Motion made, and Question proposed,
That an additional number of Land Forces, not exceeding 100,000, all ranks, be maintained for the Service of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland at Home and Abroad, excluding His Majesty's Indian Possessions, for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1920.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The Vote says "excluding His Majesty's Indian Possessions," not including.
Question put, and agreed to.
Motion made, and Question again proposed,That a sum, not exceeding £5,000,000, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charges for Army Services which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1920, in respect of an estimated net total cost of £424,733,000, and of liabilities outstanding on the first day of the year.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I have no intention of reviewing at length the Estimates for the year, but there are a number of points that I want to put to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War. Before doing so, however, I want to point out that a year after the War has ended we are spending this huge sum. This is a great, disappointment to many Members, and I am certain will be a disappointment to many of the people of this country. We went to the War for the purpose, among other things, of ending military dominance in Europe. We have ended the War, but have, I fear, established a military autocracy in this country. It will be a very difficult matter indeed for this House to break down that autocracy, and of reducing the Army Estimates to a reasonable figure, unless we are prepared to take more drastic steps than have been taken up to the present. One could see more reason for a policy of this kind if the country had been in a financial condition to afford such an expenditure. Even then it would have been a very foolish policy to spend a sum of £405,000,000 on the Army.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
Yes, I grant that; but it will not cost us over £405,000,000 to bring them home. There are many items of expenditure, if one wanted to take up the time of the Committee, that could be very severely criticised. When one considers that we are on the verge of bankruptcy such a huge expenditure is criminal. The most important matter for the people of this country at the moment is to take the necessary steps to recover our national solvency. That very desirable object will be delayed, if not entirely defeated, so long as we have such Estimates presented to us for the Army and Navy. Let me give the right hon. Gentleman one item of dis- 159 agreement. The Labour party has again and again called the attention of the House and the country to the foolishness of the policy of the Government in Russia. If that adventure, for which, I fear, the Secretary of State will have to bear a considerable portion of the blame, had not been embarked upon we would at least have been able to save £100,000.000. That is a very important consideration for us in view of our present financial position. Not only would we have been able to save that large sum of money, but, personally, I am inclined to think we should have been much nearer a general peace than we are now. We would have been on a more friendly footing with the people of Russia. The points I want to put are important. One is this: The men on demobilisation are transferred to Class Z Reserve. When does the right hon. Gentleman propose to give them their complete discharge?
§ Mr. ADAMSON
In the interval—if it is the intention of the right hon. Gentleman that these men are to be discharged when the Compulsory Military Service Act lapses next April—can he tell us, in the event of any industrial trouble in the meantime in this country, that these men can be called upon?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Legally, un-doubtedly. While the Compulsory Military Service Act remains in force its power is operative. But I cannot conceive of any set of circumstances arising which would render such a step necessary. We have been through serious strikes, and the idea was never even entertained.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
The questions I am putting are important so far as the working class movement is concerned. I hope the Secretary of State will give them his most serious consideration, especially this one. I quite agree that legally, until the men are entirely discharged, they can be recalled. In such circumstances, however, as I am describing I think it would be a foolish policy and a highly dangerous one on the part of the Government. This matter is, I suggest, deserving of the very serious consideration of the Secretary for War.
My next point is the case of a considerable number of boys who have entered since the Armistice. These boys in many 160 cases have been enlisting at sixteen and seventeen years of age. Their parents either directly or through the medium of their Member of Parliament have been approaching the War Office with a view to getting them discharged from military service until they have reached the age provided for in the Military Service Act, namely, eighteen years of age. In almost every case the parents or a Member of Parliament have been met with the statement that on enlistment the lads have given their age as eighteen, and that accordingly they could not consider the question of their discharge. In numerous cases they have had the birth certificate of the lads sent on, but this has not had any effect, and these lads are being continued in military service notwithstanding that they enlisted under age. In quite a number of cases this is quite a great hardship.
I have here two cases of extreme hardship to the parents which I have explained to the War Office. The first is the case of a lad belonging to a family, the father having served during the War, afterwards being discharged from the Army on a 50 per cent. pension. Under these circumstances he is not able to earn as much money as he would have clone if he had been in normal health and strength. He has a number of young children still dependent upon him, and he looked to getting financial assistance from this lad. The second case is that of a lad belonging to a family where there are seven children younger than himself, none of whom are working, and naturally the parents expected that they would get some help from this boy who has enlisted. I have gone into both these cases, and I have not been able yet to get the boys discharged. I know my experience is typical of many hon. Members of this House, and I hope that it will be possible to have these cases considered.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
We must have an Army of some sort. The compulsory Army is going to be succeeded by a voluntary Army.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
They have no business to give a wrong age. If they are well-grown young men, and it is afterwards found that they enlisted under age, 161 it is the practice of the Army to hold them. I am quite ready to look into the special cases to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I shall renew my applications to the War Office. The age under the Military Service Acts is eighteen, and if you have anyone under that age, and it can be proved that they enlisted under that age, then they should only remain with the consent of their parents. I think this question ought to have the serious consideration of the Secretary of State for War and the Government themselves. On a previous occasion I put before the right hon. Gentleman the advisability of having a general amnesty for prisoners belonging to the Army. I know that since we raised this question there has bean some relaxation so far as sentences are concerned, and possibly some of the men have been released from prison.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I know many have been released, but we feel very strongly that there ought to be a general release of these prisoners, and the only ones who ought to be kept in any longer are those who have been guilty of very serious crimes indeed. I think one of the things the Secretary of state and his advisers ought to consider is that military discipline in the field is rigorous and severe, and the harshness of its penal code can only be justified by the grave necessities of active service, and even in the light or these necessities it does violence in many instances. On more than one occasion I have had to draw the attention of the Secretary of State for War to instances where it has done violence even to the necessities of the case. The Army for whom I am now pleading, that did such magnificent service during the course of that great struggle, was not one of the type that we have been accustomed to in this country. It- was largely a civilian Army. Its outlook was civilian and its conception of freedom and right was civilian. Consequently, ninny of the men who came up against Army orders and suffered imprisonment really had no knowledge of those orders. Under all the circumstances connected with the Army that fought for us so magnificently during the War, the time has really come when there ought to be a general amnesty for 162 these men and when only those men should be kept who have been guilty of most serious crime. I hope, notwithstanding the fact that his military advisers have been going into this matter in a sort of way, that they will go more closely into it and that we shall have a general amnesty for all these prisoners. I have already on a former Vote drawn the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the story that we have had told in the newspapers regarding the shooting down of so many civilians in India during recent times. I can assure you, Sir, that I am not going to discuss it broadly and generally.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Sir E. Cornwall)
That would give the right to another hon. Member to reply, and it is not in order.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I cannot allow the right hon. Gentleman to make the slightest reference to it without giving an opportunity to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Churchill) to reply, and that would at once open up a discussion which would be out of order.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I must ask the right hon. Gentleman to observe my ruling. A ruling has been given, and the right hon. Gentleman must not attempt to go behind it.
§ Mr. ADAMSON.
Well, I must bow to your ruling, but I wanted to ask the right hon. Gentleman if we could have a statement before the House adjourns with a view of allaying the feeling that has been aroused.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I have put the point. I hope, in the course of the right hon. Gentleman's reply, that we may have a statement regarding these questions that I have raised. They are points of great import- 163 ance for a considerable section of our people, who would be pleased indeed for them to have the right hon. Gentleman's favourable consideration.
Lieut. - Colonel SPENDER CLAY
I wish it were possible for the right hon. Gentleman, when he replies, to make some general statement as to the policy of the War Office, but I recognise that at this moment it may not be possible, seeing that the matter is still to a great extent under consideration. I hope, however, that some mention may be made of the Territorial Force, in order to allay the natural anxiety of a large number of people all over the country who are most anxious that that Force should be re-established as soon as possible. I welcome the statement which the right hon. Gentleman made earlier in the evening with regard to the formation of an Imperial Joint General Staff for the three Services, and I look upon it as one of the most important reforms which possibly could be made in preparing for the defence of the country. It would be upon the recommendation of such a Committee that all Estimates in the future would be prepared. Such a body would be best able to give advice as to what was required for the defence of the country.
