§ Order for Committee read.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Before the House enters upon the question of Supply, I ought to say that the proceedings to-day must be taken as entirely exceptional. The Estimates in detail have not yet been presented to the House, and I think it is right that I should not overlook a matter of that kind, although it has been explained to me what are the exceptional circumstances. I, therefore, take the opportunity of letting the Departments concerned know that, in another year, we shall expect the old custom to be complied with, and the whole of the Estimates to be laid before the House before moving the Speaker out of the Chair.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Sir Laming Worthington-Evans)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
I was going to apologise to the House for having to make this Motion before the full book of Estimates was before the House. As you, Sir, have said, this is a very exceptional year, and I hope it will not occur again. The reason for the delay is the fact that the Geddes Committee was sitting until a month or so, perhaps two months ago, and after it had sat and reported the Cabinet had to consider the recommendations of that Committee, and it was quite impossible for the Department to get out the details of the Estimates which are required if the book is to be presented. To-day, therefore, I am contenting myself with asking for a Vote on Account of£28,000,000, which represents between four and five months' expenditure for next year. Besides the usual Estimates for next year, I have circulated a White Paper summarising the main conclusions of the Geddes Committee, and showing in broad outline the action I propose to take in regard to their recommendations. That paper has been in the hands of hon. Members for two days, and I hope it will have furnished 2232 them with material to enable them to raise any point which I may omit to notice in my opening speech.
The net total of the Army Estimates for next year is£62,300,000, but in this total I have included£7,000,000 for terminal charges, that is to say, for expenses directly arising out of the Great War which still remain to be paid, and I have included also£3,550,000 for charges arising out of the reductions in the Army, including compensation to officers and men whose services are prematurely disposed of and the cost of transport Home of units which may be abroad and of their pay during the period of disbandment. Allowing for these two special and nonrecurring items there is left£51,750,000, which is the Estimate of the normal, current charges of the Army for next year.
Hon. Members may like to know at once how my Estimate compares with the recommendations of the Geddes Committee. The Geddes Committee recommended that from a provisional figure of£75,000,000£20,000,000 should be knocked off and that the Estimates should be presented for£55,000,000 for this year. But the£55,000,000, they were careful to point out, did not include the terminal charges of£7,000,000, nor did it include any allowance for the necessary charges for compensation and expenditure in connection with the reduction of the personnel of the Army. But, on the other hand, it did include the expenditure in the Middle East and certain other expenditure which in future will not be administered by the War Office, and therefore is not included in my£51,750,000
If the necessary adjustments are made—I have set them out on page 4 of this White Paper—it will be seen that this year's Estimates are reduced by£16,500,000, as against the£20,000,000 recommended by the Geddes Committee. But these two figures, the£16,500,000 and the£20,000,000, are not really comparable, nor can I compare them—I do not intend to do so—because although the Geddes Committee recommended a reduction of£20,000,000 the reductions that they made in definite figures amounted only to£5,500,000. I do not know how they arrived at the difference between the£5,500,000 which they specified in detail and the£20,000,000 which they recommended. I doubt, as a matter of 2233 fact, if, after certain necessary corrections are made, their £20,000,000 exists at all. I think myself the total of their recommendations should not exceed £16,500,000. But my reductions and theirs are difficult to compare, because I have made reductions in some items and I have had to refuse to follow their advice with regard to other items. Moreover, my £16,500,000 includes £1,500,000 estimated to be raised from Germany towards the cost of the troops in occupation of the Rhine which will in future be appropriated in aid of Army Votes.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
Will that amount cover the cost of the Army on the Rhine?
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
No, of course not. It cannot possibly cover it. What it represents is the amount of marks provided by Germany practically for local purposes, and that is actually provided by Germany in cash. It is on account of Army charges, and therefore in future it will be appropriated as an Appropriation-in-Aid of the cost of the occupation. I do not propose to go through each of the recommendations of the Geddes Committee. I have set out a summary of them in the White Paper, and I have also set out opposite each of the recommendations a brief statement of the action I propose to take in relation to them. Later in the Debate, if hon. Members find that the information contained in the document is not sufficient, I shall be very glad to answer any questions upon it. I shall have to make a large draft on the patience of the House even to do what I propose to do.
I propose to explain the effect of these reductions upon the strength of the Army and to review the main liabilities for which the Army is required, so that before the Vote is taken the House may have an opportunity of considering whether it is necessary and justifiable to take the risks which these reductions entail, bearing in mind, as they will, the financial and economic position of the country. Vote A will provide for a total establishment of 152,836 of all ranks, compared with 201,127 last year, a reduction from last year of over 48,000 officers and men. I am speaking of British troops, exclusive of British troops upon the establishment in India. To these figures must be added the Colonial 2234 and native Indian troops borne upon the Army Estimates, namely, 10,200, and the additional numbers of officers and men in course of reduction and Indian troops employed in the Middle East, which pass presently to the administration of the Air Ministry. The total of these is 51,964. The troops in the last category are only temporarily on the strength of the British Army. Some will be disbanded and some will be administered either by the Air Force or the Colonial Office. These three categories give a gross total on Vote A of 215,000 all ranks.
§ Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE
Will my right hon. Friend make clear which are the Colonial and native Indian troops? Native Indian—presumably those not in the Indian Army.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
No. I am dealing only with the troops for which we have to pay—that is for the British establishment. If my hon. and gallant Friend will look at the third page of this Paper he will see the second category, Colonial and Native Indian Troops, 10,200. It is those only that I was speaking of. The previous establishments are set out on the White Paper I ought to warn the House that while the total will not be varied the distribution of the numbers between the various arms, and especially on the regimental establishment, is not finally settled and there may be some variation between the final settlement and the figures in this Paper. There is a total reduction of British troops exceeding 48,000. This must not be compared with the reduction of 50,000 advised by the Geddes Committee, because the Geddes Committee took not the Estimates of last year but a provisional Estimate which was drawn up in August last as the basis on which they worked. I cannot go so far in reduction as the Geddes Committee advise. Out of the 50,000 that they advise I am suggesting that there should be a reduction of 33,600, so that the real comparable figure is 33,600 against 50,000 of the Geddes Committee.
