§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £218,300, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge for the Salaries and Miscellaneous Charges of the War Office, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1900."
§ * MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER (Belfast, W.)
I was advised the other day, by a gentleman who is conversant with the War Office and its ways, never in the future to waste my time in criticising or attacking subordinate officials, but to lay the responsibility where it ought to be, and is, namely upon the Secretary of State for War himself. For indeed, it is the Secretary of State who is after all respon- 1615 sible, and until his attention is drawn to his responsibility, no great improvement will take place. I have taken that advice to heart. I need hardly say that I desire to make my attack on Lord Lansdowne not as an individual, but merely as the responsible head of a great public Department. It would be most ungracious in me if I omitted to add that whatever has been done during the last year or two—and a great deal has been done—to improve the Army, has been due to the Secretary of State himself, rather than to any subordinate in the Department. We gratefully recognise the improvement, or promise of improvement, in regard to the cavalry regiments, about which a great deal of feeling was expressed last session, and we are sanguine enough to believe that that promise will be carried out. We welcome the addition of 2d. to the actual pay of soldiers, and we are pleased to see that a moderate amount of success, largely owing to the initiative of the Secretary of State himself, has attended the employment given to discharged soldiers of good character. I am myself particularly pleased that the Secretary of State for War has met us to a certain extent with regard to the restoration of the old facings of regiments which were particularly proud of them; and I am glad to know that, under his orders, the absurd and impracticable arrangements of the Ordnance Department, which have been so often denounced in this House, have now at last been finally abandoned, and a more rational system been put in their place. While I admit that the Secretary of State has done much good in these matters, I cannot say I am equally pleased with the condition of things that exists in the policy of the War Office. It is all very well to provide a man with a new set of shirt studs, a flower in his buttonhole, and half a crown in his pocket; but if the man happens to be suffering from Oriental plague it is best to let these embellishments wait until you have cured him of his mortal disease. Motion may be the resultant of two forces, a propulsive force and a withholding force; and if the withholding force is superior the result is motion in a backward direction. The retarding force in the War Office has mastered the propelling force, and the result is a retrograde movement. I desire to criticise the policy of the Secretary of State 1616 for War, who is responsible, on certain definite and specific heads. I want to criticise the action, or inaction, of the War Office in regard to the Report which was presented to Parliament last year. That is entirely a matter within the province of the War Office. Hon. Members, I hope, have not forgotten what that Report was. I regret to say that its character and purport are not sufficiently well known, owing to insufficient discussion in the country. I venture to say that never in the history of any Department of Government has there been such a disclosure of administrative incompetence as is disclosed in that Report. That Report was the outcome of an inquiry of a very remarkable Committee. That Committee was formed by the War Office, and was presided over by the Under Secretary of State at that time. It called before it, as witnesses, the most prominent members of the War Office, and took their evidence. And if you wanted to damn the War Office, to discredit its operations, to make it appear a ridiculous and impossible institution, you could not have done better than to repeat the words of that Report, and the evidence on which it was based. I want to know what has been done to give effect to the recommendations of that Report, for, be it noted, these recommendations are not the outcome of, nor do they correspond to the recommendations by private Members; but are made in the interest of the British Army by the War Office itself. We have heard that something has been done. We have been told that some very violent action has been taken, and that the Financial Secretary has got to the point of reducing by £5,000 a year the salaries of the War Office clerks. There is an old story about a man trying to cure an earthquake with a pill, but I have not heard that the treatment was successful; and I am not convinced that even this resource of reducing the War Office clerks' salaries by £5,000 will meet the case. I wish to put a question. Sometimes we have great difficulty in placing the responsibility on the proper person. But in this case I may clearly put the responsibility on the Secretary of State for War, and I want to ask him what he has done with regard to a particular officer who took a marked part in producing the evidence given before that Committee. I want to quote to the House a statement, which was made by one of the most 1617 eminent soldiers in the British Army, and one of the most prominent in the administration of the War Office, I mean Sir Redvers Buller. That eminent officer said:I should like to say clearly and openly that I start from this point, and I think I have verified it sufficiently, that the whole system of reports, and regulations, and warrants under which the British Army now serves, has grown up entirely for the benefit of the War Office clerks, and to find work for the War Office clerks rather than to provide control over the army.That is a very serious statement indeed, and what I want to ask is, what business had Sir Redvers Buller to make it? For the head of a Department, after having been in this responsible position for ten years, and having had the full control of the Department, to openly state at the end of his term that whilst he was there the Department to his knowledge was grossly mismanaged, and that it was conducted for purposes not in the interest of the business for advancing which he received his pay, is an astounding thing, and I can only say that in the trading concern to which I have the honour to belong, or in any concern conducted for profit, we should give short shrift to the head of a Department who acted in such a fashion. When we find an officer in the position of Sir Redvers Buller making such a statement as this after he has left his post, we should make him verify his statement. It would be impertinence in me to criticise him as a soldier, but as a Member of this House and as a taxpayer I am certainly entitled to ask whether any explanation of his statement has been required from him by the Secretary of State. This monstrous condition of things has apparently been going on for ten years to his knowledge, and nothing has been done during the whole of that time to remedy the evil he so graphically describes. I quote this case as an example only, and the conclusion I have been forced to come to is that until we have a thorough transformation of the manner of doing business at the War Office we shall get no advance in the British Army at all. Moreover, I want to know whether the melancholy catalogue of evil and absurd practices which is set out in this report has led to any action which is worthy of the name being taken by the War Office. This is clearly a matter in which the responsibility of the Secretary of State for War is 1618 immediately and primarily involved. I now come to another matter in which I desire to criticise the policy and action—or inaction—of the Secretary of State. Lord Lansdowne as head of the Army is responsible for the defence of this country. He is also the Parliamentary head of the War Office, and responsible for letting the country know the real condition of the Army. I challenge contradiction when I say that the whole effort of the representatives of the War Office has been for the last three years to lead people to believe that there has been a substantial addition to the British Army. That is not the fact. It is the fact that Lord Lansdowne has endeavoured to produce such an impression, and it is only through an accident that the country has learned the truth as to the Army. Only a week ago Lord Lansdowne made a statement in the House of Lords that despite the difficulties in the way of the War Office they were adding to the Army. That is not correct, there is no addition being made to the Army at all. Five years ago the force of the Regular Army, Militia, and Army Reserve was 408,900 men. In the present year the number is 408,924; that is to say that during the five years we have added twenty-four men to the effective forces of the country, and this during a period when there has been an enormous addition to the Army Estimates. Five years ago the amount of the Army Estimates was £17,980,000, and this year they amount to £19,528,000, an increase of £1,545,000. That has been going on for five years; we have had increases during the period of £7,000,000 sterling. The Vote for naval works is about the same figure. What would be the criticism of this house, if, after £7,500,000 had been expended, the Admiralty could only point to an increase of the Navy by twenty-four men?
§ THE UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Mr. WYNDHAM,) Dover
All those millions have not been devoted to the increase of men.
