HL Deb 20 June 1881 vol 262 cc817-32

in rising to call attention to that part of the Report of the Committee assembled under General Lord Airey on Army Reorganization which deals with the question of the "Waste of the Army," and to move the following Resolution—namely:— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that Her Majesty will be graciously pleased to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into and report upon the causes of this 'Waste of the Army,' both in regard to the alarming increase of desertion officially reported to have taken place within a few months of the first enlistment of recruits as well as in regard to subsequent 'fraudulent enlistments' during recent years, since the introduction of short service, and the twin (or linked) battalion system; said, he should not trouble their Lordships at such length as he had done on a former occasion; but it was a subject which, owing to what might be termed the "apathy fever," nobody seemed inclined to take up, although everybody was talking of it. He believed it was one of the most important subjects which could occupy their Lordships' attention. On a former occasion he ventured to bring forward some facts and figures in support of his proposition that the proposed re-organization of the Army was unsound, unreal, as well as unpopular with the Army. He believed he had added at the time that it was almost open to the charge of being somewhat inhumane. He would be the last man to accuse any Member of the Government of wanton inhumanity; but he would undertake to show how the present scheme in effect was bound to prove itself inhumane. It was proved to demonstration that there was very great waste in the Army, caused by desertion and discharge by purchase. The Report of the Committee referred particularly to the injurious effect of the twin-battalion system, which, by the proposed scheme, was about to be intensified, by the constant shifting of young soldiers from one place to another; a few weeks at a depôt, then to one battalion, and again off to another. This constant shifting was so unpalatable to the young soldier that it was held to be a direct incentive to desertion, and any incentive to such a crime was, he thought, somewhat inhumane. It was on that account that he desired a Royal Commission to inquire into the waste in the Army. Looking at the figures presented in the Report of Lord Airey's Committee, it was nothing short of a national and crying disgrace that such a large amount of waste in the Army should be going on. He should, therefore, ask the permission of the House to give a short analysis of the figures presented on this subject in the Report of this Committee. From 1873 to 1879 there disappeared from the Army 12½ per cent in the first three months, 25 per cent in first 12 months, and 30 per cent within the first two years after enlistment, going on thus until before the end of the six years' enlistment there had been a waste of no less than 387 per 1,000, exclusive of any who might have gone to the Reserve. These, he thought, were startling figures. In another paragraph of the Report of Lord Airey's Committee, it was stated that during the three years from 1876–7–8 there were an average number of 28,800 recruits annually enlisted, 10,000 of whom had done no effective duty. During these three years short service had been only in partial operation; but actuarial calculations proved that with the short-service system in full operation the Service would require 36,000 men annually to keep up the Army to its proper strength, and it appeared that, in order to get 36,000 men finally approved, 54,000 men ought to be enlisted annually. In the six years from 1873 to 1878, inclusive, out of 17,171 desertions, no less than 13,180 deserted with less than three years' service. If that loss went on, it might be calculated that there would be an annual loss by desertion of 3,821. He came then to the question of purchase of discharge. In six years no less than 16,375 men left the Service in this way, exclusive of 18,176 who paid smart-money. The next paragraph stated that of that number about half were under three years' service. The Report, after alluding to the fact that 6,214 men out of 49,600 were lost to the Service annually by preventible causes, proceeded to say— That the continuance of such losses adds enormously to the expenses of the Army, injures the efficiency of the regiments at homo by requiring an influx of recruits over and above those necessary to supply legitimate casualties, renders necessary the establishment of larger depôts, and seriously retards the formation of the Reserve. It showed that in the years 1876–7–8 the loss of men under one year's service was 12,636, at a cost of £431,700 to the country; that in the same three years the loss of men under two years' service was 11,177, at a cost of £745,600; that in the same three years the loss of men under three years' service was 3,044, at a cost of £354,900; making a total loss of 26,857 men, at a cost of £1,532,200, or over £500,000 a-year. This useless expenditure was bound to increase with the larger number of recruits requisite now unless measures were adopted to check it. The Report also said that— A great part of the expenditure tends to demoralize the lower orders of society by encouraging fraudulent enlistment and desertion, and to bring the Government of the country into disrepute by sending hack to civil life a number of men as invalids with impaired health, and therefore with diminished prospects of earning their livelihood. Comment upon such a statement was, in his opinion, superfluous. The Report of the Committee also showed that the great waste that went on yearly from the ranks of the Army during the first year of a recruit's service was an evil— Which must Dot only affect the discipline and efficiency of the Army, but adds enormously to the difficulty of maintaining its ranks at the required strength. This difficulty has been increasing many years, and is one requiring very serious consideration. Here, again, comment was surely superfluous. Turning to the question of the height of recruits, he might remind their Lordships that it had already been found at times necessary to reduce the standard. This was the case in 1876. Such a step, however, was undesirable; but, in the opinion of the Committee, if trade revived a similar necessity would occur again. He might possibly be answered that much of the difficulty of obtaining recruits would be overcome by the Secretary of State for War accepting the age of 19 as the minimum age for enlistment. At the same time, it was doubtful whether this would meet the difficulty, unless the Army was made more attractive. Upon the question of age, he found the Report stated that— In consequence of the difficulty of getting mature men it has been necessary to enlist a very large proportion of immature lads, which we have