§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Tennant)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
This Bill is one to enable the Army Council to transfer a man in the Territorial Force from one unit to another without his consent. I might perhaps say that under the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act, 1907, Section 7, a man may not be transferred from one corps to another, nor, when the corps of the Territorial Force to which he belongs includes more than one unit, can he be transferred without his consent to any unit other than that to which he was posted on enlistment, nor can he be transferred to any unit of the Regular Forces. There is no intention to transfer men from the Territorial Force to the Regular Forces. This Bill is designed in order to give power to transfer men during the present War to other units of the Territorial Force, or from one corps to another. I do not think that I need go into further details; there is a Memorandum issued with the Bill which explains it.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I should like to ask for a little more information. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying that this is in fact a Bill to enable the War Office to break the conditions of enlistment. The right hon. Gentleman will realise that very great pressure was put upon Territorials to induce them to pledge themselves to go on foreign service. I know it was necessary that pressure should be put upon them, and they nobly responded, but I am bound to confess that it seemed to me, even then, a form of conscription on the very type of men who did not need conscription. They had already joined the Army for Home Defence, and pressure was put upon them to induce them to consent to go on foreign service.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. Since the notice of this Bill appeared I have had much correspondence with regard to it, and in many Territorial regiments pressure, I will not say improper, but patriotic pressure, and a vast amount of pressure, 612 was put upon them to induce them, for the honour of the regiment if you like, to serve in foreign parts. They responded very nobly, but in all these regiments the commanding officers were authorised to make, and did make, the specific condition that they should not be changed from one unit to another. The object of this Bill is to curtail the conditions under which they were asked to undertake to serve abroad. That is the right hon. Gentleman's own Memorandum. One of the conditions was that they should only be liable to serve with their own unit, and should not be liable to be drafted, as individuals, to any other unit. The object of this Bill is to enable the War Office to get out of those conditions, and it does need a little more from the War Office to show that it is necessary to break them. Then we ought to know whether it applies to large numbers of men or whether it is only proposed to make a very few transfers. The Bill will cause, I will not say a certain amount of ill feeling, but a certain amount of feeling of injustice, on the part of thousands of these men who have volunteered to serve abroad, and we do require, with the utmost respect, a little more than the statement of the right hon. Gentleman from the War Office to show that it is desirable. I do not want to oppose it, but I want to ask the real reasons for it, and how many men to whom it will apply.
§ Mr. ANEURIN WILLIAMS
I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he can give us the assurance that there is nothing in this Bill which will make the man liable to serve abroad without his having voluntarily undertaken to do so. I have read the Bill carefully, but it is a complicated subject, and it would be very much more satisfactory to have that assurance from the right hon. Gentleman than to rely upon the inference which a more or less uninstructed Member like myself might draw from the Bill.
§ Mr. LONG
I do not want to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill, and it is very difficult for us to take any step of that kind at the present time, but I confess I share, the view of my hon. Friend (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) that the Government ought to have given us a great deal more information—first of all, as to the need of this Bill, and, secondly, as to the use that is to be made of it. My hon. Friend stated, with very great moderation, that when in the early stages of the War the Territorials were invited to 613 volunteer for the front, very great pressure was brought to bear upon them. My hon. Friend said that the pressure was of a patriotic kind. I wish that were really a correct description to apply to it. I raised the question earlier, and I refer to it again to-day because I think, whatever powers the Army Council are taking, they should give us, through the Under-Secretary, an assurance that there will be no repetition of the kind of pressure which was exercised in the early days of volunteering by the Territorials.
This is the kind of pressure which I say is not patriotic, and is wholly improper. When the Territorial regiments were invited to volunteer for the front, a great many members of them had not joined with any intention of serving abroad. Their local connections and businesses made it impossible for them, at a moment's notice, to undertake to abandon everything and go on foreign service, and what most of them wanted was time. A great many of them, as far as I know, were willing to go if arrangements could be made, but they wanted time. What happened? Some commanding officers thought it patriotic and proper to divide their regiment, as it were, into sheep and goats. They not only divided them into paper lists, but they actually established separate camps in which the men who were not prepared to volunteer immediately for foreign service were placed. They were, in some cases, deprived of their uniforms, their arms, and their equipment. They were marked as if they were black sheep, and, to my own knowledge, in some cases they were told that they were acting in a way unworthy of their country.
