HC Deb 02 May 1906 vol 156 cc636-68
MAJOR SEELY (Liverpool, Abercromby)

rose to call attention to the question of recruiting for and the present establishment of the Regular Army, and to move "That under the present system large numbers of men are recruited for the Regular infantry who cannot become efficient soldiers, while at the same time it is found difficult to obtain the number placed on the Estimates, and that, in the opinion of this House, an amendment of the existing system is urgently required." He said that he moved the Resolution with a deep feeling of responsibility, because he submitted that the present system was ill adapted to our needs and added greatly to the sum of human misery. What did they do when they tried to recruit to the Army? When a man had to make his choice of a profession it might well be that he suffered some misfortune, and at that moment the State stepped in and took him very often as a recruit for the Army without his full sanction. He had confined his Motion largely to the Regular infantry. He wished to state that he knew many men who had served in that force with great credit to themselves and to the Army. His Motion principally referred to another class who had not and could not become efficient soldiers. They were enlisted in an undignified manner. Recruiting officers endeavoured to attract men who were hungry and because they were hungry, and the men signed on for a number of years owing to their then circumstances, whereas, if they had had proper time to think over the matter, they would probably not have adopted a military career. Those unwilling soldiers did not add to the strength of the Army. In regard to this question, he would not deal so much with the disastrous effects on the Army itself as with the social results. This undignified method of entrapping men having been adopted, let the House consider whether there was any justification for the allegation that there were in the Army, owing to the system of service and the prospects held out, large numbers of unwilling soldiers. The annual report of the Army was very sad reading. He asked hon. Members to consider for a moment the case of men who left the Army within three months of joining it. A soldier could be of no use for defending India or other garrison service until he had served four or live years. Those who left in three months proved that they were unwilling soldiers. The penalties for desertion were heavy, and no man would face them unless he was very dissatisfied with the service, and the actual punishment for desertion debarred a soldier from employment in the future, because he lost that exemplary character which was essential if he was to be an efficient servant of the State after he had left the Army. Last year more than one in every ten of the men in the regular Army, or 107 per 1,000, left the Army for various causes such as desertion, dismissal, or purchase within three months of joining. He had compared those figures with the police force, in which he found that approximately only one in forty left within three months of joining the force. Why was there this great discrepancy? There was one illuminating page in the document to which he had referred giving the number who had become non-effective before three years were up. Out of 28,000 men enlisted three and a half years ago, no fewer than 9,000 had become non-effective before completing three years service. If one considered the money cost of those men, it would be soon what an absurd system it was under which the Sta[...]e enlisted 9,000 men and spent £100 a year upon each, and afterwards found that they had never been of the least use. With regard to crime in the Army, it was not like crime in civil life, because it was crime under the particular code of laws under which the soldier served. He had often thought it would be a good thing if soldiers were placed under the ordinary law. Although many of the soldiers' crimes were mostly moral delinquencies, the effects were the same, because a soldier lost his good character by going to prison. How many went to prison from the infantry? He had found that a little more than one in every twenty of the Regular infantry at home went to prison every year. When they reflected that going to prison meant not only suffering imprisonment, but also a loss of character hon. Members would see that there was some justification for the words be had used that the present system of recruiting added more to the sum of human misery than any other organisation in the body politic. He had denounced this system on many occasions and he denounced it again that night, it might be asked what was the particular vicious principle which was the cause of these evils. They might inquire why one in every twenty should go to prison every year when in the case of the Metropolitan Police only one in 12,000 went to prison each year. Why should there be this extraordinary discrepancy? The reason was that we had unwilling soldiers, and that was owing to the fact that we had a method of recruiting which was unknown to any other country in the world or to any other service in this country. We took a man just when he should be looking out for a profession or a trade, and enlisted him into something which was neither the one thing nor the other. Nothing which the infantry soldier learned was of any use to him in civil life. Attempts had been made to teach the soldier a real trade, but they had not been successful. It was his belief that we should never have the Army we needed until the Army was made a profession and career for every man who joined it. The voluntary Army of America cost nearly £300 or £400 per man, and out of a population nearly double that of this country America had an Army immeasurably smaller than ours. All other countries had conscript armies, where every man had to serve, and each man suffered the disability of being withdrawn from civil employment for a fixed period of years. Every other country provided a career for the soldiers. If hon. Members put themselves in the place of an inhabitant of another planet, looking at this question de novo, they would find that in this island postal telegraphists, policemen, marine men and the men in the Navy all had a life career given to them, and their future was assured. But in the Army alone the State took men when it suited its purpose, and afterwards threw the men back upon the labour market like a squeezed lemon. It was a ridiculous and a wrong system, and it was wasteful of money, because the men who were supposed to be ready for active service were not ready. He did not think it would be an easy thing for the Secretary of State for War to send one single battalion of troops abroad without calling up the reserves except at such a low strength that it would be ridiculous to send it out at all. The system was far more wasteful in regard to human happiness and health. Of all the different occupations which the State exacted from its children, the Army was the one which took most out of the men. Therefore the Army was the first of all occupations in which the State should be careful to take men of the best character and to give them a life career. He believed that the only solution was that the State must absolutely abandon this system of enlisting men at the age of seventeen or eighteen for seven years, and thon throwing them back upon the labour market without a pension. He was convinced that this system added to the evil of unemployment, and could not produce an efficient Army. The State must enlist men as it enlisted the police and the Royal Irish Constabulary or other public employment. It must enlist men of full age who would be ready after a few months service to proceed to those foreign stations for which they were required. As to length of service, he did not desire to say anything beyond stating that it was essential, in view of danger to health of the occupation of a soldier, and of the impossibility of teaching him a trade, to give him a life career, and employment or pension, or both. The Secretary of State for War might say that this would add to the cost of the Army, and that he had a dread of increasing the pension list. He wished to urge that during many years past various Secretaries of State, in order to satisfy so-called economists who always wished to see the greatest number of men at the smallest amount of cost, had sacrificed the happiness and welfare of thousands of men. By this system the War Office must of necessity enlist men whom they knew could never become efficient soldiers. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon had said that this method of enlisting men must come to an end if we were to have an effective Army. Although he differed from subsequent suggestions of the right hon. Gentleman, at that point he was at one with him. So long as the State continue to entrap men into the Army, and then throw them back upon the labour market, a very heavy responsibility rested upon it. He believed this was an unfair and a mean thing on the part of the State. One could hardly look into the newspapers any day without seeing an account of some soldier being found in the workhouse, after having served his country faithfully. Frequently soldiers committed a crime in order to leave the Army. Therefore it was necessary to put an end to that state of thing, to assimilate the Army to other State employment, and to give a soldier a life career. This was the true Army reform, because the present system was the root of the trouble. It was necessary to look not only at the military force they would exert but also at the effect the system would have upon the body politic. For these reasons he commended his Resolution to the House, believing that the arguments he had urged were almost unanswerable. The evil was great, and he hoped that some amendment might be made in the present system which would at least provide a happy, efficient, and contented Army.