§ * MR ARNOLD-FORSTER
I understand my hon. friend says that all this expenditure has not been devoted to getting men, but he ought to remember how often we have been told that these additions were being made to the Army, 1619 and he ought to be as explicit on other occasions as he now appears desirous of being, and he ought to tell the country frankly that after all this expenditure we have only added twenty-four men to the Army. The Secretary of State said only the other day that we were making up slowly the addition that Parliament sanctioned. He said it was true that 5,000 were taken from the Army Reserve, and appeared as an addition to the Army; but that is no addition at all. The remainder have come from the Militia, which is already available for the service of the country. The men have been taken from one force and put into another. I, and probably other hon. Members are familiar with the measures that are resorted to, and efforts that are being made to cozen these men out of the Militia into the Army. I could tell the House what is done in the depôts in this matter, and of the pressure which is put upon the men to leave the Militia and enter the line. Of course, where the devil drives one must needs go, but if we must get men in this way do not let us be told that we are adding to the defensive forces of the country. With regard to the policy which the Secretary of State has thought fit to adopt to cope with this state of things, I admit he has made gallant attempts to get more men to come into the Army, but we have always said he was going the wrong way about it, and not doing the proper thing to get men into the Army, and to keep them in the Army when he got them. A few days ago in the House of Lords the Secretary of State spoke in a most alarming manner, and it looked as if we were on the verge of conscription. It may be that we shall have to come to that unfortunate condition of things. There are many of us who believe that a time will come when we shall no longer be able to get an army on a voluntary system, bit before we come to so melancholy a conclusion we should make a trial of all other methods. The old method is a failure—let us try others. The Secretary of State says that he will never consent to a long service army and a short service army existing at the same time, but a long service army already exists in practice, though in theory it has no existence whatever. All the advantages that appertain to long service have been abandoned, and the disadvantages of the short service 1620 retained, but, nevertheless, there are as many long service men in the Army as there have ever been since the Crimea. If you led recruits to understand that they were in for long service you might get some advantage by doing so, but when you enlist men for short service and then persuade them to prolong their term, under short-service rules; or when you call men back from the Reserve, you are doing that which is unjust in itself, which produces the minimum of advantage, and which as a remedy for your difficulties is bound to fail. The authorities attribute the falling off of recruits to the goodness of trade, and that no doubt is a great bar to recruiting, but I should like to point out that the Army is not the only military force in this country. There is a force of 20,000 men, which, I believe, is the best military force in the country—the Royal Marines, and though there has been some falling off in the recruiting there, they are still adding men to the corps. In the last few years the Marines have been increased from 14,000 to 20,000 men, a real, and not a sham increase; and though the recruiting has been slack during the last six months the falling off has only amounted to 183 men. I think the War Office might learn a lesson from the Royal Marines in this respect, and the sooner they learn that lesson the better for the Army and the country. I am not prepared to accept the statement that good trade is the reason for the failure of recruits. The Secretary of State for War tells us that something is being done to increase the facilities and opportunities for employing discharged soldiers; but there again, though he is doing good work, he is not getting the benefit of it. Lord Lansdowne professes to believe in chance charity, but I have always urged that employment after service should be absolutely assured to men who fulfil certain conditions. Common-sense tells us that if you want to get a man to join the Army as a career you must give him some guarantee that when he leaves it, provided he has satisfied certain conditions, he will be entitled to employment. There is no guarantee at present, and it is a mere toss up whether he will get employment or not, or of what kind or form his employment may be. If the War Office wants to get recruits, they must give them a guarantee when 1621 they enlist. The Secretary of State tells us there is a difficulty in getting men, but would it not be better to keep the men he has got? He does not realise, and the country does not realise, the amount of waste that goes on in the Army at the present time. The Secretary of State adopts a system which loses him thousands of men who ought to be retained in the Army. I find from the Report that in 1897 of men under twenty-one years of age no less than 4,411 were discharged from the Army, and 1,924 deserted before they completed their term of service. This makes a total of 6,335, and, when we remember that the whole number of men discharged from the Army in the year was 12,900, we are able to realise the extent of this waste. I believe that nine-tenths of that waste is absolutely preventible. As it is absolutely necessary for the Committee to know the extent of waste that goes on I take another figure. There were discharged into the Army Reserve in 1898 16,220 men. Those are the men who have completed their effective service. In 1892 there were 39,500 men enlisted into the Army, so that the waste in those six years—men absolutely obliterated and lost to the country—amounted, roughly speaking, to no less than 23,000 men. Making the most ample allowance for the men who extended their service in any one year, that margin of 23,000 men gone out of the Army, lost to the country, in six years is so serious that the Secretary of State ought to be able to give some better explanation than we have ever had of tile merits of the system which permit such a thing to he of regular occurrence. Why is it hard, as we are told it is, to get non-commissioned officers in the Army, and afterwards to keep them? I should like to state why so many leave after their seven years' term. It is because inducements are not offered to them to extend their term before they come to the end of their engagement. The Secretary of State could get scores and hundreds of men who make the best class of noncommissioned officers if he would only arrange to use a little common-sense and extend the only system which has yet been tried with success. Where do the N.C.O.'s come from now? Seven-tenths are men who come through the Duke of York School or the Royal Hibernian School. It is only by accident that these boys get into the Army at all. So im- 1622 provident is our system that if you had twice as many boys at those schools, the additional boys would never get into the Army at all, and there again I say that the policy that the Secretary of State clings to is a wrong one. It is a policy which disregards alike the dictates of Englishmen and commonsense. Lord Lansdowne, in his remarks the other day, did not say a word that was not within the mark about the Militia, which is dying, or rather I should say is being killed by the present system. He said it was dying, and adumbrated heroic measures for its resuscitation. He said it was 19,000 below strength; it is a great deal more than that; if we regard as effective the men present at inspection, it is 44,000 below its established strength, and if we take away the Militia Reserve it is 68,000 below its established strength. I venture to recommend a treatment of the Militia very different from the drastic remedy suggested by the Secretary of State—the Militia should be treated as if they were, human beings and Englishmen. What is the inducement to men to enlist as militiamen? Their officers, if they behave themselves, are taken away in a couple of years; they are not sure of their comrades, for in every Militia regiment some hundreds of "special service men" on the first alarm of war are taken away; the Militia Reserve would also in event of war be drafted off for service with the Line; they are given an inferior uniform, and on every occasion are treated as if they were the drudges of the Army. Is it not the fact that at the War Office a Militia officer is rebuked or praised exactly in proportion as he makes his battalion a feeder of the Line? That is not the way to encourage Englishmen to take an interest in their work, and until the Secretary of State recognises the fact we all know he will have the same melancholy tale to tell as that which he told the other day. In conclusion, I challenge the policy of the Secretary of State, because, in my opinion, in almost every direction it disregards the ordinary feelings of Englishmen. There is no branch of the service which the War Office can touch that it has touched without injuring. Only this afternoon the House had another instance of the disregard by the War Office of the human 1623 element in the men it controlled, in the answer of the Under Secretary of State with regard to recruiting for the Volunteers, which to my mind is typical of the whole course of business at the War Office. He has threatened that if the non-commissioned officers of the force do not follow the course prescribed by the War Office, and follow men into public-houses to get them to join the Army, they shall be dismissed the service.
* THE CHAIRMAN
Order, order! I think the remarks of the hon. Gentleman are going a long way outside the scope of the Vote.
§ * MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
Of course, I bow to your ruling, but I hope an opportunity will be given him for dwelling upon the question of Volunteer instructors and recruiting, and I may say that the answer which was put into the mouth of my hon. friend was so uninformed and so misleading that it was a pity he was ever allowed to give it. I do not hesitate to say that, unless there is a radical change in the whole point of view of the War Office with regard to the Service, the country is going straight to disaster. I have had the honour of obtaining the views of men of every rank in every branch of the Service in every part of the world, and I am forced to the conclusion that there is a radical difference of opinion and a radical difference in the point of view between officers actually serving with the troops and the chiefs of the War Office; and that until there is an absolute revolution in the views of one side or the other there never can be that harmony which is so essential to the efficient administration of the service. There is an absolute want of comprehension of the true feelings and aspirations of the soldier among those who administer the War Office. The War Office has pledged itself over and over again to a policy which it said would surely succeed, and it has failed; and the War Office is now compelled to admit that it has failed, and we ask that there should be a radical change in the policy and point of view in those who administer the Department.
