HC Deb 08 March 1906 vol 153 cc738-48

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a number of Land Forces not exceeding 204,100, all ranks, be maintained for the Service of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland at Home and Abroad, excluding His Majesty's Indian Possessions, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1907."


said he understood the desire was that the debate should continue.


said he thought the service Members in the House should take a very prominent part in the debate, and he was sure the House would not withhold from them that indulgence which was always extended to a minority when they endeavoured to point out anything which they felt was not conducive to the well-being of their profession. For the most part the speech of the War Secretary was a great source of gratification to them, and they now felt that that economy about which they had heard so much would not be practised with regard to the Army, because he considered that no large economy could be effected without seriously impairing the efficiency of the Army. He considered they were certainly indebted to the late Government for the steps they had taken with regard to efficiency. They had had tributes from both sides of the House that the Army was perhaps now in a better condition than before. They were, to some extent, in agreement with the Prime Minister in his antipathy to large armaments; but, until the day arrived when national disputes would be settled by arbitration, it was incumbent upon them to assist the Government in maintaining these armaments which alone could ensure for us that place we ought to occupy among the nations of the world. He noted with satisfaction that the War Secretary had made no allusion to a reduction in the number of units in the Army. The rumour of such reductions had had a most disquieting affect upon Members belonging to the service, for such reductions must have constituted a danger to the country. He felt that in the units, in times of peace, they had systems of organisation which in times of war could carry out an efficient service. It did not matter if in times of peace those units were in skeleton condition, because in time of war it had been proved that the military spirit of the country was not wanting. They welcomed the suggestion of the Secretary of State for War with regard to the continuing of the policy of the late Government, and they would all go home with a feeling of far greater security. Referring to the training of officers the noble Lord advocated an improvement of the courses through which the officer went on first joining. At present, instead of learning, he crammed a subject. He admitted that it would be an excellent thing if officers could go to Oxford and Cambridge, but he thought there was plenty of scope provided at Sandhurst for them to learn their profession. The Militia officer, probably had his own profession to which he had to devote most of his time, consequently the question arose as to how the Militia officer could be trained so as to efficiently handle the men placed under him. There was nothing easier than to train the ordinary Englishman to take his place as an efficient soldier in the ranks; but he thought the War Secretary should turn his attention to the difficulty of educating the officer in the efficient handling of men. The noble Lord next referred to the question of the Volunteers, and expressed the hope that the Volunteer force would be divided up into brigades of uniform size, and trained as brigades, under the supervision of the officer who would command in time of war. The main point in which they could congratulate themselves was that they felt, as officers, that the Secretary of State for War had the interest of the Army at heart, and he assured that right hon. Gentleman that he would have the support of everyone who, like himself, was in the Army.

MR. VERNEY (Buckinghamshire, N.)

