§ Mr. HUNT
I want to call the attention of the House to the fact that the Territorial Force is quite incapable of performing the duty for which the Government created it. It was created to defend us against the admitted possibility of a raid of 70,000 Continental troops, and allow our Expeditionary Force to go abroad and our Navy to attack the enemy wherever that enemy was, and also to protect our food supplies in time of war. Surely the Balkan war has shown us the fate of those who have fought unprepared. In March, 1908, Lord Haldane stated that if we relied on the Territorial Force against a surprise attack that he agreed that we should rely on very little, and again in the same year, in June at Ashford, he said:—It is with great truth said that we are able to give so comparatively little training to our citizen soldiers 2444 in time of peace, that they would not be ready to help should invasion take place.I conclude that Lord Haldane was speaking of the Territorials as he expected them to be, up to the strength as laid down by the Government as necessary for defence—that is to say, 313,000 men trained for a fortnight in camp every year and tested as qualified in musketry. What do we find now? Is it not a very different state of affairs? The Force is now, after four years, short of 51,000 officers and men, and if this number is considered sufficient the Government asked the country to bear the burden of the expense of an extra 50,000 men who were not wanted. In 1911, the latest musketry returns, there were only 143,408 out of the necessary 313,000 men who were tested as capable in musketry. Everyone knows a man is no use if he cannot shoot. Part of this Force were not known by any test to be able to hit the enemy, except by accident. The majority of the Force might, for all that is known, be mere targets for the enemy, and, moreover, extremely dangerous to their own side. I think it is pretty well known that field firing is very necessary if men are to go into real war. There were only thirty-four battalions out of 241 which were practised in their work. Over 34,000 Territorials did not even attend camp at all. This year more than 40,000 of them were boys of nineteen years 2445 of age. Many of them were seventeen years of age, and quite incapable of marching with a full soldier's kit, and many of them of marching even with rifle and ammunition. They were too young, and not strong enough. This year there are probably hardly more than 100,000 men in the Territorial Force out of 313,000 who are over twenty years of age and who have attended camp for fifteen days and passed in musketry.
Another thing I should like to call attention to is that the Territorials are armed with a rifle inferior to the rifle of any of the great nations, and that the bullet they have to use makes a far less serious wound than the pointed bullet of foreign nations. I do not think that anybody can deny that the Artillery are armed with an out-of-date gun and are very short of horses. We should require about 200,000 men to garrison the arsenals in the necessary places in Great Britain and Ireland, and surely these would absorb a good many of the 400,000 men who, as the right hon. Gentleman has told us, would be wanted to defend the country. I am told it would take about 200,000 for that purpose, and really it would be little less than murder to put untrained Territorials, many of them untrained to shoot, to face anything like 70,000 Continental troops who have been drilled and trained for two years. The Territorial Force costs over £3,000,000 a year, and it cannot under the voluntary system provides a Home army which can be depended upon to defend the country. Therefore, I am justified in saying that the £3,000,000 is wasted because what it produces is of no use for what the Government intend. I daresay the House will remember that Lord Haldane told the country in September, 1906, at Newcastle, that a nation armed was the only safeguard for the public interest should war break out. As he said that, surely we are bound to conclude that his scheme and strategy have broken down altogether, in spite of the enormous amount of young and untrained service that might have been given, and given cheaply, by his political opponents. The Territorials are really only Volunteers under the new scheme, and under the present altered conditions of the world the voluntary system can no longer, provide for the safety of our country. The present Secretary of State for War told us ten years ago that the danger was imminent, and that he was 2446 strongly in favour of compulsory service being put before the public quite frankly. I hope when he replies he will tell us the same thing. I also ask him to explain the difference between what is called conscription and universal compulsory military training for home defence, as all we want is that universal compulsory military training for rich and poor alike for home defence should be allowed by both sides in Parliament to be made a non-party question, and that our people shall have a fair chance of deciding for themselves a question on which our existence as a free nation depends. I venture to say, if the Prime Minister is willing to make this a non-party question, my right hon. Friend the leader of the Opposition will be willing to do the same. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?" and "Where is the Prime Minister?"] This can therefore be done unless the Prime Minister is afraid to trust the people to decide this great question for themselves, unhampered by party considerations. Do you think we are asking a great deal if we ask that the party responsible for the safety of the country, many of whose political adherents, at all events outside the House of Commons, are distinctly very strongly in favour of compulsory military training, should insist that it is the duty of every man to learn enough to be able to do his share in defending his country at any time should it be necessary? We are only asking you to make that a non-party question, to allow people to vote as they like, so that the party opposite will not on account of vote-catching ideas prevent the people on this great question from settling the matter for themselves.
