HC Deb 18 July 1900 vol 86 cc344-85


Order for Second Reading read.


This Bill has been framed to advance two objects of importance and a third object which, though undoubtedly of importance, is, as I hope to be able to prove to the House, rather a matter of method and of the convenience, efficiency, and economy which will be derived from it. I cannot better explain the nature of the first object of the Bill or submit the arguments in its favour better than by referring to the Report of the Select Committee which sat on the Volunteer Acts in 1894, for, in the first place, we propose to act upon the recommendations, unanimously arrived at, of that Committee. It was a strong Committee, the chairman being the hon. Member for Hanley, at that time the Financial Secretary of the War Office in the late Government, and it included many Members of the House who are, I think, well entitled to be regarded as authorities in matters affecting the Auxiliary forces, such as the hon. and gallant Members for Lewes, Bath, Sheffield, Lichfield, Islington, and Leith District. This is how they described what is the first object of our Bill. They first recite the present liability to actual military service as it stands in the Volunteer Act Section 17 of the Volunteer Act of 1863 provides that in cases of actual or apprehended invasion in any part of the United Kingdom, the occasion being communicated to both Houses of Parliament if Parliament is sitting, or declared in Council and notified by proclamation if Parliament is not sitting, "Her Majesty may call out the Volunteer corps of the respective counties or of any of them for active military service." Upon that the Committee found, in the following words— There was practical unanimity expressed that the national security might be seriously imperilled under conceivable circumstances falling short of actual or apprehended invasion. The Committee then went on to say— Your Committee is of opinion that the language employed in the Reserve Forces Act of 1882, Section 12, and in the Militia Act of the same year, under which the Army Reserve men are liable to be called out for service and the Militia to be embodied in case of imminent national danger or grave emergency, might be most fittingly adopted. Those are the words which we propose to substitute in the Volunteer Act for the words which call for a declaration of apprehended invasion. Not only was the Report of the Committee unanimous, but in the next year—1895—several members of the Committee in the course of debate expressed great regret that the Government of the day had not adopted their recommendations; and the hon. Member for Hanley who had presided over the Committee, and who was at the time a Member of the Government, while defending the proposals which the Government did bring in, used these words— He hoped that none of the recommendations of the Committee would be lost sight of, and he joined with those who regarded this Bill merely as an instalment. So that this proposal to substitute the words I have recited for those in the Act, were unanimously recommended six years ago; and a year later the chairman of the Committee, a member of the Government and responsible for the War Office, declared that what they did then must be considered merely as an instalment. Therefore it cannot be said that this is a new plot to revolutionise the character of the Volunteer force. It is, in my opinion, and in the opinion of others who have studied the force, rather a somewhat belated step which is necessary if the Volunteer forces are to be put in a position to discharge the primary functions which they exist to perform. It cannot be said that the circumstances which were conceivable six years ago have not been more fully present to our minds in the early months of this year than in any recent period of our history. I do not base myself on this Report alone, although its weight and authority can hardly be disputed, but I rest myself also upon the experience of the last year, and I may almost say of the last two years. I submit that no Government, during a period of emergency when, perhaps, the Ambassador accredited to this Court from a foreign country was in daily conference with the Foreign Minister in this country —no Government at such a period would declare by Royal proclamation that they had apprehension of an invasion, because such a declaration would paralyse diplomacy and precipitate the very thing they wished to avoid. But if that is so, what is the necessary consequence? It is that you cannot mobilise your Volunteers until an invasion takes place. If the Government cannot and will not issue the proclamation which is necessary because of diplomatic considerations, then when it is issued you will have to mobilise your Volunteers in camp to perform all those operations which have been found more difficult than ever before. You will have to turn them into an effective field army in forty-eight hours. It cannot be done. It is not fair either to the Government, or to the Volunteers themselves, who have shown so much capacity, to ask them to take the field against invasion without some two or three weeks of necessary preparation. Again, we have not dashed into this. It is not an attempt to legislate hurriedly at the end of the session. A conference was called in April last of many representative officers of the Volunteer corps, and not merely of those who represent the London Volunteers. There were four representatives of the North-Eastern district, three of the North-Western, one of the Eastern, one of the Western, one of the South-Eastern, three of Scotland, and only three from London. These sixteen commanding officers of Volunteers were unanimously of opinion that this change ought forthwith to be made. There are other Members of this House, such as the hon. and gallant Member for Kilmarnock, who concur, and it is, indeed, the unanimous recommendation of the Volunteer commanding officers in this country. There have been only two objections, so far as I have heard; one is so frivolous that perhaps I ought not to trouble the House with it. It is said that this Committee did not recommend legislation, but if one turns to the Report it will be seen that that remark is applicable to only one subject—the calling out of the Volunteers to aid the civil power. It is evident that for the rest legislation was recommended. Another objection has been that, if this Bill passes, it will be possible for the Government to call out the Volunteers without being under the obligation of summoning Parliament within ten days. But that has always been true of our Volunteer Act, although this House somewhat jealously restricted the powers of the Executive in matters of defence, actuated by memories of dangers which are long past—dangers harboured in the minds of the Whigs—lest the Crown should use the Army to oppress the people—dangers harboured in the minds of the Tories—lest it should be used to entangle the country in Continental combinations. But those dangers, which were real at one time, were killed and buried by our ancestors nearly 200 years ago. If anyone wishes to perform ceremonial rights over their graves, I have no objection to move the necessary Amendment; but I consider it to be perfectly idle. But, with or without that, let us have a measure which will meet the dangers that do actually exist in our own day, and not those of a previous generation. Then I come to the second object of the Bill, and in order to explain it I cannot do better than quote another passage from the Report of the Committee which sat six years ago. They say— It may be expedient that the garrisons of certain exposed forts, to be manned by Volunteer artillery and corps enrolled for submarine and other coast defence, should be called out at a much earlier stage than the language of the Act would seem to authorise. It has also been suggested that the Secretary of State should be empowered to call out portions of corps, and accept the services of Volunteers proffered under circumstances falling short of the great emergency contemplated; and your Committee concur in thinking such an amendment of the law desirable. A great deal has happened since 1894. There has been a development in the construction of torpedo-boats among all the navies of the world. This House has authorised the expenditure of large sums of money upon forts, search-lights, and submarine mines to protect the waterways which led up to our commercial harbours. It may not be within the knowledge of all present that we look to the Volunteer Garrison Artillery of this country, in many cases wholly, and in all cases mainly, for the protection of our commercial ports. The Humber, the Tees, Sunderland, the Tyne, the Bristol Channel, the Firth of Forth, the Tay, Aberdeen, and the Clyde are protected against any sudden raid by the Volunteer Garrison Artillery, who are told off to occupy the forts and man the guns, and to look after the submarine mines for which this country has voted so much money of recent years. The garrisons of these forts require 7,500 men out of the 35,000 garrison artillerymen in this country, and I do submit that all that money will be wasted and all the patriotism and devotion to duty of these men will be wasted too, unless the House sees fit to give this enabling power for which the Government now ask. It may be that, at first sight, some exception may be taken to the methods which we have pursued. This enabling power, which would allow us to slip the garrisons into the forts without making appeals to patriotism, and without having meetings called by mayors and lord lieutenants, and without behaving in a way which would be considered insane in any other country in a period of tension is given by Section 2A of this Bill— It shall be lawful for Her Majesty to accept the offer of any member of a Volunteer corps to subject himself to one or both of the following liabilities:—(a) To be called out for military service at any time," etc. It may be that in order to effect our object we have taken too wide powers, but why are the words so wide? It is because the Volunteer Act—the law of the land as it now exists—prescribes, and even circumscribes, the occasion on which a Volunteer can be used so closely that without this enabling power it is impossible to use a Volunteer until after the issue of a Royal Proclamation. Even if the Act is amended by Section 1, it will still be necessary to give to the Government of the day an enabling power which will permit of putting the garrisons into these forts. I have laid before the House a Paper which indicates the kind of regulations which might be useful for the Volunteers under the Volunteer Act as amended by this Bill; and as regards the corps to garrison forts, it is laid down that— A member of a Volunteer corps may contract to come out for active military service at specified places in Great Britain whenever summoned by order of the Secretary of State for War, to serve for a period not exceeding one month, in the absence of a Royal proclamation calling out the Volunteers generally. That is all that is intended under Section 2A of this Bill We must have such an enabling power to take that step which is requisite for national defence. It is clear. that no pressure will be needed to get 7,500 men out of 35,000 to man these forts and guns. I visited one of these forts during Whitsuntide, and I can assure the House that they do get full value for their money in respect of the Volunteer Garrison Artillery. The sixteen commanding officers of Volunteers with whom I conferred were unanimous in wishing that this proposal should also be made law forthwith. I do not think that in introducing the Bill I need say more at this stage on those two objects of the Bill. I shall be ready in Committee to meet in detail any objections which may be urged, though I find it difficult to imagine what objections could be urged against these proposals recommended six years ago by a Committee, recommended unanimously by every Volunteer commanding officer whom we have consulted, and also, I think, recommended by recent experience. I come now to the third object of this Bill, which I have described as being rather a matter of method and of convenience. The employment of Volunteers upon active service is not a new question. The Volunteers begged that a certain number should be allowed to take part in active service in 1878; they put forward the same request in 1885; and letter after letter has reached mo from Volunteers during the last year complaining—and I quote the language of one letter—that they have been snubbed by the military authorities. The same requests were put forward last June, when some people— though not many — thought that we might be plunged into war, as we were eventually. Again the Volunteers complained that they were snubbed by the military authorities because we were not prepared to accept the otters that were made. The press of the country rang with criticisms against the War Office because it did not at once accept those offers. In January it was impossible to refuse these offers, not because the Regular forces and the Militia could not have dealt adequately with the situation in South Africa, but when you are employing Regulars, Militia, Yeomanry, and Volunteers from Canada, South Africa, and Australia, it was felt that you would be putting a stigma on the Volunteers of this country which would affect the future of the corps if you did not allow them to co-operate with the other forces throughout the Empire. Is it, or is it not, a legitimate aspiration on the part of the Volunteers that those among them who wish to perfect themselves by seeing active service when the whole Empire takes part in fending off some Imperial danger should, if they wish, take a share in the work? Whether that aspiration is legitimate or not has become an academic question. I am convinced that the only practical question which presents itself to us as businesslike men is whether, that being so, the experiment should be repeated under the deplorable conditions which obtained last year. East year we had to apply tests when every official of the War Office and every officer in the military districts were overworked. The Volunteers had to shoot ankle deep in slush, or to lie down in snow in the fading light of a winter afternoon; and it is ridiculous to assent to a proposition that such offers are to be accepted, and yet we are not to make businesslike preparation for testing in time of peace the men who are willing to come forward in time of emergency. I know it has been said that possibly when this Bill is passed pressure will be put on the Volunteers. Pressure will be avoided. It is when the time of Imperial danger comes, when the press is ringing with patriotic sentiment, when meetings are held all over the country, that pressure is put. It is then, when the authorities might be disposed to accept such offers, that many men are of two minds as to whether they are bound to volunteer or not. How different would it be if in times of peace and quiet those men who have two or three years of their lives to devote to such preparation, who are unmarried, and have no great responsibilities, could register their names and submit themselves to the necessary tests and enter into a contract under such conditions as are agreeable to them, and who will be at your call in the event of a period of Imperial danger coming upon us! The Leader of the Opposition the other day said that these matters were of such grave importance that nothing should be done in a hurry. I agree with that view. It is because we wish to avoid hurry that we bring in this Bill, because in the one or two years during which the Volunteers of the country can discuss the terms, tests, and the conditions under which they would like to see some active service, it is necessary that we should have a period of leisure; and you cannot have this period of leisure unless the enabling powers of this Bill are given to the Government.

