HC Deb 16 March 1900 vol 80 cc1145-60

2. "That a number of Land Forces, not exceeding 430,000, all ranks, be maintained for the Service of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland at Home and Abroad, excluding Her Majesty's Indian Possessions, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1901."

3. "That a sum, not exceeding £15,200,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge for the Pay, Allowances, and other Charges of Her Majesty's Army at Home and Abroad (exclusive of India) (General Staff, Regiments, Reserve, and Departments), which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1901."

Resolutions read a second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the Second Resolution."


asked whether the Government intended to persist in taking the Money Vote this evening.




pointed out that it might entail a considerable amount of discussion. It not only dealt with an enormous sum of money, but involved new principles; and although he did not intend to take part in the discussion himself, he thought the House should be given a fuller opportunity to discuss it than was given in Committee.

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

called attention to the injustice which was being done to the Royal Military Academy and the Royal Military College by the way in which commissions were being given at present to fill up the vacancies in the Army. He reminded the House that the cadets in these colleges had undergone expensive and laborious preparation to obtain their present position after the most severe competition, and they had every reason when they entered these colleges to expect that they would in due course receive their commissions with that seniority which justly belonged to them. Now, unfortunately, on account of the war, a great many vacancies had occurred in the Army, and it was proposed by the War Office to bring in a great number of persons who had no military training at all, and who must supersede those cadets in all time coming, and reduce their seniority in the Army. By bringing in University and public school boys over the heads of the cadets who were undergoing a very severe preparation at Woolwich and Sandhurst, the cadets would be treated unfairly. He would give one or two instances of the way in which this would operate. Candidates who had failed in the competitive examinations for Woolwich were now actually receiving commissions in priority and supersession of the very cadets who had beaten them in the examinations, and they would be above them in the Army in all time coming. There was one who could not keep up with his class at Woolwich, and who was advised to leave. He did leave, and now he had received priority over the cadets with whom he was in competition at Woolwich. Take the case of the public school boys. There were cadets at Sandhurst who came from the public schools. Some of them had been in the Volunteer corps at these public schools, and now the boys who were being brought into the Army from the public schools, and who were actually the juniors of the cadets at Sandhurst, and who had received no military preparation would supersede them in all time coming in the Army. His hon. friend the other night said the university men would probably be older than the cadets of the Military College, and that the colonials whom he selected for direct commissions would presumably be older than the cadets. That might be so, but a young man of nineteen who had received a year or a year and a-half of military instruction was fitter to take a place in the Army than a young man with university education or colonial experience who had no military experience at all. The case was much stronger as regards the public schools. He did not ask the Government to overthrow the scheme altogether. He thought it would be fair that these cadets should have their commissions antedated. They were virtually in Her Majesty's service now, and they should not be superseded by men who had no military education at all. There was another class of commissions being given just now which, he ventured to say, was not really just. There were a great many Militiamen serving in South Africa at this moment. There were some Militia officers attached to regiments of the Line, and there were some who had been through a series of actions lately who were attached to regiments of the Line. These officers were not receiving the vacancies in the Line battalions in South Africa, even in the Line battalions of their own regiments, but junior officers were being sent out to fill up the appointments. He gave the other day a short list of the cases which had been sent to him—cases in which junior officers had been sent out from home to fill places in the Line in preference to the Militia officers serving in the field. He was aware that officers commanding Militia regiments in South Africa had been allowed to recommend one officer from each battalion, but unfortunately there were more than one vacancy in each line battalion, and although one officer might be given a commission there were others who might fitly be transferred to the vacancies in the Line battalions. He could not understand why that was not done. It was desired, no doubt, to fill up the vacancies in the speediest possible manner, but that might be done by appointing the officers already in the field. He trusted his hon. friend would press the military authorities on this matter. He was asking no more than a simple measure of justice which was calculated to encourage those serving in the field to give their best services to the country. It was a peculiarly hard case for those Militia officers in the field in South Africa to see juniors coming from home and going over their heads into positions which they would only be able to get into by competition. They would be thrust back, he did not know how long, and certainly when they did enter the Army they would rank below those who had been sent out from home. He had said enough to show that there was a case for reconsideration both as regards the cadets and the Militia.