§ * SIR CHARLES DILKE
The melancholy answer given at question time to-day to the hon. Member for Cheltenham only emphasised the failure of the War Office as regards recruiting for the 1624 Army, which was developed by the Secretary of State in his speech the other day. It has been shown by my hon. friend the Member for Belfast, that the number of 12,000 men which we were supposed to have obtained is entirely illusory; that the supply of recruits has failed lamentably. The sad admission of the Secretary of State War is, with regard to the failure of the War Office in the matter of recruiting, only what Members interested in the subject have prophesied over and over again would come to pass. But the falling off in recruits is worse even than it appears on the surface. The safety of this country in time of war must depend mainly, not on the troops shut up in distant colonies and fortifications, but upon the striking Army, the Army we can send out immediately. But the number of men at home has greatly diminished during the last four years, and we are in a far weaker position in respect of sending out an expeditionary force than we have been in for a long time, and that despite a large increase in expenditure. But while we are not allowed to discuss on this Vote the condition of the Militia and Volunteers, there has been admittedly pressure brought to bear upon the Militia, and also upon the Volunteers, which are being used merely as recruiting agencies for the Line. If the War Office is tied to the maintenance of the present system on the general lines adopted by three successive Governments, then it is impossible for them to do otherwise. They must find men where they can, and if they do not believe much in the practical value of the Volunteers to this country, they naturally fall back upon the Militia and the Volunteers, and use them as mere recruiting agencies of the Line, without caring whether the efficiency of those forces is diminished or not. This great decrease which has occurred in the number of troops at home, and the absolutely stationary character as regards the number of troops in the whole Empire, is accompanied by many stratagems for swelling the numbers. The standard has been progressively lowered, and that has produced a large increase. The standard of the Guards is now 5ft. 7in., while the standard for the Line is 5ft. 3½in. In addition to this, 13,000 "specials," not even possessing the present qualifications, have been accepted during the last year. The proportion of 1625 special enlistments is increasing steadily and even rapidly. In 1896 the specials constituted 18 per cent., in 1897 29 per cent., and in 1898 31 per cent. In spite of all this, the number of the troops is of a stationary character, and there are "serious misgivings as regards the future" in the mind of the Secretary of State. In spite of every stratagem being used to increase the numbers—that is, the reduction of the standard and the pressure brought to bear on the Militia and the Volunteers, which is practically destroying those forces—the number of the troops remains stationary. I need not, in face of these terrible facts, dwell upon any other points upon which, if we had time to-night, I should have liked to -question the administration of the War Office. The Volunteers can hardly be dealt with upon the Volunteer Vote today. The difficulties of the Army with regard to ranges—which the Government are now making attempts to cope with—have only further deteriorated a portion of our forces. In regard to the strength of the artillery, which is a matter of rapidly increasing importance, the Government have fallen far short of the endeavours which they ought to have made. I cannot ask the Government to tell us all they know upon this question, but I am sure they must know what is a matter of common notoriety amongst those who have been able to follow the French experiments in artillery. There can be no doubt that one great Power, at all events, has an artillery gun which is altogether in advance of anything which we possess in this country. The new French gun is a real quick-firing gun. of which the French have now mastered the difficulties. It has a hydro-pneumatic brake, allowing of rapid firing without the relaying of the gun even in difficult country; and that is altogether in advance of anything which this country possesses, and the Government, with all its enormous expenditure upon the Army, were only able to tell us that they had adopted a temporary expedient, that further inquiry was being made, and that important developments might be looked for in the future. We are certainly enormously behind, in this all-important respect, of one of the great Powers, and it is a matter which, even on a night when we have but a very short time to devote to the discussion of the ladies of the War Office, deserves the 1626 attention of the House. There have been discussions upon this subject lately in which the whole of the shortcomings of the Government have been exposed. There was a most interesting discussion the other day over this artillery question at the Royal Artillery Institution, where General Brackenbury was in the chair, and Colonel Bainbridge cross-examined the officers in regard to the artillery operations in Egypt. On that occasion Major Young took part in the discussions, and what he said curiously illustrated the feeling of this country in regard to the artillery which was put forward when we had the Debate at the beginning of this session. We then criticised the whole policy of the War Office with regard to the non-rearmament of the artillery, and in regard to those Debates, Major Young said very frankly that a British officer hardly knew what to do with wagons, and could not understand ammunition supply because they were never drilled in this respect in this country. This, I think, is a matter which, even on a night when we are limited in time, deserves the attention of the Committee, and ought to be pressed upon the notice of the War Office. With regard to the main question which my hon. friend opposite, in a powerful speech, has placed before the Committee, I desire to ask whether we can expect the country to rest content with the general military system which has brought us to such a sad pass in regard to our national recruiting as that which we have confessedly reached at the present time. The Under Secretary of State seems to think that it is a sufficient reply to the proposals of myself and of my hon. friend to ask how we would deal with the regimental system. My hon. friend the Under Secretary for War is a little new to his place; and although he has been able to pick up the threads of past Debates after being in office during one very busy session only, we can hardly expect that he can thoroughly have mastered everything that has been written upon this subject. Those of us who believe in the establishment of two separate armies—a long - service army serving abroad, and a short-service army serving at home—with free exchange of officers and men between them—are not afraid to say so. But we have not pinned ourselves to the actual separation of the two armies. Those of us 1627 who hold the most extreme views of separate armies have exposed ourselves to criticism with regard to the regimental system, but we have been able to meet that criticism by the modified proposal which we put forward to couple the existing regimental system with the proposals which we have made. It would meet the essentials of our view if you gave the men the chance of enlistment under either the long-service or the short-service system. If you adopt frankly those two systems of recruiting, and put them forward without any cheating at all of the recruits or of the taxpayers, I believe that, with all the facts before us relating to the long service marines, and even the facts of your own brief trial of the three years' system, you will see that they all go to show that you would meet with a success. We firmly believe that they do offer some chance of success, whereas your own system has proved a hopeless wreck. I know there is a very deep-rooted War Office prejudice in this matter. Many of the younger and most brilliant men in the service believe in having two forms of enlistment offered to the men, but successive Governments have resisted the idea, and they have been backed up by a large amount of War Office authority. They have resisted it in their speeches, in which they have told us that we were about to see the triumphant and final success of their alternative system. We have now seen this absolute and final breakdown in the system, and I venture to ask that some members of the Committee should join our ranks, and help us to adopt some such system, which we have recommended, and to which the Government promised to give a trial. It cannot be said that the trial on a small scale of the three years' kyst eni is the fair test for which We ask of the reform we advocate. Moreover, there is a distinction drawn between the three years, men and other men in the rate of pay, and constant pressure is brought to hear upon the three years' men to extend their service. Therefore we cannot admit that that is a fair trial of the shorter system. In adding my voice to the cause put forward by the hon. Member for Belfast, I think I may say that the War Office confess the failure of their policy which was revealed to the country in the speech delivered by the Secretary for War.
§ * GENERAL RUSSELL (Cheltenham)
I feel that I require no apology in asking the indulgence of the Committee to enable me to call attention to what is probably the most important matter in connection with the money which they are now asked to vote for the support of the Army. I allude to the organisation of the War Office. In round numbers we spend about twenty millions on our Army exclusive of the Indian establishment, and I regret to say that in connection with this vast expenditure of money there has long been, and there is now, I fear, a very strong feeling, not only in this House, but also out of doors, that we do not get the full value for our money. It has been asserted—and, I fear, not without good ground—that the office which has practically the dispensing of this vast sum is faulty in organisation, cumbersome and unpractical in its methods, in short, that it does not turn to best account the funds placed at its disposal. As a result of this widespread feeling of mistrust the present Secretary of State appointed a Committee about a year and a half since, with the right hon. Gentleman the present Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs as president, to report on the decentralisation of War Office business. This Committee sat for about two months, took a large amount of evidence, and issued their report on the 16th of March last year. Now, Sir, I do not hesitate to say that the evidence and Report contained in these pages, although they contain nothing that surprises those who, from personal experience, are conversant with the War Office and its ways, cannot fail to fill the mind of any man of ordinary business capacity, who takes the trouble to read them, with astonishment and disgust. Such extraordinary circumlocution, muddling mismanagement, and want of system would bring any ordinary commercial business to a standstill in six months. To give some instances quoted in the Report, the general officer commanding at Aldershot could not transfer a gunner from one battery to another under his command without reference to London, and papers that required nine signatures; nor could he send back an unsatisfactory gunner of the district, staff to his battery at Woolwich without papers involving twelve signatures. No general could authorise the issue of straw hats at 3d. a-piece, and specially ordered by the medical officer to protect a work- 1629 ing party from sunstroke, without reference to the War Office. I should weary the Committee were I to multiply instances of this most extraordinary and unpractical system as quoted in this Report and evidence—perhaps, however, I might be permitted to give one instance out of these many from my own practical experience; I can do so with less hesitation, as all the officials to whom I refer are now dead. A good many years ago I was employed in the Intelligence Branch of the Adjutant-General's Department, and was brought over to the War Office to take the duty of the late Sir Thomas Baker, who had been suddenly ordered to India to take up the duties of Military Secretary to the Viceroy. Musketry was one of the subjects dealt with by the Department, of which I had temporary charge. One day the chief civilian clerk, an admirable official, well acquainted with all the intricacies of War Office traditions, brought me a telegram from the officer commanding at Aldershot, begging that an answer might be sent to a pressing application which he had made a few days since, requesting that authority might be given to the Ordnance Store officer to issue targets, at which troops now assembled at Aldershot for musketry training might practise skirmishing. The chief clerk told me that he had made a search in the office for the paper in question, which had been already then about a week receiving annotations and signatures from various subordinate officials. It appeared that some canvas targets were required of the value of about 30s., to enable the troops to finish their musketry; that these were in store at Aldershot, but could not be issued without authority from London; it appeared also that the matter was pressing, the troops in question were under canvas, the weather was breaking, and the officer commanding was anxious to let them finish their course and go into winter quarters. The Adjutant-General happened to he away for a couple of days, so I could not ask his advice, and the chief clerk assured me that before this expenditure of 30s. could be sanctioned this paper must be submitted to a number of other officials, including