§ Order for Committee read.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Mr. HALDANE,) Haddington
I rise upon this Motion to make the statement which is customary about the policy of the Army in the ensuing year—the year which lies in front of us, and I address the House with unfeigned diffidence. My predecessors, or many of them/have been people of great military knowledge, or, at any rate, knowledge 656 with regard to military matters. Never did a Minister rise to address this House on subjects connected with his department with less prepossession. Whether that is a merit or not, it has at least enabled me to approach the consideration of the questions which I had to face in the beginning of last December with an open mind.
Since that time I have busied myself, I think I may say unremittingly, in consultation with the best expert opinion I could obtain, in considering the situation. It is not a very easy situation. It is not one in which I feel very happy in laying before the House. The path is spread with difficulties. Nobody realises more than my predecessor in office how difficult the position of a War Minster is in taking up the affairs of the Army at this juncture; but so far as the question of expenditure is concerned, while I cannot comfort the House by saying that the expenditure of this country is otherwise than enormous, it may to some extent assuage our grief to think that we do not stand alone in this situation. German military expenditure has risen in the last eleven years some 25 per cent, and now stands at £31,000,000, as against our £30,000,000. The French military expenditure is some £29,000,000, an increase of 7 per cent. The United States, a very efficient nation, confine themselves to a Regular Army of some 60,000 men; but that Regular Army, I am sorry to say, costs that very efficient people close upon £23,000,000 sterling. In view of the situation, what I have felt to be my duty was this—to face the question as a business man and endeavour to disentangle what the real situation was and to lay it candidly and fully before the House of Commons. Let me say at once—and this is the only personal reference that I have to make—that I have found my task a fascinating one. There is no part of the question connected with the Army which does not possess peculiar interest. To any one coming to it new the great science which has been evolved in the last few years and which has taken the place of the old art of war, the science of military organisation, is in itself a matter of profound interest. The men one comes across, the new school of young officers—entitled to the appellation of men of science just as much as engineers or chemists—were to 657 me a revelation; and the whole question of the organisation of the Army is fraught with an interest which, I think, is not behind that of the study of any other scientific problem. But the matter does not stop there. The Army touches social questions in the closest way. The relations of capital and labour, the whole problem of education, the topic of temperance, the science of medicine, questions relating to the Empire—and I am one of those who are not ashamed to say they take the deepest interest in them—and, last, but not least, the science of economy, these are topics which in themselves are very attractive. I have endeavoured in the three months which have been at my disposal, with the best assistance I could get, to make as complete a survey as I could of the situation, not with the view of putting forward ready made plans and schemes—nothing has been further from my intention—but with the idea, if it were possible, of putting my finger on the spot which is the source of the great expenditure to which the nation is committed.
Whether I have done that the House will judge after it has heard me; but in the survey I have applied this test and this only. I have rejected—and I should suggest that they ought to be rejected as unnecessary—all the things that do not make for fighting efficiency. Fighting efficiency is the one test to which we should submit propositions which arise at a time when we have none too much money. If we had Army Estimates of £50,000,000 a year to play with I could suggest many things which would be delightful and interesting; but if this Parliament has been returned pledged to anything, it is to cutting down unnecessary expenditure. I have therefore felt it my duty to scan the Estimates and our military policy with a view to seeing how much could be eliminated which did not make for fighting efficiency and fighting efficiency only. When we have to look into our household affairs we find often that -we have to put down our carriages and horses and our champagne, and perhaps our cigars; and I am not sure that we are always the worse for the process.
Now, Sir, I shall come at once to what I have to put before the House of Commons, and in coming to it I wish to say this—I approach the problem with a 658 sense of the enormous difficulties which my predecessors had to contend with and I have had to contend with. The work of keeping down the cost of the Army cannot be the work of one Secretary of State or one Party only. It must be a continuous process. If you try to reduce the bulk of a patient by cutting off his leg, you may get down his weight, but you will not do him any good; and if you meddle rashly with the complicated organisation on which our military policy depends, you will find, when your time is over, and when the swing of the pendulum brings in another set of Ministers, perhaps with different ideas, and perhaps under some popular impulse, that you return to the old state of things with a new avalanche of expenditure, and things are worse than they were before. Therefore, it is my desire, as far as I can—though there are points, perhaps on which we differ deeply—to try to keep up the continuity of things as far as the good work of my predecessors in office is concerned, and, on the other hand, to lay a foundation which all may accept.
Now, Sir, I come to the broad, bare facts of the situation. The Army Estimates are only £17,000 less than they were last year; and I can say that it was difficult enough to keep them at the figure at which they stood even in that year. I found myself face to face with what are called automatic increases to a very large and considerable extent, I am not talking of new services which, naturally, soldiers would have liked to carry out. Some of these new services were necessary, and we have effected those which were essential to fighting efficiency out of savings derived from automatic decreases, so that they have added nothing to standing charges. But we found there were automatic increases amounting to nearly £800,000. There is the increased cost of the Army Reserve, and you could no more get rid of that payment than you could get rid of the payment of interest on the debt of Consols. Then there is the increased charge for stores and clothing, due to the approaching exhaustion of surplus stocks from the late war. That amounted to the large sum of £290,000. We have been living upon surpluses. The right hon. Gentleman opposite was able last year to reduce his Estimates by making 659 use of some £500,000 worth of surplus clothing and other things. I, too, have been able to keep down the Estimates by £400,000, because there was a surplus available. Next year there will not be such a surplus; the surplus which arose from the war will be exhausted; yet the soldier has to be clothed. He must have his boots and shoes, and medicine and blankets; and the result will be that in that and items of the kind there will be an increase of no less than £500,000, which will have to be met somehow by further economies. We have been living far too much on borrowed money in the Army, and the difficulty of getting it down is a very formidable one for a Minister.
Then there is the increased charge for the service of loans—that is, for the payment by instalments of those sums borrowed under the Military Loans Act by our predecessors, and which we have to pay. Then there is the increased sum for pensions, rather more than half of which is for pensions for the rank and file. These amount in all to £597,000. Moreover, there was a windfall of which the Estimates of last year had the benefit, but from which my Estimates get no benefit. This was certain money which came from India for rifles and small arms ammunition for which we had contracted to pay. That brought the automatic increases over last year's figures to the sum of £780,000. I found myself face to face with that; but I went to the military experts and consulted them, and never had a Minister more reason to be grateful to his distinguished colleagues on the Army Council. They took the matter into their hands and in nine weeks they got rid of that £800,000, and they told me that the Army was as efficient for fighting purposes as it was before. I remember reading in the brilliant book written by my lion, friend the Member for Manchester, the life of his father, how Lord Randolph Churchill found himself face to face with the great difficulty of cutting down the Army and Navy expenditure. He tried to get rid of this or that extravagance, but the result was that every attempt at working out economy without the help of the experts landed him in two items of expenditure against every one of saving. I certainly have found no cause to repent of consulting the experts, nor have I 660 anything else but a feeling of gratitude for the ready way in which they have met our efforts and taken on themselves the business of studying economy in the organisation and administration of the Army.
I pass now to the situation as it stands. As I have said, I have no cut-and-dried plan. To make plans in haste is to repent of them at leisure, and three months is too short a time for any one to produce a scheme; but I do not think it is too short a time in which to produce some sort of survey of the entire situation; and I think I have got something like a view of the situation which I wish to lay before the House. First of all as regards increase of expenditure. In the year 1896–7 the Army Estimates were £18,156,000. In the present year my Estimates amount to £29,796,000. When you come to the reason for this you will find it partly in the increase in personnel. In 1896–7 the personnel under Vote A was 156,174, while to-day it stands at 204,100. If you pass from personnel to units you find that whereas in 1896–7 there were 142 battalions of the Line, to day there are 156 battalions, a very substantial increase. And of them only seventy-one are at home against eighty-five abroad. Looking a little more closely into the details of the increase, I find to-day that the Guards have been increased by three battalions and that fourteen battalions of the Line have been added between 1897–8 and the present time, that is to say, we have seventeen more battalions to-day than we had at that time, and the whole increase of fourteen units of the Line has been used for the purposes of arrangements abroad. Two battalions were brought home last year—one from Halifax and the other from Bermuda—and I think the right hon. Gentleman opposite is to be congratulated on having got rid of those places as requiring anything like the defence to which they were thought, to be necessarily entitled. The result is that there is a net increase of two battalions at home and twelve battalions abroad, the distribution being eighty-five battalions abroad and seventy-one at home; and if you take them from the point of view of personnel, you will find that to-day there are some 60,994 men of the infantry of the Line at home, and 83,292 abroad. In 1896 we had in South Africa some 6,719 white troops. 661 At the present day, on the first of this month, we had 20,370. When you consider that no man in South Africa costs much under £150 a year, you will see what an enormously increased charge that is. There are increases of expenditure under other heads, such as for troops maintained abroad. In Egypt we have 4,338 white troops; in Gibraltar, 5,041; and in Malta, 9,152. If the whole institution of the Army is dealt with, you will find that whereas, in the year 1896, there were just under 35,000 white troops in the Colonies—I am not touching India—there are to-day 52,432, an increase of nearly 18,000. That being so one sees very clearly where the sources of the rise of the cost of the Army have originated.
But the case does not stop with the Increase in the number of men and of the battalions; the cost of keeping the men has gone up. We have increased the pay of the men. No doubt that is a very good thing to have done, although I am not quite sure that it has had a result upon recruiting such as we might have expected from it. The increase of cost is pretty alarming to those who look at the Estimates with the view of seeing how they can be cut down. Whereas in 1896 the cost of the soldier was £63, this year the annual cost is £81. I am talking now of the regulars. The officer to-day costs £484 as against £450 In 1896–97. That is a moderate increase in view of the increased cost of living. The Army Reserve costs £10 5s. 10d. per man as against £9 2s. in 1896–97. The Militia have gone up enormously. A Militiaman costs to-day £21 19s. 3d. as against £13 19s. in 1896–97. The Yeomanry cost £21 5s. 2d. as against £11 9s., and the Volunteers cost £7 Is. lid. as against £5 2s. I am not expressing any opinion on these figures. I am only giving the House the facts with regard to them. A brief comparison of the Army Estimates taken as a whole in point of establishment shows that the number of the establishment has increased by 46,000 as compared with 1896–7, and the cost has increased by £5,999,000, that is to say by nearly £6,000,000. Other items have gone up, and if you take the gross total you find we are spending under various heads £11,742,000 more than we did in 1896–7, and the 662 disappointing thing is that the increase is under every head. That is a very difficult state of things to deal with, and one which must give rise to a certain amount of irritation. We must proceed in this matter with the utmost circumspection and care. I do not profess to be able to put before the House any large or far-reaching plans for bringing about a reduction. I shall have some ideas to put before the House, but I draw a distinction between ideas and plans in this matter. I have only had three months to deal with this matter, and it is better to make only a survey now and proceed slowly and cautiously, because I feel that anything I do in a hurry is very likely to turn out wrong.
The first question that is likely to be put by the impatient man in the House and the impatient man in the street will be, "Why not reduce the number of battalions?" "You," they will say, "have had a great increase in the number of battalions of the line, why do you not cut them down and reduce them?" There was a rumour the other day in the papers that I had decided to recommend the abolition of ten home battalions of the line. I tried to describe that rumour correctly as a nidus equinus, which is a polite and classic way of calling it a "mare's nest." If I had decided to do anything of that kind it would have been in military eyes tantamount to insanity. For many years past we have been working in this country under what is called the Cardwell system, and the theory of this system is that the best way of training your recruits is to link your battalion at home with the battalion abroad. This means that one half of the regiment is abroad and the other half is practically in a depot where men are trained and passed out to India and the Colonies. India will not take recruits of less than twenty years of age, and it desires to have them sent out trained and finished. The result of our system of training is that our battalions at home in time of peace are nurseries or training schools for supplying troops to India and the Colonies. In time of war it is different. The reserves are called out to fill up the home battalions, and the drafts to India would be stopped, and thus we should have 663 an effective fighting force. We have in this country a short service system which operates at the present time as a much too short service system. We have abolished the three years enlistment, which was one of the greatest mistakes ever made. We are still reaping the whirlwind having sown the wind. At present the drain is enormous, but if you take the other system of nine years with the colours and three with the Reserves, it is obvious that drafts can much more easily be sent out to India, which will not take men at a less age than twenty. In my opinion, we shall, perhaps, come to adopt seven years and five years, but on that point I do not wish to say anything at the present time.
