HC Deb 21 June 1895 vol 34 cc1722-8

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)


said, this was the chief enacting clause of the Bill, and, as a Member of the Committee on whose recommendations the Bill was based, he felt bound to express the disappointment he felt at the character of the Bill itself, and the terms of this particular clause. The whole history of the Bill had been disappointing, because in Committee the Members felt themselves limited by the restricted reference, and many subjects which called for investigation they were unable to deal with. He hoped that at an early date another Committee would consider several matters absent from the Bill. The Bill failed to meet many material points in the Committee's recommendations, and though he should support the measure, he felt bound to express doubt whether it would be productive of that good the Committee hoped would result from their deliberations. In many points it fell short of what the result should have been. The present law gave power to the Secretary for War to call out the Volunteers in the case of an apprehended or actual invasion. The Committee recommended that the position of the Volunteers should be assimilated to the conditions with reference to the mobilisation of the Militia, that was to say, in cases of imminent national danger, a wider term which it was felt would cover the terms of their Report. The Committee were practically unanimous that national interests might be seriously imperilled, though the position fell short of actual or apprehended invasion. It might be desirable that certain exposed forts should be manned by Volunteers, Artillery, or corps enrolled for coast or submarine defence might be called out at an earlier stage. The Committee were of opinion that the Acts under which Army Reserve men were called out and the Militia embodied in case of imminent national danger, or great emergency might be adopted, and the Committee also suggested that the Secretary of State should be empowered to call out and accept the services of portions of corps. But the Bill was framed in such a manner that the conditional power given to call out parts of corps was applied to the whole of the corps as well as to the parts, and, as the Bill stood, Volunteers could only be called out in case of imminent national danger if they offered their services for the purpose. This amounted to re-volunteering, the necessity for which was not obvious. The Bill practically consisted of only two clauses, and there was nothing in. it upon several points of vital importance which the Committee discussed, and upon which they made recommendations. There was no word as to the consolidation of the law, as to the subjection of Volunteers to military law. The law on the subject was very indefinite. The liability of Volunteers to military law appeared to depend upon whether they happened to be brigaded with the regular forces. In this there was no logical distinction, because it might happen that of two corps in immediate vicinity one might be subject to military discipline, because they were brigaded with a small detachment of regulars, while in the next field a corps might be under no such obligations because they were a brigade consisting of Volunteers only. This was an anomaly that should not exist. The pains and penalties of military law are great: they involved submission to trial by court martial, to the penalties of imprisonment and other severe proceedings, and it was on mature consideration the Committee recommended that Volunteers should be subject to military law only while on actual military service. There was nothing in the Bill as to the acquisition of land for military purposes, or as to loans for barracks and ranges, for which officers have now often to incur great pecuniary and other obligations. There was nothing about exemption from jury service. While the extensions of the service were accepted there was nothing of the consideration laid down that exemption from service on a jury should be conceded, on the principle that service rendered to the State in the one direction should excuse service in the other. He hoped the time would come when these matters would be extended, and he supported the Bill with some reluctance, for he felt it would not be of the advantage the Committee hoped for.


said, he was not a Member of the Committee, and therefore could not speak with the authority of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down; but he certainly differed from him in his opinion as to the desirability of giving the Bill a more compulsory character.


said, he had quoted the recommendations of the Committee.


said, the hon. Member regretted that the recommendations of the Committee had not been followed; but it would be remembered that in 1888 the late Government brought forward their National Defence Bill, which contained a clause in this direction, that volunteers should be called out in time of emergency, and be subject to military law. But there was considerable opposition to that clause offered by volunteers, and a very distinguished officer, Colonel Scoby, of the 1st Hereford R.V., showed, in a letter to the Volunteer Service Gazette, that it would seriously detract from the popularity of the force. He felt the Government had acted wisely in submitting the Bill in its present form, and he should have great pleasure in supporting it.


congratulated the Financial Secretary on the Bill, and would gladly give it what assistance he could. The Institute of Commanding Officers of Volunteers was a large and influential body connected with the force, and only a few days ago the Council had the Bill under consideration, and empowered him to say that the Bill had their approval, and they hoped that every Member of the House interested in the force would assist in passing it into law. He regretted that the Bill did not carry out all the recommendations of the Committee, but he hoped that at some future date the Military Authorities would see their way to take up the other important points advocated in the Report of the Committee.


