1. Motion made, and Question proposed:—
That a sum, not exceeding £248,600, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge for the Salaries and Misecllaneons Charges of the War Office, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1898.
§ SIR A. ACLAND-HOOD (Somerset, Wellington)
said he desired to move the reduction of the Vote by £100 in respect of the salary of the Secretary of State for War, in order to call attention to the ill-effects which the action of the Government in sending the Guards to Gibraltar would produce on the efficiency of the battalions. The decision of the Government had been condemned by every independent military authority outside the little ring at the War Office, as vitally affecting our ability to meet emergencies; it had been condemned by the public at large, and, finally, it had been emphatically condemned by the First Lord of the Admiralty, who had said that the Admiralty would not send the Marines to Gibraltar because there were not means there for proper exercise and drill. ["Hear, hear!"] When this reform was first proposed in the House, Members who had served in the Guards told the House that, in order to get the requisite number of limn, the standard of height would have to he lowered, and it would be necessary to transfer men from one battalion to another; and that the battalions of the Guards at home would be reduced to the ineffective condition of the regiments of the line at home, by having to make up the deficiencies in men in the battalions abroad. All these things had conic true. Take the 909 case of the Grenadier Guards. When the scheme was first introduced, the Grenadier Guards required 315 additional men. They had raised only 143 men despite the great efforts of the War Office to get recruits during the past three months, and they were now 172 men below their strength. In addition, the War Office had opened new districts for recruiting for the Guards—districts hitherto confined to the Line. It was inevitable that this must interfere ultimately with the recruiting for other regiments. Pressure had been put on a number of Volunteer corps to get men to join the Guards, and finally the War Office issued an Army order to induce a certain number of old Guardsmen to rejoin. Of 326 so invited only 11 rejoined. Then another order was issued offering a bounty of £2 to every man in the Grenadier Guards whose time would expire before September and who would extend it. Only six men took advantage of the offer—but the bounty system had been condemned over and over again. The Under Secretary had said that the War Office expected by these means to put the battalions in a better position than before Actually they had only produced 17 men. The first battalion was now up to strength. Before embarkation it would lose 54 men, whose service expired; it would lose 26 men whose service expired within six months and who must be left behind; and a number would have to be left behind as sick and unfit to travel. Therefore 90 men would have to be taken from another battalion. The first battalion would have between 800 and 900 men in the fighting line, and of these the Under-Secretary had stated 403 to be under nine months' service. Only last week 253 of the men were under four months' service; and 113 were specially enlisted men who were not up even to the new standard, but who were taken in in the hope that by careful feeding they would grow to the requisite size. The object of the reform was that there should be at Gibraltar at highly trained and efficient force to form the nucleus of an army required for any of our small wars; and of the men forming this nucleus 403 were under nine months' service. And who was the Commander in Chief under whom this reform had been inaugurated? The very man who, in every one of the 910 campaigns which he had brought to brilliant success, had made it his invariable rule to pick out the oldest and best drilled soldiers to fight his battles. [Cheers.] If he had relied on the men now going to Gibraltar, he would not be occupying his present position. [Cheers.] If that General had to command an expedition now, the first thing he would do would be to leave half this battalion of Guards at Gibraltar. [Cheers.] The case of the second battalion was worse titan that of the first. Before embarkation next year the second battalion would require 530 extra men. The average enlistment of the Grenadier Guards during the last five years had been 525 men a year. So that the second battalion would next year require the whole of the recruits who had hitherto sufficed for the three battalions. At the same time it would have to compete in recruiting with the other regiments of Guards, and would he at a great disadvantage. Moreover, the War Office recruiting authorities could not be expected to work always at high pressure. Then there was the unhappy case of the third battalion, which would he the case of every battalion in future. All who attended the Aldershot review must have observed, with great regret, that of a11 the regular battalions the third battalion of he Grenadier Guards was the weakest. It, marched past with six companies of 30 file. It was 118 men below its meet, simply and purely owing to the action of the War Office; and it would get, no recruits until the second battalion had made up its strength. Next year it would be the turn of the third battalion to have its ranks made up; and there would be a sudden rush of recruits which was always bad for discipline. In the ordinary way each hatch of recruits had time to become acquainted with the traditions of the regiment and to get to know their officers; hut next year between the youngest and the older men and the oldest and the new recruits there would be the gap of two years. And where were the non-commissioned officers to come from? [Cheers.] Formerly the most promising recruits were selected and trained with the greatest care and after two years were made corporals. Now it would be necessary to take men without experience or a proper sense of responsibility for non-commissioned officers. There 911 was no finer class of men in the Army than the non-commissioned officers of the Guards; and no old Guardsman could view without apprehension anything which would tend to lower the standard. [Hear, hear!"] Every battalion in turn would have to go through this experience; and this was the scheme which was to make the brigade so efficient The right hon. Gentleman might say that he was advised by his military advisers and that all was well. He had nothing to say against the military advisers individually, but they all laboured under one misfortune, winch was the great blot of the army, and that was that not one of them had ever commanded a regiment, and not one of them had any experience of the three years' system of the Guards. [Cheers.] Before he sat down lie would refresh the memory of the right hon. Gentleman with a short story. Two years ago there sat where the right hon. Gentleman sat now a War Minister, one of the ablest who had occupied that position for a great number of years. [Cheers.] The right hon. Gentleman came down and asked that Minister a question on a matter of War Office administration; and the Minister quoted one of his military advisers—curiously enough the very same military adviser on whom the right hon. Gentleman now relied. ["Hear, hear!"] Did the right hon. Gentleman accept that assurance? No; he would not have it. He went to a Division, he turned the Government out of office, and he now sat where the former War Minister sat. Could it be wondered at that some of them viewed with profound suspicion and distrust any assurance which came based on the same military advice? [Cheers.]
§ COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY (Shropshire, Newport)
, as one who had served longer in the Guards than any Member of the House, disclaimed all notion of making any individual attacks on the representatives of the War Office, but inasmuch as they were responsible for the policy which Guardsmen se deprecated, he must be forgiven if he used some strong language. The great blot and flaw in the War Office was that neither the Secretary of State nor the Under Secretary had ever served for five years in the Army. If either of them had ever served for five years in the Army he staked his existence that 912 neither of them would lend a hand to such a scheme. It was on no question of privilege, no question of the convenience of officers, or the likes or dislikes of the soldiers, that the Guardsmen took their stand; it was solely a question of efficiency. They asserted—and this was forgotten outside the House as well as inside—that the Guards stand absolutely distinct and apart from any other branch of the service as to the conditions of their enlistment and service. People tallied glibly of the narrow-mindedness and want of patriotism of the Guards in not being willing to accept a service which other regiments accepted. It was necessary, it should be remembered by the country, that every soldier of the line who goes out to serve the Queen abroad was enlisted for seven years, while by far the largest proportion of the Guards were enlisted for three years only, and every practically-minded man, military or civilian, would recognise the vast difference contained in these two conditions. They would recognise how strong the argument was that that which might be successful where there was seven years' enlistment or longer was impracticable when limited to a three years' engagement, with all the ebb and flow of men throughout the regiment. It was patent and clear that the efforts of the War Office so far had resulted in disastrous failure as regards the system which they had tried to set up. Officers who had anything to do with the working of the three years' system knew that under the three years' enlistment there was even more necessity for a complete individuality of the battalion than there was under a longer service and different conditions. They knew 'that the constant touch of the soldier with the same officers was more important under the three years' system than under the longer service. No one had put the point more strongly than Lord Wolseley. His book was full of the most earnest exhortations to the effect that everything that could be done should be done to keep the men in contact with the same comrades and influences throughout all the period of their military service, and that on this depended the efficiency of the battalion when it was wanted for service. In that way only could be obtained the confidence of the men in their leaders. The right hon. 913 Gentleman said that the Government recognised to the fullest degree the undesirability of transfer, that the principle and substratum of the whole scheme was to preserve the individuality of the battalion and to secure the efficiency of the battalions at home. Whatever might be said in favour of this scheme, there were two things which it did not do. It did not preserve the individuality of the battalion, and it did not secure the efficiency of the battalions at home. On the right hon. Gentleman's own showing the while system under which the battalions at Gibraltar were to be maintained up to their strength was a gigantic system of transfer, and thus they depended on constantly moving from one battalion to another the men who were to be in the fighting line. He did not think that his hon. and gallant Friend used too strong language when he said that the present Commander-in-Chief, if he carried out the system of the past, would leave behind him the great bulk of those battalions. What did the Under Secretary for War mean by efficiency? Was he going to secure the efficiency of the battalions at home by having skeleton companies made up of men not good enough to go abroad, by a constant system of dragging in half-trained or poorly-trained recruits? The right hon. Gentleman would reply that he sheltered himself behind his professional advisers. He had had the personal honour of a very long acquaintance with Lord Wolseley—a claim which he might urge all the more that during the time he had not asked from the Commander-in-Chief anything for himself or for any one else. [Laughter.] But the Army Board or the high officers at the War Office had up to the present absolutely failed to recognise the paramount necessity of learning regimental feeling in the changes which they had introduced in the Army. [Cheers.] In the days of long service it was possible that this was not so necessary; hut in these days it all depended on the action of the regiment. They ought to consult in the highest possible degree regimental feeling and opinion, and the desire of those who were in the position of active commanding officers. But that opinion, ready to the hand of t he War Office, had never been sought. [Cheers.] The War 914 Office did not at this moment know officially what the opinion was of the men who would lead these soldiers into action; and in failing to consult it the authorities had made a great blunder and had done much to impair the confidence with which the Department was regarded. Much had been said of the support given by Lord Methuen; but whether the scheme now before the House was the scheme of which Lord Methuen was supposed to be a supporter, he could not say. Lord Methuen was a loyal and straight-forward soldier, but he doubted whether he could ever be regarded as anything more than in a sense the godfather of a scheme which was doing so much to destroy the efficiency of the troops to which he himself belonged. Then it was said that the full colonels of the troops concerned had been consulted. Would the right hon. Gentleman now consult the opinion of the three great officers, be found that they had altered their opinion, would he subtract from the scheme all that haul been defended and urged in consequence of that opinion? Rumours had been abroad that the lieu-tenant-colonels in active command had not been loyal in carrying, out the scheme laid before them. He wished to nail that slander to the table. He knew it to be emphatically false; he knew that these officers had with the utmost loyalty done all they could to carry out the orders submitted to them, and it would be most unfair that the slightest possible hint should in any way he allowed to go forth questioning their loyalty to their superiors in carrying out the duties they hail to perform whether they liked them or not. [Cheers.] It might be said that this scheme was experimental, transitional, exceptional, and therefore it must not ho judged too harshly. But in this way they were destroying all that was good in the Army. If they wanted to make experiments of this kind, let the experiments be made on those branches of the service which were likely to be mended by them. If it were a fact that they wanted more men to carry out their object, let them have the men at any price that might be necessary. At all events, let them put it before the country and let the country refuse if it dared. Many of them in the Army believed that perhaps the ultimate solution