HC Deb 19 March 1900 vol 80 cc1267-81

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [16th March], "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the Third Resolution, '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."

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.

MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)

I wish briefly to draw attention to the question of the pay given to the colonial forces in South Africa, and particularly to the forces raised locally. There is a sum of £3,000,000 in the Vote for the pay of 25,000 colonial troops raised in South Africa, while the sum allocated for the British force of 400,000 men is £8,278,000. I want to know why the British soldier should be paid 1s. 4d. a day, while the colonial troops receive 5s. per day. Why is the amateur soldier paid four times as much as the trained man? This rate of payment is exceedingly unfair to our troops. The only indication of defence by the First Lord of the Treasury the other night was that this was a case of emergency—that the Government had to raise a force in South Africa in a hurry and, consequently, to pay the men any price which would induce them to come forward. Surely if that is so, the fault is with the Government. They knew perfectly well that this war was coming on them in a few weeks or months, and yet they left South Africa in such a position that they had to raise 25,000 men locally to defend it. Plenty of men could have been got at home, but because the Government did not prepare for war we have to pay 5s. a day each to 25,000 men. Owing to the blunders of the Government, not of the War Office, the country is £2,000,000 a year worse off. I have not the slightest doubt the War Office have mobilised the troops as soon as the Government indicated to them there was a necessity for it, and they have done it in the shortest possible period of time. I do not think the action of the War Office is open to criticism in this matter. I repeat, I think this difference of pay is exceedingly unfair to the British soldier. Now, I desire to know whether it is proposed that these men shall be paid 5s. a day during the war only, or are they to be utilised as an army of occupation. If we are going to annex the two Republics, and that is the only inference that can be drawn from the reply of Lord Salisbury to President Kruger, there is no doubt we shall have to employ a large army of occupation for several years in South Africa generally. We shall have to police the whole of these three great provinces, and I am told that 50,000 men will be required for this business. We shall have to do as we did in the case of Egypt. But there is this difference. In Egypt we could utilise native troops, in South Africa we must fall back on the British Army. If the colonial troops are to form part of the army of occupation, is it proposed to cut down their pay so as to put them on a level with the other troops in the British Army?

*SIR JOHN COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)

I think that question is a complicated one, which under present circumstances it is not desirable to discuss much. I rise for the purpose of raising two other questions. One is the wholesale distribution of commissions and the manner in which the War Office is carrying it out. The other has reference to the Royal Reserve battalions. With regard to the first, one thousand and one hundred direct commissions are to be given and all hon. Members know of the policy of the War Office is that they are giving them to the universities for men up to thirty years and offering them to the public schools. We have no figures as to the distribution between those bodies.


Thirty are to be given to the public schools.


