HC Deb 18 March 1903 vol 119 cc1120-45

"That a number of Land Forces, not exceeding 235,761, all ranks, be maintained for the service of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland at Home and Abroad, excluding His Majesty's Indian Possessions, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1904."

Resolution read a second time.

MR. VICARY GIBBS (Hertfordshire, St. Albans)

said he had taken no part in the discussion for reforming the Army, for the reason that he had no special knowledge of Arm}' matters. He had, however, been very much impressed by speeches from his hon. friends the Members for Fareham and Plymouth the other day, and great uneasiness was produced in his mind as to the character and quality of the recruits which were being taken into the Army. He desired on this occasion merely to take the ordinary business view of the matter, and to examine how far the country got good value for its money. He had nothing whatever to say on any question of the Indian frontier, or the proper unit of the British Army, or any question as to the size of the Army. He was merely desirous of giving his right hon. friend an opportunity of allaying the uneasiness which was largely felt by civilians both inside and outside the House of Commons as to the quality of their recruits. The simple proposition he made was that there were accepted and expelled within a short time of their acceptance an unduly large proportion of men. This point he would try to establish very shortly from the Inspector-General's Report. That Report showed that the average expulsion of men with under two years service was about 1,000 for the five years between 1896 and 1900 inclusive; and for the years 1901 and 1902 the average of men so expelled or rejected was over 3,000. The Inspector-General also showed and stated that of 5,000 men enlisted for 1899 over 1,500 were discharged as ineffective within three years, making a proportion of 30 per cent. It might almost be said that his case was proved already by the figures he had quoted from official reports. They all admitted, just as much as the right hon. Gentleman, the difficulty of enlisting satisfactory men.

It was quite true that they had increased the pay and advantages of the Army, but it was equally true that they had not increased the pay and advantages in the same ratio as the pay and advantages of civilians in the same class of life had increased—he referred to the class from which the men in the Army were mainly drawn. The right hon. Gentleman told them that they must have a greatly increased Army, and if it were true that the average standard of comfort had increased throughout the country, and if it were true that the physique of men in the country had not improved, it obviously stood to reason that the difficulties of his right hon. friend's position must be immense. In these circumstances, how did the War Office proceed? Having learned from their experts the number of men considered to be essential to secure the interests of the country, and having secured permission to give those men certain advantages in order to get that number of recruits, he thought the War Office would have adhered rigidly to their standard of efficiency in every respect, and should have struggled in every way they could to raise as many men up to that standard until the 120,000 required had been obtained. If they had failed to reach the number required by maintaining that standard, then the right hon. Gentleman could have come down to the House and told them that instead of getting, say, 120,000, he had only been able to secure say, 90,000; and then he could have left it to the House and the country to choose whether they would keep up a smaller Army, or whether they would vote more pay in order to increase the numbers. As far as he could gather from reading the reports which had been issued, the right hon. Gentleman appeared to have proceeded on completely different lines.

Even if the motto of the War Office be "good men preferred," under all the circumstances the tally must be made up, and men must be had of one sort or another, so that the Secretary of State for War might be able to come down to the House, and say with pardonable pride, or, at any rate with obvious complacency, that he had achieved his object, and that he had got his men. But he had got them at the expense of introducing a lot of wastrels into the Army, and it was not as if it could be alleged that these wastrels were cheap. Some might think that for a soldier to be a bit bad was a kind of half praise. It was not as if they cost the same as the other men, they were paid the same, but what with their diseases and their Court-martials, before they were finished with they cost the country a great deal more. They were not merely worthless in the Army, but they were worth less than nothing. There was no analogy whatever between the advantage of getting inferior recruits into the Army and having a large number of weakly men pulling at a rope. Ten weak men might make up for five stronger men in that case, but ten inferior recruits would not make up for five good recruits in the Army. No greater mistake could be made by anybody than to say: "Well, they may not be so good as we should like to see them, but we have got them, and, pro tanto, they are so much to the good." What were the requisites of a modern soldier? Character first, then intelligence, and then physical health and vigour. These were essentials without which men were worse than useless. It was perfectly clear to anyone that modern war made a great many more demands than war used to do on the strength and the morale of our troops. Unseen enemies, forced inarches, and things of that nature, were factors, and everyone of them pointed the same way. Once it used to be said that it was rapidity of movement that was required, now it was rigidity of purpose. What other demands did war make upon the men? No trifling ones. Self-denial, self-control, discipline, and the very highest and rarest form of discipline, self-discipline, and nobly for the most part had these demands been responded to by the British soldier. There was no room for self-indulgence now-a-days, when a man had to lie for hours and hours on the ground by himself, far away from his fellow-men, with just the little pittance he was able to bring with him, and unable to touch his emergency rations without risk of a few years imprisonment.

