§ LORD TRURO
, in rising to call attention to a Return showing the condition as regarded efficiency and strength of the regiments of Infantry sent from this country to South Africa in February last, said, the subject which he had to bring before their Lordships was one of Imperial interest. It was no less than this—had the country, under the newly-adopted military system, an Army adequate to its wants and available for all emergencies? If the system had failed they were bound to consider the determined purpose of the nation to be provided with a military Force adequate in all respects to its requirements. The Return to which he desired to call attention, pointed out in a decisive and glaring manner the defects of our present military organization, and it showed with directness and clearness the source from which those defects arose. In the month of February last, Lord Chelmsford applied to Her Majesty's Government for re-inforcements. Lord Chelmsford was a distinguished officer, and had held military appointments to enable him to know what the strength of regiments was, and how strongly each regiment should be constituted. When his Lordship, therefore, applied to be re-inforced 667 by five regiments, he knew that his reinforcements would amount to no less than 5,000 men, if the regiments were properly constituted. It was, first of all, to the strength of these regiments, not less than the troops themselves which constituted them, to which he earnestly invited attention. These re-inforcements, instead of numbering 5,000 men, as a matter of fact, numbered only 4,435, of whom 905 had not served for the full period of 12 months. As to the material of which those troops were composed, more than one in three, or 1,585 in all, were under 21 years of age. Of those 1,585, no fewer than 500 were under 20 years, 251 were under 19 years, and 37 were under 18 years. Now, that was the condition of the Force sent out to Lord Chelmsford, and he (Lord Truro) ventured to remark that, however unfortunate it was that the re-inforcements should be constituted of men so young and unformed, yet there was one thing more unfortunate still, and that was that the non-commissioned officers were inexperienced. Of those attached to the Force of which he had spoken, 45 were under the age of 24, 100 had not reached the age of 22, 54 were not 21 years of age, and 12 were under the age of 20. Their Lordships would be able to form some opinion of the character of the Force which the necessities of this country had compelled the Government to send out in view of the contention frequently urged, that the strength of the British Army depended mainly upon the experience, tact, and judgment of its non-commissioned officers. In the case he had mentioned, more than a third of the rank-and-file were under 21 years of ago, and there was not a non-commissioned officer over 24 years of age. In making these remarks, he wished simply to call attention to a system which had not worked well up to the present, and had only been a short time in operation, but in regard to the future working of which much interest must necessarily be felt. The present system provided that a man should serve 12 years—six with the Colours, and six with the Reserves. But the service with the Colours was often only a period of three years, at the end of which the men had the option of going into the Reserve. He understood this system of allowing men to go after three or four years' service had been found undesirable, and he hoped that in future 668 men would not be allowed to retire so speedily. It was not in the interest of the public that the Crown should pay a large amount of money for the services of what was really little better than raw recruits. Perhaps it was not, under the circumstances, to be regretted that recent wars had afforded to the Government and the country an opportunity of judging the merits and defects of this newly-instituted and only partially-tried system. When it was considered that in almost every handicraft an apprentice spoilt his master's materials for one or two years, worked for other two years without wages, and completed his apprenticeship with a nominal payment, it was somewhat curious to find that what might be called military apprentices in the National Service were dealt with on an opposite principle, and received payment from the moment their apprenticeship commenced. A noble Earl (the Earl of Longford), whom he regretted not to see in his place, had formulated his views, and, on this branch of the subject, the noble Earl held that, as soon as enlisted, recruits ought to be relegated to depôts for instruction, and not sent to their regiments until they were fit for something like substantial service, inducements being offered to them in the meantime to fit themselves as soon as possible for service with the Colours. In connection with the contention that it was too early to find fault with a military system so recent as that of Viscount Cardwell's, he might say that, in his opinion, there was great credit due to the noble Viscount for the nerve and determination he showed in carrying out the will of the people to possess a cheap, efficient, and popular Army in face of a deeply-rooted system of ancient reverences—he would not call them prejudices—and a lively Party opposition. To a great extent, the noble Viscount succeeded in the task imposed upon him, a task which included not only the difficulty he had suggested, but the further ones of producing an Army capable of expansion and contraction, and of making happy and contented those officers who were subjected to enforced retirement. But there were still greater difficulties yet to be dealt with. It was a most important fact that, to make up the reinforcements for abroad, 1,400 were taken from home regiments; that in some cases such regiments were reduced 669 to as low a strength as 200 men; and that in a regiment, in one of the most important fortresses in the Kingdom, there were not more than six men available for garrison duty. It had been said in some quarters that the country was not willing to provide further national resources; but, he believed he expressed the opinions of the highest officials, when he said that an augmentation of the British Army was absolutely necessary in order to support the interests of the country, protect its commerce, and supply re-inforcements in case of wars such as those in which we were now engaged, and furnish drafts for regiments serving in India and our Dependencies abroad. Those official authorities also held that, in addition to re-inforcing the Army, it was necessary to make some modifications in the existing system of military organizations and management.
