§ The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Sir Laming Worthington-Evans)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
I think it will be for the convenience of hon. Members if I call the attention of the House to the increases and reductions in the Estimates which I am now presenting compared with those of the current year. The Estimates are in a different form from those with which hon. Members have been familiar for the last few years. The estimated expenditure is once more classified under the various Vote Heads. This alteration is the result of a decision to abandon, except in the case of certain productive activities, the unit or objective system of accounting. In the Memorandum which I have circulated, I have dealt with the reasons at some length, thinking that it would be more convenient to hon. Members to have the explanation of the form of the Estimates with the Estimates themselves. Therefore, I need not now deal with the matter, though, of course, if in the course of the Debate, questions are raised, I will endeavour to reply to them.
In Vote A I am asking for a total of 159,400 men. This is a net reduction of 1,200 men on the current year. Four hundred relate to Indian troops employed by the Air Ministry in Iraq, but for constitutional reasons borne on Vote A. The reductions for which the War Office is responsible, therefore, amount to 800. These are primarily due to the abolition of the Corps of Military Accountants and to a re-arrangement of duties and reduction in personnel of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, against which the cavalry regiment formerly in India, numbering 574, has now returned to this country and is borne on this Vote, and there is also a small increase of 96 in the staff and pupils at the training school at Chepstow. The reductions made do not therefore mean any loss in the fighting force of the Army.
72 The net cash which I am asking the House to vote is £42,500,000, a net reduction of £2,000,000 on the current year. It has not been an easy reduction to secure, and it would have been quite impossible to have done so had it not been for the co-operation of the members of the Army Council. Hon. Members must remember that reductions in Army Estimates have been continuous. In 1921, when I became Secretary of State for War for the first time, the expenditure was over £86,000,000. Then came the Geddes cut, and it was reduced to £50,000,000, since when it has been reduced by a few millions a year until this year the Estimate is £42,500,000, which is less than half the expenditure of just over five years ago. Indeed, the real reduction this year is nearer £2,500,000, because for the years since the War we have been living to some extent on war stocks, and we have now reached the stage when replacement has become necessary. Over £250,000 of additional expenditure is necessary on this account, and the passage of the Widows' and Orphans' and Old Age Pensions Insurance Act has added £137,000 to our expenditure for employers' contributions for soldiers.
The actual amounts shown as increases in the Estimates are chiefly shown on Votes 5 and 7. The £145,000 on Vote 5 is, however, not a real increase. It is the result of the transference from Vote 11 of the cost of rent and building occupied by British troops on the Rhine. The increase of £271,000 on Vote 7 is due chiefly to the depletion of War stocks of clothing and consequent replacement. The increase of £137,000 in employers' contributions towards Widows' and Did Age Pensions is in Vote 11, which would otherwise show a correspondingly greater reduction. Against these increases, there is a gross decrease of just under £2,500,000, and I propose to give the House the chief heads under which the savings have been effected.
On Vote 1, relating to the pay of the Army, there is a saving of £574,000. The new rates of pay for new entrants into the Army will account for about £332,000 of this saving, while the disbandment of the Corps of Military Accountatns will make a total saving, only part of which, however, is on this Vote, of £200,000, and the reduction in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, which is possible chiefly owing to 73 the completion of post-War terminal work, will result in a saving of about £50,000 on this Vote.
On Vote 2, which relates to the Territorial Army and the Reserve Forces, there is a saving of £204,000, to which the Territorial Army contributes £180,000. Hon. Members will notice on page 52 of the Estimates that there is a lump sum cut of £160,000 under the heading "Overall Reductions on the Territorial Army Vote." No one regrets more than I do that I could not make up the necessary total of the reduction without asking the Territorial Army to bear its share of the burden, and I wish to take this opportunity of acknowledging my indebtedness to the Territorial Associations and to their Central Council for the way in which they have met me. When I told them what was necessary, they put their heads together, and they have given me advice as to the way in which the reduction could be made with the least detriment to the efficiency of the Territorial Army, and I am glad to say that the saving will be made with practically no reduction, a reduction of under 1,300, in the numbers of the Territorial Army. It is true that 14 Royal Engineer parks will have to go. I am advised that they are not absolutely essential in peace time, and they represent a saving of £24,000. £00,000 will come off lands and buildings, and £30,000 off the clothing grant, and the other smaller items make up the total of £160,000.
Included in this Vote is a reduction of £8,000, on balance, for the reserves. This is due to a decrease of £23,000 on the Army Reserve owing to an anticipated fall in the numbers of the Reserve due to a large number of Reservists whose time expires in the coming year, and to an increase of £15,000 for the Supplementary Reserve, the numbers of which are gradually increasing. I am glad to say, however, that I have been able to avoid making a small economy which I feared I might have to effect. I mean the Cadet Grant of £15,000 which was approved for the current year, but which, in view of its possible withdrawal in future, was held up pending a decision as to whether we could afford it next year. I have the greatest admiration for the Cadet movement, and I believe it to be of real national importance. That in itself 74 would not have justified me taking it on to the Army Vote, but I think the charge is justified because the affiliated Cadet units are a fine source of recruits for the Territorial Army, and I am delighted that it has been found possible to allow this provision to stand.
The next considerable reduction takes place on Vote 8 relating to General Stores. Here we have a net decrease of £186,500. This Vote covers the purchase and repair of general stores and the wages of the civilian personnel in the Ordnance Establishments. About £92,000 is saved from the gradual completion of post-War work at the depots, with a consequent reduction in staffs. I am also anticipating an increase in the Appropriation-in-Aid of £121,500, arising from an accelerated sale of old and surplus stores. Against this saving I have to set an increased expenditure of £35,000 for general stores, due largely to the exhaustion of war stocks.
On Vote 9 there is a saving of £398,300; £328,000 of this saving is due to a curtailment of munition orders, more than half of which would have otherwise been placed with the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich. I very much regret having to make this saving, but, if Army Estimates are to be reduced, it is impossible to justify the placing of orders involving heavy expenditure for, articles which the Army does not require immediately, and, if these orders are not placed, it means a heavy reduction in the employment given by the Arsenal, with the consequent gradual discharge of 900 men at the factories.
On Vote 10 there is a reduction of £496,000; £100,000 of this is a saving on the provision for reinstatement on the termination of tenancies of properties occupied by the War Department. The Estimates are also relieved this year of a provision that had to be made in the current year for the purchase of land at Deptford. This and other items account for a saving of nearly £400,000.
The expenditure on Works Services, construction and maintenanance, still remains heavy, amounting to over £2,500,000, but it must be remembered that during the five years of war little or no work of construction or of repair was carried out, and there is, therefore, a great deal of leeway to make up. The expenditure under this head includes new 75 barracks, improvements to old barracks required in the interests of health, and further provision of houses for the married personnel. Until the accommodation surrendered to the Irish Free State has been replaced, the annual expenditure is necessarily heavy. For example, Catterick will require £350,000. The barracks at Smallshot, for the Royal Corps of Signals, will take £150,000, while at Blackdown £40,000 will be spent on housing the Air Defence Brigade. About £30,000 is required to complete the alterations and additions to Wellington and Chelsea Barracks, and a large expenditure is necessary for providing married quarters for non-commissioned officers and men.
Turning to Vote 11, the apparent saving in the Miscellaneous Services of £575,000 is, I am sorry to say, illusory to the extent of £496,000, for Army of Occupation Services, for the equivalent provision for 1926 has only been transferred from this Vote, where in the current year it appears as a lump sum to the various Vote Heads appropriate to the particular service. There has, however, been a real saving on the Vote. There is also a saving of £93,000 on terminal charges, and there is an increase of Appropriations-in-Aid of £137,400. Against this, however, has to be charged the £137,000 to which I have already referred as being the additional employers' contributions for the men's insurance.
The final result of these increases and decreases is, as I have said, a net reduction of £2,000,000. In order to get at the net total of £42,500,000 I have assumed that we shall receive contributions towards the cost of troops stationed in various Colonies which have hitherto made no contribution or made one which is inadequate. I have also been assisted by the practical termination of war terminal charges and by the postponement of expenditure on warlike stores to which I have referred. I think it is fair to warn the House that although next year we shall have an increasing relief from the reduction in pay of new entrants to the Army, and by reason of the termination of military works loan annuities, there will necessarily be some increased expenditure due to the replacement of war stocks. Although I have to 76 ask for £42,500,000, the House should recognise that nothing like all this sum is spent on the current needs of the Army. We have a non-effective Vote which hon. Members will see if they turn to Votes 13, 14 and 15 for retired pay and pensions which costs nearly £8,000,000. That is a dead weight charge, just about double what it was before the War, which has to be met before we begin to expend on the effective services of the Army. There remains £34,500,000 which is the real expenditure upon the current needs of the Army. If the cost of living and the present rates of pay are taken into account it is a fact that the present expenditure adjusted to the present-day numbers on Vote A is lees than the expenditure before the War. I do not suggest that the Estimates can be justified upon this ground alone, but the fact forms some test that this expenditure is not on an unreasonable scale.
The real test, however—though one much harder to apply—is whether we are getting value for the money which we are expending. I certainly think progress is being made, and that the Army is becoming more and more an efficient military machine. But there is one aspect of our military requirements which is apt to be overlooked. From the nature of the case, the British Army may be required to fight under almost every conceivable condition, and over every conceivable terrain. The armament and equipment which are suited to one theatre of war may be quite unsuited to another. The result is that instead of providing for one general type of campaign, we have, unlike some other nations, to provide for several and to be prepared for all contingencies and conditions. This is inevitably expensive. Critics in this House, taking their stand upon the experiences of the late War in France and Flanders, are apt to ask why we do not discard the cavalry or some other arm for which they have no particular affection. Such critics overlook the fact that we have to visualise and provide for conditions which may be entirely dissimilar to those of a Continental war, and in which the discarded arm may be of the greatest value. But the fact that we have so many diverse possibilities to provide for must not be allowed to be a cause of unnecessary duplication, and we are examining again all our formations and their uses to 77 satisfy ourselves that we are not over-insuring in one or other direction.
The manœuvres last autumn were designed to give us greater knowledge on these subjects. I may say at once that those manœuvres proved an unqualified success in everything except the weather. In judging the value of manœuvres we must take into account not merely the few days of the manœuvres proper but also the time spent by divisions in scheduled area. The subordinate commanders probably obtained more advantage during the preliminary period than during the Army manœuvres themselves. The training facilities at our big military centres are not at the moment adequate to meet the demands of the troops. For example, the Eastern Command, in which is quartered the 4th Division, contains no Government land of sufficient extent to train even an infantry brigade. Aldershot itself is overcrowded, and no longer affords the facilities necessary for the extended training of big units. We are taking some steps to improve thin situation, but land is expensive and the process is slow.
The training previous to the Army manœuvres enables commanders to exercise their troops over extended areas and over unknown ground. As a result, difficulties of control and of co-operation between the various arms, and questions of supply, which are not brought out in operations in confined areas, become at once apparent, and both commanders and staffs gained much valuable experience for the future. During their normal training at peace centres, divisional commanders gain little, and higher commanders practically no experience of the command of troops in the field. It is impossible therefore to be certain whether the machine in war will run smoothly or otherwise. The training of the higher commanders and their staffs becomes, therefore, one of the first considerations in Army manœuvres. Neither commanders nor staffs have had any experience of this kind since the War, and though, as I have said, the results were generally satisfactory, I am advised that this form of training must be repeated from time to time if we are to attain the high standard we require.