An hon. Member on the other side of the House appeared to him the other day to imply that really it was not a bad thing, after all—he would not say that these were his words, but this was the Implication of his speech—if a soldier was a bit of a blackguard. These ideas were out of date, and old-fashioned In modern wars private soldiers did not rub shoulders with one another in battle. They did not get even the encouragement and the stimulus which the hon. Member would desire from hearing one another swear. They lay on the ground forty yards from one another, and perhaps 500 yards from the nearest officer. They had to think and to act for themselves. In such conditions as these would the rascal—would the booby—be the likelier man to serve his country well? No, Sir. He asked confidently, was it businesslike and economical of the House to feed and clothe men who (snapping his fingers) would not be worth that? He hoped he was not misunderstood. He knew that there were many of our soldiers who had fulfilled all the requirements that any man could demand. But the worthless minority was too large. They were no value to the country. They were only valuable so far as they administered to the complacency of the Minister for War. Whom did he mean? He meant the boys who imposed upon a singularly credulous medical officer as to their age. He meant the illiterates who could neither read nor write. He meant the weaklings who suffered from hernia and varicose veins, and last and worst he meant the "bad 'uns"—those sickly sheep who might infect a flock. Why should we have them? Oh, how ho wished that he could put one commanding officer into the box here and cross-examine him. He would ask him only a few questions—"How many worthless vagabonds have you had thrust upon you whom, if you had the chance, and if you had a voice in the matter, you would not have looked at?" "How many 'bad 'uns' have you had?" Then he should like to ask what injury these men had done to the Army, setting aside altogether all the waste of the country's time, and of the credit and efficiency of the Army. Next and last he should ask, "How many have you got still, whom you would like to dismiss if you were encouraged instead of thwarted at headquarters?"




The right hon. Gentleman said "Oh!" He was sure that "Oh" would be received with satisfaction by commanding officers. They would now know what was to be done by commanding officers when they got men whom they wished to get rid of. He wished the right hon. Gentlemen were determined that all the men of the Army should be drawn from the cream of the population, and none from the scum. [An HON. MEMBER: "You can't get that."] They could come very much nearer to it than they were now. Let them examine how far the demands on a soldier, which he had mentioned, had been fulfilled, and how far considered. Take first and foremost the matter of character. If it was priggish to desire that the character of those men should be high from regard to their moral welfare, at any rate it was the coldest business instinct which should make the authorities wish for high character on account of the efficiency and the credit of the Army. What they ought to do was to make that profession one which any respectable family would stimulate and press their sturdy and capable sons to take up, not one which they would, as he feared was the case now, do what they could to discourage. It might be said that it was all sentiment to talk about character. Well, were the Marines sentimental? Were they not very shrewd? Did not hon. Members think that if the mere admission into that force was at once an honour and a certificate of character, this very circumstance created a demand for that force. That was not mere declaration. It was proved up to the hilt by the hon. Member for Fareham in a statement which he had made and which had not been contradicted. He supposed if they were going to be us careful about character in soldiers as they were in the case of Marines, it might be said that they were going to turn them into psalm singers. He was not uneasy about that. But supposing they were going to do so, England had had one or two historical lessons. Two hundred and fifty years ago in this country she had a lesson that psalmsinging and fighting went very well together. Fifty years ago she had the same lesson in India at the Mutiny, and not so very long ago she had a lesson from our enemies in South Africa. He was basing this argument on the facts given by the hon. Member for Fareham, but his right hon. friend the Secretary of State for War, to use his own words, gave these facts and arguments the go by. That was his language, because he regarded them as not germane to the issue then before the House. He had not the military education of the hon. Member for Fareham, but at any rate it could not be pleaded that his remarks were not germane to the issue, and the right hon. Gentleman would not wish to do otherwise than to meet him fairly and to show him where and why he was wrong.

They all admitted that they wanted intelligence in the soldier. What were they doing for that? They had 1,000 illiterates last year, and these were the words of the Inspector-General— There is a material falling off in well educated recruits, although," he proudly added, "the number of those able to read and write is increasing. He had no hesitation in saying the fact that such a statement was possible was a scandal and disgrace to them all. It was a scandal and a disgrace that the conditions of modern warfare were so little recognised that it should be thought desirable to capture such men with the present chances of education existing in the country. To-day the illiterate was not the least like the illiterate of a hundred years ago. The illiterate was now a booby, and one of the triumphs was that we secured 1,000; boobies last year. He would now deal with the question of age. Two thousand men under the age of seventeen were taken last year. Were they all drummers and pipers? If they were, there might be a plan to remodel the British Army on the lines of that of the Highland chieftain who invaded his neighbour's territory— Since he did resolve To extirpate the vipers, With three and twenty men, And five and thirty pipers. Of course that was not so. Let him give as an illustration of this age matter a case that came before him personally. It was not a singular case, and many hon. Members could produce the like. But one concrete case produced more, impression than fifty hypothetical ones or instances reported at second hand. A keeper on his father's estate came to him in great distress two years ago because one of his boys had run away. How old did hon. Members think the boy was? He was between fourteen and fifteen years of age! The next thing they heard of that boy was that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War had clasped him to his arms! A very few months after that the boy was in Malta on foreign service. No investigation had been made, not a word had been said to the lad. Nothing could have been easier than to-say to that young rascal, "Where do you come from Let us know and we will write." And in twenty-four hours if they had written to the clergyman, or the squire of Aldenham, they could have got the facts about the boy, who his father was, whether he was worth anything, and how old he was. "Oh! it is not worth while," the War Office might reply, "that is too expensive." He would come to the question of expense shortly. Surely the limit of eighteen was young enough. Let them think for a moment that under modern conditions, under the modern system, these boys only served three years with the Colours. According to the right hon. Gentleman, they were not to go to India until they were twenty, and therefore for two-thirds of their time these boys were unfit to go abroad or form part of an expeditionary force. When the limit was put down so low as that they should, for goodness sake, keep to it.