We have got to ensure the drafts for India, and it is India which is the cause of the greatest drain upon our establishment at home, and the direct cause of our necessity to keep up so large an establishment as we do within these islands. The Indian establishment being between 70,000 and 80,000 men and the Colonial establishment being 52,000 odd we have to maintain drafts to fill up the wastages in these battalions in India and the Colonies, which are caused by men passing in to the Reserve as their time goes out, and that drain passes on to the battalions at home. We have got more than enough men if you take into account the Reserves and the Militia to man three Army Corps, but we cannot help ourselves to mobility so long as we keep our Indian and Colonial establishments at their present height. The three years system enormously increased the Reserves, which stand at 100,000, and the next year they will number 122,000. Their pay last year was £845,000. This year it will b e considerably over a million, with the result that there has been an increase of £220,000 on this amount.
How are we to deal with this situation? It is formidable alike in regard to cost and numbers of men, numbers which are not controlled by the persons responsible for the moment, but which are a feature of the situation. This is a Parliament which does not wish to destroy the Army recklessly; it wishes to proceed circumspectly; it asks for more efficiency for less money, a natural thing to ask for, but more easy to ask for than to supply; and that is the problem. We feel that we have some 664 sort of mandate to attempt to solve it, so strong is the desire in the country that this efficiency at less cost should be brought about, and this involves the whole question of Army organisation. Difficult as is the problem, it is made less hopeless when you take into account the serious way in which it is being considered by the Army itself. A new school of officers has arisen since the South African war, a thinking school of officers—a thinking school of officers who desire to see the full efficiency which comes from new organisation and no surplus energy running to waste. There are certain undesirable things which I feel certain that with this new spirit in the Army we can get rid of if we only conform to certain conditions.
The first thing we want is absolutely clear thinking about the purposes for which the Army exists and the principles in which it is to be organised. That perhaps seemed a trifling thing to say, but it would seem even more trifling to say that copy book maxims are useful things. Every error multiplies itself into millions. In the Army you are dealing with an enormous body of men under all sorts of complicated conditions, and if you are not perfectly clear what you want to do with these men, and on what principles you desire to fashion their organisation, you may be involved in an amount of expenditure and in a state of confusion you cannot realise beforehand. I come here to say a few things about which I can speak the more freely because the principles are the result of clear thinking, not on my part, but on the part of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. One principle is that of the Blue Water school. We do not take that as an abstract dogma to be applied without regard to circumstances. We do accept it in this sense—that the Navy itself at its present strength is capable of defending these shores from invasion. It was laid down with extreme clearness by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London on May 11th last, in a speech to which we all listened with the deepest interest, because we felt it marked a new stage on the way to efficiency, that on the hypothesis of the worst possible moment of our military position, and on the calculation of Lord Roberts, accepted by other military critics, it would not be possible 665 to attempt an invasion of our island with less than 70,000 men, and no admiral of the British Fleet would undertake such a task. That is the advantage of a strong Navy, and very useful when considering the cutting down of all unnecessary Army expenditure. The right hon. Gentleman the late War Minister was of opinion that no foreign nation would care to land 5,000 or 10,000 men. If they did land 5,000 or 10,000 it would be of no use, because they could not come subsequently and take them away. Such a number of men might cause some annoyance but they would all be cut up, not one of them would get back. I ask what general in Europe would throw away 5,000 or 10,000 men merely to cause us annoyance? They would be promptly cut off on the same principle which prevents the invasion of 70,000, because of the great mobility of the Fleet at the present time. The Fleet to-day is intensely mobile in virtue of the valuable policy of continuity in naval organisation, for the inception of which we are grateful to hon. Members opposite, and which we intend to follow out in its consequences with regard to Army reorganisation.
Let us start then on the assumption that we are in earnest with this principle, and that is now a continuous principle. It is the principle of the late Government; it is the principle of the Defence Committee; it is the principle of the Navy; it is the principle of the War Office, and the Army Council; it is the principle of the present Government just as it was the principle of the late Government. It is an accepted principle, and one on which the rule of clear thinking should apply. We have bed rock fact here for the organisation of our defence. If we are to attempt to provide against the contingency of that being wrong we shall have to provide against various other contingencies overwhelming in their multiplicity and uncertainty. I came to office in December, and being of a curious and inquiring mind, and having taken a great interest in Blue Water principles, I set to work to see whether, following out the policy of my predecessors, I could not find some things in our Army organisation which were inconsistent with those principles, and which therefore might be gently removed. I found that distinguished soldiers whom 666 I consulted were exactly of the same mind. They said, "Let us think clearly and act strongly." We set to work, and I take the things which engaged our attention one by one.
Any one who knows Surrey, and goes down into the neighbourhood of Dorking, will find there certain curious structures, inherited by my right hon. friend opposite and handed over to me. You will find there large wire fences surrounding seven to nine acres of land, and a large construction that looks more like a water-tank than anything else, containing ammunition of various sorts. I stumbled upon one the other day when taking one of my reflective walks abroad, and going in I found some 3,300 rounds of ammunition, cordite, lyddite, shrapnel, the latest pattern of gloves for people working with intrenching tools, and the latest pattern of the mark 3 axe, which had come down from Woolwich to replace the mark 2 axe. I estimated with an eye not wholly unpractised in these matters that there was no less than £25,000 worth of stores there, and I afterwards ascertained I was very nearly right. I asked one in charge how many men had been there for work, and the answer was, "I never saw a unit in the three years I have been here." I asked when the guns had been last there, and was told they had always been at Woolwich. I asked whether there were any more of those constructions, and was told that from a neighbouring hillock I could see a dozen more with the naked eye. These constructions had a definite origin, in a time when the Navy was not the Navy of to-day, when people had not the confidence in the Navy that they have in it to-day, and above all when the Navy had not that mobility which belongs to our splendidly organised Fleet at the present time, and when it may have been necessary to make other provision for the defence of these shores. What an advantage it is when you can get rid of these things, root and branch, by the aid of the firm principle. Those things were considered carefully and in great detail; and now, with the consent of the Government and of the Defence Committee and as the result of acting on a belief in the principle which 667 we have inherited from our predecessors, they are going to disappear root and branch and as fast as they can be made to disappear.
I come to another case. In those days when we had not got hold of the principle that the Navy was to defend these shores, we carefully defended various points all along our coasts. They are defended to-day with guns for the most part of an antiquated pattern and obsolete, though some are of good and of a modern pattern. But be that as it may, and whatever they are, excepting at certain points where they are required for naval purposes, these guns are absolutely useless where they are. They are going—three hundred of them—as fast as they can be got rid of, again with the full concurrence of the Army Council, the Navy, and the Defence Committee, who have considered these things together and not separately, in virtue of their joint policy. In that way we shall get rid of a very considerable and substantial amount of expenditure. I am not suggesting that the right hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side are responsible for their being there. They inherited the policy. I only say that I feel myself free to get rid of these things root and branch without feeling there is any controversy about them or that I am breaking continuity of policy.
I come now to another case, where the Navy were the sinners. I found that the Island of St. Helena had a garrison of 100 men, costing between £10,000 and £12,000 a year, who were there to defend some 5,000 tons of coal, and when we came to look into the matter the curious thing was that nobody supposed that they were in a position to defend the coal. They had two obsolete guns which were placed in a position where they had no command of the scene of any attack that was likely to be made, and a foreign force landing on the other side of the island could easily have overcome the garrison and obtained possession of the coal. There was obviously no justification for keeping that up, and it has gone.
Another head is the extension of the principle of Blue Water defence to our colonial garrisons. We have that under consideration just now, and we 668 have decided upon it in principle. These establishments where there are both guns and men for the purposes of naval bases have in many cases become obsolete-because of the change of policy in the Admiralty. The Admiralty do not want naval bases in the same way as they did before. Their new strategy, which depends upon mobility, involves certain naval bases which will be well defended. But there are certain of them quite obsolete in the Colonies and various other places. We propose to apply the principle of getting rid of superfluities of guns and men in connection with them.
I found lastly that we still maintain the traditional policy of surveying the interior of these islands and making on a large scale a continuous reconnaissance of positions with a view to defending the country against an invading army. I suppose there are plans for the defence of the City of Birmingham against a German Army. I hope the right hon. Gentleman who sits for West Birmingham will derive much comfort from that fact. These reconnaissances cost a great deal of money each year, and they are to come to an end also.
These are small matters in themselves, but they are matters with which we have had to attend to within a very short time. I think I shall have the approval of the House generally for the principle which I have laid down for dealing with these matters; and I feel a certainty that when my time is over and the other side succeed to the responsibility they will carry out that principle in the same way, with the result that the Army will be organised on one principle. I do wish to say that we have suffered very much from changes in the past. Let we take another and final illustration for the moment. There is a place of which we used to hear a good deal in this House, but of which we hear very little now, called Wei-hai-wei. Wei-hai-wei was originally a naval base; now, I believe, it is a watering-place. Whether or no the Admiralty have deserted it, the Army has not; We are keeping up a native regiment there which we enrolled for the purpose of defending it, and which costs us £20,000 a year. No one wants that regiment, 669 and consequently the Government have decided to disband it at once.
All these amount together to no very enormous sum; but I am certain that a beginning on this principle and the fact that it is accepted by both sides of the House and pushed forward continuously will lead in the end to economies. Ah, Sir, if we had only had a continuous principle for the last thirty years we should have been very comfortably off to-day in Army expenditure compared with what we are. The Navy has got something like a continuous principle. I envied my right hon. friend the Secretary to the Admiralty when he brought in his Budget. He had a simple principle which he had inherited from right hon. Gentlemen opposite and in which they support him warmly, the principle of continuous organisation of the Fleet, and principles of strategy and disposition which have remained constant for at least several years, and which we hope will remain constant for many years more. But in the Army it has never been so. In the last half-century we have had no less than four great Army policies, which have led to the throwing away of a vast deal of money. First there was the policy of Lord Palmerston, which was the outcome of the work of the Committee which insisted upon the fortification of the shores of this country on a scale which I am glad to say we have long since abandoned. That was a very serious enterprise, and it cost some £7,420,000, which might absolutely be at the bottom of the sea, so far as concerns use for any purpose. Then came another policy, the eight army corps scheme of 1875, which fortunately never got beyond paper. But, although it did not get beyond paper, it was nutritious as regards increase of expenditure. It led to new ideas about Imperial defence, and to a large loan raised for that purpose in 1889, out of which came most of the money for those London defences of which I have spoken, and which are now condemned in the light of our better knowledge. It is not too much to say that under that scheme a very considerable sum of money was absolutely wasted, not only on permanent works, but on personnel and other services. Finally there was the policy which nearly became very 670 costly, the six army corps scheme in 1901. Perhaps the most lasting and permanent memorial of that policy are the Tidworth barracks on Salisbury Plain. There you see stretched out before your eyes acres of beautiful brick buildings capable of containing, not the forces which are there at the present time, but forces a great deal larger. They are standing empty in large part at the present time, and yet they are built for permanence and with a design which would deserve the highest praise if only anyone to-day was so innocent as to think of pitching down an army corps in the middle of Salisbury Plain. They represent a monument of wasted expenditure. We are using those barracks for the much more modern and useful organisations of troops in existence at the present time, the direct outcome of the work of the Esher Commission; but they owe their origin to a more ambitious notion which was due to that confused thinking against which I have protested. In 1901 we ought to have known something about the Blue Water principle and the power of the Navy to defend our shores. We ought to have separated the notion of a striking force for defending the Empire abroad from the notion of home defence. Yet there was an organised plan which apparently owed its origin to German models and under which Home defence and foreign necessities were mixed up together, with the result that there was one huge Army projected which was to unite in itself the function of a striking force and the functions of that home defence which even at that time were seen to be unnecessary. The result was a scheme which, if carried out, would have brought the Army Estimates up to £40,000,000. But, fortunately in the event, with the aid of the new policy of the right hon. Gentleman opposite and the work of the Esher Commission, all this was cut down, and the worst of it remains in the barracks at Tidworth which represent the outcome of the policy.
