§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a number of Land Forces, not exceeding 204,100, all ranks, be maintained for Service of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland at home and Abroad, excluding His Majesty's Indian Possessions, during the year ending on 31st day of March, 1907."
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN (Worcestershire, E)
I rise in response to the invitation—I might almost say challenge—of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to put a Question. I am anxious to ascertain the total amount involved by the decision of His Majesty's Government to pay the local trades union rate of wages in all Government establishments. The right hon. Gentleman caused me to be informed that the suggestion that it was the decision of the Government to pay local trade union rates of wages was neither an accurate nor an adequate statement of the policy of the Government, and he referred me to statements made by the Secretary of State for War and the Secretary to the Admiralty to a deputation which waited on them, † The only statement I have had an opportunity of hearing was one by the Secretary to the Admiralty, who did notSee (4) Debates, cliii., 1103.1440 pretend to explain fully the intentions of the Government.
The right hon. Gentleman appears to me to be travelling far beyond the question before the Committee. He is only entitled to deal with it so far as the Army Estimates are concerned.
§ MR. McCRAE (Edinburgh, E.)
rose to a point of order. Was it not a fact that upon this Vote the discussion was confined to the number of men? Questions of finance could not be raised till later on.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
It is very inconvenient to have to raise this question now. If I had received the ordinary courtesy which Ministers usually show when civil questions are asked, it would not be necessary to repeat the Question now.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
Yes. If the right hon. Gentleman looks-at the Question he will not be able to suggest there is anything uncivil or improper in it.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
Surely all Questions are civil. Will the right hon. Gentleman say which of the Ministers has been guilty of discourtesy, in order that he may have an opportunity of apologising?
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
The Chancellor of the Exchequer refused to reply to a Question which asked for information given to other people outside this House in respect of a matter of public policy.
§ MR. ASQUITH
said he believed he referred the right hon. Gentleman to the full statement made by the Secretary of State for War on the Army Estimates. 1441 That appeared to him to cover the whole ground, but if any further information were needed he would try to give it.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
said he had not been referred to any statement by the Secretary of State in that House, but to statements made to a deputation.
§ MR. ASQUITH
If that is so, I apologise; but I certainly thought I referred the right hon. Gentleman to the full and authoritative statement made by the Secretary for War. Nothing was further from my mind than to be guilty of any discourtesy.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
thanked the right hon. Gentleman, and said that if he was to understand that a full statement had been made in the House he had no cause for complaint. He only regretted he had not succeeded in understanding the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MAJOR SEELY (Liverpool, Abercromby)
moved to reduce the Vote by 10,000 men. He said that he might be excused for again trespassing on the time of the Committee, seeing that he had, with others, been concerned for some years in moving for a reduction of the personnel of the Army at a time when such a reduction was more unpopular than it should be in this House of Commons, the vast majority of whose Members had been pledged to economy. He would endeavour to be as brief as possible in stating his reasons for moving the reduction of the establishment. They had again and again urged that it was not possible to reduce expenditure without reducing the number of men. Let them look back on the history of the Army for the last thirty years. Secretaries of State, both Liberal and Conservative, had again and again pledged themselves to economy and had endeavoured to effect it without reducing the personnel, but they had failed. Not only was it impossible to reduce expenditure without reducing the per-See (4) Debates, cliii., 1103.1442 sonnel, but the expenditure must increase. In 1872, when Mr. Cardwell introduced his great scheme, the cost per year of a soldier was £111 Now it had risen by steady gradation to £146, an increase of 30 per cent, in thirty odd years. The circumstances of trade tended to increase the cost of a voluntarily recruited army. In his interesting statement, the Secretary for War had pointed out that America had a small army, but he showed how great was its cost, and in comparing the British Army with foreign armies it was well to turn one's eyes to those which were recruited by voluntary enlistment. The expenditure per man in the American army was nearer £400 than £300 a year, and if they examined the various causes which made living more expensive in the United States, they could not but realise that the increase of the expenditure must go on. Therefore if they were to fulfil their pledges to reduce expenditure they must seek to bring it about by reducing the personnel.
The great heads of expenditure were the Army, the Navy, the Civil Service, and education. The Navy could not be sensibly reduced according to His Majesty's present advisers. Those who believed that the supremacy of the Navy was more vital than the supremacy of the Army, as most of them did, saw a danger, that if this reduction of the Army was not made the expenditure on the Navy might be dangerously reduced by a justly indignant nation. From the Navy they could not expect any great reduction. In the Civil Service no great reductions were likely. On the contrary they saw proposals to increase the expenditure on postmen, and, indeed, on all civil servants. In connection with education they had agreed to feed hungry school children. Therefore if they were to reduce expenditure greatly they must reduce it on the Army. He was reminded that a Resolution had been passed to increase expenditure by hon. Members paying themselves. The present Government and their supporters had been returned as a Party pledged to economy, and if the first visible result of the first session was a proposal to maintain the Navy expenditure at or near its present height, to increase the cost of the Civil Service, to increase pensions, and to pay Members of 1443 Parliament £300 a year each, they would he justly condemned. Therefore, the Committee would realise that it was in no hostile spirit to the right hon. Gentleman, whose views so entirely coincided with those urged by Ministerialists generally on the matter of economy, that they pressed all they could for a favourable statement. He did not move this reduction of 10,000 men merely for the purpose of providing a peg on which to hang a discussion. In regard to numbers the Amendment meant what it said, but it was perfectly certain that they could not reduce the Army by 10,000 in this financial year without causing the gravest difficulties as to contracts which had been entered into and arrangements which had been made with men already recruited. The Committee, in discussing the Army Estimates, was always in an awkward position. It was like an audit department which was auditing accounts after the expenditure had been discussed. Therefore the only sensible way to look at discussions in Committee when Amendments were moved calling for great reductions in money or men was to regard them as demands from the Committee—if the Committee were to agree—that the number of men or the amount of money should be taken off the Estimates in the succeeding year. In looking through the debates of the last thirty years he found that again and again when reductions of this kind were moved the representative of the Government of the day had replied, "We cannot do it this year." Admitting that the proposed reduction could not be made this year, what he and his friends asked was that the Government would give a promise to do it next year. He would state the reasons why he thought the reduction was imperative. They must reduce the Army, firstly, because they could not afford to maintain the establishment. The House of Commons would not give the money, and the country would not give the men. Secondly, because in endeavouring to maintain an establishment for which there was neither money nor men sufficient they had persisted in a cheese-paring policy which had involved them in every department of the Army for years past in a course which meant "spoiling the ship for the sake of a ha'porth of tar." It was a matter of common knowledge that the Secretary of State had the 1444 greatest difficulty in each successive year filling up the regiments with men of the necessary character and stamina for life in tropical climates. He did not know how many the present Secretary of State could get in the coming year. It might or might not be a bumper year. But those who took an interest in the Army knew that again and again men had been enlisted who were not fit to be enlisted, who were nothing but an expense to the State. That was what was meant when they spoke of "a paper Army." A paper Army the British Army had always to a certain extent been, and when a crash came, as in 1900, they discovered that there were vast numbers at home who were in no sense fitted to serve in a field Army because they were not sufficiently trained, because great numbers had been enlisted under age, and because they would never or at all events for many years, become efficient soldiers. Questions were constantly being asked in the House why So-and-so, a Crimean or Afghan veteran, was allowed to die in the workhouse. It was because his pension was not large enough to live upon. Such things should not be. In an earlier debate it was urged that the War Office should be model employers, and the Secretary of State gave a generous reply to the demand. But if they were going to be model employers to the men in the arsenals, they must also be model employers to the men who fought our battles. In no other country would men who had served their country to the best of their ability, and who had suffered in health, be allowed to die in workhouses. The pension scheme must be increased and so the cost must rise. At Tidworth barracks there was no cricket ground, no gymnasium, and no church available for the men. The Secretary of State might say that such minor matters did not affect the question of efficiency. But they did, for if the authorities did not treat officers and men properly they would not get efficient service. Therefore the cost per man must increase. In the vital matter of war materials they were able to say with sorrow about a year ago what he was thankful they could not say now, that our guns were the most obsolete in the world. The reason given for this was that the War Office could not get money from the Treasury. The Treasury had now provided money for proper guns. It was for these reasons he urged that there should 1445 be a reduction in the personnel of the Army. That was the only way to effect economy. He had always contended that the only method was to reduce the Regular Infantry of the Line in these islands. The Cardwell system proposed an equal number of men abroad and at home. If they were going to reduce the Army, it was perfectly true that they might reduce it abroad, but the experience of thirty years had shown that although they might say they would reduce it, public clamour might prevent them from reducing it. People realised that our hold on India involved the very living of Lancashire, and, indeed, most of this country, and therefore they cried out when it was proposed greatly to reduce the foreign garrisons. The Army at home was in a different category. A new school of thought had arisen of which the right hon. Gentleman was a disciple. Those who belonged to that school believed that this country could not be invaded, and that being so, the Army was not wanted for the purpose for which Mr. Cardwell and his advisers wanted it, namely, to defend the country from invasion. They need not argue the question of invasion, for, after all, those who believed that invasion was impossible, generally also believed that the Volunteers should be the people to defend the country. There was general agreement among all Members of the House that the Regular Army was not required to repel invasion, because it would be a most expensive method of doing it. There was, therefore, good reason for reducing the Estimates for infantry in these islands. It was not necessary to have battalions at home to provide foreign battalions with drafts. He often wondered why they went to the expense of adding fourteen battalions to the Regular Infantry of the Line. Those who liked the Cardwell system must see that it spoiled the symmetry of the scheme. It was quite uneconomic and opposed to Mr. Cardwell's own view. He had indicated the methods which in his judgment it would be wise to adopt in order to effect this economy, but he did not care much how the reduction was brought about provided it was made. They had been returned to reduce expenditure on the Army, and they must do it, and do it next year. Someone might say it was unpatriotic to 1446 propose to reduce the strength of the Regular Army, but he denied that. He did not believe in that vicarious patriotism which consisted in getting other people "to do our fighting for us whilst we stayed at home." That might be necessary, but it was not patriotic, and they must economise for the sake of the finances of the country. He was persuaded that it was not by exaggerated Estimates or a bloated establishment that they would bring about a reduction, but by a wise economy, and by inculcating in our countrymen a spirit of personal sacrifice. He begged to move the reduction standing in his name.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)
