HC Deb 25 February 1907 vol 169 cc1371-92

Postponed Proceeding on Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," resumed.

Question again proposed.


continuing his speech, said he wished to call the attention of the Secretary of State for War and the House to the very serious character of some of the changes which were proposed in regard to the Volunteer force and especially as to the engagement for four years. Men were to be prevented leaving except on three months notice, or the payment of £5. As about 80 per cent. of the Volunteers consisted of artisans who had to change their place of habitation sometimes at a few days' notice, it was a serious matter for them to be called upon to pay the heavy fine proposed in order to be released from their obligations. His fear was that such a condition would have a serious effect upon the recruiting of the Volunteer force. He had had an opportunity of hastily glancing at the Memorandum epitomising the speech of the right hon. Gentleman and giving a general view of the financial arrangements which were proposed. He could not say from a perusal of the document that he was enamoured of the scheme in regard to the Auxiliary forces propounded by the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman deserved the utmost credit for the manner in which he had made himself acquainted with all the difficult problems involved, and brought forward a considered scheme for the improvement of the second line, and if in criticising it they had to take exception to many of the proposals made he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would only consider that the criticisms were made with a genuine feeling that they desired to do the best they could for the forces of the country, and not from any feeling hostile to himself, or in any way whatever partaking of a Party character. In addition to the difficulty in con- nection with the long engagement in the territorial army, there was also the further liability to serve in the event of mobilisation for six months. That would also have a very serious effect indeed on a large class of men, including the better class of artisans engaged in the iron and steel trades, the leather and clothing trades, whose services in the event of mobilisation would be absolutely necessary in their factories and workshops for Army supplies. Anybody who was acquainted with the enormous strain upon these and other trades during the South African war would realise how true that was, and to call these men away from their workshops and factories for six months upon mobilisation would stifle the whole trade of the country. The only alternative would be for commanding officers or recruiting authorities, whichever they were, to refuse to accept these men; but to reject such men would be to deprive the territorial army of its very best material. The scheme in any case would have to be reconsidered from that point of view. Another reason why the plan was unsatisfactory was that it did away with the Yeomanry and Volunteers. Parents had no objection whatever to their sons enrolling in the Volunteer force; they knew that it implied no liability for foreign service, except by consent. But the state of affairs would be different when a man joined the territorial Army with the liability of long engagement, the difficulty of notice, compulsory service, and mobilisation. He had a strong impression that they would find a considerable movement in all parts of the country on the part of parents against their sons joining the territorial Army. Unfortunately, but undoubtedly, there still existed a considerable prejudice among the civil population against their sons joining the Regular Army; and it was by maintaining the name of Volunteers and the voluntary character of the Volunteer force that we had escaped the disadvantages of that prejudice. As to the financial arrangements of the Volunteer force, he noticed from Clause 4 of the Memorandum that no payments of any kind were to be made except an allowance for railway fares to the rifle ranges. He thought the withdrawal of the musketry allowance of 4s. would be a very serious matter indeed. He contended that the allowance of £55 per battalion for the expenses of drill hall and rifle ranges would not anything like meet the expenses entailed in the case of a large number of corps. No doubt those details had been carefully worked out from an average of the expenses of Volunteer regiments, but they would cause much hardship in many cases. The object of the Secretary of State in forming the county associations referred to in the Memorandum was to create county feeling, and esprit de corps, and to endeavour to win them into the greatest possible state of efficiency. But by Clause 10 they were to take away from these county associations all their individual and county character and put them entirely under the thumb of the military authorities. The Volunteer force owed its position at the present time, not at all to the encouragement of the Government, no matter which Party was in power. All Governments since the existence of the Volunteer force had been very reluctant to give it any sympathy or encouragement. That force, which now consisted of no less than 248,000 men, had always been carried on by its own determination to do something in the service of the country, and to put the county associations under the control of the military authorities would be to deprive them of that voluntary character and that esprit de corps which was so absolutely essential to their existence. As regarded the Yeomanry, although as a Volunteer he had looked with considerable suspicion, or rather jealousy, at the large sums and adulation given to the Yeomanry, he recognised that it was a very good force indeed. It now consisted of fifty-six regiments, and to take away by a stroke of the pen the whole of their emoluments, and to give them only when in training 1s. 6d. per day, which was the pay of the cavalry, would be a very serious blow indeed to the efficiency of that force. He must say that, although one admired the courage and the ability the right hon. Gentleman had shown in endeavouring to grapple with the difficulties of the problem, there was a strong feeling in the country that to put the Auxiliary forces and their finance entirely under the control and power of the military authorities would take away from regiments and commanding officers that individuality which had been the backbone of the Volunteer force. He had commanded different Volunteer regiments, including artisan corps, and he knew from experience that the commanding officer was able to veto extravagant expenditure on the part of Committees by the exercise of wholesome and judicious control. He knew that he was in a minority in this respect; but nevertheless he maintained that the financial responsibility of the commanding officer gave him much more authority and control than he could otherwise obtain, and the removal of it would put a premium on the bad regiments; the well-administered regiments would be sacrificed to those who had managed their affairs carelessly and with indifference. He did not admire the constitution of the county associations; and he hoped it was not too late to urge the Secretary of State for War to revise the rule in regard to long service, because he was very apprehensive indeed that his scheme would be more unfavourably received than he had any idea of.

