HC Deb 17 February 1916 vol 80 cc353-78

I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add the words

"But this House humbly regrets that no reference is made to making provision for the recognition and status of Volunteer Training Corps duly affiliated to the Central Association of Volunteer Training Corps, and whose services are offered through that Association."

I had rather hoped that it would not be necessary to move this Amendment, but owing to the answer which was given by the Prime Minister at Question Time I am afraid I must move the Amendment. I was not present when the answer was given, but I understand the effect of that answer was that this matter was still under consideration. I thought the matter was to be decided immediately. As the House is aware, soon after the outbreak of War large numbers of patriotic men all over the country came forward and offered their services for its defence. Of course they were men over military age, and those engaged in occupations from which they could not be spared. These units were formed all over the country without any assistance from the Government; in fact, rather the reverse, because the Government gave them not the slightest encouragement, thinking, and perhaps rightly at that time, that it might interfere with the recruiting movement. That reason has now gone entirely; there is no fear now that the movement of these Defence Corps will interfere with the recruiting in the slightest degree. These bodies, companies, and battalions, formed all over the country, were detached, consequently they were not really organised or effective. Lord Desborough came forward, with other gentlemen, and formed a Central Association, through which these units were collected together and affiliated to the Central Association. After a time that Central Association was recognised by the War Office to this extent, and to this extent only, in a letter addressed by the War Office to Lord Desborough dated the 19th November, 1914, appointing the Central Association as the authority which would have the power to affiliate these various corps all over the country. The letter went on to say that these corps when affiliated should be recognised and given power to fight for their country, and they were also granted the right to have the well-known red letters "G.R."

I think I am right in saying that the present position is that the only recognition they have now is what I have stated, that if they are affiliated to the Central Association they have the power to fight for their country, but that is all. There is no means of discipline. There is no status given to the corps, or individuals, or officers. They fight for their country, but the recognition does not give them the legal status to do work which is really useful, namely, in guarding buildings of importance, munition factories, fire stations, and railway bridges. If, when they are doing that work, anything adverse occurs, if they happen to kill anybody or injure anybody, they have no legal position or remedy. We think that they ought to have a proper legal status, and I was of opinion, until I heard of the answer to-day, that they were carrying out what I have just mentioned, namely, that the War Office would go on and continue to recognise them, because, as the House is aware, a Bill was brought in and passed in the House of Lords in the autumn by the Marquess of Lincolnshire, and was received very satisfactorily. It was an enabling Bill only. It gave really full control over these corps to the War Office. The Bill was received by Lord Newton, the Paymaster-General, and by Lord Lansdowne with every sympathy. I will read the words used by Lord Lansdowne: These corps have, as we all know, for a long time greatly desired that some measure of official recognition should be extended to them, and I am very glad that the time has come when they are to receive it. It is impossible to give too much credit for the way in which, without any recognition up to the present time, they have come forward and played their part. They have undertaken, from motives of the purest patriotism, a good deal of very, very onerous work—sometimes very rough and arduous work. They have done that, as your Lordships have been told, without any pay, without any allowance, and without any recompense of any kind. After those words of Lord Lansdowne we all hoped that that Bill would be taken up by the Government in this House in the autumn, but it was not. Now these corps are pressing, and I think rightly, that that pledge, because it was a pledge by Lord Lansdowne and Lord Newton, should be taken up by the Government, and that some assurance should be given to these bodies that the War Office were going to recognise their patriotic services. I hope it is not asking too much to ask the Under-Secretary of State for War to give us some assurance this evening that something will be done, and especially a sympathetic reference to the patriotic services of these men, because it is all through patriotism. They have paid everything themselves. Large funds have been contributed in most centres. I know that in my own city of Sheffield very large funds have been contributed privately for the maintenance and uniforms of these men. In Sheffield these corps number two battalions—there are over 2,000 men. They have already provided 2,000 recruits for the Army out of that corps, and nearly a hundred men out of the corps have been given commissions in the Regular Army. Surely that is a kind of service which ought to be recognised by the War Office. In the West Riding of Yorks there are 11,814 of these Volunteers, or twenty battalions, but of that number only 742 are armed. On the question of arms I admit at once that these men cannot expect at the present moment the Government to provide them with the Service pattern. They are willing to purchase arms of a different character, and many of them are armed with Martini and Japanese rifles. They are quite content that the Army must have the first call on the pattern rifles. I hope in making this appeal that the right hon. Gentleman will say something to encourage these men and to show that the Government have confidence in them. If they do that, I am sure that their confidence will not be misplaced, and that they will find that in these corps up and down the country they have an asset which will be of real value to the Government in defence in case of invasion, and, if not invasion, in defence of the country's works.


