HL Deb 31 May 1875 vol 224 cc1101-24

rose to ask His Royal Highness the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief, Whether his observations on the efficiency of the Army made at a public dinner on the 24th of April last have been correctly reported? He ventured to put the Question on the Paper, because he had reason to believe that the illustrious Duke on the cross-benches was anxious to offer some explanation to their Lordships in consequence of a misconception which had arisen in the other House of Parliament as to some remarks in the speech which His Royal Highness delivered on returning thanks for the Army on the occasion of a dinner which his Royal Highness attended, and which was given by the Metropolitan Board of Works. He was sure that their Lordships would be most desirious of hearing any observations from His Royal Highness on a subject so important as the efficiency of the rank and file of Her Majesty's Army. Their Lordships would recollect that about five years ago Lord Sandhurst brought for-word a Motion in that House to the effect that no soldier under 20 years of age should be sent to India. The noble Viscount (Viscount Cardwell) was at that time Secretary of State for War. In consequence of that Motion the Government of the day accepted the regulation, and no soldier under the age of 20 had since been sent to India. One result was that the home Army was full of the young soldiers whom they were obliged to recruit because of the high price of labour and other causes. That did not so much matter in the days of long service, because though they enlisted young soldiers as they did now, they kept them for 12 years, and at the end of that time they were either discharged or re-engaged; but under the short-service system it was very different—'especially in view of the fraud and deceit practised by recruits—a boy of 15 years of age would represent himself as 16, and those who were 16 stated they were 17. That was one of the evils of short service, and it was one which the Government of the day was bound to consider and to face. Those boys only served six years and were then placed in the Reserve. A Return as to boys in the Army had been moved for in "another place" by Colonel Mure, which he was sorry to say showed that the standard had been lowered, and that the lowering of the standard had occasioned a deterioration of physique among the recruits: and it was known that the Guards and the Royal Artillery could not get the stamp of men they required to get up to their full establishments. It was fair to state, on the other hand, that the Report of the Inspector-General of Recruiting, which had been laid before Parliament, stated that he was perfectly satisfied with the physique of the recruits; and statistical tables had also been laid before Parliament which showed that the majority of the commanding officers were also satisfied with their recruits; whereas the minority of the commanding officers abused their recruits and spoke of them in very unmeasured language. This, too, was a subject which deserved and he hoped would receive the attentive consideration of Her Majesty's Government. He knew that there had been a Committee on Recruiting sitting at the War Office; but the result of their deliberations had not been made public. Our Army was small and was very expensive, and it was the bounden duty of the Government, if they accepted short service, to see that the Army was as efficient as possible. With respect to the Reserve, they knew that two years ago Lord Sandhurst brought the subject before their Lordships' House, and anyone who read his speech could not but infer that the Reserve was a mere paper force. In fact, Lord Sandhurst said that when Commander-in-Chief in Ireland he issued invitations to the Reserve to attend the Autumn Manœuvres at the Curragh Camp, and that only half-a-dozen men responded, and he thought they might do some service in this direction. If they were to have a Reserve, the Government should see that it was reliable and efficient; and if there was any suspicion of the truth of the assertion let the men be called out, so that their effective strength might be ascertained. They were said to have 7,000 men, first-class Army Reserve, but he believed that if they were required to-morrow they would not be forthcoming in any large numbers. So far as he was aware these men had neither arms nor accoutrements. That ought to be seen to. At all events he hoped the illustrious Duke would tell them whether the Reserve was merely a Reserve upon paper, or whether it was a bonâ fide Force. When men were required to fill up the regiments for the Ashantee Expedition, volunteers from other regiments, and not the Reserve, had to be sought for. He could not but hope that this branch of an important subject would not be lost sight of by Her Majesty's Government. They had a strong majority at their back and had already carried out some useful reforms in regard to the Army. He trusted that their Lordships would excuse him for putting the question to the illustrious Duke of which he had given Notice, but he believed they would all be interested to hear the opinion of the head of the Army on its present state and efficiency, especially as to its rank and file.


