HL Deb 02 March 1885 vol 294 cc1731-43

Order of the Day for the consideration of, read.

Messages considered accordingly. Moved, "That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty thanking Her Majesty for Her Most Gracious Message communicating to this House that Her Majesty had thought it necessary to direct by Proclamation that certain persons who would otherwise be entitled, in pursuance of the terms of their enlistment, to be transferred to the Reserve, shall continue in army service for such period, not exceeding the period for which they might be required to serve if they were transferred to the Reserve and called out for permanent service, as to Her Majesty may seem expedient. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, thanking Her Majesty for Her Most Gracious Message communicating to this House that Her Majesty had thought it necessary to order by Proclamation the embodiment of Militia."—(The Earl Granville.)


said, he thought the recommendations contained in Her Majesty's Messages were in the right direction; but, in his opinion, the Government had taken an inadequate view of the situation. Even in the ordinary course for the wants of the Empire, our Military Establishments were not in a condition to enable us to discharge our respon- sibilities, and those responsibilities were continually increasing. He repeated, what had been stated on a former occasion, that even if the 140,000 men noted were all efficient soldiers in the ranks, the numbers would be below what was required for the Military Force of the Empire. There appeared to be great inconsistency in the expressions of politicians of the day. There were demands to prevent Islands or Settlements from being taken up by Germany or France, to prevent Russia advancing towards India, each of these Powers having Armies of 500,000 men, or more. The same persons who made these demands, declared in the same breath that they would not add another company to the Army, nor another gunboat to the Navy. How could they reconcile these statements? This was not a time to enter into the details of the operations in which they were now engaged; but at the present moment, where were the reinforcements for Egypt, and, probably, for the Cape of Good Hope, to come from? Where were the reliefs for the Establishments in India? He pressed these matters most earnestly on the attention of Her Majesty's Advisers.


wished to ask his noble Friend the Under Secretary of State for War (the Earl of Morley) how the men were to be raised to the number now proposed for the battalions and depôts—whether by ordinary recruiting, or the calling out of a certain proportion of the Reserves? In his opinion, the best plan would be to call out a certain proportion of the Reserves. What had been done by the Proclamation? All that was proposed was that men now serving in the active Army should be prevented from going into the "Reserves. He understood that when the General Order came out it would give permission to all Reserve men who chose to volunteer to come back to the Colours. He thought that a most excellent provision, because ho knew that many Reserve men would be glad to come back to the Colours, not being able to find anything to do in the country. No doubt, the Report of the Inspector General of Recruiting would describe the recruiting as very satisfactory. This was true, inasmuch, as 36,000 men had been raised. But how about their physique? Let anyone go into the garrisons and judge for themselves, by seeing the number of boys in red coats walking about the streets. But these arrangements were not sufficient. As to the embodiment of the Militia, he was sorry to see that out of 84 regiments only six were to be embodied. Fifteen regiments of the Line now had two battalions abroad; and, according to the recommendations of Colonel Stanley's Committee, in time of war, when this occurred, then both Militia battalions were to be embodied. The least they ought now to embody was 15 regiments of Militia. It was well known that the more Militia they embodied, the more men joined the Line; 40,000 men had been given to the Line during the Crimean War, and 10,000 men were annually given to the Line from the disembodied Militia. Then the want of subalterns would be readily supplied if more Militia Regiments were embodied. He might be told that the regiments to be embodied in the spring might, if necessary, be kept out; but then three months would be lost, and in three months a good deal might be done with a Militia regiment. If the Military Authorities thought these arrangements sufficient, then he had nothing to say. He could not help thinking that the unfortunate war in which this country was engaged would be, more or less, a protracted one, and no doubt there would be great losses from fever and sickness, as well as in killed and wounded. Of 1,500 men in General Buller's Force, 400 were already lost by sickness or killed or wounded in action; therefore, he wished to ask again that his noble Friend would give some information to the House as to how the new troops were to be raised, and he hoped more would be done than had been sketched out in the Proclamation.


said, that the Constitutional Force of the Militia had been neglected in every particular during recent years, and that it was unfortunate that a few battalions of Militia had not been embodied at an earlier date. It was apparent the Government were toadying to other and newer Forces. He urged the desirability of enlisting the territorial regiments in the counties after which they wore named.


