HL Deb 04 May 1869 vol 196 cc86-100

Order of the Day for Third Reading, read.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 3a"—(The Lord Northbrook.)


said, he desired to call the attention of their Lordships to the general subject of this Bill. He thought that the Bill, though an improvement on the existing law, would not fulfil the purpose of providing an efficient Army of Defence. What was wanted was some machinery, which, without unduly burdening the country, would provide for such a rapid increase of our means of defence when war broke out that we should not be exposed to sudden danger. That was the important object which should be had in view; and it had become of more importance of late years than at any former period. He need hardly remind their Lordships that Prussia had so organized her military system that she had been enabled during the late German war, to the great surprise of Europe and of the most experienced persons of the military profession, to call into immediate action such a, numerous and highly trained force as utterly to, defeat what was considered one of the most powerful Armies in Europe. More recently the Government of France, seeing what had been effected by Prussia, had followed her example. A law was not long ago passed in France which placed a largely increased proportion of the inhabitants at the disposal of the Government for the purpose of military training: the number of young men who would escape the necessity of performing some military service to the State was very small indeed, and France would in future possess the command of a very numerous trained Army, which, at a moment's notice she could bring into the field. During the discussion of the Budget in the Legislative Assembly, the French Minister of War pointed out the immense advantage which the new organization of the Army would give to France; she could under that organization, without doing anything to attract the attention of neighbouring Powers, in a very few days put an enormous Army in the field. Now, when our nearest and most powerful neighbours pursued this policy—when they deliberately adopted measures by which they could, at any moment, assemble enormous Armies either for offensive or defensive operations—it certainly did seem to him, that for the safety of this country, they were bound to adopt the best means of having a trained force of a. similar kind, and he asked them to consider whether it was possible that the Militia, as now constituted, could effect that object. He had no fault to find with either the officers or men of the Militia—he believed both zealously performed to the utmost of their power the duties assigned to them; and it was really wonderful, all things considered, how much efficiency our Militia regiments had acquired—the utmost credit was, in his opinion, due both to officers and men for what they had done in this respect; but, after all, was it not universally admitied that the Militia, as it now stood, was utterly incapable of meeting a trained Army in the field? In the discussions that were held in that House not long ago on the general position of the Army, that opinion was avowed on both sides; all that was claimed for the Militia being that in six months after they were embodied they would become a really efficient Army. But in the present circumstances of Europe, if we should ever again unhappily be engaged in war, a force that would only be ready in six months would be of no use to guard against our real danger—it was in the first week of the war that our danger would arise. People made a great mistake who reasoned in favour of the Militia as at present constituted, from the experience of the great Revolutionary War with France. During that war, when the Militia was said to have rendered such useful service, the Militia was permanently embodied. It was kept embodied from the commencement of the war; and the consequence was that in name, indeed, it was still a Militia, but it became to all intents and purposes a second Army of the Line, quite as costly, but necessarily somewhat less efficient than the first. But that was not what was wanted now. "What was wanted was some force which would enable us to meet a sudden and pressing danger. One of the objects of this Bill was to meet the deficiency of officers for the Militia. Increased pay was to be given to the officers in the Militia and in order to extend the field of selection, the property qualification was to be done away with. Both those measures so far as they went he approved. But they would do little or nothing towards meeting the want of properly trained officers in order to make the Militia effective. The profession of arms, like every other profession, could only be acquired by time, labour, and study. The advance which had been made in military science, the improvement of arms used in modern warfare, and the more complicated nature of modern compared with ancient warfare—all these required much higher instruction both in officers and in privates, but especially in the officers, in order to make an Army more really effective; than was necessary in former times, when a simpler system of warfare prevailed. But how was it possible that an officer of Militia, who was employed only one month in the year, could acquire the necessary qualifications? With the pay of only one month in the year he could not follow the Army as his principal occupation; so long, therefore, as peace lasted the Militia was necessarily officered by men whose military duties were only secondary, and subordinate to their civil occupations. Nor was it much better when war broke out. If the Militia was permanently embodied, a large portion of the officers who had other, and to themselves more important, avocations, would be compelled to retire, as occurred during the Crimean War, while all the more energetic of the officers who were willing to devote