I beg to second the Amendment. It gives me very great pleasure to have the opportunity of speaking in this House and of putting before the House the hopes and aspirations of the Volunteers who have been doing such excellent work throughout the length and breadth of the land since the beginning of the War, and to add my appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to that made by my hon. Friend (Mr. S. Roberts) to hold out the hand of friendship and help to these Volunteers, and to let them know that in the immediate future they will receive further recognition than that contained in the letter which has been referred to, and that they will be given a more definite status than they have got at present in the armed forces of the Crown. I say that because I do not consider that the answer that was given by the Prime Minister this afternoon will give them sufficient courage to go on with the arduous work that they have been undertaking up to the present time. I venture to make that remark because nine months ago the Under-Secretary of State for War said that the matter of further recognition of Volunteer Corps by the War Office was under consideration. People outside this House are at a loss to understand why in the middle of a war if their services are of use that consideration should take so long before they are given more definite recognition. I have been in close connection with these Volunteers, and I can assure the House that they have been of the very utmost use in helping the recruiting of the country. When you have 300,000 men who are unable to enlist themselves either for reasons of age or because they are wanted in their businesses to carry on the necessary work setting an example night after night and turning out on Saturdays and on Sundays to engage in military exercises, in digging trenches and other hard and arduous military work, surely that is an example which must make the youth who are eligible for the Colours come to the front and enlist. I can assure the House it has had that effect, and if ardour of this kind is going to be damped down now you will damp down the ardour of the country for the continuance of the War, because those j men will say, "Our services are not recognised; are the Government really in earnest in the prosecution of this War. "And you will have a large body of opinion, which, if it is damped down, will undoubtedly affect the feeling of the country in the prosecution of the War.

The previous speaker referred to the fact that the Volunteers at the beginning of the War banded themselves together in various parts of the country in small bodies and how they set to work to drill, and how at that time there was, I admit, some suspicion on behalf of the War Office—and I sympathise with the War Office—that this might interfere with legitimate recruiting. That has now been swept away under the present conditions, when we have had all the various changes with the Derby scheme and the canvassing, in all of which the Volunteers have helped. Nobody now can say that there is any possibility that in the ranks of the Volunteers there can be anybody but those who for valid reasons are unable to go and serve in the Colours. So these men are of value, and surely now is the time when the decision of the Government must be come to without further delay. These men have done all this without asking the Government for a single penny. One of the most important paragraphs in the letter of the 19th November, 1914, was to the effect that there was to be no charge on Government funds. But the effect of that recognition was very great. It caused the movement to spread throughout the whole of the country. It had already been co-ordinated by Lord Desborough through the Central Association with headquarters in London, and out of that sprang the county regiments. In most of the counties, certainly in forty or more, county regiments have been formed, in most cases under the auspices of the lord lieutenant, and commanded I think in all cases by men who have had military experience but who are now too old to serve with the Colours.

Take the example of my own county—Cheshire. We have nearly 10,000 men in the regiment, which is divided into eleven battalions, each with its own headquarters. The county has been divided into proper recognised areas, from which each battalion draws its recruits, and the whole county is thoroughly organised. What we are dealing with now is an organisation which can touch the whole of the country, and be worked from one centre. As showing how you can work from one centre, let me state what we have done in my own county in connection with Zeppelin raids. Having our own county organisation, it was only necessary at headquarters to consider what we could do to help in case our county was raided. Not being under the military we decided that our proper work would be to assist the civil authorities. We were able at once to draw up instructions, and circulate them throughout the county, telling the officers in the various battalions to get into immediate touch with the police authorities, with whom they were to arrange when the warning of a raid came—and I understand warnings will be sent from the Home Office—for the Volunteers to assemble at a given rendezvous, and put their services at the disposal of the civil authorities. Not only would the Infantry do this, but we have a transport organisation as well, who also would put their services at the disposal of the civil authorities. They will be ready to take bodies of police to any centre where a bomb had fallen. They would be able to do ambulance work, and would be of the greatest assistance in effecting communication throughout the county. That was all arranged in the course of an hour. In connection with our transport system—and no doubt the transport system is the same throughout the other organised counties—we have in the last nine months run 86,000 odd miles with our motor cars—all lent service—and conveyed about the county 16,600 men, of whom 9,997 have been men being conveyed to or from hospital. If that can be done in one county, look at what it means all over the country. We can be, so to speak, the maid-of-all-work of the War Office, because we are spread all over the country, and can take on all sorts of odd jobs, which the volunteers are only too glad to do, because they wish to be of help in any capacity they can.

Why do we ask the War Office to give us more recognition, and to give us this status? The reason is that the volunteers at the present time consider that they are not getting enough recognition. They have been drilling for months, and the Government have been saying, "We are going to give you a status, and make more use of you," but they have not done it. There are many uses to which the volunteers can be put for which it is necessary that they should have this military status. We could guard munition works. I understand that the Minister of Munitions would be very glad to have some of his works guarded. In fact, some of them are being guarded by volunteers; but without the status for which we are asking, the volunteers are guarding them at their own risk. If somebody attacked the works and the volunteers used their bayonets they would be in the position of any civilian who killed or wounded another civilian, and they would have to stand their trial. It is not fair to put men in that position when they are doing you a good service. There are many uses on lines of communication to which the volunteers can be put. They can guard railway bridges and junctions. We have to remember that the lines of communication are from this country to the front. You may wipe out the English Channel, because our lines of communication start in the munition factories where we make the materials for the guns at the front. Those materials have to be carried along the railways to the guns, and those railways have to be guarded throughout their whole length. When you have Zeppelin raids, bombs are dropped, and you may look forward to its being possible to bring men over. Moreover, there are always spies in the country. Why are all the lines being guarded at the present moment? There are many uses for which, if you grant the volunteers this extra status, they can be used.