My Lords, I have been appealed to by my noble Friend who has just sat down (Viscount Hardinge) to make an explanation on the subject to which his Question refers. I confess I should not have thought that observations made by me at a public dinner would have been deemed worthy of so much notice as has been taken of them; and I confess, too, that some observations made in "another place "in reference to them caused me some surprise. I am extremely obliged to my noble Friend for asking me the Question, as it enables me to state my sentiments distinctly—although I admit that in the other House of Parliament my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War at once pointed out to the noble Lord who spoke on the subject (Lord Elcho), that he must have been very much mistaken as to the view I intended to convey. Before I reply to the Question of my noble Friend, I am bound to say frankly that when the statement was made, I considered it my duty to have some communication with the noble Lord who had referred to my speech in the other House, and to ask him for an explanation as to the meaning he put upon my words. The noble Lord most frankly expressed regret for having misunderstood me, as he perceived from my letter to him that he had. At the same time, he said that every military man and civilian with whom he had conversed, and who had read my observations agreed with him in the view he took as to what I meant to convey to the public. That mistaken view, therefore, being accepted, I would now venture to explain what I really did say and mean. A great deal was said just about that time as to the efficiency of recruting for the Armiy; and it became so serious a matter that I confess I thought the time had arrived when, if I had an opportunity, I should try to convey my views as to whether those statements were correct or not. Incidentally and accidentally—for it was purely by accident—I was at a review at Aldershot a day or two before the occasion on which I made the speech in question, and having seen before me the regiments there quartered, my attention was particularly called to them by Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Steele, who had just been appointed to the command there, and who told me that he never saw regiments with whose physique he was better satisfied. He asked me, in this view, to look through the regiments myself, and I did so. I stated my opinion that I had never seen regiments with whose physique I was more satisfied. I looked most carefully at the regiments as a body, and to every recruit pertaining to those regiments; and having referred merely to the physical condition and power of the men, I said they were such as I believed they always had been during the whole period in which I had been in the service. I referred to their physical power when I said that I was ready to take them anywhere and to do anything. I never intended to convey that the men I saw were in any respect on a war footing, and I could not conceive it possible— although it seems I have been mistaken—that the words I used could have borne any other meaning than that which I am endeavouring to put before your Lordships. I have been somewhat staggered by many of the assertions that have been brought under my notice. What I said was— Yesterday, in the course of my professional duties, I had an opportunity of going to see as much as I could of the troops at Aldershot, and all I can say is that while deprecating war, and hoping the necessity may not arise, I am perfectly prepared to-morrow, at five minutes' notice, to take every man of that Force with me and to go anywhere without seeing any reason why they should not perform their duty just as well as the British Army has ever done in times past. I made no allusion to the number of guns or waggons; and when fault has been found with me for stating that I was ready to take the command of them as an army, I must state that what I said was that "I was ready to go with the men I saw before me." I added— I cannot deny that, when I see regiments which are not very strong in point of numbers, it would be very acceptable to me, as to all military men, to see their ranks better filled. What did that mean but that I thought those ranks were not very well filled at present? If my noble Friend (Lord Elcho) had read that part of my speech he would have found that it answered the Question he has put. The only point in my speech which was not quite correctly reported was an allusion to the length of the men's service. I am supposed to have said that "if we cannot get men for a little longer than six years, I, for one, shall not break my heart about it." I believe that what I did say—and certainly what I intended to say, was that if the men stayed a little longer than six years in the Army I should not break my heart to see them stay longer. One word more. I said I should very much prefer to see a regiment entirely composed of old seasoned men. If I said that, it is not likely that I should have said immediately afterwards that I should like to see a regiment of young, unseasoned men of less than six years' service. I cannot help thinking that the view I have endeavoured to express to your Lordships is the right view. I hope I have answered my noble Friend sufficiently, and I think I have shown that I have been entirely misunderstood and that it is not my fault. I do not think it desirable that there should be any reticence with regard to such questions as that of recruiting—I do not wish to keep anything secret at all—but having had my attention called to the matter by Sir Thomas Steele, I made a remark to the commanding officers that if they had any complaint to make, if they would come to me instead of going to the "man in the street," I should be much better satisfied. That is my professional feeling, and I hope that my statement to-night will have this effect—that if commanding officers or any other officers have any complaint to make they will come to me or to some other authority, and not go to the "man in the street." Having seen what I thought a very satisfactory condition of affairs as far as the physique of the men was concerned, and particularly after my attention had been called to the matter by Sir Thomas Steele—who was surprised to find the men so much better than he had been led to suppose by what had been stated in other places—I took the opportunity of stating that the commanding officers had probably unintentionally conveyed the idea that their regiments had not been well recruited, but that as far as I was concerned I thought they were. Well, I think so still, and I am ready to repeat it. It is quite possible and very probable that there are regiments in a less satisfactory condition, and all I can say is that if there are it is very wrong in commanding officers not to come and make their complaints to the Horse Guards. It is very hard upon the authorities that they should be held up to public contempt for not doing their duty when the officers do not report the circumstances to us. On one or two occasions, when rumours of the inefficiency of particular regiments have reached