HC Deb 20 March 1906 vol 154 cc294-306

"That a sum, not exceeding £10,220,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge for the Pay, etc., of His Majesty's Army (including Army Reserve) at Home and Abroad (exclusive of India), which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1907."

Resolution read a second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

COLONEL, LEGGE (St. George's, Hanover Square)

said he would like to say with what pleasure as an old soldier he had listened to the sympathetic speech with which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War had introduced the Army Estimates and the appreciation the right hon. Gentleman had expressed of the services of the officers of the Army. They had heard very frequently in that House depreciation of Army officers, and that depreciation had been very painful to brave, honourable and sensitive men who, having devoted themselves to the defence of their country, were unable to defend themselves in this House. He was also pleased to hear the appeal which the right hon. Gentleman made that the consideration of Army questions should be approached from a non-Party point of view. That appeal had been made by himself from the benches opposite and he regretted to say that it did not meet with the response which he thought it deserved, but he could assure the right hon. Gentleman and those who represented the War Office in the House that, as far as he was concerned, and he believed those sitting near him were quite agreed with him upon that point, they should on this question of Army administration, Army reform and Army organisation, show a non-Party spirit, though, of course, they reserved to themselves the right to criticise any proposals which might be brought forward. He was also pleased to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that he proposed to take the advice of the expert officers with whom he was now associated at the War Office rather than the advice of the experts of youth and inexperience sitting below the gangway on the Ministerial side of the House. With regard to the land forces that we had to keep up, he was one of those who did not desire that we should have in the Army a single soldier more than was necessary, but he did not believe that by simply reducing the numbers we should necessarily increase the efficiency of the Army. As had been pointed out by many speakers, the strength of our Army depended upon our Indian and Colonial garrisons, and he must say that he looked forward to the time when the Colonial garrisons might be substantially reduced, if they were not taken away altogether. That time might be near or it might be distant, but he believed that in that direction we might eventually get some reduction of our land forces. With regard to India, however, he did not think anything of that kind was possible. The number of white troops which we kept in India at the present time was only 78,000, and although some Members had referred to the state of Russia at the present time and had drawn from that the idea that we might reduce our garrison in India, he did not believe for a moment that that was possible. Russia had no doubt suffered severely during the late war, but he believed that she had throughout it a very large force indeed upon the frontiers of Afghanistan. She was now withdrawing her Army from Manchuria, and there was no reason why that Army, or a very large portion of it, should not reinforce the troops which Russia already had on the North West frontier of India. They heard very often that the invasion of India through Afghanistan by Russia was a difficult operation, not in the least likely to be carried out. While, however, it was a difficult operation, the obstacles were not insuperable, and British forces had more than once traversed the territory; they had over Then it was said that Afghanistan was hostile to Russia, but when the British force from India reached Cabul in 1879 they found in the Afghan Treasury a large number of Russian gold coins. He had one of them with him. These Russian gold coins were sent there for a certain purpose. It was to pave the way and make Afghanistan the approach to India. There was no reason to suppose that what had been done once should not be done again. Under these circumstances he failed to see where the argument advanced by hon. Members came in. These gold coins were captured by the British, and at the time money not being very plentiful in the British Treasury chest, they were issued to the British troops for their pay; that was to say, the British troops were paid with Russian gold. He thought that was the only pay he had ever saved. The right hon. Gentleman began his speech in introducing these Estimates by stating that our Reserves filled up the battalions for service. That was perfectly true, and our Reserves were in no proper sense of the word Reserves at all. They often heard it said that Mr. Cardwell's scheme gave short service and a Reserve, but that was only part of the truth. It really did neither. It did not give us short service in the way in which it was understood on the Continent, viz., service for two or three years with the Colours and a longer period with the Reserve. For the simple reason that we had to keep up the Army in India we could not reduce our term of service in the way that continental armies could. We therefore depended upon an intermediate service between the short and the long service. But even that was not entirely successful, for in 1889, when we had to mobilise our Army, the Estimates provided for a force at home of Regular troops of 125,000, and for a Reserve of 90,000. The Reserves were, however, practically only 78,000, and when it became necessary to mobilise our Army in South Africa we had to leave at home no fewer than 92,000 men who were unfit for war service. The result was that after deducting these 92,000 men and calling up the Reserve of 78,000, the Army after mobilisation was 14,000 weaker than before. That was a very unsatisfactory state of things, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would endeavour by some means or another to see if he could not get a real reserve for the Army. At present, as he had said, it was no true Reserve. So long as that system went on we should find ourselves in the same difficulty, the numbers of our Reserves must be limited by the number of our battalions and the strength of those battalions. The pay of the British officer was very much the same now as it was in the reign of Queen Anne, and if the right hon. Gentleman wished, as no doubt he did, to get officers for the Army it was necessary that they should get better pay, more especially those who joined the more expensive branches of the service such as the cavalry. Whenever this question was put before the right hon. Gentleman representing the War. Office in this House, it always received the same answer, namely that, though it was very desirable, there was no money to meet the extra expense. The time had, how- ever, arrived when the officers of the Army should not have to depend upon any private fortune they might possess. The time had come when the country should be called upon to pay the officers of the Army a living wage. Officers of the Army should not be subjected to the stress and strain to which they were now subjected by having to pay so much out of their own private means. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would consider this matter in the scheme he proposed to bring in next year.