MR. GUEST (Cardiff District)

said the reduction of 32,000 men which the Secretary of State was able to announce was not so large as many hon. Members on the Ministerial side of the House had hoped for. But at any rate it was a substantial instalment of that policy of reduction which they desired. When, moreover, it was accompanied by a reduction of the Army Estimates by £2,000,000, that surely was a very satisfactory beginning, and he welcomed the scheme of the Secretary of State, because it appeared to him that the right hon. Gentleman was embarking upon a policy which must end in a far larger reduction of the Army than he was able to bring about in the present year. His right hon. friend the Member for the Forest of Dean had criticised the Secretary of State for War and pointed out the difficulties of the transition stage. But there must always be such a stage in any policy, and he would not be surprised if the Secretary of State for War was able to point out that the difficulties of the transition stage would not be less if the policy which the right hon. Baronet advocated were adopted than they would be under his own scheme. There must be difficulties in the transition stage, but what they had to fix their eyes on was whether the object which they proposed to achieve was a worthy one, and if there were difficulties they must make up their minds to overcome them. The late Secretary of State for War had made a speech the terms of which were, he thought, unfortunate, when contrasted with the very conciliatory speech with which these proposals had been presented. He thought it was a mistake that matters of this kind, which had admittedly puzzled the brains of successive Ministers for War, should be treated in a carping spirit by hon. Members opposite. [Sir Howard Vincent: I did not do that.] He had not said that the hon. and gallant Gentleman had done so; he was alluding to the speech of the late Secretary for War, which seemed to him unfortunate in its terms. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to wish to show that the battalion under the scheme of the Secretary of State for War was a bad one whereas under his own scheme it was a good one. He thought the right hon. Gentleman had proceeded on a false analogy, because he said that the battalions of the line would need reinforcing to the extent of 700 men before they could take the field. Entirely overlooking the fact that the existing process of securing reservists would continue under this scheme just as it had been in the past, and he could not see that the battalion which his right hon. friend the Secretary for War had in his mind would be any less efficient than the battalion which the right hon. Gentleman opposite proposed by his scheme. The men serving with the colours at the present moment would be brought up to their full strength on mobilisation, and there would be no recourse in the first instance to the training battalions. [Mr. HALDANE assented.] Therefore the criticism of the right hon. Gentleman opposite was based upon an entire misapprehension of the proposals laid before the House. The Reserve to-day was 125,000 men, and it would under the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman be larger, because of the five and seven years' enlistments, except that the reduction of the Army would, pro tanto, reduce the Reserves.


said the Reserves would rise to 136,000, and would be normally 115,000, which would be more than enough for the mobilisation of the whole of the battalions.