*COLONEL MILWARD (Warwickshire, Stratford-upon-Avon)

supported the right hon. Member for North-east Manchester in saying that in regard to young officers and the filling up of vacancies he thought that at the present moment great injury was being done. He quite sympathised with the War Office in the work they had to do. Every move they made at the War Office affected a great many pieces besides the one they were moving. The War Office authorities were so busy at present that they could not properly give time to consider all the subjects which had been referred to. At the same time the position of young officers, who at great expense to their parents, and with great industry on their own part, were qualifying for commissions, should not be injured by men who entered the Army in other ways. He thought the commissions of the young cadets at Sandhurst and Woolwich might be antedated so that a real wrong might not be inflicted upon them.


said it was announced a few weeks ago that Sir F. Carrington had been appointed to a command in South Africa. No official announcement had been made as to what the command he would hold was; but in the newspapers it was said that he would be in command of the Rhodesia Field Force. Was this force included in the forces now being voted? He should also like to know what the numbers were, by whom they were to be paid, what was the rate of pay, and what services they were to discharge. It had been stated in The Times and other newspapers that their duties were to be mainly outside the Free State and the Transvaal.

SIR CHARLES CAYZER (Barrow-in-Furness)

expressed the opinion that a great wrong would be done to the cadets if on passing out they had not their commissions antedated. He felt sure this matter would receive due consideration at the War Office. It would be a great hardship if these young fellows, who had passed well in their examinations, should find on taking their places in the Army that the boys who were below them in school were put above them.


said he would try to reply as far as he could to the Member for East Aberdeenshire. The question he had asked might with equal propriety be put with reference to any brigadier in South Africa. The Vote of men here taken was an outside margin embracing all the troops which had been raised, and it included the force of Sir F. Carrington. The hon. Member asked the question because of something he had read in the newspapers. He had to inform the hon. Member that a great deal of what he read in the newspapers was not always exhaustive. He emphati- cally declined, from the gravest considerations of public policy, to start that evening a most unfortunate precedent—namely, to give the numbers or the composition of any force under any officer and the theatre of operations in which he was likely to operate. He was sure that the Leader of the Opposition would see that this was the reasonable, and, indeed, the only, position he could take up. With the other question raised by his right hon. friend the Member for North-east Manchester it was difficult to deal, but not because of any doubt he had of the great attention paid to the difficult problem by the Military Secretary. He knew that it had engaged his attention before the pressure of the war and also since the war commenced. He was convinced in his own mind there was no injustice, though he could not discuss the particular cases referred to because they were given without names, and he could not identify them, and as they were given by those who felt themselves aggrieved they did not give all the facts of the situation. Therefore he was driven to reply to the criticisms passed by laying down general propositions. Any suspicion that there was anything in the nature of jobbery or injustice in giving Her Majesty's commissions to young officers would be most deplorable, and as there was no foundation for such suspicion he invited the attention of the House while he dealt with the thing as a whole. He begged the House to consider some of the phrases dropped in the Debate. It was said that parents and guardians of candidates who went to Woolwich had incurred a great deal of expense. Was not that true of the parents of young men who went to Oxford and Cambridge. Take the case of a Militia officer. Was it not true that the parent of an officer in the Militia had to buy his uniform, and that the young man had to remain in that force two years' training? Therefore on the ground of expense he did not think he could draw airy distinction between cadets and Militia officers.


I never complained of Militia officers being transferred to the Army.


