HC Deb 15 December 1916 vol 88 cc1084-96

Order for Second Reading read.

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

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

It has passed through all its stages in another place, under the care of my Noble Friend the Secretary of State for War, who has displayed such great interest both in the Territorial and in the Volunteer movement. I think it will be convenient if I explain, as succinctly as possible, the objects of the Bill and its provisions. Let me first of all deal with the circumstances in which it has been framed. The steady and severe drain on the man power of the country which has taken place during the last two years of war has rendered it essential that every effort should be made to utilise to the best possible advantage the national military resources. It is obvious that this country is in a different position, in so far as utilisation of man power is concerned, from the other Powers engaged in this war, in that we occupy the position of a great manufacturing concern for our Allies, as well as providing and equipping our own Armies. The general effect of this is that the general proportion of full-time troops to the total population provided by the country must be smaller than that of the other Powers. But the problem of utilising the men engaged in their civil occupations, either as a reserve to our Army in case of necessity or for part-time military service in their spare time, is a very important matter.

The Volunteer Force provides men who are prevented by reason of private circumstances or the nature of their civil employment from joining the Army with an opportunity of fitting themselves to take their place in the ranks, if the necessity for their service should ever arise, and further devoting their spare time to the relief of the full-time troops. The War Office, I need hardly say, have always recognised very fully the value, both existing and potential, of this force, and are satisfied that, with the fulfilment of certain conditions, it may be made to assume an important and a definite part in the country's defensive forces. Up to the present, however, the War Office has been faced with very real difficulty in this matter. Under the Volunteer Acts, as my hon. Friends who have taken a deep interest in volunteer matters know perfectly well, as they stand at the present time a volunteer who enrols merely commits himself to the liability of being called out for actual military service "only and if and when it becomes necessary for the purpose of repelling an enemy in the event of an invasion being imminent." He undertakes no obligation to perform any drill or training, and is, moreover, entitled, except when called up for actual military service in the circumstances just stated, to quit his corps on giving fourteen days' notice to his commanding officer. It is highly improbable that any appreciable number of these men actually enrolled in the volunteer corps of this country would avail themselves of this right. It is probable that the great majority of them, patriotic men as they are, intended when they did enrol themselves to devote as much of their spare time as possible to making themselves efficient. But at the present time we can take no risks, and before the military authorities can reckon on the volunteers as a definite military asset they feel that the objections to which I have referred must be got rid of, namely, the lack of any system of compulsory training, however modified, and the right of discharge. At the present time there is no power to invite volunteers to undertake any obligation, binding or otherwise, to perform programmes of drill or of training, or to contract out of their legal right to quit their corps on giving a fortnight's notice.

I come now to the object of the Bill. The Bill before the House is purely an enabling Bill. It does not affect the terms of service of any volunteer officer or volunteer without his individual consent. Briefly, it gives the Army Council power to invite volunteer officers and volunteers to enter into special agreements that for a period not exceeding the duration of the War they will undergo a definite course of training to fit them for actual military service on emergency, and also, if it is found necessary to ask for such an agreement, to enter into a special agreement— whether in conjunction with the former agreement or not—to undertake any military duties in Great Britain which may be provided for in the agreement. Volunteer officers and volunteers undertaking such agreement will be held strictly to it. A breach of the agreement—I should point this out—will involve military penalties, and, during the currency of the agreement, volunteers will not be entitled as they are now in ordinary circumstances, to quit their corps by giving fourteen days' notice. Release from the agreement will only be possible with the consent of the superior military authorities. A volunteer who enters into this agreement and such volunteers as have entered into that agreement will be called Volunteers under Section A. Under this Bill he will be subject to military law at any time when he is engaged in any preliminary training or performing any military duties, and an officer who has entered into such agreement will, like the officers of the Territorial Force before the War, be subject to military law at all times.