said he desired to offer a few words on the connection between the Universities and the Army. That, he thought, was a matter of very great importance. Oxford and Cambridge had opened their curriculum very largely in the course of the last fifty or sixty years. There were those alive who remembered the time when no one could take a degree there except in classics or mathematics. Now a great diversity of subjects were admitted to the advantage of the country and of the Universities themselves. One might go to these Universities and take a degree in law, medicine, theology, science and languages, besides classics and mathematics, but, strangely enough, so far, military science had been left out. He thought the reason for that was that the Army up to this time had not been considered a learned profession but since the time of the Franco-Prussian war—from the days of Moltke down to the days of Marshal Oyama and Admiral Togo what had happened showed that unless the leaders of combatants by sea or land considered their duties from the point of view of members of a learned profession, they could not look for success. The success of those leaders had been gained by learning applied to the profession of which they had been so distinguished ornaments. The Universities might go a long way in the direction of giving a curriculum which an officer in the Army could avail himself of. The War Office might approach the Universities and the Universities might approach the War Office in regard to this matter. He had great hope that that was going to be done. There were two objections which might be raised. Of course anything like specialisation was very much opposed by many of the leaders in University life, and yet there had been introduced into our Universities in recent years a preparation of a very special kind for certain professional careers. The objection on the military side was one which every soldier felt. Anything like an infringement of the privileges of seniority in the Army was felt to be serious, and it was looked upon with jealousy, he might almost say of a professional kind. It would not be popular in the Army, to say the least of it, to allow a man who had taken his degree at a University to have any seniority whatever in the Army over even the youngest cadet who had just left Sandhurst. His plea was that the Secretary of State for War should do what he could to remove these objections, so that the Universities might open their doors wider and give opportunities to officers who had time and opportunity for working at the scientific branches of their profession. Why was it that there had been in the country recently the anticipation of a great reduction in expenditure? He held in his hand what he thought was one of the most interesting tables of statistics of the armaments of Europe he had ever seen. It was a comparative table showing the increase of expenditure on European armaments including Navies in the ten years beginning with 1894 and ending with 1904. The gross increase of the expenditure on the armaments of France, Germany, Russia (before their war) and Italy, including expenditure on their Navies and Armies, was £27,000,000, while the gross increase in the United Kingdom of expenditure, including that on the Army and Navy during the same ten years, was no less than £50,000,000, or nearly double that of the four great military powers of Europe. He hoped there would be in the near future a great diminution in that enormous expenditure.

MR. GUEST (Cardiff District)

said he wished to join in the general chorus of praise with which the speech of the right hon. the Minister for War had been greeted on all sides of the House. If any evidence were wanted of the remarkable power which that speech revealed, it would be in the fact that the right hon. Gentleman had freed this military controversy from the trammels of Party considerations, and, what was more remarkable, had damped down the disappointment which from first to last his Estimates had created in regard to the reduction of military expenditure. The speech was one which revealed a moderation and a courage, not to say self-restraint, which had been absent from most of the speeches he had listened to from Ministers of War. The policy of the right hon. Gentleman fell into two divisions. First, the policy of dealing with small abuses, which he might call the policy of the new broom. The right hon. Gentleman was sweeping all the dirty corners of the War Office and was getting rid of the abuses which had grown up there, and had resulted in some of the ridiculous spectacles revealed in the military fortifications of London. Second, his policy was constructive and far-reaching. It was an elastic policy, because great stress was laid on having a system which could be adapted to peace and war conditions. Moreover, it was a policy which would be popular. He thought that in relying upon popular feeling the right hon. Gentleman had struck the best note of all. He believed that in these democratic times if we were to fight a war, it must be a popular war, not only from the considerations the right hon. Gentleman raised, but, above all, from financial considerations. The creation of a potential citizen force, and the intention shown by the right hon. Gentleman to rely on the local authorities, urban and rural, to give him assistance, was in conformity with the general movement of military events in this country as well as in Europe. That consideration was one which should fortify the right hon. Gentleman in the direction in which he was going, for every one of the countries of Europe was moving in the direction of a shorter conscriptive period. In France the term had been reduced from three years to two, and in Prussia a shorter period was under consideration. There was a general tendency to rely more and more on a Militia than on a professional Army. That was the reason why he thought there was a great mistake last session when the proposal was made to make the Militia liable for foreign service. He anticipated that if a war was a popular one, the Militia would volunteer for such service. Some people were able to contemplate with equanimity those continental incursions which the War Office had not been able to get out of its mind; but he could not hide from himself that the popular spirit on which they relied might urge them in the direction of military operations and that the public temper might be bellicose; and from that point of view it was one of the best features of the right hon. Gentleman's policy that his popular force was not an existing, but a potential force, and would take time to realise.


