§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £331,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge for the Salaries and Miscellaneous Charges of the War Office, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1905."
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Mr. ARNOLD-FORSTER,) Belfast, W.
I trust that the Committee will not think it impertinent on my part if I begin the discussion again to-day. The only reason I do so is because it has been borne in on my mind that the elucidation of the proposals I made to the House was not adequate, and that I have left in the minds of hon. Members, and perhaps the public outside, a doubt which does not exist in my own mind as to the nature and the extent of the proposals which I desire to be discussed. As I am quite confident that the only chance I have of carrying with me the good opinion of this House and the country is to be perfectly frank and to say precisely what I mean, I ask permission to begin the proceedings of to-day with an attempt to explain further what evidently was left obscure on a previous occasion. I have been very much encouraged in the interval since I last spoke by what has taken place. I have received, in the first place, an immense amount of support and encouragement from quarters whose authority I recognise and whose opinion I esteem, and from many men throughout the country whose names are unknown to me, but whose support I value; and they have all combined to encourage me to proceed in attempting to carry out the task which I have undertaken. I certainly intend to respond, as far as in me lies, to the exhortations which they have 1381 addressed to me. I have received a large amount of criticism which has also encouraged me greatly, because I can vouch for it that, without any exception at all, that criticism has been of the character which I anticipated. It has been sporadic, local, or personal. It has been based on considerations, no doubt important, but still local or personal, affecting branches or portions of His Majesty's service; but in no single instance has it been based on a general review of the situation with which I consider myself called upon to deal. I anticipated that kind of criticism, and I do not complain of it. But it is because any Minister in my position has to meet that kind of criticism that I appeal once more to the general good sense of the House to take a wider view.
Since I last addressed the Committee I have had still further assistance in my task I have had the opportunity of conferring with a large number of Members of this House, and of the other House, who either are at present serving, or have served, in some branch of His Majesty's service. It would be absurd to pretend that all of them saw eye to eye with me, or that some of them did not retain opinions which are not in consonance with mind But the result of these conferences has been very salutary, and I think I have made some hon. Members realise that they and I are working really for the same object—the amelioration of the Army at a time when its amelioration is very necessary indeed. The principal facts remain exactly as I stated them. There is a danger—a very serious danger. I read a letter in one of the public prints which might have been written from Laodicea, by an ex-official of the War Office of Laodicea, and which said that there was no occasion for pressing this matter, but that the best thing to do was to leave matters alone. To leave things as they are at present! That is not my reading of the situation. Every day I spend at the War Office I become more and more convinced that there is need for action, and that something has to be done to stop, in the first place, the deterioration of the Army; and, in the second place, to decrease the enormous expense of the Army. Whether I have been able to suggest the proper way in which those evils can be arrested, I am prepared to 1382 argue. But there is no Member of the Committee who would deny that these two matters are pressing and that the policy of Laodicea, of doing nothing and pretending that all is well, will not be tolerated by this House.
I have said that the policy of the Government is to adopt frankly and openly the view that this country does not require a very large Army for home defence, and that it does require a larger and more efficient force for action over seas; that it is necessary to reduce that which is redundant and inefficient in our service, independent, of whatever branch of the service it belongs to; and that that must be done without fear or favour in the interests of efficiency and of economy. Those are the main outlines of the policy of the Government; and it is that policy which the Army Council is carrying out. I am perfectly prepared, and I am anxious, to discuss that policy with the House; but I do not say that I am prepared, and I am not anxious to go into the details of the execution of that policy prematurely. The work must be long and involves great detail and must be carried out with the best consideration which the Army Council can give to its execution; and it would be time thrown away if we were to devote the hours of to-day to discussing matters on which I cannot give a final answer—the actual dealing with this or that battalion or this or that branch of the service. I desire to confine this debate, as far as possible, to the general principles which, if they are accepted, will give us a chance of proceeding with our task. After those principles have been laid down by the Government, and have been endorsed by the House, the Army Council will charge itself with the duty of carrying out the details.
I have had plenty of critics. There have been critics who object to reduction of any kind. Some critics say that it is absolutely impossible to reduce expenditure at all. Others attack me for not having reduced it enough. There are those who say that it is perfectly right to reduce the number of men in the Army, but that on no account is that reduction to affect the Volunteers. I am told by others that reduction is an absolute necessity of the 1383 day, but that not a man must be taken from the Militia. Others have repeated the same argument only with this variation—that, while it is legitimate to reduce the Militia and the Volunteers, you must not touch a man in the Regular Army. Then attacks have been made on the policy adopted by the Government as an over-concession to what is known as the "blue-water school." I am told that it is an absolute error to accept the view that the defence of the country is to be found principally in the Fleet and not in the accumulation of men at home. That is a matter on which I am prepared to argue. But what I wish to make clear is, that I am in the position that every single Minister of War must be in when he proposes a reduction in cost and a reduction of men. Those two proposals must necessarily bring upon my head much condemnation. But it the Committee want either of those things—and I think they want both—they must support me, or whoever is in my place. There is not a man in any branch of the service who does not think that, whatever is done, he ought not to be affected. There is not a commanding officer of any regiment or battery who, if you proposed that his command should be touched, would not say you were wrong. And it is only by the support and goodwill of the country, which I believe I possess and of the Horse of Commons, which I think I shall possess, that I can deal with this question as it ought to be dealt with.
I have presented three Papers to the House since I last spoke. One is a summary of remarks made by me on a previous occasion, presented in response to the request of the hon. Member for Bristol. Then, on the Motion of the Leader of the Opposition, I have furnished to the House another Return which, as far as I can make it, is a categorical reply to every one of the Questions which the right hon. Gentleman propounded; and, if it be not a categorical reply, all I can say is that it is not my intention which has failed. It is my desire to give to hon. Members on both sides of the House the whole of the material which will enable them to judge whether we are following the right or the wrong road towards the end which we all wish to attain. I have supplied another Return on the Motion of the hon. Member for Perthshire which deals with a portion 1384 only of the financial side of this question. In the first place, I must point out that it does not pretend to be an exhaustive statement of the reductions which I believe can be effected, and ought to be effected, in our army expenditure. It is a categorical statement of the results which will follow the reduction of certain units of the Army and the adoption of a certain course with regard to the organisation of the Army. But I make no secret of the fact that I should be very much disappointed if the figure which stands at the bottom of that table were to be the ultimate reduction of the cost of the Army. I am engaged upon an inquiry into the circumstances of other branches of the service which have not been dealt with, and I believe that there is there an opportunity for a large reduction; and, even on the Return itself, the Committee will find that there may be an opportunity for reduction within the limits of that Return on a branch of the service not included in any of the proposed reductions. There is a note in that Return about which I shall be challenged. It is the supposed comparison. between one set of figures and another. I have been anxious to avoid any comparison whatever. It is not desirable. Whatever system may be adopted, there must be a degree of uncertainty as to, its future development, and I should be merely misleading the House if I were to ask them to attach undue weight to I calculations which must be hypothetical. But I should like to explain why it is that this particular note appears on this financial Return. It is really a matter, if I may say so, of financial purity—perhaps I should say of financial prudery. The difference which results is exceedingly small. The note says this:—"It is important to bear in mind that the particulars in this statement do not represent savings compared with the Estimates for 1904–5, which, in many important features, do not provide for the full normal cost of the present system," and so on. What that means is simply this, that you cannot take any absolutely constant figure. There are certain battalions which at the present moment are not up to the standard of strength; there are some branches of the Army which are over-establishment; and, therefore, if you are to make an absolute comparison at 1385 the present time, you must either take the actual figures or some mean which will represent the normal establishment which it is intended shall be reached. But I can assure hon. Members, having given that explanation, that the actual difference in the net result is exceedingly small, and that, though I permitted that note to appear in connection with my statement, it is not really one which need give rise, I honestly think, to any discussion, as it so slightly affects the figures which I have given as the result of the whole calculation.
I spoke of reductions, and when I speak of reductions I cannot help recollecting that I have been challenged very openly as to the propriety of making reductions at all. Now I want to give a challenge in my turn, and I want, when this discussion is over, to know exactly what the House of Commons thinks with regard to the theory which I propound. My theory is this—that we do want a large Army for service over sea; that a large part of that Army should not be mobilised except in time of war; that we do not want a large Army for the defence of the United Kingdom in time of war. Now, if that be so, and I find myself, as I do, with a very large Army upon my hands maintained solely for the defence of the United Kingdom in time of war, I ask whether it is not the logical, obvious sequence of that state of things that I should ask leave to reduce that Army. I want to know whether that is the view the House of Commons takes, and if I am asked to reduce that Army, in what direction it ought to be reduced. Surely there can be but one of two answers—reduce the ineffective part of that Army. Is there any ineffective part? Undoubtedly there is. I am not dogmatising on this question from my own inner consciousness, but am simply citing the conclusions arrived at by a competent body, appointed ad hoc, which for eighteen months has been deliberating on this question, and that body says this—that two branches of our Army are at the present moment unfit to take the field against a foreign enemy. I ask once more for what purpose are these troops maintained, if they are not to take the field against a foreign enemy? What enemy are they going to take the 1386 field against? Are they to shoot down the people of Whitechapel? The thing is absurd; and I conceive that my duty, as I understand it, is to provide, in so far as in me lies, that the reproach shall not be repeated twelve months hence, or at any rate three years hence, that we are maintaining troops who are not fit to face a foreign enemy. I find more in this particular document.
I find it stated—what, indeed, I know—that many of these troops are physically unfit for the field. We sometimes, I think, trifle with this question of war. I think I could convince all hon. Members that, so far from being fit to face a foreign enemy, we have thousands of men, receiving money from this House, who would not be admitted to serve in a foreign army at all, who would be put in the intendance, or transport branch, out of the active ranks. That is not an exaggeration. I am sure I could prove that fact; and if that be so, is not the lesson correct that I have tried to put before the Committee—namely, that you should concentrate, and reduce your force, which is notoriously redundant and that you should increase the quality of that which You retain?
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
That is a brief way of stating the end at which I wish to arrive. I shall, no doubt, meet with some criticism from those who represent the Volunteer force. I have already made it clear, I think, what is my general view with regard to the Volunteers; but evidently there is one matter which I have not made quite clear, and that is that I do desire most earnestly to proceed in this matter, with the good will and the support of the Volunteer force itself. With that object I have already entered into consultation with some representatives of the Volunteer force. I am sanguine enough to believe that we shall eventually arrive at exactly the agreement I desire—that they will agree with me that it is in the interests of the Volunteer force, as it is in the interest of the nation, that we should consolidate the Volunteer force, make its units more 1387 efficient, and reduce its numbers. I have had a consultation on this subject with hon. Members of this House and with a great many other Volunteer officers. I hope I have persuaded them a little; I am quite sure that they have taught me much. They have convinced me, though indeed I required little convincing, that it is not desirable in the same unit to have two classes of efficients. That does not at all deter me from applying the policy which I desire to apply, or from endeavouring to secure that there shall be units which, having had an opportunity of giving to the nation better service, shall have better training and better officers than the others; and it comes rather â propos of this discussion that I should have just received from the Field-Marshal commanding at Salisbury the most valuable testimony to the excellent results of the application of this principle, which some hon. Members suppose to be a new one, but which as a matter of fact has been for some time in existence in the Volunteer force—that is to say, the principle of having two classes of efficiency, not in the same unit, but in separate units. I am confident that the correct solution of this problem is to be found in making a nucleus in the Volunteer force of men who are well trained, well officered, and accustomed to act together, and reinforced, if necessary, in time of war, by that large amount of invaluable military material which is to be found not only in the Volunteer force, but among those who have passed through the Volunteer force, and who are not able in time of peace to give that full time and attention which we desire these units should give. I repeat that I desire and intend to take counsel with the representatives of the Volunteer force, but subject to the policy which I believe is essential and to which I intend to adhere, that we must have reduction and we must have concentration. Apart from those two main principles, I attach little value to any particular application of method in order to attain those results. But I ask the co-operation of representatives of the Volunteer force, not only in this House but throughout the country, to enable me to attain that end in the interests of the force and of the Army.