themselves to a military life and follow it as a profession would seek to get transferred to the Line, where all the distinction and rewards of the service were to be obtained; and the result would be, as he had stated, that the Militia would become a second Army of the Line, as costly, but inferior in efficiency. That was the inevitable character of the Militia under the existing system; and what was true in 1852 was more so now. He thought, considering the great change which had occurred in the organization of the Continental Armies, that if this country desired to make its means of defence proportionate to the increased means of offence which neighbouring nations were preparing, it must to some extent act on the same principle as they do. That principle was to train to arms as perfectly as possible a very large number of men, and, having done that, to allow them to leave active service after a short service, the country, at the same time, retaining the power of recalling them to their colours whenever they might be wanted. By this means, without imposing a very heavy burden on the country during peace, the Government were able to command the service of an exceedingly efficient Army at a very little notice. As he had said, we ought to act on the same principle. He therefore heard, with great satisfaction, the Under Secretary of State (Lord Northbrook) declare on a former evening that this was, to a certain extent, the view of the Government; that unless they had a large number of men, who, after having so served and after having been so trained, were released from active employment, it would be impossible to make any sudden augmentation of the military force: this object, however, might be attained by a great abridgment of the period for which the men served. He trusted that he had understood correctly that it was this purpose which the Under Secretary for War stated the Government had in view. He hoped that the effect of the projected measure would not be embarrassed by an alteration of the law as it stood. Two years ago their Lordships passed a Bill which prolonged enlistment from ten years to twelve years. He (Earl Grey) objected at the time to the proposal, and he still retained the objections he then expressed; but he was persuaded that grievous evil and inconvenience arose from frequent changes in the law with respect to the conditions on which the soldiers were enlisted, and he trusted, as the Bill he had referred to had been passed by Parliament, that it would not be hastily repealed. It was not necessary either to repeal or alter it in order to obtain the desired force. The object could be effected by mere departmental arrangements. It might be notified to the soldiers that, on being perfectly and efficiently trained, such of them as desired their discharge would be allowed to have it on condition of entering the Army of Reserve. That plan might be tried as a tentative measure, as, in the course of a few years, it would be seen whether or not such an Army of Reserve would be obtained as it was de- sirable to maintain. Of course, this plan would he mainly applicable to the Army at home; but he believed that, in some of the foreign stations, the same principle might be acted on under certain conditions. He was persuaded, however, that no attempt of this kind to enable troops to obtain an early discharge could be successful unless they combined with it means for the more effectual training of the soldiers. It was nearly thirty-four years ago since he began, when he held the Office of Secretary at War, very fruitlessly to preach this doctrine to the military authorities at, the Horse Guards. He regretted that he never succeeded in persuading them to adopt it, and he had not the power to over-rule their objections to it. But he was more than ever persuaded that Napoleon, that great master of war, was right in his doctrine that the training of the soldiers should be carried to the highest point—and not only military training, but industrial training also. They should be taught the use of the spade, and they should be employed, as far as possible, in public works of all lands, and especially in military works. The mistake committed at Aldershot of making by contract roads, drains, and all kinds of works, which might have been executed at a small expense by the troops, who would have gained instruction by being so employed, ought not to be repeated. Education at the military schools should also be attended to, so that every soldier might be able to read and write shortly after enlistment. All this would make the Army more efficient in case of war, and the soldiers, when they got their discharge, would be the better able to command good employment in civil life. By these means the Army might be converted into a great industrial school, and the propensity to intemperance—the cause of so many offences and so much sickness among the troops—would be checked. With regard to the shorter term of service, it was a great recommendation of any arrangements of this kind that it would cost no money whatever. On the contrary, by allowing men to leave the Army earlier, you would effect a great economy by a reduction in the pension list. After a few years service, not, of course, during war, but during peace, a sort of tedium and disgust came over a soldier, and the repetition of the same dull round of military duty made a soldier's life intolerably irksome. This was another argument in favour of short enlistments. He did not dispute the advantage of having men of experience in the ranks during war; but there would never be a lack of old soldiers as non-commissioned officers; and then the terms of enlistment should be so settled that soldiers should only be allowed to take their discharge during peace. His firm conviction was that future wars would generally be of short duration; they would be speedily decided, and while a war continued, few