said he was obliged for the interruption, which exactly expressed the point he was making. The battalions in the future would be capable of complete mobilisation on their own Reserves, without having recourse to the training battalions which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to establish. He understood that the Home force would depend upon those reservists whom the training battalions had trained. Therefore, they would not be in a worse position under this scheme than they would have been under the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. Then the late Secretary for War had made another statement, which had been repeated by others, that the new scheme destroyed the Militia. His right hon. friend did not say so, and he did not think that the conclusion followed from what he had said. There was nothing to prevent his raising his seventy-four training battalions without interfering with the Militia at all, and he hoped he would do that. The object was to merge Militia, Volunteers, and Yeomanry into a new territorial force with territorial names, but he did not think we should gain much by making it a territorial force, and abolishing the old names, which had a great deal of magic in them and were of great value to the force. It was impossible on the "Bakerloo" principle to find a name to include all the forces, and the old names had a value in the sentiment of old traditions. He did not see where the objection came in to retaining the words "Volunteers," "Yeomanry," and "Militia," and to allow them to fall into their new cadres under their old names. He noticed that his right hon. friend the Secretary of State for War laughed, but if he could make that concession to the prejudices of those who had served in these forces, he thought he would be wise to do so. In this connection he would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if the existing cadres would entirely disappear or would they be used to form the new organisation.


said the new organisation would be formed round them, and they would come into the new organisation. The scheme was as far as possible to include them in the new organisation.


said another point hat arose was that we were greatly in excess of the requirements which the right hon. Gentleman had in his mind. The Auxiliary Forces were to be reduced by something like 140,000. He hoped there was to be some elasticity in the number of 300,000 suggested, because it would be a pity to discourage service given voluntarily and which cost little. He thought the observations of the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean upon the question of keeping the more difficult services, cavalry and artillery, on a professional basis most important having regard to the enormous diminution of horseflesh caused by the introduction of motor cars. The matter of cavalry remounts would have to be very seriously considered in the near future, owing to the fact of motor buses and motor cabs taking the place of horse-drawn vehicles in our streets. The problem of cavalry remounts would in the future become very difficult indeed. Apart from these details there was much in the scheme which would commend itself to those who had considered the question of Army reform, because there was no doubt our Auxiliary Forces were almost useless for military purposes at the present time owing to their want of mobility. There were many good points in this scheme, such as confined training and other matters. Never in his experience of the corps with which he was connected was this more demonstrated than in the case of the difficulty and the necessity of transport. It was clear to him that Yeomanry who merely went out for eighteen days drill were not in any sense of the word equipped or efficient for actual warfare, and it was a good feature of the scheme that we were to have an attempt to make these forces efficient. With regard to the reserve of the Auxiliary Forces, he had always regretted that so much good material that passed through the Yeomanry so rapidly was entirely lost sight of. Many of these men had served six years and could be equipped and trained at little cost. The Secretary of State for War had with engaging candour admitted that the force of 150,000 which he had provided under this scheme was based on no calculation of the duties which it had or might have to perform. The original force of 150,000 was based upon the number of drafts we had to supply to our foreign stations. That was the real justification for the army at home. The right hon. Gentleman must remember that the number of men required for drafts depended entirely on the term served by the men, and that in proportion as the term of service was extended so would the number of drafts required be reduced; that if the right hon. Gentleman extended the service to fifteen years he would diminish the number of drafts required and consequently the number of men necessary to be enrolled in this country. The very scheme he was calling into existence would be a further justification for that course if, after three or four years, he was able to create an auxiliary force comparable to that of Switzerland, which would afford a real sense of security to the people of England. If that was achieved it would be an argument for reducing the Regular Army.