The hon. Member was not the only one who spoke on this subject. It had been suggested that the Sandhurst cadet had always a prior claim to those who came from the Militia. This was rather a large question. The additional commissions that had to be given in excess of what could be given to Sandhurst and Woolwich were over 1,100, and the proposal was to give thirty commissions to school boys, and the fact was that owing to the strain of the war this was a very much bigger thing than it had ever been before. It was, however, an infinitesimal speck of the whole scheme. On the ground of military training it would be conceded that Militia officers had an advantage, while Sandhurst cadets derived great advantage from instruction in many useful branches of the profession, so that those trained at Sandhurst gravitated towards the Staff, while those from the Militia remained excellent regimental officers. There was another general proposition thrown out which deserved more careful consideration, and that was that the date of a candidate's appointment in the Army affected the whole of his career afterwards, and so far as his own regiment was concerned, in a measure that was quite true, but it was not true of the Army as a whole, as anyone would find by looking at the Army List. As the Sandhurst cadet went in young it would be very unjust to handicap the university man who was allowed to go up to the age of thirty. The problem has been brought to the attention of the War Office by the increase of the Army and the great number of officers recently required for the Egyptian Army, for example, and for different parts of Africa. The normal demand a few years ago was for 500 commissions in one year, but long before we even dreamt of this war we were anxiously considering the question. There was some difference of opinion among us. Some of us hold that we ought to give 900 commissions, and the lowest estimate put forward by those endeavouring to retrench was 700, so that before there was any question of war at all the number of commissions in a year had risen from 500 to 700. The normal course at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst is one and a half years, and as it accommodates 360 cadets, you can only get from it 240, and if the course is reduced to a year you can get 360. But that hardly helps whore there are 700 or 900 commissions to be filled. Therefore, before we had any idea of the war we shortened the term in order to increase the output. This gave us 360, but when the war came upon us some of the Sandhurst cadets were taken out after six months training. We cannot go further in cutting down the curriculum at Sandhurst, and that process has also been applied to Woolwich, where the normal course is two years, and where the next batch will come out after one year and three months, the next after one year. We let the cadets of Woolwich out with only half of the normal curriculum, and that is the way we give them consideration as against other classes of candidates. I think that the system of antedating commissions which was adopted during an earlier war would give very little satisfaction indeed. When, with the increase in the Army, we had the war, we had no other alternative—we were driven to it—but to find some other qualification, and we offered a certain number of commissions to the universities to be competed for by those who had passed Moderations or an equivalent examination. Having extended the age for the Militia, it was only fair that we should extend it for the universities, and as we felt that the university authorities would be better judges than ourselves, we placed at their disposal a certain number of commissions for university men between twenty and thirty. My right hon. friend thinks that a stigma is being put on these men by putting them under boys who have been eighteen months at Sandhurst. There will always be anomalies, but when they occur in a particular routine way they are not looked at. It is only when something new is done that they attract attention. To have had absolute justice all round, we should have had to consider the boys at Sandhurst, the young men in the Militia, and the youth at Oxford, and distribute them among the regiments, so that the older men would go to the regiments where promotion is rapid and the younger to the regiments where promotion is slow. Any such attempt is altogether beyond the capacity of the Military Secretary and his staff. I ask my right hon. friend to take my word for it that the Military Secretary has taken extreme care to see that no flagrant injustice is being done. The Military Secretary authorises me to say that the Militia officers in South Africa will not suffer. These officers have, of course, qualified themselves over and over again, and undoubtedly, as vacancies occur, they will be given commissions in good regiments.


I suggested that these officers should be transferred to battalions in the field, especially the battalions to which their own regiments are affiliated, and I instanced the case taken from the public journals of junior officers brought from Militia regiments at home and given commissions in preference to them.


Public journals would naturally see an apparent anomaly, but is it possible for the Military Secretary, when he has to fill up vacancies in a regiment, to go through the whole Army list and the whole Militia list? Surely these officers in South Africa have a better guarantee than that that their services will be remembered. They are the very men to whom commissions will be given in good regiments. That is being done every day, and we had better let Lord Roberts manage the Army in South Africa.


That is the very thing I ask.


It is being done every day, but when we have to fill up vacancies in a regiment in this country we cannot wait five or six weeks while we correspond with South Africa. It cannot be done. All I can say honestly and sincerely is that there is no jobbery, and that we are doing our best to make things as fair as we can for all concerned. I have said we have offered thirty commissions to the public schools, and I do not think that any aspirant to military honours will find that his career has been seriously impeded by gratifying the desire of these young gentlemen.