MR. GUEST (Cardiff district)

, in seconding the Motion, said he was very glad that his hon. and gallant friend had raised this question of recruiting, because upon it hinged the whole problem of the Army and military organisation and preparation. The mover of the Motion had alluded to the social side of our present military system, and the way in which recruits were obtained. He proposed to look at the military side of the problem, because he contended that that was not less affected than the social side. Everyone agreed that their object ought to be to devise, if possible, the most economical and the most efficient military system. What about economy? At present the Army cost this country £30,000,000 a year, and it cost the taxpayers of India another £22,000,000 a year. Our military system was the most expensive in the whole world. One would expect, seeing that relatively we had a small Army, that we should have with such a vast expenditure very great efficiency, but we did not get it. The efficiency of the Army was prevented and interfered with principally in two ways. In the first place, a great many men in the Army were immature and could not be used either for garrison duty in India or for campaigning. But beyond that there was a great waste going on. The present practice in the Army was to take men at least two years under the age at which they could serve in India or in a campaign. As the authorities had adopted in the past the system of seven years with the Colours, it was obvious that two-sevenths of the force at any moment was in a state of immaturity and could not be relied upon for any practical purposes. Apart from that immaturity, there was the waste. The Annual Report of the Army showed that the waste in 1904, exclusive of those who went to the Reserve, amounted to 30,000 men. Perhaps he ought to deduct from this total the 6,000 men who completed their engagement. Those figures showed a net waste of 24,000 men in the year 1904. In 1905 the waste was as bad as in 1904, there being a net loss of over 20,000. That was a very serious thing. Surely this very costly system should at least give some efficiency and some guarantee against such a tremendous loss from immaturity and other causes. He believed the size of the Army was responsible for the great loss. Every soldier cost the country £100 a year, and the size and cost were in direct relation. But the size and efficiency of the Army were also in direct relation, because so long as we enlisted men who were not at the moment of value as a military power and who could never become of any use, so long would the system continue to be extravagant and wasteful. Therefore, if there was to be any satisfactory reform in the Army, it must take the direction of the reduc- tion of the size of the Army and an extension of the period for which the men served. The normal period now was seven years with the Colours and five with the Reserve. If one took 150,000 infantry of the line, which was approximately their present force, and assumed that they served on the basis of seven years with the Colours and five with the Reserve, it would be found that theoretically we should require 21,500 recruits. If the period with the colours were nine years instead of seven it would be found that a similar force could be maintained by 16,500, or a difference of 5,000 recruits. It was obvious therefore that the longer the War Office made the term of service the smaller they made the demand on the recruiting market. It seemed to him that on the acceptance of that fact must rest to a great extent any improvement in the status and quality of the recruits. Of course it would be said that the system of nine years with the colours, leaving only three years in the Reserve, gave very much too small a Reserve. He observed that the Reserve on the nine years system was only 49,000 as against 107,000 on the other side, but what was there in the period of twelve years which was so sacred? Why was it that the system of Reserve service should be confined rigidly to twelve years? Why not fifteen years service? With a fifteen years service, soldiers would servo nine years with the colours and six with the Reserves, and we should get 99,000 Reservists against 107,000, and the number of recruits would remain the same—;that was to say, 16,500. It seemed to him that if the Secretary of State for War was to improve the quality of his Army he would be obliged to accept as a permanency a period of nine years with the colours. He did not know that nine years with the colours was intended by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon to be permanent, but if improvement was to be made the longer period of service with the colours would have to be definitely adopted. This applied to the present force, but some hon. Members hoped very strongly that the Secretary of State for War would see his way to reduce the sum total of the force borne on the Estimates. Was that reduction possible? He thought it was. Where should the reduction take place? Was it to be by a reduction at home or abroad? The reduction he believed would take the shape of a reduction in the number of battalions. It seemed clear that anyone who believed in the doctrine of the blue water school, or any doctrine of that kind, would take the view that the requirements for the defence of our shores from invasion would permit us to effect a very considerable reduction in the home force. If they could reduce the infantry of the Line by 50,000 men, mainly from the home establishment, so that they had only to provide 100,000 instead of 150,000 men, and if they adopted the principle of nine years with the colours and six years with the Reserve, they would only need 11,000 recruits annually. There would then be a probability of a real improvement in the class of recruits received, and if they went further and gave a pension after long service then he thought they might with confidence expect to get men at twenty years of age of high character, who would not desert, and who would not have to be put in prison. His point was that if we had a smaller Army and a longer period of service with that colours we would be able to get a better class of recruits, and to get rid of those men whom we must enlist now, although the recruiting sergeants and medical officers knew that they would never be of any value to the State as a military asset. What would become of the linked battalion system if we were to have a smaller Army? It was clear that the equipoise, which was something like a fiction at present, would be totally destroyed. The system called in War Office circles "On short tour," by which the force serving in the Mediterranean were supposed to be on the home establishment, might be said to have saved the face of the linked battalion equipoise in the past, but if there was a further considerable reduction of the battalions in England, it seemed to him that no extension of the system of counting South Africa or any other place abroad as a home station would enable the War Office to keep up the linked battalion equipose. That would disappear, and he did not know but that it would be a very good thing. It had been a greater stumbling block to successive Secretaries of State than almost anything else. The linked battalion system would, under these conditions, have to go altogether, and we should have to rely on the depot system; but the number of drafts would be much smaller. It would then not be a long step to a long-service Army. He did not know whether the Secretary of State was prepared to take that step, but it was the logical outcome of the considerations which the recruiting problem had forced upon the minds of those who had given it a great deal of attention. Surely there was a prima facie case for this proposal. He thought the Secretary of State should at least undertake to show why this was an impossible system. Its frank adoption would be an enormous economy. A reduction of one-third of the Army in all its branches must mean a similar reduction in its cost, or a saving on the estimated cost of the Army next year, exclusive of auxiliaries, of £9,000,000, and it would only need a sum of £4,000,000 properly and wisely spent on the development of the Militia to enable us to count on a good and efficient second line of defence. Of course there was the question of pensions. One thing was certain—;India would be prepared to pay her share. Further, there would be a much smaller number of men coming out of the Army than under the present system, and those men might, to a great extent, be absorbed into Government employment. If those two facts were considered, the difficulty of pension of which so much was made as against a long-service Army would be found to be greatly exaggerated. He was glad to be associated with his hon. and gallant friend in this matter, and he hoped the House would see its way to support the Motion, for beyond doubt on the question of recruiting the whole possibilities of any efficiency and economy depended.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That under the present system large numbers of men are recruited for the regular infantry who cannot become efficient soldiers, while at the same time it is found difficult to obtain the number placed on the Estimates; and that, in the opinion of this House, an amendment of the existing system is urgently required.'—;(Major Seely)


