§ Order for Committee read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Colonel Seely)
In rising to move that you leave the Chair, I ask the indulgence of the House on two grounds. First, because, after the very grave statement made by the Prime Minister, I suppose that everyone is more concerned with matters of more vital importance even than those which we shall now discuss; and, in the second place, because for many years past my Noble Friend, the Secretary of State for War has presented the Estimates, as I now do, with a wealth of detail and lucidity of statement which I cannot hope to rival. Though I cannot hope to rival his lucidity of statement, and I certainly cannot attempt to rival the length of his remarks—I have listened to 51 them all; I never found a word too much in them—I will try to follow my Noble Friend in avoiding as far as possible bringing the affairs of the Army into what one may Gall party conflict. But at the very outset I am afraid we must approach a very controversial question, though it is not a party question. It is the question whether the Army is properly armed. It is the question whether the right hon. Gentleman opposite the Leader of the Opposition in this House was right in supposing that the arms of our Army were so utterly inferior—I use his precise words—to those of Continental nations that no amount of courage can overcome the handicap which they sustain. I hasten to say at once, and without hesitation, after making the most careful inquiry into this statement, and having consulted every expert whom I can find, that there is not one particle of truth in it.
So far from our Regular Army being less well armed than Continental nations, I shall ask the House to say that our Regular Army is better armed than any Continental nation. I hope that the House will forgive me if I go with some detail into the question, for it is important in view of the fact that whatever happens, even if the right hon. Gentleman opposite were to be Prime Minister to-morrow, a matter as to which I suppose he is not at all without hope, he would not be able to overcome that disadvantage for years. The re-arming of an Army, our own or any other, is such a long business that, speaking advisedly, I say that it is a matter not of months but of years. Therefore we ought not to suppose that the right hon. Gentleman would light-heartedly inform the world that we are in danger of imminent and instant defeat if we are involved in war for a period of years to come. I am glad to think that his audience did not believe a word of it, for I read at the end of this alarming statement that "the Regular Army will suffer, in the inferiority of its weapons, a handicap which no courage can overcome," that striking comment of 10,000 people in the Albert Hall, "Hear, hear." We all know very well that as regards the process of national self-depreciation in which all audiences are apt to indulge on both sides, no audience in the Albert Hall or elsewhere would purchase a Tory victory at the price of a British defeat. So it is clear that they did not believe a word of it, and I do not believe oven that the right hon. Gentleman him- 52 self believed a word of it, but as some people may believe it, I think it desirable, to deal with the matter.
The armament of our troops consists of course of heavy guns, field guns, that is Horse Field Artillery or machine guns, and of rifles, leaving out of account for a moment bayonets and swords, which I. think are not a subject of controversy just now. Take them one by one. Take first the heavy guns: Our Army is armed with a Howitzer, which is of the latest pattern, and I think by general consent, certainly by the consent of every school of thought in this country, and I believe by the general consent of everyone, it is the best heavy gun now in existence. It is the latest type; therefore it is not unlikely that we, who are not altogether a foolish people, will be able, if it is the latest type, to have the best. I suppose, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will not demur to my statement, that so far from the heavy gun being utterly inferior to that of foreign nations, it is much the best. Now I turn to the Horse Field Artillery. After consultation with all the experts to whom I have access, it is a question as to whether ours is the best gun or the second best gun. The only question is as to whether our gun is inferior to the French gun. It is admittedly superior to all the other guns—I speak now of the great Continental Powers—because, again, it is the latest gun. It is inconceivable that this great nation, which has had to make war for so many hundreds of years, and which has all the previous experience of foreign Powers to go upon, should produce a very inferior gun. Nor can anybody contend that it is so. The only question is, is it, although better than that of the other Powers, inferior to that of the French?
I have here a list drawn, up for mo by the Director of Artillery, of what he considers the thirteen essential points in a field gun, and I may say here that I sent all these to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition this morning. For a very obvious reason, when we are dealing with the French and English guns, the details of which are known, there is no embarrassment in talking in public about it, but when we come to compare different countries it is really better not to discuss the rifles of neighbouring Powers. They send us their rifles as an act of courtesy, and, in order to explain my case, I shall have to point out that many of our rivals are hopelessly inferior to us in vital respects. But I do not wish to give the names of those Powers, in order to avoid 53 giving offence. Therefore I sent this list to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, which contains full details of those Powers, and I will send confidentially to any Member of this House the same information: it is only confidential in the sense that we do not wish to create offence among friendly nations. The thirteen points of a field gun, in the view of our expert advisers, who will, I have no doubt, be the expert advisers of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, are rapid laying, rapid firing, the method of sighting, the ammunition supply, accuracy of the fuse, the smoke produced by the shell on impact or explosion, the muzzle energy, the weight of the shell, the mobility of the gun, the strength of the gun and its equipments, the shields to protect those who fire the gun, the actual sights themselves as distinguished from the method of sighting, and various others, some of them important accessories. The mobility of the carriage is included in the question of strength, and also in the question of accuracy.
I am not going to go through all these points. I am not going into certain points; or, if I did, I might attempt to rival in length, though I cannot hope to do so in ability, the speeches of my Noble Friend on previous occasions. But I will furnish any hon. Gentleman, as I have furnished the right hon. Gentleman opposite, with the full opinion of the Director of Artillery, with that of his advisers, and of his able officers. I will just summarise his conclusions. There are four points in which the French are superior. I put those points first as a matter of politeness to a great and friendly nation. The first is accuracy of the fuses; so that if our weapons are utterly inferior we are in circumstances of extreme danger. But on the question of accuracy of fuses and the question of invisibility we are considered to be equal. The remainder of the points—7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13—seven points—our advisers think we are superior. Taking it all round, I think that for the purposes of war it is probably that our gun is at least as good as that of the French, and, by comparison with the guns of other Powers, it is undoubtedly superior. What the right hon. Gentleman had in mind when he made his speech I cannot conceive, but if it has anything to do with Artillery I suppose he would tell us. There is nothing we want to conceal, except where we have the advantage, that, we do not wish to communicate to the 54 public. In a matter of this Kind we have nothing to conceal, and I challenge him to say that I am overstating the case when I again assert that our mobile Artillery is certainly superior to that of any Continental nation, except possibly France, and in the case of France there is doubt.