Perhaps I may be allowed to refer back to a question raised by my hon. friend as to the force Sir F. Carrington is to command. The hon. Gentleman rebuked my hon. friend for having made the in- quiry, but my hon. friend did not ask, and would not think of asking, where a particular amount of Her Majesty's forces in South Africa was to be used, or for what purpose it was to be used. But it has been stated in the newspapers and elsewhere that Sir F. Carrington is going out on some special mission to Rhodesia, and I wish to know whether the force he is to command is to be provided and paid for altogether out of public funds, or is it to be some mysterious and novel kind of force employed under some other authority with the assistance of Sir F. Carrington? I do not think my hon. friend was deserving of the rebuke administered to him for having asked that. About these young lieutenants who are to be appointed, the word "jobbery" has been used more than once. I do not think that anyone expects that there will be jobbery, and I am sure that everything will be done in a perfectly straightforward way. I am perfectly certain from my knowledge of the military secretary that he will do anything in his power—and no one is more capable—to avoid even the semblance of injustice. But where such a large number of men are to be admitted suddenly to the Army it is almost impossible to avoid some degree of supersession. I am not very sure about the scheme of University cadets, especially if it is to go up to the age of thirty. What sort of man will you get at a university between twenty-five and thirty? He is a man who has been trying for years to get his degree and has not succeeded. You may as well go out into Pall Mall and ask any man under thirty to take a commission.


He would have the recommendation of the Vice-Chancellor.


I think that is a very broken reed to rest on. There is one class to which I should like to ask that mercy should be shown. Take the case of a young fellow who came within a few marks of qualifying for Sandhurst, or even who had qualified but failed in the competition. Is he not to have any chance? I think he has as good a claim as the public school boy or the mature graduate of thirty, who in his remote youth had been at one of the universities. The hon. Gentleman said that the parents of all these young men had spent money on their education, but those who just missed getting into Sandhurst had money spent on them in order to join the Army, whereas the others had money spent on them to join the Church or the Bar, and I think the former is a class which ought to be drawn upon. I do not think there is much danger of supersession to such an extent as to cause a grievance, but I do think that a class who ought to be considered are those who have already exhibited a desire to go into the Army. I have not very much regard for the claims of the universities and public schools. When the hon. Gentleman speaks of universities, does he mean merely Oxford and Cambridge? Are there any Scotch universities?


Yes, Sir. Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen.


In those you are very likely to find better undergraduates. I hope the hon. Gentleman will pay some attention to the very deserving class to which I have specially referred, namely, the young men who have recently failed in Army examinations.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the Third Resolution."

MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)

I appeal to the Leader of the House not to proceed with this Vote to-night. We have this year an increase of over £40,000,000 for our Army, and the Vote was passed through Committee without a single word being said, owing to circumstances to which I need not refer. It was understood that Report would be put down at a time which would enable us to discuss some of the details, but of course the House of Commons cannot at this late hour give its attention to them, and not only that but it is impossible that public attention should be drawn to these serious items owing to the lateness of the hour. Another reason why I appeal to the Leader of the House is that two or three quite novel principles have been introduced in this Vote. There is, for instance, the pay of the South African local forces. That is quite an extraordinary item, amounting to three millions a year. The total pay of the Army only recently amounted to £5,000,000 a year, and here is a force of 25,000 men to whom it is proposed to pay £3,000,000. That appears a very extraordinary proportion. Moreover, it is quite a novel experiment, and I think it is open to very serious criticism. I am not criticising the enlistment of this force for the war. No doubt these men are very efficient, but I criticise the fact that they should receive three or four times as much as our own troops. That is surely open to very serious criticism, and is not a matter which ought to be discussed at an hour when public attention cannot be called to the discussion. I quite understand the Government paying three millions to tide the country over a temporary difficulty, but what one apprehends is that this force will be retained in South Africa for the next ten or fifteen years, owing to the conditions which will result from this unfortunate war; and that is what we are asked, at midnight, and in a half empty House, to commit ourselves to. I submit to the Leader of the House that we should not be called on under such circumstances to discuss such an important problem. There are two or three other new experiments of a very serious character involved in this Vote. I do not see why our own men who have fought so gallantly, who have borne the burden of all the contests, and have suffered more than the colonials, should only get 1s. 6d. a day, while the colonial gentlemen get 5s. It is an insult on our English, Scotch, Welsh, and Irish soldiers, and it is a matter which ought to be discussed at a time when the attention of the public can be drawn to it. I therefore move that the debate be now adjourned.