I propose to tell the House how these reductions will affect the fighting strength of the Army, and then I propose to show the reductions which we suggest in the staffs and the auxiliary and ancillary services, for we are doing our best to make good as rapidly as possible in order to preserve the actual fighting units of the Army. As regards the Infantry, the 2235 reductions call for the disbandment of 24 battalions. These 24 battalions have been chosen as to 12 battalions by the disbandment of the six regiments recruited in whole or in part from Southern Ireland, and as to 10 battalions by the disbandment of the third and fourth battalions of the five British regiments which have four battalions, we shall disband the third and fourth battalions of the Royal Fusiliers, the Worcester Regiment, the Middlesex Regiment, the King's Royal Rifle Corps and the Rifle Brigade. This will account for 22 battalions. There are still two battalions remaining to be selected. I am anxious to avoid disbanding any of the English county regiments if it is possible to do so, but I cannot at the moment say where I am going to get the other two battalions from. I have, however, added to the establishment of each of the infantry battalions at home, 64 privates, so that while the number of battalions is reduced, the actual bayonet strength of those at home will be increased.
As regards Cavalry, hon. Members will remember that last year four cavalry regiments were disbanded. The further reductions require that the equivalent of five additional cavalry regiments shall go. I am extremely anxious to make this reduction without destroying completely the identity of any single regiment, and a scheme is now being examined by which it may be possible not only to retain in some measure the identity of the existing regiments, but to bring back to the Army List the four whose disbandment has been carried out. Broadly speaking, there are two ways of reducing the cavalry. One is by disbanding individual regiments and the other is by amalgamating two regiments, so that each may contribute one or more squadrons to the amalgamated regiment. It will be remembered that the Geddes Committee recommended that eight cavalry regiments should be disbanded. I shall fall short of their recommendation by three regiments with whose services I cannot see my way to dispense.
With regard to the Artillery, the reductions necessary are equivalent to 47 batteries of Medium, Pack and Field Artillery. There will be left sufficient artillery for four divisions, together with the Army brigades. Corresponding reductions will have to be made in the other arms of the Service. The Royal Engineers and the Royal Corps of Signals will lose about 2236 12 per cent. of their establishment. The administrative services, including the Royal Army Service Corp, the Royal Army Medical Corp, the Dental, Ordnance and Veterinary Corps, the Royal Army Pay Corps, and the Corps of Military Accountants will also suffer very heavy reductions. When these heavy reductions have taken place the establishment of the British troops, exclusive of those upon the Indian establishment, will come down to 152,836 of all ranks, a reduction of 48,000 compared with last year's Estimates and a reduction of 20,000 compared with 1914. But behind the Army in 1914 there was the Reserve and the Militia, then called the Special Reserve. In 1914 there was a Reserve of 146,000 men and a Militia or Special Reserve of 55,000 men. To-day we have a Reserve of 65,000 men but no Militia, so that our enrolled strength is infinitely weaker than in 1914.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
There is no Special Reserve.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
No. Of course, we have to remember that we have a potential reserve of war veterans who, in the event of real necessity, will no doubt be available in large numbers. I am proposing to strengthen the Reserve by the special enlistment of Key men, and to restart the Militia. I have taken in the Estimates £1,000,000 for the Militia. The Geddes Committee advised that the Militia should not be reformed, but the shortage of technical men both in the Army and in the Reserve would prevent the quick mobilisation unless provision is made to secure these technical men in the Militia.
The House would like to have placed before them some sort of picture of what the Army will consist when these reductions are carried out. In order to present that picture I must remind them of the nature of the duties of the regular forces. The primary duty of the Army is to protect our overseas territories and to support the civil power in the maintenance of law and order throughout British territory at home and abroad. The size of the Army has been regulated by our overseas commitments and by the necessity of maintaining units at home, so as to provide drafts and reliefs for the units abroad and to maintain law and order at home. It is a mistake to suppose that the Army at home bears, or ever did bear, any relation to the requirements of 2237 a European war. The elimination of the German menace does not in itself enable us to reduce the numbers maintained at home.
The reduced Army of the future will consist of the Household Cavalry, 20 regiments of cavalry of the line, 162 batteries of artillery, 124 infantry line battalions, and 10 Guards' battalions, together with the auxiliary and ancillary services. This total includes the British forces on the Indian establishment. Our normal requirements on the reduced scale for garrisons abroad, including India, will require that there shall be abroad 11 cavalry regiments, leaving 11 at home, 82 batteries of artillery abroad and 80 at home, 62 line battalions and one Guards' battalion abroad, and 62 line battalions and nine Guards' battalions at home. In this distribution the troops on the Rhine and in Silesia are treated as if they were at home. I will show to the House now units maintained at home will compare if tested by their ability to form an expeditionary force with the units which were so maintained in 1914. We shall be able to organise units at home into a striking force of which one infantry division and one cavalry division, complete with personnel and equipment, would be capable of mobilisation and ready for embarkation at home stations within 15 days. A second infantry division would be available as soon as the technical personnel was made available. When this personnel can be drawn from the Militia, the second infantry division would be ready within a short time, but so long as special enlistments from amongst ex-service men are required there might be a delay of two months.