§ VISCOUNT HARDINGE
thought that the policy of the late Secretary of State for War (Viscount Cardwell), and the effects of the re-organization of the Army instituted during his tenure of office, were questions which it would be inconvenient for their Lordships to enter into on that occasion, more especially as it was rumoured that Her Majesty's Government intended to appoint a Commission or a Committee to investigate the whole subject. Confining his remarks to the condition of the regiments sent out as re-inforcements to Lord Chelmsford, he desired to say that the figures quoted by the noble Lord opposite (Lord Truro) showed that those regiments were in a lamentable state as regarded efficiency. One regiment—the 21st Fusiliers—with which he was familiar, having a son in it—when ordered to the Cape, was actually obliged to send back to the depôt as many as 353 boys who were utterly unfit for active service. There were only 314 men in that regiment, out of a strength of about 900, who had reached the age of 24, the remainder being immature youths. Only 194 of the men had completed their six years' service. This was a very unfortunate and unsatisfactory state of things. The other regiments which were sent to the Cape would be found, if the Returns were examined, to be in very much the same condition. He wished, however, to say, in reference to the regiment which he had named, that he had received letters 670 which showed that the boys who were in it had stood the test of long marches to the front in bad weather very well. But he doubted whether such troops could bear the strain of a prolonged campaign. The most unsatisfactory part of the whole Returns related to the noncommissioned officers. The efficiency of an Army depended upon the efficiency of the non-commissioned officers. The chief flaw in the short-service system was the want of non-commissioned officers. He desired to draw the attention of his noble Friend the Under Secretary of State for War (Viscount Bury) to a recommendation which had been made by a Committee of which the present Secretary of State for War (Colonel Stanley) was Chairman. None of those recommendations had been carried out, although the present Minister of War was Chairman. That recommendation was that regiments with both of their battalions abroad should receive assistance in recruiting from brigade depôts, by the establishment of a system of volunteering, which they deprecated generally, observing that under certain circumstances a portion of the Reserves should be called out. And the Committee said—We submit that there may he circumstances of emergency not of sufficient importance to justify the general embodiment of the Militia, and yet of sufficient gravity to necessitate an immediate, though temporary, increase of trained men. In such an event, which can happen extremely seldom, we think a certain proportion of Reserve men should be recalled to the Colours.He was of opinion that what had occurred in Africa a short time ago was certainly such an emergency as the Committee had in view. In such an emergency, the Government should have the power of calling out a certain portion of our Reserve men, and he wished to know why this recommendation had not been resorted to. Short service might be too dearly purchased, and he hoped that the questions of short service and the general re-organization of the Army would be investigated in a thoroughly impartial manner. The question should not be referred to those who had inaugurated the present system, but to those who would bring independent opinion to bear on the subject.