us we have sent down to ascertain the facts, and found that the reports which had reached us were gross exaggerations. The fact is that there is in some quarters dissatisfaction with everything and everybody, and therefore it is no wonder that dissatisfaction should have been expressed that a number of young men under 20 had been enlisted. No doubt it would be better to have no recruits under 20;—I should be delighted to find that every recruit who entered the service was of that age; and if you have a conscription and make it a law that every young man shall enter the Army at 20 you can do it, because you could oblige them to bring with them the certificate of their birth. But how are we to know a young man's age?. We are obliged to take his word for it, and sometimes he may say he is 20 when he is probably only 17. You can only judge by looking at him. I repeat that I should prefer men of 20, but it is impossible to get them all at that age. At 20 a young fellow has become a seasoned man, who has entered upon his career in life, and if he is at all a good workman or a good labourer, he will not come into the Army; whereas a boy of 18 or 19 who has not yet taken his position in life will enlist. If, however, we are told that we are not to enlist a man until he is 20, the end will be that you will have no men at all for the Army. It is utterly impossible to have an adequate number of soldiers at 20 unless you go on recruiting lads of 18 or 19. What do your Lordships suppose the order was at the end of the Great War? Why we were recruiting lads at 15. I hope we shall never do that again; but young men of 18 or 19, if they are well fed and looked after, will make very good soldiers. I strongly recommend your Lordships and the country not to throw any obstacles in the way of recruiting these young men, because they often make better soldiers than the men who enter the Army at 20, who are frequently not the lathy, athletic men you wish to see in the service. It has sometimes been asked why the Commander-in-Chief did not make these speeches in Parliament, instead of at dinners in other places? It is very seldom that he has an opportunity here of correcting a misapprehension which may prevail in the public mind. It was not my desire to give offence to any one, and I trust that your Lordships may think that I was right in taking the opportunity of making that statement, and of correcting the misapprehension to which it has given rise. I had only wished to make a short speech but I may be permitted to add that if people go on stating that the Army are "nothing but riffraff" and not worth anything, eventually it may be believed and the service will greatly deteriorate. The officers will in time begin to think so too, and then you will break the spirit of the Army, and in the end the whole organization of the regiments must be destroyed. The real difficulty is that to which my noble Friend (Viscount Hardinge) has alluded—the state of the labour market. I am satisfied that the Reserve question is of the greatest possible importance. You may have the cadres; but an Army of cadres without a Reserve is a most miserable excuse for an Army. But, as I have always said, if the Reserve men have good employment you might call on them in vain to join a regiment even for a week, because their chance of re-employment would be very much diminished thereby. This is the difficulty—that you have not the positive power to call out the men even for a week to join the regiment to which they belong; and unless you can get over this in some way you cannot have an Army such as we should wish to see, or a Reserve worthy of the name of a Reserve—for the Reserve at present is much more on paper than a reality. The Militia Reserve comes out with the Militia regiments, but you do not know what is the physical capacity of the Reserve men—whether they have not lost their efficiency while they have been engaged in civil life. You ought to have a Re-serve of men whom you can call out, and whose efficiency you can test. Under these circumstances, I have no hesitation in saying—I say it frankly—that if you are to have these cadres and this Reserve, and to send the men rapidly through the ranks, you must be prepared to pay. You cannot have men at small cost without conscription; and conscription, I say, is perfectly inconsistent with our institutions—it would be most unacceptable to the country; and it would be almost impossible to carry it out, even if you passed a law for that purpose. The only conscription, I believe, we can have would be in connection with the Ballot for the Militia. That is the law at present, and that is the only conscription to which we can look in accordance with the institutions under which we live. That being so, I repeat if you wish to keep up the Army and to have short service you must look to the labour market and pay your men accordingly. I am much obliged to my noble Friend for putting this Question, and I hope I have given to your Lordships a satisfactory explanation, in nothing inconsistent with the position which I have the honour to hold as Commander-in-Chief.


My Lords, notwithstanding the great pleasure with which I have listened to the speech of the illustrious Duke, refuting as it does a great many statements which have been so rashly made, there were one or two observations which fell from the noble Viscount opposite (Viscount Hardinge) which I think call for some remarks from me. With regard to conscription, I entirely agree with the observations with which the illustrious Duke concluded. I am quite persuaded that in this country you will not carry conscription through either House of Parliament, and I am further persuaded that even if, in a moment of rashness, Parliament passed such a law, and it were bound up in the Statute Book, no Minister would have power to enforce it in this country. Therefore, it becomes a matter of the Estimates. If you would rather see fuller battalions the Chancellor of the Exchequer must be prepared to consent to fuller Estimates. That is a question which the responsible Ministers of the Crown will have to consider every year with reference to the foreign relations of the country; and in a time of peace I do not believe the present Government or any other would venture to submit largely-increased Estimates for this purpose to the House of Commons. The illustrious Duke has referred to the guns and Cavalry; but he did not mention their numbers, and I fear if I did not say one word about them it might be supposed that the Cavalry and the guns had been reduced. Now, that was by no means the ease, inasmuch as the Cavalry were increased both in men and horses during the time I held the Seals of office, and the field guns were nearly doubled in number. In respect to the Artillery and Cavalry there was a large increase in numbers as well as in efficiency; and with regard to the Infantry, I think I may say there never was a time of peace since the country was a country when the numbers of men in the Kingdom were so large as during the last two or three years. I strongly recommend to my noble Friend (Viscount