remarked upon the fact that when such a subject as this, which was of vital importance, and which affected expenditure perhaps more than any other question discussed this session, was brought before the House it excited the interest of Members to a markedly less degree than many questions which appeared, to him at least, to be of slight importance. He was glad that the hon. and gallant Member for the Abercromby Division had given the House an opportunity of discussing a problem which he truly said was at the foundation of a great part, at all events, of the whole Army problem, for he was interested to hear how soon and how close the hon. Gentleman and his seconder had come to the view he had always maintained, and which he believed to offer the solution of the Army problem. He would not, however, enter into controversial matters. He himself wished to say a few words on the matter, not because for a short time he had been connected with the War Department, but because for twenty-five years he had been a very close student of the question of recruiting and had endeavoured to make himself acquainted with the problem not only as it appeared on paper, but also in flesh and blood. He both agreed and disagreed with the hon. and gallant Member. He did not agree that there was a failure to obtain the number of recruits required; but he did agree that the system under which they were obtained and the method by which they were applied were capable of a great deal of amendment. Some main facts in regard to recruiting wove not understood as they ought to be. Quantity we had, but quality we had not; and we were not applying what we had in the most economical and effective manner. The statement that there was a falling off in recruiting last year required great qualification. The total falling off during the year ending December 31st, 1905, was 4,600 men; but that was compared with the largest recruiting year ever experienced in time of peace, and when it was remembered that the recruiting in the latter year was accompanied by the largest number of rejections for unfitness ever experienced they would probably have the view which he entertained that the past year was one of the most profitable recruiting years known. The hon. Member for Cardiff had spoken of the lamentable waste of men. A very large proportion of that waste was in young soldiers who ought never to have been enlisted. Last year the Army refused to take those men. There was a screwing up of the terms of physical qualification such as had never been known before, and the result was that during the summer months there was a very marked reduction in the number of results attested owing to this raising of the physical standard. He ventured now to prophesy that that action would be followed by a smaller amount of waste from the Army in subsequent years than there had been for many a long day. His experience went back to the Admiralty as well as to the War Office, and he well remembered that when they introduced the enforcement of characters for the Royal Marines—;a step afterwards followed in the Army, though perhaps not so rigidly as in the Navy—;the rejections in the Royal Marines fell 90 per cent. in six months and he was quite confident that if they extended that plan of increasing the rejections before the men got into the ranks they would have far fewer rejections from the Army and far less expenditure.

