HC Deb 19 December 1916 vol 88 cc1411-8

Considered in Committee, and reported without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."


The agreement referred to in Clause 1, which may be entered into, may not be always the best of terms for all parts of the country. I should like to know if there is any power of variation to meet the special circumstances of the case?


May I inquire whether ample powers are being taken to pay all the staffs


May I take the opportunity of asking my hon. Friend what are the Government proposals in regard to men who join the Volunteer Forces so far as any disability is concerned which arises as a result of their services in the force? I understand that my hon. Friend, in conjunction with the authorities at the War Office, has considered this subject, and that they have come to some decision. I think one would be quite fair in saying that, naturally, we should not expect the same kind of pension or that those men should not drop in to the same category as men who are on active service at the front. It is also at the same time? apparent that if you utilise the Volunteer Forces of this country, that, in view of the fact that these men are giving their services gratuitously, the least the State can do is to make some provision for them. I hope my hon. Friend will be able to indicate that this aspect of the question has not been forgotten.


I should like to ask a question of the hon. Member who is in charge of the Bill, and it is with regard to the Grant. I do not see in the Bill itself any Grant of 40s. per volunteer. Do I understand that the Grant is to cover all the expenses in addition to the cost of clothing the volunteers, because if that is the case I am afraid that a very large number of the corps will be deficient in their expenses; and I should like to ask also whether, in the case where volunteer corps are already equipped so far as clothing is concerned, the 40s. will be given to them? I should like to call attention to the position of the officers, because to my knowledge in a very large number of towns you have at the present time many men with moderate means who are officers, and they have undertaken very large financial liabilities. For instance, they have undertaken to rent drill sheds where the men drill every night. They are not able to utilise the former drill sheds belonging to the Territorials, and in many cases they have undertaken to engage other drill sheds or other halls for the purpose of drilling their men. They have undertaken all these liabilities, and they can ill afford it, because, as I have said, they are men of moderate means. Before the Territorial Forces Act was brought into operation, we all know that the officers of the old volunteers had to undertake the whole of the expenses of drill sheds, rifle butts, and all these equipments, but when the Territorial Forces Act came into operation a Grant was made to the officers. I should like to ask whether the Government have taken this matter into their consideration, because I am afraid, unless they have done so, many of these men will be very, very hard hit, as a number of them, to my knowledge, have come forward to train these men, and have made most efficient volunteers of them, although they are men with moderate incomes. They are daily engaged in their occupations, and they feel that if a Grant is to be made to the volunteers, some Grant ought to be made to them to relieve them of these financial burdens. I should like to ask the Under-Secretary whether the War Office had taken those facts into consideration when they came to the conclusion that 40s. for each volunteer was sufficient to cover the expenses which those corps are now undertaking? I should like to have some reply on that point, because I know it is giving some concern to these officers who have undertaken for the past eighteen months to drill and to train the men under their charge.


I only rise, as member of the Volunteer Force, to express my thanks to the Government for having brought forward this Bill, and for having generally undertaken to recognise the Volunteer Force as a force of men who might, under certain emergencies, be very useful to the country. Although I quite sympathise with what my hon. Friend has just suggested, I must confess, in the district in which I live, I have always said to the men, "You are volunteering for the work of guarding railways, and so on, and you must go to the people in the neighbourhood and get them to give you money to support your corps." My volunteers are in a purely agricultural district, and there are no wealthy men around us, and we have had great difficulty in supplying ourselves with the necessary uniforms, rifles, and so on; still, by dint of hard work, we have done it. Therefore I, for one, feel that we must not press the Government too much in this respect, and, so far as my district is concerned, we are very grateful indeed to get the promised Grant of £2 a head, because it must not be forgotten that when the officers of the Territorial Force were consulted I understood they said that 30s. a head would be quite sufficient, and as much as they expected.


Not the officers.


At any rate, members of the Territorial Forces Association said they would be satisfied with 30s., and, so far as my experience goes, they are very grateful to have the £2. I would, therefore, say that we ought to be satisfied with what the Government is doing, and, so far as the people in my district are concerned, they are satisfied. Now in my Constituency, which is an urban district, I know they went round with the hat, and got money from the people residing in the district without very much difficulty. It is quite true that was in the first two years of the War, when the enthusiasm was great, but I still think they will get it when it is recognised what work the volunteers have done up to now, what they are perfectly capable of doing, and what they are told by Field-Marshal Lord French they are able to do. I think, therefore, we who are members of the force ought to be very grateful for what the Government has done, and I rise to thank them for what has been promised.