, in seconding the Amendment, said for the past four years he had taken part in discussions on a proposed reduction of this kind. The hon. and gallant Member for Liverpool had done him the honour of seconding a similar Motion, and he remembered that on one occasion they had the support of the Secretary of State for War upon the grounds upon which they were now supporting this reduction. Perhaps upon this occasion the Committee would excuse him from saying what he had already said publicly in regard to his right hon. friend's services to the State, and his fitness for the high office which he now held. He regretted, how-over, that at the beginning of his speech the other day the Secretary of State for War should have drawn a too satisfactory picture of our expenditure, and that he should have made a comparison with Germany which would not bear investigation. His right hon. friend had said—It may assuage our grief that we do not stand alone. German military expenditure is £31,000,000 as against our £30,000,000 a year.'He wished to point out that the expenditure of the British Empire on land forces was not £30,000,000 but nearly £60,000,000 per year, and even under this Vote and the Vote that followed for pay, they would find expenditure outside the £30,000,000 in the form of appropriations-in-aid. The cost of the land forces of the British Empire was double the cost of the land forces of Germany. They had just passed the turn, and there was now a slight improvement, but the defence of the 1447 British Empire has very recently cost £100,000,000 a year in peace, of which the land forces cost £60,000,000 and the sea forces £40,000,000. At this moment the land forces were still at about that figure, although next year they might be below it. Even next year at the best he ventured to say that they would get very little change indeed out of £60,000,000 sterling for the land forces. Some hon. Members might find a difficulty in following those figures. There were £30,250,000 for home Votes and allowances from other Departments, with repayments from India and appropriations-in-aid deducted. There was a large number of other appropriations-in-aid besides those from India. There was the "surplus from the war" which the Secretary of State for War would lose next year, and which the £250,000,000 of debt due to lavish and wasteful expenditure had given to the War Office, and which they had got back by selling things at a knock-out price. That had to be allowed for. On the Civil Service Estimates there were £2,000,000 for troops in Uganda and West Africa and other Protectorates, which were military forces organised in battalions and batteries, without counting military police, and which in Germany or in any other country would be on the War Office Vote. For Uganda and West Africa Frontier Force and the like there were £2,000,000 charged on the Civil Service Estimates. Therefore, the Vote under discussion ought to be larger by those charges. This Vote was of course reduced by the garrisons at Halifax and other places, the cost of which was now defrayed by self-governing Colonies. The military expenditure of India was now set permanently at £21,000,000, and this together with the charges for the Crown Colonies and for the self-governing colonies must be considered in any comparison between what we spent and what the German Empire spent. There was also loan money, and we spent not £30,000,000, but nearly £60,000,000 on land forces in profound peace in an Empire which was an Empire of the sea, the command of which was necessary to us. Our power was estimated by foreign Powers not in proportion to our Army strength, but in proportion to the strength of our Fleet. It was the Fleet which made us feared in war and supported our diplomacy in peace Our 1448 military services were peculiarly special and necessary, but they were not of a scale and character which justified an Imperial expenditure of £60,000,000 upon the land forces of the Crown. He thought he had carried the Committee with him as far as that matter was concerned. He had not gone so much into detail, but he could assure the Committee that what he had stated would bear investigation. He was aware that the reaching of £60,000,000 depended upon the loan money, and if the loan expenditure in this House was to drop from £3,500,000 to £1,000,000 with a view to its becoming extinct, no doubt the sum of £60,000,000 would not be reached; it would be about £57,000,000. He wished to point out that he had guarded against the mistake which was sometimes made of counting the loan money twice over. He thought there was a general agreement that the expenditure was enormous, and that it was difficult to justify expenditure upon the land forces of the Crown so enormously in excess of the expenditure upon the Fleet. The present Government had accepted Lord Kitchener's policy, and the expenditure in India was now £21,000,000 sterling, a new figure which had risen from £17,000,000 sterling. He was aware that this expenditure showed a slight reduction, but it had been reduced in less proportion than the expenditure upon the Fleet since the adoption of the blue-water view. Many hon. Members had now come over to the blue-water view and had accepted the doctrine of the primacy of the Fleet. Since that time the reduction had been much larger on the Fleet than on the land forces, and there was a danger that if they did not prune down their expenditure upon the land forces an impatient country might fall upon the easiest prey. He thoroughly associated himself with the words of his hon. friend as to the danger and the for-getfulness of practising economy; he believed it would have a fatal repercussion on the numbers of the Fleet. When the enormous cost of the land forces was spoken of there were some who said we were a voluntary country and that conscription accounted for the cheapness of the land forces of Germany in comparison with those of this country. But that question had been threshed out in this House and it had been demonstrated that it did not account for it. Sir Michael 1449 Hicks-Beach, as he then was, had said that conscription entered into the account, but that it was not the main item of the account, and that the argument was a fallacious one. With that they all agreed. On behalf of the late Government another Chancellor of the Exchequer, whose death every Member of the House regretted, Mr. Ritchie, twice assured the House in the most solemn way that a large reduction was to take place on this Vote; that it would take the only possible form that it could take, namely, a reduction of the regular infantry of the land forces kept at home. It was true there had been a reduction, but not a very willing one; it was a reduction effected because men could not be obtained. Recruiting fell off, and a reduction was reluctantly made because the Government recognised that the men could not be obtained. But there had not yet been any reduction formally announced on any well-considered plan. He agreed that his right hon. friend was right in not yet having a scheme. It was one of the advantages of the right hon. Gentleman's position to have no scheme, and he regretted that he had to some extent departed from that position by his declaration. One plan to which he had alluded had had various developments—it had suggested itself to all Army reformers—namely, the plan of getting rid of the old linked-battalion system. The right hon. Gentleman had commented very favourably upon the old-fashioned linked-battalion system. This was said to be the Cardwell system, but it was not of the essence of the Cardwell system. Mr. Cardwell, on February 16th, 1871, stated that his plan was—To pass as many men through the ranks as can be done having regard to … the time required to make a man an efficient soldier.… to increase the Militia, and to improve the organisation of the Volunteers; to provide for compulsory service in case of emergency, and to abolish purchase.Mr. Cardwell carried all those points except compulsory service, for which he introduced a Bill, but subsequently withdrew it. After Mr. Card-well went his system was gradually filed away until nothing was left. The linked-battalion system was no essential part of the Cardwell scheme. What Mr. Card-well found was seventy-one battalions at home—exactly the same number as we had here now, though we had more abroad. But the seventy-one battalions 1450 in 1872 were wanted for home de-fence, because that was before the adoption of the blue-water view. Now that that view had been adopted, was no reduction to be made in these battalions? As to the terms of service, the Secretary of State for War seemed to think that nine years was a short-service system. The right hon. Gentleman said—We have a short-service system here now, and I am thankful for it.Mr. Cardwell would not have called nine years a short-service system. His short-service system was three years for this country, with an extension to six years when the regiments had to go to India. A nine years system was a long-service system. Mr. Cardwell instituted in 1870 a short-service system of three years and six years, and in 1871 he proposed to go further and to extend the short-service principle in order further to increase the Army Reserve. After he died the whole system was reversed. He desired largely to increase the Reserve, and thanks to that alteration in the Service they would have next year a large Army Reserve of 122,000 men. After Lord Cardwell had gone they had Lord Airey's Committee, which reported that it had taken a great deal of evidence on the system of short service and linked battalions, and that the evidence was against the system. A result of the inquiry was that in 1881 the seven years service was adopted, the men to be kept eight years if the seven years expired as usual when they were in India; and a quarter of the men were to be allowed to extend their service for pension. That was entirely against Lord Cardwell's views, and the result had been that for the last few years we had had a long-service instead of a short-service system. They had also in linked battalions the most costly system that could be applied for foreign drafts, and one which was a perfect millstone round our necks when striving to effect economy. The Government would not be able to make large economies in the Army unless they went straight to this point. Linked battalions and nine years service were adopted in the name of India. A nine years service system was too long if a man did not intend to make a trade of the Army. The present system was a monstrous one to keep up, and if hon. Members looked into it they would not support it for a moment. The right hon. Gentleman had 1451 supported it as being for the sake of India, but India had been consistently opposed to it. The evidence given on behalf of the Indian Government before the Royal Commission on Indian expenditure pointed out that eight years was two long for a man who proposed to return to civil life; and they expressed the view that the system suited neither the people of India nor us at home. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State had told the House that "the impatient man in the street" asked, Why not reduce the home battalions? and he had given as the answer that in military eyes that would be insanity. He could only say that he was sorry the right hon. Gentleman had military advisers who took that view. Then the right hon. Gentleman passed on to deal with India, and said—The battalions at home are training schools for the Indian battalions, and you cannot abolish a battalion at home without practically abolishing a battalion abroad.… It is impossible to cut off battalions at home without ruining battalions abroad.… The linking system is thus essential.That was not and never had been the view of the Government of India. They had always maintained that the establishment of their own system would be cheaper and more effective. India very largely paid the cost of this system; this country only pretended to pay the cost of it. India was now saddled with a burden of £21,000,000 a year, or an increase of £4,000,000 over seven years ago. In the words of the Royal Commission on Indian Expenditure—It is the opinion of the Government of India that, the system imposes a heavy charge on Indian revenues without corresponding advantage.That was a pretty strong opinion. The Esher Committee did not think the question arguable. In their Report, part 2, they stated—We assume that the double-battalion system, as part of the organisation of the Infantry will be abolished as regards the training and supply of drafts for service abroad.The Committee assumed this would be done without argument, and they went on to discuss future schemes. He could not imagine why his right hon. friend should have gone out of his way to preclude the overwhelmingly strong opinion of the Government of India and of the Esher Committee. In The Times last Monday there was an article by the military 1452 correspondent, previously the military correspondent of the Westminster Gazette, who knew the opinions of the young scientific soldiers, showing that there were only two ways of reducing cost. One was that of the Secretary of State, by diminishing strength in India, South Africa, and the Mediterranean, and the other that recommended by the mover of the Amendment. On the second point the writer said—The linked system is only a fetish … There is no sanction, either in theory or in practice, for the linking system in any modern or scientific organisation. It is also more expensive.As to the question of reduction, one of his hon. friends had suggested that we might leave Malta. Strategic reasons might be given for that course, but the discussion of that question would be out of order. He did not, however, think it was a practical suggestion of reduction. He did not think we were likely to be able to leave Malta. Of course the War Office would get some battalions from South Africa, but they were not likely, in the present state of things, to get a very large number of men from South Africa very soon. He hoped they would, but he did not think it was certain that they would be able to make a very large permanent reduction there. He said "permanent" because there was the risk that they might withdraw a large proportion of the garrison, and then advice might be given as to supposed risks and they might be sent back, which would spoil all the system. India was the only other place, but looking to the unanimity with which the Government of India had expressed their views, he doubted whether any Government, however strong, would be able largely to reduce the number of battalions serving in India. No doubt as matters stood in India they might be able to make a large temporary reduction in the