HC Deb 07 March 1904 vol 131 cc425-32

Order read, for resuming adjourned debate on Main Question [7th March], That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

Main Question again proposed.

MR. PURVIS (Peterborough)

said he wished to say a few words on a military matter of general interest. The Secretary of State for War spoke in not very complimentary terms of the Volunteers. But the difficulty of providing proper rifle ranges for the Volunteers rendered them inefficient for the effective defence of the United Kingdom. The Volunteers in his own constituency were an enthusiastic body of men. Many of them went to South Africa, did their duty there and did it well. Six or seven years ago on the introduction of the Lee-Metford rifle the old rifle range was condemned and the Volunteers were compelled to travel many miles from Peterborough to ranges belonging to other corps. The result was that the shooting was not nearly as good as it otherwise would be. The Government now proposed to provide rifles and ammunition without providing ranges for shooting practice. The Volunteers might just as well be without rifles and ammunition as without ranges. The commanding officer in his constituency had been endeavouring without success to secure a rifle range from a local landlord. It was quite true that borough councils and county councils had statutory powers to acquire land in order to let it to local Volunteer forces; but very few instances of such powers being exercised had arisen. In those days they were told at, every turn to think Imperially. This was plainly an Imperial question, and if the Volunteers were to be of any use, compulsory means should be taken to acquire ranges for them at the public expense. He hoped his right hon. friend the Secretary of State for War would consider the matter as one of pressing and immediate necessity.

*MR. AINSWORTH (Argyllshire)

said he would like to add a suggestion which he hoped the Secretary of State for War might be able to avail himself of. The hon. Gentleman who had just spoken referred to the difficulty which commanding officers of Volunteer battalions had in obtaining suitable land for rifle ranges. He wished to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman means by which the object aimed at might be obtained under the Allotments Act. The county councils had power to take up land and the question of price was settled by an arbitrator. If power were given to the county councils to take up land on similar conditions for rifle ranges, the difficulty which had to be met would, he thought, disappear. He hoped the Secretary of State would bring in a short Bill giving the county councils power to acquire land by purchase or lease for rifle ranges. The right hon. Gentleman spoke highly of the Yeomanry and complained that the Volunteers had not yet reached their strength. The right hon. Gentleman could attain the end he had in view if he gave the same pay and allowance to the Volunteers when they were on active service as were given to the Yeomanry and Militia. The Volunteers gave up their time to the service, of the country, and so far as possible it should be arranged that they should not be out of pocket. He also wished to call attention to the fact that the pay and allowances for adjutants in the Volunteer battalions were invariably less than the pay and allowances given to Yeomanry and Militia adjutants. No officer was more hardly worked than a Volunteer adjutant, and he hoped it would commend itself to the justice of the right hon. Gentleman that the Volunteer adjutant should be given the same pay and allowances as were given to adjutants in other branches of the Auxiliary Forces. If his suggestions were adopted, he believed that the results would be satisfactory in every way.

SIR HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)

said he agreed with his right hon. friend that it would be premature to discuss the question of the Volunteers until the Committee had reported, but he hoped his right hon. friend would do everything he possibly could to expedite the Report as it was very important that it should be issued before the drill season commenced. It was of the utmost importance that the matter should be discussed as soon as possible. With regard to the Mounted Infantry Volunteers which were established in 1900, some fourteen or fifteen corps were now in existence. They were not composed of men who would deprive the Imperial Yeomanry of desirable recruits, because the great majority of them were of an entirely different class from the class that joined the Imperial Yeomanry. It would be a very great pity indeed if the mounted forces of the country were deprived of those corps, but they could not be maintained unless the extra capitation grant and the extra camp allowance were given to them. He hoped his right hon. friend would give his sympathetic attention to this matter as soon as possible, in order that the Volunteer corps would not be shorn of this important arm. He felt sure that his right hon. friend would consider the Report of the Committee generally with the utmost sympathy.