shown to be a source of constant and very heavy expenditure in maintaining a very largo proportion of men Returned as effective, but really not so for service. The Report, however, went on to state that if the 10,440 men with less than three years' service, and the 3,492 with more than three years' service now leaving annually, could be reduced, the difficulties of recruiting would pro tanto be diminished. But in the schemes of the Secretary of State for War he saw no plan proposed to stop these losses. According to the Committee, they were attributable principally—first, to the imperfect physical condition of recruits, causing an undue amount of casualties from death and invaliding; secondly, to desertion; thirdly, to the purchase of discharge; and fourthly, to the discharge of bad characters. To diminish the waste from these causes, the Committee suggested more stringent rules as to medical inspection, a second medical examination after six months, and less arduous training, and that preference should be given for recruits of 20 years of age. They also recommended the establishment of large training centres, and the unlinking of battalions. The Committee proposed this—a method that they thought should have the effect of reducing fraudulent enlistment, which they believed to have been encouraged by numerous depôts being scattered all over the country, which, in addition to other evils alluded to, prevented the identification of those who re-enlisted after desertion. This was worthy of special attention. He was willing to admit that at first he was prejudiced against assembling large numbers of recruits together, not having understood that it was proposed to have a leaven of seasoned soldiers intermixed with them; but he had been convinced of its expediency, if only in order to prevent fraudulent enlistment. Upon that point the Committee remarked— This and other considerations, to be hereafter explained, have led us to the conclusion that, while keeping the brigade depôt at centres for recruitiag, all recruits should he sent to training depôts to receive six months' training before joining their respective regiments. By interchange of a few members of the staff of these depôts, and by measures of police, we are of opinion that this fraudulent practice may be very considerably reduced. The Report went on to state that the increase of desertions under the twin or linked-battalion system—comparing the eight years under this system with the eight years immediately preceding it—had resulted in an increased average of 5,161 under the twin, against 3,153 under the single battalion system, with an extra loss to the country of £350,000. Then again, the average cost to the country of a deserter was £2 17s. 6d., in addition to his keep while in prison and other expenses; one man alone who had fraudulently enlisted six times in four years having cost the country some £250. During the last eight years the total loss to the country occasioned by desertion had amounted to £2,800,000. To afford the country some protection from such loss, the Committee recommended a peculiar vaccination mark, and he should be glad to know if the Secretary of State for War had accepted that proposal. It would also be found that the Committee made various suggestions with the object of inducing a larger number of a better class of young men to enter the Army. In their view, the causes of there being a dearth of noncommissioned officers were the constant shifting of young soldiers from one set of officers to another, the feeling of uncertainty as to when they might be pressed into the Reserve, and the conditions of service being constantly changed at the War Office, which created natural alarm as to security, not fixity, of tenure. From the remarks he had addressed to their Lordships, it would be seen that Lord Airey's Committee were of opinion that there was great waste in the Army by preventable cause; that that waste was in great measure caused by desertion and purchase of discharge; and that desertion and purchase of discharge were caused by the constant shifting of young soldiers, which was a necessary part of the twin-battalion system. They therefore suggested as a remedy the establishment of large training centres, and the unlinking of battalions, recommendations which the Secretary of State for War refused to accept. Instead of adopting the recommendations of the Committee, the Secretary of State for War devoted himself to carrying out fanciful changes in dress, which were as extravagantly ridiculous as they were ridiculously extravagant. Thus, he argued, that the new Government had taken upon themselves not to follow the policy of their Predecessors as regarded the Army, as well as regarded foreign, Colonial, and Irish affairs. He would remind their Lordships of the expression of that great man the late Earl of Beaconsfield, whose loss this House as well as the country had so recently mourned, who had stated that for the first time in his experience of near 50 years, there had ceased that continuity which had hitherto prevailed between the policy of an incoming dna an outgoing Government; and he certainly thought that was the case in respect to this question of Army organization. He thought their Lordships had a right to know by whose counsel the right hon. Gentleman was conducting his military policy, because even a Minister of the genius of the Prime Minister could have no intuitive knowledge of a matter requiring so much practical experience, and so full of detail as this. It ought not to be forgotten that so high an authority as Sir Daniel Lysons, whose opinion was entitled to so much weight, had proposed a scheme the basis of which met with the approval of the late Secretary of State for War—and this he could state authoritatively—which was mainly based on the system of single or unlinked battalions. He did not wish to say anything harsh of the Secretary of State for War, or to treat this subject, which was really a very grave one, in a light manner; but this he would venture to say—that whilst the British Army asked for a continuance of their daily bread in being permitted to retain their numerical and distinctive badges, these were about to be ruthlessly snatched from them; that whilst the British recruit was pleading each for a special battalion as a home, the only reply of the Secretary of State for War was—Thou shalt remain a vagabond on earth. And this it was that had recalled to his memory the old nursery rhyme— Humpty-Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty-Dumpty had a great fall, And all the Queen's horses and all the Queen's men Could not set up Humpty-Dumpty again. But it was in this way that this rhyme appeared to him specially applicable—that if this threatened policy of disorganization was continued, he feared there would shortly remain— Insufficient Queen's horses and men To set up the British Army again.