§ VISCOUNT BURY
thought the House must have felt that both the noble Lords who had addressed it had done so 671 with a great sense of responsibility, and with a very praiseworthy absence of anything like exaggeration, which, on the topic before their Lordships, would be extremely undesirable from many points of view. Exaggeration might tend to cause an undue panic and an unreasoning fear out-of-doors, and might have a very bad effect in the Army itself. He was not there, representing the War Office, as he did, to speak with "bated breath and whispering humbleness" upon the points before their Lordships. He acknowledged, and the Department acknowledged, that there were many and great faults in the system which had been inaugurated; but it was desirable that they should not attach too much importance to those faults, or exaggerate their nature. They should look at the true state of things and see if there were not within their reach an easy remedy. Of course, if Her Majesty's Government were responsible for the state of things which had arisen—if to the policy of Her Majesty's Government alone was to be referred the fact that the regiments which had gone out to Zululand were below such a standard of age as was desirable, and that they had been brought up to their full strength in a manner which might be objected to from a military point of view—if Her Majesty's Government were responsible for all that, they might be ashamed of presenting themselves before the House, and of inviting—as his noble Friend who sat behind him (Viscount Hardinge) had just done—a free, impartial, and full discussion upon this great subject. But, in the first place, the system upon which the British Army was now built up was, as his noble Friend opposite very well expressed it, a new system, and a system which was upon its trial. It was also a system for which no one Government could be held responsible. It was true that a Committee, presided over by his right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for War (Colonel Stanley), made certain recommendations; but those recommendations were only in continuation of others made by the noble Viscount on the opposite Benches (Viscount Cardwell). He believed, too, that the noble Viscount made his recommendations only after consulting all the military experience at his command. Feeling that a great change was necessary 672 in the constitution of the Army, the subject having been previously debated for years, the noble Viscount set on foot a system which he believed was most likely to prove an ample and proper reform of our Army system; and the illustrious Duke at the head of the Army (the Duke of Cambridge) gave him the advice which, in his opinion, should be followed under the conditions which had been submitted to him. Therefore, one Government after another, one Committee after another, were concerned in these recommendations, which were assented to by the illustrious Duke. No one Government was responsible for what had taken place. The question was discussed for several years when he (Viscount Bury) held a seat in the House of Commons, and every step which had been taken since had been taken for the purpose of giving effect to the determination which was arrived at by the House and the country at large. Therefore, although he did not deny that there were grave defects in our military system, he could say, without Party bias, for it was not a Party question at all, that it was a matter in which they ought to put their heads together with a view to ascertain whether a remedy was not at hand, and how best it could be applied. There was another reason why they should be very chary in setting aside the recommendations made in 1871, and that was that in carrying out those recommendations in reference to the brigade depôt system, so large a sum of money had been expended, that it would be cruel and unjust to the country to throw it to one side. They had spent up to the present time £2,743,579 on the establishment of brigade depôts throughout the country. It might be that their organization was not perfect; but Her Majesty's Government were of opinion that that fact would best be met, not by throwing all that had been done aside, but by full and deliberate investigation, point by point, of the various items which could be improved, and by endeavouring to devise what the improvement should be. They should also remember that the new system, although it had not been very long in operation, had still acted pretty well. They were nominally in a state of peace—that was, they were not in that state of war which would enable them to call out the Reserves. They 673 had, he was going to say, two wars on their hands; but the announcement made by his noble Friend behind him (Viscount Cranbrook) left them, happily, in a position to say that they had only one war on their hands. But until now they had had two, and they could not, by any stretch of imagination, be called little wars, and they had had to fight them with an Army upon a peace footing; and, therefore, the system by which, without any undue exertion, they were enabled to supply the requisite number of men to the two Armies in the field could hardly be said to have broken down, although he admitted that, on an inspection of the various regiments, some fault was to found as to the inexperience of the non-commissioned officers, and the ages of the men. His noble Friend (Lord Truro) had, however, he thought, a little overrated that point. He (Viscount Bury) would take the first regiment on the list, the 2nd Battalion of the 21st Regiment. Of its 888 men, more than half—about 500—were over 21 years of age, and it would be admitted that men over 21 years of age were well able to go through the dangers and difficulties of a campaign. He was not denying that there were a good many youths in the regiments; but this lie said—that it was very important there should