MR. LUPTON (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)

said he was one of that numerous body of Members who sat upon the Liberal side of the House which had denounced the late Government for its extravagance. He was fully aware of the difficulties which had to be faced when making reductions, and he did not blame the right hon. Gentleman for taking plenty of time to consider the way in which this reduction should be made. If the right hon. Gentleman found the difficulties very great, he (Mr. Lupton) would suggest that it would be a good thing to strengthen his hands by the appointment of a Committee who would permanently take in charge the War Office Estimates—men who would not be salaried officers of the Crown and who would have to consider, not the feelings of the Department, but the ordinary taxpayer. It was not for the spending department to fix the amount of the expenditure, but those who had to find the money. The Army would never be a popular service and the Army would never have an efficient staff of officers under a system by which the officers were drawn from one class and the rank and file from another. If the authorities wanted the Army to be made popular in these democratic days they must make the ranks the only way through which a commission could be obtained. If that were done young men of every class of society would enlist. He himself had a friend who, not having much money went into the Army and worked his way up with great credit to himself, but he finally had to leave the Army because he could not win commission rank. He was a gentleman by birth and education, and he had to leave the Army, because it had no career for him. If the alteration he suggested were made, it would be found that the class of men who became officers would be like those who were at the heads of great civil establishments, who had worked themselves up and acquired great scientific attainments. The men who went into the Army would be drawn from all classes, the emoluments offered being quite sufficient. The pay of a lieutenant or captain was not much to a rich man, but it was to a poor man, who would have an incentive to work hard to qualify for higher appointments, and the result would be that there would be in the Army a body of officers possessing considerable scientific knowledge. If this alteration were made it could not be said, as it was said during the Boer War, when the enemy told off sharpshooters to pick off our officers, that it was a mistake on their part, as it left the intelligent non. commissioned officers and men free to manage the Army in a proper way. A friend of his who went through the greater part of that war, with a force of cavalry, had told him that a young officer, who was sent out from England to take command, ordered them to dismount and take the bridles out of the horses' mouths, though everybody except the officer knew that there was a Boer gun 1,500 yards away. It was not until five men had been knocked over by the Boer fire that they got word to disperse, and that order was given by the sergeant. If the men who had charge of our Army had gone through the ranks, things of that sort would not have happened, nor should we have had a general officer ordering our forces to a river, as at Colenso, which river could not be forded, and, as there were no boats, those who could not run away were shot down. We could never have an efficient Army until a vital alteration was made in the manner in which the officers were chosen. It was possible to effect economies in the Army without reducing but adding to efficiency. There were four general officers commanding-in-chief, whose total salaries were over £12,000 a year. Why should we pay a general officer £3,000 a year? It was not as if they were obtained by advertisement. If we wanted to obtain the services of a soldier of fortune from any part of the world to lead our Army, it might be worth while to pay him £3,000, or £30,000 or even £300,000 a year. But the men now in charge entered the Army when they were almost boys, and they did not know whether they were going to be field-marshals or not, and a sufficient pay for that position was £1,000 a year. It was unnecessary to give these large salaries. In civil life inspectors of mines, who had to do a tremendous amount of hard work and undergo great dangers, rose to £800 a year, a few getting £1,000 a year. For that money the best talented men of science could be obtained. Not only could an enormous amount of economy be made in officers' salaries, but also in the number of the higher officers. There were seventy-seven generals, all tumbling over each other's heels, and all enjoying large salaries. He doubted whether many of them would be much good in the case of an invasion by Germany or France, or even to conduct a war in some distant country. Again, there were £4,500,000 spent in pensions. It was quite right that an old soldier should have a pension, but it was not necessary to give such large ones as some of the officers received, the average for officers being something like £300 a year.