The points I want to make are, I think, business points. The first is that we have the organisation. I have shown that we have an efficient organisation. I have referred to my own county, the previous speaker has referred to his locality, and no doubt hon. Members know the excellent work that is being done by the London corps. The organisation is there. I have endeavoured to put before the House the capacity of these men, and what they can do in the way of transport work and guarding if they are given the opportunity. There is another point, which I have not mentioned on the question of capacity. We cannot, until the German Fleet is beneath the surface of the sea, do away with the possibility of a German invasion. These men have taught themselves to drill, march, and shoot, and each and every one could shoulder a rifle and go into the trenches if an invasion were to take place. Not only could they go in, but every one of them, without the slightest doubt, would want to go in. I hope I have sufficiently put before the House what is the capacity of these men.

10.0 P.M.

I should like to mention the actual work that has been done at Didcot, where there is an ordnance store. Here the volunteers have been of the very greatest assistance. At week-ends they have gone down and have helped to unload the waggons, and to stack and store the material. It is no exaggeration to say that, with the large number of men that have gone to work at the week-ends, as much work has been done at the week-ends as the permanent staff have been able to do during the rest of the week. That is not in any way derogatory to the permanent staff. It is simply a question of numbers, for, if you put a large number of men to work at the end of the week, you can do as much in that way in clearing up things as has been done during the rest of the days of the week. In this connection I should like to quote a letter which was written by the ordnance officer at Didcot to Lord Desborough. He says: My Lord,—About a month ago I found it was becoming impossible with the force of the Army Ordnance Corps here to receive all supplies coming in from all sources, and to issue them properly, especially to our forces overseas. Delay would have been a national calamity. Towards the end of the letter the writer, after giving details of the work done, concludes: Speaking with all deliberation, I give it as my opinion that it is absolutely essential to the success of this ordnance depot, and to the duo supply to our forces overseas, that this great patriotic movement should be fostered, and so the help given by the Volunteers to us be increased in the future. I think that is an excellent tribute. We also got a tribute from the Secretary of State for War himself. Writing on 10th September, 1915, to Lord Desborough, General Sir H. Sclater, Adjutant-General of the Forces, says: I am writing to say that now the Volunteer Training Corps' Association is completing its first year of work. Lord Kitchener would like to take this opportunity of expressing to you, and your association, and all the Training Corps which he represents, his thanks and appreciation for the valuable work which both you and they have carried out during the past year. I would especially refer to the assistance given by the corps in finding recruits, and recruiting for the Army generally, and at the same time for the way in which the members of the corps have carried out their drill and training in preparation for, and in anticipation of, any calls that the country may have to make upon their services. That is an appreciation which naturally gives to the Volunteers the impression that further use will be made of their services, and that their services are of the greatest use to the country. Following on that a Bill was introduced into the House of Lords. This House has been told how it received the blessing of His Majesty's Government from the lips of Lord Lansdowne and Lord Newton. I hope that what I have said to-night will impress upon the Government what is the feeling of this large body of men, who feel that they have been encouraged in their work, and led on to spend further time and money, and they consider that the time has come when the Government should make its decision.


I think that a very strong case has been made out in favour of this Amendment. Certainly those of us who take a very active interest in this movement have cause to complain of the action of the Government in not giving recognition before now to the Volunteer Training Corps. I really cannot understand the position of the Government. I had the honour last year of introducing to the Under-Secretary of State a very large deputation representing the leading men of the North-East Coast, and specially dealing with that part of the country. Representative speeches were made by these leading men in favour of the Government taking action with a view to recognising the Volunteer Training Corps. We were promised then that something would be done; that the Government would favourably take into consideration the matter, especially the position of the North-East Coast. Up to the present nothing has been done. If the Government really require the men, why in the name of goodness do they not undertake to utilise this magnificent body of men? Their hesitation is a great surprise to me. I believe that earlier it was considered to be a matter of finance. We are spending a very large sum of money on the War. I feel certain of this, however, that the small Grant that the Government would make to the Volunteer Training Corps, and the grant to them of a legal status would be loudly applauded in the districts in which are these Volunteer Training Corps—and that is all over the country! The area of the War now is really not only on the North-East Coast, but in every part of the country, for no part is safe from Zeppelin raids. The response of these men who are not of military age has been magnificent. They have responded to the number of over 300,000. Up to the present they have not been recognised, and nothing has been done by the Government to give them any recognition.

Let me give one instance of what I saw myself. I think we can say it now without any danger of giving any information away. We have had in my district, on the Tee-side, something like 2,500 men under training since the Volunteer Training Corps were established. I have seen these men at work night after night training. I have been out with them on Sunday, when they have marched five or six miles, and done field operations in a most military style. They have been trained by men who have had experience, as the last speaker said, and they are men who take this matter seriously. We live, as I say, within the war zone, and these men could be of immense service to the country, and I can give you an instance from my own experience. I visited a town that was bombarded early on in the War, which was bombarded somewhere about eight o'clock in the morning. A great deal of damage was done, and there was tremendous excitement in the whole district. I visited the town in the afternoon and the troops were being brought into the town at that time. I may say that we are depleted of our Volunteers, we have none in some places, and some towns in the North are depleted entirety of soldiers. I ask any common-sense man whether it would not be, of great advantage to calm excitement, or give confidence to people, if we had these Volunteer Training Corps, men of splendid physique, ready to take their part in case of an invasion, or a bombardment. I ask the Government whether it would not be an advantage if 1,000 of these men out of the 2,500 or more—in fact we have, I think, round the county of Durham something like 5,000 men under training in these corps—were called upon to take their part, appease people, and do their duty as they would in case of need. I give that as an illustration of what I thought at the time, that they would be of practical use instead of sending 40 or 50 miles to bring in Regulars late in the afternoon. That is one, instance where I think these men could be of immense service, especially on our coasts.

