HL Deb 24 May 1892 vol 4 cc1641-53

My Lords, I need scarcely say that it is very gratifying to the Yeomanry to find that at last their complaints have been brought before the War Office and the public in a proper manner. For many years we have been doing our best to get certain questions brought before the War Office, and at last I hope we shall succeed in getting a satisfactory reply and shall be put in a satisfactory position. For a great many years past it has been the fashion with several military and civilian critics to think that the Yeomanry have not improved; but, my Lords, the old yeoman of portly form, who was a very good fellow in every way except as a light Cavalry soldier, no longer exists in the ranks; we have now a great many young men capable of doing their work well. His Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief, when he visited them lately, was kind enough to express his approval of them, and all the Inspecting Officers after the various inspections have reported every year that great improvements have taken place. Your Lordships will be glad indeed, I am sure, that at last the Yeomanry are to be put upon the mobilisation scheme, and to have their share in the defence of the country. But, to come more to the details of this Report, I think myself that the question of the reduction of sergeants may be met in a fairly satisfactory manner. Whether the reduction of adjutants will be equally successfully worked without friction there is some doubt, because I think it will be found very difficult for any man to be in two places at once and to serve two masters, as the adjutant must if he is to serve two large regiments at different quarters. But there are three points to which I should like to ask the noble Earl the Under Secretary of State for War particularly to direct his attention. The first is that in this Report of the Committee on the Yeomanry Cavalry it is proposed to make the whole of the contingent allowance depend upon a standard of musketry. When a man is recruited the Yeomanry have to equip him with his full uniform, and he may be a very good horseman and swordsman and a good Cavalry soldier in every respect; but perhaps, because he lives a long distance from butts, and is unable, therefore, to have practice, or perhaps has not naturally great talent for shooting, he is not a very fair marksman. It seems very hard, therefore, that the whole of the contingent allowance should depend upon the accident of his being a good shot. I hope, therefore, the noble Earl will be able to say that some modification will be made in that portion of the Report. Another point is this. At the present moment the Yeomanry are about the cheapest force that the country can have: they cost little more than £7 per man, for which you have a man ready equipped with his uniform, saddle and horse, and ready to turn out at any moment. As this Report seems to me a little like robbing Peter to pay Paul, I hope sincerely that we shall clearly understand that there is no proposal to reduce the sum total of the Yeomanry Vote, but that whatever is saved from one portion of it will be given back to the Yeomanry in some way to promote their efficiency. The third point is that, if the brigading system is thoroughly carried out, heavy expense will be thrown upon the regiments during the year in which they have to brigade; and I hope that that expense will not fall on the Contingent Fund, but that some other fund will be forthcoming. Then there is another point which, perhaps, the noble Earl will not care to answer at once. It seems to me that the maximum number is very much too near what we have been actually turning out in the last two years, and that it will act as a damper in recruiting. Moreover, it seems to me that with the new Cavalry drill the numbers fixed will not be found, to work well, and I hope that some modification may be made with respect to that number. I should like, therefore, to ask the noble Earl what are the intentions of Her Majesty's Government in regard to carrying out the Report, and I hope he will kindly take notice of the three points which I have brought to his notice.