My broad question is, what is the aggregate number of commissions to be offered to the universities, what is the aggregate number to be offered to the public schools, and what is the aggregate number remaining, and in what way are the War Office going to dispose of them? This is a question which seriously affects the cadets at Woolwich and Sandhurst, and I cannot see that the Under Secretary has disproved the charge my right hon. friend the Member for North-east Manchester brought against the scheme that is unjust to those cadets. The other point is this. You have got a large force of Volunteers serving at the front in South Africa, partly furnished by the colonies and partly by the United Kingdom. It is a matter of common knowledge that a large number serving are gentlemen of education, standing and knowledge, but who have not that knack of doing paper work well to secure their passing at a competitive examination. They are going through the best proof, and they are affording the best opportunities to their superior officers to select those that are most qualified to be officers in Her Majesty's Army. I ask my right hon. friend as representing the War Office to tell us whether the War Office has got any policy at all with regard to that matter. My own information is that there are 1,100 commissions to be given, and the least that can be done is to reserve 300 of these to be placed at the disposal of the generals in the field in South Africa for them to select the men on whom they should be conferred. My hon. friend recognises the necessity of doing everything we can to show a generous and hearty spirit in reciprocating the action of the colonies in sending troops to South Africa; and I can conceive of no policy more fitted to accentuate our appreciation than the fact of reserving a considerable proportion of those 1,100 commissions to be awarded, at the discretion of the generals, to those who are now serving as private soldiers or non-commissioned officers in South Africa. I do hope my hon. friend will give us an explicit and broad reply showing that the War Office really appreciates the situation and that they have a policy in this matter. Another question I wish to speak upon is that of the Royal Reserve Battalion. I do wonder if the House sufficiently appreciates what the War Office is doing in this matter. It is absolutely and entirely a new departure in our policy with regard to Regular troops. The foundation and the essence of the obligation of the Regular troops is that they are for general service, ready to go anywhere and I do anything; but you are calling back into the ranks of the Regular service, and giving large bonuses in doing it, men whose service is limited to the United Kingdom. When you consider the precedent that is being established, I think those who know anything about Army questions at all will forgive me for not only moving a reduction of the Vote, but for explaining my absolute objection to what in proposed. I would not trouble the House now with arguments on the subject were it not that we have not a sufficient or explicit description of the reason for the policy inducing the War Office to make that new departure. My hon. friend in introducing this matter to the House spoke of it as a very interesting experiment. Well, I think we have a right to know what induced them to try this new and interesting experiment. Is it part of a general policy or a haphazard policy to bring part of the force back? The experiment, as far as he justified it, was stated to be in consequence of new discoveries made by the War Office. The War Office had suddenly discovered that there was unorganised material to draw upon. Men of the Regular Army whose service had expired, and who had completed their engagement, were available to be called up if they would come. But the worst thing of all was that he said it was an indefinite scheme. I do think that in making an entirely new departure in arrangements those arguments and reasons were wholly insufficient and inadequate, and I wish to give him a clear and explicit opportunity, in view of the reduction I shall move, of telling us and letting the House and the country understand what is the policy the War Office had in view in taking this entirely new departure. My objection to it may be briefly stated now. He said that a great deal—and it seemed to me the only reason the War Office gave for this new departure—of interest, deep interest, was now taken in "interior" defence. I think we have a right to know the meaning of this new term. I only understand defence as a general defence of this country. We cannot argue that now, but I feel very strongly that this is the small end of the wedge of a policy that is determined to ignore the influence of sea power as the determining military armament of this country. [Laughter.] Of course, my hon. friend laughs at that. Really, it is lamentable, my hon. friend, as representing the War Office charged with the military responsibility of this great Empire, should laugh at the influence of sea power on our military arrangements. The question before the House is your Imperial policy, and the point I now call attention to is the extent to which the War Office ignores the influence of sea power in regard to our military arrangements, and, therefore, when we see the War Office taking a new departure to give large bounties to soldiers to come back into the ranks and at the same time to limit their service to the United Kingdom, I think it is an indication that the War Office do not appreciate the position that they are taking a retrograde step. You are offering to any man between twenty-one and forty-five who will come back to the service and form a local Reserve battalion a bounty of £22, and you are making an absolute and specific stipulation that under no circumstance is the man to be moved out of the United Kingdom. My hon. friend stated that up to last Saturday week the result had been, as he termed it, magnificent. He said 17,000 odd men had come back, and he gave us the number of military and artillery, but left out over 2,500. Why were these 2,500 left out? Were they cavalrymen who were called back to their arm of the service? I ask what sort of drivers you will get for the Royal Horse Artillery among men who left the service at twenty-five, and having been employed in sedentary pursuits now turn up at forty-five to obtain this bounty? You have said that the principle is that they should join their own arm of the service. Can any man in this House conceive the mobility of a troop of Royal Horse Artillery composed of men between forty and forty-five? The only ground on which this expenditure of money could be defended would be that the real attraction for the old soldier coming back to the army is to go to the front. [Hear, hear!] Hear, hear! Then that is why you offer him £22 to stay at home? You give these large bounties to prevent them from carrying out their desire to go to the front. Now, does that not make the position worse than ever? You are calling these men a Royal Reserve Battalion. What are they a reserve for? They are not a reserve of your Regular Army. The reserve for the Regular Army is a reserve capable of filling the ranks of the Regular Army, wherever it is. You are giving bonuses to this reserve for the purpose of securing that they will not be a reserve. The only explanation is that it is an absolutely retrograde step, and a pre- cedent that is dangerous to the Army. Without troubling the House further, I shall take the opportunity of recording my individual vote against establishing a principle which is opposed to every principle on which your Regular Army is founded. It is an Imperial and a mobile army, and to pay £22 to men to rejoin the Regular Army to go nowhere and do nothing is a principle I cannot take the responsibility of supporting.