There is no denying the fact that our people on the East Coast are living in deadly fear of Zeppelin raids. Here are these men, as I said, training night by night in their firing qualifications. They are excellent shots, and do their work in every possible way. But if there were a Zeppelin raid we have practically no one in the district who can quell, appease, or prevent any great excitement. I ask whether it would not be of great advantage to the Government, to the district, and to the country, if the Government could call on these men to turn out on such an occasion? But the fact is that the Government will not recognise their status. Under the letter which has been referred to of the 19th November, they ask the Central Association to give them the power of affiliating these corps and organising them. What is the use of going through that trouble if they are not going to recognise them? I cannot see. It is a waste of time. I have attended county meetings, where I have heard the principal men of the county, even the lord lieutenant, saying, "What is the use of us coming here if the Government will not recognise us, wasting our time in calling meetings, men spending money, and the Government will not undertake to give us any recognition or put us upon a proper status? If the Government did recognise us, we should be prepared to give our time and assist in every possible way." I have heard these statements, and I believe the hon. Member for Gateshead (Sir H. Elverston), who has attended some of these meetings, has heard some of these statements also. I do say, that from the practical point of view it is a waste of energy, a waste of time, and a waste in every possible way to ask these men to devote their time and energy without the Government saying to them, "We are prepared to utilise your services in cases of emergency."

The other point I should like to make is with regard to the question of cost. I think an hon. Member for Sheffield stated it. I know a very large number of working men in my own Constituency. We are a corps, a very large one, over 1,000 strong, men above military age, solicitors, doctors, men of good positions in business, and working men and they have provided their own uniforms. Many of these working men have provided their own uniforms out of their own money, at their own expense, and still they go on doing this, but the Government will not recognise them or the work they are doing. Another point I should like to mention to the Under-Secretary for War is that the Government should be greatly indebted to these men, for this reason: Since the Derby scheme came into operation they have taken up these recruits in the case of hundreds and have been training them night after night in their drill halls. In addition to that some of the officers of these Training Corps have had commissions in the Army, and I have seen letters from these men, and some letters have appeared in the public Press, stating what a great advantage it has been to them to have the training they have had in these Volunteer Training Corps. I have also seen very large numbers of letters from recruits under the Derby scheme saying how they have been assisted by going through the drill, and the military manœuvres, of the Voluntary Training Corps. All this has given great help to the Government, and these men are prepared to do this purely and entirely from patriotic motives, because they have nothing to gain, and they are prepared to risk their lives and to do anything the Government want them to do,—to safeguard bridges, buildings, railways, anything—but they complain, and I have spoken to hundreds of them, and they say, "Mr. Samuel, what is the use of us doing all this work, going to the expense of paying money week by week into our corps, providing our own uniform, prepared to do anything the Government will ask us to do, and then at the end of it all the Government will say to us in so many words, 'We do not desire to recognise you; you can go on making a kind of tomfoolery of the whole business.'" They I say they want men, and I do say that the time has arrived when the Government must take this up seriously, and must make up their mind one way or another and say to these men, "We are going to I recognise you." If they have made up their mind that they are not going to recognise them let them say so, so that the men can then decide what they are going to do.


I should like, in a very few words, to support what was said by my hon. Friends and the hon. Gentleman on the other side of the House in reference to the Volunteer Corps. We who have been connected with these corps from the first, and I have been a member for a considerable time of one, do know that this has become the critical time. It is on the choice of the Government, really, that the prosperity of these corps depend, and an answer such as was received to-day will, I am afraid, be one which will add discouragement to the feeling which has already began to spread among these corps. We have heard to-day, and I do not wish to repeat it, about their history. I can only speak for Kent. I have been considerably engaged in the constitution of the force for that county, and we have a very considerable number, three regiments and a considerable number of battalions, and I think it is a very fair instance of a county where it is quite clear that these corps must be of very considerable use. The companies of these corps are scattered round the coast, right away over the whole of the coast of Kent, which, as everyone knows, is a very long one, and you have a company handy to do any duties required of them in connection with a raid or invasion. We have always been told that what we want is men. Surely it would be better to use these voluntary helpers and make good use of them. If you do make use of them you will by that means be relieving others who can go forward into the active line. The guards required for railways could be relieved to a greater extent. I am not going to put the services of the Volunteers too high. I think sometimes and in some communications things have been suggested which Volunteers could not possibly do, but they should be allotted duties within their power and capacity to carry out, and I think those must be local duties, because they are the men who are carrying on other work in the country of every sort and kind, and they cannot be spared from the place in which they live. They are putting in their off time, and they are willing to give up their nights and afternoons, and Sundays, and work which can be done on those occasions can fairly be left to them. But it must not be supposed that they can do every kind of work. Suggestions have been made in this direction which I am rather inclined to think throw too great a strain upon them, and when they have not been able to come up to what was expected attacks have been made upon them as to their utility. After all, what they possess is a limited utility, but a very valuable one, especially in a county like Kent, with such a large sea-board.