His hon, and gallant friend, the Member for Taunton, was quite right in the question he had put that afternoon when he wanted a minute and clear distinction between the men who were available for military service abroad and those who were not; and that all the men should not be bunched together so that they did not know what they had got, what they could use and what they could not use. Each of these boys cost the country £65 a year. That was the official Estimate, but if the matter were approached on business lines it was found that he cost a great deal more. What did the right hon. Gentleman get his salary for? And what were the Staff at the War Office paid for? It was all for the Army; and if they had no Army he assumed that the right hon. Gentleman would receive no salary in his particular capacity as Secretary of State for War, while they would lose the inestimable benefit of the services of the War Office. As it was, they had got to be paid because there was an Army; and every member of the Army should be debited with a share of these salaries if the Army was going to be conducted on business lines. If so, up went in a minute the cost of each soldier from £65 to something like £100.

The next requisite he asked for in a soldier was physical vigour and health. It was not that these recruits were boys that made him so much disturbed in mind. Boys not fit for the Army now might be come so. It was the presence in the Army of those fellows who never would be worth the value of their boots to the nation, that he resented. They were called specials, whether they were so or not in every sense. He would tell the House of a story of what passed between a very distinguished friend of his and a sailor in a train, and what the sailor said. He knew very well that what the soldier said was not evidence: and he dared say that that applied also to the sailor. But he thought the story might afford a very valuable lesson to the House as to the way those things were looked upon. He did not set up to be a military or a naval expert, and he did not know the proper title of the sailor, but he understood that the sailor held a post equivalent in the Navy to that of a recruiting sergeant in the Army. The sailor complained to his friend very bitterly that so many men who came forward as candidates for the Navy had to be rejected owing to physical unfitness. His friend indulged in the usual platitude that that was very sad. "Oh, no," said the sailor, "not sad for us at all, because in the end we get the men we want, and of the right quality." His friend replied, "I did not mean that; I meant sad for them." The sailor retorted "not that either, for they are all right; they all go into the Army, and the Army is glad to get them." Well, that might be the sailor's jealousy of the Army service.


Hear, hear.


Yes, he thought that would be the official answer. What was the meaning of the quotation he was going to read from the speech of his valued mentor the hon. Member for Fareham? What did a commanding officer say to his hon. friend? Out of 180 men recently received 105 were below the standard, or in other words said the commanding officer, name unknown, with a spitefulness he hoped he would not imitate— they were specials, though not so described.

*MR. BRODRICK said he had asked his hon. friend the Member for Fareham to be kind enough to give a reference to the name of the commanding officer in order that he might verify the statement; and his hon. friend declined to give him the reference, in which he might have been justified. But he hardly thought that an argument could be founded on a statement unless they knew the authority on which it was made.


Was there then to be one law for the rich and another for the poor; one law for the Minister and another for the poor private? Unless his memory suddenly failed him the right hon. Gentleman did not disclose the names of the experts on whose advice he relied in proposing his Army scheme, although there were cries in the House of "Name, name."

*MR. BRODRICK said he did not know to what the hon. Member referred.

MR. VICARY GIBBS said that it was during the general discussion on the policy of forming an expeditionary force. He would look up the passage and if it did not bear out what he was saying he would express regret to the House and the right hon. Gentleman. The Secretary for War said that no argument was to be founded on the statement quoted by the hon. Member for Fareham.

That reduced him to be brutally plain. There were three possibilities open to the House to consider. First, that the hon. Member for Fareham had invented the story which he said he had from a commanding officer. Second, it was very possible that the commanding officer—he could say this, because that gentleman was not in the House, and, according to the admirable rules of this ancient Assembly, it was not out of order to insult or libel any person outside the House—it was very possible that the commanding officer lied to the hon. Member for Fareham. But if neither of these possibilities was accepted, then there was naturally something rotten in the state of Denmark. This commanding officer said that these men were taken in heaps, and that 105 out of 180 were specials. That seemed almost incredible, though the commanding officer went on to say that "they were not so-called." Well, without being a Heaven-born Minister of War, he thought that a man was not a special by simply not so describing him. He fully believed his right hon. friend when he undertook before this House that there should be no more specials taken. He had no doubt the right hon. Gentleman meant that, and that he was to accept from the right hon. Gentleman that that was to be the established principle for the future, and that it would not be gone back from without the House having an opportunity of discussing the question.