MR. WARNER (Staffordshire, Lichfield)

Not only does this Royal Reserve not form a reserve of the Army, but it is really doing a great injustice to what is the Reserve, which is the Militia. It will encourage men to go into this Royal Reserve, and for the future men will not join the Militia, because they will think that they will be prevented from earning this big bounty in the case of war. Everything is done in time of peace to abolish the Militia, and now you are going to give it another blow by giving encouragement to old soldiers not to go into the Militia. A militiaman gets a bounty of £5, and he gets his pay. That is payment for his duty, it is not payment for being an old soldier. It is a small sum to put in comparison with £22 given to the other men. It is really a very hard case, and I am sorry it is out of order that a reduction should be moved, because it is one of the subjects that the people of the country ought to know more about. With reference to the question raised by the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth—the hardness on the young men out in Africa who are Militia officers attached to regular regiments—I heard of a case the other day where a Militia officer attached to a regular regiment, and who was serving in South Africa, was superseded byan officer appointed from home. Cases of that kind are likely to recur, and I think that is partly because you are not giving the Generals at the Cape sufficient commissions to give to men raised from the ranks. I think a larger number of those commissions should be given to men out at the Cape.


I was surprised to find the hon. Member for Carnarvon taking an interest in Army matters, and I said to myself, Is Saul also amongst the prophets? But the hon. Member soon revealed the fact that he was a 'prentice hand. The hon. Member complained that money was wasted in employing Volunteers in South Africa who would not have been needed if the regular forces had been maintained there on a larger scale. Taking the Volunteer forces in South Africa at 21,000, their equivalent in Regular troops would be twenty-one battalions, and twenty-one battalions in South Africa involved twenty-one more battalions at home. The cost of those forty-two battalions would be something like £2,600,000 a year. I think that shows that he has not studied this question quite so anxiously as it ought to have been studied.


I am sure that nothing I have said justifies my honourable friend in coming to that conclusion.


The hon. and gallant Member for Great Yarmouth asked for a broad and explicit statement on the question of the distribution of commissions. The very totals which he asked for have been given already to the right hon. Member for North-east Manchester, in order that he might pursue his very important investigations in the right way instead of addressing questions to me. It is clearly not a subject that can be debated night after night in this House, and I cannot point out the relative merits of those candidates.


What I asked was what number was to be reserved for distribution among the Volunteers, home and colonial, in South Africa.


I can only repeat that this is not a question which can profitably be discussed in this House. It may interest a few, but must place a great burden on the patience of many hon. Members who are willing that this should be dealt with by the authorities until you have a prima facie case on which your argument may be based. Explanations have been asked with respect to the new departure. That subject has formed the whole tenor of eight or nine speeches I have made in this House, because we were face to face with a new situation. I imagine that every Member of this House knows what that situation was. We had to send an enormous number of men, an enormous number of artillery and cavalry, more than two army corps, to South Africa, not, as everybody supposed might possibly be the case, as an incident in the second and successful stage of a war against a first class Power, but as a phase in a war arising from difficulties in our colonial Empire. Whether the policy of the Government and of all its predecessors has been right or wrong, it has been the policy both of the present Government and of all its predecessors that we ought to be in a position to send two army corps abroad. But nobody has ever supposed that that would be done except as against a first-class Power. Therefore it has always been hoped that we could, out of our Army at home, which supplies the Army abroad, either maintain three army corps at home, or as a second phase of a struggle with a first-class Power send two army corps abroad. We are now left in this country with only a fraction of one army corps. The military advisers of the Government have told us that we ought to have three army corps in this country, organised and mobile. The adoption of the plan of offering special terms to soldiers who have served with the colours is recommended by the principal advisers of the Secretary of State for War. In the judgment of the Commander-in-Chief, now and at any time during the last fifteen years we ought to be able to put three organised army corps into the field. That being so, and the trained men not existing organised in the country, but unorganised, it is recommended that they should be organised. That is the whole of the story.

*SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)

The answer of the Under Secretary is even more unsatisfactory on this occasion than his answers have been on former occasions. His answer to my hon. friend behind me is hardly fair. It is an undoubted fact that the effect in the minds of the men is one of discontent.


The hon. Member produced no evidence of discontent existing in their minds, and I have no reason to believe that it does.


I have accepted all along myself the statement of the Under Secretary of State that he thinks it unwise that this question should be discussed, and I am content with that statement. With regard to the Royal Reserve Battalions, as the hon. Member opposite has said, it is an entirely new departure from the previous policy of this country as regards the Regular Army. It was never mentioned here. It was concealed from us. The Under Secretary of State has attacked the hon. and gallant Member for Great Yarmouth on the ground that he holds on this matter opinions peculiar to himself and which he thinks no one else in the country holds. I venture to say that the great majority of members hold that opinion, and the House was absolutely startled when they first became aware that this new Regular force was for service only at home.


The charge of concealment cannot be brought against us.


In our early debates here that proposal was not disclosed. It was supposed that Vote 1 was the one on which this matter was to be discussed. I only regret that it should have been passed without any debate at all on the previous occasion when it came before the House. This proposal is the negation of views that are held by the great majority of the people of the country, who believe that the defence of this country against invasion is best made in a naval rather than a land form. You have an enormous number of infantry for land service at home. The difficulty here is not the number of men. It is to make a good army of them against those troubles to which the hon. Member has referred. The real defence of the country against projects of invasion is to a larger extent realised in her Fleet and in her supremacy at sea. For the large sums of money which are spent on the Army you require to get your return in a force capable of going anywhere and doing anything. You have a great number of men at home in these old soldiers from whom you get a number of infantry to add to the large number for home service which you already possess in the Volunteers. What you need, it seems to me, is a force which—under certain circumstances that all of us can foresee are possibilities, but we hope not probabilities—could go to any portion of the world. We are now in this position: we are spending enormous sums on our peace defence, quite apart from questions of the war, and these enormous sums are increasing in amount very rapidly indeed. Therefore, when you have to choose between a number of things, not being able to pay for all, or to do everything you wish to do, you should select those things which are most vital to your interests. And this scheme of requiring a certain number of time-expired men, who, from the very conditions of the case, must be mainly infantry soldiers, should not be limited by the condition that the men were to serve only at home. That is not an opinion held by my hon. and gallant friend only; it is not the opinion merely of certain eccentric individuals, it is the opinion of the great majority of the Members of this House and of the people throughout the country who have studied the question. ["No, no!"] Having some means of ascertaining the opinion of Members who are interested in this subject on either side of the House, I know their real opinion is opposed to the proposal.


While I think it is just that the War Office should take advantage of the present national emergency, I am of opinion that they are going rather further than they are warranted by asking us to sanction, under the plea of emergency measures, things that will last a great deal longer than this emergency will last. I entirely associate myself with what has been said by the last two speakers on this question of the Royal Reserve Battalions, and, so far from considering it to be a heresy, I cannot conceive any reason why the majority of the Members of this House or of the people of the country should entertain any other opinion. My hon. friend said that the military advisers had thought it a good thing to take advantage of a certain amount of military material in the country.


What I said was that the military advisers said now the same as they had said for twelve or fourteen years past, namely, that we ought to have a force of three army corps in this country.


I quite admit the fact that they have given this advice and that it has never been followed, but that was not my point. What I understood the hon. Gentleman to say was that the military advisers had said it was desirable to make use of a certain amount of military material in the country. If he did not say so I presume the advice must have been given, because the War Office have done so.