Did the House realise how many men were really giving military service to the Crown? At the present time no fewer than 960,000 were serving and drawing pay, directly or indirectly, from this country every year for service in the Navy, Army, Militia, Volunteers and the Royal Irish Constabulary, and this in time of peace. It constituted a tremendous draft on the population of the country, and if it were the case that it could not be made to meet the actual need then the House would have to consider very carefully the proposition which had been so often urged on them of compulsory service, which he for his part devoutly hoped might long be postponed and indeed altogether avoided. In 1904 the actual number of men raised for the Army and Militia was 77,335. If he deducted from that the men who passed from the Militia to the Regular Army, the net result would be about 63,000 men. How many men did we want? A very simple answer could be given. The hon. Member for Cardiff had truly said that the longer the period of service the smaller the demand for recruiting. But he only indicated very briefly, and by implication only, that to have a purely long-service Army would necessitate a short-service Army also under another name. They might call it a short-service Army or they might call it a Militia, as they pleased. The hon. Member had asked why we could not have a purely short-service Army; He would tell him. On the basis of the Army as it now stood they would not have enough to mobilise in time of war, much less to supply the waste of war when it had begun. If they reduced the quantity of the Army, they would reduce the Reserve to an absolutely negligible amount, and therefore it was necessary to have some other source from which to supply the Reserve. If they increased the length of service from two to three years they would have a large margin of recruits available, and if they increased the number of long-service battalions they would diminish the demand for recruits. At present there were enough to meet the real demands for the battalions in India. Under the long-service system 110 to 120 men were required annually for each battalion there. Under our present system that demand was enormously exaggerated. To furnish 104 long-service battalions and seventy-one short service with two years training, there were required 19,600 men for short service and 12,000 for long service. If the service were for three years, the number required would be 12,000 long and 13,150 short service, or 4,600 less than the recruits actually taken for the Regular Infantry alone in 1904. Thus without impinging on the Militia they would on the basis of two years short service with their present recruiting strength obtain the whole number required with the exception of 4,000 men, while if they increased the length of the service from two to three years they would have a large margin of recruits available. There was an ample recruiting reserve at present if only our resources were properly utilised. The difficulty was not the number but the quality of the recruits, and that was mainly a question of how they dealt with the men they had got. The terms of service were not the trouble. The Army now was a very good career while the man was serving. The pay was high, the feeding good, and the conditions under which the soldier lived were excellent. But they had to face the fact that we were not getting for the expenditure all that the country had a right to demand. It was not a radical revolution that was required at all. There were a great many men serving the country in other branches of the Army who were entirely satisfied with the terms they obtained, and there were excellent men filling those branches. Moreover, they could obtain men for the Navy, for the Royal Marines, for the constabulary and the police on terms which, so far as money went, were not greatly superior to those which were offered to the infantry of the Line. But there were other considerations which deserved the consideration of the Secretary of State. He would warn him against too literally accepting the opinions of officers on one point. There was no army in the world where the association between officers and men was closer or the feeling better than in our own; but he believed that the officers, by reason of living so long in contact with one state of things, were slow to recognise how the world was changing outside the ranks of the Army, and were sometimes prone to give advice which, if accepted, would make us slow in altering the conditions of Army service to keep pace with the conditions of civil life The barrack accommodation was bad. Improvement there had been, but it was in no way commensurate with the expenditure. He regretted that the right hon. Gentleman had suspended the experiment which he desired to see tried of building barracks designed by the Director of Barrack Construction, the same architect who designed the great Rowton houses. Then there was the question of improving the amenities of barrack life. He had seen recruits examined and tested, numbers of men and boys standing stripped for an hour in one room. There was probably no class of society in which a man or boy, on entering on his career, would like to find himself associated for an hour under those circumstances, with a number of strange men and boys. Steps were taken immediately to alter the practice. That was one of the small things which effected outside views of the position of the soldier. He believed it might be possible to allow old soldiers to live in their own homes or in lodgings instead of in barracks, but in the interests of discipline this would not be reasonable for boys or young soldiers. But probably the most important matter of all was the employment of soldiers on discharge. That was the great key of the problem. What a man wanted when he went into the Army was not the chance of charity but the assurance of employment. The thing could be done, but in one way only. He believed that by reducing the number of men who were taken for long service, by extending the period of service, and by giving to the men who had engaged for long service the opportunity of prolonging their career in the Army at home, by retaining them for the instruction of those who had engaged for a period not so long, they would go far to solve this problem. He believed the problem was not an insoluble one. It was not a question of numbers. It was a question of dealing with the men when they had them, and of appropriating them to the purposes for which they were required. He had said that the greatest difficulty of all was the want of employment at the end of a soldier's service with the colours. But he was not sure that the attitude of the House was not a still greater difficulty. He had always felt that it was lamentable that the Army should be spoken of in the House as it very often was. They too often heard it talked of as a sort of necessary evil, a thing to be tolerated and accepted because they could not for the moment get rid of it, but he had very seldom—;well, he would not say very seldom, but he had not always—;heard it talked of as what he believed it to be—;one of the most important branches of service in the country. He could not express to the House the sense he had always felt, in dealing with Army matters, of the difficulty created by the want on the part of hon. Members of sympathy for the Army as a great service. He believed nothing did the Army more harm than the refusal to give it the same appreciation and sympathy and good will that was accorded to the Navy. He believed the Army was worthy of that sympathy and good will; and, if they could have a new and happier tone imparted into discussions about the personnel of the Army under the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War, he believed it would be repaid over and over again. If they made the service popular he believed their difficulties would vanish, and that the Army would be cheaper, more easily recruited, and more effective in war.


I think the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down takes a somewhat too gloomy view of the attitude of the House of Commons towards the Army. I know there are many, and there always will be many, who chafe under the burden and the curse of war. But they recognise that the Army is there, not through any fault of its own, but through the defects of human nature; and so long as those defects exist, and so long as it is necessary to make provision for national defence, then our Army is a thing of which we ought, in so far as we can, to be proud. That being so, I believe that this debate illustrates a growth in healthy tone as regards the Army. Nobody who has listened to the speeches could fail to be conscious of the recognition on all hands of the great fact that there is a large social problem connected with the Army. You cannot have and maintain a body of men so enormous as this in your midst, sending out from itself discharged soldiers and taking in men who are to become soldiers, without its profoundly affecting the health and well-being of the social organism. And, therefore, the maintenance of the level of the common soldier is something which concerns us not merely as interested in military affairs, but as interested in the social health of the nation at large. I was very glad to recognise in every speech that has been made a growing consciousness, I think it is, of that fact. We all feel that it is an obligation, not merely of policy, but of conscience, to try to make the lot of the soldier bettor than it is. We all respond to the appeal of the right hon. Gentleman and to the appeals which fell from the hon. and gallant Gentleman and the hon. Member who sits behind him. We all feel the force of those appeals—;that we should address ourselves to the task of trying to make the career of the private who enters the Army a better one than it is at the present time. It is quite true that the system which we possess is disorganised in many respects and chaotic. It is quite true that a man who is taken into a very searching employment at eighteen and kept until he is twenty-seven and then sent out to search for civil employment competes at a disadvantage, and that we owe it to him that we should do everything in our power especially to assist him on whom we rely and have to rely for so much, and to whom we are under so deep a national obligation. Therefore, I was glad to see in all the speeches the recognition of that obligation as regards employment. There is no doubt that progress, substantial progress, is being made in that direction. Much remains yet to be done. We have a Committee sitting at the War Office just now upon this subject, and the information which it is collecting is useful and valuable information. But I think the main discoveries are rather that there is much to be done than that all things have been accomplished that are to be accomplished. There has been the want of organisation, the want of an attempt to bring into harmony the conditions of life and service of the soldier with the conditions of life and service when he passes from the Regular ranks into the Reserve. These questions are open. There is one method to which allusion has been made to-night which is of importance. I mean the chance that there is of teaching to the soldier some sort of trade. That is a thing which we have never taken up. It has been done in the Navy. Anybody who goes on board a training ship, anybody who has been on board the "Vernon," for instance, is familiar with the spectacle of the naval officer teaching the sailors, it may be, very often it is, electrical theory and the application of electrical theory to practice, and the result is that when the sailor leaves the Navy he becomes a person who is sought after for employment as an electrician, as a chauffeur, or whatever it may be. This systematic process of teaching is not so easy in the Army. In the first place, most of the time of the young recruit requires to be devoted to the perfecting of himself in his military education. But then, after that, he is moved; he goes abroad, he is constantly being shifted, and it is not easy to got that large amount of training that one could desire in those branches of special knowledge. But the thing is possible, and a commencement has been made. I am glad to think that the indications are all that this will increase, that the beginnings already accomplished will be carried further, so that I am not without hope that substantial progress may be made in the teaching to the soldier of something which may enable him the better to seek for employment when he passes into the Reserve.