Our advisers consider that our gun is, better. The right hon. Gentleman and the party opposite are largely responsible, but I am not going into any recriminations as to whether it is a Unionist rifle or a Radical rifle, a Unionist gun or a Radical gun. Anything more absurd as a basis, for real argument could not be conceived. But it is perfectly justifiable to make a reply to so very flamboyant an address as, that of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. We are merely trying to see what the truth is about this matter, and I say that, in the opinion of our advisers, our gun is superior to that of all Continental nations, though as to the French it is in doubt. Now we come to the machine guns. Machine guns are supplied to our Army on a very liberal scale—a more liberal scale than is the case with other Powers. We have got more in proportion. We have paid more attention to machine guns. There are obvious reasons for that. It is true that our Maxim is a very heavy gun. We are trying a Maxim very much lighter, one less than half the weight, only about 26 lbs.; but it is very doubtful whether the advantage will be very great, because as you lighten the Maxim it becomes so much more unstable. Anyone who has tried a Maxim gun must know how liable it is to jam, and make hopelessly erratic practice. Many people hold the view that the lighter the gun the greater the danger there is, and they are doubtful whether the lighter Maxim will have the advantages which some conceive it will possess. But in regard to the Maxim it cannot be said that, we are utterly inferior, because, taking this arm as a whole, we have rather more in proportion than other Powers. We did lead the way, and most other Powers have followed our lead, not only in the matter of the gun itself, but in many of its important details.
The right hon. Gentleman will refer doubtless to the Territorial Force. In his statement he said that the Regular Army had weapons utterly inferior, and he said that was even more true with regard to the Territorial Force. The Territorial Force has only comparatively recently come into existence, and it was possible to arm them with what is the converted 15-pounder 55 breech-loader. If the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues had been in office I should like them to tell us whether they would have converted the existing gun or would they have equipped the whole of this force with new guns at a cost of about £3,250,000, or whether they would have given them the guns available for conversion? So far as muzzle velocity and effective range are concerned it is superior to the German gun. If you have a gun almost immediately available, and if it is not inferior in the most important points to the German weapon, I think we were well advised to keep our three-quarters of a million for purposes even more vital, while giving the force the excellent weapon which they possess in the first stages of their career. I now come to the question of rifles. So far, I have dealt with the heavy Artillery, the mobile Artillery, and the machine gun, and I challenge any hon. or right hon. Gentleman to deny that according to expert advisers we are undoubtedly in these arms the best armed of Continental nations. And so it is with the rifles. The only other document I sent to the right hon. Gentleman opposite I am ready to send to any hon. Gentleman who wishes to see it. It is about the rifles, and the aspersions cast upon it in comparison with the rifles of foreign Powers. Let us see what the history of the subject is. Our rifle is a new rifle. The French rifle, "Labelle," was designed, I think, in 1886. The Lee-Met-ford was designed and issued in 1889. The German Mauser—I am speaking of the great Powers—was issued in 1898. The Lee-Enfield was issued in 1903. Ours therefore is the latest rifle.
I would point out the inherent probability that ours is the superior weapon. Those who advised the Government in 1903, and the Government themselves were not all fools. In fact, in my humble judgment, they were very able men, with hardly an exception, and they could not have done anything so idiotic as to adopt a hopelessly bad gun. When I say gun, I use the word colloquially, or as one would speak of a sporting gun or rifle. Let us examine the rifle in the same way, point by point. I suppose that you may put the points necessary in a rifle in the following order. All officers agree that the first is reliability. If the rifle will not go off, nothing matters. Rifles do jam, we all know very well. The next point is rapidity of fire. That is vital. The next point is accuracy: that is vital. The 56 next is stopping power, and the next is flat trajectory for a further intermediate range; that is to say, a flat trajectory for 800, 900, or 1,000 yards. The next point is lightness, which is of very vital importance, as anyone who has read of any campaign must know. The next is handiness. As to the first point, reliability, our rifles are extraordinarily reliable. We know that, so far as reliability is concerned, the rifle we had in the South African war was extraordinarily reliable, and the jams were extremely few during that prolonged struggle, in which so many shots were fired. Our advisers report that our rifle is extremely trustworthy in this respect.
Really it stands very high, and probably, for various reasons, stands first. I frankly put to the right hon. Gentleman before the House of Commons that to make such a statement as that which he delivered at the Albert Hall really does embarrass, not the Government of the day, but the defence of the country. What he said did not alarm his hearers, as we know from that "Hear, hear" to which I referred; but it might have alarmed, and it may have alarmed the British soldier, who has not got the opportunity, as everyone here would have, of comparing his weapon with foreign rifles. When it is said this weapon is greatly inferior, in order to restore confidence to the soldier we are obliged to give information which it is undesirable to impart in the interests of the State. It is a fact that in point of rapidity of firing, as I previously stated—though it is highly undesirable to draw attention to it except at a moment of this kind—we are twice as good as any foreign Power. Somebody said to me at the War Office in reference to this question of rifles, "It is like Columbus's egg trick." It is very simple when it is done, and if the right hon. Gentleman will come round to the War Office he will see our own rifle and those of the foreign Powers. Anyone who is interested in the question may see the rifles, already labelled, as they were brought to me by the responsible parties concerned; and I promise to place them in the Tea Room so that everyone can judge for himself. We have got an enormous and overwhelming advantage in the very simple fact of rapidity of firing. Accuracy is also an important thing in a rifle, and we stand first. A series of tests have been conducted with the rifles of five great Powers. The figure of a country is obtained by the firing of ten shots and then seeing the greatest divergence, and the figures 57 represent decimal points of feet. We are getting on with our "utterly inferior weapon." The figures are these: The British rifle stands at the top, .55; the next rifle, 61; the next rifle of a great Continental Power, .65; the next, .81; the next, 1.56. Our rifle is nearly three times more accurate than that of the worst of those five great Powers.
§ Colonel SEELY
This is at a range of 600 yards, but at greater ranges and at extreme ranges, so I am informed, our rifle has a much greater superiority over all other rifles except the American. The reason for that, I am told, is that this is the only country except America where people go in for rifle shooting at long ranges. For that reason we have sighted our rifles up to 2,800 yards, and Americans sight up to an even greater distance, while other Powers sight much shorter. As to accuracy at 600 yards, the proof is the figures I have given. If anybody doubts them, I do beg of them to go to the range, and I shall make all arrangements as to the shooting. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will go and shoot. [An HON. MEMBER: "Will the right hon. Gentleman say how many foreign rifles were tried?"] I have mentioned five. I have in my room at the War Office altogether eleven, of which three are ours, the proposed new one, and the short and the long, and eight of foreign Powers. I do hope hon. Members will come and look at them and see for themselves, and if they do not choose the "utterly inferior weapon" I shall be very much surprised. As to stopping power, I say nothing except this. We have, as the House knows, adopted the new pointed bullet. We are the last Power to adopt it of all the great Powers, and I am very glad we were. We were obliged to follow suit, and the House need have no fear on that point should we go to war.
There is then the question as to the trajectory. That is the one point I suppose on which the right hon. Gentleman must concentrate. Ours is less flat at those intermediate ranges than those of the other great Powers. There is in the Tea Room at present a diagram showing the trajectories of the different rifles. We could, I believe, make our trajectory as low. Our breach is probably not so strong, but according to some tests it does at the moment show greater pressures with the new cartridge than that of our great Continental rivals, but the Master-General of 58 Ordnance warned me that it is unwise to accept figures as to pressures unless they are checked again and again. It is a highly technical matter, but I would not like it to be said definitely that our pressures are greater than those of foreign; Powers, though that is the result which we have obtained at present. As far as the track of a bullet is concerned our bullet goes a little bit higher, a little under 9 ft.—between 8 and 9 ft.—compared to the German bullet, which is a little under 6 ft., and the advocates of the trajectory argument think it is the most important and the one that makes all the difference in the world. A great deal of nonsense has been talked about the value of a low trajectory. It is an element, but it is not the most important element.