The third and fourth infantry divisions would be complete in all arms after four months, but here again special enlistment would be required unless and until the Militia can find the technical personnel. Besides these four divisions there will be a few units over, which would go towards the formation of a fifth division. In 1914 we had one and a half cavalry divisions and six infantry divisions ready for active service within 10 days of mobilisation. No doubt the removal of the German menace enables us to be content with a striking force less immediately ready to take the field; but I will not conceal from the House that risks must be run if the reductions proposed are to be carried out, as time must 2238 be taken in enlisting the technical personnel, without which a striking force is incapable of mobilisation. The greatest need is, however, to have a reserve of all arms capable of being used to reinforce troops abroad wherever they may be required. This reserve is provided, and while delay would be incurred in despatching a fully equipped expeditionary force as we knew it in 1914, we could send reinforcements, battalion by battalion, should it be necessary at a very short notice.
I have told the House what the reductions mean to the fighting arms of the Service. I propose now to deal with the reductions in the staffs and the administrative services. With regard to the staffs we abolish two of the Home Commands. The Irish Command will go, and the troops in Northern Ireland will become an Area Command and form part of a British Command. The London district will cease to be a separate Command; the whole of its administrative work will in future be done by the Eastern Command. The military staff of the War Office, notwithstanding the great additional work which has been thrown upon it in carrying out and preparing to carry out the reductions in the Army, is being reduced from 366 officers this year to 259 in the course of next year. The staff of Commands is being reduced from 1,615 officers to 814. These figures refer to staff appointments. There are, in addition, attached officers on regimental pay doing duty at the War Office, and there is a gradual reduction being made in their numbers also. We have also made considerable progress in the reduction of the ancillary administrative services. The personnel at Woolwich Arsenal, Enfield and Waltham Abbey on the 1st April, 1921, was 17,125; on the 1st April next it will be 13,200, and we estimate that by 1st April, 1923, it will be down to 9,550. During the year, we have thrown up for disposal national factories at Acton, Gretna, Lancaster, Queen's Ferry, Watford and Teddington.
Heavy reductions have also been made in the Army Ordnance Service. Since the 1st April, 1921, 21 temporary ordnance depôts have been closed, and the Central Ordnance Depôt at Aintree will have been completely evacuated by the end of the financial year. A saving of seven officers, 24 other ranks, and 1,300 civilians has resulted.
2239 5.0 P.M.
There is also a reduction in Army Veterinary Service and in remounts, and the contemplated reduction in the mounted troops and the proposed abolition of the boarding-out scheme of horses for the Territorial Army will enable further reductions to be made. Five depôts will be closed and the personnel will be reduced from 3,000 in the current year to 1,250 in the next year, with an estimated saving of about £250,000.
The Royal Army Service Corps is being greatly reduced. A saving in personnel of 310 officers, 5,639 other ranks, and 4,845 civilians will be effected in the course of the year. Medical and dental services have fallen by 189 officers and 1,909 other ranks. In this connection I should say that of these medical officers 180 are serving in garrisons which did not exist before the War, but in spite of the reduction I am glad to be able to report that the health of the Army continues to be very good. The number for admission to hospitals for preventible diseases during the present year has reached a lower level than during any time in the history of the Army. In the month of December last it reached the remarkably low figure of 2½5 per thousand.
With regard to the Dental Corps, we are not filling up the establishment with regular officers until we can be sure of what establishment is required in present conditions. We have reduced the number of equipped beds in hospitals in Great Britain by 4,000, but owing to conditions in Ireland we have had to increase the hospital beds there by over a thousand. Steps are being taken by joint action with the Admiralty, the Air Force and the Ministry of Pensions to concentrate patients where economies can be effected and reduce the number of hospitals.
I have been looking into the very heavy expenditure of the Finance Department of the War Office and of the Army Pay Corps, and the Corps of Military Accountants. In the current year these three administrative services have cost approximately £1,900,000. Next year's Estimate will show a reduction of £800,000 down to £1,100,000, and it is certain that some further saving can be obtained by combining part of the work of the Pay and Record Offices. Each of these has hitherto compiled its own set 2240 of records; in future they are to work together and work on the same records.
The Estimate provides for a reduction of 535 of all ranks in the Corps of Military Accountants. An examination has now been made to see whether still further reductions cannot be made, but it must be remembered that there is still a great strain upon the Pay Department. The number has been reduced from 50,000 at the highest peak of burden during the War down to 2,000. The final settlement of War accounts and the enormous correspondence of discharged and demobilised men about their accounts has prevented further contraction.
I have given these details with regard to reductions of the administrative service because I am anxious that the House should realise that we are not making economies merely by cutting off fighting units from the Army, but that we are doing our best by a detailed examination of every administrative service to bring down the ancillary services to a minimum consistent with the efficient working of the machine.
I will deal now with a proposal that was referred to the year before last by my predecessors with regard to commissions given from the ranks. We have had to modify the proposals which were then put forward. It was originally proposed to find a separate school for the non-commissioned officers to whom commissions were to be granted, but that would entail a large capital outlay, and we are now proposing to send a class of 35 of these candidates to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst next term with the view to being trained to take their place as officers. The intention is that they should live with and share the life of other gentleman cadets, except as regards the curriculum, which will have to be modified. For instance, the gentleman cadet spends two years at college, but the non-commissioned officers will take a shorter course of one year, because they will have already acquired a considerable professional knowledge in their regiments as non-commissioned officers.
