§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
, in rising to ask the Under Secretary of State for War, What instructions have been given to the Committee appointed to inquire as to the efficiency of the new rifle; and, what are the intentions of the Government regarding the Reserve Forces? said, that latterly the condition of their military armaments was a question which occupied considerable public attention, and it was not creditable to the Government of this country that some British guns were in their present unsatisfactory and inefficient condition. He pointed to the unsatisfactory condition of the armaments of the country, declaring that our big guns burst, our bayonets bent, and our 1341 swords broke—a condition of things which should not exist in a country which prided itself upon its manufacturing ability. He had been a Member of a Committee on Small Arms some years ago, and when the length of the rifle was reduced it was thought necessary to add to the length of the bayonet, with the result that they were much weaker. He could not but hope that the Government, in view of the proposal to adopt a new rifle, would consider the question of the bayonets also. It was not, however, to these points that he desired to call attention on the present occasion. What he wished to do was to ask for information concerning the new rifle, and the intentions of the Government as regarded the organization of the Reserve Forces. No one was more anxious than himself to see an improved weapon; but the question was whether the improvements in this new rifle would make it worth while to change the arm? He believed that these new rifles had only been so far adopted in the Service that a certain number of them were issued for trial, and that the Reports had come in and would be submitted to the consideration of a Committee. He should like to know who were to be the Members of that Committee; what its instructions were, and whether its inquiry was confined simply to consideration of these Reports, or whether they had the power to consider whether it was desirable or not to have this rifle or some other rifle? His own belief was that the present Martini-Henry rifle was, for all practical military purposes, as good a weapon as could be desired. It had been already tested in the field, and had done good service. He had a letter from the Colonel of the Sea-forth Highlanders, than whose testimony in favour of the Martini-Henry nothing could be stronger. That letter showed that even in sandy, dusty districts of the Soudan in no one instance had a rifle become unserviceable by any defect of the rifle. With reference to the second part of his Question, as to what were the intentions of the Government as regarded the organization of the Reserve Forces, he had three years ago called attention to the fact that the Militia was in a rotten state, it being 30,000 below its proper Establishment, and it also contained 30,000 men who properly belonged to the Army Reserve; and both 1342 in its numbers and its organization this branch of the Force required improvement. He asserted that the Militia Reserve, which was the backbone of the Army, ought to be increased. With regard to the Yeomanry, he believed that it might be made a most valuable force if it were turned into a kind of Rifle Cavalry. The Volunteers were the only part of the Reserves which were thoroughly satisfactory in point of numbers; but they were so deficient in point of equipment, in transport, in commissariat, and in field artillery that they were practically useless. In his opinion, it was absolutely necessary that the whole Volunteer Establishment should be properly equipped. What was required in our military administration was that the truth should be spoken more freely. He maintained that both Parties were to blame for the present unsatisfactory condition of the Reserves. He should be surprised to see any ex-Secretary of State for War get up in his place and state that he had been thoroughly satisfied with the way in which his Department had been treated by the Cabinet and by the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he was in Office. At present great injustice was being done to the British taxpayer; but he believed that if the Secretary of State for War, or the First Lord of the Admiralty, would come forward and tell the constituencies that the state of things was unsatisfactory, and would threaten to resign unless an increase of expenditure were granted, the British taxpayer would gladly assent to a loan of £10,000,000. Such distrust had arisen with regard to these matters, that a Committee had been formed, called the Imperial Defence Committee, of which Lord Napier was a Member, and which had been joined by Representatives of all our great Colonies. Its object was to endeavour to find out in all directions what our deficiencies were; to open the eyes of the nation by Questions and Motions in both Houses of Parliament; and, if necessary, to hold public meetings, which at any rate would call the attention of the "man in the street" to the real state of our military and naval defences. He must apologize for troubling their Lordships with these observations at this time, and in conclusion begged to ask the Under Secretary of State for War the Question of which he had given Notice.