Hardinge) the careful consideration of two documents. The first is the pamphlet by Sir John Burgoyne on our Defensive Forces, published with a new preface in 1870, in which it was stated that in 1854— England was unable to maintain an effective force in the field of 25,000 men. We must dismiss from our minds any idea of the Militia and Volunteers being available for an effective augmentation of the Regular Forces until great changes are made in their organization. The readiest way for a rapid increase of the Regular Army would be clearly by adding soldiers to the cadres of regiments, kept habitually weak, but fully officered; thus, even raw recruits, joining previously well-trained comrades, and a perfectly prepared organized body, would, by rapid degrees, become identified with the mass, and, if they had previously been in the service, would be of equal value to those already in the ranks. It is believed that this latter advantage might be gained by a systematic enrolment of a portion of the Militia as a Reserve Force, after a first moderately short service in the Line, or even in its own ranks. With such a system, by maintaining an habitual peace establishment of 50 men per company, with a good complement of officers, and adding 50 from a Reserve, the regular force of Infantry would be at once doubled. It is considered that by vigorous measures, and by the system of organization here sketched out, we ought to be able, even with our existing small standing Army, to produce an effective force, available for general service, of 100,000 men of all arms and 300 guns, and that this might be accomplished within a very few weeks of the outbreak of war. Such a force, with no fear of invasion before us, would be sufficient to enable this country, in conjunction with its allies, to take an effective part in any Continental operations into which it may be forced for the protection of its interests. The second document is the Minute of the illustrious Duke, with the detailed Report of the Committee—of which General M'Dougall was the Chairman and Sir Garnet Wolseley was a member—upon that Minute. This second document was the foundation on which Parliament sanctioned the loan which is now being expended upon the localization of the forces. The first of these documents will show what, in 1870, Sir John Burgoyne considered to be necessary for the defence of the United Kingdom: the second will show how large a proportion, and what other measures besides, had been already provided for in 1872. It has been contended that the Army Reserve men ought to be called out with the Militia; but it ought to be known that before establishing the Reserve of 1870, we issued a Circular to inquire from the officers commanding in the several districts why the previous Reserve had failed? and the uniform answer had been that two reasons operated against it—first, the men felt themselves debarred of their hope of civil employment by their liability to be called out for a month's service with the Militia; the other was that the pay they received was not sufficient. What were the remedies we took? "We doubled the pay; and with regard to training them after they joined the Reserve, we took power only to do that in such a manner as to interfere as little as possible with their civil employment. The intention then was, and I suppose is still, that they should be trained at those local depôts which are now in progress and which are to be under the command of officers of the Regular Army, where they can be trained without giving rise to any dislocation of their local employment. But my noble Friend (Viscount Hardinge) says it is a Reserve on paper. It is not a Reserve on paper, for if the Returns of the present War Department are to be trusted—as I have no doubt they are—you have got a Return showing that on a particular day only 50 per cent were absent from their place of payment, and no doubt on subsequent days the larger proportion of that small percentage would appear. The law requires, I admit, to be strengthened, and the illustrious Duke knows that during the time I was in office the Judge Advocate General was desired to frame and submit to Parliament a provision to remedy that defect. I wish the noble Lord would compare the statement made to-night by the illustrious Duke with the statement made by the Duke of Wellington in 1829—because some seem to think that a blight has suddenly fallen on the whole system of recruiting, and that there used to be no difficulty whatever in other times in obtaining recruits for the Army. It has always been the case, ever since literature began, that the men of the writer's day were inferior to the men who went before them. It is not Parliamentary to quote Greek, and therefore I shall say nothing about Homer except this—that you will remember every page of the Iliad is full of comparisons between the puny men who lived in Homer's time and the great and powerful men who lived before them. The same comparison obtains in Virgil. I believe that at the Eglinton Tournament, nearly 40 years ago, the champions who went there expected to find that the armour of those who went before them would be so large that they would not be able to fill it. But the fact was there was not a coat of mail into which any of them could get. And so it has been since the world began. I wish my noble Friend would refer to the Report of the last Royal Commission on Recruiting, because he would there find how many men under 20 years of age were in the British Army in 1846, when enlistment was for life, and how many in 1866, when the present short service had not been introduced. I believe he would find that in 1846 there was the largest number, the next largest in 1866, and the smallest in one of the years when I had the honour to hold office, of which the particulars have recently been laid upon your Lordships' Table. But much disparagement has been made of the quality of the recruits who have recently been raised. Well, what did the Duke of Wellington say in a Memorandum of the 29th of April, 1829? He said— In the moments of greatest distress in the country (not when wages rose and the labour market was disturbed) recruits cannot be obtained for the Army. The man who enlists into the British Army is, in general, the most drunken and probably the worst man of the trade or profession to which he belongs, or of the village or town in which he lives. There is not one in 100 of them who when enlisted ought not to be put in the second or degraded class of any society or body into which they may be introduced. Now let my noble Friend look at a Return laid on the Table by the present War Department for the current year, and let him bear in mind what sort of men were recruited in 1829. Let him also look at the table which speaks of the Courts-martial, and he will there find that the number brought to trial has gone on diminishing. Let him look at the good-conduct pay, and he will find an ample increase. Of the age and chest measurement I need not speak, because the illustrious Duke has, I trust, for ever set at rest the questions raised on these points. Let him look at the