It is impossible to talk about a volunteer army if you apply methods of this sort. This country and Parliament deliberately, with their eyes open, embarked upon a certain programme with regard to the Army. We had a small Army for purposes abroad, and we had a much larger Territorial Force, which was enlisted especially for Home defence. If you desire that those men shall volunteer for foreign service, or if you desire to use them for any purpose other than that for which they have enlisted, the terms on which you do it must be perfectly clearly laid down. You have no right to take advantage of the fact that a man was patriotic enough to join the Territorial Force, and then, having got in, to put him in a position which makes volunteering for foreign service practically obligatory, because if he 614 does not so volunteer he is liable to have odious charges brought against him.
My hon. Friend says that he has had many applications made to him. I have had pitiable cases brought to my notice, cases of men whom I have known ever since they were boys, as good and gallant farmers as ever lived, men responsible for the conduct of considerable businesses. These men joined the Territorial Force and were prepared to give time to their duties as members of that force. How on earth could they undertake, at a moment's notice, to leave their farms and businesses and go and serve abroad? It is obvious that you were asking them to do that which they could not consent to do without having time to make other arrangements. Yet, in some cases, those men were sent home by their commanding officer. They came to friends, to persons like myself and ethers, and said, "What am I to do? I cannot come home, because I shall be marked down as a coward who would not go to the front." Those are conditions which ought never to be repeated. It is an insult to the men, and it is a condemnation of the volunteer system of this country. We ought to have care, if the Army Council are going to take fresh powers, that they shall be so safeguarded that the men shall not be exposed to conditions of this kind in future.
I am not quite sure that I understand what is the actual proposal of the Government. The Under-Secretary gave us a very brief statement, and perhaps it was my stupidity that I was not able, for the moment, to appreciate the exact force of the Government's proposal. I urged upon the Under-Secretary months ago that there should be much greater power residing in the War Office, or in the Army Council, to make use of the men who have volunteered to join the Army. A great many men who volunteered to join the Army were recruited from the Territorial Force, though they were quite willing to go into the Regulars. At the beginning of the War—I fancy that the rule has been abrogated now—the War Office said that a man who had been enlisted in the Territorial Force could not be transferred to the Regulars, or used for service connected with the Regulars, and vice versa. I think that rule has been abandoned, or, at all events, that it has been more honoured in the breach than in the observance.
§ Mr. LONG
Both officers and men, members of the Territorial Force. I think myself that it would be a good thing if there were power properly safeguarded enabling men to be transferred from the Regulars to the Territorials or the conditions varied where it seemed necessary and desirable in the public interest, but it must be safeguarded. When, however, you come to moving a man against his will from one Territorial unit to another, I must point out to the Under-Secretary that you are striking at the very foundations of the Territorial Force. Its very name shows that you raise men territorially, or, in other words, that you raise men by counties. It is the county feeling which leads men to join their county battalions. It is because they believe that they can do their service and at the same time carry on their own business, either agricultural or industrial, which leads them to enlist. If you are going to transfer a man from the Wiltshire Territorial Battalion to the Northumberland Territorial Battalion you are going to introduce a new principle altogether. I understand that you are going to do it against the will of the man himself.
§ Mr. LONG
Yes, against their own pledge. You are going, in other words, to take power to compel a man to do that which you undertook when you enlisted him he should not be asked to do. It is a very serious step indeed, and one which, I am afraid, may have a prejudicial effect upon recruiting for the Territorial Force. I do hope that the Under-Secretary, before he asks you to put the Question, will tell us with a little greater detail why it is that this new power is wanted, and how it is proposed to safeguard what are undoubtedly the actual statutory rights of the members of the Territorial Force. It may be necessary to do it for some reason that we have not yet heard. If it is, I should be the last to offer any opposition to a step which is thought desirable in order to prosecute the War with success, but what the reason is we do not know, nor do we know what safeguards it is proposed to introduce in order to protect the rights of these men. Those are two small bits of information which should be given to the House and the country.