Then there is another topic which was taken up by the right hon. Gentleman and also by other speakers. That is the state of recruiting. They pointed to the figures, which, I admit, although I think they have been somewhat unduly magnified to-night, show the state of recruiting, and they said, "The state is very significant; recruiting is falling off; people do not care to come into the Army as they did before." The right hon. Gentleman afterwards made some criticism upon the figures given and the arguments used, which, I think, were not without force. It is quite true that recruiting for the infantry of the Line has fallen off very much, but then it is plain, when you look at the statistics, that it is because recruiting for every other arm has gone up, and it will be found when the time comes for closing down the recruiting for other arms that the recruiting for the Line is very much what it was in the past if not little bettor. I have here some figures which have not yet been published, giving the results of recruiting according to the weekly Returns up to date. The House is in possession of the Report, to which reference has been made, giving the figures up to the end of September last, but the figures I am going to refer to are since then. I am going to take from October 1st, 1904, to April 21st, 1905, and compare that with October 1st, 1905, to April 21st, 1906. Taking that period last year the recruiting for the infantry was 14,422. The recruiting for all arms was 21,437. Taking the same period in 1905–6, the recruiting for the infantry shows the very serious falling off of nearly 3,000. It fell to 11,444. But the recruiting for all arms, including infantry, rose to 21,611, as against 21,437 in the previous year. That is due to the desire to enter the cavalry and artillery in preference to the infantry, those two being always the rather more popular and slightly better-paid arms. But as recruiting for these arms is somewhat closed down, which it will be when things are at a normal level, then I think it will be found that recruiting for the infantry of the Line will revert to its normal condition. It is very curious that there seems to be a solid mass of material out of which recruiting for the Army takes place. It is curious how nearly constant it is. It suggests to one that there is a class of young man, perhaps about eighteen, who may not find himself very well circumstanced, who may have found that fortune buffeted him rather hard, who may have found it not very easy to get into a trade, and he goes into the Army. It is quite true that we should like to feel that the Army was such an attractive position that we got the very cream. But we get some very good men, although we get some rather rough ones; and the effect of the system is, I think, undoubtedly that those who may be very unfortunate when they recruit may become different creatures altogether after a time. With one thing which the right hon. Gentleman opposite did I most cordially agree—;he raised the standard. The percentage of medical rejections has gone up. That is not altogether an evil in regard to recruiting, because it stopped the leakage at the other end. Reference was made by my hon. and gallant friend, the Member for the Abercromby Division, to the wastage, and it is very interesting to follow out the figures, which are curious. To begin with, there may be said to be three great causes of wastage, there is "not likely to make efficient soldiers "—;the technical description, there is misconduct, and there is miscellaneous. One is very apt, looking at the recent figures from the beginning of 1905, to be misled by the first heading. My hon. and gallant friend noticed, I think, that the number had increased to 1,822 as against 1,373 in the previous year. Well, there is a reason for that, and it is that a new system was brought into operation; instead of the depot being, as it used to be, under the charge of a colonel who was responsible for sending out whoever was supposed to be inefficient and was responsible only to the commander-in-chief of the district, the new system, brought about by the changes suggested in the Esher Committee Report and sanctioned by this House, is that the regiments are grouped. There is a major in charge of the depot, the major is under control of the brigadier, and he is a very much more strict person to deal with than the old-fashioned colonel and old-fashioned commander-in-chief. The result was that they raised the percentage at first, but it is because they did not lose at the other end. In the most recent statistics it is striking to notice the improvement, which, I think, goes through the Army as a whole. I take the same five months I took before, the period at the end of 1905 and the beginning of 1906. Taking the latest figures, the invalids were 1,692, as compared with 1,341 this year. There, I think, I can trace the beneficent operation of the right hon. Gentleman's stiffening of the medical tests. As to those not likely to make efficient soldiers, they began to sink this year, and were 666, as compared with 713 in the year before. As to misconduct, there has boon a drop, comparing 1904–5 with 1905–6, from 1,306 to 955. The fact is that all through the Army there is distinct evidence that a social movement has set in. Take temperance. Nothing is more striking than the number of times, when you walk down among the men and ask them what they take, that you get the answer "Kops" That indicates a striking change of attitude, and that expression may be heard still more often in the future than in the past. There is no doubt that the cause of Army temperance is advancing. Better education, better conditions, a great improvement, I think, in the zeal and earnestness of the officers—;and the South African War has been a stimulating influence among our officers—;all these things are combining to improve the social level of the Army. Although there is much to do, and I am the last person to say that things are as they should be, I do recognise that things are better than they have been. It rests with us to make them better still. My hon. friend behind me travelled into a very debateable region, and touched on the great question whether you could not improve things more by adopting a new Army system. Perhaps he is right; but the topic of controversy is so enormous that if we were to enter on it our proceedings would be very much lengthened. The right hon. Gentleman opposite administered a gentle rebuke to my hon. friend as to long service. "Why," he asked, "did you not accept my system of two Armies, of long and short service?" Thereby hangs a tale, and I leave it to the conscience of my hon. friends who form what is termed the Army group in this House to reconcile it to themselves why they did not accept that proposition of the right hon. Member for Croydon. At any rate, I feel that the Member for Croydon in touching on it really gave the answer to my hon. friend the Member for Cardiff, because he showed that the question opened up was so enormous that really it could not be discussed within the compass of this debate. Moreover, I doubt whether it is really germane to the Motion, except, so far, perhaps, as it affects recruiting by the temptation to enter on a soldier's career. I can only, therefore, make the briefest observation on it. Suppose you have a long service Army, the first question is, What is it going to cost you? That lies at the root of the matter. My hon. friend thought he saw his way to the saving of £9,000,000. I should be very much obliged to him if he helped me to that; but he did not develop the way in which that could really be brought about. Let me point out that I think there is great force in the contention of the right hon. Gentleman that you cannot have a long-service Army without a short-service Army too. We have tried a long-service Army in this country; we tried very hard, and turned from it at last with a shudder. It was the greatest failure, I think, of all the things we have ever had. I fancy the point of my hon. friend was that you were to have a long-service Army because you were to furnish a career to the soldier for life, which would relieve him of the necessity of looking for civil employment, and leave him with a pension.


