HC Deb 15 March 1922 vol 151 cc2320-32

Postponed Proceeding resumed on Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair.

Question again proposed.

Lieut.-Colonel NALL

When the Debate was interrupted, I was asking for further information as to the manner in which the reduction in the number of officers was to be brought about. I quoted one example of the kind of officer, of whom fortunately there are only a few, who somehow or other has been retained on the active list since the Armistice, and I wish to mention one or two others. The second was the case of a major in the infantry with a total Army service in any theatre of war between 1914 and 1920 of four months in France from September to December, 1916. He was employed on the staff and then as a major on regimental duty at home. He was medically unfit most of that time He was passed fit after the Armistice and certainly recently was still on the active list. I understand that that officer, like the one whom I mentioned before, failed to pass the senior officer's course. The third case was that of a field officer whose total Army service in any theatre of war was only 20 months in France and Belgium. He was employed first in France as an adjutant and then at headquarters. He broke down and was sent home for six months' rest. Then he was employed for a second period as second in command of a unit. He was sent home a second time with a very bad report and then mentioned in dispatches. These three instances of officers who were totally unfit to fulfil their duty in war are from one regiment of infantry of the line. Are cases like that to be caught in the sieve now being applied, or will men like that be able to continue in the Service whilst younger men who have been recommended for accelerated promotion are by some mischance or some confidential report turned out of the Army and the State thereby loses their valuable services?

One or two other questions relating to economy were not mentioned in the speech of the Secretary of State for War. One notices in the order for the reduction of infantry battalions some reference to the closing of the corresponding depots, but, so far, I have not heard in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman or seen in any communications to the Press an indication that the undoubtedly redundant depots up and down the country are to be reduced in numbers. In August last my hon. and gallant Friend the Financial Secretary to the War Office, in answer to a question, told me that there were then no fewer than 68 infantry depots in the United Kingdom, all with their prescribed staff, although some of them were stationed in the same place. How far can these depots be reduced in personnel and in total numbers, in addition to those already indicated by the reduction in battalions? It seems obvious that where two or three regimental depots, sometimes of the same arm, in other cases of different arms, are stationed in the same place, there ought to be concentration of command and of the ancillary services connected with those depots.

What is to be done to effect some economy in the Army Educational Corps? That corps was created, no doubt, for a very excellent purpose. It has fulfilled the function formerly carried on by the pre-War Army schoolmaster. The pre-War Army schoolmaster was an excellent institution, and it is to be regretted that his services have in many ways been despised and that a most elaborate system has been created to carry on his functions at an enormously increased cost to the State. What economy is to be effected in that branch? I understand that the school of gas is to be closed. Why not close the much less useful school of education? One hears and sees accounts of various officers being sent off for a course at the Army School of Education. Is any real benefit conferred by carrying on such a system? I should like to know whether this is not another case in which further and quite considerable economy could be effected.

Reference has been made to the question of Woolwich. It is most unfair and, indeed, most improper, that when we are considering the total figures of Army expenditure, the cost of such places as Woolwich should be included, although a great part of the staff and a great part of the work done there—last year, certainly—had no relation whatever to Army expenditure. I need not refer in detail to the building of locomotives and so forth, referred to in the Geddes Report. It is most misleading that the public or the House should be made to believe that certain details of expenditure are connected with armaments, when, as a matter of fact, a great deal of the expenditure went in entirely different services. I should like to see the civilian establishments in places like Woolwich very severely cut down. In fact, I would suggest that places such as that might be manned very much better by enlisting the personnel into the Army Ordnance Corps. I rather think that, on such a basis, by using military labour instead of civilian labour, economy would be achieved.