, in reply, said, he was glad of the opportunity of making a few observations on the subject introduced by the noble and gallant Earl. The question of the general inadequacy of our Military Establishments was, however, one upon which he was sure the House would not expect him to enter. Reference had been made to the Establishment fixed by next year's Army Estimates, and it would, therefore, be desirable that he should explain the principle upon which they had been framed. They were understood to be normal Estimates allowing for a garrison of five and a-half battalions in Egypt. It was calculated that the usual distribution of troops would involve the absence from this country of both battalions of three territorial regiments only. Now, however, a much larger number of battalions had left this country for service either with Lord Wolseley or under General Graham; and it would, therefore, be necessary to supplement the Estimates to be placed before Parliament by increasing the establishments of the battalions at home, and also for largely increasing the establishments of those regiments having both battalions abroad. That course would be entirely in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee to which the noble Viscount had alluded, as well as those of the Localization Committee of 1872. The Estimates had been framed on the assumption that no large Expedition was to be allowed for, except the garrison in Egypt. No one could deny that there was great force in the observation of the noble and gallant Lord opposite, that they must be prepared to supply deficiencies from casualties that might occur to our Forces in Egypt and the Soudan. In the first place, he might mention that recruiting was going on very rapidly et the present time. In the absence of the Report of the Inspector General of Recruiting, he would postpone entering into any discussion on recruiting, and would only say that at the present moment, owing partly, no doubt, to the depression of trade, they got a large number of recruits. He had not the exact numbers; but he believed that in the last month 3,300 had enlisted, and they continued to get from 800 to 900 recruits a-week. These young men would make good soldiers, and in the meantime they had asked the Reserve men who desired to do so to come back. He agreed that it was impossible immediately to fill up vacancies caused by casualties in the field, or in regiments serving abroad with recruits. Recourse must be had to the Army Reserve, and he would tell the House exactly what had been done in that respect. In August last a Circular was issued giving permission to some First Class Army Reserve men to return to the Colours. That permission was limited to men who had been transferred to the Reserve before the previous 10 days; they were allowed to re-enlist to complete the full term of their Army service provided that every man taken must have three years' service to complete. The object of those conditions was to obtain men available for drafts abroad. Under that Circular 1,700 had been transferred from the Reserve to the Colours. After the fall of Khartoum, it was decided that this arrangement was not sufficient to meet the case, and accordingly, on the 25th of last month, a second Circular was issued. By that Circular all First Class Army Reserve men were permitted to rejoin the Colours without any limitation being placed upon them as to their having less than three years' service to complete. Certain options were given to them; any man rejoining the Colours from the Reserve had the option of rejoining for the term of his original engagement—that was, such term as was required to make up 12 years' service, or he could join simply during the continuance of the Expedition. Arrangements with regard to deferred pay of considerable importance had been made. Men who joined, and who had received the full amount of deferred pay due to them, would not be called upon to refund it; and on their second discharge would be entitled to deferred pay, not reckoned merely on the number of years they had served the second time, but calculated from the period when they were transferred to the Reserve. A man who rejoined the Colours for a very short time might, therefore, in some cases receive as much as £18 deferred pay. Looking at the present state of trade, and the undesirability of interfering with the Civil life of Reserve men, the Secretary of State for War had, for the present at least, decided not to resort to compulsion, more particularly as he believed that a sufficient number of men to meet the present emergency would come forward voluntarily. The noble Lord who spoke last with respect to the Militia, seemed to think that the Force had been slighted in some way. Nothing could be further from the desire of the Authorities than to cast any slur upon the Militia; on the contrary, they had done everything they could to add prestige to that branch of the Service. It had been brought more closely in connection with the Line battalions, and was now in a satisfactory condition. It had been asked why only six Militia battalions had been I embodied, while 15 territorial regiments had both Line battalions abroad. The reason for selecting the battalions which had been embodied was that in every case these territorial regiments had both battalions abroad. In that matter they were acting entirely in accordance with the recommendations of the Localization Committee. It was true that there were I still some nine territorial regiments in the position of having both their Line battalions abroad; but the Secretary of State, having regard to the actual requirements of home service and garrison duties, had come to the conclusion that such duties could be adequately performed by calling out six Militia battalions only. In a month's time the annual training of the Militia would commence, and if it were necessary to increase the number of Militia battalions it would be more convenient to do so at that time. Meanwhile, the principle would be to select those regiments which had two Line battalions abroad. With regard to General Buller's Force, and the large loss which it had sustained, he thought that the strength of that Force had been understated, and the comparison of the losses to the actual number was not correct. The strength of the Force was nearer 2,500 than 1,500, and when they came to distribute the number of losses they would see that the proportion was not so enormous as had been stated by the noble Lord. With regard to the effective force of the Army, it was considerably higher than it had been at the corresponding period last year. He found that between January 1, 1884, and February 1, 1885, they had gained nearly 9,000 men additional for the Army. That, it must be mentioned, included about 1,700 men who had returned to the ranks from the Reserve. That, he thought, would be very satisfactory to the House. The Establishment in India was always at this period of the year below its strength, it now amounted to 2,500; but taking India and Great Britain together the deficiency was under 1,000. This, however, was not the proper occasion for lengthened discussion, which it would a be more convenient to defer until then-Lordships had the figures before them, which he hoped would be in a few days.


