HC Deb 28 March 1905 vol 143 cc1398-443

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


; An hon. Member on the other side of the House, in the course of the debate some days ago, said that there was an indisposition on the part of the War Office to discuss Army questions. I can assure the hon. Member who entertains that opinion that that indisposition does not extend to myself. There is no Member of the House who is more anxious that all questions connected with the Army should be discussed, and worthily discussed, than I am, and consequently I welcome the opportunity which this debate affords me. I have presented to the House a Memorandum which sets out at considerable length what has been done and what has been attempted by the War Office during the past year, and I think it would be tedious, and I do not think it would be profitable, if I were merely to make a review of that document at the present time. I prefer rather to devote myself to a more general survey of Army questions. I have no commission to give advice or to make suggestions to the House of Commons; but I do venture to think the discussions which have taken place with regard to Army matters have not been altogether profitable, and have not been an evidence that the House has realised how complex and how important this Army problem really is. I have heard once or twice in the course of debate an aspiration with which I cordially sympathise, that Army discussions might be outside the lines of Party differences. How far that ideal is from being realised only those can understand who have been present, as I have been compelled to be present, during the whole of the debates on Army matters in the present session. I have no hesitation in saying that a great part of those debates was devoted to matters which, though they were of relative importance, were absolutely unimportant compared with the great issues that are at stake. I do not deny for a moment that there are hon. Members from whom I may differ who do occasionally come into contact with the realities of the situation; who do recall the fact that we are dependent for our national existence to a large extent upon the well-being of our Army and its maintenance in a condition which fits it for war. But these were rare intervals in the debate, which otherwise was composed almost entirely of mere details, of innuendoes and small matters of Party difference which had practically no reference whatever to the real question of the Army. I hope I may be successful in the remarks I desire to address to the House to-day in redeeming myself, at any rate, from the error which I have ventured to criticise.

I will ask hon. Members to bear with me while I speak about Army questions, as a whole, and to tolerate my failure to reply to those many matters of detail and Party differences which have so much occupied the House hitherto.

The position, I do not hesitate to say, is peculiar. I believe that owing to causes for which I am not responsible, and which I would have avoided if I could, we are in the presence of the precise state of things which hon. Gentlemen opposite desired should be created. I was criticised last session for endeavouring to hasten the accomplishment of certain changes which I thought desirable without taking the House fully into confidence. I maintained then and I maintain now, that it is not only within the competence but it is the duty of the War Office to proceed with the reorganisation of the Army as part of its ordinary functions, and nothing that I did or sought to do was in my opinion ultra vires at the time I sought to do it. But, as I have already told the House, it has been necessary to arrest progress in more than one important particular. I have explained why it is that owing to the large number of short-service men in the Army we have had to make a pause and to hold our hand with regard to the full accomplishment of the scheme which I had the honour to lay before the House last year. I do not think hon. Gentlemen opposite have any ground for complaint, because one effect of this delay, voluntary or involuntary, has been to give them the opportunity which I am glad enough to give them of discussing every proposal that I have laid before the House.

Now I have been criticised on more than one ground. In the first place because I have gone too fast, and in the second place because I have gone too slow. I should like to recall to the House some of the relevant dates in this matter. This is the first set of Estimates that I have had the honour of presenting to the House which I have had anything to do with the framing of. It was scarcely seven months from this day that I laid before the House the proposals for which I desired its consideration; and any hon. Gentleman who supposes that great changes are to be made in the organisation of the Army or great reductions in the cost of the Army within seven months is greatly mistaken. I ask any hon. Member acquainted with the working of a large business whether, considering the character and magnitude of Army matters, the number of individual interests concerned and the gigantic sums involved, he really believes within a period of seven short months a great task of that kind can be undertaken and completed.

I have been blamed, and I suppose I shall be blamed, for not fulfilling a promise which I never made. I have presented to the House Estimates which no doubt represent a formidable sum of money. I have been told that I ought to redeem the promise that I would propose this year great reductions in the Army Estimates. I ask the House to judge between me and those who make that accusation. This is what I said when I spoke on this subject as late as July last year— I shall be asked what about economy? I am not going to pledge myself to positive figures, but I will say that next year the economy will be very little indeed. You cannot deal with a great Army, in which every man is serving on an engagement, as if it was composed of men taken on by the day. You will have to meet your engagements. Practically the only way of economising to a large extent next year would be by stopping the manufacture of the new gun, or by stopping recruiting. Those are not expedients to which, I think, any one desires us to resort, but I do think that we ought to aim at reducing the expenditure next year, so as not to have any serious excess upon the Estimates of this year. But it is my ambition to lay the foundation for a scheme which will enable my successors to effect progressive economies in Army expenditure, and that I believe I can do. I do hope if hon. Members feel inclined to repeat that accusation they will bear in mind those words. I have redeemed absolutely the pledge I gave. I believe that what has been done during the last year will make it easier for my successors to make progressive economies in the expenditure, of the Army. I did not pledge myself to effect any large economy now. Hon. Members must not suppose that when a Minister makes a statement of that kind he makes it without reference to the figures. These figures were known to me en bloc and in detail, and when I made that statement I knew the probabilities and the certainties of the expenditure of this year, and it was a simple business calculation with regard to expenditure on the Army. It is not true that I promised largo economies this year, but it is true that I expressed my belief that these economies could be effected, and it is true that I have made it easy for my successors, if they will follow the steps which I have indicated, to effect these economies in the future.

Now, I have been asked a great many questions in this House, and I am going for once to turn the tables and ask a few myself. We have heard this burning cry, this demand for economy on both sides of the House. It is a demand with which I entirely sympathise, and I shall consider that I have done something in my present office if I have made it easier for that demand to be fulfilled. I want the House to understand exactly their responsibility in this matter. If you are going to reduce Army expenditure you must reduce those things that cause the expenditure. The Army is composed of various sections. We have the Regular Army, the Militia, and the Volunteers. We have a large aggregation of units, and we have a large aggregation of individuals. I want to know on which of these particular items it is that the House has made up its mind that we shall effect these large reductions. [Mr. GUEST: "The Regular Army."] I do not know whether that is the opinion of every hon. Member opposite, it is not my opinion, but I take that interruption as a warning to those who understand the functions of the Regular Army that there is a section of this House which demands large reductions in the Regular Army.

I am going to press this matter a little home; but before I do so I should like to make an explanation with regard to the line I have adopted. I have been accused of a burning desire for change for the sake of change. That is not the case; but is there any hon. Member in this House who will say change is not required, that great changes are not needed? I was for three years serving at the Admiralty. During that time I saw every single institution connected with the Navy changed. I saw a change in the personnel, and I saw a change in the matériel. I saw a change in the position and relative rank of the officers. I saw a change in the distribution of the Fleet, and I saw a change in the whole scheme of naval education. I saw a change in every branch of the Navy either initiated or completed during the time I served at the Admiralty. Why were those changes effected? Because circumstances had changed and things were bound to change with the circumstances. If any one will rise and tell me that the circumstances affecting the Army have not changed as completely as the circumstances affecting the Navy I shall be astonished, and will ask him where he got his information? I am no seeker after change for the sake of change, but things have changed, and the Army has to conform itself to the change which has taken place. What is the change?

In the first place there has been the enormous change which is illustrated by the expenditure upon the Navy. An hon. Member of this House not very long ago interrupted me and said when I mentioned the Navy that we were engaged in an Army debate. I said then, and I say now, that the interruption was typical of the absolute failure to comprehend the whole of our military problem. We have been adding million after million to our naval expenditure. Are all these millions wasted? Are they thrown away? If it be true, as we are told by representatives of the Admiralty, that the Navy is in a position such as it has never occupied before—that it is now not only our first line of defence, but our guarantee for the possession of our own islands—is that to make no difference to a system which has grown up avowedly and confessedly on the basis of defending these islands by an armed land force against an invasion? Is that to make no difference? Is this view some invention of my own imagination? No, Sir; that is the deliberate conclusion of the Government, advised by a body which has been called into, I believe a useful existence during the last eighteen months, and which I regret was not called into existence much longer ago—the Committee of Defence. The Prime Minister has already on more than one occasion given expression to his own views of the situation; and he has simply echoed what is, so far as I can ascertain, the view of every single naval and military authority of any competence whatever upon this question of invasion. He has said that the question of the invasion of these islands in such force as to inflict a fatal blow or threaten our independence is impossible. In that he speaks with the undivided and absolute authority of the Committee of Defence, and I want to know who is the hon. Member who is going to question it? Who is the hon. Member who is going to lay down his own authority and say, not that the present Government is wrong, but that the naval and military authorities, who, I believe, are unanimous on this subject, are wrong with regard to this question of invasion? I have seen this matter stated in various ways. I have seen it stated that, provided our Navy is efficient, the greatest anticipation we can form in the way of the landing of a hostile army would be a force of 5,000. I should be deceiving the House if I said that represented the extreme naval view. The extreme naval view is that the crew of a dinghy could not land in this country in the face of the Navy.

