HC Deb 25 March 1903 vol 120 cc245-76
Mr. PIRIE (Aberdeen, N.)

said the Motion which stood in his name on the Paper was slightly different in form to that in which it originally stood. That was due to the fact that since yesterday the whole question of enlistment had been materially altered by the issue of the War Office Memorandum, which had been welcomed by every military reformer both in and outside the House. His object in bringing forward this Motion was to strengthen and reinforce the hands of the Secretary of State for War in completing the work that he had commenced by the issue of that Memorandum, in obtaining a satisfactory class of men to uphold the prestige of the Army. Many of our difficulties would become infinitely more simplified by the concession of the Secretary of State for War in admitting inquiries as to character to be made on enlistment of recruits. If such inquiries could be made, this Motion was only another step in completing the work of ascertaining correctly the age and qualifications of the men who offered to enlist.

The Inspector-General, in his Report of this year, had stated that the one subject which created anxiety at the present moment was the deterioration of the physique of recruits. That was not only a serious thing for the Army, but a still more serious question for the nation, and therefore the question was transformed from a purely military into a national question. The percentage of rejections of the ordinary recruits who submitted themselves for examination was, according to the Inspector's Report, shown to be increasing; in 1900 the percentage was 27.4, in 1901, 29.04, and in 1902s 32.22. Those figures, however, did not show the whole of the rejections, because they were taken from the numbers of men who had been allowed to offer themselves for medical examination; 80,000 men were not allowed to take that preliminary step. The waste of the Army was enormous. It was idle to compare our standard with that of any Continental standard, because when conscription was in force, and all had to serve, the physically unfit were drafted into shops and stores, turned into artificers, clerks and hospital orderlies, of which large military Powers required three or four times as many as we ourselves, and, therefore, to compare our standard with that of a continental Power would be misleading. He would leave the question of the physique of our recruits to other hon. Members more qualified to deal with it, but would deal with the question of wastage, and the main cause of it, which, he thought, was our false system of enlistment.

Last year 8,800 men were discharged as invalids, 1,600 as men not likely to become efficient soldiers, 400 for making false answers, 2,900 for misconduct, and 8,000 for miscellaneous reasons not returned. If to those figures was added the net amount of the desertions, it gave a total of 25,000, and if the desertions from the Militia were included, 34,000 men—the loss of whose services laid a large debt on the Army, and a large charge on the Exchequer. A great number of these undesirable and worthless recruits had been the result of the false system under which they had been taken into the ranks, which allowed boys of fourteen years of age to join the Army. The present system of inducing these boys to become soldiers was not worthy of a great nation. Upon the attestation paper there was a direct inducement for these boys to make false statements, and not to tell the truth. Eighteen questions were put to the recruit, which he had to answer before he was attested. As to the first six he was not warned of the penalty he incurred for making a false answer, and among those questions was the most important one, "What is your age?" Before the seventh question the recruit was warned that if he gave a false answer he would be subject to two years' imprisonment, and certainly Question 4, "What is your age?" should be placed in the category in which punishment should follow a false answer. If the law was properly enforced it gave the right to punish a person for any false answer he might give, because Sections 33 and 99 of the Army Act clearly laid that down. But the law was a dead letter. All hon. Members would admit that a false entry into life by a boy in this way might have a most serious effect upon his career, character and life.

It had been said on other occasions, both by the Secretary of State and the noble Lord the Financial Secretary to the War Office, that recruits could not be sent to tropical climates until they had had two years service, and until they were twenty years of age. If that were so, why were these boys who enlisted at fourteen and fifteen, after two years' service, sent out to India at the ages, of seventeen and eighteen? The life of a cantonment in India could not be otherwise than dangerous to young men, but it was absolutely fatal to the frame of boyhood, and nobody who had seen the hospital ships coming back from India, with soldier after soldier ruined for life from the fact that he had had to submit to the temptations and evils of Indian life with only a boy's frame and a boy's mind, could rest until he had tried to remedy this blot upon our system. In addition to the 9,000 men discharged as invalids last year there were 4,000 deaths in the Army, and many of those deaths would have been averted, and there would have been many less invalids, if these young fellows had not been sent to India until they were twenty years of age.

With regard to the Home force it was not fair to the officers and men to ask them to have to deal with men of whose ages they could not be certain. They had to inflict punishments, and those punishments should be inflicted according to the capacity of the person punished to bear them, and it was wrong to expect a boy to do the work of a man, and to withstand temptation, unless he had a man's frame and a man's mind. Battles now had to be fought often at break of day after long marches and on an empty stomach, and unless they had men in the Army such work could not be done. Therefore, it was essential that the age should be truly given by a recruit entering the Army. The authorities of a public school knew the ages of the pupils, but all that the Government had done in this matter was to adopt a non-possumus attitude. Why was it impossible to obtain the correct age and character? In every arsenal and dockyard there was a certificate of age, character and physique of every man employed; at every board school the age of every pupil was known; and even the military authorities themselves pretended they could obtain certificates of age, because in the Army circular issued yesterday they had asked not only the year but the month! He did not wish the Government to be held down to a hard and fast rule in this matter. He only asked that the regulations should be enforced wherever possible. That left a loophole for those who wished to hide their identity and did not desire their antecedents to be too closely enquired into. He congratulated the right hon. Gentleman on what he had done, which had constituted one of the greatest improvements that could be made with regard to enlistment, and at the same time he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would be able to make some concession on the lines he had now suggested. He begged to move.

MR. PEEL (Manchester, S.)