I come next to a question which was referred to by the Secretary of State for War, and that is with regard to the Corps of Military Accountants. I think of all the post-War institutions in connection with the Army, no branch has received more kicks and knocks than the Corps of Military Accountants. Proposals to maintain that system, but to cut down the number of men engaged, are not really meeting the question. I ask the House to consider this matter. At the bottom of the chain of the Corps of Military Accountants is the sergeant or warrant officer with the unit. He is called the unit accountant, and his duties are very similar to those of the Army Pay Corps. The officers of the Corps of Millitary Accountants—the command accountant officers, the group accountant officers, and the station accountant officers—have very different functions to perform. It is their duty to supervise expenditure in order to report as to how economies can be effected, but what happens? These men are attached to various Commands; they are, in fact, under the orders and subject to the reports of the commanders of those Commands, and if they recommend any- thing very drastic they are immediately in the bad books of their commanding officers.

Their work overlaps with the work of an entirely different group of men, namely, the local auditors, who are officers of the Exchequer and Audit Board. The Exchequer and Audit Board's local auditors are more properly associated with the Treasury, and they are charged with the duty of checking expenditure and ensuring that it is in accordance with Regulations. It is not their job to recommend any alterations or economies. It is merely their function to see that whatever expenditure is incurred is covered by some authority. However ridiculous or unnecessary it may be, if the authority be there their job is finished. I suggest that the recommending of economies which is now laid to the charge of the Corps of Military Accountants should be carried out on behalf of the Treasury instead of on behalf of the War Office, and that it could very properly be carried out by an amalgamation of the efforts of the group and station and command accountant officers, with those of the officers of the Exchequer and Audit Board. It is, of course, obvious that that amalgamation of effort cannot apply to those men referred to before, the unit accounting officers, and therefore, if this Corps of Military Accountants could, instead of being whittled down, be amalgamated with the Treasury side of the financial check, then the unit accountant would more properly be amalgamated with the Army Pay Corps and work in conjunction with that corps.

I pass to the third point on which I want to say a word or two, the question of the Territorial Army. It was said by an hon. Member opposite that in these Estimates the Territorial Army was getting off rather better than could be expected. Big reductions are made in the Territorial establishment, but I would like to draw the attention of the House for a moment or two to what appears to me to be a series of curious discrepancies in those reductions. Let me begin with the Medical Service. Reference has been made to the reduction in field ambulances, and I will not go into that. I think it is a pity that only one ambulance should exist in a division. There are men who have had wide experience in this matter and who believe that three very small cadres for ambulances would be better than the proposed one ambulance. The same number of men could be divided into the three instead of being collected in the one. The really serious point m the reduction of the medical establishment, however, is the case of the general hospitals. It is well known how the general hospitals of the Territorial Army fulfilled a great work in the War, and in the present Vote the proposal is to reduce no fewer than 23 general hospitals down to three only, and to put those on a reduced establishment. There, again, men who have had very great experience in the organisation of the medical services do not appear to have had any say whatever in this very great alteration in the general hospital policy. I want to suggest that instead of the present establishment proposed, of 10 officers and 100 other ranks in a general hospital, it would be sufficient to have five officers, namely, one commanding officer, one registrar, one officer commanding surgical division, one officer commanding medical division, and one quartermaster, and 25 or 30 other ranks; and that one general hospital at least ought to be established in each university town, because it is in the university towns where we can get the best surgical and medical skill. At the present time, in those places the Territorial medical service has got the sympathy of the profession, and it is a profound pity to break with tradition and cut this service down to the three hospitals proposed. I would suggest that, instead of cutting these 23 hospitals down to three, at least it should be on the basis of one per divisional area, that is 14. Possibly a further reduction might be made, but, at least, it should be one cadre, on the lines I have suggested, for each divisional area.