Pensions are not borne upon this Vote, and the hon. Gentleman therefore, is not entitled to discuss that question.


said that the total number of men of all ranks in the service of the King was 1,300,000; but he doubted whether we could put at short notice 100,000 men into a foreign country. If that were the case, as he believed it was, it did not say much for the efficiency with which the Army had been maintained in the past. When the Army was 50,000 men less than it was now, it was almost impossible to put 100,000 men in South Africa without a lot of fuss in this country, and a great many men had to be enlisted, and Militia and Volunteers sent out. That showed that the Army system was thoroughly bad and inefficient, and therefore it was not a question of merely how to reduce the cost of the Army, but also how to make the forces efficient. If the carrying out of what he considered was necessary economy would produce inefficiency he would not advocate it. A few years ago we had a discussion upon Venezuela. The President of the United States took up the side of Venezuela, and he sent a telegram stating that it would be worse for us if we did not submit to arbitration. How was it that what this country refused to Venezuela we yielded to the President of the United States? Because we knew that the United States was impregnable; the country was so vast and the men so warlike that for this country to have attacked the United States would have been folly. They might have bombarded our sea coast towns.


The hon. Member is not confining himself to the Vote before the House, and I must ask him to be more relevant.


said that he considered that the troops in many of the garrisons abroad were a source of weakness rather than of strength, because they might require more troops sent out to them in order to defend them. He excluded those at Gibraltar, Malta, and Hong Kong, but with those exceptions the troops we had abroad which were not required for policing purposes were sources of weakness. He thought it would be agreed that the number of troops maintained in India was relevant to this discussion. It had always been said that the construction of railways in India would reduce the number of troops required for the defence of that country. The troops in India could now be more easily concentrated on one spot whore they happened to be needed, and an Army half the size would be considered more efficient with the aid of the better railway facilities than one double the size at a time when there were no railways. On those grounds he suggested that the Indian Army should be reduced by one half, and that the supports of the Indian Army in this country should also be reduced by one half. With regard to armaments, our troops are now armed with the magazine rifle.


That subject arises on another Vote. I must warn the hon. Gentleman that I have already twice called him to order for irrelevancy.


urged that in India the north-west frontier was not the greatest source of danger, because the danger was more likely to be on the Japan side. A large extension of the land forces at home was necessary for the security of the country. He thought that could best be done by increasing the Volunteers. They might be doubled in numbers.


Order, order. That question arises on a different Vote. I have now called the hon. Member to order three times for irrelevancy, and I must therefore ask him to discontinue his speech.

MR. POWER (Waterford, E.)

said the Secretary for War yesterday disclaimed any responsibility on the part of the War Office for the introduction into Waterford of a South African horse disease through Army horses. The disease had been introduced owing to the want of proper precautions on the part of the Army Veterinary Department. He might say that the matter was at one time thought to be so serious that it was a question whether or not the arrangements for the great national horse show should be suspended. He had listened with surprise to the reply given by the right hon. Gentleman to the speeches made upon this question. He could furnish the right hon. Gentleman with many statistics showing that the disease had been introduced through the medium of Army horses, and this had been admitted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Dublin. There was no doubt about this disease having been introduced by Army horses, and he could confirm it by evidence from his own constituency, because there never was a case of South African distemper in Waterford until the Army horses were brought back from South Africa. He did not know how the right hon. Gentleman could say that the War Office was not responsible in any respect. He could quote speeches in which the Secretary of State and the War Office were informed, before the horses were ever sent home, of the existence of the disease in South Africa and of the dangers which might result from their being brought to this country. Would it be believed that the veterinary authorities were cognisant of this state of things and that they allowed a number of horses stationed at Waterford to be sent out to grass in the country districts? In the end these horses were slaughtered. The War Office had peddled and trifled with the outbreak while the horses were in the barracks. It was on account of the horses having been sent out to grass that the disease had been spread. The county council had done their duty most admirably, and by their action the disease had been largely, if not altogether, stamped out. The indirect effect of the outbreak in the dislocation of trade and the stoppage of fairs and markets had been enormous in his constituency There was not a single case of disease in the city or county of Waterford among so-called civilian horses until 7th February, 1905, and fifteen months before that there were the cases he had referred to in the barracks. There never was a clearer case in which the locality had no part in the origin of the disease. It was bad enough that the people of Ireland should be obliged to pay for a war with which they had no sympathy, but it was doubly hard that as a legacy of the war this disease should have been brought to the country. When he made a claim some time ago for compensation from the War Office, on behalf of the local authority, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Dublin admitted that there were special circumstances in the case, and though he would not give a direct promise, he said he was quite prepared to recognise that there were special considerations to be taken into account. The disease had been propagated by the horses of officers who went out to hunt. He thought a reply of another nature might have been expected from the Secretary of State for War yesterday.