Indian garrison, but how long would it be before they would have to send them back again? He doubted whether, after a great struggle with the Indian Government, they would be able to effect a large permanent reduction of the white garrison in India. If that reduction could not be effected, could they not reduce the number of regular battalions kept in this country in time of peace? That was the issue they raised. Of course every change in system involved a most frightful waste. At the 1453 present time the Government of India was buying land and building barracks in new stations under Lord Kitchener's scheme. Then in South Africa millions had been spent on permanent hutting for the accommodation of the large number of troops there. He confessed that he thought the one great source of economy to which they could look was the abandonment of this fetish of the linked battalion system, and the getting rid of a large proportion, or the whole, of the infantry battalions maintained in this country during peace, because the Militia undoubtedly could be made a home service Army on a system that might in time of war replace these regular battalions. He thought that might be done, but if they were not prepared at present to contemplate such a revolutionary scheme then they could fall back upon one of those depot schemes. Those who advised his right hon. friend were not thinking quite so clearly as he would like them to. They certainly had not thought out this view of economy, and in the Memorandum which the right hon. Gentleman had laid in support of these Estimates he found statements difficult to justify, which bore upon the whole of this question of the future defence of the Empire and the condition of things at home. There were many who cheered the other day some views expressed as to the blue-water view and the possibilities of invasion. There was a statement in the Memorandum as to the handing over of mine-fields from the Army to the Navy. His right hon. friend had a reduction of 1,300 men of the garrison artillery, and 550 officers and men of the Royal Engineers by "transfer of submarine defences to naval control." It was a most astounding fact, showing how much money had been wasted upon this question from time to time, that they had been increasing garrison artillery since the adoption of the blue-water view. It was not a general declaration that had been made against the defences of certain places, and it undoubtedly affected the whole question of the organisation of Volunteers and of the forces that might be maintained at home. When Members were asked to clear their mind upon these questions let them take particular instances. He would give the Secretary of State for War an instance in his own neighbourhood, more or less his own constituency. 1454 The Forth Bridge had been newly defended with great gun batteries, as well as with batteries of quick-firing guns upon the island—big guns which, if fired, would reach the Secretary for War's constituency at Haddington or North Berwick. The minefields which were supposed to be an essential portion of that defence, had been taken up, and according to the Memorandum had been replaced by other means of defence. Anyone going over the bridge could see what had been done and it would be found that the Naval defence which was to replace the Military defence did not exist, although it was a place where a raid was undoubtedly possible. There were, of course, places like the cruiser stations at Scilly and Berehaven which would have to be defended by some means or other. He doubted very much whether those defences had been thought out and now that the task had been thrown entirely upon the Army ashore, he trusted that the matter would have the anxious consideration of his right hon. friend. It was a problem which must be combined with that of the Militia and the Volunteers, which forces would have to be worked very closely with the Army in connection with these defences. Take the defence of the Islands of Scilly; the electric light installcation was worked by Volunteers from Cornwall, in time of peace, as if a time of war prevailed. They worked with the Royal Engineers as colleagues, and that system had received a blow. They had now an opportunity of thinking out all these arrangements in connection one with another. When his right hon. friend frankly declared that he had no plan to recommend, he thought that he ought not to have committed himself to the apparent retention of so large a regular force at home in time of peace, by his language with regard to the linked battalion system. The right hon. Gentleman's Militia scheme had his entire sympathy, so far as he could gather its purport from purposely vague words. He gathered that it was a scheme which was inconsistent with the linked battalion system and if the right hon. Gentleman developed that system, it would make the Militia virtually a regular force at home, because the right hon. Gentleman said he should treat the Militia as being akin to the Regulars. He thought 1455 the right hon. Gentleman used the words in such away as to suggest that the Militia might be substituted for the Regulars. As to the Volunteers, it appeared that they were delivered into the hands of the Secretary of State because they had no representative on the Army Council by which the right hon. Gentleman was advised, and they had not in the past been in close sympathy with the leading members of that Council. He should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman what he meant by asking why it was necessary to go even as far as we had with our Volunteers. The right hon. Gentleman seemed too much inclined to fasten upon rifle clubs, and to speak of the little money which was necessary for the Volunteers. All his remarks were excellent in regard to the Militia, but there was a little too much depreciation of the Volunteers, and although he (Sir Charles Dilke) had always been considered a strong supporter of the "blue water" view, yet he had always believed in accepting from the Volunteers all the services we could get from them, as he believed they would give us that enormous potential supply of men in the event of war to which his right hon. friend made allusion in the noble concluding words of the democratic portion of his speech. He seconded the Motion of his hon. and gallant friend because he believed now, as he had believed for years past, that it was impossible to make a reduction upon expenditure except upon this one Vote.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a number of Land Forces, not exceeding 194,100, all ranks, be maintained for the said service."—(Major Seely.)
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (City of London)
I intervene in this debate largely because I have been profoundly interested and, indeed, deeply concerned with the discussion of some of the greater problems of Imperial defence. I do not propose to touch upon those matters of relative detail on which the right hon. Gentleman always speaks with such great knowledge. It would, perhaps, be desirable that I should say something on an Amendment which has for its object the reduction of the number of men and the consequent cost of the Army, quite irrespective, so far as I can gather from the speech of the mover of the Amendment, 1456 of the necessity for which that Army exists. I was very much struck, and rather painfully struck, by the view which both the mover and seconder took of the attitude of the country towards military expenditure. They both agreed that, if there was to be a reduction in our general national expenditure, it could only be in the expenditure on the Army. We are all aware that a great many speeches have been made about extravagant and reckless expenditure; but the mover and seconder were both agreed in this, that when you had brought the thing down to a point, there was no hope of making reductions in any department of our public expenditure except the Army. They both stated with unmistakable emphasis that the idea of your Civil Service expenditure's being reduced under this Government or, perhaps, under any Government, and the idea of your Naval expenditure's being reduced, were ideas that had to be abandoned, and if, therefore, reduction had to take place it must take place in the Army. They further admitted, what I think hon. Gentlemen opposite would do well to bear in mind, that the cost of our Army is not due to what is properly called waste at all.
§ SIR C. DILKE
remarked that what he said was that the constant change of system had had a great deal to do with the matter.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Both the mover and seconder admitted that the cost of the Army depended on the number of men in the Army, and that if you were to reduce the cost of the Army you could do it only by reducing the number of men in the Army. The inevitable inference is that the enormous cost of our Army now—and nobody questions the magnitude of that cost—is not due to wasteful administration. It is due, if to any blameworthy cause at all, to the fact that the recent Government over-estimated the necessity for a large Army, and that the Imperial needs of the country do not require us to spend so much money or to have so large a force. It is a great thing to have those admissions made, because it concentrates discussion. You no longer have those vague charges of reckless and wasteful administration. I do not think those charges have any foundation. I do not 1457 deny, of course, that the scrutiny of the right hon. Gentleman opposite may be able to find in future some means of reduction here and there. But now, when we are discussing national expenditure in its larger aspects, let us admit that, if you choose to keep up an Army of this size, you cannot expect a great reduction in your Army estimates. The mover of the Amendment said that in the past the anxious and natural desire of successive Chancellors of the Exchequer and successive Governments to keep down the Army Estimates had in many cases spoiled the ship for want of a ha'porth of tar. In other words, if any charge could be made against those Governments, it was a charge of niggardliness in dealing with the various parts of the service and not of excessive expenditure in supporting them.
§ MAJOR SEELY
said there was waste as well—waste caused by changes of policy and in other ways—though he had not dwelt on that part of the subject.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
If the hon. Gentleman means there have been changes of policy as regards, for example, fortifications and matters of that kind, and that that has produced an expenditure of public money for which no return has been received, I agree with him. But the idea that this Administration or any administration can avoid that kind of waste is really an illusion, because that kind of waste is due to a progress and change of ideas. Just as a great business firm finds it necessary to scrap its old machinery when new ideas make themselves felt and new machinery is required, so it will be found that, as military science changes and develops with the inevitable progress of time, some expenditure which was thought necessary will prove to have been wasteful, and some fortifications, once thought absolutely needful for the defence of our coasts, will be abandoned for better means of defence. You cannot blame any Government for that, or any body of military opinion. Military men are not greater geniuses than other men. You cannot expect Governments to be more farsighted in their views of what is going to happen than the majority of their fellow citizens. I want to keep, if I can, to this rather narrow but all 1458 important question of the number of the troops we require and the cost they involve. Therefore, we may take it for granted that those who come to this House and say that economy in the national expenditure is necessary mean, in the first place, that that economy must be economy in the Army Estimates, and not either in the Navy Estimates or in the Civil Service Estimates, and, secondly, that economy in the Army Estimates must, broadly speaking, take the shape of a great diminution in the number of men we pay and provide for. If that is granted, I confess I listened with some regret to the view of the mover and seconder of this Amendment, who seemed to think that the country is incapable of appreciating the arguments one way or the other for keeping up the Army, and that a justly indignant nation would rush at the Estimates pell-mell, would tear out at random some half-dozen sheets, and would not ask whether this or that is required, but would say, "We do not mean to pay for that, and there is an end of it." I do not believe that the people of this country are so unpatriotic as the mover and seconder of the Amendment would make out. I believe that while they are, of course, anxious that military expenditure should be diminished—and everybody must admit that that enormous burden should be lightened if it is possible—they are perfectly prepared to consider in a reasonable spirit the actual necessities of the Empire and to meet the necessary expenditure of the country. Therefore I put aside all this idea that economy must take place simply because the country desires economy, without considering whether economy carries with it dangers which the country would pay anything to avoid. What we have got to consider in a reasonable spirit is what the necessities of the country really are with regard to the number of men. I am not going to join in any discussion as regards Mr. Cardwell's intention or Mr. Cardwell's schemes. I am not going into the history presented to us by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, or into any of the details to which he has referred. I will take only the very broadest view of our military position, and perhaps I may do so with the less 1459 diffidence because it so happens that, as I believe, I was the first responsible Minister of any Government, who, after discussion in the Defence Committee, ventured to lay down in public the proposition that the real and great necessity for which we keep an army was India. There are other very important purposes, but the dominant purpose of the British Army is, not home defence, but Indian defence. And why? Because in India, and in India alone, we have a great dependency with a land frontier. It is, of course, a commonplace of discussion; but it is a commonplace that is sometimes forgotten, and it was forgotten for the moment by so great an authority as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean. He said, "I accept to the full the blue-water school. I am an absolute adherent of that school." Therefore he seemed to infer that we did not require a great army for oversea purposes.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE
Oh, no. I said nothing at all about the oversea army. I estimated a very large reserve. I mentioned 122,000 men next year, and I mentioned the necessity of having cadres to put them into.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Very well. But if India is, as I firmly believe it is, the dominant factor, though, of course, not the sole factor, which ought to determine the burden of military expenditur in this country, I should like to know whether this House is going to decide seriously that there ought to be a diminution in our forces until they have clear view before them of what a great war in defence of India may mean. Of course I may be told, I am not sure that a phrase in the admirable speech of the Secretary for War did not imply it, that we may ignore the Indian difficulty because the great Power with whom alone we might imagine ourselves at war in connection with India is at this moment involved in great domestic difficulties, and certainly does not desire to quarrel with us on any subject, least of all on the subject of the Indian frontier. Of course that is so. Happy relations exist now between us and Russia, and we may hope that all the reforms in that 1460 great country will tend to strengthen the bonds of amity between us, and to diminish the power of any school, if such a school there be, which looks forward to an attack on India as a thing to be indulged for the gain it may directly bring, or as a threat to be held over us in our diplomatic relations with other countries. We may hope that the progress of social changes in Russia will diminish that school, if it exists, and we may look forward, with sanguine hope, not only to peace, but to a good understanding on a most solid basis of peace on this subject. But that is not quite enough. Germany and Russia are most friendly to each other, but has the German headquarters staff not to consider the possibility of trouble arising between Germany and Russia? Is not the same thing true of every country in Europe which has a military neighbour? Of course it must be true, so long as the European world is constituted on its present lines. So long as any country has a vast potential army, so long every other country must see that its defences can be brought up to a level which will meet any possible emergency, and that without any derogation from the genuine feeling of amity which may bind them close to their neighbours. Therefore we must discuss this, not from the point of view of our present happy relations with Russia, nor even with a view to the increased friendship which I hope will grow up. We must consider this as a military problem between two countries whose territories lie in close proximity, and who have to prepare against any unforeseen emergency which may disturb the present friendly relations between them. That is the question; and if the House accepts that line of reasoning, it must be plain that what we have to consider in discussing the Army Estimates is, in the first place, what striking force you require for an immediate emergency, what force you require to send out to India the moment difficulties occur, and, thirdly, by what means you are going to expand your Army so as to meet the necessities of a prolonged war should a prolonged war occur. I certainly do not lay down in this House the idea that we cannot diminish the number of our regular troops at home. 1461 I am not going to make myself responsible for any such policy. But I say that any reduction of our troops, whether at home or elsewhere, must be part of a general scheme which secures us an expansible Army, a power of increasing our effective fighting force to a far larger extent than the regular troops which we are asked to vote to-day, and which would enable us to face with equanimity the prospect of not merely a year's war, but of a war which might be extended for a much longer period. Now, how are you going to do that? That is the real question of national defence; and what solution can we find for it? I think myself that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State was very well advised in his opening speech in not committing himself to anything. I think he is well advised to revolve in his mind all the suggestions that may be made. I think, however, that certain propositions may be laid down, irrespective of any particular plan, which will hold good. The problem is how can you expand your Army so that it will be able to meet. European troops in the field when that is required. In case of a war in defence of the North-West Frontier of India, I do not believe any greatly larger force than that which we actually have would be required for, say, a year—at any rate, for a considerable period; but I think such a war may require all we now have, or, at all events, a very large fraction of what we now have. But in the meanwhile do you think that in those months of resting which the very peculiar strategic position of India gives you, you have the machinery now for creating that larger Army which would certainly be required if hostilities were to go on, as in the great wars of the 18th century, far beyond the limits of one, two, or even three years? There are certain things which you can create, relatively speaking, rapidly, but there are other things which you cannot; and it is in the difference of those two things that the whole argument turns. I believe that in a year you can turn a half-drilled soldier into a well-drilled soldier. I do not doubt it. I have always looked with sympathy upon those schemes which would enable us to familiarise the youth of this country with the use of the rifle. That is one of the things which every soldier has to learn 1462 It is a thing which can be easily taught to the youth of the country, it does not require elaborate drill, and it gives an amount of knowledge which may really be of use to the possessor to enable him to take part in the defence of the country. But rifle clubs by themselves are no use. Even Volunteers as Volunteers are no use on the North-Western Frontier of India. They are only of use if the knowledge is turned to account in a different capacity. You therefore require, as I think, as raw material for the Army which you have to improvise in the first year of the war, a certain number of Volunteers. You may have, if we succeed in developing any system at all on the lines which Lord Roberts has suggested, a large body of persons qualified without much greater training to be fairly efficient shots. I believe if you have that material, so far as the soldiers are concerned, you might have all you wanted; but you cannot improvise officers, artillery, artillerymen and staff. Therefore, if you are really to have an expansible Army, and it is only by having it you can have the smallest hope of safely reducing a single man—if now you are to have an expansible Army you must remember that it carries with it the obligation to pro vide and train in time of peace, officers, artillerymen, the requisite field staff and the skilled gunner who cannot be turned out with the best will in the world all at once merely because a great national necessity comes upon you suddenly. And what I would earnestly press upon Gentlemen like the mover and seconder of this reduction and upon the whole House and the country at large, is this—by all means, if you will, and with the additional light which the investigations of the Defence Committee will throw on the number of men required for Indian defence, a matter of investigation not completed when I ceased to be a member of that Committee—let the country remember that when they have thought out what the number of men is and the different periods corresponding to your length of hypothetical wars they might possibly find it in their power to make some reduction in the Regular troops; I do not say of 10,000 men referred to by the hon. Member. But do not let 1463 them commit themselves to the precise number until they see the whole plan before them. Do not let them commit themselves to a reduction in the machine which is undoubtedly efficient until they see, at least in outline and in something like working order, that supplementary organisation which is most difficult to create. I do not blame the Secretary of State for War for not having it at his fingers' end, and I shall not blame him if he cannot produce it next year, or even the year after. It is a great problem; but it is one which should be settled before any reduction in the existing force is made. I know the right hon. Gentleman opposite finds himself in the position which every one of his predecessors has occupied before him; he is sure to be the target for every kind of criticism by those who, whatever admiration they may have for his ability and administrative capacity, think that they have a better Army scheme than he. After all, there are a dozen Army schemes possible. He can only choose one of them, and the devotees of the other eleven are sure to join hands in denouncing him. Do not let him be discouraged by that unfortunate position; Others have had to endure it before him, and I am sure his philosophy will be equal to any strain of that kind. But I will make an appeal to the House and the country—let them remember that merely to reduce the Regular Army, to make no provision for the skilled element which cannot be improvised, is to spend money which will be of very small value in time of strain and stress. Let them have the Regular Army as small as you think you can safely make it, and in addition let them have all the skilled elements which require long training prepared for such expansion as you think the needs of the Empire may require. If the right hon. Gentleman will only devote his abilities to working out on those broad lines some plan which will meet the case of a great war, I for my part shall not be disposed to criticise him because his plans do not fit in with this or that scheme of this or that Army reformer; I for my part shall be content with any solution of the big problem with which he has to deal. I am sure he understands what the elements of the problem are and I am confident that he will devote himself, not 1464 merely with assiduity and impartiality, but with determination to making it a great national success.
§ > THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Mr. HALDANE,) Haddington
No Minister in charge of Estimates has ever had less cause to complain of the way in which his proposals have been received than I have, both last week and to-night. The attitude of Members of this House has been both kindly and sympathetic. I laid down last week what I will repeat, that I think I should be extremely unwise were I to go even a little way in the direction of committing myself to definite plans and schemes until I have had some little time to think and work them out. I agree entirely with what the right hon. Gentleman has said, that these things are very difficult, and things on which you can hardly take too much time, because a mistake—as has been pointed out—brings down an avalanche of expense in its wake, and the result is you find yourself with money thrown away which might have been used, had you had a common policy, for a good purpose. That is why I appeal to my hon. friends on this side to join with me in an endeavour as far as possible, by taking time, to take this whole question out of the rut of Party controversy, to get both sides to think and work together in an endeavour to establish something like continuity of policy, whereby we may avoid those great fluctuations which bring about wastages of public money. Having said that, I do not in the slightest degree complain of the line taken by the mover and seconder of the Motion. I think the right hon. Gentleman opposite a little unduly blamed this Motion. My hon. friend the mover explained that he knew perfectly well that you could not knock off 10,000 men on this year's Estimates at a stroke and so plunge things into confusion. He was pointing to the future; and although that is not in form the custom, what I understand he means is to ask what is my attitude towards the question of reduction of personnel in the time that is to come. While I have in view the considerations which were urged by the right hon. Gentleman opposite—and I agree as to the absolute necessity of studying the problem with reference to the needs of the Empire at home and 1465 abroad—I own I am profoundly impressed by the danger in which our Army organisation stands because of what the public regard as its extravagance. If there is one thing that was made plain in the course of the recent discussions throughout the country it is the desire on the part of the public that they should be required to spend less upon naval and military organisation. Now that is not a mood which it does to neglect or to treat as a light matter. It is a serious matter, because if you neglect it the trend of opinion against increased cost may some day break out and force you into violent courses. It is because I wish to avoid violent courses that I desire to recognise that feeling, and to meet as far as is in my power the desire of those who ask for an Army upon a less extravagant basis than the present. I am quite aware that this is not a matter about which in principle there is really any controversy. Everybody desires economy in Army administration. Everybody has been working for it for some time past. But I do feel that it is possible that if we look at that organisation a little more closely than has hitherto been done, we may find there are possibilities of economy which have been overlooked. It is quite true that economy depends in large measure upon policy. If you look at home, I have at all events a hope of considerable economies there. If you take broadly the position in this country, what is it? Suppose you mobilise, suppose you put all your reserves into the field, and suppose you take into account your Militia and add these together, you have a force in this country for mobilisation of something like 330,000 men. Whether that is a sufficient fighting force or not is quite another matter with which I will deal later. My point is this. Suppose you take as the standard of your striking force a three Army corps standard, that would mean about 130,000 men. That gives you a surplus of 200,000.