Before the noble Earl answers the remarks which have just been made, having had the honour of commanding a Yeomanry regiment for some years I should like to refer to one or two points in the Report of the Yeomanry Committee. In the first place I should wish entirely to concur in the remarks made by the noble Viscount with regard to the fact that for the first time the Yeomanry are given a position in the mobilisation scheme of the country, and that they have now a definite place as part of the defensive forces of the country; and in connection with that I am very glad to see the proposal for occasionally, once in three years, brigading two or three Yeomanry regiments together, not only on paper, but also in the field. I would, only venture to ask whether in those cases it would not be desirable that the Yeomanry regiments when they are going out to work in brigade should be allowed to be called out for a rather longer period than at present; because it will clearly be most important that they should have an opportunity of learning their ordinary work before two or three regiments are called upon to work together in brigade—most of them for the first time. With regard to the increase in the Contingent Fund, that is a point which the Yeomanry Commanding Officers will accept with the greatest pleasure. It has been clearly proved that the amount now paid is not sufficient to cover the expenses of the force; and, although that money comes out of the Yeomanry themselves, I think they will be pleased at the change. With regard to the diminution of staff sergeants I think there probably will be some difference of opinion amongst officers commanding different Yeomanry regiments; but I should like to say, speaking solely for, my own regiment, that, although there will be some inconvenience at first in altering the headquarters of different troops, yet I believe it can be carried out without diminishing in any way the efficiency of the regiment. My Lords, there are two points which have not been referred to to which I should like to call the attention of the noble Earl. The first is that in paragraph 9 with regard to the working of the squadron. It is pointed out that the strength of one hundred is a good working strength for the field, and though inferior to a squadron of regular Cavalry it is perhaps as large as is desirable for the Yeomanry. I should like to point out that included in that hundred will be a considerable number of the band, and I rather think this point must have been overlooked by the Committee. The band of the Yeomanry is sworn in and attached to the different troops, and therefore, if every man in the field was efficient, the maximum of the squadron would be about 92 or 93 instead of one hundred. Besides this, I think if the Report is accepted as it stands that would necessitate the band going through a course of musketry; and I am sure that any gentleman who knows what Yeomanry bands are will not think probably that that would be a very desirable thing to do. I do not think you could get men to join the band and also to shoot; and I think, if you were to insist upon it probably the result would be very much more dangerous to themselves than to any enemy they might have to meet. The question of musketry has already been referred to by the noble Viscount who introduced the question. As my regiment has a great difficulty in getting ranges, particularly up to a sufficient distance, I hope that the qualification in musketry will not be made a sine quâ non for the contingent allowance. I think if it is to depend upon anything it would be far better to make some of the pay of the yeoman depend upon his shooting his course, thereby proving to him that his shooting is an essential part of a Cavalry soldier's duties at the present time. The only other point to which I should like to call the noble Earl's attention is the question of the numbers. In the schedule the strength of the Yeomanry regiments for the last three years has been taken as an average. Any one who knows the great difficulties that Yeomanry regiments have had to meet, owing to the agricultural depression, will understand that even in the last year and the year before, those difficulties have not been finally overcome, and the losses we suffered four or five years before have not been completely filled up. To take the case of my own regiment, which happens to be a somewhat peculiar one, I find that in the last years mentioned in the Report it has increased by nearly sixty: from 208 in 1889 to 263 in 1891; and I have every reason to suppose that it will be something like 290 when it is called out this year. Therefore, under the scale which has been given by this Report, it would be impossible for me after this year to try to increase the strength of the regiment at all. The old strength of the regiment was four hundred maximum including officers. For a regiment of four squadrons under the new scheme the four hundred would be a stronger regiment, because that is exclusive of officers and staff; at the same time I think it would be rather hard upon a regiment, while pulling up their numbers considerably, and now for the first time getting over the difficulties of the agricultural depression, that they should be stopped from recruiting if they find they can get an efficient number of men which would bring them over the number which has been laid down in the schedule of this Report. I hope the noble Earl will at all events consider, if he cannot answer now, the two or three points which I have brought forward. I am sure that, although there is a considerable difference of opinion with regard to various details amongst officers commanding the force, they will all accept the general regulations laid down in this Report, and will strive in future, as they have in the past, to make the Yeomanry an efficient part of the Reserve Forces of the country.