In seconding the Motion said this was one of those questions upon which the opinion of the civilian Members ought to be fully heard in this House, as it was one of those questions upon which civilian opinion had and must have a much wider range than military opinion. His object in supporting the Motion was to strengthen, if it were possible, the Secretary of State for War in the good work the right hon. Gentleman had already done in his determination to raise the standard and qualification and age with regard to enlistment in the Army. There could be no doubt that public opinion on this question had been thoroughly aroused, and great interest was taken in it. People might not understand the technicalities of the matter, but they clearly understood that what they required for the money they paid was a proper article suited to the needs for which it was destined, and there was a general consensus of opinion that if the right hon. Gentleman would adopt some of that enlightened opportunism which had been spoken of in the House he would, in his endeavour to raise the standard of the Army, have the unanimous and unfailing support of the opinion of the country behind him. He submitted that no comparison could be made between the standard of our Army and that of Continental nations. In countries where the principle of conscription obtained, it was necessary to make the standard as easy and as low as possible, because the Army in that case was for home defence, and if it were not fighting in its own country it would have to fight in one the climatic character of which was not dissimilar to its own, and therefore it would be possible in a case of that kind to take men whose strength and physical attributes were not sufficient to bear the storm of every climate of the world. If any comparison was made it must not be with the standard of the armies of France or Germany as constituted for home defence, but with such a force as Germany collected for service in China; and if it was desired to find an Army which was at all comparable to ours we must go to Holland, where the Army was organised to some extent on the same lines as our own.

This change in raising the standard of height and age constituted a great innovation in the system of the Army, and he could quite imagine persons who had lived under the old system seeing no reason for the change, and pointing out that we still had the class of men who served under Wellington or followed Colin Campbell to Lucknow. But in the last 100 years a great change had come over this country. The old system sixty years ago took men with a less rigid examination than they were subject to at present, but at that time two-thirds of the people of this country lived on the land and one-third in the towns. Now three-quarters lived in the towns and one-quarter in the country, and that brought us face to face with a totally different standard of men from those who joined the Army then. Under modern conditions we had to look for a better and higher class of men, able to stand greater strain and greater labour than was sustained by men who fought in India fifty years ago. A greater strain was put on the physique and intelligence of the soldier of to-day. We had now to develop the intelligence of the individual; under modern conditions a soldier had to depend on his own intelligence and fight on his own initiative in a way he had never had to do before. It was not sufficient now to have the scalliwag and undesirable; we must now apply to a higher class of man in order to cope with the greater strain which would be put, not only on his physique, but on his intelligence. The change made by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War had made further demands upon us, because he now asked, not for the 25,000 recruits annually that were required twenty years ago, but 50,000, and if we were going to get 50,000 we must apply to a class far different to that on which we had hitherto relied. We should have, he contended, to study the distinctions and prejudices of class and how far class distinctions were involved in our social system, and we had also to consider the feelings and prejudices of the parents, who might strongly object to their children being sent to associate with people whom they did not like them to meet with in ordinary life. He had found, in spite of the changes that had been made in the Army, a strong objection on the part of parents to send their children into the Army. They said they were sending them there to learn bad habits, and they would not send their sons anywhere where they risked being corrupted. That was the kind of sentiment and prejudice which the right hon. Gentleman had to get over and destroy. A great improvement had been made in the conditions of service in the Army, in pay and in pension, but the very changes which the right hon. Gentleman had introduced had given us the right to demand a different and better class of men than that which was required when the Army was organised on the old system.

He contended that the present system; under which recruiting returns were considered in the War Office was a direct premium on these false balance-sheets. How were the officers and the sergeants at the recruiting depôts judged? They were judged largely on the results they produced—whither they had got a long list of recruits. If one man sent in 1,000 recruits, and another, a conscientious man, said he could only produce 500 first-rate recruits, how could they exactly compare the class of recruits gathered together in one district with those gathered together in another district? The tendency of the present method was to take the number rather than the quality of the recruits. What wonder was it then that, in spite of the desires of the Secretary for War and the opinion of this House, those recruiting agents who honestly tried to get the best men they could should have recourse, when the recruiting season was coming to an end, to those persons who threw such discredit on the Army? What wonder was it that any trousered thing was taken? What wonder was it that the doctors should less severely scan the arch of the instep, or the hollow tooth, and were ready to believe that a few weeks of military training and good food would fill up the narrow chest? It was against all this that the Secretary for War should be continually fighting. It was so easy to take the number of recruits as the test of the efficiency of the recruiting officer. They were all grateful to the Secretary of State for War for all that he had done in reference to character, but he thought that the Secretary for War had spoken in some ways rather disparagingly of the kind of character required for our recruits. The right hon. Gentleman said truly enough that he did not want a Sunday School army for recruits. He did not take any absolute or pedantic rule for the character of the recruits; all he wanted was a practical test. Men should not be enlisted for service in the Army with whom their comrades would I be ashamed to associate. He was not going to say that we ought to enlist angels, but he wanted to have men of a good class and the highest character. He was glad to notice that in Manchester, one of the Divisions of which he represented, a better class had been going into the Army than formerly, but he was met with this difficulty: parents said "I should like my son to embrace a military career for a few years, but I do not like the men with whom he would have to associate." He knew from experience in the Yeomanry that one or two men might alter the whole character of a squadron or a company.