It will thus be seen that a man who has undertaken a binding agreement of this character will be a distinct military asset, provided that he is physically capable of performing the duties which will be required of him. In order to secure this it will be a condition precedent—that is to say, before any man will be enrolled in what is called Section A of the Volunteers —it will be a condition precedent that, first of all, he should undertake that obligation to serve; and, secondly, that his physical fitness should be of a certain standard. I think at the present time it is arranged that the physical fitness must be at least that of C 1—that is to say, he must be free from serious organic disease, able to stand service conditions in garrison at home, able to march at least five miles, see to shoot with glasses, and hear well.

I come to the provisions of the Bill. The first Sub-section gives power to invite volunteers to enter into special agreements as to training and service. The second Sub-section provides for the punishment of a volunteer officer or volunteer who fails to abide by his agreement as if he had committed the offence of absence without leave under the Army Act. The third Sub-section provides that a volunteer who has entered into an agreement under the Bill shall during its continuance, while engaged in any drill or training, or while performing any military duty, be subject to military law. The fourth Sub-section provides that an officer who has entered into such an agreement shall during the continuance of the agreement be subject to military law as an officer. Sub-section (5) provides that so long as an agreement is in force, a volunteer shall not be entitled to quit his corps on giving fourteen days' notice to his com- manding officer, but this Sub-section also contemplates the release of a volunteer officer or volunteer from his agreement in certain special circumstances by some prescribed authority.

The scheme framed under the Bill is as follows: Under the powers to be conferred by this Bill it is proposed to invite Volunteers to enter into agreements on the following lines—I think the House will be interested to know what those lines are, because I understand that a great many questions are being asked about them by constituents and others, and, after all, the Volunteer Force at the present time is between 1,000,000 and 2,000,000 men, which shows the House the extraordinary interest that is being taken in this particular measure. The Volunteer will undertake to perform fourteen drills in each calendar month after entering into the agreement until he is passed by the prescribed authority as having attained the requisite standard of efficiency. Before being passed the volunteer must also attain a certain moderate standard in musketry. Each attendance at the range will count as one drill. On being passed, the number of drills which the Volunteer will be required to perform will be ten a month only. He will also be required to fire a short musketry course, which will occupy only a few hours on the range. Each drill will be an hour in length. Men in possession of certain special qualifications will be required to perform only ten drills a month from the time of entering into the agreement, instead of the fourteen normally required. Before being accepted as a member of the new Section A—that is, the section which is taking the Volunteer obligation— and is also of a certain physical standard, a Volunteer will have to be medically examined in order to ascertain whether he comes up to the necessary standard of physical fitness. These are the provisions of the Bill, and that is the scheme under which it is framed.

One important consideration arises, and that is the question of finance. Hitherto these patriotic members of Volunteer Corps have had to pay their travelling and other expenses, to pay for their uniforms and for such rifles and so forth as they had got. We felt, after a good deal of pressure, that something should be done, particularly for the man who has proved himself efficient, and we propose now that a volunteer on being passed as efficient should receive the sum of £2. This sum will be paid to the Territorial Force Association administering the unit to which that particular volunteer belongs. Out of this sum it will be, the duty of the Association, in the first instance, to provide the volunteer with a suit of uniform clothing, namely, jacket, trousers, cap and puttees. This clothing will be manufactured from a special cloth to be provided by the War Office on repayment. The balance of the £2 remaining after provision of the uniform clothing will form a fund out of which the general administration expenses of the force will be defrayed. A set of personal equipment— that is, accoutrements—will be provided for each member of Section A from Army stocks, and rifles and any other equipment which may be necessary will be provided as stocks admit. It is further clearly necessary to make adequate arrangements for the training of the force, and for this purpose it has been decided to sanction the appointment of full-time adjutants, drawn from experienced officers of the Regular Army and of the Territorial Force, who will receive the pay and allowances of their rank. In addition an acting sergeant-major and sergeant-instructor of musketry will be provided for each battalion. Moreover, in order to speed up the training of the force, it has been decided to admit selected officers and non-commissioned officers to the command schools of instruction, there to undergo courses of training in order to fit them in their turn to train troops. Such members of the Volunteer Corps will be put to no expense on account of the cost of travelling to the schools, or for their accommodation or subsistence while there. If it should happen that they are put to any necessary out-of-pocket expenses in connection with the course, such expense will be defray-able from the fund formed by the capitation Grants issued to Territorial Force Associations in respect of Section A Volunteers. These are the provisions of the Bill. If I have omitted to deal -with any point, I should only be too glad to deal with it in the course of the Debate. I think I have gone through the Bill thoroughly and covered all the points.