I have before me an extract from a letter by an hon. Member of this House 1388 referring to another very important branch of the subject—the Militia. I thought I had made my views clear with regard to the Militia, but I have evidently not made them quite clear enough. I have in the name of His Majesty's Government given a pledge with regard to the Militia, to which, need I say, I intend to adhere. I have said that the idea never entered into my mind that any policy of mine should be directed towards the sweeping away of the Militia. That has never been my intention. It has never been in my mind. What has entered into my mind has been the adoption of measures which I honestly believe are calculated to give to the Militia an opportunity and a value such as they have never enjoyed before. But I cannot better describe my intentions than in the words of the hon. Member for Chester which I have before me. With only one sentiment I disagree. He says—The task is not a difficult one—I think if he sat at my desk he would know that the task was a difficult one: but this is the task—Make your Militia an organised territorial Army to defend you against raids and supply reserves for the Regular Army in case of national emergency, raise the whole status of the force, give the officers a recognised position.Now that, as far as I am concerned, is the whole duty of man in regard to the Militia; it is precisely the policy which I should desire to adopt with regard to the Militia. But I have given my pledge to the House, and that pledge has been repeated elsewhere, that no action shall be taken with regard to the Militia which is not consonant with the wishes of the Militia. I made that remark subject to some exceptions, and I want the Committee to understand clearly what those exceptions are. I ask the liberty now and I intend to exercise it, to cut off from the Militia all that is clearly redundant and unfit for war. There are many battalions and many batteries of the Militia which, tested by any test you may choose to apply, are unfit for war. I do not think that this Committee, whatever view it may take of any other proposal I may put forward, will desire that I should ask it, when the Estimates come round next year, to spend money on units—I 1389 do not care whether they are of the Militia, the Volunteers, or the Regulars—which are plainly, tested by any test unfit for war. And I propose and intend, and the Army Council intend, to take such steps to test the Militia and, either by combination or reduction. to eliminate those units or portions of units which are clearly unavailable for purposes of war. But with regard to the rest of the Militia they must stand as they now are, unless those who speak for them think it desirable to accept the proposal which I am prepared to make to them. As there has evidently been some misconception with regard to that proposal. I should like in a very few words to repeat it. I want to make my position clear. There are many battalions of Militia which are declining, many which are under-officered, many to which the description given by the Royal Commission is applicable. What am I to do? Am I to ask Parliament to continue to maintain those battalions ad infinitum? We have had a proposal made by the Royal Commission which, if adopted. would strike such a blow at the Militia, as they have long been constituted, that their constitution would be entirely changed in one important respect. The Commission propose that the Militia recruits, sometimes 200 or 250 men in the battalion, should be embodied for six months in the year, and that there should be, in addition to that, six weeks training for the whole battalion. What does that mean? That for seven months in the year the commanding officer, or whoever it may be who really does the work of the battalion, will have to devote his time to that battalion. I should like to take the Militia battalions and ask the Committee how many of these commanding officers are prepared to devote seven months every Year to the interests of their Militia battalion.
What I believe would save the Militia would be the frank acceptance of the recommendation of my hon. friend the Member for Chester. Hon. Members speak about improvement. As long as I am at the War Office everything I can do shall be done to improve the Militia. But this question is tainted by one inherent vice. You have this radical difficulty, that the Militia is at present the recruiting ground 1390 for the Line. The Line lives on the Militia to the extent of nearly 20,000 men a year. What will happen if you make the recruiting for the Militia more attractive than the recruiting for the Line? The moment the scale is turned in that direction, the recruiting will flow from the Line to the Militia, and you will be sacrificing the interests of the Line to form your Militia. No Secretary for War could face such a state of things as that. We must have the Line. Our difficulty is to get the Line recruits in sufficient number and quality; and if we deliberately deprive the Line of one of its principal sources of recruiting we shall be pro tanto destroying the effect of our first line of military defence. Therefore it is exceedingly difficult to improve the Militia to any great extent, even though we were to adopt, lock. stock, and barrel, all the recommendations—all the valuable recommendations—made by the Commission. It has been said to me, "Why don't You stop Militiamen passing out of the Militia into the Line?" How are you going to do it? Who is to prevent men, who, I believe, enter for that sole purpose, passing from the Militia into the Line? Who is to prevent the officers of the Militia, who go into the Militia, sometimes to the extent of 90 per cent. of the subalterns, for that sole purpose—going into the Line? You cannot solve the problem that way.
I am sanguine enough to believe that the Militia may see their way to falling in with this suggestion which my hon. friend makes. What I have in mind is this. We have 124 battalions of Militia infantry. Some of those are not destined. I think, to a long continuance. Any one who knows the condition of some of those battalions will agree with me that it is not right to ask Parliament to consent to their continued existence. Kit when we have either absorbed or eliminated the unprofitable members, there will remain a large portion of the force. It should be possible to go to many counties and say to the Militia battalions: "Would it not be in your interests to become the territorial regiment of your counts? Your officers are either desiring to go into the Line or to remain as territorial officers in their own county.' I would say to the one. "Your wish is gratified. You become officers of the 1391 Line after passing your examination." To the others I would say, "You become Reserve officers of your own battalion in your own county. All I demand from you is that you will pledge yourselves that in time of war you will go to the front with your battalion." Do you think the lot of these officers would be worse than it is now? At present for eleven months the depot is practically a deserted spot, tenanted only by a few recruits, by a Line serjeant-major and two or three officers, who are endeavouring to pass through their courses. What is the alternative I propose? That the Reserve officers of the battalion should go back and find a full battalion in possession of their own barracks in their own county, with their own comrades. I think that would be much more attractive and would be a more dignified situation for the officer than that which now exists in the case of some Militia officers.
With regard to the men, it is already proposed that the men shall serve seven months in their first year. I sly that is not enough. I am asked why. The answer is this—that I know of no army in Europe, with the exception of the Swiss Army, which has yet been put upon a training of six months as adequate. We are not taking the pick and flower of our country; we are taking the class of men who go into the Line, who go into the Militia—and we must remember that fact in all its bearings. I can find no military authority who will tell me that we shall be wise in contenting ourselves with a six months training, much less the one month's training we now get, in order to enable the Army so trained to take the field against a foreign enemy. The officers and men serving are entitled to have their interests considered, but I ask the men who enlist in the future to give two years service in the battalion and six years in the Reserve. We should give them better terms than they now enjoy. We should give them a more attractive form of service, but we should demand in return that in time of war we should not only have their services with the field army as a matter of grace, but as a matter of certainty. During the autumn, as I have promised, we will consider these matters, and we will do what we can to 1392 ascertain what is the true view of the officers and men of the Militia. I should, however, like to say this, that if it be necessary to eliminate the Militia altogether from the organisation and constitution of the foreign-going army we shall not be divested of the duty of making such an army; and I tell the Committee plainly that the Army Council does not propose to pretend that the Militia force as at present organised is capable of taking the place of Regular troops. We shall have to create in these counties these territorial battalions, and until we have created them we shall not be able to effect the reduction in the existing Line battalions which I hope we ultimately may be able to effect. We must have the cadres for the Army in time of war, and if it should be considered necessary by Parliament to maintain the Militia, it must be maintained in addition to what the Army Council and the Government consider necessary as the striking force of the Army oversea.
I should like to say one word with regard to that branch of the Army, the Regular Army, in regard to which I have received far the least criticism and far the largest amount of support. I believe that in the proposals I have had the honour of laying before the Committee I have suggested many things which every officer in the Army has for many years been desiring. I believe I have suggested means by which our subaltern officers and our captains will be able to exhibit true interest in their profession. I believe I shall have given to the Commander of our Army in time of war a force ready at the first call such as he has never yet had. I believe we shall be able to put the cavalry on a better basis even than that on which it now stands. I will not enumerate the whole category, but I believe that what we desire to do, and what I trust the Committee is ready and anxious that we should do, is entirely in consonance with the view of officers and men of the regular army.
I have never concealed from myself the fact that the great difficulty which will beset me during whatever tenure of office I may hold, and which will beset my successor after me, will be the difficulty of recruiting. We are asking for fewer 1393 recruits, and we are giving better conditions; but that recruiting difficulty will always remain. I have never held any opinion but one as to the true way to overcome that difficulty. My way is to make the lot of the soldier a more attractive one, not in the matter of pay—that is not so important, the pay now offered being exceedingly good—but in the way of prospects when he leaves the service, and in the way of the amenities of life whilst he is in the service. The time will come when whoever is standing in my place will ask the House of Commons to sanction some expenditure—and I do not think it need be a large expenditure—for the purpose of improving our barrack accommodation.
I face the criticisms on the Regular Army with equanimity. It has been suggested to me that we are not supplying an adequate army. I have proposed a reduction—I do not deny that; but you cannot reduce the Army without reducing the number of men in the Army. That, after all, is the position in which we stand. We say we do not require the number of men, and, therefore, if you take out all my figures, if you sum up all my arithmetic, you will find out that we shall have fewer armed men in the country when we have done than we had when we began. But as regards the Regular Army we hope to arrive at a conclusion which will not make it weaker, but will make it stronger for the purposes to which we desire to apply our Army. I challenge any hon. Member who has ever been in the service, or any officer now serving, to tell me whether, in his experience, he has known a time when an officer commanding a British army has been in the fortunate circumstances in which I desire to place him. For the first time, if we are allowed to pursue our proposals, we shall have 185 battalions of Regular infantry, or, roughly speaking, 180,000 men on mobilisation, with a large Reserve. We shall have 104 battalions out of he 185 which in peace time will not all be mobilised, but which will all be composed of fighting soldiers, and all, even without mobilisation, with the addition of the small number which must be added to a few of these battalions to bring them up to the nominal establishment known as war strength, will be capable of taking 1394 the field. I ask any one who knows the condition at the present moment of our infantry battalions whether that is the position in which we now stand. I hope also that we shall be able to give to the generals charged with the command of our troops in war the immediate call on a really mobilised force of some 15,000 or 16,000 men, without calling on a single reservist. We shall, we hope, be able to put the cavalry on a basis which will make it an even more manageable and more effective force than it is now. It has been suggested that we have been proceeding at haphazard in this matter, and I see that some great authority has said that we had made no endeavour to discover what the Army is for or what it ought to contain. I have said over and over again that I do not believe the last word has been said on this subject; I do not believe it ever will be said. I have always maintained that we do not know what the ultimate figure of the British Army may have to be; but we are working now on a known basis. We have at present in India fifty-two battalions of infantry. I do not speak of other arms because it introduces complications without helping the solution of the problem. These fifty - two battalions are actually mobilised up to full strength. We have in the Colonies thirty-seven battalions of infantry, including five garrison battalions, and we have the remainder of the Line battalions at home. We look forward to the time, and I think not without reason, when the number of infantry battalions in the Colonies may be reduced by eleven. I fully admit that, until you can reduce them by that number, the figures I give must be to that extent uncertain and problematical. That is the ideal before us.