said he meant that if there was a longer service, a smaller demand would be made on the recruiting market, and a better class of recruits would be got.


Is that so? The medical statistics show that the invalided cases increase to an appalling extent, particularly in tropical countries, and past the age of thirty, under the present system. With the old soldier, moreover, you had an amount of wastage which we do not get under the present system. And how are you to get the men for long service?


We can get them now for nine years.


But my hon. friend wants more than nine years, and you certainly must go further than that if you are to tide the soldier over the period now spent in civil employment to his pension. You cannot give men a pension after nine years, at least I should not like to be responsible for the Army Estimates if you did. What you want is men below thirty for the Army; after that, experience shows you get wastage. The ideal system would seem to be one of turning out men at that age, and securing if you can civil employment for them; and by dint of reorganisation I think a good deal may be done in that direction. But again I ask, how are you to get the men for this long service? Are you going to recruit them at twenty-one? Why at twenty-one a man is married and has a family. The exception only proves the rule. At twenty-one if a man is ever going to get any occupation he has got it, the best men have got it, and men without occupation at that age would be men of a lower class than the men without occupation at eighteen. When you send a man out who is married you send his wife and children out, and schoolmasters to teach them, and you must do that to a much greater extent under those conditions. And then you send him out to, it may be, a tropical country which does not suit a man above that age.

MR. PIRIE (Aberdeen, N.)

asked how were men of twenty-one recruited in other countries.


They get them, under the conscript system, by taking them by the neck and bringing them in. If that system were proposed in this country I am afraid it would lead to a great deal of trouble. What we require is an Army to serve abroad in tropical lands. You cannot get an Army to serve abroad under conscription. But the question between long service and short service was wisely left outside the Motion by my hon. and gallant friend who moved it. There were other topics to which he alluded that deserve the close consideration of the House; and if this Motion had assumed the form of urging the improvement of the social condition of the soldier with a view not only of facilitating recruiting, but of making the career of the soldier better than it is, I should gladly have accepted it and have had it placed on record as the opinion of this House of Commons. The House will see that I am not unsympathetic towards the spirit which has animated my hon. and gallant friend in moving this Motion or the purpose which he has in view. Indeed I agree with that purpose. But I think the terms proposed go too far, that the Motion is not worded precisely in the form which would best express the opinions which we all entertain more or less, and I should certainly desire to see the Motion a little more closely drafted before accepting it.

* CAPTAIN KINCAID SMITH (Warwickshire, Stratford-upon-Avon)

moved as an Amendment to the Motion to add at the end—; And any such Amendment should include the introduction of physical drill of a military character in our schools. He thought that in spite of what the right hon. Gentleman had said there would be few hon. Members who would not be to a certain extent in agreement with the Resolution of the hon. Member for the Abercromby Division of Liverpool. If the Resolution had been less vague, and had contained some definite proposition, he for one would have hesitated in placing an Amendment on the Paper. The hon. Member's speech was principally a plea for giving the soldier a life career. He thought they were all in favour of that, but was there any prospect of adopting it after what the right hon. Gentleman had said? He could not gather that the hon. Member for the Abercromby Divison had put forward any solution of this difficult military problem. Taking into consideration that the question of recruiting was very difficult, and also that no small improvement in the pay of the private soldier or slight improvement in his surroundings was likely to result in obtaining a better class of recruits, he asked the House to express approval of the principle that no alteration in the present system of recruiting was likely to produce any useful result, unless they introduced at the same time in the schools a system of military training up to the age of eighteen. Such a system was advocated by that great soldier, Lord Roberts. It would produce a vast reserve—;a male population which in any national emergency would provide a number of men who after a few months training would be fit to take their places either alongside or against Continental armies. It was idle to jump to the conclusion that this was conscription in disguise. All that was advocated was that the usual school exercises should be supplemented by others of a more distinctive military character. What harm could it do a boy to be able to walk straight and handle a rifle? He was as much against conscription as any hon. Member in the House. Conscription was impossible in this country for many reasons, but he would mention only two—;it would not provide the Army for India, and it was unnecessary for home service. There was only one argument in favour of conscription, and that was that where there was such difficulty in procuring work for our soldiers after their period of service, under conscription every man would be on a level in the labour market. That was the great difficulty—;to provide work. The right hon. Gentleman had said there was a Committee sitting on this question, but personally he believed their labours would never solve the problem. He did not think they would ever provide a scheme by which men who became soldiers because they could not find work would be able to find work when they left the colours. Those who came from the casual labour market, and unfortunately they were the majority, were not likely to be any more fitted for obtaining employment on leaving the colours. No scheme was ever likely to solve that knotty problem. There was an idea to teach soldiers whilst serving with the colours, but he was told that this was impossible except in the case of a few. Some hon. Members might laugh at his suggestion of military training up to the age of eighteen, but in a day of national calamity they might be forced to adopt real conscription. He was confident, however, that their masters would never consent to conscription except after the most appalling disaster—;in fact when the word "war" meant the same thing to the quiet little country village in this country as it did to the little village on a European frontier. We should teach our youth that war was harmful, but we should teach them at the same time that they could not have peace by hoping for it and being unprepared for war. They should also be taught that it was the duty of all to do a little towards fitting themselves to take their place in a national emergency. If we had military training up to the age of eighteen we should have a large male population able with a little training to face a Continental army. There was a great danger in pushing too far the doctrine of quality merely. He believed that in a European war expert efficiency would not win the day over great odds. If the State was to undertake the responsibility of feeding school children, they should require more time to be given to the service of the State. The Minister for War had won golden opinions from all sides, because so far he had done nothing. The right hon. Gentleman had negotiated no great reform, but if the words of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer meant anything it was that the Minister for War would do something next year. If, however, he relied on his present material he was predoomed to failure. Probably his military advisers, if they had not told him so outright, had hinted at it. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would say that the policy Lord Roberts was advocating would receive full and sympathetic consideration from the Government. If hon. Members hesitated to support this Amendment, it would be because they feared the difficulty of persuading an infinitesimal proportion of their masters, the electors, that this was not the first step towards conscription, but the only policy which stood between this country and conscription. He begged to move.

