HL Deb 06 August 1878 vol 242 cc1286-96

in rising to ask the Under Secretary of State for War, If he could give any information as to the number of men belonging to the Reserve Forces who had lost their civil employment in consequence of their having been summoned to join the Army? expressed a hope that their Lordships would excuse him for addressing them on a subject on which he had no special information. His reason for putting the Question was that the subject was one of considerable national importance, and one which would naturally interest their Lordships generally. It was now nearly seven years since the organization of the Army underwent an entire change by the adoption of the short-service system. They had already seen the use of that system. It had been attended with great success in the Army. As their Lordships were aware, the Reserve Forces had been this year called out, and it was only a week ago that the men were dismissed to their homes. Their Lordships would remember that when the short-service and Reserve system was first introduced by his noble Friend near him (Viscount Cardwell), all sorts of objections were raised to the idea of the formation of the Reserve. It was said, in the first place, that the men would not be kept together, that an efficient discipline could not be maintained unless the men were kept with the colours, and that the Reserves, if they should be called out, would be found to constitute no Reserve at all, because they would not respond to the call. He thought that it was a subject of great national gratification that those doubts, which were so lavishly raised, had been found to be erroneous on the late occasion when the men were called out, and that they had responded with the most loyal alacrity. With regard to their discipline, he would prefer not to make any remark to their Lordships, because he was not sure that any observations that he could make on that subject were entitled to any weight; but he must ask them to listen to the General Order that was published when the Reserve Forces were dismissed, and in that General Order, His Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief conveyed to the officers, non-commissioned officers, and soldiers, Her Majesty's gratification at the manner in which they performed their duties to the country, and the cheerfulness and alacrity with which they had responded to the call, and which had made the deepest impression on Her Majesty. Then followed a paragraph to which he invited their Lordships' special attention, in which the Queen trusted that the men, who had, in many cases, left their various avocations in civil life for the purpose of fulfilling their duty to their country, would soon find employment again, and that the employers of labour would freely avail themselves of the services of those who had displayed so loyal and patriotic a spirit. A wiser or more judicious Order never was issued, nor one in which it was possible to put the case of the Reserve Forces in a clearer or more significant manner before the country. It was now seen that, for the future, the short-service and Reserve system would be the system of the Army of this country. At the same time, he must remind their Lordships that short service and Reserve were correlative terms, and that the short-service system could not exist unless there was a system of Reserve. An Army of short-service men was an Army of faith. In time of peace that Army would be attenuated in its ranks to the last degree; but when time of trouble came, it would be necessary to strengthen it immediately from the Reserve Forces, and call in those men who spent most of their time in the ordinary avocations of civil life. If anything occurred to interfere with the efficiency and prosperity of the Reserve Forces, their Lordships would see at once that a considerable danger would threaten this system on which the English Army was now founded. It was impossible to impress too strongly on the general employers of labour in this country the opinion expressed by Her Gracious Majesty in Her General Order; and he was quite sure that it was of the utmost consequence for the future prosperity of the Reserves that there should be as few men as possible who should find, on returning to their homes, that they would have to suffer for having done their duty by obeying the call of their Queen. The prosperity of the Reserve Forces depended upon the employers of labour. He did not possess any general information on the subject, but he should listen with great interest and attention to the answer of his noble Friend. He had heard that the railway companies and public bodies had displayed a praiseworthy spirit in the matter; because they had endeavoured to minimize the loss which had been sustained by the Reserve, and they were employed as soon as they could be after their return home. It was, however, to their own interest that they had done so; because, by so doing, they had avoided the necessity of resorting to that system which had always been looked upon with disfavour in England— namely, compulsory military service. If hindrances were thrown in the way of those who wished to join the Army, if it became more and more difficult to obtain men willing to serve Her Majesty, if men who joined the Army, and afterwards the Reserve, found that they lost their employment, and that there was a difficulty in obtaining other employment, simply owing to the fact that they belonged to Her Majesty's Reserve Forces, their Lordships would agree with him that most unfortunate hindrances would be thrown in the way of the maintenance of Her Majesty's Army, and there would be no other means to resort to but the Continental one of conscription. These remarks applied to the Reserves generally; but in regard to those men who had just returned to their homes, he must say that they had done their duty to their country most loyally and most cheerfully, and he felt quite sure that the House would fully recognize their services to the country. It was true they had only done their duty; but, at the same time, they had performed it at great inconvenience, which inconvenience might not now be at an end; but, in any case, he felt sure that they would feel gratified that their services were not forgotten by their Lordships.