As regards the Territorial Force as a whole, of course it is being used now 616 quite freely for foreign service, and in nearly every case the Territorial regiments who have gone to the front have already covered themselves with glory and rendered magnificent service. They have shown us that by pluck and determination the citizen of this country will make up for want of training, and that in a tight place he will show himself as good as any man can possibly be. That the Territorial Force has already done. I hope that the Army Council, the War Office, and the Government will pause before they take a step which seems to me to be a serious one, for which sufficient reason has hardly been given, and which may have a very serious effect upon a Force which has already proved its value, and we hope will become a leading and prominent part of our national defence, but which you might easily injure if you once deprive the men of the conviction they now hold, that they are entitled to certain rights which cannot be alienated except by Act of Parliament.
§ Sir RYLAND ADKINS
I wish to associate myself with the attitude taken by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Long) in asking for far more information than the House has yet had, and far more explanation of the safeguards which we hope will be inserted in this Bill, if the Government proceed with it. It is really difficult to exaggerate the importance of the purely territorial aspect of the Territorial Force. Anything which weakens that and leads men to think that they can be separated against their will from comrades with whom they have joined in the belief that they would serve together—joining under strong local influences, and thereby associating in their work not only the sympathy but the practical help of the people who know them at home—would be a very great mistake. Unless there are safeguards, of which we have as yet heard nothing, it will have a serious effect, not only on the members of that Force themselves, but on the recruiting for that Force. I believe it is contemplated that in ordinary counties which at the beginning of the war had one or two battalions of Territorial Infantry, that Reserve battalions should be created. As we know. Reserve battalions have been created, and as the War goes on it may be contemplated to have a third or a fourth battalion of Territorial Infantry. I am confident from what I know of the county of whose Territorial Force Association I am 617 a member, that recruiting for the further battalions will be very seriously hampered and affected if this Bill becomes law without the modifications suggested by the right hon. Gentleman. If you ask men to join a Reserve battalion, or a third battalion—no doubt for foreign service, and quite properly so—if you ask them to join that which, although called a Territorial battalion, leaves them open to be moved to any other point against their will and to be detached from their friends and the influences which have led them to enlist, I am confident it will make a very great difference and will do harm to recruiting just where, at the present time, it may be of great value, because the very fact that our Territorials have done so well abroad is all the more reason for safeguarding and strengthening them, and enlisting others who will keep up the traditions they are now creating. All that is imperilled by this Bill as we have it.
I notice that the second Clause says that the Bill is to affect those who have already enlisted and those who are already engaged. We have had complaints in this House with regard to the treatment, in regard to the vexed question of inoculation, of soldiers who have enlisted in the faith that they would not be required to be inoculated. Nothing can have so great an effect on recruiting, or upon public opinion, than the slightest suspicion, however uncalled for, of a breach of faith. To make this change now apply to those who have already enlisted under definite conditions—conditions which were to them the greatest attraction; many of them have already fought side by side with those whom they knew at home, and when they enlisted they had the strongest local feeling, and there are many others prepared to enlist now on the same terms and in the same spirit; and if this Bill is to pass without explanation or modification I am perfectly certain the harm will be great. If it is to apply without restriction and modification to those who have already enlisted, then I am confident the Government will be unwittingly doing great harm to that force which hitherto they have supported and helped in every way, and which has proved its value in the defence of the Empire during the past months.