I do not rise at this stage to criticise the scheme which the right hon. Gentleman has unfolded with so much ability this afternoon. I shall pass no opinion upon it at the present time, but reserve to myself the right to say at a later stage what impression has been made upon my mind. I think, however, the speech to which we have just listened shows that there are one or two points that ought to be cleared up. The hon. Member who last spoke seemed to think a question of name, and name alone, was involved in the treatment which the right hon. Gentleman has meted out to the Militia and Volunteers. If that is so either he or I have completely misunderstood the speech delivered with so much lucidity by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon. This is not a question of name and name alone. There have been two views in the past—either that you should do what Pitt intended and what Cardwell intended, namely, that you should bring the Militia nearer to the line and more in touch with the depots—that was one school of thought—or that you should bring your line up to its full strength and efficiency and relegate your Militia to the condition of Volunteers. There were two distinct views as to how you might deal with the Militia. Both were questions of substance and not questions of name. The right hon. Gentleman has done neither of these quite clearly, but has done something else—something which tends to make it difficult to understand what in fact he has done. He has taken so much of the first plan as consists of turning the recruits under it into the depot, and he has taken so much of the second plan as to enable him to hand over the officers to the regiment in a body. He does not want them to enlist nor to get paid for six months, and so they can be Volunteers if they please. That is a new way of dealing with the Militia, on which I shall express an opinion when the opportunity offers. In the next place, I must dissociate myself altogether from a remark made by the last speaker. He accused my right hon. friend the Member for Croydon of approaching the subject in a partisan spirit. I do not think that charge was justified. My right hon. friend has almost a unique knowledge of all the technical aspects of this question, having devoted years of his life to its study, years before he was War Minister, and I think no one who heard him will think that he went an inch beyond what might be expected from a man who had the interests of the Army at heart. I think I may say for every one on this side of the House that we shall be critical, but candid. The right hon. Gentleman has been studying the matter for over a year, and he has given us the result of his researches in a three hours' speech. I hope, therefore, that he will not expect those who care not only for the Army but the Auxiliary Forces, to keep pace with him, but that he will give them time to form their conclusions and time to express those conclusions before he regards himself as in a position to say that he has collected the sense of the House. We must give candid consideration to the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman, because we have never made the defences of the country a Party question, and because we are under an obligation to the right hon. Gentleman which I should be the first person to acknowledge. The right hon. Gentleman has done what his predecessors did, I believe for the first time in 1895, and did consistently for ten years, that is to say, he has explained to the soldier what he calls the policy of the Cabinet, and when the soldier said what was required, it was admitted that so much should be done. I do not think I exaggerate when I say—this is not a matter of Party recrimination—that up to 1895, both Liberal and Conservative Governments said that the Navy must have all its wants; but when it came to the Army they proceeded upon the lines of the Pickwick trial, and said that what the soldier stated was not evidence. We maintain, and the right hon. Gentleman maintains, that what the soldier says is evidence after he has been subjected to cross-examination, and, therefore, if any fault should ultimately be found with this scheme, the blame will not rest upon the soldier but upon the Government, who have told the soldier what their policy was for the defence of the country should war presently come upon us. The right hon. Gentleman in his memorandum has disposed once and for all of of the somewhat loose charge that the increase of the Army Estimates is due to incompetence and extravagance. I know the right hon. Gentleman has said that because ammunition columns were not formed, therefore, we could not mobilise the whole forces of the Army. I make him a present of that; it has been effectually dealt with by my right hon. friend the Member for Croydon. We