MR. HEDDERWICK (Wick Burghs)

Would the exercise of the option take place on enrolment?


At any time in the military life of any man if certain standards were fulfilled. I will read a draft of the kind of regulations which could be issued if enabling powers were conferred— A member of a Volunteer corps may contract to proceed on active service in any part of the world in a unit or company formed of Volunteers on such conditions as may be defined by the terms of his contract. In these words "in a unit or company" which are laid down here the Government pledges itself to the intention conveyed by the words. What the Volunteers want is that they should go out as Volunteers in order to gain some experience of warfare, not to be used as drafts or as garrisons during a time of Imperial pressure. In order to avoid misconception on that point I propose in Committee to move an Amendment which will say that a particular Volunteer can subject himself to the first or both of the liabilities, because I feel that if a Volunteer is, under the terms of the Act, allowed to engage in any part of the world without reference to active military service it may be thought that it is the intention of the Government to send Volunteers to the Mediterranean or Ceylon during a period of Imperial unrest. That is not the intention of the Government; it is solely as I have described it—the terms to be discussed and the conditions to be formulated in a methodical manner under normal conditions. The inconvenience which was experienced last year can hardly be imagined. In one case a company of Volunteers was enrolled, and out of 110 men only 38 were found to conform to the tests we stipulated. We had to pay £5 to every one of those 110 men. It was not the fault of the men that they had been improperly passed, and you cannot blame people for imperfect inspection if you ask them to conduct the preliminaries in a time of war instead of, more properly, in a time of peace. Good work cannot be done under the emotion of the moment. I read in the press that if dangers come our Volunteers and every subject of the Queen would patriotically place his services at the disposal of the Government. No doubt, and all credit to them; but it is not fair to them that their services should be accepted under those conditions. Emotion will not do work which can only be done by method quietly applied. That is one of the facts we have learned from the past; it is also an intelligent forecast for the future. There is one other consideration which I cannot refrain from submitting. When introducing the Army Estimates on 12th March, I had occasion to recognise the splendid patriotism of the colonies during the recent troubles. I deprecated any dictation on our part. But if there is to be no dictation or no solicitation on our part, then I think it is our duty to set an example to our colonies. All the difficulties and inconveniences which we experienced were also experienced in our colonies. The sudden summoning of men who are Volunteers, and many who are not, the testing of them, the selection of officers, and the proper equipment during a period of emergency were as rife in the colonies as here. If we are not to solicit or dictate, let us set an example to the colonies, and show them how Volunteer efforts can be coordinated in time of peace so as to avoid the scrambling and pressure which obtained during last January. I should be sorry in an Act to lay down, or attempt to lay down, an exact description of the kind of contract into which such Volunteers may care to enter. It may be that when the City Imperial Volunteers come home they may desire to enter into such an arrangement as would admit of a similar course of proceeding should another occasion arise. It may be that some regiments, notably the Lancashire Fusiliers, one of the oldest in the Army, which fought at Minden, and is about to celebrate Minden day on 1st August, the Volunteer battalion may be glad and proud to be associated more intimately with the Regulars. It may be that the Volunteers of a county may wish to represent that county by amalgamating the Volunteers with the battalion. I should be sorry to say that any one of these projects should be adopted or discarded. All that I ask is that the hands of the Executive may be unfettered, so that in time of peace and leisure the wishes of the Volunteers may be gathered and some business-like plan adopted for giving effect to those wishes in time of danger. I do not think I have anything more to urge. It may be that, in spite of this unanimous Report, in spite of the experience of last winter, some may be found to construe this Act in such a way as to suggest that the character of our Volunteer force will be changed by these provisions. That fear is not entertained by the Volunteer colonels whom we have consulted. Any such madcap project is beyond the power of this or any other Government. If these suggestions are made the Government cannot take shelter behind them in order to evade its duty. The first two objects of the Bill are necessary to the efficiency of national defence; and on that question the Government must lead. It is the duty of the Government to see that the money which the nation has lavished on our Volunteers should not be wasted; that the insurance which the country is taking is a sound one; that the Volunteers, if called upon to defend our shores, shall be given facilities for mobilisation, in the absence of which their devotion will be wholly cast away. The third point I do not put so highly, but still I earnestly recommend it to the favourable consideration of the House. In this country and in the colonies there are many men who cannot afford the time to enter the Regular Army or even the Militia, but who still wish to be ready against the hour of national danger and to prepare against that hour by taking some part in active military operations by studying in the only school, as recent events have proved, which is effective as a preparation for the military profession. You can no longer say to the Volunteers of this country, "You and yon only out of all the forces of the Empire shall never see a shot fired until the enemy is at the gate"; and if you cannot say that, it is again the duty of the Government to see that such Volunteers as wish it may have a reasonable opportunity of business-like preparation. I beg to move.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Wyndham.)