In order to make up that force.


In order to make up that force. But it has never yet been suggested that we should raise an army corps for the purpose of being under all circumstances retained in this country. We require some justification for excepting this small contingent from the law which always has governed the recruiting of troops for the service of this country. The whole tendency has been in the opposite direction. Within the last few days the hon. Gentleman has told us that the force which from time immemorial has been confined strictly to this country—the Militia—is now enlisted on terms which are to make its removal from this country coincide with almost every demand that a foreign war may make. We have no reason to suppose there was any military opinion anywhere in favour of—to use the expression of the right hon. bart.—"tying by the leg" a certain number of battalions. I do not see that in order to obtain the men it is necessary that it should be so, and I entirely fail to recognise any reason for it. I object to this proposal because it is really trying to do too much under this plea of emergency. This is a great departure from our recognised policy. It is all very well to laugh at my hon. and gallant friend the Member for Great Yarmouth when he mentions the question of the Navy. The question of the Navy is one which concerns the people of this country far more than the question of the Army, and it is not fair to put my hon. and gallant friend off by an allusion to the opinion of our military advisers, who, after all, have not been so extraordinary correct in the past that we should bow down whenever we hear their name mentioned. We have been hurried through those debates from a variety of reasons, some of which are good, and some bad, but as we are now practically dealing with the subject before us I wish to enter my respectful protest against the passage, under the guise of emergency measures, of these two items, which are going to last a very great deal longer than the emergency. We are being pledged by the raising of these twelve new battalions to the continuance of the system which has proved so detri- mental in the past. It is no use pretending that these battalions are anything to do with our present emergency. They are not going to be raised in time for this emergency, and we shall have to go on with this system and add to the quota of recruits to be found, not in war times but in peace time. I think when we are asked to sanction the raising of these battalions we should have some explanation from the hon. Gentleman of the processes to which he is going to resort in order to achieve his object. My hon. friend said that the recruiting question is really at the bottom of the whole matter, and he apparently had some sanguine expectation that all the experience of the past would be contradicted and reversed in the future. He told us that the recruiting returns had shown a steady increase of yield during the last five years. That is a mistake; the hon. Gentleman has been misinformed. The numbers have increased during the last two years, which have been years of very exceptional character, when the standard of requirement has been very much lowered, and exceptional efforts have been made to fill new battalions. But for four or five successive years up to 1898 the numbers steadily declined. I disagree with the Department in attempting to raise these new battalions as long as our present system goes on, and I greatly regret that we have been asked to give our assent to the continuance of that system, as we are practically compelled to do by this proposal. There is one other point to which I wish to allude. My hon. friend challenged my statement that at the commencement of this war not a single battalion did go to the front. I hoped that, having challenged my statement, he would give me the name of at least one battalion. I have not received that name, and I am fully confident I never shall, because the battalion does not exist. We ought to be given some information as to the new scheme by which it is intended to prevent a recurrence of a circumstance of that kind. It was said incidentally by my hon. friend that we wanted a certain number of battalions always ready for war; but we have had absolutely no indication that any scheme is contemplated or being prepared to produce that result in the future any more than in the past. On these two points I wish to register my protest. It is perfectly idle, of course, during the present session, to attempt to hinder the passage of these proposals into law; they will pass, and no doubt we should reap the bitter fruit in years to come. But I do not desire it to be said that I or anyone who realises the disastrous nature of these proposals have lightly agreed to them under any plea but that of necessity, and the duty of supporting the Government in a time such as the present.