§ MR. HALDANE
Yes; for if you mobilise your forces abroad you do not 1466 have to provide drafts. The question I put is this—and I put it in order to show how much necessity there is for the closest consideration of this matter—Is it possible to cut down that surplus of 200,000 men by reorganisation? I am not pledging myself in any way; but I put it to the Committee here as a plan for dealing with the home forces only, quite apart from linked battalions or anything else, whether by reorganisation we could get a force at least as efficient as the force we have at the present time and yet make large reductions. It is because I feel there is a strong desire for economy in the country that I say we must consider reductions of personnel, because without such reductions you cannot get economy in Army expenditure. I have, therefore, great sympathy with this Motion; and I propose to devote myself in the next year to the closest scrutiny of the question. I do not desire to put forward any scheme or plan, even if I had one. I ask the Committee not to tie my hands. I ask them to leave me free. I ask them not to say, "You must cut down 10,000 men by such a day," because, though I might be able to do that and more, I may find I have not been able to think out the thing by that time. But I give the assurance that I will do my very best to work out the problem of reorganisation in such a way as may lead possibly to such a reduction. Now I come to some general considerations which the Leader of the Opposition put forward. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that you cannot proceed a single step in this matter unless you attempt something like a scientific determination of what Army—I do not like to use the term "striking force"—of what Army you should make available for attack. It must be realised that in the case of the defence of an Empire like ours defence often means attack. Just as in naval strategy you may have, in order to defend yourself, to seek out your enemy and attack him before he is able to strike at you. Therefore, you want to have your Army on as mobile and efficient a basis as possible. Then the size of the Army has to be determined. But behind that lies the biggest factor of all, and that factor is policy. That is not a thing about which soldiers can calculate. Still, the size of the Army depends on whether your policy is one thing or another. If you are in good relations with a particular 1467 nation, if you have reason for thinking that that happy state of things will continue, it is obvious that you may make different dispositions of your forces, and provide for different necessities which you would be unable to do were the situation different. Therefore, it is not absolutely essential in considering what you have to do to provide for every possible contingency, because if you were to attempt to do that you would make yourself bankrupt as a nation, and so stop all chance of social reform. Social reform must be provided for. It makes an urgent call upon us. Accordingly, your policy, be it for the Army or for the Navy, must be a policy of probabilities. Policy must determine your strategy and the provisions you make for your necessities. That is a fact which we have recognised to some extent in the case of the Navy. You must also, of course, consider the situation in India. But there military policy has changed very considerably as changes in general policy have taken place. It is not true to say that the Indian establishment has always been what it is at the present time. The Penjdeh incident created a revolution in the military situation in India. For the last twenty years the situation in India has remained unchanged but before that time it was entirely different. But I am not laying down any policy in regard to India. I see that the Indian Press, misled by an abbreviated telegraphic report of what I said the other day, took up the notion that I had laid down some policy in regard to India which might or must entail a diminution of the Indian Army. I laid down nothing in regard to India. I merely stated the conditions of the problem that are to be considered. But I say even in regard to India that your plans for the Army must change as policy and the conditions arising out of it change. The same thing is true of South Africa, of Egypt, and of other parts of the Empire. You cannot decide on the size of your Army wholly apart from this important question of policy. Therefore, while I am on the side of the Leader of the Opposition that you must define your striking force and define it scientifically, I must add that the question of policy cannot be absolutely excluded from the consideration of the question of what you are to do. I pass now from these points to the points specifically raised by the mover and seconder of the Amend- 1468 ment. They said things which seemed to indicate that they had a scheme of their own. I may be wrong about that, but it looks like it when anybody talks about diminishing battalions at home and not diminishing battalions abroad. My hon. and gallant friend who moved the Amendment appears to be opposed to diminishing the forces abroad.
§ MAJOR SEELY
I said you probably would not be able to do so, while you could diminish the forces at home.
§ MR. HALDANE
That is a matter upon which I can say that I have not a closed mind. But I cannot but be influenced by the very considerable preponderance of military opinion on the subject. After all, men like Sir Evelyn Wood and Lord Roberts cannot be disregarded. It was only this week that I had an opportunity of talking on the subject with Lord Roberts, and he authorised me to say that in his opinion the depot is not to be compared with the battalion in the matter of producing or training troops for service abroad. The right hon. Gentleman opposite, the late Secretary for War, is of a different opinion. My right hon. friend the Member for the Forest of Dean agrees with the right hon. Gentleman. My hon. and gallant friend who moved the Motion will not commit himself on the subject. I do not want to commit myself in the matter. But I do say that I am rendered nervous about these plans for reducing battalions at home without reducing battalions abroad when I find that military expert opinion is against the proposal that depot training might take the place of battalion training. The Cardwell scheme seems to me to have been much misunderstood. What Mr. Cardwell wanted to do was to give battalion training to the troops that were to go abroad. His plan really was to have two battalions in each regiment, one of which should remain at home and be a training school for the men who came from the depot where they were collected, and having gone through two years of training were to proceed to the battalion abroad, joining it as trained soldiers and undergoing a still further process of seasoning. There was another purpose that Mr. Cardwell had in view. That was by means of a short service with the colours to get reserves, which filled up, on mobilisation, the battalions at home 1469 and made a second battalion liable for service abroad. Then in time of war, under his scheme, you might improvise provisional battalions for service abroad and may even use the Militia battalions for the purpose. But that is a subject upon which I do not desire to dogmatise. I should like to be given time for its consideration. But be that as it may, you have two great schools of thought on the subject. One holds that battalion training is the only good training for foreign service. The other holds that depot training is sufficient. I am not pledged to anything. I but state the difficulties that crowd upon me when considering the subject. But there is one thing which must weigh with me, and that is that India will not take our drafts until the men reach the age of twenty. That is founded on a great deal of good sense, and on medical and military expert reasons. On the other hand, you cannot train the men for two years in the depot. It is only in the battalion that you can train them. For the short training in the depot you must have recruits of nineteen. But you cannot get recruits at that age. You can neither take recruits as young as boys are on leaving school nor get them as old as nineteen, when they are learning a trade, and perhaps married. Then, again, if I were to listen to the blandishments of the depot advocates and give up lightly the notion of linked battalions, what sort of depots should we require? I think the right hon. Gentleman himself was of opinion that you could only give depot training in large depots, such as the Marines have at Walmer. But these large depots would cost a good deal of money; a couple of millions would not be a large sum to spend on the provision of these large depots—I doubt whether you could do it for less—and these are not the days when a War Minister has a couple of millions to spend lightly. I am very indisposed to embark on a new scheme which would entail such an expenditure, which if the plan did not turn out well would be wasted. Therefore I do not look with favour on the proposition that I should begin my reductions of battalions at home without having first considered the question whether I could also reduce battalions abroad. The right hon. Gentleman, I think, alluded to the Cardwell scheme as 1470 having broken down because the number of battalions abroad is eighty-six and the number at home is seventy-one. But it has not broken down; it is only in form that that discrepancy exists. It is true there are only seventy-one battalions at home and eighty-five abroad; but in the case of fourteen of the battalions serving abroad seven are in India and South Africa, and seven more are on what is called short tour—that is to say, in the Mediterranean, at Malta, Gibraltar, or some place close at hand where the drafts go out, and whence they feed the battalions in foreign places with which they are linked. Therefore the seven battalions on short tour are treated as battalions at home. What is the objection to that?
§ MR. HALDANE
That may be a reason for bringing down the size of the garrison at Malta; but the point remains that these seven battalions on short tour near at hand are feeding battalions just as much under present conditions as they would have been in the days of Mr. Cardwell. It is enough for me to say that there is a large field for consideration and inquiry in these matters. I do not desire to approach it with my hands tied, and, therefore, I deprecate the notion of anybody's moving a reduction of 10,000 either for this or for next year. I may be able to do as well or better, but what I do promise the Committee is that I will do my best. I spoke of continuity, and I feel that in embarking upon this matter I am really carrying out, so far as reductions are concerned, the policy which was inaugurated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon. I think he recognised as much as I do that there is a great surplus in the British Army at the present time. In 1896–97 there were some 50,000 fewer men under this Vote A than there are at the present day, and what has really caused the excess is the dimensions to which our Army was swollen by the war and the difficulty of getting those dimensions down quickly. So that you have a very large margin left of increase over 1471 what you had before the war. The Committee will notice from my statement that I have reduced the number of men this year by 5,300 already. I was able to do that by some changes that I made myself, and I inherited some reductions—the bulk of them, and I think they were very wise ones—from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon. He reduced the troops in the West Indies very substantially, he reduced the troops in Bermuda, Malta, and Gibraltar, and, by virtue of the arrangement made in regard to Halifax, in Canada. There is, too, a reduction in South Africa, which, I think, is partly his and partly mine, and there are some miscellaneous reductions. The result is that since August 1st last we have, I think, in continuity of policy made a reduction of 5,300. I do not say that we can assume with any certainly' that that reduction will be kept up, but I do say it shows that the pressure which the war produced, the swelling of the garrisons which took place, is beginning to go down, and it ought not to be difficult to get something very substantial off the large increase of 50,000 which has taken place since the period of the war. The main point we have to consider is: What is the best way to approach this problem? I venture respectfully to suggest that the best and most rapid course is to take time over it. Do not let us alarm the public outside by sensational promises of reduction. After all, if public opinion is against you, you get a tremendous swing round very quickly. It is only three or four years, since sitting on the benches on the opposite side of the House, one wondered whether the balance between the Opposition and the then Government would ever be altered or redressed. I always felt that one did not know how quickly the change would come. Now the wonder is all the other way. But that period may not last; and if the public were to lose confidence in our Army and foreign policy there might be a swing round just as violent as there was on that occasion, with the result that right hon. Gentlemen opposite, even though they acepted our principles, which I believe would remain theirs, would be driven by the force of public opinion hastily to get up the 1472 strength of the Army. It is just to avoid that change, and to get a settled policy which should be the policy of the two Parties, that one is anxious to avoid making sensational undertakings and promises that might embarrass one if at some particular time one could not bring off the figure which had been promised. Therefore, while my whole sympathy is with the spirit in which my hon. and gallant friend moved his Motion, I do not wish to commit myself to it, by a reduction of battalions at home, or any particular kind or way. I wish to have my hands free to work out the matter in a spirit of which I trust I have given an earnest to the Committee. I think I have covered most of the points put to me. One or two questions were addressed to me by my right hon. friend the Member for the Forest of Dean. He spoke of the Volunteers, and it seemed to have struck him that in what I said I was rather depreciating the utility of the Volunteer force. Such was not my intention. What I pointed out was this—and it had a close bearing on the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition—that in this country we are in a peculiar position. On the Continent the word "mobilize" flashes across the wires, and the troops may be in contact with the enemy in ten days; the result is that it is absolutely necessary that their reserve, the men whom they are to bring up, should be men in such a high state of efficiency that they can be immediately available But, as I pointed out last week, we from our island position, and so long as we keep up our naval strength, are more happily situated; we shall always have an interval in which to pull ourselves together. We have got our Regular troops available for the first attack, and there is time, such as no other nation, has, in which to bring up the strength of our Army, if only there is power of expansion behind. It is quite true that for fighting across the seas at a distance we require a more mobile and ready Army, though smaller, than any other great Power; that has to be borne in mind. But it is also true that, when we come to expansion behind, we shall have more interval than any other nation, in which to prepare ourselves, and to get what exists potentially into actual and 1473 fighting shape. In other words, our reserves need not be in the first instance highly trained men.