*MR. BRODRICK admitted that he had said that in future specials would not be taken; but supposing that his military advisers, while Parliament was not sitting, advised that specials should be taken in certain cases, he should be bound to consider their advice. That would alter the position.

MR. VICAEY GIBBS said that that was not very satisfactory, for, of course, they could never know when the right hon. Gentleman's decision might be altered. At present they had the right hon. Gentleman in the frame of mind in which they wanted to see him in regard to stopping the enlistment of specials; but if that was his policy, were they not placed in an alarming dilemma? The right hon. Gentleman had told the House that he wanted 50,000 recruits every year for his Army scheme. Last year was a bumper year—certainly far above the average—and he got 51,000. But among these 51,000 recruits he would find 8,000 specials. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War was going to be good now, and never have any more specials. Take 8,000 from 51,000 and there remained, he believed, 43,000. Well, how was that shortage to be made up this year? What were the right hon. Gentleman's prospects if he were to remain the fixed immovable North Star, according to his natural habits? Were these to be realised by making the standard elastic? That was a nice word and a very useful word. He did not see how it was to be done, even if the Secretary for War got specials, or offered a larger stimulus to good men to enter the Army. And the House should remember that he was still allowing for a thousand men who could not read and write who were not specials. Last year, said the Inspector-General of Recruiting, recruits were bad for the first nine months, but in October there was a great improvement. That synchronised with the first murmur which was heard that men were not being obtained under this scheme. No doubt it was purely a coincidence, but it led him to suggest that it would be a capital thing if they could have quarterly reports with reference to recruiting presented to Parliament. He ventured to press that on the right hon. Gentleman. With reference to numbers, his right hon. friend said that he was only 2,300 short; but he learned from a commanding officer—he too had commanding officers—that his battalion was 450 men short, and that other battalions were in the same condition. If that were typical of the Army, what was the total shortage? He saw what the official answer would be. It would be details here, details there, details at the depots, and details everywhere, except under their commanding officer. He would put a question to the right hon. Gentleman which would exclude details. He would ask him whether he would give the number of men now actually with the Colours, who were available for foreign service to-day. He was sure his right hon friend would give the House the numbers. His right hon. friend liked numbers; he revelled in numbers; and, sometimes, he almost flooded the House with numbers. Looking back to those happy days when his hon. friend the Member for the Whitby Division and his right lion, friend took counsel together, he thought his right hon. friend might say with Pope, although certainly not in the same sense— As yet a child, nor yet a fool to fame; I lisped in numbers——.

He was quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman, with pardonable pride in the success of his scheme, might complete the line— For the numbers came.

It seemed to be imagined that all schemes for greater efficiency in the Army cost more money. He denied that. The process of finding out whether the Army was getting a rascal or a good man, on the testimony of people who knew him, would cost only the initial expense of a postcard. They had in the Army 25,000 inefficients, who would never do a hand's turn in time of war. That number at £60 a head, which was the lowest estimate he had ever heard, amounted to £1,500,000. A lot of postcards could be sent for that amount, especially Government postcards, which did not require a stamp. It was admitted that in every battalion three-eighths were ineffective for foreign service, but if the minimum age of entry was eighteen, and if no man was sent to India under twenty, two-sevenths must be always available as far as the Indian Frontier was concerned. But of course the average age of admission was over eighteen; and if there was no wilful enlisting of men under eighteen the average would, he assumed, be something over nineteen; then only one-eighth would be ineffective on the score of age. Yet, of the men required for South Africa three-eighths were ineffective. How were the other two-eighths to be accounted for? He thought it was a very liberal estimate that on any given date the amount of legitimate disease, among men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five might fairly be put at 5 per cent. Still, 20 per cent, were unaccounted for, whom he certainly maintained should never have been enlisted. The average recruiting was about 40,000 men per annum; 20 per cent, of that was 8,000; and looking at the Inspector-General's report he found that that was almost precisely the number which was annually ejected from the Army for serious crime. Would the right hon. Gentleman reply by stating that the War Office had taken such tremendous pains that no man went to South Africa unless he were fit for it, and were now being attacked because of their own virtues? Every commanding officer and every medical man in South Africa had, however, another story to tell. They would say that men had to be left at the base; that men had to be kept out of the fighting line; and that men had got into the fighting line who would have been better left out. He had no hesitation in saying that many of the disasters which occurred in South Africa, and all the-discredit, was due to the presence of that unsatisfactory minority in the Army.