old soldiers would desire to take their discharge. He was aware that the formation of an Army of Reserve would be a tiling of gradual growth; and he would ask the Government whether it would not be advisable—until an efficient Army of Reserve in connection with the Regular Army could be formed—to endeavour to apply part of the large sum -which was now annually wasted upon the Militia to make our Regular Army more complete. An increase might be made in the rank and file, the Reserve might thus be filled up; and, so soon as the Reserve was complete you might check recruiting. He believed it would be for the public advantage to spend in this manner the money wasted upon the Militia. The expense of the Militia, during the current year, would be more than £1,000,000. That was a, large sum to employ in maintaining a force which, as at present constituted, was ineffective for the purposes for which it was designed. Of this large sum no less than £287,000 a year was spent upon the Staff—that is to say, you employed an adjutant and non-commissioned officers during twelve months, for service rendered only during one month, at the cost of the sum he had mentioned. Such an arrangement was unsatisfactory and expensive. He was quite aware that the Militia, as now constituted, would not be worth much without a permanent Staff. But could there be any necessity for paying men for twelve months' work and only giving them one? Besides, those men were taken from active employment and placed in a country town, where, for eleven months out of twelve they had practically nothing to do. The adjutant left the Regular Army in order to obtain his adjutancy; there was no employment in the Militia which it would pay him to accept in place of it; and, therefore, he was animated by none of those motives which ordinarily stimulated a man to exertion to make him energetic in the performance of the duties which were imposed upon him. For his own part, he thought it quite marvellous how well, under circumstances so disadvantageous, those duties were discharged, but there could still be no doubt that the inevitable tendency of the present system was gradually to produce slackness and inefficiency; and of the justice of that view he felt convinced, while he did not wish to impute the smallest fault to those who were now serving in the positions of which he was speaking. But, passing from that point, he would beg the House to observe how completely, if we had a large Reserve, which might at any moment be called upon to assist the Regular Army, it would save the country from sudden danger from any attack which there need be any reason to apprehend. He cordially concurred in what had fallen from his noble Friend the Under Secretary for War (Lord Northbrook) the other evening to the effect that we must look upon our Navy as our principal means of defence; what we required in addition was to be able to assemble at a moment's notice such a force on land as would make it an act of madness for any foreign Power to invade this country without such a considerable Army that it would occupy a great deal of time to put it in motion, and thus afford us ample notice of the attack with which we were threatened. He need hardly say that to carry 100,000 men across even the narrow sea which divided us from the Continent would necessitate a good deal of preparation, and that transports filled with troops would be an easy prey to our fast-sailing iron-clads. We might, therefore, feel perfectly secure if we had such a Reserve as would enable us to place in the field an Army capable of contending with any force which might be landed suddenly on our shores; and he certainly was no advocate for keeping up a Reserve to take the field in a foreign aggressive war, while he thought it most essential that we should be provided with the means of repelling invasion. He had stated that a number of men going into the regular Army from the Reserve would at once fill up the numbers of the depôts of the several regiments, and con- vert them into efficient second battalions. The additional officers of the higher ranks that would be wanted would be obtained by the promotion of those already in the service, and all that remained to be done would be to give commission to ensigns, and, perhaps, lieutenants, to fill up the places of those who had been promoted. There would be a great advantage in thus promoting a number of young officers to the higher regimental ranks; and if that were not found to be sufficient nothing could be more easy than to make an arrangement by which a certain number of high regimental officers might be placed on half-pay, and in that way the current of promotion increased. He had now to apologize to their Lordships for having trespassed so long upon their time. The opinions which he had expressed were, in the main, those which he had adopted when he had the honour to hold the office of Secretary at War, thirty-four years ago, and which all the experience which he had since had only served to confirm. He had avoided entering further than was necessary into detail in endeavouring to elucidate the important principle which he was advocating. That for which he was contending was that we ought to have a Reserve connected with the Regular Army, and that steps ought to be taken to put an end to that frightful waste of public money which the present system involved. In conclusion, he had merely to express a hope that, be-fore the Estimates for another year were prepared, the Government would look attentively into the subject, and consider whether the Militia, as now constituted, was calculated to meet the real wants of the country, and whether the public money might not be economized, and the public safety at the same time better secured by the adoption of some measures founded on the principles which he had imperfectly endeavoured to bring under their Lordships' notice.