One of the most important lessons of the Army manœuvres was derived from the use of mechanical vehicles. We do 78 not at this moment possess the types of transport necessary to make a conclusive experiment, but the result of our recent experiences have enabled us to make considerable strides in our ideas for the future. The question is not such a simple one as it appears. As I have said, the British Army has to operate in many diverse theatres of war, and what may be suitable to one theatre, may prove less so in another. In fact, the future of mechanicalisation is full of difficulties which must be gradually studied before definite decisions are reached. If we are to employ mechanical columns, it seems certain that the horse must be entirely eliminated from such columns. The necessary mobility cannot be achieved if horse transport accompanies mechanically moved troops. During the manœuvres the battalions which moved by mechanical transport carried their first line horse transport with them, and the plan was not a success. Until, however, a satisfactory type of machine can be evolved, which also has commercial possibilities, the cost of mechanicalising large forces will certainly prove prohibitive.
There is no vehicle in general commercial use at present which meets our requirements. Research and experiment are continuing with a view of evolving something which will be of general, as well as military use; something which commercial users will stock, and which will be available in large numbers in case of need. Mechanical columns proved both cumbersome and difficult to control, and also very vulnerable to aerial attack. The extent, therefore, to which a field army can be mechanicalised still remains in doubt. We have decided to approach the problem step by step. In the first instance we shall form a small mechanicalised force of all arms at one of our big training centres for experimental purposes, and we shall not attempt any large production of mechanical vehicles until we are certain that we have evolved the required types. We are, I am advised, already ahead of all other nations in mechanicalisation, and there is therefore no justification for uneconomic haste.
Another and most important consideration in all field operations is the close co-operation between the Army and the Royal Air Force. Efficient control by Army commanders of any Air Force units, which may from time to time be attached to their command, cannot be 79 expected without constant practice. Considerable strides in obtaining the necessary efficiency were made on manœuvres, and this advance could not otherwise have been made. We obtained the whole-hearted support of the Air Ministry in this matter. If I may, I would sum up my references to the manœuvres by saying that I am advised that the manœuvres of 1925 proved satisfactory both as regards command and as regards future development. We learned many lessons which we could not have learned otherwise. The discipline of the troops was admirable in the most trying circumstances and the attitude of the inhabitants to the troops was beyond all praise.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
I think it was about £67,000, but I will give my hon. Friend the exact figure in a moment. I am satisfied that unless we hold manœuvres at short intervals, the efficiency of the Army will suffer, and I believe the results more than pay for the cost. Turning to another subject, I think it is known that the question of promotion of officers in the Army generally has been under the consideration of the Army Council. In 1924 the right hon. Gentleman my predecessor in office set up a Committee under Lord Plumer to consider and advise on this difficult question, and the report of that Committee and the multifarious opinions expressed by its members have been receiving anxious consideration. The Army Council are unanimously of opinion that no change in the present system of normal promotion from second lieutenant to major is either necessary or desirable, and that nothing should be done which would in any way impair the greatest asset the British Army possesses, the regimental esprit de corps. They feel, however, that steps must be taken to give outstanding officers every chance of reaching the highest ranks in the Army. The Army Council have therefore decided that in the junior ranks, officers of marked ability shall receive accelerated promotion. Promotion above the rank of major will now be by rigid selection, increasing in severity as the higher ranks are reached. I do not intend to imply that a good regimental officer 80 will not be able to get command of his own regiment. Far from it. When a regimental commander has to be chosen, first consideration will naturally be given to the senior officers in that regiment, but consideration will also be given to officers of the same rank in other regiments who have been recommended for accelerated promotion, and whenever it is necessary in the interests of the Service to select an officer to be brought in to command from another regiment, then their claims will be taken into account.
Above the rank of lieutenant-colonel, selection will become still more drastic, and in making all promotions the merit, age and seniority of more junior officers will be carefully weighed before any promotion is given. This is done in order to ensure that the promotion of the officer under consideration is the best in the interests of the Service. It is hoped that, by this means, any officer of outstanding and proved merit will get his chance of reaching the highest ranks in the Service. I may sum up this reference to promotion by saying, first, that nothing will be done in any way to upset the regimental esprit de corps as it is to-day; secondly, that the normal system of promotion in the Army up to the rank of major will not be changed, but officers of conspicuous merit will be selected for and granted accelerated promotion; and, third, that all promotion above the rank of major will be by selection. I hope that every officer will feel that it is worth while making exceptional effort, for by that means the rewards of the profession will more certainly be gained by them.
§ Captain ARTHUR EVANS
Do those conditions refer to the Brigade of Guards also, or will the old practice of the Brigade of Guards being commanded by a Guards officer still be adhered to?
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
I hope there will be no necessity to bring anyone from outside into the Brigade of Guards. The references I am making are in cases where someone has to be brought in from outside a regiment to command it. I must say only a very few words on the question of recruiting, as I have already referred to it at some length in the Memorandum which I have circulated. Recruiting has been good throughout the recruiting year which ended on the 26th September last. There 81 was a moment when we had to restrict the numbers enlisted, awing to the possibility that otherwise the authorised establishment would be exceeded. In round numbers, we took in 32,000 recruits, a number about 1,500 in excess of the recruiting in the previous year. I drew attention last year to the number of candidates for enlistment who were rejected as unsuitable on physical and medical grounds. The number is still very high. Out of 89,277 candidates, no fewer than 52,200 were rejected on physical and medical grounds, or about 58 per cent., which is almost exactly the same proportion as last year. We do not anticipate that there will be any serious falling off in the number of recruits taken in the present recruiting year, although the reduction in pay which came into operation last October will no doubt have some effect. There has been a slight falling off in numbers since that date. That may be due, and no doubt is in part due, to the reduction in pay, but it is probably also due in part to the improvement in employment.
Even on the new rates of pay, the private soldier starts with 14s. a. week pocket money, and lodging, food, and clothing all found, and he receives an extra 6d. a clay after one year's service, subject to the attainment of educational and military proficiency. Out of his pay, a soldier can, if he chooses, make a substantial saving either for himself or for his family. Last year we started a system whereby soldiers serving at home could make automatic remittances of such part of their pay as they might wish through the Paymaster, so that they do not have to remember each week to purchase a postal order and send it to their parents. The automatic remittances have proved very popular. About 9,000 soldiers serving at home avail themselves of it, and in some districts as many as 70 per cent. of the recruits are remitting automatically to their parents. The scheme for training boys at Chepstow is proceeding satisfactorily. The full establishment of 990 will be reached within the next few months, and we shall know in the autumn how the boys turn out, as the first batch will then have completed their training at the school, and will be posted to their corps in the Regular Army. We shall draw in future about 300 tradesmen a year from this source.
82 On page 41 of the Estimates hon. Members may notice that it is said that a certain saving arises, due to shortage of officers. In case this may be misunderstood, let me say at once that there is nothing more than a seasonal shortage of some 50 or 60 officers in the Infantry. The only real shortage is in the Royal Corps of Signals, which will be made good as trained officers become available, and also there is a shortage in the Royal Army Medical Corps. These shortages have nothing to do with the recent reduction in the pay of officers now entering the Army. It will be remembered that the pay above the rank of captain has not been touched, but even on the reduced rates of pay, the pay of a junior officer compares, I think, very favourably with what his brother is earning in civil life. It must also be remembered that the young officer begins to earn at once, several years before the candidate for most of the civil professions, who not only earns no money, but has to meet a large expenditure to qualify himself for his profession.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
Their parents have to meet certain expenditure for training at Sandhurst, as my hon. and gallant Friend says, but if you compare the payments which a parent will have to make for sending a boy to Sandhurst with the payments which the same parent will have to make for sending a brother of that boy to any one of the universities and training him for a profession, you will find that the payments made at Sandhurst are not a third of the payments the parent would be called upon to make to qualify his son for any one of the liberal professions. Moreover, there is a generous award of scholarships available for officers appointed to commissions in the Regular Army. Eleven of these scholarships are awarded each half year, three going to cadets from Woolwich, six to cadets from Sandhurst, and two to university candidates. I notice that one of the scholarships from Sandhurst has been awarded to a Y cadet, that is, a cadetship given to a man who has served in the ranks. This Y cadet joined the Durham Light Infantry as a private in 1921. He earned recommendation for a commission, and 83 he went to Sandhurst, where he gained the King's Medal and the Anson Memorial Sword for the highest aggregate at the Royal Military College. He passed out of Sandhurst No. 1, and, as I say, he was awarded a scholarship of £50 a year for five years, and has taken up his commission in the Royal Corps of Signals. The practice of keeping 45 cadetships at Sandhurst for men from the ranks is proving satisfactory and will be continued.
If I may, I will say a word about the Territorial Army. The strength on the 1st February last shows an increase of 192 officers and 4,851 other ranks over their strength on the 1st February last year. In the case of officers, the strength represents 81 per cent. of the peace establishment, and in the case of other ranks, nearly 79 per cent. The greatest care is being taken to enlist only men of the best type, and a really high standard is now maintained. The increase, therefore, is the more noteworthy and the more satisfactory. The new Air Defence units raised since 1924 are not so satisfactory. Only about 30 per cent. of the establishment has been reached. Of course, these are new units, and they have not got the prestige of the old regiments. Nevertheless, they form an important link in the defence system, and I hope that in the near future we shall see a marked improvement in their numbers. The 162nd East Midland Infantry Brigade, as well as some smaller units and many individual officers, took part in the Army manœuvres. I saw the brigade on the march and in action, and all that. I need say is that they fully maintained and even enhanced the reputation of the Territorial Army.
I cannot close now without publicly thanking General Lord Cavan for his four years' hard work as Chief of the Imperial General Staff. He completed a successful tenure of office last month. During his term of office the Army Estimates have literally been halved, and it is largely due to his broadmindedness that this has been made possible, and to his careful planning that it has been accomplished without a corresponding reduction in the efficiency of the Army.