§ Sir T. COURTENAY WARNER
I should not have risen but that the hon. Member has seen fit on an important question like this, to make an attack such as has been made on the Territorials. [HON. MEMBERS: "No attack."] Hon. Members perhaps would not call it an attack to make these charges of inefficiency and inadequacy, or to say that the money spent on them is wasted. I will not argue that matter. I look upon the speech which has been delivered as a direct attack upon the Territorials. [Hoy. MEMBERS: "No."] I agree with one thing which the hon. Gentleman said, that it is the duty of every man to defend his country. It is quite a different thing from compelling every man to do his duty. It is easy to say that every man ought to do a thing, but it is quite a different thing 2447 to bring in a law to make every man do that duty. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because the country thinks it an oppressive law. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why should they?" and "Not a bit."] I would like to refer to another statement that has been made—that conscription and compulsory military service are not the same thing. They are not. It is quite true that compulsory service means that everybody must undergo military service, and conscription only takes a certain number of the population. As to foreign armies, they are exactly as I suggested—they are for home defence. No country in the world has conscription or any sort of compulsory service for foreign service, so that we have exactly the same thing here. All the Colonial expeditions, both under France and Germany, are manned by volunteers. No men are ordered to go on foreign or Colonial service in those armies. [HON. MEMBERS: "In time of war?"] Yes, I believe in time of war. The Colonial army is not ordered abroad in those countries.
Another question is that of musketry. The hon. Gentleman accuses the Territorials of being inefficient in musketry. It is quite possible that in many cases they are not as efficient as we should like to see them. They are not as efficient as our Regular Army and are not as efficient as our Special Reserve. But I believe they undergo as much training in musketry as many of the foreign armies. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] Yes, they do. If hon. Gentlemen who laugh would go into the statistics they would find that it is so, and that I am not wrong in my statement that the Territorials do undergo, I think, very nearly as much training as the German Army undergo in musketry. But another accusation is that the Territorials are only boys, that they are not old enough, because a large proportion of them are under twenty years of age. I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman opposite what proportion of boys he thinks there was in the Bulgarian Army, which has done the most brilliant work in the world lately. How many does he think there were under twenty years of age? I am sure there was a larger proportion of boys in the Bulgarian Army than in the Territorials. Every Bulgarian boy turned out. It is absurd to say that a boy under twenty is not good enough for home defence. Many boys under twenty years of age are better than men at forty.
§ Sir T. COURTENAY WARNER
The Bulgarian Army have quite as large a proportion of soldiers under nineteen years of age as the Territorial Force have. I think the real point of efficiency in the Territorials is not meant for a sudden emergency. We have 200,000 men of the Regular troops, and the Territorials will not be called upon to defend the country until the Regular troops have been sent abroad.
MARQUESS of TULLIBARDINE
Can the hon. Gentleman tell me when the Regular troops could be sent abroad?
§ Sir T. COURTENAY WARNER
I believe the Regular troops can be mobilised and sent abroad in about three weeks in certain cases; but that is not all. At the time of the South African war, when we were using every possible effort, and were under a great strain, offering every possible inducement to troops to go abroad, there never was a time when we had less than 200,000 troops in England. It. is true at one time they were replaced by the Militia, and so on, but they were men who had been embodied for a long time. What makes the difference between the Territorial Army and the old Volunteer force is that the former can be embodied as soon as required; they can be embodied for six months, and the country would not be denuded of troops. It is not a question of the Territorials turning out to repel invasion after a few days' notice, because the Regular troops are there. Therefore I am quite sure that the Territorials, after they have had their month of training, would be quite equal to the ordinary Continental troops that have been called up from the Reserves and so on. They have not had the year's training of the old soldiers in the sense in which we used to look on them in this country, but they are very much the same as the recruits who have been three months in the Army. I do not think that the Territorials would fail in their duty of supplying the place of the Regular Army when it is sent abroad. But the great point is, is it a good plan to discourage the Territorials and to tell them that they are no good, and to say that we are wasting money on them, and thus prevent, this movement holding the field as long as we can?