The noble Earl who has just sat down is better entitled than, perhaps, any other Member of your Lordships' House to call attention to the subject which he has brought under our consideration. I feel, without any affectation, great difficulty in replying to the noble Earl, who has had, in administration and in Parliament, so large an experience in deal- ing with that subject; but the difficulty has been greatly diminished by the observations which fell from him towards the close of his speech, in which he laid down the principle which he laid down in 1852, and which very much narrows the question which we are discussing. In that year, as now, the noble Earl stated that, with the superior naval force preserved by this country, it is not necessary for us to be in a state of immediate preparation to meet those enormous Armies which he says, truly, can be brought into the field by some Continental Powers. He admits that, in his opinion, it would be sufficient—and I think it is sufficient in the opinion of the country—that while we rely on our naval superiority for the first line of defence, we should have such a respectable force of trained soldiers as might prevent any Power with which we might happen to be at war from being tempted to send an expeditionary force to the shores of England which might possibly escape the naval forces of Her Majesty. I venture to say that the observations of the noble Earl on this point, in which I entirely concur, put out of the question any comparison which can be drawn between the forces of France or Prussia and those of this country. Far be it from me to express an opinion on the policy pursued by the Governments of those countries; but I may remark that it has been stated on no mean authority that those large armaments, and the pressure which they bring to bear on the populations, are not likely to last long. In a remarkable pamphlet written lately by Count Hamilton, and referred to in the Swedish Chambers, an opinion to this effect is expressed by that distinguished officer, who was present in the late Prussian campaign, and who possesses an intimate knowledge of the organization of the forces of the Continent. Dealing with this question on the basis that we ought to have a sufficient trained military force, what does the noble Earl ask us to do? He asks us to get rid at once of the present Militia, and to substitute for it an Army Reserve. Now, I confess that, with respect to the Militia, I cannot think the experience we have had of that force since 1852 justifies the condemnation of the noble Earl, who contends that it ought to be destroyed root and branch. Since the year 1852 the Militia has been called upon, during the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny, to render assistance to the Regular Forces of the Crown. There were 100 Militia regiments embodied in 1854, and 145 in 1855, while a smaller number were embodied during the Indian Mutiny. Ten of those regiments of Militia volunteered their services to reinforce the garrisons in the Mediterranean, and during their stay there they were in a state of the highest efficiency, and might have been placed on a level with the regiments of the Line. In addition to the great services rendered by the Militia on the two important occasions referred to—in the seven years from 1854 to 1861—no fewer than 78,357 recruits for the Army were obtained from the Militia. Between the years 1803 and 1815—during the Great War—the number of recruits obtained for the Line from the Militia was 103,933. It will be seen, therefore, that the number of recruits per annum was greater during the more recent period than it was during the time of the Great War. Have the anticipations which the noble Earl formed of the Militia when the Act of 1852 passed been realized or not? The noble Earl feared that the Militia would interfere with recruiting for the Army. The fact, however, is that during the last few years the Militia has been recruited in full, but this has not in anyway interfered with recruiting for the Army. The noble Earl also anticipated that, as the Militiamen are only called out for a short period in each year, they would not be available when called upon. At one time, it is true, there were a great number of absentees from Militia regiments. In 1859, for instance, there were more than 42 per cent of absentees; but, in consequence of the recommendations of a Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the state of the Militia, considerable amelioration was made in the condition of that force, and the result has been eminently satisfactory. In 1867, the last year for which the Returns have been completed, the percentage of absentees in the number of privates enrolled was not 6. Nor is that by any means a solitary instance, for in no one year, between 1860 and 1867, has the percentage been higher than 12. In most of those years it has has been 7 and 6 per cent. Therefore there has been found no difficulty in treating the Militia in such a way as to insure the attendance of the men at the time of training. The noble Earl has truly said it is more than ever necessary for officers of the Army and Militia to receive an efficient training in order that they may be able to instruct the men in their duties. As I mentioned, the other night, when called upon to address your Lordships, that subject is at the present time under the consideration of the Secretary of State, and it has been also very carefully considered by Major-General Lindsay, the