I now propose to turn to the Territorial Army, and tell the House of the effects of reductions upon the Territorial Army. When the Territorial Army was reconstituted by my predecessor in 1920, the full scheme involved an expenditure of £7,250,000, but in order to bring the 2241 general Army Estimates within the total assigned to them we found it necessary to reduce this figure to £5,600,000. Some of the units contemplated in a complete scheme have never been raised, and I do not now propose to raise them. This will save £425,000. I am then faced with finding reductions which will give an equivalent of £1,175,000. The best method of finding this, I can assure the House, has been very carefully considered. In the first place, I laid it down as a principle that none of the fourteen Territorial divisions were to be disbanded. The Territorial Army is essentially territorial; that is to say, it should cover the whole country, and to select one division for disbandment would mean to select one part of the country and to give it no opportunity of expressing the military spirit which is common to every county. To destroy a division would destroy in a particular area the great national asset which the territorial represents without in any way relieving any other part of the country from the quota of Territorials which it ought to maintain. I also laid down as a principle that we must keep the actual fighting units intact, and reduce the number of ancillary units as low as possible, if necessary abolishing them altogether. Every possible effort has also been made to confine the reductions to the counties which have suffered least from the recent amalgamation of battalions. Then every endeavour has been made to avoid any reduction in the period of training. Lastly, it was necessary to provide that the Territorials should take some part in the defence of this country against air attack, and I propose as a start to create half a group of Air Defence troops with the Territorial Army with an establishment of 220 officers and 2,708 other ranks.
I will now indicate the lines upon which reductions will be carried out. In the first place, all artillery batteries will be on a four gun basis. This will conform to the establishment of the Regular artillery. The two extra guns will be retained in charge of the units wherever storage is available, so that on mobilisation batteries could readily be brought up to the six gun basis. The reorganisation on this four gun basis will entail certain reductions in establishment. As regards the infantry, the reductions necessary are minor, and the House will be glad to hear 2242 that no more units will have to be either disbanded or amalgamated. The establishment of each battalion, however, will be reduced by 7 officers and 43 other ranks, leaving an establishment of 21 officers and 637 other ranks.
§ Colonel Sir C. YATE
How many for service abroad?
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
My hon. and gallant Friend knows the conditions of service in the Territorial Army, and if he will permit me I will not discuss them at the moment. The greater part of the reductions will fall on the Signals, Medical, Veterinary, and Army Service Corps. Nine units of the Corps of Signallers will be disbanded; 20 general hospitals and 7 casualty clearing stations will also be disbanded, and each Territorial division will have one field ambulance instead of three. Eighteen veterinary units will also be disbanded. The divisional trains and the cavalry divisional train of the Army Service Corps will be organised on the mechanical transport basis, which will necessitate a considerable reduction in personnel, while the establishment of divisional ordnance companies will be reduced. These reductions will give something more than three-fifths of the £1,175,000 which has got to be found. The remainder I am finding by reducing the pay and bounty allowances to officers and men.
With regard to officers, it is proposed to abolish the mess allowance of 4s. a day hitherto allowed at annual and weekend camps. The Territorial officers will thus be in the same position as Regular officers, and will receive Army rations as a free issue, and instead of a messing allowance there will be a grant in aid of officers' messing of £1 for each officer attending camp. I also propose to reduce the provision of post-War grants for officers' expenses, that is the incidental expenses connected with the performance of their military duties. The amount hitherto allowable on this account will be reduced by about half, and the sum divided among the associations and administered by them. The compensation of officers, when the reductions are in force, will be much better than before the War. For example, the pay and allowances of a captain in 1914 for 15 days' camp were £14 15s. 7d. In 1922, after the reductions I have pointed out, 2243 the captain would receive £21 14s. 4d., together with Army rations worth about 25s. As regard the man, it is proposed to reduce the bounty below £5. I hope to secure in this way a saving of £65,000 next year, finally rising to over £200,000 a year.
§ Lieut.-Colonel CROFT
That is not contemplated for any serving man?
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
For new entrants and for men who extend their service, but not for those now serving during their present term. This reduction is, of course, unpleasant, but even then the man will be better off than he was before the War. Lastly, I come to a proposal of the Geddes Committee that the permanent staff of the Territorial Force should not cost more than £500,000. After careful inquiry, I am convinced that we cannot reduce to this extent without endangering the training and the utility of the Territorial Army. The number of non-commissioned officer instructors will be reduced as far as possible, and we are proposing to dispense with the services of the brigade majors, excepting the four belonging to the London Territorial Brigade, and these reductions will amount to about £200,000 a year, as against the £500,000 asked for by the Geddes Committee. I do not believe we can go further than that without endangering the military life of the Territorial Army.
The War Office has done a great deal in effecting reductions, and I appeal to those Members of the House who are connected with Territorial associations to turn their attention to the expenses of management of those associations. There are several associations which raise and administer not more than 1,000 men. One association has an office and a secretary for administering 100 men. The North of Scotland has already cut down expenses by amalgamating several of these associations, and if this example could be followed I am sure that considerable reductions would be made. Recently I had the advantage of discussing this question with representatives of all the Territorial associations, and a sub-Committee of the associations has been set up to consider the question of reducing administrative expenses. I believe that these reductions in the Territorial Army will be accepted 2244 in a right spirit by the Territorial Army as a whole. They have been effected without endangering in any way the framework upon which the Territorial Army is built. It is still capable of expansion when more money is available. I would like to express to the House how valuable has been the help given to the War Office by the presidents and chairmen of associations throughout the country.
I have told the House the general lines of the reductions proposed. These reductions will mean that many regiments and battalions which have had a glorious history in the life of the nation will no longer form part of the Army. No one realises more accutely than myself how distasteful it is to bring to an end the life of regiments whose annals reach back over two centuries. In those two centuries the British Empire was built, and in its building the officers and men of many of these famous regiments nobly played their part. I am sure the House will join with me in an expression of gratitude to the gallant officers and men who to-day uphold so well the traditions of their regiments, and hon. Members will deeply sympathise in the disappointment that all ranks must inevitably feel when they realise that the unit to which they have devoted their lives is no longer to exist.
