HC Deb 14 March 1907 vol 171 cc301-12

  1. 1. "That a number of Land Forces, not exceeding 190,000, all ranks, be maintained for the service of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland at home and abroad, excluding His Majesty's Indian Possessions, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1908."
  2. 2. "That a sum, not exceeding £9,835,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge for the pay, etc., of His Majesty's Army (including Army Reserve) at home and abroad (exclusive of India), which will come in course of 302 payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1908."

First Resolution read a second time.

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


called attention to the unsatisfactory working of the present system of supplying cavalry drafts for India. The regiments at home were, as a rule, below strength, and had a small establishment of horses. The home establishment was unequal to the responsibility of training the large number of recruits that had accumulated for the Indian regiments, and some of the young soldiers were sent out who had never been on a horse, or at all events had only had a very limited knowledge of equitation. That, of course, was most unsatisfactory. The Scots Greys, he believed, at present recruited for the Royal Dragoons as well as their own regiment. All recruits were enlisted in the Greys, and it was common to hear the remark, where the 2nd Dragoons were quartered, that the Greys were mostly Irishmen, owing to the number of district recruits sent to their headquarters, enlisted with the idea of joining the Royals, and probably to be sent out as drafts to that gallant regiment. There was a danger, human nature being what it was, of colonels commanding the regiment at home to keep all the good recruits to make good the normal wastage in their own regiment. Under that system the Indian regiments did not get the best of the recruits and there must arrive in India at twenty years of age men who were only half trained; whereas if they had been trained at a depot they would arrive in India formed soldiers. The re-establishment of the old cavalry depot system would give great satisfaction to the commanding officers of regiments, and would be a great advantage to the service both in India and at home. During his service, which began more years ago than he liked to recall, the cavalry depot had been twice disestablished, and within a few years had been again establishd. It only failed because it was starved and had not a sufficient staff of instructors to deal with the large number of recruits who, at the time, more than exhausted their slender resources. The Secretary of State for War, in his speech a few days ago on the Army, said that the cavalry had been dependent upon a system of large depots for which there was not accommodation. He would remind the right hon. Gentleman that Canterbury, the old home of the cavalry depot, still existed, with ample room to accommodate the cavalry depot, although it was now otherwise employed. There was no lack of old cavalry barracks which were now either empty or being utilised for the accommodation of other branches of the service, and which might very well be again devoted to cavalry use. The right hon. Gentleman had expressed his unbounded confidence in soldiers and his determination to act upon their advice. He was sure he might say without presumption that in arriving at that determination he was acting on the right lines. He thought the right hon. Gentleman would do well carefully to reconsider whether it would not be wise again to re-establish the cavalry depot.

COLONEL SANDYS (Lancashire, Bootle)

said he was very glad to hear the suggestions made by the noble Viscount in regard to the cavalry depot system. He supported those suggestions not because he was in any way specially qualified to speak with reference to the advantages of cavalry depots, but because he was strongly in favour of keeping up the system of depots for every branch of the service. Every branch, whether cavalry, artillery, or infantry, should have some rallying point from which it could draw its recruits, where they could be trained, and where the time-expired men could go when they were no longer able to fulfil their services. There ought to be such a foundation for every unit of the service in the country, and in the event of war it could be extended to a battalion to take the place of any losses which might occur in the field. The system of depots for battalions of infantry answered well during the Peninsular War under the Duke of Wellington, and it stood well the strain of war at that time. He regretted that in later days the depots had, to a considerable extent, been set aside. The system had never been thoroughly tried. An efficient officer had never been placed at the head of the depot. The depot had never been a real depot. It had been a mere skeleton. He was sure that under the administration of the right hon. Gentleman a way could be found out of that difficulty. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman under his new scheme would consider the advisability of having a system of depots capable of expansion and of stepping into the first line when that line became too much attenuated by force of circumstances. The policy of the Government was to reduce Army expenditure. He wished to point out one matter which had possibly escaped attention. He never could understand why there should be four majors in a regiment. Originally there were only two. There were places for two and no more; the other two were about as useful as a fifth wheel to a coach. They walked about with spurs and used to be called "mud majors." Two majors were all that were necessary for the carrying on of the work of a battalion, and when considering questions of efficiency and economy the right hon. Gentleman might do away with the other two and save their pay. There was, however, one exception. If the right hon. Gentleman saw his way to have real depots behind the Regular Army there should be a major in command of each depot when a battalion was at home. When a battalion went abroad there should be only two majors.

