§ 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 a substitute for the Bill which I asked the House to read a second time last week, and which stands as the next Order on the Paper to-day—the Territorial Force Bill. As I explained to the House on that occasion, it is very desirable that we at the War Office should be enabled to liquify our assets, so to speak, and employ such soldiers as are available in the capacity in which they are most required.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but I am not sure which Order he is on?
§ Mr. TENNANT
Not at all. The hon. Baronet doubtless could not hear what I was saying, although I was straining my voice considerably. When the whole House is talking, it is very difficult for a Minister to make himself heard. I was explaining that this Bill is in substitution of the Territorial Force Bill, the Order in regard to which I shall ask the House to discharge when this Bill has been read a second time It will be agreed, I think, that where you have considerable wastage in a particular battalion, and there are not sufficient Reserves in the Reserve battalion for that particular unit, it is desirable that the process of transfer should be made more simple and more easy. The whole object of this Bill is to empower the Army Council to make such transfers. With regard to the Territorial Force, which is not dealt with in this Bill at all, certain practical difficulties were revealed by the short discussion of last week. In fact, it was made quite obvious that there exists in all quarters of the House a strong disposition to safeguard what I may call the Territorial principle. I therefore asked leave to adjourn the Debate in order to consider what should be done. I am glad to be able to alleviate any apprehension which may exist by stating that we no longer propose to transfer against his will 1312 a man of the Territorial Force from any one unit to another, or from any one corps to another. I ought to accompany that by the further statement that it is our intention to call for volunteers, and to ask members of the Territorial Force to agree to be transferred from one unit to another, or from one corps to another where the necessity arises. Having stated that we propose to proceed on the voluntary principle, and to safeguard the pay of any soldier or officer proceeding from one corps to another, I do not think there is anything more requires to be said. I hope hon. Members will agree that this is an enabling power which ought to be placed in the hands of the Secretary of State; for, after all, in the last resort, what do you say to the man who is gallant enough to come forward and say that he desires to serve his country? "What you want to do is to get a bullet or a bayonet into a German." That is what he is most anxious to do—all praise to him for it!—and if he can serve his country better in one corps than in another, I am perfectly certain that the British soldier is the man to undertake that task.
§ 5.0 P.M.
I quite understand the necessity for this Bill, and I think every hon. Member does; but I would like to call the attention of the Under-Secretary of State for War for a moment to one particular case in which possibly he might make special arrangements. I mentioned it when the Territorial Force Bill was before the House. The case is this: A number of battalions have been allowed to be raised which are commonly known as "Pals' Battalions." They were only allowed to be raised on condition that they paid their own expenses. Take an example from my own Constituency, where £5,000 was guaranteed in order that a corps might be raised under those conditions. We raised that corps, and the officers did everything to get it ready for service. The men generally enlisted with the thought that they would not be separated—fellow townsmen, friends and club mates. I want the right hon. Gentleman to consider on this corps and others like it the effect of transferring members against their will to other units, and still more to other corps. This might be thought to be a very great breach of faith on the part of the Government, especially in the case where many of these friends themselves subscribed largely to provide their own equipment. It may be that there are not many of 1313 these battalions, but I do think the right hon. Gentleman should give us some assurance that, so far as possible, they will not be interfered with. I do not say that in no event the exigencies of the War might require it, and that they, seeing the necessity, would not volunteer and would not go. But do not let the Government under the existing circumstances pass an Act of Parliament without any assurance whatever that their rights, their interests, will not be specially protected in so far as they have been given an assurance and have enlisted on the faith of it.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I wish to assure the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary that I made no complaint whatever against him, but owing to the noise that was going on in the House, through no fault of my own—
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I did not quite understand what Bill we were dealing with, and I thought it essential that we should understand that. I think there is something in what my hon. Friend behind me says. I also think there is a great deal more in the case of the old historical regiments. A man might be transferred into any Line, or Cavalry, or Artillery regiment when he did not wish it. These considerations apply much more in the case of the old historical regiments who have great associations, and the men of which love their regiment. There is, I say, very much more in their case than in the case which my hon. Friend behind me has just brought forward. We are at war, and we have got to do the best we can under the circumstances. I feel quite certain that neither the Secretary of State nor the right hon. Gentleman would, if they could avoid it, transfer men who have enlisted in a particular regiment to other regiments. Under these circumstances, therefore, I wish to support the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Sir IVOR HERBERT
I wish to add a few words on the same lines as the hon. Baronet who has just sat down. I wish to remind the Under-Secretary for War that national feeling, especially, has been particularly prominent in the regiments which we have recently been raising. In Wales, in my own county, this feeling has produced very great results, and I believe in Ireland and in Scotland similar results have been produced. If there were to be any application of this Bill in transferring men 1314 from a Scottish regiment to an English regiment, or from a Welsh regiment to an Irish regiment, or anything of that sort, I think it will have a very serious effect altogether upon recruiting. Personally, I recognise, as the hon. Baronet did, that we are now living in times of great pressure, and we must give full power to the Executive. I have not risen in any way to oppose this Bill, but merely to remind the right hon. Gentleman, and through him the Secretary of State for War, that feelings of national character, such as have been alluded to, which are very strong in distinguished regiments that have great traditions in the Army, must not be recklessly swept away.