What about uniform of officers?


That will be provided for. I am not quite sure. We shall have regulations. I hope this Bill, which is urgently needed, will receive a Second Reading.

Colonel YATE

I should like to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his statement and to welcome him on the Front Bench. I wish this recognition of the volunteers which is now bestowed by the Government had come a year or so earlier. If it had come a year or a little more ago, I cannot help thinking that we should have double the number of volunteers we have at the present time. We all know how much that force has wasted owing to delay in recognition on the part of the Government. However, it is better late than never, and we welcome the recognition now that it has come. There is one point I should like to mention to the hon. Member, and that is in respect of the number of drills per month that is to be put in by a volunteer. He said that a volunteer would have to put in fourteen drills per month. That is, fourteen drills in twenty-eight days—a drill every second day. In many country districts, and particularly in the country villages of my own Constituency, where I can speak from some experience, I feel sure that the villagers will find a difficulty in putting in fourteen drills in a month. I trust, therefore, that some allowance will be made with respect to country districts, where it is impossible to get men to drill together so frequently as that. In towns where there are drill-halls in which the men can drill it is a different thing, because the men can go in for an hour or so in the evening, but in the country villages that is impossible. It is difficult to get men together, and I feel sure some allowance for that will have to be made. I should like to know whether the men who are to go to drills and musketry courses, which are obligatory if they are to become efficient men in Section A, will receive from the Government the full railway fare, there and back? The men will readily give their time and labour, but I do not think it is right that they should be called upon to pay ready cash down to go to musketry courses or to drill. Now that the Government have taken over all the railways and the provision of passes is a comparatively easy matter, I think that full railway fare, there and back, should be given to the men, or, where no railways are available, some help should be given to enable the men to complete their full drill. I do not quite understand what is the balance that is to be placed to the credit of the Territorial Force Associations after the provision of uniform. The hon. Gentleman said that £2 was to be paid in respect of each man, and the balance, after providing him with his uniform, is to be credited to the association. Can he tell us what the balance is expected to be? So far as my knowledge goes, it will take the whole of the £2 to provide the man with uniform. Perhaps he can tell us what is the cost of the cloth to be charged by the Government, and what balance is expected to remain. The hon. Gentleman has told us that each battalion is to be given a Regular adjutant. In my county and in many other counties there are several battalions. In Leicestershire there are three battalions. The county commandant is a brigadier-general. He would require a Staff officer to enable him to do his work. I would like to know whether each county regimental commandant is to be given a Staff officer, or a brigade-major, or whatever you like to call him. Some officer will have to be appointed to assist the brigadier-general, whom I may call the nominal brigadier-general, commanding the whole county regiment of several battalions. In almost every county I may say there will be practically a brigade of about four battalions, and no provision seems to have been made for this. I trust that the hon. Gentleman will be able to answer those questions before the Debate comes to a close.

Colonel Sir H. GREENWOOD

On my own behalf, and I think on behalf of everyone who has come in contact with him, I would like to congratulate heartily the Under-Secretary for War on his attaining to that most important position. There is no member of any Government who has shown more courtesy to a private Member of the House of Commons than the hon. Gentleman who sits on that bench for the first time as an Under-Secretary. I certainly wish him every success in what is now and will continue to be one of the most onerous and responsible positions that any man can fulfil. I also congratulate him on being able to introduce to the House this long-delayed Volunteer Bill. It is a measure of justice that should have been given to these splendid men one and a-half or two years ago. The reason they were never recognised was the same reason why the Territorials were never recognised, because that distinguished soldier Lord Kitchener could never believe that it was possible for a Territorial, and certainly not for a volunteer, to be of any serious military value. I myself think that the Government of the day should in that case have spoken for both these great civilian or semi-civilian forces, and should have insisted upon their recognition before this late hour, when so many hundreds of thousands of them have given up the effort of paying their own way in the desire to serve their country? Belated though the Bill is which is now before the House from another place, one must show appreciation of Lord Derby, the present Secretary for War, who from the first has been a supporter of this volunteer movement, as also has been an hon. Member of this House, the Member for Market Harborough, who has been intimately connected with this Volunteer Force in its darkest, dreariest, and least recognised days.