There was another matter which had a bearing on the question of character and the class of men enlisted for the Army. It was often very difficult for a man discharged from the Army to obtain employment, and it was very sad to notice that numbers of these men found their way to the police court. What was that due to? It was due to the prejudice on the part of employers against these men. Destroy that prejudice, and make it clear to the country that a better class of men were enlisted, and the whole attitude of the employers of labour towards the Reservists would be changed The experiment of asking would-be recruits for certificates of character and of examining into the character of the men had recently been tried in the Royal Marines. That body consisted of 20,000 men, and he was quite aware that a comparison between them and the general Army was, perhaps, hardly fair, because they were a picked body. That had always been the case; but in 1901 a standard of character was introduced into the Royal Marines, and the most extraordinary change had come over that body. The percentage of criminal wastage was always low, but for the six months after this further inquiry into character had been instituted the wastage was reduced by no less than 50 per cent. There was no reason why similar results should not be reached in the Army at large.

As to the question of age, he thought that that inquiry should be a little stiffer and sterner than before. The question had become ten-fold more important since the recent changes had been introduced into the Army. The Army Corps were to be sent abroad to fight, and everybody knew that a man should not be sent abroad until he was twenty years of age. That standard had not been adopted frivolously or for no reason, but because any man under twenty years of age was less capable of meeting the hardships of foreign service or foreign warfare than a man over that age. It was therefore becoming increasingly important that the men enlisted for the Army should be not less than eighteen years of age. They were told that there was some difficulty in ascertaining the age. He was quite well aware that some men did not know their age, and others were unable to produce their birth certificates. The Secretary for War lived in the county of Surrey, where the vision was not disturbed by a vast array of smoking chimneys, but those who lived in the North knew that this matter of age was a problem which had to be faced in every factory. There everybody knew how complex was the system for the protection of children and young people of various ages, and how important it was to know precisely what the age was of the young persons employed. What was done by the manufacturers in the North—done, indeed, under penalties—might be perfectly well done in recruiting for the Army. It was not enough to look to the general physique of a man; one might be deceived readily that way, and the development of a man might not be a sufficient test of the endurance he could display in foreign service and in foreign wars. But he maintained that it was possible in most cases to obtain a certificate of birth, or at any rate to make more accurate inquiries than had ever been done hitherto for ascertaining the age of recruits.

These were the principal points on which his hon. friend and himself had submitted the Resolution to the House. They had been well met on the question of character by the Secretary for War, and the recent Army Order had been very reasonably and well drawn, but they wanted something done with this question of age. They also asked that the standard of physique should be made rather more stern and stiff than before. These were matters which commended themselves to the country, which was taking more interest at the present moment than ever before in the question of getting value for their money. That was a matter which had been most keenly discussed. It was not a matter of party at all. In this House party divisions were kept up through the sessions of Parliament, but in the country, except at election times, this antagonism did not exist. Men went about their ordinary business, and formed a good, ordinary, common-sense opinion on these matters which no Minister could possibly disregard. If the Secretary of State for War could meet them on this point he would meet the average sane, common-sense opinion of a large proportion of the people of this country; and if he did so he would do something which would give greater satisfaction than anything he had yet done. He would place his Army on firm and solid foundations; he would earn a reputation which would be as great as that of any of his predecessors; and he would enjoy the satisfaction, sincere, profound, and lasting, and as attractive and agreeable to himself as the sonorous tramp of all his Army Corps, or the nice equipoise of his linked battalions.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House, while welcoming the recent War Office Memorandum regarding the character of recruits, is of opinion that, in order to adequately fit the British soldier for his duties at home and abroad, greater efforts should be made and precautions taken to secure a higher standard of physique of recruits accepted; and that as regards age a birth certificate or other reliable evidence should, wherever possible, be requited; no man being accepted or retained who is known or believed to be under the age of eighteen years."—(Mr. Pirie.)

MR. PRIESTLEY (Grantham)

said that the few remarks which he wished to make with the indulgence of the House would be specifically directed to one part of the Motion, and that was the question of the physique of the recruits. He did not wish in any way to indicate any lack of appreciation of the value of our recruits, or what was termed character. So far as the formation of character was concerned, he was not sure that it was in the power of the House of Commons or of any Government department to make any great development; but it was in the power of the State and of Government departments to create a very great and radical change in regard to the physique of the recruits. He believed that it was universally admitted in England that the alteration in our economic condition was producing a very serious result in the condition of the physique of the people of this country. It was inevitable that it should be so. The favourable and healthy conditions of country life have produced in England one of the finest race of men in the history of the nations for stamina and determination; but during the last few generations there had been a great change, which was producing results that demanded the attention of those who had the power to deal with the matter. The question of recruiting was one that affected not only men of eighteen years of age, because the physique of the individual was formed long before that age was reached. The higher classes had opportunities of getting proper physical training, but the great masses of the people had been neglected in this matter. It was not the occasion for any wholesale criticism of our system of national education, but he often thought that the mental and intellectual powers of children would have been considerably benefited if we had introduced into our board schools and national schools a system of scientific physical education, to enable them to make the best of their physique during the most susceptible period of their growth. It was not a question which it was either difficult or impossible to deal with. Other countries, Sweden particularly, had for years realised the necessity of cultivating the physique of the youth of the nation as a matter of national importance, just as in this country it was considered necessary to deal with their intellectual and mental powers. During the late war a deplorably large number of recruits had to be rejected on account of varied physical imperfections.


