HC Deb 13 June 1912 vol 39 cc1173-80

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Gulland.]


I am sorry to detain the House on a question I wish to raise affecting the Territorial Force—I refer to the disbandment of the Paddington Rifles, thus casting a slur upon the men belonging to that battalion, and offering an insult deeply felt by all the local Territorial Committee, and by those large employers of labour who for years' past, and especially the last two years, have taken infinite trouble to secure the success of the Territorial Force. Time after time the local association have brought under notice the little attention given to the headquarters. No notice was taken of those complaints; although the local association offered to pay half the cost of the repairs. In spite of that disadvantage, the battalion has increased in three years from 380 to 560, and in the last five months no fewer than eighty-five recruits were registered—more than any other London battalion in the same period. There is reason to believe that in a very short time the battalion would have reached its full strength. The reasons given by the War Office for its action is that there were not sufficient men out of the 560. We had 390 last year. Although it is true that in the second week the number was reduced to 280, the War Office never took the trouble to inquire into the reason. In addition the War Office did not inquire whether there was an increase or decrease last year. A publication was sent in October last by the War Office to the County Office suggesting disbandment of the battalion. In consequence the association thoroughly investigated the matter and reported to the War Office that there was not sufficient ground for the suggestion. They re- commended certain improvements to meet headquarters and took a most rosy view of the prospects of the battalion and protested in the strongest way against disbandment. The brigadier congratulated the local associations on the success which they had achieved and gave as the reason for disbandment military reasons.

Whatever those may be, my complaint is that this decision was arrived at without consulting either the local association or the County of London Association, and indeed worse than that the advice given by the County Association only a few months ago was ignored and flouted. In my opinion that is thoroughly stupid. It is suicidal and certainly most unfair. You rely on the local associations for raising recruits and to use the best material in their districts for the Territorial Force, and how do you treat them. The County Association admittedly did their very best and you treated them with ridicule and insult. You ignored all that they did, and the men you have disbanded are lost to you, because they deeply resent the slur which has been cast upon them. You create a precedent which is certainly most discouraging to all the County Associations. You stifle the voluntary system, and you are doing your best to wreck the Territorial Force. Your reply to the Territorial Association was that it was too late. It is not too late to make the best use of the patriotism of Paddington, and they have shown by having the largest muster in London in the National Reserve that it is a splendid recruiting ground, and a patriotism which, I am sure, would produce the best battalion you could wish for if you had only given it the same opportunities which you give to other battalions, and if instead of disbanding it you had given those materials which they asked for, and which ought to be granted.


I hope the hon. Member who represents the War Office will give an assurance that no decisive action will be taken with regard to the Paddington Rifles until the Secretary of State has received the deputation which was to have been received on Monday last, but has been postponed for obvious reasons. I quite agree that the War Office must be the judge whether or not it is necessary in the public interest to disband a regiment, but I do not think they are entitled to do it without informing themselves fully of the facts of the case, especially the recent progress of the regiment. They are not entitled to deal with a voluntary body in total disregard of the local committee, which has done a great deal of good work with excellent results. The locality feels that the regiment has not had fair play and that the War Office have shown an almost brutal disregard of local opinion. The main reason given by the Secretary of State why the battalion was to be disbanded was that though every effort had been made there was no prospect of the regiment making up its numbers. How does that square with the facts. For the year ending 31st December, 118 recruits joined the regiment. That is a larger number than can be shown with most London battalions. I find from the report of the local committee that 141 recruits joined the battalion in the year ending 31st March last. How can anyone say there is no prospect of its making up its numbers? The County Territorial Association took the trouble to hold a local inquiry, and made a unanimous report against disbanding the regiment. Their opinion was disregarded. The local committee, which is a very influential committee, consisting of some of the most important employers of labour in the borough, with the Mayor of Paddington as chairman, say:— The committee have come to the conclusion that the Paddington Borough area is one that can easily recruit a battalion of Territorials, and they are fortified in this view by the great success of the local battalion of the National Reserve, the Boy Scouts, etc., which are in a flourishing condition. The chief difficulties in the way of recruiting are the total inadequacy and unsuitability of the present headquarters, and the want of a proper rifle range. These difficulties can be removed if the War Office will only do what is necessary. I wish to urge that the War Office should really give impartial consideration to this matter. If they decide, after full consideration, that it is necessary to disband the regiment, we must accept the decision. But the regiment at present feel that they are not getting fair play, and it is my duty to voice their feeling.