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

I really think the speech which has just been delivered by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for West Salford (Sir G. Agnew) answers all the points raised on the Third Reading. I am grateful to him for his speech. I come to more particular points. With regard to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton (Sir R. Adkins), I can assure him we have paid attention to that particular point, and we do pledge ourselves, if the exigencies arise, to vary the agreement in accordance with the nature of the moment. With regard to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. J. Samuel), who has also taken a particular interest in this movement, I am not in a position to give him a definite reply at the present moment, but I will consult my Noble Friend the Secretary of State with regard to it, and I will see what can be done. As to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Ainsworth), I thought I dealt with that in my speech on Second Reading. We propose to pay all the Regular officers we use in connection with the Volunteer movement the full pay of their rank with their accompanying emoluments, and I hope that will satisfy my hon. Friend. I. do not think any other point was raised except by my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge), and I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury (Sir G. Toulmin) also raised the same point. May I point out that we have recognised an arrangement in conformity with the spirit of the old Volunteer Act of 1863 under which, when volunteers are called out for actual military service, they receive the same financial benefits as those enjoyed by other full-time troops with whom they may be serving. Instructions on this point have been issued, and I will read the Instruction which has been actually issued covering this point: If and when the Volunteer Force or any part of it is called out for actual military service in accordance with para. 7 of the Regulations for the Volunteer Force, officers and volunteers so called out will be entitled to the following financial benefits:—

  1. (a) Pay and Allowances.—All ranks will receive pay and allowances at the rates issuable to officers and soldiers of corresponding ranks of the Territorial Force.
  2. (b) Separation Allowance.—The wives or dependants of N.C.O's. and men will receive Separation Allowance as issuable in respect of corresponding ranks of the Territorial Force.
  3. (c) Non-effective Benefits—In the event of an officer or volunteer being killed or injured or contracting disease as a result of his employment when so called out, he or his dependants will be entitled to the same financial benefits by way of gratuity, pension, etc., as would be issuable under the same conditions in the case of an officer or soldier of corresponding rank of the Territorial Force."
I hope this Instruction covers everything that is necessary, and I ask the House to give this Bill a Third Reading.

Mr. PERCY HARRIS (Leicester, Har-borough)

I would like to say a few words in support of this important measure. I regret I was not able to be present on the Second Reading, but I wish to say on behalf of the Volunteer Force, with which I am associated, that on the whole the general feeling is that this measure meets the general demands and ideals of the force throughout the country. For two years the force has been able to exist in spite of great discouragement, and in spite of the fact that no financial assistance was given to it, and even recognition was denied. I am aware that the Act of 1863 was applied to the force early in the year which gave the force full recognition and status, and they became part of the armed forces of the Crown. This new Bill will enable the Government to give substantial assistance to the volunteers. It is true that the national assistance is not on a large scale, but when we remember that for two years it was impossible almost for this force to exist, and that it was only supported by voluntary means, I think hon. Members will agree that this is a substantial scheme, and this Bill will go a long way towards meeting the requirements of the force.

I should very much like to plead with the Government to use this Bill on as broad lines as possible. There is an impression amongst volunteers, and I am sure it is a wrong impression, that the authorities only tolerate them, and do not require their services. I know the new Prime Minister and the present Secretary for War have always shown sympathy for this force. The Government do want the services of these volunteers, and far from not wanting them, they desire to increase their numbers and their use in every pos- sible direction. Nevertheless the fact remains that there is a feeling abroad that they are only tolerated, and for that reason the numbers are not increasiag as fast as otherwise would be the case. It is true that there has been an addition in some directions, but not in the ordinary volunteers. A great number of men have been sent by the tribunals to be trained in order to get physically fit before they are called up for the Regular Army, but the ordinary man catered for by the scheme over military age has not been coming forward in very great numbers. I think that is largely due to the fact that for the first eighteen months of the War everything was done to discourage the force. Commissions were denied to them, most stringent regulations were imposed, and they were even prohibited from using the ordinary military titles. That gave an impression, which it is hard to remove, that the force is only tolerated. But now everything has been changed. Officers have been gazetted and full recognition has been given. Lord French is going about the country rallying the force and speaking words of approval, and now we have this Bill enabling volunteers by signing an agreement to earn a substantial contribution towards the cost of their equipment and organisation. What is, perhaps, more important than that is that the Government is going to allow paid adjutants and paid instructors, and, when available, Service rifles. I think it would be of very great assistance to the movement if the Secretary for War or the Prime Minister made an appeal to every able-bodied man who is not otherwise engaged, and who is eligible for the force, to join up and take advantage of this scheme.