§ Mr. WALSH
I am sure the House is indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for the very comprehensive statement to which we have just listened, much of 84 which was very interesting. I think it will be well if attention be directed to the Memorandum which the right hon. Gentleman was kind enough to issue to the House a little more than a week ago. He tells us that this is a new form in which the accounts are presented as compared with the form in which they have been presented during the last six years. Well, that is a fact, and it is a fact of a good deal of significance. I think it is a matter of genuine public importance, and I believe the Minister rightly estimated its significance by placing it in the forefront of his Memorandum. The latter possesses also an individual interest because of the attitude taken up by the right hon. Gentleman himself two years ago, and because of the relation in which I stood at that time. The right hon. Gentleman, almost exactly two years ago, took up a diametrically opposite attitude from that which he has taken to-day. I think it will interest the House if I quote the exact words he used on that occasion. I was a new and an untried Minister. I had to throw myself upon the indulgence of the House at that time—in March, 1924—and I shall always remember with gratitude the way in which I was received on that occasion. I have nothing, indeed, of which to complain in the kindly reception the right hon. Gentleman himself gave me, but I think I have a right to complain that certain matters which he deemed essential, certain matters which he thought had great money-saving possibilities, certain matters that he deemed to have been decided by one of the strongest Committees ever called together, certain matters decided by a Committee which he called into existence, should have been urged upon me with all the force and persuasion at the right hon. Gentleman's command, and then, almost immediately he gets the opportunity of carrying out this particular process himself, he devours every word he has spoken, and throws to the wind all the recommendations of that most powerful Committee. That is on the individual side. I think the House will bear with me if I, first of all, read a statement made by the right hon. Gentleman in his Memorandum. He says:Since 1919 Army Estimates have been presented under seven Heads in the cost form recommended by the Select Committee on National Expenditure, 1918. This year they revert to the old cash form, and are 85 shown under 15 separate Votes corresponding very closely to those of the other two Service Departments.This change has been made as the result of an exhaustive consideration of the experience derived from six years of cost accounting in the Army.That is what he says as the Secretary of State for War in 1926. This is what he said, not having been very long out of office, in March, 1924:In regard to the Lawrence Committee Report, I confess I was not quite satisfied with what the right hon. Gentleman said. He seemed to be a little timid about it.Why, Mr. Speaker, I was. I am timid by nature, a diffident and retiring man. But there was no modesty about him; nothing of my reticence—not a, bit of it. He had been Secretary of State for War from 1921 until well into 1923. He knew all about it. He said:That was a Committee which was set up by me.So it was.I will tell the House why I set it up, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will pursue this work. When I was at the War Office, the accounting and finance services, namely, the Finance Department, the Army Pay Corps, and the Corps of Military Accountants were costing—I speak from memory—£1,900,000 a year. That was an enormous sum, and I felt certain that if it was looked into a large reduction could be made. I succeeded in making a reduction "—There is no false modesty about that—of £100,000 a year by amalgamating the work of the Record Office with the Pay Office. I got that Committee set up, and the result of that Committee is now the subject of a White Paper, The present expenditure compared to the £1,900,000, as far as I can make out, is estimated to be £828,000, so already there is a saving of about £1,100,000 in the finance services, using that term in the broad sense, of the War Office. That is the cost of four battalions. This Report suggests that certain further steps should be taken, and it says that £240,000 could be saved if these steps are taken. Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman that this is the cost of an infantry battalion, and it is up to him to see that that saving is made in order that there shall not be any pressure to cut off any infantry battalion. The right hon. Gentleman says that that will take time. It has taken time to get this Report, and it has taken time to get these reductions, and he will find that it will require a good deal of energy on his part to get this carried through, but he ought to get it carried through. This Report was the Report of one of the strongest Committees ever set up. It was a combination of military, military administrative, financial and accounting experts.86 In reply to that, I will not say onslaught, but that very powerful plea, I replied that I had not been there very long, but I had submitted the matter to the Army Council, that I had quite recognised that the matter was one that was arousing a good deal of very proper attention, that the Army Council had got together, and on the very first occasion they agreed to its application. I went on to say:The one point on which I do feel a little doubt is, as to whether the result of the Committee's finding could be applied to the command of a unit in the same way as it can be applied, and successfully applied, to stated establishments. That is a point I will go into. That is, perhaps, one of the reasons why I have not been quite so direct in my references as I would otherwise have been.Speaking with due humility I thought, but the right hon. Gentleman followed me up by saying:I did not wish to suggest for a moment that there was any delay on the part of the right hon. 'Gentleman … What I want him to do in the future, whenever he can—I do not want it rushed; it must he very carefully considered. It is no use his trying to do it as Secretary of State and finding that his Department or his Military Office are lagging behind; they must all go along together on the same front …. because I believe there is quite a considerable amount of money in it. At present the system is a dual one.And so on. This is the statement of a right hon. Gentleman who was no tyro, who was no novice, who knew—I say this without any reservation—exactly what it was he was talking about, who knew exactly the composition of the Committee he had set up, and the conclusions they had reached, who had previous knowledge of the saving that could be effected, and urged me to go on with this Committee. Yet in the very first complete year in which he has had full authority, he throws over every suggestion he made to me, and all the work of that Committee, which he quite rightly described as one of the strongest that had ever been established.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
As the right hon. Gentleman has honoured me by quoting me so fully, would he mind quoting about ten more lines, because they show the real crux of what I was getting at?
§ Mr. WALSH
Certainly I will read it:There is a system of Vote Heads and of so-called cost accounting. There are two 87 sets of people doing that, each being paid, and, when it is done, the two systems do not agree, and a third set of people is employed in reconciling the work of the two first. That is going on at this moment, and the sooner it is corrected the better, because it is a sheer waste of money. I find myself in the very happy position of being in agreement with all the rest of the right hon. Gentleman's speech."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 13th March, 1924; cols. 2631–3, Vol. 170.]As a matter of fact, the system that is now being reverted to will not bring about that unity of accounting, that unity of system the right hon. Gentleman recognised here, and he knows it.
§ Mr. WALSH
It will do nothing of the kind. As a matter of fact, the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that, under the system of accounting to which we are now supposed to revert, the measure of Parliamentary control will be very seriously weakened. In one matter, I think, everybody, whatever may be his views, wherever he sits in this House, must agree, and I agree quite unreservedly, that during the last six years the War Office has been an example, really, to the other Service Departments, and the expenditure has been very largely reduced because of the system that was established from 1922 down to 1925. Anyone looking at the Report issued last year of the Army expenditure, and the various heads in which income and expenditure are ranged, need not be a special business man, and need not have any special knowledge of accounting, to see that under that method of costing and accounting, there is a far greater chance of effective control than there can be under the old system, which dates back to the time of Charles II.
Another point to which I would like to ask the attention of the House is as to whether, after all, in putting an end to the Corps of Military Accountants, we have acted upon those lines of equity which, I am quite sure, the right hon. Gentleman and the House will desire. There is an appreciable number of men who have had their engagements ended in a very drastic manner. As I understand it, the amount of compensation that is being granted in those cases is very small 88 indeed. I am not going to lay any allegation against the Department for a breach of faith. I am not going to say that legally these obligations could not be ended in the manner in which they have been determined. I do, however, ask the eight hon. Gentleman to consider whether in the case of these men, many of whom have given a great many years of service, some of them since 1914, they are being treated on those—I will not say generous, but I do say equitable—lines that one would desire should obtain in civil life if similar relations existed. Many of these men were certainly given to understand that their engagements might run for 21 years, and that they were upon pensionable conditions. Many of them, I am given to understand, are now in a position of having received a very small sum indeed upon the termination of their engagement, and I am quite sure, although, as I say, I refrain, and refrain scrupulously, from charging the Department or the Government with any definite breach of any legal obligation, that these men have the feeling that they have been treated in a narrow manner and that the conditions they were led to believe would operate in their case have not been by any means carried out.
I really would ask the Department to take this matter once again into consideration. For myself, I have gone into the terms of the contract of service which were entered into with them, and as my right hon. Friend knows, and knows perfectly well, I will not make an allegation of a breach of faith against the Department; but I am quite sure that in the minds of these men there does exist the idea that they have been treated in a narrow and rigid manner in view of the service they have given and the reasonable expectation to which they supposed they were able to look forward. These expectations are not being at all adequately met. I would ask my right hon. Friend really to give this matter further consideration. It. can not affect the Vote for the year 1926–27 to any appreciable extent, but it is in the highest interests of the State itself that any idea of unfair treatment, of narrow, or rigid, or unfair treatment, should be removed, and particularly in the case of men who have given long years of service such as has been given by many of these men.
89 In the interesting Memorandum which the right hon. Gentleman has presented to the House he speaks of Vocational Training. He says, on Page 6 of the Memorandum:Greater interest has been displayed by serving soldiers in land settlement in the Overseas Dominions, especially in regard to group settlement. The demand for vacancies in agricultural training classes at the Army Vocational Training Centre at Catterick had increased, and the number which can be trained in this and other branches of vacational training is only limited by financial consideration.The matter is dismissed by the right hon. Gentleman in those few sentences. Here, again, however, I would ask the House to compare the attitude in the present lime with the attitude taken by the right hon. Gentleman in 1924. Then the right hon. Gentleman said:I am glad the right hon. Gentleman said that the vocational training for men about to leave the Army was being developed, and I hope he will continue to develop it. He said it was started in April. 1923. I think he has got his date wrong, for I was conscious of it being in force when I was at the War Office. It is important that we should not go on turning men out of the Army on to the labour market as unskilled men. We ought while they are in the Service to furnish them with a training. I have not the slightest doubt that that is the least we can do for the men we asked to join the Army. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will arrange with the trade unions that the training these men receive while in the Army shall count.''—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th March, 1924; cols. 2630 and 2631, Vol. 170.]I have listened to certain Debates in this House. I have listened to answers given by the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. I have noticed the very slight references to vocational training. I would really ask whether it is being limited merely by financial considerations? I say that that is not, and cannot be correct! Some of my hon. Friends and myself upon the Army Council paid a visit to Catterick Camp. We went there to see for ourselves, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, what was going on. We saw the work. We saw the agricultural training. We saw the craft work, the shoemaking, the carpentry, and the bricklaying. We saw a great deal of the men's useful and, indeed, necessary work, and we saw what very fine possibilities there were in that training camp at Catterick. Some of us went into the accounts, having knowledge of figures. I say unhesitatingly that all the cost of the voca- 90 tional training at Catterick is met, and more than met, by the income resulting from the labours of the men. I am extremely glad that that is so, that the cost is more than met by the income resulting from the labours of these men. I am very much afraid, however, that it is not a matter of financial consideration—that no financial considerations are involved! It is a question rather of the spirit that is being brought to bear by the governing authorities upon this very serious matter of the training of the men in the last few months before they are turned out upon the local labour market. The question is one of great importance. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend should have dismissed it with such a curt reference as we see in this paragraph.
The necessity of the British Army being armed against all contingencies was also referred to by the right hon. Gentleman. "We have," he says, "an immense area over which to operate and are different from every other nation under the sun." But it is necessary for us to keep a force of cavalry because later conditions may arise in which horses may be required? It may be the case. Nobody can guard against all human contingencies, but I should have thought, and I do think, that the day of the horse is past, or at least is rapidly passing even if we should visualise another war. I am as sure as I am of my own existence that there would he no useful function that horses could serve in that war that could not be performed 10 times more effectively by mechanical means. These ought to he developed to the utmost as against the existence and the use of the horse. I cannot imagine that the horse can be viewed other than an anachronism. It is now a misplacement in military history. The Department ought to be devoting more of its efforts towards the mechanicalisation of the Army rather than preserving that which is rapidly passing into a stage fit only for a zoological museum.
I note that there are nine brigades of cavalry as against one mechanical field brigade. I cannot imagine that there is any possible justification for such a contingency—to such an extent! If there is to be any appreciable reduction, the reduction ought to be taken on the lines I have indicated. I am quite sure that the Army Council itself, before very long, will per- 91 ceive that these remarks are not in any sense far-fetched, but simply in accord with the ordinary development of military operations, having regard to the technical and scientific side which operations must take in the future. The right hon. Gentleman also spoke about the reduction of the personnel in the Royal Ordnance Department. I am sorry to hear of it. I suppose there is a reduction going on now and towards the end of the financial year. I understand that 900 men are being dismissed.