the Director of Artillery, the Accountant-General, and I believe to several others, that it would then have to be submitted to the Commander-in-Chief, when it would again come back to the Adjutant-General, and 1630 hence that the request of the general commanding at Aldershot could not possibly be granted within a week. I said, "Telegraph at once, and sanction the issue of these targets. We can square all these people afterwards. If bad comes to worse it is only a matter of 30s. I will pay it myself." The chief clerk appeared much shocked by my levity, and told me that I was transgressing all the rules of the War Office. I said, "Never mind, I will take the risk; please have a letter written in the Commander-in-Chief's name for me to sign, confirming the telegram." A day of reckoning, however, was in store for me. A short time afterwards the Adjutant-General sent for me and told me that I had got him into a terrible scrape, and I must conic with him and make my peace with some of the officials whose authority I had disregarded He showed me into a room where there was a little fat man with a red face, bursting with indignation. The Adjutant-General said, "This is the young and inexperienced officer of whom you complained; he wishes to apologise. I am sure he will never do such a thing again." Such, Sir, are, or were the ways of the War Office. I will not, however, inflict on the Committee any more anecdotes from my own or any other persons' experience; I will only refer them to the printed evidence laid before them. Sir Redvers Buller is a well known officer, who has now what is undoubtedly the most important command in the United Kingdom. He, moreover, had about twenty-three years' experience of the War Office, only broken by various periods when he was on active service. On page 40 you will see he says:The whole system of reports and regulations and warrants under which the British Army now serves has grown up entirely for the benefit of War Office clerks, and to find work at the War Office rather than to find control for the Army.And, again, in answer to Question 954, when asked if there had not been an enormous transfer of actual administrative work from the civil to the military side, he replies:You cannot say that the work is administrative if the officer in charge is not responsible for the accomplishment of it.Now, Sir, I will not attempt to wade through a tenth of the evidence contained 1631 in this Paper. I will only call the attention of the Committee to the evidence of Sir W. Butler, a well-known officer, who himself was some time at the War Office, and held what is at the present moment the most important command in any of our colonies, India excepted. But he makes some further most important and serious statements; he states it to be his deliberate opinion that our young army is not properly trained. In answer to Questions 1506–7–8–9, he expresses this opinion, and refers to the checks and disasters that occurred in the Afridi war. He attributes this want of training to the fact that staff officers and generals in command are unable to devote the time necessary for the proper training of troops, in consequence of having such an enormous amount of office work and preparation of returns to the War Office—returns which, as I learn by the evidence, are scarcely ever read. Well, Sir, this Committee made many practical recommendations, only a small proportion of which I am told have as yet been carried out. The Secretary of State also, in his opening statement at the commencement of this session, informed us that a Departmental Committee had been appointed to inquire into the organisation of the War Office. I have addressed several questions to the hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary, the Chairman, as to this Committee—when its Report will be issued, and whether it will be published—but have failed to get any satisfactory reply. I really think we must press the Government to hold nothing back, to conceal nothing, and to publish the evidence of this Committee. It may not be generally known that practically the financial work of the War Office is done twice over. Exclusive of the Pay Department, which, of course, must remain centralised under the sole control of the Accountant-General, there are three great spending departments at the War Office: The Quartermaster-General for supplies, clothing, and such like; the Inspector-General of Ordnance for ammunition, guns, material, etc.; and the Inspector-General of Fortifications for barracks, works, etc. Each one of these departments has financial clerks attached to it, who are supposed to exercise financial control over the expenditure. There is also the department of the Accountant - General, which also exercises financial control—a dual control, one of which is superfluous. In point of 1632 fact, no officer in charge of one of these great departments is free to spend the money voted for it without reference not only to the finance department of his own branch, but also to the Accountant-General and his clerk, who, I believe, often keep applications for weeks without a reply, much to the detriment of the service. I maintain that each officer in charge of these great depart rents should be held responsible, and solely responsible for it, subject to that financial control which is customary and necessary in all commercial matters of business, and which Parliament very rightly demands. Such is the system in Germany, with the result of which the Committee is well acquainted, that is, so far as possible, efficiency combined with economy. In point of fact our present system is framed on that which was in force in the French Army prior to 1870. I remember well seeing a French play shortly after that disaster. The Minister of War was depicted, surrounded by papers and clerks, worn to death by signing his name. Telegrams were coming from all parts saying that in one place the soldiers had no food, in another no boots, in another no ammunition. The Minister replied: "I can attend to none of these things; let the men starve, let ammunition fail, let armies be defeated, let kingdoms be lost, but abolish not a single return, let not a single War Office clerk he pensioned or dismissed." I quite recognise the answer of the present Secretary and Under Secretary to do their best for the Army, and I believe that no War Minister has ever done so much as he has done already during his term of office. I quite realise the difficulty of dealing with vested interests, but if the evidence of Sir W. Butler is to be trusted regarding the cost of this establishment effect, it would pay us well to retire all unnecessary clerks on full pay, and say have another half brigade of infantry.
§ CAPTAIN NORTON (Newington, W.)
In reviewing the general policy of the Army I shall not attempt to deal with the War Office, inasmuch as it has been very fully dealt with by the hon. and gallant Member for Cheltenham. I will simply say that centralisation is undoubtedly the curse of the British Army, so far as ad- 1633 ministration is concerned. As regards the Horse Guards, I should be sorry to say one word which would seem to be of a carping nature, inasmuch as these officers do all in their power to make the best of the material which is placed at their disposal, and they rightly and properly say that the question of how the material is to be produced is not a military question. Some years ago those of us in this House who take an interest in the question placed before the country the fact that the defensive forces were inadequate to the Empire. We pointed out that, in our humble opinion, if the present system is to be continued a large number of battalions should be added to the line, in order that the battalions on foreign service should be adequate, without, at the same time, reducing the home battalions to non-effective fighting units. We were half met by the War Office authorities. They decided to add 25,000 men to the Army within three years. And what has been the result? We are told that they only succeeded in getting 12,000 men. But, as has been pointed out, 5,000 of these men have been stolen, if I may use the word, from the Army Reserve. The result is that we are farther off than ever from having the force necessary for the adequate defence of the Empire. We look for an increase of attractions in the Army, and I admit that the present Government have done much in that direction; but with reference to the employment of time-expired men, I am of opinion that they have not done all that they might have done. Of course, we shall be told that the people of this country have great reliance on the Navy. Now, it is not the business of those of us interested in military matters to take that fact into such consideration as it deserves; the point is that the military forces of the country are not, in our opinion, sufficient. We are told that we have men and money enough, and should be perfectly able to meet difficulties when difficulties come. Some years ago our neighbours the French, than whom 1634 there is not a more gallant and patriotic nation, fell into this mistake, contenting themselves with the belief that at the time of war every man would step forward in defence of the country. They did step forward. And what was the result? That the German Army, by superior organisation, properly drilled troops, with excellent commanders, practically trampled the French nation into the ground. Our object is to see that by short-sightedness we do not experience a similar danger in this country. What has happened recently? The Secretary of State for War has himself, in another place, practically admitted that the present system, if not actually breaking down, is on the point of doing so. I am anxious that the Under-Secretary for War should make a similar statement in this House, in order that the people of this country may know the position in which they are placed with reference to the military defences of the Empire. The Secretary for War has pointed out what many of us know, but what the majority of the people of this country do not know, viz., that by the suspension of the voluntary system by Order in Council, almost every able-bodied man in the country is liable to he called out for military service. The Secretary for War has put forward the suggestion of a ballot for the Militia. The ballot for the Militia will not solve the question of producing recruits to the line. I think it was very clearly proved by the speeches of the hon. Gentlemen who preceded me that the failure of the voluntary system has practically taken place. We are supposed to have a regular force of 176,000 men; we have only 157,000, and are therefore 19,000 short. The Army Reserve is 12,000 short, the Militia 19,000 short, the Yeomanry 2,000 short, and the 'Volunteers 33,000 short; and yet we are calling on the people of this country to produce exactly three millions sterling more than they voted ten years ago for the Army, and as the hon. Member for West Belfast pointed out, we have 1635 twenty-four men in addition. We are spending one-sixth of the total revenue on the Army, and after all we have not sufficient troops to produce an expeditionary force of two army corps. The Secretary for War pointed out that the responsibilities of our position are very great indeed, and that we might have to enlist large numbers of mercenary troops in order to hold our possessions. But we ought to look at the other side of the question, and remember what befell great empires in days gone by, like Rome and Carthage, when they relied too much on mercenaries. Even the best of our Indian regiments, except the Goorkhas, without a certain backing of European troops, are not to be relied upon. During the past twenty years the Army has been considerably below its proper strength, and if we are ever to get it up the source of supply must certainly be changed. We seek to obtain recruits from small agricultural counties which are practically depleted of men, and we let large districts with immense populations like South Wales and Lancashire produce practically the same number. We are told that we have some 78,000 Army Reserve men, but I would ask the Under Secretary for War whether he believes for a moment, if be endeavoured to call out the Army Reserve, he would get 50,000, or even 40,000, who were fit to join the ranks of the Army. He knows it would be practically impossible. Out of the 213,000 Volunteers, how many would break down on the march, and how many of them are actually efficient? Would that force be of the smallest value in the event of the invasion of this country, unprovided as they are with transports, and weak as they are in artillery and cavalry? The Secretary of State threw out the suggestion that the best thing we could do would be, seeing that we had the power to raise a Militia force, and inasmuch as the Militia costs only £15 per head, to raise another 100,000 Militia men in the hope of getting recruits for the Line. Would it not be very much 1636 better for the Secretary of State to make a clean breast of it, and tell the people of this country that the present system has absolutely broken down, and that we must have recourse to the system recommended by my right hon. friend? If you will introduce a long service system for India and the Colonies, and make sonic approach to the current standard of wages for unskilled labour in the country, as well as formulate some scheme whereby security is offered as to employment after a man leaves the service, the Army will certainly get enough men for its purpose. With regard to the question of finance, I am confident that if the issue at stake is clearly defined, there is enough common sense in the people of this country to justify me in saying that they would be prepared to pay the requisite bill, rather than run the most remote risk of being placed in the position in which a great country contiguous to ours was placed in only a few months ago.
