on deceit that would not be tolerated for a moment in the case of a private employer. If men were induced to enter the service of a firm by the grossest and most systematic misrepresentation as to their pay and other matters, and if the law nevertheless insisted upon their adhering to the service in which they had engaged, the outcry would be loud and general. It was no answer to say that such a condition of things was demanded by the exigencies of the State. He could see no reason which should prevent the Queen's service from being conducted on principles of ordinary fairplay and honesty. The time would come when it would no longer be thought right, necessary, or politic to trick men into the service, trusting to the strong arm of the law to retain them there against their will. It might be necessary to keep the power of retaining men in the army; but one of the evils resulting from the possession of such a power was that they were relieved from any necessity of consulting either the wishes or the interests of the men. It would soon, he believed, be found necessary to make the service attractive. If men had been free to leave the service, many of these evils would have been swept away. He knew there were many officers working hard to improve the condition of the soldier; but the very power of compelling men to remain in the service under any circumstances relieved them from the necessity of considering the grievances of the soldier. It was not a mere question of money, though they might so dwarf the military spirit of the country as to make it so. At present the Volunteer movement was a standing protest against the military spirit being wanting in the country. No one would pretend that it was a mere question of money with the officers, and if a military spirit existed in the higher ranks of society why should it be supposed that no such spirit could be found among those lower in the social scale? It was frequently the boast of Englishmen that their army was founded upon a voluntary system; but when a soldier was tricked into an engagement, and then held relentlessly to only one side of his bargain, was there much foundation for the boast? The term of service was exceptionally long, so long indeed that it consumed the most valuable portion of a man's life. The laws by which the soldier was held to his bargain were exceptionally severe. It followed, in common justice, that the terms of his engagement should be fully explained to him before enlisting. To obviate these evils he thought it would be advisable, as pointed out in the second part of his Resolution, to give a fair trial to the system of enlistment by training schools—a system which had been so successful when applied to our navy. He proposed that a boy should be taken at the age of sixteen—that being the extreme age of entry allowed in the case of the navy—and trained for a year and a half, by which time he would be thoroughly competent to perform the duties of a soldier. The cost of that training had been estimated at £30 a year. He did not believe, however, that the expense would exceed £25. Thus at an expense of £45 the recruit would be fitted to enter the army. He would go in with a good education, a thorough knowledge of drill, and possessed of much other information which it would be impossible to get in the ordinary recruit. He trusted that as the right hon. Baronet (Sir John Pakington) knew how well the naval schools worked, that he would, at least, give similar schools a fair trial in the army. The Artillery and Engineers would prove the most favourable field for the experiment, as they came more directly in competition with trades demanding skilled labour. The evidence of Colonel Collingwood Dickson upon this subject showed that it took from a year and a half to two years to make a gunner. But the recruit might be trained as a boy, of course with instruments fitted for his size and strength, and would make a much better soldier than if left out in the world till he was eighteen. Boys were found to improve in the navy at a most astonishing rate. It was on all bands admitted that the best soldiers were made by the sons of other soldiers, and that the system he proposed would be esteemed a great boon by the fathers in the service. The authorities in the navy demanded a boy's character before he was admitted to the school. Could such a thing be thought of in the army under the present system? In the navy boys were taken at an age before they began to earn their livelihood. They were taken with the consent of their parents or friends, and were bound to serve for ten years at the close of their school term. In the navy the trained boys were made ambitious by their education, and they sought the post of non-commissioned officers, while he had heard that in the army the greatest difficulty was experienced in getting those positions filled. The experience of those who had studied the working of the school system went to show that not only was the individual recruit improved, but that a better class was attracted to the service. He believed the same result would be found to follow the introduction of a similar system in the army. Some important evidence was given before the Commission by the highest authority, which he would read. The Commander-in-Chief had given answers to Questions bearing on the subject as follows:— Your Royal Highness must be aware that the mode of recruiting for the army at present is not the most creditable which might be observed in inducing young men to enter the service?—No. Could your Royal Highness suggest any mode of improving that system?—I think that it would be impossible. With the volunteer system you must get the men where you can find them. Of course if you can get a better class of men so much the better, but our experience has not proved that we can do so; and therefore my fear is that do what you will you must take what you can find, whether it is exactly what you wish or not. And even though you wish it you cannot be very particular as to the place in which you recruit?—No, I do not think that you can help that. Is your Royal Highness aware of the mode which the Admiralty have now adopted for supplying men into the navy?—Yes, by means of training up boys. Does your Royal Highness think that system could be applied with success to the army?—It is one of those points upon which it is very difficult to give an opinion, because the system has hardly been tried; but I think that it would be a very desirable thing to try it, if we could. I will give an instance, however, in which that system is employed as regards one regiment—namely, the Ceylon Rifles. I believe that in the Ceylon Rifles there is a class of boys, Malays and others, natives, who are trained up as boys, and they are now the chief means of supplying that regiment, and though it is not sufficient for their full strength, still, as far as it goes, I understand that it answers admirably, and I understand that almost all their non-commissioned officers come from that class who have been educated as boys. These answers bore out what he had advanced. The only case in which the system had been tried had proved successful. The House would acknowledge the degradation to which the present system of recruiting had brought us. He trusted that permission would be given to try, to a small extent, and at the moderate expense which would be incurred in establishing two or three schools, the plan he advocated. He felt sure that, as soon as it had been in work sufficiently long to exhibit its merits, demands would come from all sides of the House for its further extension.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the terms of the service into which they are about to enter should be fully explained to all recruits before enlistment; and that having regard to the success which has attended the system of Training Schools for the Navy it is desirable to give trial to a similar plan for obtaining Recruits for the Army,"—(Mr. Whitbread,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