*MR. MURRAY MACDONALD (Falkirk Burghs)

said he regarded the Estimate for men as being unnecessarily large. The Secretary of State for War had justified the number proposed only on the ground that they were required for the purpose of supplying drafts for the battalions in the Colonies and in India. But the right hon. Gentleman did not say what the requirements of the Colonies and India actually were. He said that the Secretary of State for India had not indicated to him that he intended to ask for any fewer battalions than he had at present to meet the needs of India. The right hon. Gentleman spoke on that occasion merely as the Secretary of State for War, but he represented in the House not the War Office only, but also the Government of which he was a prominent member. It seemed to him from what the right hon. Gentleman had said that the Cabinet as a whole had never considered what the requirements of the Colonies and India were, or even what our home requirements were. If that was really the case, he thought the position in which the followers of the Government stood was rather a curious one. They were pledged to effect economy in the expenditure on both the Army and the Navy, and he and many of his friends certainly understood that that economy would be secured by a reduction in strength. It was not to be merely an economy due to improved administration—they were not ungrateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what had been effected in that way—but their view, and the view which they laid before the country, was that economy was to be effected by means of reductions in the strength. They felt that the outlook in the world at the present moment amply justified such a reduction. No one denied that our relations with foreign Powers were at present much better than five years ago. Whatever might have been the justification for increasing our military armaments to the present strength a few years ago, that justification did not now exist. On those general grounds he felt very strongly that there was no justification for the maintenance of the strength proposed in the Vote under discussion. He had been commissioned by a very considerable body of those who sat on the Ministerial benches to say that though they would not press their opposition to the present Estimates, recognising that the re-organisation scheme brought in by the right hon. Gentleman over-shadowed them, and not wishing to embarrass the right hon. Gentleman, they nevertheless desired to make it clear that they did not willingly accept them.

*MR. ASHLEY (Lancashire, Blackpool)

said the Board of Selection had the duty of selecting officers for promotion. The board consisted of officers of high rank, and he understood that after they had made their selections of those who ought to be promoted their recommendations were subject to revision by the Army Council.


said that was not so.


said that in. that case the question he was going to ask would be unnecessary. It was so until a year or eighteen months ago.


said the recommendations were subject to revision by the Secretary of State on behalf of the Sovereign, and by no other authority.