I think the discussion of the question of physical education in schools is going beyond the scope of this Motion.


said he quite appreciated that ruling. He would just say that the object of his remarks to show that unless we had a national system of physical education we could not get the best class of recruits—men who were capable of fulfilling the duties they were called upon to perform. We must get the best raw material we could, and we must improve it as much as we could. The tendency now was for the raw material to decline in power from generation to generation. He hoped the military authorities would associate themselves with the education authorities for the purpose of instituting a national system of physical education entirely independent of any form of military training, but based upon a foundation of physiological demands and applied by specialised and scientific methods.


said that in listening to the hon. Member for South Manchester he thought he discovered the real reason why the Motion was brought forward. The hon. Member stated that the opportunities for private Members speaking were so few that no opportunity should be lost. He did not know whether to congratulate the hon. Member on having got the opportunity of speaking, or to condole with him for having to deliver a rather belated speech, because, if he might say so, almost all the questions put forward had, as the House would admit, already been dealt with by his right hon. friend the Secretary of State for War in a generous fashion. It had been urged that our recruits should be men of good character, and of good physique, and that they should not be accepted under age. With regard to character, he did not think anybody could go further than his right hon. friend had done. The questions which were now to be asked regarding candidates for enlistment, were these— (1) In what capacity have you known So-and-so? (2) How long have you known him? (3) What time has elapsed since yon last saw him to speak to? (4) What do you know of his character? Is he sober, honest, and respectable? (5) Has he, to your knowledge, served in the Army, Navy, Royal Marines, Militia, Yeomanry, or Volunteers? and if so, please state which; and (6) Is he married or single? If a widower, state number of children, if any. He thought the questions which were put constituted a good investigation into a man's past life. Nobody could contend that, if honestly answered, they were not broad enough to exclude from the Army the undesirable characters who had obtained entrance to it hitherto. He quite agreed with his hon. friend that one or two undesirable men might absolutely contaminate a whole regiment. In addition, power was reserved to the commanding officer to strike a man out of the battalion if he should think him undesirable.

MR. ARTHURLEE (Hampshire, Fareham)

asked whether that power could be exercised by commanding officers without reference to the War Office.


said he did not think they had to refer to the War Office His impression was that they had only to notify the War Office if this had been done. He was speaking, however, without actually knowing, and he should only confuse the House if he made a definite statement. On the question of physique he felt considerable interest, for he was once a special, and could not fulfil the weight qualification—an objection which drill and good food had removed. Certainly his right hon. friend would prevent the enlistment of recruits with underdevelopment of chest or physical deformity; the standard would not be diminished. On the question of age some discretion must be allowed. The age was marked on the inquiry sheet, and the person supplying facts as to character could correct it if the age was mis-stated. If, however, a man fulfilled all requirements, if he was fit to take all duties of a man of the required age, it should not be necessary to sacrifice that man because it could be proved he was a few months under regulation age. Physical development must be the ruling qualification, but the recruiting officer should not be bound to get a birth certificate. His right horn friend would undertake that every effort should be made to keep out of the Army those youthful recruits to whom allusion had been made. His right hon. friend had endeavoured to meet the wishes of hon. Members to the fullest extent; he had done more than any other man to raise the standard of the Army in character and physique, and with regard to age he, while as far as possible only taking recruits up to age, must be allowed some discretion to retain a man who, though below age, was in development equal or superior to other men a few months his seniors.


said that the concluding words of the noble Lord would lead one to think that the Secretary of State for War was willing to accept the Motion.




said he understood then that the Secretary of State for War was not willing to accept it. If that was so what became of the remark that this was a belated discussion? There was no proposal before the House to reduce the Vote for the Army, and surely advantage might be taken of the present opportunity to discuss the question of recruiting without casting any reflection upon the Minister of that Department. He ventured to say that this was not a belated discussion. On the contrary, the Motion afforded an opportunity for the discussion of a question of principle in which all who were interested in the Army might unite in pressing on the Minister concerned the views which they thought essential to the welfare of the Army. The circular emanating from the War Office yesterday was satisfactory so far as it went, but such divergent views had been expressed by the right hon. Gentleman from time to time that they could not afford to accept his ipse dixit on the matter. They must get, if they could, a definite Resolution of the House on the matter.

The noble Lord has just referred to a very important matter, namely, the power of commanding officers to get rid of undesirable characters in the Army. His hon. friend the Member for Fareham did not seem to take the same view as the noble Lord. He could assert without fear of contradiction that in cases of that sort, so rarely was the consent of the War Office given that the general officer commanding in almost every case sent an undesirable man to the district Court-martial for the purpose of getting rid of him. [Mr. BRODRICK shook his head.] He spoke from experience, and he knew the practice was as he had stated. Referring to what was sometimes done by magistrates in recommending persons brought before them to go into the Army and recover the character which they had lost, the hon. Member said he objected to the Army being regarded as the dumping-ground for criminals of the lesser sort. There was one point with regard to which the noble Lord was very reticent. The noble Lord the Financial Secretary had said a great deal about the physical standard required for recruits. On page 8 of the Inspector-General's Report reference was made to a Committee appointed last year to lay down the physical requirements for the future, and it was there stated that "as a result of experiments, a system was adopted," but not a word was mentioned as to the nature of the system, the evidence upon which it was adopted, or the way in which it would ameliorate present conditions. The Report also stated that the Inspector-General required a minimum chest measurement, but there was no indication as to what that minimum was. Why could not the Secretary of State or the Financial Secretary depart from this reticence and be a little frank with the House? They desired to know whether the standard had really been raised, whether the report was a real and genuine report—he did not suggest it was not—and whether there were any foundations for the congratulations addressed to the Secretary of State by the Financial Secretary on the excellent work the right hon. Gentleman was doing for recruiting in the Army.