The Bill before the House differs, as far as I know from any other Bill ever before the House in that it is actually wanted and that the exact Bill is acceptable to those persons who are interested in it, namely, the volunteers. They are prepared to undergo military discipline, to become efficient before they draw the grant, to continue in the service, to travel distances, and do many things without hope of fee, and in many ways to disorganise their civil life in order to show their real patriotism, and they are put to considerable personal and collective sacrifice. I am glad to see that the administration is to be under the Territorial Association. I am one of those who believe that the Territorial Association principle is the foundation of any successful recruiting administration in reference to our British Army, and now that the volunteers are put under it I have no doubt that the administraion and everything connected with that notable force will be carried out with strict regard to military efficiency. In conclusion, I am glad to note that no volunteer can get a money grant or become qualified to the first place of volunteers unless he becomes efficient not only in his drill, but, what is equally important, in his musketry. The fact is that these volunteers do everything they can to become efficient, and do not wish to be paid a grant until they can do the necessary work. I hope that success will attend them, and that this Bill will commend itself to the House.


I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend on the position which he has been called to fill. We all know the hard work he has done at the War Office, and I do not think that there is a man in this House who more thoroughly deserves the position to which he has attained. I have been connected with the Volunteer movement from the early stages of the War, and I am happy to say that the county, not my own county, but the county of which I have charge, has got six battalions, to a great extent equipped and clothed. Two pounds allowance for each Volunteer, if he were to come naked, would not go very far towards equipping him, but the Government are to give equipment besides. For myself, however, I have always held the view that a Volunteer Force ought to be a force which is not subsidised to any great extent. I do not believe in volunteers being paid men, and I hope that with the equipment that the Government gives, and the Grant that is to be paid, the different towns and localities will be able to raise the small additional sum required for organisation, travelling expenses, and other necessary outlay that may come upon them. There is one thing I would like to urge—and in this I wish to join my voice to that of the Member for Leicestershire—and that is the very heavy amount of drills which are to be put in.

In one month, in country districts, there are 14 drills in 28 days. I know that most of the men will be able to do it, but I trust that there will be some regulation by which they will be allowed to defer some drills to a longer period. The commanding officer might adopt some such scheme rather than that there should be this hard and fast rule. When we put this before Lord Derby he gave us the answer that this was the minimum of efficiency that Lord French considered was necessary for volunteers, and he would not alter that point. I do not want to see efficiency altered, and I do not think it would be altered if the suggestion were adopted. I think we must do all we can, and the War Office must do all they can, to encourage the volunteers just in those particular places where they experience the greatest difficulty. The agricultural labourers make most useful volunteers, but there are occasions when they will find it difficult to get away for drill, and I hope the War Office will stretch a point where these difficulties arise, as, for example, in a village where two drills are arranged and where the men cannot turn up. There are other cases of that sort where a man is too busy and cannot, perhaps, attend quite as often as is put down. I hope there will be a certain amount of latitude given, so as to afford every encouragement, whatever the general rule may be. I think that the general rule is not a bit too much, and that most of the men will undertake the matter with great pleasure. I trust, too, that a certain amount of latitude will be allowed for the difficulties of musketry. There are places where they have to go very long distances to the range. I hope in those cases the War Office will take the responsibility of finding the range and putting them on it before they exact the necessity of a man having gone through the course. If the War Office undertake to give a certain amount of latitude, I am sure the Volunteers will go on increasing and will be a really useful force. I know a good deal of the work which has been done by that force already, such as the guarding of railways, and other matters of a most important kind. I believe that the force will be of immense utility to the country, and I congratulate the War Office in having made up their minds to make use of it, and the Government in carrying this Bill through.