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

I desire to oppose this Bill on two grounds—first, on the specific ground of the proposals it contains, and, secondly, because its character is such that it should not be brought in as an isolated measure at this time. The hon. Gentleman has dwelt at some length on the first part of the Bill, and I imagine there will be no objection on the part of any section of this House to the first two clauses. That sixteen representative members of the Volunteer force should have recommended the introduction of a clause which gives power to prepare, in the only way in which preparation can be made, for the performance of the duty for which Volunteers are enrolled, is not to be wondered at, for it is idle to imagine that we can utilise the Volunteers effectively for the defence of our fortresses and our ports without subjecting them to training before the actual demand is made on their services. It is only to one portion of the second clause that I object, and I will give my reasons as briefly as I can for so objecting. I object first on the merits. I do not know that that is a fatal objection, for times have changed and conditions have changed. My special objection is that it is a varying of the whole underlying principle on which the Volunteer force was originally raised. It was undoubtedly intended to be a domestic force for the protection of this country against invasion. Such an invasion was apprehended in 1859, and it was to meet that danger that the Volunteer force was raised. I do not, however, press that point, because, after all, I am one of those who are anxious that our military organisation should be varied to meet the changes in our situation. Still, I think the necessity must be clearly shown before Parliament is justified in so fundamentally altering the character of the whole Volunteer force, as is implied in the second clause of this Bill. As a matter of fact, under this Bill those men will cease to be Volunteers; they will simply be Reservists of the regular Army, and not only that, but they will be Reservists under a disqualification which does not apply to other Reservists of the Army. The present Reservist is liable to be called out by Royal Proclamation, and Parliament must meet to sanction that step within a certain specified time, but I do not see that any such obligation is imposed upon the Government with regard to the Volunteers who are dealt with by this Bill—Volunteers as you call them, but Army Reservists as I call them. I think it would be well for the House and country to understand that these men will, to all intents and purposes, with one single exception, cease to be Volunteers; they will be transferred by the Bill to the Army Reserve. Again, the Bill introduces an additional outside element into the Regular Army which, I think, is not desirable in itself. It is most desirable that we should have a perfectly homogeneous force as our first line, and that anything done to supplement it should be by way of utilising some second line apart from the Army altogether, and not by breaking up one organisation in order to supply the deficiencies of another. I am glad to hear that the units are in all cases to be formed of Volunteers. I think, however, it is to be regretted that under this Bill the efforts of the Volunteer officers of constituted units will be absolutely thrown away. They will, no doubt, have done public service by acting as an attraction to bring young men into the corps, and in giving them that instruction which fits them to take part in the operations of the regular Army. But as colonels, majors, and captains of Volunteer units their functions will practically cease when the men are taken away from their corps. I think that will prove a serious injury to Volunteer corps themselves. The question was raised in another place as to whether the drafts taken in pursuance of this arrangement would be considered supernumerary to the corps—whether in the event of 200 Volunteers being taken away from a Volunteer battalion, they would be replaced by additions to the battalion. I understood the Secretary of State to announce that there was no intention of considering these men as supernumerary, and that their places would not be taken by others. That is unfortunate, for you will be doing exactly what was done to the disadvantage of the Militia, and at the time when the services of the Volunteer Corps maybe greatly needed you will be depriving the force of the most competent of its members to serve with some other unit of which it does not form part. We have had experience of that system, and I do not believe that there is any officer, either of the Militia or of the Line, who does not share my opinion that the practice of utilising the Militia Reserve as part of the Militia in time of peace, and then suddenly in case of emergency withdrawing them, as they have been withdrawn in instances of which I am aware, has been most detrimental to the Militia battalions. I know of battalions which have been absolutely emasculated and deprived of more than half of their value by having, on embodiment, some 250 of their very best men taken from them. I should be very reluctant to see the same practice pursued in regard to the Volunteers. There is another point. It appears to me exceedingly likely that if any consider- able number of men undertake these obligations they will, by doing so, seriously interfere with their employment. This question to a certain extent affects men serving in the Militia, and probably it will do so to a greater extent when the Militia are called out, as I hope they will be, for longer periods of service. But when you pass from the Militia to the Volunteers you have to deal with a very different class of men—with men in high and responsible employment, often of a confidential nature, who can ill be spared from that employment. There are numerous corps, as hon. Members know, in which there are many such men, and yet they are the very men who form the best material to take for this purpose— young, energetic, educated men, only too anxious to exercise in the field those arts which they have learned in times of peace. We have seen hundreds of them come out during the present emergency. The response which has been made by employers of skilled and unskilled labour has been magnificent, and I think the country has reason to be proud of it. The strain put upon employers has been very considerable, and I believe it is dangerous to renew that strain, too often. If you do so the day may arrive when these young men may find themselves face to face with the question whether they shall still remain in their employment. That would place them in a most embarrassing position. There is another and perhaps more forcible objection to the Bill. It has been urged in its favour that it would strengthen the military service of this country. But I fail to see how it will produce the only single advantage expected from it. I strongly agree with every word said by the hon. Member the Under Secretary for War as to the necessity of organised preparation for the emergency of war in times of peace. I have been humbly preaching that doctrine for many years past. If it were really a contribution to more efficient organisation and preparation, if it gave the War Office more knowledge of the material with which it would have to deal in times of war, a knowledge which is so essential to the satisfactory carrying out of military operations,. I would at once consent to the Bill. The Under Secretary for War said it was bettor we should do this now and not wait for a time of pressure, but the pressure will come all the same, whenever we go to war, and, however many men enrol themselves under the provisions of this Bill, they will represent but a tithe of the number who will come forward when a real emergency threatens this country. Of course, it is very desirable that the War Office should know that it has so many Volunteers of whom it can dispose in the ease of war. But, even if this Bill is passed, I do not suppose they will get any clearer idea than they already possess. They will, perhaps, have 5,000 men inscribe their names on the roll. But in a ease of a real emergency, probably 50,000 will be found ready to come forward. We have already had ample evidence of that. Men will not come forward for an unforeseen contingency, whereas they will come forward for a foreseen one, and the "waiting companies" which were called for by the Secretary of State from Volunteer corps to supply the waste occasioned by the war were not raised. With hardly an exception the corps called upon to raise them failed to do so. That is an illustration in proof of my assertion. For every Englishman engaged in a civil occupation who will come forward to pledge himself to take part in a war of which he knows nothing, you will probably got twenty, thirty, or it may be a hundred Volunteers when the actual emergency arises. There is another difficulty. Suppose you get 5,000 men upon your Volunteer roll. Campaigns must now be planned in advance. To be efficient they must be planned not a day, a week or a month, but a year beforehand. But what is the objection? Five thousand men may take an obligation to-day, but in six months time every one of them by giving a fortnight's notice might get rid of his liability. But that is not quite the end of the evil. My hon. friend talks of there being no pressure; there will be pressure, and pressure of a very undesirable kind, if this Bill is passed into law. Hundreds and thousands of Volunteers are engaged in political conflicts, or at any rate hold very strong political views. It happens that we are engaged in a war which has the sympathy of the enormous majority of the people of this country, but it is quite conceivable that this country might be engaged in a war which did not at all move the feelings of the people; it might be a war to which not only an inconsiderable minority, but a very large minority would object as strongly as some hon. Members now object to the present war. In that case you would have that most unfortunate occurrence, a direct conflict between political conviction and military duty. For a soldier there is only one law — namely, whatever orders he receives, to obey them; but that is not the case with civilians in ordinary life. You will put every one of these men into the dilemma of having to undertake active service for a cause in which they may not only not believe, but which they may have actually condemned, or of doing what is most distasteful and practically impossible—namely, taking the opportunity presented by the danger to abandon the undertaking they have given, and thereby lay themselves open to the charge of not having carried out their obligations. These are serious objections, worthy of the attention of the House. But there is another objection which, from my point of view, outweighs them all. At the beginning of this session I took part in debates on the Army, and I said I was most willing to concede everything asked for by the Government by way of providing for a temporary emergency. I said that the emergency was grave, and that the safety of the country, or at any rate the safety of our Army, was imperilled, and that we could not stop to discuss the exact effect of the emergency measures then proposed. I said that the responsibility rested with the Government, that they might do what they pleased as long as they got the thing done, and I am bound to say nearly every other hon. Member took a similar view. I said at the same time that I would oppose every proposal for a permanent alteration in our military system which was undertaken apart from and without any reference to any general scheme of reorganisation. We have been told over and over again that we were not to bring these questions up during the present session, and we were told that if we did no answer would be given, as it was impossible under present conditions oven to discuss the reorganisation of our Army; and yet there is a universal admission that until we have this reorganisation we are liable to a repetition of the danger which threatened us at the beginning of this year. I think it would be most illogical and most unwise to retreat from the position we then took up, and sanction one more of these everlasting emergency measures, which, however, is not an emergency measure in the sense that it is permanent. Do not do something under the plea of emergency which may make it impossible, and will certainly make it difficult, to recast our military system as many of us believe it ought to be recast as a whole. It is not easy to discuss this matter as it ought to be discussed. I regret that the Vote for the salary of the Secretary of State for War has been withdrawn from the consideration of the House, because I believe that great organic changes ought not to be entrusted to the present Secretary of State for War in view of the language he has used, the things he has done, and the things he has left undone. But we are not to be allowed this year, when popular opinion is peculiarly directed to the duties performed by the Secretary of State for War, to discuss the exact position.