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
No, no, including South Africa. That is the figure we desire to work to. It is not a cast-iron figure, but it will fit in well with the proposal we have brought forward to have a smaller number of general-service battalions at home. That will give us fifty-two general - service battalions in India and the same 1395 number either in the Colonies or at home. Now, Sir, what would happen in the event of war? I am not going to discuss all the possibilities of wars in which we might be engaged, but I will take one possible, though I hope not probable, instance. I take a case against which we are bound to prepare, the case of a war in India. We have now some indication as to what infantry force is likely to be required for the reinforcement of the Army in India. The figure runs to 70,000 men, including the fifty-two battalions. We should send these fifty-two battalions, and when we have sent them we should have remaining in this country fifty-five battalions with a very considerable number of reservists still to be mobilised. When I speak of fifty-five battalions remaining at home I should like to steer carefully between the Scylla and Charybdis of those who think this number too great and those who think it too small. The fifty - five battalions may be mobilised or may not. If you take them unmobilised there would be 500 men to a battalion. If mobilised there would be 980 to 1,000 men to a battalion, and it lies with you entirely whether you call up from the Reserve the unmobilised reservists of these fifty-five battalions. In addition to this force of 70,000 or 80,000 infantry at home—and of course I have made allowances for all sick and casualties—you will have a force of 180,000 Volunteers. What I want to ask is whether the Committee think that is enough, or too much, or the right number. We believe it is a reasonable answer to the demands likely to be made upon us, and that is the answer we have adopted.
We have framed our estimates for the number of units we wish to establish on what we believe to be the probable demands that may be made upon us, with some regard for our power of fulfilling those demands. I want to go away after this debate is over with the feeling that, though there are, and must be, those who criticise what they believe to be the methods of the Army Council in carrying out and adapting these principles to the Army, at any rate there is no large measure of disagreement on the main lines of our policy. The carrying out of details is, after all, a matter for those 1396 charged with the administration of the Army, and I should be very loth, even if I were at present in a position to do so, to discuss them in this House. We must deal incidentally with a great many individuals, and all those matters are difficult and unpleasant very often, involving much consideration; but they do seem to me to come distinctly and clearly within the province of those charged with the administration of the Army, and as long as you have trust in those who administer the Army you may fairly leave those matters in their hands. What I hope the Committee will direct its attention to is the general principles we desire to adopt.
§ *LORD GEORGE HAMILTON (Middlesex, Ealing)
desired to call attention to the position of India in the scheme of his right hon. friend. The Committee would recollect that two years ago his right hon. friend the present Secretary of State for India brought in a scheme of Army reform which entailed an extra charge of £2,000,000 a year on the revenues of England and India. That scheme was much criticised, and was defended with great ability by his right hon. friend the Prime Minister and others, and in the forefront of the defence of that scheme they put the case of India, who was to pay £840,000 towards the scheme. It was the requirements of India which called for the creation of the vast Reserve at home. He was in rather a peculiar position at that time because, although he was a member of the Cabinet and responsible with the Cabinet for all these changes, he was then Secretary of State for India, and he had to formulate the objections of the Council of the Secretary of State and of the Government of India against the extra charge put on India. Eventually an arbitration took place. The justification of the extra charge was the creation of a great Reserve. It no doubt had an effect on the mind of the arbitrator, and he gave his decision against the Government of India. Now his right hon. friend the Secretary for War made an enormous reduction in the Reserve. It was well known that the number of reinforcements which in a certain emergency was required by the Indian Government was 100,000 men, and in the debate on the proposals of 1397 the present Secretary for India 120,000 was mentioned as the force which under the system of reserve about to be created would be capable of being sent to India.
His right hon. friend the Secretary for War said that in the proposals he had laid before the House he had the authority of his colleagues. In describing his scheme in the Paper recently published he desired to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the fact that he stated that he left all his proposals in connection with the Militia in abeyance. If they were in abeyance, he did not think it fair to include them amongst those which the House was now considering. In the recently published statement there was included for the first time the formation of the thirty-three home-service battalions, but the creation of these battalions was dependent upon the abolition of the Militia. ["No."] Had the right hon. Gentleman the authority of the Government for including these thirty-three battalions in his scheme? He gathered that the right hon. Gentleman had not. But the result was that he was able to add some 17,000 men to the colours and 30,000 men to the Reserve. Assuming that the Militia was abolished, the thirty-three new regiments which it was proposed to create would not be in the same position as the other regiments of the Regular Army. Hitherto the men of the Regular Army always had the Militia behind them to take their place if they went abroad. But these thirty-three battalions which were to replace the Militia would be tethered to these islands. Apart from them, were there anything like 100,000 or 120,000 men available for India in an emergency? He identified himself with the language used by the Prime Minister in connection with an invasion of India. He had never taken a pessimistic view of the danger. The possibility of an invasion of India was to a large extent a question of organisation, of commissariat, and transport. It was a gigantic task and would strain the military resources of any country. But it was within the bounds of practical politics, and no Government would be justified in bringing forward any complete scheme of Army reform which did not take cognisance of the contingency.
1398 The Secretary for War was sanguine that he would be able to reduce the number of battalions quartered in the Colonies and abroad. He had never vet heard a Secretary for War who had not always been sanguine of being able to reduce the number of those troops. But they were living in an age of Imperial expansion, and Imperial expansion and the reduction of white troops abroad were two incompatible policies. If we were going to increase the area of our Protectorates, it would not be safe to entrust their protection entirely to coloured races officered by British men, especially if these races were homogeneous either in their nationality or in their religion. As the number of those troops increased it was absolutely essential that they should be strengthened and stiffened by a sprinkling of white men. Assuming the same number of battalions were abroad hereafter as now, what was the force which the Secretary for War under his scheme could send to India. He had calculated on a Reserve of 20,000 men from the long-service battalions. That was much too high an estimate, because it was calculated that no less than 6,000 of these men would be non-commissioned officers in the home regiments. He was sure there would not be more than 15,000 men available from the long-service Reserve. The reserve connected with the forty home battalions would number 35,000, so that the right hon. Gentleman had only 50,000 men to meet a minimum demand of 100,000 and a possible demand of 120,000 men. The country would be swept absolutely clean of every single soldier with over two years service; and the home battalions would be deprived of most of their officers and non-commissioned officers, who would have gone with the Reserve. Therefore, this proposal made a fundamental change in the dimensions of the Reserve, for which India had to pay; and he did not think it ought to be considered by the House until they had the opinions of Lord Kitchener, Lord Curzon, and the Secretary of State for India upon it. While he was at the India Office he used all his influence in cutting down the Indian garrison to the lowest possible dimensions. It could not be reduced; some people thought it was too low. But so long as they had a vast Reserve at home 1399 they might keep their garrison down, and in proportion as they reduced the Reserve they must increase the Army in India.
The Secretary for War proposed to separate the Army into two divisions, one with long service and the other with short service. The home battalions were to be cut out of all expeditions and military enterprises, and out of all the attractions and reward attaching to them. They were to be kept at the interminable drudgery of drilling recruits. Could any one believe that in these circumstances the two branches of the service would remain on an equality? The ability, the intelligence, the enterprise of the Army must gravitate into the foreign service. The result would be that the brains of the army would be abroad, and perhaps the reverse, to a considerable extent, at home. In India at the present moment there were two sets of British officers side by side. The pay of the officers with the native Army was higher than the pay of the officers with the British Army, because the former were subject to continuous service in India, and, therefore, liable to all the evils and dangers of a tropical climate. But if they converted a certain proportion of the British Army into what was practically an Indian Army it would be impossible to deny the officers the same pay as was given to the officers of the native Army. He did not say these objections were insuperable, but they were objections on which the opinions of military men, and military men alone, were valuable, and the Secretary of State's doubt about the scheme was that there was practically nothing behind it but his own ipse dixit.
There was one part of his right hon. friend's scheme to which he listened with great satisfaction. His scheme was based on the assumption that the Navy was able to protect this country from sudden invasion. He entirely agreed with that theory; but if they were going to reorganise the Army on that theory they must go further. The Fleet might protect the country against invasion, provided its base of operations was adequately protected. At present the defence of all the great naval fortresses was under the Army. Now, just think 1400 of what occurred in the present great war between Japan and Russia. The Japanese, taking advantage of the insufficient defence of Port Arthur, went in and attacked the Russian fleet at anchor. They so disabled that fleet that they got command of the sea, and the whole of their extraordinary successes were due to the disablement of the Russian fleet. There was not a country in Europe which trusted the protection of its naval base to the Army. No man could man the forts who did not understand the movement of troops and the handling of guns, and there was only one body of men who combined this knowledge, and these were the Marines. He hoped his right hon. friend would give his energies and attention to this matter. All that was required was to transfer a certain proportion of the Garrison Artillery into Marine Artillery, and put them under the Admiralty, and to convert the Militia and Auxiliary Forces in the neighbourhood of Portsmouth, Chatham, and Devonport into Marines.
He thought the Government were entitled to the greatest credit for having swept away the absolutely impossible system of military administration which had so long prevailed at the War Office. He had had twenty years experience of the Admiralty and the India Office, the two Departments which transacted most business with the War Office, and he was not only expressing his own views, but those of almost every naval man and every Indian administrator and soldier with whom he had co-operated, when he said that the system was absolutely unworkable. The secret of the comparative success of Admiralty administration could be stated in a sentence. The Admiralty had the good sense 200 years ago to get rid of the Lord High Admiral, and decentralise his duties, whereas the War Office had the misfortune 100 years ago to create a Commander-in-Chief. No man could adequately discharge his duties either at the Admiralty or at the War Office if he had not access to the innermost mind of his military and naval advisers; and so long as the military men at the War Office were under the Commander-in-Chief, no Secretary of State could get the military men, such was 1401 their sense of discipline, to state opinions which were not in accord with those of the Commander-in-Chief.
He entirely agreed as to the necessity for a Defence Committee; but the composition of this Committee was such, with one member the Prime Minister, and the appointment on it of Sir G. Clarke, who had strong views of his own, that it would fundamentally alter the functions of the Committee and determinedly affect the status both of the Secretary of State and the First Lord of the Admiralty. The scheme would work well enough under the present Prime Minister, but what would have been the position of the First Lord of the Admiralty or the Secretary of State for War with a man of the vigour and personality of Mr. Gladstone as head of the Defence Committee? In any case strong views of retrenchment and economy were likely to influence the next Prime Minister more than the present one. They ought to try and ensure continuity of policy, and they could only do that by spending much the same amounts and continuing establishments on much the same scale. He would suggest to the Prime Minister the desirability of drawing up rules more clearly defining what were the proper functions of the Defence Committee, and what they were not to do. At present they were told it was to be an advisory Committee. Lord Esher's Committee was to be an advisory Committee, but he had never read a more mandatory Report than that they gave.
To the Secretary of State for War he would suggest that he might do well to hold his hand a little. Many of his ideas were excellent, but he was about to embark on a scheme which if it failed would work great disaster to the country. The other day he informed the House that only 12 per cent. of the recruits under his right hon. friend's scheme had volunteered for long service, and yet he calculated that 43 per cent. of the recruits hereafter would volunteer for long service. What authority had he for the anticipation, and what inducement could he offer to the soldier to make up the astonishing difference? It seemed to him that the deterrents to undertake long service more than balanced the inducements. He suggested to his right hon. friend that in the interval 1402 afforded by the recess he should take the advice of the most competent men he could consult in respect of his scheme. At present there was nothing but the right hon. Gentleman's own statement; and the Committee must remember that all these propositions submitted now were the reverse of what every Secretary of State for the last thirty years had laid down. Every other Secretary of State, however, had been able to claim the support of his military advisers for his proposals; and if the right hon. Gentleman could get persons of authority to support his views and to say that what were now paper theories were capable of realisation, that they would reduce expenditure and improve the Army, that they would weld into a harmonious whole all the defensive and offensive forces of the Empire, then he would be able to overcome the opposition in the House and out of it. If he could not do that, then it would not be unreasonable to expect the House to agree to a crude series of proposals which if they failed would involve the Army in serious disorganisation.
