HC Deb 03 March 1879 vol 244 cc26-37

, in rising to move— That this House, having regard to the response made by the Men of the First Class Army Reserve when called out last year, is of opinion that that Force should be increased by at least 10,000 men during the present year, with a view to a reduction of the Army Estimates; said, there was probably never a year in which the Army Estimates were a matter of greater concern and importance to the country. During the last nine or ten months the War Office had had heavy, and sometimes sudden, demands made upon it for troops for different parts of the globe almost at the same time; and, unfortunately, all these demands had been made at a period when the state of trade and commerce of the country had been depressed to an extent almost unknown in the experience of hon. Members. The steady way in which the ordinary Army Estimates went on increasing year after year was very alarming. In the last five years the increase had been no less than £2,500,000. It was clear that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer came down to submit his Budget he would have to propose considerable additions to taxation; and, in his opinion, all true economists who really desired to effect a reduction in the Expenditure ought to examine carefully that which was the great spending Department of the State—namely, the Army. He believed that in that Department alone they might, if they could succeed in bringing about a change of policy—for it was a matter of policy, not a matter of detail—effect a saving of £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 per annum. Comparing this year with 1874–5, when the present Government assumed Office, and in both cases deducting everything connected with the abolition of Purchase and with localization, as well as extra Exchequer receipts, there was an advance from £13,293,800 to £15,857,195, or an increase of £2,563,395. The increase in the Expenditure this year over that of last year was £180,000, without referring to the Supplementary Estimates; but the question was whether they were even getting as much for the money as when they were paying a smaller amount. He was afraid that when they went through the Estimates it would be found they were getting a great deal less. In 1870–1 the deserters from the Army numbered about 6,000 men; and of the 4,700 who were recovered 146 were found to have deserted twice, and a few three times. This was regarded as a very serious blot. But year by year since then the numbers had increased. In 1876 the number advertised for was 7,610; in 1877 it was 7,500; and last year it had risen to 8,062. This marked and increasing desertion seemed to have become a chronic feature of the Army; and he observed that one item of expenditure was £800 for additional rewards connected with the apprehension of deserters. But not only had desertions from the Regular Army increased, but he wished to draw the attention of the Secretary of State for War to the extraordinary number of desertions from the Militia. In 1871 the number was regard as appalling when the figure stood at 6,600; but in 1876 it had increased to 11,400; in 1877 to 13,000; and last year to 15,000. In 1871 the number of desertions from the Regular Army and the Militia was over 12,000; last year it was over 23,000. He had always felt that the great cure for desertion was to be found in allowing men to go home when they had been made thoroughly efficient soldiers, so opening to them a legitimate and proper way out of the Army. He wished in connection with this to say something about the Reserve. Years ago it had been said that a serious risk would be incurred by largely increasing the Reserve. They were told to wait till the Reserve was tested to see how many of the men would come out. They did wait, and the way they responded was highly creditable to them. Within three weeks of the Royal Proclamation being issued last April, they came out almost to a man, and those who were absent were upon the sea, or had some other very reasonable excuse. At any rate, of the 13,460 men that could possibly have answered the call, over 13,000 did so; but they could never expect to get such a proportion from men who were kept under our false lock-and-key system of keeping men in barracks. This was a clear and complete test of the value and certainty of getting that Force quickly in time of need. The Reserve, was, moreover, extremely inexpensive; the whole amount did not average more than £9 or £10 per man. He considered that this was too little, and that if they had given the men £20 each, keeping £10 a-year in hand, they would have sent them back very contented to their homes. The great object of all the Acts of 1871 and 1872 had been to increase this Force; and yet from 1872 until the present time the whole increase had only amounted to 8,000 men, although during that period the recruits had numbered 142,000. Either Germany or France would have had ten times the number, because they went upon the good, common-sense principle of allowing men to go home as soon as they had become efficient soldiers. Until this country adopted the same common-sense principle, the Estimates would constantly increase. An additional argument in support of his proposal was afforded by the fact that the raw material was abundant, as was also the supply of officers. The action of the authorities in opening a side door through the Militia to commissions in the Army was, he considered, one of the greatest blots upon their military system. In 1870 and 1871, it was put forward as one of the main reasons in favour of the abolition of Purchase, that a better class of men would thus be secured as officers in the Army, and eventually in the Militia also. But, instead of this, Militia officers were passing into the Army, and there was a forced retirement from the Army of many men in the prime of life. This was a breach of faith with the British public. The Government proposed this year to ask for 22,000 Reserve men. That would be a Vote in excess of the present number by something like 7,000. Were his Motion to be accepted, 3,000 still more would be