not be entertained out-of-doors any exaggerated views of the difficulties which existed; that it should not be thought the men were such mere boys, and so utterly inexperienced, as his noble Friend had rhetorically stated. The system under which the Army was organized certainly had, as he had already stated, faults. They had now 16,609 First Class Army Reserve, 21,976 Second Class Army Reserve, and a Militia Reserve of 20,110; in all a Reserve of 58,695 men. It might be asked—"Why, then, if you are so hard up for men as to be obliged to gather them in here and there, do you not call out your Reserves? "The reason was that they were prohibited from doing so by positive legislative enactment. In the Army Organization Act of 1870, it was provided that unless a grave national emergency was declared by Parliament, or if Parliament were not sitting, by Order in Council, their could not call out the Reserves, or any part of them, or embody the Militia. They were, therefore, prohibited from calling out any one of the 58,000 men 674 of which he had spoken; and they were also prevented from accepting the services of any of those men, even if they chose to volunteer. Until a few days ago, they were under the impression that if any of the Reserve men desired to rejoin the Colours, they were at liberty to do so; but from an opinion they obtained from the Law Officers of the Crown it appeared that such was not the case. What, then, was to be done? They fell back upon the general organization of 1872, which was yet wanting in elasticity to make it exactly suited to the exigencies of the country. The system went on the assumption that they should have generally 70 battalions abroad and 70 at home—that the battalion at home and that abroad should be linked together, and that the latter should be kept up to its full strength by drafts from the battalion at home. To these were to be attached what was called a depôt centre, and that had at its back the Militia and Volunteers of the district. Well, that was all very well in theory, and it would have worked well practically, if they had never had more than 70 battalions abroad. But in the first year of the system they had 71 battalions abroad, and they never since had less; while at that moment they had 85 battalions abroad. The consequence was that 15 of the linked battalions were deprived of any regiment at their back from which their full strength could be made up, and that 55 regiments at home had not only to supply their own linked battalions, but 15 other battalions, and the casualties in their own ranks. That was a dislocation of the system inaugurated by his noble Friend opposite (Viscount Cardwell) which probably he never could entirely have foreseen, and which would have been obviated by some means of elasticity had it been foreseen. Not being able, then, to call out the Reserves or embody the Militia, they could only have recourse to enlisting, and enlisting, he would remind his noble Friend, gave them nothing but boys; and that was the state of things in the present exceptional position, with a war in Zululand and a war, up to the present time, in Afghanistan. He did not know whether it would be a bull to say that the position, although it was exceptional, was habitual, for they might be said to be never entirely at peace and never entirely 675 at war. Since 1852 they had had the Crimean War, the Persian War, the Indian Mutiny, two New Zealand Wars, the Abyssinian War, the Franco-German War, the Russo-Turkish War, the Ashantee War, the Afghanistan War, and the Zulu War; but on only two occasions were the Militia called out—during the Russian War and the Indian Mutiny. These were all considerable wars; but they did not all amount to great emergencies justifying the calling out of the Reserves. They were the kind of emergencies which should be met by dislocating the whole system, and which threw them back upon volunteering and recruiting. He had frankly acknowledged the main justice of his noble Friend's strictures. They all felt that something must be done—that the existing difficulty must be faced. The fact was that there was great difficulty in procuring a relaxation of legislative enactments. To do so required time, and, perhaps, in "another place," would provoke opposition and delay. It was not supposed that very many more troops would have to be sent out to Zululand in addition to those already there. The troops under the command of the general there were quite as large a number as could be easily disposed of for the duties for which they were detailed; but they must be kept up to their strength and not be allowed to dwindle away. Now, how was that to be done? The Government believed that if they were permitted to accept the services of those men who having left the Colours volunteered to rejoin, a great point would be gained; but to enable them to do that, some relaxtion of the legislative prohibition of 1870 was necessary. The question was one which would receive the careful attention of the Government. Probably, too, some means might be found of greasing the wheels of the military machinery. For that purpose the Government would appeal to the military Advisers of the Crown as to what relaxations and changes in the existing brigade depôt system, could be recommended; and, of course, it would be on the responsibility of the Government either to accept or to pass by those recommendations. His noble Friend behind him (Viscount Hardinge) had said that, out-of-doors, there was a belief that a Committee was to be appointed to inquire into the brigade 676 depôt system. It would be satisfactory to the House to hear that such was the case. He hoped that such an inquiry, and a slight relaxation of legislative prohibitions, such as he had already described, would meet the exigencies of the case, and place them in a much better position in the future than they were in at the present moment.