Return on Education, and he will see the extraordinary improvement which appears to be going on. And if he wants to know what the behaviour of these men is, let him ask the illustrious Duke how the 30,000 men behaved who, in 1872, went into the district of Salisbury, where the people had not seen a soldier since the days when William III. marched from the West. There was, I believe, at first some apprehension what might be the consequences of the influx of so large a force. But these men conducted themselves in such a manner that they left behind a reputation which, I can tell him, not only endeared them to the inhabitants of the district, but produced a marked effect on some of the most distinguished foreign officers who were present. Well, then, I ask you, my Lords, is it patriotic—I would almost say decent—to be perpetually speaking of these men, engaged to defend us against a foreign enemy and to fight for the honour and interest of their country, as if they belonged to the most comtemptible and worthless portion of the community? I want to know from what other portion of the community you would select 30,000 men and march them into a strange country, as was then the case with Salisbury, from whom there should be no case to go before a magistrate and no instance of abuse? My noble Friend has spoken of the Ashantee War, and finds fault with the mode in which the numbers of the 42nd Regiment were filled up from the 79th. Did he read the Report which three years ago was laid on the Table of the House, founded on the Minute of the illustrious Duke, and signed by General M'Dougall, who had a principal share in the organization of the Volunteers of Canada? General M'Dougall has shown what measures are to be taken so that the preparations made in time of peace shall be used to form a powerful Army in time of war. But for an Expedition like that to Ashantee, the national emergency did not arise on which the Sovereign is authorized by Parliament to call out the Reserves. It was, therefore, not our business to call upon the Reserves in order to fill up the three battalions going to Ashantee. Our business was, in the first place, to fill them up out of the men of the linked battalions. And here I may take an opportunity of correcting an error as to the way in which the 42nd was filled up. It is quite true a small bounty was given—and very properly given—to the men from the linked battalion who filled up the 42nd. That bounty might not have been given if the system had been in complete operation: when the men in both battalions would have been enlisted not for the separate battalion, but for the brigade. But you could not deal with men except on the terms upon which they were enlisted, and when called upon to join the 42nd these men received the bounty to which they were entitled. The noble Viscount has referred to the difficulty in recruiting for the Guards. Well, if there has been a difficulty, permit me to say that the Guards do not come under the new system at all, but are left to the influence of the system they had before. Therefore, it cannot be owing to the new system that there has been any deficiency. But I believe I am correct in saying that after the Guards had experienced considerable difficulty under their old system the aid of the new system was brought to bear. The result I do not know, but I believe that if the aid of the brigade depôts has been frankly invoked for the recruitment of the Guards, there will have been no difficulty in obtaining the supply. I think I have sufficiently answered the arguments of my noble Friend so far as they have not been more fully answered by the illustrious Duke. I believe the case to be this—that you have in this country a larger Army than you have ever had before; that you have a greater number of men than you have ever had, and that you have a Reserve, growing rapidly, well trained, and who as soon as the new depôts are finished, will be trained continually by the commanding officers of those depôts; that these men are now always present, and may be relied upon to be present when their country calls on them, and that they do not consist of such men as the Duke of Wellington described in 1829; for however lamentable the amount of desertion may be, yet crime, in the sense of civil crime, is extremely rare in the Army. What is called crime in the Army consists of breaches of discipline and military offences; but if you speak of crime in the sense in which the Duke of Wellington spoke in 1829, the men we have got in the Army may be compared with the most exemplary portion of the people. As long as you have a voluntary Army, any Minister or Commander-in-Chief who has to deal with it will have difficulties to deal with. But these difficulties are far less than they have been in former periods of our history; and if we have been proud of our Army before, with still greater reason may we be proud of it now.


My Lords, I think your Lordships and the country have reason to thank the noble Viscount (Viscount Hardinge) for eliciting these explanations, and especially have reason to thank the illustrious Duke for the statement of facts which he has made this evening. I understood the illustrious Duke to say that, while we now get recruits of a good description, still, under the present system of short service, there is a larger proportion than could he desired of men serving in each regiment at the present moment who are not fit for active service; that our regiments are weak; and I think the illustrious Duke emphatically told us that weak regiments were of little or no consequence provided we had proper Reserves to fall hack upon, but that at the present moment those Reserves are not in existence. They exist only in anticipation, and to meet a sudden exigency we have no Reserves of any importance to rely upon for bringing up the Army to what it ought to be in case of danger. Now, I wish to say that in the present state of the world this is a state of things calculated to excite in our minds very grave apprehensions. You must remember that the state of the world is very different, and the character of the dangers with which we might have to deal is very different, from what it was in former days. We now see almost the whole male population of Continental Europe drilled to arms. We see, at any rate, an enormous number of men trained in the most elaborate and careful manner, and capable of being brought into the field in a wonderfully short period of time. We have a state of things also in which our Navy—say what you will of it—is not, and cannot be, the same complete protection as it used to be. The Navies of other nations have grown up nearer to an equality with our own. There are a greater number of more powerful fleets on the sea, and the new descriptions of vessels now used make it absolutely impossible that, even if our Navy were brought to the highest state of efficiency, it could be the same protection which it was to us in former times. I have no fault to find with the Navy, or the management of the Navy; but I do say that the Navy alone, without the means of putting into the field a large