There are one or two criticisms which I would like to make with regard to these Estimates. I am rather surprised to see that there are only 31,000 people attending the Garrison and Detachment schools. We have heard a good deal about the improvement of education in the After-War Army, and I know that a very valuable scheme was prepared in order that men who join the Army should be given such education as will enable them to compete when they want to return to civilian life. I was rather struck with the small number of pupils at present attending these schools. I understand that a Paper has been prepared on this subject, and I feel sure that it would he interesting to Members if it could be circulated or laid upon the Table. I notice that some very large repayments occur in several of the Estimates. I presume that they are repayments from our Allies for services rendered to them by this country. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would make some statement with regard to them. I want also to bring to his notice the very serious conditions of many of the barracks throughout the country owing to 164 dilapidations due to the impossibility, during the War, of getting labour to put the barracks in a proper state of repair. I notice that very few barracks are dealt with in these Estimates, and I would draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the necessity of making them fit and proper places for the young After-War Army which we hope to have. Your predecessor in the Chair called attention to the way in which some of these amounts are presented. I understand, if some latitude had not been allowed to-night, that it would have been difficult to call attention to any particular item in the Estimates. Looking through them this afternoon, I saw that there are four men—a custodian, a pensioner, and two other men—who are getting the large remuneration of £215 between them, including Health Insurance payments. The right hon. Gentleman said that he scrupulously observed proper wages conditions throughout the Army. Such a sum as that divided among four persons hardly provides a living wage. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman when he replies may be able to give some indication in general terms, if it be not possible to do so in detail, as to the proposed reorganisation of the Army and Territorial Forces, for by so doing I am sure he will relieve the anxiety which is felt in many parts of the country.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. WIGNALL
I take part in the Debate to-night for the purpose of introducing a subject not hitherto referred to in this discussion, because, probably, it may not be considered of sufficient importance to occupy the time and attention of the majority of the members of the Committee. It is, nevertheless, a subject worthy of consideration. It is in regard to the position of the ranker-officer in the Army. What is that position to-day? What is his future to be to-morrow? What is the policy and attitude of the War Office regarding him? Ours is a democratic Army, or at least it ought to be. There should be a clear course for the young fellow joining as a private to reach, by virtue of his natural ability and fitness, the highest positions in the Service. I am informed that prior to 1914, or thereabouts, there was an Order issued or Instruction given that promotion from the ranks was to be encouraged. We have, I believe, on record more than one or two notable examples of promotion from the ranks, but certain barriers have 165 still to be removed and the road made easier for the man possessing skill and ability to attain the higher positions. We have had during the War period many notable examples of men who have been promoted to very exalted positions and have done justice to those positions. Some have become lieutenant-colonels and some commanders of battalions, and they have occupied these high posts with marked ability. Where are they now? Have they been reduced to 9.0 P.M. their former rank? Have they been put back, or have they left the Army, and if so, why? These are the questions that are disturbing the minds of some of us, and I, for one, feel that this is an opportune time for inquiry to be made into the matter. I should like to know if it be possible—and of course it is possible, although not perhaps exactly at the moment—I should like to know how many non-commissioned officers have been promoted to commissions since the 15th February, 1914, and have during the War held appointments as commanders of battalions or second in command or as lieutenant-colonels or colonels. What has become of them since the War? What are the prospects of these officers with reference to pay and promotion? Many of us have made inquiries into the position of the men to whom I am referring, and many of us too have had the privilege of reading that interesting and wonderful book published by Lord Haig and entitled, "Lord Haig's Final Dispatches." I was very much touched in perusing that volume by a paragraph on page 347 which, with permission, I will read to the Committee. for it contains some very striking and remarkable words. Speaking of the promotion of officers, Lord Haig writes:Promotion has been entirely by merit and the highest appointments were open to the humblest, provided he had the necessary qualifications of character, skill and knowledge. Many instances can be quoted of men who rose from civil or comparatively humble occupations.Lord Haig then gives us instances of schoolmasters, lawyers, taxicab drivers and ex-sergeant majors who have commanded brigades. One editor has commanded a division, another has successfully attained to senior staff officer of a Regular division. A young cook from Cambridge College, a clerk to the Metropolitan Water Board, an insurance clerk, an architect's assistant, a police inspector, all became efficient general staff officers. 166 A mess sergeant, a railway signalman, a coalminer, market gardeners, an assistant secretary to the Haberdashers' Company, a quartermaster-sergeant, and a private have risen to command a battalion. Clerks have commanded batteries. Schoolmasters, colliers, the son of a blacksmith, an iron moulder, an instructor in tailoring, an assistant gas engineer, a grocer's assistant, as well as policemen, clerks and privates have commanded companies or acted as adjutant, and that is a record we all have a right to be proud about. It is a record the whole Service can appreciate. Why do I refer to it? Because I am informed that there is a desire on the part of the War Office to go back to the bad old practice of making it possible for only the sons of rich men to qualify for and occupy these high positions in the Army. If a collier or a miner or a blacksmith is good enough to hold a high command in time of war, he is good enough to have the opportunity of reaching it in time of peace. If he was good enough in the stress of war and in the bloodshed -and carnage that was going on around him to be marked by his conspicuous gallantry and by his knowledge, skill and ability to hold a high position, he is worthy of holding the same position in time of peace. I am informed that these ranker officers are not given the same opportunity. Although at the close of the War a man was a lieut.-colonel, and he is no longer required in that position, he reverts to his former rank and becomes either a captain or something slightly lower, he loses his position and his pay and, when he retires, he does so on a lower pension. That is not good enough; that is not fair play and that is not giving a reward for the glorious -achievements performed.
The War Office ought to encourage the ranker and to encourage the private to attain the goal of his ambition, if he can reach it. It should be made easy for him to reach it, and there should be every inducement and encouragement offered to him to get there. All the wisdom, knowledge and brains have not been given to the sons of the rich more than to the sons of the poor, but the sons of the rich have better chances of developing them than the children of the poor. It is the duty of those who are in charge to give a chance to those to reach distinction who cannot afford it otherwise. The War Office ought to set aside at least 25 per cent. of the positions that become vacant for the rankers, and when they have reached those 167 positions they should be allowed to retain them, so that when they retire it should be on the full pay they are receiving at the moment. I bring this matter to the notice of the Committee, because I feel it is most important and one worthy of consideration and attention. Efficiency, ability, and skill should be the keynotes to success, and to accomplish that the old barriers of wealth should be removed. We know that many obstacles are being placed in the way of the ranker. We know the many ways in which he has been crushed out of his position. There are thousands of officers to-day more than are required. Who is the one that will be thrust into the background? I think I am right in saying it will be the ranker officer who will have to go. We have seen that in evidence and in statistics. That is not right or fair. We should assist those who have attained positions by their bravery and gallantry and not hinder them in receiving the full reward for their success.
§ Brigadier-General WIGAN
I should like to call the attention of the Secretary of State for War to a Vote for £250,000 appearing on page 13 of the Estimates, which is to provide for some 700 gentlemen cadets at Sandhurst and 240 at Woolwich. On 27th October last the right lion. Gentleman informed me that there were 4,500 surplus Regular officers now in the Army, and that, in addition, there were 3,000 temporary officers who had been recommended and were asking for commissions. I would, therefore, like to ask the right hon. Gentleman why, with 7,500 officers trained in war, who have fought for their country, we should have the expense of maintaining two establishments for training young officers without any experience whatever? As to the question raised by the last speaker, that of commissions from the ranks, prior to the War in the Regular Army there were very few commissions granted from the ranks. In the twelve years during which I served in the Regular Army, in the regiment I was in there was no one single officer who had gained his commission from the ranks. The Army was officered—very well officered—by those who could afford to pay for an education which allowed them to compete for Sandhurst and Woolwich and which allowed them to maintain themselves while they were there. Even those officers who before the War were granted commissions from the ranks were granted them on very dis- 168 advantageous terms. First, no provision was made for their higher military training, so that the officer from the ranks found himself at a very great disadvantage compared with the boy who had been through Sandhurst or Woolwich; and, secondly, he found himself junior in rank to officers many years younger than himself. When the War came it was necessary to give commissions on a very large scale from the ranks. I believe that in the Regular Army alone some 6,700 commissions were granted to non-commissioned officers and men. As the commanding officer of a unit in the fighting line, I can testify personally to the magnificent work these men commissioned from the ranks did. In these Estimates we see that provision is made for some 940 young gentlemen to be trained at Sandhurst or Woolwich, but I can see no provision whatever made for cadet schools for non-commissioned officers and men recommended for commissions. If it was fair and right to give commissions in time of war, it must be right and only common fairness that commissions should be granted equally to non-commissioned officers and men in time of peace. Therefore I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will give us an assurance that this matter will receive his favourable consideration.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I want to use this, the first opportunity I have to addressing the House, to make a plea for the men who are in prison as the result of offences during the War. They were in the main before the War civilians and men of the characteristic independent outlook and spirit of the Briton, and it was no easy matter when they went into the Army to accommodate themselves to military conditions. I speak with conviction on that question, because I myself am an ex-soldier from the ranks, and I know how very difficult indeed it was, with the best will and the best intentions, to fit oneself into the organisation and to move in the mass after one had been used to moving and thinking for oneself. The man of the finest spirit and often of the greatest intelligence was the man who was more likely to be upset and sometimes to violate Army Regulations. I have sometimes thought that amongst these men who are now undergoing imprisonment it is just possible that you have some of the best citizens that there are in this country to-day. When it comes to offences in the field it 169 is a well known fact, attested by those who have received the highest honours in the field, that there are moments when the nerves fail a man and he is likely, for a temporary period, to play what we call the coward. All the bravest men agree that there have been times when they have felt even like that themselves. I think this question ought to receive more serious attention than it has received up to the present by the Government. All the ex-soldiers' organisations in the country have emphatically passed resolutions and made attempts to get a serious consideration of this question. It is said that the men who have been guilty of minor offences have been released, and it is the men who have been guilty of serious offences who are now retained. But we would ask what is a serious offence, and what is the standard for a serious offence. I know a case of a man who served four years, and was then sent to Russia against his will, a man who was said to be guilty of insubordination in the face of the enemy. He was a sergeant, but was stripped, and is now in prison and will be dismissed from the Army. I know from his letters that the shame of the thing to one of the best of citizens is eating as a canker into his soul, and it seems to me that the least that can be doue is to give a general amnesty to make an end of this question and to show that we are as generous as some of those countries which have already taken that stop.