COLONEL SANDYS (Lancashire, Bootle)

in seconding the Amendment, said that the mere fact that the scheme of Lord Roberts emanated from a distintinguished soldier must, prima facie, recommend it to the favourable notice of the House. Looking at the subject as a practical soldier, he believed that a knowledge of military drill among our youth must conduce very much to the safety of the country. Not only would its acquisition by the young men of the country tend to make the Army as an institution more widely respected, but it was a valuable means of physical training, especially for the time when these young men became soldiers. The preliminary training in the elements of drill, and in habits of obedience to authority and discipline was a factor of the greatest importance in making soldiers; and therefore the proposal of the hon. Member was one which he had the greatest pleasure in seconding. In looking at the question of recruiting, he asserted that the point they had to attend to in order to get men into the Army was to provide something for them at the end of their training. He remembered on one occasion marching with his company at the time the short service system was introduced and when recruits were difficult to get. He put a question to a colour-sergeant as to what was the reason for the falling-off in recruiting. He asked whether it was the foreign service or the long service that they did not like, and whether in his opinion recruiting would be better when the service was shortened. His reply was that the men did not mind either foreign or long service, but what they did want was something to look forward to at the end of their service. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War would do all he could to bring about that result. If men were to be asked to give the cream of their lives in the service of the country the House was bound in return to provide the training by which these men might be enabled to maintain themselves as skilled labourers when they left the Army. In the depôts there should be a system of enlistment for boys similar to that which prevailed in the Navy. At the end of the five or six years of their boys' service the youths should be received as trained soldiers into the ranks of the Army; but during those five or six years in the depôts the lads should be taught the elements of a handicraft, so that when they left the Army they would be able to take their places in civil life as men who could handle tools and earn their livelihood as skilled workmen. He believed that the House of Commons was beginning to see the necessity for having an efficient and contented Army, and it was not satisfied with the spectacle which was too often seen, of men who had given the best part of their lives to the service of their country ending their days in the workhouse or asking for alms in the street. That, in his opinion, was a national disgrace. In conclusion he hoped that the Secretary of State for War would seriously consider his suggestion that boys should be enlisted for the Army in the same way as they entered the Navy.

Amendment proposed—; At the end, to add the words 'and any such Amendment should include the introduction of physical drill of a military character in our schools.'"—;(Captain Kincaid-Smith.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."


hoped that the Amendment would be withdrawn. [Cries of "No."] The Secretary of State had made an offer which ought to be accepted. It was most desirable that the House should place on record that it was deeply concerned, not only with the soldier in the ranks, but with his after career. The Amendment was not relevant to the Resolution, and was of so far-reaching a character that it ought to be debated separately and fully. The original Motion was to call attention to the state of recruiting for the Army, but this Amendment introduced a suggestion that there should be physical drill of a military character in the schools, and he thought it was the opinion of a great majority of hon. Members that that was undesirable. That was a subject of such far-reaching effect that it ought not to be brought up at the fag end of a discussion, but should be seriously argued at sufficient length upon a proper occasion. Both from a tactical and strategical point of view he hoped the Amendment would be withdrawn. To say that there ought to be physical drill in a school was to state something which was already accepted by the education authority, and everybody interested in education agreed that the physical development of the body must go along with the intellectual development of the mind. He did not see why they should tack on to that the question of the drill in the schools assuming a military character. He had always taken a deep interest in the Volunteer movement and they got the Volunteers at the early age of seventeen. The Amendment raised a very important subject, and he hoped it would be withdrawn in order that they might arrive at the important decision to which the Secretary of State for War had assented.

MR. HUNT (Shropshire, Ludlow)

said that for the last three years the experiment had been tried in the elementary school in the district in which he resided of teaching the children to shoot with a single bullet, and also to shoot in teams and to shoot quickly. He thought that would be a great advantage to them in future if they were over called upon to serve their country. He thought that all the boys ought to be trained to shoot with a single bullet, and they ought to be given a certain amount of military drill. The expense was trifling, and the thing once learnt would never be forgotten.