asked for some information as to what Lord Wolseley intended to do as regarded the friendly Black troops who had served under General Gordon at Khartoum? He could not but wish to see the English shilling distributed a little more freely among these Black troops, who were of great value on account of their being inured to the heat of the sun. It was most desirable to retain the friendly tribes, and to conciliate the temper of the nation. The young soldiers, of whom the British Forces were so largely composed, dropped like flies under the excessive temperature to which they would be subjected, and no one knew that better than the illustrious Duke at the head of the British Army. He therefore recommended that the services of the friendly tribes should be taken advantage of as much as possible. He also desired to know whether it was not a fact that Lord Wolseley—with his wonderful sagacity—had selected old soldiers for the present campaign, and thus given a contradiction to words which he had utterred with regard to young troops? [Cheers and laughter,"]


Noble Lords cannot, I think, expect me to go in detail into the considerations mentioned; but as to the employment of Black troops with our Forces, I may say that the matter has not escaped the notice of Lord Wolseley. But this is hardly the moment to make one-sided and small attacks on Lord Wolseley, who is now in a responsible situation, nor do I think that those attacks should be received with cheers and laughter on the other side of the House.


maintained that no attack had been made from that side of the House upon Lord Wolseley. The noble Lord who had just spoken was a supporter of the noble Earl. He maintained that the House was justified in making some remarks and inquiries upon the Resolution which had been put before them. In the face of the grave military difficulties which existed, their desire on that side of the House was to do all they could to strengthen the hands of the Government and of Lord Wolseley, and there was certainly no spirit of carping criticism on that side of the House. He thought, however, that in one part of his speech the noble Earl the Under Secretary of State for War had not been quite clear. As the noble and gallant Viscount had pointed out, a considerable depletion was now taking place in the ranks of the Army. It was true that there was a flow of recruits, but these could not be sent to fill up the ranks abroad, for which purpose seasoned troops were necessary. Where were these seasoned troops to come from? For what reason had so few Militia regiments been embodied? It was in the Militia regiments that they would find seasoned men, and he hardly thought that the reason given by the noble Lord for embodying only six regiments was a very good or sufficient one. Another point on which he would like to ask a question was, what was going to be done with the large number of Militia regiments which had offered their services? Under present circumstances, whether from the depression of trade or other circumstances, a great number of recruits might now be coming on, but the standard of height and of chest measurement had been diminished. He asked, therefore, what was the standard of height and of chest measurement at the present moment? Because they might now be getting a large number of recruits who were not likely to add to the real strength of the Army for a considerable time. He had the other day put a Question to the Secretary of State for the Colonies with regard to the offers lately made of the service of Colonial levies. He understood his noble Friend to say that the services of those Colonial troops were all accepted, but that, under the circumstances of the case, many of them would not be required until a later period, and, therefore, the immediate acceptance of their services was deferred. His noble Friend also promised that there should be laid on the Table the terms of the proposals and also those of the acceptance. He had been extremely pleased to hear the terms in which that