supplied the Artillery with guns, and we supplied the Auxiliary troops and the Army, and we did our share of the work. The right hon. Gentleman will have our good wishes if he completes it, and there need be no recrimination between the two sides of the House as to that. We can, therefore, give a perfectly candid judgment upon these proposals which we must study in print to-morrow. We must study the speech and the printed document which he has laid upon the Table this evening, and then we shall be able to give our views upon the great proposals which he has unfolded. The right hon. Gentleman's scheme pre-supposes an effective Regular army and a cheap Regular army. He has claimed great economies on the Regular Army. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain the origin of his economies? Speaking this afternoon, he said that only£400,000 was due to reduction in personnel, but in his Memorandum he put the reduction in personnel at £1,120,000. There is a discrepancy which I have no doubt can be explained, but which I think ought to be explained. The right hon. Gentleman has not really modified the great features of the problem which we all have to face—the problem of keeping a large army abroad in time of peace. He has not touched it. Then where do the economies come from? On turning to the Estimates I find that they come largely from transport, remounts, and supplies. As the right hon. Baronet pointed out, and as occurred to me, while you are knocking off horses from the Artillery and mounted infantry, the Indian Government, whose model you follow, are adding 3,000 horses to the establishment. We come to the next great general source of economy, which includes harness. It is all very well to have theoretical plans for mobilising in the face of the remote contingency of a great European war, but I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that the two points of the greatest difficulty and anxiety during the first six weeks of the war in South Africa, and again in 1901, were horses and harness. You cannot expand your supply of horses or your supply of harness on the spur of the moment. At the beginning of 1901, after the war had been going on for more than a year, and when the country was clamouring for more mounted troops, the demand was only met by smuggling 30,000 saddles into this country from all parts of the world. That is a form of reserve which can only be provided by looking at the exact proportions of Regulars to Reservists and the three arms together. The next great source of reduction is armaments, £872,000. That is partly a matter of book-keeping and has nothing to do with any policy of the right hon. Gentleman. These four items account for a reduction of £1,660,000. For the rest, the reductions and increases pretty well balance. I fail to see any connection between this reduction of £2,000,000 and the policy which the right hon. Gentleman announced last year or the policy which he has announced to- night. I welcome the reduction except in regard to horses and harness, upon which I think more money can be judiciously expended. I do, however, ask the right hon. Gentleman to go a little more closely into the origin of his economies. It is not enough to say," Here is a saving of £2,000,000 and 7,000 men added to the effective." Why are 7,000 men added to the effective? Because we have got a huge increase in the Reserve, an automatic increase of over 12,000 men. Before the war it was a matter of speculation, but nevertheless within 1 per cent. the available Reservists joined the colours. The right hon. Gentleman says that under his organisation the old Reserve will stand normally at 115,000 men, but, in view of the abolition of eight cadres, the reduction of the period of enlistment from seven years to five, and the removal of thirty men from the establishment of all the regiments at home, I hope we shall be reassured on that point by some arithmetical argument which will carry conviction to our minds. I would also ask the right hon. Gentleman to clear up the question of the artillery. The right hon. Gentleman has explained that he is going to keep a certain number of battalions at home and thirty-three others upon a very low establishment, which are to be a sort of training school for the second line. I believe I am right in saying that the right hon. Gentleman has got one horse and two field artillery batteries less in this year's Estimates than he had last year. I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman has calculated on reducing the batteries of field artillery to a standard which none of those who sit on the Opposition side of the House have ever contemplated, and to which we cannot give our assent without consideration. Is it proposed to reduce all the field artillery to a four-gun standard?