My Lords, though I have nothing to do with any Yeomanry regiment myself, yet, in common with all your Lordships, I take a great interest in the whole subject of our national defences, particularly those which may be classed under the general head of Volunteers. I am sure it is not at all too soon that the Government have turned their attention to the subject of the Yeomanry, and I think that anybody who has glanced over the Report must feel that the Yeomanry force are not in a satisfactory condition. On the very first page we have it that out of a maximum of thirteen thousand there are only about eight thousand efficients. That I think is not nearly so many as there ought to be. I also think they are rather backward compared with the other forces. Some thirty years ago no doubt the Yeomanry were considered a very fine body of men, even though I am quite willing to admit, as the noble Viscount who brought forward the subject says, they were really not so good actually then as they are now. But in these days when the Volunteers during the last ten years have come so tremendously forward, and have become so very efficient, I think the Yeomanry require to be brought up to the standard. Now of course the Yeomanry were originally intended very much for the sake of assisting the civil power in preserving law and order and in acting against mobs and rioters. This was never a very popular or very satisfactory employment for them. I think always in case of a riot or a difficulty it is far better, when unfortunately you must have recourse to force, to employ police or regular soldiers whom you can keep in hand and who will stand a certain amount of insult or throwing stones without being provoked into what may end in indiscriminate slaughter. Therefore I do not think the Yeomanry are likely to be much employed in this way in the future. Certainly, in former days, both in England and Ireland, their employment in this way was not attended with good results. Besides, as has been pointed out in this Report, in these days of increased railway communication, when you can always concentrate a certain number of soldiers or police upon a given spot in a very short time, the Yeomanry are less likely than ever to be called upon to do this work. If they are to continue to exist they must simply and solely be considered as part of the national defence; and they must be in such a position that in case of invasion they would be reliable for employment there and then as part of the efficient forces of the country. Now there is no doubt that if they are to do this they must improve very much upon what they are; they must not only learn to shoot, which has been pointed out in the Report as a very necessary thing, and a thing which is very much neglected; but I think they must be able to make a better appearance in the field than they can now. In many regiments I think it is wonderful how much they do, considering that they only come out one week in the year; that one day is employed in arriving, and another in going away; another in a field day, and another is Sunday; so that they only have four days' drill in the year. But I think if they are to be an efficient force they must have more drills than they have now. I do not know that the Government can be called upon to give more towards them than they do now. As compared with the regular forces, they are very cheap, no doubt; but as compared with the Volunteers, I think they cost about twice as much per man. But I think they would be very glad to do something for themselves, I think they come from a class who would be glad to meet the Government and pay part of their own expenses if they were encouraged. All I think they want is encouragement, and more to be required of them before they can be passed as efficient. I think, considering what they have in their favour, considering the admirable men both in this House and in other positions who are willing to come forward and take command of these forces and officer them, considering the general spirit among the youth of the country, and the patriotism and love of military service, which is undoubted, it is quite true that they only want encouragement to be induced to do more than they do now. If they can once know that they belong, not to a merely ornamental force as in bygone days, but to a really efficient force, capable in case of invasion of forming an efficient part of the defences of the country, they will take a greater pride in the force than they do now; and, instead of there being only eight thousand out of a maximum of thirteen thousand, that maximum would constantly be kept to its full strength, and a demand would be made to increase it. My Lords, I am glad the Government have taken the matter up. I think every step they have taken has been in the right direction, in the interest of the Yeomanry themselves; and the more they are considered a permanent force in the country the more will they command men than they do now.