Colonel GREIG

I am a member of the Territorial Association referred to, and I was present at the meeting when the resolution quoted by the hon. Member opposite was passed. I think it is a little unwise on the part of the hon. Member to pitch his case quite so high. In associating myself with the appeal made to the Secretary of State by the last speaker to reconsider the question if possible, I do not associate myself with what I am afraid has been an attempt to make this matter an attack upon the War Office for what they have done. I want to be perfectly fair. I have heard both sides of the question. The disbandment was originally suggested by the general in command. As I understand it, it was done for military reasons, the authorities having come to the conclusion that it was unwise to spend further public money on the battalion. That may be a just decision. It was endorsed by the next commanding officer who came into office immediately after the general to whom I have referred, was reconsidered by him, and endorsed. I am well aware of what was the effect of that decision. Local feeling is very high. People feel that they have not had quite the consideration that they ought to have had from the War Office authorities. However, a useful, and, I believe, a very hopeful step has just been taken in the issue of a new Provisional Order relating to the constitution of the Territorial Force in the County of London. The main point in that scheme is that it will enable the mayors of the different boroughs in London to become members of the association. I believe that will assist us in evoking that local interest in the local corps which will be really valuable in recruiting in the London Division, and will bring it up to the standard which it ought to occupy. For that reason I would like to associate myself with this step. I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will get rid of the party idea in this matter of home defence. What we want now that we have got a good system which has started well is to evoke more local patriotism and interest in our Territorial force.

I would appeal to the War Office, if they possibly can—I know the Order has gone out for disbandment, and I am afraid a certain number of men have been or are on the point of being discharged. If I am not mistaken, the discharges will not take effect until they have in the usual course fulfilled all their pecuniary liabilities to the association, and surrendered their arms and accoutrements. But if the matter has not gone too far, I do hope that some measure of delay may be allowed to this battalion in order to see whether it may be recruited up to strength. It is true that it has only reached 500 in four years. Still, this is a new departure in the history of the force, and I think it would be a very graceful concession to the County of London Territorial Association, and the local feeling of Paddington, if some opportunity—I do not put it higher than that—were given to the local battalion to get their force raised to a proper standard of numbers and efficiency.

Captain JESSEL

First, I would like to strongly reinforce the appeal to the War Office, which has been made on both sides, to give a little more consideration to this matter. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that a great deal of feeling has been aroused in London by the disbandment of this battalion. Every effort is being made to link up the local units with the Territorial Association and with the Territorial Battalion, and we fear, those of us who are jealous of the efficiency of the Territorial organisation in London, that what is happening to-day in Paddington may happen in St. Pancras to-morrow or Westminster the next day. The question is raised on military grounds. If it was a question of replacing an Infantry battalion by a brigade of Artillery or a regiment of Yeomanry it would be a different matter. If the commanding officer or the adjutant were not doing their duty they could be replaced and others put in their place, but that would be no reason why a whole battalion should be swept away. The first charge was that it was not being recruited at proper strength. My hon. Friend has shown the very great progress that has been made in recruiting in the last twelve months, and I cannot for the life of me see why this battalion should be singled out for destruction. I join with the appeal made from the tenches opposite not to treat this matter as a party question. It is not a party question. I hope the War Office will not, for the sake of saving its face, refrain from inquiring again into this matter. There is considerable apprehension about this in London. Paddington has a population of over 100,000 people. Surely they can support one battalion if proper facilities be given them, and if they are given a proper drill hall and rifle range! It is not too much to ask the War Office to provide these ordinary requirements. It is proposed to associate this battalion with Hackney. Here, again, there is danger of infringing upon local feeling. I hope the hon. Gentlemen on the Government Bench will get the War Office to reconsider this matter.