He passed next to the question in which he was more directly interested, and that was whether the noble Lord would make some inquiry into the physical condition of the drafts sent lately to South Africa, The noble Lord, in reply to a question, said that perhaps they were not aware that there was no limit of age as regards drafts for South Africa, and, therefore, drafts were despatched as soon as possible, South Africa being considered a suitable training-ground for young soldiers. He had asked whether recruits of seventeen or eighteen were sent out there, and the reply was that recruits were sent out now just as they were sent to the home battalions, with the view of seeing whether they would continue the system. But that was not the answer which the Secretary of State gave sometime before, because on March 19th he said nothing about recruits of seventeen or eighteen. Speaking of these special enlistments, he said:— We do not treat them as boys, and we do not count them as fit or eligible to go abroad. How could the right hon. Gentleman reconcile his answer in debate on March, 19th with the answer deliberately given across the floor of the House on March 23rd?


I do not recognise the quotation of the hon. Member, but undoubtedly the words. "go abroad" were used in the sense of going to India or on active service.


We really ought to have a dictionary of the terminology of the War Office. "Abroad" is not in South Africa or the Mediterranean apparently.


I hope the hon. Member will not press this. I do not know where he gets the quotation from about going abroad.


My authority was The Times newspaper, quoting a speech of the right hon. Gentleman on March 19th.


The Times newspaper, which is usually more than accurate, is mistaken as to the remarks I made. I particularly stated, when somebody asked me about it, that it referred to India or going on active service.


said, of course, it was very difficult for hon. Members, when they endeavoured to interpret a speech of a Minister, if they were met with a declaration that a verbatim report in The Times newspaper was not accurate. He should like to have it made perfectly clear what the term "abroad" meant, so that the House could judge of the conditions to which boys of seventeen or eighteen might be subjected when they enlisted. Then, to go a little further back, the right hon. Gentleman stated on March 14th, 1902, that no men were sent by us to the colonies not properly trained. A different system was now in vogue, because it was stated that recruits of seventeen and eighteen were sent to South Africa for the purposes of training. He wanted a clear definition from the War Office. Did they or did they not mean to send these boys, these children, abroad as representative soldiers of this country? Were they to be trained before they went abroad, or were they to go abroad for the purpose of being properly trained? Those were plain and straightforward questions to which he hoped the Secretary of State would reply.

Another instance of the difficulty of reconciling the answers of the Secretary of State occurred during the war in connection with the Imperial Yeomanry. When the second contingent of that force were being recruited, the Opposition described the recruits as "riff-raff and worthless," while the hon. and gallant Member for the Chelmsford Division went so far as to call them "corner-boys." The right hon. Gentleman then declared that Members had no right so to describe these recruits, because, as a matter of fact, they were yeomen. But a little later, when it was found that this force had become a sort of ambulatory depöt for the Boers, the Secretary of State said they were "raw, inexperienced lads." Would the recruits who were to bring characters from their previous employment undergo a similar transformation? In each of these cases he had quoted from Hansard. These irreconcilable descriptions were constantly being given.


said there was a great difference between speaking favourably of the class of men who came forward, and then, when speaking of their conduct in South Africa, admitting that they were not fully trained. As he said at the time, they were sent out in consequence of Lord Kitchener's desire to have the men on the spot.


said that here again he found it somewhat to reconcile the "yeomen who could ride and shoot" with the "raw, inexperienced lads," who, as one hon. Member described them, were unable to distinguish one end of their rifles from the other.


begged the hon. Member to be a little more accurate. He denied ever having said that the Members of the second levy of Yeomanry were yeomen in the sense of having belonged previously to the Yeomanry force. They were 15,000 in number, while the whole Yeomanry were only 11,000.


said that if the right hon. Gentleman doubted the accuracy of his quotations he would be happy to supply the dates and references, and, if the quotations were inaccurate, to apologise for having made them. There was a great desire on the part of all sections of the House to do something for the physical equipment of the recruit. A Committee had recently reported upon physical training in Scotland, and made valuable suggestions which he hoped the Secretary of State would be able to do something to forward. It was quite possible that the failing physical equipment of some of the classes of the country might be stimulated and renovated by greater care of the children, and the recent circular issued by the Board of Education, more or less was the connivance or under the authority and at the suggestion of the War Office, although in some parts it went beyond the mark and in others was defective, contained the foundation for valuable assistance in the gradual building up of the muscle and strength of the children of the country. In order to get a better class of recruit, the recruiting houses should be removed from the squalid surroundings in which they were too often situated, so that respectable men would be able to go to a respectable house and offer to the State those services which at present were not available because the men would not go into low and disreputable quarters to offer them. He would also suggest more supervision of recruiting agents methods, The worst recruiting officer was the recruit who had been deceived, while the best was the man who was able to go back to his relations and declare that all the conditions held out to him had been fulfilled to the very letter. If the War Office would only attend to some of the remarks and suggestions of their own recruiting agents and of the Inspector-General of Recruiting, he had no doubt they would secure the class of recruit they desired.