said, it was very gratifying to know that their Bill had received the assent of the Volunteers throughout the country, and he was particularly gratified to hear the statement of the hon. Baronet opposite. He was sorry to hear that there had been opposition to the Bill in a certain quarter, but he was perfectly satisfied that it arose from some misapprehension of the proposals before the House. He was really surprised at the overwhelming evidence presented to the Committee of the desire not only on the part of the commanding officers, but also on the part of the rank and file of the Volunteer force throughout the country to take a more responsible part in the general defence of the country, and of their willingness to take their part in any movement of danger, and to subject themselves to military discipline. The Secretary of State, after consulting his advisers, and especially those responsible for the administration of the Reserve Forces, came to the conclusion, that it would be inexpedient to render the Volunteers liable to be called upon except in the most urgent circumstances. The Committee agreed with remarkable unanimity that the phrase "actual military service" referred to an invasion of the United Kingdom, and there was no kind of objection on the part of the Government to carrying out that part of the recommendation of the Committee. It appeared very important to the Government that they should preserve the voluntary character of the Volunteer Force, and that the conditions under which they could be required to render military service should be somewhat restricted. But they proposed that the Secretary of State should be empowered to accept service on the part of individuals or any specified parts of a corps in case of imminent national danger or emergency. He was very grateful to the hon. Member for Islington for having called attention to the other recommendations of the Committee with regard to the willingness of the volunteers to subject themselves to military law in circumstances other than those in which they could now be called upon; but in connexion with that he would call the hon. Gentleman's attention to the concluding sentence of the report. With regard to the desirability of granting loans to volunteer corps for the purpose of erecting drill halls, he was advised that it would be quite possible—and, so far as the War Office was concerned, there would be no objection—that applications from volunteer corps might be entertained in cases in which they had acquired land for the purpose of a drill hall. Personally he hoped that none of the recommendations of the Committee would be lost sight of and he joined with those who regarded this Bill merely as an instalment.


said that, speaking as a Volunteer of 30 years' standing at least, the remarks of his hon. Friend would be very pleasing to those who took an interest in the Volunteer force. The corps to which he belonged had in contemplation the erection of a drill-hall, but the difficulty they had was as to satisfying the conditions on which a public loan could be obtained. He took it that that matter would now be set at rest, and that they would be able to carry out their building operations. He was glad to hear his hon. Friend speak of this Bill as an instalment of what was required to make the Volunteer force efficient. The disposition that existed in the force to fit themselves, as far as possible, for the duties which might devolve upon them had not been overrated. He had had experience, first of all, in the Inns of Court, and afterwards in a country corps, and he had found the tone and feeling thoroughly genuine through out the latter corps. There were other matters which had a very important bearing on the efficiency of the Volunteer force, and he did hope that the time might soon come when, as regarded the important matter of weapons, the Volunteer would be put on a par with the regular forces of the country. That was certainly one of the elements of efficiency; and further, until something more was done to provide the Volunteers with accessible ranges, all would not have been done which they had a right to expect.

MR. R. G. WEBSTER (St. Pancras, E.)

said, it appeared to him desirable from many points of view that the Volunteer Force should co-operate with and add to the strength of the Regular Army when their services were required. The Militia, in which he had the honour to serve, had always in times of emergency responded to the request, when they were asked to go on active service. But the Militia was, after all, more or less of a paid service; and considering the vast armaments of Europe it was desirable for this country to go a step further and, if possible, to make use of the Volunteer Service in times of national danger. This Bill had the approval of the Volunteers themselves, and ought to meet with the support of all patriotic Englishmen. Some years ago, before Lord Cardwell brought in his Bill, he wrote a pamphlet in which he ventured to say that the great desideratum was that the Regular Army, the Militia, and the Volunteers should, as far as possible, be brought into unison. He then pointed out the importance of an adequate reserve, and he believed the Government, in bringing in a Bill to provide that the Volunteers might be called on to serve in time of danger with the general Forces, had done a very valuable thing for the country. When they saw the immense forces of France and Russia they could not ignore the fact that it was desirable to the 200,000 Volunteers who had done so much good work in the past should in time of war be at the service of their country and their Queen.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment.

The House having resumed,


asked to be allowed to take the third reading now.

Bill then read 3° and passed.