I am sorry to, hear it. I cannot conceive the necessity for it. There are no conditions in which Woolwich Arsenal cannot compete with the most skilled private employer. The evidence upon that matter is overwhelming, either in cost, material efficiency, work completed, or the general conditions under which Woolwich Arsenal operates. The costs of all material necessary for construction compare, and compare favourably, with the best private employers in the country. I cannot understand why it should be necessary to hand over work to private concerns to such an extent as involves the dismissal of 900 men in the ensuing year in addition to the number of men that are already under notice of discharge. I do not want to say much more.
But let me say this: that the new system of accounting and costing that has to take place in the future is really most regrettable; it is a reactionary method. I am convinced that the control of this House, already imperfect and delusive, will be rendered still less than what it is at the present time. There was a real hope of this House, and the Department itself—that is, the War Office—getting greater and greater control of the accounts from day to day. Under this particular system I am quite sure the control would be less and less as the days go on, and if Departmental control is difficult to operate it will be still more difficult in the case of this House which, after all, is supposed to be the final arbiter of our expenditure. For these various reasons I shall, on behalf of my party, oppose the. Motion that you, Mr. Speaker, do leave the Chair.
§ ROBERT HUTCHISON
I would like first to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the very clear and concise statement he delivered to the House. I think it was an admirable statement, and gave us all the information we required. I am glad he has been able to reduce the Estimates by over £2,000,000 without exciting undue agitation against those reductions, and without interfering with the fighting strength of our Army. Although our expenditure on all the Services two years ago was very much less than it is to-day, the War Office is to be congratulated upon the fact that they, as distinct from the other Services, have been able to show a continuous reduction during the last six years. The Army has important duties throughout our large Empire and our mandated territory, and the kind of Army we need depends largely on the policy laid down by the Government; and if we undertake the occupation of Iraq and Palestine, and if we get situations such as are indicated by what is going on at Geneva, undoubtedly we shall have to provide for the future an army possibly even greater than the existing one. It depends, not so much on the Secretary of State and the Army Council as on the Government and the Prime Minister as to whether or not we can have future reductions.
I, for one, am sorry the Secretary of State has thought it necessary to reduce the amount of money devoted to the Territorial Army. Ever since the end of the War we have missed a great opportunity in not knitting together much more closely the old Army and the civil population. During the War they came together and were knit one with another. Now, it seems to me, they are inclined to drift apart again, and I think that tendency is a mistake. In 1919 the Hamilton Gordon Committee recommended a different type of Army, and two years ago, I think, when referring to that Committee, I pointed out that they had shown one thing clearly above all others—the desirability of bringing the old Army into closer touch with the Territorial Army. Although the Committee which looks after the Territorial Army have agreed to this reduction of money—and they could not help agreeing to it—this reduction must, in effect, lessen the amount of work which can be done for the Territorial Army, and lessen the amount of intercourse between the two branches of the 93 Service. I am glad to think that the training grant is not to be altered in that respect, but that is not sufficient. I think it is false economy to cut the small sum required for the Territorial Army, having regard to certain other possible cuts which I will suggest later.
The reduction of £400,000 in regard to munitions, which will affect Woolwich Arsenal, and which has been referred to by the late Secretary of State for War, is, I think, possibly a mistake. As the stocks of munitions are used up next year and the year after the Secretary of State for War will be forced to ask for additional money for munitions, and, therefore, although for the moment there may be a saving on the War Office Vote it certainly is not a national saving, because the men driven out of employment at Woolwich will undoubtedly be largely thrown on to the unemployment register. Possibly these skilled men may even yet be retained, if the Government think fit to take another course. I was interested to hear the Secretary of State for War claim that the Army manœuvres of last year were an unqualified success. I have a recollection of reading in the "Morning Post" at the end of the manœuvres a very great soldier's remarks upon them, and I think his criticisms are well worth study. If have one remark to make, it is that I thoroughly agree with the Secretary of State that the Army manœuvres are very necessary for training in the higher leading, and for training in handling of supplies. They are even of greater value from that point of view than they are for the tactical training of troops, which can possibly be better done by divisional training. The mechanicalisation of the Army must move on lines which will get the wagons off the roads. Long columns must not be tied to the roads. From what I saw in the War and from the knowledge I have had of organisation, I am certain that an army which is tied to the roads becomes so much more vulnerable and can be hung up and dealt with accordingly by an opponent. I regret that economy has caused the Secretary of State to cut out the purchase of extra land on Salisbury Plain. Everybody knows how necessary it is to have a training ground for our Army, and I hope that he will be able to find enough money from some hid-den source to proceed with that purchase. However we may use the 94 Manœuvres Act in order to get territory for our annual manœuvres, it is only by having land actually under the War Office command that divisional and other training can take place, especially artillery training.
I notice an Amendment on the Paper in the name of an hon. and gallant Friend of mine in the Service dealing with the unification of control of the three Services. This, no doubt, will be debated later on a suitable occasion, but I would like to say now that we cannot expect a great reduction in the cost of any one of the Services unless we have this unification. One might put the War Office and the Air Force under the Admiralty, and run them at much cheaper cost, or one might put the Admiralty and the Air Force under the Army and secure a reduction of cost in that way. It is not a question of one Service being more efficient than the other, but a question of one having control of expenditure, and thereby cutting out duplication. The Supply Services, in particular, I think, would lend themselves to this treatment; but I will not elaborate those points on this occasion, as the subject will come before the House, I hope, at an early date. I hope something will be done by the Secretary of State with regard to the Staff College. Year by year we get an enormous number of candidates going up for examination, and very few vacancies. I do not know what the numbers are this year, but I am informed they are very large indeed. I am not sure whether there ought not to be some preliminary process for the elimination of candidates, for to have these large numbers going up for examination when there are so few vacancies means a waste of time for some of the officers. Perhaps the selection might be made more drastic before officers are allowed to go up, or perhaps the ages at which they are eligible to sit for the examination might be restricted.
I am very glad indeed to associate myself with the remarks made by the Secretary of State when he congratulated Lord Cavan on his excellent service as Chief of the Imperial General Staff. It needed very hard work on his part to keep on with the continual reductions which the War Office forced upon him. May I also congratulate the Army and the 95 War Office on the new Chief of the Imperial General Staff, for I am sure that that hard-headed Scotsman will see we get value for our money.
There are one or two other questions I would like to ask the Secretary of State, though perhaps he may think it is not in the public interest to answer them. Is he quite satisfied that the mobilisation of the existing divisions is sufficiently good for the purpose for whit the Army exists? Can all the divisions be mobilised inside a time schedule? Are the specialists required for those divisions forthcoming? I was glad to see the formation of a special reserve to bring in civilian specialists for that purpose, and I would like to know how far that scheme has been successful, and how far we have advanced during the year with the betterment of our mobilisation arrangements. Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied, also, that our Army is properly balanced in other words, is the incoming of recruits and the discharge of soldiers at the end of their service more or less balanced. Can we look forward now to some years in which the incomings and the outgoings will be about equal, and, if not, what arrangements is it proposed to make in order to balance the Army?
I regret there has been no mention of depots. In the cavalry they have tried during the past few years to bring together the various units into one large depot, and it seems to me that the same saving and possible increase of efficiency could be arrived at by combining depots and concentrating in larger areas. I do not know whether this cuts across the old regimental system, but I know it was under consideration some years ago, and I think that if the right hon. Gentleman brought this matter to the attention of the staff that possibly the Adjutant-General might be able to make some saving by a unification of depots, so doing away with some of the staff maintained at an innumerable number of small depots. Are the requirements of India as regards the British Army now stabilised, or do the Indian Government propose further to cut down their call on the British army? I notice that my old regiment has come home from India, being one less now required in India. Are the other arms stable now, or are they affected or likely to be affected in the future? The 96 same applies to the Rhine army, and I think some statement ought to be made as to how the Rhine army could be absorbed in the Home Force. I take it that that army has now got its place in our mobilisation machine, and that it is possible under arrangements with Germany, as a result of the meeting at Geneva that we may have to face the home-coming of these units. Has any scheme been worked out for the placing of these various units in the larger units at home?
There are two other points I wish to raise. Has the Secretary of State for War ever considered the actual giving of distinguished or meritorious service awards. I know they are given to distinguished officers, but some of those officers who have received them have not needed them from a financial point of view. Could this not be so arranged that these awards should only be given to officers who really require the small amount of award that is given. I know several officers with very large incomes who have had these awards, and in future it might be worthy of consideration as to whether they should be given to those who are really hard up, because anyone who has served in the Army knows that these awards are a very valuable addition to the income of those who have to live on their pay only.
§ Sir R. HUTCHISON
I would like them to be given in addition to service and merit. As regards the staff of the War Office, I know how very difficult it is to cut down in this direction, and it is extremely difficult to get the various Departments to give up even one clerk or officer. I do think, however, if you take into consideration the amount of work that was done prior to 1914, when we had the German menace in front of us, and the fact that we have a definite target now we are in a state of tranquillity and peace, we are in a position when a greater reduction in some of the Departments of the War Office might be undertaken. I know it is extremely difficult to do this, and modern requirements have moved along in the direction of the employment of more officers and staff, but it is not beyond possibility that we ought to have in addition to the reduction this year repeated reductions in this direc- 97 tion in succeeding years. I conclude by saying that I hope that in the Debates that are likely to come in regard to unification of the Services we shall see more economy. That is the only way we are going to get better value for the money spent, not only on the Army, but on the other Services.
Major-General Sir J. DAVIDSON
I shall be very brief in speaking on these Estimates this afternoon. I should like, first of all, to congratulate the Secretary of State for War on the very useful information he has given to the House, and I should also like to congratulate him upon the reduction of £2,000,000 in the expenditure which has been effected without affecting the strength of the Fighting Services. Under the conditions in which the right hon. Gentleman found himself, that must be considered to be highly satisfactory. I should like to ask what is being done in regard to fixed defences both at home and in regard to our defended bases overseas. I know that it is right to take the General Staff view on this matter, which no doubt is the correct one, but I have a feeling that in these days we ought to spend our money more on mobile defences than upon fixed defences. I would like to know how much money is being spent in the establishment of heavy armaments and guns of large calibre. What is being done in regard to aerial defence in Gibraltar? I raised this question last year, and I want to know if the Committee of Imperial Defence is going into this matter, and is it the intention of the Government to maintain aircraft in Gibraltar? I doubt very much if their maintenance there would be of any value in war time.
I wish now to turn for a moment to what I consider to be a very grave matter in relation to all defence questions, and that is the fact that we have a dead weight of debt of £7,000,000,000 sterling, and we have now stabilised our annual expenditure at something near £800,000,000 a year. I have not heard this point made very often, but it is incontrovertible that we do require expansion in our finance in war just as much as we require an increase in the power of expansion in our fighting forces; and you cannot get the necessary power of expansion in your fighting 98 forces if you have not got that power of expansion in finance. With this heavy dead-weight of expenditure, I can see very little possibility of expansion in finance. This is a very important question. I have studied most carefully the Air Ministry's Estimates, amounting to £16,600,000, and I confess that I could riot see how they could be reduced; on the contrary, I had a feeling that in some respects they were below the mark, and a, considerably greater amount ought to have been provided. Again, in the ease of the Navy Estimates, I fail to see how we could reduce even that large sum of £58,000,000. I think the Secretary of State for War has done very well to reduce, the Army expenditure from £44,500,000 to £42,500,000, but I am staggered when I realise that the total sum to be spent on our defences has reached the enormous sum of £117,000,000.
