HL Deb 13 July 1888 vol 328 cc1216-24

, in rising to ask Her Majesty's Government, What steps were contemplated in order to place in a more efficient state the Militia of Great Britain? said, that the Militia had rendered very great service to the country in years past on many occasions, and during the Crimean War their zeal in volunteering and the goodwill shown by the commanding officers had proved most beneficial to the regiments of the Line. There was no School of Musketry of any sort for the Militia, or musketry instructors, or any institution for the study of tactics, &c., and the complement of officers was not complete, consequent upon their position not being properly recognized. They were not able to parade before Her Majesty because they had not any shakos. The country would show the greatest ingratitude if it did not acknowledge the great services which the Militia had rendered to the regiments of the Line and the country at large. The Militia were not increasing as they ought to do, consequent, partly, upon the short service system, and also on account of their not receiving a fair share of public money to which they were entitled, but which was given to Forces of a newer description which had not been tried to the same extent. The only Constitutional Force which the Government had a right to call out or could depend on during a time of emergency, that he was aware of, was the Militia,


said, that it was of great advantage that the Militia should be encouraged as a Constitutional Force; but he was inclined to deny that it had been so much neglected as the noble and gallant Lord seemed to suppose. Looking at the recent Returns as to numbers, he thought the Militia would now compare well with the Force during the past 20 years, and that it did not show a bad position. It was perfectly true that the Militia was below its establishment; but if it could not be got up to its establishment at present, he thought that was owing to the greater demand for labour. This was a fact which should be always borne in mind, that the Militia was a most important feeder of the Line. Last year, or the year before, the Militia supplied something like 14,000 troops to the regiments of the Line. The noble and gallant Lord said that the Militia had no musketry instruction.


No musketry instructor.


said, that some 21,000 men in the Militia passed last year through the musketry course. It was well that these facts should be known, because the Militia ought to be kept before the country. He would venture to suggest that it would be very important if the Militia and Volunteers were organized into brigades and brought together, and exercised as far as possible as they would be in time of war. That would be useful not only to the troops engaged, but to the commanding officers. He would like to make one or two remarks on the debate the other day. He was not going to renew the discussion on the question of invasion; but it seemed to him that the reply of the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury), who was not now in his place, to the noble and gallant Viscount (Viscount Wolseley), minimized more than was necessary the contingency of invasion, and might give a false sense of security. He (the Earl of Morley) was not an alarmist, but he had a reasonable desire that the country should be properly protected. There was a great difference between alarm and taking reasonable precautions. Surely it was the contemplation of an invasion that induced the nation to organize the Volunteer Force and to maintain the Militia. It was perfectly true that the Cabinet alone could be absolutely re- sponsible for the security of the country; but it seemed to him unnecessary to discourage the desire on the part of the country to guarantee itself against the contingency of an invasion, and remarks coming from high quarters such as those of the noble Marquess might tend to discourage that feeling. He believed the present Government had done a great deal towards organizing the Forces and placing the country in a better position for defence, and he ventured to hope they would continue in that course without giving way to extravagance, yet at the same time bearing in mind that it was essential that there should be an absolute guarantee against invasion.


said, he entirely agreed with the noble and gallant Lord (Lord Ellenborough). He believed that the Militia and Volunteer Forces might be made a security against any danger of an invasion. The noble Marquess on a late occasion had said that with the Fleet that we possessed invasion would be impossible. It seemed to him, however, that the presence of the Fleet could not be insured at all times. He believed the Fleet would still maintain its superiority, both because the officers were well and highly instructed, and because the population was maritime at heart. He therefore believed that everything that it had been possible for the Navy to do in former times it would do again; but the presence of the Navy could not always be guaranteed. It had precious Colonies, a widespread commerce, coaling stations, and the two valuable fortresses in the Mediterranean to defend. At present everything was calm around; but it appeared to him that that was the very time to set our minds to the work and to carry out what reforms were required. Now they could be introduced not as the result of panic, but as the result of the most careful consideration. We were in peaceful relations with all the nations in Europe; but we must remember that though national interests might be inherited, national friendships are not often so. We could not tell what popular passions might not arise to create hostility towards us. Germany seized the proper opportunity for carrying out her requisite reforms, and they had seen the consequence. This country should take warning by Germany. If we had our Reserve Forces properly trained, commanded, instructed, and organized much in the same way that Germany organized her local forces, we might be secure against any enemy that could possibly attack us. He was sure that the material we had at our command, if properly trained, would be equal to any troops in the world. He considered it was the duty of the Government to do everything they could to make the Reserve Forces efficient. There was one thing which he thought ought to receive more attention in the Militia, and that was shooting. Greater facilities for practice ought to be afforded to the Militia. He was quite sure that a great deal was being done at the present time in the War Office, but that was no reason why efforts should not be made for the better organization of the Reserve Forces. The War Office was actively engaged in making plans of defence on paper; but unless the country came forward with the necessary funds the reforms would still remain only paper reforms.