of this painful situation might be the creation 915 of nine battalions of Guards—might be the institution at Aldershot of a brigade of Guards always at fighting strength, always ready for use in any emergency. He had heard talk about "gilded youths," and about the Guards being unwilling to do anything but take their pleasure. But give them battalions such as that, mid he would undertake to say that they would be the most popular in the brigade, and that officers would be tumbling over one another to get the chance of serving in them. That might be the ultimate result of what was being done. But in the interval, they, as Guardsmen, speaking with sonic knowledge of the circumstances and some sense of responsibility, wished to make it clear to the Committee and to the country that what the Government were embarking upon now was a pernicious and a hopeless mistake; that they could not carry it through combined with efficiency and that therefore, on their own showing, and in accordance with their own promises, the Government were bound to reconsider their mistake before that mistake became a fatal error. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ *THE UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Mr. BRODRICK,) Surrey, Guildford
said he was sure nobody would complain of the tone his two hon. and gallant Friends had adopted in respect of the statements they had made to the Committee on behalf of the Guards. But lie must say that, little as he was desirous of renewing the controversy which took place some months ago in that. House, he thought they hail no reason to complain. Holding, as the hon. and gallant Members did, strong convictions that a "hopeless and pernicious" mistake had been made, that they (the War Office) were destroying the only thing that was efficient in the Army at home in the beginning of the year, and were reducing it to inefficiency—holding these views, the hon. and gallant Members had done no less than their duty by stating these facts to the Committee, and by en-deavouring to modify the scheme which the Government had adopted. ["Hear, hear!''] At the same time, he hoped they would not think he was doing amiss if he made some little protest against the discussion upon which they were now embarking. There could not possibly be a more inconvenient or a more inconclusive time for discussing the condition of the 916 brigade of Guards. Let hon. Members consider. On April 1 they were beginning a new establishment on the principle of having nine battalions instead of seven, and of greatly strengthening the battalions which were to go to Gibraltar. The Government announced to the Committee three or four months ago that the course upon which they had resolved would take three years to carry out. At this moment they were only just three mouths on the way, and a great deal of what had fallen from his hon. and gallant Friends had been directed to proving that they ought in the course of three months to have succeeded in getting together a force which they did not profess, under voluntary service, they could possibly get together in less than three years. Nor did they propose to act as if they had got it together. The proposal of the War Office from the first was to send one battalion of Grenadiers abroad on full strength on October 1, and his hon. and gallant Friends had not denied, although they had criticised it, that that battalion was now in full strength and was numerically in a condition to go abroad. Let them look all these facts in the face before they proceeded to denounce the condition of the battalion. Let them see whether or not they were not justified in the expectations which were expressed on the opinion of the military authorities four months ago, and whether, therefore, they had not some right to claim a little more confidence and a little less suspicion than his hon. and gallant Friends had shown in approaching the estimates of the military authorities. ["Hear, hear!"] The Government had criticisms to meet, when they introduced this scheme, many of which had been shown to be altogether untimely. And yet what had been accomplished had been accomplished under very great difficulty—for this reason, that the essence of the whole scheme was success in recruiting for the Guards. As was perfectly well known by every Member of that House, and must have been made specially noticeable to all who had listened to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Budget speech, there had never been a time in the whole history of the country when the classes to whom they looked for recruiting the Army had been so well off in the matter of employment. It was a good thin, that there should be this difficulty, for what was the loss of the 917 War Office was undoubtedly a gain to the country—["hear, hear!"]—and on the top of that we have had this year the Jubilee celebrations going on, which had given an enormous accession of employment for the time, making it exceedingly difficult to get that class of men whom they desired to see enrolled in the brigade of Guards. And there was another influence which had nothing whatever to do with this scheme with regard to Gibraltar, and which was alluded to by the hon. and gallant Member for Somersetshire; and that was that the three years' men now in the Guards did not as readily engage for seven years as they used to. That was not at all a misfortune of short standing. It had nothing to do with the policy of the present year. It had been going on in a progressive degree for the last six years. Why was it? No doubt service in the Guards was popular; but what was more popular still was the fact that the very best employment in London came to the Guards, and that these men, even six months before their time was out, had been engaged in excellent posts, sometimes in the Government service. ["Hear, hear!"] That was an exceedingly advantageous thing, no doubt, but the result to the Guards was, of course, a falling off. The number of three years' men who extended their service in 1891 was 388; in 1892 it was 349; in 1893 it was 296; in 1894 it was 238; in 1895 it was 189; and in 1896 it had sunk to 150. So that in the course of six years the number of re-engagements had fallen by about 60 per cent. In the present year there was a slight rebound in the first half of the year, because 78 men had re-engaged, which was rather more than the average of last year. But, of course, it would now take more men to fill up, and consequently there were at present fewer old men in the ranks. That, however, was a condition of affairs with which the Gibraltar scheme had nothing to do. Now what was the statement with regard to the first- six months of this year? He hoped his hon. and gallant Friends would forgive him if he reminded them that one of the difficulties—and their professional knowledge enabled them to make a good many difficulties for anyone who had to meet them in Debate—one of the difficulties he had to face in February last was that 918 they assumed as an axiom that recruiting would fall off owing to the unpopularity of the Gibraltar scheme? What had happened? In 1896, between January 1 and July 1, 575 recruits were enlisted for the Guards; in 1897, between the corresponding dates, the number of recruits was 856, or 280 more in the latter period, having, of course, in the latter period the advantage of a reduced standard.