Well, I am going to press this matter a little further. I am going to ask hon. Members to follow out my reasoning to its logical conclusion. Is it true or untrue that this country, if the Navy be efficient, is open to an invasion in force? Because if it is, it has a very remarkable consequence. If it is open to an invasion in force, what have you to do? You will have to do what every other great country in the world which is exposed to a similar threat has had to do. You will not have to indulge in soldiering which, however excellent, is mere voluntary soldiering; to a certain extent amateur soldiering. You will have to submit to the hard conditions other countries have had to submit to. You will have to submit to conscription. You will have to put your whole trained population into the line of battle to resist the attack of the best-trained troops in Europe. That is the logical and certain consequence of accepting the theory that an invasion in force of this country is a possibility.

COLONEL BLUNDELL (Lancashire, Ince)

What do you mean by an invasion in force?


I have already given my definition of what I consider would be the maximum conceivable force that could be landed in this country, but I would say any force which might reasonably be expected to attack a great country of this kind. I will deal with that again; but I say, if you accept the view that an invasion is possible, we are not playing the game of looking the facts in the face; we are trifling with the facts. We are not exempt from the dangers and difficulties which beset other nations; we have to face under these circumstances the same peril that Continental nations have to face; and we must face it in the same way—we must adopt the same means to combat it. No one in this House proposes that or has ever suggested it. There is no Member in this House who does not know perfectly well that that is not our real danger. Suppose we eliminate for the moment that item from our consideration. Either the Navy is or is not able to defend us. If it is able to defend us, there will be and can be no invasion of this country. If it is not able to defend us, what is, again, the logical and certain consequence of accepting that proposition? The Navy ex hypothesi is unable to defend us. You might have the whole population of this country armed—man, woman, and child, from Johno'Groat's to Land's End. You might have them drilled like the Macedonian Phalanx, and ready and anxious for war; but they would not prevail. If the hostile Power were sufficiently strong at sea to land 100,000 men in this country it would not be necessary for it to land the crew of a single barge. The invading Power would command the whole of the avenues of the sea. It would close the Thames and Southampton Water, the Mersey and the Humber, and within six days this country would be at their feet. No, Sir, we must think clearly upon this matter; we must recognise that one or other of these hypotheses is true, and we must act accordingly.

We have done something to test this. We have had an object-lesson. I think it is very strange we have not had one before. During last year we had a landing in force on the coast of England. I wish sometimes hon. Members who discuss these matters from a purely Army point of view would try to realise them from a naval point of view also. I wish they had been with me and seen, off Clacton beach, eight ships of war and a number of transports trying to land 13,000 men—which they did in two days—and embarking them again in four days. I wish they had tried to picture, as I did, what would have happened one hour after dark, with the Medway flotilla of destroyers fifteen miles in one direction and the Harwich flotilla of destroyers fifteen miles in another—with these great men-of-war and transports swinging at anchor. I do not think I misinterpret the belief of any single officer, naval or military, who has thought of this question when I say that there would not be a single one of those ships at anchor or upon the sea next morning. Either this is true or it is not. I ask the House to accept the conclusion one way or the other. Both conclusions cannot be right. If we are really open to an invasion in force by a great Continental army we must prepare for it. If we believe we are right in expending this enormous sum upon the Navy, I think we may consider the Prime Minister is right and that we are relieved, at any I rate, from the contemplation of that particular danger.

I said that other things had changed, but I have not enumerated all the things which in my opinion have changed. We have had it laid down by the Prime Minister on behalf of the Government that the principal duty of the British Army is to fight the battles of this country across the sea. Across the sea can have but one meaning I hope—it can only mean fighting in those parts of the world where we have our own frontiers to defend against any possible threat—because I hope and think we may eliminate the idea that we are going to enter into competition with the great military nations of the world in Continental warfare. If that be so—if it be true that our problem is to find an Army which is to fight on our own frontiers in the event of war—are we or are we not going the right way about to furnish that Army? Is there any change in the threat which we have to contemplate? No one will doubt there have been very great changes. There have been changes which have made our situation more dangerous. There have been changes which, have made our situation, for the time at any rate, less dangerous. But to suppose there has not been change, and that there has not been need for a closer and more perfect organisation for our transmarine force, is absurd. We have demands made from India for a definite supply of troops, and it is on those demands the War Office has been working, and that the War Office ought to work. We have to supply a certain number of troops for the defence of India in time of war, and unless we supply them we are in this dilemma; either we must deny that these demands are legitimate, or we must admit that we ourselves fail in one of the primary duties which fall upon the War Office. We are, I believe, successfully endeavouring to fulfil these demands. But I do want the House of Commons to understand that in order to fulfil them there must be, so long as these demands hold good, great demands on the Regular Army of this country. And I would point out that these great demands must be the demands of war, not the demands of peace. That seems a truism, but it is not altogether a truism. We are the only country in the world which has to keep up in peace time a great Army on a war footing. We keep up, at the present time, an Army, larger than the standing army of many other countries, entirely outside our own shores, in peace time. In order to do that we must have a certain nucleus of Regular troops at home in order to furnish a body which will enable us to establish a circulation between the troops at home and the troops abroad. But when the troops at home and abroad have been furnished, there is undoubtedly a certain portion of the Regular Army which for peace purposes may be regarded as redundant. You may, I am convinced, supply your purposes with a smaller fully-organised Army than you now have.

But for war purposes the Army is not nearly adequate for the purposes of that demand. How are we to reconcile these two demands? My view is that the logic of the situation is inexoiable. If we are really to meet this demand at all, upon any sound basis, we must look at these facts. We must limit our Army which is kept on a war footing in peace time to the needs of our own peace requirements. We must have something, in addition to that Army, which will enable us to expand with great rapidity and certainty in order to fulfil the much larger demand of war when war comes. Have we any example of how that end may be achieved? I think we have. We have just seen great changes made in the Navy. We have seen the Navy concentrating its materiel and personnel; we have seen those ships which are inefficient and useless for war laid up and put on the scrap heap; we have seen those ships which are required for training purposes in time of peace fully manned and equipped; and we have seen those ships which are not required in time of peace, but which "will be required in time of war, laid up with a sufficient organisation to enable them to go to sea in time of war, and with a nucleus crew which can rapidly be angmen ed. That seems to me a correct analogy which we ought to follow with regard to our Army. That is the principle of the change I propose, and that I believe is the principle upon which any Government must proceed if they are going to provide for the needs of the Regular Army abroad, and to achieve some economy in our Army Estimates.

Now I will venture to ask the House of Commons one or two Questions to which, no doubt, I shall receive various and varied replies. I may be right, or I may be wrong, in my appreciation of the line which should guide this or any other Government; but my view is this. We want an Army adequate and adapted to our needs, and we do not want anything in excess of our needs. We want reduced cost by getting rid of what is redundant. Now, if we are all agreed upon that, as I think we are, I will ask hon. Members, in the discussion that will follow my remarks, to apply that doctrine and test to all the remarks they make, and to ask themselves whether what they advocate—whether it be in regard to the Regular Army, or the Auxiliary Forces, whether it be horse, foot, or artillery, materiel or personnel—to ask themselves if what they advocate is required to meet our needs, and if it is not wanted do they acquiesce in our being committed to the expense. If they do not, then a great deal of the lecturing I have heard, and a great deal of sound economical doctrine falls to the ground. If you are not ready to try all Army matters by the test of their value in time of war, then you are trifling with the subject, and your advocacy of economy may be set aside.

If, then, it is desirable to effect reductions in the Estimates, I may be asked how are the reductions to be made? Are we to cut down Line battalions?

MR. GUEST (Plymouth)

Hear, hear!


The hon. Member for Plymouth says "Yes," and I think I do not misinterpret the hon. Member for Oldham when I include him among those who say "Yes."


Hear, hear.


He drew a picture the other day, or he sketched a plan of what he conceived to be the proper policy in the interests of economy. He said, I think, "Get rid of the regimental colours, sell the regimental plate, break up the battalions."


said he was explaining that there necessarily would be a reduction of units, and the right hon. Gentleman himself was disposed to take away some twelve battalions.