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Colonel Seely)
The hon. Gentleman opposite raised two points, with which in 2449 the short time that is left to us I hope—though we shall have longer opportunities, and no doubt we shall have many within the next few months—to direct my attention, and, first of all, to what he said with regard to the Territorial Force being deficient in numbers. That we fully admit. It is not up to the full numbers required. He said also that it does not fire sufficiently a large proportion of its men on the ranges. That is perfectly true. The reason is that in this crowded country it is difficult to get enough ranges to enable the men to fire. There is no dispute between the two sides as to those two points. I do not wish now to make a controversial speech, and I honestly hope we may arrive at some definite conclusion. We admit those two points. When he says that the money is wasted, I frankly say that I regret he made any such assertion. I do believe that it is wide of the truth, and I will tell you why. He says that the Territorial Force are Volunteers under a new name. That may be true, but no one will deny that they are an enormous improvement on the Volunteers in efficiency, in the number of days they spend in camp, in the amount of shooting that they do, on what von may call the hours of military service. They are an enormous advance, and certainly in zeal they do not lack as every general officer and all regular officers in command of Divisions are the first to admit, and I think that is admitted on all hands. Such a fine body of men are the successors of the Volunteers, and while those same Volunteers were inferior, they undoubtedly did receive almost flamboyant praise from Sir Redvers Buller, and also from Lord Methuen, and, above all, from Lord Roberts, whose speeches in this matter I shall often have to quote, for I know that he seeks the same thing as we do, and there can be no doubt that his praise of the Volunteer principle is a very striking fact that must not be forgotten. When we remember that those Volunteers so loudly and so justly praised by Lord Roberts, were inferior to the force we now have, I observe that to say that we have wasted our money is a misuse of words, which is calculated to depreciate the public spirit and patriotism of the people. I hope we may hear no more of such violent language as that. Now let us take the other side. I have admitted that the training is not as complete as we could wish. We wish it were more. But now 2450 comes the point. The hon. Gentleman opposite says—as he has often said—he most courageously sticks to his principles, that on that account the Force as a voluntary principle has broken down, and that the only way to get numbers and efficiency is by a system of compulsory enlistment. I say, on that, that I entirely agree that it is most desirable that everyone in this country should know how to defend himself and so to make himself a more self-respecting citizen, but I demur on military grounds to the assertion that it is wise ever to attempt in this country to get your various forces by compulsory service. I have never said so. I have repeatedly said the contrary, and I repeat it to-night. But let that pass. The question is what are we to do to-day? Is it conceivably possible that we can take the hon. Member's short-cut out of our difficulties, which I admit? I beg the House to assert tonight that it is not.
§ Colonel SEELY
It is not a party question now, as I am going to show. I appeal to hon. Gentlemen on all sides of the House, and especially on that side, to abandon this will-o[...]-the-wisp, at any rate for the time being, and to back up what we have got, namely, the voluntary system, by every means in their power. Why do I say that it is impossible? I do not only refer to the very brilliant article in to-day's "Daily Mail," by my horn Friend the Member for Blackburn, showing that there is not one single organisation composed of labouring men that is not bitterly opposed to it. I say nothing on the merits, but there can be no doubt that a system of compulsory service for our fighting forces is bitterly opposed by the mass of the working men of this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "No," and "Hear, hear."] I thought that would be admitted.
§ Colonel SEELY
If it is disputed, I am very much surprised. As regards leaders of opinion, nobody denies that the Prime Minister of to-day is opposed to compulsory service. Nobody will deny that the Leader of the Unionist party is even more strongly opposed to compulsory service. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I will read what he said. This was in the 2451 Debate on Lord Roberts' Bill introducing compulsory service, a very moderate and modest form of compulsory service for home defence. Lord Lansdowne, on the last occasion when this was debated in the House of Lords in 1908, said:—If I am asked what I think of this Bill, I have to say frankly to your Lordships that I doubt very much whether it would increase the military efficiency of this country, and I am very much afraid that if it were passed into law, it might produce a very dangerous reaction. I am also very much afraid that by passing it your Lordships will not greatly add to the reputation of this House.That is a complete, and one may say, a bitter denunciation of the whole compulsory principle by the Leader of the Unionist party.
§ Colonel SEELY
I ask the House to say that when we have the Leader of the Liberal party opposed to this system, the Leader of the Conservative party strongly opposed to the principle, and admittedly the Labour party as a whole opposed to it—[An HON. MEMBER: "To a man"]—that it is folly to attempt to get a short cut to efficiency by the hon. Gentleman's method. I frankly appeal, if I may, to hon. Members to look facts in the face, and to say if they cannot get their own ideal, then they will back up the system that we have, the only system which has the support of the Leader of any responsible party in this House, and the only system which you can possibly hope to give you an Army for many a long year to come. Personally, for reasons I have often given, I do not 2452 believe that a fighting force founded on compulsion would be as good as a voluntary force; nor do I believe in the particular position in which we stand that to concentrate our efforts on a greater Army for home defence would be wise. I think it would be great folly. But quite apart from that, presuming that the views of the hon. Gentleman opposite are right, if he cannot get what he wants then let him, for the sake of this country that he loves, support the only possible method of making a strong nation.
§ Colonel SEELY
It is rather difficult to reply to a great question of that kind in a moment. I am glad that the question has been asked, if I have only time to answer it. The question was considered very carefully by the Imperial Defence Committee, as the Prime Minister has explained, less than four years ago. That Committee were all acknowledged experts on naval and military affairs. It was they who decided that giving every possible advantage to the other side, and taking everything at its worst, that we could not possibly assume that more than 70,000 men—that is the number—
§ And it being half an hour after the conclusion of Government business, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put.
§ Adjourned at Twenty-eight minutes before Twelve o'clock