I think everything which has been done in the past shows the value of these corps. They were started under difficult circumstances, and undoubtedly every difficulty was thrown in their way, but that only made them more determined, and they came through it. Whenever an opportunity for doing any sort of local work has been given them they have done it well. In my own district, when the National Register had to be done, the Volunteers came forward and carried out the work in order to get it done at the earliest possible moment. When Lord Derby's scheme was adopted the Volunteer Corps were ready to do everything they could to canvass the men, and ensuring that the canvass would be a success and complete. Whenever they have any work of a national character to do they have done it to the satisfaction of those amongst whom they live. When they have proved the value of their existence, and when you have such a high testimony paid to them as that which has been read out in the House to-night; when they have waited something like sixteen months for a recognition which they expected when they were first allowed to be affiliated, surely it is time to have some more satisfactory reply than we seemed to get at Question Time to-day. I am quite sure that those in the War Office have every sympathy with this work, but we want something more than sympathy now. These men have given freely of their time and money. In my own district I know that something like £3 has been spent upon every member of my corps, and a considerable amount of money has been raised in poor districts. They have worked well, they have done their drill, and best of all their musketry, which in my county is of a very high standard. Having done all this, there is a desire to go forward, and to really feel that they are acknowledged by the country to be useful members of the State. That is what we want. We want some status. We want to be able to carry on work which we have already done well, and we want to have the encouragement of the Government to do it.


In normal times I should not have risen to support an Amendment of this kind, but we are not living in normal times, and that is my excuse for asking the right hon. Gentleman to give the greatest possible sympathy he can to the appeal of the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment. I am one of those of the opinion that if the old Volunteer Force had been nursed and encouraged as it might have been there would have been no necessity for the Territorial Army Act. I have heard from many sources that the Volunteer Training Corps have done excellent work. We know that in connection with the Registration Act they did excellent work, and I believe that many of them did excellent work as recruiters. They did so because a very large number of them are old Volunteers who are too old for the Territorial Force. We have in the Volunteer Training Corps some of the best shots not only in this country, but in the world. There are personal friends of my own who won prizes year after year at Wimbledon and at county meetings, too old for the Territorial Army, who have joined the Volunteer Training Corps. They can shoot still, and I am quite satisfied they would give a good account of themselves if any of the enemy appeared on our shore. An hon. Member said that they had had no recognition, but they have had some recognition, because they have been thanked for their services. They are worth something more than that. If at a time like this men who are rendering excellent service either for the Army or Navy are worthy of being thanked for those services, then they ought to be recognised in a more substantial manner. I know of places in the country where attempts have been made to raise a Volunteer Training Corps and where they have fallen through, simply because they could not get the money to pay the initial expenses. I am only speaking for the period of the War, and I do not know whether the mover and seconder wish to continue it after the War.


I am content to let the future take care of itself.


I am of the opinion that the Government might make some arrangement whereby the Volunteer Training Corps might have some financial assistance at least for the period of the War, if for no longer, and I think that would probably meet the views of the mover and seconder. Surely, if people are worthy of being thanked for their services, those services are worth paying for. We have work ahead of us in which the Volunteer Training Corps could help considerably. Many of these men occupy good positions in life. A number of them are schoolmasters and men who take an intelligent interest in the industrial and social life of the people. It is generally known that a very strong appeal is going to be made to the people of the country, and particularly to the working classes, to save something from their earnings to help in winning the War. These men are just the men who will be able to carry the message, to encourage the people and to induce them to take a more intelligent interest in what is taking place in the country at the present time. I do hope the right hon. Gentleman will listen to the appeal made to him on this particular matter.

Colonel YATE

I think we have heard quite sufficient to-night to show us, and the country generally, how disgracefully the Government have treated the Volunteer Training Corps by failing to give them any recognition whatsoever. I myself have been associated with the raising of the corps in the county which I have the honour to represent, and have been appointed its military adviser. We had 4,000 men to start with, but they are gradually going out through sheer lack of recognition; and that will go on unless there is a change in the attitude of the Government. At the start these men paid two guineas each for their uniforms and they also bought rifles for practice. I have always discouraged the purchase of rifles, because there is very hope that the weapons now in the hands of recruits in all parts of the country will soon be replaced with Service rifles, and then there will be an ample supply for these corps. What we have to recollect is, however, that these corps are local corps; they are largely comprised of business men who cannot be removed very far from home. We ought therefore to make the utmost use of them in the localities in which they live and where they can do good service.

We have heard of raids and of invasion. It is well known in the Eastern and Midland counties that it is the work of the Lords Lieutenant and of the committees working under them to draw up a scheme by which the population, in case of invasion, shall be transported with their cattle and horses and carts from the danger zone. A most valuable suggestion has been made by the hon. Member for Knutsford (Colonel Alan Sykes) that these Volunteer Training Corps in this matter should work in conjunction with the police. In addition to being given recognition, I should like to suggest that these corps should be placed under the orders of the Lords Lieutenant of Counties in case of invasion. The Lords Lieutenant are responsible for the work to be carried out in their respective counties, and the Volunteer Training Corps would constitute a most valuable adjunct to the police in keeping order, in putting the people on the right roads, and in carrying out any orders the military might give. As well as in acting as guides, I suggest they should form part of the armed forces under the control of the Lord Lieutenant, and work in conjunction with the police. But they are entitled to military recognition. It is illegal to call upon them to discharge military duties if they have no proper Army standing. I consider that the Government are largely to blame for the way in which these corps have been treated, and I hope we shall have a clear assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that in future they will be recognised and placed on a proper military footing.