said he would change the form of his question. He wished to know if any recommendations of the board charged with the selection of officers for promotion had been vetoed by the Secretary of State when they came before him. He had listened with amazement to the remarks of the hon. Member who had preceded him in the debate. He had spoken as if there had been no reduction in the number of men in the Army during the last twelve months, and as if there was not going to be any reduction in the coming year. According to the Estimates they were asked to vote 14,000 fewer men during the next financial year than during the past year. During the past year some nine or ten battalions were disbanded, and the right hon. Gentleman had recently foreshadowed the reduction or disbandment of another five line battalions, and also of the Third Cold streams. When he was in Egypt there was a general impression in the regiment that it might be allowed to remain on. It would be a very good thing for the Army if it were. A more efficient battalion had not existed in the Army for a long time. Were the House aware that they were asked to vote only as many men as were thought necessary for the defence of the country in 1899, before the South African War? He could not conceive how it could be argued that we did not want a larger force than we had then. Did we find that we had too many Regular Troops during that War? We had increased the Empire considerably since then, had added the Transvaal and Orange River Republics, and had increased our responsibilities in Egypt. There was, moreover, one form of reduction to which he particularly objected—he referred to the reduction of the garrison artillery at Gibraltar, Malta, and the Straits Settlements. Last year there were at Malta fifty-six officers and 1,700 non-commissioned officers and men of the garrison artillery. They were asked to vote this financial year 250 fewer men than last year. He had had the advantage of discussing the situation there in January last with several distinguished officers, who had expressed their opinion that if the reduction was carried out there would not be a sufficient number of men to man the guns. That would be a very serious state of affairs in our naval and coaling station in the Mediterranean. The reduction at Gibraltar amounted to 450 officers and men, and he would like to know from the right hon. Gentleman the reason for that enormous reduction, when, owing to the redistribution of the Fleet, Gibraltar was to be made the headquarters of the Atlantic Squadron. At the Straits Settlements the reduction was 150 officers and men, and the reason for that he could not understand. The Royal Engineers were to be reduced by 700. That was a large decrease in such a highly skilled and highly technical body. If they were going to reduce the numbers in the unskilled branches of the Army, it was all the more reason why they should keep up the technical branches to the fullest number possible. The right hon. Gentleman must be aware of the great advantage to us, as a Colonial power, of having a considerable body of troops stationed at Malta and Gibraltar. Last year, when a difficulty arose in Egypt, the garrison there was reinforced from those two stations instead of having to wait a fortnight for reinforcements from home. He understood that there was a considerable doubt amongst the higher military authorities whether we had a sufficient number of infantry in Malta to man the land defences of the island in case of emergency, and he thought that that was a dangerous state of things. Some hon. Members seemed to think that the Government had not gone far enough in the way of reductions in the regular forces; but they ought to consider the needs of the Empire.

MR. MENZIES (Lanarkshire, S.)

did not think that the reduction in Army expenditure was nearly enough. The Estimates for Army expenditure at the present time were not nearly as low as they were prior to the Boer war. The contention for the increase in the Army expenditure some years ago was that there was an alliance between France and Russia, from which considerable danger might be expected; but we had now an entente cordiale with France, and surely not even hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House would allege that we ran at present the same danger on the Indian frontier as prior to the Russo-Japanese war. While he thought that considerable reductions should be made in the expenditure on the Army, he would be satisfied if they were made gradually. He did not agree with the suggestion that the deficiency of officers should be made up by extra recruiting at the big public schools, such as Eton and Rugby. Those, of course, were the present sources from which the war office obtained their officers, but the right hon. Gentleman proposed to amplify them. The privates in the Army were generally young men out of work, and he held that with a class system of officers, and a rank and file recruited from young men who were not able to find work, they could never make a popular Army. It they wanted to have a really national Army they must give a possible career to all classes who joined it; and the ladders to the highest positions in the Army must be by the way of merit, and by merit alone. He was quite aware that the suggestion which he was making was far-reaching, but he maintained that the national greatness of the country had been reached by the possibility of every man rising from the lowest to the highest positions in the country's service. It was well known that honest tradesmen exercised considerable self-denial in order to give their sons a good education, in the hope that they would rise in the world. Many of those young men became barristers, and it was even possible for them to reach the Woolsack.


called attention to the fact that forty Members were not present.

House counted; and, forty Members being found present—


said he was quite aware that there were great difficulties in the way of removing the barrier which prevented a man from entering the Army as a private and, through his ability and capacity, emerging as a colonel or even as a general. He quite admitted that the Secretary of State could not make such modifications in his Army scheme now; but if the right hon. Gentleman would give some hope that he would keep that ideal before him he should be quite content. The carrying out of that ideal would be a great gain to the Liberal Party, and if there was equality of treatment he was quite sure, that as regarded efficiency there would be a very great gain indeed.