No, the hon. Member must allow me to say I am not inventing a fiction.


said he was representing the difficulty of carrying the right hon. Gentleman's scheme into effect, that he would have to disband battalions, in which case the colours might be got rid of, and so on.


I accept the explanation, and with the more readiness because I am going to say something as to which we shall not widely differ. The second paragraph of the hon. Member's remarks is not a correct description of what I said or desire. It is true I told the House of Commons that I was willing that fourteen of the most recently-formed battalions, which had no great traditions, no great past, should be reduced, but on what conditions? On the conditions that they should be replaced at once by nineteen battalions having Regular officers and all the traditions of military service. It is not an accurate representation of what I said to suggest that I desired to reduce battalions. But what I was going to say is this. The hon. Member for Oldham is perfectly right as to the logical consequence of a reduction of Line battalions. That it would give immediate relief, and allow a saving no one can deny; yet I will venture to say that no more disastrous or more uneconomical policy could be pursued. Why? Because the moment you go to war you have to confront a situation such as we recently had in South Africa, you have to look around for officers. You take off fourteen Line battalions and at a stroke you cut off 400 Regular officers from the Army. Men you can get when the country is threatened; but to take the course suggested would be to fly in the face of the experience of every country in Europe. I venture to say the course I suggest is a wiser one. If we are bent on economy, we should reduce those battalions of the Line which are not immediately necessary for our purpose in time of peace to such an establishment in regard to men and pay as will give us economy in recruiting, as will enable us to form a large and growing reserve, which will enable us to effect real economy in peace time consistent with efficiency and the power of expansion in time of war. I am sure it would be folly to break up whit we have already got in pursuit of an economy that would not be realised.

I have been, and no doubt I shall be, asked to speak about the Militia. Hon. Members know very well, for I have never concealed it, that I take a view which is not acceptable to the whole of the House in regard to the Militia. I know very well that in a matter of this kind you cannot go much in advance of public sentiment. I know that no War Minister, even the most powerful, and certainly not the present War Minister, can hope to effect such changes as I contemplate unless he has the full sentiment of the country with him. That sentiment is not always as enlightened as it might be. Happily this country has been free during its history from the lessons of real war. We have never seen an invader on our shores; we have never gone through the bitter experiences of some other countries. And the result is that we take what I may call an amateur view of military matters, a view we should not take if we had had to bear the heavy burdens which have been laid on some nations who know what war really means.

Be that as it may, I accept, as the House is aware, what I believe is the feeling of the time in regard to the Militia. We have taken a full Vote for the Militia in the Estimates for the coming year, and we have introduced a Bill, which I hope the House will pass, to enable us to utilise the Militia in time of war. I recognise the readiness with which the Militia came forward and the good service they did during the late war, and I believe they would do the same thing again should occasion arise. But we must not deceive ourselves. One man in circumstances in which you can depend upon him may be more valuable for purposes of war organisation than ten men whom you may or may not obtain. The only object of creating the force is that it may be available for fighting purposes abroad. We propose that the Militia should be organised and dealt with as such a force capable of taking part in a campaign; and, accepting it as axiomatic that our Army is almost entirely for oversea service, it follows in logical sequence that the Militia to be an effective part of the Army should be available for service oversea. Therefore, I hope the Bill will pass, and I believe it is in harmony with the views of officers and men of the Militia.

But I cannot shut my eyes to the fact that more will be required than the passing of a Bill to allow the Militia to be sent abroad in time of war. The Militia at this moment are simply an adjunct to the Line. There are 35,000 men enlisted as recruits to the Militia in a single year, and out of a force of 90,000—and this will give an idea of the filtering of men through the Militia—15,000 pass into the Line annually. The Line is dependent, I was going to say, on the Militia for its recruits, and you must therefore be careful in treatment of the Militia to have in mind the well-being of the Line. It is my hope and duty to do all in my power to make the force effective. To do that involves expenditure. There must be extended training periods. No officer will pretend that with their present training the Militia can be expected to engage with success against well-trained armies. Therefore, we must have longer training and corresponding expenditure; and I believe that, within the limits of the present Estimates, by this expenditure on their preparation the Militia may be made more capable of good service in time of war. But they can only be made available if the House will reconcile itself to what is its obvious duty and will allow the War Office to reduce those battalions of Militia which are unable to subsist with advantage to the country, and to amalgamate others which are too weak to form a proper unit according to the interpretation of modern warfare. We will do all that we can, with the consent of the House of Commons, to make the Militia force what the House of Commons has a right to demand that it should be made.

But it must not be forgotten that we may come to a point when one of two things will happen. Either you will demand too much from the Militia, or you will give too much to the Militia. If you demand too much from the officers of a voluntary force, and if you demand too long a service out of a period of twelve months, you will at once transform the character of the Militia, and you will have something which is not a Regular force, but which is very far removed from the voluntary force which the Militia now is. Or, on the other hand, you may have this result—you may make service in the Militia more attractive than the service of the Line and that would be the most dangerous development of all. At the present moment, 15,000 men are passing every year out of the Militia into the Line, and all those who know, as I know, the inner side of these transactions, know very well that for every 15,000 would be added many thousands more if the physical development of the men allowed them to be passed on. If you make the Militia the more attractive avenue for recruits not only will you withdraw from the Line the 15,000 men now going into it, but you will withdraw many men who now enlist in the Line, but who, under these circumstances, will find it preferable to enter the Militia.

We have arranged, in accordance with the desire of the House, to do what we can to improve the quality and increase the efficiency of the Militia. [An HON. MEMBER: What do you propose?] I have already told the hon. Member what we propose. It is that we should, in the first place, obtain from the House of Commons permission to utilise the Militia abroad in time of war. We shall then have to see what effect that liability has on the officers and men of the Militia. I do not think anybody here can exactly prophecy what the effect will be. We should then have to carry out the proposal I have adumbrated of reducing or amalgamating the inefficient units of Militia. We shall then have to lengthen the period of service of the Militia, and so by these measures in combination—the concentration of units, the prolongation of the period of training, and the liability for foreign service—we can produce a force which, in the opinion of those most competent to judge, will be easily available for the purposed of war.

But we have had some lessons on this matter of late. We have had the lessons of the Japanese War; and if there is one lesson preeminent above all others, it is that quality far more than quantity is the factor which produces success in modern warfare. I am not going to stand up in this House and contend that the Militia, or any other force, will really be effective for the purposes of war unless we have in its ranks officers and men who are in the matter of quality, in the matter of physique, in the matter of morale, and in the matter of training, the equivalent, and more than the equivalent, of the officers and men against whom they might possibly beemployed in war.

I come now to the proposal which I made to the House last session with regard to short-service enlistment. I have explained to the House why it is impossible at the present time to proceed with the concurrent enlistment for long and short service. I have explained that it is because it has been necessary to provide the Army with a nucleus of long-service men. Long-service recruiting must be continued for several months to come. When we have obtained that necessary nucleus it will be absolutely essential to reconsider the position. I myself have proposed, and certainly if I am responsible for this office at that time I will enforce the view, that it is necessary to provide for the purpose of making a reserve a short-service Army, enlisted on special terms. I cannot pledge the future for anyone except myself. [An HON. MEMBER: You are not speaking for the Government.] Yes, Sir, I am. What I was proposing to say was this. I was told last session that I was binding the country, pledging the country, to a change which the country might not approve. I give the House fair warning that when the time comes, if it is my duty and privilege to deal with this matter, that is the manner in which it will be dealt with. Nothing up to this moment has been done which will prejudice in any way the policy of anyone who may be called upon to deal with the subject and who may think that the method which I have proposed is not the right one. Nothing has been done, nothing has been attempted, which can or will interfere with the liberty of anyone to carry into effect, if he can, a wiser and better system. I believe—and I think I can prove to the House that the necessity which I believe to exist will prove to be a real necessity to everyone who deals with this problem, and that the moment any one finds himself face to face with the facts and figures which I have found myself face to face with, he will come to the same conclusion as I have—that you cannot on a long-service basis alone furnish a reserve adequate to the demands which will be made upon us in time of war; and that if you want to furnish and maintain such a reserve, as I believe we all do, you must resort to some form, of short-service enlistment.

SIR EDWARD GREY (Northumberland, Berwick)

Will the hon. Gentleman define what he means by short service and long service?