§ THE DUKE OF CAMBRIDGE
My Lords, I am exceedingly anxious to say a word with regard to the question before the House. There are difficulties to which frank reference has been made in the course of the debate. The subject is a most grave and serious one. It concerns everyone in the country, every Member of the Legislature, and every citizen of this Empire; and I venture to hope that, whatever may be said or done on the subject, at all events we shall try to deal with it from a large and unbiassed point of view, and that we shall not suffer personal or Party feeling, either one way or the other, to influence us. It is said that the Army is not in a satisfactory condition at the present moment. My Lords, you must remember the Army has at present a severe strain upon it; I can call it nothing else. What has been its condition for some considerable time? We have had troops in the field in two distant parts of the world, and they have had to be largely supplemented by Reserves. Now, let me at once say that the question of Reserves is a question of money. You may by this, that, or the other device bolster up an Army; but unless the country is prepared to pay for an Army it cannot have an efficient one. Men will not come to your Army and stay with it unless they think it worth their while. That is the point we have to deal with. As regards the number of men obtained, the short service system, which I have always said was a tentative one, has been, to a great extent, satisfactory. The men at one time came in so rapidly, and so much in excess of our requirements, that those who had served three years were allowed at once to go into the Reserves. The feeling of the military authorities was that they ought on no account to check recruiting, but rather to let them pass into the Reserves before their full period of service had expired. Such was the state of things previous to the commencement of these wars, and, to some extent, the main 677 service was crippled when the pressure came. Another difficulty has reference to India. Though only two additional regiments are in India at this moment, we had to send large drafts out, because we wished to keep up regiments there to their full strength. Thus it was that the men were taken and the boys; left. The regiments at home are really composed of boys; and they are also, in fact, large depôts for the Forces serving abroad. A difficulty has also arisen in regard to the system of linked battalions—one at home and one abroad. The principle, as originally conceived, was that there should be 70 battalions at home and 70 abroad; but it is frequently found impossible to carry this out. When demands came upon them the Government could not say—"We must keep a certain number of battalions at home;" they had to meet the exigencies of the case as best they could. The result is that we have now 15 cases in which both battalions are abroad. The legislative difficulty to which my noble Friend (Viscount Bury) has referred is, I admit, a most unfortunate one. Perhaps I am as much responsible for it as anybody else; but until the difficulty arose I had no idea that we were absolutely debarred from taking any Preserve men whatever. We have applications from Reserve men to volunteer; the State would give anything for their services, and yet it is not at liberty to avail itself of their offer. I have always spoken with great respect of the Reserve Forces, who responded to the call for their services last year in a manner so creditable to themselves. I am very anxious that we should not meddle with their civil avocations more than necessary; but when we pay 6d. a-day for a man for six, and sometimes for nine years, it is a little hard to got nothing out of him when an emergency arises. That is a state of things which certainly requires modification. I would not force these men to serve. I would be content to allow them to volunteer from the Reserve, and we should thus get the services of more seasoned men than we do at present. At the same time, you can never expect to see such a well-seasoned Army as we had under the long service system. We must necessarily have a large proportion of young men and young non-commissioned officers. It is sad that this should be the case, 678 but so it is. It is really a question of payment. If you want men to stay with the Colours, you must make it worth their while. Some of the best six years' men have said that they would stay if their prospects were as good with the Colours as they would be elsewhere. You must recollect that when a man has served his short service, and obtained all his good-conduct stripes, he has to consider his position—whether he shall elect to become a non-commissioned officer and enter into a new engagement for six years, or whether he shall retire upon the Reserve; and it is not to be wondered at, considering all the risks, that he will not take the chance of becoming a non-commissioned officer. There seems to have been some misunderstanding as to what I said the other day about the