We do not grumble for a moment on these benches against Army expenditure when it goes to increase the pay of soldiers. Those who have served for the usual bob a day can appreciate the position of men who have received increased pay, and men who are denied the benefit of ordinary life ought to have some recompense in another form. What we complain of is the £100,000,000 spent in the Russian adventure I have come through a by-election recently, and one of the outstanding points that we made in that election was the position of the Government in relation to Russian affairs, and I know even my opponent, a Coalition candidate, could not for a moment think of defending the Russian intervention, so strong was public feeling. So, on that ground alone of the financial needs of this country—we were told only quite recently that the Report of the Royal Commission on old age pensions could not be carried out because there was not sufficient 170 money—the money that has been spent on that adventure was criminal extravagance. It is being ended, but we sometimes see things going on which make us think that when we are receiving a "yes" from the Government Bench it really means "no." So we think money spent in that way is sheer waste, and is against the best wishes and aspirations of the people of this country and the use of men and money for it are alien to the best interests and desires of the people of this country.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
I am sure the Committee has listened with great interest to the very weighty speech of the hon. Member (Mr. Lawson), and we shall look forward to his intervention in our debates in the future. I hesitate to speak on details of Army administration, belonging to the opposite Service, but I should like to acknowledge the very great help which doubtless other hon. Members besides myself have received from the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major Waring) in all details concerning our constituents who have grievances in connection with the Army. I am sure I am not alone in having experienced the promptitude of the replies and the great help we have had in all hard cases and the sympathetic consideration those cases have had. I have raised the question of the policy in regard to the Army in Mesopotamia by way of question, and also the last time we had a Report stage on Supplementary Estimates for the Army. The Secretary of State for War was not present on that occasion and an answer was given, which did not really disclose the policy—for a very good reason—by the Parliamentary Secretary to the War Office. I hope my efforts will be more successful on this occasion, and that we can have some satisfaction with regard to these men in Mesopotamia. There are in Mesopotamia to-day, or were quite recently, some 21,000 white soldiers. Of these only 500 are volunteers for the post-war Army. That means that 20,500 are being kept out of conscript. The Armistice is fourteen months old. Many of these men have been out there for two or three hot seasons, and I have reason to know that they have suffered severely from the climate. I am sure the Committee sympathises with these very gallant soldiers in that extremely unpleasant spot. I understand that reliefs are being sent and that these men will come home in the spring. Might we have 171 some further details about the actual rate of demobilisation of these men. It is a serious question in the country and hon. Members representing constituencies from which come the units now in Mesopotamia will bear me out that there are many bitter complaints from these men and their relatives. Will these men be able to come home not in trickles, but in whole battalions? There are also 79,000 Indian troops there. The cost of this Army of Occupation according to the Estimate is £32,000,000, a tremendous sum even considering the present values of money, approaching the whole pre-war Army Estimates.
We have had a statement from the Secretary for War that he hopes to reduce the numbers in the Mesopotamia Army by the greater use of aeroplanes, armoured cars, and tanks. If that is so, the whole policy in regard to the Mesopotamia Army of occupation is simply deplorable. It will mean that we may save in men, but we shall not save in money. But there is more than money in this. Does the Secretary of State for War on the advice that he has from the men on the spot there see any hope of raising native levies from the natives in Mesopotamia? With a sprinkling of white officers they could be drilled into armies to defend their home frontiers and preserve order in their own country, as we have done with such success in our West African Colonies, and particularly our East African Colonies. It is hard to believe that that would be impossible, because the Arab in the past when he has been well led has been a good fighting man. If our rule there is beneficent and sympathetic there is no reason why we could not get a trustworthy native Army. If that is possible, is it being inquired into? Are we trying to do this, or are we hoping to be able to hold Mesopotamia simply by our own white troops and the Indians? If so, it will mean an enormous expense. The country is a great distance away from transport, the climate is appalling and no man will go there willingly to face the desolation and the heat. This touches on the question of the future of Mesopotamia, and our Army Estimates are prepared on the policy that we are going to pursue. Therefore the right hon. Gentleman must know what he is aiming at in this matter. I dare say the actual boundaries of Mesopotamia are not yet settled, but so far as anyone can make 172 out that country is going to be placed under a British mandate. It is, therefore, a question of the military occupation coming from us, and we have to find the money and the men. It is time that we were given some idea what our policy is to be in Mesopotamia, over and above holding it by a large Army of Occupation.
I should also like to inquire about our Army in Italy which is costing £2,000,000. Why is it there now? There are l0,000 men and some hundreds of officers. Is it there for salvage purposes? If so, in view of the great distance and the expense and difficulty of transport, would it not be better to sell the stuff which still remains in Italy, as the Americans did with some of their salvage and derelict stores in France? Why is this Army in Italy? Austria collapsed before Germany, and we are entitled to know for what purpose our Army is being kept there, and how the expense of keeping it there is justified. The same thing applies to the Army of the Rhine. We understand that the Army of Occupation on the Rhine is being reduced to something like three divisions. An Army of three divisions, or even of five divisions on the Rhine may; be a symbol of our great victory in the War, but in the case of any very serious trouble I do not see how a small force like that is going to affect the military situation at all. Either keep a large Army there or else clear your troops out altogether. I do not know what the questions of policy are; we are not told. We only have to find the money and look as pleasant as possible. The Secretary for War has stated that the cost of this Army of Occupation shall be a first charge on the German Exchequer. If this Army of Occupation is removed then it will go as a first charge and the money that we should get could be devoted to some better use than that of keeping this force very insignificant in comparison with the Continental armies, on the Rhine, where, I think, it is in very great danger.
So far I have been referring to the necessity of reducing our Forces largely on the ground of economy, but there is another matter which requires attention. It seems to me that we are not keeping a sufficient force in a very important strategical part of the Empire, and that even if we have to spend more money it would be well worthy of our consideration. I refer to the Straits Settlements. The Estimates state that in the Straits Settlements 173 there will be one brigadier-general, one aide-de-camp, one general staff officer, second grade and one general staff officer, third grade I would like to know what the garrison is to be in future, because that staff indicates a remarkably small garrison. It means that in Singapore and the neighbourhood we are going to keep a very small force. We are not going to fight Germany in the future, because Germany has not the money, the equipment or the spirit to fight. The Secretary for War has already stated that no army for offensive purposes is being raised in Germany. But we are paying an insurance in case of war, or we would not be asked to find this amount of money. If we must accept the possibility of war, then we must recognise that the dangerous part of the world is from the East, and if from the East danger comes the district round the Straits of Malacca is strategically the most important in the British Empire as things are at present. It is right in the centre of the great lines of communication from the East to India and to Australia, and it is most important to us to maintain Singapore as a great place d'armes for our forces in any war coming from the East. This is dealing with Army affairs, and the problem is more purely naval, but the fleet itself would be much hampered unless Singapore and the adjacent places are strongly garrisoned. There should be a really efficient force there, and the district should be well fortified and capable of holding out for a certain time until reinforcements can be sent; otherwise, as a naval centre for which it is all-important it would be of very much less value to the Fleet. The right hon. Gentleman must know the policy which exists at present, and if he would refer to this question he would perhaps raise a weight from the minds of many of us as to the neglect of Eastern affairs in favour of the land problems of the West which our rulers and governors do not yet seem to be able to get away from.