To begin with, for very short ranges it makes no difference at all, and at very long ranges again the old-fashioned bullet goes, and goes further. The extreme range of our old bullet has been obtained by experiment at 3,600 yards. I myself was riding a horse in the South African War which was killed at an ascertained range of 3,000 yards from a mauser, and our bullet is able to go a little further. Thus there is no advantage either in very short ranges or in extreme lengths. There is a certain advantage in the flat trajectory at the intermediate lengths, but then only if you do not know the range, for if you know the range the difficulty disappears. I say nothing as to the possibility of overcoming the difficulty by adopting what is called the negative angle sight of Sergeant Ommundsen, which has received much notice in many well-in-formed quarters. It is too technical a matter to discuss now, but I admit it is an advantage, other things being equal, to have a flat trajectory, but other things are not equal. If we were to get a trajectory as flat as those of the French and German-rifles, it is almost certain we would sacrifice some of our rapidity of fire. As anyone can see, there must be occasional difficulties of extraction owing to the greater power of explosion in the chamber, and a greater chance of expansion of the gas with difficulty of extraction. It is for that reason that we have delayed somewhat, even after adopting the pointed bullet the issue of it, till we were quite-sure we could get a bullet and a cartridge which would avoid the great danger of a jam.
§ Colonel SEELY
Does the hon. Member mean those I referred to in the last paragraph? Those were carried out with the pointed bullet, but if they had been carried out with the other bullet, so far as we know, we should still have been at the top, because the difference of accuracy is very slight. I will not delay further as to the point about the trajectory, except to say that it is not the most important thing in a rifle, and it is not amongst the first four most important things in the rifle. We have the advantage in the first four. As to lightness, our rifle is lighter than the French and German, and it is the second lightest of the great Continental Powers. In handiness, ours being the shortest, and admittedly a well-balanced rifle, is presumably the best. Because it is the shortest and lightest, except that of Austria, and being well-balanced it may be presumed to be the best. We therefore arrive at this remarkable fact, and I am not now speaking in my own behalf or from my own point of view, though I have given close study to the subject, but of the views of every responsible man in the Army from whom I have been able to make inquiries. On those seven vital points we have the overwhelming advantage in the two most vital, rapidity of fire and accuracy. We are as high, at least, in reliability. We are better off than our great rivals in lightness. We are probably best off in handiness, and we are as good, and probably better, for we have a heavier bullet, in stopping power.
I will not deny that in the trajectory they have the advantage. I can imagine the right hon. Gentleman, if he had the chance, buying over a million rifles abroad, in spite of whatever views he may hold as to the desirability of employing home manufactories, as it would be the only thing he could do unless we were to be in our present condition for many years, since it takes years to make a new rifle. Suppose the British soldier were in battle with this foreign weapon he would find that he could not shoot so straight, he would find that he could not shoot so fast, and suppose the right hon. Gentleman were to creep up to him, for I know he would not be afraid to face any danger, and I fully admit his courage and patriotism, and suppose he were to say to the soldier, "But you have got a very flat trajectory." I know that the soldier would say, "Bother your trajectory: give me a rifle that shoots the straightest and shoots the fastest!" If anyone hears me who has had experience of War, I am sure 60 they will admit that any soldier would prefer the rifle that shoots the straightest and shoots the fastest rather than to have a rifle with a flatter trajectory, whatever advantages that flat trajectory may have. To sum up, our rifle shoots the straightest and the fastest, and it gives the hardest blow. At all ranges and over short ranges I claim therefore that on those points our rifle, although it admittedly has many defects, is the best rifle of the Continental Powers.
§ Colonel SEELY
That is the point as to durability. In referring to reliability I quoted the phrase of the Director of Artillery, that our rifle "practically never wears out." That was his phrase in making a report, but of course all these things are comparative. The point is an interesting one. It is not likely that our rifle will wear out as rapidly, for various reasons which it is not necessary to dwell upon, and one of which is the drawback in the high trajectory. There only remains the rifle with which the Territorial Force are armed. Is that the point? I do not know if it is worth while going through the question as to the relative merits of the long and the short rifles. Most people who were in this House at the time were, I believe, in favour of the long one. If the right hon. Gentleman does me the honour to come to the War Office and see the different rifles, as I trust he will, and as I think he is bound to do, I think he will probably prefer the long rifle; and, in fact, I am sure he will. There is one great advantage in the long rifle, and that is that if you were going to fire a great many shots it reduces the recoil. If the right hon. Gentleman were going to war he would find an enormous advantage, and so would the Territorial Force, or any body of troops who have to fire an immense number of rounds, or any man who has to do so, in reduced recoil. Especially is that proved of people who have had less practice than others. Otherwise there is no difference in rapidity of fire. Let me at once explain that the legend which has grown up that it will net fire the new cartridge is a complete delusion.
There are two legends which I must really dismiss. The first is as to the shortage of ammunition. It has been stated publicly that there was a time when we were really short of ammunition a few months ago, and that there were only 150 rounds 61 per man. That is a most fantastic misstatement. At no moment during the past year, which is all I know about personally, have we not had ample stores of ammunition of both sorts, both pointed and the other, Mark VII. and Mark VI. [An HON. MEMBER: "How many rounds?"] It has always been considered inadvisable to state in public the precise stores of ammunition, but the moment I sit down I will give the Noble Lord the actual figures. If he then wishes to say it is not enough I hope he will get up at once and say so. It is very undesirable to state the precise number in the House; it has never been done; but confidentially I will give it to any hon. Member. But I assure them on my honour that at all moments there, has been an ample supply. I gave a comparison in reply to the Noble Lord the Member for Perthshire (the Marquess of Tullibardine).
MARQUESS of TULLIBARDINE
I think the right hon. Gentleman explained that a considerable part of it did not fit the rifle.
