HC Deb 04 March 1878 vol 238 cc654-65

said, he had placed a Notice on the Paper of his intention to call attention to the great difficulties resulting from the attempt to supply both the Reserves in this Country and the Military Service in India by a uniform system of enlistment for six years; and to move— That the necessities of home defence and foreign service in this Empire require that there should be both a short service enlistment with a view to passing rapidly into the Reserve, without liability to service in India except in case of extreme urgency, and a long-service enlistment to supply seasoned and experienced soldiers for Indian service. He asked the Secretary for War what provision he proposed to make for the Service of India? He had frequently asked the same Question, and always got the same answer—namely, that no decision had been come to, or that the subject was under consideration, or that communications were going on about it. In fact, it was evident that nothing had been done, and it certainly appeared to him that India was not being fairly treated in the matter. When Lord Cardwell introduced his short-service system, in imitation of the system which had been so successful on the Continent, it was evident that there was one great difficulty in the Army—that whereas Continental Armies had only home service to provide for, we in England had to provide for a great Indian and foreign service. This undoubtedly was a great difficulty; yet they had proceeded to adopt the system without having faced and provided for the difficulty. In this matter the Government seemed to have been acting on the maxim of beati possidentes, of which they had heard so much of late. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would be prepared to say that the whole question was now in a fair way of settlement, because unless it was settled great injustice would continue to be done to our Dominion in India. He should like to ask his right hon. Friend to consider quietly and fairly what was the effect on India of the system of six years' service. Under the old system of enlisting soldiers for 12 years the average service in India was six years. What would it be under the new arrangements? It was part of the bargain with the Indian Government, for which a very heavy sum was paid, that a soldier should not be sent out immediately on enlistment or until after he had been drilled and made a capable soldier. With this drill, and with the time lost from the fact that immature boys were often enlisted who could not be sent out until they were 20, with the passage out and marching to their station, the men would have served nearer two years than one when they were finally settled. Then a proportion of the men would be comparatively old soldiers, men of three, four, and five years' service, who would soon be going home, and therefore the time of service remaining might be fairly calculated at three years on an average. A further reduction must be made for men who died, were invalided, or whoso constitutions were unfitted for India; and therefore he thought they might take it that two and a-half years' service was the utmost they could count on as the average service in India, under this enlistment. Every military man who had studied the subject knew very well that in the first year or two of service in India there was a great deal of sickness, and that men for some time were not accustomed to the climate, the manners, customs, and ways of the country and the people. It was not merely that men must be drilled, they must be seasoned to the climate and ready for the arduous campaigns to which men on service in India were exposed. But by this short-service system, just as men were fitted and seasoned for their work they came home, and therefore he thought a long-service system must be substituted if great injustice was not to be done. Besides, the system of short-service entailed great expense upon the Indian Government for transport which might very well be saved. The right hon. Gentleman the (Secretary of State for War intimated the other night that after the men had served their six years many of them were to be "taken on" for a further period; but that taking on was only to be obtained by volunteering, and he did not think the Government should trust to volunteering alone for a supply of efficient troops for India. It would be dangerous to wait until a time of emergency arrived; and it must be remembered that at the time of the Mutiny there was a serious strike, and the men refused the terms offered to them by the Indian Government. It was not, therefore, either safe, right, prudent, or fair to India to wait until the completion of the six years' service before recruiting for long service; but they ought to enlist at an earlier period a number of men sufficient for the service of India by giving them inducements sufficient to cause them to enlist for long-service. His own opinion was that not only upon Indian, but upon English grounds also, the men ought to be enlisted altogether for long-service or for really short-service. The present system was that they did not allow old seasoned soldiers to stay in India, but brought them home to serve in the Reserves. That plan was altogether fallacious and did not enable them to get the proper men for the Reserves. The class of men who went to India were not a class who were likely to return to civil life in England. Nothing so much spoilt a man for civil employment in England as soldiering in India; because in that country he was waited upon at every hand's-turn by Indian servants, and was consequently quite demoralized and rendered unfit for energetic work in this country on his return. It was said that we had adopted short-service in this country in imitation of the Continental system. But the Continental system was to pass the population through the Army. By that means they were able to maintain the Army at a moderate cost and to secure a large trained Reserve whenever it was wanted. Our system was just the contrary. We were maintaining a comparatively large Army while our Reserves were very small. He doubted very much whether the Government would ever get 50,000 men for the Reserves; and a single Army Corps would certainly not be adequate to our requirements, nor would it be following out the Continental system. It was said that we had an Army of 400,000 men. Half of them were Volunteers, and half of the remainder were the Militia—excellent men in their way, who would fight very well in defence of their hearths and homes; but who were neither seasoned nor efficient soldiers, fit to take the field against a substantial Army without far greater experience and training. Gallant as these men were, he was afraid we should have to go through great disasters before they would be fit to face one of the Continental Armies. There were in this country two classes of men who could be obtained as soldiers—men who disliked hard work, or civil work, but who were willing to become professional soldiers and to go to India; and men who did not wish to abandon civil life, but who were ready to take a good retaining fee and submit to the training necessary to make them soldiers and to render them available for the defence of the country. If they were to make the Indian Army efficient and the English Reserves efficient they must not attempt to keep up a uniform system of enlistment. Soldiering was a trade, which once learnt, a man never forgot, and, therefore, our aim should be to enlist a large proportion of the population for short-service, without any obligation to go to India, and so permit them to return to their civil avocations, for which they would then be well fitted. For the Indian Service, on the contrary, we should enlist men for long-service, say for 12 years, and should encourage them to volunteer to re-enlist for a further period at the end of that term. The plan he would suggest for adoption was this—First, to encourage the population by every means in their power to learn something of military drill. He would introduce drill into all their schools, and he would give every facility and encouragement to volunteering. He would further permit all soldiers to enlist for short-service—to serve only till they were efficient soldiers—without the obligation of going to India, and would require them on the expiration of their term of service to enter the Militia or the Volunteers, so as to leaven those Forces and give them a real military character. Next, he would suggest that after a year's trial terms should be offered adequate to induce a sufficient number of short-service men to enlist for long-service, with the liability and probability of being sent to India. Lastly, there should be a system of volunteering by which they might enable such men to continue service in India as chose to do so. Although he fully admitted that six, eight, or 10 years' service in India were enough for an average soldier, yet a considerable portion of the men who went to India became toughened and fit to serve for 15, 20, or even 30 years. He was unable by the Forms of the House to move his Resolution, but he hoped the Government would take into consideration the suggestions he had thrown out.