I can quite understand there must be cases in which it would be very desirable to apply the provisions of this Bill, in which I see special provision has been taken. There has been in some parts of the country an excessive rush of men to the Artillery, to the Army Service Corps, and to similar corps, when possibly in those very districts the local regiments which depend upon the districts for drafts to the front are not able to get recruits. It is extremely desirable in such a case that the district should be given to understand that when any local regiment is at the front bearing the burden of the day, that it is their duty to provide the drafts to make up wastage, and that these transfers should be made, notwithstanding the fact that a man may pass from one branch of the Service to another which has not the same emoluments. I think a very proper and generous provision has been made by the Clause of the Bill which provides that a man shall not lose by the fact of that transfer. At the same time it is also necessary that provision should be made to prevent the abuse of that generosity by checking the recruiting in those areas for those particular arms, or otherwise a man instead of going into his local regiment may take a circuitous course through the Royal Artillery or the Royal Engineers, and in that way add materially to the emoluments he will get when he eventually reaches his local regiment. My intention in rising is merely to draw the attention of the Under-Secretary to these facts, and especially to that of national feeling, or a too rigid application of the powers of the Bill, might be to the detriment of the Army.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
There are two points which I wish to deal with in this Bill, to the general principles of which I 1315 am quite sure no objection can be taken. I should like to emphasise the point raised by the hon. Gentleman, the Member for Oldham. We may take it generally, I think, that these battalions that have been raised, and raised to efficiency and strength—I have had some hand in these matters myself—will, if possible, be kept together and not broken up to reinforce other battalions, though I quite realise in the case of a battalion of 300 or 400 men, that it is absolutely essential that it should be broken up, and distributed amongst other battalions. There is one point arising out of this Bill as applied to the Regular service. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is going to deal with it—that is, the question of retransfers after the War is over. I am not speaking now of Service battalions because they come to an end when the War is over, but the Regular battalions—the Guards regiment, and so on. Would it not be fair—I do not suggest it should be incorporated in the Bill—that the War Office, and the right hon. Gentleman, so far as possible, should make it clear that at the conclusion of the War men who have been taken out of one historical regiment and put into another should have the option of going back to their own regiment. If it is possible to transfer them in one case, it ought to be possible to make a reasonable arrangement, without putting it in the Bill, to enable them to return to the regiment of their choice at the end of the War.
The other point is with regard to the Territorial Force which was mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman a little while ago. He told us he was going to withdraw the Territorial Force Bill, and that he was going to call for volunteers to transfer from the Territorial Force. That, I quite agree, is reasonable, but I do want to ask him to see that no pressure of an undue character is put upon the members to transfer. One does not want to go back to the Debate of last week, but it was agreed and mentioned ad nauseam that pressure was put upon the Territorials to volunteer for foreign service—I do not mean pressure by the War Office, but by their own officers. While we want every man to volunteer for foreign service, we do not want to have undue pressure put upon anyone until the time comes that the Government calls upon every man to take his place in the fighting force. I hope, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman will see that there is no undue pressure used.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
I only want to put one question to the right hon. Gentleman. As I understand the Bill, as it stands it would be possible to transfer as between combatant and non-combatant branches of the Army, backwards and forwards. Is that the intention? I do not suppose for a moment—I do not believe—that any member of a non-combatant branch would have the slightest objection, in the face of the enemy, to be transferred to a combatant branch, but all the same the fact should be considered that the services are on distinct lines, and it should be made quite clear before the Bill is passed whether what I have asked is or is not the intention of the Government.
§ Colonel YATE
Does this Bill apply to officers or only to men? Is an officer who enters any special regiment—either the Cavalry or the Guards—in which he has hereditary or county connections to be transferred to any other regiment against his will, or is he not? Does the word "soldier" in this Bill cover officers or not? We ought to have a definite rule on that point. It is not right that officers with personal connections with a particular regiment should be transferred against their will. The second point I would like to ask is—we have had no special reference from the right hon. Gentleman on the point—as to whether or not it is to apply to Service battalions or to Regular battalions?
§ Colonel YATE
There have been various cases, and I do not quite understand what has been done. We heard the other day of some 400 men who had been transferred against their will from a West Country regiment (Gloucester) to fill up the ranks of a regiment in Ireland. Is it for that reason that this Bill has been brought in? The move caused very great dissatisfaction—almost a mutiny, it was said—in Ireland I think that is a very bad precedent to follow. All these things should be thought of. If they are not it may cause a very great deal of dissatisfaction in the Service if men are transferred against their will. In the Regular regiments particularly it is very hard that a man who specially enlists in a Line or the Guards Regiment should be transferred and not be allowed to go back to his old regiment at the end of the War. I trust all these points will be considered, and a distinct assurance given that when 1317 military necessities no longer demand it men who has been transferred shall be allowed to return to the regiment in which they originally enlisted, and in which they may have a particular hereditary connection.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I rise to support the appeal of the hon. Member for Brentford (Mr. Joynson-Hicks). I have cases in my mind of Territorials who, when many of their neighbours and friends were not thinking about the defence of the country, decided to join the defensive force. They gave their mind to the subject of Home defence. They took an interest in the subject and thought greatly about it, and decided in times of peace years ago that their contribution in case the country was in danger should take that particular form. But they have given up a point which has been in their mind for some time, largely because the present trouble is of overwhelming importance. Perhaps if it were a minor war they would not do it. Making another sacrifice to the country, they get attached to a particular regiment, and then they are moved on again, without any consent being given on their part. Rumours are about the country that it has been done for one reason or another. I should think most of them have very little foundation; but I think a sympathetic pronouncement from the Front Bench that, not merely at the termination of the War, but at any time during the War when there is a favourable opportunity for these men to transfer, it may be back to their own regiment, they should be allowed to take advantage of it. I do not like to wait until the conclusion of the War before a man is restored to a regiment of which he is fond, and if circumstances allow this to be done I hope the War Office will consider it.