announcement was made. But immediately afterwards they heard from the ordinary channels of information that what had actually occurred was something very different from what the noble Earl had led them to believe. It was that there was only one of those Colonies whose offers had been accepted, and that the rest were informed that their services were declined with thanks at present; but that if the war continued, and they remained of the same mind, and were still willing to give their services, they would be accepted. He should be glad to learn that the noble Earl had been either misreported or misunderstood. He understood from the illustrious Duke at the head of the Army, that the Military Authorities had welcomed those proposals, and would throw no difficulties in the way of their acceptance. He should have thought, therefore, that it would have been better for the Colonial Office to have accepted all the offers made by the Colonies, and then to have said that it depended on military considerations when their services were wanted. That would be a totally different thing from refusing the offers at present, and saying that if the war continued the Colonies would be asked whether they still remained of the same mind. He desired further to know from the noble Earl when he would lay on the Table copies of the Papers which he had promised?


There is no misunderstanding, my Lords, in what I said the other night. I am at the present moment in consultation with the War Office as to the details of the Colonial Forces that will be accepted, and I am not able to say just now when we can lay Papers on the Table. Before, however, the House is called upon to form its judgment, your Lordships may depend upon it that the whole matter will be before you. With regard to the difference between my statement as reported in the newspapers and what the noble Viscount has said, it may be my want of comprehension, but it appears to me that it is really one of words rather than one of substance. The immediate question to be determined was as to the assistance which the Colonies proposed to offer for the Expedition to Suakin. We accepted the offer of New South Wales on the ground that they undertook to place troops on a certain spot by a particular day. There was not an equal certainty about the offers of the other Colonies. When the noble Lord says we have not accepted the offers of the others, and that we have, in fact, refused them unless the military operations should go on, it is quite clear that he has failed to grasp the point or to realize the meaning of our words. It is clear that if by any happy chance the military operations at Suakin should be shortly ended, there will be no necessity for sending the Colonial troops when those operations have ceased. It is not proposed that the Colonial contingents shall be a permanent addition to the Army. The offers were made in view of certain circumstances that were likely to arise. If those circumstances occur we shall accept them. The Government could only make the acceptance conditional under those circumstances, otherwise there would be nothing for the troops to do.


observed, that in that case the Colonial troops would have no time to get ready. They would be in the position of Her Majesty's Government—namely, they were always too late. If they accepted the services of the Colonial troops now, and told them that in certain contingencies they would be called out, they would be ready in time; but to say that in three or four months their services might be accepted would be too late, and would give them no time to make their preparations.


said, they had never stated that their services might be accepted three or four months hence. He would remind the noble Lord that there was such a thing as the electric telegraph, and Australia could be reached in a few hours. At the present moment they were in communication with the War Office on the whole question, to see to what extent they required to avail themselves of those offers of assistance.


