§ *THE EARL OF WEMYSS
My Lords, I beg to ask the Secretary of State for War if he will define an "emergency"; and state how long it would be if the ballot law, as it now stands, were put in force, before a single raw recruit could thus be got for service in the Militia; also to ask whether, inasmuch as he has stated that "the machinery for putting the ballot in motion is of a somewhat ancient date, and would probably require revision," he will undertake forthwith to bring in a Bill for this purpose. Those of your Lordships who were present in this House on Friday last, and heard the speech of the Secretary of State for War on this subject will admit that these questions grow as naturally out of the speech of my noble Friend as a plant grows from its seed. What did we hear from my noble Friend on Friday? I was pressing the importance of having our Home Defence in an efficient state, and contending that this should be done by reviving the old constitutional power of compulsory service. My noble Friend, I was glad to hear, did not repudiate possessing this power. He said, on the contrary, that it was a most valuable power, and one which he would be very sorry to part with. He also said it was a power which should only be used in an emergency. Now, my Lords, this is a phrase which is very frequently used when the War Office is pressed upon a matter of this kind. They always say—Wait until an emergency arises. We shall be equal to the occasion, and the law will be put in force.But my fear is, my Lords, that your "not yet" will some day read "too late." Therefore, I think it is very desirable that we should come to a clear understanding as to what "emergency" precisely means, and whether it will give you time to put your law in force, and to catch your hare and cook it, and be ready, should occasion demand; that is to say, whether it will give you time to get your soldiers drilled and fit for action before it is too late. I want a definition of the word "emergency." There is a dictionary view of the word, and a statesmanlike view. In Murray's dictionary, dated 1891—your Lordships will 1499 see it is up to date, as it were—the word is defined as follows—A juncture that turns up unexpectedly. A state of things demanding immediate action.Then I go to find out what "immediate" means. Murray has not got so far as "I," but Webster's dictionary can tell me. The definition of "immediate" which is given in Webster's dictionary is—Something instant, pressing; without intervention of time.So much for the dictionary view. Let us now look back to the history of our own times, in which many emergencies have occurred. I should call it an emergency if the Secretary of State for War, having passed his proper estimates for the service of the year, came suddenly to Parliament and asked for an extra force. That would be meeting an emergency. It is exactly what my noble Friend would do. He would come down here and say that the emergency had occurred, and that it was necessary to enforce the ballot. I look to contemporary history, and it furnishes me with many cases which illustrate my point. Going back to 1847, we have the Duke of Wellington's famous letter to Sir John Burgoyne, in which he hopes he may not be the witness of the tragedy which he could not persuade his contemporaries to take measures to avert. The Militia Act followed in 1852. It was, no doubt, the outcome of the letter of the Duke of Wellington. Let us now come to the Crimean War. What happened then? That was an emergency, and the Militia were embodied, and did excellent service. Again, in 1859 you have the Franco-Italian War, which resulted in the writing of the letter that led to the formation of the Volunteer force. There was an emergency. In 1878 we had the Russo-Turkish War. What was the result? Why, 50,000 men were suddenly added to the Army. In 1882 there was a war in Egypt. That was most unexpected; it was certainly an emergency, and 6,700 men were added to the Army. In 1884–85, in consequence of the Russia and Indian frontier difficulties, 5,000 men were added to the Navy, and the year after, 9,300 men were added to the Army in India. Even in this year 1898 you are engaged in the Soudan and on 1500 the North-West Frontier of India in wars that were unexpected, and the result is that your Army is in such a state that you cannot meet the demand upon it. You have a Committee of the House of Commons considering the subject of our military organisation, and the Government is proposing to add 15,000 or 20,000 men to the Army. I stand on this, that an emergency is a thing you ought to be prepared to meet at once. If the present law affecting the Militia ballot is not put in force, it is worthless for an emergency. When an emergency occurs you want to be able to fill your ranks at once; you do not want to have to net your men and train them after the emergency has occurred. The law of ballot is absolutely worthless at the present moment while it is allowed to remain in abeyance. My noble Friend said on Friday—The machinery for putting the ballot in motion is of a somewhat ancient date, and would probably require revision.He accepts the evil of the situation, but he proposes to do nothing to remedy the evil. In 1871 Mr. Cardwell brought in his Army Regulation Bill, one of the main points of which, as I showed on Friday, was to deal with the Militia. Mr. Cardwell made a statement in explanation of his Bill, in which he expressed the same opinion as my noble Friend the present Secretary of State for War—namely, that the ballot law is antiquated and obsolete. It was therefore necessary that Mr. Cardwell should, in his Bill, introduce clauses which would bring the Militia law up to date, and put it on a proper footing, but he met with considerable opposition to the purchase abolition provisions of his Bill. It was thought that what he proposed with regard to purchase, was an entirely secondary matter, and we did all we could to resist the Bill in this particular. I well remember a very heroic oratorial performance was