§ * CAPTAIN BAGOT (Westmorland, Kendal)
The Report of the Committee on the War Office is undoubtedly a very damaging document, but it does not apply so much to the present as to the late administration. The evidence of Sir Redvers Buller is most striking. He said the enormous amount of correspondence arid Returns which have to be sent to the War Office rendered useful administration impossible. The Committee reported that a large number of Returns and Reports might be usefully abolished, and that the abolition of one Return alone, relating to the employment of civil practitioners, would save 1,500 letters in a year. I understand that almost every one of the recommendations of the Select Committee has been approved, or partly approved, by the present Secretary for War, and it is evident that if the omission of only one return is going to relieve the War Office to the extent of something like 1,500 letters a year, an enormous mass of correspondence and returns must have been saved by the action of the present Secretary of State for War. So far as I understand, no reference has been made to the fact that the present administration has gone a very long way towards remedying the evil, and it would be interesting to know what is the amount of reduction, if any, in the 1637 number of clerks, and the salaries of those clerks. If it is admitted that the whole mass of correspondence scheduled in the report of the Select Committee has been taken away, there ought to be a corresponding diminution in the number of clerks and in their salaries. The evidence of Sir Redvers Buller was extremely strong. He pointed out that it was impossible to carry on the business of the War Office with that immense mass of correspondence, and he gave as one reason for such a mass that it was owing to the action of the House of Commons, whose Members were always asking for returns for some purpose or other, which was not always easy to discover, but which entailed an immense amount of clerical work and time; and also that questions were asked about the smallest details as to what was going on in some remote part of the Empire. Of course those matters have to be dealt with, but the House of Commons should not require too much, if it is not prepared to pay for it. I should like to refer to one other matter, and I do not wish to advocate it from any sentimental point of view. I believe that the system of hospital accommodation for soldiers as it at present exists is very expensive. The hon. Member for West Belfast said that something like 6,000 men leave the Army yearly who could not be accounted for. But the hon. Gentleman seems to have forgotten that between 3,000 and 4,000 are accounted for as being invalided out of the Army, and that out of that 3,000 or 4,000 about 1,000 are dealt with by the Chelsea Commissioners. Still, out of 200,000 men something like 13,000 a year are constantly non-effective from illness, which is a very large proportion. In civilian hospitals there is always a large proportion of inmates who, after the first period of their illness, are sent to convalescent homes; but in the whole of the hospital system of the Army there does not appear to be any regular system of convalescent homes. I believe there is only one such home open to soldiers, and it has accommodation simply for sixty-eight patients. Surely the War Office authorities must see that it would not only be desirable but economical, if soldiers, instead of being sent back to the ranks after a short time in hospital or discharged, could have the advantage of some system of convalescent homes. If there could be some arrangement with some of 1638 those homes to take the partly cured soldiers—and I believe something of the kind has been suggested—into the civilian hospitals which could afford to receive them at a cheap rate, the men might be able to return to efficient service after a certain time. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give some favourable answer to these suggestions.
§ * MR. PIRIE (Aberdeen, N.)
It is a matter of regret that the number attending the Committee-to-night is very small, considering the gravity of the questions we are discussing. There have been many criticisms passed on various questions already, and I trust I shall not be out of order if, in criticising the policy of the Secretary of State for War, I especially dwell on the conditions of recruiting which receive his sanction and for which I hold him responsible. I might find fault with many other points, but in view of the Debate that has taken place the Committee must be pretty well assured that there have been sufficient subjects for criticism already. From the preliminary return of the British Army issued in anticipation of the annual report, I find that, of the 84,000 persons who were last year served with notices by recruiters, 27,500 were rejected prior to attestation, 12,500 failed to appear for attestation, and 5,000 were rejected after attestation, and the unprecedented number of 600 deserted. These are record recruiting figures on a downward scale, and show that the class from which we draw recruits is steadily becoming worse, and that a radical change is required. The Army authorities are in desperate straits, and every expedient is being adopted to obtain recruits. I think when there comes an almost illegitimate connection between recruiting and the public - house, it is time we adopted some very different system of obtaining recruits. This connection is far more general than Members care to recognise, and demands serious attention. I would also refer to-night to the very evil effect on the Army of the system which prevails to a very great extent of enlisting men under false ages, not merely one or two years younger than the regular age, but to the extent of three or four years under what is supposed to be the case. Until we are prepared to adopt some such system as prevails in the Navy, or even in the Marines, 1639 of demanding some moral character or birth certificate, we will never obtain the class we ought to as recruits for the Army.
* THE CHAIRMAN
The question of recruiting cannot be gone into in detail on this Vote; it arises on Vote 1.
§ * MR. PIRIE
I do not intend to go further than to hold out the present recruiting system as the chief reason for the very unsatisfactory state of affairs which at present exists with regard to the supply of recruits. When we are in such desperate straits as at present concerning our Army, it is our bounden duty to put forward what suggestions we can for improving matters. You will never obtain the class of recruits you require until you recognise that that class are animated by the same feelings as are the class from which the commissioned ranks are supplied. At present there is an utter disregard of the human feelings of that class. Before even the talk about conscription is indulged in—"the curse of conscription," as it was aptly described the other day by a distinguished officer—many other expedients must be tried. The possibility should be considered of holding out further inducements for men to join by increasing the number of commissions given from the ranks. If the number of such commissions was increased it would be a very strong inducement to men to join. Then we have been far too ready to imitate foreign Powers in the matter of tailoring trivialities. We must take up more serious business than that. Officers of the British Army must recognise that it may be necessary that uniform should be worn more generally than it is at present. Were this adopted it would have the beneficial effect of making the uniform of the private soldier more respected. And with this might be granted greater facilities for cheap travelling, both to officers and men, while it might also be possible to make it a condition when giving licences to places of public amusement that uniform, whether worn by officers or men, should he admitted at reduced prices. These are all things to be considered before we reach the end of our tether and throw up the sponge and say we cannot get any more men without conscription. The Colonies are a field which is practically untouched. It is typical of the War Office that there is delay after delay, procrastination after procrastina- 1640 tion, and no tangible or practical result as regards recruiting in the Colonies. For three years the question as regards Canada has been as far advanced as it is to-day. Another question is the provision of temperance rooms in barracks.
* THE CHAIRMAN
That is a detail of administration which should be raised in its proper place. All that is possible in this Vote is a general criticism of the War Office. In regard to recruiting and other matters—details such as that must be raised on their respective Votes.
§ * MR. PIRIE
My criticism is that the War Office has not provided these temperance rooms as it should have done. Pay alone will not attract a better class of men; there is something higher than that. It is absolutely deplorable that the nation does not get 75 per cent. value for the money spent on the Army. We ought never to rest content until we have the same competition to get into the ranks of the Army as there is at present to get into the commissioned ranks. That is a state of affairs which if proper lines were adopted should be achieved. So strongly do I feel upon these matters that in order to get a reply from the Under Secretary of State for War, and as a protest against the system by which boys are accepted as recruits under absolutely false ages, I will move a reduction of the Vote by £100.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £248,200, be granted for the said service."—(Mr. Pirie.)
§ COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY (Shropshire, Newport)
We are to-night dealing with a very serious question in a business-like way. Some Members seem inclined to blame the Government, as if they were entirely responsible for the present condition of things, which many of us are united in deploring. I do not think that is quite a fair line to taker although, perhaps, it is a necessary line in order to hang our arguments thereon. But the Government are free from blame 1641 for having in any way failed to do their best to carry out the system which they inherited, and which it would have taken a great deal of statesmanship to change at very short notice. The Government have an absolutely strong case in so far as they have done their level best to improve the conditions of life in the Army, and to make those conditions more nearly meet the requirements of the better class which it is desirable to attract to the service. The Government have had to do this under circumstances of exceptional difficulty. They have had to meet a condition of trade and competition such as, probably, no Government seeking recruits for the Army have ever had to face before. The conditions and inducements which would have been sufficient to fill the ranks of the Army in times of depression and bad trade are inadequate and unsatisfactory in times such as we have experienced during the past three or four years. I trust the Government will not necessarily defend too absolutely a condition of things which it may be impossible to defend in the long run. I should be sorry to think that they considered it necessary to wait to confess a failure until that failure had become a danger to the Army and to the country. We wish the intelligence and zeal which we recognise as being at the head of the Army Department of the State to be used in time to prevent disaster, and not to bolster up a condition of things which it may eventually be impossible to defend. There is a tendency on the part of all officials to think that their personal credit is concerned in backing up and defending that which they have been put to administer. The greater Statesman and Minister is the one who recognises when it is time to shift his ground from one condition of things to another. It may be that there is close upon us now an absolute necessity to change the system on which our Army is conducted, and we shall have to face the great problem of putting it on a different footing from that which it now occupies. Many of us think we are labouring under a great deal too much of the civilian element in the War Office. If it comes to a matter of economy, it would be possible to utilise the intelligence, education and zeal of officers to carry out the work of the War Office which is now done by highly-priced civilian clerks. People are apt to say that you cannot get the necessary intelligence and clerical power from 1642 ordinary officers of the Army. But what are the facts? Whenever a bit of country is annexed to the Empire and a man is wanted to administer it economically, intelligently, and effectively, who is the chosen man? Not your highly-paid civilian clerk, but your young English subaltern with a free hand. You have in connection with the officers of the Army an enormous supply of men, absolutely well fitted to do this work, who, in conjunction with their retired pay, would be only too glad to fill these offices, and would fill them at least as well and probably better and more cheaply than they are filled now by the civilian representatives, whose absence from the War Office would conduce to the greater efficiency of the Army. In connection with the scheme suggested by the right hon. Gentleman, such schemes are taking hold of the minds of Members who think strongly on the subject. We feel that as things stand we are not in the position we ought to be in if there are to be placed upon us increasing responsibilities; the system as we have it now is not equal to the emergency. If we once acknowledge that, we must not complain if we see even startling changes made as the only possible salvation for the efficient maintenance of our Army in the future. My hon. friend should not be too zealous in defending that which now exists, but he should bring all his weight and authority to bear in the direction of making others recognise the possibility of a change being forced upon us at no distant date. But, while we make these criticisms, it would be just as well that those who read this Debate should recognise that although we wish to be a great deal stronger than we are, we are yet a great deal stronger than some people think, and that we have at the present moment ample power to put on board ship, and to use, if necessary, such a force as would very much astonish and startle some of those who think we are in a condition of weakness and unable to act rapidly and successfully.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
Although many Members wish to address the Committee, I think it is due to those who have already spoken that I should take some stock of the position to which we have arrived owing to the arguments which have been put forward. My hon. friend has begged me not to take too combative an attitude, nor to attempt to traverse every consideration which has been put 1643 forward. I have never attempted to take up every glove which has been thrown down, and when Members assert that the question of finding sufficient recruits for the British Army is a difficult one, I do nor feel that I am bound, in the position I occupy, to say it is an easy one. The problem with which we have to grapple is a far harder one than is presented to any of the great Continental nations, and if we fail—as in a measure we do fail—nobody ought to be surprised if we do not, by some royal road, solve the problem of occupying India, and casually such places as Crete and Egypt, while preserving garrisons abroad, fitting in with one complete scheme of Imperial defence. That is a problem which no one else has to tackle, but it is one with which we have to deal, and a very difficult one. I therefore feel that when the House goes into Committee on the Army Estimate we may very well take the view that we are in counsel together, and anxious to hear any suggestions that may be offered which are likely to facilitate us in the task we have to perform. But our experience is that we do not get any great amount of what 1 may call counsel. The hon. Member for North Aberdeen, who has gone the length of moving a reduction of the Vote, said he felt it his duty to tender advice, but while I do not wish to make light of his suggestions, they are considerations which have already occurred to a great many people. The War Office has been striving strenuously for years to raise the standard of decency and comfort in the Army.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
I doubt whether any alteration in that direction would materially increase the number of recruits coming to the Army. Another part of his advice was that the officers ought to wear the uniform more. There is something to be said for that, but it has been felt that it is hardly in accordance with the spirit of the nation to make it obligatory upon men to walk about in uniform, and we should probably lose more than we gained by adopting that advice. The same remark applies to the suggestion that soldiers should be allowed to go to the theatre at half-price. But the hon. and gallant Member did make a very important suggestion. He said 1644 that more should be done to tap the Colonies, and he almost denounced the Government for not having achieved more in the direction of entering into an understanding with Canada and the other colonies. There again I would ask the Committee to use their imagination, and to conceive what an elaborate process it must be by which the mother country, with vast accumulated wealth, could approach a new country, where there was no accumulated wealth, to explain to that colony that our Navy confers great benefits upon them, and then to ask the latter to enter into some arrangement for defence. What does that mean? It means that that colony has to adjust the new civilisation to the older, which must always be difficult. Any amount of diplomacy is necessary, for the thing must be put on its proper basis, which is that if any colony exhibits a great wish to take some portion of the burden of Empire the mother country should, as far as possible, modify its arrangements to meet the wishes of the colony. To go further than that would be folly, and to go even so far is a matter of infinite correspondence and negotiation. We have been in communication with Canada, and at this present moment we have arrived at the stage of having drawn up certain proposals which I hope we shall to-day or to-morrow transmit to Canada to invite their opinion upon. Clearly it would be impossible for me to indicate the nature of the proposals, but I can assure the hon. Member that there has been no slackness on our side, no want of appreciation of the aspirations to take some portion of the burden of Empire which have been put forward by Canada. I would refer to the speech of the hon. Member for West Belfast, the chief topic of which was that of decentralisation He dwelt upon the Report of the Committee presided over by my hon. friend the present Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. I do not wish to minimise the importance of that Committee or its Report. I look upon the Report as a point of departure on a road along which I hope we may travel a great distance. But it is idle for hon. Members to expect that they can in a few months or a few years alter a system which has grown up primarily to meet the demands of the House of Commons. Unless the House is to adopt an attitude towards the administration of the Army 1645 profoundly different from its present attitude you cannot, to any very great extent, modify the system which at present exists. We must take that subject to heart, and think it over. For instance, we have decentralised contracts for wheat and forage, but this fact does not prevent one hon. Member after another asking my hon. friend the Financial Secretary for War why the general officer gives a contract to one man rather than to another. Do hon. Members not realise that when such a question is asked the Department has to centralise over again, for it has to ask the general officer for his reasons, and then those reasons have to be given to the House of Commons? It is, therefore, absurd to talk of decentralisation unless you are prepared to run the risks involved in that principle. Although nobody is more anxious than I am to see more responsibility cast on the general officers, still I am quite sure that this House has quite as much to do as the War Office if we are to travel very fast along that road. I do not wish, for the reasons I have stated, to raise any exaggerated hopes that you are going in a few months to alter a system which has grown up with this nation, or that the nation is going to relax its control of the purse in military matters. I now come to the next important topic in the speech of the hon. Member for West Belfast. Has there been any substantial increase in the Army? Bringing the figures up to date, I find that at the 1st of July the numbers of the Regular Army, Militia, and Reserve were 411,080, so that there has been an appreciable increase. I am glad to say that that increase is due almost entirely, as I ventured to prophesy earlier in the year, to the filling up of the Reserve. A good deal of criticism was directed earlier in the year, and again to-night, against the War Office on the ground that we have got these men for the Army simply by taking them from the Reserve. It is perfectly true, but we have again filled up the ranks of the Reserve to 82,000 men. The third topic dealt with in the speech of the hon. Member for West Belfast, and which, again, is one which was taken up by many who have taken part in the Debate, was with reference to the ballot for the Militia. I have a bone to pick with the hon. Member for West Belfast for the almost vehement language in which he referred to this matter, and for the very serious way in which he misrepresented the speech of my noble friend 1646 the Secretary of State for War in introducing the Militia Bill in another place. He paraphrased the speech of my noble friend in these words—that any day we might have to resort to conscription. No greater travesty of the speech my noble friend did make could be imagined. One-third of that speech was devoted to pouring buckets of cold water upon the idea that we were within measurable distance of conscription. The difficulty before us is that we have either to get rid of an antiquated system or bring it up to date. That has been done, and that is all that has been done. The immediate problem is to find garrisons for India, Egypt, and at this moment an augmented garrison for South Africa. Then there is the permanent problem of finding garrisons for those places which the War Office are informed, by the united counsel of their naval and military experts, ought to be occupied as naval bases and coaling-stations. To do that requires at least 19 white battalions and 12 native battalions abroad, for the mere routine work of sentry-go round the world. When 75 infantry battalions are required at home, 17½ battalions to form what I may call the scheme of defence, and 60½ battalions to occupy India and other countries, I ask the right hon. Baronet whether he really thinks his alternative plan would solve the problem. The only alternative which has been put before the Committee is the plan of the hon. Baronet that we should have something like a Swiss militia. We shall never get back to the roster which has been the usual course of soldiering for the British officers and men for over 100 years, once we abandon the present system. Many a sanguine administrator, faced with the system which has obtained for many years, has approached, it in the full belief that he was going to change it; but one Minister of experience after another has felt himself bound in the long run to support it.