§ Colonel SEELY
I am coming next to the question of whether it fits or not. The store of ammunition designed for the rifle to be used, as I told the Noble Lord, was far in excess of the total number of rounds fired in the whole three years of the South African war. I repeat that statement, and I trust the House will rest satisfied with it. The next point is in regard to whether the two cartridges fit the same rifle. May I say at once that I have fired a great many rounds of Mark VII. ammunition from both the short and the long rifles, sighted for both sorts, and Mark VI. ammunition from both rifles. They are absolutely interchangeable. At short ranges the difference in sighting is small. Nobody proposes, nor is there the least likelihood that we should have to use the pointed ammunition, Mark VII., in what I may call the Mark VI. rifle, for we have ample stores of ammunition of both sorts. At any period of transition there may be a danger. We have minimised the danger by having ample stores of both sorts of ammunition, and in a very short time the whole of our Forces, including the Territorial Force, will be armed with Mark VII. ammunition and with rifles sighted for that purpose. In the meantime the cartridges are absolutely interchangeable. So that if by any chance there was a mistake, and they did get mixed, they would fire just as well, and the difference would only be a differ- 62 ence in sighting, which arises in an acute form at ranges a little beyond 670 yards. Up to 670 yards the difference is so slight that an ordinary man firing would not know which he was firing. Certainly you cannot tell the difference from the recoil. That finishes what I have to say about armament. I must apologise to the House for detaining them at such length, but the statement made that our weapons were utterly inferior was so emphatic that, with the full approval of the Prime Minister and of the Secretary of State for War, I have made a full statement. I ask the House now to affirm that what the right hon. Gentleman said was absolutely remote from the truth, and that, if you take the armaments of the British Army as a whole, we are incontrovertibly superior to any Continental army. We ought to be, because we have a small Army, and we are, and we mean to remain, the best armed of any army in Europe.
I turn now to less controversial matters, and I trust I shall not have to detain the House very long on these points, though I shall be glad, as will also the Financial Secretary, to reply at a suitable moment to any points that may be raised. I shall have to make a full statement on our aviation policy at the conclusion of my remarks. The House will see that the Estimates do not differ in any material degree from those of previous years. The total amount is larger, but the amount taken for aviation also is larger, and more than covers the difference. As regards the Expeditionary Force, there has been steady progress made. I have made a comparison with the year 1908, so as to avoid any idea that I was comparing it with the Expeditionary Force during the late Government. I find that the numbers available without Reserves are over 10,000 greater than they were four years ago, and that the numbers available for the Expeditionary Force with the Reserves are 50,000 greater than was the case four years ago, I think that is a satisfactory advance. The mobility of the Expeditionary Force has been increased also. Various shortcomings in organisation have been made good, though I fully admit that much more remains to be done. We have improved the signalling service and the intercommunication service. A question was asked today about travelling kitchens, which are a very vital element in our mobility. I am glad to say that we have sanctioned a certain number, and their issue will be commenced forthwith. The Regular Army, as a whole, has advanced steadily in efficiency 63 during the past few years. We need not, as a rule, go to any foreign country to get a testimonial to our own virtue, but I think a statement about the British Army that appeared in the French official publication is sufficiently remarkable to bear quoting in this House. In their last article in the "Revue Militaire," the French General Staff—and I presume they may be taken as impartial lookers-on at the different armies of the world, say this:—There is no army which has made progress comparable with the British during the last few years. It is to-day highly placed among the best. Its Infantry is particularly remarkable and continues to improve.I believe that to be true of the Regular Army. There is a real spirit of zeal and energy amongst the officers, and, as I shall try to show later, a very real improvement in the men. This being assuredly no matter either for party or for any other conflict, I am sure we can all rejoice that there are signs of the continued and real progress of our great British Army towards even higher efficiency. With regard to the Reserves, there is not so good a tale to tell. The Regular Army, as anyone will see from the Report just issued, is practically up to strength. The shortage is so small on a fixed establishment of over 250,000 that it may be disregarded. Nor is there any appreciable shortage of officers in the Regular Force. In the Special Reserve, however, there is a real shortage. I regret to say that there are 1,800 men less, as appears in the Secretary of State's Memorandum, than there were last year. On the other hand, there are seventy more officers, which is an improvement. I am told that good trade tells very much against recruiting, and it may be that that has been the cause of the shortage of recruits for the Special Reserve. But, latterly, there has been a very real improvement, and since August last there has been an increase of 3,000. I would ask the House not to think that this is a very dangerous matter, for, as I have shown, the Expeditionary Force has got Reserves adequate to its need for a long time to come. That is far better provided with Reserves than it was four years ago. The Territorial Force shows an increase in numbers, and, I seriously believe, in efficiency. I have figures a little later than those in the Secretary of State's Memorandum. The total numbers now are 263,624 of all ranks. Nor is it discouraging that the increase since October last is very much greater than it was in the 64 corresponding period of last year—namely, 9,000 as against less than 5,000, or nearly double as large. On the other hand, more men are due to leave this year by the expiration of their engagements. In all, 80,000 can take their discharge if they wish. Therefore it behoves us to make every effort to keep the Force up to its present strength and to increase it to full strength.
§ Earl WINTERTON
Does the right hon. Gentleman say that there has been an increase in the Territorial Force since 1st January? His own figures contradict it.
§ Colonel SEELY
I think the Noble Lord is in error. It is not a material point, but there is no doubt that the increase from 1st October to now is approximately 9,000—it depends on what day you take whether it is a little more or less—whereas the increase in the corresponding period of last year was only 5,000. That is a feature which may give us some consolation, but the feature that there are 80,000 men to go must give us some concern. That is the whole point I am making. It is therefore necessary for us to do all we can to increase the numbers. We have decided to give separate allowance to all married privates, as well as non-commissioned officers, who attend camp for fifteen days. The criticism has been made that this separate allowance should have been given to all those who attend camp for any period, say for eight days. I think, however, it is better to give it to those who attend for fifteen days, because the whole object of giving separation allowance, as in making any other concession of this kind, is to prevent a man from being out of pocket by his service in the Territorial Force. Many men in practice do get leave and their wages paid them for a week, but cannot get leave for a fortnight; therefore it seems more urgent to give a separation allowance to married privates who attend for fifteen days. We have also made an increased Grant for those attending musketry, which I hope will somewhat mitigate a certain 65 hardship which men suffered in having to spend money as well as time in attending their musketry course. I do not propose to say anything now with regard to Sunday shooting, because a very full statement of the War Office policy appeared in the Press this morning, and I think most Members of the House are aware of the policy which we have pursued. There is nothing new in what we have done. Men have shot on Sundays for many years past—indeed for centuries past, as one of my hon. Friends reminds me. We were asked whether we would prohibit it, and we frankly said we would not, but that what we would do was to see, so far as it was possible for the Army Council to do so, that there was no compulsion on the men, and no inconvenience to the public of the neighbourhood, that the practice should be restricted to the necessary practice, and should not degenerate into a sort of rifle meeting for match shooting on Sundays, which might cause a scandal. I trust that the House will generally endorse the policy which the Army Council has adopted in this matter.
