HC Deb 28 March 1905 vol 143 cc1443-57

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a number of Land Forces not exceeding 221,300, all ranks, be maintained for the Service of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland at Home and Abroad, excluding His Majesty's Indian Possessions, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1906."

*CAPTAIN NORTON (Newington, W.)

said he wished to refer to the question which had been dealt with by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Newport Division of Shropshire as to the adequate supply of Army officers. He thought that neither the House nor the public realised the gravity of the situation, inasmuch as it not only affected the constant supply of officers in time of peace, but also the question of a sufficient reserve of officers in the event of war. It would be within the knowledge of the Committee that the Prime Minister had said that the only instance in which this country would be called upon to place a really large Army in the field was in the event of warlike operations on the North-West Frontier of India, and in that event it would be requisite to place an Army in the field out of all proportion to the present Army and to keep it supplied with an immense force of men. The late South African War was only a small war as compared with that which would take place for the defence of our Indian position. In the South African War they were obliged to take officers of all units, who were thoroughly unfitted to perform their duties in time of peace and still less in time of war. The question before the Government was whether they had taken sufficient steps to secure the needful supply of officers. The way in which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman suggested that the existing deficiency should be supplied was by lowering the standard intellectually and educationally in favour of greater physical power. He challenged the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to say whether officers in the British Army had ever been found deficient in physique. On the contrary, so far as physique and physical exercises were concerned, British officers were superior to officers of almost any other Army in the world. They had been found to have a lesser standard as regarded general education and intelligence. That was not his dictum. It was the statement of such distinguished soldiers as Lord Wolseley, Lord Roberts, Sir Ian Hamilton and Sir William Butler. The result was that they got into the Army during the war a number of men who under normal conditions could not have entered it. Sir William Butler drew attention to the fact that a number of the younger officers were deficient even in the rudiments of education. A number of these officers were sent out to India, and Sir Power Palmer, the Commander-in-Chief in India at that time, had to point out the great loss of time and the expense of sending these officers through the garrison classes, their education being such that they were incapable of taking advantage of the garrison classes; and he was compelled to establish a preparatory class to educate the officers up to a standard so that they might be able to take advantage of those classes. From that point of view our officers were below the standard and wanting in elementary education. Sir Power Palmer declared at a public lecture at the United Service Institution that the average English public school boy was not fit for the Indian Army.

The Report of the Committee which sat to consider this question brought out three facts: first, that the standard of intellectuality and education of our young officers was below the mark; second, that we were hampered in our expeditions by the fact that our officers in this respect were inferior to those of any army of the world; and thirdly, that while the, greatest efforts were being made to improve the intellectual training of every Army of the world we were taking very little trouble indeed to do so. The evidence before the Committee brought to light the fact that keenness in their profession in young officers was out of date; that to take great interest in his profession was not correct form, and the object of the young officer was to do as little work as possible. The blame for this did not lie entirely at the door of the young men who wished to become officers. It was admitted that we had the best material and that if that material was properly trained in the first instance our officers would not be as they were at present— educationally and intellectually below the average of the officers of other nations. A good deal of the blame lay at the door of our public schools. The tendency of a public school was to prevent a boy receiving that which was necessary if he was to become a British officer, namely, a proper grounding in history and English literature and such subjects as were taught at a different class of school altogether. Speaking as an ex-officer and a University prizeman, he desired to point out that the majority of the young men who came from our public schools, where they had been perhaps for five years, came with a smattering of Latin, a slighter knowledge of Greek, and without sufficient grounding upon which to educate a British officer. At the present time the officer in the British Army compared most unfavourably with the officer in the British Navy. The officers in the latter service entered earlier, and were specially trained in those subjects which bore on their profession, but the men who were turned into the Army had not the proper groundwork to commence with, and the senior officer could not be blamed for not training young men whose education left no foundation upon which it was possible to build.

If there was to be a constant and full supply of officers there were many ways of getting them. The first was to reduce the expenditure as regarded mess, and in the cavalry the cost of horse, uniform and equipment, but over and above that, if the right class of men were to be obtained, their calling must be made a profession. Enough pay must be given to enable the officer to live upon it. The officer in the Navy, after a very short time, was enabled to exist upon his pay; the officer in the Army, on the contrary, was compelled for many years to be a burden to his family. The reason that the officers of the Indian Army were in all respects superior to the officers of the British regiments was because they had adopted the Army as a profession, and after a certain number of years knew they could retire on a pension on which they could live. To obtain officers by lowering the standard of intellectuality and general education was absurd, because a largo supply of officers of the wrong sort was almost as bad as no officers at all. The true methods of obtaining a suitable supply of officers was to give a proper rate of pay, to make the calling such that some importance attached to a knowledge of the profession, to give a proper retiring allowance, and not to force men who had shown themselves to be competent officers to retire at a time of life when they were fit for further service. He begged to move a reduction of 500 men.