I want to say a word or two about the effect upon the individual officer and man of the disbanding of so many units of the Army. As regards the officers, it is proposed that the whole Army shall bear equally the reduction, by which I mean that it will not follow that every officer in a unit which is disbanded will be retired. On the contrary, steps will be taken to ensure that the most efficient and capable officers will be offered an opportunity of remaining in the Service. We propose to revert to the pre-War standard of medical fitness, and officers who do not answer that test will be called upon to retire. We are calling for lists of officers whose retention in the Service is the least necessary. These lists will be supplied, in the first instance, by the officers commanding the units, and they will go through the regular channels for the observations of the senior commanding officers. From those lists will be chosen those who are to be called upon to retire. Those who are called upon to retire will be offered compensation according to 2245 rank and length of service. The compensation will be not merely what they are entitled to under the terms of the present warrant, but will have an additional element due to the fact that the retirement is compulsory. The exact terms are being considered now, and I hope that very shortly I shall be able to make an announcement upon the subject. The other ranks, so far as is possible, will be offered the right to transfer to other units, but of course the services of a large number will not be required and compensation will be offered to them also in addition to their strict rights.
I feel sure that the House would wish that in the case both of officers and men whose military careers are terminated through no fault of their own, even in these days of financial stringency the terms offered should be not merely fair, but liberal. The Army has not had a pleasant time lately. Every cry for reduction means an added anxiety to the serving soldier. I wonder whether the House and the country realise what difficult and uncomfortable times the Army has been passing through during the last year or two. Officers and men have been moved about, often two or three times in the year, unable to stay in any one station sufficiently long to enjoy the amenities to which they are reasonably entitled. Duties in Ireland, Silesia, and Constantinople have caused constant strain and discomfort, but, notwithstanding the youth of most of the rank and file, they have behaved with the steadiness and discretion of seasoned soldiers. It has been impossible, owing to the constant moves that have been necessary, to prevent the separation from their families of married officers and married soldiers. I only hope we may soon be able to get the troops into their proper stations and add something to their comfort.
I have been able to put before the House proposals for very substantial economies. Compared with the current year, after eliminating non-recurrent charges and charges for the Middle East, the economies are £21,000,000. I could not possibly have done this without the loyal and whole-hearted support and cooperation of members of the Army Council and the military and civilian staffs at the War Office. If there had been any stone-walling, if, indeed, there had not been a full appreciation of the 2246 financial necessity for drastic reductions, it would have been impossible for any Secretary of State to produce these results. But the Army Council and the staff have worked hard at the enormous mass of detail which goes to make up these £16,500,000. No one can know how great the labour has been, and I am sure the House will join in expressing recognition of the debt owed by the public to the Army Council and to the staff.
I have said already that these reductions cannot be made without running certain military risks and the House and the country should know, at least in broad outline, what these risks are. Obviously it would not be in the public interest to go into too great detail, but I think it is possible to indicate rather than appraise the nature of the risks. The Army is not, and never has been, raised on a scale of readiness for a European war, so I will not contemplate that eventuality, but the Army may be called upon to reinforce the forces of the Crown in India should the Native Army and the British troops there—now eight regiments of British Cavalry, 45 battalions of British Infantry and Artillery, tanks and other arms—prove insufficient. The General Staff have pointed out that in certain eventualities reinforcements much in excess of our future establishments may be required. This is a risk we shall have to run, hoping that by sound policy and wise administration that course will be justified. In Egypt we now have two regiments of British Cavalry and nine battalions of British Infantry, with Artillery and other arms. We hope that our policy of associating the Egyptians more closely with the Government of Egypt will make it possible to reduce the troops stationed there, but again there is the risk that if our policy fails—I have no reason to suppose that it will not succeed—it might in certain eventualities be necessary to send reinforcements. We have also commitments in Constantinople and on the Rhine with which the House is familiar. I do not anticipate that the troops employed there are not sufficient for the pacific purposes we have in view, but the General Staff are right in calling attention to the possibilities which might require heavy reinforcements. I will not deal with Iraq or Palestine, as my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary has already explained to the House the policy we are there pursuing.
2247 The fact is that the Government have had to make a choice between the maximum of safety—which it is the business of the General Staff to advise upon—and the equilibrium between financial and military risks which it is the duty of the Government to determine. After making every effort by peaceful, unadventurous and steady policies to eliminate them, we can only make ample provision against all military risks by maintaining the Army on a scale which would endanger the financial stability of the country. I do not pretend, therefore, that we have insured against every possible contingency. If we try to do so, we shall only provoke the still greater danger of overburdening the taxpayer and causing economic and financial disaster. I therefore recommend these Estimates as the lowest we can secure in the present state of world uncertainty, and yet as the highest we are justified in asking the taxpayer to support, in the present state of the country's finances.
§ Sir DONALD MACLEAN
The House is indebted to the Secretary of State for War for the lucid, though lengthy, statement which he has made. Nobody will complain of its length because it was necessary, especially in view of the absence of anything approaching Estimates, to make a statement of very considerable length and detail. Mr. Speaker made a very proper observation, as the guardian of the rights and interests of the House against the encroachment of the Executive, when he protested—I do not think that is at all too strong a word—against a Vote on Account being asked for in the absence of the usual Estimates which were laid in pre-War days. These should have been laid certainly last year. I do not complain of their not being laid in 1919, but in 1920 and 1921 there was no excuse. If it had been done last year, the approximate cause which the right hon. Gentleman gave us to-day, for not producing them this year, namely, the Geddes Committee of Inquiry, would not have operated to prevent them being laid with the Vote we are being asked for to-day. I wish to ask my right hon. Friend if he can tell us when he proposes to take Vote A, and if before Vote A we may hope to have the Estimates laid before us. Are we to have them, even before the Budget?