I have been a humble member of the battalion with which my hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Colonel Alan Sykes) is associated as commanding officer for the last twelve months, and I should like to strongly emphasise the plea put before us that the time has come when this movement should receive further recognition. My hon. Friend is quite right in saying that unless some such recognition is given the feeling of discontent will spread so much that you will damp down the movement almost entirely. I will not attempt to follow the hon. Members who have spoken in the line they have taken with regard to the various uses to which these Volunteers have been put so far, but I should like to give one instance to show how justified they are in concluding that their services are not valued to any extent by the authorities. In September last a document was issued from the Mansion House, which stated: Here is a glorious opportunity for the National Guard to show a true spirit of patriotism. It expressed the hope that it would receive a generous response. The circular continued: The War Office have stated the following terms of service under which a body of not less than 500 men from the City of London National Guard Volunteer Corps can be accepted for entrenching work overseas for a period of one month. The conditions are as follows: (1) Transport, rations, accommodation, camp equipment, tools and such other equipment as the War Office may consider necessary will be provided. (2) Pay, pensions, separation allowance or any other claim on the public fund—None. (3) Arms and clothing—None. I think the House will agree that, at any rate, those terms were not too generous—certainly as regards the item of clothing. Apparently the despised brassard was the only article which the War Office was prepared to provide. There was, however, a very good response to this appeal, and the brassard was supplemented by other articles of clothing by the men themselves. They made all arrangements with their employers so as to get away for a clear month. They were duly paraded, inspected, and, I believe, they were commended. Then, quite a short time, practically only a few hours before these men were expected to set off for Flanders or somewhere else, they were told that they were not wanted at all, and when they asked why they were not wanted after all the trouble they had taken, they were told that the circular which I have read only said that the War Office stated that they could be used and did not state that they would be used. Most people will agree that that was not a very satisfactory answer to receive. I am quite sure that a good many people feel that those particular men to-day, when they are asked what the letters "G.R." on the brassard stand for, would reply, "Oh, they stand for Grudgingly Recognised!" It would be quite a simple thing to use these men to-day in a good deal of the police work of the country. We have in the police force at the present time something like 60,000 able men, many of whom, I am sure, could be spared for service in the Army. I know that the Army has already recruited very well in the police force, but still I believe that at the present time we are greatly over-policed in this country, and that, at any rate, some relief to that force could be given by these men. They are willing to undertake any kind of service if you will give them proper recognition. If you have no use for the men the sooner we know that the better, because, after all, they have spent fifteen months in diligent training and it is not surprising that so many of them should be saying, "I do not see the force of this Volunteer movement. The Government keeps saying they have something for us to do, but they never give us anything and the sooner we disband the better." Unless you want to lose this force, which under some circumstances I am quite sure would be a very valuable force, the time has arrived when the Government will certainly have to take some action.


I consider this is a matter of definite, urgent public importance, and the sooner we get a straight and direct reply from the Government the better. We certainly cannot afford to allow it to go on as it has been going on for the last fifteen months. I can quite understand the Government taking up this attitude, though I do not agree with it. "This is a force the value of which we are not certain about. We think, perhaps, the men are too old, that they cannot perform the services they say they can, and we are frightened to spend money upon them. We are frightened that if we recognise them it will mean that a larger sum will be demanded from us, and therefore we would rather have nothing to do with them. "But, apparently from what the Government have hitherto done, they have stroked the Volunteer Corps, they have praised them, they said they have done good work, and we have been kept week after week and month after month absolutely hanging on in the hope that the Government would recognise us and put us in a proper position. My own regiment has gone down very largely in numbers, but I believe if we were recognised I could once more make the numbers up. The men ire getting sick and tired of the promises we give them when we say we believe the time is now coming when the War Office will really give us definite recognition. We are a very humble body. We do not pretend to do anything very great or glorious, but we want to be of some use to our country, and we believe we can be of some definite use to our country. But for that do you think educated men, professional men, tradesmen, working men, men in every position in life practically, would have come forward and day after day gone out in the rain to train and drill in streets and in school yards? It is perfectly preposterous to pretend that they had not very deeply the love and interest of their country at heart when they went out and did that, and a great many corps are now in a position to make a very fair show on the parade ground, indeed, and can drill very well indeed. I have not, owing to illness, seen my own regiment for some weeks, but I went out the other day and was very gratified with the immense improvement in the men, and they asked me, "When is Parliament going to do something for us?" I said, "Probably on this opportunity of the Address we may get a definite answer," and that is what I press for to-night, a definite answer one way or the other as to whether we are going to be recognised or, if not, whether we should shut up altogether, disband our corps, burn our uniforms, and retire once more into private life. We really want a definite answer.


When we look back hereafter on to-night and the period we are passing through and think that an offer of service honestly and sincerely made, an offer which has not merely been made by words, but of which demonstration has been given by the exertions which have been made by these men, has been refused and scouted and treated with con- tempt, we shall only be filled with absolute surprise. It is fifteen or sixteen months since first, in answer to a question of my own, the Prime Minister gave a promise of a certain recognition of these Volunteer Corps. To-day he gave me precisely the same answer, that the matter was under consideration, that it was of serious importance, and he hoped it would soon be settled. Do the Government think that we, as the representatives of these men, or the men themselves, are likely to be satisfied with a series of procrastinations, dilly-dallyings, and vacillations like that? Do let us know what is going to be done. Let us once for all know what your opinion is. Do not be for ever considering the thing until it is too late to consider it and until it is useless to consider it. These corps have lived through what was the worst thing of all—a period of ridicule. Corps precisely the same lived through the same sort of ridicule and did good work 100 years ago, and perhaps these Volunteer Corps are not sorry to be associated in that ridicule with such an earnest enthusiast as Sir Walter Scott, who was a volunteer in his day and who did receive recognition at a time of stress not certainly greater than that in which we now live.