And in the meantime somebody may declare war upon us.


said that anything like time and reflection between the adoption of an idea and its being carried into practical effect was repugnant to the right hon. Member for Croydon. That right hon. Gentleman's argument was covered by the consideration that we were separated from the Continent by a strip of water which made it impossible that hostilities could come upon us suddenly or with anything like rapidity. It was curious that the right hon. Gentleman, who was an extreme advocate of the Blue-Water School, should bring forward the idea now that we were liable to a sudden invasion. He was glad to see that two very considerable steps in advance had been made in the general doctrine which should guide our policy in regard to the military position. The first of these was that we had entirely given up any idea of taking any part in continental wars. That idea, which originated in Mr. Brodrick's first speech on military re-organisation, was that we might, at any time, be called upon by treaty obligations to take a part in European wars, somewhat similar to the part we played in the Napoleonic wars. That idea was now wholly abandoned by the War Office, and he hoped that it would never be suggested in this House, as it was sometimes suggested outside, that the friendly relations between ourselves and France rendered us liable, if hostilities broke out between that Power and any other, to take any part in the operations which might ensue. There was one point in the right hon. Gentleman's speech which the hon. and gallant Member for Aber-cromby Division alluded to with some cautious words, and that was with refersence to the Cardwell system of linked battalions. He agreed that some hon. Members thought that the right hon. Gentleman had gone too far in supporting the Cardwell scheme in all its naked rigour. There were two views of the linked-battalion system. One was that it was essential for th maintenance of our Indian and Colonial forces, and the other was that it was quite unnecessary. He himself would not go to either extreme. The origin of the Cardwell system was that we must have a depôt at home to supply drafts to India and to the Colonies, and that at that depôt there might be a unit to supply a second battalion in case of war. That did not exclude the possibility of the depôt supplying drafts for two units; but he did not believe that that quality was necessary, and he contended that it had broken down in theory and in practice. In his humble opinion the reason why one battalion at home had never in practice been able to supply the drafts for more than one regiment in India or the Colonies, was because of the waste that occurred at home. If it were possible to eliminate that waste it might be a different matter. The Secretary of State for War was very much impressed with the limitation of the funds at his disposal; but he would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that there was another limitation even more absolute than that of money—viz., that of men. Mr. Brodrick was bitterly assailed for having made a paper Army, and it was principally a paper Army because the men recruited were of little value. They never came to maturity and never became a military asset. It was a waste of money to recruit badly, and that was why Mr. Brodrick's scheme was condemned. If the Secretary of State for War made up his mind to a smaller Army he would get a cheaper Army because he would not have the same waste. Let the right hon. Gentle man take his courage in both hands; let him face the expert advisers with whom he was on excellent terms, and he would be very much surprised if by his plausibility and tact the right hon. Gentleman was not able to affect great reforms in the Army. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not think that he had any bias or prejudice because he had been associated in moving for the reduction of the infantry. He was glad that there was now at the War Office a right hon. Gentleman who was prepared to consider all these matters without prejudice or fear.


said that the hon. Gentleman had repeated, not for the first time, one of many misrepresentations which had been made in regard to himself. Now that he was in a position of more freedom and less responsibility he had the opportunity of contradicting one by one these misrepresentations as they arose and he intended to do so, and perhaps hon. Members would not in the future misrepresent him again. The hon. Gentleman had stated that he had expressed a view in regard to the possible invasion of this country which he had never expressed, and had reiterated a statement which he did not make. What he said was this— 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. He hoped the hon. Member would do him the justice, when quoting his words, to repeat what he had actually said and not what the hon. Gentleman thought he said.


said that his view on reading that passage was that the right hon. Gentleman was in substantial agreement with the dinghy idea. He did not want to pin the right hon. Gentleman to the number of men in the dinghy, but the point was whether the theory of the Blue Water School would hold water or not.


said that that would not do at all. The hon. Gentleman had quoted a misstatement of what he had said, and was he now to understand that the hon. Gentleman withdrew that mis-statement that it had always been his policy that there was a danger to this country from raids—a danger which should be guarded against? He thought that was a very unhandsome apology on the part of the hon. Gentleman.


said he did not withdraw the general contention that the right hon. Gentleman had said in his speech that not even a small force could be landed in this country.

SIR HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)

moved to report progress and ask leave for the Committee to meet again.

Motion made and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress; and ask leave to sit again."—(Sir Howard Vincent)—put, and agreed to.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.

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