These things illustrate the necessity for extraordinary caution in that kind of expenditure. I think it has been very disastrous for us that we have had so much money to spend. Our way of raising money for the Army has been by military loans, and when you raise 671 money by loans it is very easy to spend it. You have not to account for it on the Votes. We have raised upon loans during the last few years very large sums indeed. In the ten years ending 31st March, 1906, we have spent £16,065,000 on loans, and under Vote 10 another £16,145,000, making in all £32,210,000. I have to provide in this year's Estimates for a sum of £1,081,500 for interest on the sinking fund for these loans. My right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with my complete concurrence, decided that a check must be put upon the loan policy. You cannot bring it to a close all at once; but we are going to try to pay our way in these matters, and I am quite certain it will make us look rather more closely to our expenditure. One hon. Member perhaps comes to me and says, "I was promised a barracks for the constituency which I represent, and we have got the money for the site, and we have laid the foundation." I have had to say to more than one hon. Member, "That may be right, but I represent the taxpayer, and I cannot consent to the large expenditure which is involved unless I am satisfied that it is absolutely essential to the fighting efficiency of the Army." How can I be satisfied until I know what policy turns out to be and what the organisation of the Army ought to be? You have been contemplating a heavy expenditure in a permanent form for services which may become altogether useless owing to a change of policy, and until I feel certain what that policy ought to be I propose to look very carefully into all expenditure of this character.
Now, Sir, I pass from that to the larger and more important matters to be considered as regards the future. At present I will add merely the to I am trying to ascertain what ought to be the fixed policy as regards barracks, in order that we may keep expenditure on something like a contiuuous footing. Passing from these things, which, after all, are mere matters of detail, we come to a larger matter, namely, the principle of the organisation of the Army itself. The Army ought to be so organised that it can respond to policy. If it is necessary to have a large Army at any time—as it may be necessary, for who can say when we may not be 672 threatened—then we ought to have the easiest possible means of increasing our Army. We ought also to have the means of decreasing the Army and shrinking the organisation without making it less efficient. We have learnt a great deal since the South African War. Whatever else that war accomplished, it has taught the nation to be sober, to be serious, to put aside the spirit of militarism and to reflect upon war as well as other things with a view to better preparations and better organisation. There is a new spirit in our officers. They are men to-day of highly scientific training and reflective minds. The inquiry by the War Stores Commission shows that frightful waste and peculation took place in South Africa. Why did it take place? Why was there that leakage? We know, thanks in a large measure to the Esher Committee and other investigating bodies, why that was. Unlike the other great nations, we had never established any thinking department for the British Army. If there had been such a thinking department, they would have made out plans for the operations in South Africa, with the result that the distinguished generals who went there would have thought out every inch of their progress before they undertook it, instead of having to devise ways and means as they went along. Those who have read the Report of the Esher Committee will know what I mean. Those who have read the account of the Japanese campaign will know the profound advantage of a thinking department embodied in the General Staff. The late Government, however, did a thing for which they deserve the thanks of this nation—they carried out the principles of the Esher Committee, and they have laid the foundation of a General Staff. We have got to work it out; and it will not be my fault if continuity is not observed in that policy, and if we do not give opportunities for dividing executive functions from administrative details If instead of the Commander-in-Chief in South Africa being responsible for the stores and for every detail of administration which he could not look to himself, having regard to his field and other executive duties, he could have known that these administrative matters, so colossal 673 and vast, were in competent hands subject to his control, we should probably have had none of that waste and none of those scandals which have been so unfortunate in their result. If that division of labour had taken place you would have had your plans thought out, and the general would have known exactly what he had to do, instead of having to improvise his plans on arrival in South Africa. But that is all over, and we have learnt a great lesson from it. Even in this short interval much has been done, and the Army was never more efficient than it is at the present time. Our Army is now on a better foundation as regards organisation and a better foundation as regards the knowledge of officers, and I include cavalry and infantry officers just as much as Engineers and Artillery, than it has been at any previous period, and this has resulted because we have learnt the lesson of that war and have tried to carry out these things.
Let us see what results from studying the principles of the lessons learnt in the war. Let us get rid of all these London defences, useless coast guns, and all those sorts of expenditure of which I have spoken, and as to which the present Government have already given the order for them to come to an end, and come to things which must be dealt with. It must be remembered that this country is in quite a different position from that of any foreign nation. If Germany or France go to war they have conscription, and they are in this position—that in time of peace they must keep up a vast military organisation. They have only one war to contemplate on a large scale, and that is with their neighbours across the border. They have to be ready to mobilise and to fight within perhaps ten days from the time of the order being given. Therefore they must be ready. It is absolutely necessary that their reserves should be trained up to the eyes and ready when called upon to take the field at once. But the British Army is not like that. We live on an island, and our coasts are completely defended by the Fleet. Our Army is wanted for purposes abroad and over-seas. It is necessarily a professional Army; we could not get such an Army by conscription. It must be of high quality; 674 but because of the limited nature of its functions—to strike at a distance—it ought to be of strictly limited dimensions. Have we ever thought, scientifically and clearly, what these dimensions ought to be? I do not think so. I know that certain things have been worked out, but I do not think the whole problem has been dealt with in its entirety. Here is an island, the striking force of which does not exist for the defence of these coasts—it does not exist merely for our own insular interests. This island is the centre of an Empire consisting of nearly 12,000,000 square miles and including some 400,000,000 of population, and we have to protect the distant shores of that Empire from the attack of the invader. We want, therefore, an Army which is very mobile and capable of rapid transport. For fighting which has to be at a distance and cannot be against large masses of men it ought to be upon a strictly limited scale, and perfect rather in quality than expanded quantity. There never has been enough: careful thinking about this problem. If the Army is not wanted for home defence, then its size is something which is capable of being calculated. The size of the striking force is the principal ingredient in the present cost of the Army.
The probable reduction of Army expenditure, however, does not rest merely with the War Office. I am trying to economise; but, after all, the big items come from policy; and that does not rest with the War Office, which is only an instrument in the hands of the Government of the nation for carrying out policy. The reduction of expenditure rests greatly with the Foreign Secretary, the Secretary for India, and the Secretary for the Colonies, and also the First Lord of the Admiralty, for naval policy does in some degree give rise to military expenditure. It is the business of Parliament to consider these things, and to consider what effect policy has upon military organisation. I wish we were near the time when the nations would consider together the reduction of armaments, when they would reflect that it is policy that leads to these things, and would realise that only by united action can we get rid of the burden which is pressing so heavily on all civilised nations. I have said before that it is not possible 675 for me to make reductions in regard to battalions, or individuals at home on any very great scale while the establishments in India and the Colonies remain as at present.
I promised at the beginning of this speech to try to put my finger on the point which has led to the great increase in the cost of the Army. The Indian establishment has remained at the same figure for many years past. But a great increase has taken place in our colonial establishment—the number is 54,000 men—between 1896–97 and the present time. There lies the key to the rise in expenditure from £18,000,000 to nearly £30,000,000. How are we to determine the size of the striking force? That must be done on strictly scientific principles having regard to consideration of policy. I think you can determine even now to a large extent what it ought to be. I do not think you can exclude from the consideration of the question any matters which have a bearing on the problem you have to solve. A short time ago we were menaced on the North-West frontier of India by Russia. Are we menaced by Russia to-day? [Cries of "No."] Have circumstances changed or have they not? Are they not different from what they were? If circumstances have changed, is it necessary to maintain that vast establishment in India, which causes us at home inevitably to incur a large expenditure in keeping up the materials from which to supply drafts for the Indian Army? The same is true of your policy in the Colonies.
There is still something else that must be taken into consideration. I am putting forward no plans, and cannot put forward any until I have had a long time for consideration. But there are certain conditions of the problem which are not very difficult to define. I do not think you will ever satisfactorily reduce your striking force, even if you have solved the scientific problem how much you require for action abroad, unless you provide some power of expansion behind it in this country. That is the effect of the Report of the Norfolk and Elgin Commissions. We spend a vast deal on the Army and we want to spend less. The question is how we are to succeed. If you have a reduced striking force, how 676 can you most cheaply provide for the support and expansion which should be behind it and on which you may rely in great national emergencies? There is one striking difference, which I think has never received sufficient attention, between this country and Continental countries. In Germany from the moment the order to mobilise is pronounced until the time the troops actually come into contact with those of other nations the interval may be very short—a few days only. That involves the necessity that the expansive power of the German Army should consist of men highly trained and ready to take the field at once. The men must have gone through a full course of military training. But that is not so with ourselves. We are on an island, and our striking force is for use abroad and our power of expansion is a power of expansion the exercise of which may be called for, but which gives us always a considerable interval. If we had to fight a great war on the plains of India or in defence of its frontiers it is not likely that such a contingency would come about without a considerable time elapsing. We know that a long time must elapse, and in that period there is the possibility of training men and getting them ready. That seems to point to this, that we differ in toto from the Continent in the fact that for the forces on which we have to depend to come to our aid and to expand our regular Army we should have a long time for preparation.
If that is so, surely it is within the limits of possibility to devise a system—I am not professing to devise it now—under which the period of training may be divided into two parts—one to be very elementary, very elastic, very easy for everybody according to his circumstances, and the other to be reserved for the period after hostilities have broken out. The second, of course, will of necessity be expensive. We all know, even those most attached to the Volunteer Forces, that it would be hard upon them at the present moment to set them against seasoned troops. But the Volunteers would be admirable troops after a certain amount of training and after serving with fighting men in the field. That was proved in the South African War. In order to train a very large 677 number of men in a thorough fashion you require the influence of some great national impulse. Such an impulse would come if hostilities had broken out and this country was in real jeopardy. Then I believe you would find men flocking to be trained. But in time of peace is it necessary to go as far as we do even with our Volunteers.? I should like to see far more men voluntarily taking it upon themselves to acquire the elements of military training in time of peace. I do not see why people should not use the rifle as well as play football; why they should not go to a rifle club instead of going to races. These things might be done voluntarily. What I wish to say is let them do these things for themselves. I am perfectly certain that anything like compulsion or conscription will defeat its own purposes. If you are to get people to give their services you must assign to them definite functions—a definite service which they can render to the country. For that purpose you have to map out an organisation. I do not see why the rifle club, cadet corps, the Volunteers, all the different forms of military organisations which we have at present should not be encouraged, so that the people should be able to organise themselves, so that you should have your citizens possessing the elements of that knowledge which would be requisite for them if they were called upon not only to defend their hearths and homes—because I think considering the strength of our Navy they are not likely to be called upon to do that—but to come to the assistance of the Regular Army in other ways. It that were so, then, obviously, the only economical way of dealing with the matter would be to divide the period of training into two parts—the one elementary and elastic, the other intended to put the Volunteer on the footing of the Regular soldier. I have gone into this question with military authorities very closely. They are at one in thinking such an organisation would be possible, if worked out not merely at headquarters, but if the organisation were designed in such a fashion that all these things should exist in skeleton, as it were, in time of peace. You might, perhaps, thus form in time of peace a reservoir into which would flow the various streams of people from 678 every class who take an interest in rifle-shooting and in drill; people who had the taste might be encouraged to form themselves in a definite fashion into the units of this skeleton organisation; and you might prepare the machinery by which, on the outbreak of hostilities, you could turn the streams which had flowed into this reservoir, some of them perhaps rather muddy, into pure streams which would give support to the Regular Army.
These are skeleton ideas, just as they are ideas of a skeleton organisation. I cannot say whether they can be worked out or not. You will, I think, have to resort to something of the kind if you are to have behind your striking force the certainty of a power of expansion, the necessity of which has, I feel, taken hold of the minds of a great many of the people of this country. Such an organisation as I am speaking of could not be effectively worked through the War Office alone. It must be decentralised; it must be worked by military local government; and by that I mean local government by the people themselves, not by those who would impose on them from without military duties which they might not be disposed to undertake. This must be the work of a citizen army. In the Franco-German war, after the defeat of the main part of the regular army of France, Gambetta, a civilian, made a people's army, which, in conjunction with the army of the Loire, gave infinitely more trouble to the German strategists than the regular army had given. I read the other day something written by Prince Frederick Charles of Prussia, who took a distinguished part in that war. He said—There is for a leader nothing more oppressive than a situation that is not clear, nothing more trying than bands of armed irregular troops, aided by the population and the nature of the country, and relying for support on a strong army in the neighbourhood.Mr. Pitt, speaking in this House in the time of the troubles with Napoleon—on February 29th, 1804—said that the great mass of our population might be made fit to serve many useful purposes in the hour of danger, and that he would be glad if measures calculated to call into action with effect were concerted and carried into execution. These measures, 679 he said, should be arranged beforehand, leaders appointed, companies formed, and no man should be allowed to run about in confusion calling, "Oh! that I could be in any way useful to my country." I think we can dismiss from our minds all notion of organising ourselves voluntarily up to the war standard in time of peace, all notion of playing at being real soldiers, which we shall never be, and spend the little money that will be necessary, and which will take the place of more costly things we have now, in organising ourselves in skeleton as a nation purely voluntarily and according to the mind of the individual locality, on some such lines as I have indicated. I believe that if that were done, if you had military local government under the control of the people themselves, you would have solved more problems than one. No Ministry would go to war unless it had the people at its back. I have often heard the question asked whether treaties should not be submitted to the people before they are made? Perhaps we shall never get to that stage; but I do think that in this fashion you might get control on the part of the people over the military organisation, which would be the best guarantee that no war would be entered upon without the full consent of the people. A nation under arms in that fashion would be a nation under arms for the sake of peace and not for the sake of war.