§ Mr. BOYTON
There are some Members of the House who are not very well versed in military terms, and I for one would like to know what 618 is meant by the terms "unit" and "corps." For the information of the Territorial Force I should like to know what will be the position, in regard to new uniforms, of an officer transferred from a unit or a corps to another. Most of those who are now officers, and who are old members of the force, had only a small grant of £20 for uniform and outfit. I believe that more liberal conditions prevail now, but it would be a very serious thing if you transferred an old-time Territorial officer from one part of the country to another, or from one regiment to another, and involved him in considerable expense. We ought to have more, details given to us before we pass this Bill.
§ Mr. WING
I should like to associate myself with the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Long) in regretting that the Under-Secretary has not given us a fuller explanation of the Bill before the House. In Durham we have largely advocated what are known as "pal battalions," and I suppose it is the same all over the country. There has been a kind of loyalty to small places, in order to keep men from those places in one particular regiment or battalion. I have had a large amount of correspondence, asking if it is possible to get persons transferred from one battalion to another in order that chums might be together, but I have found it very difficult. As a question of principle, this Bill is very serious, because it really gives up the voluntary principle and adopts the compulsory principle. In fact, it is worse, because these men have enlisted on the voluntary principle, and then find that during their career as soldiers a new principle is introduced which was not in existence when they joined. I hope the Government will withdraw this Bill in order that we may have a Bill more in conformity with the principle of the British Army, namely, the voluntary principle.
I hope the Under-Secretary will seriously consider the effect this Bill will have on recruiting, and particularly on what are called "pals' battalions," because the same principle will be involved with regard to them. If you break a pledge in regard to the Territorial Force, it may be that they will think you will do the same with regard to those who have enlisted for the purpose of keeping together as one body—a principle which the War Office itself has sanctioned. We have raised one in my 619 own Constituency. We had to guarantee £5,000 in order to do it, and we have got the men. If you pass this Bill, they may think that having enlisted on these particular terms, and having paid all their expenses up to £5,000, they may be liable, by some Bill brought in in this way, to be transferred to other units. The real reason for which they enlisted in these battalions was that they wished to keep together as individuals. It will interfere with recruiting for "pals' battalions." and I have no doubt in other ways.
§ Sir JOHN JARDINE
I should like to join with the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Long) and most hon. Members who have spoken in the demand for a fuller explanation of the reasons for this Bill and for some knowledge of the modifications. I dislike anything that strikes at the security of a promise made on behalf of the State or any department of it. I think this tends to strike at the principle of the Territorial Force. Local feeling is very strong. People enlist in Territorial battalions because some brother has enlisted before. It is the same with officers as with men in that respect. A number of people from the same village are recruited by local people on the strength of local feeling, and they want to be together. They do not mind going abroad; they have gone abroad with those they call their "pals." I am sure the same feeling has obtained among the officers. They are ready for a great deal, but they want to volunteer by the battalion, and they would greatly dislike it if a number were taken out and sent away. Again, the local organisations for looking after their dependants centre a good deal around this particular plan. The ladies who look after the widows and children left behind are related to the particular unit, and that principle would be struck at. It would be hardly reasonable for me to push my criticisms further, but I would like to press the point that we should have full reasons given for what seems to me very much of an emergency measure.