§ Mr. HOPKINS
I would like to voice a grievance against the War Office which I think is shared by a great many other hon. Members. That is the great delay which takes place in getting a settlement of hard cases which we bring to the notice of the House. One of the functions and privileges of a Member of Parliament is to try to put these hard cases when they occur in his constituency, and to allay the 174 dissatisfaction which results from them, and if we find it is impossible to get either satisfaction or understandable answers from the War Office we can see how difficult it must be for the unfortunate men themselves to try to get their grievances set right. The trouble which the War Office is laying up for itself through its inattention to these matters is very considerable. In every village in the country and in every parish, almost in every street, in our town there is some man or other who has served in our Army and thinks he has got some grievance which has not been settled, or some question to which he has not been able to get an answer. Each of those men is a centre of dissatisfaction. He complains to his neighbours that he has not been well treated, and in many cases it merely means a simple explanation to settle the case and make the man contented. In many of those cases where I have applied and have got an answer, even when the man did not get what he asked for he was satisfied that his claim had been considered and that he had got an answer. It is dangerous to leave those centres of discontent, those smouldering fires. Individually they are not important, but they might be of very great importance if some wind of unrest blows across the country, and they would provide a very fertile ground for those who wish to agitate the workers. I have talked to men in my Constituency, who have said, "Look how the War Office have treated so-and-so. He went in 1915, he cannot even get what is owing to him."I want when I ask questions as to these men to be able to state the facts, and I find it very difficult to get a reply.
I may give one concrete instance of the delay which takes place. Early in July a man told me that he had a claim against the War Office. He had been prosecuting it for some months, but had been unable to get a reply. I looked at his papers. I am not an expert, but, to the best of my judgment, he had a good case. I took it to the hon. Member who used with great kindness and courtesy to attend to our hard cases in the room of the right hon. Gentleman, and he told me it was not a case for him, that it was entirely for the Financial Secretary to the War Office. I wrote to that right hon. Gentleman on the 14th July with full details. Almost by return of post I got a reply thanking me for my letter, and saying that the matter would receive prompt attention. I waited a month or six weeks and wrote again, 175 and got a further communication thanking me for my letter, and saying that it would receive prompt attention. I waited another month or two and wrote again with exactly the same result. The man himself had been trying also to get some satisfaction. He has failed. I failed, also. I spoke personally to the right hon. Gentleman who, to the regret of us all, has gone to another place, about this case. He promised me also that the matter would receive attention, and regretted that some mistakes had been made in the case. Now I suppose that I shall have to begin all over again with his successor unless the Government will kindly take note of the case and, perhaps, enable me to get down to the gentleman who is holding up this matter, because he is the person whom I want to talk to. The result is that this unfortunate man, who joined up when the War started and served right through the War, is broken in health and spirit, and is discontented and miserable. He thinks he has got a claim, and I think he has, against the Government, and he has been for nine months or six months, with the aid of a Member of Parliament, trying to press it, and he has got no satisfaction whatever. I am not a person who grumbles much, but I do think that this is a legitimate grumble, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will attend to it.
§ Mr. WATERSON
There are one or two matters to which I wish to draw the attention of the War Office, and I think when I have stated them I will have gained the sympathy of the House in bringing them forward. Many of us were exceedingly pleased when the War Office decided some time ago to relax the rules in connection with compassionate cases. Pleas were made from these benches for the release of the only sons of widowed mothers. The War Office eventually acceded to that request. I want to take this opportunity of asking the War Office to review the whole situation afresh with the object of relaxing the rules as they exist to-day. I will give a particular case which I have in mind. It is that of a man nearly seventy years of age who has been blind many years. He had two sons. His wife is in delicate health and bedridden. He has a little business. If that business is neglected for many weeks his whole future is jeopardised. One of his sons has returned from the War, incapacitated for work. The other son, barely twenty years of age, is in the Army. I 176 submit that it is a case for compassion, and that the younger son should be released in order to give necessary support to his father and to his mother. Under the existing rules parents must be totally dependent upon the son. In this case they are not totally dependent, but they are certainly next door to it. As the situation in Europe is vastly different from what it was comparatively recently, I submit that the compassionate Clauses could be relaxed somewhat to meet such a case as I have outlined.
Another matter to which I would call attention refers to wives whose soldier husbands, through shell-shock or other war effects, are now in mental hospitals with no probability of a return to normal conditions, their mental faculties having gone. Strange to say, these wives, who have only a bare subsistence, if they are anxious to see their husbands, once a month or once in six weeks, have to pay their own train fares to the institution where their husbands are being treated. I plead with the Secretary of State for War to give some consideration to the case of these women, and to assist them with travelling expenses. It would not be a great expense, especially if we compare the sum involved with the brightness that would come to the heart and home of the wives.
We have heard many complaints in this House relative to the question of transport. We are told that there is congestion here, there, and everywhere. Many statements are made as to how it may be relieved. I want to ask the Secretary for War to take into consideration the fact that many rail-waymen nobly volunteered to fight in the early days of the War, but for three years, though they continually went to recruiting centres, they were told that they must return to their work, which was of national importance and contributing to the success of the War. In the last twelve months of the War men went in large numbers into the Army from the railway shops and from the railway docks, and from every railway centre. These were men to whom the War Office had refused enlistment in the first instance yet they are in the Army to-day, being penalised through no fault of their own, and some of the cream of the railwaymen are being so detained. I would ask the Secretary for War to consider the advisability of accelerating their release. It would tend to relieve the congestion of railway traffic about which so many complaints are heard.
177 Another point I want to raise is in reference to our troops in Egypt. Many of them have been there three and a half years without leave. Can the right hon. Gentleman say definitely what arrangements have been made for sending these troops home? Can the right hon. Gentleman see his way clear to accelerate their release and give these war-worn heroes the opportunity of a speedy return to civil life? I notice on page 22 of the Estimates, under the sub-head "Working Expenses of -Hospitals," a sum of £9,879,000. I think the right hon. Gentleman will remember that a fortnight ago the House was counted out on this matter. I want to let the public know of a private and secret Circular which was issued to those in charge of the hospitals. There is no one in this House who would challenge the patriotism of the medical profession. We know that in the middle of the War these excellent men proved worthy. They went into the hospitals without the slightest idea of receiving any remuneration for their services. Let it be said to the credit of many of them that they allowed their own businesses to be neglected, and as a result sometimes found themselves in financial difficulties. The private Circular to which I refer was issued on 16th June, 1916. After some months of effort to secure a copy of this confidential Circular, I have been successful. After twelve months had passed by there was a difficulty in getting the necessary men, owing to many of them having been drafted to France and Belgium and the other theatres of war. An offer was then made that those who took up the task of being in charge of Voluntary Aid Detachment headquarters should be paid so much per day per patient. I have to protest most emphatically against the latter portion of the Circular, which said:I am to say that the above authority is to be treated as a confidential communication and not published for general information. It is not intended that payment should be made unless it is asked for, and hospitals should not be informed of this authority.That was a nice Circular for the War Office to issue. They thought it right and honourable that these men should be paid, but the men concerned must not be acquainted with that fact, as the Circular was to be treated as confidential. When the matter leaked out a litle, some of the men concerned wrote to those in charge of Headquarters and got various replies. One reply ran that the question of justice and equity did not enter into these matters, and that the whole question of the pay- 178 ment of medical officers had always been sent to them as confidential, and that no one had been paid only from the date of application, but, the writer added, when he saw the applicant he would talk the matter over with him. May I ask, how could people apply if they did not know of the Circular. In some cases men have lost a very great deal and made application under this Circular without effect. Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to honour such applications now? I am in a position to state that some applications have been honoured, and in a certain area more than £1,000 has been distributed amongst the medical profession. Other districts have been ignored; and why is this preferential treatment? I do protest against a secret Circular of this kind being issued. The evil at the root of the matter is that payment cannot be made unless asked for, while those concerned must not be informed. Is there any precedent for a Circular of that type from the War Office or any other Government Department? If it was not necessary to make payment, why issue the Circular, and if it was why not honour the obligation in an honourable fashion. Since I endeavoured to raise the question a fortnight ago, the matter has been referred to in the Medical Journals and I have received many letters from the medical profession. I do not think it can be said that the Labour Members always have sympathy from the medical profession, so that in fighting this case we have no axe to grind, but we are simply doing it on the grounds of equity and justice. I therefore hope that the right hon. Gentleman will meet this case and thereby remove a great grievance which to-day exists amongst the members of the medical profession.