My Lords, you will remember that the noble Viscount now presiding at the India Office, when taking charge of the War Department, declared his intention to carry out his Predecessor's plan of a Reserve Force, and give it every assistance towards success. The noble Viscount has loyally fulfilled his promise, and the success, so far, of the Reserve, must be most gratifying to himself as it is to the country. But the experiment is not yet complete. The two first acts—the formation of the Reserve and their return from their colours—have been thoroughly successful; and it would be very unfortunate if the last should not be equally so. The extent to which the Reserve men have returned to their employments cannot be thoroughly known until they apply for their first instalments ef pensions; but information has been received that many employers of labour have re-employed their Reserve men; other large firms have come forward to offer employment, and there appears to be every hope that the men will soon settle down again to their former, or to similar occupations.


My Lords, I am sorry I can give no very correct information to my noble Friend with regard to the Question he has put. I cannot yet say what number of men belonging to the Reserve Forces will have lost their various employments from being called upon to join their colours, because it is quite impossible to trace the men so soon after they have left the Army. Of course, they will go to their various districts, and they will be under the cognizance of the drill officers in those districts, so that we shall soon know how they are employed, and whether they have suffered any injury from responding to the call of duty; but, at the present moment, we must remain in ignorance on that subject. It may, however, be interesting to your Lordships to know how the men were employed before they were called out, and I have here a Return showing these particulars in respect to the First Class Army Reserves, which will, of course, give some sort of clue as to the kind of employment in which the men were engaged at the time they were called upon to join their colours. The total number of the First Class Reserves who were engaged at the time the call was made upon them is 9,318; unemployed, 139 only; so that we now know that the Reserves were in actual remunerative employment. Of that number, there were employed by railway companies, 295; as prison warders, 24; in the police force, 230; in private employment, as grooms, waiters, &c, 588; in trades, 3,321; as labourers, 4,804; as letter earners, 31; and by public bodies, 16. Now, that will show the nature of their employments when the call was made upon them—and I have quoted it for the purpose of showing the proportion of the Reserves who may be said to have been employed in various civil employments— and from the Returns it will be seen that the larger number were employed as labourers in the agricultural districts. Perhaps the House would like to know the number of persons who responded to the call for the Army and Militia Reserves generally. The number who joined from the Army Reserve was 13,094, and from the Militia Reserve 21,692; the total was, therefore, 34,786. I can only add that the conduct of the men during the time that they were in. the Army was very praiseworthy, especially those who joined as non-com- missioned officers, and who were employed as non-commissioned officers in the Line by the commanding officers. They behaved exceedingly well. They had only two days' drill after they were summoned to join, and it was thought that many points would have escaped the men's minds; but it turned out that they proved themselves thoroughly efficient, and that both as regards the noncommissioned officers and the rank-and-file, their conduct was admirable. There may have been some isolated cases of disorder, but no fault was found with them, as a general rule, during the whole time they were engaged; and it is my good fortune to say, which I do with great gratification, that, as a body of men, they were especially well - conducted. There may have been some few instances among the Irish regiments in which there was some slight noise, owing probably to the effervescence of their national temperament; but it never approached disorder or want of discipline. "With respect to the probability of the men obtaining re-employment, now they have returned home, I can tell my noble Friend and the House that I have been in communication with the managers of the different railways, and they inform me that they are taking their Reserve men back again as fast as they possibly can. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary of State for War has it in contemplation to send a circular letter, not only to the managers of railways, but to the large employers of labour, urging upon them the desirability of taking the Reserve men back. Of course, it will be necessary that we should have all the information as to the number not going back, before we can form any idea as to the general result of calling out the Reserves; but from the conversation which I have had with managers of railways and large employers, I think that such a communication from my right hon. and gallant Friend will be received with favour. From the conversation which I have had with my right hon. and gallant Friend, he seemed to be well inclined to issue such a circular letter; and therefore I am in hope that the Reserve men, who have shown themselves so efficient and so deserving of encouragement on the part of the country, will soon find themselves again in full employment. The Returns which I have read will tend to show the respectable character of the Reserve men generally, and will convince employers that they will form valuable and reliable servants. I must apologize to the House for dwelling on this subject; but it is one of so much importance, that I am sure your Lordships will excuse my repeating that the conduct of the Force has been so excellent that I sincerely hope and believe that they will experience no difficulty in at once obtaining re-employment. The time will come when we shall have to consider the position of the short-service men, and the amount of money which they are able to put aside for the support of their wives and children; and therefore I may mention that Returns are being made, showing the estimated weekly wages of a private soldier in the Royal Artillery, horse and foot, the Life Guards, the Line, and so on, and what he can lay by; and there is a General Order published by the illustrious Duke the Commander-in-Chief—who I am glad to see has now arrived in the House—stating that it is calculated that a prudent soldier can now deposit 3s. a-week in the savings' bank, and consequently become master of £50 on the termination of his six years' period of service. I will not enter into this part of the subject at present, because I think it is more than probable that the whole subject of our Reserve Forces is likely to be matter of discussion at a more convenient period than the present. I am sorry my answer now has been so imperfect.