§ *SIR A. HAYTER (Walsall)
said he was satisfied that hon. Members on both sides of the House interested in Army matters would congratulate the Secretary of State for War on obtaining another day for the discussion of the Army Estimates, because he felt that the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman needed further explanation. He rejoiced that the right hon. Gentleman had been able to reduce fourteen battalions of the Line and five battalions of the garrison regiments, but there were other directions in which a saving might be made of from £500,000 to £750,000. As to the Reserve, he thought it would be admitted that this was not a very fortunate time for making any alteration in the position of the Reserve. It would be remembered that a most excellent example had been shown in the South African War by the way in which the Reserve men joined the colours in ten days, afterwards shortened to a week, and were on board ship in fourteen days, the ships not being ready before. The position of the Reserve was now going to be altered, costing the country more money. He wished to associate himself with every speaker in another place in saying that 1403 whether this new scheme was good or bad it was not possible to get the number of recruits required on the terms proposed. He contended that nine years service must count for pension. When General Peel introduced the service for ten and eleven years the first period counted for pension at the end of twenty-one years. They were cutting a man off from civil life between nineteen and twenty-eight years, and they gave him three years with Reserve pay instead of nine. A contrast hid been drawn between the number of men who earned their pension in 1886 and 1896. He could assure the Committee that in the former period it would be found that the number of corporals was double and the number of privates triple who went in for pension, compared with the latter. There was no provision made by the right hon. Gentleman for future employment, except for the non-commissioned officers, and even these would find some of their places filled up from the home-service battalions. Two years for the home Army were too short a period for discipline, and he pointed to the success of the three years system in the Guards.
He offered to the right hon. Gentleman the suggestion of some reductions which might be affected that had not vet been mentioned. Might he ask the attention of the Committee to the position of the Guards. A few years ago the Guards were increased by the number of three battalions to balance the linked battalion system, and by taking upon themselves some of the duties of the Mediterranean garrison. The result of that increase was to add one battalion to the Coldstreams, one to the Scots Guards, and one to the Irish Guards. But what was the use of keeping up the establishment of the Guards beyond what it was in the past when the Mediterranean service was given up? What he suggested to the right hon. Gentleman was that, although as a matter of sympathy it would be undesirable to disestablish the Irish Guards, he ought to reduce the strength of the Coldstreams and the Scots Guards to what it was before the Mediterranean garrisons were established. If that were done there would be a saving of £131,000. That was a very considerable item. He could speak from experience. He was 1404 ten years in the Guards himself, and he knew that their duties were not increased; and at any rate, the reduced battalions could perform all the duties demanded of them.
Well, then, they came to the larger question—to the proposal which, he understood, was before the Cabinet but not before the Committee, and which, he thought the Committee would agree, was absolutely just. The cost of the garrison in Egypt was £500,000, and of that Egypt paid only £37,000. India paid for a garrison of 230,000 men. Why should we not in justice to our Indian fellow subjects ask Egypt to pay for the garrison which she enjoyed? Look at the condition of the Egyptian finances. Egypt had a surplus which was recorded by Lord Cromer in his last Report in the following terms—For many years it was the practice to frame the Revenue Estimates of the Egyptian Government with the greatest caution. By the end of the year 1901 it was thought sufficient proof had been obtained to show that the growth of revenue which had characterised previous years was not due to any temporary or accidental causes, and that a farther increase could be confidently anticipated in the future. The experience gained in the last two years, as also the present indications of the growing prosperity of the country, fully justified the belief that the revenue would rise.Now, the actual figures of the revenue for Egypt were for 1903 £12,464,000 and the expenditure was £11,720,000, leaving a surplus of £744,000. From that surplus he maintained that Egypt ought to pay for her garrison; and he was at a loss to understand why the proposals had never been made. There was another reduction which he would suggest. He did not think that the Committee could be aware of the enormous increase which had taken place in the Yeomanry Vote. The original Vote before the War was for 10,000 men for actual service, and their cost was £78,000. Now, on the present Estimates the Vote was for 27,054 men at an estimated cost of £468,000. Therefore expenditure on the Yeomanry had increased more than five times, whereas its strength had not increased three times. He thought the Secretary of State ought to look in the direction of mounted infantry or elsewhere in order to effect a reduction in the expenditure. Then there should be a reduction in the 1405 garrison in South Africa. He thought his right hon. friend the Member for the Forest of Dean would agree that it was perfectly ridiculous to keep up a garrison of 21,000 men in order to discharge police duties in South Africa. They should not allow the Transvaal or the Orange River Colony to let down their police force to 5,000 men, in order that this country might pay for soldiers to discharge police duty, which was always a very unpopular service. In his opinion, the garrison in South Africa should be reduced to 12,000 men; certainly, it ought to be reduced far below 21,000 men. Then there was the question of the reserve of stores. Surely, the stores ought to be reviewed from time to time. With a decreased force they could not possibly want the reserve of clothing, ammunition, and other stores which had been provided.
He had listened with very great interest to what the right hon. Gentleman had said about the Militia. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not carry out his scheme in its entirety; but he did hope he would ask the advice of Militia officers and accept it bona fide with a view to making the Militia an active force and mending rather than ending it. The Militia gave 14,000 men to the Line from their reserve, 2,000 officers and 40,000 recruits to the Line, and they sent into the field 1,691 officers and 43,875 rank and file. The men who went out did not want drafts of mature men to strengthen them; they went out as they stood on parade, although there was absolutely no obligation upon any of them. That was very creditable to the Militia; and he did not think that the right hon. Gentleman need be afraid. if war came, that the Militia would not be able to fulfil their duties. The reasons for the decadence of the Force were obvious. The Duke of Norfolk's Commission reported as follows—The training place of the Militia, for certainly two years out of every three, ought to be within its recruiting area. Training away from home is almost as certain, though out so rapid in its depleting effects, as an ill-chosen time of the year, with this additional disadvantage, that it is almost certain to lower the class of both officers and men who enter the Militia battalions. To the officer or private of no fixed residence it does not make much difference where the training takes place. Not so the gentleman of good local position who likes to entertain his friends, 1406 and induces them to apply for commissions for their sons. The non-commissioned officers and men like to walk out with their friends, and be seen at drill and recreation. This keeps up a military spirit, and is invaluable for recruiting purposes.He cordially endorsed that opinion. He could not understand why the commanding officer of a Militia regiment could not appoint, promote, ort ransfer a sergeant in the permanent staff, and why he should not be allowed to select his adjutant and quartermaster. The Duke of Connaught said that the officer commanding a Militia battalion ought always to command, and have a general supervision of his regiment, whereas he was now allowed into barracks out of training once to inspect his recruits. Then sergeants at the depot were allowed to make 2s. 6d. out of recruits passing from the Militia to the Line. That should not be. He saw great possibilities in the Militia; and he hoped it would be rendered a thoroughly good and effective force.
There were one or two points in the Report of the sacred Esher Commission which appeared to call or comment. This was to be a scheme of decentralisation; yet the Adjutant-General had all the duties of Commander-in-Chief except inspection. Instead of that, he had to look after recruiting, the Auxiliary Forces, the medical services, and the Judge Advocate-General and military law. It would be impossible for the Adjutant-General to discharge all these duties. He was perfectly certain that unless the Auxiliary Forces had a representative of their own at the War Office the Regular Army would be regarded as the first consideration. Then the Quartermaster-General had all the arrangements connected with the supply and issue of arms and equipment and stores to the troops, as well as the administration and distribution of the Army Ordnance department. The Master-General of Ordnance had to settle reserves of arms of all kinds, and also provide for the inspection of guns, small arms and ammunition. One officer appeared to supply arms and another to issue them. The Adjutant-General had control of education and supervised all the military colleges and schools in the Kingdom, whilst the First Military Member had to supervise the appointment of the higher staff of the Staff College and the Cadet Colleges as well as instruction at the examinations for 1407 the Staff College and the Cadet Colleges. With regard to the Inspector-General of the forces, the position could not be better filled than it was at present; but he should like to know what duties would in future be performed by this General officer beyond those performed by the Generals Commanding-in-Chief. The soldier would be inspected by the Inspector-General, drilled by the Generals Commanding-in-Chief; administered by the District Major-General; and paid by the Brigade Colonel. He would impress on the right hon. Gentleman very seriously to consider a very much greater reduction. The right hon. Gentleman could save £413,000 in Egypt, and if he reduced the Guards to what they were in the past, he would save £131,000. A further reduction of £200,000 could be effected in the Auxiliary Forces.
§ SIR CARNE RASCH (Essex, Chelmsford)
said he had heard many War Office schemes propounded at various times since 1876; but he was bound to state that he had never heard one which had given him greater satisfaction, one that promised greater efficiency and economy, or was more in accordance with common sense and the requirements of the country, than the scheme of the present Secretary of State for War. For twenty years the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean had been proposing a long-service Army for the tropics and a short-service Army at home; but his proposal had up to now fallen on arid ground. They could not have a long-service Army abroad and at home. The squeezed lemon idea was now exploded. It was not good business to send men to India with only twelve months to serve, and then to have to bring them back at the expiration of that period. With regard to the proposed reduction, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Oldham had said that we wanted a smaller and cheaper Army, and the hon. Gentleman was right. We could not have the largest Fleet in the world and at the same time the most expensive Army. This reduction was absolutely necessary. As to the fourteen battalions of the Line which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to wip out, they were not regiments which had 200 years of splendid history behind them; they were only regiments 1408 raised quite recently, and no harm would be done by their suppression. The garrison battalions were the apostolic successors of these regiments. They were the most expensive regiments he had ever heard of. Everybody knew the way in which they were raised; they could not march twenty miles; they measured more round the waist than round the chest; they cost the country a great deal of money, and he was glad to see that they were to be reduced.
With regard to the Militia everybody knew very well that the Militia had a great deal of influence outside the House and in another place. He would rather see the Militia amended than ended, but he did not see how that could be done. What could they do with a force 50 per cent. below strength, which had no officers, no transport, and no guns? As to the Volunteers, everybody knew that 20 per cent. were inefficient, and were only kept upon the roll in order to get the grant. The right hon. Gentleman had not alluded to-day to compulsory service; he had alluded to it six weeks previously, and he (Sir Carne Rasch), was glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman was going to drop it; not that he had any respect for those young gentlemen all through the country, who did not play polo because it was too dangerous, and football because it was too rough, and who did nothing but play lawn tennis and keep tame rabbits: who did not join the Militia or the Yeomanry, but skulked behind the Volunteers. He would like to see the noses of those young men put to the grindstone. He was glad we were to have a striking force of 16,000 men at Aldershot. If there had been such a force at Aldershot in 1899, instead of the sham Army Corps, we should not have had the things that occurred in Natal and Ladysmith. The opinions of the War Office were perhaps a little pessimistic, but he suggested that the right hon. Gentleman should stick to his guns and carry out his scheme in its entirety.