What these corps principally complain of is this intolerable delay, a delay which has now been added to by the new excuse of the Bill that was brought forward in the House of Lords. For many months no one thought of a Bill. We were never told that legal difficulties stood in the way. There was no suggestion of that sort, and I am doubtful whether, if the right hon. Gentleman took into consultation some of his legal advisers, they would not tell him that mere legal difficulties might very easily be overcome. At all events, if a Bill is necessary, let it not be left in the hands of a private member of the House of Lords. If the Government are prepared to support the Bill they must make up their minds and take the only course that is possible towards placing the Bill on the Statute Book—they must introduce the Bill themselves. Half-hearted, lukewarm, doubtful support of the Bill will mean that it will drag on a miserable existence until it is killed at the end of the Session. That is no compliment to the Volunteers, and it does nothing to help to give effective use to the purpose for which they were established. I am doubtful whether a Bill is necessary, and I will tell the right hon. Gentleman why I am doubtful. It is because spasmodic use is made of these corps already. More than one General Officer Commanding a Division in England has told me that he has used these Volunteer Corps on particular occasions for military duties. If it is possible in one case, why should it not be possible in another? If it is possible to use these corps, as I know they were used in the Eastern command, why cannot they be used in other places without a Bill? Spasmodic use of these corps will do no good. What we want is that there should be an opportunity of military attestation which would give to these corps a status, a dignity, a reality of existence and a completeness of work which they do not possess. It would give them the inestimable advantage of military discipline, and would give them reality and force and increase the usefulness of their work. It is impossible when you are marching out as at present, without any rules and without any orders from the War Office, for any commanding officer to feel certain that his men may not turn round and say, "We are not going to inarch where you tell us." They are ready to take up this discipline, but the discipline must be fixed by rules and by that attestation which is an essential part of any organised force. Let it be attestation for a limited period if you like. If you wish for convenience to use some of these Volunteer Corps for temporary purposes for a few weeks, let there be attestation and military discipline only for that time. We will leave that to the War Office. Let them decide one way or the other. Do not let them leave it without any organisation whatever. Are you prepared at a time like this to damp down zeal—which however little you may value it is at all events conscientious and real, and has shown itself able to gain considerable efficiency—by simply putting off from month to month the consideration of the question and saying that you have it under consideration and will some day or other decide?

The question of financial assistance is one on which I am not disposed to say more than a word. A great number of these Volunteer Corps have equipped themselves at their own expense. They do not ask for any financial assistance, but they do wish—and this must not be forgotten—the comradeship of their poorer brethren, of the labouring men. It would be utterly absurd to establish these corps as a privileged and select organisation which will always pay their own expenses. Many of the men who join must be men who cannot afford to incur large expense. To that extent some assistance may be necessary, and I hope, to a limited extent, will be given. These Volunteer Corps do not wish to interfere with the provision of rifles for the Army, which is of far greater importance, but there are great numbers of rifles of the second class, not service rifles, which might be made available for them, and I would call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to one regulation which has caused considerable difficulty—that is the absolute prevention of these Volunteer Corps from purchasing from the makers these second-class rifles, which would not be useful for the ordinary Regular soldier. Surely some arrangement might be made by which these discarded rifles, not used for ordinary service, might be made available for those who are on guard among these Volunteer Corps. Speaking as a member of the Central Association under the presidency of Lord Desborough, I say that at present many corps are dwindling away all over the country from that hope deferred which maketh the heart sick. You must decide one way or the other. Let the Government and the right hon. Gentleman for the Government have the courage to say, "We cannot use those forces. We are not justified in keeping them hanging in the air without any decision one way or the other," or else let them come forward and say," We have at last, after fourteen months, come to the end of our consideration. We have devised a scheme for making use of you. We are prepared to recognise you and give you the advantage of military discipline and attestation and make you really effective for the humble purpose which is all you seek." Do not let them be put off from, day to day until at length, from very weakness and despair, these corps dwindle away into absolute nothingness.

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

I have listened to a number of most interesting and, if I may say so, most persuasive speeches upon this subject, and I cannot complain if some hon. Members have expressed impatience in their desire that a decision should be come to at once. I can only regret that it has not been possible to arrive at a decision yet. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced that fact to-day. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield (Mr. S. Roberts) does not expect me to-day to give a decision when the Prime Minister announced that the matter was still under consideration. I may say to hon. Members who have spoken that the Government have all along viewed this movement with the greatest sympathy: they have not discouraged it. On the contrary, the greatest sympathy has been shown in the action which they have taken. The hon. Member for Knutsford suggested that the Government had shown no great alacrity to see the desirability of giving full recognition to the Volunteer Training Corps. We had not experience of the amount of good work they could do, and there was the question of recruiting for the other Forces of the Crown. It is clear that if we had provided two outlets—one for troops who would have to undergo all the hardships of a campaign abroad and the other involving the softer obligation of belonging to the Volunteer Training Corps, there might have been a certain number who would have chosen the softer lot. But this, I think, was demonstrated to be false by the way men came forward to join the Forces of the Crown. I would like to be among the first to recognise that these men who have joined the Volunteer Training Corps have done so from purely patriotic motives; they have come forward to fight for their country should occasion arise. I think it would be a mistake, as the hon. Member for Ash-ford (Mr. L. Hardy) said, upon those bodies. You could not expect them to take part in serious operations or a prolonged campaign. I do not think that would be expected from them.