localization of the Army. Local connection is, no doubt, of great value; but the localization of the Army, in the French or Prussian sense of the word, is an impossibility with our service. It is utterly inconsistent with our military system, because we have not conscription as they have. Therefore, I say that the localization of our Army is an impossibility, and must be left out of our calculations; but local connection is a desirable thing. I do not think that it would produce as many recruits as might be desired, because we have not any strong indication that the Militia are specially anxious to join a specific corps. To some extent, it is the case; but I think, generally speaking, that men go to the large towns and enlist there. Officers are generally extremely anxious to get the men away from their local depôts. They say—"Don't leave the men here, where they are tempted to desert, and where they are treated, perhaps too liberally, by their friends, and get into trouble." I am quite satisfied to leave it to the Committee to report to the Government, and I do not think there need be any alarm about going back to the old system. What would be more acceptable would be a modification of the new system; and I think it will, with changes, be found to have advantages over the old. If I chose to go into details, I could give an account of every one of these regiments. We did the best we could, and we got the Force out in a fortnight. Under the circumstances, we did the best we could in sending out troops to the Cape. I do 679 not admire the system of volunteering, as we have been obliged to resort to it; but that is not the question. When men were wanted, what was to be done? I think that, looking at all the circumstances, blame cannot fairly be attached to anyone for having produced such a Return as I hold in my hand, which I admit is not a satisfactory one. I hope we shall, after due deliberation, now inaugurate a system under which no man will be sent out who is not fit for immediate military duty.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
said, he was not at all surprised that the noble Lord behind him (Lord Truro) had called attention to this subject, and he congratulated him on the discussion which had taken place. He entirely agreed with him in deploring that it was necessary to send out on a distant expedition a single soldier who, in the opinion of His Royal Highness, was not adequate for the discharge of his military duties; and as to the system of completing the drafts by means of volunteers from other regiments, he did not yield to the noble Lord in his disapprobation of that system. By doing so, they discounted their future resources and gave a considerable blow to the regimental esprit de corps which they were so anxious to promote. These results were not the inevitable consequence of what had been called the newly-adopted military system of the country. That system was expressly designed to avoid consequences of that kind. With regard to the youth of the recruits, he wished to make this observation. In a country where enlistment was voluntary there must be young recruits. If they endeavoured to get older men, they would only get those who had failed in other professions, or who were physically unfit for the Army. It therefore came to this—there must be youth somewhere, and the question was, where would they have it? The principle of short service was that it was better to have a young Army with seasoned Reserves, than an Army of older soldiers with nothing to fall back upon but raw reinforcements taken from the tail of the plough or the corner of the streets. The latter was the system which prevailed before the introduction of short service, and those who were familiar with the condition of our Army during the progress of the Crimean War must know how completely 680 that system had failed. The new system—the system of 1872—had not had a full or complete trial. If he wanted a description of that system, he should turn to a Memorandum prepared by the illustrious Duke (the Duke of Cambridge), which was accompanied by the Report of the Committee, commonly called General M'Dougall's Committee. At the close of His Royal Highness's Memorandum occurred words to the effect that the first battalions on foreign service ought to be on an increased establishment, and form the first part of the corps d'armée abroad. In their Report, the Committee enumerated certain steps which were, in their opinion, to be carried out whenever an expedition was sent abroad. The first step was that the Line battalions remaining at home were to be increased by calling up the Army Reserve men and Volunteers, the Militia were to be embodied, and the depôts from which casualties were to be supplied were to be expanded. A noble Lord opposite had observed that the system broke down because it was based upon the assumption that there were to be 70 battalions at home and 70 abroad; whereas, as the noble Viscount the Under Secretary of State (Viscount Bury) had informed