Every year there were turned out of the Army 8,000 men; but by turning out 8,000 men they did not get rid of all the worthless fellows. They only got rid of that particular number in that particular year. He did not think it was an exaggerated estimate that when they turned out 8,000 men per year they had always-in the Army a minimum of 20,000 men who were worth nothing, and probably worse than worth nothing. Other nations did not show that proportion. They did not have to weed out the same number of men. Of course the reply would be that they had an immense advantage over this country, because they had the whole of their population to pick from; but his reply to that was that when they went to war they did not propose to go to war with themselves, but with someone else; and it would be no use telling the enemy that he had a very unfair advantage over them. They could not say: "You have got finer men; it is not fair, and we cannot fight you." It was not a case of little boys playing at school; it was a matter of life and death to the country. He said that whatever else they did they should not enter into a war when the enemy had the advantage, and that would he the result if they enlisted inferior men. The right hon. Gentleman should not let the country live in a fool's paradise and let it suppose that they had got 120,000 available men when the fact was that they were only paying for 120,000 men. These paper soldiers and this stage Army would make no impression on the potential enemies of this country any more than cardboard castles in China would impress civilised troops. That would not impose on their enemies. It had ceased to impose on the House of Commons; and was it worth keeping up merely for the purpose of imposing on the taxpayers? Let the "War Office not shoot any more rubbish into the British Army, and let his right hon. friend give his medical men stringent orders as to the first examination. That was where the great mischief occurred. Let the right hon. Gentleman tell his recruiting officers that they must find out about the character of the men they enlisted. Let him tell them that their own military future depended not on quantity but quality. Let him do that, and there would be a complete revolution in the present system. The commanding officers had certain drastic powers in many respects; then why do not they have drastic powers to get rid of the men who were no use in time of war and who were a nuisance in times of peace. In Dryden's time there must have been a similar War Office to the present, because he found the poet saying— Mouths without hinds maintained at vast expense, In peace a charge, in war a weak defence.

Let the right lion. Gentleman not admit any one into the Army under age or without a character, and the next time a war broke out it would not be necessary for him to come down to the House and tell them that three-eighths of our Regular Army were unfit for foreign service. He had pointed out, he was afraid at some length, what were in his opinion the qualifications of a soldier and how those qualifications might be obtained, and it only remained for him to move that the Vote be reduced by 3,000 men.

*MR. BECKETT (York, N. R. Whitby)

seconded the Motion. His hon. friend, as he had said, had approached this subject from the point of view of a business man with the idea of finding out whether the country got value for its money, and he himself felt bound to admit that in his opinion, on the matter of troops, it certainly did not. These serious charges were a vast burden on the nation. He had heard an hon. Baronet, who represented a Scotch constituency, state that his constituents did not mind how much they were called upon to pay in taxes, which wag strange when we remember that he sits for a Scotch constituency; but he was afraid there were many constituencies who did not share the zeal of Glasgow in this matter. The Government did not seem to appreciate the fact that there was a point beyond which taxation could not go; a point at which the resources of the country could not meet it; a point at which the electors of the country would refuse to sanction it. When income was limited people should spend most on articles of first necessity, and least on matters of secondary importance. Supposing the national income to be limited, was it not a serious matter to be spending as much on an Army, which, was only of secondary importance, as on the Navy which was a matter of prime necessity? The men in the Navy required a much more expensive training, and the materials, guns and ships were much more expensive than anything corresponding to them in the Army, and on that ground alone the Army ought to cost less than the Navy; but when the relative uses of the two forces were compared the disproportion in cost became more glaring and more inexcusable. The Prime Minister had made some priceless admissions. He had admitted that the Navy stood absolutely first, that they did not now hear that a large Army was not required for home defence, that the defence of this country must be trusted to the Volunteers and citizens of the country. All these admissions showed a great change in the attitude of the Government. The Secretary of State for War had accused the House of having changed its attitude on this matter. That accusation did not amount to much in any case, but what would have been said by hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House if, when a responsible Minister came down to the House in a time of storm and stress, during a great war, and asked for a number of troops, they were refused? "Pro-Boer" would have been the most mild adjective. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to accept the Volunteer Army with difficulty, and had not been converted. Like the disciplinarians in Pall Mall, he seemed to consider that unless a man was taught the goose-step he must be a useless particle of a disorganised mob. But one of the most conspicuous lessons of the war had been that half-trained men made one of the best mounted fighting forces that one could have. The lesson we had learned was that we could rely mainly on the Volunteers for the defence of this country. Under the scheme of his hon. friend they would, of course have a stiffening of Regulars.


In the hon. Member for Plymouth's proposal these Regulars did not exist.

*MR. BECKETT said the hon. Member for Plymouth had never suggested that all the Regulars should be taken out of the country, and that remark of the right hon. Gentleman alone showed how much this question had been misunderstood. An Army was of no use unless it was properly trained organised and efficient from top to bottom. With regard to efficiency it should be first of all intelligently directed. He would rather put his money on brain power than on chest expansion. The Intelligence Department had not been strengthened as it should have been. The comparison with Germany ought to be insisted upon.