§ 10.0 P.M
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I trust that the case that the hon. Gentleman has just put forward is not typical of what is being done in respect of the medical profession, 10.0 P. M and I am sure the appeal which the hon. Member has made will receive sympathetic consideration from the right hon. Gentleman. I am certain that he agrees that no body of men who have rendered service to the country throughout the War deserve better of their country than medical men. To bring the Committee back to some general propositions, I would refer particularly to the speech on the 29th October, and the total which the right hon. Gentleman then estimated would be in the Army on the 15th November, was about 500,000 179 men, including 45,000 in hospital, and that by Christmas he hoped that total would have fallen to 330,000 men. It is not now far removed from the Christmas festival, and it would be interesting if he could tell us what is the total at the present date, and how many of those who remain in the Army are volunteers and how many of them approximately, at any rate, came under the Military Service Act. Could he tell us also how many of the discharged men received complete discharge, and how many were demobilised in Class Z. Turning to the Estimates, and on page 8, giving the total of the Armies of Occupation, I would repeat some of the questions put when the right hon. Gentleman was not in the House but was, I expect, getting very much-needed refreshment after a very strenuous day. Are there any troops in Italy, and, if so, how many, and how many are there in Bulgaria and Turkey and the Caucasus. Can he give us any information as to the military establishments at present in Egypt and in Palestine, and there was also a question asked with regard to Mesopotamia. May I also ask what is the position with regard to the brigade which was stationed at Batoum? Has it been withdrawn, and, if so, is it disbanded for the purposes of demobilisation or is it to be sent to any part of Russia or Asia? In regard to the Black Sea Army, will he kindly tell us what that term includes, and in the general disposition of His Majestys Forces can he tell us to-night—it may be useful in the Debates which are bound to take place before the House rises—what is the total of His Majesty's Forces at present engaged in Ireland? The only other points I wish to deal with are in regard to the general expenditure. The Estimates which were given by my right hon. Friend in the early part of the year were sufficiently staggering, but since then they have gone up by, I believe, some tens of millions. At any rate, now they total, after allowing for all the appropriations, £400,000,000.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
Well, £350,000,000, allowing for pretty well everything. Of course, that is a sum which no one can grasp the magnitude of. It is impossible to know what £350,000,000 means in hard cash or in credit, but it will have to be found by the nation somehow. I only 180 hope that the result of the Cabinet conferences and of the decisions which I presume they have come to will be to disclose that the Estimates for the coming year will approximate at any rate to the normal year, a fancy term which I am afraid is very far from realisation in this country, so far as finance is concerned, but as far as the expenditure on the Army is concerned, I am quite certain that the country will demand that there shall be the most drastic reductions consistent with a reasonable margin of safety. In looking through these Estimates which are now before the Committee, by way of inquiry on one or two points, I would ask my right hon. Friend if he would look at page 49, which deals with the War Office, staff of commands, etc. It is sufficiently alarming to find that the net expenditure for the War Office for the coming year is £2,906,250, but the staff of the general officer commanding home forces runs up to £96,000, and staff of commands at home and Colonial garrisons—the Colonial garrisons do not amount comparatively to a very large figure—amount to no less than £1,495,500. Overleaf, under the heading of "War Office," such a department as that of the adjutant-general costs £635,482, and further down on the same page, under the heading of "staff of commands at home," I see that the Eastern Command is put down at £158,185. Looking at page 98, which gives some particulars of that, I find that there are no less than five generals commanding of first class and two of the second class, a total of seven generals of the first and second class in the home commands, costing the country no less a sum than £24,000 in round figures this year. Of course, like great battleships, these great general officers necessarily have all their attendant light cruisers and small craft of every description. You cannot have a general without having all that a general means in the way of subsidiary commands of every kind.
What I want to press upon my right hon. Friend is the example. I have taken these quite haphazard, while I have been sitting here, because most unfortunately I cannot find time otherwise. I ask the right hon. Gentleman what possible justification can there be for a maintenance of seven generals in the first and second class at a cost of£24,000 a year to the country in the home commands? I only suggest that on the face of it there are far too many, and that is the kind of 181 thing which anybody who takes up these Estimates finds all over them, and we really do want some sort of justification for it. I know my right hon. Friend when he speaks can produce a most effective curtain, with the whole of the serried ranks behind him cheering, but, after all, these are figures which require real sober explanation, and not peroration, to carry off. I do not compete with my right hon. Friend in that, but I would invite him to answer these two or three practical points which I have put before him. Here we have been talking on all these Estimates that have come up from time to time, and the one thing which is so obvious that the most uncompromising supporter of the Government cannot possibly get away from is this, that throughout this year, ever since Parliament started, there has been on the part of the Government a lack of grip and control over the great spending Departments, and it was only when the country got finally to grasp it that they began to tackle their job. Any step they may take—While the lamp holds out to burn, The vilest sinner may return.I am only putting it in a general way, as anyone knows, but any signs of reform by way of direction and the grip of the actual situation and of economy will be backed up in no carping spirit, but with the wholehearted zeal and enthusiasm of all those who sit on this side of the House.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
My right hon. Friend, in the course of his speech, added a number of questions to those which have already been asked in considerable abundance by Members in other parts of the House. My right hon. Friend spoke as if the desire for economy and the care of finance were sentiments the consideration of which only existed on the bench Which he adorns, but, as a matter of fact, I think I have not made any speech on the Estimates—and we have had a great many Debates on Army and Air Estimates—in which I have not tried to deal with the financial aspect. I have repeatedly returned to it, and only this afternoon, in the course of the Debate, which ranged over the most distant prospects of future technical and administrative developments, it was left for me, the Minister supposed to be the spendthrift, to refer specifically to the financial facts and figures contained in the Estimates, and the Leader of the Opposition and his able sup- 182 porters and assistants never, apparently, detected the great error which the newspapers had made in assuming that an economy of £12,500,000 had been made in the Air Estimates, whereas, as a matter of fact, the main part of it was a transference from the Air to the Ministry of Munitions Vote
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
There was a great deal in it. There was nothing in it because the hon. Member did not detect it. If he had detected it, he would have. hastened to proclaim it at the top of his voice, and at great length, with wearisome reiteration, in season and out of season, in order and out of order; he would have dwelt on the shameful fraud of the Air Ministry in attempting to make out that they had effected a great economy of £12,000,000, whereas, as a matter of fact, they had only shovelled £11,250,000 on to the Ministry of Munitions.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The power of continued, obstinate assertion in the face of the light of reason has played its part, and I do not doubt will continue to play its part in the Parliamentary government of the land. I say that only by way of exordium to my task of replying to the numerous questions that have been asked. My right hon. Friend asks me to give him, offhand, details describing the strength of the British Army in all the different theatres of the late War and parts of the world where they are at the present time. My memory is pretty good, and I have a fairly clear idea of where those forces are, and what their numbers are; but I really think I would sooner make a return, if a question is put down, as to the number of troops in Ireland, on the Black Sea, in Mesopotamia, Germany, England, and so forth; also as to the number of conscripts and the numbers that are newly-enlisted volunteers.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
May I make a suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman similar to that which I made to the First Lord of the Admiralty the other night as to the means of keeping the House and the country informed of the rates of reduction in the strength and cost of His Majesty's Forces? Could there be each month issued to the House of Commons a statement showing the reduction in the number 183 of men, at any rate, because, after all, that is the great index. The First Lord promised to give the matter very careful consideration, and I have no doubt something will be done. Would it be possible for my right hon. Friend on the first of the mouth, as a regular thing, to let the House know what is the reduction of the preceding month in the strength of the Army?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Yes, I do not think there will be any difficulty in that. It might be elicited by a question on the first of every month. I am quite ready to give it. As a matter of fact, broadly speaking, the reduction in the demobilisation of the Army has been much as the forecast I made when I last addressed the House. There has been a slight lag, but it is not a serious one. It does not affect the basis of the forecast which I then uttered as to the diminution. I shall be very glad to give the actual figures before the House rises, for Members may as well know to what extent demobilisation, dispersal, the melting down, and dispersion of our erstwhile gigantic military forces has, under the influences of the work of this Session and the administrative measures taken by the Government been effected. I hope we will not be forced to raise the numbers again by any unsuspected turn of events in any part of the world.
My right hon. Friend talked about the approximate Estimates for next year. He said they were enormous. I am not going to talk about the Estimates for next year till we get them. The Estimates for this year are £405,000,000. The Estimates for next year, at any rate, will not be £400,000,000. There will be three factors operating on the Army Estimates for next year. I have directed the preparation of a statement for the purpose of showing in three separate columns particulars as to what one might call the normal post-war army; secondly, the aftermath expenditure due to the War to which we are already committed, and for which the Bill has not yet come in—the settling up of the accounts for medals, grants, arrears of gratuities, looking after the men who are wounded and who are not yet well, and so on. This has nothing to do with the normal expenditure. Under the third heading is the extraordinary expenditure of a quasi-war character connected with the state of continued disturbance and un- 184 certainty over the whole of the Eastern world, and what it costs to maintain, the extra military establishment and the plebiscitary division which has to be maintained in Germany pending the decision of these various peoples as to what country they will belong to.