§ Mr. TENNANT
With the permission of the House I will say a word or two in answer to the various comments which have been made. In reply to the hon. and gallant Member opposite, I would say that officers, by the terms of their engagement, now are liquid throughout the whole Army. They can now be transferred from any part of the Army to any other part. I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows that, if he casts his memory back. With regard to the main argument which has been laid before the House, that it is desirable to preserve intact that corporate spirit which is imbued in batches of men joining special 1318 corps, I would say at once, though this must not be taken as a pledge, but as an indication of what is in the mind of my Noble Friend the Secretary of State for War, that it is not the intention to break up those corps or those battalions at all. That is not the main object of the Bill whatsoever. I think what may be fairly described as the main object of the Bill is this: At the beginning of the War, when we were increasing our Armies by leaps and bounds, we enlisted into the Cavalry as well as the Artillery large numbers of men, believing they would be engaged in the ordinary way in warfare of which we had previous experience. This warfare is peculiar, however, and we are not able to employ Cavalry in anything like the numbers we have in past warfare. Therefore it is desirable that the surplusage of Cavalry should be utilised in the trenches, as they have been. We thought it would be much more useful to transfer them into Infantry regiments and use them—as they are spoiling to be used—at the present moment. A very good illustration of that is the Brigade of the Canadian Cavalry, under the command of my right hon. and gallant Friend the late Secretary of State for War, who, I dare say it is known, are going out as Infantrymen. A very splendid example they have set.
The hon. Member for Brentford suggests that we should make some provision for the return of a man to his own unit after the War is over, and my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth) suggested that that should be done even before the War is over. I think my hon. Friend spoke a little as if we were at peace and not at war. It is absolutely impossible to do what he suggests, and to give anything in the nature of a pledge that we should return a man from the unit for which necessity has demanded him back to his own unit, simply because he wants to get there. That would not be a reasonable thing for him to ask; but I am sure that the military authorities will use every endeavour when the War is happily brought to a conclusion, to return men to their own units in which they originally enlisted, should there be any possibility of so doing, and I anticipate there will be every possibility. The hon. Member for St. Augustine's (Mr. B. McNeill) asked if it was the intention of the War Office to utilise non-combatants in combatant service. I think I ought to make quite plain that that is the intention. Where a man, for instance, can be spared 1319 from the Royal Army Medical Corps, where he is a stretcher-bearer, non-commissioned officer or man, and can be spared, it might be quite desirable that he should be utilised in the combatant forces. I hope there will not be any mistake about that, and I hope the House will agree that that is a power which we ought to have, although, as I say again, I do not think it will be very largely called upon. But it is a power we ought to have, and my Noble Friend desires to have these wider powers in his hands, so that he may be able to utilise material which is in the Army in the manner which, he considers will be most likely to bear fruit and bring about an early victory.
Will the right hon. Gentleman make a little more specific reference to those battalions I mentioned particularly?
§ Mr. TENNANT
I hope I have made it clear that there is inside the War Office a strong sympathy with the reasons which have made those men enlist in a corporate capacity, and we have no desire at all to break up those corps, or do anything to thwart their most laudable ambition that they should serve together. On the other hand, I think the hon. Gentleman must realise, in view of what I said at the conclusion of my remarks, that we ought to have the power to be able to use them—perhaps to transfer them in batches to another corps, perhaps to use a man in another corps, an individual it may be. I do not say that power will be largely used, but I do not think the House would be well advised in denying that power to my Noble Friend.
§ Sir IVOR HERBERT
Am I to understand that transfers from corps raised on a national basis are only to be applied under the most stringent necessity?
§ Mr. TENNANT
I am sure I can give my hon. and gallant Friend an assurance that this power will be used most sparingly, and only when necessity arises. It is highly improbable that it will ever be used in the rather violent manner suggested by my hon. and gallant Friend by transferring a Highlander to a Devon or Cornwall regiment, or a Welshman to an Irish regiment.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
The right hon. Gentleman says that all officers are now liquid. Does he mean an Infantry officer 1320 will be put into a Horse Artillery battery, or that Horse Artillery men will only be employed in trenches?
§ Mr. TENNANT
I believe that the Army Council are empowered to employ an officer in every branch or arm of the Service.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.