MAJOR RASCH (Essex, Chelmsford)

hoped the Government would be able to accept some of the excellent suggestions made by the hon. Member for North Aberdeen, who was an expert in this matter and had given much time to its study. The difficulty in recruiting had not been to discover the accurate age or the religious conviction of the recruits, but to get the men at all. A writer in The Times had said perfectly truly that there was no royal road to recruiting, and had suggested that the only way to get recruits was to pay them better and give them short service. To those suggestions he would venture to add a third—namely, to take a lesser number. The Government had endeavoured to give them short service, and, as the hon. Member for Fareham had often pointed out, the United States had tried the plan of paying the men better. As to taking fewer men, it seemed to him there was no doubt that, when the Reserve reached its normal figure, they would be able considerably to reduce the number of men with the Colours and to have fewer men at £60 a year and a larger number of men in the Reserve at £9 a year. Perhaps the House would permit him to recall the physique of the Army in the Crimean days. The Army then consisted of about 90,000 men, and according to Lord Haliburton's book the number of recruits was only about 7,000 a year. The result was that when this, country sent 27,000 men to the Crimea, in point of physique they were the finest Army that ever left the shores of England. On the other hand, in the year when the-abnormally large number of 91,000 presented themselves for service, because of the large number that were required to be sent out of the country, 29,000 were sent back by the doctors, 6,000 absconded, and 14,000 deserted before the end of the first year. They were now getting a very fair class of recruit in Essex, and Sir William Gatacre had recently stated that the recruits coming into the Suffolk battalion were of good quality, and that they were getting more than they knew what to do with. The reason for this was the improvements which had been suggested and carried through by the War Office dining the last eighteen months, and if that policy was continued he had no doubt the authorities would be able to pick and choose, and get the class of men the country desired. If the rations of the recruits were improved that would go a long way, as there was no doubt that the way to a man's heart was through his stomach.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

said there were some parts of the Motion he could support heartily, but others he desired to criticise. If it was possible to get a high standard of character in the Army, he did not object to it; and if the production of a birth certificate would help to make a good soldier and develop his chest measurement he would also be in favour of that. But they might try for too high a standard of character, and fail to get it. It was not altogether so necessary as some hon. Members thought. The employers of labour generally managed to conduct the industry and commerce of this country exceedingly well without insisting on any of the long rigmarole of questions which were now addressed with regard to recruits. Characters would not im- prove the physique or the morale of the Army to the extent that hon. Members below the Gangway seemed to suppose. Speaking as one who knew industrial and workshop life fairly well, he might say that it was the invariable rule of sensible and shrewd employers to engage men disproportionate to the number of testimonials they brought, because the more testimonials the worse the workman, and the more parson's testimonials the greater duffer the man was. It was also an error to assume that education and moral qualities were the same thing. It was possible to have the greatest personal immorality with the highest education. The highly educated recruit would not stay long in the Army, and if the soldier had the character some hon. Members wished him to have, they would find that he would not be possessed of better fighting qualities in consequence. [An HON. MEMBER: Oh, yes.] If the hon. Member doubted him, let him ask, or rather consult, the Duke of Wellington. Personally he believed that the best Army this country ever sent out anywhere was the Army of the Peninsular, and of that Army its commander had a very poor opinion from the point of view of morals and character. He thought that hon. Members by insisting upon the production of a birth certificate and other conditions as to character, were asking too much from the Secretary of State for War. This Motion was based upon the assumption that there was an inexhaustible reservoir of men who, given better treatment and better pay, and having to give a better character, would readily join the Army. He believed that to be an utter mistake. This reservoir of unlimited men that had been assumed was more limited than hon. Members recognised. The men of good physique and character whom they wanted in the Army had not been attracted by the better pay and treatment which had been offered within the last four years. And why was this? Simply because they went elsewhere to seek the freedom the Army, as constituted, could not give.

There were some 52,000 of the best men in this country, with regard to physique, in the Metropolitan and local police force. Then they had got some 12,000 men in the Royal Irish Constabulary, and if he were a military man he would as soon command those men as any other body of men on earth. They had also got large numbers of men in municipal employment and employed as railway servants; and they had now 1,000,000 men, as compared with only about 150,000 at the time of the battle of Waterloo, who had to pass for the Navy, Army, the Militia, the Volunteers, and various Reserves a physical test that drew upon an enormous number of men; and this was a fact which they had not to consider during the Peninsular war and at the time of Waterloo. Wellington only had 26,000 troops of British birth to hold the fort of liberty, and when they contrasted the small number wanted at that time with the large number insisted upon now the surprise to him was not that they got the few they did—but the wonder was that they recruited the large number of men of good physique which they were now able to obtain. They would not induce those men who now joined the police force to go into the Army if they paid them the same rate as the police. This was because the Army did not give to the soldier and the non commissioned officer those prospects of promotion which every policeman looked forward to, and which he invariably received. If they wanted to make the Army more popular and more attractive they would have to arrange for more promotions from the ranks.


Order, order! These are questions which do not arise upon this Motion which does not raise the question of promotion and the general attractiveness of the Army. It simply deals with the precautions to be taken to secure a higher standard of physique and character of recruits.


said it was difficult in discussing the question of character and birth certificates to get at why recruits had not joined and why the Army was unattractive. What hon. Members hoped to get by this Resolution could be got by giving greater freedom to the men, and that free flow of promotion which they got in other services. He came now to the question of securing a higher standard of physique for recruits. They could not get the class of recruits they wanted by adopting this Motion, for reasons that the Secretary of State for War could in no way be held responsible. The change in agriculture, the town drift, and the social and industrial conditions were such that they were attracting into other services the type of men who used to go into the Army in the old days; and instead of impeaching the War Office, as this Motion did, for not getting the proper standard of recruits, hon. Members who supported this Motion ought to have made their proposal wider, and they should have gone down to the bed-rock conditions that made the War Office have to accept the lower standard of physique which this Motion was directed to stop. This was really a wider question. The real difficulty was to be found in the paragraph of the Report of the Inspector-General of Recruiting, in which it was stated that the one subject which caused anxiety as to the future of recruiting was the gradual deterioration of the physique of the working, classes from whom the bulk of the recruits were drawn. So long as industrial conditions were what they were, so long would the physical, mental, and moral fibre of the working classes deteriorate. This Motion would not be a substitute for badly-cooked food, for tinned food, and adulterated food. It would be no substitute for the lack of milk and good bread for children when they were young, nor for their excessive labour during the period of growth. It would be no antidote to early marriages and intermittent employment, and other influences which produced the moral wrecks and physical wastrels who went to the recruiting sergeant.