I speak on this matter from the point of view of an outsider. I agree that this is a question touching the efficiency of the Territorial Force. I would ask hon. Gentlemen opposite why this corps is to be dis- banded. Was it because it was short in numbers, or because it was inefficient. If it is inefficient, it is obviously inefficient for one of two reasons. Either it had not the means of becoming efficient, and the War Office ought to have given the means, or its officers are inefficient. Why, then, does not the War Office deal with the question of the officers? As far as the men are concerned, it is a mere matter of training, or if it is short in numbers it can increase them in a short time. Surely it is not the case that it is not possible in the whole of Paddington to get sufficient numbers? That is not the reason for its being disbanded. They have 500 men, and if there is a shortage of numbers that is only a reason for extending the area.

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Tennant)

When the hon. Member for North Paddington (Mr. A. Strauss) informed me that he was about to bring this subject before the notice of the House on the Motion for Adjournment, I was anxious he should defer it until my right hon. Friend, who is Secretary of State for War designate, should be in his place, and be able to answer him. Technically speaking, there is no Secretary for War at the present moment, and I think it would be much to the advantage of the House if the answer could be given by my right hon. Friend later on. It must obviously be of advantage to the House that the Minister responsible should give the answer to this question. The hon. Gentleman, however, has thought fit to raise it now. I can only inform him that I have been in communication with my right hon. Friend, and he informs me he is willing and anxious to receive a deputation upon this subject at the earliest possible moment. I sincerely hope that that will meet with the view of both the hon. Member for Paddington and the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, who have made such temperate and moderate speeches this evening, showing that this question is not one-sided. I think that is pretty obvious from what fell from the mind of my hon. Friend, that this is not a party question, and I repudiate the language used by the hon. Member for North Paddington to the effect that the War Office cast an insult on the patriotism of Paddington. If any citizen of Paddington feels that, I should like to say on behalf of the Secretary of State for War, that we desire to remove that feeling at the earliest possible moment. I think the hon. Member for South Paddington said he felt that fair play had not been received by the inhabitants of Paddington. If that is the real and genuine feeling which they have, we shall do our best to remove that feeling. It is our anxiety and desire to do all we can to remove any feeling of that kind, and the Secretary of State will take the earliest possible steps to remove it, Finally, I think this case comes a little late, and if he says he is afraid the door has been closed it is impossible for me to say the door has not been closed, because I believe it has. The order has gone forth. It has been stated in answer to a question, but I would like to say that I have not seen a door which has been closed which is not capable of being opened.


Do we understand that the whole question of the disbanding of this corps will be reconsidered on its merits? I quite understand the explanation that no door is really ever closed, especially if the foot that keeps it open is sufficiently strong. He must have seen the strong feeling which has been aroused in the whole country, not only in patriotic Paddington, by the action that has been taken. Not only Paddington but also in the case of the Crewe volunteers, the country has felt very deeply that the Territorial Force has not received that consideration from the War Office which we expect. Do we understand that the question will be reopened?


I move that the House do not now adjourn."

Colonel YATE

Will the hon. Gentleman state under what authority the War Office disbanded this battalion?


I do not know what the hon. Member means by "authority."


Do we understand that the question will be reopened? That is what I asked the hon. Member.


I have stated the position, and I really do not think I have anything to add. I do not think the right hon. and gallant Gentleman ought to press me beyond that.


What is the deputation for if the matter is not going to be opened up again?


I only asked a plain question.


It is quite obvious the deputation will be in order that my right hon. Friend may have the means of considering the whole circumstances, and if that will not answer hon. Gentlemen I do not know what will.


Can the hon. Gentleman not tell the House why these men have been disbanded?


If the hon. Gentleman has not followed what has occurred in Parliament, it is not my fault. The reason has been given in answer to many questions, and the hon. Gentleman has only to consult the OFFICIAL REPORT.


On a point of Order. May I move the House do not now adjourn?


The hon. Member may move it, but it would be no use, because by Standing Order the House must adjourn.

And, it being Half-past Eleven of the clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Half after Eleven o'clock.