§ * SIR J. COLOMB
Of course, at this hour of the night I do not desire to make a very long speech, but I regard it as extremely unfortunate that the Admiralty Vote and the War Office Vote, involving as they do such important questions of naval arid military policy, which by the procedure of the House must be treated separately, should both be taken in a single evening, when they cannot be adequately discussed. In the first place, I think there is a great and grow- 1647 ing opinion in this House that it is a misappropriation of the mobile forces of the Army to lock them up behind works at naval bases. Of course any change can only be carried out very gradually. You must begin with the smaller places, and then extend the experiment. The Committee are aware that an experiment was tried by the late Government on these very lines, and I propose to reduce the salary of the Secretary for War by £2,000, because he has not allowed the experiment to be fairly tried. I will mention the specific case. In 1893, when the Admiralty and the War Office began to take this question of garrisons into serious consideration, the need was recognised of establishing a naval base at Esquimalt, a port in the Pacific, and the question arose as to how that naval base was to be locally guarded. I do not know the inner workings of the War Office and the Admiralty at the time, but at all events, the result was that the War Office wisely departed from the policy of isolating and breaking up the Army for this work. Let us see what happened. A small garrison of Royal Marine Artillery was sent to Esquimalt, and the whole charge and command of the garrison and defence was handed over to a major of the Marine Artillery. But what happened? From the very first there was delay and obstruction, presumably on the part of the Royal Engineers' department at the War Office, and for three years no part of the submarine stores and appliances were allowed to be sent. The authorities at the War Office had sent out previously a subordinate staff, but it was represented by the officer commanding the Marine Artillery that these men were needlessly expensive; and he consequently suggested that the expensive staff should be taken away, and three extra corporals of the Marine Artillery, with a little special training, sent to take their place. But not a bit of it. For four years the Marine Artillery officer was in command, things worked with perfect smoothness, and no trouble whatever arose, except that the Royal Engineers withheld the submarine stores. Then the War Office sent out an officer of the Royal Engineers. And what is the next step? The next step was an extraordinary one. It was this—the Marine Artillery garrison on the Pacific was taken from under the command of the Admiral in the Pacific, and put under the authority of the general at 1648 Halifax on the Atlantic. The next step is one that is contrary to the interest of the public service—authorising a junior Engineer officer to ignore his commanding officer, by sending his reports straight to the general. Would such a thing be tolerated under any circumstances anywhere else? The Under Secretary for War knows it would not. The next step is to send a costly colonel of Engineers to take command of this garrison. But he does not remain there long; he was, however, a warming-pan to engineer this arrangement. The final step was to give to the junior Engineer Officer an extra special rank—the War Minister giving local rank of lieutenant-colonel to a junior Engineer. The whole plan has therefore been broken down, and you will be told that you cannot deal with naval bases in this way, and that you must have your mobile army paralysed because you tried the experiment of Marine Artillery and it failed. That failure has been manipulated by the wire-pulling of the Royal Engineer Department. The first information the House had of the matter was on 12th May, when the Under Secretary for War was asked by the hon. Member for Kincardineshire how it was that an officer of one branch of the service, the Royal Marine Artillery, contrary to the Queen's Regulations and Orders to the Army, was superseded by an order from the War Office conferring local rank of Lieutenant-Colonel upon a junior officer of Royal Engineers. This was the reason given by the War Office for promoting by local rank a junior Engineer over the head of his Commanding Officer, of the Royal Marine Artillery, trying an experiment of great national importance:While important building works, necessitating heavy expenditure of public money, are under construction, it is desirable that the senior officer should, as heretofore, belong to the Royal Engineers. In order to effect that object, local rank was conferred ona junior Engineer officer. I then put this question on the 27th June: Would the Under Secretary of State for Warstate the names of the naval bases and coaling stations at which officers of other arms, of the Service previously in command had been susperseded in that command by conferring upon the officers of Royal Engineers, junior to them, local rank, on the ground that important building works necessitated heavy expenditure of public money are under consideration, and that the senior officer should therefore belong to the Royal Engineers; and, 1649 further, to state to what arms of the Service the officers thus superseded in command at each place respectively belonged.I thereupon got a curtain lecture from my hon. friend. He said:May I point out that questions involving considerable research on the part of the military staff at the War Office can be answered on the day of their first appearance on the Paper only by withdrawing a number of officers from the work upon which they are engaged.What I asked was simply in how many cases junior Royal Engineers in garrisons had been given local rank to supersede the commanding officer belonging to another arm of the Service. Everybody at the War Office knew perfectly well that there was no other case at all. When the hon. Gentleman did answer the question, what did his reply come to?There is no case other than that at Esquimalt. The reasons for the action then taken were explained in my answer of the 12th May to the hon. Member for Kincardineshire.I then asked on the 3rd July:When the Secretary of War decided that at places where important building works, necessitating heavy expenditure of public money, are under consideration, it is desirable that the senior officer should belong to the Royal Engineers.That was one question. The next isWhether, before such decision was arrived at, the probable effects of thus securing for the officer charged with advising and supervising expenditure absolute freedom from local supervision and control by independent military authority on the spot was fully considered. And whether it is intended to apply this rule to all places, such as Bermuda, Jamaica, and Mauritius, named in the Schedule of the Military Works Bill, by conferring on the Royal Engineer officer at each of those stations local rank superior to his present commanding officer, as has already been done at Esquimalt under this rule.The Under-Secretary replied:—The appointment of 'this major,' with local rank was considered in all its bearings. My reply of the 12th May did not cite a rule.But it was given as a rule, an at all events most explicitly stated as the reason.
§ * SIR J. COLOMB
I leave it to the common-sense of those who can read English to understand what the answers were. The principle of the War Office is that a little mystery is very valuable, and that is a principle that I object to I then asked:Does the rule apply only to Esquimalt?" to which the reply was, "It is not a rule. What I said was that at Esquimalt a Royal Engineer officer has heretofore been in command. and he is to be succeeded by another.But the Committee will see at once that the first and only reason given for the supersession was—that important military works were in contemplation involving large expenditure, and therefore it was desirable to appoint a Royal Engineer. Finally, on the 20th July, I asked this question. You will note that the excuse of public expenditure and so on disappears, and it had now become simply a question of the meaning of the word 'heretofore.' I therefore put this question to the Under Secretary:Whether, before conferring local rank on a junior officer of Royal Engineers, serving in garrison at Esquimalt, thereby putting him over the head of his senior belonging to another arm of the Service, the Secretary of State for War was made aware of the fact that during the preceding period of nearly five years, dating from the establishment of the garrison, the command was held only for an interval of about one year by a Royal Engineer officer, and whether he adhered to his statement that the local rank in question was conferred because a Royal Engineer had heretofore been in command; and if so, whether the Secretary of State for War proposed in future to exclude officers of other arms of the Service from command of garrisons at Esquimalt and elsewhere, by conferring local rank on junior Royal Engineer officers in such garrisons whenever it could be shown that a Royal Engineer officer had, by the accident of relative seniority, once previously held the command?He answers:The length of time during which this Lieu tenant-Colonel commanded at Esquimalt in no way influenced the selection of Major So-and-So in that command. He was selected because it was considered desirable that the command should be held by an officer of Royal Engineers.That is the point I had been driving at all the way, and "heretofore" disappears: "There is no rule, and future cases will be judged on their merits." I then asked a further question, to which the answer was:That important works were being constructed at Esquimalt, and for that reason it 1651 was felt necessary that an Engineer officer should be in command.My point is this: "If you had made up your mind, as a matter of policy, that Esquimalt is to be a Royal Engineer command, why did you not honestly say so, and send an officer of Royal Engineers superior in regular rank to the jeer of Royal Marine Artillery already in command? "I understand the hon. Member to say that there was difficulty in finding Engineer officers. Why there are 200 Royal Engineer officers available for service senior to the Marine Artilleryman. There are 618 Engineer officers not appropriated in the Estimates to any particular service. I trust the House will not think I have unduly trespassed upon time, even at this late hour, in showing that if we are told this experiment has failed it is the blundering of the War Office into the Royal Engineer net that has caused it deliberately to act in a way best calculated to cause the experiment to fail.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I need hardly say I am perfectly incompetent to follow my hon. and gallant friend in the survey he has made with so much energy—energy which must command admiration, considering the hour and the temperature. But I can assure my hon. and gallant friend that if there be any blame for what he regards as the abuse of the employment of marines in garrison at coaling stations throughout the world, I do not think the War Office ought to be attacked, because I am perfectly convinced from what I know of the opinions of the Secretary of State for War and of the other administrators at the War Office on this subject that they would regard nothing as a greater relief than to have this onerous charge transferred from their service to the service with which my hon. and gallant friend claims some connection.