I have already defined quite clearly what my view is. I have made that abundantly clear, but I do not pretend that there is any magic about two as opposed to three years. What I say at present is that this matter is an open question to anyone who deals with it. I believe, because I have calculated this matter, that the periods I have recommended are those which will most easily conduce to the economy we desire, and to the creation of that reserve which is essential. But of this I am certain, that whoever deals with the question will have to face it as I have had to face it, and will have to consider the formation of a reserve concurrently with the economy which we all desire to effect.

I ought to say something, but at present I shall not, about the question of officers. The question of officers is being dealt with by an Amendment to be proposed by my hon. friend the Member for the Newport Division. To me it is a most important question. It is a question which has been engaging the ceaseless attention of the Army Council. It is a question on which an important and well-qualified Committee is now engaged. It is a question of importance in war time, but I prefer that I should reserve anything I have to say on it until it is brought forward by my hon. friend.

Nor do I desire to speak at length, or again, on the question of the Volunteers. I have made perfectly clear to the House what is my view with regard to the Volunteers, and I believe my view, in spite of all that has been said of it, is that of nine-tenths of the Volunteer officers of this country. [An HON. MEMBER: No.] Well, whether it be so or not, I have a very large amount of testimony to that effect, and I would say this, that, after all, this matter is not one that can be decided only by Volunteer officers. I want the officers who do not take the view I do to answer me these questions. Are they prepared to take issue with me upon this point? Are they prepared to say that the Volunteer force as it stands, man for man and officer for officer, is at the present moment necessary for the safety and welfare of the country? [Cries of "Yes."] If they are prepared to say so, are they confident that it is organised and officered and equipped in such a way as to be able to render that service? I want these two questions answered.

MAJOR SEELY (Isle of Wight)

Yes and no.


Yes and no! I hope we shall have a reasoned answer to these questions. It will involve a direct categorical negative to the proposition which I have advanced that the Navy is the first defence of this country. We have at the present moment in this country, apart from a Regular Army, apart from the Reserve, apart from the Royal Navy, apart from the Royal Marines, apart from all those who have served in the Army, Militia, and Volunteers, who can be relied upon to join the colours, we have no less than 360,000 men who are tied to the soil of the country in the time of war.


Do you propose to abolish them?


No, Sir, I do not.


Why not?


I have never expressed that view. I have expressed the view which I think is logical, consistent, and coherent, that we should consent to a reduction of that force in order to increase its efficiency. I want someone to categorically affirm that the maintenance of 360,000 men in a time of peace in this island, tied to the soil by law, is necessary for the defence of the country against any danger which may be reasonably apprehended.

SIR HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)

There were 150,000 who went abroad the other day.


If the hon. Member will allow me to say so, I am not misled by that observation. I have observed an interesting tendency on the part of my hon. friend to meet me half way and to admit that the Volunteers and Militia are maintained, or largely maintained, for the purpose of meeting a foreign enemy across the sea, and he has pointed out that they are most useful for that purpose. I am the last to deny the service they have rendered during this last campaign, but I ask the House of Commons whether, if that is what we are maintaining the Militia and Volunteers for, we are pursuing the right process to accomplish our ends. Is there any other business in the world in which you would follow precisely the same course? If these troops are really to go abroad in time of war, would it not be better to arrange in peace time so that they might fall into their places in war? Would not it be well to have a certain number of officers on whom we could rely in time of war to organise their train, their transport, and equipment, and to arrange for this purpose on the basis of a foreign-going Army. That goes a great deal in advance of my own recommendations at the present time, but I do recognise that if my hon. and gallant friend will meet me half way, a great deal might be done, because I am confident that there is magnificent material in the Volunteer force.

Now, Sir, I trust that, in these discussions on the Army Estimates, we may at any rate endeavour to keep on the main lines of what is really necessary for the defence of the country. I was sorry the other day to see a departure, if I may say so, from the canon which I have ventured to suggest to the House in the parson of Lord Rosebery. He took the most melancholy view of the present position of the War Office and of the Army generally, and he raised a most mournful wail over the impossibility of ever getting anything done which his desired to see done. That is not the way in which we must approach this discussion. It is perfectly true that the Army has to labour under difficulties which the army of no other country in the world has to labour under. I was told the other day that there have been only three chiefs of the general staff of the German Army in 100 years. To throw in my teeth the fact that that is not precisely a parallel to our own Army is not to make my path easier. If we are really in earnest in trying to get this matter right, and in trying to get an Army suitable to our needs, do not let it end in abuse, do not let it end in merely pointing out that this man or that man is incompetent. Let it end in some concrete, positive suggestion. Let it end, if possible, in some agreement between the Parties who are responsible for the government of this country. Nothing will be gained, I am perfectly certain, by confining our discussions on Army matters to purely personal or Party disquisitions.

I think I have a right to say that, however just these criticisms may be—I think they have been overdrawn and exaggerated. It is not given to the wisest, much less to the less wise, to do in seven months a great deal for the reorganisation of a great service. But I think I may fairly claim that the Army Council, of which I am a member, during the brief time in which it has administered the War Office has done something. We have, I believe, put the infantry in a position that is infinitely better than the position it occupied a year or two ago. We have introduced a scheme for the cavalry which, I think, is a most congenial scheme from the cavalry point of view, and is likely to promote the same efficiency of the force as in the infantry. We have also, as a result of careful inquiry, produced a scheme for the reorganisation of the garrison artillery, which, I believe, will diminish the cost and increase the efficiency of that important branch of the service. We have brought the Guards up to their full strength—they were lamentably below it. We have co-operated with the Royal Navy both in our inquiries about matters which concern both services and the execution of common duties side by side on shore and on shipboard. We have taken a step which I, at any rate, for years have hoped might be taken—we have handed over to the Navy the aquatic defences of our naval ports. That is an accomplishment which, I believe will be entirely in the interests of both services. We have made progress which, despite some of the criticism which has been directed against myself and the Department, is, I believe, genuine and rapid—progress with the new gun, of which the country will see proofs in a very few days. We have completed our reorganisation of the War Office and the administration of the Army at home on a basis which, I believe, will commend itself to those who have to work the system and conduct the work of that office in days to come. We have doubled the Intelligence, Department. We have put our finger on one of the blots which were disclosed by the South African War, and we have reorganised the veterinary department of the Army. We have also made substantial additions to the medical staff of the Army, and we have commenced the construction, too long delayed, of the great military medical college in London. We have made some progress with the withdrawal of battalions from the Colonies. Finally, we have placed under the guardianship of the Government of the Dominion of Canada the great Imperial fortresses which are situated in that country, and it is a great pleasure to me to be able to say that the Dominion Government has undertaken to bear the cost of that important portion of our Imperial defences.

For the future we are introducing two Bills which I hope will meet with the favourable consideration of this House. I have already alluded to one of them—the Militia Bill. We are also introducing a Manœuvres Bill, which is of the most vital importance to the efficiency of the Army. I do not think that is a very bad record for a very few months of administration under somewhat difficult circumstances.

I have been made the subject of attacks—it may be that most War Ministers, until the ideal Minister comes, will be made the subject of attack, but I am not greatly moved by those attacks, and I shall not be greatly moved until I find a greater consensus of opinion amongst those who attack me. I find I am dealing with at least six armies. I am dealing with the Army in India, the Indian Army, the Army at home, the Militia, the Volunteers, and the great army of those who have left the colours and are now entrenched in the clubs of this city. I am not sure that the last army is not the most destructive, the least patriotic, and the least helpful of all the six. But there is one circumstance which is common to all these great armies, that those who belong to them and those who take a special interest in them regard these great divisions of our national organisation as quite independent of each other. That is my difficulty. That is, I am certain, the difficulty which must confront every Minister in my position—the absolute want of comprehension on the part of some persons in this country of the essential unity of our military forces. There ought not to be any essential opposition between any of these great branches—except the last—in our Army. But there is no doubt that it exists; and it finds expression in this House. It is one of the most perplexing and one of the most disheartening features of the debates in this House that we find Member after Member getting up and speaking with great conviction, some knowledge, and a desire to do his best for the country—solely in the interests of one branch or section of a branch of the forces of this country. Unless and until there is some community of thought and action these difficulties will remain. But they are not essential difficulties. They must be got over, and until they are got over we shall not have the Army which we desire.

I have not much more to say. I believe that in the proposals which I have made to the House and which I am perfectly ready to discuss, I have behind me the bulk of the Army, and I believe I have on my side the true interests of the nation, Let hon. Members remember that this is not a problem with which I am personally called upon to deal and from which they are exempt. My problem is their problem. It is the problem of every Ministry that will ever sit in this House. My difficulties will be their difficulties. I am not going to prophesy; that would be a far too presumptuous thing to do; but I venture to express a belief that when this problem is studied in the light of modern conditions, as I have been compelled to study it, those who are called upon to deal with it will substantially come to the same conclusion that I have come to, that they will be guided, as I have been guided, I trust, by one thought alone, that is, the necessity for providing an Army with one qualification, and one only—namely, fitness for war and fitness to succeed in war.