THE UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Lord HARRIS)
said, there was no need for the noble Earl to apologize for engaging their Lordships' attention on a subject of such vital importance to the nation as its defence. He, however, had scarcely been prepared for the somewhat wide range which the noble Earl's speech had taken on that occasion. Had the noble Earl during the last six weeks when the House was sitting daily enlivened and interested their discussions by speeches as brilliant as that he had delivered that evening their proceedings would have been a little more interesting. In the course of his speech the noble Earl had ranged from England to Dulcigno; but, for his own part, he should content himself by answering the Questions which the noble Earl had put to him. The noble Earl had asked what instructions had been issued to the Committee on the Enfield-Martini rifle? Those instructions were—To consider the Reports which had been made on the 1,000 Enfield-Martini rifles issued to the troops for trial, and to submit recommendations as to any modifications in the rifle and bayonet which they might consider desirable, looking to the experience gained in the trials and to the suggestions of officers who have reported on the arms.He did not happen to remember all the names of the Committee; but upon it were Colonel Philip Smith, Sir Henry Halford, Mr. Guy Dawnay, and Colonel Tongue, who were all men of great practical experience. The noble Earl had suggested that Mr. Ross should be added to the Committee on account of his thorough practical knowledge of the use of the rifle; but he would point out that Colonel Smith, Mr. Guy Dawnay, and others with large practical knowledge of the use of the rifle were on the Committee, and, without detracting at all from the experience of Mr. Ross, he thought it would hardly be advisable to add to the membership of the Committee, which was sufficiently large already. The noble Earl had gone into the question of guns, bayonets, and swords, and the Government hoped to obtain all the information necessary from the Commission. He could assure the noble Earl that upon this question the Government would take all recommendations into consideration. He was not surprised that the noble Earl was rather anxious as to whether the new rifle would drive 1344 the Martini-Henry from the field, because the noble Earl was instrumental in introducing the latter weapon.
§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
No; I was only on the second Committee, after the Martini-Henry had been adopted.
And, speaking in regard to it in 1871, the noble Earl said the wish of everyone was to provide the British Army with the best rifle possible. Now, he (Lord Harris) would use that very language, and it was with that object that the Committee was now sitting. There was nothing binding the Government to adopt the new weapon. They only wished to know if it was better than the Martini-Henry; and obviously it was the duty of the War Department to keep abreast of the advance and improvement in all such weapons. It would be of the greatest advantage, for instance, that a rifle should be as light as possible, which would admit of the soldier carrying the largest possible supply of ammunition.
was not saying whether the new rifle was heavier or not. He was only saying what the noble Earl said in 1871, when of two patterns of the Martini-Henry the shorter rifle was adopted because it was lighter. Those were questions which it was necessary to take up; and the noble Earl need not be afraid that the new rifle would be adopted without due caution and care being taken to secure that it was an improvement. Some suggestions which the noble Earl had made on the subject would receive due consideration. Then, as regarded the organization of the Reserve Forces, that must depend upon the mobilization of the Army Corps, and there was a scheme now under consideration in reference to the matter. The points referred to by the noble Earl in reference to transport had not escaped the notice of the Government. He thought that the observations of the noble Earl were directed very much towards registration of transport in localities. That was a matter which had certainly not escaped the attention of the Government; and he hoped sincerely that before very long 1345 they would have at their disposal all the means of obtaining information upon the point. The noble Earl had made charges against the Militia which he must repudiate in toto. The noble Earl said it was in a perfectly rotten condition.
said, he must deny that the Militia was in a rotten condition even as regarded numbers. The figures showed that the Militia, in the last two or three years, had been rapidly improving. With regard to recruiting, in 1881–2 the number was 23,432, in 1882–3 the number was 32,049, in 1883–4 it was 36,047, and in 1884–5 it had increased to 40,917, nearly 5,000 more than in the year before. The numbers coming up to the preliminary and other drills had also decidedly improved. Then, as to recruit absentees, in 1881–2 the 10s. bounty was partially abolished, and in the next two years wholly abolished. The percentage of absentees for the five years previous to the abolition of the 10s. bounty was in 1876–7 24 percent, in 1877–8 21 per cent, in 1878–9 16 per cent, in 1879–80 14 per cent, and in 1880–1 12 per cent. In the year 1881–2 it was 3.9 per cent, in 1882–3 it was 4.7 per cent, in 1883–4 it was 1.4 per cent, and in 1884–5 it was 1.6 per cent. Since the abolition of the 10s. bounty, therefore, the percentage of absentees had dropped to 1.6 per cent. That, he thought, was a state of things which the noble Earl must admit was satisfactory. Then, as regarded the quality of the men, out of 172 Reports from inspecting officers 159 ranged from fair and very fair to very good and most satisfactory. With respect to the waste from the Militia, it was more than met now by the numbers that