My Lords, there are two points which have been from time to time urged upon the Secretary of State for War by commanding officers—one is a complaint that the Military Authorities have never yet seen their way to utilise them for the purposes of mobilisation; the other is that the contingent allowance which they now draw, £2 per man, is insufficient for the purposes for which it is intended. To remedy this state of things, if possible, is the problem that was placed before the Committee. When the Committee began to make inquiries they were immediately struck by the very small size of the units of the Yeomanry. This is an old story. As long ago as 1875 a Committee appointed to inquire into this very question reported in favour of disbanding all regiments that fell below two hundred in two consecutive years. This recommendation was embodied in the Yeomanry regulations, where it is laid down that any regiment which falls in two consecutive years below two hundred may be disbanded without further notice, and there the regulation has remained up to this time as a dead letter—it has never been acted upon. But when the Committee came to inquire into the number they were astonished to find that no less than sixteen out of the thirty-nine Yeomanry regiments had this sword of Damocles hanging over their heads which might fall and destroy them at any moment. The Committee, therefore, considered in what way they might get over the difficulty of not having to disband small regiments and yet being able to keep these small regiments and enable then to preserve their individuality. The method they hit upon was the system of brigading. By joining two or more small regiments into brigades this difficulty of very small units is immediately got rid of. It is hoped that these brigades will be somewhat similar in number to the Regular Cavalry regiments, and yet that each small unit may retain its own individuality. In forming these brigades it is considered that the present regimental adjutants, some of whom have very small numbers of men to look after, may be gradually, as they die out, abolished, and brigade adjutants substituted in their stead. And, as a matter of detail, it is proposed by the Committee that the brigade adjutant should have some extra allowance in the way of another horse, because he will be required to do more travelling. The next point to which the Committee devoted their attention was the size of the troops. The Committee found that in some regiments of average size the troops consisted of twenty-two men, some of these troops being of a less number than twenty-two, and to every one of these troops the Government supplies a staff sergeant. We have it in evidence that many of the staff sergeants are not fully employed, and eke out their time with the permission of the commanding officer by taking civil employment. There was nothing in the evidence to prove that a staff sergeant was not perfectly capable of taking care of a whole squadron; but it was pointed out by one or two commanding officers that if this reduction was made suddenly there would be a great deal of difficulty in maintaining the regiments in a proper state of efficiency. It is therefore proposed by the Committee that one staff sergeant should be allowed to each squadron, and that in addition one more sergeant should be allowed to be at the disposal of the commanding officer for what I may call general purposes. It was further pointed out that some further assistance might be wanted at times of the year when there is a good deal of pressure for exercising the men in carbine practice and sword exercise, and it was considered that that assistance might be found in the regiment in the non-commissioned officers of the Yeomanry; and of course it is always open to the commanding officer of the regiment, if he has nobody in the regiment who is competent to teach these things, to find somebody in the district who is competent, and he can enrol him in his regiment and employ him in that way; but it is proposed that he should be paid by arrangement between the commanding officer and this sergeant out of the increased contingent allowance, which I will come to presently. The next point to which the Committee turned their attention was the question of shooting. Now, my Lords, we have often been told that the Yeomanry shoot badly,—the only wonder is that they shoot at all. No encouragement has ever been offered to the Yeomanry to shoot, and the only possible incentive to them has come out of the pockets of the officers. It was pointed out to the Committee that the men lost time in going to and from the ranges, and therefore it has been recommended that every man who passes through his course should be given 3s. 6d. pay for the day that he spends upon the ranges. The numbers which the Committee recommend for brigades are either a maximum of 400 and a minimum of 280 for a four-squadron regiment, or a maximum of 300 enrolled and a minimum of 210 efficients for a three-squadron regiment, or for a two-squadron regiment a maximum of 200 and a minimum of 140. But my Lords, it is supposed that there may be some cases—I hope they will be exceedingly few—where it is found impossible in a county to keep up even this minimum number of 140. In those cases sooner than entirely disband the corps it is proposed that the Secretary of State shall have the power when he sees fit, to allow a single squadron to be maintained in the county but with no regimental staff. I may perhaps here deal with the question that was put by my noble Friend opposite (Lord Belper) on the subject of maximum and minimum numbers. The reason why these numbers were fixed by the Committee was because the maximum number of a squadron having been fixed by them at the convenient number of 100 it naturally follows that a two-squadron regiment would have two hundred, a three-squadron regiment three hundred, and so on; but the Committee also considered the present state of the number of Yeomanry regiments, and they thought four hundred would be a sufficiently large maximum, looking to the state of the Yeomanry regiments. But I would point out that there is a way of getting over the difficulty. If a regiment is full and desires to enlist more men, it is quite in the power of the Secretary of State to allow them to enlist a certain number of supernumeraries, and if they kept on increasing, the Secretary of State could give a larger easement, and, if he wished it, could create a regiment of five squadrons.