On these three heads we will present a statement and it will be very easy for the right hon. Gentleman and others to see exactly what is the permanently normal cost as distinguished from any adventitious or additional elements which may be added to it. With regard to the number of generals, I observe that a statement which I made some time ago, in which I said there was a large number of surplus lieutenant-generals and surplus major-generals, has been the cause of much outpouring of ignorant comment in some of the great organs of public opinion. It is quite true that there are over forty lieut.-generals and over eighty major-generals who are unemployed. Many of these officers are distinguished men who served in the War and now they find their careers at an end. They are no burden except that you have to pay them what is-legally their due, and even economy cannot take that away from them. They have their rights under the Royal Warrant, but so far as any employment is concerned there is none for them. What would be said if you had two-thirds of the lawyers of the country unemployed and someone told them they could never practice their profession again and that their career was at an end, and someone said that, "Here we have all these extra redundant lawyers eating their heads off at our expense?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am well acquainted with the amenities and the emoluments of various professions, and I have not the slightest doubt in regard to a comparison of the legal profession with the military profession, because there is no comparison between the two, and at every stage, in opportunities, range and scope and immunity from any serious risk, the legal profession easily holds its own. I think it is rather ungenerous to refer to the position of these generals in this manner. To me it is a most painful thing to see a number of men, who have played such an important part in this great War, whose careers are entirely ended and who know there is nothing that can be given to them. 185 for the next few years. At any rate, the Treasury have agreed that general officers who like to take their pensions now and go, seeing that there is no chance of employment, can get their full pension even though they may be a year or two short of the actual time they have to serve under the Royal Warrant. By that process I hope a very large number of these officers will think it worth while to take their retired pay at the present time, and thus clear the major-generals' and lieutenant-generals' list so that the new post-war Army which is coming into existence will not have a large number of these officers waiting and blocking the way to promotion. I want to say a word or two about the speech of the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Water-son) who made a long speech about the woes of the medical profession. I would suggest that he should allow me to put him into contact with the responsible officials dealing with this matter and then let me have a report as to what are the outstanding points of difference.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
If the hon. Gentlemen will allow me to confront him with competent officials who will deal with the subject in equal detail and equal length that he has done to-night, I am sure that we can at any rate arrive at an approximation of agreement. I can assure him that it is not my wish to keep any medical officer a single day longer than is necessary. It is only consideration for the health of the troops that has made us use compulsion with regard to medical officers at a time when we have practically abandoned it with regard to every other class.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I think it would be really more useful if we left it in that way. It can be raised later on the Adjournment if any further question arises. I have been asked by the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Wignall) about the promotion of officers from the ranks. I think that I may claim to have always been a supporter of that principle. At the Admiralty I was responsible for devising a system, or for having a system devised, which enables special mates to be promoted from the lower deck to commission ranks, and which furnishes them with a swift 186 and easy ladder for rising to commission ranks. I have exactly the same views about the Army and the Air Force. There are two ways in which non-commissioned officers and warrant officers are promoted to commission ranks. One is that when, after many years' service, they rise to an honoured position they are given a sort of honorary commission in the Navy and in the Army. That is all very well, and it satisfies a certain proportion of those who enter the different Services, but it is by no means satisfactory and sufficient, because, if you are to have genuine promotion from the ranks, you want to make sure that a penniless boy who enlists in the Army, Navy, or Air Force can rise quickly, if he has character and ability, to commission ranks, with all the possibility of advancing from those ranks to the higher positions. You will never do that simply by promoting people from the ranks after they have been a considerable time in the ranks or by promoting people from the ranks after they have reached an advanced age. You must have some method by which private soldiers, who do the right thing and qualify themselves, and who really show pre-eminent qualities, can be given a special education, in special knowledge, or a special training, with the necessary grants to enable them to have the training, so that they can enter the commission ranks at an age when they are not at a disadvantage compared with others holding those ranks, and so that they have full opportunity of advancement. I subscribe fully to the principle of la carriers estouverte our talents, I cannot conceive that there is any more valuable principle in our present state of society than that which offers the means by which men can advance in every walk of life and every profession from the most humble beginnings to the highest positions.
I claim that in the Army, and to a lesser extent perhaps in the Navy, it has existed in particular cases. What we require to do is to systematise the method of promotion, so that if properly qualified men coming from the ranks may get their promotion at an age when the prizes of an honourable profession will be within their grasp. But at the present time we are ill-circumstanced for promoting officers. We have a great surplus of officers—one numbering over 4,000—and we have 3,000 who have done good service in the War, and are applying for permanent commis- 187 sions. They are men, many of them, who got their promotion on the field. It is impossible to make promise of larger promotion at the present time. You must have some trickle from Sandhurst and Woolwich; otherwise, those institutions cannot go on. You cannot have a period of four or five years when absolutely no young officers are coming in, and I am bound, therefore, to keep those establishments going, but steps have been taken as a result of which there is now but a trickle from them. The officers seeking permanent commissions are mostly war-hardened men who want a captaincy or a majority. All I. can say is that there ought to be a certain minimum proportion of new commissions from the ranks each year. That should be treated as a regular system; there should be a course which they may apply to go through, and be allowed if recommended to attempt, but it is a course to which many may be called and but few chosen. More go to college than get through it, but still the course should be such as would enable a man who fitted himself in every respect to enter the commissioned rank on equal terms with those there. I pledge myself to see that that element is not lacking in our new Army scheme.
Then my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Labour party, who is not in his place at the moment, raised the question of an amnesty for prisoners, and that question was also raised by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. J Lawson) in a maiden speech. I took the trouble to make a considered answer on the subject the other day. I went into it in full detail. I do not think there is any subject on which the War Office has a better case. In Oriental lands the accession of a Sovereign on the conclusion of a victorious peace are usually celebrated by a general gaol delivery, but then one must imagine that in those countries people are locked up unjustly.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The conclusion of a just and durable peace in Ireland might be signalised in some such manner as that. But, broadly speaking, it may be said that under the British Military Code persons who are undergoing long sentences have committed serious crimes which are the subject of just reprehension. The Suspension of Sentences Act has, I believe, 188 proved the most merciful Act ever passed. Under it 20,000 men, sentenced for all sorts of lesser crimes, never served any term of imprisonment at all. They were duly tried by court-martial and sentenced, but were then allowed to join their comrades in the line. In all the other cases, as the men have been demobilised the suspended sentence of five years or three years has passed away, and now has no existence. That really covers the overwhelming majority of the men who have, as civilians, committed purely military offences in the War. They have gone. There remains on our hands a certain number. Four hundred and forty-five military prisoners are in penal servitude at the present time. Considering that we had 5,000,000 men fighting all over the world, I think the number will astonish the Committee by its smallness. These cases include all the gravest crimes—murder, rape, unnatural offences, mutiny of the worst kind, the grossest form of desertion in the face of the enemy at moments when death would have been the penalty had not clemency intervened; striking superiors, felonious attempts to kill, offences against the civil population, and so on—nearly all are very grave counts.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I do not think I could classify them. I am speaking of military prisoners. There was a case of a battalion of Marines which had trouble in North Russia, which does not come under the War Office. There may be certain cases, but, so far as the Army is concerned, the number is quite inconsiderable. These 445 sentences have all been revised a first time, and 198 are being reviewed the second time. This process of revision has been continued since I came into office. I know about this by having been at the Home Office for two or three years, and I took a great personal interest in the revision of sentences which so often appear to be disproportionate to the offences. I ordered the review to be undertaken in the sense of getting rid of prisoners and getting the sentences down—I do not mind saying so. The cases have been examined very carefully, and out of 445 there have been forty complete revisions and a number of very substantial reductions. One hundred and ninety-eight are being re viewed for the second time, and, as I told the House before, out of 1,600 years' aggre- 189 gate sentences, 1,200 years approximately have been remitted. That is the proportion we intend to maintain over the whole of the rest of the 445 as the period of revision comes round, as it will, in the course of a few months. I am quite ready to lay before the House a return of the men wilts are held in penal servitude at the present time. I think that, instead of pursuing a sort of haphazard system of universal amnesty, irrespective of offences of any kind—whether they were disgraceful or criminal or not—we have pursued continuously a policy of merciful and carefully considered revision and clemency. I believe that, so far from there being languishing captives, sentenced under the cruel circumstances of war and left forgotten in their gaols in great numbers all over the country, everyone who has studied the question will be astonished to know to what minute dimensions a wise and humane policy, steadily pursued, has reduced the military population of our convict prisons.