added; but he would appeal to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Stanley) as to whether he should not go far beyond the number which his Motion suggested? They had recently had a very brilliant example of the manner in which the Reserve Force was disposed to do its duty to the country; but he scarcely thought that as a nation they had done their duty to that Force; and he feared it would be difficult to get the men out on a future occasion unless something was done to allay the state of feeling which existed among them. From inquiries he had made he believed he was right in saying that when those 13,000 men were called out they were earning, on an average, at least £1 per week each. He also believed that, of the entire number, at least two-thirds were married men. Now, the whole allowance made to them per week each was 7s. 7d. pay, with an allowance to the wife of 6d. per day, and to the children of 2d. per day each. The whole amount thus allowed was £6,800 per week, showing that the men were losers by a sum of £6,200 per week during the something like 18 weeks which they served. That he regarded as being very unsound as a matter of policy, for it was starving the Service at a point where it was the least able to bear it. Many of the men were not employed for a considerable time after they were sent home; and the condition of the men when discharged was such that a Public Belief Committee was formed for the purpose of aiding them. Now, he considered that it was scarcely befitting a great country like this to take men from their homes to serve it, and then to turn them off in such a condition that a Relief Committee was necessary to afford them assistance. It was an important matter as regarded the present, and it was important also in reference to the future. He could not understand how such a state of things could have been permitted to arise. For his part, he believed it would be more safe to have 100,000 well-disciplined men, of good character, living at home, than it was to have so many throughout the country who had deserted when only half-trained. It would, in his opinion, be better to increase the number of the Reserve and to get rid of many men who were now dissatisfied with their condition. One word he desired to say with respect to the reinforcements they had just sent to South Africa. Instead of regiments each having Reserves ready to come in and make them up to the requisite strength, he found that many of the regiments came up very far short of their proper number of men. The full strength could not be made up by bringing in Reserves; and in consequence the course adopted—the only course that, under the circumstances, could be adopted—was to admit volunteers. The result was that they had men joining the regiments who were perfectly unknown to others in the regiments, and perfectly unknown also to the officers under whom they were to serve; so that, in fact, they had sent out regiments which were not nearly so strong as they would be if only they had had Reserves ready to join each and so bring them up to their required strength. Now, although he had more than once pointed out instances of the dissatisfaction which existed in the Army, he should like to call attention to a cause of desertion apart from those causes which he had urged upon the attention of the House on former occasions. He alluded to the conduct of young and inexperienced noncommissioned officers towards the men. He had received a great many letters upon the subject, and there was one from a private soldier so full of common sense that he hoped he would be permitted to refer to some of its statements. It was pointed out that, in a majority of cases, the men who were promoted to the rank of lance corporal were young and ignorant of their duties, knowing little or nothing of the rules under which the Service was conducted. These men from inexperience frequently reported very trivial offences as very serious ones —a fact which caused great discontent among the soldiers; and it was pointed out that if a soldier under the influence of drink by mere accident pushed against one of these non-commissioned officers he might, in his ignorance, charge the man with having struck him, and thus render him liable to be sent to penal servitude for a term of five years. Undeniably, under a short-service system, it was essential to have experienced well-trained non-commissioned officers who, as in France and Germany, were trained for the purpose, and engaged to remain 12 or 18 years. They, on the contrary, had a greater number of young noncommissioned officers than they formerly had; and he had no doubt that they required a more select and higher type of trained non-commissioned officers than they at present possessed. He could not but feel that the causes of their enormous and ever-increasing Expenditure were very clear. If they continued to adhere to principles which were unsound and to fight against nature instead of going with her, the only result they could expect was failure. Instead of compactness, cohesion, and well-defined responsibility, they saw looseness and disjointedness on every side; and it was clear to his mind that, in proportion as they ran counter to natural laws, so in proportion would they suffer for so doing. An Army at best was a great evil, and they were bound to bring that evil to the lowest possible point. They could not, of course, but feel that with their wide-spread Empire they were bound to defend it; but he held that in time of peace they were equally bound to reduce their Expenditure, and, above all things, to reduce the amount of labour withdrawn from industry, the only source of a nation's wealth. He could not but think that if his right hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Stanley) were to agree to proceed a little more quickly towards an increase of the Army Reserve, he would be doing that which was not only promised a long time ago, but that which would be conducive to the safety of the country and the reduction of the Expenditure now incurred upon the Regular Army. He begged to move the Amendment of which he had given Notice.