I have sketched ideas which cannot be worked out by any one Government. They must take a long time; but that distinction between peace and war training, which seems the peculiarity, and the happy peculiarity, of our islands, does seem to me something worth considering, and whether, in connection with that, the real way to obtain it is not by way of devolution of military administration to local government units.
If that were done there would remain the question which gave the right hon. Gentleman opposite so much trouble—I mean the Militia. I agree it is not to-day in a satisfactory condition; and I think the origin of the want of satisfaction with their position is, as in the case of the Volunteers, that there is no definite function assigned to them. The Militia are the children of the soil called 680 into being theoretically by our Constitution through the Lords-Lieutenant and Deputy-Lieutenants who represent the Crown. I am afraid that the functions of the Lords-Lieutenant and Deputy-Lieutenants are rather nominal than real, and I do not see why we should not make it a condition of the appointment of Lords-Lieutenant and Deputy-Lieutenants that they should be persons who take some interest in Militia organisation. I do not see why we should not regard the Militia as a force which is much more akin to the Regulars than to the Volunteers. I should like to see the Militiaman's functions a little more closely defined. After all, he is a Regular, who for nine-tenths of the year is engaged in civilian duties. Or, if you like, he is a civilian who for one-tenth of the year is engaged in militiary duties. He is not compelled to go abroad, but he always has done so willingly in support of the National Army in times of emergency, and I hope he will always do so in the future; but I should like to see him used, not in the disastrous way he was used only a very short time ago. He was an institution very valuable for military purposes, almost a pure regular reservist. That was a system under which the Militia was first bled white for the Regular Army, and then asked to go out in their depleted battalions to fight. It was fatal to the Militia, and it never recovered. By all means let the Militia be the support of the Regular Army, but let them train in their own units and under their own officers and keep up their distinctive functions, if you are to have any recognition from them and the public of the part they have played in the past and the possible part they may play in the future as something cheaper than the Regular soldier, the man who gives part of his time and who does not put the State to the expense of paying for the whole of his time. I think the Militia principle of using the civilian might be extended to a great many other parts of the Army, like the Army Service Corps; for a good deal of the work done by Regular soldiers is of a civilian character. But that is a topic in which I do not desire to enter at the present moment.
These are ideas which might lead to economy in administration. We have an object lesson in the army of 681 Switzerland, which numbers 500,000 men and costs £1,200,000. Switzerland is a very small country and the army has to he raised by conscription, and from the reports furnished to me the men of that army are as good as you could wish to see—good even from the point of view of branches like the artillery. I have taken hold of an idea which I may not be able to work out, but which I am ambitious enough to think might be carried out by my successors, of not going on the costly system of paying for all your men as if you had to pay for all their time, but of looking to your Militia and then looking to the Volunteers whom you do not pay at all for the services they render. It seems to me that if you do that you have the foundation of a system by which you may succeed in reducing the size of your striking force to an extent which you could not do without the support I have described, and which would enable you to make economies on a large scale. What is vital is the courage necessary to drive such a conception through. I believe the want of economy arises from the want of exactness of conception. One of the great merits of Mr. Gladstone's famous Administration of 1868, which got rid of so much waste, was that he insisted on clearness of conception of what the State was to do and to be asked to pay. He ruthlessly drove on to economy, scrutinizing small items just as closely as the large ones. We have got to do that in every department of the life of the Army. I hope I have been able to throw out some ideas. If I may have the support of the House in carrying them out during my tenure of office, I shall feel encouraged to believe that at least we may produce a line of action which, if taken up and followed continuously, will in the end lead to that reduction in Army expenditure which we all so much hope for.
But I must touch on one or two other points. One of them is the great group of social questions. You cannot organise such a thing as a British Army without coming very closely into contact with the relations between capital and labour and the great questions that arise in connection with contracts and the or- 682 ganisation of labour. We are trying to deal with these questions in a fashion as free from red tape as possible. There are old traditions under which people refused to see the representatives of trade unions merely because they were the representatives of trade unions and not the employe s of the State. But we are in a somewhat different position now. After all, the Army is a nationalised industry; and the Minister who occupies my position has to be extremely careful in dealing with labour—he would like to be generous, but as he takes every penny he gives to labour out of the pockets of the great mass of British workmen when he puts it on their tea, tobacco, and beer, on their food, on their sugar, he has to be careful what he does. That very principle of looking for efficiency obtains just as much in the relations of labour to capital as in any other department of the Army, and I think the State ought not to be benevolent in expenditure of public money even in the matter of wages. We want to be model employers but not extravagant employers. It must be remembered that there are certain advantages in being in the service of the State. These things must be taken into account. That once being granted, these principles being conceded, I for one am anxious and ready to confer on all these questions with the representatives of labour, not merely those inside the House, but those outside. We cannot accept abstract principles without having their practical application worked out. It is sometimes said we should pay the trade union rate of wages. Often there is no trade union except the trade union of the people in the Government employment, and then your principle gives you no help whatever. In other cases the trade union rate is the same as that of the district, and the course is plainly to take the trade union rate in that case. All these matters have to be considered in the concrete. Much controversy need not have arisen if these cases had been so considered. I propose to encourage conference in the matters directly with myself or with those who are responsible to me in the position of directors, and perhaps we should try to organise a small business and informal and elastic Committee to which I hope to refer such questions when 683 they arise. These things will be more properly dealt with, in detail at a later stage. The same general principles of economy, the same necessity for clear thinking which applies in the organisation of the Army itself, apply to the Relations of capital and labour.
The education of our officers is a great question. General Sir John French made speech in London the other day, in which he dwelt on the desirability of connecting the Universities more closely with the education of our officers. That may be very difficult in detail, but in principle it ought not to be difficult. I have noticed in our new Universities with delight, degrees established in special sciences. Why should there not be a B.Sc. degree in the science of war? A part of the study must consist in work at some military school close to the University. Sympathising, as I do, with the growth of the scientific spirit among the officers of the Army, I look forward to the time when such University education will play a larger part in the training of the officer. It may be convenient to say now that we are impressed with the rather hard condition of the average officer at the present time. His rate of pay has not increased with the rate of pay of the soldier; and, although the finances do not allow us to be generous, we can do some little things, among them this—the officer's wife and family will in future have free conveyance if the officer is sent away on duty. Another little thing is that the travelling allowance of subalterns and captains will in future be the same as that of the field officers. The small difference—the difference between 12s. 6d. and 15s.—is provided for in the present Estimates.
I shall be asked two questions—one as to the field gun, the other as to the short rifle. I have a strong view that our field guns should cease to be antiquated. We are pushing on the armament of the troops at home with the field gun, and by May 31st two Army Corps, arithmetically measured, the Aldershot real Army Corps and the other nominal Army Corps, will be completely armed. As regard the short rifle, I have consulted the best expert opinion, and the reports are unanimous that on the balance the short rifle is the 684 best weapon. We all know it has certain disadvantages; but its merits outweigh them, and the troops are being rapidly armed with it.
I have concluded what I have to say. In general, the broad lesson of the present position seems to me to be that we must see where the problem of expenditure lies. I once heard a memorable speech of Lord Beacons-field's in which he said the key of India lay not in Kabul, nor in Kanda-har, but in London. It seems to me the lesson we have to derive from the study of the Army problem is just the reverse. The key to the reduction of expenditure does not lie in London. We can cut down the size of the Regular force, as it is here, to a limited extent without touching things abroad. We can probably save in a variety of directions. We are working at that, I pledge myself to the House, as closely as anybody could work. But the real key to the reduction of Army expenditure lies in policy abroad, and, as I have said before, in India and in the Colonies; and that proposition I commend to the consideration of the House. Ten years ago the nay of the Army was £5,500,000. To-day it is nearly double. What is the reason? Mainly the increase abroad. Ten years ago there were seventy-four battalions abroad. To-day there are eighty-five. Is it possible to shrink this vast and costly organisation? Yes, I think so, if that skeleton of expansion of which I have spoken is lying behind, which will become a very real expansion in time of national emergency, and which, until a time of national emergency, need not be made a real expansion. If the Colonies would follow suit with the creation of a potential Army, and if it was possible that an empire with many millions of people might raise potential forces of such a character as would make great strength a certainty for generations to come, no Power could wage war with a people with such possibilities behind it. No opposing nation would know what it had to confront when it got to close grips with an angry people fighting for liberty and for all it held dear.
This Parliament seems to me to have a great chance. We have a magnificent driving power. We have a mission, it 685 seems to me, in this matter of Army reorganisation. The people are not in antipathy to the Army. They love the Army. They care about these things. But they want to put them on a footing in which they believe. They want to get the Army into a shape which will make them feel that it is their own Army, an institution of which they are proud and which they can hold in the same esteem in which they hold the Navy. We wish to take the controversy about the Army, if possible, out of the lines of those things which are matters of reproach to be hurled across the floor of the House at us and back again; we wish to have them made as much matters of national business as the Navy and foreign politics. I have outlined no scheme to-night. I have merely thrown out ideas which have resulted from such study as I have so far made of the subject. I may be wrong in thinking that progress is possible along those lines; but I do not think I am. All the expert opinion encourages me in the conviction that it is along these lines, and these lines alone, that the problem can be solved. Two things it wants—driving power, which we have here, and continuity of policy, which depends for its attainment on your moderation. Do not force me to handle the Army rapidly. Do not force upon me things which I could not do, and which I would rather resign my office than try to do, some things which have been talked of and which would not only lead to injury of the Army but would lead at once to a reaction so strong that probably in the end it would hurl the Party to which I belong out of office and would lead to the bringing back of those who, impelled by angry opinion outside, would take steps too violently reactionary. It is only by a policy of moderation that you can get continuity of policy; and it is only by continuity of policy that you can cut down the cost of this vast and enormous organisation with which we have to deal. I think the Army problem has been studied too much apart from its social and non-military aspects, from the aspect in which it touches the life of the country, from the aspect in which it touches tradition and sentiment. All this you have to bring on your side if you would solve the problem. The 686 problem is, after all, a lay problem. Underneath the technicalities of military organisation and military problems you find there lies some big question of common sense on which the layman may pronounce. I commend to the House the duty of reflecting and working on these lines even in the elementary stage to which I have been able to bring them on this occasion. Ours is a great opportunity; and if you who sit around me, and you who sit opposite me, will but join hands in a national endeavour, then I for my part promise that I will do the utmost, to the final limit of my strength, to prevent our joint endeavour from being paralysed by anything like Party bitterness.
Motion made and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER (Croydon)
I am certain that I am expressing not only my individual opinion, but the opinion of every one on this side of the House, when I tender to the right hon. Gentleman my respectful congratulations for the most admirable and interesting speech with which he has gratified us. He has made an appeal which I am sure has not fallen on deaf ears. The right hon. Gentleman desires that the Army question shall be taken out of the sphere of Party politics, and believes he can count on hon. Members on the Opposition side to assist him in his endeavour. I will be the foremost to say and do anything to assist the right hon. Gentleman. I ventured to give him that assurance long before I knew that I should be in a Party so reduced in number as this is and I repeat now that if by my knowledge or my forbearance I can in any way assist the right hon. Gentleman and make his task easier I shall indeed be glad. I have served a hard apprenticeship in this matter, and have been the subject of criticism which has sometimes seemed informed by Party view and personal prejudice rather than by a clear desire for the national welfare; but I believe the right hon. Gentleman will have not only good-will, but good fortune. The right hon. Gentleman comes to his task with the authority conferred by a great 687 majority, with a personality acceptable to the House, and with a great driving power behind him, and he has done wisely in not hastening on the path he has decided to tread. He suggested, but I do not think he meant it as a reproach, and I do not think it is a reproach to us, that others had not been so cautious in this matter.