Would the supernumeraries get pay?


Yes, they would be paid if they were allowed to be taken on. Then the question of the band comes in here. The Committee certainly did not go very deeply into the question of the band because they found that the regulations already laid down with regard to the band that two bandsmen per troop are allowed, and I find they are excused certain exercises; but if there are any more bandsmen in the troop they are not excused. The Committee considered that these regulations would probably go on, and that the two bandsmen would still be allowed per troop. But then comes another point—whether they are to be obliged to shoot in order to obtain the contingent allowance. That is a point that escaped the Committee no doubt; but there is no doubt that the two bandsmen who are allowed will have to be excused shooting; the others I think will have to go through their musketry course like any other yeoman. Then comes the financial question. The Committee find that when the whole reduction is made in the adjutants the saving would be £5,013, the saving in the reduction of sergeants if carried out completely would be £8,306, the total saving being about £13,300, and it is proposed to allot that saving in the following manner: In the first place it has been pointed out that the contingent allowance does not meet the purposes for which it was intended, and that therefore considerable expense is very often thrown upon the officers. To meet this difficulty it is proposed that the contingent allowance shall be raised from £2 as it is at present up to £3, giving £1 per man more than at present. But the Committee report in favour of making the whole of this contingent allowance depend upon the shooting of the yeoman—that is to say, that if he does not come up to a certain moderate standard of shooting, which shall be laid down hereafter, the whole of this £3 shall be forfeited. Now my noble Friend behind me (Viscount Galway) has called my attention to this point, and I may say that the Secretary of State for War has given this point his very best consideration. He considers that the Committee are a little hard upon the yeomen in this respect, and he would be prepared to make only the extra £1 which it is proposed to add, depend upon the shooting of the yeoman; but of course if the yeoman does not pass through that course, besides losing the £1, he would also lose the day's 3s. 6d. for attending the range. That increase of £1 would amount to £8,500; then the day's pay for target practice would amount to £1,467; and it is further proposed in order to encourage shooting, to give twenty rounds per man of extra ammunition which would amount to £630, and the allowance to brigade adjutants for the additional horse will amount to £760, making a total of £11,357. That £11,357 will go against the saving of £13,300. It will be easily seen that none of these recommendations can be carried out immediately. The adjutants will gradually have to die out, and the staff sergeants probably cannot be reduced with very great rapidity; and therefore the saving will only be gradual. But it is proposed, if the Treasury will agree, that the payment of the increased contingent allowance shall begin next year. In the first year the result will be a slight increase of expenditure; in the second year it would probably be almost balanced; in the third year there will be a slight saving; and after that there would continue to be a saving. But it is not proposed that that saving shall be a decrease on the Yeomanry Vote. On the contrary the Committee point out that there will be expenses connected with brigading, probably travelling expenses and other expenses; and this small balance will be available to meet those expenses, and that answers the question of my noble Friend behind me. My Lords, in taking evidence and making inquiries the Committee were very much struck by the anxiety of all connected with the Yeomanry to make the Yeomanry as efficient as possible, and to raise them to their proper place amongst the Forces of the country; and the Committee in their Report use these words— There is we are satisfied plenty of patriotic sentiment and a good soldierly material in the Yeomanry both as regards officers and men, and if the process of evolution in our military system has kept the force somewhat behindhand it has been its misfortune rather than its fault. My Lords, I am convinced that there is plenty of energy, there is plenty of patriotism, there is plenty of soldier-like bearing in the Yeomanry, and if these recommendations of the Committee, which I may say have already as a whole been approved by the Secretary of State, and are now under the consideration of the Treasury, are carried out, I have no hesitation in saying that the Yeomanry will be able in the future to hold the same dignified position among the Forces of the country, and will be of the same value as they have proved themselves in the past.

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