The other day he was reading a wonderful book, written by four Edinburgh doctors, in which they stated that the food supply of the working classes compared unfavourably with the dietaries of workhouses, prisons, and lunatic asylums. So long as that condition of things was chronic, it was no use blaming the Secretary of State for War. This was a social, national, and Imperial question, and if they would remove the condition of things which produced the low standard of comfort alluded to by those Edinburgh doctors, he was sure they would go a long way to remove the evils that this Motion hoped to remedy. The sad thing about many of these recruits was, that although the patriotic spirit was strong within them, their bodily strength was weak. But they should not blame the men or the War Office for this state of things, but they should try and remove the causes that prevented men's bodies being equal to their spirit, and the patriotic principles which inspired those weak bodies to enlist. If a country yielded to its people a sufficiency of food and stamina, that country would never lack vigorous defenders. Good though physical education, character, and birth certificates might be, this was only touching the fringe of the whole subject, and all those questions were subordinate to better homes, stronger physique, and better constitutions. That would have to be made and developed long before the Army age of recruiting was reached. Why did they not tackle this subject in a better way? Why did they not remove the causes which drove men of good physique out of the Army? Out of 2,887 desertions from the Army of recruits, 1,302, or 70 per cent., were men who had done under three months service. These men were of good physique, and wanted to be in the Army, and why did they leave within three months? Because even with men of good physique the system of drill was too violent, and the change from civil life to rapidly enforced discipline made them leave the Army, and this made the Service unpopular.

Look at the way the poor fellows were punished for the most trivial thing. Among the civilian population the number of punishments was fifty-six per 100,000, but in the Army it amounted to 600 per 100,000. In other words, the punishments in the Army were eleven times worse than for offences of a worse type amongst persons outside the Army. If they would treat the soldier less like a child, and give him more freedom, and allow him more time out of barracks, and treat him as the American people treated their soldiers, they would not want motions of this description. He believed that this was the wrong way to do the right thing. He wished some hon. Member would put down a Motion to draw attention to the rapid deterioration of the physique of their industrial classes. When they were able with greater latitude to discuss the whole of this question, and when they could go back to the root causes as to why weak recruits were produced and why medical officers were compelled, under a national emergency, to pass this type of recruit, then they would get at the real reason why the standard in the Army had got to be reduced. Until then they would be obliged to support this Motion in one part and condemn it in the other, because it only dealt with the fringe of the question.

If they wanted men of strong physique and good character, the time for developing those qualities was when they were between ten and thirteen years of age. He asked hon. Members not to "chevvy" the Secretary of State for War too much on matters like this. There were some lads in the Army who were better men at sixteen or seventeen years of age than some town lads were at twenty or twenty-one, and it would be preposterous to compel the right hon. Gentleman to discharge such men because the rigid rule had to be adhered to. There must be a certain latitude and discretion, and if they tied the Secretary of State's hands in this way it would do more harm than good. If they wanted to make the Army popular they must do it in other ways. Until this country realised the evils of sweating, of slum dwellings, of bad housing of the poor, of excess of drinking, the prevalence of vice and gambling, and other things—until these matters were recognised as worthy of national consideration and prompt and earnest attention, they would never solve this problem. It was because he believed that the Army could be made ten times more attractive in other ways that he had spoken in this way. He regretted that they had been circumscribed in the debate by the ruling of the Chair. After the experience of the Duke of Wellington and our own experience in the South African War, he thought they would agree with him that birth certificates and character would not enable men to get their officers out of very tight places. Roughness of character was not incompatible with the highest qualities of the fighting soldier. He hoped hon. Mem- bers would not ask for a Sunday-school gilt-edged certificate as to the number of times a person went to church when they were taking recruits for the Army. If he were a general in a tight corner he would rather have with him, in order to get out of it, fifty corner-boys than one hundred curates.


said he could not agree with the Financial Secretary to the War Office when he said that this had been a barren debate. On the contrary, he thought it had been a most useful debate. If he were to select any particular part as being more to the point than another it would be the speech of his hon. friend the Member for Battersea, who was, with regard to some of his remarks, promptly and necessarily ruled out of order. As my hon. friend has elaborately shown to the House, the real avenue for good recruits is to get a good, well-nourished, and well-developed population from which to draw the recruits. If you are going to choose a commodity from a certain source, you cannot have the commodity better than the source from which yon choose it. His hon. friend the Member for Battersea had set the example of quoting French; and now that Latin appeared to be altogether out of favour, perhaps the House would allow him to quote a French epigram which was very much to the point:—"Pourquoi nos généraux sont ils si bêtes? Parcequ' on les choisit parmi les colonels." You cannot have better recruits than your population can give you, and when you complain of the low standard and the defective physique of the young men in the Army, in order to cure that you must deal with the housing and the surroundings of the population from whence they come. His hon. friend who had just sat down said that moral character was not necessary for the good soldier, and that was no doubt perfectly true. They had to consider the effect of having bad characters in the Army. They might fight very well and might be very good soldiers, but those who were engaged in the work of making the Army as popular as they could, had in the first place to make parents believe that their sons would not be injured by going into the Army. He would advise his hon. friend to leave out of his Motion the words "or retained." Some of the youths enlisted under eighteen might develop into muscular and intelligent men. If they agreed to that, and if, instead of binding the Secretary of State to insist upon a certificate of age, they provided that no man should be accepted who there was reason to believe was under eighteen years of age, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would accept the resolution so modified, and would save them the trouble of a division, which would misrepresent the general feeling of the House.