There only remains for me to add one or two things which I will quote as to the Territorial Force, which may do something to counterbalance the rather unfavourable remarks passed upon it by some eminent and some not very eminent soldiers. I think one of the latter class has called the Territorial Force "a sham." Here is the opinion of General French, publicly stated. Speaking on 22nd February, General French said:—During the last four years it has been my duty to inspect the Territorial Force. Therefore I claim to be in a position to gauge the effect produced by the drastic changes which were carried out by Lord Haldane and those under him, and to know of the progress which has been made I can only say that reality has taken the place of unreality—That is Sir John French who is on one side, whilst those who think the Force a sham are on the other. I say that there are some eminent and some not very eminent men who have spoken on the matter; but the words of a man who has been inspecting the Force for four years, who has shown so great a capacity to lead troops on all kinds of field, whose opinion is rightly looked up to, not only in this country but in all Europe, as one of the most able soldiers this country has recently produced, are entitled to consideration when he speaks will full deliberation and in such emphatic language. General French concludes his remarks by saying:—I have no hesitation in saying that the progress made by the Territorial Army in the period mentioned is quite wonderful.66 That is the opinion of a very eminent soldier. I am aware that that which I have previously called a passion for national self-depreciation is a national characteristic. But I would appeal to the country to put a stop to this perpetual belittlement of efforts on patriotic grounds. It can do no possible good, and it may do infinite harm. Whether you belittle the Army or the Territorial Force, you are injuring your country, and all to no good. I have spoken of the whole Army as briefly as I could, but there is one point which I do wish to bring before the House: that is the physique and morale of the men in the ranks of the Regular Army. I do not think that the points which I am going to put before the House have been brought to the notice of the House during the last few years, but the results are so gratifying that I am sure the House will permit me to state them. It is not usual to quote, except in exceptional circumstances, members of the Army Council, but I think I may quote the opinion of General Miles, who was so long Director of Recruiting, and is now Quartermaster-General. He probably knows more about the British soldier in this respect than any man. He said to me that in this matter of the improvement of the health, conduct, and standard of the British soldier thatit is not a development, it is a revolution.From the figures which I will give the House I think hon. Members will see that that is not an overstatement. I will only take a comparison between the years 1903 and 1911. In the first year there were 10,747 court-martialled; last year that number had sunk to 5,301—a reduction to half. The sobriety of the Army has increased out of all knowledge. In 1889, 688 men were admitted to hospital suffering from alcoholism. In 1903 that number had sunk to 169. In 1910, the last year for which we have figures, the number was 37. That is a drop—from 688 to 37. The admissions to hospital for certain preventable diseases, which have done so much harm to the Army in many ways, have been reduced, I am glad to tell the House, in quite an extraordinary degree. During the last seven years they have been reduced by more than half, and the deaths have been reduced to a quarter of what they were seven years ago. Good conduct medals—and this is a real test, for the soldier cannot get a good conduct medal unless his conduct is good for twenty-four hours, whereas most people's conduct in a general way has to be good only during their hours of work—good conduct medals numbered 2,000 in 67 1903, as against 5,000, or two and a half times as many, in 1911. First-class certificates of education during the same period have more than doubled in number. There are 25,000 men in the Army Temperance Association; 21,000 are total abstainers. When we know the great danger that insobriety is to people in tropical climates, and when we remember that our Army is forced to dwell for service in tropical climates for half its time, whatever views hon. Members may personally have, I think everyone will rejoice in this extraordinary increase of sobriety in the Army. The same great authority, General Miles, wrote to me—that the British soldier had improved out of all knowledge. He is no longer part of a machine; he is an intelligent unit in a great organisation. What the causes of these are I cannot say fully. There hare been so many. But it is a better appreciation of the work of the Churches, of the chaplains, and of the officers of the Army, who have shown so great an interest in the health of the men in many vital ways—to which I have referred. We insist upon a man having a good character before he is allowed to enter the Army. There is the depot system, and the better attention given by the officers in the depots to the care of the soldiers. Altogether, it is a wonderful improvement. I may be permitted to say, as one who has served in the British Army in the field, and therefore has learnt to love the British soldier, that it is good indeed to be able to give this account to the House of Commons, seeing that the British soldier, while he retains all his great qualities, is rapidly getting rid of those drawbacks which have too often in the past marred his career. I shall doubtless be asked as to the condition of aviation, and possibly what we have done in regard to transport and horses. It is a very simple story. I think I can give the House all the figures which are obtainable. We may divide our needs for horses on mobilisation into those needed for the Regular Army and those required by the Territorial Force. On mobilisation the Regular Army require 44,000 horses, in addition to those we already have on a peace basis, or 52,000.
§ Colonel SEELY
I was just coming to the classification; but it would take a long time to go into the whole details. We know from the census and the classification which has been carried out by the adjutants and remount officers in the 68 country during the last few moths that this number is available, and much more. There is one real difficulty in classification. There is an ample supply of heavy draught horses; but there are just enough, or possibly more than just enough of very light draught horses and Cavalry horses, both for mobilisation and for immediate purposes for which we need horses. When we come to the gun horses, however, although there are enough horses of that class there do not appear to be enough horses of that class in hard training. The reason is obvious, and that is the disappearance of the omnibus horse. During the last war this horse rendered valuable service; so much so that as somewhat of a joke it was suggested that the best way to get the guns forward was to ring a bell.
In the disappearance of the omnibus horse, we are confronted with a very real difficulty. We are considering means by which we can overcome this difficulty; we shall very likely have to take steps which did not a short time ago seem necessary. We shall be glad of any suggestions the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover (Mr. Wyndham) can give us to overcome this difficulty, which is a real one, owing to the fact that the disappearance of horses for purposes of peace has not been accompanied by the disappearance of horses for the purposes of war. While all horses may disappear from our streets in a few years, say five or six, we shall have to horse our guns, so far as we can see for the next twenty, thirty, or fifty years for the purposes of an Army in the field. As to the 40,000 that our Regular Army requires, though we have classified them, and the classification is quite complete, no arrangements have been made for their purchase or collection, but we are working on a full scheme.
§ Colonel SEELY
In the 44,000? Yes, I think so. I am quite sure that must be so. because I have quoted the large number of 8,000 for mechanical transport. The Territorial Force requires 86,000 horses, and again I may say that these numbers are available. So far as classification has gone, we are pretty certain we have got enough horses in the country, but again, of course, there comes the difficulty of the condition of the horses. The same problem that faces the Territorial Force is the one that faces the Regular Army, though it is rather more acute. With regard to the mechanical transport, we have 69 divided it into eight supply columns, eight ammunition parks, two oversea depots, and one home depot. We have nineteen cadres—capable of expansion. We have established thirteen, and we very soon shall establish the whole of the nineteen. We have not yet got a satisfactory plan for getting all the vehicles required, namely, 900 motor lorries, which it is most desirable we should have of a similar pattern, if not of the same pattern, so that the parts may be interchangeable. We have decided upon a scheme of subsidies in order to get a similar pattern, but I am not in a position to make a full statement on the subject of mechanical transport, seeing it is engaging the most earnest attention of the Department. We will lose no time in making mechanical transport efficient for the purpose for which it is required. Now I come to what is called aviation—though I hope that detestable word may for ever be banished from the English language.