said, that his view of the matter was that which the noble Earl had just stated. What he had said was that all the offers from the Colonies would be accepted if they were required, but that in one case they were absolutely accepted at once. That one particular Colony offered to furnish men to be sent to Suakin at a certain period. The acceptance of the other offers was only delayed until the arrangements were fully considered between the Colonial Office, the War Office, and the Colonies themselves. Therefore, as to the acceptance being delayed for I four months, there was no such idea ever entertained. The arrangements were now being considered, and, in the mean while, the acceptance of the services of I the Colonial troops was absolute in case they should be required. Turning to another point, he felt, from a military point of view, just as strongly as Her Majesty's Government felt the necessity of being prepared with Reserves to fill up vacancies. There was no doubt that amongst the many serious subjects which would have to engage the attention of Her Majesty's Government—and he was speaking now entirely for himself and the Military Authorities—there was none more serious than that of keeping up the Army and the efficiency of the troops actually engaged in the war, and he could not for one moment suppose that this subject would not continue to receive from day to day their serious consideration. How that could best be done was a matter which would require much thought. He quite concurred that, under the reorganization system, it was arranged that whenever the two battalions of a Line regiment were abroad a Militia battalion would be called out. He should like that to be absolutely settled. It had not been settled; but he thought it should be a corollary of the system, and that it would have to be accepted now or at a future period. The necessity of a certain number of Militia battalions being now embodied had arisen in order to do ordinary garrison duty, which pressed rather severely on the regular troops, because so many of them were abroad. The Under Secretary for War had rightly stated that we had very good recruiting; but the House would agree with him that recruits were not the men to send out upon such operations as those on which we were now engaged. With regard to the Reserves, the calling out of a large number of the Reserve must seriously affect, not only the men themselves, but the employers of labour, and therefore it must be done with great delicacy. Under these circumstances, as long as it was possible to get the men of the Reserve to come forward voluntarily, it was infinitely better to invite them to do so than to call them out in large numbers. They must, however, be prepared, when the season opened for the troops again to take the field, with men to join the Colours of the regiments in the Soudan. And if they had not a sufficient number of men well qualified for service, then it would be necessary to call out the Reserves. Her Majesty's Government, he believed, were perfectly alive to the necessity of being prepared with Reserves.


said, he was glad that the Government had decided, in the first instance, to see whether a sufficient number of the Reserve would join voluntarily before calling them out. Their Lordships must remember that it was a very serious thing to call men away from their employment to make up the Reserve, and he therefore hoped that a sufficient number would join voluntarily, in order to prevent the necessity of interference with trade and employment which would ensue from calling out a large number of men. He regretted that the Government had not found it possible to look in the face the question of increasing the Establishment of the Army, instead of on every occasion having recourse to the Reserve. It was satisfactory that 30,000 or 40,000 recruits could be secured during the course of the year; but what was the meaning of that? It meant that we should probably have, roughly speaking, 50,000 men on our Home Establishment under two years' service, and that under an Establishment which if complete and composed of seasoned soldiers would hardly be considered as sufficient for the needs of the Empire. They ought to look on recruits of one year's standing as simply boys at school, and as not being on the Establishment of the Army at all. Until they faced that question, and endeavoured to keep in the regiments a sufficient body of seasoned soldiers, he felt confident that the Army would never be in that position in which he was sure the Military Authorities desired to see it.


said, he had been asked what was the number of battalions of Militia to be called out. The Authorities had had an enormous number of applications, not only from Militia regiments, but from other corps in this country volunteering their service. Those offers evinced great zeal and a spirit of great self-sacrifice; but they were so numerous that it was absolutely necessary to make a selection, and the selection was in the first place made by calling out the Militia bat- talions of those territorial regiments which had their lines abroad. He had also been asked as to the source from which they proposed to draw in leaving men in Egypt and elsewhere. The illustrious Duke the Commander-in-Chief had indicated the source; and he hoped the men required would be largely obtained from men who had volunteered from the Army Reserve. He admitted that it would be wrong to send out on active service to the Soudan extremely young men; but a large number of men who enlisted last year would in the course of the autumn be growing up into soldiers, and it was hoped that many of them would be capable of taking their places in the ranks. The noble Lord who spoke last referred to the recommendations of the Committee, and said there were certain alternative plans to be brought into operations when two Line battalions of a regiment left this country. He would not refer to the subject in detail; but he would inform the noble Lord that it was in contemplation, and that Supplementary Estimates would be presented to Parliament to make provision for increasing-very considerably the size of the other depots from what they were at present.

Resolutions agreed to, nemine dissentiente.

Ordered, That the said Addresses be presented to Her Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.