MR. BRODRICK (Surrey, Guildford)

said he thought the right hon. Gentleman had fairly interpreted the opinion of the House on this subject. They desired to obtain the best they could for their money, but they must be careful not to go too far. The age of eighteen was adopted, not because it was the minimum age at which men were, fitted for the service but because it was the average age below which they did not wish to take them. He thought it would be a fair compromise if they adopted the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman. He did not think they ought to be bound closely to the age of eighteen, nor ought they to put obstacles in the way of recruits enlisting. He was not inclined to accept the words "higher standard of physique." That would be understood to mean that the present standard was not sufficient. He would accept the words "adequate standard of physique," which would be an expression of opinion, but did not oblige them to adopt a higher standard than that which was now taken. He would accept the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the latter part of the Resolution should read "and that as regards age no man should be accepted who is known or believed to be under the age of eighteen years."

Amendment proposed— To leave out from the word 'secure,' to the end of the Question, and add the words 'an adequate standard of physique of recruits accepted; and that as regards age no man should be accepted who is known or believed to be under the age of eighteen years.'"—(Mr. Secretary Brodrick.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)

criticised the wording of the Resolution as proposed to be amended, and said the whole Resolution as amended would be extraordinarily vague. He trusted the House would not, for the first time, accept eighteen as a "good average age."

COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY (Shropshire, Newport)

said the hon. Member for Battersea had begged the House, or rather he had begged what he called "hon and gallant Members," not to "chewy" the Secretary of State for War. Well, chevvying the Secretary of State for War was not the part taken by those Members of the House who knew most of the Army. The chevvying of the Secretary of State for War came from irresponsible enthusiasts. Those Members who were entitled to attach hon. and gallant to their names would not chewy the right hon. Gentleman, but would leave that singularly ignoble pursuit to those who spoke not altogether in the interest of the readministration of the Army, but for purposes closely connected with self-advertisement. He took it that outside these walls and in military circles the gentlemen who assumed that attitude would be well understood, and the motives of those Members would be pretty accurately diagnosed. He personally did not attach very much military importance to the hon. Members to whom he referred. An appeal had been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition to accept the attitude which the Secretary of State for War had taken up in this matter. Of course it was impossible to satisfy those who wished to secure a little petty score off the right hon. Gentleman. He put them on one side. They were, he thought, not of very much importance either here or elsewhere. There would be a general consensus of opinion that the right hon. Gentleman in his first speech, when he introduced the scheme, and in all the replies he had made to the various mosquitoes that had buzzed about him, had shown his sympathy with everything that could possibly be done to improve the status of recruiting, to improve the qualification of recruits coming forward for the Army.

He thought it would be acknowledged that the right hon. Gentleman could hardly go further than he had gone. Soldiers inside and outside of this House would infinitely prefer to have the Army recruited from the highest and best classes of agricultural labourers and artisans. They would prefer to have the Army recruited from classes which could furnish them with the most orthodox birth certificate and with the highest possible character. But the objection to that was that they could not get them, and if they could get them it would mean that a certain number of men joining the Army would be withdrawn from the first-class of the working population, whether agricultural or artisan; but it should be remembered that beneath the highest and above the lowest class of men there was a large number of excellent men whose characters, perhaps, were not absolutely as high as would satisfy the requirements some of these purists would demand, but who were first-class fighting stuff. They were men who, for reasons personal to themselves, or out of a spirit of adventure, preferred to spend a few years in the Army before returning and settling down in life. Look what would be the result with respect to that class of recruits if the Motion were adopted? They would possibly have to refuse them, because they did not come up to some imaginary standard of purity, and the only effect would be that they would not obtain a class of men who were quite suited for the service. There was one matter in connection with the subject of recruiting to which he desired to call attention. He suggested that there should be throughout the country local bureaux, at the head of which there should be the Lord-Lieutenant of each county, where the names could be registered, and would have a right to apply for employment after they had returned from service with the Colours. It would be better to do that than to set up an artificial standard for character. He did say in this House, and to the larger audience outside, that the attitude of the Secretary of State for War on this question had been all that any responsible statesman could be expected to take up, and that he was dealing with this in a manner which was absolutely the best in the opinion of the heads of the Army. Those who found fault with the right hon. Gentleman were inspired only by the unworthy motives of those who pretended, to have the interests of the Army at heart, but who were only acting in the interest of a political cabal.

Question put, and negatived.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Resolved, "That this House, while welcoming the recent War Office Memorandum regarding the character of recruits, is of opinion that, in order to adequately fit the British soldier for his duties at home and abroad, greater efforts should be made and precautions taken to secure an adequate standard of physique of recruits accepted; and that as regards age no man should be accepted who is known or believed to be under the age of eighteen years.'

Adjourned at seven minutes after Twelve o'clock.