The hon. Member who leads the Labour party inveighed against the £405,000,000, which he said were spent in keeping up time Army in time of peace. I have been through that so many times with the full assent of the House that I really wonder that he thought it worth while to repeat the old exploded arguments here to-night. The £405,000,000 in the Estimates are not required for keeping up the British Army, but for demobilising the British Army. £73,000,000 of it alone are paid in gratuities. What is the use of saying, "You are behindhand with the payment of war gratuities. See what ungenerous gratuities you have given to these men. Cannot you manage to include that class of poor men in your gratuities?" And then turn round and brush aside the gigantic item of £73,000,000 for the payment of gratuities and say, "Reckless Ministerial extravagance! £405,000,000 spent on keeping up an Army in time of peace!" That is a typical instance of the kind of criticism to which we are subjected. I say we have done extremely well, better than any other country in the world. We have reduced the Army from its great scale of between 3,000,000 and 4,000,000 to less than 500,000 at present and to somewhat less than 300,000 by 31st March. We have brought these men home from all parts of the world at the rate of something like 10,000 a day into civil life, and nine out of every ten of them are at work in productive 190 employment It is no use under-rating the great achievements of Britain, which were secured not only in the field of war but in the administrative field, which we have secured not only during the War but in the great process of resettlement which has followed the War. I am not in the least penitent. I have been represented as a complete reverter to Jingoism and reaction—conscription, extravagance and Russian intervention. As a matter of fact, the circumstances are entirely the contrary. The course of events for which I have been responsible has been to rectify, as far as possible, all these evils. In regard to conscription, I have been responsible during the currency of this year for leading this country away from conscription alone amongst the nations of Europe, and by 30th April this country will be free from conscription, when Japan. America, France, Italy and Belgium, to say nothing of the smaller States, will all have compulsory military service. At any rate, I have been responsible for that.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The hon. Member cannot make a better interruption than that! I feel the responsibility of it, because it seems to me that there may well come a day when it will be said that very unwise things were done in the period that followed the War under the precipitate impulsion of weak minds and clamorous newspapers. It may well have been that a better national system and a more truly democratic system of military establishments could have been erected during this period when these topics were so well apprehended in all parts of the country. However, the measures which have been desired are being carried out. So far from being a conscriptionist War Minister I am the only anti-conscriptionist War Minister in Europe. As to the extravagance I claim to have found Army Estimates far above £1,000,000,000, and to have reduced them through an interim stage to £400,000,000 down to considerably under £100,000,000. The Air Estimates have been reduced from £370,000,000 dawn through the phase of £54,000,000 to something like £15,000,000. Whatever you may say, the tendencies are clearly in the direction you wish, and it is very wrong to reproach me, or, at any rate, to deny me my meed of praise for a series of transactions entirely agreeable to your views.
191 Last of all, I come to Russia. The Leader of the Labour party, who made a considerable attack on me, and has not been able to stay to hear my respectful and courteous reply to the many questions he addressed to me, said I was more responsible than anybody else for Russia. When the decision which carried us into Russia was taken I was not a member of the Cabinet nor had I anything to do with military politics. I inherited the position, and I frankly say that my feelings, my convictions on the subject have grown since I have studied it and acquired knowledge about it. When I went to the War Office I had a very indifferent knowledge of the subject of Russia and no strong or vehement convictions such as I have now as to what it is right and wise for the country to do. When I went to the War Office I found 40,000 British troops in Russia, and my guilt has consisted in reducing these 40,000 troops to something less than 2,000. The reduction of the force in Russia has been continuous throughout the whole year, and we have now fewer troops in Russia than the French or the Americans or, I need scarcely say, the Japanese. You may say I have been responsible for the evacuation of Russia. It is quite true—I make no secret or concealment of it—that I think the policy pursued by the Great Allied Nations in regard to Russia is one which may well be called in question at some future date. Of course, one had to act in a great Alliance, and any military measures which I have taken in regard to Russia have been taken as the result of the decisions of the Supreme Council. Either in the one sense or in the other they have been taken as the result of these decisions. History unfolds its pages with startling rapidity on the morrow of a great war and the years immediately following the war. During the whole of this year the power of the Bolshevik armies has been sustained by the exertions of Admiral Koltchak and General Denikin. These two armies, made up wholly of Russians, without any Allies to help them, and with only the weapons put into their hands, have during the whole of this year taken the whole brunt of this tremendous thing in Bolshevik Russia, letting the little States grow up in peace; Poland to consolidate itself, and Finland to remain inert; but it may well be that these Russian forces will be destroyed, that the troops will be swept away and vanish altogether, and that as a consequence the 192 whole of the Bolshevik military power will be available to strike down the Baltic States, to assail or menace Poland, to menace Finland, which is now in a state of alarm, to push on to Persia up to Bokhara, up to the very frontiers of India, disturbing the whole of Central Asia. If the day should dawn when these Russian forces which have hitherto borne the whole brunt of the Bolshevik attacks are destroyed, you will realise the blunt, indisputable truth—that we have not been fighting the battles of Koltchak and Denikin, but that they have been fighting ours.
On a point of Order. May I be permitted to ask the Secretary of State for War to reply to one question?
§ 11.0 P.M.
Owing to a fortuitous combination of functions the right hon. Gentleman has been subjected to a very long bombardment of questions already, but, in view of the fact that the Air Debate lasted well into the dinner hour, I am sure that he will forgive one or two of us if we refer to some details of administration which so far have not been raised. The right hon. Gentleman in his speech just now announced that the Treasury had come to a satisfactory arrangement under which lieut.-generals and major-generals would be allowed to retire before their full term of service. This will do something to prevent an undue block in promotion in the higher ranks. Many of us are anxious to know what he is doing in the same direction farther down in the scale. He has just told us that there are 3.000 temporary officers who wish to become permanent officers in the Army. You will not be able to deal with all these men who have won their way in the Army unless something can be done to ensure them a career if they join the Regular Army. What system is being adopted by the right hon. Gentleman in our peacetime Army to grade officers according to their war record? There is a great deal of discontent at the prospects of officers who have made good in the War. Some of this discontent is inevitable. It has happened after every war, owing to the monotony of peace-time soldiering after the excitement of war, but a great deal of this discontent is because of the poor prospects of advancement. I 193 understand that a large number of young officers are proposing to leave the Army for other careers because they do not feel, if they go on longer, that they will have much chance of getting on.
That is absolutely disastrous to the efficiency of the Army. We have got to have only a very small Army. Therefore it is imperative that it should be an Army capable of expansion. That demands the very highest qualities of brains and intellect among those who direct the Regular Forces. Unfortunately the Regular Army has paid a very terrible price during the War in the early stages, and we have got to see that the Army does not suffer from the survival of the unfit. In active service conditions the Army has gradually become graded out according to efficiency. What is being done to continue that grading, to take advantage of it in the peace? We have never had such a chance before. During five years of war everyone who wanted to make good has had his chance of showing what he could do in active service conditions, and yet we find, if we take any regiment in the Army, that the regimental promotion is being badly blocked by senior officers. Many battalions have lately been put under the command of men with very little war service indeed, men who attained no distinction in the 11.0 P.M. War, and did most of their service in the last five years at, home. Possibly it was due to physical unfitness; it cannot have been their fault. But they have dropped behind in the race. If we are to keep the good men, we have to eliminate those who did not stand the test of war. It is the same with the majors' list. The top is glutted in the same way by men who spent practically the whole of this fertile time of military education in home depots or with Reserve battalions, whereas at the bottom of the list are large numbers of men who won through at a great rate to promotion, but now are hung up with no possibility of getting on unless some change is made in the system.
Another fact is that the recent amendments to the Royal Warrant have so improved the rates of pay and of retired pay as to be a great encouragement to officers to stay on in the Army as long as they can. I welcome these improved conditions, but, unfortunately, they aggravate the difficulty by blocking promotion. Take retired pay. The new combination of 194 rank and service elements will mean that every year an officer is able to stay on will very materially improve his financial position when he retires. If this system is left unregulated by more stringent selection, it is certain that the congestion at the top of regimental soldiering will reach a dangerous condition. At the same time, owing to these new rates of retired pay, it is much easier for the right hon. Gentleman than it was before to get rid of these officers who are of such an age or such military efficiency that you cannot hope to get any value out of them in a future war. The right hon. Gentleman, I know, realises this. He gave an answer earlier in the Session that undoubtedly emergency facilities should be offered to officers of senior rank to retire in order to clear the way for necessary promotion which should follow from the War. He has told us to-night that he has dealt with major-generals and lieut.-generals, but I want to know whether he has done anything lower down. It is an old controversy. It was waged before Lord Wolseley succeeded the Duke of Cambridge. Lord Wolseley did very much to change the system. We want to go a great deal further. The German Army was always based on very strict selection, whereas the British Army has gone on the system that unless there was something definitely against a man he must go on being pushed up until he retires on account of age. The Selection Committee now deals only with appointments clown to commanding officers. That Committee must go by confidential reports, because it cannot possibly hope to know all the officers personally. Cannot the system of selection be carried further down? In view of the national tendency to treat generously people who have, perhaps, not been as efficient as they might have been, and a very natural trade union spirit in the Army to help the lame dog up the hill, I think the right hon. Gentleman should definitely lay it down to those responsible for selection that they must give much more weight than hitherto to war records. We cannot possibly leave this for solution until the post-war Army takes its final shape, because the appointments made from day to day will have a very great effect for many years to come on the efficiency of the units to which these senior officers are being appointed. I hope the right hon. Gentleman may be able to say a few words in explanation of what he is doing in the 195 matter and what system of selection he is proposing to adopt. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman this is a matter in which there is not only considerable interest taken by the general public, but a very large amount of interest by the junior ranks of the Regular Army.