Inspector General of the Reserve Forces. The noble Eai-1 may therefore rest assured that the subject will not be overlooked by Her Majesty's Government. Another remark made by the noble Lord, in his criticism of the Militia, is with respect to the cost of the permanent Staff. I certainly concur in what fell from the noble Earl on that subject, because it appears to be a very great waste of power to have officers and non-commissioned officers paid all the year round, and only performing-duty for a short period in each year. This subject is under the consideration of a Committee, which is now sitting at the War Office, at the instance of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, for the purpose of ascertaining whether some system cannot be contrived by which the services of the permanent Staff of the Militia may be utilized for other purposes than that simply of training the regiments when out at drill. I entertain a confident anticipation that the re-organization, or rather, the bringing together of the Reserve Forces of the country, will not be inconsistent with a considerable economy of expenditure. Such, then, being the criticism which the noble Earl has made on the Militia, I now come to the alternatives which he has asked us to adopt. And, first of all, I wish to say a word or two on what fell from the noble Ear1 with respect to shortening the term of enlistment with the view of establishing an efficient Army Reserve. As your Lordships may recollect, it is the opinion of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—which opinion he has expressed in the other House of Parliament—that, provided we could obtain men who would enlist in the Army for a shorter time of service and afterwards continue their services in an Army Reserve, the effect would be the establishment of the sound- est system of Reserves which could be devised for the Army of this country. At the same time, no doubt, there are great difficulties in the way of establishing such a system, and I can assure the noble Earl that the suggestions he has made on the subject will receive the consideration which is due to them on the part of my right hon. Friend. The noble Karl has remarked that the alternative ought to be given to soldiers of leaving the Army and joining the Army Reserve. That plan has already been tried to a considerable extent, and has failed. General Peel, when Secretary of State, established a system of Army Reserve, and part of that system was that a soldier might, after seven years' service, leave the Army and serve the rest of his enlistment of twelve years in the Reserve; but I am not aware of any single case of a soldier having taken advantage of that option. At all events, there have not been more than three or four men in all the Army who have done so. I do not mean to say that the system has had a complete trial, and i certainly think there is a good deal of hope that a system of shorter enlistments may be carried out and an efficient Army Reserve produced. Still, it must be borne in mind that a considerable number of years must elapse before anything like a tangible force can be produced by this means. Considering that we must depend entirely on voluntary enlistments, and that it must be left to the feelings of the men as to whether they will join the Reserve or not, it will be impossible to calculate how many men would be obtained under such a system in a certain number of years; therefore, I cannot agree with the noble Earl in thinking such a system would in any sense be able at once to replace the Militia as the Reserve of this country for home service. The other alternative suggested by the noble Earl was an increase of the Regular Army. Now, there are great difficulties in the way of such an increase; one of these was forcibly made by the noble Earl in the speech to which he has referred, and which was delivered on the 15th of June, 1852. He then said— If a considerable increase were made in the Army, I am convinced that, in a little time, the country would get tired of seeing a large force kept up with apparently little to do, and there would be such a pressure for the reduction of the expense that it would be absolutely inevitable to give way to it. I entirely concur in that opinion. But I will assume that the whole of the £1,000,000 which the noble Earl mentioned as likely to-be spent in the present year on the Militia was spent in increasing the Regular Army. Say, for argument's sake, that 20,000 men might be thus added. I venture to contend that the Militia, in its present state, would be a better force to have in this country than an addition of 20,000 to the Army; and for this reason—your Lordships must know that the first thing to be done in time of war would be to take care that your garrisons were efficient. It was stated in this House by a high authority that 30,000 men would be necessary for your garrisons in time of war. What would then be the effect of an increase of 20,000 men to the Regular Army as compared with the present Militia? If the Army were increased by 20,000, you would have no more than those 20,000 men in addition to the troops available in this country for service in the field, after providing for the garrisons. But if the Militia of 120,000 were embodied, you would at once be able to relieve the Regular Forces in the garrisons; you would have available for the garrisons 30,000 men of the Militia, and the remaining 90,000 would also be of great assistance to the Regular Army. Sir