Let us have done once for all with this demand for hurry. I may be blamed and scolded, but this is not a matter to be accomplished in seven months. I venture to say that any Party which can in seven months or fifteen months produce the same results in the right direction as we have produced will have something to congratulate themselves upon their success. The hon. Member for Oldham has said that the tide is rising that will sweep away the work that I and the Army Council, of which I am a member, have accomplished. Well, Sir, there are some things that we have constructed which no tide will sweep away. There are other things, I fully admit, which it will be within the powers of any one who succeeds me to sweep away. But I do not admit that any one who has the true welfare of the Army at heart will be very desirous of sweeping away any portion of our work, unless and until he has prepared as a substitute something which his conscience and his knowledge tell him, and his experience confirms him in believing, is certain to produce better results than that which he destroys.


I think it is usual on these occasion, when a Minister makes his speech before the House goes into Supply, that we should proceed to discuss the various Amendments which are standing on the Paper, and defer to a subsequent opportunity the general criticisms and discussions which must arise on the statement of the Minister. I think that that is an excellent arrangement, and I am bound to say, as I have often found fault with other arrangements, that in the arrangement of business contemplated by the Ministry on this occasion they have contrived to give us practically the whole Government time next week for discussing this question. I am glad of the liberal interval, because I think it was M. Talleyrand who said he advised people always to distrust first impressions. I will not associate myself with the reasons which he gave for that advice. It was that first impressions are generally honest impressions. But the advice in itself was sound and useful. I must confess that, although the right hon. Gentleman has made a most able statement, and has explained what we always knew existed—his strong and earnest desire for the improvement of the Department over which he presides—we acknowledge that whether we agree with him in his methods or not he has not furnished us precisely with that which it was most important, in my opinion, the House of Commons and the country should have.

The right hon. Gentleman devoted at least three-fourths of his speech to an exposition of his own opinions—of what he would do, what he contemplated doing in the future, the view that he takes of different parts of our military system. But what we want to know now, especially after what has occurred, and knowing as we do the great activity the Cabinet has shown in these matters, is the opinion, not of the right hon. Gentleman, but of the Government. It was quite a relief and pleasant change when, towards the end of his speech, he began to recount what had been done by himself and his colleagues at the War Office in certain administrative matters, and when the pronoun "we" appeared in his speech for, I think, the first time, the right hon. Gentleman turned on the unfortunate Members of this House and asked them a number of puzzling conundrums. To a certain extent he was right; but, after all, those conundrums do not take the first place. The questions that are most important are those that ought to be addressed to the Government themselves. The right hon. Gentleman said that we wanted not vague ideas, but concrete and positive suggestions. Where are the positive and concrete suggestions in the statement of the right hon. Gentleman? On the main questions—and I will take the three which have excited interest in the country—of the future of the Militia, the future of the Volunteers, and the future terms of enlistment—we have received no assurance whatever. The right hon. Gentleman has put off these three questions, but especially the last one, on to the back of the unfortunate person, whoever he may be, who is to be his successor. I notice the singular fact that throughout his speech he never talked of what he would be able to do in another session. It was not what he hoped, on another occasion, to be able to do when the confusion that had been undoubtedly created by the drafts for the foreign Army which had put the whole question of enlistment and recruiting in a confused condition was over, but he saddled that on his successor.


I said that if I was responsible for the conduct of this office next year I should certainly carry out the scheme I had laid before Parliament.


Are we to understand that the Government approve of the scheme of last year? That is precisely one of the things we wish to know; and I hope that, before the beginning of next week, the Government will have made up their mind, one way or the other, on that important question. The right hon. Gentleman's proposal was a home Army entirely short service, the shortest of short service, and another Army, which is of long service, to serve abroad. Have the Government accepted that proposal? I am not speaking in any captious spirit. I am merely expressing what I am sure is the feeling of all those who have followed this controversy, and I hope that next week, at least, we shall have more information and more light than we have at present on this question. The right hon. Gentleman said we must not be in a hurry in these matters—that seven months would not be enough, and that seven years might not be enough. That was not the impression he gave us a year ago. He was very much in a hurry himself. He went down to the country and told his audience not only exactly what ought to be done but what were the difficulties in his way and that he thought he could get over them. The right hon. Gentleman has this merit, that he is not lacking in confidence in himself. I say that without any intention of saying anything derogatory of the right hon. Gentleman. But he says now that we are not to be in a hurry.


The right hon. Gentleman has quoted something of what I said. But I think I also said on the same occasion that this might take twenty years to accomplish.


But last year we were told that the Army was in a perilous condition and that it was a danger to the State. In what respect is it loss a danger to the State to-day than it was twelve months ago? I think the right hon. Gentleman will have to give us a little more explanation—I have no doubt he will—on these large questions next week. In the meantime, I am not disposed to enter further upon the discussion, because I think it is more in accordance with our usual practice and with the interest of the question, that we should defer further discussion until next week.

*MR. RENWICK (Newcastle-on-Tyne)

said he desired to move the Motion standing in his name with reference to the necessity for increasing the number of rifle ranges for Volunteer corps. For many years they had heard in the House and in the country of the necessity for providing further rifle ranges for Volunteers. Personally, he had known the Volunteers for forty-five years, through his father's connection with the force and also through his own; and during the whole of that period he had always heard it urged that the Volunteers had insufficient ranges for the purpose of carrying on necessary practice in shooting. The recent Report of the Royal Commission on the Militia and Volunteers also pointed out the necessity of ranges and exercise grounds being provided at the cost of the State. Was it not, therefore, time that the House seriously took up this important question, and settled it. They all knew the importance which was attached to shooting during the South African War. They were told by the most eminent military authorities that the Volunteers had performed most excellent service, to the State during that war, and had shown an example which the Regular Army might well have followed. Lord Roberts stated that his experience had impressed him that unless a man was an expert in the use of the rifle, both at short and long ranges, he would be of very little use in modern warfare. That was testimony which they could not afford to disregard; and it was in itself an ample excuse for calling attention to this most important question One of the reasons why it was more important now than ever before was because of the highly increased range of the modern rifle. They had heard that the Boers made excellent practice at 1,500 yards, and could hit a convoy at 1,700 yards; he believed the new short rifle was sighted at 1,500 yards; yet a recent Return showed that the great majority of the Volunteer rifle ranges were only 200, 300, and 500 yards in length. Therefore, it would be impossible to adopt Lord Roberts' advice with a rifle sighted at 1,500 yards on a 200 yards range.

There were, he knew, increasing difficulties in getting long ranges owing to the objections of landlords and others; but if the State were in earnest these difficulties could be overcome. If a railway company required a piece of ground a mile or two in length it very soon got it, although it was generally in a most populous part of the country, whereas the most suitable places for rifle ranges were in the less densely populous parts. The Marquess of Huntly in another place recently stated that a Volunteer battalion in Northampton found a suitable range on his own property; and although he regarded it as a nuisance, he did not think it right to stand in their way. But when he went to the War Office they would only offer a third of the value. All honour to the noble Marquess for having given expression to this view. The landlords generally alleged that a range would interfere with their sporting rights. These rights might be valuable; but the safety of the country was more valuable; and he thought that patriotic landowners ought to give away a small portion of their sporting rights for the good of the State. If they refused, the House ought not to have any hesitation in compelling them to give up the necessary land. There was a typical example of the difficulties in the way of Volunteers in the case of the Northumberland Fusiliers, who had their headquarters at Newcastle-on-Tyne. The range at which they had to practise necessitated a railway journey of ten or eleven miles and a two mile walk afterwards. When they got to the range they usually found that owing to two regiments being encamped there it was occupied by Regular soldiers, or also by a Militia battalion. Above all, there was a right of way across the range which created a further difficulty, there being sometimes a wait of a quarter of an hour between each shot fired. It was perfectly obvious that in the face of difficulties like these it was impossible for the Volunteers to obtain that efficiency at which they aimed. If the Government desired to make the Volunteer efficient in the limited time at his disposal, the best way was to make him an efficient shot. He did not think the country agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that there was no fear of invasion; disasters might happen to warships, and in any event we should have some force on which we could fall back when the Regular Army was engaged abroad as it was in South Africa recently. If they had the opportunity, the Volunteers were anxious to qualify and become efficient, they were prepared to give their time, but they were not prepared to sacrifice all their leisure time in attending ranges where it was impossible to carry out the practice they so much desired. The Government should seriously consider this matter, and see that the powers vested in the county and borough councils to acquire land for the purpose of providing ranges were put into force, and to insist on ranges being provided in accordance with the recommendations of the Royal Commission.

