§ LORD TRURO
, in rising to ask Her Majesty's Government, If it is not possible in future years to lay before Parliament at the commencement of or early in each Session the General An- 1261 nual Return of the British Army for the year immediately preceding it? said, it was not prudent to enter into any general discussion on simply putting a Question, and he did not wish to cast any censure upon Ministers on one side or the other. Neither should he attempt to enter at any length whatever upon the state of Her Majesty's Army; but he would as shortly as possible put before their Lordships a few figures from which they could draw their own conclusions as to its deplorable condition. In 1880 he found that the whole strength of the Army was 188,986 men—91,887 in England and the Channel Islands, 97,099 in India and the Colonies—a preponderance, therefore, of 5,212 in favour of the latter. Now, turning to the source from which that strength was derived—namely, recruiting, he found that there were 25,535 recruits. Of these men 4,833 were deserters, so that nearly one-fifth of that body of men were deserters. But not alone did they desert. They usually took their kits and uniforms with them, so that the pecuniary loss incurred by these desertions, according to the last Annual Return, amounted to no less than £21,748. But 1,557 of these men were recaptured and imprisoned, or punished otherwise, making the total number of bonâ fide deserters 3,276 men. There were figures still more unsatisfactory. Fraudulent enlistment largely prevailed. Over 1,021 recruits were enlisted at the age of 16, and 156 were recruited at 17, making 1,177 fraudulent enlistments, for which the country would have to pay, that being, with the deserters, a deduction of 4,453 men from the numerical strength of the Army; No wonder that of late there had been expressions of dissatisfaction throughout the country as to the progress of enlistment. Then, as regarded discipline, the number of courts martial in the Indian and Colonial Armies for the graver kind of offences was no fewer than 15,242, and the number of minor offences 216,033. In the Home Army the number of courts martial was 9,108, and of offences 13,109. In the Home Army there were 706 cases of assault upon superiors, and 3,256 of stealing necessaries. The reason why he asked that these Returns should be laid before Parliament at an earlier period of the year was, that it was only upon these Returns that legislation was based. These 1262 Returns alone gave to the country information which would enable constituents to give instructions to their Representatives. He would conclude by asking the Question of which he had given Notice.
THE EARL OF MORLEY
, in reply, said, he must confess that the speech of his noble Friend (Lord Truro) had taken him by surprise. He was quite prepared to give an answer to the Question put on the Paper by his noble Friend; but when his noble Friend, without having given him the slightest Notice, either public or private, took advantage of that Question to go into the whole condition of the Army for the last two years, he thought his noble Friend had taken a course altogether unusual. Some of the figures quoted by his noble Friend required the best answer that could be given at so short a notice. The noble Lord called attention to certain figures from the Return of 1880, giving the number of desertions and fraudulent enlistments, and to the condition of the Army; and if his speech were left unanswered, an impression would be left on their Lordships and the country that the last Return showed that the Army was in a deplorable state—far worse than it was in former years. If the noble Lord had dealt fairly with the figures he would have quoted figures which he (the Earl of Morley) would quote, and which would show that the Army was not in so deplorable a state compared with previous years as the noble Lord described. In the first place, with regard to desertions, the figures showed that the number of desertions had not greatly increased during the last two years. In 1879 the proportion of desertions per 1,000 men was lower than it had been since the year 1868.
§ LORD TRURO
, interrupting, here said, the noble Lord was mistaken if he supposed that in calling attention to this matter he had any intention of inconveniencing the Government, or casting any reflection upon the Department. What he simply wanted was an answer to the Question, Whether the Government would furnish the General Annual Return of the Army earlier in the year; and whether the position of the Army, as described by him from the figures quoted from the Blue Books, was one in which it ought to be allowed to remain?
THE EARL OF MORLEY
said, that the figures quoted should have been compared with those of former years to be of real service to those who desired to consider this subject. He wished to correct an impression which might be created by the noble Lord's speech. He stated that last year the number of desertions was 4,833, which gave, on the whole, 26 per 1,000 men of the Force. This was the gross loss by desertion. The noble Lord then took the net loss by desertion, which was 3,276, or 18 per 1,000, and had made the mistake of adding the fraudulent enlistments, which very considerably increased the apparent number of desertions. But the men who rejoined after desertion had been already included in the gross number of men who had deserted, and to add them to the net number of desertions was to count them twice. The number of men entered as having rejoined after desertion was less in 1880 than in 1879, because fraudulent enlisters were now, under the Army Discipline Act, treated in a different way from deserters, and dealt with in the corps into which they had fraudulently enlisted, instead of being relegated to their former corps and then tried for desertion, in which case they would be deducted from the gross number of deserters as men who had rejoined. Coming next to the question of courts martial, he would show that the published figures did not indicate any such great deterioration in the Army as was imagined by his noble Friend. The proportion of courts martial per 1,000 men in 1865 was 109, but last year was only 84 per 1,000 men, being a reduction of nearly 25 per 1,000 men. In the same way the number of minor offences had decreased. In the year 1868—the earliest Year recorded in the last Returns—the number was 150,771, and in the year 1880 it was 127,176. The cases of insubordination were in 1866, 1,272, as against 639 last year. These figures were sufficient to Drove that there was no primâ facie case that the discipline of the Army was inferior in 1880 to what it had been in former years; though he would admit that with regard to certain offences matters were not as satisfactory as could be desired. As he said before, it was difficult at the moment to give the exact figures; but he thought that he had said sufficient to prove that the con- 1264 dition and discipline of the Army was improving. In answer to the Question of the noble Lord, he could assure him that the War Office authorities were most anxious that there should be no delay in presenting the Annual Returns to Parliament. These Returns were, however, of a very intricate and voluminous character, consisting of no less than 93 closely-printed pages, and of 91 tables, many of which had to be compiled from Returns from each individual battallion and depot in the Service. These Returns were made up to the 1st of January in each year. Some of the regiments were in Hong Kong, some were in India, America, and other Colonies. It took some weeks to receive these Returns, and in some cases it was necessary to refer them back to the regiments for correction. Then the compilation of tables required some time. Some of them were compiled from 30 or more pages of figures. Under these circumstances, he could not hold out a hope that the Returns, which were made up to the 1st of January every year, would be ready at the commencement of a Session, and he could not even promise that they would be ready during the Session. He would cause inquiries to be made in the Department, with a view of ascertaining whether they could not be presented at an earlier period of the year than they were at present.
§ EARL FORTESCUE
said, that in his opinion, the statement made by the noble Earl (the Earl of Morley) was highly satisfactory, inasmuch as it showed a decrease in the numbers both of desertions and of courts martial. But although the number of the latter had diminished, it was still unpleasantly, not to say alarmingly, large. He had heard that a considerable proportion of these trials were attributable to the fact that a certain number of men were annually released from prison before the expiration of their sentences and sent out to serve in India. These men having already committed offences deserving severe punishments were, of course, a constant source of disorder, insubordination, and crime in their respective corps. In order to put this matter before the country more clearly, he intended shortly to move for a Return of the number of released prisoners sent out in the last few years to serve with different regiments in India.