I am very glad indeed if I am rightly corrected by the right hon. Gentleman, but I understood that the Vote for the salary of the Secretary of State for War was not to be included.


It would be well, perhaps, to clear up that point, because I understood that a whole day would, if necessary, be given to it.


My recollection is that I stated that as some seventeen days had already been given to the Army Estimates it seemed to me that either the Foreign Office Vote or the Colonial Office Vote might be discussed; but I have no objection whatever to the Vote for the salary of the Secretary of State for War being discussed, if the Votes I have mentioned are discussed at short length.


If the Vote for the salary of the Secretary of State for War is taken, the task imposed on me will be an easier one; but that need not interfere with my present argument. If we are to have this piecemeal legislation I want to know of what system it is to form a part. The Secretary of State for War has made some statements which bear very closely on that matter. The result of this Bill when all is done will, I believe, be the addition of 5,000, 6,000, or 7,000 men at the outside to the Army Reserve; but we should be careful before sanctioning that addition to have a clear understanding as to whether the system of which that is a part is to go on. For years we have had confusion between the Line, the Militia, and the Volunteers, and no one now knows what are the special functions which these three great bodies are called upon to perform. They have been tied together by an emergency bond only. The Militia has been robbed to supply the Line, and the Volunteers have been induced by the Army recruiting sergeants to give up their recruits. We have seen the Volunteers in this campaign not as an organised military force, but simply as emergency men taken to supply the patent defects of a system which had failed to contemplate the contingencies to which we were liable. I want to know, will it be wise to take this step before we ascertain what the Secretary of State for War is going to do to rectify the condition of things he described the other day? He was asked by a noble Lord what we were doing with the hundred thousand men we had at home, and in reply he said that the noble Lord must be perfectly well aware that that hundred thousand men, or rather ninety two thousand men, were not an organised force in any sense of the word. I quite agree they are not; but I want to know why it is not possible to have some system by which we can got an organised force without upsetting the whole organisation of the Volunteers. We have had it made perfectly clear in this House that the waste in the regular Army is so enormous that in seven years time it amounts to no less than one hundred thousand men, the whole cost of whose instruction, clothing, and housing will be lost. On the other hand, by the Secretary of State's admission, we have ninety-two thousand unorganised regular troops in this country. I think it would be infinitely better if we were to postpone this very unfortunate Bill, which is open to considerable objection, until we are able to see how far arrangements can be made for the organisation of our military forces on a scale which would be approved by the country at large. My hon. friend said that we ought to set an example to the colonies. We are all in favour of setting an example to the colonies. We have been setting an example to the colonies for a very long time past. We have set them an example in raising regular forces for the defence of the Empire across the seas, and I think we may be perfectly content to keep this matter in our own hands. I think the colonies will not be particularly moved by anything we may do or leave undone with regard to it. For those reasons I think this Bill is not to the public advantage. I think its object is, comparatively speaking, unimportant.


Does my hon. friend object to the first clause also?


Of course not. I am a warm supporter of that first clause; my sole objection is to the second clause. I fail to realise the object with which this Bill has been introduced. I think it is in contravention of the agreement which has existed, that if it were desirable that any change should be made at present in our military system it should not be a permanent change. At any rate, I hoped that that might be the line of action that might have commended itself to the Government. I should like to say one word about an argument used by my hon. friend. He said that a large number of Volunteer officers were in favour of this Bill. I do not know whether that approval extends to the whole of the Bill, but I will assume it does. I must point out that this submission to the recommendations of a Committee is rather new at the War Office. I recollect Commissions which dealt with subjects of far greater importance than this Bill deals with, and included among their members many important personages, and yet their Reports were disregarded and pigeon-holed, and nothing was done regarding them. I can well understand the attitude of these Volunteer officers, but I believe I am quite right in saying that in this matter they are not representative, as far as the second clause is concerned, of the whole Volunteer force. It is perfectly true that they think that the years they have been serving have been wasted, and that feeling is shared by many of us. The Volunteers have felt that they have been kept under arms without organisation for no specific purpose and have not been allowed to be of any use to themselves or to the country, and I do not wonder that spirited, capable, and competent men as they are should take the first opportunity given them of showing their willingness to do anything or everything that might be asked of them. But this matter must be decided by some higher authority than the dictum of sixteen Volunteer officers. It must be decided by Parliament and by the nation, and therefore I am not moved as much as my hon. friend supposed I should be moved by the views of the Volunteer officers. Of course, they desire that we should give them employment and the opportunity of exhibiting their zeal in the interests of their country. I do hope that my hon. friend will consider whether it is absolutely imperative the the second clause of this Bill should be passed into law, and I shall move an Amendment, which I hope he will accept at a later stage, to omit that clause. I believe it will be to the interests of the country if my hon. friend confines himself to passing the first part of the Bill, which is a necessary official act to perfect the machinery of the Volunteer force. I beg to move that the Bill be read this day three months.

* CAPTAIN NORTON (Newington, W.)

I beg to second the motion for the rejection of this Bill. I do so because I am of opinion that it will completely destroy the principle on which our Volunteer force is based. I am sure it will be conceded that I am one of the last who would attempt to do anything which would cripple the Government in any way during the present crisis. I have been one of those who have given the Government in conjunction with the arrangements for the present war a loyal and hearty support, and I am as anxious as any hon. Member in this House to see both our regular and auxiliary forces placed on the best possible basis. But, as the hon. Member for West Belfast has stated, this is a most inopportune time to introduce a measure of this nature. To the first clause of the Bill, which proposes to substitute for the words "actual or apprehended invasion," the words "imminent national danger or great emergency," there is no opposition. The Judge Advocate General, who is a great authority on these subjects, however, pointed out that there was great difficulty with reference to the definition of the word "emergency." I may add that the adjective "great" in the clause is tautology and altogether irrelevant. According to the Judge Advocate General, when the Militia is embodied, then a state of emergency arises, and I think it is extremely doubtful whether the employers of this country will be parties to giving facilities to those who work under them to be called out practically as a first-class Army Re-serve whenever it may seem desirable to embody the Militia. With reference to Clause 2 of the Bill, which is of great importance, the Under Secretary for War states that it is not a new project; but if it is not a new project to call upon the Volunteers to turn themselves into a military force, then I know not what a new project is. If we look back on the history of the Volunteer force we will see that it arose in a moment of grave national peril, when Napoleon was encamped on the heights of Boulogne, and a descent on these coasts was expected at any moment. This force, which arose under these circumstances, is now to be turned into a first-class Army reserve without being consulted at a whole. It is stated that sixteen colonels of Volunteers favour this measure. It would be a very strange thing if the colonels of the various Volunteer corps would not be willing to do everything they could to improve the position of their corps in the eyes of their fellow countrymen. But what proportion of the Volunteers are in favour of this change? What has been done to ascertain their opinion? Why, nothing. This Bill is being rushed on the Volunteers by a side wind; the failure in our military system is to be patched up, but the patch is a stolen piece of cloth. You are asking men who engaged under certain conditions to alter these conditions. Then it is said that no pressure will be put on the Volunteers, but I should like to know what would be thought of any man who holds back when the majority of his regiment are prepared to enlarge their liability for service. He would be looked upon as a man lacking in patriotism. That is not a fair position to place a man in who joins the Volunteer force under the impression that he is doing a patriotic act, but whose occupation and social relations are such as would not enable him to come forward. Then again, by introducing this system great damage is inflicted on recruiting for the Regular Army. Under the proposed system would not any man enter the Volunteers rather than the Regular Army? He will have the comfort and convenience of living at home and following his own occupation, and when there is an opportunity for active service he will be placed absolutely on a level with the man who has spent all his time in the Regular Army, very often doing objectionable garrison duty. I say that is most unfair, and that it will injure recruiting for the Regular Army. Like the hon. Member for West Belfast I am not as anxious with reference to the Volunteers as I am regarding the defensive system of the country as a whole. We have reason to hope that on the conclusion of the war our entire military system will be recast; therefore there is no necessity at the present moment to introduce this wretched measure, which will only give 5,000 or 10,000 men at the outside on whom you can draw in case of emergency. Then, again, you will create classes in the Volunteers, which I am sure every military man will acknowledge will not be for the good of the regiments themselves. You will have three different classes: first, the Volunteer, who serves at home, and who is liable to go away by giving a fortnight's notice—he will not be looked on as a, soldier at all—second, the man who is liable to be called out on active service at any time; and, third, the man who is liable to serve in any part of the world, whether within or without Her Majesty's dominions. In fact, you are going to introduce into the Volunteers the system which now exists in the Army—a system of robbing Peter to pay Paul; of cutting off the end of the blanket and adding it on to the top, but you will not have a man more. Every commanding officer of Militia is at the present moment loud in his complaints that his best officers and men are taken from him as soon as they are trained, and are sent to join the linked battalion abroad, or that all his recruits as soon as they are effective are drafted to other battalions in South Africa. The result of this measure will be to stop recruiting for the Militia. With regard to the political aspect the hon. Member for West Belfast very fairly pointed out the results which would follow in the event of a member of the Volunteer force being asked to take part in what might be, on the whole, a somewhat unpopular war. The system proposed in the Bill reminds one of the system which prevails in certain Irish establishments where, when a particular servant, whose duty it is to do a particular class of work, fails, another servant whose duties are altogether different is called in to act, and the result is, of course, blank failure. The basis of the Volunteer Bill of 1895 was to disturb as slightly as possible the conditions under which the Volunteers were then serving the State; but this Bill goes, as it were, in the very teeth of that policy, and is framed in such a manner as to disturb the conditions on which the Volunteer force was formed. The Bill will secure no good purpose and may ruin our existing Volunteer system, and for these reasons I beg to second the motion of the hon. Member for West Belfast.