§ MR. HALDANE
I will come to that point. The men's training may be divided into two parts—one which will give what I may call an elementary training; and the other, which may come into operation if you devise means to that end, which will convert men who are partially trained, and whom you ought to have in large numbers, into soldiers fit to be put down against Regulars. It is because of that condition that I think you ought to aim at getting quantity rather than quality in the reservoir from which you are to expand. You will have time in which to turn your quantity into quality. Nobody values more than I the splendid work that has been done in Volunteer organisation; and I hope that work will not diminish but be maintained; but I should like to put alongside with it other and less formal organisations which may fill up your reservoir and make larger the quantity of men whom, if hostilities break out, you may turn into fighting shape to support your Regular Army. The right hon. Gentleman says that that requires officers. It does, and it requires artillery, and, above all, a skeleton organisation. No such organisation can be perfect unless it be thought out on the basis of what use it will be on mobilisation. If a scheme of the kind is possible, and I have thrown it down to be considered and thought out, it becomes peculiarly important when we come to the question of possible expansion. It is clear that it must be worked out on the basis of mobilisation for war and the fighting efficiency of your force when you get it, and on no other basis. It will require that we shall provide some kind of reserve of officers; it will require that We shall make new avenues for the training of our officers, that we shall find some means of keeping a highly skilled class of person who may, perhaps, make the business the second branch of his profession, but taking it seriously, giving a certain time to it, prepare him- 1474 self to take his part in training his troops when the necessity arises. That will have to be considered, and on a considerable scale, and that is one of the things that goes to the root of your power of expansion in time of war. What is most important is that there should be the skeleton organisation. It seems to me that you can reduce the dimensions of your striking force and Regular Army to their strict scientific proportions if only you have this power of expansion behind. I go back to my old illustration of three Army Corps as a maximum, and, taking that as a maximum, we have a surplus of artillery—which I think is going to play a more important part in the wars of the future—to the extent of thirty-five batteries in excess of that standard. I am not saying that with a view of intimating that it is a thing you should lightly abolish, but I do say that there you have something which comes to be a real factor in your power of expansion. It is not always necessary to keep these up to their full and complete organisation so long as you have the officers and trained men who are requisite, but, at any rate, it gives you a reserve in artillery which you may take into account in making your plans for the future. But into these things I do not desire to enter further than to answer the questions and the criticisms that have been addressed to me. I say again to the Committee that I have the spirit of this Motion thoroughly at heart, that I accept the feeling that there is a general desire that we should reach a state of things in which the figures of the Army and Navy should not be of those formidable dimensions that they are at the present time. I am grateful to my hon. and gallant friend for telling me that he does not really mean to strike 10,000 men off the Army in the present year, or even, under all circumstances, I should take it, next year. [Cries of "Yes."] Possibly more, possibly less, according to the necessity. My hon. and gallant friend, I am sure, does not wish to tie my hands beforehand, under all conceivable circumstances, when I tell him I am putting all the strength I can, and that the Army Council with me are devoting their whole energies into working these things out on a basis which will secure what he desires. W recognise 1475 that the Army is in danger of unpopularity if we cannot get these Estimates within a reasonable compass; and if I am not pledging myself to any particular thing it is not because I am not as zealous as my hon. and gallant friend, but because I feel that any pledge must involve tying myself in advance to some scheme, to some plan which I have not yet thought out, and which it may be desirable to give in some different form from that which was contemplated at starting. Subject to that, I have no quarrel with my hon. and gallant friend for raising this question and discussing it in the friendly spirit and with the kindly temper that he has done on this occasion.
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE ERESBY (Lincolnshire, Horncastle)
said there were certain matters in connection with the speech made by the Secretary for War with which he, for one, was somewhat disappointed. They had heard a great deal both in and out of Parliament about the great extravagance in public funds, and that large sums of money had been wasted by the War Office. They had now a complete change of Government and a complete change of Party, and he had fully expected, perhaps in the innocence of his heart, that when they had a Government pledged to economy and efficiency, and one which the Prime Minister said was a Government of retrenchment, they would, at all events, have had a certain amount of reduction in the Army Estimates. He remembered that in the last Parliament there were a large number of Members who were always stating that the money spent upon the Army had been most extravagantly spent, and that there was a large waste, and so he fully expected that the Secretary for War would have been able to find even in a few short months where all this waste was occurring, and that he would have been able to make a very considerable reduction in the expenditure. Unfortunately for the taxpayers, it had been found that there was not this wasteful extravagance which some people had imagined. He should not be doing justice or credit to the right hon. Gentleman who so ably filled the office of Minister for War if he did not say that he had been unable to find any such wasteful extravagance, for he believed that if it had existed he would have been able to place his finger upon the spot. He had put down 1476 a Motion for reduction mainly to obtain some further explanation from the Minister for War upon the subject of the linked battalions. Year after year he had come to this House and listened to the explanations which War Ministers on both sides had given for continuing the linked battalion system, and he was as convinced as ever that the system was wrong. It was said that it was absolutely necessary that there should be one battalion at home for every battalion abroad, but they had discovered that this was not the case. There were battalions abroad which were called home battalions, and the whole system broke down in practice. The reason given by the Prime Minister last year or the year before for maintaining this number of battalions was that they required this number of men as a skeleton to be made up by the Reserves, and that the number at home was sufficient to bring up the strength of the striking force to three Army corps. The chief reason urged for the necessity of three Army corps was the defence of the North West frontier of India. The hon. Member for Cardiff, in a speech last session, was particularly severe on the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon, and he should like to hear the hon. Member's opinions of the state of affairs at the present time. The hon. Member then took the view that the three Army corps at home were not necessary to send to India, and he quoted the opinions of officers on this very subject. For the sake of argument he (the speaker) would admit that these three Army corps were required for the defence of the North West frontier of India, but the Secretary of State for War had stated that in his opinion Army expenditure must to a great extent depend upon policy. Was there now the same fear of invasion of the North West frontier as there was two years ago? He did not believe anyone either inside or outside of this House who had studied the question would say that the North West frontier was in the same danger of attack as it was two years ago. He most respectfully urged the abandonment of the idea that this linked battalion system should remain as a skeleton by which they were to send three Army corps abroad, because he thought the expenditure upon it was excessive. He did not for one moment admit the principle that they must have one battalion at home and one abroad 1477 for that scheme had broken down, and the Secretary of State for War appeared to think that if they did away with the linked battalion system, they must go in for depôts for training the men. Surely there was another way out of the difficulty, Would it not be possible to have regiments consisting of two battalions instead of three battalions, and then two of those battalions could serve abroad and one at home. He thought this appeared to be a particularly good time for bringing about such a change. He was in no way hostile to the enlistment for nine years with the colours and three with the Reserves which was now in force, but nevertheless he thought it was an opportune moment for the Secretary of State for War to consider whether or not the change he had suggested was a good one. If they enlisted men for nine years with the colours and three with the Reserves they would require fewer drafts for abroad, and they would not require changing quite so frequently. Therefore he hoped they would be able to reduce the number of battalions at home. The Secretary of State for War had stated that he had already considered this question, and that he had an open mind. Under those circumstances he did not wish to press the matter any further. There was, however, another point which he thought was a great argument in favour of the reduction of the number of battalions at home. There were certain people who held strongly that those battalions would be absolutely useless unless they had long experience of military discipline. They must accept the circumstances as they were, and they must recognise that the people of this country would not go on spending so much money on the Army. The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies a few years ago stated that he was going to raise the flag of economy, and he trusted that he would now use his efforts with the Government in that direction. It was absolutely imperative that the country should spend less money upon the Army, and they could only achieve economy by reducing the number of Regular battalions at home. If this large body of troops was to be of any use, there would have to be with the men a large supply of highly skilled officers and sergeants. He had faith enough in his own countrymen to believe that if this country 1478 happened to be in a tight place, and had to make another great effort, there would be hundreds of thousands of men who would say, "Put a rifle in our hands, and teach us how to use it." It was no use doing this if there was nobody to teach them how to use the rifles. They knew what happened in the case of the South African War. When this country got into difficulties, so far from the Auxiliaries having extra trained men, they found that every officer, sergeant, and non-commissioned officer in the Auxiliary Forces was taken away to fill up the ranks of the commissioned and non - commissioned officers. He was himself for six weeks in a Yeomanry brigade in South Africa, which must have cost the country a considerable amount of money, and he had no hesitation in saying that they might just as well have stayed at home, and the money spent upon them was simply thrown down the gutter, because there was not an officer properly qualified to teach them anything. If they wished that there should be behind the Regular Army a strong body to support them, they must make up their minds to spend more money on retaining specially good officers, whom, in the day of trial, they would be able to draft among these Auxiliary Forces, so that, in the course of a few months, they would be able to make them into competent soldiers. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would consider this question, and if it was found that the long service system depleted the Reserves, surely it would be possible to adopt a shorter service. He never could see why they should have a hard and fast rule for recruiting. After the speech of the Secretary of State for War, he would not move the reduction of which he had given notice, but would content himself with impressing upon the right hon. Gentleman the importance of having with the Reserves more officers and sergeants in order to help the Auxiliaries.
§ LORD DALMENY (Midlothian)
said he asked the House to exercise that clemency which it invariably accorded to a Member of Parliament who was making his maiden speech. His object in rising was to say what he could for the very much abused so-called Cardwell system. In his opinion the Cardwell system at the present time 1479 was the best that had yet been brought forward, and under that system they got more battalions than under any other. At present there were seventy - one battalions at home and eighty-five abroad. If they adopted the deôdt system, which he supposed was the only alternative, the cost would be very little less, and it would also have many disadvantages which the present system had not. In the first place they must have a larger number of men for the depôts, and they must take away at once 27,000 men from the battalions in this country. It was generally agreed that to supply drafts for 80,000 men abroad, 27,000 men would be required in depots in this country, and that would leave them with 37,500 non-commissioned officers and men. That would mean that there would be forty-four battalions instead of seventy-one in this country. It seemed to him that if they reduced their battalions they would be doing something that it would be very difficult to replace. The Leader of the Opposition had said that there were some things it was impossible to improvise, and one of these was a fighting force with proper cadres in time of war. Each of these battalions, however skeleton they might be, could absorb a great number of recruits and a vast amount of raw material of every kind. It would be agreed that they had not too many cadres during the late South African war, and he thought it would be injudicious to reduce the number they had at the present time. Depôt training was not such good training as battalion training. Depot training was good for teaching drill, but it was generally agreed by experts of all kinds that battalion training was infinitely superior in the way of teaching officers field (service. The Cardwell system was also the best for recruiting. The territorial system—small single county areas—was one of the foundations of his plan. He believed that in the last thirty years, and more especially since the end of the South African war, the territorial feeling had been growing every year. Under the depot system, in order to join together a large number of battalions, they had to make the area very much larger. If that was the case he thought recruiting would fall off. Under the depot system they would have, for instance, drafts of men coming directly from the Black Watch to 1480 the Gordon Highlanders, with a consequent loss of esprit de corps. The territorial feeling of the county was for its own particular regiment, and when they lost that they would find that recruiting would fall off largely. The hon. and gallant Member for the Abercromby Division of Liverpool wanted to reduce the Army by 10,000 men. He did not think the hon. and gallant Member had any particular scheme for the reduction of the Army. He simply wanted 10,000 men done away with. [An HON. MEMBER: Hear, hear; set to work.] He dared say it was time that they were done away with, but to move a reduction of 10,000 without saying whether they were to be taken from the cavalry, the artillery, or the infantry, was like putting a stick into a very intricate machine when it was working.