said the report on the reserve of officers contemplated the chances of promotion of non-commissioned officers as a possible source of supplying the deficiency. That system existed in the Army. It was a very good system, and it would have operated, very largely but for the educational test, which was increasingly high. It was very good for the Army that a man should feel he could rise from the position of a private to that of a field-marshal. It was equally certain that there should not be any privilege given to any class; each man must conform to the standards of efficiency, and they were not diminishing standards, for officers in the Army. He thought they had done pretty well in the matter of reductions, and the state of things was now more efficient than it was before the Boer War. As to the pay of the soldiers, they had in the Army a great mass of men, and it was important that they should level up the common soldier just as much as any other class of the community. If their pay and their conditions of life cost more, they were contributing towards the solution of the social problem by that increase of expenditure. With regard to the reduction of the garrison artillery at the Mediterranean stations and elsewhere, the Admiralty and the Army had been working in co-operation in that matter. The question of the proper defence of those places had undergone a searching investigation by one of the most highly skilled naval and military committees that had sat for a long time; and the reports of that committee had been submitted to the Committee of Imperial Defence. The result had been that they found that the defences of those places had been arranged on an utterly unscientific principle. The guns were useless, and useless men were kept there. They had substituted for them other guns of greater penetrating power and range, which had been put in different places from those occupied by the old guns. That policy had been carried on all over the Empire, and he believed the Empire was now more powerfully defended than it had ever been. They had a smaller number of guns, with larger penetrating power and range, and just as many men as were wanted. There was nothing which contributed so little to military efficiency as to have too much in one place, and too little in another. They had been acting under the highest naval and military advice, and in each case the results had been scrutinised by the Defence Committee. That re-arrangement was begun under the late Government. The present Government were only carrying out the very good principles that were then laid down.

LORD BALCARRES (Lancashire, Chorley)

asked whether the military authorities of Malta had expressed their approval of the scheme.


said he could not say. But the highest naval and military talent of the Empire had been employed, and to ask the opinion of some military officer in a remote place would be like putting a problem in higher mathematics to some elementary schoolmaster. They had a large surplus of engineers beyond what they required for mobilisation. There was nothing that made for inefficiency in the Army so much as having too much in the wrong place. The Selection Board was a Committee that advised him on the advice which he gave to the Sovereign. He had not interfered with decisions of the Committee. He attached the highest importance to the Committee, and even if he differed from their opinion he would think it a great evil in the long run to dissent from their view, because it would create a sense of unrest. The Army Council had never reviewed the procedure of the Selection Committee, but three members of the Army Council sat on the Selection Board. As to the drafts to the Colonies and India, what the Colonies required had been considered very carefully, with the result that the Colonial battalions had been reduced. India was a big problem. He could only say that the responsibility rested primarily with the Secretary of State for India, and then with himself as a Cabinet Minister. They were both giving the question most anxious consideration. The problem of cavalry recruiting was perhaps the most difficult they had to deal with. Change of view had succeeded change of view in the last three or four years. The difficulty about depots was that unless they kept the recruit for a very long time he did not get a training equal to what he would get in the regiment. There was a great deal of training that could only be got by working with soldiers living their normal life. He was not at all convinced that depot training was the equivalent of regimental training. The matter would undergo scrutiny before they came to a decision about it. But it would have to be decided, because the present state of things was far from settled. As to whether there was sufficient cavalry advice at the War Office, the new Director of Military Training was one of the most distinguished cavalry soldiers in the Army—General D. Haig.


He is not a member of the Army Council.


said General Haig was a member of the General Staff, and of course training belonged to the General Staff. As to the question of depots in connexion with the infantry, one formidable objection to the depot system as distinct from battalion training was not merely that it was not quite as good, but that in order to put up the necessary depots there would have to be an to the question of battalion majors, there was the possibility of the double company system being put into operation in time of war; it existed in time of peace. A major was a very convenient person to command a double company. The system they had now was not one he would willingly depart from.


said he understood that the Malta military authorities had not been consulted.


said he understood the hon. Member was speaking about the garrison artillery. If the hon. Member asked about the infantry, he would reply that what had been done was done under the advice of the Defence Committee.


said he did not yet understand whether the supreme military authorities in Malta had or had not given their sanction to the reduction.


replied that he did not consult every person in some remote part of the Empire about military policy.


denied that Malta was a remote part of the Empire. Malta was becoming a very important feature in military policy, and he considered that the reduction of the garrison artillery was an extremely dangerous course.

And, it being a quarter-past Eight of the Clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means under Standing Order No. 8, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.