Amendment proposed— To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day three months.'" — (Mr. Arnold-Forster.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


It is not very often I have the good fortune to agree with the hon. Member for West Belfast in our discussions on these matters, and even to-day I cannot say that I sympathise with every word he has uttered, but with his main position in regard to this Bill, I am entirely in sympathy. The hon. Member for West Belfast brought up a sort of self-denying ordinance, supposed to be imposed on us all, that we were not, during the present session, while military affairs were in so urgent a condition as they have been, to enter upon the much larger questions of future organisation and future reform. I think there is a good deal of strength in the position which the hon. Gentleman has taken up, even in that limited sense; but there is another and larger ground on which I think that this is a most inexpedient occasion for us to begin with piecemeal alterations in the innermost constitution of the different branches of the defensive forces of this country. The Under Secretary referred to some words I used a day or two ago protesting against doing anything in a hurry, and he argued that this Bill was intended to avoid things being done in a hurry —that is to say, that administrative acts would not be accomplished in so scrambling a fashion as was necessary last winter if this Bill were passed. That is quite possible; but I had reference to the action of the Government, of the House, and of Parliament when I spoke of not doing anything in a hurry, and I think I am supported in my view by some words which fell from the Secretary of State for War last night in another place. The Secretary of State was meeting a demand on the part of a noble Duke for the reorganisation and reconstitution of the Army and the War Office, and among the other pleas he urged was this—that there are now in South Africa a number of the very men whom it would be most essential that we should consult if it were found necessary to enter upon any change on a great scale, and that we ought to wait until we could get the great benefit of the actual experience and wise advice of those who have seen the operation of the present system in the field. I put that very wise sentiment and warning of the Secretary of State in another place against himself or his representative in this House, and I say that I think the present time is not the moment in which to make great changes, even if those changes can be shown to be salutary and wise in themselves. The House and the country have shown themselves, during the last eight or nine months, willing to do and to agree to anything that the Government proposed to meet the emergency that has arisen; but from that disposition on the part of the House, which is a loyal and wise and, I think, a most discreet disposition, to pass to the idea that the experience of last winter is to form a basis of all we are to do for the Army in the future, that that is to be considered as representing the normal requirements in any case of war of the British Army, is to take a step which I do not think anything in the world can justify. We have had to meet a most exceptional enemy, such as may not be met with in any other part of the world, as we all know. We had to meet that enemy in a great state of unprepared ness, because we, the Government, Parliament, and people, had undervalued the difficulty of the task we took in hand, and, therefore, we were put to great straits last winter, and we had to take hold of any man who offered himself and put him into some place in order to take advantage of his patriotic and generous spirit. But it does not follow that on a future occasion we should be exposed to any such necessity, because if you are to pursue a policy of expansion all over the world, we have had a lesson during the last two or three months which shows the sort of force we should have to maintain in order to cope with that policy of expansion; but if, on the other hand, we are to pursue a more modest and, as I think, more reasonable policy, let us hope that such necessities as occurred last winter will not arise again. I do not wish to prejudge the great question of the condition of the Army and the military necessities of the country. I do not say it will not be necessary to make great changes and to make great additions to our military strength. It is quite possible that that may be so, but we are not in a position now to deal with that question, and that is what I wish to urge on the House. We have a limited experience in the emergency of last winter, and upon that experience alone we are now called upon, as I think, to fundamentally alter the whole condition and spirit of the Volunteer force. There was another thing which happened during last winter. I have said our enemy was an unusual enemy in his fighting qualities, and the necessities, therefore, that were laid upon us in the circumstances were unusul. But another thing that was unusual was the remarkable and most laudable effort that was made by the employers of labour to meet the wants that were shown in our military defences. Men were allowed to go away on terms which were freely offered throughout the country. But can we be sure that similar terms will be offered in future? Can we be sure that the circumstances that occurred last winter will not seriously affect the relations between the civil employer and the Reserve man, the Militiaman and the Volunteer? I do not wish to be a Cassandra, and say that that will happen; but, at all events, we must bear in mind that the sudden emergency of last winter evoked a spirit of self-sacrifice and of patriotism which may not always be preserved at the same pitch in time of peace. The Under Secretary has also laid his case partly upon the Report of the Committee which sat a few years ago. But I notice that in the recommendations of the Committee there is not a word about foreign service for Volunteers. There is a reference to active service, but not to foreign service.


I hope I did not convey the impression that I quoted the Report in support of foreign service. On the other hand, I divided, as clearly as I could, the first half of the section from the second part of the section.


Then the hon. Gentleman does not adduce the authority of the Committee in support of the second section?


No, Sir.

* SIR HENRY FLETCHER (Sussex, Lewes)

As a member of that Committee, perhaps I may be allowed to say that we had no instructions whatever to consider the question of foreign service.


This Committee made its report, and immediately afterwards a Bill was introduced into the House carrying out the recommendations as far as they could be carried out, amending the law for calling out the Volunteers for actual military service. So that it is not the case that nothing has been done to meet the desires of the Committee.


I pointed out that the Chairman of that Committee, in the debate on that very Bill, recognised that the recommendations of the Committee had not been carried out in their entirety. He said he hoped they would not be lost sight of, and joined with those who regarded the Bill simply as an instalment. Some of the prominent members of the Committee expressed the greatest regret that the Bill brought in by the right hon. Gentleman did not include the recommendations of the Committee.


I am sure that the Bill embodied all the suggestions of the Committee which commended themselves to those who wore best acquainted with the feelings and the necessities of the Volunteer corps in their administrative relations with the War Office. I am also pretty sure of this, that the suggestions of a Committee, in a case like that, do not necessarily involve their recognition and adoption by the Government of the day or by Parliament. The Committee was formed, for the most part, of strong and energetic Volunteers, who, no doubt, were anxious to see certain changes introduced; but it does not follow that the opinions of a few colonels of Volunteer corps, however eminent and zealous, must carry the day. We are bound to look at questions of this kind from the civilian as well as from the Volunteer point of view.


The Chairman, the Financial Secretary to the War Office, was a civilian.


I know; but at any rate a Committee does not convey such overpowering weight that we must accept its opinions without hesitation. Even Royal Commissions to inquire into military matters are sometimes treated to but little attention; and we have had one or two Royal Commissions upon the licensing question whose Reports have been received with nothing but scorn and contumely from the supporters of the Government. So that I really think the authority of the Committee can be carried too far; and the House is perfectly free to act in this matter without being completely carried away by the recommendations of the Committee. The hon. Gentleman adduced one or two cases in which changes are necessary, but chiefly with regard to the first clause; I mean the question of Volunteer artillery manning the forts which defend the commercial harbours of this country, the submarine mines, and so forth. That is true, and it may be a very necessary thing to take such steps as may be required to give them more ample time than other branches of the Volunteer service for preparation for the efficient fulfilment of the duties imposed upon them. But surely that does not justify sweeping changes of this kind which will affect all the Volunteer corps throughout the kingdom. The Volunteer forces were originally instituted for the purpose of the defence of these shores; they have always been treated as a force originated and intended for that purpose, and they have been spoken of in our after-dinner speeches, even when we are most effusive, under that limitation. Is there any one of us who has not, after dinner, declared that "Defence, not defiance," is the motto of the Volunteers? And, as my hon. friend has said, if in vino veritas has any force, then after dinner is the very time when we get at the kernel of the matter. The Volunteers were instituted, and they have been maintained, for the defence of these islands. But the Government now propose to introduce three separate classes into the Volunteers. There are those who only undertake the old duties; there are those who undertake the liability of being called out for actual military service at any time; and there are those who may be called out to serve in any part of the world. I agree with what has been said, that it is most undesirable to have two or three kinds of men serving in the same corps with different liabilities, if it can be at all avoided. There may be instances where there is a limited necessity for cases of that kind, such as the Militia reserve; but I always thought that the Army was against the Militia reserve, because its effect upon the Army might be bad. It was, however, a necessity; but where was the necessity here, in order to obtain the services of a few men, of introducing a distinction among them? I have no doubt there are many high-spirited young men in the Volunteers who would be glad to undertake actual military service; but the question is, Is it desirable from a public point of view to allow them to do it and to separate them from the rest of their comrades? I do not think it is. The Under Secretary for War seemed to think he made things rather better when he went on to say that those who undertook the liability of serving in. any part of the world would only be called upon to do so in the case of actual military service. "Of course," said the hon. Gentleman, "we should never think of putting them to garrison duty, or to other humdrum occupations of that kind, which would not give them the chance of winning glory and distinction. It is only in active warfare that they would obtain a knowledge of their duties; let us send them to the front." It does not occur to him to ask "What becomes of the Regular force and of the Militia?" I suppose the Militia are only to garrison forts such as Sierra Leone, while the Volunteers must be reserved for the front.