The noble Earl

concluded by moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice. Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that Her Majesty will be graciously pleased to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into and report upon the causes of the 'Waste of the Army,' both in regard to the alarming increase of desertion officially reported to have taken place within a few months of the first enlistment of recruits as well as in regard to subsequent 'fraudulent enlistments' during recent years since the introduction of short service and the twin (or linked) battalion system.—(The Earl of Galloway.)


said, he fully admitted the importance and magnitude of the question which had been raised by the noble and gallant Earl; but he could hardly think him serious in moving for the appointment of a Commission to inquire into a portion of a most able Report of a Committee, many of whose recommendations had' been adopted by the Secretary of State for War in his new Scheme. He need hardly say that the Government were in possession of the whole of the information which could be procured on the subject, and were duly impressed with the importance of checking waste in the Army, whether it arose from desertions or any other cause; but they ought to have time in which to test the suggestions that had been already made to that end. He did not understand the object of the noble and gallant Earl putting his Motion on the Paper, unless it was to make an attack upon the new Army Organization. The noble and gallant Earl had occupied about three-quarters of an hour in reading a number of interesting extracts from the Report of Lord Airey's Committee. It was an interesting and able Report; but he thought most of their Lordships had made themselves familiar with it at their leisure. He was almost tempted to think it would have been more convenient if the noble and gallant Earl had moved that those portions of the Report should be read by the Clerk at the Table. Before proceeding to speak on matters of detail, be wished to disclaim any suggestion that the Organization of the Army ought to be or had been treated as a matter of Party politics, and to deny the further suggestion that the continuity of the military policy of Her Majesty's Government had been checked by reason of the fact that there had been a change of Government. The policy which the Government was following was in all essentials that recommended by a Committee presided over by the right hon. Gentleman who was Secretary of State for War in the last Government. The object of the noble Lord being to show that the waste in the Army was mainly due to short service, he should have compared the present waste with that which took place in the days when long service was the rule, and before the system of linked battalions was introduced into the Army. He should have shown that under the old condition of things there was no waste in the Army, or that substantially the introduction of the short service had led to an increase of waste; and if he had done this, he (the Earl of Morley) would have been ready to admit that a primâ facie case had been made out, but the noble and gallant Lord had done nothing of the kind.