§ MR. WINSTON CHURCHILL (Oldham)
thought that whatever opinions might be entertained in the Committee on the relative scheme of the Secretary of State for War and its effect upon the Volunteers and the Army, there were 1409 two things which would command respect and agreement. In the first place, the Secretary of State added to the knowledge of the Department profound and comprehensive knowledge of his own upon a subject to which he had given long years of study. In the second place, in the suggestions which he had made he had considered, not his own view or that of his Party, but the best interests of the country. The right hon. Gentleman had dealt with the question in a spirit of candour and openness and great courtesy. The attitude of mind in which the right hon. Gentleman had approached his great task was one that had won for his proposals, as far as possible, unprejudiced consideration, so that they would not be affected in their consideration by the House by the recollection of other proposals on the same subject that had been made in years gone by. It was quite true that there was a formidable indictrnent to be promulgated against the military policy of the last five or six years, and he looked forward to a more appropriate opportunity of arguing the indictment both here and elsewhere. He did not think that it would be appropriate to go into the subject that afternoon, nor was it necessary, because the right hon. Gentleman had expressed his opinion very clearly and frankly upon the results produced on the Army during the last six or seven years. He would give a history of what had been done during that period: first, there was the Order in Council in 1895; then the increase in 1898 by Lord Lansdowne; then the war increase by Lord Lansdowne in 1895–1900, made, no doubt, very properly under the stress of the war; then the Army Corps scheme introduced in 1901 by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for India; then came the change of pay and of service in 1902, and then in 1903 we had the Council of National Defence. That brought him down to the Esher Report and the far-reaching revolutionary scheme of the War Office. All these schemes varied in their character but had one feature in common. All of them had been accompanied by a steady increase in the Army Estimates. Throughout the whole of this period the power of the Government over the Army had been made 1410 absolute. Whatever demands had been made by them had been ratified, and no grant of money had been denied. The changes they had effected had been continual, and this was what the present Secretary of State for War thought fit to say with regard to the results achieved. The right hon. Gentleman, speaking on behalf of his colleagues in the Cabinet, and with the authority of the Army Council, said that the Army upon which this expenditure had been lavished, and upon which these reforms had been made, was an Army the conditions of which were unsatisfactory and which was not sufficiently organised; that the artillery of our Army was inferior to the artillery of any other civilised army in the world, and that it was an Army which, besides being imperfectly prepared, wasteful in its methods, and unsatisfactory in its results, was one of the most unsatisfactory that was ever designed. There was no one who could possibly add to such a statement. He thought the Secretary of State erred a little on the side of severity when he described the British Army in those terms. It was important to have the measured opinion of the Secretary for War, not expressed in the hurry of the moment, but set forth in a cool official Memorandum on the work of Army reform for a long past time.
The immediate proposals of the right hon. Gentleman divided themselves into two parts—those affecting the Regular Army, and those affecting the citizen Army. As to the Regular Army, the reductions proposed were not so large as some had hoped, but they were very considerable. The first five items on the White Paper which had been supplied, aggregated, according to his calculation, a reduction of 36,000 men, excluding any reduction that might be made in the artillery and also in the land forces due to the transfer from the Army List to the Navy List of that branch of the service known as aquatics. He understood from the ex-Secretary for India that the formation of thirty-three home - service battalions was contingent upon the general acceptance of the proposals regarding the Militia, and therefore he left that item out of calculation. If that were so, they could see that the financial results of the reduction were somewhat disappointing. In the last five or six years they had 1411 added 53,000 men to the Regular Army and added to the cost something over £10,000,000. They now took off 36,000 men and reduced the expenditure only by £2,000,000 or £2,500,000 a year. If this were true it was quite clear that the Secretary of State for War was right when he suggested to the Committee that the financial side of the question had not yet reached its final form. He held very strongly that the Committee ought to welcome the reduction in men and money which was now proposed. He believed that these proposals were a brave and honest attempt to control the rapidly increasing cost of the Army. They should congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon the abandonment altogether of the Army Corps scheme. The Secretary of State said he abandoned it because he wished to make the words "Army Corps" harmonise with the ordinary significance of the term. But the objection had not been of a purely terminological character; the right hon. Gentleman must not suppose that it was a mere quibbling with words. It was the object of the ex-Secretary for War to make six real Army Corps; three of them were to be thoroughly equipped with all the requirements of an Army Corps. That scheme was objected to because it was not the best way of arranging for troops who would in all probability have to serve over-sea; and it was contended that the divisional organisation wohld be much better. It was also objected that the Army Corps system embodied in a permanent form all the great expansion which had been thought right, and probably was right, during the emergencies and emotions of the South African War. He would urge the Committee to welcome, at any rate in principle, the reductions which the right hon. Gentleman proposed. It was a matter of immense importance, having regard to the general political situation of the country, that a Conservative Secretary of State for War should stand up and give expression to such sentiments. He believed that those who in future had to deal with the Army problem would be very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the statements he had made, and that in that way he would have rendered real service to the cause of retrenchment.
1412 If the Committee gave general support to the principle of reduction it was obvious that they should give sympathetic consideration to the right hon. Gentleman's methods. The objections which had been urged against the linked-battalion system might have led to misunderstandings. The cliticisms had been well directed in part, but they were not well directed so far as they referred to the aspect of the system which concerned the feeding of battalions abroad by drafts trained in battalions at home. The officers did not like the system, but that did not prove it was a bad system. It was a matter on which military officers were not impartial. Parliament had to consider not what was most congenial to the officers, but what was cheapest and most efficient for the public service. From that point of view he would be sorry to commit himself to the statement that the method of feeding the battalion abroad by drafts of men trained in the battalion at home was an unsatisfactory method of carrying on the Army. But what the criticism had always been properly directed against was the theory that it was necessary to have one battalion at home for every battalion abroad. The equipoise of battalions was not necessary and ought to be abandoned. The true economy of the linked-battalion system doubtless reached its perfect development when there was an equipoise of battalions, and that fact enhanced the wisdom of Lord Cardwell's arrangement at the time it was made, because the number of battalions we then required to keep abroad did not largely exceed the number of battalions which for a quite different set of circumstances we thought it convenient to keep at home. But as the Empire had extended its responsibilities the absurdity of creating a new battalion at home for every battalion added aboard became patent to all, and that had raised a body of criticism which had perhaps led the right hon. Gentleman to believe that the system was more generally distrusted and disliked than was actually the case. So long as the axiom was admitted that for every battalion abroad there must be a battalion at home, the advocates of Army increase had an irresistible lever for enlarging the number of battalions in the Army, and it was against this theory rather than 1413 against the use of linked battalions for drafts that the advocates of Army reduction had principally protested. He welcomed the present scheme because it disposed once and for all of the theory that a counterpoise of battalions was necessary for reliefs, inasmuch as the right hon. Gentleman proposed to maintain the circulation of the Army by a system which would keep four battalions abroad for every one at home.
§ MR. WINSTON CHURCHILL
said that that was at any rate an admission that it was not necessary to maintain an equipoise between the battalions abroad and the battalions at home. As to the substitution of a dual Army for the linked-battalion system, the change was so vast that it was almost impossible to pronounce at once a definite opinion of any value. No one would deny that the old system whereby recruits joined, and Reservists when called up, rejoined, not a depôt, but a real live marching regiment, the system whereby the battalion at home and the battalion abroad reciprocally nourished each other, the battalion at home sending out young soldiers to refresh the battalion abroad, and the battalion abroad sending home seasoned Reservists to sustain in the hour of need the battalion at home—like the tree whose leaves fall back every year to fertilise the soil from which it draws its strength—the system was so complete and compendious as regarded its influence upon recruiting, mobilisation, and the general economy of the Army, that to abandon it now constituted the most supreme and irrevocable departure in military policy that had been proposed from the Treasury Bench since the abolition of purchase forty years ago. He did not contend that the linked-battalion system was the only, or the best system for drafts or for relief, but it was a very good system, even with the counterpoise, and it was impossible for the Committee to decide whether or not the proposals now made were an improvement upon the old method. When he said "improvement," he meant whether these proposals would in fact produce in the hour of need a greater 1414 development of force in proportion to the money spent, and that was a question which could not be answered without great detailed calculation and an amount of technical knowledge which the Committee could not pretend to possess. Military men had come to the conclusion that the battalions under the new system of mobilisation would be in every respect inferior in fighting value to the battalions produced in 1897 under the old system, which cost at least £10,000,000 less than the system now proposed. He did not desire to throw obstacles in the way of the right hon. Gentleman. They could not forecast the results of the departure proposed, and their judgment must therefore be suspended until they saw the results. The Committee did not desire to impede or discourage the right hon. Gentleman, they were grateful to him for the spirit he had shown. If, however, the Committee tacitly acquiesced in the changes now proposed, he hoped they would not be told at some future time. when perhaps the scheme had failed, that they had agreed to the scheme, and that they would therefore be inconsistent if they pointed out the defects and the directions in which it had failed. Quite apart from the merits of the scheme, which he admitted, he did not feel himself competent to form an opinion.
Was the new scheme practicable? Would 12,000 men of nineteen years of ago enlist each year for nine years colour service, the overwhelming proportion of which must certainly be served in the East? That was the vital and cardinal question before them. A collateral advantage of the old system was that foreign service was mixed up with home service. A man joined the Army and took the rough and the smooth service in England or in the East, but it never presented itself to the recruit when he signed the paper that he condemned himself to six or seven years of certain exile in the East. Would the recruit be tempted by anything which the right hon. Gentleman could offer him to take that solemn step? He felt the greatest doubt and anxiety on that point. Would sixpence a day make the difference to the man who had the choice of shipping himself off to the East for five or six years when he could serve for two years in his own country and after that have six years in the Reserve 1415 with pay in civil life? The right hon. Gentleman, no doubt, believed that he would get the 12,000 men each year, but he doubted it. If the right hon. Gentleman happened to be wrong over this matter a disaster would be inflicted upon our Army and the catastrophe both with regard to efficiency and economy would be far-reaching and permanent. The Army was not an inanimate substance, it was a living thing. Regiments were not like houses; they could not be pulled down and altered structurally to suit the convenience of the occupier and the caprice of the owner. They were more like plants; they grew slowly if they were to grow strong; they were easily affected by conditions of temperature or soil; and if they were blighted or transplanted they were apt to wither, and then they could only be revived by copious floods of public money. That was true with I regard to any Army, and it was still more true with regard to a voluntary army. How much more must it therefore be true of the units which composed the Volunteer citizen Army.
In the reduction the right hon. Gentleman proposed in the Volunteers and Militia, he could not follow him at all. Those who had made the defence of the soil the principal plank of their military platform were bound to resist the proposal to reduce the Auxiliary Forces and to intercept the supply of men by which they had been sustained. He did not wish to say anything against Royal Commissions, but he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not pay too much attention to the Report of the Commission on Army Reform. That Commission accumulated evidence to sustain a proposal in favour of conscription. Nobody had more effectively demolished the conclusions of that Commission than the right hon. Gentleman, for he had held them up to ridicule and had shown that their conclusions in regard to conscription were absurd and unnecessary. Was it too much to ask that the same critical eye should be turned on the premises of that Commission as upon their conclusions. Just as the right hon. Gentleman had been able to show that conscription was not so cheap and easy as this Commission 1416 had maintained so he would be able to show that the Volunteers and the Militia were not so bad and worthless and useless as the same Commission had seen fit to report. Did the Committee realise the immensity and the revolutionary character of the changes in the Auxiliary Forces which the right hon. Gentleman had proposed? He did not intend to deal with the Militia because he understood that that branch of the subject was only to be dealt with if public opinion would allow it, and he was convinced that public opinion would not allow the Secretary for War to carry out his proposals in that direction. If Militia recruiting had suffered it was because the length of service in the Regular Army had been reduced. By throwing open three years service to the Regular Army they had not only affected recruiting for the Guards but also for the Militia, and that might be the reason why the extra Vote had not operated to swell the ranks of the Militia battalions. If the right hon. Gentleman was able to revert to the seven and five years system on which this country had developed a great military force at a small expense he would find the Militia very much strengthened. They ought not to forget that the Militia did send 90,000 men to the South Africa War. How could it be said that they were unfit for service when they utilised 90,000 of them on active service, and when without their aid they could not have held their lines of communication and garrisoned their Mediterranean possessions in the hour of need.