We shall probably keep some batteries at full strength.


At present all the field artillery at borne is being reduced to the four-gun standard, and thirty-three batteries are being reduced to a two-gun standard. There are three batteries gone; and it is certain that the right hon. Gentleman holds a view which is not held on the Opposition benches about the bulk of the field artillery, and that he contemplates reducing thirty-three batteries to an educational basis and taking them from a military basis. I want to know whether that policy has been made so far concrete in fact as to explain some of the reductions in Votes 6, 7, 8 and 9, which are inexplicable on the theory that they are due to personnel as stated, by the right hon. Gentleman in his opening speech.


I think it will be convenient that I should answer at once the questions which have been addressed to me. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman is characterised by the fairness of its tone and the appropriateness of the questions which he has asked. I take what was said in regard to the artillery. We have not reduced a single battery. We have brought home six batteries from abroad, and we have put them on a four-gun basis. What I think has misled the right hon. Gentleman is this. We have taken off the programme six guns which belonged to the depots, because we have consolidated seven depots into four. I do not know where the right hon. Gentleman got his reduction of batteries.


I got them by comparing last year with this year.


All I can say is that having the comparison before me we have reduced no batteries. We propose to reduce the establishment to a four-gun basis in time of peace, following a sound Continental principle, and keep the horses and men in reserve; but we have reduced no batteries. What we have done is to apportion carefully the amount of artillery to the infantry division, and the surplus we have turned into training batteries. On that principle we have gone throughout. I hope we shall have enough to make twelve training brigades. As regards a reserve of artillery, well, I say frankly, that I do not believe in a reserve of artillery. Then we get men who do not know the new weapons, and we have difficulty in training these reserves to bring them up to the standard of knowledge required. I pass to the reduction of the establishment of the battalions. Observe we have brought them down to 720 in time of peace for home defence. But the right hon. Gentleman does not imagine that our battalions at home were anything like that strength. This reduction is a proper one to make because it brings facts more into accordance with names. The three years system has made it impossible for a long time to find the drafts. There is no question of strength; it is a question of establishment, and for some time to come we may be well content with 720. It represents more strength than we shall have. The right hon. Gentleman asks what is the real meaning of these reductions. How is it that we show a reduction so large when we have only reduced so few men? Well, it is a very interesting revelation. In the War Office a practice has been pursued on the part of the military side always to estimate to the margin. They loaded their Estimate because they were afraid of offending against a system which had been the practice. That acted on the Treasury and on the financial side. They always took more than they wanted. I found a system of over-estimating was going right through the whole Department. The heads of the Department did not know the extent to which it went. They always loaded a bit, the people below them loaded a bit without their knowing, and the people below them loaded, and so on until at the end of the year there were surpluses that for very shame had to be spent. The reason there is such a reduction in the artillery this year is that these surpluses have been used in paying cash and getting discounts. The cost of expensive guns has been spread over five years by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, but by paying up earlier we get 3 per cent. discount. As a result of this loading the Estimates we have been able to prepay the guns. This year, too, establishments have been brought down to strength, and thereby a great deal of waste has been got rid of. It is possible that this year we will be able to return, not much, but some money to the Treasury. I think the War Office has got into the habit of over-estimating, and it will take a time before we extirpate the notion from their minds in regard to that practice. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Volunteers, but he left one very material element out of account. The reduction of the Volunteers is due to two elements. We have take a Supplementary Estimate this year for payments in connection with that force. What we have been proposing is that it will be no longer necessary to apply the same sort of capitation grant. Thereby we will reduce the annual expenditure for Volunteers. We found that the payment of 5s. a day for the Yeomanry had a most prejudicial effect, and consequently we abolished it. The right hon. Gentleman referred to stores. The reason why we are able to diminish the expenditure on stores is that we have a gigantic supply of saddlery as the result of the War. The other reductions in stores have nothing to do with war, but are made in connection with domestic use, and for the convenience of soldiers who were not going out to a campaign. Then in regard to horses, there was a great deal of over-estimate for the supply of horses, and we have reduced the money for, but not the establishment of, horses. In War Office parlance, horses included mules; and a great deal of the reduction was of mules used on works in South Africa. As to the question of India, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the War Office has not the slightest control over the way in which the Indian Government manages the Indian Army. The Indian Government has to find the horses.


You have fewer horses here than the same officers think necessary in India.


I believe that the establishment of horses is high in India, but our advisors think that the large margin in India is not necessary here, because in India they do not register the horses in the same way as we do. The War Office has no more control over that than they have over the winds and tide, and if we were to interfere with Lord Kitchener we would hear of it very sharply.


Perhaps the War Office knows what is needed in regard to the supply of horses, but dares not ask for it for fear of the House of Commons.


My right hon. friend might as well argue that because it was necessary to keep up the establishment in India to nearly war strength we should keep every battalion at home up to war strength. There is all the difference in the world between the two cases; and I think my right hon. friend has, for once, made a mistake. The explanation of the economics, broadly speaking, is that we propose to reduce the establishment to the actual strength. I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said in regard to the Auxiliary Forces. It is not a question of names. We wish to make real changes. We think the condition of the Auxiliary Forces is deplorable, and we cannot remedy that state of matters without making changes which go far beyond mere names. It is because we think these changes are absolutely necessary that I have made this appeal to the House.

MR. ARTHUR HENDERSON (Durham, Barnard Castle)

