HC Deb 28 May 1900 vol 83 cc1568-70

I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for South Donegal in his survey of South Africa from the Zambesi to the Cape, although I agree with almost everything he said. I hope that the Department in Pall Mall will take advantage of the holidays by making terms with the enemy while they are in the way with him, and that we shall see something of the War Office reforms which we heard of on Friday last. Of course, I do not blame the hon. Gentlemen who represent the War Office in this House, because I know perfectly well that they do the best they can; but I do blame the permanent officials of the War Office, whom I respect very little indeed. I am, however, not much inclined to expect or to hope much in the direction of reform after reading the report of Friday night's debate in another place. I never saw anything more extraordinary than the incurable and invincible optimism exhibited on that occasion; but some of us think that the speech delivered lately by a very high authority was not more satisfactory when he said that the defence of the country was not the business of the War Office but of the Primrose League. My purpose in rising, however, was to ventilate the grievances of certain young men whose career may be blasted by the action of the War Office. Two-thirds of the officers in the British Army come through the Militia to the Line. They pass a preliminary examination on joining the Militia, then serve in a Militia battalion one month in each of two years, and finally pass another examination before obtaining a commission in the Line. Now all these young officers were some months ago with their "crammers, "endeavouring to assimilate as much knowledge as they could previous to their final examination; but the War Office issued an edict, very properly, by which all the Militia battalions were embodied, and these young officers were taken from their studies and sent to do duty with their regiments, some in this country, some at Malta, and some in South Africa. A. month ago the War Office decided that these young officers, instead of getting commissions direct, should go through their examinations as usual. In other words, they were asked to make bricks without straw. It was absolutely impossible for them to pursue their studies when on duty in South Africa, Malta, or even at home, and, therefore, to pass the competitive examination in the autumn. The edict of the War Office was, therefore, extremely unfair and foolish. A great many commissions have been scattered broadcast within the last few weeks. Hundreds have been given to young men on the other side of the world, others have been given to the sons of South African Jews, but not one to the sons of country gentlemen at home. I have often said before that I would not be surprised at anything which the Department in Pall Mall would do. The other day they issued a rescript under which no officer unless of a certain weight could get into the service; in other words, instead of looking to the survival of the fittest they swore by the survival of the fattest. I hope that the hon. Gentleman who is responsible for the War Office in this House will do his best to prevent the wrecking and ruining of hundreds of lives of these young Militia officers, by enabling them to obtain commissions in the Line without the examination which the War Office propose.