I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that there is a very remarkable difference between the position in which he stands and that in which his two predecessors stood when called upon to deal with Army matters. My predecessor had to deal with the Army at the close of a devastating war, and to meet all the problems which it presented; and when I took office I was absolutely compelled to act at once, for the Army was disappearing. It was impossible for me or any one in my place to stand still and do nothing. Something had to be done at once, and if nothing had been done the Army would now have to be recreated from the beginning. Now the right hon. Gentleman is in a more convenient position: he proposes to leave things in status quo. He can afford to do so at present, he says, and says truly that the Army was never better in personnel or organisation. The right hon. Gentleman finds an Army Council formed on a principle of which he approves; he finds a large and growing force of long service infantry; he finds recruiting steadily progressing, and the long-service enlistment very large. He finds the garrison artillery full up, he finds 600 of the new field guns ready to his hand, the cavalry remounted, the officers who were wanting for the most part supplied, and a new system of Staff organisation set up, a system which I feel confident we can depend upon him to apply. With all these beginnings it is not wonderful that the right hon. Gentleman should, after two years of the existing system, be able to do what his predecessor was unable to do, and to take time before making any further change. I will guarantee that in another year and a half the right hon. Gentleman, if he is still in the same mind and will be content to let things alone, will have a force such as this country has never seen before.
688 With the general propositions laid down by the right hon. Gentleman I am in general agreement, and I consider that the most important of his statements is that he intends to apply to the Army the same rule as has been applied to the Navy, and to get rid of everything that is not absolutely necessary for success in war. If he does that nothing more can be asked of the right hon. Gentleman's administration, and I shall have nothing to complain of. That rule ought to be the basis of all Army organisation, and directly we begin to neglect it waste begins. The right hon. Gentleman said that what was wanted more than anything else was clear thinking; but I am not sure that in every respect the right hon. Gentleman observed his own counsel. In spite of all his lucidity and the great care he took to inform the House, there were one or two instances in which the right hon. Gentleman did not, as it appeared to me, seem to think so clearly as we should have liked. He spoke of the enormous effect which the acceptance of the blue-water school principle must have on the re-organisation of the Army, and he drew from that pre-miss conclusions which were inevitable. He told us that the work of the Army was not to provide for the defence of this country but service abroad. That is a doctrine with which I cordially agree. I think he attached perhaps too much importance to some of the new departures which even in the short time he had been in office he had been able to consider and which he was actually making. The proposal to do away with the London defences is not new. It was a conclusion arrived at some time ago by the Committee of Defence. And I remember well an Order being issued cancelling the appropriation of all the guns for those defences. Upon the small matter with regard to St. Helena we are all agreed. It was settled long ago. In respect of the survey, the saving to the nation will be infinitesimal. I associate myself to the full with what the right hon. Gentleman has said about the growth of a school of young officers who have made a serious study of their profession, and who are willing to use their knowledge for the benefit of the nation. 689 A greater liberty of transference from one part of the Army to another will give these officers such an opportunity of professional service as has not been possible before. On all these points there is general agreement.
But when the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the inadvisability of change, and the value of a continuous policy, and to prove his point referred to the Navy he was not very impressive. I am not sure that the parallel drawn with the Navy is quite legitimate. It is true in a sense but not quite true. A policy for the Navy is a thing of modern growth. I can remember when there was no policy, and when in an emergency the Admiralty could not send five fresh ships to sea. And while naval policy is now continuous, it is subject to extraordinary changes. Within the last three years the Navy has undergone a change far more drastic than any proposed for the Army. There has been also a change in Army policy; but rightly it has been the consequence of the development of a strong Navy. Until that strong Navy existed the present Army policy was an impossibility.
There is only one matter on which there is likely to be a serious difference of opinion between the right hon. Gentleman and myself, and in that matter the right hon. Gentleman was, I think, somewhat inconsistent with his own admonition to think clearly. The right hon. Gentleman said that he looked forward to a great change in the body from which the Regular Army was was to be reinforced in time of war. I quite agree. No doubt retrenchment in the Regular Army must come, and it can only be effected by destroying battalions or by reducing their establishment. I shall continue to advocate the naval plan of having skeletons, which can be easily expanded in time of war. The right hon. Gentleman was wrong in supposing that no estimates has been formed of the force necessary to be kept up in time of peace. That force varies with one factor—the troops to be maintained in India and the Colonies. Given that factor, the rest can be deduced, and has, as a matter of fact been deduced.
The right hon. Gentleman seemed to lapse from his usually clear thinking 690 when he said that we must have vast crowds of semi-organised men in this country who are to be used in time of war. He cannot have been thinking quite clearly, because he has already told us in the clearest manner possible that the war contemplated is not a war inside this country at all. Then what was the particular point of quoting General Chanzy's campaign? The right hon. Gentleman said that General Manteuffel was greatly embarrassed by having large numbers of semi-organised men hanging on his flank. Probably he was; but the lesson which the right hon. Gentleman drew from that war is not quite so reassuring to me as it is to the right hon. Gentleman. After all, the French forces outnumbered the Germans; they were fighting with all the advantage of possessing this irregular contingent; yet in a few weeks, despite their gallantry and their numbers, they were routed, Paris was compelled to surrender, and Prance was compelled to sign a disastrous peace. Where then is the parallel to the circumstances which surrounded General Chanzy's fight? Are we to fight, let us say, for the neutrality of Belgium, if that should be our fate, or elsewhere outside these islands, and to take with us these bands of irregular troops?
§ MR. HALDANE
I was only pointing out that, if we had a large reserve of what I call semi-trained people in this country, experience shows that with the proper machinery they can be converted far more rapidly into effective fighting people than if they are not trained at all.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
I am sure I do not desire to misrepresent the right hon. Gentleman, but I fail to see what is the value of the analogy drawn from the campaign on the Loire, for clearly the advantage of General Chanzy arose from having large numbers of undisciplined men for the assistance of the Regular Army.
But I will drop that analogy and take up a much more serious line of criticism. There has been a good deal of discussion lately as to our having in this country so few men trained in the use of arms. Lord Roberts has said that I if we had 1,000,000 men on whom we 691 could draw, men trained to the use of arms, we should be very fortunate. Again, Sir Ian Hamilton the other day contrasted the condition of things in this country with that in Japan. He told us of the number of men in a party of Japanese civilians who had been trained to use the rifle, and declared that no such case could be found here. But this belief, so unfavourable to us, rests upon no foundation. At this moment of time we are paying for no less than 960,000 Englishmen to bear arms in time of peace, and on the most moderate estimate there must be well over 4,000,000 people in this country who have been trained at the cost of the State to use the rifle. This is an enormous number, and yet it is true, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that our Army is not organised for war; from that I deduce the conclusion that it is not enough to have great crowds of men who have received this preliminary training to guarantee us against disaster in war. I think we are travelling in rather a dangerous path. This idea of what may be called second-best armies is very dangerous. The second-best fleet lies now at the bottom of the Sea of Japan, and the second-best army was destroyed on the plains of Liau-yang and Mukden. I would like to know whether there is any military authority—I do not ask for any names—for the proposition that you can safely enter upon modern warfare with a reasonable chance of success with an army constituted in the way suggested by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. HALDANE
I never said that we should fight with an army in that condition. What I said was that, if we had that kind of organisation with the period of training divided into two parts, we would be able to produce a very large supporting and contributory force.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
It is undoubtedly true that in ordinary circumstances we should have some notice and breathing time, but, granting all the advantages due to that circumstance, there must be such an enormous difference between any army constituted on those lines and the armies considered necessary to secure success in other countries that 692 there can be no comparison. I will ask where is the right hon. Gentleman going: to get his officers for these hundreds of thousands of men who will possess no officers trained in the modern sense at all. You are apparently to have everything which in other countries is considered unsuitable for carrying on of a successful war. I know that we are an insular people and that we are proud of our insular position and insular ideas, but sometimes when. I find the whole world against us I am inclined to think that the whole world may be right and that we may be wrong. No other country in the world holds the views that we hold on this question. Every other country thinks that if you are to obtain victory in war, you must have two years training of all I men taken from the flower of the population, and that those men must be trained by officers who have given a lifetime to their work; and that in order to take the field you must have all the proportions of an army with equipment to correspond. We take a totally different view. If it be really possible to produce an army which can fight outside this country against the best modern troops of the world, and can succeed after having had a training such as the right hon. Gentleman has described, and officered as such an army must be officered, then I say it is the greatest discovery ever made. If it is true I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman. I think it is splendid. I hope it is true. But if it be not true, if other countries are right and we are wrong, then what will happen? If the scheme is carried out it will be the most popular thing, I suppose, that was ever done in this country; but if when we have a war this army is destroyed, I do not think the popularity of the scheme will give us much consolation. The military opinion that I have been able to ascertain does not justify the conclusion that the view of the right hon. Gentleman is a right view. I will quote Lord Roberts' opinion, as given before the Royal Commission. Lord Roberts was asked whether he would employ a Militia battalion, and the reply was—Certainly I would not employ a battalion that I was not so sure of as regards training in the same prominent position as I should employ a Regular battalion.693 Then he was asked—Do you think they would be up to the standard required for meeting an invasion, supposing it were to arise?The reply was—No, for they would be pitted against the very best troops that could be brought here.Sir Ian Hamilton was asked whether, if the Militia were trained for six months on enlistment and underwent their month's training in subsequent years, with their shooting training as well, they would be fit for the fighting line. His answer was that it could only be a matter of opinion, and he added—But I would prefer to use them to relieve Regular troops in garrisons and coaling stations, lather than to rely upon them to take the field.Lord Wolseley said he thought that if they were asked to fight with such troops they had better make peace. Asked if it might not be possible to bring them into a condition to fight with reasonable prospect of success, he said—Certainly, but then you would have to give them a corresponding amount of training to make them equal to the Regular soldier.He was next asked how long it would take to make 300,000 auxiliaries equal to cope with 200,000 highly-trained Regulars. He said—I think the best answer I can give you is the answer that a German officer would give you—what the Germans exact from their men before they turn them into the Reserve; if you wish to have men capable of fighting as Regular soldiers you have to train them as the Germans do, and keep them for eighteen months or two years and then turn them away, and have them up for periodical trainings annually.Sir John French was asked—Would you be satisfied to meet those troops with our Auxiliary Forces after a year's training?He replied—I should think it would be very risky. You would prefer not?' 'I should prefer not.'he answered. The next question was—After what period do you think you would be satisfied to do so?The answer was—A period that would make them equal to Regular troops.I might continue the recital almost indefinitely. I do hope the right hon. 694 Gentleman will at some time or another give us his reasons for believing that the Continental—in fact I may say the universal—view is wrong. That is what it comes to. If we are to leave our troops unorganised in every way, un-officered, and are never to train them in the way troops ought to be trained in order to win victory in battle, will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whence he has obtained sanction for his opinions, that this can be done wisely or safely?
I cannot help raising this one note of protest, and it is the only note of protest I desire to utter at this stage of the discussion, because I feel that the vagueness—no doubt the reasonable and pardonable vagueness of the picture—is calculated to raise a considerable amount of alarm in the minds of those who feel that we want an organisation much more resembling that of the Navy than that which he has described. The Navy has never taken the view that you can sacrifice quality for quantity. It is true that we have introduced short service in the Navy, but of not less than five years, and the number of men under that scheme does not exceed 5,000. I do trust that the right hon. Gentleman will pause before he commits this country to any reduction of the Regular Army until he is prepared to say with perfect confidence in this House what he is going to offer in its place. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon what he has said as to improving the education and the organisation of the general staff of the Army, for, undoubtedly, there is room for improvement.
The right hon. Gentleman has told the House that he has closed short-service enlistments. I regret the fact—but I note with satisfaction that unlike many others who speak with less authority, he did not say that it was closed because short-service enlistment had proved a failure. Short-service enlistment was a very great success during the short time it was open, and no less than 54 per cent. of the recruits enlisted for short service. If you do desire to open short-service recruiting again, you may do so with perfect confidence that you will obtain the recruits; but that there must be short service recruiting is absolutely certain. The thing must happen, because you 695 cannot keep on indefinitely a Regular Army on a long-service basis alone consistently with, any considerable reduction of the Army Estimates. You must, sooner or later, come back to the short-service enlistment in some shape or another. I venture once more to assure the right hon. Gentleman—with the exception of the one point which I have ventured to suggest—that on every other line which he desires to make progress he will have in me a supporter who knows his difficulties, who sympathises with him, who shares his view as to the general directions upon which we ought to progress, and one who will be his ardent well-wisher, and whose chief desire is that he may obtain a larger measure of success than his predecessor.