rose to move the following Amendment:— That, in the opinion of this House, a Committee should be appointed to consider land report upon how far the work of Arsenals and similar Government establishments can be kept more regular, so as to keep the machinery more fully employed and prevent frequent discharges of workmen. He said that they on the Labour Benches thought that after the very comprehensive statement of the Secreary of State for War they would be all the better if they had more time to consider the policy which the right hon. Gentleman had so ably outlined. In his Amendment they asked for the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the whole situation as to the facts at the Arsenals and other Government establishments in so far as the employment of labour was concerned, and, secondly in so far as the discharge of labour brought to a standstill the expensive machinery which the State had there set up. In regard to Woolwich, he found that whereas in the year 1901–2 the total hands were 26,052, that number had been actually reduced until there was something like 10,000 less workmen employed in the Arsenal to-day. That was a very serious matter. It was a serious thing for a town like Woolwich in the first place, and he thought it was also a serious matter from the point of view of the Government. They all knew that the conditions of employment in Government establishments as a rule attracted the best type of workman. It was well that it should be so, because in case of an acute emergency, when the Government was called upon to act suddenly, it was desirable that when there was an abnormal demand they should feel that they could rely upon their workmen, not only from the point of view of efficiency, but from the point of view of character. He ventured to say that the policy of irregularity of employment in our great Government Departments would not have a tendency to attract the best type of people to the Government employment. The consequence would be if a less capable class of workman were drafted into the Government establishments, a greater amount of risk would be incurred by the Government in case of grave emergency. Not only had they to complain about the exceedingly numerous discharges of workmen, but there was another matter to which he might call attention. He and a few of his colleagues visited Woolwich and he personally had also visited other large establishments such as the dockyard at Devonport. What was to be found at those establishments? There were tens of thousands of tons of most valuable and up-to-date machinery standing absolutely idle. What did that involve? It must involve to some extent the loss of National money, because as years went by machinery had a tendency to become obsolete. A good deal of our machinery was scrap-heaped, and nothing like what it cost the Government was gained out of it. It was absolutely essential that we should get the best turnover possible in regard to all our Government machinery, and we could not have that if we had idle machinery capable of employing ten thousand men. He held that by keeping this machinery idle a loss was entailed upon the National Exchequer and upon the public as a whole. The Amendment which he proposed was in order to prevent the irregularity of employment and the loss involved by machinery standing still and becoming obsolete. A Committee should be appointed to consider the whole matter. He might be told that much of the machinery at a Department like the Arsenal at Woolwich could not be adapted for the purposes of other Departments; that was to say, that if we wanted to make motors or bicycles for the Army they might be told that the machinery was not adapted to such work. As a practical man, who for the best part of his life had been engaged in similar occupations, he would contest that opinion, and hold that the greater portion of the machinery except that which was absolutely specialised could be easily adapted for work in other forms of employment. In the foundry department, with which he was well acquainted, there could be this adaptation for making a greater part of the castings which were now purchased from contractors. He therefore said that, although that objection might apply to one or two departments, it did not hold good as a whole. But supposing that it did, and the case was made good against him, surely it would restore the confidence of the public and allay the feeling of uneasiness which was prevalent in Woolwich, Portsmouth, Chatham, and Devonport if a Committee were appointed to inquire into the whole business and bring up a report to this House. If the Report went against them they would be able to go to those whom they represented and tell them that they had been proved to be wrong.

MR. CROOKS (Woolwich)

seconded the Amendment. He said there were many sides to this question. Here was a town with 142,000 inhabitants which, practically speaking, had only one employer, and to throw upon the labour market 10,000 men was a very serious business indeed. There were very few other businesses to which these people could turn. Many of them had settled down at Woolwich and had bought their houses for the purpose of living and rearing their children in that place. The proposed Committee might find out that these people could be transferred from one department to another without injury to the public service and without extra expense. It seemed to him that Government Departments were too much like little worlds in themselves. They were so independent of each other, and this Committee might find out some way of transferring men from one Department to another. As his hon. friend had pointed out, these people were highly skilled men, who if they were dismissed were hardly likely to come back when they were required in an emergency. He wished to suggest also that while the Government were considering the desirability of fixing the minimum number of men who should be employed, they ought also to fix the proportion of work which they were going to give them. He did not wish to belittle the difficulty of dividing the amount of work between the Government establishments and contractors, but as a business man he held they ought to keep their own machinery employed before they gave out work to outsiders. He thought that on consideration the Government would find that the proportion of one-third to two-thirds should be altered. All that the Labour Members desired was that these questions should be considered by a Committee from a practical standpoint, and then that they should be considered by this House from a practical point of view.

Amendment proposed— To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words, 'in the opinion of this House, a Committee should be appointed to consider and report upon how far the work of Arsenals and similar Government establishments can be kept more regular, so as to keep the machinery more fully employed and prevent frequent discharges of workmen.' "—(Mr. Arthur Henderson.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

