HC Deb 22 May 1912 vol 38 cc2032-4

I am driven to intervene in the Debate this afternoon because there has not been present at any time any Minister who could give me an assurance on behalf of the War Office in relation to a matter of urgency which has arisen in regard to the Territorials. I am asked to bring the matter forward in the absence of the two Members for Paddington, as a question of great urgency which is likely to upset the whole of the arrangements of the Territorial Force in that part of London. I am sure the Secretary of State for War will be the last to desire that such a calamity should overtake the movement which he has done so much to foster. I refer to a letter just received by the Paddington Bines from the officer commanding, based on a communication from the Army Council, regretting that he had received an intimation of the disbandment of the Paddington Rifles. I submit that there is nothing in the world to justify this drastic order. The Paddington Rifles have been steadily improving their position. They have been taken in hand by the mayor and the chief tradesmen in the borough of Paddington. Money has been collected. A committee has been formed which has sat every other week for two years doing its best to provide for the popularity of the corps, and the result has been an extraordinary increase of membership, which has brought up the strength since 1909 to almost 100 per cent. Indeed, so keen is the interest now taken in this battalion that fifteen or twenty recruits had to be refused on Monday night last in view of the intimation which had been received. Surely that is a very undesirable result. I hold in my hand a report recently issued by the battalion showing a most promising state of affairs. After referring to the interest which the leading tradesmen, headed by the mayor, have taken in the matter, the report proceeds to show the immense improvement which has been made in the comfort of the men and the very large accession of strength the battalion has received. It goes on to refer to the fact, as being a matter which has been a very great difficulty, that the headquarters of the battalion have been allowed to get into a neglected state. Years ago, the Urban District Council proposed to spend no less a sum than £10,000 in putting these headquarters into proper condition. For some reason or another, unknown to either the officers or others, no money has been spent at all. No doubt that has somewhat to do with the difficulties of the battalion in the past. The armoury is small, dark and damp. The weapons are not properly housed there. Generally speaking outside the drill hall the premises are wholly unsuitable. In face of all these difficulties the committee have collected money and have aroused public interest. They have held concerts and other means of entertainment for the purpose of inducing recruiting. At this present moment, the walls of Paddington are decorated with double crown bills inviting men to join this very regiment in order to go to camp at Swanage, for which all arrangements have been made.

Surely, in face of this activity, this great interest which has been taken in this particular regiment—which has a history of which Paddington is very proud—it would be the sheerest folly if the War Office should persist in the order disbanding this corps. Once disbanded the men will not be got easily together again. They would not be able to join other battalions, and out of sheer disgust they will go away. I appeal to such Ministers as are responsible this afternoon on behalf of the Government—and I intimated that I proposed to bring this matter forward—and should have been glad if there had been any Minister connected with the War Office present. I hope some one on the Government Benches will in the absence of the Under-Secretary or the Parliamentary Secretary make a strong protest and convey that strong protest to the permanent officials of the War Office, that at any rate the operation of this order shall be suspended for one month to allow some inquiry to be made, and to allow a deputation of citizens headed by the mayor to wait upon the Army Council or the War Office to urge them not to perpetrate so disastrous a blow to the interests of the Territorial Force as may be perpetrated if this order is insisted upon and this corps broken up.