He trusted the right hon. Gentleman in his endeavour to get efficiency instead of numbers would not sacrifice; he Volunteers. In the Volunteers they had men of the greatest intelligence, and when it was remembered that this magnificent force was obtained for about £1,200,000 a year, the cost of a single ironclad, it must be admitted that the country obtained a remarkably efficient force for a very little money. They must also remember that the Volunteers went to the front in time of peril in South Africa in large numbers and fought for their country and did their duty well. If partially trained troops had to be sent abroad in the future he would far rather see the Volunteers sent out than men such as those to whom they had to pay 5s. a day and who were sent out to South Africa in the second detachment of the Yeomanry, many of whom had no practice whatever at rifle shooting. Parsimony was not true economy, and the time to prepare for war was during peace, and one of the best means of preparing for war was to make the Volunteers efficient and to give the rifle ranges which were necessary to obtain efficient shooting. He was sorry to see that the sum of £170,000, which was given for this purpose in 1901–1902 and 1903 no longer appeared on the Estimates. Surely if it was necessary to give this sum in past years it was equally necessary to give it now, and he therefore trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would reconsider the matter. He thought he had said enough to commend the Resolution standing in his name to the House, It was said that this country after Waterloo and the Crimea went to sleep. Do not let us commit the same error now. We had had a lesson in South Africa which we should take to heart. Let us not go to sleep on this matter, because in the future, whether we had to fight with savage, semi-savage, or civilised races, we might be satisfied that we should find them well up in shooting with modern weapons of precision. He therefore appealed to the House not to neglect the warning of Lord Roberts, and to give to the Volunteers the ranges which they now asked for.

MR. PURVIS (Peterborough)

said he associated himself with every word which the hon. Member who had just sat down had said. This was a question of great local and Imperial importance. There was at Peterborough a most enthusiastic battalion of Volunteers who were most anxious to do their duty, and who fought for their country in the Boer War. The position so far as they were concerned was that they could not get a shot at all unless they tramped many a weary mile to a neighbouring range. If Volunteers were of any use, then ranges were as necessary for them as the rifles they carried. If they were of no use, then supplying them with the rifles was an unwarrantable expenditure. He had been much surprised to hear that the Committee of Defence had come to the conclusion that an invasion of these islands was impossible. These islands had been invaded more often than any other part of the civilised world, and the Secretary of State would forgive him if he said that those who would not take lessons from history would not be very prudent in making provision for the future. He would not dwell on the invasions by the Romans, Danes, and Saxons, and early invasions, but would merely point out that, in 1066, William of Normandy invaded this country and completely changed the whole course of English history. In 1066 William of Normandy landed at Pevensey and remained there many weeks. In 1688, William of Orange invaded these islands and changed the course of English history. In 1745, England was invaded by Prince Charles Edward, and the course of history was nearly changed again. In 1797 1,400 Frenchmen were for many weeks at Fishguard in Pembrokeshire. In 1798, 12,000 Frenchmen invaded Ireland, and were there for three or four months. In fact, these islands had been invaded oftener than any other civilised country. It was no doubt true that science had made a revolution with regard to means of defence, but who would say that science had not also made a revolution with regard to means of attack and invasion by sea? He did not wish to enter into any controversy, hut it was perfectly absurd for hon. Members to talk of this country never having been invaded. There had been one revolution which could not be denied, and that was the revolution from the old battalion and automatic method of drill. Individual initiative was now the great point that had to be obtained.


I am afraid that this point, as well as the hon. Member's interesting historical review, is rather remote from the question of whether there ought to be more rifle ranges.


said he was about to speak of the necessity of sharp-shooting, which, he believed, was germane to the Motion. The time had gone by when a battalion would march up in line until they could see the whites of the enemy's eyes, then fire a volley point blank, and finish off with the bayonet. In these days individual initiative was every thing, and the Volunteers, if they were fairly dealt with, might be supposed to equal, if not to excel, the automatically drilled Regular soldiers. If individual initiative was necessary, sharp-shooting was necessary, and to attain sharp-shooting rifle ranges were required. He had pleasure in seconding the Amendment.

Amendment proposed— To leave out from the word 'that' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'in order to promote and increase the efficiency of the Volunteer Force, it is necessary to provide an additional number of rifle ranges easily accessible to the members of the different corps'—instead thereof."—(Mr. Renwich.)

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


asked whether the Secretary of State for War could make a statement with regard to screen ranges. Two or three years ago Lord Roberts made certain speeches in the country in which he advocated the establishment of screen ranges. In one instance Lord Robert's suggestions were adopted and a screen range was made from plans circulated by the Hythe authorities. While not desirous of pressing the right hon. Gentleman as to a matter still sub judice, he would be glad to know the view of the War Office with regard to these screen ranges. Reference had been made to long-distance shooting. In his opinion it was far more important to have for the Volunteers a large number of short-distance ranges than to have a few long-distance ranges. A range of 200 yards was quite sufficient for teaching the Volunteer recruit how to handle his rifle, to aim, and to shoot, and such ranges were extremely valuable if they could be secured near large centres of population. For instance, Salford had a population of 230,000. It was extremely desirable that for such a population there should be a near and handy range for the convenience of the men, to save their time and money. His own Volunteer battalion, in which there were about 1,600 men, had no range nearer than Crowden, and consequently the men could go there only on Saturdays, and in order to shoot they had to spend the whole of Saturday afternoon at the range. That was a great hardship upon the officers and men; it not only took up the whole of their Saturday afternoon, but it entailed also great expense upon the corps. If they could have a 200 yards range nearer headquarters they could make use of it on fine evenings during the week, thus saving time, and obviating very considerable expense. In this connection he thought the War Office might take into consideration the cost of travelling to and from the ranges. It would be in the interests of the Volunteers that they should have free transit to and from the place of shooting.

With regard to screen ranges, they were constructed with a series of screens between the firing point and the target. The bullet passed through apertures, and, if properly aimed, struck the target. If the bullet went out of its course, it struck, say, on the first screen, went through the woodwork of the screen, struck a concrete screen a foot or two behind and fell down in the aperture between the concrete and the wooden screen, and so was prevented from causing injury by getting off the range. He believed the fault that had been found was that occasionally a bullet struck the ironwork at the edge of the aperture and then ricochetted. He would like to know whether the authorities at Hythe, or the right hon. Gentleman, could tell them whether the difficulty had been obviated, and whether the screen ranges were still being advocated or made. He also wished to know how many of these ranges were in existence. Since the range to which he had referred was ready for use some eighteen months ago, had had communications from several Volunteer battalions asking for information about screen ranges. He had given them the information which he had now given to the House. He did not know what the War Office had done, but he believed that several of these screen ranges had, in consequence of that information, been stopped. He certainly wished to support the Motion made by his hon. friend. He thought that the Volunteers, certainly as regarded shooting, deserved every encouragement. Some of the best shooting had been done by Volunteers, and though a large amount of money had been spent in years gone by on Volunteer ranges, he thought that if further money could not be expended, the War Office should, at all events, make an attempt to provide more ranges or greater conveniences for the Volunteers. The subject was one of great importance, and it was worthy of the consideration of the Committee of Defence. He would like the right hon. Gentleman to make some statement as to the views of the Hythe authorities and the War Office, not merely on Volunteer ranges in general, hut on screen ranges in particular.


agreed as to the great desirability of having more such ranges as had been referred to if they could be obtained, but pointed out that they were extremely expensive, especially the long ranges. The matter to which he particularly wished to call attention was an unfulfilled promise of the Secretary of State for War. It was, doubtless, very difficult for the right hon. Gentleman to provide all the ranges that were really essential if the Volunteers were to be efficient, but he could easily provide assistance for those rifle clubs which enabled Volunteers to learn how to shoot. The hon. Member for Newcastle, who had pointed out that the Boers were extremely good shots at 1,500 and 2,000 yards, would be interested to know that the Boers did nearly the whole of their practice at 50,100, or, at most, 200 yards. Short-range shooting had proved both in theory and in practice to be extremely valuable in teaching men to shoot at all ranges. That being so, he submitted that these rifle clubs, of which there were fourteen in his constituency, were doing a genuine piece of national work. Last year the right hon. Gentleman promised definitely that he would give a grant to these clubs, but this year he refused to do so. Now the time had come for the money to be spent, and the amount was so small that it could not be refused on account of the expense, because some £30,000 or £50,000 was all that would be required. Last July the right hon. Gentleman promised to put an annual sum at the disposal of rifle clubs provided they came under the regulations in such a way as to make them a reasonably effective contribution in time of war. In consequence of that statement he asked the rifle club with which he was connected to communicate a memorandum to the right hon. Gentleman stating that they were prepared to fall in with any suggestion with which they could possibly comply. They had had a perfectly definite promise and the House had a right to ask why that promise had not been actually carried out. He trusted the Secretary for War would be able to give a satisfactory reply.