§ Colonel SEELY
I do not know whether I care to make a suggestion on that point. The Prime Minister appointed a Committee to consider the subject, consisting of the following: Lord Haldane (Chairman), the First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Esher, Prince Louis of Battenberg, Sir Charles Hadden, Commander Samson, R.N., Sir Robert Chalmers, Mr. O'Gorman (head of the Army air-craft), General Murray, General Henderson, and myself. They settled certain broad principles, and they devolved the working out of the complete scheme upon a technical committee composed as follows:—Generals Scott and Moncrieff, representing the Master-General of Ordnance; General Henderson, the first British General to learn to fly; Commander Samson, of the Royal Navy, whose exploits are familiar to the House as a daring sailor in the air; Lieutenant Gregory, of the Royal Navy, who is also an extraordinarily expert flyer; Mr. Mervyn O'Gorman, and myself as chairman. We held many meetings; during the whole of the last recess we were at work; we made a scheme, laid it before the full committee, which accepted it in all parts, except details as to pay, and it was this morning approved by the Prime Minister, and will now be carried into effect. I will state as shortly as possible what this scheme is.
There is to be one flying corps embracing soldiers, sailors, and civilians, all who can fly, and who will undertake the obliga- 70 tion to serve their country in time of war in any part of the world. No man shall hold executive rank in the flying corps unless he is himself an expert flyer, and the great advantage of that only those who have helped to deal with the matter can realise. The present Aero Battalion ceases to exist, and part of it is absorbed in the new organisation. The corps will be one corps, and as far as possible all the officers will be paid alike and treated alike, because they will run the same risk and have the advantage of doing the same daring deeds. In a purely land war the whole flying corps will be available, and in a purely naval war the whole flying corps will be available for naval war. The headquarters of the flying corps will be on Salisbury Plain, for which a large tract of land has been purchased at a cost of about £90,000; it has been purchased for this special purpose, all other purposes being subsidiary.
§ Colonel SEELY
I will tell the hon. Gentleman in a moment. In the first instance accommodation will be provided for sixty officers at one time. There will be three terms of four months each, and we propose to pass through, all being well, 180 officers in each year. Therefore there will be sixty officers at one time. In addition there will be non-commissioned officers and mechanics of various kinds. If an officer wants to join the flying corps he has first to get the consent and approval of the military authorities; then he has to be passed by the doctor; then he has to obtain the Royal Aero Club certificate, and that he obtains at an aerodrome. We do not propose to use the Central Flying School for teaching officers; we propose they should learn the elements of the air elsewhere, and then come to the flying school for the more advanced course. They will have certain difficulties—
An HON. MEMBER
At whose expense are they to be trained before presenting themselves at the flying school?
§ Colonel SEELY
I will come to that. After receiving the Royal Aero Club certificate and before presenting themselves, each will receive £75, which will 71 cover the cost. This particular arrangement has been in force for some little time past, and between twenty and thirty officers have received £75 each already. They will then be attached to the Central Air School, and there they go through a course of four months. I will tell the Committee what it is proposed they should learn. They will learn progressive flying, mechanics, and construction in all its details, meteorological observations of the air, navigation and flying by compass, cross-country flights, photography from the air, signalling by all methods, and, most important, the types of warships of all nations. After this course, an officer—for he will be an officer of the Air Corps, whatever source they came from originally, whether Army, Navy, or civilians—will either join the military wing or the naval wing, or else he may go straight to the Reserve.
The military wing will consist of seven aeroplane squadrons, each containing twelve aeroplanes and a suitable number of officers to fly them, and there will be an eighth squadron, consisting of balloons and kites. The balloons will consist of two dirigibles, which now exist, two flights of kites, and the present free balloons, so long as they last and possibly longer, because we are told on all hands that the practice of observation in the air is very conveniently carried out from the safe platforms of the free balloon. A man may go to the naval wing which is to be established at Eastchurch; there will be branches of the military wing established at points not yet settled, some at Aldershot, some on the coast. The naval wing will have its headquarters at Eastchurch. The particulars are not yet finally settled, but they will be suitable. In the Reserve there will be two classes—those belonging to the first, who perform cross-country flights and will receive a retaining fee, and the Second Reserve will consist of those who have passed through this course, but who do not want to go through these flights or receive a retaining fee, but will continue in the Reserve and be available in time of war. Both the Army and Navy wing of the Air Corps will be always on a war footing, and the peace and war establishment will be the same. The Army Air Corps Factory will cease to be called the Army Air Factory, and will be the Air Corps Factory for the whole corps. Its primary function will be experiments and building experimental machinery; making big repairs of machinery where it is thought desirable; 72 sometimes building machines, but its primary duties will be the training in expert knowledge of the numerous mechanics required for this new service. Now I shall be asked in regard to this ambitious scheme, what really is going to be the total number of men who fly, and how many aeroplanes have you got. The scheme involves the purchase of 131 aeroplanes.
§ Colonel SEELY
I am not sure whether we shall be able to buy all this year. This is not a matter of expense at all. In this the purchases of the Air Committee have been sanctioned already, and orders for a great many of these have gone out, and others are in process of negotiation. Not so many have been ordered from British manufacturers as we should wish, but that is because the technical members of my committee, themselves flying men, realised, with the full approval of the whole committee, that the first essential was efficiency and safety, and it is a fact that in many respects France has gone a long way ahead of us. We could not buy British machines—necessary though it is to encourage British manufacturers, because we cannot obtain machines for use in time of war—at the price of human life, and therefore we had to reduce the number of orders we had originally hoped to give to British firms. That difficulty will soon be overcome, no doubt, because there are a great many of the best brains at work upon orders to make aeroplanes, not only more speedy and efficient, but safe. The risks these officers will run will be very great. The insurance rates are very high, but it is some consolation to know that in France they have enormously increased the safety of learning to fly. I know one particular school where they have covered 60,000 kilometres without accident of any kind, and there may be others that will show similar records as good, or almost as good. It is to be hoped therefore that the risk will be reduced, but they will still be very great, and for that reason I trust the House of Commons will not grudge the expense involved in making adequate payment to those officers and giving an adequate scale of pension in the event of their being rendered unable to continue their service.
I may take it I may rely upon the House for every assistance in this matter, if for no other reason than that of the dangers in this business. One hundred and thirty-three officers are required for the military wing, and for the naval thirty or forty; and 73 for the Reserve the number we shall work up will depend on how the science progresses in the near future. We have the 133 military officers, but we have no doubt many will volunteer who will, not only learn to fly, but will fly without accident. That brings me to the point as to why we suggested what is not settled, that these officers should learn to fly at private flying schools. There are two reasons. First of all, because it is so desirable we should encourage private effort as far as may be; and, secondly, we believe there is less risk of accident in the initial stages if we proceed by these methods. It is largely the feeling in France that it is greatly to the interest of the aeroplane to avoid accidents altogether. After learning the elementary art of flying officers will come to the Central Flying School, where they will not run the same risk, because they will have learned the elements already.