seconded the Motion.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House having regard to the response made by the men of the First Class Army Reserve when called out last year, is of opinion that that Force should be increased by at least 10,000 men during the present year, with a view to a reduction of the Army Estimates,"—(Mr. John Holms,) —instead thereof.

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


owned to some surprise at the circumstance that the hon. Gentleman opposite, with his practical and business-like mind, should have wandered considerably beyond the terms of his Amendment. Upon those extraneous matters he would, in the few remarks he was about to make, only touch lightly or pass over entirely. It was a matter of regret that the hon. Member had not denned his Motion a little more clearly, because there were involved in it two propositions, which might be road in a contradictory sense. To one of those propositions he should be happy to give his assent—though a qualified assent—namely, that the Army Reserve should be increased by 10,000 men; but then the Motion went on to say "with a view to the reduction of the Army Estimates." Therefore, he was inevitably led to suppose that the hon. Gentleman desired to diminish the active Army in a corresponding degree. But was it wise, under existing circumstances, to put that Motion on the Paper? Was it expedient or right, when with the Army practically on a peace footing, they had one war actually on their hands and another barely over, the troops being still in the field, to send men into the Reserve, and to weaken the existing Force, for the sake of abstract adherence to a principle, though that principle might be good in itself? It would be his duty to state, in moving the Army Estimates, why the opposite course was pursued this year; and he confessed he was rather disappointed to find that the hon. Gentleman, from a disposition apparently to make the worst of the case against the Government, proceeded upon assumptions which were contrary to existing facts. One of the fundamental arguments of the hon. Gentleman was that if men were sent into the Reserve there would be no desertion; but, as far as his knowledge went, that was such an absolute assumption that he could not allow it to pass without some slight notice. The fact was well known that a large number of the desertions of which the hon. Gentleman spoke were desertions which occurred in the very early stages of the recruits' military experience, long before they could afford to send them into the Reserves as trained soldiers. Further than that, it was not only not the fact, but the direct opposite of the fact, that when men got into the Reserve they were safe from desertion. Some few years ago the cases were frequent in which men who were in the Army Reserve had deserted from it, and fraudulently re-enlisted again into the Army. That showed a tendency on the part of the men the exact opposite of that winch the hon. Gentleman alleged. Then, in regard to the reduction in the number of men, the hon. Gentleman had warned him, in solemn tones, that they were going back to the bad old ways, and he said—"You are reducing the Army again." But did not the hon. Gentleman think it worth his while to assume that some of these men they intended to reduce would be sent into the Reserve? It was his intention, so far as these men would voluntarily go into the Reserve, and so far as he legally could, to send them there. There were some, however, whom it would be a waste of money to send into the Reserve—


I ventured to say that I hoped the reduction would not be after the old system.


said, he was glad to accept the correction, and was pleased to find that the hon. Gentleman agreed with the course which the Government had intended to take before circumstances had caused them to modify their original decision. To pass men from the Colours to the Reserves, and still keep those with the Colours in an efficient state was, no doubt, the right thing to do if it was practicable; but the case had to be viewed in the light of common sense; and circumstances, unfortunately, obliged him at the present moment to give the Motion his unqualified opposition. The hon. Member, he might remark, left out of sight altogether a very important consideration—the peculiar requirements of the Indian Service. Short service had proved a great difficulty in connection with India. During the first year of service they could not send men into a tropical climate, and during the second year they could not send them to India on account of the cost of so soon bringing them back again. But a solution of the difficulty, as he had informed the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell) the other day, had been found in allowing men in certain circumstances to extend their service by two years—a fact which he only cited to show that, with the best wishes to pass men into the Reserve as soon as they were qualified, the Government had been obliged to bow to the absolute necessities of the case, and prolong the active service of the men in some cases. He would not touch upon the demurrer which the hon. Gentleman had raised as to officers passing through the Militia, except to say that the Royal Military College at Sandhurst would only hold a certain number of officers, and if they wished to extend the other system of admission to the Army, they would have to increase the means of military education. He was happy, from what had passed that night, to claim the hon. Gentleman as an ally in endeavouring to pass the Army Discipline Bill. They proposed by that Bill to give more elasticity to the Reserve, by passing men into it under the time which was now the statutable limit, and they proposed other subsidiary measures which would tend to make the Reserve more elastic than it had hitherto been. This year they had proceeded rather tentatively. Up to a recent period no one knew exactly how the Reserve would come up. The proof had been as thoroughly satisfactory as anyone could have desired. His noble Friend (Viscount Cardwell) had carried short service and the establishment of the Reserves, after considerable opposition from some whose opinions had great weight; but the result showed that he had every right to congratulate himself and the House of Commons on passing that Act, as being one which would materially conduce to the strength of the country. He thoroughly agreed with the hon. Member that if they could pass men from the Colours to the Reserve and keep the men with the Colours in an efficient state, it was the right thing to do; but he felt it his duty, at the present moment, and on behalf of the Government, to give the Resolution of the hon. Gentleman his unqualified opposition.