The next anomaly in this reduction in establishments is in the infantry. I will just mention in passing the field artillery, which is reduced to 101 men per battery. That is the absolutely rock-bottom limit which would enable the unit to train in camp. My own view is, with some experience of the matter, that an establishment of at least 110 men is necessary to train a battery. However that may be, we are down to the very rock-bottom limit of 101 men, but, for some reason which has not been disclosed, the infantry battalion is to have an estab- lishment of 637 men, although nearly every infantryman of any experience I have asked says that 500 men would have been enough. I do suggest to the War Office that a further economy in establishment can be obtained by reducing the infantry battalion establishment below this figure of 637. There is a further point which would lead to economy in the administration of the Territorial Army. I believe it is fair to say that the great bogey of many a commanding officer is the small outlying detachments, but I want to suggest that the number of detached headquarters which involve comparatively considerable expense can be very materially reduced. Is it really worth while taking a drill shed and a place for drill for 20 men? It should be nothing less than 35, or it might even be raised to 50; in the case of guns, nothing less than half a battery. I am quite sure on those lines considerable economies could be made in the Territorial Army Vote. The Minister referred, in regard to the cavalry, to the prospect of adopting a system which I for one have advocated for some time, that regimental identity should be retained, in spite of all the reductions that are taking place, by making the squadron the unit rather than the regiment. The regiment should be composed of so many of these squadron units. Why not apply the same thing to the Territorial Yeomanry? The yeomanry squadron has been reduced to the almost untrainable minimum of 76 or 78 men. Every mounted officer, every Member of this House who has served in a mounted unit, knows that 76 or 78 men is not enough to get really good training in camp.

Therefore, I would suggest to the War Office it is worth while considering, before several remaining regiments of yeomanry have been converted to other arms, that many of these county regiments, instead of remaining as complete regiments of three squadrons of only 76 men each, might very well be reduced to a county squadron, and that three county squadrons should form a composite regiment. I am quite sure by that means further administrative economy can be effected. The main point about the Estimates of the Territorial Army is the fact that the country will retain, although on a depleted establishment, the cadre, the means of expansion for 14 divisions, which, at any rate for the next five or six years, can always be filled up in emergency from men who have war service and are trained for the work. I want to ask the War Office whether, with a view to expediting that completion of that war establishment—if ever the need should arise—they are going to revive the Territorial Force Reserve. It exists at present for officers, but I understand the creation of the Reserve as to other ranks has been deferred, for various reasons. I suggest the time has now come when it should be reconstituted, and many of the men who have in the past served in various regiments put on the reserve of their regiment before they lose touch with it. One hears some suggestions and opinions that the money expended on the Territorial Army would be much better spent on regular troops. I gave my opinion—for what it is worth—on the reduction of the Regular Army. I do, however, feel that it is a fact that the Territorial Army, reduced as it is, and reducible still as I believe it to be, is absolutely the most economical form of military expenditure which we can undertake at the present, because, for something under £5,000,000 per year, which indeed includes the cost of many Regulars attached to the force, the country is retaining this machinery, this organisation, which at very short notice will provide 14 divisions to take the field, while the same amount of money cannot in any other way produce the same military results.

I hope that not only in this present case but in future policy relating to the armed forces of the Crown the Government of the day will resist the temptation to break up what after all was a very useful and very important part of our military machinery during the War. It is well worth the comparatively few millions it costs. It is well worth retaining the territorial organisation, the territorial spirit, the military mission as it were, among the people of the country. For my part I hope that in reducing the regular staffs attached to it the War Office will not go forth unduly to reduce the non-commissioned officer instructors but rather the officers, because, after all, the instructor is the backbone of the regiment. I feel that even as it is there is a tendency, when one sees that the brigadier is to be left in the division without a brigade-major, to pursue this course. Many people think that the brigadier will not be able to function. Whilst that is so, we are told in the speech to-day of the right hon. Gentleman that the instructors are to be reduced. I feel that that is not sound. I hope further that the Government and the War Office will make up their minds that the number of regular non-commissioned officers, and, of course, the regular adjutant, are really essential to the well-being of the Territorial Army and that, provided those branches of the permanent staff are adequately maintained and the right kind of men supplied, it does not matter how many of the others, or if all the other staffs, are abolished. I hope that this House, in considering these Estimates, will insist upon maintaining as part of our military machine the Territorial Force which in the early days of the War did so much, and if ever the time comes again will do the same again.


