HC Deb 17 March 1884 vol 286 cc53-60

, in rising to move— That experience shows that no system will provide adequately for the military requirements of the British Empire which does not provide for two distinct classes of soldiers, short service men to stay at home and form a reserve for defence, and long service men to form a professional Army to serve in India and distant Foreign possessions, said, he had hoped that the Secretary of State for War would have made his statement with regard to the Army Estimates before going into Committee of Supply; but as the noble Lord had not done so he wished to call attention to a Motion that he had had upon the Paper for several years. He had placed it on the Paper because he had always had a strong opinion respecting the system of long and short service. His experience of India had convinced him in regard to the past that nothing but an Army of the most thoroughly efficient character would have stood the strain that our Indian Army had had to bear. The language of his Resolution was very weak compared with that winch military men were in the habit of using every day as to the soldiers we now had in our regiments. The Resolution did not mean that they should have two Armies, but that they should attract into the Army two classes of men. They should have long service men for the defence of our great Possessions abroad, and they should endeavour; to attract to the Service intelligent men who were willing to accept the Army as their profession in life. With regard to I the short service men, he thought they should offer inducements to men of good character to accept what he might call a retaining fee for service at home in the Reserves, to be employed in the defence of their country, if, unfortunately, foreign aggression should render it necessary. As to the necessity for a long service system, he be believed that Her Majesty's Government had come to his way of thinking, as he understood, from the announcement made by the noble Lord last year, that men of good character were given the privilege of re-enlisting for long service, by which they obtained certain advantages, he hoped that would not be a temporary offer on the part of the Government, but that men would be assured that if they liked to devote themselves to the profession of arms they would eventually retire upon pensions. The present system of deferred pay, however, was almost incompatible with long service, as it acted as a kind of bounty or premium to men to retire from the Army: when their short-service term expired. Though he would be the last person in the world to object to any system under I which men of intelligence could be induced to enter the Army, he be believed that the system of deferred pay was against the interests and efficiency of a long-service Army. In former days, when the Army was under a different system, one of severe discipline, the men fought well; but nowadays men had become too comfortable and too intelligent to knock their heads against a wall unless some kind of promotion and advantage could be offered for their ambition. It was unfortunate that in our Army promotion from the ranks to the grade of officer was not so welcome a change as it ought to be. It too often happened that a man so raised was made wretched, for he was cut off from his former friends, and he could not associate with other officers on equal terms. The East India Company got a better class of men in this way, because under the Company there was a wider field open to ambition. There was every probability that it would add to the popularity of the Army at home if men could be enlisted for short periods without the liability to serve abroad with the prospect of returning to civil occupations after they had served long enough to be entitled, as he had said, to a retaining fee for service in the Reserve. He hoped that in urging these views upon the Secretary of State for War he was only flogging a willing horse, and that the noble Lord would be prepared to extend to the Line the system of enlistment that was producing favourable results in the case of the Guards. We must make the payments that were necessary to induce men to enlist for foreign service. Without detaining the House, he would like to say just one word about the next Motion upon the Paper, in the name of the hon. Member for Kirkcudbright (Sir Herbert Maxwell). For his part, be did not hold with the view of the hon. Baronet with regard to the ostrich feather, or, in fact, with anything else that came from Egypt. He was one of those who thought that the sooner we washed our hands of everything connected with Egypt the better. He should much prefer to see the use of what might be called the national Tam o' Shanter bonnet than of these extraordinary headpieces. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice.


said, that, in seconding the-Resolution of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy, he did not bind himself to all the details of the hon. Member" s plan, he was inclined to think that what the Secretary of State for War did last year would have been a sufficient stop in the direction indicated, if it had only been carried out. He (Colonel Colthurst) believed that a system of free trade in enlistment was what was re- quired—namely, that every man who enlisted in the Guards or in the Line for three years should at the end of that period have the power of going on to nine years more, and that, if approved, he might at the end of his 12 years continue his service for the purpose of obtaining a pension. The noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War would remember that it was found impossible to get 600 men who had completed six years in India to continue their service. They stated that they had their deferred pay, and could got civil employment, and that if they re-enlisted for six years more they would at the end of that time be turned adrift with worse chances of obtaining work than they then had. He thanked the noble Marquess for recognizing the situation last year, but regretted that the boon which he had given to the Army had been needlessly restricted. Without going into details, he might be allowed to express his conviction that what had boon given to the Foot Guards might with advantage be given to the Infantry of the Line. With reference to deferred pay, he hoped the noble Lord would take into consideration the possibility of giving the money in the shape of weekly or monthly pay. Deferred pay ought not to be made a premium to the men to leave the Army as it was now. Men often wasted the £18 which they received at the end of six years' service, and they then became discontented and fell back upon the 4d. per day reserve pay, and many of them fraudulently re-enlisted. He suggested that the War Office should issue a clear statement to the men pointing out that the changes which had been made with reference to re-engagement were permanent. There was a general impression that those changes were not of a permanent character, and the men had no confidence that the promises which had been made would be continued. He hoped the noble Marquess would consider the suggestion he had made.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "experience shows that no system will provide adequately for the military requirements of the British Empire which does not provide for two distinct classes of soldiers, short service men to stay at home and form a reserve for defence, and long service men to form a professional Army to srrve in India and distant Foreign possessions,"—(Sir George Campbell,) —instead thereof.