disciplined force, is not sufficient for the protection of the Realm. Then there is another point. My noble Friend who has just sat down (Viscount Card-well) has told us that there are a larger number of soldiers in the United Kingdom at this moment than there were at any former period. Yes; that is true. But, in the first place, you have to compare the increased number of soldiers we possess with the increased need which I have ventured to describe. Next, you must remember that you have obtained this larger force at home by utterly stripping your Colonies of the forces they used to have. Twenty years ago we always had in our Colonies a considerable force beyond what was immediately necessary for colonial purposes, which could be drawn to our shores upon sudden emergencies. When Mr. Canning sent his expedition to Portugal, Gibraltar furnished a considerable contingent. In the Indian Mutiny the Cape and the Mauritius furnished certain regiments whose assistance was of the utmost importance. But now the state of things is entirely different. Instead of drawing one man from the Colonies in the event of the sudden breaking out of war, you would have a great demand upon your forces at home for the purpose of supplying reinforcements to your colonial possessions and your fortresses abroad. I believe there is not one of those great fortresses and military stations which we have in different parts of the globe which would not call upon you for an increased garrison if this country were suddenly engaged in war. Then, I say that, these things being true, we have a right to complain that the defence of the country is not in the condition it ought to be. When I say this, I am far from condemning either the late or the present Government for not being able to raise a greater proportion of recruits at a greater age than at present. I am quite convinced that the illustrious Duke spoke the simple truth when he said that the notion of raising recruits over 20 was a delusion. Nay, more—I agree with my noble Friend who spoke last (Viscount Cardwell) that it is a great advantage to obtain younger recruits, who will grow up into better and more efficient soldiers than those enlisted at a more mature age. But, then, if you act upon that policy, do so openly and avowedly, and do not reckon upon untrained and immature recruits for the force on which you must depend. If you are to have a small army, and an army of short-service men, it is only wise that every man of that small army should be efficient for immediate service. And this result may be accomplished by the simple plan of taking care that if you enlist young soldiers they should be trained before they take their place in the regiment; that you do not reckon the strength of regiments by your untrained recruits, but that, on the contrary, having enlisted men at 17 or 18, and given them a two years' training, they should then, and only then, be treated as effective soldiers. We should know then what we have to rely upon. The British Army would be a real Army, and not an Army upon paper. Then, again, as the illustrious Duke pointed out, there must be an efficient Reserve. My noble Friend (Viscount Card-well) may be right. It may hereafter grow to be a Reserve, but he does not pretend that there is a Reserve at present of sufficient force and numbers to rely upon.


I believe that, in round numbers, the number of the Army Reserve is 7,000, and of the Militia Reserve 30,000. But the Reserve created in 1870 does not begin to come into full effect before 1876.


The Militia Reserve I do not think can be included, because you reckon them twice over—in the Militia and in the Militia Reserve. Besides, the Militia Reserve have no pretensions to be really trained soldiers. What you have to reckon upon is the Army Reserve, and you do not know, I maintain, according to the present system, what proportion even of your nominal force of Army Reserve could be depended upon if they were really wanted. It appears to me that Her Majesty's late Government made this great mistake—in adopting the sound system of short service, with a trained Reserve, they neglected what ought to have been the accompaniment of that policy, and did not provide that, until the Reserve was really obtained, a stronger force should be kept up in order to secure this Reserve the more rapidly, and keep the country safe until we could rely upon our Reserve. This appears to me to have been a serious mistake, and we are suffering from it at this moment. I had no notion that this subject would be discussed to-night, or I should have referred to some more points, and perhaps should have been better prepared; but, unexpectedly as the discussion has arisen, I cannot help asking leave to add one word more. In my opinion, neither your recruiting nor your Reserves will ever be satisfactory until you abandon what I believe to be the great mistake of late years adopted in practically abolishing pensions. I believe the pension to which the British soldier looked forward in former times was a great means of maintaining the British Army. I have frequently discussed this subject with the father of my noble Friend now on the cross-benches (Viscount Hardinge) in former days, and he often expressed to me his strong opinion, in which I entirely concurred, that the system of allowing pensions to soldiers was not only very useful to the Army, but also of great political advantage; because it is not a wise thing in a country like this to train large numbers of men to arms and turn them adrift without having a hold upon them afterwards. If you have only short service, with no means by which the soldier may ultimately earn a pension, it is necessarily a great discouragement to men to enlist in the Army. How can you suppose that men will give five or six of the best years of their lives to military service if they know when they leave the Army that they will not be on a par with civilians of the same age, and will have no opportunity of making provision for the future? I think, now they have only 4d. a-day during the few years they are in the Reserve, and ultimately may be left to the workhouse or to charity. I believe that, as long as you act upon that principle, you will have no successful recruiting and no effective Reserve. The real remedy is to let your soldiers go out of the Army when they are perfectly trained. When a man is perfectly trained, I never would keep him under the colours if he wished to join the Reserve; and I would allow service in the Reserve to count, under whatever conditions you chose to impose, towards the ultimate acquisition of a pension. For example, let two years in the Reserve count as one year with the colours towards earning a pension. I believe by regulations of this kind you would obtain more and better recruits, and that you would also obtain a much more effective Reserve. I trust that in any case the necessity will fee seen of every man in the Reserve being compelled to do duty with some Regular regiment in the Army for a few days in every year—because no Reserve can be efficient unless it is certain that every man in it is available.