said, he could not support the Resolution as it stood, because it implied— as the Secretary of State had already interpreted it—that though 10,000 men were to be added to the Reserve that was to be done at the cost of the Regular Army. Now, he was not very rigidly attached to the present establishment of the British Army, and he would not say that it would not be capable at the proper time of reduction; but the strength of the Army was a matter of which the Government of the day ought to be the responsible judges, and in present circumstances he declined to express an opinion to the effect that the Army was numerically too strong. But he took that not to be the meaning of the hon. Gentleman. He took him to mean that 10,000 should, if possible, be transferred to the Reserve, and that their places in the Army with the Colours should be filled with recruits, and he urged that recruits were coming in in such large numbers and of such good quality that it would really be a pity to lose the opportunity of securing them. If that was what the hon. Member meant, he believed there could be no difference in any part of the House on the subject. It was a truism at the present day, especially after the manner in which the Reserve men had come out last year, to say that the short-service system was a success; and it was obvious that the larger the number of men passed into the Reserve consistently with the general efficiency of the Army the better it would be for the country. He believed that no one was more anxious to attain the maximum of strength in the Army Reserve than the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Secretary of State for War. Were, however, the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. J. Holms) placed in the responsible position of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Secretary of State for War, in all probability he would find it difficult to carry out short service to the extreme extent he at present advocated. The Secretary of State for War would, he felt assured, labour as earnestly as the noble Lord who preceded him to increase, as much as possible, the strength of the Reserve, and, at the same time, to keep up the flow of recruits into the Army. In these circumstances, he failed to see what good would result by the House of Commons assenting to this proposal; and therefore he would appeal to the hon. Member for Hackney to rest satisfied with having obtained the assurances he had from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and to withdraw his Resolution.


said, he was not surprised that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite could not assent to the proposition of the hon. Member for Hackney, which, if carried into practical effect, would convert our home battalions into an army of boys. The hon. Member appeared to have forgotten that it was necessary to keep at their full strength the 55 battalions in India, the 28 battalions in the Colonies, and the 18 home battalions which were first upon the roster for foreign service, leaving only some 41 home battalions from which the 10,000 men he proposed should be transferred to the Reserve could be taken. If this were done, no men who had seen more than four years' service would be left in the latter battalions, and their average strength would be reduced to about 350 men each. He therefore trusted that the hon. Member would not press the matter to a Division.


said, that after the assurances he had received from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman he begged leave to withdraw his Motion.


said, he was inclined to support the increase of the Army Reserve, and for political as well as military reasons. The unjust war which was being waged at the Cape in support of a glaringly aggressive policy jarred upon the public conscience, and would produce popular conviction which would have the strongest influence on the Government, and that influence would be the more felt if the class of men who were to fight was largely composed of the Landwehr. If, when wars of aggression were undertaken, many thousands of brave men were called in who were capable of judging of the nature of the expedition in which they were asked to partake, the injustice of the war and wanton aggressiveness of the Government policy would be brought home to the feelings and sentiments of the people in such a way as to completely destroy the power of the Government to embark the country, without notice, in such a struggle. It was quite clear that a National Army would have to be consulted, and could not be plunged into an unjust war. No doubt, when the real interests of the country were menaced, they would spring to arms with alacrity; but when it was only to support the extravagant pretensions of a Minister, or the foregone desires of some promoter of fantastic ideas, it would be impossible to use a National Army in such a way; and the very attempt to use it for such a purpose would result in showing the Government that, like the great sword Excalibur, it was something beyond the competency of their power. He could, however, understand the objections of the Secretary of State for War to a short-service system. Under the present mode of government there must be a great Army in India, which it would be very difficult to keep up under the short-service system. If under any Government a policy was carried out calculated to discontent our Indian subjects it must be necessary to keep up a great Army; and until the Government thought it worth while to rule, not by fear but by love, and devote its power to the contentment and affection of subject-peoples, it would always bethought a proper thing to present to this House Estimates calculated to support armies of a character that, whenever it might be deemed in conformity with the governing spirit to refuse justice to India, or Ireland, or South Africa, or elsewhere, might be trusted to shoot down the Indians, the Irish, or the South Africans, or the inhabitants of any other misgoverned country.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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