Whereupon Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a number of Land Forces, not exceeding 220,800, all ranks, be maintained for the said Service."— (Captain Norton.)

SIR CARNE RASCH (Essex, Chelmsford)

agreed with the remarks of the hon. Member for West Newington with regard to officers' expenses, a subject which he thought was quite as important as the question of the new rifle recently brought before the House. The insufficiency of officers in the cavalry branch of the service was largely due to the unnecessary expense to which they were put, and the same remark applied to the Foot Guards. Unless the present system was altered, the Army would soon have to depend for its officers upon the class of men who had money but no brains. As the distinguished "Arthur Orton" used to say, "Some has money, and some has brains, but very few people have both," and the class with brains but without money was being worked out. The War Office must either reduce the expenses of the cavalry service or put up with officers who could not pass examinations, who were "the fools of the family," "numskulls," or "wasters;" they would have to take the son of the South African millionaire because he had a balance at the bank, and leave out the son of the country gentleman because he could not afford to serve in the cavalry. He did not mean to say that that obtained at present. He had a son in the cavalry, and he was certainly not a South African millionaire, but it was what would happen unless the system was altered. The Commission presided over by the present Home Secretary did a great deal in this direction. What they said was that the cavalry officers, who should be the eyes and ears of the Army, and on whom the safety of the Army and the country often depended, ought to be able to draw a good contour map, to speak one or two foreign languages, to write an intelligent letter, to shoot, and to ride. In order to get such men it was necessary to reduce the expenses of the cavalry service, and the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary certainly did his best in that particular. But while expenses were reduced at home, cavalry officers in India were treated very differently. Thus, to take two cavalry regiments with the same pay in the Army List and under the same direction of the War Office; in one the officer was given his chargers, in the other one was supplied and the officer had to pay £90 for the other; in one the officers were given their full salary, and in the other the War Office made them pay for their mess.


The Indian Government makes them.


reminded the right hon. Gentleman that he bad just said that he had to look after several armies, of which the Indian Army was one. Then as to the matter of dress. The extraordinary changes that were made, apparently for no other purpose than to increase expense, made it almost impossible for officers to live without some means in addition to their pay. Quite recently the War Office had altered the putties, sashes, sword-hilts, and stripes; but the most absurd Order of modern times was that an infantry officer should provide himself with a frock coat at a cost of eight guineas which could be worn only at Courts-martial. That surely was an absurdity. When the greatest soldier of all time marched into Berlin in 1806, the study into which he was shown was littered with patterns of caps, swords, and tunics, and Napoleon said— If the Prussian army had only been taught to fight as they have been taught to dress, I should not have been here. The book of dress regulations for the Army was a perfect mine of information; he had never seen anything like it. Certain regiments were allowed to wear linen collars, others were not. Cavalry regiments were to have forty-two lines on their buttons, while infantry regiments bad only thirty-two. What the lines were he had not the faintest idea. Certain regiments had three buttons on their waistcoats, others had five. Boots were to be made to fit the leg—not the arm it was to be observed! Officers were on no account to go into action in brown gloves. Sword hilts had been altered again and again. In Highland regiments they were to be of iron, in the Royal Medical Corps, of gilt; in the infantry, of nickel, and in the cavalry, of steel. What on earth was the use of all these changes and absurd regulations? They took one's mind back to the days of Thackeray, who wrote about a regiment, which he called "The Queen's Own Popinjays," and held the whole thing up to ridicule and contempt, as many Members would like to do now. He would suggest that the place of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Belfast at the War Office should be taken by the editor of the Tailor and Cutter. If they wanted to attract officers to the cavalry they must either reduce the expense or give them better pay, or else they would get an inferior class of men who could not and would not pass the examinations. He hoped hon. Members would not think that he had frivolously taken up the time of the Committee with these details and he trusted that the Secretary of State for War would give his attention to them.

*SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derbyshire, Ilkeston)

said he had listened with interest to the lively and somewhat caustic speech of his hon. and gallant friend opposite, and no doubt the Secretary of State for War would make a note as to the necessity of bringing about the reforms which had been asked for, and which, in his opinion, would be very useful. He thought less attention should be paid to details of this kind, and more attention should be given to those things which tended to make the Army a more powerful fighting machine. With regard to the Army Medical Corps he had not received anything like a satisfactory answer to the criticisms he had made and the questions he had put upon a former occasion. He rose on the present occasion in order to press for some explanation of the figures which the right hon. Gentleman gave when they discussed this question before. The Secretary of State for War told them that the Army Medical Staff had been, increased by some 462 officers. He had looked with interest at the Estimates, and he found that the increase in the Army Medical staff amounted to about fifty-two altogether, and he was, therefore, unable to understand the increase which the right hon. Gentleman referred to in his speech upon that occasion. He was glad that the Army Medical Staff had been increased by the numbers given, and that more money had been taken to make that department more efficient. He had no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman would carry out the policy of his predecessors and try to make the Army Medical Department what it ought to be in order to prevent disaster, and in order that they might be able to send a strong, vigorous, and healthy Army into the field. They had not yet attained that ideal, and as he had pointed out upon a previous occasion, if they studied the methods of the Japanese—who had taken our knowledge and applied it with great precision and minuteness, and had attained a success which no other army had every attained as regarding the health of its units—they would do a good day's service to the British Army.

He noticed that whilst the right hon. Gentleman was taking more money for the Army Medical Department for the military medical men and increasing their strength beyond the numbers of any year for years past, he was also taking more money than ever for civil medical practitioners. What was the reason for this? If they were having more Army medical officers why did they also want more civil practitioners? There must be some error or waste in one direction, or the other. It was claimed two or three years back that the normal amount required for the payment of civil practitioners would be about £16,500 per annum. Last year the Estimate was £36,000, and the other day they had an additional Estimate of £20,000, making for last year, with the Supplementary Estimate, an expenditure of £56,000 in one year for civil medical practitioners. That was an enormous sum, more especially when they took into consideration the fact that at the same time they had a larger Army Medical Staff than in any previous year. The hon. Gentleman who represented the War Office said the other day that the conditions in South Africa had something to do with this, for he stated that they required more of the Army Medical Staff in South Africa than had been anticipated. But surely that did not account for the fact that in every divisional command there was now almost double the sum required for civil medical practitioners. Whilst this kind of thing was going on he understood that they had Army medical officers looking after recruiting while the soldiers were being attended by civil medical practitioners who were also attending to their wives and children. There must be some disorganisation or some error in this arrangement. If they had more Army medical officers the best thing was to let them do the daily work of their profession. He believed that this was the result of a policy which had probably been forced upon the right hon. Gentleman by the Advisory Board, to the effect that he should not keep Army medical officers in small localities or towns and districts where there was little for them to do. It was considered that if they did the doctors would get rusty in their work. That might be true, but if so, how was it that in all divisional commands such as Aldershot they required more civil practitioners now than they did before, although they had a larger number of Army medical men than last year. Why was that? If they had civil medical practitioners doing certain work that Army medical officers ought to be doing, and if they were taking the Army medical officers from their close attention and relations with the troops, then they were doing something which was injurious to the Army. Work done for the soldiers would keep them up to their duty, and if the doctors were of the right stamp they would not get rusty, and then they would save this money which was now being spent upon civil practitioners. By putting the Army doctors to their proper duties they could save the country the £40,000 or £50,000 which was now being spent upon civil practitioners.

If there was any scheme in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman such as he ought to have in connection with the civil practitioners, he ought to be able to build up a reserve Army Medial Corps for time of war. He ought to have some system by which civil practitioners should be attached to the Army by engaging the services of the house surgeons in the various provincial centres, thus keeping up a connecting link between civil doctors and the Army Medical Staff, so that the War Office would know where to apply for the right kind of men to do the extra work required by active service. If the Secretary of State for War had to put two Army Corps into the field he would find that he had 40 per cent, too small a number of Army medical officers for that purpose This was not a satisfactory condition of things, and it ought not to exist. He wished to have from the right hon. Gentleman some explanation as to how it was that his Estimate for civil practitioners was going up by leaps and bounds even when many more doctors had been included in the Estimates for this year. The normal Estimate a few years back was about £16,500; it was now £37,500. This increase coincided with an increase in the Army Medical Staff, which was greater this year than it had been for many years past. If the right hon. Gentlemen could give any explanation of these facts he would elucidate what, up to the present, had been to him a great mystery.