§ MAJOR SEELY
congratulated the Secretary for War upon the speech which he had made. He felt sure that if he carried out the intentions which he had expressed to the House he would receive that general support for which he had pleaded. The right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down seemed very anxious to earn the title "friend of the Volunteers," but his whole argument would be of value if he followed it up by proposing a system of continental conscription. Circumstances might arise where a great force would be required, and the number had been placed by some at 1,000,000 men and by others at 500,000. How could we possibly raise that number except by continental conscription, or unless we relied upon the voluntary offerings of a free people, or unless the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon was prepared to say that we must maintain such a Regular force in peace time as would provide them with the Regular force they would require in time of war to conduct a great European war.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said he had said nothing whatever about the Volunteers, but that he had, as a matter of fact, endeavoured to use the Volunteer material for the purposes of war. What he referred to was that sort of nebulous force which the Secretary for War was about to call into being.
§ MAJOR SEELY
said he understood that the late Secretary of State for War was the friend of the Volunteer, but at any rate, he was not friendly to a large force of Volunteers. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon's object had been to reduce the Volunteers, to go in the contrary direction to that which had been pointed out by the Secretary of State for War, and to make the Volunteers approximate more nearly to the Regular Army, and so to rely upon only Regular troops. Certain hon. Members had pleaded again and again in this House for this object, and at last they had heard some result of their words. They had continually argued that it was impossible for this country to maintain a huge Navy and Army adequate to our needs, and they urged that whilst they must have an Army for immediate needs they must have also behind them the patriotic service of the whole people. That could not be obtained by compulsion, because the people of this country would never submit to being compelled to serve in the Army. The people of this country had determined to keep in their own hands the question whether they should or should not go to war, and for that reason they insisted upon voluntary service, not from any sense of cowardice, but because they were determined that when the time came they should be allowed to decide whether they would wage war or not. For that reason he believed that it was only by encouragement and not by compulsion that we could obtain the forces which we required. He urged the right hon. Gentleman not to pursue the course which proved so disastrous last year, for he believed that the recent election had shown that the people of this country were determined that they would maintain the voluntary principle; and it was only by encouragement on the lines he had suggested that the authorities could hope to obtain any large number of men. Whilst thanking the Secretary of State for War, might he put in one caveat on the question of the linked battalion system. Members sympathised and agreed so entirely with his general view that it would seem churlish to sound a note of disagreement; but he thought it was as well to point 697 out this difference at once. They protested against the theory that it was necessary to have the same proportion of Regular troops at home as abroad. When Mr. Cardwell's system was produced it was a great advance upon previous schemes, and it so happened that at that time the number of troops at home and abroad were about the same. They were now of the opinion that they wanted far more troops abroad than at home for various reasons, and still more because of the acceptance by the late Prime Minister on behalf of the Committee of Defence of the theory that the defence of this country was an affair of its citizens. For these reasons they believed that we did not require so great a force of Regular troops in thus country. He did not agree with the statement that this was an essential part of military doctrine. With regard to the possible invasion of this country he had never been one who believed that any naval force was a complete security against invasion. In uttering a note of warning, he wished to point out that the belief that the naval force was a complete security was based upon expert opinion. If that naval opinion had ever been very gravely at fault, it behoved them to doubt whether they could run so huge a risk upon a hypothesis which might conceivably be wrong. The whole of naval opinion a few years ago was devoted to trying to ascertain which would win, the Japanese or the Russian Navy; and he had it on good authority that some of this expert opinion, which told them invasion was impossible, gave the Japanese Fleet three months before the Russian Fleet sent it to the bottom. He believed that in the archives of the War Office some such opinion was to be found. On a previous occasion he had pointed out many instances where naval expert opinion had been wholly wrong, and he ventured to bring this most important question to the notice of the House, not because he did not belong to the blue-water school, or because he did not believe that we ought to spend much more money on the Navy than on the Army, but because he was of opinion that invasion was like being run over by an express train: it was fatal when it happened. It was unwise to assume that a thing was impossible because the probabilities seemed to be 698 against it. But, after all, the Secretary of State for War longed to see the people of this country serve in the Army of their own free will; and all who had endeavoured to recruit men for the Auxiliary Forces knew that the defence of the soil argument was the principal incentive to voluntary service. When, therefore, there was the least chance of this training being developed it was unwise to take away the great inducement to that voluntary service, which might in the future be of great value in all parts of the world. He had nothing in the nature of criticism to make in regard to the statement made by the Secretary of State for War, and Members were grateful for what he had said. The right hon. Gentleman had made an impassioned appeal to the people of this country and to hon. Members of this House to set aside Party bitterness, and all hoped that his appeal would be responded to.
§ LORD MORPETH (Birmingham, S.)
said the Secretary of State for War had very wisely preferred to wait to learn the facts of his office before he came down to this House to ask for any wide changes in the organisation of the Army. They were told that it was easy to diminish the armed forces because at the present time there Was a large increase in treaties of arbitration. He did not think this country could rely on any security of that sort. If France, instead of strengthening her Army in past years, had reduced her forces he thought the deadlock which appeared to exist at Algeciras would be even greater than it was. But the right hon. Gentleman had told the House that it was impossible to diminish the Army, at any rate materially, until the authorities were able to relieve the Indian and Colonial garrisons—that meant until some change of policy abroad in regard to the north-west frontier of India, or in regard to the position in South Africa, enabled them to diminish those forces. When that happened it would no doubt be possible to diminish the troops in those regions. Sometimes the House heard lamentations as to the large cost of the armed forces of this country. It seemed to him that there was no good in lamenting that expenditure had risen, and was rising, 699 without also seeing whether they could diminish the cost with security to this country. It was not the cost alone that they had to look to, but the facts that underlay the necessity for that cost. The right hon. Gentleman had said that they must rely on the large force which would stand behind the striking force. It seemed to him that the right hon. Gentleman placed too much reliance on a rather vague force that might be called into being. At one time he seemed to hint that this force would be organised by local bodies—county councils, municipal authorities, or even private associations. Everybody who took an interest in the strength of the Army must welcome institutions like rifle clubs and rejoice that the people of the country were taking an interest in what was, after all, the A.B.C. of military matters—the ability to shoot straight. But, unfortunately, they had to look at the facts of our social life as they were. It was unfortunately the fact that football was more interesting than shooting at the butts. That being so, they must provide some military machinery, some military organisation, by which men who were to be taught shooting would be enrolled in order to qualify themselves as marksmen. It seemed to him that the right hon. Gentleman made a mistake in the instance he chose for the purpose of showing the advantages and the uses of a large number of unorganised troops or bodies of men. He quoted Prince Frederick Charles and what might be called the national war in France, when organised resistance had broken down. In that case the resistance, although gallant and prolonged, and although it inflicted great loss on the Prussians, had no eventual bearing on the result of the war. We should look in this country to the forces we had rather than to ill-defined forces which did not exist. He did not disguise from himself the fact that at the present moment the Auxiliary Forces were in many respects ill-trained, ill-qualified, and unready to meet European troops of quality in the field of battle. Large numbers of Volunteers and Militia were sent to South Africa during the late war. Although ready to give them praise for what they did and to recognise the patriotism and spirit which led 700 them to go to the field of operations, everybody who had any experience of those troops knew that if, instead of going to South Africa to meet comparatively few brave but ill-equipped men, they had had to meet in an easier country the highly trained and disciplined Armies of Continental Powers, many of those troops would have fared very badly. But the fact that men were not ready to go at a moment's notice was no reason why they should not be made ready, as the right hon. Gentleman had pointed out. If instead of relying upon some ill-defined force the War Office would devote some of its benevolence—some of its attention—to the strengthening of the Auxiliary Forces, whether Volunteer or Militia, he thought there would be found in them an almost inexhaustible reserve force which might be extended in time of war to very large dimensions. There they had a skeleton which they could fill out into a living organism for war. The relative value of the Volunteers and the Militia was a question which was sometimes discussed. These discussions were unfortunate. He doubtep whether it was possible to keep two Auxiliary Forces, organised on different principles, in being. But it would be perfectly possible to create a single Auxiliary Force, whether it were called Militia or Volunteers, which would be one force under military law, but with certain conditions of elasticity in regard to terms of enlistment, nature and length of training, and even in regard to pay. What stood in the way of the Auxiliary Forces at the present time? The Volunteers considered, rightly or wrongly, that they had been slighted. What was certain was that the Militia, throughout the whole course of its career, had been little better than a step-child of the military authorities of this country. It had always been the Cinderella of the armed forces, and he did not suppose there was any reasonable Militiaman who expected that it could ever develop into the favourite child of the War Office. But he did say that the Militia was capable of expansion and improvement, and that it was a force which could be polished up at comparatively short notice if it were favoured by the War Office. If it received the assistance to which it was entitled it would be a valuable service. The 701 Militia had been bled of its best and steadiest men to supply troops for the line under the so-called system of the Militia reserve now abolished. It had been bled at the other end by being made a nursery of recruits. It was a force which had always been regarded with a certain amount of ridicule. The fact that it should have lived down this ridicule showed its vitality. In the time of the great Napoleonic wars it provided a vast number of men who were not only available for home defence but actually served in the field in the line battalions; during the Crimean War it provided men for the Mediterranean garrisons, and during the South African War it provided organised units to fill up the gaps when there was difficulty in finding Regulars or Volunteers to supply the deficiency. This showed that they had in the Militia that skeleton or nucleus to which the Secretary of State for War referred. The right hon. Gentleman alluded with approval to the Swiss Militia. That was a cheap Militia and service was compulsory. It was a Militia for the defence of its own native soil. The Swiss people were one of the most democratic and one of the freest nations in the world, but in spite of that they had a great history of military glory and pride. What the Swiss had done surely the people of this country were sufficiently patriotic to do also. It was not proposed that the Army which was to stand behind the Regular Army should be for foreign service. It was an Army for the defence of this country, and only in emergencies for foreign service. While the view taken by the Blue Water School contained a great element of truth, it might sometimes be pushed to a dangerous extreme—an extreme which in the days of Queen Elizabeth was called the idolatry of Neptune. He did not think this country could afford to say that it would rely altogether on the Fleet. It was not probable that an enemy would be able to invade this country in great numbers, but unless the Auxiliary Forces were properly organised and equipped, and under commanders who understood the material with which they had to deal and who were able to use them, they would prove a helpless crowd in the presence of more highly organised Armies if they came 702 into conflict. Although he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman about the necessity of building a military policy on certain clearly denned lines, it must always be borne in mind that this country was exposed to the danger of sudden attack. It was just those military ventures which appeared most hopeless, which most military officers shrank from, that daring spirits undertook and which led to the most startling success. The attack on Quebec had been practically given up as hopeless by every naval and military member of the British forces, but General Wolfe made it a startling and wonderful success. For that reason this country must be prepared with some organised force to meet invasion in time of war. He remembered that during the war in South Africa, although we were in conflict with only a small State thousands of miles away and with no Fleet, there was a deep feeling of insecurity in this county. All recollected the hasty, ill-considered and expensive measures that were then thought necessary to supply deficiencies. If we were ever to engage in a war with a great military Power it was essential for the security and stability of the country that there should be here an organised force. It was said, and he agreed, that this country could not support an overwhelming Navy and at the same time provide a great Army, that our professional Army should be small but of great efficiency, and that behind that we should look to the great mass of the Auxiliary Forces, who, therefore, should be treated with benevolence and encouragement. The officers and men were willing to learn and to qualify themselves for the duty put upon them if they only received that encouragement from professional soldiers and the War Office which was their due.
§ MR. CHARLES HOBHOUSE (Bristol E.)
said it was a very long time since they had had a speech from any Minister on the subject of the Army which had elicited such a general feeling of contentment and approbation as the one they had listened to this afternoon. The right hon. Gentleman, in opening his speech, told the House that three months was far too short a time to produce a new scheme of 703 reform of the Army; but he could not help remembering that on almost the corresponding day last year the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon made a speech in which at the end of seven months he produced a full-fledged scheme for the reform of every department of the British Army. He was not going to deal with the scheme which the right hon. Gentleman then produced, the most important parts of which had been swept away by the Memorandum which the present Secretary of State for War had laid on the Table of the House; but there were one or two points in connection with that scheme which must inevitably come up in any discussion of the proposals of the present Secretary of State for War. The right hon. Member for Croydon had told the House that two concurrent periods of enlistment were impossible. Now at the time the right hon. Gentleman gave up office there were not two concurrent periods of enlistment but four, although not all of his making.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said that what he had stated was that concurrent enlistment was inevitable, and he had always maintained that.