MR. COURTENAY WARNER (Staffordshire, Lichfield)

said he thought the hon. and gallant Gentleman who had just spoken was under a misapprehension as to the pay given to the Mounted Infantry Volunteers. The Yeomanry were on a totally different footing, as they obtained an allowance for keeping their horses; and it would be quite unfair not to take that into consideration. Altogether he thought that the Volunteers were paid as well as any force in the country. He quite agreed that the Volunteers required a better organisation in the event of war. As regarded the Militia Reserve, he was unable to gather from the right hon. Gentleman whether it was to be composed entirely of Militiamen. He thought it was a very cheap Reserve indeed and that it would be a great pity if it were interfered with. As regards the general question of the extravagance of the whole Army, a year or two ago the country was in the full blaze of a warlike fever and the House appeared anxious to do everything it could to raise the efficiency of the Army at any cost. Two years ago he urged that unless economy went hand in hand with increased efficiency there would be a dangerous reaction, because the country would begin to think what an expensive machine it was providing and what a waste there was in the operation. His words had been practically borne out by the facts. The country now was all for economy, and the expenditure had grown to such enormous proportions that many Members who were extremely anxious for the efficiency of the Army, felt obliged to consent to considerable economies in many Departments. The Estimates themselves, however, showed no sign of economy. There was a nominal reduction, but there was no evidence of an attempt to reduce the expense of unnecessary portions of the organisation. The War Office Committee had neglected financial considerations, and the Government had made no definite statement with regard to economy in the future. That was a serious state of things for the country. Business had been crippled by the enormous expenditure, and it was necessary for the Government to retrench somewhere. They could not retrench on the Navy, and it would be difficult to effect any considerable retrenchment on the Civil Service; there remained only the Army, and the House was anxious to know what was going to be done in that direction. The fact that the present Estimates were mere temporary Votes placed the House in a, most difficult position, as it rendered it practically impossible to deal with any definite point without the reply being given that the money was to be devoted not to the purpose appearing on the Paper, but to some other purpose not yet decided upon. A careful study of the Report of the Reconstruction Committee gave but a vague idea of what was to be substituted for the present system. With many paragraphs in the Report he entirely agreed. He was glad the Army Corps system had been condemned, and that the system of territorial brigades was to be substituted for territorial regiments. He hoped, however, the Government would not forget to introduce Mounted Infantry for every brigade to be trained regularly at home. The number of generals might be decreased by doing away with some of the general officers and employing colonels as brigadiers. It was necessary that economy should be effected somewhere, as the present expenditure was a danger to the country, and the injury to trade through want of capital was a greater evil than would be suffered by a large reduction in the Army. He hoped that everything possible would be done to reduce the expenditure, and that even at the eleventh hour the Government would intimate their readiness to accept reductions in the Estimates which had been put forward.

MR. GUEST (Plymouth)

expressed his disappointment at the statement of the Secretary of State for War. Throughout the right hon. Gentleman's speech there ran an apologetic tone, and one could not help wondering where was the ardent Army reformer of two or three years back. The right hon. Gentleman had given the House to understand that the statement was not such as he would have liked to make had he been in a position to deal freely with the subject, that the Estimates were merely of a temporary or interim character, that they represented neither his hopes nor his aspirations, and that they were put forward as embodying a stage which was in all probability transitional. He had further laid down the obvious proposition that it was the function of the heads of the Array to place in the forefront of their calculations the duties the Army would be called upon to perform in time of peace or in time of war, but he had failed altogether to indicate what was his idea of those duties, of the manner in which the Army should be distributed, or of the proportions the different arms should bear one to another, and the whole of his subsequent remarks were vitiated by that omission. The reduction in the number of men, for instance, was not the result of any thought-out plan or of any estimate of the number required at home and abroad, but simply the automatic reduction resulting from inability to secure the number of recruits desired. The Secretary of State had contented himself by claiming credit for a redaction of £280,000 on the normal expenditure, though no explanation was given of how a "normal" figure had been arrived at. But that reduction represented about 1 per cent, on the Estimates and could not be regarded as forming part of a definite and settled policy of retrenchment. It had certainly been hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would have shown more practical sympathy with the desire for economy. Another respect in which the statement was unsatisfactory was with regard to the question of recruiting. According to the right hon. Gentleman's memorandum, recruiting last year was not satisfactory, in spite of the fact that the emoluments of the private soldier were 60 or 70 per cent, greater than in 1897. Were the 40,000 men recruited last year sufficient to fill up the battalions provided for on the Estimates? The late Secretary of State for India had stated that a much larger number than 40,000 would be necessary to complete his scheme.


pointed out that recruiting had been closed to two important branches of the service—the Artillery, and the Cavalry—and that had greatly affected the total.


said the right hon. Gentleman had also stated that the closing of the recruiting for the Artillery and the Cavalry had had a beneficial effect on recruiting for the Infantry and the Guards. Last year provision was made for a number of men which it was impossible to obtain under existing conditions, and the House was entitled to expect from the right hon. Gentleman a reasoned statement showing that the number of battalions for which provision was now being made, could be satisfactorily filled by the normal recruiting to be expected.

And, it being Midnight, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.

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