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
It is very difficult to say. They are very complicated, as my right hon. Friend well knows. I think it will be three or four weeks before they are ready, and we must have the Vote long before then.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I appreciate that it is necessary to have Vote A in a comparatively short time. I may take it then, that within a month, at any rate, we shall have the Estimates properly laid before us. I do not see why we should not, because, looking at the Geddes Report, one sees that a considerable amount of detail has already been given, and must be in the hands of the War Office not only in skeleton form, but practically filled in. All that has to be done is to make the alterations which have been indicated in the course of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, and which were previously foreshadowed by Ministerial speakers, and then present the Estimates at the earliest possible moment. As the right hon. Gentleman has stated, those in Opposition desire that these Estimates should be laid at the earliest possible moment, and we shall press for that until it is done.
I join with the right hon. Gentleman in what he has said regarding the sympathy which we must all feel for men of all ranks who have to make the best of a breach of association not only personal to themselves, but as inheritors of the great traditions of great regiments in the Army. We all appreciate that, but I am quite certain that these men realise as we do, the vital necessities for the great reductions which are being made. Naturally each thinks that some regiment should be chosen, other than the one in which he happens to serve. There is another matter in regard to which I should like to express our sympathy and appreciation, and that is, the exceptionally arduous conditions under which what is practically a young army, has had to render service during the past year. They have been called upon at short notice to serve in Ireland, and in the Middle East, and indeed I suppose in the Far East, under very trying and difficult conditions, and it is gratifying to have the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman that neither in discipline, in general bearing, nor in efficiency in the discharge of 2249 their duties, have they been in the least degree unworthy of the best of their predecessors.
There are two great factors which must dominate any reduction in the armed forces. The first is the question of what my right hon. Friend calls commitments, but which I prefer to call policy. I quite agree that the duty of the soldier is to carry out professionally the policy which is laid down for him by the Government of the day. He has nothing to do with the framing of the policy, but he has, as far as he can, to fit in the arm of the service with which he is associated with the carrying out of the requirements and policy of the Government of the day. No matter what little snips you may make here and there, or what great cuts you may make in another direction, it all comes back to the question of the policy on which you are moving, and on which you require the Army to carry out your pledges. There is another great fundamental factor mentioned in the speech of my right hon. Friend. It is the urgent national necessity for the saving of money. It might be assumed that that has nothing to do with military operations or with strategy or tactics, but that is a very short-sighted view. A sound financial position is an absolute necessity to the continuance of effective warfare. I may be wrong when I say that this was one of the greatest sources of our strength, but I suggest that we could never have carried the operations of the last war to a successful conclusion had it not been for the tremendously, the overwhelmingly superior financial position of this country. I very much doubt if we could have carried it through had we not possessed the great financial resources which were behind us.
I would say, therefore, to soldiers who would criticise these reductions that in looking at the situation as a whole they should bring that consideration into very serious account. We as taxpayers and civilians look at the matter from a point of view which we cannot expect the soldier entirely to share, and so I would suggest to the soldier that, looking at the whole military situation, he should give that factor due weight in stating what he requires or what he suggests the country should do. It is because our financial position is so serious that we not only urge upon the Government and their military advisers to make the reductions now fore- 2250 shadowed as swiftly as possible, but we say that they must go still further. It is an unpleasant thing to say, but it is true. What about the vast sums to which we are already Committed? I shall not weary the House by repeating those great figures which often and often I have brought before them. We know what they are, and they are reflected in the overwhelming taxation which the country has at this moment to bear. One has not to look far in order to get support for that position. I find support for it in the Geddes Committee's Report. On page 4 the Committee say:In our opinion the time has come when the Government must say to these Departments how much money they can have and look to them to frame their proposals accordingly.The right hon. Gentleman has said we are taking risks. I daresay we are, but you will have to take even greater risks, if you are going to bring your financial position back into the state which will enable any defensive operations to be carried out for a sufficiently long time to be successful, should that horrible eventuality arise in the future. You must get your financial position right and take very great military risks to do so. As to the basis which I have laid down for my argument, there can be little or no doubt. If you were to take the advice always of professionals, on any aspect of life, as to what risks you were going to take, you would never cease adding to your insurance. I think it was Lord Salisbury who said that one would be put in the position of being asked to garrison the moon against a possible attack from Mars. That, I think, is the way in which he expressed his view on the points so often urged as to insuring against risks. Coming down to one or two of the points with which the right hon. Gentleman has dealt, I must say that I do not quite follow him as to the amount of the real saving effected. Towards the end of the speech he referred to a sum of £21,000,000.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
That is, compared with last year.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I will look into it, but one of the disadvantages under which we are labouring, in the absence of Estimates, is shown by the fact that I cannot find it in any one of the three papers which have been submitted to us. If hon. Members wish to follow this 2251 matter, they will have to look at page 79 of the Geddes Committee's Report. They will find there that the Estimate for 1921–22 was £77,815,000, compared with this Estimate for this year of £62,200,000. I do not know where the £21,000,000 comes in there.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
I tried to make a comparison, excluding non-recurring, that is terminal charges, on both sides, and also charges which will arise from the reduction of the Army, such as compensation and so forth. Taking what might otherwise be called the normal annual charges of the Army, it is £21,000,000 less than last year.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I cannot say I quite see where it conies in, but I want to put a few questions to my right hon. Friend on the point of the terminal charges to test what is the real reduction. He will agree with me, I am sure, in this, that the real reduction is on current expenses and not on terminal expenses.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON - EVANS
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
There we are on common ground. If he will look at page 79 in the Geddes Report, he will see that in 1921–22 the terminal charges were £10,155,000. On page 2 of the Vote on Account itself he will see that the terminal charges of the War are put in at £7,000,000, a reduction of £3,155,000. I put it to him that his reduction—
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
That has nothing to do with it.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
The right hon. Gentleman said his net reduction was £15,500,000, but the result of my endeavour to clutch some clue in this tangled maze is that he is claiming credit for at least £3,000,000 more than he is entitled to, and he must make some effort to explain that to me, because I am sure I am not the only person in the House who does not understand it. I would like to take my right hon. Friend to what is, after all, a very fair test point of his reduction, and that is the war staff. I gather that the war staff of the year 1922–23 is to be 1,266, War Office staff.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
On Vote A, page 2, the right hon. Gentleman will find the military staff.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I am not including the civilian staff.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
The military staff at the War Office is to be 259 officers, 108 other ranks, a total of 367 all ranks. I explained to the right hon. Gentleman that those are officers holding staff appointments and that there may be some attached officers in addition.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I was using the word "Staff" wrongly. I was speaking about the War Office.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
I was talking of military staff, War Office.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I mean soldiers engaged in the War Office. In 1914–15 they numbered 942.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
Where did the right hon. Gentleman get that from?