them, there were at present not 70 battalions at home and 70 abroad, but 85 battalions abroad and only 55 at home. But the steps indicated in General M'Dougall's Committee provided for an expedition of 50 battalions, which would leave only 20 at home; and those steps, if they were properly carried out, would, he believed, be sufficient for an expedition of that magnitude. He was aware that it would not be possible to carry out in a smaller expedition the steps which would be advisable for a great European war. Taking the Reserve men as an example, they had to deal not only with the Reserve men bun with their employers; and it would be found, if the impression once got abroad that the passing of a man into the Reserve rendered him liable to serve compulsorily in the Colonies, the Army Reserve men would fail to get employment, and the Army Reserve would become unpopular. There were, therefore, other steps to be taken, steps in the same direction; and he was delighted to find that it was in contemplation to allow the Army Reserve men to volunteer for foreign service, in case of what 681 was termed a "minor emergency." A Bill, he understood, was on the Table of the House of Commons for that purpose; and knowing the admirable spirit with which the Reserve men responded to the call which was made upon them last year, it seemed to him they might now have a Force available by which they might expand their battalions when they wanted to send out a foreign expedition, without going to the length of compelling the Reserve men to rejoin the Colours. These steps proceeded on the principle of the system of 1872, and he rejoiced to hear that the Government were considering the propriety of having recourse to them. Up to now nothing had been done; not only had none of the steps referred to been taken, but the system had been tried under extremely disadvantageous circumstances. The Afghan War broke out about the time of the relieving season; and so it came to pass that Reserves went out to India, and regiments did not come back again. Then came the Zulu War, which kept 10,000 White men in South Africa, and, besides all this, although the Memorandum of His Royal Highness provided for increasing the strength of the 18 battalions next for foreign service, he (the Marquess of Lansdowne) had not been able to find out that 18 battalions of increased strength were in any part of the United Kingdom when the war in South Africa broke out. There were several battalions at an increased strength; but these were, he believed, at Malta at the time. If only the first stress of the emergency were met by such means as had been indicated, he believed the system of 1872 would work well; and he hoped the Government would not lose a moment in introducing into Parliament the necessary Bill, which would receive the friendly consideration of every Member of that House.
§ VISCOUNT CRANBROOK
My Lords, I should not have taken part in this debate were it not that some remarks have been made which seems to require a little explanation on my part. It will be borne in mind that I inherited this scheme from the noble Viscount opposite (Viscount Cardwell), and I think it will be generally admitted that I did everything in my power to make it succeed. The noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lansdowne) has just said that it was 682 part of the scheme that 18 regiments should be kept up to their full strength; but when I came into Office I only found four regiments of that strength, and they were kept ready for the purpose of Indian relief. In order to keep 18 regiments up to their full strength, the Army had to be increased. The events of the last two years have, no doubt, caused considerable confusion in the system; and I am bound to agree with the opinion of the noble Lord (Lord Truro) that the system is not well suited to the present circumstances under which small wars arise. I am sure we shall all be glad if a remedy can be obtained. With reference to the passing into the Reserve of men of three years' service, that course was taken in consequence of the increase in the number of recruits, which rose, on an increase being made by me to the pay of the Army, from between 17,000 and 18,000 to between 29,000 and 30,000, making the Army for a time 2,000 or 3,000 men in excess of what was authorized by Parliament. Two courses were open to me—either to stop recruiting, or to fill up the Reserves. There was a complaint throughout the country that the Reserves were not being filled up, and I thought their more rapid progress very important, and I made an effort to fill them up. The consequence of my doing so was that they made a substantial appearance last year; whereas, two or three years ago, they only amounted to 2,000 or 3,000 men. Of course, I could not keep an excessive number in the Army without invading the rights of the House of Commons; but, by what I did, I secured two men for one—one for the Reserve, and one for the Army. In that way I got the Army full, and we had available