The views of the hon. Member are always worthy of consideration, and never more so than when they are directed to the subject of the Report of the Commission, upon which he was a very active and useful member. I hope the hon. Member will allow me, considering how necessary it is that I should take the Vote for which I propose almost immediately to ask, to refrain from discussing a subject as large and important as the present system of recruiting in the Army. I would say, however, that I have never seen a Report of any Commission which appeared to me to embody more important matter in comparatively limited space than that to which the hon. Member referred. I am also bound to say that of all the important matters which come before me for consideration in connection with my official duties there is none which receives more anxious attention from me than that which urges me to effect some improvement in the present system of recruiting. I am afraid that system is open to serious objections, and that it is carried on in such a way as to produce a demoralizing effect upon men exposed to it. I therefore quite agree with those who think that a material improvement should be introduced into the system. But, though I was much struck with the extracts the hon. Member read from the evidence taken by the Commission, I must repeat the question is a very large one, and far too important for me to enter upon to-night, so that I hope the hon. Member will accept my assurance that I will give most earnest attention to the subject. But I must say a word or two upon the immediate objects which the hon. Gentleman has in view. These are two. The first is that the terms of the service in which recruits are about to enter should be fully explained before enlistment. Sir, it is impossible for any one to question the justice of this proposition. It is equally impossible to hear without deep regret upon such authority as that of the hon. Gentleman of the deceptions systematically practised on recruits by those whose duty it is to enlist them. The hon. Gentleman must admit that these deceptions are not sanctioned by authority, and that it is the duty of the magistrate before whom the attestation takes place, to see that the recruit is fully informed of all the circumstances under which he has been enlisted. This is what ought to be done, and we are bound to take care in any reformation of the system that some effective means for procuring this end is adopted for the future. The other portion of the question raised refers to the important matter of training. The hon. Member has referred to the navy as an example worthy to be followed. I entirely agree with him that it is impossible to speak too highly of the good effects which have been produced in the navy by that system. The great improvement which has taken place in manning the navy arises from two causes. One the continuous service system, the other the system of training boys. The system in force in the navy is this. Boys are entered in training-ships at the early age of fourteen or fourteen and a half and kept there till they are sixteen years of age. At that age they are supposed to have finished their education and are sent on board a man-of-war, and, rated as boys, become part of the ship's crew. At eighteen they are regularly enrolled and treated as men, and enter on their period of continuous service. I could easily point out, in private conversation, the great difficulties which must arise if we attempted to introduce into the army boys at such a very early age. [Mr. WHITBREAD: At sixteen.] The hon. Gentleman proposes to get over the difficulty by not entering boys in the military schools until the age of sixteen. I confess it appears to me an entirely different thing to take a boy at the age of fourteen and-a-half years, put him into a ship, which is, in fact, a school, and treat him as a boy, and to take what I may almost call a young man of sixteen and begin with him an educational course. The two things can hardly be likened the one to the other. A boy at sixteen years of age is too young for the army, and it would not be easy to know what to do with him. But at the age of sixteen he is too old to be subjected to the ordinary educational process for the first time. As to the question of expenditure, the hon. Member did not enter into detail on the point. Expense must, of course, be a serious consideration. But if we have before us any practical plan, promising great advantages, the cost of that plan must, if possible, be met. I am afraid it is impossible for us to close our eyes to the fact that the further we go with improvements in accordance with the system of the present day, the more difficult it must be to carry on that new system on the old scale of expenditure. If, however, such schools could be established as the hon. Member contemplates, and the system placed upon a footing acceptable to Parliament and the country, I have no doubt whatever that in the army, as in the navy, we should obtain a valuable class of recruits—far superior to any we now possess. Before any Estimates are prepared for another year I should, therefore, be prepared most carefully to consider the whole question, and should be glad to confer with the hon. Member, and to receive the benefit of any suggestions he may be disposed to offer. Under these circumstances, I hope, as I have already explained, that the hon. Member will not think it necessary to press his Motion. I cannot dissent from his Resolution, but some time must be allowed in order to consider what will be the best way to carry out the object contemplated.