§ SIR A. ACLAND-HOOD
The axiom assumed was not that recruiting would fall off because of the unpopularity of the scheme; the axiom was that you could not get recruits unless you reduced the normal standard.
§ *MR. BRODRICK
My hon. and gallant Friend is trying to pin me to the expression "normal standard." I do not know that I used the expression. What I did say, and what I undertook to carry out, was that the Guards should not be reduced below what had been—I think I used the words—their customary position. The standard adopted now, I may say, is not a new standard.
§ COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY
May I remind the right hon. Gentleman of his words? He said,—I can assure him that nothing shall be wanting on our part of close scrutiny to see that nothing in the course of the changes occurs to impair either the character or the status, the physique, or the efficiency of the Guards regiments.
§ *MR. BRODRICK
I stand to that, but I did not say that I would undertake to keep up the standard to 5ft. 9in. What I did say was that I would undertake to endeavour to keep the Guards in the same conditions as to status, physique, and efficiency as in the past. Continuing, the right hon. Gentleman said the present standard was 5ft. bin. In 1883–84 it was 5ft. 7in., and in the three years 1889–92 the standard was precisely that which it was at the present moment. Therefore, at a time when they were getting 2,500 recruits for the Guards in three years, they had gone down to the standard which had been adopted during one-third of the last 21 years, and they had not the least intention of going any lower. At the same time, everybody knew that, under the system of voluntary enlistment, whenever it had been necessary to increase the 919 Army or any part of the Army, they had been obliged to lower the standard, so that it came to this—that instead of lowering the standard of the Guards, as had been done in the case of Line regiments on many occasions, they had maintained the standard at the point at which it had been kept for the last seven years. ["Hear, hear!"] Putting that aside, let them see what progress had been made in recovering the losses which be had described. Taking the whole Brigade of Guards, the establishment in 1896–97 was 5,688. On April 1 the strength was 5,721; on the 1st of July it was 5,887; on the 1st of March, 1898, they ought to have 6,592 men. They had gained 170 men, in spite of all difficulties, in the first three months, and they had to gain 700 in the remaining nine months; and he might add that in the first two weeks of July they had gained more than in any previous two weeks. There was another thing that ought to be said—viz., that a large number of these men engaged for seven years and not for three—["hear, hear!"]—and the number of men enlisting for seven years, which had been steadily falling from 1891 to 1895, when it had fallen to 378 annually, had risen in the first half of 1897 to 311 in the half-year. That fact in itself was, at all events, some guarantee that the Gibraltar service was not deterrent to the men.
§ SIR A. ACLAND-HOOD
May I ask if the seven years' men are men who enlist in the general service, and are transferred to the Guards, or are they enlisted direct for the Guards? ["Hear, hear!"]
§ *MR. BRODRICK
I should say they are certainly men who have enlisted and are ready to serve in the Guards. I cannot say whether any of them are men who originally enlisted for the general service, but, as far as I know, they are men who enlisted for service in the Guards; at all events, they were posted for the Guards. He must join issue with his hon. and gallant Friend with regard to the condition of the battalions of Grenadiers. He thought that the argument of his hon. and gallant Friend was a little unfair. The military authorities had to increase this battalion from 800 to nearly 1,000 in three months. Parliament voted on April 1 that the establishment 920 should be raised by 200, and that it should be done in three months. On future occasions the time available would, of course, be much longer, because the battalion next for Gibraltar would begin to be raised to Gibraltar strength a year before embarking. ["Hear, hear!"] There were three ways of raising the battalion to this strength. The first would have been by the return of Reservists and the re-engagements of the three years' men. The efforts of the War Office to promote those desirable objects had not been successful, because there had been such good opportunities of employment outside of the Army during the last three months. The second alternative would have been to transfer from the other two battalions; but one of the engagements made with the House was that transfers would be avoided as far as possible. Out of 978 men serving in this battalion of the Grenadiers, only 54 had come from the other two battalions. The third course open was recruiting; and accordingly the authorities recruited up to the strength. His hon. and gallant Friend vehemently protested against the scheme because this battalion would on embarking have 400 men with less than nine months' service, and it was no doubt desirable that the men should be older; but Lord Wolseley would not admit for a moment that a regiment of Guards, having the finest organisation of any regiment in the world, having the largest number of officers given to any battalion on the face of the globe, having the best non-commissioned officers, and between 500 and 600 of adequate service, was rendered inefficient by the introduction into its ranks of 400, or rather more, men of less than nine months' service, who had gone through their preliminary training and who could complete their training at Gibraltar. Although it was true that for the first month or two at Gibraltar it might be said that this was a very young battalion, that demerit would soon disappear. His hon. and gallant Friend had spoken very strongly about the state of the 3rd battalion of the Grenadier Guards at Aldershot the other day, saying that there were only about 360 men in the ranks. There were 688 men belonging to the battalion; and to suppose that only 360 men could be turned out was a considerable stretch of 921 the imagination. He thought his hon. and gallant Friend must have been misinformed as to the other duties that this battalion had to perform on the particular day referred to. A great deal had been said about the difficulty of making up this battalion for future service. Although nobody could dogmatise about such a matter as recruiting, he believed that it would be adequate. Undoubtedly there was a great difficulty to be faced at the present moment; but as the Committee affirmed, only four months ago, the desirability of proceedings they were