§ MR. CHARLES HOBHOUSE
said that he had a quotaion from a speech the right hon. Gentleman made on 8th April last, which appeared in The Times, in which he said that it was impossible to proceed with two concurrent periods of enlistment.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said that for two years he had been preaching and practising exactly the opposite doctrine.
§ MR. CHARLES HOBHOUSE
said he was quite aware of that, but it only showed how inconsistent the right hon. Gentleman's theory was with his practice. His point was that when the present Secretary of State for War came into office he found that there were four periods of concurrent enlistment. He was glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman had swept away three of them, and that at present the only possible period of enlistment was one of nine years service with the colours and three in the reserve. There had been unquestionably some 704 feeling of disappointment amongst Members op the Ministerial side of the House that it was possible for the right hon. Gentleman to reduce the expense of the Army by only £17,000. But considering the short time at his disposal and the legacies left him by his predecessors, he thought they should be glad that the present Secretary of State for War had been able to make a reduction of even £17,000. It had to be remembered that the cost of all branches of the Service—especially in the manufacture of guns, clothing, and supplies of all sorts of necessaries—had gone up. The cost of labour and material had largely increased, and all these inevitably helped to swell the Estimates. One thing in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman had pleased him immensely, viz., when the right hon. Gentleman said that although he had some ideas he had no plans, and he went on to express his approval—even if that approval were tentative—of a continuance of what was known as the Card well scheme. He himself recollected the time when he was taunted with being the only surviving believer in the Card well Scheme, and he was delighted that that view had been re-adopted with the general approval of the House. He was glad that the right hon. Gentleman was going to keep the system of linked battalions, for it was the universal experience that that was the only way to provide proper drafts for the battalions serving abroad. The late Secretary for War had sketched out a plan by which there were to to be brought into existence eighteen or nineteen large depôts, which were in due process of time to replace the linked battalion system. He wanted to know whether these large depôts with their buildings were to be continued at large cost, or whether they were going to be thrown into the hotch-potch with the London defences. If the right hon. Gentleman followed that course, he was certain that in the immediate future he would be able to add to the saving of expenditure already affected. It was important to notice that the three principles laid down last year by the right hon. Member for Croydon and the late Prime Minister for the maintenance of the Army had been fully answered by the Secretary of State for War. 705 These were the possibility of invasion, the duty of the Army to fight abroad, and the position in India governing the number of soldiers in this country. He was rather of the opinion of the hon. and gallant Member for the Abercromby Division of Liverpool that the Committee of Defence had minimised the position of foreign armies, and in thinking that the commanders of these armies would not under certain circumstances sacrifice 5,000 or 10,000 men in order to get possession of one or other of our great arsenals. He had seen something of the landward defences of our great arsenals, and was convinced that if by some mischance a force of 10,000 foreign troops were landed in close proximity to, say, Portsmouth or Plymouth, they could do such incalculable and incredible damage as all the strength of our Navy would not be able to redress within a reasonable time. He hoped that any scheme of defence of this country would be so perfect in regard to the repulsion of these possible raids that our arsenals would really rest in genuine and not imaginary security. He should have liked to have referred at a little greater length to the question of whether the defences of India were so good as they were a year ago. He thought that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon laid it down that the requirements of India in time of war were 120,000 men in the first year, and 60,000 in the succeeding year, and he should like to know whether the Secretary for War agreed with those figures. He had not gathered clearly by what method the power of expansion behind the Regular Army was to be provided. The right hon. Gentleman had devised a very extensive and not a very costly scheme of regaining the Volunteers. The system of brigading, however, had not yet been extended to the Militia. The system of this brigading, by which new officers were to be appointed to the Volunteer brigades, had left behind a large number of officers, who were practically in charge of brigade districts and who would now be superfluous. Were those officers going to be used for brigading the Militia, and, if not, under what system was the Militia going to be brought into line with the Volunteers from the point of view of Army organisation? He hailed with 706 much satisfaction the right hon. Gentleman's desire to create a national interest in the Army. There was public sentiment in regard to the Navy, and those who, like himself, had served in the Army, would give anything to see it directed towards the Army. It was a bar to the advance of the Army that it had never been so popular as the Navy, but there was no reason why, under proper management, it should not take its place side by side with naval force.
§ MR. WYNDHAM (Dover)
Although some of the speeches to which we have listened might tempt me to recrimination, I shall resist that temptation. The Secretary of State has asked us to set all partisan spirit on one side. I respond to the appeal. It would, in my opinion, be ungenerous to do otherwise in view of one memorable sentence in the right hon. Gentleman's speech; I quote it verbatim—
Never was there a period when the Army was in a more efficient condition than to-day.That was a legacy of which the right hon. Gentleman does not complain. Again, a great part of his survey was based, as the right hon. Gentleman most frankly and generously admitted, on the conclusions and advice tendered by the Defence Committee, and his theory, if not based upon, almost entirely coincided with, the important speech made last session by the present Leader of the Opposition. But, of course, there may be other legacies, of which the right hon. Gentleman complains, though he has uttered no complaint. He remarked somewhat pointedly that in the period under review in the earlier portion of his speech there had been an increase in the personnel of the Army of 46,000 men, and in respect of it an increase of cost to the Army of about £6,000,000. That is £130 per head. But if we take into consideration that during that period a new rifle was given to the Army, and a new gun, that the pay of the soldier was increased, his accommodation improved, and the amenities of his life made far more desirable, I do not think that £130 per man is at any rate obviously an extravagant figure. The whole point is whether the increase in personnel was necessary. The Secretary for War will not think that I lack admiration for his speech if I do not pay him all the compliments he deserves. I share to the full the 707 admiration which the right hon. Gentleman's notable effort has excited; it was a luminous speech, which flooded the whole question with light. There was one passage, however, which, perhaps owing to my imperfect attention, seemed to lack the lucidity which characterised the rest of the speech. I will come straight to that portion of the speech, in which lies the heart of the matter.
The right hon. Gentleman dealt with a striking force, its size and character, and then in quick transition dealt with another problem—namely, the fact that the number of men and of battalions which we had at home depended upon and was conditioned by the number of men and of battalions that we had in India and the Colonies. I would myself say that if our Army at home is sufficient to be the nursery and school for our Army in India and in the Colonies, then at no great additional cost we can provide out of that nursery and school a striking force of sufficient size. There are not two problems; there is one dominating problem, that of having a proper nursery and school for our Indian and Colonial garrisons. Until that problem is satisfactorily solved, the problem of a striking force becomes of minor importance; we need not bother our heads about it until we have found the solution of the primary problem. At the end of his speech the right hon. Gentleman said that the key of the problem of reducing expenditure is to be found in the garrisons which we maintain in Colonial stations. But the lock into which that key is to be fitted is by the very nature of our Empire a complicated one with many intricate wards. Hon. Members will find a very good picture of that lock on page 22 of the Army Estimates, where there is given on one sheet of paper the distribution of our Army throughout the Empire. Rightly or wrongly, we have 156 battalions of the Line.
Following the right hon Gentleman's example, I will stick to Infantry of the Line to illustrate the problem. Of those battalions seventy-one are at home, and eighty-five abroad, fifty-two being in India. I agree that all chances of reduction depends on the number of battalions we have out of this country. I should be very sorry to encourage any section of the House to expect a reduction in the Indian garrison; and with 708 that deduction there are thirty-three battalions abroad to be accounted for. We have gone very far in removing the unnecessary garrisons abroad in Canada, Esquimault and Bermuda. If you analyse the position of our battalions throughout the Colonies, excluding India, you will see that the opportunity of any great measure of reduction is very remote. I am not pressing this, but I think it is very important to take it into consideration. The reduction of the three battalions, at Gibraltar, and the seven battalions at Malta raises the whole question of the Mediterranean, and I for one cannot hold out any hope to this House that at any early day we are going to abandon those historic stations. There is a view held I know, a highly speculative view in my opinion, that if a war broke out we should clear out of the Mediterranean, and the right hon. Gentleman may have gone some way in favour of the conclusions based on that view. But still the House would be surprised to hear that we are going to have less than three battalions at Gibraltar and seven at Malta.
Then we come to another group, which I may call the Egyptian group, to which we may add the garrisons at Cyprus and Crete; there you have four battalions. I put it to the House that those four battalions do not only touch the question of the fighting efficiency of the Army, they are also a point of support to many important diplomatic questions, and we cannot on this Question, as I think the right hon. Gentleman will admit, deal with our Army problems as Germany can deal with her Army problem. Some of our Colonial garrisons are an inherent part of our diplomatic machinery and cannot be tampered with without altering the whole course of our foreign policy. I pass at this stage to another group, namely, the battalions at Mauritius, Bermuda, the Straits Settlements, Hong Kong and Ceylon—five battalions in all. The right hon. Gentleman is prepared to push the conclusions of the blue water school very far. I invented the name, quite accidentally, in this House, and I am prepared to go a long way with it, but I do not think the right hon. Gentleman can go the whole way. But supposing he could, there is a reduction of five battalions to be obtained there, and we 709 should have no garrisons in the Far East. Again, those battalions cannot be discussed from the point of view of fighting efficiency, it might be wrong or it might be right to have one battalion of white troops at Hong-Kong, but it cannot be said that it was an absurd view to take, that we need one such battalion there as the point d'appui for the whole of our diplomatic position in the Pacific.
But if hon. Gentlemen have taken account of the Mediterranean battalions and the five garrisons in our world's service and the four battalions in Egypt, there remain the fourteen battalions in South Africa. I ask the House, is it practical to contemplate at the present moment any reduction of those battalions? [Cries of Yes.] Well, that is one of the questions we shall have to consider at the invitation of the Secretary of State for War, but I think I have in this matter put forward a presumptive case that only in South Africa is there a chance—a remote chance which we must not speculate too confidently upon—of a reduction being effected. The whole increase of the cost of the Army is in the main due to additional burdens which have become incumbent upon us in recent years, which have necessitated our having garrisons in these places. For a time the problem was settled in an illusory manner. The word "temporary" used to be bracketted against the battalions in Egypt, but those battalions have been in Egypt ever since, and the right hon. Gentleman will not solve the problem, and I am sure by his candour to-night he will not pretend to do so, by putting the word "temporary" against the fourteen battalions in South Africa. If he finds it impossible, as I fear he will, to take away any considerable number of these thirty-three battalions, then the hope of any great economy in the cost of the Army is one which we cannot confidently entertain. The recent additions to our Army cost us £130 per annum per man, and for the considerations that I have shown, if the Government do cut down the cost by three or five battalions they will not get the Cardwell system, of which the right hon. Gentleman seems to approve, to work as it was intended to work. Some of us think the Cardwell system has been exposed to a strain that it 710 will not bear, and if we are to have clear thinking upon this matter we must either recognise that the Cardwell system must be carried out theoretically, according to the intentions of its author, or else we must have some other system which will admit of our having more battalions abroad than are kept at home.
I do not intend to make a Party speech or to take up much more of the time of the House, but, speaking for myself and probably for others as well, I am not persuaded that the right hon. Gentleman is on the right track in respect to the Militia. The right hon. Gentleman takes the view that the Militia is to be kept in a watertight compartment, divorced from our line infantry, and many share that view. I can only say that under these conditions the Militia is perishing, and I do not see in these conditions any element for the revival of it. Although it is not my place to throw out any suggestions to-night, I think it would be wise to revert to the old principle advocated for the Militia of 100 years ago, namely, that it should be regarded as a provisional battalion closely connected with the territorial regiments. We might defend this principle on the ground both of prestige and tradition. At present our country has two traditions, the old tradition of the numbers of the regiments and the new territorial tradition which came to life during the war in South Africa. Before the war it would have been impossible to make the Hampshire Militia believe they were part and parcel of the Hampshire regiment, but since the war it is quite different. I commend that suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman.
The right hon. Gentleman said no word about the Yeomanry. May I put in a word of appeal that he will devote his zeal to every other portion of the forces before he deals with the Yeomanry. In that case, I ask him with respect to leave well alone. I rose only to draw attention to a part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech which, perhaps, through some fault of my own, did not seem so clear as the greater part of his address.