§ Mr. TENNANT
With the permission of the House, I should like to answer the questions addressed to me by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Long) and by various hon. Members. I regret that I did not give a more lengthy and detailed explanation of the needs for this Bill. It is really a much more harmless Bill than 620 is apprehended by many hon. Gentlemen. In the first place, I should like to draw attention to the fact that it is purely permissive. It is only intended to be utilised in case where there is real reason for it— for instance, such as that of a battalion having been seriously cut up in the course of the fighting. If the right hon. Gentleman will project his mind to such a case as this, he will see that we might have a brigade of four regiments, say, two Durhams and two Northumberlands brigaded together. They might all be decimated in which case we should try to make a single regiment out of the four battalions which had been so severely handled. In that case yon would ask the Durhams and the Northumberland? to serve together, or similarly the Devons and the Dorsets, or the King's Own Scottish Borderers and the Royal Scots, and so on in similar combinations which will readily occur to the minds of hon. Members. I need not say that I should be most jealous of guarding the voluntary principle involved in the Territorial Force Act There is nothing further from the intentions of my Noble Friend or myself than to do anything just now, or so far as we know at any time, to injure the voluntary principle on which the Army exists.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I cannot limit myself by saying that in no circumstances shall the powers be used at home. Supposing you have already utilised three or four battalions of a particular regiment, there may be a fifth Reserve battalion which may not be complete, but it may be very desirable to hurry men out to the front with the greatest possible rapidity and dispatch. There ought, in my judgment, to be power residing in the Secretary of State to fill up that battalion and send it out complete. There would be no real ground for saying that it should not be completed because they did not happen to be Wiltshire men. It would not hurt if they were Gloucester men. I cannot help thinking that if the House realises these things it will come to the decision that it is desirable to place this power in the hands of the Secretary of State and the Army Council, because it is quite possible 621 that such circumstances may arise as will make such transference urgently necessary. But there is no reason to fear that so long as affairs continue as they are continuing to-day we shall in any way utilise these powers in a manner which would be resented at all by the men of the Force whom we are asking power to transfer. When the right hon. Gentleman said he would take powers to transfer Territorial soldiers to the Regular Force, I think that is much more striking at the foundations of the Territorial principle—
§ Mr. TENNANT
I beg pardon. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say he would not object to giving power to transfer a man against his own will. I should like the House to realise this; In January or November, certainly during this Session of Parliament, I introduced and carried a Bill giving similar powers to those contained in this Bill with regard to the Regular Army to the Secretary of State and the Army Council to transfer men against their will from one unit in the Regular Army to another, or from one corps to another, always within the same arm. I may explain that a unit means a battalion, and a corps generally means a regiment. You cannot transfer Infantry to Cavalry or Artillerymen to the Engineers. Here you have in this campaign Territorial soldiers serving side by side with Regular soldiers. It seems quite desirable that similar powers should be given to the War Office to transfer them, if necessary, from, we will say, the second battalion to the third battalion of the same regiment.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
In the case of two battalions serving abroad, if the right hon. Gentleman looks at line 15 of the Bill, surely the illustration he gave just now of the united Devons and Dorsets and the Northumberlands and Durhams is wrong, because it is only to join two units in one corps when serving abroad. The 5th and 6th Durhams cannot be joined to the Northumberlands. The right hon. Gentleman's explanation is a little at fault.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I do not think that is so. The Bill says, "may authorise a man 622 of the Territorial Force when belonging to one corps to be transferred without his consent to another corps of the same arm or branch of the Service."
§ Mr. TENNANT
The Bill actually contains the words, "who is liable to serve outside the United Kingdom." There is no intention of taking a man who only enlists for Home service and drafting him to a unit for foreign service.
§ Sir RYLAND ADKINS
Supposing a man enlists for foreign service in the Northumberlands, will this allow him to be drafted into the Bedfords or Dorsets against his will?
§ Mr. TENNANT
In the event of such an emergency as I have described, it would. That is the whole object which we have in the Bill.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
It does not do it; it only allows him to be transferred for foreign service to a unit of the same corps to which he belongs. Not from the Bedfords to the Northumberlands, but from the 5th to the 6th battalion of the Bedfords.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I am nonplussed. I agree it does not seem to carry out the actual terms printed in the Memorandum. Perhaps we had better defer further consideration.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I am glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman's last announcement that he proposes to adjourn the debate and get further information. May I ask him to be prepared on the next occasion to deal with a point which deserves some consideration. Special battalions are being raised with the sanction of Lord Kitchener; they are not affected.
§ Mr. TENNANT
This Bill deals only with the Territorial Force. I had intended to tell my hon. Friend behind that what are called "pals' battalions" belong to the New Army; they are quite separate from the Territorial Force.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Are they subject to the provisions of the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman introduced some time ago, which applied to the 623 Regular Army, that any man enlisting in a "pals' battalion" is liable to be transferred into any other battalion?
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Debate to be resumed to-morrow (Wednesday).