for a foreign war a number of serviceable and seasoned soldiers. The Afghan campaign commenced, and though those who conducted it did not draw largely on British Forces, only retaining two additional regiments which were coming home, still drafts were continually going out from regiments at home, and when there was a sudden call for the services of these regiments elsewhere, having sent out their best men to India, they had to be filled up with what are called boys. I agree that there is nothing more unfortunate than that a boy who is hardly fit to carry his musket and knapsack should be sent out 683 to hard service abroad, and as that was never meant to be done, a number of the more youthful recruits were sent to the depôts. I do not, however, despair, as some do, of the fighting qualities of young men. If you read the annals of the English Army, you will see that young men between 20 and 25 have done as good service as those between 25 and 30. Yon will find, as a matter of fact, from the Indian Returns, that there is a degree of health and fitness on the part of men who go out at 20 years of age which you cannot find in men who go out at any other age. I admit the importance of having noncommissioned officers fit for their work, and of offering high inducements to efficient men to remain in the Army at the period when they have to consider whether they shall do so or seek some other occupation; but one of the great misfortunes that accompany short service is this—that it is difficult to persuade men who have become non-commissioned officers, after being about four years in the Army, to continue in it when their term of six years is completed. A man who has served a number of years in the Army naturally desires to have something to look forward to in the future; and although it may be more expensive, I cannot help thinking, seeing that non-commissioned officers are the back-bone of the Army, that it would be worth while to incur the expense of offering inducements to retain a limited number of non-commissioned officers, instead of being thrown back, as in many instances, upon young men of insufficient position for the work pressed upon them. The only way to have an Army fit for foreign service is either to form and maintain an effective Army of old soldiers, taking your chance of going into the open market to recruit it, or to enlarge your Reserves by passing men gradually through the Army into it. The proposition was that there should be 25 per cent of old soldiers in all the regiments; but if you cannot get people to enlist for long service, you must take them for short; and, in fact, we have had to fall back on the system of recruiting entirely for short service, with the provision that those who go in for short service should be able at a certain period to go in for the longer service. We are all animated by the same object, and I trust that the recommendations of the Committee 684 which is to be appointed will lead to an improvement in the working of the present system.
§ VISCOUNT CARDWELL
was glad to acknowledge that the noble Viscount (Viscount Cranbrook) had given the plan of his Predecessors most cordial support; and the Report of the Brigade Depôt Committee, which he appointed, contained much information of value to all interested in the subject. Tie agreed with all that had been said by his noble Friend opposite (Viscount Bury), and concurred with the illustrious Duke (the Duke of Cambridge) that there should be statutory power to volunteer from the Reserves into an Army like that now engaged in Colonial service, if statutory power was necessary. That appeared to be a proper way of meeting the difficulty. There was now on the Table of the other House a Bill to effect that object. There were now 38,000 men in the Reserve, and they might be confidently appealed to to increase the Army. He would be delighted if the new Committee, composed of such able men, should be able to suggest other means than those which had been suggested by the Committee of 1876. All he could say was that be relied upon the Government to support the scheme of which they had now testified their approval, and he hoped they would never see a return to that state of things which existed in the time of the Crimean War, and of which the Commission appointed in 1867 gave such a lamentable account. The youth of the recruits in Lord Raglan's time, and also in Lord Dalhousie's time, everyone knew. But the recruits now were of a very different quality, and, as his noble Friend opposite had said, they were material upon which they could rely for splendid service. The difference between having men too old and men too young was this—that men too young had a great deal of vitality and activity in them, which could not be said of men too old. However, by availing themselves of volunteers from the Reserves, they might fill the ranks with older soldiers than they had at present, and then they would have a powerful Army.
§ House adjourned at Eight o'clock, till To-morrow, Eleven o'clock.