said, he could not accept the arguments advanced by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War as reasons why the hon. Member (Mr. Whitbread) should not proceed with his Resolutions. The right hon. Gentleman appealed to his hon. Friend to withdraw his Motion on the ground that the question of Recruiting for the Army was one of such importance that it was impossible to discuss it that night. But whilst he said that, he wished the Resolution to be withdrawn in order that the House might enter upon the discussion of a matter which was of equal importance—namely, the plan for forming an army of reserve. Any one who had read the Bill referring to this scheme must acknowledge that the Supplementary Vote about to be asked for could not be given to the right hon. Gentleman without great discussion. The question of Recruiting for the Army was so serious that it was absolutely necessary an opinion should be expressed by the House, as soon as possible, deciding whether it was prepared to continue the present system or sanction the principle contained in the Resolution of the hon. Member. They would soon have to decide whether they would allow their military organization to go on in the complicated manner in which it was at present conducted, or whether they were prepared to adapt it to the requirements of modern science and the wants of the times. The system now in vogue was very defective. As soon as the question which at present impeded all legislation was disposed of, another important reform, that of our whole military system, must engage attention. He held that the right way was to begin at the beginning—namely, to improve the system of recruiting. Till this was done the morale of the army could never be improved. We boasted of our system of voluntary enlistment. But it was nothing better than kidnapping. Young men were caught hold of in a state of semi-intoxication. The evidence taken before the Commission abundantly proved that false expectations were created, and that in the bargain into which they entered the real conditions of service were never put before them. He confessed that the 2d. a day extra which was proposed to be given to the recruits was beginning at the wrong end. It would be much better to accumulate this, and give it to the man, say after he had served ten years, as an encouragement and reward for his services. The stoppages from the pay of soldiers for the payment of necessaries was also a grievance that would require to be remedied if they hoped to improve the army. He would suggest that the Resolution relating to the treatment of recruits should be adopted by the House, but that that relating to the training schools should be withdrawn.