With regard to the Volunteers the proposals to reduce them were much more alarming and far-reaching. The present establishment of the Volunteers was 340,000, and it was now proposed to reduce it to 200,000. It might be said that the present establishment existed only on paper, and did not matter, but it did matter that the Volunteers should be capable of great extension in times of emergency, and that during the danger of an invasion many thousands of men should be willing to join as was the case during the late war. Look at the strength of the Volunteers. They were 280,000 after the last general election when the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for India made his proposals to the 1417 House, but the total had fallen to 240,000 on the 1st of January this year. Now it was proposed to reduce them to 180,000 men. So that in five years 100,000 real live Volunteers who were real self-respecting citizen soldiers had gone from the Army and were to be struck off the defensive forces of the country. And what was to be done with the remainder? They were asked to say, "Our patriotism and our desire to sacrifice ourselves for our country is so great that we desire to become second-class Volunteers." That was absolutely subversive of discipline and destructive of a healthy spirit. Some 60,000 Volunteers were to form a sort of residuum and they would be a kind of sham Regulars drawn from other battalions of which they had been the strength, and boiled down into a kind of imitation division of the Regular Army to be moved about according to the caprice of the War Office and the fancies of Pall Mall. He could hardly believe that these proposals were seriously made after the experience of the South African War in which large numbers of Volunteers had served side by side with the best professional soldiers and had proved themselves perfectly capable of discharging their duty efficiently. When they remembered that an economy only amounting to £300,000—little more than one-third of the expenditure added to India by the increase of pay, little more than the amount added without any result in bounties to the Militia the year before last—when they realised also the enormous loss of power and patriotism, because it partook of both, only produced an economy of £300,000—he did not wish to say anything controversial, but it really did appear to him, that this part of the scheme was instinct with all the prejudices and jealousies of the professional and Regular soldier. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would carefully reconsider the whole position. He did not always agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, but he said something shortly after the war about the lessons of the war. which was profoundly true. He said the great lesson of the war was the immense power which could be developed by a citizen force in the defence of their own country. That was 1418 a wise counsel which ought not to be overlooked now.
He saw hon. Gentlemen opposite who took much interest in the Volunteers. He would even defend the inefficient Volunteer. He might be inefficient one year and perfectly efficient the next. Everybody who knew about Volunteer battalions knew that. It was not always the same lot of men who were inefficient. Anyhow, before they needed to employ the Volunteers in the Line against an invading army, or before sending them to fight across the sea, they would have time to give them sufficient training and to make them a very different force from what they were now. He was not going to trespass on the province that belonged to Volunteer officers. He would only urge upon the right hon. Gentleman that surely when the Regular Army was disorganised and could not be maintained, when it was subject to large reductions, when it was the subject of adventurous experiments of a character the end of which no man could foresee—surely this was not the time to lop off whole slices of the citizen force on which we had depended so much in the past.
The right hon. Gentleman could, of course, go on with his changes, which when made would not be easy to undo. He implored the right hon. Gentleman to content himself with doing one thing at a time. If the changes which he now proposed in the Army were successful—as they all hoped—then the right hon. Gentleman or his successor would be able to come to the House, and with added prestige and authority make proposals for the reconstitution of the Auxiliary Forces of the Crown. Some day when our system of local government should have got into a more complete condition, when, perhaps, there were provincial councils all over the country, he should look forward to seeing the Volunteers, the Militia, and the Yeomanry withdrawn altogether from the charge of the War Office, and their whole administration and control entrusted to local authorities. Then and then only would these citizen forces realise their full, proper, and natural development and strength. But that was not an idea that could be profitably or usefully discussed or even adumbrated by a private Member. At any rate they were entitled to appeal to the 1419 Government not to compromise the whole future of these great citizen forces, not to revolutionise their character and position, and not in an hour of haste, after scanty consideration, to destroy organisations which had taken generations, and in some cases centuries, to grow.
The right hon. Gentleman had a right to have fair consideration for the proposals he had made. The Committee was desirous of according him that fair consideration, but at the same time he did not think he would get it. The hour had passed for Army reform for the moment. The whole current of events was flowing against the right hon. Gentleman. The unique opportunities which presented themselves three years ago, and the driving power that accompanied them would not soon be revived. A series of pretentious awl sensational reforms following upon the immense disturbance after the war had irritated and exhausted the Army in every branch and every unit. This Parliament had a chance of becoming a great Army Reform Parliament and it had particularly failed in fulfilling that great opportunity. It could now only bequeath this question—as complex and difficult as that with which any Administration could be called upon to deal—to its successor with the difficulties aggravated and multiplied by the treatment it had given it. Nobody who knew anything about the Army could fail to recognise the courage with which the right hon. Gentleman had approached this great question, but it was not possible for any Secretary of State now to make any sudden retrenchment or improvement in the efficiency of the army system. Instead of advocating a Laodicean policy, he should say that the policy with regard to the British Army should be a policy of recuperation rather than of reform. Five years thrifty unostentatious administration was required before the real problem of a military system could again be approached with good hopes of arriving at a satisfactory result.
§ MR. LLEWELLYN (Somersetshire, N.)
said he did not suppose that the hon. Member for Oldham expected the Committee to take seriously some of the remarks he had made. [An HON. MEMBER: Oh!]He might remind the Committee that one of the remarks of the hon. 1420 Member was that he looked forward to the time when the Volunteers and Militia, and possibly also the Yeomanry, should be under the command of the chairmen of the parish councils. They could hardly be expected to take such a suggestion seriously. It had been stated that the members of the Norfolk Commission entered upon their work with preconceived ideas in favour of conscription. He wished to point out that the word conscription did not appear in the recommendations of the Committee except for the purpose of condemning it. The Commission sat for more than twelve months, and they exhausted every means in their power of avoiding the proposal of conscription. So far from their minds having been made up in favour of it at the beginning of their inquiries, the reverse was the case. The recommendation they made was arrived at with the greatest possible reluctance, and anybody who took the trouble to read the Report of the Commission would see that they recommended compulsory training after all other suggestions had been exhausted. Reference had been made to the shortcomings of the Militia regiments in the field. He would not go through the list which had been given to the Committee, but he wished to state that what occurred to him when the shortcomings were being stated was that it was not the fault of the men that they had not the training and equipment which they should have had. It was not even the fault of the system altogether. It was the fault of those gentlemen who did not understand the Militia, but who thought they did.
He was very glad that in the scheme which his right hon. friend had put before the country the recommendations of the Royal Commission had not been altogether put aside. There were many points in the scheme of the Secretary of State which were of the greatest value and which would be altogether absent if it had been of a revolutionary or hopeless character. To begin with, he recognised the value of the adoption of a territorial system. The right hon. Gentleman recognised that important consideration, and he congratulated him on the prominence he had given to them. The chief causes of the failure of the Militia and the Volunteer services were 1421 attributable to one cause in particular, viz., want of appreciation by those who had the management of affairs in the past of the real circumstances of the case; and want of power and of connection between those who administered in Pall Mall and the commanding officers who had the management either of the regiments in the case of the Militia or the corps and battalions in the case of the Volunteers. There was a class of men now in the Volunteers, which was being enlarged day by day, which originally were not in the Volunteers but in the Militia. The natural tendency, therefore, was to demand an increased capitation grant for the Volunteers, because they could not make for themselves the necessary provision to fit them for a soldier's life. The result was that the Militia was being injured by taking away the very class which ought to belong to it, while the Volunteers were injured because a certain number of their very best men were attracted to join the Yeomanry, in which corps they were paid 5s. a day besides a very handsome allowance for their horses. He did not blame the Yeomanry for taking them at all, for they were excellent fellows; but it was a pity that they should have left the Volunteers and that their places should be taken by more or less inferior men.
The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War said that he was going to cut down the Militia regiments because they were not fit for war. He did not know how the right hon. Gentleman was going to arrive at what regiments were fit or not fit for war. The numerical test was hardly a fair one. Circumstances had altered in the last twenty years. Some of the young men born and bred in the country did not stay there. They went into the towns where there were more attractions in the way of amusements, and enlisted and spent their money there. Now, these very countrymen were drafted into regiments not connected with the counties in which they were born. He thought that something might be done in regard to the alteration of the area of recruiting. Some Militia regiments where there was a thick population were of over-strength and as a rule these were under - officered, and other regiments were short of men and full of officers. If possible, he should like to see the boys of one county sent for 1422 enlistment to their own county and put into the regiment to which they ought properly to belong. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War said something which rather alarmed him—viz., that he did not think it would be possible for Militia officers to take command in the field.
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said that that was a mistake. What he had said was that if the recommendation of the hon. Gentleman's Commission were carried out, the Militia officers would have to spend seven months of the year in training and that he thought some officers could not give that time.
§ MR. LLEWELLYN
said he did not think that that was conclusive. He understood the right hon. Gentleman did not look forward to any Militia officers having the command of their regiments in the field. He knew that there were to be found a great number of them who were absolutely fit to command their regiments in the field; and it would be a great deterrent to the appointment of such gentlemen if they were told that under no circumstances they should have the command of their regiments in the field. The idea had too long prevailed that the present system had produced no great disaster to this country, and that we had better muddle on. But that was a very dangerous principle to act on; and whatever faults were to be found with the present system, they should not be allowed to continue. We were a nation of grumblers, and he had been told that there were a great number of men who were perfectly content to remain grumblers and willing to take no steps to remedy faults of details.
He had no intention of speaking on behalf of his brother officers in the Militia, but he should like to remind those who had not taken the trouble to read the evidence put before the Commission of the opinion of those who were asked their advice, in view of the possibility of the invasion of this country, as to what changes were requisite in order that the Militia should be maintained in a condition of efficiency and strength. They were told that invasion was possible, as had been proved by events in the Far East under the new system of sea transport. If we were 1423 secure from invasion by the protection of our Fleet, what was the use of their sitting there and voting this money? This was not a matter to be smiled at. Did hon. and right hon. Gentlemen imagine that the conclusion to which the Commission came in regard to this matter was the conclusion simply of the eleven gentlemen who sat on that Commission? He could assure them that it was nothing of the sort; and they could satisfy themselves on that point by reading the evidence. That it was absolutely necessary that all our young men of proper age should be properly trained was not the view of these eleven members of the Commission alone, but of Lord Grenfell, General French, Sir Evelyn Wood, Lord Roberts, the Duke of Connaught, Sir Ian Hamilton, General Kelly-Kenny, and a score more.
Would hon. Members consider for a moment the possibilities under which this force might be required? They were told by the Prime Minister that probably the defence of the country might be left to the Militia, Volunteers and Yeomanry. That question had been asked of the Committee of Defence, and they were told that probably these forces would be required to act because there night be new Regular troops in this country at the decisive moment. They ought to remember what took place a short time ago. In the last year and a half of the South African War this country was denuded of every Regular unit; at any rate there was hardly a Regular unit which was up to its full strength. In fact, the Government was blamed for sending out all the Regular troops that could be mobilised and all the Militia. They sent out men who were practically worthless and paid them 5s. a day. That was at a time when we were at profound peace with Continental countries and when our Fleet was free on the seas. Was it necessary for anyone to sound a word of warning as to the possibility or probability of their having to depend upon the Militia, Volunteers, and Yeomanry, for the defence of these shores in other circumstances, when they had an instance of that kind before their minds? This country would not contemplate the possibility of a change until the occasion arose. What would be the occasion that 1424 would arise? No one knew. They were told that if the defence of the country required it, every Volunteer would shoulder his rifle. His own opinion was that he had better keep it at his shoulder because it was the safest place for it. What was the good of numbers, when many of the Volunteers were physically unfit, and many of them could not find time to carry out their duties. It had been said that the Report of the Commission was embarrassing to the Government; but the duty of the Commissioners was not to make a Report which would popularise the Militia and the Volunteers, but to issue a Report on the evidence which had been taken. There was not a single member of the Commission who would not sign that Report again and underline every word of it.