My Lords, I am sorry I was not here at the early part of this discussion to express my views with regard to the general advantages of the Reserve men, whether of the Army or Militia. I entirely endorse the remarks of the noble Lord, who has just spoken, when he says that the conduct of the Reserve men has been excellent, and that we military men have no sort of fault to find with them during the period they have been engaged. I have had an opportunity of inspecting a very considerable number of the regiments whose ranks have been largely filled by these Reserve men, and I must confess that in my opinion, and in the opinion of all military men, nothing could be more satisfactory than their general appearance and the condition of the regiments in which they were. As regards the future, it is of immense importance that the men should go back to their homes satisfied; and I venture to hope that the regulations which have been made, and the advantages which have been given to the men, will be found to be both liberal and judicious. And liberal and judicious though they may be, depend upon it, it is money well spent; because if the men were to go back dissatisfied with this great experiment which has been made, the future prospects of recruiting and the general principle of the organization of the Army would very much suffer. Something has been said about the conduct of some of the men connected with the Militia Reserve. That arose from some misapprehension as to the regulations which it was intended to carry out. The men were paid at the head-quarters of the regiments with which they wore serving, instead of being paid at their own quarters, when they were being discharged. The consequence was that they were rather flush of money, and they had an opportunity of spending it freely, and not very advisedly. The whole thing, however, was due to a misconception of the instructions, and this is the only fault which can be found with the men, everybody, as far as I am aware, being otherwise satisfied and very well pleased with their service in the ranks. Now, as to the civil life of these men. The question is one of very great importance—it is whether they will find themselves rejected from the position, occupation, or employment which they were in, or will they find every facility given them to go back to their previous situations? That is a matter which must, of course, be decided by the general public. A great number of these men belong to large establishments, such as railway companies, and the police force; and if the various employers of labour will take a patriotic view of the circumstances, and will take the men back at once, or, at all events, as soon as they have vacancies, then I think the system will have been fairly tested, and that it will have been found to work satisfactorily. If, on the other hand, the men find there is no likelihood of their getting employment, considerable mischief will be done. I cannot sufficiently urge upon your Lordships this point. The State takes care not to call upon these men without there being an abso- lute necessity for it; and when, in this instance, they were called upon, they responded in the most admirable manner, and it is now for the country to show that they appreciate these men's services to their country. They are reliable men, and they have received that amount of discipline which is always of value. That accounts for the facility with which they accommodated themselves to the ranks when they joined. As regards the Militia Reserves, they have not had the same advantage, in this respect, inasmuch as they have not had the same amount of training, as they are only out for one month in the year; and, therefore, they cannot be expected to have the same amount of experience. We are extremely indebted to the noble Earl for bringing this subject forward, and I can only repeat that I hope employers of labour will take a patriotic view, and give as many of these men employment as it is in their power.