Order order! On the Report of this Vote the hon. Member cannot go into the question of the efficiency of the Intelligence Department. He can go into anything relating to the number of men.

*MR. BECKETT said the point of his argument was that if the Army was intelligently directed fewer men would be required. The War Office had entirely failed to prove that the Army was properly organised for the necessities of the country. The Secretary of State had never yet been able to show that in the event of an outbreak of war we should have this expeditionary force ready to despatch at a moment's notice, without mobilization, and so forth. All were agreed as to the absolute necessity of such an expeditionary force. Everybody admitted the wonderful change brought about in the situation in South Africa by the despatch of 10,000 men from India, and but for the arrival of that expeditionary force in the nick of time Ladysmith might have fallen. The value of such a force had been clearly demonstrated, but under the present scheme no such force would be provided; hence much of his opposition. The force could not be provided, because the organisation of the Army was based on the linked-battalion system. The Secretary to the Admiralty, who was an expert in the question of Army reform, in a valuable work, the statements of which had never been overthrown, had advocated the abolition of the present practice of maintaining one battalion as a depot for another. He said:— It is dangerous and useless. There is no reason whatever why a whole battalion should be made ineffective in order that another battalion may be supplied with recruits. It is difficult to exhaust the catalogue of the disadvantages which attach to this system, but chief among them is the fact that under it no battalion at home is ever fit for war. On the admission of experts the system had broken down, and it was a confession of hopeless incompetence on the part of the War Office to say that they could not devise a better system to take, its place. What was the strength of the Army? The Secretary of State, in an interruption, had said that an argument should not be founded on a statement unless that statement could be examined. But the right hon. Gentleman himself had made a statement as to the strength of the Army which he would not allow the House to examine. Question after question had been asked as to the statement, but the right hon. Gentleman would not supply the details because they were so inaccurate. It was an extraordinary proposition in mathematics to say that you could make up a sum, of which all the details were inaccurate, and yet arrive at a total which was absolutely correct. He had been told on the authority of an Army man that the strength was made up of recruits who were pitch-forked into the Army from the depôts before they were properly trained, of "specials," of reservists on working furlough, of soldiers serving extended terms, and of invalids from South Africa. If all these were included the total might be correct.


said he explained to the House the other day that all the men who were on working furlough had been excluded from the strength of the Army and counted in their proper positions. Those who were about to go to the Reserve had been counted with the Reserve.


The 60,000?

*MR. BRODRICK said that some had been discharged altogether, but the remainder were due for the Reserve, and could be called out if necessary.

*MR. BECKETT said there was no doubt the battalions were much below strength. As to the training of the Army, the principal place for which "was Aldershot, the following statement had been made to him— We have 25,000 men at Aldershot operating over 2,500 acres—ten men to the acre. There is absolutely no outlet around Aldershot that is worth talkings about. No one who has not been through tin mill can picture the state of mind to which a general, colonel, or captain is reduced after two years at Aldershot. As regarded the other training grounds, what did they find?


Order, order: This matter will arise on another Vote.

*MR. BECKETT said in that case he would defer his remarks on that subject. It had been said that, the people of this country were invited to pay for an expeditionary force of 120,000 men to defend the Indian Frontier. Without discussing the question, he would merely say that that was a two-edged argument If the people of this country were to be told they must pay income tax, sugar tax, and so forth for the defence of the Indian Frontier, he greatly feared the "Perish India" school would receive various reinforcements. It was a dangerous argument The people would naturally ask what the Indian Army was for. Hitherto India had been considered to be self-supporting, but that did not mean that in case of emergency England should not go to her assistance, or even that India should not come to the assistance of England if necessary. He might point out, however, that when we were on the verge of war with Russia in 1878 we did not send an Army corps to India, but India sent troops to Malta. Various epithets had been applied to the critics of the War Office. They had been called "amateurs" and "reactionaries." In one respect they were amateurs. They could not present their case to the House with the trained grace of the Secretary of State for War, or the force and charm of the Prime Minister. Those right hon. Gentlemen had been trained in the art and practice of debate, while he and his friends had been sitting on the back benches listening in awe and admiration. The Secretary of State had very fairly asked, "For whom do you speak? What military authority have you at your back? "He could assure his right hen. friend that the facts they had stated, which had not been questioned, and the arguments the}' had adduced, which had not been answered, had been supplied to them by various military authorities; they could not have evolved their case from their own brain. If the right hon. Gentleman got outside the atmosphere of the War Office, where people were nut always free to speak what was in their minds, or if he would inquire in the Army, without it being known who he was, he would find there was a very strong feeling against this scheme. It was that feeling that the critics of the War Office were voicing in the House, believing that the feeling was so strong that sooner or later it would be adopted by the nation.

Amendment proposed— To leave '235,761,' and insert '23,761." —(Mr. Vicary Gibbs.) Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Resolution.

MR. ELLIOT (Durham)

said that although he spoke from below the Gangway he did not speak as a representative of much of the discontent which had lately shown itself in that quarter.