proceeding, he held that a fair trial ought to be given to what his hon. and gallant Friend called "this experiment. No anticipation made four months ago had as yet been falsified. Recruits were Coming in, and the standard of the regiments had been maintained in the manner which he had explained. The War had redeemed every promise that it had made on behalf of the Guards. Difficulties had been anticipated affecting non-commissioned officers. It had been said that they would not like to go to Gibraltar as it would interfere with their home life. He trusted that these difficulties had been satisfactorily met. Special arrangements had been made for the non-commissioned officers with regard to the married quarters and their equipment, and it had been left to the commanding officers to say what kind of baggage he wished his non-commissioned officers to take, and that baggage would be taken, ["Hear, hear!"] He believed that it would be found that every non-commissioned officer would go from London to Gibraltar at less expense to himself than was involved in a change from the Tower to the West-end of London. Then there was the question of expediency. At the present moment there were 14 more battalions of the Line abroad than at home. The proposal relating to the Guards would relieve six of these battalions, so that six fewer regiments would have both battalions abroad. Surely, it was fair for the authorities to call upon the Guards to give some assistance. If the idea were that in peace time the Guards must at any cost be put upon the Line roster, he for one would not be standing at that Table in support of such proposal. They proceeded on different grounds and with a definite aim. The line taken all 922 through was that it would add enormously to the efficiency of the Army to have nine battalions of the Guards. If it were urged that Gibraltar was not a good place to serve in, he would ask permission to read the opinion of the Commander-in-Chief on the subject. Some rather uncomplimentary things had been said with regard to the position of the officials at the head of the Army, and it had been suggested that as they had not commanded regiments themselves they could not have the same feeling on this subject as soldiers had. He did loot think that if hon. Members had attended the Debates at the War office Council they would have any reason to believe that the Council did not regard the regimental system as being the backbone of the Army. Hon. Members would at any rate admit that Lord Wolseley, who had won almost every step of his promotion by a successful, campaign, had some right to give an opinion to the proper positions front which to take troops in case of War, and this is what he said:—Writing as a soldier, I believe that the battalions of Foot Guards which will have the advantage of being quartered at Gibraltar will be improved in military efficiency by their tour of service there. When upon any sudden emergency we have had to send a few battalions into the field it has been a common practice to draw upon the Gibraltar garrison. This was because experience told us that the hoops quartered there were well trained as soldiers and better calculated to bear the exertion and exposure inseparable from war in hot climates than men who had never served out of England.He might remind the Committee that only a few weeks ago a battalion was sent direct to Crete from Malta, a station not unlike Gibraltar, as being well fitted for any service which might be required of it. His hon. and gallant Friend had reminded him of what occurred two years ago when the opinion of a military expert was disregarded. His hon. and gallant Friend ought not to forget that that opinion was as to a question of fact, namely, whether there were certain supplies in the country or not, and, if there were, whether they were adequate. But the question now before them was not one of fact, but of opinion, and one on which the heads of the Army had a right to be heard. So short a time 923 having elapsed since this change was decided upon, he held that it would be a strong step for Parliament to take this matter out of the hands of the military authorities. This was an expedient recommended on very high authority, and it was being carried out with the greatest consideration for all the interests involved, and the War Office had no reason whatever to suppose that any battalion would suffer in efficiency or numbers through the change. That being the case he sincerely hoped that the Committee would hesitate long before it determined to reverse the policy that had been adopted. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
observed that this Debate might be viewed as a continuation of the discussion which occurred earlier in the Session. He remembered that, when the matter was discussed before, the First Lord of the Treasury- was unkind enough to say that he had been laboriously sitting on a fence. A fence was a very comfortable thing to sit on—[laughter]—when it was a good fence, and he was not so sure that the right hon. Gentleman himself and the Government he led in that House did not sometimes occupy that position themselves. He need only cast his mind hack to the previous night, when the right hon. Gentleman was endeavouring to defend his action in a certain matter by urging that the whole thing was an experiment, and that it was necessary to see how it worked before coming to a definite conclusion upon it. That was very much his position in regard to this scheme. If he sat on a fence, he also shrugged his shoulders. ["Hear, hear!"] If a remedy was to be found for the undoubted difficulty that arose out of the preponderance of battalions abroad, although this might be a handy way of doing it, he was not sure that it was the best way. ["Hear, hear!"] The relegation of three battalions of the Guards permanently to garrison duty at Gibraltar was not, he thought, a proposal that commended itself to many of those interested in the efficiency of that branch of the service. ["Hear, hear!"] His hon. and gallant Friends who had put forward a strong case from their point of view seemed to him to be open to the animadversion that they were in the position of dealing 924 with and criticising an unfrnished object. He ventured to say that they could not yet judge of the effect of this change in the recruiting for the Guards. He did not suppose his right hon. Friend would continue to defend the scheme if there were any obvious danger to the recruiting and efficiency of the Guards. ["Hear, hear!"] His hon. and gallant Friends had a little exaggerated the difficulties and inconveniences of the present moment and did not look at the condition of things that would arise in a year or two when the plan was more fully developed. He, at any rate, was quite unable to judge of that matter. He hoped it might turn out to be not so injurious to the Guards as his hon. and gallant Friends suspected: but he was still in that state of dubiousness in which he found himself a few months ago, and he was certainly unable to pronounce any positive approval or any positive disapproval of the action of the Government. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ *LORD ALWYNE COMPTON (Beds, Biggleswade)
