HC Deb 28 March 1898 vol 55 cc1209-11

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That the Bill be now read a second time.

*MR. H. O. ARNOLD-FORSTER (Belfast, W.)

I do not propose to oppose this Bill, but I do propose to object to the Second Reading being proceeded with at this hour. I believe that if this Bill could be explained to the House it would be simply laughed out of the House; it would be impossible that it should be passed. It is a flag of distress put up by the War Office in their extreme need. It is a Bill founded on this fact: that the War Office either cannot or will not look in the face the necessity of having six efficient battalions at home for the service of this great Empire. If we had only got six efficient battalions, this ridiculous and miserable substitute for efficiency would not be brought before this House. The Bill contains, in its first clause, every vice that a military measure could possibly contain. Men are to be brought back to active service, from where? They are to be picked up from casual wards and lavatories. They are to be given sixpence a day to register themselves, and to bear the badge of inferiority in service, and to hold themselves in readiness, on receipt of a six penny telegram, to serve in some battalion not their own. No man capable of obtaining honest employment will make himself liable for such service, and what will happen? A battalion like the Berkshire or the Warwickshire, with 150 capable men, will suddenly find itself swamped with 700 or 800 men, the rag-tag and bob-tail of other battalions. And what will they be engaged for? Not for the remainder of their Reserve service, not for four or five years, but they are to be taken on by the job, just for six—or at the outside twelve—months, and then sent back to earn their living and take their place in the industrial ranks again. If everything that we have been saying about the Army service is not a sham, if everything we have been saying about territorial recruiting is not a sham, if everything we have been saying about esprit de corps is not a sham, if everything we have been saying about attachment between officers and men is not a sham—then this Bill is an absolute sham and fraud. I do not want to detain the House now. I hope to be able to say more when the Bill gets into Committee. I am ready to accept anything which the War Office may propose which will really strengthen our Army; but what are we doing by this Bill? We are not adding one man to the Army. Every one of these men is already liable to serve as a member of the Reserve; and now we are to pick up these men, simply because the War Office will not face the realities of the situation, and will not apply themselves to the task of completing the miserable minimum of six battalions. They have done what they could to destroy the efficiency and morale of the Army, and this is their latest effort. I do not want to stand in the way of the Second Reading of the Bill. There is a very valuable provision in the Bill, in the second clause, and I am not going to oppose the Bill in toto, but I do trust that, if there are any hon. Members of this House who care for the honour and efficiency of the Army, they will be present on the Committee stage and ask themselves whether they can conscientiously vote for Clause 1 of this Bill.

MR. T. C. T. WARNER (Stafford, Lichfield)

I am very sorry that I cannot quite agree with the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. The second clause of the Bill, the only one for which anything can be said, could be passed in five minutes in any time of emergency; but this first clause is really too serious to be allowed to pass. If this is one of the "reforms" which the War Office has promised us I say it is no reform at all. It is a scheme for making the Reserve more a bogus Reserve than it is now. I hope the House will not consent to pass this Bill at this hour and without any discussion. It gives power to call out the Reserve men for six or twelve months on giving them extra pay. It will be no assistance whatever in making regiments effective for foreign service. It will simply enable the War Office to make a show while the regiments are at home. I think there should be no desire on the part of the Government to pass such a Bill without adequate discussion.

It being Midnight, the Debate stood adjourned.