said, the illustrious Duke had told them everything which they could desire on his high authority. It appeared that, with some slight exceptions, the conduct of the Army Reserve men had been excellent, and those exceptions were due rather more to misadventure in the detailed arrangements, than to the fault of the men themselves. They could not, however, expect, at the first moment of trying a great experiment of this kind, under difficult circumstances, that everything would be perfect. What they wanted first to know was the real character of the men, and on that point nothing could be more satisfactory than the testimony which they had just heard. The next important thing was the future. The most critical question had already been decided in the most satisfactory manner. But for the perfect success of the whole experiment, much depended upon that which was now taking place. Would the men act on future occasions as they had acted now? That must, in a great degree, depend upon their experience of their treatment on the present occasion by the Government, and upon the manner in which the great employers of labour acted. The Army and Militia Reserve men had shown great loyalty to the Crown, and they had come forward, at great risks and sacrifices to themselves, honourably to discharge the duty imposed upon them. The men were, for the most part, in a comparatively humble position of life; and he should like to ask were the loyalty, patriotism, and public spirit of the country to be limited to these men, and were the great employers of labour, whose wealth depended upon the industry of those below them, not to show an equal amount of loyalty, patriotism, and public spirit? He thought their Lordships could not doubt for one moment that they would come forward and do what was asked of them. In the General Order which was issued to the Reserves by the illustrious Duke, Her Gracious Majesty the Sovereign approved in the highest terms of the conduct of the men; and that Order, he might be permitted to say, gave to the employers of labour a most valuable practical suggestion, that, even looking to their own interest only, they ought to employ the men now they had been discharged. He could only say that if those employers desired to obtain the faithful services of a trustworthy body of men, they would consult their own interests by employing men who had had the great advantage of training and discipline in the Army, and such were the Reserve men who had just left their colours. They would thus not only show their approval of the patriotic conduct of the men, but do a national service by encouraging those who would hereafter join the Reserves to follow the example which had just been so well set.


observed, that in the case of the Militia Reserve men, their services would doubtless be required at this time of year in the agricultural districts, and he was glad the harvest would fall so early. He thought that Her Majesty's Government would do well to consider the question of deferred pay in the case of the Militia, who stood in the same position, in many respects, as their comrades of the Line.


said, great pressure had been put upon the employers of labour to take back the men, and he wished to say a few words as to the position of the employers. Many of these Army and Militia Reserve men occupied positions of trust, and when they were called out it was impossible for the employers to keep their situations vacant. They were obliged to fill them by engaging others equally trustworthy; and these men, who had discharged their duties properly, could not be got rid of to make way for the return of the Reserve men unless a great injustice was committed by the employers. He mentioned this fact to show that it was not quite so easy for the employers to take the Reserve men back at once as some seemed to think. He would also point out that many of the men had to serve in the ranks of the Reserves, although when they were in either the Army or the Militia they had been non-commissioned officers. This entitled these men to some consideration from the Government. With respect to the payment of the men on leaving the colours, he could state that in one instance, at least, the men had received the arrears due to them in an envelope after they had entered the train for home, and that no case of drunkenness had occurred among them.


said, there could only be a certain number of non-commissioned officers on the establishment of the Reserves, and that was why some of the men who had formerly been non-commissioned officers had to serve in the ranks.


entirely agreed with the remarks which had been made, that the public spirit of the country ought not to be confined to the lowest classes; and it was to the interest of the employers of labour to take these men back into their employment at the earliest opportunity. Another reason which ought to weigh with the employers was this. It should be remembered that if the new system failed through the discontent of the Reserve men, owing to want of re-employment, or from any other cause, the only alternative step would be a recourse to compulsory enlistment. Compulsory enlistment must be applicable to all classes, and under compulsory enlistment employers would be as liable to serve as their workmen. He would, therefore, put it to the employers whether, to avoid the necessity for, or the possibility of, such a state of things, they would not exert themselves to find employment for the disbanded Reserve men as quickly as they could? It certainly seemed a strong motive to induce the employers to treat these men well as soon as they returned.