MR. BRYN ROBERTS (Carnarvonshire, Eifion)

The figures themselves in connection with this Vote are most suggestive. We have here a Vote of £3,000,000 for 21,000 South African troops, and a Vote of £8,250,000 for 400,000 British troops. The disparity is enormous, and if the hon. Gentleman thinks it will not excite any feeling of indignation on the part of British soldiers it must be on the supposition that they do not share in the common feelings of the rest of mankind. The disparity is increased when it is remembered that many of these men who are being paid at the higher rate are refugees from Johannesburg, who really subsisted on charity before they were taken into the South African forces. Yet they are paid at the rate of four times as much as the regular British soldier. The rest of the force are the unemployed of South Africa, and the very class on whose behalf we are fighting, and in the interest of whose political designs we have embarked on this enormous war. Surely, instead of being paid more, they ought to be willing to work for less, seeing we are fighting their battles. England is being bled on all sides. Our soldiers are bled literally on account of these people, and now the taxpayers are to be bled in order to pay this South African force at an enormously disproportionate rate. I am perfectly certain that this is a point upon which the British Army and the British people will feel sore when they begin to consider, as they will consider after the war is over, the cost of this conflict.

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

I rather take exception to the view of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Forest of Dean and of the hon. and gallant Member for Great Yarmouth, who seem to press the doctrine of naval defence to an extreme point. The fact is that historically, as well as prima facie, defensive defence has always played a very great part in war, and however true it may be that the defence of our shores is in our Fleet, I am perfectly persuaded we could not afford to leave this country denuded of troops even for the purpose of defence. I do not agree that the Government have done wrong in the special effort they have made to obtain what I may fairly call a reserve army for an emergency purpose. Personally I should be disposed, if I were discussing this matter at any length, to question the wisdom of having sent Militia regiments abroad so largely. I should have thought the men to be embodied in this reserve army would be better fitted for that purpose. But that is not the question I am now discussing. I merely want to put in a protest against the extreme doctrine of naval defence being pushed too far, and against the attempt not infrequently made to persuade those who sit in this House, and those outside who are interested in this question, that defensive defence is a mistake and ought to be abandoned, and that offensive defence by a mobile military force is the only defence that ought to be considered. I do not believe that view is sound; I am certain that historically it is unsound, and I doubt whether men who carried on wars before would not have seen the point if it was true.


St. Vincent.


My hon. and gallant friend mentions St. Vincent, but it must not be forgotten that there was a large defensive force in this country during all that time, and, above all, do not let us forget that in another great maritime war we may not be able to put our hands on a Nelson or a St. Vincent; they are the products of long efforts of fighting. I should be very sorry indeed to see any Government risk the fortunes of this country by trusting entirely to naval defence, although I would be the last person to depreciate the enormous value we all attach to that service.


The speech of the hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down would seem to imply that the whole of our defence depends on the raising of these reserve battalions, and its whole tendency was to the view that if the Navy was not in existence our shores would be undefended. The hon. and gallant Member has failed to take into consideration the enormous number of troops which already exist. If I understand the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for War correctly, his great justification for raising these battalions is that they are necessary to complete the three Army corps which are considered requisite for the defence of this country. I think he can only arrive at that conclusion by putting on one side all the battalions told offer garrisons in all parts of the country. What need is there at the present time for these battalions? If there was a foreign foe in the Channel it would be justifiable, but at present I think the fair argument is that we have plenty of troops if only they are properly organised. I cannot say that I look upon this scheme as at all satisfactory. It means that a number of officers have been called up from the retired list and a great number of reserve men from their civil avocations. If there is no ulterior motive in this scheme I think it will lead to very great discontent in the country. When these reserve battalions are disbanded the officers will go back to the retired list. The men will have been called up from their employment; they will have received the £22 bounty and very possibly have spent it in a way not altogether desirable; they will go back to work at a time when the reserve men are returning from South Africa, and there will probably be great difficulty in obtaining employment. The scheme is not one which finds sympathy with the practical soldiers of the country. It is an emergency scheme of the Government, and as such I shall support it, because, at the present time I feel that the country is in difficulties and that it is my duty to uphold the Government. But at the same time I feel that, as a practical soldier, it is my duty to lay before the House my own hesitancy about the policy and about the future good of this scheme of reserve battalions.

DR. TANNER (Cork Co, Mid)

, whose remarks were inaudible in the Press Gallery, briefly addressed the House.


called the attention of the House to the continued irrelevance on the part of the hon. Member, and directed him to discontinue his speech.