I do not recognise my own arguments in the right hon. Gentleman's version of them.


I know. I am putting them purposely in an exaggerated way to show how dangerous they are. But does it not come to this: that you are to select from one force a number of high-spirited young fellows, and put them, in preference to other forces, to do certain duties of an attractive kind? They are, in fact, to be put in front of the Army and Militia Reservists. I really do not think a case for this Bill has been made out. I should be willing indeed to see the slight alteration made with regard to Section 17 of the Volunteer Act of 1863. That, of course, is a good thing, because it gets rid of the somewhat pedantic difficulty of publicity which is undesirable. I would be glad to see anything done which would really increase the utility and efficiency of the Volunteers, but I do not think the institution among them of two or three classes of men with different liabilities would mean any real or substantial increase in their efficiency. It could not increase their efficiency except in a reflex way—that these young fellows would go out and see active service and when they came back would leaven the battalion in which they serve. But we are not going to make war gaily every year in order to give fine high-spirited young fellows the opportunity of seeing active service. The Bill is founded on a wrong conception. Last winter there was a great emergency, and the hon. Gentleman seems to have been very much impressed by the wild tone of feeling shown in the public press. I do not go so much by the tone of the public press. I am sure the thinking people of the country agree that everything should be done in an emergency to meet the case. But that is a very different thing from enlisting men in one force and promptly passing them into another, so that the Army and the whole defensive force—the Militia, the Volunteers, and the Yeomanry—are so mixed up that no one can tell when you meet a man in the street to which force he belongs. I hope the hon. Gentleman will not press, at all events, this clause of the Bill. This is not the time for us to be meddling with these things. We want more ample opportunities and more ample advice from those who have come through the experience of war before we attempt to tinker with our military system. For the present it is better to be content with the humbler duty of filling up the ordinary necessities of the Army in war, and to leave the reorganisation and reconstitution of it to quieter times.

* SIR J. COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)

If I saw anything in this Bill which could be characterised as a fundamental change in our organised system, I should vote against it But I do not see that. We have heard objections made that it is a fundamental change in the constitution of our voluntary service, but I cannot share that view. The Bill is simply permissive and administrative in its action. Volunteers can now go on active service upon giving fourteen days notice, and resigning their Volunteer position and enlisting in the Militia or the regular Army, and this Bill simply provides for administrative convenience in dealing with the case of Volunteers who are desirous of going on active service, and enables the War Office to know beforehand what proportion of the Volunteer force would wish to hold themselves liable for general service all over the world. I cannot conceive that there can be the slightest objection to Clause 1, it is simply an alteration that is necessary; and I cannot understand how Members of this House who have given ten minutes thought to the question of why the Volunteers are in existence and what the work is they have to perform can hesitate for a moment to accept it. With regard to the first part of Clause 2, which enables Volunteers to arrange to hold themselves in readiness to be called upon to serve at any time, that is, for the purposes of administrative arrangements, as to the defence of certain of our ports, it is a good principle; but where the difficulty comes in is in the sub-section B of Clause 2. Upon that point the proposer of the motion to reject the Bill and his seconder objected on two or three grounds, but to my mind they did not follow out their own arguments when they estimated the number of men likely to avail themselves of this Bill at 10,000 only, when one remembers that the Volunteer force is over a quarter of a million men. A Bill that provides for the wishes of Volunteers who desire to serve abroad is a good Bill, and I cannot think such consequences are going to happen as are suggested by the hon. Gentlemen if it only affects 3 or 4 per cent. of that force. I therefore cannot share their view. Another objection which they took was that we might have an unpopular war, and that trouble might then happen if these men were called out against their convictions to perform the obligations which they undertook; but that would also apply to the Army Re-serve. I cannot see in this respect any difference between the Regular Army, Militia, Army Reserve, and the Volunteers. When a man enters into a contract with the Government he must, when called upon, put his convictions in his pocket and fulfil his contract; therefore, I cannot agree with that view. Another objection raised was that of filling the vacancies of units of the Volunteer corps who hold themselves liable under this Bill for general service. I think if it is contended that for the necessities of this country 260,000 Volunteers are required for our local defences, although we may have supreme power at sea, then I say I do not acknowledge the contention and do not agree with it. If 10,000 hold themselves in readiness to go abroad, it merely means in any case an increase of the Volunteer strength. But I think that 260,000 are more than sufficient if you have supreme command at sea, therefore I do not pay much attention to the objection or to the arguments that I have heard in opposition to this Bill. But I am bound to say that to come down here and take the Bill as it stands and give my hearty support to it is another thing. I give my hearty support to the first clause, and to that part of the second clause which enables a certain proportion of men that may be necessary to be called upon in times of emergency to hold themselves liable for service. I thoroughly accept those two points, and I was prepared to accept the third point without hesitation until I heard a remark dropped by the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary, and that frightened me, and is why I now hold my vote back in respect to that part of the Bill. He said that, of course, in the case of those men who volunteer for service abroad, we should never think of asking them to do anything else but go to the front; that we should not ask them to go into garrisons or act in any disagreeable work in keeping lines of communication, etc., and that this Bill would only apply to those who held themselves liable for service, but only to go to the front, and that we should arrange for the Regulars or the Militia to do the disagreeable work. If we cannot call upon them except to go to the front, that strikes at the very root of our military system. It is not for the men to say where they will go, whether it be to the front, where all the excitement is, or at the rear, where all is dreary and the work is hard. They must do their duty, and with regard to this part of the clause I shall certainly have to vote against it, unless there is some further explanation from the hon. Gentleman. I cannot sufficiently express my feelings at the idea of making a man liable to serve as a military unit on the condition that he is only to serve at the front, and the remarks of the hon. Gentleman have actually turned my vote against this part of the Bill which I came down to support. To my mind if this Bill is passed we must be very clear as to how it is going to work. We must be exceptionally clear as to what we are doing. I think that these men, if they hold themselves liable for service, should do so without qualification, and unless that matter is cleared up I cannot vote for Sub-section B, Clause 2, of the Bill. Now, coming back to the part of the Bill of which I do approve, I cannot exactly understand why the period should be for one month. My hon. friend said, and I thought he spoke having regard to particular circumstances, that during critical negotiations when danger was imminent was not the time to call out the whole of the Volunteers; but negotiations do not end in a month; but if, for the reasons he stated, we cannot call out the whole force, he says we must be able to call out part of the force without observation or making a scare. But why limit it to a month? A period arrives in negotiations when it becomes necessary for the Government in its discretion to say. We must look to the safety of our ports and call out these men, but at the end of the month negotiations are going on still, and at the end of the month the Government will have to disband these men or mobilise the whole of the force. It is the Memorandum of the hon. Gentleman which frightens me. We are told distinctly that at present we should have to call out the whole force, and naturally that would be a difficult thing to do; therefore the Government must have power to call out a portion of the men, but why limit it to a month? That is against the proposal of the Government. A month is not in the Bill, but we have been supplied with the draft of the proposed Volunteer regulations. If my hon. friend tolls me the Government are not bound by that term, but can keep these men, when called out, as long as they like, my objection falls. Now we have obtained information on many points, but in one particular that information is lacking. We lack information as to what is the period for which a Volunteer is to be liable after he has accepted the obligation. I can find nothing in the Bill at all with regard to that. I see it says between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five. Does that mean that a man of thirty-four years of age, having had two years training in the Volunteers, can be accepted under this Bill, and, if so, for how long? I think the Bill in principle is perfectly sound to this extent, that it is an attempt to retrieve the past errors of our military system. We have now for forty years been acting on the principle that we must have a vast number of armed men in this country to guard against the danger of an invasion, and upon that force we have spent a vast sum of money, the result being that we have spent this vast amount upon a principle which is the absolute negation of our naval supremacy. It is an attempt to get the men of this secondary force, which is not wanted here, to hold themselves in readiness for over-sea service. I do not see that the allegation that it is an interference with the Volunteer Act has the shadow of a foundation. I am prepared to vote for the whole of the Bill with the exception of Sub-section B of Clause 2, which I cannot vote for.