There was one omission in the speech of the Under-Secretary in introducing the Bill as to equipment, or, at least, I did not hear any reference to it, and that is the question of boots. That is an important matter in the case of the volunteers, not only from the point of view of the appearance of a regiment on parade, which is a comparatively small point, but as well from the point of view that it is desirable that the boots should be all of one pattern and substantial. Past experience has shown in Volunteer Forces that when the men provided their own boots some were in a good state of repair and some otherwise. Now when you have to call on these men to march very long distances it is absolutely necessary that they should be quite comfortable as regards their feet. I hope this matter will have the hon. Gentleman's attention.


I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and the Government on having at last brought in this Bill, but if I heard the hon. Gentleman aright, the grant I understand is only one of £2 for tunic and puttees and cap, but there are such things as overcoats, and it seams to me that the £2 proposed is a totally inadequate sum, and it is not so much as you are giving to special constables. An hon and gallant Gentleman spoke of any balance going to Territorial Associations. I should be glad if the hon. Gentleman would clear up some of the difficulties and doubts in my mind as to the £2 grant, and if he will tell us if the first uniforms are provided free of cost, and then the grant of £2 given.


I interrupted while the Under-Secretary was speaking in order to avoid the necessity of making a speech, on the question of the grant as regards officers. The hon. Gentleman will realise that if the grant of £2 is inadequate, as some hon. Members pointed out, for the men and for the provision of such things as top coats, it will be much more inadequate for officers. Something much more substantial should be forthcoming from the War Office in order to encourage officers to come forward, for they should not be called upon to any great extent to finance their uniforms out of their private funds. When they are doing this work as volunteers for the sake of the country, they ought to be encouraged by the War Office, and the sum of £2 towards an officer's uniform is by no means adequate.


I feel very grateful to my hon. Friends who have spoken in the course of this Debate for the very ungrudging and kind appreciation they have expressed of what I have tried to do. Dealing with the point raised by my hon. Friend (Mr. Watt) who interrupted me, very kindly, in the midst of my speech, I told him, I think, that I thought the £2 was given for the officer's grant. I am not at all sure I am right in stating that. I will promise my hon. Friend, however, that the question of this grant shall receive consideration. My whole attention when I spoke was centred on the equipment of the men. In regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for East Marylebone, may I say, in justice to the action of the War Office, that it was only after consideration with the various Territorial Associations in the country that we fixed the sum of £2. When we fixed it we thought we were exceedingly generous, because the Terri- torial Associations said that all they required was 30s. That leads me to the point raised by my hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Yate) as to the extra sum to which I alluded when I dealt with this grant. The extra sum was the difference between the 30s. which the Territorial Associations assured us was quite sufficient for the equipment I have described and the £2 which we thought was a generous grant. In regard to the other point raised, I understand that officers and volunteers are allowed to travel at half-fare when in uniform and proceeding to drill or training. At the present time we are considering the possibility of extending this, with, of course, certain safeguards in the case of the volunteers who go in civilian clothes. Nothing has been definitely settled, but I hope, by the middle of next week, when the Vote comes before the House for further discussion, I may be in a position to give a fuller reply. In regard to the point put forward by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Staffordshire, that of boots, I understand that it is no part of the proposal or the regulation under this Bill that we should be responsible for the supply of boots to the volunteers. I do not know whether my hon. and gallant Friend wishes very strongly to press that point, but while I am drawing the attention of the Secretary of State to the other points mentioned I shall certainly not forget to bring the contention of my hon. and gallant Friend before him I am not quite sure whether I have missed any point.

Colonel YATE

The brigade major for the county regimental commandant.


I cannot promise definitely in regard to that. Nobody knows more than my hon. and gallant Friend how very scarce efficient Regular officers are at the present time, and we thought we went a long way when we promised to give some of those officers for the benefit of the Volunteer Forces. I am afraid it would be quite impossible for them to grant any other officers, and I am sure my hon. and gallant Friend quite realises that. I shall be very glad now if the House, after the consideration just extended to the Bill, will give the Bill a Second Reading.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Tuesday next.—[Mr. Beck.]