said, the noble Earl who spoke last but one referred to alarmists on the Cross Benches. All he could say was that as long as matters were allowed to remain in their present state he was perfectly ready to be considered an alarmist, especially when he found himself in the company of the gallant Field Marshal. The noble Earl said he was not an alarmist. No official was an alarmist in quiet times; but when war broke out the Government soon became dissatisfied with preparations which had more than satisfied them before. He was certain that on this question of armament there was only one thing to be done, and that was to keep on pegging away at whatever Government was in Office, though he believed the present Government had done more in this direction than any other. A great portion of the Militia Force was composed of boys between 15 and 19, who would be no use in time of war. So far as it went, the Militia was as efficient as it could be, but it was not in the condition in which our chief defence ought to be. The noble Earl asked what was the use of raising extra men for the Militia if they could not keep it full? No doubt, the Militia was not full, and had never been full since 1854, and he was glad his noble and gallant Friend had brought the matter under the attention of the House. In 1885 he felt it his duty to raise this very question of the Militia in their Lordships' House, and to move a Resolution to the effect that the Militia should be recruited up to its establishment. Both Front Benches opposed the Resolution, but after an interesting debate it was carried by a majority of four or five. On that occasion he analyzed the figures of the Militia, and showed that with an establishment of 128,069 men there were enrolled only 104,000; and, taking away those men under 19 and those in the Militia Reserve, deducting also the Artillery and one-fifth for casualties, the total number we could put in line was only 54,966. There was no difficulty in filling the ranks of the Police Force, and similarly no difficulty would be found in regard to the Militia if the pay was increased. The only other alternative was to resort to the ballot. This was the real remedy, but such was the force of Party feeling that he feared that if one Party proposed it the other Party would oppose it. When Mr. Cardwell introduced his Army reform scheme the late Lord Sandhurst stated that there then was a probability of the scheme including the ballot for the Militia. Unfortunately, it did not. Mr. Cardwell promised that under his scheme there would in 1880 be an Army Reserve of 80,000. But in the result it turned out that in 1888 the Reserve only amounted to 54,000. The Army Reserve was dependent upon the strength of the various regiments; but these, instead of being kept up to their full strength, were allowed to fall to half their proper numbers—namely, to about 500 men. Whether one looked at the Army, its Reserves, and the Militia, or the general organization of our Military Forces, the conclusion forced upon one was that things were in a very unsatisfactory condition. He admitted that Her Majesty's present Government were showing some appreciation of the real state of the case; but much remained to be done.


said, he regretted that it was the fashion in some quarters to style anyone who called attention to the present unsatisfactory condition of things an "alarmist." The charges made with respect to the Militia were that the force was below its proper strength, and that it was not provided with the things which were required for efficiency. In not providing butts, commissariat, and proper uniforms for every Militia regiment the Military Authorities were guilty of a dereliction of duty. Whether our Army was small or great, it was all-important that it should be efficient. He earnestly hoped that the defects which had been shown to exist would be remedied without delay.