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
On page 12 of the right hon. Gentleman's own memorandum it says the staff at the War Office in 1914–15 was 942.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
That is not staff at the War Office, but "Staff and War Office."
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
Anyhow, I am comparing one figure with another. In 1914–15 the figure is 942, and in 1922–23 it is 1,266, comparing like with like. Is that right?
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
Yes, but it is not the War Office only.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
Now we have less men for which this money is sought than we had in 1914–15. We have, as the Report says, Germany out of action and a broken Europe. It is perfectly true that we have a disturbed India and a disturbed Egypt and, let us hope, an Ireland which is getting less disturbed than it was, at any rate, at this time last year. The words of the right hon. Gentleman on that occasion were:Can the number of troops in Ireland be reduced? Is there any legitimate economy to be made there? I am constrained to answer; 'No; not until the cause of the trouble is removed, not until the people of Ireland cease to make illegitimate war upon this country.'"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March, 1921; col. 1290, Vol. 139.]What I want the right hon. Gentleman to explain to us—and it is quite im- 2253 possible to get at it, as far as we are concerned, until we have the Estimates—is why it is that in the coming year, with less men, with a far less threatening position the world over, we have for the Staff and the War Office an increase of over 300 compared with 1914–15, and it costs us £1,334,000, as compared with £457,000 in 1914–15. That is one of the test positions that we take, and it shows that I was not very far out when I said that what we want is not only the reductions to be made by the right hon. Gentleman, not only the reductions suggested by the Geddes Committee, but something much further, before we can get down to the financial position which I have suggested or claimed is at the basis of all real, effective, military action. After all, the only real way of making such reductions as the nation must have is by a change of those commitments and policies which the right hon. Gentleman says are causing us to retain these great forces, for fear of what may happen in India, for fear of what may happen in Egypt, for fear still of what may happen in Iraq, and for fear of what may yet happen in Ireland. It is the policies of the Government that have been the cause of this huge military expenditure, and until those policies are altered you will never get the finances of the country in a sufficiently sound position to justify such vast expenditure.
§ 6.0 P.M.
Field-Marshal Sir HENRY WILSON
May I claim the indulgence of the House for my maiden speech? I feel sure I can trust to the kindness of hon. Members to let me off easily during the many slips I am quite sure I shall make. May I make my first one by trying to explain, if I may, who it is I am? I was born in what is now euphoniously called the Irish Free State, and I lived there for 20 years. We were then under the tyranny of the Union, but I lived in the greatest friendship with my neighbours. I was rooted in Ulster, and I have been a soldier for 41 years, serving one Queen and two Kings of the British Empire. The net result is this, that I am intensely loyal to the Crown and intensely proud of the British Empire, and any remarks that I may make to the House will be made in that spirit. The Estimates that have been laid before the House are to a great extent based on the Report of 2254 the Geddes Committee. May I say that we are one of the only great Powers who have a voluntary army, and that to have a voluntary army has many advantages, but it has one great disadvantage, that in the nature of things it solves no military problem? If you have a great many volunteers you may have a great big army, but if you have very few volunteers you will probably have a very small army. The size of the Army being that which the number of volunteers willing to join makes it, the size of the Army has no relation to war. I think I can prove that by saying that in 1914 we entered a war with six divisions, and in order to win that war we had to raise a total of nearly 80. It is perfectly obvious, therefore, that the six divisions of the voluntary Army had no relation whatever to the war into which we were plunged. But at that time there was no reason why we should have an army fit to fight the Germans, because, so far as my recollection goes, the Government of the day did not think that it was probable that we might have to fight Germany. If, therefore, any money had been put into an army to be ready to fight the Germans, and we were not going to fight them, the money would have been wasted. I remember, I think it was the present Prime Minister, as late as 23rd July, 1914, seven days before the great German army got on the march, assured this House that there was very little danger of war. I have made these observations because the Geddes Committee, broadly, base their reductions of the Army on two hypotheses, both of which are false. The first was that the German peril having passed, there was no necessity to keep an army to face it. There never was an army facing it, and there should not have been, seeing that, in all probability, we were not going to war. So far as I know, we never raised one man, kept one horse, or moved one wheel-barrow because of the danger of a war with Germany. Therefore, to take as a hypothesis that the Army was kept to face Germany, and, the German danger having passed, the Army could be reduced, is a false deduction from a false basis. The second reason that the Committee gives for the reduction is that with modern inventions and modern arms a modern army is a much more formidable thing than a prehistoric army. That is so, and the Committee go on practically 2255 to say that one company of infantry now can do the work of four companies of infantry in old days, and, therefore, now we can abolish three companies of infantry, and be as strong as we were. That seems to me to be a false deduction from a false basis. In the case of European wars, I imagine our enemies will have the same arms and armaments as we should have.