*MR. ERNEST GRAY (West Ham, N.)

said that every member of the Volunteer force would be grateful to his hon. friend for having brought this subject under the notice of the House. It might be that there was a wide difference between the large problems put forward by the Secretary of State for War and this comparatively small detail, but if the right hon. Gentleman wished to secure that efficiency for which he had pleaded so eloquently, then he must look after details of this description. It seemed strange that he should resent the adverse criticism, not to say ridicule, which was sometimes poured upon the War Office. The public regarded the Volunteer force as a body which, if anything, must be able to shoot straight, but when they realised that a large number of battalions had no opportunities of practicing—or if they had opportunities they were so unsatisfactory that they were next to useless—it was not surprising that ridicule was poured upon the War Office. He happened to be associated with a Volunteer battalion, and the only place they had in which to practise shooting was an underground tunnel, a sort of enlarged drain-pipe about 100 yards in length. The light was so bad that it was almost impossible to see the sights on the rifles and the atmospheric conditions were positively injurious. Under these conditions they had to carry out their individual practices and collective firing. The money spent upon the musketry practice of this battalion would be next door to being wasted. It was absurd to imagine that they could get efficiency under such circumstances. It was not beyond the power of the War Office to secure that the great Volunteer battalions around London should be provided with ranges within reasonable distances of their homes. There were in the Volunteer force men whose lives were spent in the open air, of strong, sturdy physique, with eyes keen and nerves strong, who could be made into excellent shots if only they had proper opportunities for practice.

They ought to be told plainly whether the Volunteer force was really wanted or not. He wished the right hon. Gentleman would say what he thought about this force. Reading between the lines, he thought the right hon. Gentleman would like to say that the Volunteers ought to be abolished, but he dare not say it. If he did not think that they should be abolished, would he say what part they were expected to fulfil and what was the efficiency he was seeking to attain? If the Secretary for War put efficiency in shooting in the forefront, then he must provide an adequate supply of rifle ranges. These men were perfectly willing to give up their time. They asked for no payment and they were willing to make the necessary sacrifices, but it was quite beyond their power to supply their own rifle ranges. When the War Office did take up this question of providing ranges they went about it in such a leisurely fashion as to excite the laughter of other men engaged in similar work. He did not know how long they would be before they got a satisfactory rifle range for the use of East End battalions, but he had been told that the Royal Engineers were likely to take twelve months providing them with a rifle range. Whilst they were waiting, battalions were going to pieces, and not only was the shooting suffering, but the Volunteer force was crumbling away because it took the heart out of both men and officers when they realised that one of their main objects could not be accomplished. Many of the officers had gone to the trouble of organising competitions, but how could they carry them out upon an underground tube of the kind he had mentioned? He had mixed among the Volunteers very considerably, and right and left he heard nothing but loud complaints against the War Office for not seeing that the men had the opportunity of becoming efficient. The Secretary for War had pleaded for efficiency, and he had told them that they must increase the efficiency even if they reduced the force. In his opinion the very first step they must take to accomplish this was to provide adequate rifle ranges. He thought his hon. friend had served a great public interest in bringing forward this question, and he trusted that he would persevere until they obtained a clear and precise answer as to what the War Office intended to do with the Volunteer force in this direction, thus removing what was crippling the force, namely, the feeling of uncertainty as to the future which undoubtedly existed from the commanding officer down to the youngest recruit.


said he sympathised with the remarks of the Secretary for War, and more especially with those dealing with half pay. He wished, however, that the right hon. Gentleman had relied more upon the masses than the classes. The War Secretary had spoken of the magnificent material which he had behind him, but he apparently refused to use that material and preferred the soldier who cost the country £70 to the man who cost only £7 a year. Whilst the right hon. Gentleman might raise a fine Army of seven pounders he seemed to cling to the higher priced class. Last year he raised great hopes in the minds of men who were training themselves to shoot straight, without any cost to the nation. At that time he promised to devote £50,000 a year for the purpose, and in consequence of that promise many rifle clubs made their arrangements, only now to discover that they were not to have the benefit of that money. So far from Volunteers having received any encouragement whatever from the War Office, they had had obstacles put in their way. When the war fever broke out he thought they must have a rifle club in his district and he arranged at the War Office to be supplied with rifles, for which they paid ready money. They also paid for their own ammunition, and they were enabled to make a number of labouring men crack shots, but so far from, the War Office giving them any encouragement they charged them with rent for the range. He had in his pocket a letter, received by the secretary of a rifle club in his district, asking what was to be done, as they had been threatened by the War Office to close the range unless the arrears of rent were paid. That was a threat held out to men who had paid for their rifles and for their own ammunition, and yet were threatened with the loss of the range if they did not pay the rent. He formed a short-range club in Norfolk, and they managed to get on without assistance until they were threatened that the Government would charge them for gun licences. He repeated that so far from receiving encouragement from the War Office they met with nothing but obstacles, and he asked the Secretary for War to give them a definite promise that, wherever possible, the rifle clubs should be allowed the use of Government ranges free of charge.

*MR. TUFF (Rochester)

called attention to the inadequate accommodation provided in the Thames and Medway district for the Volunteers and rifle corps. In May last there were 1,400 soldiers to be trained in shooting, and there was only accommodation for some 900. The ranges which were provided were very dangerous, and men had been hit in consequence. He had been informed that these ranges were closed for three days last year. He hoped the Secretary of State for War would be able to do something in the direction of providing more ranges in that district.


said there seemed to have been a misconception on the part of some speakers, who were under the impression that the Army Council was indifferent to the question of ranges. That was an entire mistake. No one who had heard this not unimportant discussion would suppose that the Volunteers alone had no fewer than 996 ranges. It must be remembered that there were forty counties in England and thirty-two counties in Scotland. That number of ranges did not seem prima facie altogether inadequate. It was inadequate in the peculiar conditions under which many of the town and city regiments had to conduct their rifle practice. On the other hand, it must not be forgotten that natural conditions would prevail over any artificial conditions. His hon. friend the Member for West Salford had shown immense patriotic and public spirit in providing a range at his own expense for the Salford Volunteers. His work had been set aside, not owing to any want of good will on the part of the War Office, but owing to the fact that it had been proved to demonstration by high authority that the continuance of the range would be a danger to the people living in the locality. The hon. Member had asked him whether the War Office had satisfied themselves that protected ranges should not be available. His answer was in the affirmative. They had no right, in view of the report they had received, to continue these protected ranges, and if they existed they were not continued under the protection of the War Office. He was sorry that the hon. Member's work should have been thrown away. He thanked him for what he had done and for the good intention which he had displayed.

As to the criticism of the hon. Member for West Ham, he would say that he was not able to provide ranges I for the whole of the class-firing of the Volunteers in the way suggested. It was a fact that with a rifle sighted up to 2,800 yards they could not allow people to practice shooting in such a way as to cause danger to the users of the highways. It was necessary, if the Volunteers were to fire, that they should be under restrictions; and the War Office did do what they could in this matter. Where the mountain would not come to Mahomet they had to bring Mahomet to the mountain. As hon. Members were aware, money was paid to the Volunteers for class-firing. It was desirable, he admitted, to have more ranges, but the fact was that a majority of the Volunteers were situated in great towns and it was impossible to get in the immediate neighbourhood of towns ranges which would satisfy the claims of safety. This was becoming more difficult day by day, and the War Office were finding themselves compelled to close a certain number of the existing ranges for reasons which would commend themselves to every man of common sense They were at present spending £200,000 on a range for the Regular Army, and in the past very large sums had been spent on Volunteer ranges. There were three things which stood in the way of providing more ranges. In the first place there was the question of money; secondly, at the present time the tendency of the House was not in the direction of additional expenditure; and, thirdly there was the law, which was not at all favourable to the State in this matter. He thought the law in relation to the purchase of land for purposes connected with the Navy and the Army was quite inadequate. He could only record his view that it was desirable that the law for these purposes should be strengthened.