said, he could not vote for the Resolution of the hon. Member, because he did not beheve it was strictly true. He was convinced that the great mass of the men who entered the army knew that they were not to receive the entire 1s. a day, though they might not be aware of the extent of the stoppages. There might be some rare cases in which men were entrapped, but those cases were the exception, for many who enlist do so at the instigation of friends who are soldiers and well know what they have themselves received, and all volunteers from the militia cannot possibly be ignorant and enlist with full knowledge of the facts. As to the schools proposed by the hon. Gentleman the question was one of expense. Such schools might make good non-commissioned officers, but they never could supply the army with a sufficient number of recruits. It was absurd to suppose that they could supply an army of from 60,000 to 120,000 men with recruits. At present there were two training schools—one at the Phœnix Park, Dublin, and one at Chelsea. It was a remarkable fact that the great mass of the young men who had been educated there did not go into the army at all. He hoped, as the army had understood they were to have the 2d. a day, that it would now be given to them. It might certainly have been better to have an higher scale of pay given to them when re-enlisted for the second time, in order to increase the inducements offered to them for re-enlistment; but, at all events, he hoped that Parliament would not break faith with them upon this point. The breaches of faith of the most glaring character which occurred in the army as to pensions deterred men who had served from re-enlisting more than anything else. It had been said the materials of the army had been found in the dregs of the population, and he could not but feel indignation at the reiteration of such an assertion. He totally denied it. Many men in extreme poverty joined the army, but they were not the worst conducted members of the population. It was an acknowledged fact that there was less crime in the military than in the civil population of the country. If they would compare the amount of crime in any manufacturing town with the amount of crime in any regiment or number of regiments in the army, the result would be to the advantage of the military. He had had much experience both of the regular troops and the militia, and their conduct did not entitle them to be branded as the dregs of the population.


said, that when he used the words "dregs of the population" he merely quoted from the evidence of a general officer of the army before a Committee.


said, that it was now evident that we could get any number of men we required for the small additional pittance of 2d. a day which had been promised. When it was said that men were kidnapped into the army it would only have been fair to show that the ten years', or expired service men were generally disinclined to re-engage, because these men must have discovered the stoppages to which they were liable, and the inconveniences which were constantly being referred to. With the promise of increased pay they could now get any number of men, and for the first time in his recollection the brigade to which he belonged was considerably above its strength. It was only natural that increased pay should have the effect of making men more anxious to remain in the army. Soldiers should be treated like other people, and have faith kept with them as honestly. Soldiers, like other men, liked to have as much money as they could get. If we wanted to get a man to continue to serve us in any capacity, it would not do to tell him he must go to Church on Sunday, and offer him no other inducement. No; if we wanted him, we must offer him a little more money. The soldier understood what was for his advantage. It was found that the subscribers to the military libraries were the vast majority of the men in a battalion. It would not be creditable to the House of Commons if they did not keep faith with the army in respect of the extra 2d., which he was amazed the men were so ready to accept.


said, that the soldier had derived much benefit from the regimental canteen system, both as regarded the price and the quality of the articles with which he was able to supply himself in the canteen. Since those canteens had been established, in many regiments the cost of messing for vegetables and other additions to the soldiers' rations had been reduced from 1d. to ½d. daily. Notwithstanding the reduction in price, the articles had been better in quality and more abundant in quantity than they were before. He entirely concurred in the spirit of the Resolution of the hon. Member, but he trusted that the hon. Member would not press them to a division, as they might be misunderstood by the soldiers. If the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War gave his assurance that the spirit of the Resolutions would be carried into effect, it would be better that they should be withdrawn for the present.


said, he thought that the system was almost as bad, as regarded the men, as it could be. An immediate alteration was called for in the interest of the army. A man should understand upon enlistment what he was to receive. The question of stoppages was carefully kept in the background. Until that was changed we should not get the class of recruits we wanted.