I pointed out that, in the eight years before the change, the average number of annual desertions were 3,150; and that in the eight years following it they approached 5,200 annually.


said, that no one could doubt the existence of waste in the Army, and he proposed to con- sider briefly what he deemed to be the causes of it. The causes were death, invaliding, discharge by purchase, discharge for misconduct, and desertion. The average of the annual number of deaths was 3,250 during the last nine years of long service, and it fell to 2,150 during the eight years that short service had been in partial operation. The discharges from invaliding had fallen from an annual average of 4,850 to one of 3,930. There had been a gradual reduction in the invaliding of recruits, and it was now as low as 13 per 1,000. The age of the troops was gradually rising. In 1871 the number of men under 20 was 190 per 1,000, and last year it was only 100 per 1,000. It was proposed this year to raise the age of recruits from 18 to 19, and he trusted that they should get recruits at that age without difficulty. There was every probability that discharges from invaliding would gradually diminish when the age was raised, and the men were more mature in physique, and when also, in accordance with the recommendation of Lord Airey's Committee, all the troops in India would be between the ages of 20 and 30 years, and no soldier could be sent to that country before he had gone through one year's service at home. No doubt, it was unfortunate that there should be many discharges for bad conduct, but the number of such discharges was steadily diminishing. In one year, under the long-service system, it was higher than it had ever been since; and, of course, it was preferable to discharge men rather than to retain those who would be a disgrace to their cloth. Discharge by purchase had long been in operation, and none of the Committees who had considered this subject had recommended that it should be discontinued. There was not much difference between the discharges under long service and under short service. During the last 19 years the average had varied between 2,000 and 3,000. The terms of purchase of discharge had recently been altered, and the recruit had now the right under the Army Act to purchase his discharge within three months of enlistment, and the maximum charge that could be made to him was £10, and the maximum charge had always been insisted upon. While it was well that indulgence should be allowed for that period to enable a man to decide whe- ther a military life was congenial to him, it was fair that after that time a higher charge should be made. It was at present under consideration whether more equitable arrangements could be made with regard to the purchasing of discharge after three months. The statistics of desertion deserved careful consideration; they were affected by years of commercial prosperity and by additions to the Army; and comparisons were affected by the numbers rejoining the Army. In five years of long service, from 1866 to 1870 inclusive, deducting those who rejoined, the net loss to the Army by desertions averaged 2,158, and in an equal period of short service they averaged 2,460, being a yearly increase of 302. In 1858, when there was an addition of 65,000 men to the Army, the number of deserters was 20,000; in 1859, which was less affected by extraordinary measures, the number of deserters fell to 11,328. The argument of the noble Lord based on desertion entirely broke down. In the 19 years between 1861 and 1879 the average percentage of deserters to recruits was 22; but in 1869, which was the last year of the long-service system, it amounted to 27, and 10 years later it decreased to 16. These figures proved conclusively that the percentage of desertions among recruits had not increased of late. It had, in fact, shown a steady tendency to decrease. To meet the difficulties surrounding the question of fraudulent enlistment the noble and gallant Lord opposite suggested vaccination in a peculiar manner, or on an unusual part of the body. But would the practice be efficacious? He feared not, for in 1879 out of every 100 recruits who were re-vaccinated 25 cases were complete failures, and in 37 there appeared only a modified vaccine pustule, which left behind it no appreciable mark. It appeared, therefore, that out of 100 recruits who were vaccinated only 38 were marked. Vaccination, consequently, would be uncertain in its results; and to mark the men in any way would be likely to excite prejudice, and so to cause a diminution in the number of recruits. The question of fraudulent enlistment had not escaped the notice of the Secretary of State for War; and the authorities hoped to meet it more successfully than it had hitherto been met by encouraging more careful supervision on the part of re- cruiting officers, and by the adoption of other measures. In an enlisted army the conditions were different from those which obtained in an army that was kept up by conscription, and must necessarily be attended with a certain amount of waste. But for his own part he did not believe that the waste was due to either the long or to the short-service system. It was due to causes that were common to both systems, and independent of either. He agreed that it was of the greatest importance that the efficiency of the Army should be maintained, and that every reasonable means should be adopted to diminish the amount of waste; and he could assure the noble Lord that the Government were as anxious as he could be to reduce it to the smallest possible limit. In conclusion, he would remind their Lordships that the short-service system had hardly yet had a fair trial, and that there was good reason to hope that the system of deferred pay would diminish the number of desertions, while the improvement of the position of non-commissioned officers would probably induce men to remain with the Colours longer than now. And he could not help thinking that when these advantages were fully known there would be no difficulty in getting recruits. For the purpose of keeping the matter continually before the Government, they proposed to have three months' Returns on such subjects as they required, with reference to desertion, &c. He hoped, therefore, their Lordships would not agree to the Motion, which would seriously hamper the Executive in dealing with the subject which had so important a bearing on the whole organization of the Army.