In the Bill brought forward in the House of Lords foreign service was expressly excluded.


I am only indicating the limitations of such a body, and I am only advancing the argument in order to show that the Government must not be accused of discarding something which is of cardinal and capital importance, or of having been dilatory in accepting the services of these bodies. Not only might these Volunteer Training Corps be of great value in emergencies, but already they have rendered very considerable services by guarding various vulnerable points at different places, and those duties, I understand, they desire to undertake on a wider scale.


The War Office expressly asked them to dig trenches.


I am not acquainted with the details, but I know that these, Volunteer Training Corps undertook certain obligations on the East Coast forts, and we are most grateful to them for doing so. My hon. Friend the Member for the Ashford Division spoke about the many vicissitudes experienced by these bodies, and I have no doubt that will prove valuable to them in undertaking work of a more organised and recognised nature. I cannot give a pledge, as I have already indicated, for the reason that the Government have already been considering the matter, and they have not had time to give it the full consideration it deserves. [Laughter.] It is no good laughing. [An HON. MEMBER: "After fourteen months!"] The Government as a whole have not had this under consideration for all the months which have been represented.


The Prime Minister told me fourteen months ago that the matter was under consideration.


These interruptions do not assist debate.


I do not think I ought to be pressed on that point, because it does not lie with me. Therefore I cannot go further than I have gone. I will only say as to the skill with the rifle which the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. T. Wilson) informed us they were able to show, all of us must admire, and some of us endeavour to imitate. He also said that if they were worth thanking they were worth paying for. Here we are being asked and pressed on all sides for economies, and I doubt very much whether we should be justified in calling upon the House to provide out of public funds for 300,000 men with all the contingent expenses which are entailed by the full recognition of a military body, including such things as pensions and even, perhaps, separation allowances. If a man were killed on duty and his wife made a claim it would be difficult to refuse. All those things ought really to occupy the minds of hon. Gentlemen, and I am sure they do. Therefore I think special consideration ought to be given to those matters. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities asked whether we were prepared to damp down the zeal of these men at this period of the War. The answer to that question is in the negative. It really is not worth asking such a question as that. We are most anxious to encourage the enthusiasm and patriotism of these very loyal and earnest men, who, I think, have done real public service. I should like to pay a tribute from this House to Lord Desborough. I am sure we are all under a great debt of gratitude to him for the earnestness and efficiency with which he has discharged difficult duties.

11.0 P.M.


When these corps were got up at first, for a long time they were told they were going to be recognised, and they got a message from the War Office to say that they would be recognised. A great many of us then took the matter up and did our best to raise the corps and to do everything we could for them. Large subscriptions were raised in different places to get them equipment and arms. Localities all over the country took great interest in them. Then it was found that what the War Office meant by "recognition" was simply that they would recognise a central organisation, but that they would not recognise the men as soldiers in any duties they might undertake. The result is that if these men go out and guard a railway or anything of that kind under the orders of the local general, they go out simply as civilians, and if they punch the head of anybody who interferes with the railway, they can be had up for assault just the same as any civilian. They have absolutely no status. They are not like special constables. They are not protected in any way against the aggression of anyone who wants to do mischief; they are treated as if they were doing nothing at all for the country. That is an intolerable position. It is true that in the Eastern Counties the Minister of Munitions has guaranteed the recognition of some of the men while they are guarding munition factories. That is exactly what we want from the War Office, but the War Office will not do it. They will not guarantee that these men are employed in any way except as civilians or mere workmen. They are asked to dig trenches and to undertake other duties such as protecting railways, bridges, and munition works, but they are not allowed the status even of a policeman. That is an impossible position. If the War Office were going to take up this position they ought to have told us so, instead of saying they were going to recognise the corps and leaving us twelve months without doing anything. We have been treated unfairly. We have been led to suppose that the War Office attached value to these men. The men have trained, and considerable sums of money have been collected for arms and clothing. They are not all armed and clothed, but many counties have 2,000 or 3,000 men armed and clothed, ready to fight, not for a day or two, but permanently, if the country is attacked. It is not fair to say the men would be unable or unfit to fight in case of invasion. They are quite ready to undertake any duties that can be put upon them. You cannot have these men as Volunteers without recognising them and putting them in the position of soldiers while they are in uniform and working for you. We do not ask for pay, arms, or clothing, but we do ask that when these men, who have been clothed and armed at private expense, go out to do your work they should be recognised as Government servants. You have ex-soldiers—I think they are called reserved companies—and pay them very highly. These men are willing to do the work for nothing, provided they are allowed to do it as soldiers are allowed to do it. The right hon. Gentleman said that if a man was killed on duty his wife ought to have a pension. That is the case with every civil employé in the country. If a man is killed his wife gets a considerable sum of money. These men are entitled to that; they are doing Government work just the same as if they were working for a private employer. It is not a question of pay. That is not raised. Nobody wants to be either fed or equipped. We want it to be recognised that they are doing Government work for the Government. It is most unfair to them to have been told for months and months that they were going to be recognised, and led to believe it, and now to be told that no decision could be come to.


In asking the leave of the House to withdraw the Amendment, I would urgently ask the right hon. Gentleman to press upon the Government to come to a decision on this most important subject.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.