MR. SEDDON (Lancashire, Newton)

said that some people seemed to think that the schools were only brought into existence for the benefit of the drill sergeant and the parson. Military drill in schools was vicious in practice and wrong in principle. If we needed an Army for the defence of the country it would have to be obtained by different methods. If hon. Gentlemen on both sides wanted to know the best moans of getting recruits from the better section of the working classes he would give it in a nutshell. It would be necessary to make promotion in the Army free from top to bottom. The upper ranks should not be the exclusive possession of those who had wealth, position, and influence. They should do away with monopoly entirely, and the man who had earned a position in the higher ranks as an officer should get it. There was another sweeping reform required, and that was to see that the expenses of officers in the mess room approximated to the pay which the officers received. It was a perfect scandal at present that the higher ranks of the Army should be looked upon by a certain section of the community merely as their right and privilege.


indicated dissent.


said the right hon. Gentleman shook his head. He had read—


The hon. Member must confine himself to the Motion or the Amendment.


said he was going to speak against the Amendment. He wanted to give an illustration from the working class point of view of what would be an inducement to enter and remain in the Army. The soldier should receive a wage approximating to that which could be earned in skilled trades, and his social position should be improved. If they made the Army a well-paid profession, if they improved the conditions of the soldier's life, if they created not merely a military spirit but a love of country, they would give all the incentive which was required in order to obtain the men wanted for the defence of the country. So far as hon. Members below the gangway were concerned, they repudiated entirely the idea of giving a military training in the schools as a means towards the defence of the country. All they asked was that the authorities at the War Office should treat the soldier as a man, and give him conditions approximating to those enjoyed by the better classes engaged in industrial pursuits, and they should show him that when approved by service he would be able to enter the upper ranks. When he became an officer he should not be blackmailed by those who had been pitchforked into similar positions. Complaints were often made that men who rose from the ranks could not live on their pay, and very often it was made clear to them in the mess room that their room was preferred to their company. [Cries of "No, no!" and "Hear, hear!"] Yes, everybody had heard about "ragging" in the Army, and, if rumour was to be credited, a certain great officer who had risen from the ranks had a miserable time before he put an end to his existence. If fair conditions were given in the Army there would be no lack of men ready to defend their native country.

DR. MACNAMARA (Camberwell, N.)

said he had listened with a sort of sympathy to the hon. and gallant Member who moved the Amendment. He was obviously inspired by great courage. The hon. Member desired peace, he said, and therefore we must be prepared for war. But by his proposal he would so inflame the minds of the people that war would be made inevitable. The hon. Member sat for Stratford upon-Avon. Consequently he would agree with him when he quoted the words—; How oft the sight of means to do ill deeds makes ill deeds done. He proposed to take a very severely practical view of the proposal before the House, because as a matter of fact the proposal to give military training to the children in the schools had actually been in operation. Not so long ago when the noble Lord the President of the Council in the late Government came into office he was keenly anxious for universal physical training in the schools; he went to the War Office and got a manual prepared with the object of securing that end. The manual was prepared as a model course of physical training for all the children in the public elementary schools in the country. When the hon. Member saw the manual he recognised that somebody had written what amounted to a réchauffé of the early part of the soldier's red-book. For two or three years this course was inflicted on the children, the facing about, turning, and fours forming, and other military movements were practised, and the whole system was hopelessly wrong and cruel to the children. Nothing could have been worse for them than this military drill. The great bulk of it had to do with legs and arms. There were no breathing exercises, and no exercises for the muscles of the neck, sides, and abdomen. After the manual was issued he invited the then Parliamentary Secretary of the Board of Education to come into the lobby and show him how the prescribed exorcises were done, and the hon. Gentleman respectfully declined. It was only necessary at that time to describe what was put into the teachers' hands to show how hopelessly absurd and grotesque the manual was for the proper physical training of children. That book, having passed out of existence, it was an easy task for the Board of Education in its wiser moments to prepare a good eclectic system of scientific physical training largely taken from the Swedish drill, and more was not needed. He would certainly oppose the Amendment. What was wanted was that every youth of the age of from eighteen to twenty should be compelled to give two hours on two nights in each week to physical training under municipal auspices. He would add to that—;and he said this with fear and trembling, for he was far from advocating anything in the nature of conscription—;at the close of this training, a training in the use of the rifle, for he held the old-fashioned view that everybody ought to be trained to carry arms. But the square-toed, stiff, ramrod, military training was entirely unsuited at any time to school children.


asked leave to withdraw his Amendment. [Cries of "No."]


said he intervened to express regret that the Amendment had been moved because it appeared to him to be somewhat irrelevant. He also desired to repudiate the expressions which had fallen from the hon. Member for North Camberwell as to the action of the Board of Education in regard to physical training. He remembered that the hon. Member made a somewhat inflammatory speech on the subject, but he repudiated the suggestion that the hon. Member invited him to give an example of the exercises or that he declined to accept the invitation. It was true that the model course for physical training in 1903 contained some military terms, though as regards the training given it was satisfactory. The matter was carefully looked into, and the military phraseology was removed from the book, but the physical training remained practically the same throughout the elementary schools. The question raised by the Amendment affected all schools and required much more careful consideration than could be given to it in a debate of this character. The President of the Board of Education ought to be present to express his opinion as to the possibility of carrying out what was suggested in the Amendment.

* MR. REES (Montgomery Boroughs)

said he understood from his hon. friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon that he did not propose anything in the nature of physical training such as the hon. Member for North Camberwell had described. He believed he had in his mind that class of physical training which everybody in the House would admit was good. The Persians in old times taught their children to ride, shoot, and speak the truth, and if they were less particular in modern times on the third point, it was none the less an excellent programme. All agreed that grown up boys should be taught the use of the rifle. He had known an excellent game shot who, when he took up a rifle with a 5lb. or 71b. pull, could not hit the target. It was easy without practice in the use of a service rifle, not only to pull the sight off the target, but off the mound behind the target, or even the mountain behind the mound. There were matters raised by this Motion into which he should have liked to enter had there been time. [Cries of "Divide."] He had not the slightest intention of ceasing to speak until he was called to order by the Chair, and had in fact had less than five minutes in which to address the House. He wished to bring before the House the question of capitation charges.

And, it being Eleven of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.

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