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


said, he considered that the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy had done good service in calling the attention of the noble Marquess to the defects which especially applied to the European portion of the troops forming the Indian Army from the changes of late years in regard to the periods of service of the men. But there was one matter to which he had not referred—the deficiency in the strength of the European division of the Indian Army. He found that last year there had been a deficiency of 5,500 in the European portion of the soldiers on the Indian Establishment, and that the strength of the Infantry of the Line was still 3,500 deficient. Such a deficiency was, he thought, a serious reflection upon the Horse Guards, and he mentioned this because it was not the first time that so great a deficiency had taken place. He contended that the Mutiny would never have taken place if the Army had been kept up to its proper strength. As far as could be ascertained, the European Force was then 6,000 rank-and-file short of its proper strength, being thus one-sixth of the whole number. At that very time there were at home abundance of soldiers. Between 1860 and 1872 the European strength was again allowed to fall several thousands below the total enlistment; but by letters to The Times, pointing out the short numbers, the deficiencies were promptly made good. Again, recently, the Establishment was far short of its proper complement of men. He could not understand why last year the Indian Army was allowed to fall so far below its establishment. The defect must be owing to bad arrangements for recruiting and for training the men. Under the old East India Company recruits enlisted most freely, and any number could be obtained. But now, when all were Imperial soldiers, the deficiencies existed. The question was a serious one, and it was the duty of the Government to maintain the strength of the Indian Establishment whatever that strength might be.


Sir, I will say a very few words upon this subject before the Question is put, because it is one which may, perhaps, be discussed more conveniently in Committee. My hon. Friend is perfectly right in saying that I agree to a great extent with the views which he has expressed; and the measures taken in June Last went considerably in the direction of the proposal now before the House. Our present system does practically provide for two classes of soldiers serving in the Army—one class enlisting for short service only and subsequent service in the Reserve, and another class having the privilege of extending their short service, and ultimately of re-engaging. The system under consideration does give a very considerable amount of such elasticity as my hon. Friend desires to see in the terms of soldiers' engagements. I cannot, however, commit myself to the acceptance of the Amendment that has been moved. My hon. Friend appears to desire that the Army should be separated by a hard-and-fast line into two divisions, the first of which would contain short service men, who would serve for a very short time and then go into the Reserve, and who in no circumstances would leave this country; while the second would contain men who would enlist for some long period of service, and do all the foreign service required of the Army. Now, I do not think that it would be advantageous to have a large Army at home which would never have an opportunity of doing any foreign service. I should not like to see such a line as that drawn; although I admit that there ought to be more elasticity in the terms of soldiers' engagements. My hon. Friend has pointed out that the grant of deferred pay when a soldier leaves the Colours acts practically as a bounty to induce men to go into the Reserve. That is a fact; but we must recollect that the deferred pay is part of the inducement offered to a recruit to join the Colours; and now that the system has been established so long, we ought to be very careful how we alter or interfere with the advantages which are offered to recruits, and which experience tells us are so successful in influencing largo numbers of men to enlist. It is extremely desirable, in the interests of the Army and of the soldier himself, that he should be given the means of taking with him into private life a considerable sum of money, in order that he may start in some business or occupation. I am afraid that too often the deferred pay is wasted; but in many cases it does enable the soldier to resume the avocation which he followed before his enlistment, and so adds to the popularity of the Service in many districts of the country. Reference has been made to the alteration in the terms of enlistment in the case of the Guards. No doubt that experiment has been extremely successful so far as it has gone; but it would be premature to say that it ought to be extended to the whole Army. As yet only half the experiment has been tried. It has induced recruits to join, but we do not know yet what number of them will be willing to prolong their service with the Colours after the expiration of the Stipulated three years. There will be no inconvenience in the case of the Guards if the period of service is not extended, because the Guards have no foreign service; but if we were to enlist men in the Line for three years only, and were not to find a sufficient number of men willing to extend their service, we should find ourselves in difficulties in connection with our battalions abroad. Therefore, before going further with the experiment initiated last year, it will be necessary to have more experience than we have at present as to the willingness of men not only to enlist, but to extend their service. Reference has also been made to the alleged uncertainty of the policy of the War Office. It has been said that this uncertainty has caused a considerable number of men to abstain from taking advantage of the changes introduced last year. There must be some misapprehension here. No doubt I have said that the changes made last June were introduced experimentally, and might not be permanent; but there is no uncertainty whatever attaching to the cases of the men who have availed themselves of those changes. The only doubt is, whether similar proposals will be made to men who may join the Army hereafter. To a certain extent, we have adopted the opinions which my hon. Friend holds, and I ask him not to press us to extend this experiment too far and too rapidly. Before I sit down, I may be allowed to make an appeal to hon. Members who have Motions on the Paper. Several of those Motions will be discussed equally well, if not with greater advantage, after I have had the opportunity of making my statement in Committee. I hope I may be allowed to make that statement without any very great delay, so that the House may be placed in possession of the policy of the Government.


asked whether the noble Lord could give him any further information about the Proclamation for the capture of Osman Digna?


ruled that the question of the hon. Gentleman was irrelevant.

Question put, and agreed to.

Main Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."