§ LORD DALMENY
said he was as much in favour of a reduction of expenditure in the Army as any hon. Gentleman, but if they economised suddenly they would find that it was more expensive in the long run. They must give the Secretary of State for War time to make sure of his new policy. The noble Lord opposite seemed surprised that the right hon. Gentleman was not able to bring forward a policy at once. He did not think there had ever been a Secretary of State for War who had brought forward a policy at once—at all events a successful or economical policy. Army expenditure depended on policy. The best way to economise was by reducing the forces abroad, and that reduction rested not so much with the Secretary of State for War as with the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the Secretary of State for the Colonies. If the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs could assure them that there need be no fear of trouble on the north-western frontier of India, then the forces in India might be reduced. If the Secretary of State for the Colonies could assure them in regard to affairs in South Africa, then a reduction in the forces there might also be effected. During the short time he was in the Army he became keenly conscious of the alarm, and despondency which each new Secretary of State for War and each new policy created there.
§ SIR HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)
said he could not discover from the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for the Abercromby Division of Liverpool any ground for the proposal to reduce the Army by 10,000 men except with respect to expense. He did not consider that a good reason for the proposal. He was sorry to hear the right hon. baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean say that the Army must be ruthlessly cut down. If that were done they knew from experience it was the most extravagant policy they could adopt. In a few months a panic mood might set in, and the men would be replaced in the most costly manner possible. The Cardwell system had been much talked of to-day, but no one had suggested to the Secretary of State any practicable scheme which might be put in the place of the double battalion system. He believed the depôt system to be the worst that could possibly exist. It was tried for a long time and found not to answer at all. Under that system the men did not obtain the regimental feeling, the esprit de corps, which was so essential in the British Army. Of course, they all desired to reduce the cost of the British Army, but in doing so they must proceed with caution. The British Army was in no sense comparable with that of Germany or any other army, because no other army had such calls upon it throughout the world. A few days ago an admirable speech was made by the Secretary of State for War, but they could see the alarm in India in consequence of his very moderate and guarded allusion to the reduction of the Indian garrison. It was quite true that the danger which threatened the North-Western frontier for many years had temporarily ceased, but there was no reason to suppose that the recuperative power of the great nation by which it was said to be threatened would not be as great in the future as it had been in the past. In all probability the disturbed condition of the country would not be any guarantee that the aims of ambitious soldiers would not be directed, in the future as in the past, towards the north-western frontier. Therefore any weakening of our forces in India was to be approached with 1482 the greatest caution. The Secretary of State for War, it was satisfactory to see, was on the best terms with his Army Council; he had surrounded himself with the ablest officers in the Army, and his private secretary was one of the ablest officers in the service. He desired to thank the Secretary of State for the attitude he had taken up in regard to the Auxiliary Forces. If there was any justification for the reduction of the Army by 10,000 men, or any other number, it would be found in the policy which the right hon. Gentleman foreshadowed as to the Militia and the Volunteers and the other reserve forces. As to the Militia, there was no one who had been connected with that body who did not appreciate the attention which the right hon. Gentleman had given to it. With regard to the Volunteers, they already saw an addition to their numbers, which showed that the policy which had been pursued towards them during the last few months had had a great deal to do with the filling of the vacant places which had been brought about by the policy of the last few years. He wanted the right hon. Gentleman, when once he had decided upon his policy, to give it a fair chance and not to keep on meddling with it and imposing new conditions. It was that course of policy which upset both officers and men, prevented their getting good men into the force, and drove good men out. He understood that the right hon. Gentleman intended to act at once upon the report of the Norfolk Commission and to organise the Volunteers into brigades under commanders, who would not be taken away by the mobilisation of the Regular Army. Had it been decided to take the Metropolitan Volunteers outside that organisation? If so, he entreated the right hon. Gentleman to re-consider his decision and to give the Metropolitan Volunteers, who numbered some 30,000, the same brigade organisation as he proposed to give to the forces in the provinces. If this were not done, the Metropolitan Volunteers would be at a great disadvantage as compared with the rest of the Volunteer forces of the country, and this fact would be a source of dissatisfaction and discontent. He 1483 hoped his right hon. friend would also allow the Auxiliary Forces to be represented upon the Army Council and give them every access to himself. Then he felt certain that there would be a considerable ground for reduction of our military expenditure. The cost of the soldier was £81, but that of the Volunteer only £7, and by doing all he could to encourage the cheaper branch of the service the right hon. Gentleman would do a great deal to increase the defensive power of the country and to prepare the country for war.
§ SIR J. DICKSON-POYNDER (Wiltshire, Chippenham)
said he should like to join with other speakers in offering congratulations to his right hon. friend for his recent statement to the House and the country. In the first place, contrary to the practice of his predecessors, the right hon. Gentleman did not attempt the impossible and try to unfold to the House at a moment's notice a brand new scheme. In the past, ill-thought-out schemes had involved the country in great difficulty and expense. He thought the country and the Army were indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for having decided to think first and then to act. His speeches took the form rather of abstract statements of thought than concrete pronouncements of policy, but he had indicated throughout a determination, when he was in a position to act, to effect economy in Army expenditure. He had already indicated methods by which he could effect that economy. He proposed to get rid of useless forts, depots and stores, with their attendant staffs, which had too long been playing an expensive part in Army organisation. In other ways also the right hon. Gentleman had indicated how he could effect economies which would be useful, but in his (the speaker's) view it was certain that there was only one way in which he could effect a reduction and that was by reducing the men in the Regular Army. He fully sympathised with the Motion for reduction which had been moved, and he sincerely trusted that there would be later on a reduction not only of 10,000 men, but of a considerably larger number. He recognised, 1484 however, that, in view of the fact that the Secretary of State had no scheme ready at the present moment, it was quite impossible to expect him to carry out any plan of reform this year, but he hoped that in the course of the next twelve months, with his great powers of administration, and those of his military advisers, he would be able to elaborate such a scheme as would provide for a very substantial reduction. The economy could, however, only be effected ultimately by reducing the men of the Regular Army. We had now something like 135,000 men established in oversea garrisons; 75,000 in India, and the remainder spread throughout the different portions of the Empire. The right hon. Gentleman had indicated that the military establishment in India might possibly in future be reduced, that taking into account recent events which had occurred to our neighbours on the north-west frontier of India it appeared likely that a certain reduction might take place in the British military establishment. This, however, was not so much a question of any neighbouring country, but a question of endangering our own prestige in India. He thought competent judges would tell the right hon. Gentleman that 74,000 or 75,000 men was the irreducible minimum which was necessary to maintain our prestige in India. He did not, therefore, look for reductions in India, but there were other portions of the Empire, such as Malta, where reductions might be effected. This was, however, a matter of Cabinet policy. Another alternative by means of which the Army could be reduced was by reducing the home battalions, but if any reduction was to take place it must mean the abandonment of the Cardwell system of linked battalions which had been the basis of our organisations for twenty-five years. It was not, necessary however, under our present system, when we had all accepted the doctrine of the "Blue-water" school. What was really required for our military defence was, first, a highly trained and efficient striking force of 25,000 men ready to go at a moment's notice to distant parts of the Empire; secondly, a regular stream of drafts to our foreign garrisons; and, 1485 thirdly, a great citizen army to meet contingencies at home.
In order to supply our garrisons abroad it was necessary to maintain at home 125 men for every 1,000 men sent out. Estimating our foreign garrisons at 90,000 men, we should require 13,000 men a year for drafts and 3,000 men for their depot purposes. Taking the home striking force at 24,000 men, and adding 4,000 for depôt purposes, they would arrive at a total of 134,000 men. Our Regular infantry to-day numbered 172,000 men. That was a difference of 38,000 men. He did not suggest that the Regular Army could be reduced by that number, but there were 38,000 men which the right hon. Gentleman could play with when he came to consider his scheme. It had been said by the noble Lord, who made an interesting speech, that the abandonment of the linked battalion system would decrease the efficiency of the Army. In the case of the old depot system of years ago that might be the case, but there was no reason why improvement should not be made in the system, so that it should turn out as efficient troops as the linked battalion system. He was sure the country were determined that Army expenditure should be reduced, and he thought there was no means of reducing expenditure unless they reduced these battalions, abandoned the Cardwell system, and put some other in its place. He hoped next year to see a substantial reduction in the infantry of the line proposed. If the Army was to be maintained on a voluntary basis it must be established on principles in accord with democratic national sentiment. Much had been done in regard to pay, conditions of life in the Army, and forfeits. An even more important consideration was the position of the soldier after his term of service had expired and he left the colours. Our present Army system contributed largely to the ranks of unskilled labourers. Last year there were over 44,000 vagrants relieved by the police in the county of Wiltshire, and of these 5,500 were men who had been in the Army. Those were formidable figures, showing the consequences of the present precarious system, by which men were discharged from the Army to shift for themselves. It was not well that a large proportion of the Reserve should be found in the ranks of vagrancy. There 1486 was no reason why soldiers in barracks should not be taught some trade during the long winter months. Such a scheme would require the co-operation of all the industrial departments of the State and of the local authorities. Of all Army reforms there was none more urgent than the making of some arrangements to ensure employment of men who had been in the ranks.