said, he made no complaint as to the different subjects which had been brought forward on the Motion for going into Committee of Supply, though it was somewhat of a disadvantage, when he would have to discuss these questions more or less on the Estimates, to be obliged to deal with them partially and disjointedly at the present stage. In regard to the speech to which the House had last listened, he had no desire to throw any imputation upon the universal knowledge of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell) on matters connected with India; but he must say that the hon. Member had misunderstood what had fallen from him (Mr. Gathorne Hardy) on a former occasion, in reference to the question of volunteering for service in India. Notwithstanding what had been said, he must declare, without hesitation, that volunteers for further service could be obtained in our great Eastern Dependency, where the service was most popular. A sufficient number of men could not, as he stated, be got to enlist for 12 years; but there was no difficulty in getting men to volunteer for a second six years' service, at the termination of their first six years. Men knew perfectly well what 12 years meant, and what six years meant. There was no doubt that service in India would always continue to be very popular; and he had, therefore, proposed, alike in the interests of India and of England, that the six years' system should be adopted. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy had tried to persuade them that the average service of men who went out to India was only two and a-half years; but those who had carefully inquired into the subject found that the average was nearly as long as before. It had been found disadvantageous on many grounds to keep men in India for long periods—eight years on the average, being the length of time during which they could serve there and maintain their health and fitness for service. He was speaking of the average run of men, and not of the exceptionally strong and efficient soldiers whom it was found advantageous to retain in the service of the country as non-commissioned officers. Now, under the proposal that volunteers should be taken in India, they would in no case have a shorter service than five years, whilst, in some cases, it would be as long as eight years. He thought that a very liberal proposal, because to some extent it did interfere with the Reserves. While he looked at India, and considered the responsibilities which this country had taken upon herself in reference to it, he could not forget that there was an England, and that there were Colonies and great Dependencies which required soldiers just as much as India did. They sent their trained levies to India, and retained at home what had been called "immature boys"—an epithet which he did not think was deserved. But then there were the Reserves. That was a very great difficulty, but it was not a difficulty of his creating. He had been told that the Reserves would not come up; but he had such confidence in the honour and good faith of Englishmen that he believed they would, and he was happy to say, that when called upon, they mustered within 2 per cent of the whole number expected to respond to the appeal, and presented an appearance which would have done credit to any Service. This was a highly satisfactory state of things in view of the fact that the men were scattered all over the country, and were, many of them, engaged in occupations which rendered it difficult for them to respond at once to an appeal that they should assemble themselves together. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy must not shut his eyes to the fact that the adoption of his proposal at home would mean nothing more nor less than conscription—a step for which he did not believe the country was prepared. As far as military training was concerned, it must be known to every hon. Gentlemen that drill formed part of the educational system pursued in almost all the schools in the country, and that when boys had left school, if they still liked a little soldiering, they had no difficulty in continuing their military training by joining the local Volunteer corps. But the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy, while proposing a system amounting to conscription at home, wished also that England should pension India as far as its Army was concerned. It would not be possible to take 12 years out of the life of a soldier in India without allowing him to serve on for a pension at the end of that period; and he would ask the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy whether he was prepared, on the part of India, to undertake that responsibility. There were, doubtless, many young men in the Indian Army, and there was also a certain amount of illness among the troops; but there must necessarily be illness among troops during the first years of their service in a climate like that of India, whether the whole period for which they had enlisted was a long or a short one. He could not but object further to the contention of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy, that men enlisted for service in India ought to remain there until they were unfit for service. They had been made soldiers in England at great expense; and while he admitted that the pressure of the expense bore heavily on India, he must submit, further, that England paid a larger proportion of the expense than she ought to be called upon to pay. He would not go further into that subject, as he did not object to continue paying what we now paid. The hon. Member, in another part of his speech, referred to the "white mutiny;" but this was a mutiny not of the English, but of the East India Company's European troops, brought about to a great extent by the adoption of the principle which the hon. Member seemed so much to admire. To adopt the proposal of the hon. Member would not secure either greater length of service or immunity from illness among