We cannot possibly continue to carry on an expenditure of that sort. We ought to get. better value for the £117,000,000 if we are going to continue to spend that amount. I think the leakage is to be found in the overlapping, and the waste which exists between the three Forces, and not in any particular Service itself. I am not going to discuss this afternoon the advantages or the disadvantages of establishing a Ministry of Defence. I believe we are going to have an opportunity later on of discussing that subject. But I would like to say that I am not one of those who advocate jumping straight into a Ministry of Defence, although I think we ought to go very much quicker than we are going. Just look for a moment at the volume of opinion in this House in favour of it. Almost everybody who has spoken up to date this year on this particular question has advocated something drastic being done in the way of the co-ordination of the three Services to achieve the necessary economies, quite apart from the question of efficiency. Lord Esher, who is a knowledgeable person, and who was the head of the Esher Committee, looks upon the establishment of some machinery for attaining this object as a logical outcome of the recommendations in his Report. The Chancellor of the Exchequer advocated the establishment of a Ministry of Defence only a year ago, and two years ago the Salisbury Committee recommended very strongly that there should be some means of co-ordina- 99 tion between the three Services, and yet very little has been done. There is still the Colwyn Report. I want to ask the War Minister, as many other people have asked him, what is in the Colwyn Report, and are we going to have that. Report published?
Sir J. DAVIDSON
All I can say is that if we are not going to have it then we can only jump to our own conclusions as to what is in it. Personally, I am very suspicious as to what is in it, and I rather think the Colwyn Committee has made some sort of adverse criticism against the Army and the Navy, and I think it has rather patted their younger brother on the back. It is a very pitiable thing when one sees a man getting on in years engaged in business going down hill, getting beyond his work, recognising that things are getting beyond his power, and suffering from a certain amount of ineptitude and decrepitude. I am not referring to the right hon. Gentleman. As a rule, an individual in that state if he does not realise what has happened soon finds his business going from him, and there are only two things for him to do. One is to transfer some of his business to his younger brother who is showing more business aptitude for the work and showing greater scientific skill, and the other is to take his younger brother into partnership on equal terms. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that the Admiralty should hand over the aircraft carriers entirely to the Air Ministry, and that the right hon. Gentleman should offer—
Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Hope)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is rather criticising the general relations between the Admiralty and the Air Force, but we are now considering only the Army Estimates.
Sir J. DAVIDSON
I will not develop my argument further on those lines, but I should like to say that the right hon. Gentleman would be very well advised if he took his younger and abler brother into partnership in some form or another by providing a combined General Staff for studying these joint questions which have so long been neglected. It is all very well to say they have not been neglected, but I maintain that they have 100 and I will give the House an example. I asked the other day the War Minister about his Land Department, how much land he administered, and what the cost of it was, and I put a similar question to the other Departments. I find there are some 250,000 acres of land administered by the three Services, and the cost of administration comes to about £40,000 or £50,000, which I think is wholly excessive. A very distinguished general returned from overseas the other day, and he pointed out a thing I had not realised before, which was that when you undress a soldier, sailor, or an airmen in a hospital, they all look exactly alike. I do not want to pursue this subject any further now; I shall have something to say about it when it comes up for discussion later in the House.
There is another matter that I should like to mention to ray right hon. Friend. I am very glad that he has not interfered with the cavalry, or reduced the strength of the mounted arm. I should like to say why I am glad of this. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) will, I think, remember speaking in the House only a short time ago on this subject, when he said he thought it, would be a good thing to abolish the cavalry altogether. I see that he agrees with that statement and holds to it, but I would ask him what he is going to substitute for cavalry for tactical reconnaisance? He talked of the Air, but, of course, he knows quite well that air reconnaisance can never take the place in tactical reconnaisance which is filled by cavalry patrols, which are necessary, not only in Palestine and other parts of the world like that, but also in Continental warfare as well. Cavalry is absolutely essential for this purpose, and cannot be replaced by anything else. I hope, therefore, that we shall hear less of the abolition of cavalry in the future.
I should like to point out one other thing to the right hon. Gentleman. He mentioned that cavalry in the great War were useless as cavalry, although very useful for dismounted work in the trenches, in the same way as infantry. I should like to point out—and this is a thing I can talk about, because I do know something of it—that, if we had had more cavalry in the concluding stages of the War, we should have had a very much 101 earlier peace and, I think, a better peace politically, and I regret very much that we bad not got them. In conclusion, I should like to point out one other thing to my right hon. Friend, and I do not do so in any menacing way at all. He referred to the necessity for economy as a whole. I would ask him whether he can bring pressure to bear on his colleagues so that next year we shall have a responsible Minister giving us in this House a plain, straightforward statement in regard to Imperial defence as a whole, showing the amount of money that is necessary for defence, and that that will receive the consideration of the House prior to the discussion on the three separate Estimates. I would also say that, unless that be done, I really do not feel conscientiously that I shall be able to go into the Division Lobby and vote for these large sums without some idea of their correlation in the Estimates. I think the economy that has been effected is quite excellent under the difficult conditions, but I should like to conclude by saying that next year I look for a bigger economy, carried out in circumstances which will be easier for my right hon. Friend, or whoever is occupying his position.
§ Mr. SNELL
I desire to ask the attention of the House to an aspect of this matter which was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. Walsh—a matter of very vital importance to the borough I represent, and also a matter of national importance. It is, to put it shortly, whether the Government is under any sort of obligation towards the nation to allot to the factories which the nation has built and equipped a generous proportion of the orders for work that it has to bestow, or whether the Government is going very slowly to starve those factories into a state of inefficiency in order to divert its orders to private contractors whose prices are higher and who supply inferior material. The hon. and gallant Member for Fare-ham (Sir J. Davidson) referred to the tragedy of the person who, in advancing age, finds his business slipping from him. That is the condition in which a great many of the Government servants at Woolwich and other places find themselves at this hour. The Government is discharging from its service men between 60 and 65 years of age, who have been specially trained for its needs, and who 102 have not the remotest chance of getting work in outside firms at their time of life. We understand that some 900 men are to be discharged and the machinery belonging to the nation kept idle, while at the same time a great many orders are being diverted to private contractors to be fulfilled. These men working in the Government yards are specially trained. They have no chance of competing in the outside labour market, and the loss of work is not only a personal tragedy to them, but the nation also loses their skill and training, and the overhead charges on the national factories are increased to their disadvantage, putting them at a great disadvantage in regard to the future.
I am not sure that the House realises that the national factories are on a, competitive basis. They have to tender for all the work they get, and it is a rule, I understand, in contracting for business, that, where the quality of the goods is beyond question, the firm that tenders the lowest price gets the contract. It that rule were applied to the national factories, we should have very little reason to complain, but the very opposite is the case. In Woolwich Arsenal, at any rate, the goods supplied are beyond all question as regards quality, and the price, on a competitive basis, is below that which any contractor offers; and yet, although we contract in this way, supplying a better material at a lower price, we do not get the work, which is diverted to people who charge a higher price for inferior material. That imposes an additional burden upon a locality which the Government flatters when it is in trouble, and which it deliberately impoverishes directly the danger is past.
We have put this matter before the Government on many occasions, and I would like to say that we are always met by a perfectly disarming courtesy both from the Secretary of State for War, the Under-Secretary, and all the permanent officials; but we are never able to alter what one fears is a per verse policy of the Government in regard to the allocation of this work. The defence of the Government is that it is necessary to subsidise outside firms by giving them work irrespective of the question of price. If it be necessary, which we doubt, we suggest that that favour should be restricted to 103 decent proportions. It must he remembered that these firms cyan adapt their machinery to Government purposes at quite short notice. If a war were, unhappily, to come, their ordinary business would be immediately arrested, and they would be clamouring for the privilege of supplying Government needs. The experience of the nation at the outbreak of the Great War was that the firms who had not been receiving Government favours in the shape of contracts at high prices were as ready to serve the Government in its need as were those who had been subsidised. That means that a certain number of firms in the country are being deliberately subsidised to the disadvantage of other firms in regard to the supply of these materials. What does seem to be necessary is that there should be an ample staff of trained men retained in the Government service, so that, in ease of need, they could be detailed for instructional purposes for the immediate urgencies of the case. When the War broke out, the Arsenal was starved in that respect; it had not sufficient men available to do, this detailed instructional work. It had been pared to the bone, just as it is being pared to the bone now. Men had to work night and day, seven days in the. week, in order to prevent a national disaster, which nearly arose because the national factories had been subjected to the special needs of outside contractors.
I desire to urge another point of view, which is that these outside firms have access to the world's markets, while we have not. It may very rightly be urged, in a national institution like this, that those firms must live, and that they, too, have workmen who must earn their bread. We admit that, but, if it be true, the facts should at any rate he truly stated. Whereas the Government factories are of necessity restricted to such work as the Government needs in one department only of its requirements, the outside firms have the whole world for a market, whether in peace or in war. When trade is had, they can adapt their machinery to alternative work, and when it is good both employers and men share in the prosperity. But the Government factories do not share in these opportunities. They are worked to death in time of war, and it seems to me, at any rate, that they have the right, quite apart from the fact that they produce the right kind 104 of goods at the right price, to expect that the Government will not starve them in time of peace while it spoon-feeds the private contractor. To take an illustration, this House will shortly be asked to vote a sum of £10,000,000 for East African development—a proper request for the House to consider—
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. SNELL
—a proper development in Africa and elsewhere; but let it be remembered that, while private contractors will get their share of this, not a penny of it will go to Government yards. I should like to say a word or two on the question of cost. I have always understood that it was a business principle that every efficient business should aim at getting the very best materials at the cheapest price. Cheapness and quality are the tests which hon. Members opposite apply in every business with which they are connected, and, if their balance-sheets show any suggestion of financial weakness, they search for the cause, and sacrifice everything to eliminate that cause. What they do in their own business, they are under a moral obligation to do as trustees for the business of the State. The Government is using the taxpayers' money, and this House is under an obligation to see that it gets the very best value for the money that is being spent. I would ask hon. Members opposite, or in any part of the House, whether they would keep their own men and machinery idle, and allow their trained and essential men to pass from them to do exactly the same kind of work for their competitors, while they are purchasing an inferior article at a higher price? It is a dangerous thing to mention figures, because nothing would please the Department more than to trip me up over a question of a farthing or a fraction, but I believe am right in saying there is not a thing that we produce at Woolwich Arsenal that is not produced at a far cheaper rate, and of higher efficiency than what the Government get from outside. On a recent occasion, I mentioned the ease of cartridges that were manufactured at a far cheaper rate in our own factories. I mentioned also the question of tanks.