said that those who were interested in this matter felt that from a military point of view it was a question of extreme national importance and therefore they thought they would be wrong if they did not take every opportunity of bringing it forward. He deeply regretted that he was obliged to take up a hostile attitude towards the Government on this point, and it was only from his practical knowledge of the subject that he felt himself justified in taking the line he did. The Secretary of State for War used very moderate language in another place with regard to the present system, when he said "Our system of linked battalions has got a little out of joint." If he gave his own opinion, he would possibly not use such moderate language as that; but he thought he would be justified in quoting the language of the highest authority. He referred to what Lord Wolseley said as a witness before Lord Roberts' Committee. Lord Wolseley said:—Under the present condition of things, when the whole machinery has been put out of gear by the permanent derangement between the number of battalions at home and those abroad, I think the machinery of the Army has broken down in consequence.925question: What has most broken down think the home Army is not strong enough for the Army abroad. We ought to have the number of battalions at home increased, and if we did that and added a small number of men to the 721 battalions, the military system would work like clockwork.There was the evil and there was the remedy suggested for it by the highest authority. Lord Wolseley claimed to have 11 battalions added to the Army. A few months ago a Debate arose on this question and his right hon. Friend made a speech on that occasion which from the point of view of the advocate was admirable; but both that speech and his speech to-night would, he thought, prove unsatisfactory, when examined critically from a military point of view. Oil the present occasion his right hon. Friend said:—We are going to give you something the Guards never had before. We are going to give you a depôt, i.e. a depôt outside the strength of the regiment. At present if a man is measured for the Guards and is passed by the doctor, he is immediately held to be on the strength of the regiment. We propose to have a depôt as in the case of the line regiments, which will enable us to keep a pool of recruits from which we can gradually strengthen the battalion which stands next for service.But 6 months had passed and the same regulations prevailed. The establishment of the depôt was 75 in all, 54 being old soldiers to take care of the recruits, the remainder officers and staff. Every recruit was immediately posted to the battalions as they joined. Where, then, was the depot the right hon. Gentleman promised? He believed that the present design was that men of the Guards were not, to serve on a foreign station for more than one year. Now it appeared that 177 men anyhow would serve from one to two years. If his mathematics were worth anything, as far as he could work it out, there were to be 1,000 men abroad and 1,500 at home, and 60 or 70 per cent. of the men in every battalion would undoubtedly serve two years out of three abroad. His right, hon. Friend had quoted a letter from Lord Wolseley. It was very much the same letter which the right hon. Gentleman read a few months ago. The original letter which the right hon. Gentleman read made, he thought, 926 a great impression on the Committee, Lord Wolseley said:—Gibraltar always was a popular station with the Army, I believe that an experience of Foreign service will be beneficial to the brigade of Guards. Nothing has reached me which makes me think that it will be otherwise than popular with the men.De gustibus non est disputandum. He did not dispute that, though it seemed to him that the question was, was it a good station for the efficiency of the Guards Lord Wolseley had been quoted as an authority in favour of the new scheme? But Lord Wolseley expressed very different opinions on the subject in his evidence before the Wantage Committee. Lord Wolseley was asked—I want to know whether the present condition of the Guards is explained sufficiently by the fact that they have a higher standard than the Line:The reply was—Yes; the great explanation is, they do not send any drafts abroad, nor do they weed out every year their best men to send abroad.Lord Wolseley was then asked:—"That would affect the stature of the men, would it!" And he replied:—Yes, I think so, because they do not require the same number of recruits for the battalions, and the men are always being hardened up to three years; but in the Line they have to send a man abroad as soon as they have partly manufactured him into a soldier.On the subject of sending young soldiers to Egypt with the intention of sending them on to India, Lord Wolseley was asked:—If that plan were adopted, do you see any objection to sending troops out there straight from the depôt?And he replied—I think no man ought to leave England till he is a trained soldier.And yet they were face to face with the fact that in the first battalion Grenadier Guards which was going to Gibraltar in October, 970 strong, 403 men were under nine months' service. His objection to this scheme was in a nutshell. Why was 927 it that the Line battalions of the Army were in such a deplorable condition at the present moment? They were told by the highest military authorities that the cause was to be found in the linked battalion system. Again, dint was the reason that the brigade of Guards had always been the most effective body of our troops? The reason was, as Lord Wolseley had said, that they had not to send drafts abroad. And yet the treatment which had ruined the home Army of the Line was about to be applied to the Guards. This scheme was opposed by the military Members of the House, and by every officer who had served in the brigade of Guards during the last 15 or 20 years: and it was also opposed by public opinion as expressed by both sections of the Press, the Radical and Unionist. It was a most dangerous scheme in the interest of our military organisation; and the Government would Le acting wisely in dropping it. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ SIR JAMES FERGUSSON (Manchester, N.E.)