the troops, and it certainly would not lessen the expense of the Army to the country. He was, at this moment, engaged in every possible investigation into that subject, because the India Office had its views as well as the War Office; and they were endeavouring to bring the subject to a conclusion satisfactorily to both parties, and he believed they would do so. When he came into office, he found the two Departments corresponding as if they belonged respectively to the Opposition and the Ministry, and they had come to a condition that made it seem almost impossible they should ever arrange fair terms with respect to the Army in India. He had endeavoured, and in some cases with success, to remove these difficulties. He entirely agreed with the hon. and gallant Member for Gal-way (Major Nolan), who had spoken on another question as to the character and ability of the non-commissioned officers in the Artillery. It was true that in 1871 a change was made in the mode of selecting adjutants for the Artillery, the Militia, and the Volunteers, and that the officers were said to have suffered loss by the change; but he did not think the loss had been as great as was anticipated. At any rate, it was not necessary then to inquire as to its precise amount. Then the hon. Member said the re-organization of last year had borne hardly upon them also. He thought it would be found this was not so, for though quartermasters had been taken away from some of the Militia Artillery regiments, they were going to be restored, and therefore those places would be again open. But in addition to that, the changes in the Commissariat and Ordnance Staff offered great inducements to the non-commissioned officers of the Artillery to take places for which they were specially qualified. He thought there would be a great deal more promotion than during the six or seven years preceding; and, indeed, looking back at the time since 1871, it would, he believed, be found they were now getting a good deal more promotion than they ever had before. With regard to the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Leitrim (Major O'Beirne), who had called attention to the brigade depots, he would say at once he did not feel that it was any part of his duty, in the present circumstances of brigade depots, to say that he thought that they had had a very full trial. They had come into operation gradually, and many were not constituted; and he thought it was open to question whether they had not been considerably over-officered. It was a question which deserved great consideration; but he was not at all wedded to the number of officers, though he thought it best not to begin on a scale very much different from that originally intended. It might turn out that they could do with fewer officers; but, with regard to paymasters, they formed part of the system originally intended by the localization scheme, and they would have the payment of the district—the Staff officers of pensioners gradually giving way to the paymasters, who would take up the duties hitherto performed by the Staff officers of pensioners. As to the cavalry colonels who had been appointed to brigade depots, they were few in number, and he thought it would be a strong measure to say that a Cavalry colonel was not to have the command of any of the depots. It should be remembered that Aldershot was very recently commanded by a Cavalry officer, Sir Hope Grant, and that General Scarlett was notorious for his knowledge of every branch of the service. Of course the Cavalry officers who were appointed were expected to do their duty, and if they did not they would be superseded; but all he could say was he had asked the opinions of officers of both services, and the opinion was that the duties were well discharged and that they gave satisfaction in every way. He next came to a very grave and large question, which had been opened with great moderation, and without expressing any definite opinions, by the hon. and gallant Member for Longford (Mr. O'Reilly). Let him say that the question of organization of the regimental ranks of the Line had not been neglected. They had endeavoured to make themselves acquainted with it, and though he agreed with the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Campbell Bannerman) as to the decision of a non-military man upon it, still he was obliged to form an opinion whether he should take the question up any further or not. He must form an opinion as to whether he was satisfied with the present condition of things. He, as a layman, was a sort of juryman. He heard the evidence on both sides, and he found his verdict to the best of his ability; and at present he found this verdict—that he was not prepared to look into this question of organization with a view to make those changes to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman had referred. He thought there was a great deal of confusion on this subject. There was a supposition that our Army was immensely over-officered in comparison with other nations. That was not the case to any extravagant ratio, though, in some respects, it was true. He found the number of officers to men in the English Army on the peace establishment was at the rate of 1 to 26, and on the war establishment 1 officer to 35 men. In Prance, on the peace establishment it was 1 to 24, and on the war establishment 1 to 64. In Germany, on the peace establishment, it was 1 to 28, and on the war establishment, 1 to 45. In Austria, on the peace establishment it was 1 to 27, and on the war establishment it was 1 to 52. In Italy, on the peace establishment it was 1 to 20, and on the war establishment it was 1 to 32—more officers than in the English Army. In America, on the peace establishment it was 1 to 17, and on the war establishment it was 1 to 28. If hon. Members looked into these figures, he thought they would see that the numbers had a great deal to do with the different circumstances as they had arisen in the different countries.


