HC Deb 09 June 1898 vol 58 cc1242-5

Amendment proposed— Line 3, omit the word 'member' and insert 'part.'"—(Mr. Griffith Boscawen.)


I understood from the speech of my right honourable Friend, in introducing this Bill, that what was intended was that it should be within the power of the War Office, in cases where the Militia volunteered for service abroad, to call out some of their own officers. I think myself that that is a provision which is calculated to do a great deal of good for the Militia. I think a great many Militia battalions would volunteer for service abroad, and if they were sent abroad under their own officers, it would be a good thing, and would tend to the popularity of the force. But, Sir, when I come to look at the clause, instead of, say, "part" of the Militia, or some such word as that, the word employed is "member" of the Militia. Now, instead of sending several companies under their own officers, the tendency will be to select certain individual members of the force, and send them to supplement the Line battalion, and drawing them from the Militia battalion, which is most ineffective, have been reduced to a state of things which has been described by the Commander-in-Chief as "a squeezed lemon." Now, I do not. believe that that was the intention of the War Office, or that that is the intention of the Bill, for if that was the effect, I venture to say that it would do a great deal of harm instead of good, for if it is intended to send away individual members, that will only leave the battalions weaker than they were before. Now, in order to elicit a plain statement upon this point from my right honourable Friend, I beg leave to move this amendment.


I am sorry that I cannot accept the amendment of my honourable Friend, but in the statement I made on introducing the Army Estimates I stated the object of this Bill. The first object of these two clauses is to enable the Militia to volunteer, who desire to, for active service, on certain conditions, and if they are willing to volunteer, then we shall be able to enlist those men. The object of the Amendment will be achieved when the Militia go abroad under their own officers, if they ask to go abroad under such circumstances. The main object of this clause is that the Militia battalions should have the opportunity of volunteering if they so desire, and to enable members of the Militia who are not members of certain battalions to also enlist along with them for service abroad. I hope my honourable Friend will not think that it is still necessary to press his amendment.

MR. COURTENAY WARNER (Stafford, Lichfield)

I believe that under this system the Militia Reserve is being practically done away with, for it is being altered to a Reserve that can be taken out on active service at once to fight. I simply wish to draw attention to this because it is a very important alteration, for this drawing of single men and single officers from the Militia and putting them on active service is a very important alteration, and I am glad that the honourable Gentleman has brought forward this Amendment, because it places the question before the country, and lets the people know that such an alteration has been made, and that the Militia is not the force for merely defensive purposes which it was before.

* SIR J. FERGUSSON (Manchester, N.E.)

I was for a good many years commandant of a Militia regiment, and I have the greatest possible sympathy with my honourable and gallant Friend below me in his anxiety that this clause of the Bill may not operate injuriously on the Militia. I do not think that everything has been done for the Militia which ought to be done, because under certain circumstances they might constitute a very valuable portion of the defences of the country, besides being able to relieve battalions in foreign garrisons, who might be wanted elsewhere. But I am not able to share the fears of my honourable and gallant Friend, and especially after the explanation given by the Under Secretary of State for War. It has always been recognised that the Militia regiments can be drawn upon to furnish men for the Line, and I think every inducement ought to be given to individual Militiamen to volunteer for the Army, with which they are incorporated, and become soldiers. It seems to me that it would injure the regiment less for individuals to volunteer for some period not exceeding a year, and then to revert to the regiment, because those men, having spent some months in the regular Army on active service, would stiffen their regiment very much upon returning to it, and of course their places in it could be filled by new recruits. I certainly think, like my honourable Friend, that the Militia officers would gladly go on active service with their regiments. Nevertheless, it would greatly contribute to the usefulness of the regiment if individual members took their places for a time in the ranks of the regular battalions. I think that after the explanations which have been given, my honourable and gallant Friend may not have the same apprehension as he had before, and I think that on the whole it is a valuable provision.

COLONEL SANDYS (Lancashire, Bootle)

As an old Militia commanding officer I should like to say a word or two upon this very important subject, because I think that the House should consider very seriously before it allows any Measure to pass which would tend to weaken the Militia. I am sorry to say that I do not altogether endorse the present system with regard to the Army. I think a great deal of the weakening of our first line has taken place owing to the great interest which is taken in the Militia corps, and the effort which has been made to bring it up to the pitch of efficiency which exists, for they are the admiration of all officers who see them. I think we should hesitate before adopting any system which will tend in any way to deteriorate the efficiency of our Militia battalions. Now, there are a certain number of men in the ranks of each Militia regiment who are liable under certain circumstances to be called to the Line, but I would venture to suggest to the House that the Army should be compelled to provide its own Reserve, and that the Militia should be allowed to take its legitimate position in the defences of the country as the second force next to the front fighting line. There is nothing that takes the heart out of a Militia battalion, and out of the Militia commanding officer, like the knowledge of the fact that in the hour of danger their best men may be taken out of the battalion, thus reducing it to a state of inefficiency; and the whole of their efforts, which have been directed for many years to bring those battalions to a state of efficiency which will be useful to the country, are to be practically nullified in order to patch tip the front line, which has been allowed to fall into a state of inefficiency owing to the lack of proper administration. I venture to protect most earnestly against any Measure which is calculated to take away the Reserve men from the Militia battalions, and I trust that the House will not pass any Measure of that kind.


I understand from the right honourable Gentleman the Under Secretary that the intention is not to single out individual Members, and I therefore beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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