There is no one, I am sure, who listened to the speech of the Secretary of State for War and the impressive speech of the hon. and gallant Member for North Down (Sir H. Wilson) who is not conscious of the extreme gravity of the decision now before us. We agree that there must be large reductions of expenditure, and we all realise that there must be considerable reductions in our fighting forces. We are prepared to take large risks, but we are not prepared to court disaster. In the opinion of a great many people the reductions now proposed go very dangerously near that limit; most people were sorry to hear of a reduction of 24 line battalions and 47 batteries. The right hon. Gentleman said that 22 of these had already been chosen, and the other two were under consideration. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not remove one battalion from the two remaining Irish regiments, and so institute that expensive anomaly of a one-battalion regiment, because we already possess two of them and we do not want any more. I hope the right hon. Gentleman may see his way to save two more regiments and make the reduction 22 instead of 24. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman may be able to effect economies in other directions.

I wish to deal briefly with the suggestion made by the late Financial Secretary to the War Office, in regard to reduction of pay. I understand that the present rates of pay are subject to revision in a certain number of years. I am not in favour of breaking contracts, and I would not approve of the Army pay being reduced. I do not, however, see why some new rate of pay should not be introduced for recruits or officers after a certain date. I admit it would be difficult to deal with all ranks on that basis. On the question of the Remount Department I have not any intimate knowledge, but I have been told that last year and the year before the establishment of officers was really excessive. The question of regimental depots has been mentioned. There I think the linking up of two or more regimental depots would be quite feasible and produce considerable economy. Certain regiments do not fill up territorially. For years it has been the case that nearly 50 per cent. of the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry have been enlisted from outside the county. There probably is a case where the depot could be joined up with that of the Devonshire Regiment at Exeter. It would save the case of an expensive depot at Bodmin, and railway fares as well. Then there is the Corps of Signallers. I understand the right hon. Gentleman proposes to reduce that pretty drastically, and so perhaps there is not much to be done. I hope even now the right hon. Gentleman, not having made up his mind which are the two extra battalions to be sacrificed, will think the matter over and save them.

Captain LOSEBY

I want to refer to the important question of promotion from the ranks. I believe what is proposed is, as far as peace times are concerned, a complete innovation; it is of tremendous importance to the Army. My right hon. Friend apologised for the fact that these men who are to have promotion from the ranks are not to be sent, as was apparently originally intended, to a separate cadet school, but are to be sent to Sandhurst, where gentlemen cadets are trained. I want to express an opinion that that is wholly to the good. It would appear to me one of the most important sides of the training of these young men, if they are to become successful officers, is that they should be happy officers, and it is necessary, therefore, to accustom them to the environment in which they will have to live. It would be fatal if they were to be marked out from the beginning of their career as being something apart. I therefore welcome the announcement of the Secretary for War, and I hope it will be followed by other experiments on similar lines. It is perfectly true that only 35 of these cadets are to be received this year, but it should be remembered that throughout the country there are now a large number of promoted rankers. That is not at all unreasonable, and it is a great mistake for those people who do want to see this experiment persevered in to overload these commissioned ranks at the present moment. There are some who believe strongly in this experiment which is being conducted by the Secretary of State for War, but who do not necessarily believe that this will mean an improvement in the personnel of the officer ranks. I am one of those who do not for a moment believe that that is necessarily so. I believe it would be hard to find more efficient professional men in any grade of life than you had in the Regular Army at the outbreak of the War, but at the same time I believe that if you could, as I am perfectly sure you could, absorb a certain number of young, ambitious men from the ranks, you would give them hope and ambition, and you would thereby immeasurably improve the moral of the Army. I hope that at no very distant date the Secretary of State for War will further extend this scheme, and in course of time will be able to reopen or extend to the ranks a certain definite percentage, say, 20 or 25 per cent., of the whole number of cadets annually received in Sandhurst. I do most respectfully and earnestly congratulate my right hon. Friend, and I trust that this experiment of his will become widely known.