A great many people spoke of the necessity of a home Army in order to prevent a raid; but what were the facts. The Militia establishment was 32,000 men short, and if they included soldiers under nineteen, they were 43,000 short. The Volunteers were 78,000 short, and that did not include the Volunteers under twenty. The difficulty with which the hon. right Gentleman and the Commission had to contend with in this matter had reference to the want of efficiency on the part of the officers and to the number of the men. The right hon. Gentleman went a long way to remedy both; and he believed that under the right hon. Gentleman's scheme a class of officer would be obtained in the Militia which would be of the greatest value to the country. There were a number of men who would gladly make it practically their profession, and who would be perfectly willing to fit themselves for the work by attending classes. Certainly all the officers needed for the reserve battalions could be readily found; and they would be able to carry out all the duties required of them. As to the number of men, that was a greater difficulty; and he was afraid that, with regard to the Militia, the number required would not be found as easily as the right hon. Gentlemen imagined. The shrinkage at the present moment was something alarming. Why it should be thought that men should join the Line under the new conditions he could not imagine.
§ *MR. ARNOLD - FORSTER
said that more men from the Militia than were required went into the Line at present.
§ MR. LLEWELLYN
said the circumstances were entirely different. As a rule a young man went into the Militia before he joined the Line to see what soldiering was like; but the regular Militiaman joined the Militia for the reason that he liked soldiering. He apologised to the House for the length at which he had spoken, but his mind was very full of the topic. There was one matter to which he should wish to be allowed to refer. This House and the War Office had been blamed for the shrinkage in the Army; but there was also blame to be apportioned to the public. The public did not appreciate the soldiers in time of peace. It was all very well to get up subscriptions in time of war; but soldiers wanted more than that. They wanted the possibility of insults being poured upon them removed. The other day, he was in command of a Militia battalion in training, and a person in his own district said to him, "Oh, the Militia are coming and we will have no vegetables in our garden, or eggs in our fowlhouse." It would be difficult for him to say in the House what his reply was, but he would state that during the period the men were under training there was not a single case of larceny or drunkenness, and there was no case of misconduct even brought before him as commanding officer. He would give another instance. He had listened to many sermons preached to soldiers, and he did not think he had ever heard a parson, except a military chaplain, who did not address the soldiers as if they were inferior to the rest of the congregation; and as if they were open to temptations that they ought to guard against more than others. These were the sort of insults of which he complained. He was glad to know that now twenty-three out of every thirty-five soldiers who had served their period obtained suitable civil employment. That, he thought, would to a great extent remedy the difficulty with regard to recruiting. An hon. Gentleman opposite said that they on the Commission went into it with their minds made up in favour of conscription. That was not so. They only found it 1426 out after the most careful investigation; though he himself would always regret that he belonged to a country which had to be defended, not by voluntary effort, but by compulsory service.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)
said that the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken had carried the Committee with him more in the details than in the actual lines of his speech. Sermons such as the hon. Gentleman described were by no means peculiar to the Army. They had been addressed to every man who, as a boy, had ever attended a school or college; and he was not sure if sermons were preached in the House of Commons nowadays, as they were in the Cromwellian times, that they should not be addressed in a similar manner, though not by their present chaplain. The hon. Gentleman seemed to think that hon. Members on that side smiled at his doctrines; but they did not smile at him, but with him, especially when he admitted that the Admiralty and the War Office contradicted one another in the evidence which was given before the Commission. If this country were in a position to spend hundreds of millions of pounds sterling on the Army and Navy, it might well protect itself against invasion. But the country was spending too much already; and, therefore, it was that they had to pick and choose the essential from the non-essential. The Volunteers, however, gave the country an assurance against panic, and also provided it with a great number of men who would be of use abroad in the event of war.
There were a number of other subjects of great importance which it was now necessary to discuss; and he should like to turn the attention of the Committee to one or two which had not yet been mentioned. The Secretary of State spoke of the endorsement of his plans by the House. This was the 8th of August. That was the dominant factor in the debate. At such a period of the session it was impossible that there should be either approbation or disapprobation of such a kind as to commit the House on the Government scheme. The scheme would have to go forward on the sole responsibility of the Administration. The criticism against the scheme had been, 1427 the Secretary of State said local and special on particular heads, but as regarded the Regular Forces of the country the responsibility would rest with the Government alone, and there would be no responsibility on the part of the House of Commons. The responsibility which the Government sought to make the House share with them was an illusory responsibility. What the Committee must do under the circumstances, was to accept the scheme on the responsibility of the Administration, the House being uncommitted to the scheme, and regarding it solely as the scheme of the Administration. Whilst he differed from the Prime Minister on the fact that the approbation of the main scheme would be shown by the passing of this Vote, he cordially agreed with the Secretary of State for War to-day in thinking that this problem was urgent. He could not agree with the hon. Member for Oldham and the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex in thinking that the whole thing could be postponed. There were 1,000 reasons why it could not be. The question of the drafts for India alone made it extremely urgent. That question must be met by steps on the part of the Administration, and the Secretary of State for War was bound to act in the direction of his Liverpool speech and to see that the plans which he carried out should be such that any successors of his should not find their hands tied, especially with regard to any reduction. It was sufficient to allege the ground of finance alone in support of the doctrine.
The hon. Member for Oldham had assumed that under this scheme there would be a reduction of £2,500,000 on the Estimates. He had looked carefully through the figures but he could find no such reduction, and unless the scheme were carried further, he doubted whether it was possible to keep the promises of substantial reduction which Ministers had made. The words used in the statement of the Secretary of State for War, circulated to the House, went to show that there was to be a reduction at once, sufficient to reduce the Estimates of last year over the present year owing to the fact that the Estimates of the present year were £1,000,000 under what they would have been owing to the surplus from the war. Then there was the fact that the Estimates 1428 of next year must be swelled by the cost of a number of quick-firing guns. There were many things reported on by the War Commission which would cost money, and which were, as some thought, essential. Was the saving on this scheme sufficient? Speaking as one in favour of the main lines of the scheme, he must admit that it turned the Amy upside down; and the question was whether such a revolution ought not to be accompanied by a much larger reduction, if only to guard against too hasty demands for reduction in the Navy. Ought we not to do this on a larger scale, and secure that the reduction should be so large that there could not be any danger of that kind. As to the details of the contemplated reduction, the information was very vague. What battalions were to be withdrawn from abroad beyond the garrison battalions?
§ *MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
The suggestion is that eleven battalions are to be withdrawn, leaving twenty - six. The fact that some of them will be the garrison battalions about to be abolished does not affect the calculation. In future we hope to reduce the colonial battalions to twenty-six, the garrison battalions being replaced by battalions of the Line.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE
said that it was difficult to see where these troops could be withdrawn from, except South Africa. It was impossible to touch those in Malta and Gibraltar, and he doubted the policy of withdrawing the white troops altogether from Egypt.
As to the Militia part of the scheme, which was an essential portion of the Army scheme in the mind of the Secretary of State, but which was a portion as to which he had not the slightest idea how this House could express the opinion which they had been invited to express, he agreed that the Militia had been most unjustly abused in the Report of the War Commission for deficiencies not their own. He confessed he thought that the Militia might have been gradually improved, have been revivified rather than destroyed. The Secretary of State had said be would deal with the question of short training 1429 and the question of the Swiss army system later. He had not done so. He (Sir Charles Dilke) did not share the view of the impossibility of creating a decent force out of the Militia, which was held by many of the advisers of the Government. He was one of those who would have made the Militia liable to service abroad in time of war, and tried gradually to improve the system, looking to it to create a home Army with which the Reserves would drill. The Government were not quite consistent on this matter, because, while they sought to enforce the words of the Royal Commission that our Militia was not fit to meet foreign troops, and that the Swiss army was not efficient, that was not the opinion of the military experts of our time. If we were to endorse those views the Government were somewhat inconsistent, he thought, in telling us, in one breath, that we ought not to spend money on troops which were incapable of facing foreign armies, and, at the same time, asking us to spend money on rifle clubs and on persons at home who were not even organised. The Government were not quite consistent on this subject, and the Government could not expect the Committee to endorse their view, which might tend to make the Militia die away.
There had been a great controversy as to whether the new scheme would give us, not only the reliefs for India, but a sufficient Army for despatch across the seas in time of war. He was sorry that he problem of the British Empire in war should have been complicated by what, he thought, was a new heresy, the idea of sending virtually all the Army to India. It was a curious thing that the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex, who made so fierce an attack on some portions of the Government scheme, adopted exactly the same heresy. The Prime Minister told the House the other day that the problem was the defence, not of the north-west frontier of India but of Afghanistan, and the noble Lord had told them what was true, that Russia had improved her communications towards the north-west frontier of Afghanistan. But that was 420 miles from the Indian frontier. No one could contemplate our placing 1430 an army in Afghanistan, unless at the request of the Ameer, who would probably prefer to be responsible for the defence of his own frontiers; but even if we did, that Army would have to march 420 miles across some of the most difficult and dangerous country in the world to get at Russia. Would 100,000 Regular troops organis upon a European system at home, in addition to the Indian forces, be easily transported across 420 miles? The whole thing was a dream, and he was sorry to hear the noble Lord the Member for Ealing accept all this as if it had been admitted and proved. The necessities of the Indian Government in the future might become very different from what they were at present, but they had nevertheless to deal with the present situation and they had to keep the situation for the neat few years in view. The dangers of an Empire like ours changed continually and they might have an entirely different condition of affairs in a few years time. He admitted that the Indian problem must always be kept in mind. He admitted the, necessity of keeping a formidable force for this purpose, but he hoped that in this matter they would not have exclusive regard to the needs of India, and that this force should be as free and as little tied or ear-marked to any particular service as possible. He agreed with the financial argument of the noble Lord in regard to India. The Government alleged this supposed necessity two Years ago, and it was a little difficult to turn round now and tell India that that argument was all moonshine.