said, that a mine had, as it were, been sprung upon him, for under cover of a limited Resolution speeches had been delivered ranging from the Militia to the Volunteers and Regulars, and from the time of Wellington and Waterloo to the present. He did not complain of this, as it showed the interest which was taken by their Lordships in everything which concerned the military defences of the country. As to what had been said about naval defence he must decline to go into the matter, as it was outside his province. With regard to the noble Lord's (Lord Ellenborough's) Question, he did not make any suggestions in a specific direction, but he understood that he specially referred to the equipments. It was, no doubt, a fact that the equipment of Militia regiments was not in all cases similar to the equipment of the Line. In the ordinary transactions of life, while they adopted that which was new, they did not altogether discard that which was old, but not obsolete. That was the policy which the War Office had adopted. Old equipment was used as long as it was sound and not obsolete; when it was really out of order new equipment was issued. While endeavouring to keep pace with the progress of invention the Military Authorities did not think it economical, wise, or necessary immediately to discard an old pattern whenever a new one was adopted. Should the Militia be embodied they would be served with precisely similar articles to those which were served out to the Line. Reference had been made to an occasion when the Militia were unable to appear before the Queen at Windsor with the Volunteers in consequence of deficiencies of uniform. He knew of no such occasion; but he knew that last year the Militia paraded before Her Majesty at Aldershot, and he believed that the War Office served out helmets to all the regiments concerned. The first six regiments that would be called upon for active service had been supplied with bottles, and should the whole Militia be embodied there were bottles in store with which they would be supplied. Reference had been made to the recommendation that the warrant officers should be reduced in number, and that the sergeant-majors should in future be non-commissioned officers instead of warrant officers. That recommendation had not as yet been approved by the War Office, and full consideration would be given to any objections that the Militia officers might raise. Then complaint had been made that many Militia regiments were not up to their establishment. As he had only recently told the House there were two reasons for this. One was that there had been a larger demand for labour during the last year; and the other, that there was now a great tendency to join the Volunteers. To those who thought that the system of the ballot ought to be adopted for the Militia he replied that if it were adopted the demand that extra Volunteer regiments should be raised would grow enormously, and thus the object of the advocates of the ballot would be frustrated. As to the comparison which had been made between the strength of the Army in 1864 and its strength in 1884 to show that it was less strong in the latter year, he had to say that the comparison was valueless, for an exactly contrary result could be obtained by comparing other years of the same period. He had been asked whether steps had been taken to secure that both the Volunteers and the Militia should be trained at the places where they would be mobilized in the event of war. He could not remember whether such steps had been taken that year; but he knew that the Secretary of State was very anxious that every unit of the Army should be trained occasionally at the very place where it would be mobilized at a time of attempted invasion. It was necessary, when considering this question, to remember that the men liked to be comfortable, and to be trained in places where they could enjoy themselves when off duty. When Volunteers went into camp they made the matter one of business, and they did not make it a picnic; when gathered for training it was expedient to have some regard to the attractions of the place and the means of enjoyment. The Southern Submarine Mining Militia was doing very well; but it had to be split up into smaller sections. One circumstance which distinguished submarine mining corps was this—in the North you could not get Militia, but you could get Volunteers with the greatest case, and the Volunteers were a magnificent force; while in the South you could get Militia but not Volunteers; but whether it were Militia or Volunteers they were equally efficient, and constituted an important addition to the force for the defence of our commercial ports and harbours. He appreciated the motives which led noble Lords to initiate this discussion—they wished to bring pressure to bear upon the Government to spend money. The Government had not shrunk and would not shrink from spending money where it was necessary, and this was shown by the fact that they had determined to spend £2,600,000 beyond the Estimates for the year for the purpose of putting the coaling stations and harbours of Imperial importance in a proper state of defence. This was a proof of their earnestness; but they would not be forced into extravagant and ill-considered expenditure which would waste money without benefit to the country. As regarded the organization of our Military Force, both Regular and Auxiliary, he believed that at no time within the last 10 or 15 years had so much attention been paid it by the Military Authorities. They had been in a favourable position for giving that attention, because we had not been engaged in any little wars, and men of intelligence and experience had been able to concentrate their attention upon it. The great question of mobilization—of the points at which men should be assembled, and how and in what numbers—had been carefully discussed by the Military Authorities in conjunction with the Secretary of State; and he believed the Army was in a far better position as regards equipment and assemblage in case of invasion than it was a few years ago. No steps were being taken just now to improve the efficiency of the Militia, because the Government were inclined to believe it was very efficient now. He admitted that if the Government could give it the same equipment as the Line it would be a smarter force; but the Government had to look at the purposes for which expenditure was required, and they could not do more than see whether the old equipments were serviceable and replace them where they were not.