§ * SIR J. COLOMB
The policy of the War Office points in that direction; they wished to adopt that policy. All my speech was to show that owing to the bad system of the War Office things were being engineered by subordinate departments in the War Office to defeat the policy which War Ministers wished to adopt.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Even if the War Office was as wicked and incompetent as my friend thinks, I can assure 1652 him it would not be possible without obtaining the consent of the Admiralty to substitute marines for soldiers in the way suggested. That is a particular policy on which my hon. friend has a very strong view. I did not, however, rise to prolong the discussion, it is my earnest desire to see it brought to a rapid termination. I do not think the House should be asked to sit longer to discuss these Estimates to-night. Members have had a severe week, and the temperature is not very well adapted to any sort of discussion, least of all to a discussion of this nature. I would, if I might, ask the House to give us this Vote. I think it would be a great advantage that we should get it. If that is done, I will move to report progress, and leave the matter as it is. I would point out that the order in which the Votes come on is not a matter which the Government desire to control; we have every desire to meet the general convenience of the House. The House has had five days and nights for the discussion of the Army Estimates, and I think that is a very full portion of the total time allowed for the Estimates. If that time has been inconveniently allotted between different Army Votes I am sorry, but I do not think the Government are to blame in the matter. With that explanation I hope we shall be permitted to take this Vote, and then to report progress and adjourn.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
I do not intend to raise any objection to what the right hon. Gentleman proposes, but I presume that the other Votes on the Army Estimates will fall in the general sweep at the end of the session. If that is so, there is one point as to which I think an explicit engagement was made—viz., the Ordnance Vote. There has been a very vital change in the management of the Ordnance factories, and, if my memory serves me, I think that I myself, and probably others joined with me, asked on the Supplemental Estimates at an early period of the session whether an explanation would be made of the causes which had led to that material change, and I was told that a full opportunity would be given for making that explanation on the Ordnance Vote. I think it amounts to an undertaking, and there has been really no public explanation whatever of the change.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The promise was made, I suppose, by the Under-Secretary, and that probably is the reason it escaped my memory. I should be glad to consult through the ordinary channels on the subject, and make the very best arrangement I can for finding time to discuss the particulars of the Ordnance Vote which the right hon. Gentleman desires, and to have some explanation offered. If there is any desire on the part of the House to go on now I should not resist it, but I thought I was meeting the general view, and that the House did not want to sit any longer to-night.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
I have no desire to go on to-night, but I thought the public outside the House as well as Members inside were really entitled to have an explanation publicly and formally given of the causes which led to this fundamental change.
Motion made, and Question proposed—
That the Chairman do report Progress; and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Balfour.)
§ MR. DILLON
We are now having an exemplification of the effects of the new rule in depriving us of a fair opportunity of discussing these matters. I myself had some very important questions to raise on this Vote, but there will now be no further opportunity. This being the 20th of the days allotted to Supply, and the 21st being given to the Colonial Office Vote, no further opposition cart be given for discussing either this or any other important Vote.
§ COLONEL BROOKFIELD (Sussex, Rye)
No discussion will be possible on the very large subjects of the Volunteers and of the Militia, in both of which the public take a very large interest. There is also the subject of the Ordnance Vote, referred to by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, on which it will be most necessary to have a discussion. I must enter my protest against the new arrangement by which such subjects are shut out from discussion.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I have already said that five nights have been spent on 1654 the Army Estimates. I do not know if the Government is to blame for the order in which the Votes. are taken; I think they were arranged to suit the convenience of the House. When a Vote is started, it is extremely difficult—almost impossible—for the Government to regulate exactly the time it is to take. That must be left to the discretion of Members. I do not think my hon. friend would suggest that more than five days should be given to the Army Estimates.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
I understood that we were not allowed to discuss on the War Office Vote any matter which was dealt with in a separate Vote, although on previous occasions, both on, the Admiralty Vote and the War Office Vote, subjects might be generally discussed. To-night you did make the ruling that no subjects should be discussed on these Votes which could be discussed on any other.
* THE CHAIRMAN
I do not know whether I ought to go back on a former ruling, but for the information of the Committee I may say that the ruling was one which has obtained for a great number of years—viz., that where there is a special Vote dealing with a special subject that is the proper place to discuss that special subject. In the case of the Votes of the Admiralty or of the War Office, discussion is allowable so long as it is on the general policy. But it has been ruled that where there is a special Vote dealing with the question of the Volunteers or the Militia, or any other special matter, questions relating to those matters must be raised on those special Votes.
§ MR. CHANNING (Northamptonshire, E.)
This arrangement does exclude certain questions which some of us wished to raise, and I shall not consent to the motion to report progress unless there is some undertaking that some short opportunity will be given for the discussion of those subjects.
§ MR. WARNER (Staffordshire, Lichfield)
While I might regard five days given to the Army Estimates as a great deal in an ordinary year, this year, when the expenditure on the War Office and the Army has been so enormously increased, 1655 five days is not very much. It is really this enormous expenditure and one or two points of policy which were started last year and have never been thoroughly discussed which have naturally caused a great deal of discussion; and though five days is a long time
§ Resolutions to be reported upon Monday next; Committee also report progress; to sit again upon Monday next.
§ In pursuance of the Order of the House of the 17th day of this instant July, Mr.1656
§ in an ordinary year, I do not think anybody can call it a long time this year.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 68; Noes, 6. (Division List, No. 291.)1655
|Archdale, Edward Mervyn||Digby, John K. D. Wingfield-||Lucas-Shadwell, William|
|Arnold-Forster, Hugh O.||Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-||Macartney, W. G. Ellison|
|Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John||Douglas-Pennant, Hon. E. S.||Macdona, John Cumming|
|Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J. (Manc'r)||Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn Edwd||Massey-Mainwaring, Hn. W. F.|
|Balfour, Rt. Hn. G. W. (Leeds)||Fergusson, Rt. Hn. Sir. J (Manc'r||Middlemore, J. Throgmorton|
|Barton, Dunbar Plunket||Fisher, William Hayes||More, R. Jasper (Shropshire)|
|Beach, Rt. Hn Sir M. H.(Bristol)||Goddard, Daniel Ford||Murray, Rt. Hon. A. G. (Bute)|
|Beresford, Lord Charles||Goldsworthy, Major-General||Nicol, Donald Ninian|
|Bethell, Commander||Gretton, John||Platt-Higgins, Frederick|
|Bill, Charles||Hanbury, Rt. Hon. Robert W.||Purvis, Robert|
|Blundell, Colonel Henry||Hayne, Rt. Hon. Chas. Seale-||Robertson, Herbert (Hackney)|
|Bowles, Capt. H. F. (Middlesex)||Horniman, Frederick John||Royds Clement Molyneux|
|Brodrick, Rt. Hon St. John||Jessel, Capt. Herbert Merton||Russell, Gen. F. S.(Cheltenh'm)|
|Brookfield, A Montagu||Johnston, William (Belfast)||Russell, T. W. (Tyrone)|
|Cavendish, R. F. (N. Lancs.)||Kemp, George||Seely, Charles Hilton|
|Cecil, Lord Hugh (Greenwich)||Kenyon, James||Stanley, Lord (Lancs.)|
|Chaloner, Captain R. G. W.||Kenyon-Slaney, Col. William||Valentia, Viscount|
|Chamberlain, J. A. (Worc'r)||Lawrence, Sir E. Durning-(Corn||Williams, Colonel R. (Dorset)|
|Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse||Lawson, John Grant (Yorks.)||Williams, Jos. Powell-(Birm.)|
|Colomh, Sir John Charles R.||Lawson Sir Wilfrid (Cumb'land||Wyndham, George|
|Compton, Lord Alwyne||Lea, Sir Thomas (Londonderry||Young, Commander(Berks,E.)|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Leigh-Bennett, Henry Currie||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Sir William Walrond and Mr. Anstruther.|
|Curzon, Viscount||Long, Rt. Hon. W. (Liverpool|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Lorne, Marquis of|
|Caldwell, James||Macaleese, Daniel||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|Dillon, John||Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)||Mr. Channing and Mr. Pirie.|
|Doogan, P. C.||Weir, James Galloway|
§ Deputy Speaker adjourned the House without Question put.
§ House adjourned accordingly at five minutes after One of the clock till Monday next.