§ Colonel SEELY
The answer is that for the moment any officer who is approved by his commanding officer and the proper military authorities, and is passed as fit and obtained his certificate, will obtain £75, because we are very short of members, but when we get up to our full number the phrase, "Let 'em all come!" which now applies, will no longer apply.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Colonel SEELY
That is not laid down in the scheme, but I think it certainly should be the case. I am glad the hon. Member has brought it to my notice, because if these things are not laid down at the start they may bring hardship. I will see that that should be laid down. Now in regard to the encouragement of private enterprise, we propose to do it not only by getting officers to obtain their certificates privately, but also by the purchase of aeroplanes in this country as far as possible, and by renting sheds and landing rights in different aerodromes. We think it very desirable that there should be more aerodromes in this country in order to encourage cross-country flying, and the establishment of more landing places is 74 bound to be essential we are to keep in the first rank. Scientific research will be continued in co-operation with the Advisory Committee set up by the Prime Minister a short time ago. This is a very ambitious scheme, and it is an entirely new scheme for a new service. We have worked very hard to make a good scheme, and nobody is more conscious than I am, as Chairman of the Committee, that we must have made a great many mistakes and there must be a great many omissions from the very nature of the case, owing to the novelty of the science we have had to study. I think and believe that even with all those mistakes and omissions we have laid the foundation of a plan which will ensure that this country in the long run, and sooner rather than later, shall be able to hold her place in the air as she has done in the centuries past both on land and sea.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Perhaps I might, in the first words which I address to the House, be permitted to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon the opportunity he has had for the first time of laying these Estimates before the House. I congratulate him also on the successful effort which he has made to keep his criticism of me within such moderate limits, because it was evident he was trying to be angry without very much success. I am sorry that it is necessary for me to rise now. I may say that I certainly have no intention of dealing with the general Army statement which has been made by the right hon. Gentleman, but in the early part of his speech, which I am afraid in the interesting details which have followed since the House has largely forgotten, he criticised severely—that is, if strong assertion unaccompanied by any evidence can be called strong criticism—some remarks made by me in a speech I made outside in another place, and consequently I feel it is necessary for me to deal with that aspect of the subject. Now, Mr. Speaker, I did use language in that case which was fairly strong, and which would be unjustifiably strong if the case could not be made good. But I think it can be made good, and it will be my endeavour to show to the House that I had good reason for making the criticism which I then made. I am going at the outset to make the right hon. Gentleman a present of this admission, that when I spoke of the weapons of our soldiers I had in my mind only the rifles. I am quite ready to make that admission, but since the right hon. 75 Gentleman rather thinks it is going back, I am bound to say to him that if I were thinking only of a Parliamentary debating case, there would be no need to make that assertion. I wish to call attention to this fact. Look at the Artillery of our Territorial Forces. Let the right hon. Gentleman consider if that Artillery is ever used at all, it will be used against the best troops and the best Artillery which is to be found in the world. [HON. MEMBERS:"No."]
§ Colonel SEELY
This is a very important point. It was a statement as to the "Weapons of the Regular Army, and that is what he said. He said the Regular Forces, and he also mentioned the Artillery Forces.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I think the right hon. Gentleman is not exact and his memory does not serve him rightly.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
My recollection is that my criticism was not chiefly of the Regular Army. I know I said that the Territorial Army was very much worse. Is that not so?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Very well, if I wished to make a debating case I could do so for this reason, that if the Territorial Artillery is ever required it will be against the very best troops the world has ever produced. Does the right hon. Gentleman imagine for a moment that it would be adequate to meet an emergency of that kind? If I wanted to make a charge against the Regular Army only I have some ground for that. At all events, Lord Roberts only a day or two ago in the House of Lords—and after all the opinion of Lord Roberts especially on a question of Artillery, the branch of the Service to which he belongs is still of some value oven though he has the misfortune to differ with both the War Secretary and the right hon. Gentleman whom I see opposite—used this language:—Owing to the Artillery fuses, fuse setters and sights not being up to date, our field guns are not automatic firing guns.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
That assertion was made in the presence of the War Secretary in the House of Lords, and the only answer he could give was the same kind 76 of reply we have had to-night from the right hon. Gentleman opposite that our weapons are the best the world. That is the only way in which it was answered. I think the right hon. Gentleman has made this attack unnecessarily. Every man who is making a speech has before his mind a picture. I had simply the picture of our troops with what is distinctively regarded as a soldier's modern weapon, the rifle, and if I can show that what I said is true about the rifles—especially when it is remembered that 90 per cent., I think I am within the mark, of all the damage inflicted in time of war is inflicted by the rifle—if I can make that statement good, then I think that not very much is gained by the admission I have made to the right hon. Gentleman. I am going to try and make it good. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman feeling the responsibility of his position today upon something else. He must have felt, as we all have felt, the charm that used to be exercised over us by Lord Haldane—I do not want to put it in a way disrespectful to him—but it is quite evident that evil communications do corrupt good manners. We all remember how the War Secretary used to paralyse the House by a multiplicity of illustrations and figures and details which hid from us altogether the point which we were criticising. The right hon. Gentleman opposite has been a good pupil, but it takes some time to learn that sort of thing, and he has not learned it very well, if he will excuse me saying so. I am going to show how little there was in the whole defence made by the right hon. Gentleman, which lasted half an hour. I think I can knock the bottom out of this case by asking him one question. He told us that for all time ours is the best rifle to be found anywhere. This is the question I put 1o him: Why are you getting a new rifle?
§ Colonel SEELY
Because we have reason to believe that other nations will soon be adopting a new rifle, and we want to be the first.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
That is a most extraordinary statement, but if the right hon. Gentleman thinks that he has restored the bottom to the edifice he has built I will take the liberty of knocking it out again by another quotation. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that it is the best rifle in the world. What did the War Secretary say in this House two years ago? He 77 did not then think it was the best rifle in the world, because this is what he said:—We shall never have a proper rifle until we have one which will stand a much greater degree of breach pressure than the rifle of to-day.If we have the best rifle in the world Lord Haldane would not have described it as an improper rifle. I am going, I hope, to make out a better case in the statement I am making than the right hon. Gentleman has made a defence of the case he has presented to the House. To justify what I have said, I have got to make good two propositions. The first proposition is that the rifle is bad, but that is not enough. I recognise as fully as anyone that we cannot be changing our armaments every month or every year, and therefore it is necessary for me to make good not only that the rifle is bad, but, secondly, that it was known and recognised, and declared to be bad by the Government so long ago that it ought to have been remedied long ago. That is my case. The right hon. Gentleman, in that process of hiding the wood among the trees, mixed up our rifles, so much that I am sure no one who followed him could understand exactly what he meant. As a matter of fact, in dealing with this question of the rifles supplied to the Regular troops, without any reference to the Territorial Forces, taking not only the rifle itself, but its efficiency and ammunition into account, we have actually three different rifles to consider at this moment. We have, first of all, the rifle with the old ammunition which is still supplied to a great many of our Regular troops, and until the other day it was supplied to the whole Army. Secondly, we have to consider the same rifle adjusted to suit the new ammunition. And, in the third place, we have to consider the new rifles which we are going to get some day, and which Lord Haldane told us is to be the best rifle in the world. Every producer of a new rifle thinks it is going to be the best rifle in the world, and I hope it will be.