§ Major-General Sir J. DAVIDSON
I desire to refer to a matter to which I attach very great importance. I was very glad, as was I think every Member, to hear the Secretary of State for War say that the Government intended definitely to set up an Imperial General Staff. That is extremely gratifying news, because I think it is really the first attempt in our history to make a definite and, I hope, satisfactory attempt to co-ordinate the work of Imperial Defence. In this connection there are one or two matters I would like to point out. First of all, I think it is essential that we should get to work as soon as possible. I know it is a thing that cannot be done in a week or a month. The right hon. Gentleman said something about conversations taking place with regard to this matter. I hope those conversations will be as short as possible. He talked about informal conferences of the Chiefs of the Imperial General Staff with the Air Staff and the First Sea Lord.
Before the War we had informal conferences between the Army and the Admiralty, but they were productive of nothing, and I venture to suggest informal conferences of this sort will be productive of nothing in the future. What we want is a regular Advisory Committee in session in order to do any good, and that Advisory Committee or whatever it is called should be separated entirely from the three Ministries and in a different building quite apart from them. The right hon. Gentleman said each of the three Departments must have its Chief of Staff. Naturally so, for just as the Commander-in-Chief in France must have his Chiefs of Staff so must the Secretary of State for War, and the Air Minister and the First Lord have their Chiefs of Staff. That does not interfere with the scheme in any sort of way. There was one matter the right hon. Gentleman mentioned which I did not understand. He said that the Air Estimates were very difficult to reach and to ascertain, because there was nothing to go on, and he said that the Army Estimates were comparatively simple because you could go back to the pre-war scale.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
No. I said the organisation of the Air Force was particularly difficult because they were not like the Army or Navy, able to fall back on a great structure and a great pre-war organisation, and that they had only an emergency war-time organisation and had to rebuild everything from the beginning.
§ Sir J. DAVIDSON
I was under the impression that the idea was to go back to the old standard and work up. The important thing is to find out what the requirements are and not base them on what money we have got and try to economise. To my mind the most important thing on the question of Army Estimates or of any other Estimates, and especially next year's Estimates, is to get unity of direction and avoid plunging in a morass of departmentalism, as we have been inclined to do before the War.
§ Sir N. MOORE
I am thoroughly in accord in regard to what the last speaker said about the Imperial General Staff, and I hope it will be carried out at an early date. One point raised by him that should give us cause for thought was the question of the alternative to this reduction. We are abolishing Conscription, we have got no other policy, and the Leader of the Labour party and ail of us are in favour of increased pay, but at the same time we must have some alternative to the Army, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give consideration to the question of what should be done in the way of compulsory training for the youth growing up. It is purely a democratic matter which should receive the attention of this House. We know, as far as Australia is concerned, that they have a measure for compulsory training which was formulated by the Labour party under Mr. Deakin, and given effect to and carried by the votes of the Labour party, and it is essential that we in the near future shall see to it that some such arrangement is made here. I know it is not too popular, because it savours too much of Conscription, but it is beneficial not only to the country but to the growing youth that they should have some physical training. They cannot have it at a better time than when as wage earners and wealth producers they can do it at less cost to the State. In regard to the question of promotion from the ranks, so far as this War is concerned, this Army has been the most democratic Army that could have been conceived, and 197 numerous instances have been given where men have risen from the ranks to the highest positions. My own knowledge of the Australian Force includes that of a man rising from the ranks to the post of Brigadier-General. I had the honour to enlist in the ranks myself, and I know that a man who has the opportunity of going through the ranks obtains experience which is of very great value to him when he obtains a higher position. Several complaints have been made in regard to the time occupied before answers have been received, but I would like to take this opportunity of congratulating the Secretary of State for War on the very able Parliamentary Secretaries he has had. My experience has been that any communications that have been addressed have received prompt replies, not only from the Gentleman occupying the position at the present time, but from those who have preceded him. There is an item of £325,000 in connection with the Dominions, Vote A, and I should like some information on that matter as I cannot conceive in what way that can be expended. There is another matter that I should have liked to have heard the right hon. Gentleman say something about, and that is with regard to his policy so far as the Territorial Force is concerned. You must have something to take the place of the present Army, and every consideration and every encouragement should be given to those people who are prepared to devote their time and holidays to become efficient in order, when the occasion arises, to defend their native country. It is one of the primary duties of citizenship, and I think the House ought to do all it possibly can for these people who have taken an interest in Territorial training. We know what we owe to the Territorial Force in the recent War, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman, while cutting down in all directions, will recognise the claims of those who are interested in Territorial training and do a little to encourage them.
§ Captain R. TERRELL
The Secretary of State for War referred to the question of the officers of the post-war Army and referred to Special Reserve officers. I would like to ask him to clear up one question. He mentioned the young fellows who are passing through Woolwich and Sandhurst. May I ask him if he in tends to give preference to Special Reserve officers who have served during the War 198 over the young fellows who are now going through Sandhurst and Woolwich in the post-war Army?
§ Major GLYN
May I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman, during the Recess, before he introduces the new Estimates—rather than now, by one of his brilliant and provocative replies—will issue a full statement of education policy with regard to the Army? I know that matter has had the practical attention of the Secretary of State, and I know that a good deal of work has been expended on it. I would urge that the details of the scheme should be issued, because we wish to encourage the belief in the mind of everybody that by joining the Army he will not only be doing his duty to his country but will obtain an education second to none. There is one other point. As the sum down for General Headquarters Home Forces is so large, I suppose we can assume that it is a temporary matter, and will form part and parcel of the reconstruction scheme of the post-war Army.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
It is proposed that General Headquarters' Forces in Great Britain shall terminate on 31st January, and the appointment of the Commander-in-Chief of the Forces in Great Britain will lapse as from 31st January. It is not settled in what form the inspectorate will be revived. With regard to the education scheme, I will find out in what state of preparation the publication is. I see no reason why it should not be laid before Parliament. If it cannot be done during the Recess, I will undertake that it shall be laid before the Army Estimates are presented. In regard to the question of Sandhurst Cadets, the officers who have served in France in nine cases out of ten are not seeking commissions as second-lieutenants, but as lieutenants and captains. They are very hard to provide for. On the other hand, you must keep the training going, and a certain flow of the officers coming up as second-lieutenants; therefore there will be a certain number of commissions given from Sandhurst and Woolwich during the next forty years. These will have a certain priority. As to the Territorial Force, it has been decided to reconstruct that Force broadly as before the War, subject to modern developments and improvements. The plans are very far advanced. I am certain that before Parliament resumes, recruiting will have been actively commenced. 199 I had hoped to have made further progress but we have been delayed by the delay in coming to a decision as to the general scale of the Army. This has naturally made it impossible for us to say exactly what part the Territorial Force would play or could be made to play in re-organisation.
§ Mr. SEDDON
The question of Russia has been raised frequently. As historical knowledge, however, I seek to know as to whether or not it is the fact that our troops went to Russia at the request of the Russian Government. Secondly, was that request acceded to with the consent of Mr. Kerensky, who was then in charge of the fortunes of the Russian nation? If so, what is the position to-day. Is the charge that it is not right to send troops to Russia correct? And is that because Lenin and Trotsky are in power, and Kerensky out of power?
§ Lieut. - Colonel ARCHER-SHEE
Can the right hon. Gentleman give us some assurance that the very important question raised by the hon. and gallant Member for North Islington that of national training for the men of the country is being taken into consideration, and that he will tell us something when he next speaks after the Recess?
Can the right hon. Gentleman say anything as to the pensions of general, major-generals and lieut.-generals?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am trying to deal with the whole problem, but I think we must find out more carefully the War service of these gallant officers who were in command. I quite agree that that should be not only the main but almost the sole factor to be considered. It is difficult to apply the principle. The Treasury would be deeply concerned if these officers were to be allowed to retire on a pension in advance of their having earned it. I would like to have more time to consider my reply on that most important subject. When I ventured earlier in the Session to talk about the organisation of the post-war Army I was met with the reply, "We thought the League of Nations had decided to stop all war." I think some of the speeches which have been made today indicate a return to sanity on this question on the part of hon. Members even in a most unexpected quarter of the House. 200 The hon. Member for Leith (Captain Benn) made an interesting speech on lethal and carnal weapons of warfare, but I am not encouraged even with the newly developed jingo opinions of hon. Members opposite to embark upon a scheme of National Service until we have had more opportunities of discussing it and examining it, as will be the case before the Estimates are presented, nor am I prepared to embark into a discussion of the historical circumstances under which our troops went, nor the authority upon which they were invited, into those inauspicious and inhospitable regions in Russia.
Question put, and agreed to.
Resolutions to be reported To-morrow.