There is a further question that I desire to ask to-day. If a sum of money is to be saved on ordnance work, is the whole of it to be borne by the national factories or are the private factories to share in 105 this loss, and, if so, to what extent? We are led to understand that the Government are compelled to do these things because of the great need for economy. Economy is so urgent that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is compelled to resort to devices which I hope someone in the Debates this week will properly characterise. If he is keen about economy, I ask him to look into this matter. If he wants to save some millions and do the nation a good turn, here is an opportunity. When we approach Ministers for money for social purposes, we are always told nothing would be dearer to their hearts than to be able to do these things if it were not for the stony-hearted Treasury, whom they cannot move, and it seems that this omnipotent tyrant is over the Government Departments. If that he so, here is an opportunity for the Treasury to make a great economy and at the same time to secure greater efficiency, and, if the Government are unable to review its decision on the matter I am speaking about, I suggest that they consider the appointment of a Select Committee which will go into these questions in detail and report to the House as to what is required.
I should like to say a word on the matter as it affects the borough I represent. One of our difficulties in Woolwich is that the Government monopolise the whole of the available industrial sites. It takes the whole of the river front, and there is no place where alternative businesses can be established. Then if there is no room for other businesses, if the town is organised for the supply of Government needs, the Government are under a kind of moral obligation to consider the welfare of this town before they turn work from it and give it to people outside. The history of the Ordnance factories, especially the history of Woolwich Arsenal, is one long tragic story of short-sighted folly. War after war has caught the Arsenal understaffed and unprepared for the emergency that has come upon it. Over and over again it has been compelled to improvise special work in order to get the nation out of a very great difficulty. Over and over again it has been promised. that never again shall its staff be reduced below the standard of required safety, but always, after the 106 promise has been given, it has been forgotten, and in order to pamper the menacing armament ring it has been reduced below the margin of safety. We shall never he told by the Government by how many months the Great War was prolonged and how many young lives were sacrificed because in the early months of the War we were not able to meet the emergency. We are, therefore, in the position of having to ask the Government to reconsider their policy upon this matter. We have no political influence, we have no patronage to bestow, but we have justice on our side, and in the name of justice we put our case before the nation.
Lieut.-Colonel LAMBERT WARD
It is with considerable diffidence that I intervene in the Debate, but I am encouraged to do so by the fact that I am one of the very few Territorial Commanding Officers on the active list in this House. On the other hand, it is a very great deterrent that I am called upon to follow two such very distinguished senior officers as those who spoke earlier in the Debate. In the War days when, as a simple Territorial, I was commanding a battalion on the Western front my knees used to knock together at the very thought that the hon. and gallant Member for Fareham (Sir J. Davidson) might be flying overhead, and on one occasion, when we had been warned that a visit was imminent and we had carefully dressed our front line shelter in anticipation, a thrill went through the battalion headquarters on an aeroplane suddenly appearing through the clouds. Close inspection, however, showed two black Maltese crosses on the under side, and a sigh of relief went round. "It is all right. It is only a Hun." With regard to what has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ince (Mr. Walsh) and the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Snell) who has just spoken, we on this side regret as much as they do the discharges which appear to be imminent from Woolwich Arsenal, but I do not agree that there is any greater hardship in discharging men from the Arsenal than from a private firm. I would remind those two hon. Gentlemen that a few years ago, when we were anxious to avoid discharges from the Arsenal, 100 locomotives were built and the Government had the very greatest difficulty in disposing 107 of those locomotives, which were subsequently sold at a very considerable loss. Further, either in that year or the following year, a very heavy Supplementary Estimate was needed to make good the losses that had been incurred at the Arsenal in their endeavours to compete with private firms.
From the point of view of the Territorial Force the principal feature that emerges from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, who, I hope, will allow me to congratulate him upon it, is the fact that a reduction of very nearly £200,000 is to be made in the Territorial Vote. As a serving Territorial, I must admit that I regret that reduction, but I think I am voicing the views of Territorial commanding officers generally when I say we recognise the absolutely paramount necessity for economy. So many people always want to economise at someone else's expense. So many people say, "Oh, yes, by all means economise, but for God's sake not in my Department." An economy in a service in which one is particularly interested is bound to come rather hard, but we in the Territorial Army are not as selfish as some people. We recognise the need for economy, and we recognise that this £180,000 is essential. But £180,000 is a big proportion of the total Territorial Vote. It may easily make a big difference in finance. But we do not grudge it now that we are assured that it is not going to be taken out of our training Vote and handed over to the Civil Service to play lawn tennis with. With regard to one or two other economies that might be effected in the Territorial Force, I have thought for some time that there is a possibility of doing a little in that direction in the matter of the expenditure on the annual camp. The annual camp training takes up a very considerable sum of money. Everyone knows how difficult it is to find suitable camping and training areas. It is difficult enough to find a suitable camping area for a division, and when you have found it it is still more difficult to find a suitable area on which a division can expect to be trained. It has occurred to me that it might effect a saving in the long run if the War Office were to acquire permanently a few sites of that character and erect permanent camps. By that, I 108 mean merely putting in the expenditure and the work necessary for a camp site.
The old days when the battalion water cart was considered an adequate water supply for a unit have gone by, and in these days water must be laid on for the cookhouses, the washhouses and the camp generally, and it seems to me an economy would be effected by doing that once for all on some permanent camping ground instead of doing what only too frequently happens now, erecting some temporary building, putting down a temporary water supply, and three weeks later taking the whole thing up again. Some two or three years ago a water supply was laid on to a divisional camping area at a cost of something between £3,000 and £4,000. Three weeks later the whole thing was taken up again. Surely, it would be an economy in the long run to do that once for all on some permanent site. I know the fact that the Territorial training season is so short accentuates the difficulty of doing work of that kind, but is there any reason why the whole of the Territorial camping season should be confined to August? Several units I know of would be only too glad to go away earlier in the year, and I do not think it. would affect the attendance one iota if, instead of confining the camping season to the first fortnight or three weeks in August, it were extended over June, July and August. The days are long and the weather is, if anything, better. It would avoid the competition for the services of the Navy, Army and Air Force canteens and for the, various stores that one looks upon for additional comfort and convenience. It would avoid that congestion in the railway service which is so noticeable in August and which compels the railway companies to send Territorial units down to camp after midnight, which means that as far as work is concerned the next day does not exist, because you cannot expect the men to travel all night and train the following day.
I should like to direct attention to the question of machine guns and light automatic rifles, and to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he thinks it possible to tell the House what progress, if any, has been made with the experiment to evolve an automatic rifle to supersede the Lewis gun. The Lewis gun, effective though it undoubtedly is, is a kind of hybrid or mongrel. It is too heavy and cumbersome to be an ideal light auto- 109 matic gun, and at the same time its mounting is not sufficiently rigid or sufficiently stable to enable it to do the work which a machine gun is properly called upon to do. The machine gun is one of the most effective of the modern weapons of war. If one might judge it simply and solely as a man-killer, it is probably the most effective. A short time ago the Machine Gun Corps war memorial was very adversely criticised owing to the fact that on it there was an inscription, in Biblical language, paying tribute to the effectiveness of the machine gun.
I am rather inclined to regret the disappearance of the old Machine Gun Corps, because during its existence one felt that there was a unit whose duty it was definitely to take a special interest in this particular weapon. To-day the machine gun is rather in the position of being nobody's child, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say anybody's child, which means that, it is bound to suffer, if not from neglect, at any rate from the competition of other arms. The fact that the machine gun is such an extraordinarily effective weapon in modern warfare ought to make it a special charge on some particular branch of the Service, and it behoves the right hon. Gentleman and this House to see that, these guns are provided in sufficient quantities to enable them to be used to their best tactical advantage. The right hon. Gentleman will probably say that the tactical use of the machine gun comes rather within the purview of the General Staff. That is undoubtedly so, but it, is for him to provide the guns and for this House to insist that the guns are provided in the necessary quantities.
None of the military text books that have hitherto been written have laid sufficient stress on the cheapness of the machine gun, upon the ease with which it can be replaced, and the elementary fact that it is much easier to replace a machine gun that it is to replace the machine gunner. The old shibboleth, that to lose one's guns is to lose one's honour, should have no place in modern military tactics. That fetish originated 200 years ago, when a, gun was almost irreplaceable. Even 100 years ago, in the Peninsula, a gun that was lost could not be replaced for many months, and, possibly, not even during the course of the campaign. To-day it is infinitely easier to replace the gun, particularly the machine gun, 110 than it is to replace the men who serve it. In. these circumstances, it is simply criminal to throw men's lives away like dirt to save a gun, particularly a machine gun, which can be replaced so easily. The cost price of a Vickers gun at the present time is, approximately, £50, and one firm in this country can produce that gun at the rate, if required, of 1,000 a, week. There are several other firms who could give a similar output if they were called upon to do so. The value of a machine gunner is variously estimated at from £3,000 to £5,000, and he cannot be replaced in less than six months, even leaving the humanitarian aspect of the case entirely out of consideration.
The same argument applies in a lesser degree to all kinds of transport, particularly mechanical transport. It is much cheaper to have a lorry hit by a shell or a bomb than it is to lose a man, even leaving the humanitarian aspect out of the question. The point I want to make is this, that if it comes to a question between losing men and losing a machine gun it ought to he the gun every time. A good many hon. Members may think that such a statement is the merest platitude and that no one in their senses would think of doing anything else. May I suggest that that is far from the cases? Officers who commanded battalions of the line and who had the misfortune to suffer heavy casualties, amounting in some cases practically to the annihilation of their battalion, had their losses filled up again without any question being asked. Had they, on the other hand, succeeded in saving their men and losing their Lewis guns, they would in all probability have been sent home. There are innumerable cases of men being decorated and rewarded for having saved their guns when they had lost their entire section.
I remember the case of a noncommissioned officer receiving the Military Medal at the hands of the Corps Commander, because he had saved a Lewis gun, although he had lost his entire section. Let us try to work out a balance-sheet of that transaction from the point of view of the taxpayer. In the section which he lost probably two men were killed and two were wounded. Two of the men killed were in all probability married, and of the two men wounded one was probably a 50 111 per cent. disability for the rest of his life. The result would be a pension of something in the neighbourhood of £300 for an indeterminate number of years at a capitalised value of about £5,000. All that, in order to save a miserable Lewis gun worth about £20, leaving entirely out of the question the suffering, the human misery and the grief.
Only quite recently, in connection with a tactical exercise, a discussion arose as to the relative position of a section of Vickers guns and two rifle sections, and the explanation given that the rifle sections were placed there to cover the withdrawal of the Vickers guns was received by the directing staff without comment Surely, in view of the relative values of the two sections and the relative ease with which the Vickers guns could be replaced, the Vickers guns ought to have been used to cover the withdrawal of the men. The trouble is that, hitherto, there never has been an adequate reserve of machine guns to enable them to be used in this way. If they are to be used to their best tactical advantage risks must be taken, and if risks are taken guns, undoubtedly, will be lost. It is our duty and the duty of the right hon. Gentleman to see to it that there is an ample reserve of guns to replace the guns lost, and if the money be not forthcoming economies must be effected in other directions.