There was another point upon which the Government, had not perhaps been quite frank with the House. and it bore upon the question of expenditure. Expenditure had forced this scheme upon the House and they had made these proposals in the hope of effecting a reduction in the expenditure. In trying to save money, however, the Government should he most careful not to put aside expenditure which was even more necessary than the expenditure upon rifle clubs and many other matters upon which expenditure was now proposed. He had heard with some alarm Answers given to Questions which rather suggested that the 1431 Government were not so keenly alive as some of them would like to the necessity of re-arming our artillery with quick-firing guns. He thought the House believed that the decision to re-arm the Indian Army with the quick-firing gun first was resolved upon owing to purely financial reasons. The doctrine of the Government was that they must not spend money upon anything which could not face the best European army. Could the British Army face a European army without quick-firing guns? An important statement had been made on this point on behalf of the Government of India in the recent debate in the Governor-General's Council, where The Military Member of the Council used these words—Are we to disregard all warnings and remain in a backward state of military preparation? The South African War showed the inferiority of our field gun, and since then experiments have been carried out to produce a perfect gun of quick-firing type. It is interesting to know how backward we are. Russia is armed with a quick-firing gun firing sixteen rounds a minute; ours probably fires two with difficulty. France is also armed with quick-firing guns stated to fire twenty rounds a minute. Germany has been armed since 1896 but is now re-arming with a better one. Even Switzerland began re-arming in 1901 and Japan commenced in that year, and is believed to have completed its Field Artillery with quick-firing guns.That was an official statement made on behalf of the Government of India, and in the face of that fact, was it not obvious that in regard to one of the first necessities of modern warfare our Army stood in a position of hopeless inferiority. That was a state of things they could not allow to continue. The reductions in expenditure under this scheme would not be so large as those which the House of Commons and the country had a right to expect. When they were turning a system upside down, upon principles which he supported, he thought they ought to have seen a much larger reduction as the result of that change. It had been said that under this new system the home battalions would fall into a condition of hopeless inferiority. Had the French army or the Prussian army fallen into this position? Did his hon. friend mean to say that these armies did not possess a real military spirit? He thought these were old - fashioned arguments. The question which could be 1432 addressed to the Committee at this moment was—Did this scheme show that large reduction in expenditure which was the true ground and initiation of the scheme, and which, he thought, the country would demand?
§ MR. ASQUITH (Fifeshire, E.)
said he did not propose to enter into any of the details of the interesting and instructive discussion in which the Committee had been engaged. His object in rising was to disclaim, not only for himself, but for the majority of Members on both sides of the House, any sort of responsibility in passing this scheme here. He would tell the Committee in two or three sentences why. In the first place, as the right hon. Gentleman himself admitted, it was a vague and experimental scheme; and in the second place, according to his own confession, it was an incomplete scheme. They did not know up to this moment what was going to happen to the Militia, or how far the proposals which the right hon. Gentleman had in the back of his mind would in the course of the next few months be gradually carried into execution. They were entirely ignorant up to now how far and in what degree this scheme represented the united opinion and settled judgment of His Majesty's Government; further still they did know that it had little or no relevancy to the Army Estimates which they were at present engaged in discussing; and finally, though perhaps this was the most conclusive argument of all, this 8th of August was actually the first opportunity they had had of discussing the details of this scheme; it was absurd, in view of all these considerations, to think that the Vote to-night could be taken as anything like an approval of the scheme. While he recognised the reforming zeal of the Secretary of State, and while so far as he was personally concerned he admitted that there were matters in the scheme which had his hearty sympathy, he protested strongly that when they passed the salary of the Secretary of State their vote was not to be construed, and could not be fairly understood, as an expression of the fair judgment of the House of Commons on the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ SIR J. FERGUSSON (Manchester, N. E.)
said that he was very unwilling to intervene in the debate, but he had risen more than once with the intention of making some remarks on the same lines as those which had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife. He felt that in the discussion of the scheme of the Secretary of State for War they were in a false position. They were now going to vote on the Army Estimates of the present year, but the scheme which had been foreshadowed with more precision than on former occasions that day, had no reference to the Estimates of the present year. It had reference to the question of Army reform in the future, and they did not even know how many points of the scheme of the Secretary of State had the approval of the Cabinet. They did not know that the scheme as a whole was even the scheme of His Majesty's Government. In fact, the Secretary of State for War was reported to have said in another place that the scheme must not be accepted as embodying the final resolutions of the Government. Under those circumstances it was absolutely impossible, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife had said, that in the vote given that night the House could express approval either in whole or in detail of the scheme to which they had listened with such great interest. He thought it would be well not to deprecate the proposals of the Secretary of State, looked upon as a whole. He knew well for years past how great had been the interest and how very useful the researches the Secretary of State for War had made into Army as well as Navy questions. At the same time he was greatly impressed by what had already been said in the course of the discussion concerning the far-reaching and disastrous effects that might follow the failure of his scheme. If they took the Army to pieces and then failed to put it together again, the last stage would be worse than the first. He was very doubtful whether the position of the Army was anything like so desperate as to require such drastic changes. Undoubtedly some changes were required. Experiments had been tried, and not unsuccessfully, but he was by no means persuaded that the system of the Secretary of State for India, which 1434 secured the assent of the House, was not beginning really to bear fruit. There had been an improvement in the position of the Guards which was much more valuable than the enlisting of recruits, and this he believed to be the result of the increased pay obtained for them by the Secretary for India, and which only came into operation last year. What they wanted in regard to the Army was a little fixity of tenure, and not to have considerable changes which would unsettle their minds. It was a very serious thing to fill the Army so largely with men who did not extend their service. When soldiers went to India they found the service there pleasant and they became reconciled to it. The result was that the Secretary of State for War told him the other day that in the last six months 42 or 43 per cent. of the men entitled to longer service in India had extended their time. That showed that the present system was not so bad. They did not know what part of this scheme had been accepted by the Cabinet: and they would not know until the Estimates were presented next year, and that was, he thought, a most dangerous position.
He had been deeply impressed with the branch of the subject, which had been very strongly enforced by his hon. and gallant friend beside him, which proposed the abolition of the Militia. Of the existing Militia battalions, one-half were to be abolished altogether, and the other half were to be doubled up to one-fourth of their present number, who were to be adjuncts of the new home Army. This was an enormous change. It meant doing away with a force which for hundreds of years had been the constitutional force of the country, and in time of stress had not been found wanting in assisting the Army. It was the abuse of the Militia which had brought it to its present disastrous condition. It was inevitable if the Militia was to be used as a kind of forcing-house for the Line that it could not remain in a satisfactory position. He knew what the Militia was twenty or thirty years ago, but it had been constantly squeezed to make up the deficiency in the recruiting for the Army, and it was no wonder that a state of affairs had been reached when it was deemed undesirable to retain 1435 it. Any vote which was given that night must not be taken as an expression that the House was a consenting party in favour of such a tremendous change. Undoubtedly some of the right hon. Gentleman's proposals were excellent. Service Members had long urged the necessity of having a striking force at Aldershot, and the Boer War would probably have been prevented if we had possessed such a force which could be sent abroad without mobilising the Army. Another excellent proposal was that to form larger depots where recruits could be efficiently trained, and he was quite sure that if his right hon. friend would not want to do too much at once he would leave the Army much stronger than he found it. He hoped his right hon. friend would not expect them to consent to this scheme as a whole without letting them know how much of it the Cabinet approved.
§ *MR. C. R. SPENCER (Northamptonshire, Mid.)
said it was rather pleasant to hear from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War that the Volunteer force was to be taken seriously, and to be treated accordingly. He congratulated the right hon. Gentleman on that change of attitude towards that force. The right hon. Gentleman had announced a scheme of reduction and concentration. As to reduction, he regretted that the right hon. Gentleman thought it necessary. He might say to the right hon. Gentleman that he could not understand his scheme in its entirety, and he wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman a Question in regard to one point. The right hon. Gentleman had referred to a differentiation between Volunteers. Now, he did not, himself, see how there could be a difference between Volunteers without raising considerable friction and dissatisfaction. He understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that this had already been done in some regiments; but he should like to hear more about it before he would consent to such differentiation. He could not help feeling that it would produce much disagreeableness which they did not want in the Volunteer regiments of the country. There was another point. The right hon. Gentleman should consider that 1436 there was a difference between country and town Volunteer regiments. If the right hon. Gentleman had served, as he had done, in a country regiment, he would have seen that it was almost impossible to enforce on the country regiments the same regulations as could easily be fulfilled by the town battalions. They had a right to ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider these points when he was introducing such fundamental changes as he had sketched out. Some remarks had been made, he was glad to say, not in the House, as to the uselessness of the Volunteers. He confessed he had been somewhat annoyed at hearing a soldier—whose name he would not give—say "Oh! What is the good of the Volunteers?" He humbly suggested that the Volunteers had not done badly in South Africa. They had sent very good men there who had distinguished themselves. There was another point. He hoped the present Secretary for War, and successive Secretaries for War, would show a little more sympathetic feeling in regard to the administration of the Volunteer force, starting on the premise that they were Volunteers, and that they required consideration and help. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would see that the Volunteer force, though not as good as the Regulars, could be of use to the country and ought to be supported by this House.
§ *SIR LEES KNOWLES
said he understood that his right hon. friend the Secretary of State for War had abandoned the idea of differentiating as between efficients and non-efficients in Volunteer battalions. If, however, the Volunteers were to be reduced, they should be given some consideration from the pecuniary point of view, in the shape of a larger grant, according to their efficiency. At present a Volunteer battalion received a per capita allowance, which perhaps might induce the officers to think more of numbers than of efficiency; but if the numbers were to be reduced, a greater grant should be given to them. They had been told by a colleague of his right hon. friend the Secretary of State for War that this scheme did not represent the final opinion of the Government. If that 1437 were so, he would ask his right hon. friend to pause with regard to one or two matters. He wished to refer especially to the proposed reduction of the Line battalions. They had been discussing that afternoon the possibility of invasion. That such a possibility existed, he would support by a statement of Lord Wolselev before the Royal Commission. Lord Wolseley said, "I take into consideration most fully all our Navy can do to protect us from invasion in my calculations: I will content myself with the remark that Napoleon and Wellington, Nelson and Collingwood, believed in the possibility, indeed, I might say, the feasibility of invasion. If I err in believing in that danger, I err in skilled company." When the present Government came into office in 1900 they promised a reform of the War office and of the Army, and augmentations were made of the infantry, etc. Lord Wolseley added certain battalions, and he estimated that to resist invasion the country required 100,000 Regulars, 50,000 Militia, and 100,000 of the best Volunteers. In that he was supported by other military authorities, such as Lord Roberts, Sir Evelyn Wood, Generals Kelly-Kenny. Nicholson and others. Only last year the Prime Minister stated that the country wanted a much larger force than was proposed under the present scheme, and he was supported by the War Commission. The late Mr. Stanhope proposed a striking force of 20,000 men. The striking force in this scheme was only 16,000 men. The points he wished to emphasise, however, had reference to the infantry battalions, in which he was specially interested, because two of the regiments to be reduced were Lancashire regiments, the Manchester Regiment and the Lancashire Fusiliers. They were augmented recently, and, at the time, they were regarded as permanent institutions. The Guards, the cavalry and the Militia appeared to be outside this scheme of reduction, and, no doubt, to some extent that was due to social influence. He wished to point out the hardship to the officers in the battalions that would be disbanded. 378 officers must be absorbed in other battalions in consequence of this disbanding, in addition to 350 from 50 battalions, the officers 1438 of which were to be reduced from 27 to 20. That would be very hard on the present generation of officers. To a large number of them it would mean professional extinction, and, to the majority, it would mean an increase of service abroad unless the foreign-service Army was reduced. It might be said that in any scheme of organisation, reconstruction, or retrenchment, individuals would have to suffer. That was all very well; but the hardship of the battalions he had mentioned was that they were being disbanded within a few years of having been raised and the labour and expense entailed would be lost. The officers of these battalions had not gained accelerated promotion, because of the introduction of officers from other regiments; and after incurring the expense of new uniforms they would have to incur further expense on joining another regiment. There was also the expenditure in providing the mess for the new battalions, which they need not have incurred had they joined an old battalion. It was bad for the Army, and bad for the Empire that, just at the end of a war, soldiers who had served their country well should be the first to suffer. To his mind, the scheme was revolutionary; and, if it were to be introduced at all, it should be introduced slowly and cautiously, and the details should be carefully scrutinised.
And, it being half-past Seven of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to to the House.
Committee report Progress; to sit again this evening.