The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight had somewhat unintentionally misrepresented him in referring to the subject of rifle clubs. When on a former occasion he spoke of the possibility of grants for rifle clubs, he did so, as in regard to all grants to the Volunteers, subject to one condition, and that was that there should be a reduction of the force, which would admit of money so saved being applied to increasing the efficiency of the force. He had never made any concealment of that view.


You do not propose to give anything to rifle clubs.


said that if he was to effect economy by reducing the expense of the Volunteer force it was impossible to anticipate that by spending money before the reduction had taken place. No one could be more desirous than he was to see a reduction effected, because he thought the numbers were excessive. He could assure the hon. Member that he was not in the least anxious to withdraw from any pledge he had given. He had said over and over again that he did not believe the House and the country would permit him or anyone else to come down there and ask a large addition to the Army Estimates at the present time, and if they were to do what they all desired to be done not only in regard to the Volunteers but the Regulars it must be done subject to the fulfilment of the condition he had stated. Last year thirty-three ranges were opened, and twenty-eight were now under construction for the Volunteers and Yeomanry only.


Can you tell us how many were closed last year?


said there were twenty-six. [A laugh.] The hon. Member smiled, but the two things had really nothing to do with each other. Ranges were closed because they were compelled to close them. He entirely associated himself with what had been said by the hon. Member behind him as to the value of short ranges, and he thought that progress must be made in that direction. He believed that any man who could shoot well at a 100 yards could be trained to shoot well at 1,000. It was necessary to have behind the target between 1,200 and 2,000 yards in order to have safety.


We can give them Sheffield armour plates.


said if his hon. friend would communicate with him in regard to any particular case he would consider it. It should be remembered that rifle clubs were not part of the organisation of the Army.


asked to leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY (Shropshire, Newport)

called attention to the dearth of efficient officers in the Army and Auxiliary Forces. He did not think he need dwell on the gravity of the situation as unfolded by the latest Returns. They were quite aware, from the lessons of the South African War, and also from the lessons of the war now going on in Manchuria, of the necessity of having a full complement of officers. The tendency of modern warfare showed that it was desirable, if possible, to have more highly-trained officers who were capable of initiative. It was also of immense importance that there should be in the country, available for any emergency, a considerable reserve of officers able to undertake on short notice the supervision of small bodies of troops. In regard, first of all, to the Volunteers, he wished to point out that there were no less than 2,763 officers short of the number required to efficiently officer the battalions. It might be that a reduction would be made in the total number of Volunteers, and therefore, there would be a reduction in the total number of officers required. Still, under any circumstances, is certainly stood out that there was a large deficiency, which was a drawback to the efficiency of the force being properly maintained. It was not for him to speak specially for the Volunteers, but he thought it was worth consideration whether there was nothing which could be done to got rid of this extremely awkward and undesirable state of things. Could anything be done by the Department to make the service more attractive, or could certain personal or social advantages be offered them? He noticed that a body representing the Volunteers lately passed a resolution in which they attributed the insufficient supply of officers to the uncertainty of the future of the force, and as to the obligations which the service would entail. Well, the uncertainty as to the future of the force would be now set at rest, and as to obligations, it was acknowledged that these should be made as clear as possible. That was essential to good administration in every way. He thought there had been a little lack in giving Volunteer officers that full meed of gratitude they deserved for all the time and money they sacrificed. Then, when a Volunteer battalion was in camp and the officers were called upon to meet the various liabilities of camp life, they should be paid rank for rank exactly on the same footing as officers in the same branch of the regular service.

The Militia was short of 943 officers, which meant that many of the Militia regiments must be inefficient. The chief and only remedy for that, in his opinion, was a closer and more efficient arrangement by which officers from territorial regiments could be interfused more readily than at present with the officers of the Regular regiments, or transferred from time to time from the one to the other. The Yeomanry were short of 338 officers. His own little experience of the Yeomanry made him think that it would be best to leave them to work out their own salvation. They were locally a very popular force, and attracted to themselves an excellent type of officer; and as long as they had at their head a commanding officer of territorial influence the regiments were extraordinarily efficient and brought to a high standard. In the Regular Army there was a deficiency of 225 officers—three in the Household Cavalry; fifty-three in the Cavalry of the Line; forty-four in the Foot Guards, 112 in the Infantry of the Line; and thirteen in the Army Service Corps.

Was there anything in the present system which prevented the Army getting the whole number of officers required? Possibly one of the causes was the new arrangement by which young officers had to go through a two years training instead of one at Sandhurst, while the accommodation for them had not been doubled. It was said that the standard of examinations had been raised so as to allow only the number to pass that could be accommodated at Sandhurst now. If that were the reason, the accommodation should be enlarged. Another cause was alleged to be that the expense was too great. That question had bean discussed for twenty years, and a good deal had been done in the direction of relieving young officers of expense, such as in furnishing quarters and the mess rooms, and in other directions reducing the cost to young officers when they first joined. This matter should be carefully watched by the Secretary of State, and a stop put to anything like undue extravagance. Had the deficiency been caused by the conditions of service being made distasteful? In his opinion there had grown up a tendency to rather overdrive young officers. They were forced to go through too many courses of instruction and not allowed sufficient time to occupy themselves in their own legitimate pursuits. Although young officers should be encouraged to go through various courses of instruction, these should not be made into a special military treadmill. He would really recommend to the Secretary of State for War and to every commanding officer to try to arrange that every young officer, after his first probation, should have a legitimate amount of free leave every year. A man was always a better officer when allowed to get away for a certain fixed term in the year, to meet with his own people, and to afford him an opportunity to indulge in some legitimate sport. All that made him keener in carrying out his professional work on returning to duty.

But there was a more serious question underlying the deficiency of officers than all that. Were we, or were we not, by our present system, making the best use of the raw material for young officers of which there was a superabundance in the country? Surely there was something wrong in a system which allowed of such a deficiency on the one hand and such a superabundance on the other. People might say that, after all, the standard of examination was not very high; but if it were the fact that we were short of young officers, and that yet there were large numbers of the best sort of young men who did not go into the Army, then it must be because the latter could not pass the examinations. Could not the conditions of these examinations be relaxed? They had seen something of that lately in the Navy. One of the ablest and cleverest things which Lord Selborne had done at the Admiralty was the rearrangement of the conditions for the entrance of cadets into the Navy. That was common sense. There ought to be two types of officer in the Army. They wanted an abundance of keen, intelligent, highly-educated officers, who were equal to advancing to the command of a regiment or a division, and to undertaking all the highly technical work which was part of the duties of an officer of very high degree. They wanted that type, and should encourage it. But, after all, the number of men who could achieve high position in the Army was limited; and they also wanted a large supply of officers who would have the faculty of making their men personally attached to them; who would act as personal commanders; but who did not intend or wish to make the Army their profession for all time, although they desired to spend eight or ten of the best years of their lives in doing their work thoroughly and efficiently. The Army should have plenty of men of that type. At present there were a great number of vacancies which might be filled by officers of that stamp on not too exacting conditions.

He would suggest that the entrance to the Army should be thrown open wider on the understanding that a candidate who did not attain a certain standard should accept a commission on the distinct condition that it would only carry him up to the rank of, say, captain. They would get plenty of young men eager to accept. What would happen? There might be a period of active service; and in that case many of these officers would earn for themselves such a good name that not even the sternest reformer would think of turning them out of the Army, and would only be too glad of their services. Another percentage would gratify the ambition that would be aroused when they became British officers and would determine to satisfy the higher standard. These two large sections would qualify for further promotion, and prove themselves as useful as the officers admitted under the present system. Those who did not care to qualify to proceed beyond the rank of captain would pass out of the Army, having received a very valuable training. They would be the men who would form the reserve officers when, as during the South African War, the country would give anything for them. Surely, if there were a shortage in the Volunteers, Yeomanry, and Militia it could be supplied by the very type of officer who was perfectly willing to make himself thoroughly efficient and competent for so much service as he cared to undertake. Surely the Army should not maintain its present system when it was in its power to get any number of the officers wanted in this manner, and who could not be obtained under the present system. He would suggest to his right hon. friend and to those who ware studying this important problem that they should recognise that it would be wise, prudent, and statesmanlike to make use of those willing to come in, and who were competent and able to render the service demanded by the Army. He would not elaborate the question, but he hoped it would have the attention of his right hon. friend and those interested in it, and that the supply to which he had referred would be utilised in the future.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

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