said that this Bill raised grave issues and reflections. In spite of what had fallen from the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite, to whose opinion on matters of this kind he attached the greatest possible respect, he thought that the Bill, if passed, would have a profound effect upon the character of the Volunteer force. If the Government asked the Volunteers upon enrolment whether they were willing to serve abroad, if need be, they would immediately divide the Volunteer force into two classes, those who preferred to stay at home and those who were willing to serve abroad, and the result in time would inevitably be that a very large proportion of the youth of the country who would gladly, under present conditions, join the force, but who could not tell what their position would be in a few years, would be prevented from joining the Volunteers. If, on the other hand, the Government did not intend to put that question upon enrolment, but were prepared to leave it until the emergency arose, then the force of that objection he admitted would be greatly diminished. The hon. Member for Yarmouth had said truly that in a Bill of this kind we ought to be very clear as to what we were going to do. It appeared to him that it was impossible for the House to take such an intelligent view of the result of their action if they adopted the Bill, for a reason which he commended to the consideration of the hon. and gallant Member. The terms of the contract under which the Volunteers were to contract with the State were not before the House. They were not in the Bill. The hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary only touched upon them to drop them; but if it was desirable that the House should be clear as to what steps were to be taken, it was essential that the terms of the contract, which were all-important, should be stated in the Bill itself. On those grounds he thought the House was not in a position to judge adequately what would be the effect of the proposals of the Government. By passing the Bill the House would in fact be giving a blank cheque to the War Office. Another point which forced itself upon his mind was this. He could not imagine why a Bill of such far-reaching importance should be brought in at such a late period of the session. The Bill emanated from the War Office owing to the emergency in the Transvail, but that emergency had passed away so far as the Volunteer service was concerned. He agreed with the hon. Member for West Belfast that if anything was going to be done to reform the military system of this country this was not the way to commence. We should begin with the War Office, which everybody agreed required reform. Instead of adopting that reasonable course the Government appeared to be throwing up the Volunteers as a last entrenchment. He was surprised that the hon. Gentleman, who was familiar with military matters, should quote the opinion of sixteen Volunteer colonels as if it were a sufficient defence or justification for such a Bill. Upon those grounds, and those grounds alone, he felt himself compelled to oppose the Bill.


said that with regard to a great portion of the Bill there was entire agreement, but there was one portion with which he could not agree, and that was the part which asked the Volunteers to serve in any part of the world, within or without Her Majesty's dominions. His objection to it was owing to the explanation of the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary. The Volunteers were for home defence, and if home defence were weakened the Government would do wrong. Under the present system if any of the Volunteers desired to serve abroad there was nothing to prevent them. Everybody who knew anything about the War Office was aware that when a war occurred there was an immense strain put upon the War Office because of the want of organisation, and he did not think that the reform of that Department should be postponed. He thought a great portion of the Bill would be very useful, and he supported the Second Reading with the hope that the Government would see their way to modify Sub-section B of Clause 2. He agreed with the hon. Member for Wick, who declined to give the Government a blank cheque, and thought that the House ought to know what they were going to do. There was one thing to be guarded against, which was the jealousy it would give rise to between the Volunteers and the Militia. All the forces ought to work harmoniously for the good of the country, and great care ought to be taken that there should be no petty jealousy between them.


desired to add a few words in support of the objections which had been raised to the Bill. It was a remarkable fact that the support which had been given to the measure was of the most qualified description; but everybody agreed that it was unfortunate that the Bill should have been brought forward at so inopportune a time. There appeared to be a concensus of opinion that at the time when the country had made great efforts in connection with the South African war the judgment of the House was not sufficiently unbiassed to deal with this matter. But the Bill was inopportune for another reason. The whole country had already made great sacrifices, and it did not seem to be appropriate that this particular time should be chosen by the Government to introduce a measure which would increase the burden of the Volunteer military service. The hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary, perhaps, weld meet that criticism and justify his action by saying that the Government had taken every step possible for them to take, and that they had consulted well-known persons upon the subject. Sixteen officers had been consulted; but surely a very much larger consultation was required in a matter of this kind. It was necessary to get in touch with many more regiments throughout the country, and those civilians who were connected with our military service in some way or other, and not only those but the whole civil population. Further time and further inquiry were necessary before any organic change was made in the Volunteer law. The Under Secretary for War had, in meeting the criticisms in the administration of the War Office, said that any organic change could not be expected to be taken at present. That was the view taken by the greater portion of the country. There were many important lessons to be learnt from a war like this. Any declaration of that kind which had been made would not seem to justify the Government in bringing forward this Bill or any other measure of a similar character. As no objection had been raised to Clause 1 he did not know that he need trouble the House with any observations upon it, but he expressed a wish to be informed as to whether the Volunteer Act of 1895, which gave power to the Government to call out a portion of the Volunteer force upon the embodiment of the Militia, did not meet all the necessities of the case. Great stress had been laid upon the fact of the Government being able to move certain bodies of men in case of an emergency or conflict with any other Powers; but before moving the Volunteers surely the preliminary step of embodying the Militia would be taken. And, if so, the Volunteers could be moved under the present law after the Militia had been embodied. Why were these new powers needed in respect to Clause 1? The Bill struck at the root of our present system. In the beginning of the year large bodies of Volunteers had been sent over the seas, and that had left the country insufficiently protected, and now the Government had introduced a measure designed to place more men at their disposal in case of emergency—that was the effect of it, whatever might have been the intention—it placed more men at the disposal of the Government for any action which they might take abroad. A great deal had boon heard about Empire during the present year, but let not the House forget the nation, and that home defence was, after all, one of the most responsible and essential parts of our organisation. This scheme of the Government cut into the scheme of home defence and weakened the country in its most vital part. If it was necessary to increase the military force, how was it that nothing had been heard of that intermediate force, the Militia? The present Bill merely laid new burdens on the backs of the Volunteers, and trenched on the resources of the country for home defence. The Government on the question of raising men for foreign service had passed over the Militia and gone to the Volunteers. He hoped as the result of the discussion the Bill would not be proceeded with at this time.

MR. SEELY (Lincoln)

thought that although the Government had been wise to raise this question they would best serve the interests of the country and the Volunteers by not proceeding further with the Bill now. With regard to the first section, it was a very strong thing to alter the conditions of service of 250,000 men in time of war, and although the Government said they did not intend, to call out such a number, still, this Bill made a considerable difference in the law. It might be used in future in a very different manner from that in which the original words could be used, and for a different purpose than that for which the Volunteers originally engaged. Therefore, it was incumbent on the Government to make it perfectly clear that such a step was necessary, not simply for administrative convenience, but for the defence of the country. He did not think in that case the country would object, but it was necessary that such an assurance should be given. He should like to know how many Volunteers offered themselves for garrison duty at the beginning of the year, and whether the reason that their services were not accepted was to be found in the legal difficulty, or whether the reason was that their services were not required. If such a difficulty existed, the first clause of the Bill was a necessity, but if not the proposed alteration ought to be very carefully considered. It seemed very like mixing up the duties of the Volunteers and the Militia. He always thought the Volunteers were regarded as for home defence, but the fact did not appear to be appreciated by the Government. As to Clause 2, the Government would probably see the wisdom of withdrawing it for the present. There was a great deal to be said against it; and if the Government wanted men from the Volunteers there would never be any difficulty in getting them. As to the "scandal of the scramble" in the beginning of the year, that could never be avoided by any alteration of the terms of service when the Government entered upon a war with the idea that they only needed 70,000 men, and then suddenly discovered that at least 230,000 would be required. He hoped the Under Secretary would satisfy the House as to the point he raised, and would consider very carefully the questions raised on the sub-section.