Those who listened to the speech of the hon. and gallant Field Marshal earlier in the sitting must have realised the serious condition in which the country is in at the present time, and the seriousness of the warning he gave us that we should not reduce our Forces before the Government have reduced our commitments or the policy to which the country is already Committed. We have vast commitments which were enumerated by the Field Marshal. He showed us the danger this country was taking by carrying out the recommendations of a Committee like the Geddes Committee, which advocated reductions without any reference whatsoever to the policy of the country. I do hope the Government will consider the enormous risk that is being run if they reduce our troops below a certain level before the commitments of the country are equally reduced. As the Field-Marshal told us, there are more armed men and bigger armies on the Continent of Europe than before the War. Look at the difference between the state of Europe at the present time and the state of our own country. Here we are only able to send one division abroad in two or three weeks. I would like to know if a division is 15,000 or 20,000 men at the present time. The right hon. Member does not answer. A division is all we can send abroad in the first two or three weeks. It would take us two months to send another division, and Heaven knows how many months before we could send any more. Is that a safe position for the country to be in? I am sorry to see that we are going to reduce 24 battalions. I would much rather have seen the cadres kept up so that they could be reinforced and brought back within a short time. When once the cadres have gone, and the old traditions have gone, and the whole thing is broken up, it is very difficult to bring them back. I agree with the hon. Member who expressed the hope that the whole of these 24 battalions may not be reduced. We want to see retained any that can possibly be retained.

Much has been said about the Territorial Army, and we say that a certain reduction could be made in that force without interfering unduly with its efficiency. The Secretary of State said that he intended to retain the whole of the Territorial Army—the whole 14 divisions. One hon. Member has pointed out that the Territorial Army is not available for foreign service. What we require at the present moment are men who are available for foreign service at a day's notice, whether it may be in India, in Egypt, or wherever it may be. We must have a certain reserve to reinforce our garrisons there. The Territorial Army cannot help in that, and, although it is the most economical force that we have, and we all desire to see it kept up all over the country, I do think it ought to be kept at a minimum at the present time, because the country, as we know, is not liable to invasion in the immediate future. I should like to see our Overseas Service kept at as high an establishment as possible. No mention was made as to whether any of the men in the Territorial Army were enlisted for foreign service. I think that in each Territorial battalion there should be, say, 50 or 100 men enlisted who would undertake foreign service at any time that might be necessary. I put a question with regard to that, but got no answer.

There is another point that I should like to bring to the notice of the Secretary of State while I have the opportunity, and that is the absolute necessity at the present time, if officers are to be kept contented, that there should be some independent tribunal appointed to which officers who have a grievance can state their case, and which can report upon it to the Army Council. At the present moment, when an officer is aggrieved or an injustice is done to him, he can only refer his case to the man who, in all probability, has Committed the injustice. That should be altered, and an independent tribunal appointed for this purpose, before which an aggrieved officer can have an impartial hearing.


After the Debate that we have listened to on the Motion for Adjournment, I take it that we may assume that the Secretary of State for War, being a Cabinet Minister, is in agreement with his Government, and, consequently, a wholehearted supporter of the maintenance of the integrity of the Air Force. On that point I wish to say that the Air Force, which is taking over more and more of the responsibilities of the other Services, should, in my opinion, take over the anti-aircraft defences of this country. To hit an object moving at over 100 miles an hour, usually at a height of over 10,000 feet, moving in three dimensions, and also in the dark, is a ballistic problem which is very nearly insoluble.

11.0 P.M.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)

The remarks of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, so far as I have followed them, would be appropriate to Mr. Speaker going out of the Chair on the Air Estimates. I do not know whether he can connect it to the Army Estimates.


These duties to-day are Army duties. My point is that they should come under the Air Ministry and not under the Army. I have pointed out the difficulty of defence taken on by the Army, and it is perhaps a matter of interest to know that the name given to the anti-aircraft gun in the Air Service has always been "Archie," and that was derived from the old popular song, "Archibald, certainly not," which shows how very deficient the shooting has always been against aircraft. Some duties I wish to point out which the Army have taken on, and which, I maintain, should not be their duties, are such things as the recognition of the nationality of the different machines, following out types as they change from day to day, and then the position of these anti-aircraft guns—where they should be placed. Those are all points which require much co-operation with the Air Ministry and have so little to do, I maintain, with the actual Army movement of troops, that I think a strong case should be put up for charging the control of antiaircraft defence from the Army to the Air Ministry.

Considered in Committee.

[Mr. JAMES HOPE in the Chair.]

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