§ SIR CARNE RASCH (Essex, Chelmsford)
said he thought that if the mover and seconder of the Amendment were not satisfied with the statement of the Secretary of State for War they were indeed hard to please. He congratulated the right hon. Gentleman on the speech he made in the City and also on the speech he made in the House the other day. He had seen the rise and fall of many Secretaries of State for War and their maiden speeches were always received with a paean of applause; but the halo with which they were surrounded soon became somewhat dim. He did not think that that would be the case with the right on. Gentleman, and he certainly hoped it would not. He was able to agree with nearly all that the right hon. Gentleman said the other night, but, of course, one had certain criticisms to make. With reference to the question of the Militia it was to his mind a patent and. recognised fraud, and was in a condition of chaos. It was an establishment of something like 90,000 strong, but he did not believe they could put 40,000 into line. What was the right hon. Gentleman going to do with the Militia? The President of the Local Government Board had stated some time ago that twenty battalions of Militia were going to be called out in the winter to help the unemployed. Was the Militia going to be a sort of sublimated Salvation Army shelter? Whatever the merits of the unemployed might be they were not the class to make the soldiers who would be required to back up the troops on the North-West frontier, or to be used in any big affair we might have at home. With regard to the Regular Army itself the right hon. Gentleman wanted one which was small, more mobile, better equipped, and with absolutely up-to-date material. The right hon. Gentleman said that if he reduced the Regular Army he would encourage the auxiliary forces.
1487 But how was he going to encourage them? By having 1,000,000 or 500,000 untrained men with rifles? Was the real training to be delayed until war was declared? The right hon. Gentleman backed up his arguments by referring to the levies raised on the Loire in 1870 and 1871. He was in France during the war, and happened to know something about that. It was perfectly true that Gambetta stamped his foot and raised these legions on the soil. But what good were they? They were crumpled up by Von der Tann, as were the francstireurs by Manteuffel. This example simply proved that soldiers could not be improvised. What caused the internment of the French soliders on the Swiss frontier was that they could not operate owing to the lack of artillery. and also because their ranks were filled by irregular troops. These were the last instances he knew of in European history of pitting untrained irregular forces against regular troops. He really thought that if the right hon. Gentleman carried out any such scheme he would be following the extraordinary advice given by the late Member for the Bodmin Division of Cornwall, who the other day advised an audience whom he was addressing to try the glorious risk of scrapping the Navy and disbanding the Army. It would certainly be a risk, but he for one could not see where the glory came in.
§ MAJOR DUNNE (Walsall)
said that with regard to the garrisons at Malta and Gilbraltar he would suggest to the Secretary of State for War that possibly he might find an opportunity at those places to effect that reduction which so many on the Ministerial side of the House felt to be necessary in the great Army Estimates. So far as infantry were concerned at Malta and Gibraltar they were absolutely and entirely useless. If Malta or Gibraltar were seriously threatened by a close blockade a large body of useless infantry would be locked up which would seriously hamper their defence. There was a curious fascination in fortified places as refuges for infantry, but military history told them how fatal had been that fascination to commanders who had taken advantage of fortified places. Many mili- 1488 tary students were convinced that had Bazaine not allowed himself to withdraw into the fortress of Metz after his defeat at St. Privat he would very likely have been able to save the great bulk of his army, instead of having to surrender the total force. He thought the large number of infantry locked up in Malta and Gibraltar was a source of weak ness in case of a blockade, and that the defence of those places should be entrusted to the Navy and Garrison Artillery.
§ COLONEL SANDYS (Lancashire, Bootle)
said that although he had listened to the speeches of many Secretaries of State for War he was never more impressed than by the practical views expressed by the right hon. Gentleman who now held that position. The point which appealed most to him was the one in which he said he had not formulated any hard and fast line with reference to the organisation of the Army; and it was on that account chiefly that he felt that the few remarks he desired to offer might be considered by the right hon. Gentleman before making up his mind on that subject. He was afraid his remarks, however, would not commend themselves to Gentlemen below the gangway on the Ministerial side of the House, because he could not help contrasting the eagerness with which proposals for reduction of the Army were now received by Gentlemen sitting on those Benches with the sort of feeling they exhibited just before the outbreak of the Boer War, when in opposition, and when everyone was eager to vote for more men and supplies for the Army. What occurred at that time would occur again upon a similar occasion; but, although they might be sure of the patriotism of the House of Commons rising to the necessities of the time and that they would vote millions of money and thousands of men, there was one thing they could not vote, and that was time to prepare the men for the work that lay in front of them. It was, therefore, with some dismay that he heard proposals for reducing the Army in India. It was shortly after the reduction of the British Army in India to a total of 35,000 men that the Indian 1489 Mutiny broke out. He considered it would be fatal for the Government to reduce our forces in India at the present time. There were now 78,000 troops for India. He believed that on the authority of Lord Roberts that number of British troops was fixed as the minimum for the safety of the country, and he should be averse from anything which in any way weakened the garrison in India. He thought it within the bounds of possibility that we might be called upon suddenly to increase that force very largely. It had been stated by the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench that policy had a great deal to do with the case, and that at the present time we were on very friendly relations with the great Power which threatened our Indian frontier. It should be remembered that, although at the present time it was improbable that we should have any direct menace or any immediate attack from that Power, yet the Russian Foreign Office was not an affair of Party as it was here; for it maintained the continuous policy laid down by the greatest statesman that Russia ever had, Peter the Great, that it was essential to Russia that she should possess India; this was part of his last will, and Russia had worked continuously upon those lines up to the present time, and she was still persistently working in that direction. What was our position in reference to that policy? We had become in India not an insular but a continental Power, and the principles which governed the forces of such a Power governed our forces there. He had heard it stated, and the statement had not been contradicted, that during the whole of the Japanese War the Russians maintained intact a force of 400,000 men between the frontier of India and the head of the Persian Gulf for some possible contingency that might arise; and what could arise there except some complication with England? He believed that the scheme of Russian statesmen was at the right time to advance upon India, in which case their Navy would be upon the flank of our communications by sea. How were we going to get troops to India in case of entanglement with Russia? In these circumstances was it wise to contemplate for one moment any reduction of our forces in India? 1490 Would it not be wiser to consider how, in the event of any sudden declaration of war, or in case we become involved with that country, we should be able to largely reinforce our forces in India. That brought him to consider our military position. He did not propose to go into details now, but he thought the Committee ought to take up a much wider field of observation. The organisation of the British Army was what they should look to when they had settled what the military factors were, and then they could see what reduction was possible in each one of them. If they took 78,000 for India as the minimum there could not he any reduction there. We required the garrisons for the Mediterranean and for other places too. We needed also beyond this a striking force which we could send out from this country, and we also required a force for the defence of these islands against a possible attack. So that there were four large bodies of troops which we had to maintain at a certain and a sufficient strength. The point which the right hon. Gentle man the Secretary of State for War had to settle was what the strength of these component parts must be, how he could keep them up to that strength in case of war, and how far he could reduce them in time of peace with safety in reference to a time of war. The hon. Baronet the Member for Wiltshire thought the reduction should take place in the home battalions, and he had declared that he belonged to the blue-water school of opinion. But personally he did not agree with the blue-water school and their views. He considered that this country was open to attack, under certain conditions, and the Secretary of State for War should prepare his forces to meet any attack which might come upon us suddenly, with, it might be, small help from the Navy, and which, if it came, would be in the nature of a surprise attack, giving small time for preparation. That was a problem to which the right hon. Gentleman should devote his best attention. How long should we be given to get ready to face an attacking force if the Navy was away on its proper duty? We should have only about four days to be ready to meet a large force of the enemy, and therefore it was necessary that our forces should be 1491 in such a state of preparation that they would be ready to meet an attacking force in our own country in four days. That attack could only succeed by a surprise. The idea of the gentlemen of the blue-water school was that because we had a strong Navy we were free of all further responsibility for the defence of these islands. Was the efficiency of the Navy to be decreased by keeping a large part of it tied up watching the approaches to these islands when their services might be wanted on the frontiers of our Empire. What was required was the patriotic sacrifices of the people of this country now in order to train our troops here to be ready to meet any surprise attacking force, and it was the duty of the Secretary of State for War to see that our forces were sufficient for this. Members should not allow themselves to be carried away by the idea that because we had a strong Navy we were absolutely safe. The Army and the Navy should work together for the defence of the British Empire, but the safety of the British Isles depended upon having a sufficient force in this country equipped, prepared, and periodically exercised for the defence of these shores so as to be ready to meet any attack which might be sprung upon them without any warning, before even a declaration of war.
§ MR. COURTENAY WARNER (Staffordshire, Lichfield)
said he had always argued that extravagant expenditure upon the Army in times of peace, on things that were not absolutely necessary, was the way to cause weakness and to destroy the efficiency of the Army. The reduction which had been moved by his hon. and gallant friend declared that there should be some permanent and substantial reduction in the expenditure upon the Army. It was not a question of reducing a little piece here and there, and bringing the old system up in a more moderate form; they must take hold of some substantial piece of policy and promise definitely that there would be a substantial reduction, and something more than the lopping off of a few men from some of the battalions abroad and at home. They wanted something more than the taking away of a few guns from the 1492 fortifications of London. Many hon. Members had been returned pledged to economy, and their opinion was that there should be some means found of reducing a large proportion of the Army, and not of merely lopping off little corners. The Secretary of State for War had said that it was impossible to do away with the linked battalion system, because it necessitated the establishment of large depôts. They wanted nothing of the sort. They did not want the linked battalion system done away with, but they might very well adopt a system of two battalions at home and three abroad. They wanted some statement that the whole system would be modified in some way. He did not want to press the right hon. Gentleman too hard. They wished to give him a free hand, because they knew that he was an economist, but they wanted some definite guarantee that there would be some reduction of expenditure on the Army for the defence of this country, which was supposed to be defended by the Fleet. He believed that the Militia and the Volunteers were ample to defend this country, and to do garrison duty in most of the garrisons abroad when war broke out. We should never be called upon to face the enemy at once, because the strip of water around us would be sufficient protection for a few weeks whilst we made our partially trained men into competent troops.
§ MR. J. WARD (Stoke-on-Trent)
said he wished to say a word or two on this question from the point of view of the working man. It seemed to him that, so far, it was largely the military idea that had been put before the House, but he wished to point out that there were other interests to be considered besides the interests of the Army. It was a well-known fact that for a number of years past the subject of international arbitration had been discussed at the Trade Unions Congress, and they had considered the progress made in providing machinery for submitting international disputes to international arbitration. That in itself was some justification for ordinary people supposing that a considerable reduction could reasonably be made in the standing Army. There were other 1493 reasons that one would naturally suggest. Looking at Europe it seemed to him that militarism was the great curse of all the nations, and this was a matter in which some one must take the lead. Was there any other Power in the whole of Europe which, owing to its geographical position, was in such a splendid position to take the lead as our own country?
§ And, it being half-past Seven of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report progress.
§ To sit again this evening.