said, he heard the concluding portion of the speech of the noble Lord the Under Secretary of State for War with satisfaction; but could not follow him in the earlier part of his remarks. He did not think that the noble Lord had treated the argument of his noble and gallant Friend (the Earl of Galloway) quite fairly, because he had not answered the questions raised by his noble and gallant Friend; and from the manner in which he had treated the waste of the Army those who were unacquainted with the subject might sup-that it was not a reality. There were, no doubt, especial difficulties experienced in our Army, which were not incident to armies raised by conscription. There was no use in attempting to minimize the facts, as his noble Friend the Under Secretary of State for War had done, or to prove that any definite improvement was being effected. He did not think that the number of desertions was connected with the short-service system at all; but was attributable to other difficulties which might be removed. He hoped that the measures which were to be taken would be successful; but he must repeat that he hardly thought his noble Friend the Under Secretary of State for War was altogether fair to his noble and gallant Friend who had introduced the question.


said, that it was perfectly plain that when men enlisted they did not know whether they would like the Service or not. If they did not like it, it was very desirable that they should have facilities given them to leave at the end of three months, because it was plain that they would do no good in the Army. The circumstances attending the recruiting of a foreign army were altogether unlike those of our own, because there could be no desertion except for a very short time in a foreign army, as every one knew that such and such a man had been drawn for the conscription, and he could not go back to his native village, or, indeed, anywhere else, without being soon found out. In an enlisted army, however, there would always be desertion. He believed that if the number of men who had deserted for the last 20 years were compared with the number in the Army, there would be very little variation in the proportion. No doubt, when men enlisted largely men were accepted who, in other circumstances, would be rejected. Officers would not reject recruits when they wanted to fill up their regiments. No doubt, when the number of men was increased the result must be a considerable waste. On the subject of marking the men by vaccination medical men had pronounced an adverse opinion, and even vaccination was not as perfect as it ought.to be for the purpose. At the same time, unless men were marked men would enlist over and over again. It ought to be borne in mind that a great proportion of the desertion in the Army was owing to the same men repeatedly deserting. It frequently happened that the same man deserted six or seven times; and there was one case where a man had deserted eight times. The number of deserters would, of course, to a great extent, depend upon whether it was made worth a man's while. The deserter got his bounty, deserted again and got a second bounty; of course, each time immediately making away with the money. He did not think it was a question which could be easily discussed in an Assembly such as their Lordships' House. Nor did he think there was any cause for anxiety on the ground of the greater youthfulness of men in the Army than formerly prevailed. He believed the men were better than they used to be. It must be the interest of any Government to make the best recruits possible; and he believed that the present Government, like those which had preceeded it, was doing its best for the purpose. The only difficulty he could see was that they did not seem to be able to get them at a proper age, there being from 20 to 30 per cent in every batch who were permitted to join at too early an age; but, as they had heard, the standard was to be advanced so far as respected the age at which recruits were to be admitted. There would naturally be waste in the Army to some extent through this and other causes; the only question being how it could be kept down to the minimum.


said, that it appeared from the Report of Lord Airey's Committee that a large number of recruits were enlisted who were not finally approved. As many as 42,000 recruits were enlisted in 1875, of which 14,000 failed to be approved. One of the recommendations of the Committee was that the recruits' duties should be made less arduous. He had heard that they were unnecessarily worried with extra drill, and in some cases by gymnastic exercises. He thought that, in accordance with these recommendations, such extra drill might be relaxed, although, under short service, it was necessary to make the recruit efficient in as short a time as possible. He also thought, in accordance with the recommendation of the Committee, a second medical examination should take place. He had heard, too, from many officers, that the recruits were a good deal worried on first joining their regiments. Under the short-service system there was but little time, and the recruits had extra drill and went through courses of gymnastic exercise.