A Vickers gun, well sighted, may easily do the work of an entire company, but you cannot eight a Vickers gun to its best advantage if you have to do it with one eye constantly on the possibility of withdrawing that gun. Vickers guns which are sighted with the sole object of a field of fire will undoubtedly be lost, but, as I have already explained, it is easier to replace them than it is to replace the men. Objection may possibly be taken to this, owing to the fact that Vickers guns lost in large quantities would provide valuable material for the enemy, but there is no real reason that a gun should ever pass into the hands of the enemy in a serviceable condition. The Vickers gun is a comparatively delicate weapon, and two or three blows with a light axe or, better still, the use of a Mills bomb or a stick of dynamite will render the gun unserviceable for good and all. There is no reason why any gun should ever pass into the hands of the enemy in any condition other than as scrap iron.
112 It is imperative that we must have the guns in the necessary quantities, and it rests with the right hon. Gentleman and this House to see to it that the guns are in sufficient quantities so that they can be used in the proper way, namely, to economise man power and to protect the whole of the valuable men serving the guns rather than be compelled to sacrifice the men and protect the guns.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
The speech of the hon. and gallant Member who has just resumed his seat is one of exceptional interest. It is the first time that we have had the value of the machine and the value of the man placed in juxtaposition, and a plea made, which I hope will be listened to in the highest circles, that the higher value of the man shall be taken into account. May I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his £2,000,000 reduction, but may I ask him whether that reduction is really money saved or whether it is due to our exhausting stores and cutting down necessary replacement? I am a little nervous at this change in the system of accounting lest that change may be one of the methods used or available for concealing reductions of stores, which are not really a saving on the Army Votes, because they have to be made up at some future time. The point I want to raise was raised by an hon. Member opposite, who said that I was quite wrong in urging that the cavalry should be abolished. The abolition of the cavalry is really the only direction in which big savings can be made in the Army Vote. I want to ask the House to consider whether the time has not come when we should take an impartial and unprejudiced view of the cavalry question. No one knows better than hon. and gallant Members opposite that during the War the cavalry were a very heavy burden upon this country and that their value was not commensurate with the cost of keeping them up.
§ Captain ARTHUR EVANS
Does the hon. and gallant Member say that they were a source of embarrassment in Palestine or Egypt?
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I meant on the French front, and later on in other centres of the War also. Just at the time when the transport of food in this country was exceptionally difficult there were these horses eating off their heads 113 on 40 lbs. of oats per day. [HON. MEMBERS: "14!"] The House need not be amused at my statement. It did work out at 40 lbs. per day when you took into account the packing, the transport and the feeding staffs. That was an enormous weight to be carried. Over and over again the cavalry were sent to the front. Whenever there was a chance of a breakthrough, the cavalry came up to the second line of trenches, and the. P.B.I. greeted them with the usual hilarity. There they were once more. The attack failed and they went back. Right up to the end of the War it was maintained that a breakthrough would take place, and then the cavalry would at last come in. They were sent for at Cambrai after the first two or three days' successful fighting. The cavalry got off their horses, and the horses wandered about between the British and the German lines. The men knew instinctively that a man on a horse offering seven times as big a target as a man on foot was an absurdity. They were unable to get into the trenches. Hon. Members who were in the War will remember the horrible tragedy on the Roye Road, when, after the Australians had managed to break the line in August, 1918, cavalry were thrown on the road, and, after going some distance, came up against barbed wire fences on either side. A couple of machine guns got on to them and simply mowed them down in swathes.
§ Captain HOLT
May I interrupt the right hon. and gallant Member? I happened to be there on that occasion. Will he say how far the cavalry had gone before they came up against the barbed wire? I think it was 20 miles.
§ Captain HOLT
I do not want to interrupt again; but I was there, and I think the first cavalry division on that occasion took some 10,000 prisoners.
§ Captain HOLT
I was in command of the cavalry squadron which was on that road, and, with the other squadron which was charging down the road, we had been in action three days.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
The point is this: When the cavalry got on that road 114 and in front of the barbed wire they were in a hopeless position against machine guns. As soon as they scattered, they were all right, but, when moving up and down the road, it was sheer murder to leave them in that position. It is admitted that in warfare like that on the Western front cavalry are not used. They are useful as a screen, but aeroplanes have taken a great deal of the work of strategical reconnaissance absolutely out of the hands of the cavalry, and even the armoured cars have taken the place of the cavalry as a screen. The armoured car in the early days of the War in Belgium, before we got down to trench warfare, was doing exactly the work done in the old days by the cavalry screen. They were feeling for the enemy and reporting his presence and his strength, and the very fact that they can get away quickly and that there are not so many people on board makes them a more effective weapon for this kind of work.
The Secretary of State for War says that cavalry are still required because our Empire is so scattered that there are many fields of operation other than Europe in which cavalry will be required. The hon. and gallant Member for Fare-ham (Sir J. Davidson), as well as myself, was in the South African, War, and we had the same question as to the value of cavalry then. After that war I thought that the question as to whether the arme blanche was of value had been solved. I do not think there was a single occasion in the South African War, which is the other typical extreme, in which the cavalry got home. There were endless occasions when the cavalry as mounted riflemen were of great value. It was a useful way of carrying riflemen long distances; it was not as cavalry they were useful, but as mounted infantry. I was with the Second Cavalry Brigade in the South African War, and when we went into action it was only by dismounting and using our rifles.
Now that we are mechanicalising the Army in all branches, I would urge the Government to see whether they cannot mechanicalise the cavalry arm as well as the transport service. The Secretary of State does not exclude the possibility of mechanicalising some sections of the Army, and interesting experiments were carried out during the last manœuvres. 115 It is extremely difficult to cut the traditions of the Army as to the best method of dragging a cart out of the heads of people who have been in the business all their lives, but we are finding that there are forms of transport, besides motor cars, that are quite as capable of getting over rough ground as any Army Service Corps wagon. Many economies might be made in this direction. We are keeping in the Artillery and the Army Service Corps a very large number of animals, and I think we ought to make experiments in order to see whether we cannot get that work done more cheaply and far more efficiently than at present. The Secretary of State said that he was not going to be rushed into any rash purchases of any particular forms of transport until he was quite certain he had got a type which was efficient for all purposes. While I agree that we ought not to go in for any big expenditure in mechanicalising the Army, I hope we are not going on with the purchase and manufacture of extinct forms of transport, or dying forms of transport.
Are we still making Army Service Corps wagons? Are we still going in for horse-drawn forms of vehicles, instead of reserving our resources for the purchase of mechanically-propelled vehicles as soon as we have found the right type? The biggest opportunity for retrenchment will undoubtedly come to the Army Council if they can bring themselves to envisage the possibility of doing without cavalry and substituting some mechanical means of working the screen for the purpose of getting information as to the enemy and carrying the infantry rapidly for long distances. That we should not be actually sacrificing anything in making the change when within a generation we shall probably find that mounted forces in the Army are looked upon as we now look upon the old forms of transport used in the South African War, that we ought to spend no money on renewing old forms of horse-drawn vehicles, but replace them as rapidly as possible with the best possible form of mechanical transport, I do not believe anybody who has been on active service in the infantry will disagree. I know that every cavalry officer feels bound to stand up for the value of his arm of the Service, but I ask him to reflect, when he compares the cost per rifle of the two Services, the infantry and the 116 cavalry, whether it is not obvious that if you have only a certain amount of money to spend you should spend it on the infantry and those other new forces which have been developed, rather than on a Service which has been exceptionally gallant record, but which has no longer a duty in the warfare we have to face now.
§ Brigadier-General COCKERILL
Without attempting to dictate to you, Mr. Speaker, I cannot help feeling some regret that my hon. and gallant Friend below me, the Member for the Upton Division of West Ham (Captain Holt), was not called upon to reply to the observations of the right hon. and gallant Member far Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), who has just sat down—
§ Captain HOLT
I had anticipated saying a few words on the subject of the value of cavalry, but I did not know that the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) was going to attack my late branch of the Service on such a wide front as he has to-night. I can look at it partly from his point of view, because I served, not only in the cavalry, but also in the tanks, for which the right hon. and gallant Member appears to have an affection. If I look at cavalry from his point of view—he appeared to think they have not changed in any respect—I shall come to the same conclusions as he has, but we must remember that since the end of the War, owing to the agitation which has taken place on the subject of doing away with cavalry, then, has already been some reduction. The number of regiments has been reduced from 31 to 21. Three Special Reserve Regiments have gone altogether. The yeomanry regiments have been also reduced from 30 to 12. The policy which the right hon. Gentleman advocates, therefore, has been fairly well carried out. I think the time has arrived to call a halt in the reduction of cavalry regiments until we are quite certain that they are as useless as has been contended and that there is no role for them in any future war. I am perfectly prepared to defend the retention of the present number of cavalry 117 regiments, not only on the question of their value in the Middle East or the Far East, but actually in connection with their value in the fighting in France.
It was not the case that cavalry could not be used there, and I should like to point out that the cavalry arm was of the utmost value to the British Forces in France at several stages in the War. It cannot be denied by anyone that the very small number of cavalry which we had in 1914 were of inestimable value to General French, as he then was, when withdrawing in the face of the enormous number of Germans who were pressing upon him. It may be argued that this cuts both ways, since the Germans had cavalry, too, but I contend, and most people who were there will agree with me, that the failure of the Germans was not the failure of cavalry but the failure of cavalry inefficiently led. If we turn to the campaign of 1914, we shall find that in the race to the sea what really handicapped the British Army was the small number of our cavalry. If we had been in any way equal in numbers to the German cavalry, we might easily have won that race for the sea, and in that case it is doubtful if the War would have been stabilised: it would have been of such an open nature that the cavalry would have been again of great value.
I do not propose to go into the statements made by the right hon. Gentleman about the break-through. I agree with him to a very large extent. It is obvious that cavalry must have a certain amount of terrain to be used to the best advantage. In my opinion, they again entered into their own during the period when we were retreating in March, 1918. Had the German Army been possessed of two or three efficient cavalry divisions at that time, we should have had the greatest difficulty in re-establishing our line, and that line would have been a good deal further back than it was. It was during that time that I was serving with the Tanks. I can say without hesitation that in a situation of that kind it is impossible for tanks to hold up an advancing and victorious enemy, and that in defence tanks are really of very little use. Again, if we take the last 100 days of the War, after the Battle of Amiens, when we were advancing towards the Hindenburg line, and after, the moral effect of the cavalry was such that lasted until the end of the War. But the great 118 difficulty with us was not that cavalry was useless, but that instead of having two divisions and a bit, we should have had four or five divisions. Once the enemy is broken, there can be no doubt that cavalry is the arm that is going to, keep them on the move more than anything else.
It is asserted nowadays that tanks and aeroplanes are to take the place of cavalry. With modern tactics and camouflage, aeroplanes may do long distance reconnaissance, but they cannot do short distance reconnaissance, which must be left to the cavalry. It is obvious that a tank making a very great noise will give many opportunities to the enemy to conceal themselves. It is quite impossible for tanks to be used with advantage in such terrain as marshy ground, or for crossing a river when the bridges have been blow up. I understand that these are the lessons drawn from the combined exercises. I believe it was found that cavalry, tanks and aeroplanes were not mutually antagonistic, but complementary arms. I ask the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War to think very carefully before he gives his consent to a reduction in the number of the cavalry, unless he has the absolute advice of his military advisers to take such a course. On the question of cost alone, having searched the Estimates I have found that a tank battalion costs every year over twice as much as a cavalry regiment costs. Of course, if the view he taken of the right hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme that cavalry are absolutely useless, I agree that any expenditure on cavalry is throwing money away. But I feel that it has not yet been proved that cavalry are useless, and in any circumstances, no matter where the next war may be—unless in the meantime there is a very great development of mechanical traction—it will be necessary to have as a nucleus at least as many cavalry as we have now.