said, the question was not as to the spirit of our young soldiers, but as to whether we were obtaining recruits of a certain class or not. Her Majesty's Government possessed, under the rules of the service, a means of ascertaining the age of every soldier in the Army, which, with other particulars respecting him, ought to be entered in a special book for that purpose, and if a few examples were made of the boys who enlisted and made a false attestation as to their age, much good would result. As to the question of pensions, he believed that the great reason why the recruiting sergeant could not compete with other employers in the labour market was because pensions were no longer given. The Guards and the Royal Artillery, who fought so splendidly in the Crimea, had pensions to look forward to, and men would not volunteer for foreign service without having such an inducement. It was said that the Guards were still recruited under the old conditions; but what was the good of following such a course when all confidence that pensions would be given had vanished? If they restored the system of pensions they would have a better chance in the competition of the labour market, because young men would be willing to enter the Army in consideration of the certainty of a pension in their old age. Moreover, when once in the service the prospect of his pension would be a continuing inducement to discipline and good conduct, and would be the most effectual check upon those desertions from the ranks which had become almost a habit among recruits.


I trust your Lordships will allow me to correct one or two slight inaccuracies which I think I detected in the speech of the noble and gallant Lord who has just sat down. He said that desertion had risen to an unparalleled height in consequence of the abolition of pensions, and of the introduction of short service. I would venture, with much respect, to make to the noble and gallant Lord the suggestion which my noble Friend behind me made to military critics in general—which was that before advancing propositions reflecting upon the present composition of the Army they would consult records, made from official sources of information, with which every Member of Parliament is supplied. These Returns give, I think, a satisfactory refutation to the statement of the noble and gallant Lord. And first as to the amount of desertion. The Blue Book states that in 1861 for 10,000 troops there were 41 per cent of desertions; whereas, in 1874, for 20,000 recruits—just double the number—there were only 27 per cent of desertions. Now, the noble and gallant Lord told them that short service was the cause of desertion, because short service could not compete with the attractions of the labour market; but if he had referred to the same authority he would have seen that of 20,000 recruits enlisted last year 12,000 had selected short service, which was therefore more and not less popular than the longer term. Then as to the youth of the Army, the noble Earl on the cross-benches (Earl Grey), said he feared that there was a larger number of young men—meaning, I suppose, under 20 years of age—now in the Army than there was formerly; but if the noble Earl had followed the speech of his noble Friend the late Secretary of State for War he would have learnt that in 1846 the number of men under the age of 20 was very much larger than it was in 1866, and that in 1866 the number was considerably larger than it is now. It is a fallacy, therefore, to say that the number of young men in the Army has become so considerable as to be a cause of apprehension relatively to what it might have been some years ago. I was rejoiced to hear from the illustrious Duke—who did not say a word as to the nominal age of the recruits—that with their physique he was satisfied. If the Commander-in-Chief of the Army was satisfied with the physique of his recruits, what more can we require? The noble Earl also complained of the abolition of pensions. It is scarcely fair to speak of pensions as being abolished, for it is notorious that a certain number of men were always intended to be long service men. It will. I hope, always be the practice of the military authorities to continue the service of a fair proportion of the most efficient men, and to permit them to serve on for pension. The noble Earl spoke of pensions of 4d. a-day as being contemptible; but the 4d. a-day allowed to the reserve was not a pension, it was a retaining fee; and when the noble Earl spoke of sending men back to the parish with nothing but this allowance upon which to depend, he did not remember that if the soldier enlisted at 18 he could not, at 24, when he had become a strong well-trained soldier, be spoken of as being sent back to the parish in the sense in which the noble Earl had used those words. All this criticism is based on the assumption that the great experiment initiated by the late Government has failed. I altogether deny that it has failed. It has not failed, because it has not yet had a trial. I know no trade or profession of which such strange statements are made as those which are made of the British Army. If it could be said of the Police, for instance, that men were forthcoming in sufficient numbers; that their physique was satisfactory; that increased arrangements had been made for their comfort; and that their conduct had improved, could we be told that the force was in an unsatisfactory condition? I cannot conceive how statements so depreciatory of the quality of the soldiers who fill the ranks of the British Army should be so recklessly made.