CAPTAIN JESSEL (St. Pancras, S.)

said the shortage of officers in the Auxiliary Forces, and even in the Army itself, was a serious matter. The whole point in connection with that shortage lay in the fact that the amount of pay given to officers of the Regular Army was very meagre indeed. The shortage of officers in the Volunteers and Militia was due, he believed, to the hesitation which men had in joining these forces on account of the nature of the prospects held out to them. There was no doubt that the pay of the junior officer in the Army was inadequate in the changed circumstances of the present time It was a very curious thing that there had not been any addition made to the pay of the junior officer for nearly 100 years. He would point out to the Secretary of State for War that there was no shortage whatever disclosed by the figures relating to the artillery and the engineers, the reason being that the officers in these branches of the service had special pay which made their emoluments much higher than those of the officers in the Line or the cavalry.

A great deal had been said about the expenses of the cavalry. These expenses had been very much cut down of late years, but it was still very difficult for men to join cavalry regiments which were serving at home. He would ask the Secretary of State when giving attention to this question not to make the regulations so stringent that it would be impossible for men without means to be in a cavalry regiment at all. In the past the country had derived considerable benefit from men who joined cavalry regiments and the Guards, and gave good service until they came into their estates and left the Army. If they were going to exclude a man because he was better off than his neighbours, he thought they would cut off a supply which was beginning already largely to dwindle in regard to the cavalry. One of the reasons why they did not join now was that the conditions of service in the Army were very onerous. In the first place the work was a great deal harder than it used to be. The amount of time given for leave and recreation was a great deal less. It seemed to him that they could not have it both ways. If they expected officers to devote more time to the profession, and if they diminished the amount of leave which they had hitherto enjoyed, the natural consequence was that the officers would have to be better paid. Otherwise the men would find another profession. So far from any improvement having been made in their pay, there had been, on the contrary, a serious loss suffered by the officers in the mounted branch through the diminution of their allowances. Formerly the junior officers had a forage allowance for three horses. Now that was cut down to an allowance for two horses, with the result that the officer was out of pocket to the extent of no less than £20 a year. As to the old colonels on the staff, he understood that their emoluments in future were to be cut down. They were going to be paid fixed sums, and nothing was to be allowed for forage, servants, or lodgings. That was a pity. The men were disgusted, and those who had looked forward to a higher position than that of subaltern officers, seeing the emoluments taken away, were naturally giving up the profession.

He understood there had been complaints as to the badness of the saddlery supplied to officers. He did not think saddlery of an inferior description should be supplied. There was also a complaint as to the inferior class of furniture provided for officers' quarters, and as to the charge which the War Office made for the hire of it being too large. Another point which weighed with men who joined the Army was that under existing conditions there was no security of tenure. By a stroke of the pen the conditions under which men entered the Army might be cancelled, and a new set of regulations might be introduced which would deprive them of the advantages they might have had. A man might be dismissed at a moment's notice without trial or Court-martial of any sort, and with no reason given. These conditions made many men very chary of entering the service. He would probably be taunted by the Secretary of State with being one of those who advocated economy in the abstract, but who, when it came to the practical details, asked for an increase in the Estimates. However that might be, he did not think they could have an Army of any value without professional officers, and if they had professional officers they ought to pay them accordingly. There were little distinctions in the various branches of the Army which were dear to the heart of the soldier. In a volunteer Army it was upon these differences that the popularity of particular regiments depended. One of the attractions which induced men to enter particular regiments was the uniform. Although all would like to see expenses reduced, it was impossible in a volunteer Army to entirely do away with an expensive dress. At the same time, in his own experience, it was not the initial expense for uniforms that was so heavy. When a man first joined he was provided with an outfit and, as a rule, that outfit would last him for many years. It was the changes made by the War Office that really made the expense. There was the old question of gold lace. In former days many of the mounted regiments had gold lace, and that had been changed to stuff; but experience had proved that the many changes in stuff were much more expensive than gold lace, but the stuff-ornamented uniforms had to be much more frequently used and did not wear so well.