I beg to second the motion, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will assent to it, because very great interest is taken in the question of the difference in the pay of certain Colonial troops and the ordinary regiments. I myself have received a great many communications on the subject, and I hope the right hon. Gen- tleman will accede to the request of the hon. Gentleman.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Lloyd-George.)


hoped the mover and seconder of the motion would not persist in it. It must be remembered that six days had already been spent on the Supplementary Estimates and three days on the ordinary Estimates of the year.

MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)

asked whether it was not right to say that it would have been impossible for him to raise upon this Vote the question of giving 5s. a day to the colonial troops.


believed that was right. The question as directed immediately to pay could not be raised. Perhaps it would be in the recollection of the House that the Under Secretary for War was at considerable pains to point out to the House that a minute debate on this question would really not be in the public interest. It would not be in the public interest that the discussion should be carried on at any great length. It might raise a sense of injustice where no sense of injustice was at present felt. On the particular point which the two hon. Gentlemen had raised, he wished to make an appeal to them on the general question of the business of the House, and especially to the seconder of the motion. It was really necessary to get the Report of this Vote of Supply to-night or on Monday, in order to carry out the general programme of business which at considerable trouble and with great pains he had endeavoured to make to meet the views of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and especially hon. Gentlemen from Ireland. He had done his very best to meet that convenience, and it had been arranged that the Third Reading of the Appropriation Bill should be taken with the Consolidated Fund Bill on Thursday, so as to give them full opportunity for discussing Irish financial relations, and that the Speaker should be moved out of the Chair on Monday in order to give them an opportunity of raising the question of higher education in Ireland. Unless the Government got this Report either to-night or Monday it would be absolutely impossible for them to keep to that programme, and the whole thing would be upset with great inconvenience to the House. Monday would not be more convenient. On Monday they must take the Second Reading of the Finance Bill, and that was not limited by the Twelve o'clock Rule. It was impossible for him to foresee how long the discussion on that would take. Under these circumstances it would be a great risk to leave this Vote over until Monday.


asked why it was absolutely necessary that the debate on the Second Reading of the Finance Bill should be finished on Monday. They were so accustomed to have Tuesday taken for financial measures of one kind or another that they looked forward to Tuesday being taken for that purpose.


Of course, if we do not finish on Monday night we should take it up on Tuesday, and that margin must be left us. If we succeed on Monday I shall take the Committee stage first on Tuesday.


said an arrangement might be made of this sort, that the debate if not ended on the Finance Bill might be interrupted at ten o'clock on Monday, and then the discussion taken on the Army Estimates. It was a substantial complaint that this huge Vote should be passed without any observation made on it at all. It was quite true that there was a general discussion, but there were a great many things that did not come into the category of the general discussion. His hon. friend the Member for Carnarvon had referred to one, but there were many others that Members wished to bring forward.


remarked that he saw the force of what the right hon. Gentleman had said with reference to the business next week, and, so far as he was concerned, he withdrew his opposition.


said the course suggested by the Leader of the Opposition was a feasible one. In that way there could be a fairly satisfactory debate on this very important Vote.

MR. CALDWELL (Lanarkshire, Mid)

said it was but right to notice that those who spoke on the Finance Bill were probably not the Members present at this moment. There were many questions connected with the Finance Bill altogether apart from those connected with the war, and it would be a pity that any understanding should be made by Members present that would militate against other Members. It was not necessary to push the matter so far as an understanding or pledge on the part of the House.


quite agreed with the hon. Gentleman. It would be a pledge affecting gentlemen not present.

Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.

Ordered, That the Resolution which, upon the 2nd day of this instant March, was reported from the Committee of Supply, and which was then agreed to by the House, be now read:

"That 114,800 men and boys be employed for the Sea and Coast Guard Services for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1901, including 18,805 Royal Marines."

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide, during twelve months, for the discipline and regulation of the Army; and that Mr. Wyndham, Mr. Goschen, and Mr. Powell-Williams do prepare and bring it in.