MR. WARNER (Staffordshire, Lichfield)

said he should not have intervened in the debate except for the fact that he sat upon the Committee which was supposed to have supported the Bill. He wished to draw attention to two points. The first was the liability of the Volunteers to be called out in times of great national danger. If it was admitted that it was necessary to call out the Volunteers, a man might be able to give a month of his time, but he could not give the whole year without considerably injuring his prospects. At one time it was thought that no man ought to be considered a soldier unless he came under military law, but in South Africa it had been abundantly proved that a man could shoot and fight without ever having come under military law. A great proportion of the Volunteer force were well trained, but the greater proportion were not trained as soldiers. He had seen a good many Volunteer corps for both long and short periods in camps, and he had also seen a good deal of Army and Militia training, and he had come to the conclusion that unless men came under military law, they could not be depended upon. One brigade of Volunteers at some manœuvres he witnessed had had an exhausting field day, and they drilled perfectly well up to a point, but about mid-day the Volunteers began to fall out and sat down, as they said they had gone far enough, and there was no means of punishing those men for refusing to work. For this reason he thought that the recommendations of the Committee as embodied in the first clause would be beneficial to the force; but there was this point against it: that the moment unpleasant conditions were imposed on the Volunteers fewer men would be forthcoming, although the smaller number might be more efficient. The new phase in this question was the liability to foreign service. He believed that it would be injurious to the Volunteer force, for it would have the effect of dividing each corps into three sections, each a separate unit requiring a separate officer to keep it efficient. This foreign service provision ought to he applied to the Militia before it was applied to the Volunteers. The Militia should be the second line of defence and the Volunteers the third. It would also have an injurious effect upon recruiting. Another reason why this clause should not be passed was the absurdity of it. The Government had proved that for themselves. In the earlier part of the year, when they asked for Volunteers for foreign service they had as many men as they required, and if this Clause 2 had then been the law it would not help them to get more. The second clause was so objectionable that it ought to be taken out of the Bill. The Bill was a very important one, but it would be wise on the part of the Government to reconsider their position as to passing it this session. At the present moment all the great leaders were in South Africa, and all the War Office authorities were engaged in work in connection with South Africa, or ought to be; and when a radical change of this character was going to be made the whole of those people ought to be consulted. If that was not necessary, why were not the War Office reforms carried out that were so much required? The whole system had broken down and had not worked smoothly, although it had done a good deal more than it was expected it would do. The Government were ready to tinker up the Volunteers, but were not ready to undertake real reforms with regard to the War Office, because it was said that all the important people wore away. Was not this Bill a part of the reform? Yet this Bill was to be passed without delay. The moment the war was over the recruiting for the Army would fall so low that they would have difficulty in getting men. He thought that before anyone who had the good of the Volunteer force at heart could honestly support the Bill, the Government ought to give a pledge that they would limit Sub-section (a) of Clause 2 to service in Great Britain and Ireland. If they did so, most of the mischief would be taken out of the Bill.


The hon. and gallant Member who spoke last is in favour of the passing of the Second Reading of this Bill. He shares the opinion of my hon. friend the Member for Lincoln that to remove the public declaration as to the apprehension of invasion is to destroy the Volunteer force as an instrument for defence. We are all agreed about that. He concluded his speech by saying that if the Government would give a pledge that the men who offered for service under Sub-section (a) of Clause 2 were only to serve in Great Britain, he would support that.


May I make a correction? I did not say only to serve in Great Britain, but I said only to undertake the condition of being liable to be called out for service in Great Britain.


I think that follows ipso facto on the Bill. I must say it has given me the greatest satisfaction to find that there is almost a unanimous assent to the two important objects of the Bill, which I described in my speech. The third object of the Bill has been much criticised, and naturally criticised, for I admit it is a novelty. I draw a clear distinction between the two main objects and the third object, which I have described as a matter not so much of importance as of method and convenience. I still hold to my own opinion that something must be done to avoid in future what I call the scandal of the scramble which took place in January. It is clear that we ought to think out these things in time of peace, and arrive at a businesslike and smooth form to be employed in time of war. Of course, I cannot claim that the third object is one of anything like the urgency of the first two propositions. That being so, I am not going to enter into an elaborate reply to arguments which rest on the fallacy that I attach great importance to this proposal for the purpose of getting a Reserve for the Army. That is not so. But as I think there is force in the argument that we should wait for the return of the Volunteers who have gone out to the Cape before we invite Volunteers, as we do in Sub-section (b) to subject themselves to liability "to serve in any part of the world, whether within or without Her Majesty's dominions," the Government will not press that Sub-section. As regards Sub-section (a) the liability "to be called out for actual military service at any time," we propose to limit that to the United Kingdom. With those modifications, I ask the House to agree to the second reading.


Let us understand exactly where we are. I understand that the hon. Gentleman implies that Sub-section (b) of Clause 2 will not be pressed. But what about Subsection (a)—will it be pressed?




In the broad sense in which it stands they may be called out for military service at any time.


I endeavoured in my speech this morning to show that you could not modify the provision in the Volunteer Act unless by using general terms, and that then under those terms you could issue restrictive regulations. That is the way in which it should be done, and I humbly submit, if the right hon. Gentleman will allow me, that the point could be argued more conveniently in Committee if we are agreed on the object.


It is an important object, I admit. I hope the Government will consider whether it requires such a sweeping phrase as this, that all the Volunteers everywhere are to be subject to be called out for service at any time. I think that is an alarming proposition.


I am quite willing to argue that point in Committee.


I have listened to this debate in a double position—as having been a member of the Committee which has been alluded to, and which sat six years ago, and also as having served in Her Majesty's Volunteer force since 1859. I do hope the House will accept the explanation of the hon. Gentleman, and allow the Bill to be read a second time, leaving out those parts he has alluded to. I can assure the House that I did not intend to take any part in the debate until I heard the explanation that has just been given by my hon. friend the Under Secretary for War. I felt that the sub-section designated (b) in Clause a could not receive the support of those who had the interest of the Volunteer force at heart. Now, owing to the explanation given to us, I feel relieved in my mind, and I consider that what is proposed to be done will be not only for the benefit of the Volunteers, but also for the benefit of the country at large.

COMMANDER BETHELL (Yorkshire, E.R., Holderness)

I wish to call attention to one feature of Sub-section (a), to which my hon. friend thinks he has received the assent of the House. I shall confine myself entirely to Sub section (a). What the Government want to do, I understand, is to be able to call out the Volunteers for military service at any time. They cannot do that under the present Act, and they propose to get over the difficulty by saying that Volunteers shall come under an obligation to be called out for actual military service at any time. Objection has been taken to that, because it is felt that it classifies Volunteers. I agree with those who say that it is extremely objectionable that in our civic force we should have some men who have a liability different from others. I want to submit to my hon. friend the Under Secretary for War whether the object of the Government would not be met by so altering the law that the Government may accept the services of Volunteers at any time without placing anyone under previous obligation to give them. In the moment of emergency you want a number of men. As the Bill now stands you can only accept those men who are under previous liability to join. Surely there is no object in that. The proposal is open to the objection that you classify the Volunteers in two separate sections. I would suggest that you should alter the law so as to give the Government power to accept the services of Volunteers if they choose. You would then have the corps intact as it is at present, and at the same time open wide the door for them to offer their services in time of emergency. I am persuaded that that would be a much better and more popular reform to make in this direction. I would urge my hon. friend to consider the aspect of the question I have just now alluded to.

MR. BROADHURST (Leicester)

asked whether in the event of Sub-section (a) of Clause 2 becoming law, present Volunteers would require to be enlisted.


That is not so. They do not enlist. They enrol.


asked whether there would be provision for a Volunteer taking himself out of the list by giving certain notice.




asked whether it was or was not the case that the passing of Clause 1. of the Bill would impose fresh obligations upon Volunteers now serving. Was it not the case that it would not be binding on them unless they were willing to enter into these now obligations?


I cannot go into these questions on the Second Reading.

SIR HENRY FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)

said it was a question whether they should not press this to a division if they did not clearly understand the intention of the Government. What he understood was that Sub-section (a) of Clause 2 would be confined to the United Kingdom, and, secondly, that the hon. Gentleman dropped Subsection (b) altogether. That was not open to argument.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

said he should like to know from the Under Secretary for War in what way the consent of the Volunteers was to be given, whether it would be by individual contract or by the colonel commanding. Would it be possible, for example, for the colonel of a Volunteer battalion to call out his 800 men on parade, and, after an ultra-patriotic speech, say, "Now, all you men who are willing to go on active service march to the front"—the effect being to make all the men who stay behind to appear more or less unpatriotic or cowardly?


Assuredly not. There will be a separate contract with each individual man. If the House will allow the Second Reading to-day I shall deal with all these points in Committee.


asked leave to withdraw his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to. Bill read a second time, and committed for To-morrow.