I do not know, my Lords, that I should take part in this discussion had it not been that frequent appeals have been made to Her Majesty's Government on the subject brought before the House by my noble Friend, and the advice given to them as to the course which they should adopt. I think we ought to be very grateful to my noble Friend who initiated this discussion (Viscount Hardinge) for having brought out so much interesting detail upon a matter which is so important in every possible sense in which it can be considered. I can assure my noble Friend that my right hon. Friend the Secretary for War has not been resting on his oars. My right hon. Friend is as perfectly satisfied as anyone can be that it is his duty to see that the country is possessed of as efficient an Army as it is possible for him to recommend to either the Houses of Parliament or the country to uphold and maintain. And with regard to the question of recruiting and of the Reserves, these are matters of such importance that they are the first to which he must devote his attention, with a view to see—if the present systems require improvement— how best they can be improved. The noble Earl on the cross-benches (Earl Grey) recommends that no recruits under two years service should be allowed to count in the battalions to which they belong. Well, if that suggestion were adopted—and I offer no opinion upon it—it is obvious that the number of men in each battalion must be largely increased, and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer must be approached for a considerable sum to acquire and maintain them. With respect to the Re-serves, I agree with what was said by the noble Viscount, the late Secretary for War, that the state of the Reserves is not altogether satisfactory. The noble Viscount said that more power was required with respect to the Reserves, and I understood him to intimate that sufficient power did not exist for the calling out of the Reserves from time to time to drill with the troops in the districts in which they were located. I believe it would be a benefit to the service if the Reserves were so called out. It is clear that if you have a Reserve upon paper of 7,000 men, you ought every year to be able to produce that Reserve in some form or other in which they may be useful. The noble Viscount said it was an error to say that the Reserve existed only on paper, as the men appeared regularly on quarter-day for the money due to them. That being so, it is worthy of the consideration of my right hon. Friend whether some mode might not be adopted by which they could be occasionally called out and shown to exist.


explained that the difficulty to which he had referred arose from the fact that the depôt centres had not all been formed.


I am obliged to the noble Viscount for the explanation. I was observing that if we have a Reserve it ought to be a real and not a sham Reserve, and that there ought to be means of demonstrating its existence. Something has been said in regard to the character of the soldiers of the Army of the present day. Now, I do not think that the moral character of the British soldier of the present day has ever been assailed. I can bear testimony to the character of the men quartered at Chichester. The Returns must show that it is a very unusual thing for the men there to be brought up before a magistrate; and I think I can say for the people of Chichester and the neighbourhood, that the more soldiers the illustrious Duke sends us the better we shall like it. I must, however, corroborate what has been said by my noble and gallant Friend near me (Lord Strathnairn) as to the Guards not being in a satisfactory state as regards recruiting. I have a personal interest in the subject, because I have two sons in the Guards—one an Adjutant, and the other a Captain—and I am sorry to say that the Guards are at present by no means up to their strength. This may be in part because they are required to be of a better physique than the rest of the Army, and partly because from the present state of the labour market they cannot get the men they require. Before I sit down I may assure my noble Friend that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War is fully alive to the importance of the subject. If I may be allowed to do so, I would also thank the illustrious Duke for the very able and satisfactory statement that he has made to us this evening, and so far from any apology being due from him, I think he has only performed his duty in stating the exact facts in regard to this question. It is by no means unusual for noble Lords or right hon. Gentlemen, or even for the head of the Government in this country, to take the opportunity of a convivial meeting to put the country in possession of certain facts, or to state his views or theirs on particular subjects: and it might have been expected that the illustrious Duke—indeed, if I may say so, it would have been almost culpable on his part if he had neglected to do so—would take the opportunity of saying something as to the physique of the soldiers, and to vindicate the condition of the Army under his command, and which he is seeing or inspecting almost every day. After reading the text and the context of the speech made by the illustrious Duke on the occasion in question, I cannot understand how anyone could put a different construction upon that speech from that which the illustrious Duke has told us he intended to convey. He stated that the soldiers he inspected at Aldershot were of such a physique, that he should be ready to take them at five minutes' notice to any part of the world; but he by no means said he would be satisfied with 500 of such men when he ought to have 1,000 or 1,000 of them when he ought to have 2,000. The illustrious Duke only said in regard to the men and the stuff they were made of that they were not inferior to former soldiers of the Army. The illustrious Duke's opinion did not require to be corroborated, but it was borne out by the opinion of an unprejudiced person, Sir Thomas Steele—and there could be no more competent authority—who was astonished at the physique of the men at Aldershot. Sir Thomas Steele was an old soldier of distinction, who had served on Lord Raglan's Staff throughout the Crimean "War, and was thoroughly competent to give an opinion upon such a matter. I must, in conclusion, offer my thanks to my noble Friend for having brought on this discussion, which I think will be of considerable use in the country. I would also trust that attention will be given to the most useful suggestion made by the illustrious Duke to those in authority—that it is to the Horse Guards to which complaints should be made by Colonels and other officers rather than to the "man in the street."


rose to express his regret that so little attention had been given to the Militia, whose physical development and attention to drill and discipline pointed them out as a most important branch of the Reserve. Had anyone forgotten the Militia Regiments, whose physical appearance was much superior to that of the recruits of the Line, who took garrison duty in the Mediterranean during the Crimean War? A great improvement had been effected in the Militia within the period of his own observation and experience. They were stout and strong soldiers; and if the British Army had a reserve of 50,000 such men with 100 guns, such a force would go far to determine the warlike policy of the strongest State in the world. Such a reserve might easily be obtained if due measures were taken, and the services and training of the Militia would enable them to supply a Reserve sufficient for any emergency that might arise.

House adjourned at half past Eight o'clock, till To-morrow, half past Ten o'clock.