achieved by Lord Galloway with regard to this Bill. It was about the dinner hour, and the Bill would have gone with a rush if someone had not got up and spoken upon it. I went to my noble Friend and informed him of this, and he instantly rose in his place and spoke without stopping for two hours. I am 1501 bound to say I consider that a very heroic achievement. No doubt he derived great help from Blue Books, into which he dived deeply, and from which he read freely. Mr. Cardwell, indeed, gave up the ballot position of his Bill, but he stands in a better position in this respect than my noble Friend. He endeavoured to remedy the existing admitted evil, but my noble Friend the Secretary of State for War, while admitting the antiquated and obsolete character of the present Militia Ballot Law, does nothing to put it right. Mr. Cardwell, on the other hand, felt so strongly on the matter that he inserted in his Army Bill 10 clauses and 44 provisions in order to put the present ballot law in a satisfactory condition. From that time nothing has been done. Now, my Lords, I venture to think that this is not a proper state of things. If Mr. Cardwell's Bill had been passed with all these clauses in it, what would have been the result so far as our position to meet an emergency is concerned? Parliament, if not sitting, was to be called together, and would have been asked to affirm the necessity of enforcing the ballot, and when all that was done 30 days at least would have elapsed before you could have got a single raw recruit for service in the Militia. To say that even that is a satisfactory way to meet a national crisis or emergency is folly. We We must be armed cap-à-pie. Therefore, I want to ask my noble Friend if he will define the word "emergency," and state how long it would be, if the present ballot law were put in force, before a single raw recruit could thus be got ready for service. I also want to ask him whether, inasmuch as he has stated that the machinery for putting the ballot in motion will require revision—I say it is absolutely worthless at the present time—he will undertake forthwith—I mean immediately, not letting the matter stand over for another Session—to bring in a Bill for this purpose. I am not asking him to apply the ballot; I am only asking him to amend the law so as to have the means of speedily applying the ballot when necessary. Mine is a modest request. I ask for no more than that. Turning to another, though cognate subject, I wish to refer to the age of Militiamen and 1502 soldiers. In a calculation I made I said that if you deducted casualties from your Infantry Militia, and all under 19 years of age, you would not have above 30,000 men to put into the held. My noble Friend took exception to my scoring out 19-year-old Militia youths. But he certainly would not send lads of 19 to preserve his pheasants, and I am sure he himself does not ride three-year-olds across the Cricklade country, and be assured that none but well-grown, well-seasoned troops will ever be sent against this country. Now, since I spoke, and since my noble Friend spoke, on this subject, I have obtained, quite by accident, some curious figures with reference to the age of enlistment in the Army. A chief constable of a county police force, whom I happened to meet, told me of some extraordinary experiences he had had with reference to the ages of young men who had served in the Army, and who were seeking admission into the county police force. The facts are so curious that, perhaps, my noble Friend will allow me to read the letter. The chief constable I refer to, says—I enclose a deserter's report against a certain George Ward, whose real name was Herbert Hayes. This nursery warrior was at the time under 13 years of age. The age can be verified without difficulty, and in that same year he is stated to have enlisted five other times. I enclose a letter just lately received from a would-be policeman. He is not yet 19, and has served nearly three years in the Army. I have had at least two other constables serving under me—one is still serving, and one has been dismissed—who joined the. Army under 16 years of age. In evidence in 1894, before a Parliamentary Committee on the employment of discharged soldiers, I gave evidence that 18 soldiers who had been taken on as policemen were at the time of their enlistment under 18 years of age. Their ages were all verified by certificates of birth.I should like to know if George Ward, or, as he should be called, Herbert Hayes, appears six times on the return of enlistments for that year. I fancy he will appear in that return as six soldiers. I hope it is not a case of ex uno disce omnes, but you may be sure that if these cases occur in one county, similar cases occur in other counties. Here is the letter from the would-be policeman referred to in the above letter; it reads—Sir,—I respectfully beg to offer myself as a candidate for employment in your force. I am 1503 the oldest son of the late Sergeant James Houston, and I am 18 9–12 years of age, and 5ft. 10½in. high. On the 10th instant I was discharged upon purchase from the 3rd Hussars, after 2 10–12 years' service, with a very good character. I am desirous of obtaining employment as early as possible, to enable me to assist my mother.—I am, Sir, Yours obediently,JAMES BURNE HOUSTON.That letter is dated February 12, 1898. I strongly advise my noble Friend to communicate with the chief constables of the various counties, to ascertain whether what I have said with reference to the boyhood upon which we trust our nation's honour is not the case in other counties than the one I have mentioned. I think that the last matter I have referred to, though it is incidental, is, at any rate, ad rem. You will find your Army and your Militia always 20,000 or 30,000 below their strength, and it is necessary that we should act differently and more energetically in this matter of our home defence than my noble Friend the Secretary of State for War appears to be disposed to do at the present time.
*THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (The Marquess of LANSDOWNE)
My Lords, the unwritten rules of your Lordships' House allow a considerable amount of latitude to noble Lords who take part in our discussions. I think the noble Earl on the Cross Benches allows himself a large amount of that latitude, when, after putting on the paper three specific questions with regard to the Militia, he allowed himself to wander off towards the close of his remarks into a discussion of the age at which we admit recruits to the Line. The noble Earl mentioned two or three cases which had come to his knowledge of lads of a very immature age—one, I think, he said was not more than 13 years of age—who had enlisted in the Army. I think that story an extremely improbable one, but if the noble Earl will give me particulars, I have no doubt I shall be able to trace the case, and inform him whether or not this information is correct.
*THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR
Of course, it is perfectly well known that a certain number of recruits do join the Army 1504 below 18, but those recruits have to satisfy the medical officers that they have what is known as the physical equivalents of a man of 18, and, although no doubt some contrive to pass themselves off as 18 when they are younger, I doubt extremely whether any cases can be substantiated of youths of 13 years of age being passed. Now, my Lords, I will answer the three questions which the noble Lord has put to me. He asks me, in the first place, whether I am prepared to give him a definition of the word "emergency." Now, the word "emergency" is one which, as the noble Earl well knows, occurs not infrequently in the Acts of Parliament which concern the Army. It occurs in the Reserve Forces Act and in the Militia Acts, and in none of these Acts is there any attempt made to define the meaning of the term. I must say that in my opinion it is a wise thing not to attempt such a definition. If a definition were attempted you might have endless controversies as to whether the circumstances complied in all respects with the language of the definition, and I submit to your Lordships that it is much better that it should be left to the common sense of the Government of the day to decide whether an emergency does or does not exist, and to the common sense of Parliament to approve or to disapprove the action of the Government. The noble Earl evidently is under a misapprehension as to the sense in which I used the word when I was addressing your Lordships last week. The noble Earl told us just now, in effect, that Her Majesty's Government contemplated recourse to the ballot for meeting, at the last moment, a serious or unexpected national peril, and he says, very naturally, that if a sudden emergency arose and you had not taken the necessary steps beforehand, you would find that the ballot would not help you. Of course it would not help you. The ballot would be of no use for purposes of that kind unless you put it in force long before the emergency arose, and unless you had raised and trained the men whom you were expecting to raise under the ballot.
*THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR
The noble Earl asked me how long it would take before a single raw recruit could be obtained under the ballot for service in the Militia.
*THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR
Under the present law I find, on reference to a work which the noble Earl doubtless knows, Clode's "Military Forces of the Crown," a calculation was made to determine that point, and it is suggested that it would take five weeks to obtain your recruit—not to train him, but to actually get him. And, of course, as the noble Earl has said, that would be a raw recruit, whom you could not think of putting into the field against the organised forces of an enemy, but I never intended to suggest that we should rely on the ballot for the purpose of meeting an unexpected invasion of these shores. Nothing which fell from me was intended to suggest, or did in fact suggest, any such idea. And when the noble Earl asks me whether I am ready to prepare a Bill for the purpose of improving and simplifying the machinery of the ballot, I have to remind him that were the machinery ever so much simplified, were you able to get your recruit, not in five weeks, but in five days, the ballot still would be useless to you if it were put in force on a sudden emergency.
*THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR
On the other hand, we hold that the ballot would be a very valuable reserve of power to us in case of an emergency of a very different kind—I mean such an emergency as would arise supposing we found we were unable to obtain by voluntary enlistment sufficient men to fill the Army; or, supposing again, this country being involved in war, hostilities were begun, and we were unable to keep the ranks of the Army filled, for a purpose of that kind the ballot would be most valuable to us. The machinery of the ballot is to be found partly in the Order in Council, which, as I told the House on Friday, was issued in 1852, and partly in various Acts of Parliament. I imagine there would be no difficulty whatever in preparing a new Order in Council, varying 1506 the quotas which are at present laid down and which are certainly not applicable to the present distribution of population of the United Kingdom. As for the Acts of Parliament, they are very numerous, and, I am sorry to admit, somewhat involved, but I have to say to the noble Earl that the Government do not at this moment feel that any good result could come from an attempt to pass through Parliament a Bill consolidating and amending the Militia Law. The attempt was made by Mr. Cardwell, and he apparently abandoned it for the reason which induces the Government not to take the matter up at present, the task being one which it was not worth attempting until we were nearer the time when recourse to the ballot would be necessary. These are the only answers I can give to the noble Earl's questions.
§ *THE EARL OF WEMYSS
Mr. Cardwell abandoned that part of his Bill simply because there was so much opposition to the part which he wished most to pass. The Duke of Devonshire will probably bear me out in that statement. As the Secretary of State for War does not propose to introduce a Bill, and as I think the question is urgent, I now, with your Lordships' permission, present a Bill to improve the machinery of the ballot. This Bill of mine is simply taking out of Mr. Cardwell's Army Regulations Bill the clauses that refer to the Militia. I beg to move the First Reading of this Bill.
§ Read a first time accordingly.