asked from what paper the right hon. Gentleman quoted?


said, it had been supplied to him. There would be no objection to the hon. and gallant Member seeing it. The hon. and gallant Member for Longford had said that he did not wish to interfere to diminish the officers; but he wanted economy, and they could not have economy without diminishing the number of officers.


said, he had no wish to diminish the number of company officers.


said, the hon. and gallant Member said—"If you had four companies instead of eight you would diminish the non-commissioned officers." Now, it was a most remarkable thing that in Germany, where they had the four-company system, the proportion of non-commissioned officers was enormous as compared with ours. There were 7 per cent non-commissioned officers in the English Army, as compared with 11.97 per cent in the German. In the foreign Armies the Staff officers were not taken away from the regiments, whereas in England, they were. In the foreign Armies there was a large number of civilians employed with respect to pay, feeding, clothing, and so on—duties which in England were attended to by officers; and when the officials connected with the German Army were counted, it would be found that the difference between the German and the English Armies was almost infinitesimal. It was one officer to 23.3 in Germany, and one to 22.5 in England. These figures tended to show that this question of officers was only one of distribution. The German model had been put forward in this matter, no doubt because of the great success which Germany had gained, and it had been supposed, no doubt, that that success was due to the company system adopted. He should like to give the opinion of Lord Napier of Magdala, who attended the German Manœuvres of 1876. He said— I saw nothing to lead mo to believe that the organization of the German company has any advantages over our own; on the contrary, I cannot hut believe that our company would ox-tend, diminish, or change its front quicker and more easily than the German company at its present war strength of 250 men, provided that the officers and men were equally efficient in both cases. But then another question was raised. The German Army was formed by conscription; therefore they had men of all classes, and they had men in the German ranks of a class not to be found in the English ranks—men of much greater intelligence, greater power of shifting for themselves. Our soldiers were taken from a class without much experience, and they would require leaders especially; and it would be found that, though English soldiers would go anywhere, they would need some heads wiser than their own and different from their own to carry them through the dangers which war brings. Therefore they ought not to place too much reliance upon this comparison with Germany. He knew that there were many German officers of great distinction who thought that their formation was a good deal too unwieldy; and they had, moreover, the testimony of Sir Garnet Wolseley on the same point. He hoped he would be excused going further into this subject at present; at all events, he hoped he had said enough to show that he was not neglecting it.


observed that the technical question had been recently discussed at the United Service Institute by a body of men well entitled to express an opinion upon it—namely, by a number of general and other officers, and they were unanimously in favour of maintaining the existing unit in the English companies. Further, they were of opinion that the new form of attack would in success result in confusion and in retreat would end in disaster.


said, that so far as he was acquainted with the plans proposed by the right hon. Gentleman to the India Office on the subject of the Indian Army he was in favour of it. He could not concur with his hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy in his suggestion as to a separate local army for India, or as to long-service for individual soldiers there. The evidence taken before the Committee of 1874–5 showed that the active efficient service of a soldier in India was little longer than seven years. If they adopted a long term of enlistment for India, it would have a very injurious effect upon their Reserves; while, on the other hand, the enormous expense to India of relieving the men every three or four years should be avoided. It might be avoided if each regiment for service in India were completed to its full strength of men engaged for a seven-years' term of service, which they might readily be by means of a small scale of bounty. At the end of the seven years the men would not be too old to serve in the Reserve.

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