Underlying the Amendment which had been moved, and also the more serious Motion of a few days ago, there was the fact that the Government took a certain view of the necessities of the country. We had lately passed through a period of national anxiety and considerable peril. Eighteen months ago we had about 300,000 men locked up in South Africa, and everybody must have felt that if another war had broken out then the country at home was not in that state of security in which such a nation as ours should be. The Government, having looked at the conditions of the day and the events of the last few years, had come to the conclusion, which he heartily supported, that something ought to be dune to strengthen, not only the Navy, but also the Army. He could not say that he regarded altogether with any feeling of tolerance the proposals of those representing the people who, a short time ago, were clamouring against the War Office. He was not referring simply to hon. Members, but also to the Press of this country, for their denunciations of the War Office. They protested loudly against the indefensible position in which the country stood, and now, when a scheme was put forward to remedy that state of things, they made one of the principal features of their criticism the exaggerated strength the Army which was now proposed. The position of this country was extremely serious, and upon a question of this sort they ought not to blow hot and cold at one time. They should take either one side or the other. They ought to remember that the War Office was what this House and the country made it. Surely it was hardly fair that Parliament should refuse to enable the War Office to do what the country had demanded. The Member for St. Albans, in a very amusing speech, said it was a great misfortune that unsuitable and unfit men should be recruited in the Army and counted in the strength of the Army. One would imagine from the speeches that these specials were the men who upheld and maintained the honour of the British Army. He maintained that the men who went out to South Africa were a very fine Army, and no doubt it was the proper thing to leave behind those who were considered unfit. The men who were sent out to South Africa were fine representatives of the vigour, and pluck, and character of the country, and he greatly deprecated the language which had been used this afternoon.

He had spoken to the late Colonel Henderson about matters in South Africa, and he had told him that he had no doubt whatever concerning the men this country sent out to South Africa; coming into the Army voluntarily from an active life, in the mere matter of marching there was not a conscript army in Europe which could touch them. The bad recruits-were left behind, and that was the right place for them. The right hon. Gentleman ought to take such measures as were required to prevent the introduction of unfit men into the Army. He would remind the House that the history of this country did not begin with the Boer War, and to learn lessons from the late war did not necessarily mean that they should forget every lesson they had learned from other wars. The great lesson they had learned from the Boer War was that they could not do everything at the last moment, and to be prepared, they must make an enormous effort to got the right number of men. The country thought the state of the Army was unsatisfactory at the commencement of the war, and now proposals were being made to remedy it. Those who were opposing this scheme had not produced any alternative scheme. He really must ask whether some hon. Gentlemen had present to their mind what the British Army was wanted for. The hon. Member for Oldham was positively shocked the other day, and showed considerable emotion at the thought that the Secretary of State for War had some idea of circumstances arising under which British troops would be pitted against Continental troops, and he even went so far as to look at the dictionary in order to see the real meaning of the word "pitted." He personally was convinced that just as they had fought in the past so they would have to fight in the future. Did anybody really suppose that the circumstances of the old days were absolutely past, and that in future all that would happen in the case of war with a Continental Power would be our magnificent fleet pursuing an inferior fleet? Such a state of things was unthinkable, and he could not imagine a war between Great Britain and a Continental Power in which the British Army would not be required.


Not in Europe.

ME. ELLIOT said that when the safety of Belgium was threatened many years ago Mr. Gladstone came and asked for a vote of 20,000 men in order to support the independence of Belgium. Mr. Gladstone did not then suppose that British troops would never be required on the Continent of Europe. Almost every year produced an example to the contrary. In the year 1878, when the Indian troops were brought to the Mediterranean, they were not brought there simply to garrison Malta. There was hardly a war in which they had been engaged where it was not shown that it was present to the minds of statesmen that English troops would almost necessarily have to be engaged. He should not like them to dismiss from consideration the possibility of foreign troops being landed in this country, and, at any rate, where matters were doubtful, the Government ought to be on the safe side. They should not be blind to facts. Naval warfare at the present time way an experiment, and nobody knew exactly what would happen. Therefore, as the Government were the trustees of the honour and security of the United Kingdom, he should like them to be on the safe side, and they should not believe that large masses of troops could not be lauded on the shores of this country, for he knew many very eminent authorities who admitted the possibility of landing large forces of foreign troops on our shores. Considering all these possibilities how could they, with any sort of consistency, declare that the Government were asking for more than was necessary to protect this country from danger. If after having gone through perilous times, and through days when they had no friends on the Continent of Europe—if under circumstances of this kind His Majesty's Government came down to the House of Commons and declared that they required so many hundred thousand men, surely it was a distinct vote of want of confidence in them to attempt to say that they did not want so many men.