said it was no light thing which made those Members of the House who were military officers—ready as they were in all else to go anywhere and do anything demanded of them—to take up a position of hostility to a scheme adopted by a Government of whom they were supporters, and by the authorities of the Army whose slightest command they were generally ready to obey. ["Hear, hear!"] These Members had not taken up that position without consideration. They had been driven to it because the evil effects, they foresaw when the scheme was first discussed three months ago had been realised, and because every hope held out by the Government had been disappointed. ["Hear, hear!"] His right hon. Friend the Under Secretary for War, who had justly earned the confidence of all good friends of the Army, had combated the statements put forward by the supporters of the Amendment. But he thought his right hon. Friend had failed to show that Gibraltar was a good station for getting troops into condition to take the field. It certainly was not as good a place to bring together a powerful brigade as Aldershot or as London. However, the main question was—Had the deterioration of the efficiency of the Guards been sufficiently proved to bring the matter to the point which the First Lord of the 928 Treasury had said would, if reached, compel the Government to reconsider the situation? He was bound to say that he did not think it hail. He thought a great deal of mischief had been done, and he was not surprised; and he should be surprised if, before the year was ended, a great many more people did not come to the conviction that the expectations of failure had been realised. But he was inclined to think that, on the whole it could not be said that the experiment had been fairly tried yet. He thought that if the Government did what was done by every military nation in Europe—namely, provide as far as possible employment far soldiers after they had retired into the Reserve—they would not, find the men so ready to leave the Army after three years' service. ["Hear, hear!"] But the Government would not do that. Every attempt that hall been made to do it had been frowned down. When he was the Post Office he prepared a scheme by which 2,000 places were to go every year to the Army. That scheme had been abandoned without proper grounds. ["Hear, hear!"] Until the Government recognised that well-behaved soldiers, when they retired into the Reserve, had a claim upon them for employment, they would find it difficult to induce the men to remain in the Army after their three years' service. ["Hear, hear!"] He ventured very respectfully to advise his hon. and gallant Friends not to go to a Division. He did not think that they would succeed in upsetting this scheme, which had been so deliberately adopted, as the Government could not accept defeat. At the same time he could not bring himself to vote against his hon. and gallant Friends if they did go to a Division. The Government were bound to go forward with the experiment, but he believed that next year we should hear no more about it.
§ COLONEL GUNTER (York, W.R., Barkstall Ash)
said that he could not give a silent vote on the question. He intended to vote with his hon. and gallant Friends as a protest against the way in which the Army was treated.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
A great, part of tins Debate turns upon technicalities with which a civilian unacquainted with War Office routine finds it very hard to deal. But the 929 matter is one of great importance. The question before us relates to a reform, as we think it; to an experiment, as we admit it. to be—but an experiment to which the Government are pledged; which they have initiated after full consideration, and which they feel bound to carry on until experience has shown conclusively that it is a success or a failure. The right hon. Gentleman opposite, who intervened in this Debate, recalled to my recollection a fact which I hail entirely forgotten—that I had already addressed the House on this subject, and accused him of sitting on the fence. The right hon. Gentleman would adorn any position—[laughter]—and I do not venture to say that he is out of place even in that position. But it the right hon. Gentleman means that no man, dealing with so difficult a problem as that of Army reform, can say with absolute confidence that his plans, however carefully considered find long matured, are going to succeed, then I also occupy with the right hon. Gentleman a dignified position upon the fence, because I do not venture to prophecy with absolute certainty whether this plan will three years hence prove to have borne the ordeal of public criticism. Thought there, must inevitably he a certain amount of doubt in matters like this, we have taken all the precautions we can to reduce those doubts to a minimum; and we look forward, if not with absolute certainty, least with confidence, to a time when we and my hon. and gallant Friends behind me, who are alike interested in maintaining the splendid reputation of the Guards—["hear, hear!"]—shall be agreed that this new departure has had for its effect not to destroy the battalions, not to impair the efficiency for service, not to interfere with the historical continuity of their traditions, but, on the contrary, to place [...]gaer, if possible, than it was before the position of the Guards in the general system of the British Army. I am far from complaining of the line taken by the Mover and Seconder of this Amendment. Every one who heard their speeches will recognise their ability, Indeed, I have seldom heard a case put before a Committee of the Whole House with greater force and ability. And we not only recognise the ability which characterised their speeches, but we sympathise also with the feeling which 930 animated them. I myself, I regret to say, have never had the good fortune to serve in the Army. I regret that I myself have never belonged to a regiment. But everybody who has belonged to a great school or a great University, as well as every one who belongs to a great regiment, knows those feelings of esprit de corps and loyalty to the organisation in which you have spent so much of your life, and gained so much, which make you look with suspicion on everything which can even be conceived to be an attach upon the qualities winch have distinguished it in its historic past. ["Hear, hear!"] And therefore when my hon. and gallant Friends, as old Guardsmen, boldly and frankly express their fears in this House that the regiments to which they have belonged, and of which they stilt feel themselves to be in a sense members, are going to suffer owing to some Army reform, who will venture to blame them or to criticise them? But while I thus attempt to do full justice to my hon. and gallant Friends' attitude, I hope that they will also do some justice to the of the Government in this matter. I am incapable of entering the lists with my hon. and gallant Friends in regard to the details of recruiting, and the precise methods by which the battaliens are kept up to their proper strength. But it was said by my right hon. Friend near me, and it cannot be contradicted, that although the standard has been lowered, and although full allowance must be made for that new condition of affairs, the present state of efficiency is more satisfactory for the Guards than it has been in recent years. My right hon. Friend has also said without contradiction, that the difficulty which has been found in inducing the three years' men to continue theft service to seven years is not a new difficulty based upon the new change in the constitution of the Guards, but is a difficulty which has made itself felt for some years past. It is gradually