Consider what is the position of these three rifles, as I have described them. The first charge which I make against the Government is that they ought to have made arrangements for getting a completely new rifle long ago, because the new ammunition, valuable as it is, is only a makeshift, and is recognised as a makeshift. In making that charge I have very good ground for the position I take up. Lord Haldane two years ago used the words I have quoted, for he said that we cannot get a proper rifle until we get a 78 new one. The reason for that is that our breech action is so weak that we cannot do what other countries have done—that is, adapt the new ammunition in the proper way. That was known and recognised and stated to the House by Lord Haldane two years ago, and the fact that he knew it and recognised it is the justification for the statement I made that we ought long ago to have prepared for the new rifle, which is only being thought of to-day. I admit at once that the case against the Government would not be nearly so strong if they had, as soon as they could, made the adaptation of our present rifle to the new ammunition, which is only coming into operation to-day. I ask the House to consider what the position is. An army is not kept as something to talk about, and it is not kept, as someone in another place said the other day, as a peg on which to hang beatitudes. It is there for work, and the way we have to judge the Army and the administration of the Army is the extent to which it would have been fit for its work at the time it was called upon to do that work. That is the test. As the House knows, it is common knowledge, or perhaps I had better put it common belief, that we were in danger of war last summer. Will the House believe that in spite of all Lord Haldane has said over and over again about the new ammunition, if we had gone to war at that time our troops would have been armed with the old rifle and the old ammunition, in precisely the same way as it was four, five, or six years ago. That is admitted. Now consider what a handicap that would have been. The right hon. Gentleman went over a list—and he has kindly sent me a statement prepared by the head of the Artillery Department comparing different rifles—of points in which our rifle was superior to the rifle of other countries. Every one of them is a mere assertion on the part of people who have never used the German rifle as a regular weapon.
§ Colonel SEELY indicated dissent.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
"Never used it as a regular weapon." We get copies of these different rifles and our riflemen use them, but they are accustomed to our rifles, and surely no one will pretend we can claim to get the same results from a foreign rifle as the men who use them and use no other kind of rifle. Then he made other kinds of statements. I cannot imagine anything more misleading than what he said about the accuracy test. He spoke of it as if it was applied to the rifle with which our 79 troops were armed, but it was applied to the new ammunition, to the kind of ammution our soldiers would not have had if they had gone to war. Then the right hon. Gentleman, with an amount of faith in the ignorance of his audience which was not justified, spoke of the trajectory as if it were of comparatively little importance. Why, everyone knows it was the defect in the trajectory which made Lord Haldane say our rifle was not proper, and which made it necessary to get the new ammunition; and for the right hon. Gentleman to pretend that is a matter of no consequence which can be got over in another way is really an absurdity. Let the House understand what it means. One does not need to be an expert to understand it. The difference is this: The British rifle at 800 yards, which, let the House remember, in all military text-books is described as the decisive range, fires a bullet which has a trajectory of nearly thirteen feet. That is to say, that with an army advancing to the attack over a large part of the surface the bullet flies right over their heads, and does not touch them at all. In the case of the German bullet, its highest trajectory is six feet, as the right hon. Gentleman said; that is to say, covering the whole line, it does not go above the head of a tall man, and for nearly the whole distance it sweeps the whole ground. In other words, our soldiers would have been using a weapon which, in comparison with the German weapon, has this difference: The German soldier would have been firing point blank practically for the whole distance of 800 yards, and we should have been firing point blank for little more than half that distance. I put it to anyone in this House, whether he is a soldier or not, I put to anyone who has the capacity for thinking: Is it not evident that if we came into action and our soldiers found they were subjected to an attack, not of targets at which they might aim low, as Lord Haldane said the other day, but of targets which would hit back, and hit with disastrous effect, would it not have a demoralising effect on our troops?
I think I have justified the fact that we have a bad rifle. Let me make good the other point. "We ought to have had it remedied." So long ago as 1909, in introducing the Estimates—and this is the first reference which I can find to it in Lord Haldane's speech, but I am sure he must have known about it long before, or, if he did not, he ought to have done—Lord Hal- 80 dane pointed out the very defects I have named. He pointed them out to the House, and he told us he was getting a new ammunition which would remedy these defects. He said experiments were being made, and he led us to suppose the change would take place pretty soon. A year later, in 1910, he made the same kind of statement. He led us to believe that experiments had gone on on such a large scale that the Army would have the new and improved ammunition in a short time. In 1911 we had the same kind of story as was told us two years before. What happened? The crisis came in the autumn, and the thing talked about being made ready nearly three years before is not ready now, and we should have gone to war with a handicap which deserves every word I used about it. If the House wishes still better to realise the position, I think it can do so if I read the answer to a question given by Lord Haldane, I think in March, 1910. He was asked what foreign countries had adopted the new ammunition, and at what date they had adopted it. This is the answer of 2nd March, 1910:—The following countries adopted a pointed bullet at the dates shown: France, 1904; Germany, 1905; United States. 1906: Denmark. 1908; Holland, 1908; Turkey, 1908; Japan, 1909; Switzerland, 1909"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd March, 1910, col. 951.]I do not make an unreasonable demand upon our Army authorities. I recognise that with us the Navy comes first, and that we must lead all other Powers in improvements in regard to the Navy. I do not make that demand in regard to the Army, but I do say there is some limit to reasonable delay, and we might at least expect we should not be much behind Turkey in making an improvement which had been made by all other foreign countries. We were. Turkey did it in; 1908, and we are only doing it now, and it is not yet completed in 1912. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, as I know he will understand, that I have now, thanks to the position I occupy, opportunities of discussing these sort of things with men who know as much about them as anyone in the world. I wish to say to him also that if I thought there were any truth in his suggestions that I have said something which would injure the Service I should regret it extremely, and I should be the last knowingly to do it. But there is something else to be said. If I find out, as I believe I did find out, and as I believe still more strongly after the defence I have got this afternoon, that there was in our Army a defect which of all others ought 81 not to exist and which we of all Powers should remove, then it is my duty to call attention to that defect and hope the result may be to remedy it. I can imagine no excuse for culpable delay. What is the excuse which is given? The right hon. Gentleman said he was not going to use that kind of argument, but he forgot and used it. He said we introduced the rifle which I am criticising. Yes, but how long is that plea going to serve them? It has served them for six years; is it going to serve them for sixty? Are they not responsible now for the Army as it stands to-day? If an answer were needed, and I do not think it is, there is a much more complete one than that. When we went out of office our rifle was not appreciably inferior to that of other armies. It is since they came in that everyone of these Powers has adopted the new ammunition, which means enormously increasing the efficiency of the rifle. They knew the change had been made, and it was their duty to see we did not lag behind, and that our soldiers were armed as well as the soldiers of any Power.