MR. O'SHEE (Waterford, W.)

said the reply given yesterday by the right hon. Gentleman was the exact antithesis of the attitude taken by the late Government on the subject. Members of the late Government admitted that there was a case, though they contended that they had no power to give compensation out of Army funds for the loss sustained by local authorities. The right hon. Gentleman had alleged that he could claim from the locality for the loss of military horses by this disease. The facts easily disposed of that contention. He was rather surprised at what he could only call the audacity of the Army Veterinary Department in putting such an answer into the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman. The first case occurred on 5th October, 1903, and the horse was shot. Five horses were shot and cremated eight days later. During the whole of 1904 horses were from time to time shot and cremated in the military barracks of Waterford. These cases occurred before there was a single case outside the barracks, and during that time officers whose horses were quartered in the military barracks were hunting throughout the district. In June, 1904, a number of horses were sent out to grass, and on 29th July one of them was shot. Three horses were shot in January, 1905, because they had been in contact with animals which were affected. These horses which were the private property of officers were sent out to the country, the officers thinking that in this way they would be able to save them from being slaughtered. His contention was that the Army Veterinary Department did not take such strong measures as they ought to have done to stamp out the disease. When there were animals in the barracks suffering from disease the officers' horses were allowed to go out three or four times a week to hunt all over the country. There were eight cases in 1905 in civilian stables, and seven of these places were stables of hunting men. As the result of the outbreak of disease the county of Waterford had already had to-pay £800 as compensation out of the rates. The Waterford Agricultural Society lost £345 in the expenses they had incurred when they were prevented from holding their annual show. The horses in the county of Waterford were prevented from attending the great horse show in Dublin and other local shows, and the result was that those local shows had to be dropped after all the preparations had been made for them. The direct loss had amounted to £1,500, but the indirect loss to horse breeders and horse dealers could only be estimated at many thousands of pounds.

MR. O'MARA (Kilkenny, S.)

said that his constituency adjoined Waterford and there was an outbreak of this disease there traceable to the same cause—the introduction of the plague from South Africa by the military horses. Whole districts of his county had been put to enormous expense and trouble to stamp out the disease; while for three years in succession the shows in county Kilkenny could not be held. The local rates had suffered to the extent of £1,000, while the people had likewise suffered from not being allowed to move their horses from place to place. The War Office owed more than an explanation to the county councils; they owed compensation for the expenses they had incurred; and still heavier compensation to private individuals whose losses could be traced to the introduction of the disease by the military horses.


said he could assure the hon. Gentleman who had introduced this subject into the debate that the most strict instructions had been given to the Veterinary Department of the War Office, and their Report was that there had been no disease among military horses in Waterford since October, 1904, and he thought for some time past in other parts of Ireland. Even assuming that the disease had been originally introduced from South Africa—he did not admit it—it had spread among other horses.


Does the right hon. Gentleman think that the outbreak was spontaneous?


said that what he maintained was that horses were being constantly moved about, and the investigations of the War Office Veterinary Department went to show that there was no evidence that in the county of Waterford and still more in other places, the disease had been brought home to the military horses. On that footing the War Office was not liable. All he could say was that the utmost care had been taken of the military horses, and that everything had been done to prevent the spread of the disease.


said he wanted to refer to a point which was inseparably connected with the pay of the regular soldier. If a higher rate of pay was offered, undoubtedly a better class of men might be induced to join the Army. At any rate, such men would be attracted if some more satisfactory outlook was offered the regular soldier when his term of service with the colours had expired. Volunteers earned wages, even when drilling; but the regular soldier was taken into the Army at a time when he had not had an opportunity to become a tradesman; and when his period of service expired he was cast upon the market as a casual labourer. In our large towns such as Liverpool there were thousands of these men. There was no more sad sight in the face of civilisation than to see a poor woman, whose husband had gone out to find work, trying to comfort her children who were crying for bread. This casting of old soldiers on the market had increased the army of casuals, and that had caused more damage to the Army than anything else. He had looked in vain for some promise from the Secretary for War on this subject, and he suggested that when the re-organisation of the Army was taken up in detail, this matter should receive the most earnest consideration. In Germany the health, physique, and trade of every soldier was looked after. Each soldier had an opportunity of going on with his particular trade; but in our Army nothing of the kind was done. He had been present two or three times at dinners given to Army veterans, and the fact that the greater proportion of those veterans had to be brought out of the workhouse to enjoy the dinner was a scandal.

And, it being half-past Seven of the Clock, the debate stood adjourned till this Evening's Sitting.