increasing, and is unconnected with these new proposals, inasmuch as it made itself felt long before these proposals were put forward. I would only claim from my hon. and gallant Friends the consideration which I think ought to be given to every Government honestly striving for the ends my hon. and gallant Friends 931 have specially at heart—to every Government which, in order to attain those ends, is in course of making an experiment. I only claim what they ought to concede—namely, that amount of freedom from interference, which will enable them to prove conclusively whether the experiment is doomed to success or failure. That is not a great demand; and let me remind them that no outer Government for many years past has proposed—perhaps I ought to say, has ventured to propose—an augmentation of our establishment. We, for the first time in recent history, have come forward with a proposal for augmenting the establishment of the Army; and in an attempt which, naturally, is not met with favour either by the economists in the House or by those vim take little interest in Army reforms—a. large but, I hope, diminishing number—it is very discouraging, when we are prepared to face the opposition and criticism of that section, to find among our own friends, whose battle we thought we were fighting, the most formidable of our critics and opponents. It must be remembered that recruiting, which is acknowledged to be the central difficulty of the problem, is carried on under special difficulties in face of Debates like that to which we have been listening to-day, and in the face, of the perfectly holiest opinions among the officers of the Guards which this Debate indicates. My hon. and gallant Friend who seconded the Motion expressed his indignation at the suggestion that any officer of the Guards had not loyally attempted to carry out this change. I am sure we shall all agree with my hon. and gallant Friend that no aspersions upon the honour of the officers of the Guards are likely to fall from any Member of this House. But my hon. and gallant Friend will be the first to admit that when there is this widespread suspicion among the officers of the Guards as to the new plan, it is impossible that their feelings should not percolate through the regiment and have an inevitable effect upon the opinion of those who have to carry out the difficult duty of obtaining recruits for the Army. That, seems to me to be a state of things for which no one is to blame, neither the officers nor the Government: but which, inasmuch as it exists, does throw a difficulty—I hope it is a temporary and 932 diminishing difficulty—in the way of obtaining the necessary number of recruits to carry out this scheme. If, in the face of the difficulty thrown in our way by the present condition of trade, we are still able to carry out fully, and even more than carry out as far as we can see, the forecasts we made three months ago, surely that will be taken by my hon. and gallant Friends as sonic evidence of the ultimate success of the scheme. That the officers of the Guards will do their best to carry out the orders of their superiors I have never doubted. We trust absolutely to their professional honour, and I am sure they will not fail us. I hope that they, on their part, will at all events credit the Government in carrying out this scheme with the earnest desire to make to the best of their ability that augmentation in the Army which every Army reformer admits, to be necessary, and that they will not throw unnecessary difficulties in our way. [Cheers.] It is easy for those nations who are cursed or blest—I know not which word to use—with the system of conscription, it is easy for them, having an unlimited field from which to draw their men, to manage their military affairs with simple and naked regard for military efficiency. We depend upon one of the most uncertain and varying conditions, for our Army reformer is met at the very threshold of his endeavours by the difficulties incidental, and necessarily incidental, to our methods of adding to our Army. I hope the Army itself will do all it can to diminish those difficulties, and that every officer of the Guards or of any other regiment, who has it in his power by any action of his on public opinion, to diminish the difficulties which the War Office must find in the way of recruiting, will do his best, in the interests of the profession to which he belongs, to modify public opinion in the sense which we all desire. My right hon. Friend who has just sat down, and who gave, I think, very excellent advice to the Committee, raised a point with regard to the employment of old soldiers which is well worthy of consideration. If I refrain from saying anything upon that row if is not because. I minimise the importance of it, but because I think the discussion of it would more appropriately come on on the more general question; and when the point is again raised 933 later in the evening, my right hon. Friend near me (Mr. Brodrick) will have some communications to make to the Committee. As regards the special Vote, I make an appeal—which I confess ought not to be made in vain by any Government to those who profess to support it, that they shall, at all events, wait and see whether the Government plan is going to turn out a success or not. ["Hear, hear!"] I think I have said before, if not I say it now, that we are as determined as they can be that the pre-eminent position of the Guards shall not be impaired. [Cheers.] We recognise, as strongly as they can possibly recognise, what the position of the Guards has been, what, it is, and what it ought to be in the British Army, and we shall never make ourselves responsible for any policy, however plausible, which experience shows renders it impossible for the Guards longer to maintain that position. It seems to me when a pledge has been given, as I now give it, on behalf of the Government to the Committee, that at all events that part of the Committee en whom the Government usually rely for support, ought to extend to us their confidence and to wait till time should show whether the Government or the critics of the Government have rightly forecast the issue of the great experiment now being tried.
§ SIR A. ACLAND-HOOD
said he did not wish to embarrass the Government, but he should like a pledge that the matter would be reconsidered before the Army Estimates were introduced next year.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I think probably my hon. and gallant Friend will be content if I say that the War Office and the Government will watch with the closest attention the whole experiment now being carried on, and if experience does show by the time we again discuss these matters that the experiment is a failure, I quite agree, of course, that the case will have to be considered. But recollect that does not mean that we regard the interval between now and March 31 next year as an adequate period in which to form a final judgment in the matter. We ask for no undue time, but we also ask a period somewhat longer than my hon. and gallant Friend appears to be trying to give 934 us before we can pass a final verdict in this difficult ease.
§ GENERAL GOLDSWORTHY (Hammersmith)
thought the Government could not well do otherwise than they were doing, but at the same time he was thoroughly dissatisfied personally with the arrangements connected with the Guards, and the Government would do right if they would look most carefully into the matter before the Estimates were again introduced.
§ Question put, "That Item A (Salaries), be reduced by £100, in respect of the Salary of the Secretary of State for War."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 97; Noes, 160.——(Division List, No. 329.)