Therefore, there would be no gain in that respect, and in savage wars it is a very curious thing that modern inventions have, on the whole, made the enemy much more powerful than ourselves. It is a curious thing. I was calculating only the other day—I may be quite wrong—that if to-day India were asked to carry out Lord Roberts' famous Kabul to Kandahar march, India would ask for at least three times as many troops as Lord Roberts had in 1878. It is true that in these frontier fightings we have had in the last 18 months, we have employed, and have had to employ, far more troops than we had before these modern inventions gave the enemy such an advantage. The reason is that the mountains and the deserts do not change and they preclude the civilised people from using to the full advantage the modern inventions. On the other hand, the long-range rifle, and the wonderful eyesight of the natives, make them able to pick off individuals at 2,000 yards, whereas in former days they had difficulty in doing it at 20 yards. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State has told us what it means to the Army if these Estimates are passed, and he mentioned figures, which I venture to repeat, but which I would not myself have made public. If these Estimates are passed, Great Britain and Ireland can produce in 15 days one division and a cavalry division, and then for the second division she has to wait for anything between another 15 days and six weeks, and for a third and a fourth division she has to wait months. I mention that now, but I would like to come back to it in a few minutes.
May I now state, as briefly as I can, what liabilities we are under? England, Ireland, Egypt, India, and now, I am afraid I must add, Hong Kong—those were all present in 1914; they are all present today. But, in addition to those, we have 2256 now the Rhine, we have Silesia, we have Constantinople, we have Palestine, and we have Iraq, in addition to what we had in 1914. There are two more liabilities which are quite new, which we had not in 1914, so far as I know—a pact between this country and France, and a pact between this country and Belgium. In addition to that, may I mention two things which, to me, render the situation infinitely more dangerous than it was in 1914? As a result of the War, and as a result of the Peace Conference following the. War, Europe, which in 1914 chiefly consisted of great Empires, has now been broken up into a number of small States. That in itself is an experiment, perhaps not for me to criticise; but when I add that there are at the present moment in Europe and the quite Near East 11 States with no access to the open sea, and five more with only access to the Black Sea, making a total of 16 States without access to the free, warm water, how anybody can imagine that a vast country, for example, like Russia, with a population of 150,000,000, with all her free, open seaports all the year round taken from her, will not break out to the sea, whether Esthonia is guarded by the League of Nations or not, I cannot imagine.
There is another thing which, to me, shows a dangerous state of affairs in Europe. In 1914 we had these big Empires. People said at that time—and said truly—that it was because of these big Empires we had big armies; and we had big armies in 1914. As a result of the War, the German Army, which stood in 1913 at 800,000 strong, is now 100,000 strong, and the Austrian Army, which stood at 400,000 strong, is now 30,000 strong. Yet, in spite of that, there are as many armed men in Europe at the present moment as there were in 1913. I have the figures of the armies of all the States, and the increase in the number of armed men in these small States is simply terrifying. In addition to that, we have in Europe at the present moment, practically every sound man, and many that are not, between the ages of 20 and 50 trained to arms. Who, then, says, and who can say, that the state of Europe is more peaceful than it was in 1913? Take our liabilities. England—it is only six or eight months since we had to call up the whole of the Reserve, and make I an ad hoc army. Ireland—who will say 2257 what is going to happen in Ireland? Egypt—who will say what is going to happen in Egypt? In 1913–14 Egypt was profoundly quiet. India—who is brave enough to say what is going to happen in India? In 1913–14 India was profoundly quiet. Hong Kong—who will say what is going to happen in Hong Kong? In 1913–14 it was profoundly quiet.
In addition to those old liabilities, the dangers of which have enormously increased, we have the Rhine, Silesia, Constantinople, Palestine, Iraq, a pact with France, and a pact with Belgium. Who says our liabilities have not increased? Yet in 1914 we could put six divisions in the field in 9½ days. Now we can put one in 15 days, two in 30 or 50 days, and a third and fourth months hence. I wonder if this is the right moment to reduce the fighting troops of Great Britain? The right hon. Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean), in his speech, seemed to think that the soldiers in their advice paid no attention to finance. I wish it were true that we had not to pay attention to the 6s. in the £ which the policy of His Majesty's Government put on this country; but, unfortunately, we pay 6s. in the £ just as much as he does, and, therefore, finance is very much present to our minds.
So far as my judgment goes, nobody knows what is going to face us in the near future. We all know that our liabilities are enormously increased and we have just been told that our power to meet them has been immensely reduced. It has always seemed to me that the primary duty of an army is to prevent war. I know of no cheaper way of conducting the business of a State than by conducting it in a state of profound peace, and one of the ways of doing that is to have an army of sufficient strength to prevent war. But if you cannot, either from reasons of policy or other reasons, prevent war, then the next duty of the army is to win the war. To win a war is a terribly expensive thing both in men and in money. Therefore it is infinitely cheaper to have a force which will prevent war rather than to have a force which if it has to go to war even can win the war. There is, however, a third possibility, and that is to have an army not sufficiently strong to prevent war and not sufficiently strong to win war, but just sufficiently weak to lose the war. 2258 That is a most terrible catastrophe that can happen to an Empire. In my judgment, if the Estimates now placed before the House are passed, if the reductions contemplated in the fighting forces are carried out, we will be in the position of that third army, just ready, in spite of everything it can do, to lose the war.