§ Mr. BROAD
I wish to deal with the conditions of service of Government employés in ordnance factories, with special reference to the way in which the Government have treated old servants who have devoted their life to work for the community. At one time men employed in the Ordnance Departments were pensionable. The Act of 1859 stated that 119 pensions were applicable, not only to those who were paid by the hour or by the week, but even to those whose wages were calculated hourly. It also contemplated the position of men who were engaged casually. At a later time the Government of the day, or the Department, began to exclude all those who were workmen in the ordinary sense, whether skilled artisans or labourers. So -we had the position that, side by side at the bench or in the shop, there were men engaged on pensionable terms and men who were not. The men at the Arsenal and at the small arms factories at Enfield and Waltham felt that they had not been fairly dealt with, and that the intention of the Act was not being carried out. So strong was the feeling that a little later the Government discharged all men they possibly could discharge. I knew one particular case of a man in the prime of life, 43 years of age, with something like 30 years' service, who was paid off from Enfield with 28s. a week pension, rather than that he should stay in the works doing his work as an object lesson to the other men of what they had lost.
One Government after another has been adamant on the question. The men have, through their representatives, approached various Governments, and have asked for the introduction of a new contributory superannuation scheme. There has been deputation after deputation, but to-day that which is conceded by most of the big public companies in the country, or the semi-public companies, and by local authorities to their workmen, is denied to workmen employed by the War Office. What is more, during the last period of reduction since the War, the Department has discharged from the Arsenal and from the Enfield small arms factories a very big proportion of men who have had many years' service, and has discharged them very often before the normal time. It had been the rule of the Department that men should be retired compulsorily at 65 years of age, or at a lower age, of course, if they were unable to give satisfactory service. But since the War, while younger men have been kept on, these old servants, who have never worked in any other employment, and who for a great proportion of their time were receiving only 19s. or so per week, 120 have now been discharged at a time of life when they have to wait 15 years or more before they can qualify for an old age pension, and at an age when they are not likely to secure employment elsewhere. They are being thrown on the funds of the Poor Law.
I know of 800 of such men, ex-Government workers of the Enfield factory. They have been discharged after decades of service for the country. I have abstracted from their records some cases which will give an idea of what is occurring. These are men who are admittedly still capable of doing their work. One is a man 64 years of age. Within another year he would have been retired compulsorily. He has finished 51 years' service, and he is discharged without a penny of superannuation. The next case is that of a man of 63, with 49 years' employment in Government service. Other cases are as follows: Age 62, 49 years' service; age 62, 48 years' service; age 62, 48 years' service; age 62, 48 years' service; age 63, 48 years' service; age 61, 47½ years' service; age 61, 47 years' service. So I could go on with page after page of cases of men who have been turned out from the Department while younger men have been retained. I claim that these men have at least a moral claim, having once proved their value, to be continually employed until they have exhausted the time up to their 65th birthdays.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the WAR OFFICE (Captain Douglas King)
The hon. Member does not suggest that they did not get the bonus to which they were entitled?
§ Mr. BROAD
No. I will deal with that later. These men were all under the impression, as I think they were entitled to be, that it was the intention of the Act of 1859 to give a pension to all the men in regular employment. It was only the casual people who were not to be pensioned. At a later period, rather than meet that just claim, the Government arranged that men of over seven years' service, at the discretion of the Minister, should be given a bonus of one week's wages for each year of service. If you take the men's wages at the basic rate you will see that the bonus does not amount to a great deal, and that it will be exhausted within a few years. At all 121 events it is not sufficient to maintain a man, even under the most miserable conditions, from 55 to 70 years of age. That is taking a case where a man received £2 a week. It might be sufficient to keep him in opium, so that he could go to sleep with a label "Wake me up when I am 70 years of age."
These people have a very great claim, more particularly because of all the promises made to them during the War. At that time these men could have left and could have earned much higher wages elsewhere, but they were assured repeatedly that the Government would recognise their patriotic and devoted services, and would give them recognition when the War was over. Instead of getting that recognition, they are being thrown on the scrap-heap before their time, and in those districts where there are Government works there is a tremendous charge on the Poor Law. I do not think that any well-established firm, any great company, any railway company, much as we abuse railway companies, would discharge its old servants just before the time when they were entitled to a pension. I hope that the Government will recognise that this question of the superannuation of old employés of long service is now becoming more and more recognised as an economic expenditure of money. I worked at the bench until I came into this House, and I know that the workman is beset through his life with carping care and anxiety as to what is going to happen to him, his wife, and youngsters as time goes on and he passes the zenith of his power, lest after he passes 55 years of age the firm should cast him on one side and force him to go into the gutter.
That is the position of many thousands in the Government service who have done loyal service to the community. I hope the Minister in his reply will say that he fully intends to take this matter up and see that a satisfactory superannuation scheme, on a contributory basis if necessary, is accepted for all Government factories. I hope at the same time that consideration will be had, not only to the future, but to those men with long years of service, spent in working for the Departments anal also to those men who have had from 35 to 50 years' service with the Government 122 and have been discharged since the War so that something may be allowed them and they may live in decency and security for the few years they still have left. We have only this one day a year on which we can talk on this subject, and we have not had this question raised before in debate on this occasion. There has been great courtesy on the part of the Ministers and their Secretaries when we have met them on deputations, but that is all that we have been able to get from them.
There is one other consideration to which I should like to refer. It is being recognised by all decent employers to-day that men are better in health and give better service if the drab monotony of their toil is broken up by one brief holiday every year. It is recognised by the railway companies, who give the porters and all the rest of their staffs an annual holiday. It is recognised throughout the printing trades, and nearly all the municipalities give their workers a holiday. I do not think that they lose by it. Any employer who makes that concession will find that he gets better service. There is a better spirit among the workers. I know what it means to go through year after year without a break. I know what it means as a workman at a bench with three boys to educate, perhaps to pay for a secondary school education, only able to get the mother away for a week and having to go on year after year working without a break. I feel that I could have done better service if I had had a holiday. If from time to time these men do take a holiday, the loss of wages and the expenses of the holiday mean a cheese-paring existence for them from one year's. end to another in order to try to make up that break.
I hope the Government will fall into line like a previous Government did in 1880, when, not behind but in advance of most other employers, it established an eight-hour clay for all workers. It proved its value to the rest of the community, and it is generally applied today. I hope that the Government will today accept the lead that all the best employers are giving and grant at least 12 days' working holiday with pay to all Government workers. If there be the difficulty of those not employed for a full year, then it should be remembered that our municipalities are conceding to those 123 only temporarily employed one day's holiday for each month of service. I am not going to deal with the allocation of work, which was so well dealt with by the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Snell), but will only ask the Minister to deal with those two points.
§ Brigadier-General COCKERILL
May I express my thanks for being allowed to give way just now to the hon. and gallant Member for Upton (Captain Holt) so that he could reply to the right hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood). I was very glad to hear the congratulations which the latter offered to the Secretary of State for War on the reduction of £2,000,000 that he has made. It seems to me that these Estimates are no ordinary Estimates and that this reduction, seven years after the Great War has ended and when the forces have been reduced to a very low establishment, is a very great achievement. It reflects very great credit on the Army Council and on the Secretary of State. When one comes to analyse the nature of these reductions they are found to involve largely either a reduction in pay or discharges in certain cases or else a postponement of expenditure which in itself was desirable, such as, if I may give an example, the postponement of expenditure on the extension of the manœuvre area in Salisbury Plain, and the postponement of the purchase and manufacture of necessary stores. I hope it may be accepted now by the House and by the country that any further reduction in cost in the Army must be effected either by cuts in pay or by a postponement of essential services. The late Minister of War said last year very justly that the only justification for a small Army is that efficiency should be kept as high as possible. I am sure the Army has derived great advantage from the manœuvres held during last year, and I trust that, whatever cuts may be made, it may be always possible to find money for manœuvres from time to time. I am sure that it is by that means, and by that means alone, the Army can be kept in the state of efficiency desired by the right hon. Gentleman opposite.
There is one other point in that connection which I desire to make. The strength of the Army is practically up to 124 establishment, recruiting is satisfactory, but this year, as is stated in the Memorandum of the Secretary of State, an unusual number of men have to leave the colours, and therefore recruiting must be maintained at its present level. Last year, there was some comment from the benches opposite on the fact that five out of every eight men presenting themselves for recruitment were rejected. Statements were made to the effect that it illustrated the terrible economic conditions in which the country finds itself. I am very glad to find in the Memorandum of the Secretary of State this year what I think to be the real cause, and that is the very high standard which is exacted from recruits to-day, not merely in physique but also in character and education. The result is that the Army to-day is filled with men who are rather above the average of those in civil life. It seems to me that that should be and ought to be a very strong inducement to employers to snap up the soldier as soon as he leaves the colours, and should therefore facilitate his re-entry into civil life.
One word about the Reserve. On the 1st April, 1926, the number will be approximately 96,000 against 99,000 which, I believe, was anticipated last year. Perhaps the Secretary of State will be able to explain the cause of that falling off. In 1927, on the same date, the approximate number anticipated is 7,000 less, namely, 89,000, and a further fall is expected in 1927–8. In the absence of further explanation of the causes of this fall, it seems to me that this shortage in the Reserve is rather serious. It must be remembered that these Reserves are the sole means of bringing fighting units up to strength when they are wanted, of keeping them at full strength, and of providing the training battalion necessary to train recruits to replace the wastage of war. Some draft-finding machinery is necessary. The Territorial Army does not, and is not intended to, provide drafts for the Regular Army. Its role is quite distinct. It has been said that it is the accepted medium for expansion. That means that it is the accepted medium for providing further forces to place side by side with the Regular Forces arid not to provide the recruits for the Regular Army. It is not an Army Reserve therefore, but a Reserve Army. I cannot help feeling that this question of draft finding machinery is far 125 from satisfactory. I know that the reason is once more finance, but there is a very strong case, as soon as the finances of the country permit, for the reconstitution of the Special Reserve.
That force in South Africa and in the Great War rendered services to tins country really of incalculable value. They trained and sent to the front something like 2,000,000 men—over 1,800,000 men. That really is about one-quarter of the entire forces that were raised in the British Empire during the late War. A quarter of those forces went through the Special Reserve and was trained by them. It is the constitutional force and embodies the old traditions of the militia. I confess that I would like to see an early beginning made in its reconstitution. I do not suggest that a battalion of the Special Reserve should be provided for every battalion at home, but it might be possible to provide perhaps a battalion for every division of the Territorial Army, or to have one Special Reserve battalion to a group of regiments arranged geographically in the country—eight or ten of them as a beginning. I would commend that suggestion to the Secretary of State for War. There will be other opportunities of speaking on the proposal for the institution of a Ministry of Defence. For the present I merely record my continued view that the only real solution of the problem of getting economy with efficiency in the forces of the Crown, is by some closer co-ordination such as a Ministry of Defence.