There was another point to which he wished to direct the attention of the Secretary for War. No doubt many men who joined one branch of the service found, owing to changed conditions, that they would like an exchange to another section. The case in his mind was that of an officer in the Indian Army who came into a considerable fortune and did not want to continue to reside in India. He was a good officer and well reported on, but there was no means of exchanging from the Indian Army into a regiment at home. He thought that no impediment should be put in the way of enabling officers to exchange from one branch of the service to another. Then, many officers who retired with a gratuity after a war were not allowed to rejoin afterwards. All these things affected the question of the deficiency in the number of candidates for a commission in the Army. Again, he did not think the Secretary for War had paid sufficient attention to the reserve officers. At any rate the right hon. Gentleman had not given sufficient details. Many men who had served well during the late war now belonged to no corps at all.

MR. SOARES (Devonshire, Barnstaple)

said that two years ago great scandals had arisen in connection with the provision of remounts for the mounted blanches of the service. He wanted to know what the Government were doing at the present time in regard to this matter of remounting. He undertook to say that if a war of a similar kind to that in South Africa were to break out, so far as the provision of horses was concerned, we should be in a worse position than ever in the horse-breeding districts of this country. Everybody knew that during recent years there had been a steady drain of good mares out of the country. The Government had done a little to encourage breeding by instituting prizes for remounts at local shows; but even in regard to that they seemed to have no settled convictions. He had had experience of these local shows, and thought that the plan of prizes for remounts was a very good thing; and he hoped sincerely that they would be continued. Every year there were from 500 to 700 mares of average age of eight years cast from the Army and sold—probably to run in hansom cabs or four-wheelers. He proposed that they should be sent to the market towns in the horse-breeding districts and sold to farmers on condition that they were put to thoroughbred stallions. Or they might be handed over to the Brood-Mare Society. He was quite sure that these would prove valuable means of securing good remounts. Of course the latter suggestion would involve the inspection of the books of the Brood-Mare Society, but he believed the society would not object to that.

MR. COURTENAY WARNER (Staffordshire, Lichfield)

said that the scarcity of officers arose from the fact that the War Office wanted them to do more than they used to do, for the same amount of money. It was quite clear that they must be asked for more work; but the question among the younger officers was that they were being asked to do a great deal of useless work which did not improve their intelligence in any way. There was first a company course; then a battalion course; afterwards a brigade course and I a divisional course, all followed by manœuvres, each repeating the work of the previous operation; and for the first seven or eight months officers and men were doing the same work over and over again. It could be very easily arranged that they should not be asked to repeat routine work; and in that way a good deal of work would be taken off the shoulders of officers and men and they might learn something more useful. He entirely disagreed with the suggestion that more pay should be given at the present moment. The right hon. Gentleman had got to make economies; the proposed economics were not sufficient; and if the present Estimates were not amended, there would have to be very severe amendments next year. A real reduction was necessary, and the sooner the Government recognised that the better for the Army.

The accounts which had been presented were rather misleading. The right hon. Gentleman talked about special accounts. There was an invasion of England in which the attacking and defending forces had been paid at a cost of £250,000 Then there was the sale of stores and other windfalls, and altogether the accounts of the Secretary of State, appeared to be about £1,000,000 out. That was a very serious matter. The right hon. Gentleman had to reduce expenditure, not only because of the revenue of the country, but also in the interests of the future of the Army. He was quite sure that if the present expenditure went on there would eventually be such a large reduction as would seriously endanger the efficiency of the Army. It would be perfectly possible at present to reduce the Army by 10,000 men without reducing its efficiency; but the right hon. Gentleman only suggested a reduction in the case of the Volunteers and the Militia, which were the cheapest branches. Although the Militia were to be reduced they were to be given more training; and the number of men required would not be forthcoming unless they were paid more. The Volunteers and the Militia were valuable assets for the defence of the country; and if they were reduced to an insignificant figure there would have to be a considerably increased expenditure on Regular troops. He knew that the right hon. Gentleman had a theory that only trained troops were of any use; but the Militia consisted of men who could be put under military law in event of an emergency, and who would be able to take the place of the first line. Surely, in any alteration of the Army consideration should be given to things that were useful while reducing more expensive items. Take for instance the new Intelligence Department. It was a very expensive item. Every one was in favour of a good General Staff; but there was an impression—he gave it for what it was worth—that it did not do the work it had to do. There was an impression entertained in military circles, and he believed also by some people at the War Office, that the efficiency of the General Staff was not what it ought to be. The Committee ought to have a definite assurance that this matter was not a mere paper scheme like the last.

And, it being half-past Seven of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.

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