My experience is that to make the force effective for any practical purposes you want a large force. The volunteers being a spare-time force are not concentrated in one particular spot, but they are scattered about in every town and village of the country, and it is necessary in order to make their training efficient to have a large force. This is very important if they are to be used in a practical way. The idea of some of us is that before very long practically the Home defence of the country can be left to the Volunteers. That is to say they can discharge for the Regular Armies the same service as the specil constables do for the police. They can take every kind of patrol work and guard duty both on the coast and on the lines of communication. But to make that practical it is necessary to have very large numbers—I should say at least 1,000,000 men. The men of the Volunteer Force are drawn together in their spare time, and the rest of their time they are engaged earning money and helping on the industries of the country. The Prime Minister spoke of the mobilisation of the nation and the necessity of using every man to the fullest advantage in order to economise labour. I suggest that in this little Bill, which is one of the first of the new Government, one can see a practical form of mobilisation. The War Office is calling up day by day a very large number of B 3 and C 1 men for Home service, and they are only available for Home service. They are withdrawn from their employment, and the industries of the country suffer accordingly. But instead of calling up this large number of men for Home service, the greater part of that service could be handed over to the volunteers. Many of these Home service soldiers under this arrangement could be returned to industry and employed in agriculture, and in this way help the trade of the country; but, of course, to make this practicable it has been proved by experience that a very large number of volunteers are required. Men working and earning their living in industry can give six or perhaps twelve hours a week, but not more, and, if the guard is to be maintained throughout the twenty-four hours, and for seven days in the week, you must have a very large number, so that you shall not call too much upon the spare time of men already kept busily engaged in their industry and in their trade. Of course, the advantage of volunteers is two-fold. On the one hand, if volunteers undertake duties you save the wages of soldiers and their maintenance, and, of course, you save separation allowances, because the volunteers do not ask for payment. They only ask for out-of-pocket expenses, and those are already provided for under Regulations passed by the War Office. Now that this Bill is becoming an Act of Parliament, I put forward this practicable suggestion. The volunteers have great hopes in the Under-Secretary. I hope he will prove to be a sympathetic administrator. I understand he represents the Volunteer Force on the Army Council, and that the volunteers will come under his special care.

We have great hopes that, with this new blood at the War Office, the force will receive sympathetic administration. If it is to be of real practical use in relieving Regular soldiers for the front, I would ask him to appeal to the Noble Lord who presides over the War Office to issue a public appeal, not only saying that the present Volunteer Force is appreciated and required, but asking the whole nation to do their best to join up and increase the numbers. It cannot be made too clear that this new Bill is not intended to drive out of the force men who cannot give the small number of hours required by the Regulations that are to be shortly issued. There are a large number of men both willing and keen to belong to the volunteers and to do. their bit who are unable owing to their occupation to tie themselves down to a definite agreement. A word of encouragement ought to be sent to them, and it ought to be made clear that every man, even although he cannot earn the grant and undertake to do a definite number of hours' drill, is wanted to join the Volunteers, so that he can become efficient and belong to-an organised and recognised military force and be able to take his part should the enemy ever land on these shores in driving him into the sea. I do not think it is unreasonable to ask that men who are to be provided with uniform and equipment and who are to be trained, should give in return a definite amount of drill. I understand from a statement made by the Field-Marshal that owing to the increased efficiency the scheme will bring about in the Volunteers more regular battalions will be spared for the Front, Volunteer battalions taking their place. It is clear to me, as it must be to every Member of the House, if these battalions are to be sent to the Front that the Field-Marshal must feel certain that Volunteer battalions are trained sufficiently to take their place and to carry out any military movements that may be entrusted to them. I congratulate the Under-Secretary and the Government that this, one of their first measures, should be of such a practical kind, and should give such general satisfaction to this Force, which has so loyally, in spite of many discouragements, stuck to its duties for two years.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.