The right hon. Gentleman dealt, it seemed to me, somewhat too hardly with the building of barracks on Salisbury 711 Plain. Again, there are two sides to the question, and a good deal might be said for and against it. Salisbury Plain was bought as a manœuvring ground. It has been turned into a second Aldershot and into a collection of rifle and artillery ranges. I regret that, but why was it done? It was done because we had to have new barracks in this country. The old barracks were a disgrace and were admitted to be so. Many had to be pulled down, and our military advisers recommended that barracks should be built so that the troops of different branches of the service could be exercised together. Then the science of economy came in. It was found far cheaper to build these barracks upon ground belonging to you than to buy new land. Much can be said on both sides of the question, but I shall always lean to the opinion that it will be better to leave Salisbury Plain as clear as you can, and that when you have a great manœuvring area you should allow no consideration of economy to lead you to turn it into anything else.
On the question of the Volunteers the right hon. Gentleman threw out the theory that we should have elementary instruction of an elastic character until a time of war. That was so important and far-reaching a view that, I think, we may well ponder it before we pronounce any opinion upon it; but I will admit that it is a logical deduction from the extreme theories of the Blue-water school. Let me say one word to those who represent the Volunteers in this House. Why do the Volunteers now cost so much more than they did? Because Mr. Stanhope, Lord Lansdowne, and others were exposed year after year to the demand that the Volunteers should have all the necessaries and all the accessories of Regular troops—their own transport, their own guns, and much besides. If you do that you cannot make the process of elementary training elastic without at the same time making it grossly extravagant; and we come to the bed-rock of the volunteer question, which is that you cannot train large bodies of troops in this country, except during periods of great patriotic exaltation, when you are not permitted to deviate from the high road without paying a bill almost as costly as any run up in time of war.
§ MR. MOLTENO (Dumfriesshire)
said he wished to refer to the position in which many Members were placed by the speech of the Secretary of State for War and the Estimates which had been placed before the country. They had been returned with a strong mandate from their constituents to retrench and cut down expenditure. They had also been returned with a mandate for social reform. He listened with the greatest interest to the Speech of the Secretary of State for War, but it was with a sense of disappointment that he found there were so many excellent technical reasons why no reduction was possible. If there was to be social reform it must cost money, and where was it to come from? Could they burden the people any further? It was only in regard to the Naval and Military expenditure that they could conceive any reduction. In 1895 there was spent on the Army and Navy £43,000,000 sterling. This year he understood the amount was £73,000,000 sterling, or an increase of £30,000,000. The Secretary of State for War, he was glad to say, had not closed the door upon them entirely, because he had told them that the expenditure on the Army depended upon policy, and the right hon. Gentleman had further pointed out that the increased expenditure had largely been caused by the very large increase in the force maintained abroad. He ventured to suggest that the time had come when the 20,000 men need no longer be maintained in South Africa. There was an opening for a substantial and solid reduction in expenditure by reducing the forces in that country. The history of our connection with South Africa showed that expensive militarism had always attended our forward policy there, and the lesson to be learnt was that if this country was prepared to pursue a policy of leaving questions concerning South Africa alone to be dealt with by South Africa itself, then the time had clearly come when it was unnecessary to maintain these large bodies of troops in that country. He particularly suggested that a force such as that maintained at Middelburg in Cape Colony was wholly unnecessary, and if there were any disaffection the force would be wholly inadequate. But there was no disaffection. The Boers had accepted the situation and had 713 given every evidence of their acceptance of it, and he understood that the Government were going to act upon it. He was not in a position to say what had been the cost of the troops in South Africa, and of military works and other expenses connected with the maintenance of the force there, but it could not have been less than three or four millions a year since the War terminated, and there was an additional expense connected with supplying the battalions with fresh troops. There would seem to be a substantial reduction therefore in view, and he would urge the Secretary of State to carry out the reduction at as early a date as possible. Ministerialists had been returned by a large majority in favour of the policy of peace, retrenchment, and reform, and they were bound to give some effect to the mandate. It was time that they determined to effect some change with regard to this gigantic Military expenditure and set their faces like flint against the forward policy in armaments.
§ CAPTAIN CRAIG (Down, E.)
said he rose not to criticise in any hostile spirit the statement of the Secretary of State for War, but to supplement one of the most important points in his long and interesting speech. The point which had occurred to the people in this country was that no matter how efficient the Army, the Auxiliary Forces, the Militia, the Yeomanry, and the Volunteers might be they were always face to face with the problem—What had the country done in the way of preparation in the event of all the forces at the disposal of the Crown being absorbed by war? What preparation had been made in order to cope with the vast number of patriotic Britishers who desired to take up arms to supplement those other forces? If they walked abroad in the country generally they would find that the people took an interest in Army matters. From the point of view of their use in time of war, if ever this country was in such a plight as it was before the South African campaign, it was to be hoped that those walking about prepared to take arms would be met with some organisation such as had been indicated by the Secretary of State for War. The right hon. Gentleman was perfectly 714 right in treating the vast mass of Volunteers as, in the first place, not all available for foreign service, and he had also to take into consideration that a Volunteer of this evening might not be a Volunteer tomorrow morning; but nevertheless a man who could ride and shoot and bear himself properly in every way, who might not belong to any Auxiliary Forces, was still a valuable asset to the war material which might be required in an emergency. It was necessary to take some steps—no matter what policy might be thrown across the floor of this House as to the re-organisation of the Army, the Militia or the Auxiliary Forces—that this country might be assured that the moment there was an outbreak of war the vast material at its disposal would be seized upon and encouraged and taken proper care of. He had noticed some instructions which were issued by the French Minister for War to those in charge of depôts for recruiting, and he thought this applied to the timorous man who came forward in the event of a national emergency. The French Ministry had given out that these men had to be treated courteously and welcomed to the service which they were willing to undertake for the national good. He thought that there was both mismanagement and discourtesy shown when the Volunteers came forward on the last occasion, and that could only be remedied if those at the head of the Army would impress upon all officers and men that, whilst the great bulk of those who served in South Africa and other campaigns still leavened the Army, this was a Volunteer country and that a Volunteer was to be treated in the hour of need the same as a soldier. They ought to give encouragement to men to come forward at critical periods; that should be put into the text books and put before a soldier as soon as he enlisted as well as before the officer at Sandhurst or Woolwich. The spirit of calling upon the country as a whole to support a war should be clearly understood by our generals and colonels from the time they entered the Army, so as to fulfil the ideas which the Secretary of State for War had so ably put before the House to-day. In response to the War Office appeal 715 many men would very likely come forward and give a hand, but if they did so under present conditions there was no method of receiving them in some new unit which would appeal to the men. There were in some districts most efficient Militia and Yeomanry, and on this side of the water there were most efficient Volunteers. The authorities might be able to put their hands on a district where all three forces existed, but when war broke out they would not come forward in sufficient numbers to make a new unit equally efficacious if taken to the seat of war. He agreed with the Secretary of State for War that men should take upon themselves the proper duties of citizenship and learn to shoot, or ride, or shoe a horse, or do any of the things necessary for work in the field. If they threw themselves heart and soul into the idea of citizenship and the training which the Secretary of State indicated, it would not require a very long time to make the scheme work homogeneously, so that these units would be useful either in South Africa or any other country. They were constantly face to face with this problem, and so far nothing whatever had been done to assure the people of the country that they were safe. They had rifles, bandoliers, uniforms, and all the accoutrements that vast wealth could command, but when it came to men they had to turn round and say, "Will you come and save us in a difficult situation?" If the country was aroused to help in such a situation, the least they could do was to ask the War Office authorities to have that machinery in such perfect order that they could go to the recruiting officer, be taken freely by the hand, taught their duty, and sent to the front, and when at the front treated exactly the same as the regular troops were. It should not be forgotten that the regular troops were Volunteers also—it might be a long or short service—and they should be trained to look upon Volunteers as their equals in every respect.
COLONEL HERBERT (Monmouthshire, S.)
said he claimed that indulgence which was always extended to an hon. Member who addressed the House for the first time. The statement of the Secretary 716 of State for War had given him much pleasure, and he had been pleased to listen to the graceful, sympathetic and appreciative words he had used with regard to those who collaborated with him at the War Office. Having had some experience himself, he could assure the right hon. Gentleman that he had taken the best course to secure the highest service which an efficient staff were able to render. He was confident that if the Secretary of State for War approached the problems of the men in the same sympathetic spirit as that which he had applied to the higher officers of the staff, he would win from the rank and file the same hearty co-operation which he was sure he had received from the headquarters staff at the War Office. The right hon. Gentleman had come before the House this evening less in the character of a great Army reformer than in the character of a reformer of War Office finance. It might be urged, as it had been by the hon. Member for East Bristol, that the results of his attempts at economy had been to save only a paltry £17,000; but as one who had had some little experience in dealing with the preparation of Estimates, he would say that, personally, so far from being disappointed he hailed that decrease as a considerable triumph under the circumstances which the right hon. Gentleman had had to face. In his experience in dealing with Estimates he had found that there were really only two items of expenditure upon which they could expect at once to make a large and sweeping reduction, and these were the item of men and the item of stores. Under the head of stores and supplies, the right hon. Gentleman had adopted a wise policy in not making a great reduction, but, on the contrary, in making an increase in order to make up for the exhaustion of those supplies which remained over at the end of the war. It was false economy to let the stores get too low. In regard to the question of making a sweeping reduction of the number of men, again he thought the right hon. Gentleman had done well to advance slowly. He had shown that a reduction could be made without making those changes which were the most unsettling things in the Army. He had succeeded in making a reduction notwithstanding the fact that he took over 717 the Estimates already prepared by another Secretary of State, and having had but little experience and only three short months to work in. In looking through the Estimates he had recognised the truth of the fact which the right hon. Gentleman had pointed out, namely, that military expenditure had the peculiarity of an absence of finality, the effect of which was that expenditure incurred in this year might have to be paid for by a still larger expenditure in the course of another three or four years. They had that exemplified very strongly in the unfortunate change which was made a few years ago, when the whole terms of service in the Army were suddenly altered, and a three years term adopted instead. That change was being paid for to-day by no less a sum than £300,000. There was £220,000 as increase for reserve pay; £30,000 as increase in the cost of recruiting, because as the three years men were gone they must get others in their place; there was another increase of £32,000 for bounties given to men to re-engage in order to make up the waste which was not properly calculated before; and, further, there was another £20,000 for various allowances which came in in consequence of the increased cost of raising further men; making a total of £302,000. If the right hon. Gentleman could find a means of putting an end to that form of expenditure he would advance a considerable distance towards the solution of the problem which he had before him. The right hon. Gentleman had very truly said that the question of the reduction of the number of men lay in another department, the key to which really was India. That was a question upon which the House would have to declare itself upon another occasion. But there was a moral to which he would draw attention from this example, which showed that the right hon. Gentleman was advancing along a proper line when he did not express any intention of making great and sudden changes. The Army required, above all things, a period of rest. There was nothing that so contributed to the efficiency of the Army as the knowledge that there was some sort of security that what existed to-day would not be changed to-morrow. The first condition 718 of an Army was that there should be a steady supply of men, and equally that there should be a good supply of capable and efficient officers. When the terms of service were changed, as they had been during recent years, they could not wonder that there was not that anxiety to enter His Majesty's service that there should be and that there had been in the past. They saw in the units to-day men serving side by side under no less than four different systems of enlistment. Each one of those different terms of service was a grievance to the other three. It was impossible that they could all be equally satisfied, and they were therefore establishing in the units, by those things, a condition of things which militated most seriously against the efficiency of the Army. With regard to the provision of officers, the right hon. Gentleman had spoken of the arrangements which he hoped to bring about to raise the educational standard of the Army. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider also whether he could not introduce the highest possible standard of competition among the younger officers of the service. They had, in the Army, a system totally different from that in the Navy, in that the junior ranks of the Army were dealt with entirely by seniority, while the senior ranks only became subject to selection. In the Navy the junior ranks were more subject to selection than they were in the Army. If they could raise the spirit of emulation among their junior officers they would find that the Army had an even larger number of highly educated and efficient officers to draw upon than it had at present.
§ MR. LEA (St. Pancras, E.)
said he wished to preface his remarks by thanking very heartily the right hon. the Secretary of State for War for his announcement that flogging was to be abolished in the military prisons of this country. He sincerely hoped that that removed the last vestige of corporal punishment in the Army.
And, it being half-past Seven of the clock, the debate stood adjourned till this Evening's Sitting.