John Burgoyne, in his recent pamphlet, says that a number equal to one-third of the Army in the field might very properly consist of Militia. Therefore, under the present system of Militia, supposing you had a Regular Army of 40,000 men in this country, you would have the whole of those 40,000 men disposable, to which you might add one-third of that number of Militia; whereas, if you increased the Regular Army by 20.000, and abandoned the Militia, you would have only 60,000 men in all, of which number 30,000 would be required for the garrisons. Therefore an increase of the Regular Army to the amount now spent upon the Militia, so far from increasing the strength of the country in time of war, would place us in a positively worse position than we are at present. I have now touched on most of the points brought under your Lordships' notice by the noble Earl. I have expressed my concurrence to a considerable extent with the argument used by the noble Earl with respect to the introduction of shorter terms of enlistment, although I am not insensible to the difficulties attending it; but I cannot in any degree concur with him when he asks your Lordships to subvert altogether a force which I believe is to be regarded as the most important Reserve that this country possesses for a time of war, and which has been recognized as such by the Royal Commission which sat only two years ago to consider the subject of recruiting. Lastly, my Lords, I must be permitted to say that I believe at no former period did this country stand better than it does at the present moment in regard to its defensive position, if by any misfortune we should be placed in a state of war. All that appears to be desirable to the Secretary of State is that the different Reserve Forces of the country should be brought more into harmony and consolidated together, so that an organization may be prepared to enable them to act harmoniously if their services are called for; and also that, if possible, a plan of an Army of Reserve should be framed which would not only enable us to rely on the Militia to recruit the cadres in time of war, but also give us a large number of men who, having passed through the Army, would be immediately available to fill up the cadres of the infantry battalions, and render their services to the country in any part of the world.


said, he wished to call the attention of the Government to the extreme danger of diminishing the numbers of the permanent Staff of the Militia. he could only say he believed that if anything could he done to give the Militia greater efficiency than it now had it would be secured by an efficient permanent Staff. He earnestly trusted that no step would be taken that tended in any way to diminish either the number or the efficiency of the permanent Staff of the Militia; and he believed that any economy which would render these men's services less available, or which would reduce their energy and zeal, would be very detrimental to the public service.


said, it had been proposed that the soldier should be relieved from any very long term of service; but the fact was he was relieved front it at present. The noble Earl (Earl Grey) had stated that a man behaving respectably, and who had served as a soldier for a certain number of years, should be allowed to take his discharge; but the noble Earl forgets that such a soldier is already allowed to do so; provided he had prudence and self-denial to save up his pay with that object. As to the British soldier returning, as he did in Prussia, to his former agricultural habits, and being ready to be called out and brought into the ranks at once, there was no analogy between the Prussian and the English soldier. The English soldier, when discharged, seldom went home and resumed his original employment. He generally got a situation on a railway, or some domestic or Government employment. In his belief, the discouragement of long service would be about the greatest mischief that could be inflicted on the Army and on the country. He very lately read a statement made in the Chamber by Count Moltke, the celebrated Prussian general who organized the late campaign, in regard to the proposition for shortening the service of the soldier, and that distinguished authority had stated most distinctly that, although the Prussians had gained a great triumph over Austria, and had much reason to be proud of it, they should remember that that success had been obtained over troops, the greatest proportion of whom had not been eighteen months in the Army; that if they diminished the term of service of the British soldier, gain what they would by it in economy—they would have an armed mob, and not an Army; and he earnestly cautioned them against so great a misfortune. To advert to the matter of the Militia Staff so judiciously mentioned by the noble Duke. The adjutants in the Militia had been referred to disparagingly by persons not very conversant with that subject; but he happened to know many of the Militia adjutants, and he believed they were most active and energetic men, who deserved the greatest credit for the perfection to which they brought their regiments. He had very lately seen the Berkshire Militia at field exercise, and he was quite surprised at the efficiency and activity of the adjutant and the non-commissioned officers of the permanent Staff of the corps.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 3a accordingly (with the Amendments), and passed, and sent to the Commons.