said, that, without giving any special approval to the Resolution, he thought there was good cause for bringing the subject before their Lordships. He thought that one of the causes of the great waste in the Army was the frequency of changes recently made in its administration and management. He was also of opinion that the constant movement of the recruits from one place to another was another predisposing cause of desertion. From his own personal knowledge, it was very unsatisfactory to the battalion to be constantly moved about.


said, the Report of the Committee over which he had the honour to preside had not received sufficient attention in consequence of the Scheme and the Report coming out simultaneously. All the attention was, of course, directed to the Scheme, and the Report was left on one side. He believed there were very few who had gone through the Report. He was inclined, under the circumstances, to support the Motion of the noble and gallant Lord.


said, he entirely agreed that the waste going on in the Army was a fitting subject for an inquiry before a Royal Commission.


said, that his noble and gallant Friend (the Earl of Galloway) had been the means of bringing about a very interesting and instructive debate, and the Government would see from what had taken place that this question was occupying the attention of military men. He hoped that many of the things which had been said that evening would be seriously considered at the War Office. He did not, however, think that their Lordships were in a position to give a distinct expression of opinion at that moment. The subject was, no doubt, very anxiously discussed at the present time in the Military Service. Those civilians who, like himself, did not know very much of the details of the matter, could plainly see from the state of opinion among experts that matters were not going on smoothly or rightly. He was bound to say, and he doubted whether anybody would be bold enough to contradict his assertion, that there never had been a period in which so great anxiety, and, he might say, so great discontent, had been felt by military men of various schools of thought as was felt at the present moment. We had in our minds the uncomfortable conviction that those who knew best the needs of the country at this critical period were not contented with the state of one of those Services on which the strength and credit of the Empire depended. He had no doubt that those matters which had been raised before that House to-night would be deeply thought on by the War Office, and he thought that in many respects the debate had been of value in bringing out matters that were not sufficiently known. The noble Lord who represented the War Office in that House had intimated that he contemplated measures bearing on the subject. The illustrious Duke had laid down, and he thought other authorities were of the same opinion, that this great evil, the waste of the Army, was due, not to long or short service, but to causes of a wider character which had long been a subject of complaint, and which deserved the notice of the authorities. He earnestly trusted that due weight would be given to the remarks of the illustrious Duke with respect to desertion, and to the effect which, in the opinion of many of the wisest officers in the Army, what he could not help calling the strange prejudice against marking men who deserted, was having upon the maintenance of our Military Force. While he felt strongly upon this subject, he was not sure that the precise remedy to which his noble and gallant Friend pointed was the one that ought to be adopted. His opinion was that military vigilance in that and the other House of Parliament, and keeping alive the vigilance of the War Office, would be better than a Royal Commission. Royal Commissions were apt to sit for a very long time. Their Reports were very frequently split up so as to present what the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had picturesquely called a litter of Reports, and the result was very often that the subject which a Royal Commission was appointed to investigate was entirely forgotten by the time the investigation was concluded. He did not think that in the present state of the House a decision upon the point raised by his noble and gallant Friend would be a representative decision, and he, therefore, hoped his noble and gallant Friend would be content with the result he had obtained in the very interesting debate they had had, and would not press his Motion to a division.


said, he entirely agreed with the advice which the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury) had given as to the withdrawal of the Motion, and thought he was quite right in adding to it a little Parliamentary language as to the advantage of this debate. He owned, however, that the advantages of the debate seemed to him to have been in the opportunity which it had afforded the noble Earl (the Earl of Morley) and the illustrious Duke to dispose of the charges made by the noble and gallant Earl who introduced the Motion. He was much surprised to hear the language used by the noble Marquess as to the discontent which existed in the Army, because, as regarded desertions and recruiting, if his recollection did not fail him, the same complaints were made during the six years the noble Marquess and his Friends were in Office, and they did not remove them.


said, after what had been stated on both sides of the House, he proposed to withdraw his Resolution.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.