I think the hon. Member (Mr. Whitbread) has some reason to complain of the refusal of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War to enter on this occasion into a discussion on the subject of recruiting. We are about to be asked to vote in favour of an alteration which will entail an annual charge upon the country of £400,000 in the shape of increased pay. The ground upon which this sum is asked for is the difficulty that now exists of obtaining recruits for the army. It is the bounden duty of the House of Commons to discuss the question of recruiting, and if ever there is a fit time to discuss that question it is when we are asked to assent to an increase of the burdens of the country. It is very true, as we have been told by hon. Gentlemen opposite, that the question has reached a stage in which we have very little option left us. This offer of 2d. a day was made by the Government two or three months ago, and from the time it was made until the present hour we have never had an opportunity of discussing the subject. Of course, the proposal of the Government has been made known throughout the army, and were we to reject that proposal now, we should incur the risk of exciting misunderstanding and discontent in the army. Still, I do not think that this is a matter that the House of Commons can pass over without notice. If we cannot discuss questions of this nature what control will this House exercise over the expenditure of the money it votes? It is natural that the army should come to the conclusion that the money has been promised. I think it is possible that this 2d. a day may be the most profitable manner for obtaining recruits, in which nearly £500,000 could be expended. But it does not follow that because this plan will obtain more recruits, that it is the best which could be adopted for that purpose. I think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Captain Vivian) was misunderstood by those hon. Gentlemen who suppose that he objected to this proposal to expend 2d. a day. What I understood the hon. and gallant Gentleman said was that the 2d. a day would be a very small boon to the men whose time was nearly out. The men who were about to leave the army would doubtless prefer that something should be done for them in the way of an increased pension. With regard to the first Resolution of the hon. Member, I do not see why we should not agree to it. All he asks is that some concise printed statement of the terms of his service should be presented to the recruit on enlistment. My impression was that the Horse Guards and the War Department were prepared to adopt such a proposition. I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman what is to be the course of business for the remainder of the Session? I understand he is anxious to take a Vote for the extra pay of the soldiers, and I see no reason why there should be any delay on the part of this House to agree to that Vote. I think, however, that the extra pay of 2d. a day promised to the militia is open to much more discussion than the increase in the pay of the army. The last item in the Estimates, that of £50,000 to the Volunteers and militia who shall join the army of reserve, will open up the whole question of the army of reserve, which it would be impossible to discuss to-night. I therefore suggest that perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would be satisfied by taking a Vote for the extra pay of the army, and, if he likes, for that of the militia, leaving that affecting the army of reserve until a future occasion.


said, that the noble Marquees had complained of the want of an opportunity of discussing the question. But notice had been given by him in March last that a Vote would be asked for. The noble Marquess had full knowledge that it was intended to give additional pay to the soldiers of the regular army of 2d. a day as a substitute for the quarter of a pound of meat and the shell jacket, which was recommended by the Royal Commission, whose proposal would be equally applicable to the recruit and to the old soldier. The Secretary for War was charged with beginning at the wrong end in offering 2d. a day extra pay to the soldier, because the old soldier would not get any greater benefit by it than the recruit. But, in truth, the 2d. was merely substituted for other advantages by which the old soldier and the recruit were equally to have benefited. He saw no objection to the first part of the Resolution, but he did not think the hon. Member would be inclined to press the second. He should be most happy if the extra pay could be supplemented by doing away with the stoppages. It must be recollected that the soldier could not strike as other people did, and that they could not even ask for an increase of pay. It was therefore the duty of the right hon. Gentleman to do all he could for the soldier, and the present proposal would meet with general approbation.


said, that after what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet (Sir John Pakington), he should not press the second part of his Resolution, but he hoped that the first part would be agreed to.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Another Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the terms of the service into which they are about to enter should be fully explained to all Recruits before enlistment,"—(Mr. Whitbread,) —instead thereof.


said, that it would be impossible for him to divide against the first part of the Resolution of the hon. Member, with the principle of which he entirely concurred. That part of the Resolution, however, only touched upon one part of a very large question, which, he confessed, he should have preferred should have been considered as a whole. He was prepared to adopt the suggestion of the noble Lord, and to take a Vote for the extra pay of the army and the militia only. He was sorry that the noble Lord (the Marquess of Hartington) should think he had ground of complaint, because he (Sir John Pakington) had been desirous as far as he could to consult the convenience of the House.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That the terms of the service into which they are about to enter should be fully explained to all Recruits before enlistment,