MR. WALTERS (Sheffield, Brightside)

said he did not wish to detain the House, but he thought they should realise that there were two sides to this question. The hon. Members who had moved and seconded he Amendment, had very fairly and temperately put the case of the workmen in the Government Arsenals, and he desired now to draw attention to the fact that there were a large number of private firms in this country which were chiefly maintained by Government contracts. These businesses had been established not merely with the good word of the Government, but had in many cases been extended on the definite statement of the Government that additional work would be given to them. These establishments were well equipped, and had highly skilled workmen trained to the work. When these men were not employed through the absence of Government work they were just as much out of work and in precisely the same sense as arsenal workmen, and it was quite as pathetic to see these men out of work at Brightside as to see similar men out of work at Woolwich. He therefore asked, if this Committee was appointed, that some consideration should be given to this aspect of the question. With regard to the question of machinery and equipment, he pointed out that the machinery of the Government arsenals was for the purpose of extension. If the whole of that machinery was employed to the extent of its capacity in time of peace, there could be no extension in time of war. And no Government could expect a private contractor to keep a large amount of machinery available for an extra demand which might take place on the outbreak of a war. The private contractor was kept for two purposes; first for the skill, invention, and initiation that was found in private firms; and, secondly, to enable the Government to extend their facilities in time of war. If the establishment of these private yards was reduced, if the Government did not give them work now, they would cease to be efficient; and it would be a disastrous policy to deprive the country of the facilities of the private yards when, in the stress of war, there would be no power of extension in the Government yards. The most modern armaments of war were invented and manufactured in private yards, and he contended that by diminishing the engineering enterprise and invention of private yards, the Government would be, not only handicapping themselves in invention, but in expansion if that hideous thing, a state of war, arose. When this matter was regarded as a labour question there was another aspect entirely. These men employed in private yards did a considerable amount of work for foreign Governments. It was only possible to carry on that work because the British Government gave out its work to private yards, and so enabled them to have a staff and equipment in order to obtain large contracts from other Governments. Therefore, if the Government shut down the private yards they would rob the workmen of this other work which they would not then be able to obtain.


The observations of my hon. friend illustrate, once more, the complexity of this trouble. These private yards are part of our national requirements. We must keep them up, and if we keep them up we must reward them. We reward them by giving them two-thirds of the orders we place. That is a policy to which we must adhere. If we fix an establishment we must fix a very low establishment, because otherwise there will be no orders to give out. I am quite aware of the difficulties, and feel very greatly the hardships which have been caused by no fault of their own, to the men at Woolwich, and if without interfering with our obligations to the private yards we can help these men we shall be very glad to do so. I am very doubtful whether the hon. Member's proposal would come to much. We may be able ourselves to do things at Woolwich that are connected with munitions of war. I have an open mind on the subject, but if any investigation takes place the report must be to myself as the guardian of the public purse. I cannot, however, try to establish a national workshop. The fall which has taken place in the number of persons employed is due to the change from a time of war to a time of peace. In the year 1894–5,11,510 man were employed at Woolwich; then it went up to 11,912, and to 20,511 in the war time, and the number is down now to 11,345. I hope that we have nearly touched the bottom. The Government has under consideration the question of establishment, and whether there are any other things they can manufacture. I am rather sceptical about the matter; but on the condition that the report is made to me, as responsible to the House, I am content and anxious to have such an investigation as will satisfy hon. Members opposite. I, therefore, suggest that if they will propose the names of three experts I will propose three others, and they together can go through the establishment at Woolwich and satisfy themselves whether there are other things that can be made there consistent with the obligations to private factories and the keeping up of the reserves for war, which cannot be let down. It may be that some things may be done at Woolwich, and if that be so, I shall assist it by every means in my power.


Will Sheffield be represented upon this Committee?


I think Sheffield is too suspicious, but I should have no objections to having my hon. and gallant friend himself on that Committee.


Thank you.

MR. KEIR HARDIE (Merthyr Tydvil)

said there were many articles used by the Government that might be manufactured at Woolwich in time of peace. Such employment would retain the workmen on the establishment, and the Government would be enabled to expand in time of emergency. In many ways such a policy would be beneficial to the Government. What he wished to know was whether the inquiry of the Committee was to be confined to articles of war only, or as to whether other articles than those for war might be made at Woolwich.


I am very dubious about the Arsenal being a universal purveyor. It will be found that a great many things connected with war are not of a very war-like character, such as carriages and so on, and I think there will be a very large scope for this inquiry.


having regard to the very satisfactory answer of the right hon. Gentleman, asked leave to withdraw his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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