joined. In 1885 the net increase over the waste was 3,816, and in 1884 4,940, making a total of 8,756; and if that increase continued in a few years the Establishment would be complete. At present it was 17,907 short, and he admitted that if they included those absent without leave it amounted to 28,334. The comparative annual increase and decrease in the Militia during the last five years showed that the annual average strength might be taken as 108,227, the annual average increase as 35,225, and the annual average decrease as 37,248, making an an- 1346 nual average deficit of 2,023. The last five years showed a decrease in 1881 of 5,357, in 1882 of 6,899, and in 1883 of 6,614, and an increase in 1884 of 4,940, and in 1885 of 3,816. In the last two years it had improved so remarkably that he thought the noble Earl must admit that the condition of the Militia as regarded numbers was not in the rotten condition that he represented. From figures placed before him that day he thought he might fairly say that the satisfactory state of things which had been going on during the last two years was likely to be maintained this year. He acknowledged that the drain from the Militia into the Regulars was increasing; but, on the other hand, he found that there was a much larger number of men who had been discharged from the Army joining the Militia. He did not think that upon those figures, which the noble Earl could have got for himself by referring to the Report of the Inspector General of Recruiting, the noble Earl was justified in saying that the Militia as regarded numbers was in a thoroughly rotten condition. With respect to the Yeomanry, he entirely agreed with the statements of the noble Earl; and if the regiments were willing to become Rifle Cavalry it would be the very best thing they could do. He did not think that there could be a more useful body of men for the protection of the interior of England than such a body as the Yeomanry. The men were used to horses and to the rifle, and as a body they could move about with celerity from spot to spot. Personally, he hoped that this was a change which would take place. The condition of things agricultural, however, was so bad just now that the Yeomanry were suffering more than any other branch of the Service. As to the field artillery, he was informed on the very highest authority that it required constant and daily practice to be properly and efficiently worked, and the question was one which had not escaped the attention of the Government. With regard to transport and commissariat, he had referred to that matter; it depended entirely upon the mobilization of the Army Corps. As to the Volunteers, the noble Earl knew that the Government had under consideration at the present moment the question of an increase of the capita- 1347 tion grant. The Government recognized quite as clearly as the noble Earl did the enormous advantage which it was to the country to have a Volunteer Army such as ours was. Beyond the fact of having a body of trained men there was the enormous advantage of improved physique and of military discipline to be calculated among a large body of men now passing through the Volunteers, and there was also the effect which all this must have upon a large body of the people. The Government were fully alive to these advantages, and they quite recognized the absolute necessity of the Government and the country giving as much support as possible to the Volunteers. But he thought it was the bounden duty of every Government to take care that in these matters which the country had to pay for there should be an adequate return for the money. He thought there was a suspicion of a covert sneer in the reference which the noble Earl made to the remarks of the Secretary of State for War in "another place" as to the interests of the taxpayers. It was not only the duty of a responsible Government to see that this adequate return was secured, but it stretched further, and it was the duty of every Legislator, whether elective or hereditary, to consider the interests of the ratepayers. He could assure the noble Earl that it was not only the wish, but also the present intention, of the Government to do as the Secretary of State for War said in "another place;" and, to use the noble Earl's own words, to put such a Volunteer Force as would be adequate to the wants of the nation in as satisfactory a condition as possible. He could not conceive a more satisfactory statement than this with regard to the Volunteers; and he hoped that in a short time, now that the Returns had come in, the Government would be able to say what it was that they proposed to do with reference to the increase in the capitation grant. He could not sit down without congratulating the noble Earl upon the fact that, having for some time back cared for the liberty and property of the individual, he was now turning his attention to a wider field, and had taken up the question of the defence of the Empire. He did not know whether the advice which the noble Earl was likely to get from the "man in the street" was of great advantage; but he was quite 1348 sure it would swell the records of the Committee which was about to be formed. He hoped the statements which he had been able to make would not be considered unsatisfactory by the noble Earl.
§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
said he would withdraw the word "rotten," and say that the state of the Militia was thoroughly unsatisfactory. He maintained that this was the condition of that Force, even according to the noble Lord's own showing. As regards the granting of field artillery to the Volunteers, of course, the officers who advised the War Department, being Royal Artillerists, looked for perfection in such matters. But half-a-loaf was better than no bread, and he was sure that the Artillery Volunteers, if they had these guns, would attain a very respectable degree of efficiency in the use of them.