He was perfectly well aware that it was an unpopular thing to keep up taxes, but the question was—ought they not in this House to give some sort of lead to the people, and some sort of steadiness to the politics of the country I If some individual or newspaper that a year or two ago was denouncing the Government for not having made sufficient effort was now denouncing them for overdoing it, he would not associate himself with that individual or that newspaper. He did not think that was the way these matters ought to be dealt with. Once or twice lately he had heard with some surprise reference made to the great name of Sir Robert Peel. They might hear mentioned with high approval in the same quarter the distinguished name of John Bright. They might hear that the Manchester school was not the contemptible school it was supposed to be. They had all much to say for themselves but he said—let them not oscillate so violently from one extreme to the other, because it weakened all of them in the country.

The Leader of the House talked the other day about the Indian Frontier. He confessed that it was rather startling to him to hear from his hon. friends that there was no use keeping a considerable army available for the defence of that frontier. Did they not all know, without being gifted with the power of prophecy, that if they read the day after to-morrow of the advance of Russia upon Herat, there would be letters and telegrams home from the Commander-in-Chief in India calling for more troops at once. The very gentlemen who now said there should be no preparation would turn to the War Office and say "What are you doing? You are leaving India unassisted to withstand the whole power of Russia." But the Leader of the House made a remark which really weighed more with him than that in regard to the Indian Frontier, which, after all, was only an illustration. He said that every war necessarily brought with it surprises. That might be a truism, but it was a truism which he hoped would sink deep into the minds of his countrymen. He himself would be more surprised than he could well express, if the war was of the character suggested by some of his hon. friends below the Gangway—a war in which no British troops were employed, and in which nothing surprising happened in connection with the Navy and the defences of the country. He did ask the House to take a serious view of these things. Why did not his hon. friends say what they meant? If they meant to reduce the Army by 30,000, or by 3,000 ineffective blackguards, or boobies, let them put it on paper, and then the House would know what it was doing; but the proposal on the Paper was to reduce the Army by 3,000 men, irrespective of the question of their being effective or ineffective. They had no right to read into that proposal words which they did not put on the paper. There was no suggestion about quality. The proposal was to reduce the total effective force, and all these outcries about the way the money was being waited were really based on the contention that the Army was bigger than was required for the safety of the country. He had spoken with some warmth, but he felt—and he hoped the country felt—that, in these days the Government were making sacrifices in asking the House of Commons to support the strength of the Empire, and as long as he was prepared to vote any sort of confidence in His Majesty's Government he should certainly be the last to go into the Lobby with those who would make such an imprudent and ill-considered reduction of His Majesty's forces.


Nobody who has heard my hon. friend can doubt the effect that his speech has created, or the extent to which his voice was representative of a large majority of the Members of this House. If it is any satisfaction to my hon. friend to know that he does not stand alone in these views, 1 can tell him that the number of letters 1 have received in the same sense in the last few days would give him any confirmation ho requires as to the views he has expressed, and as to the action taken by my hon, friends below the Gangway. When I heard the speech of my hon. friend the Member for St. Albans I hoped that no such speech as that which has just been delivered would have been necessary in this debate. His speech gave us the hope of a comfortable and edifying discussion upon the inferiority of certain recruits taken into the Army, and his Amendment, as I understand it, was only devoted to knocking off such men as he believed might be knocked off without decreasing the fighting strength of the Army. But from the moment my hon. friend the Member for Whitby got up we saw at once the old cloven foot of reduction, not for efficiency but for economy, as he puts it, and it was made perfectly clear that this reduction of 3,000 men was only a sort of offshoot of the reduction of 27,000 men which my hon. friend and his supporters ineffecually pressed upon the House of Commons last week. Now, Sir, I think I might be held absolved from answering the hon. Member for Whitby. None of his arguments were new. They have been urged before, and if I may say so without offence his speech was a belated speech. It ran like a speech which was intended to be delivered last week and somehow was not delivered, and the effect of it was that he advanced again arguments which have already been refuted.




Well, the hon. Member for Oldham does not agree; but, after all, we must be allowed our opinions—opinions which are based on convictions that I hope are equally shared on those Benches.


Does my right hon. friend mean that we are not acting on our convictions? [Cries of "Order."]


My noble friend should know that the practice of the House of Commons pays no respect to authority of any description, and I really think that until he becomes the custodian of the order of the House by sitting in the Chair he may leave it to Mr. Speaker to correct Members who are out of order. I am only concerned to refute three or four misstatements which my hon. friend the Member for Whitby allowed to crop up in his it is proposed to improve the Naval Medical Department with respect to promotion and pay, so as to place it on a like footing with the Army Medical Service.

(Answered by Mr. Arnold-Forster.) On 24th March, 1902, an Order in Council was issued raising the pay of Naval medical officers and placing it practically on an equality with that of officers of the Royal Army Medical Corps. Promotion both in the medical branch of the Navy and in the Royal Army Medical Corps is by seniority until the administrative grades are reached, when promotion by selection is practised. Special promotions for conspicuous professional merit or for war service are made in the Naval Medical Service. Owing to the great differences between the Navy and Army it is impossible to conduct the medical services on exactly similar lines.