§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
I ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading to this Bill, and I hope I shall not have to trespass long on your Lordships' indulgence. In bringing this question before the House in the month of February I entered very fully into the subject; and, although what was said in favour of the Bill was only briefly reported, every word that fell from my noble Friend the Secretary for War in his attempt to answer these arguments was reported verbatim. So I thought it right, on the principle of audi alteram partem, to print my views on the subject and send the pamphlet to your Lordships. Those who have read it, who have not consigned it to the waste-paper basket, know my arguments in favour of this Bill at the time I brought this question forward. I look upon our military system in itself as absolutely sound, but it is not administered as it ought to be. Those who are in charge of the War Office, and your Governments past and present, have dealt with the superstructure, but they did not touch the foundation on which that superstructure constitutionally rests, and that foundation is compulsory service in the Militia for home defence. Now, my Lords, when I brought this Measure forward, my noble Friend who is at the head 764 of the War Office declined to accept the view I took, but my action was so publicly useful that I got my noble Friend to make three most valuable admissions. He said that the power of compulsory service was one with which he would not readily part, that it was one it was necessary to keep with a view to possible emergencies, and he added this most important statement, that the present law was antiquated and required revision. I say these are three great admissions which you have got from the noble Lord. It was in consequence of that that I took the course I subsequently did. I asked my noble Friend three questions. I asked him to define an emergency, I asked him to say how long, under the existing law, it would be before we could get a revision of the Ballot Act, and I further asked him whether he would bring in a Bill to do what he said was necessary to bring the law up to date and amend it, as it was antiquated. The main question was the last one, and his answer to that was that he did not intend to deal with the subject at the present time. I fully accepted that answer from my noble Friend. I have prepared a Bill for the very purpose, and that Bill, with your Lordships' sanction, I have the pleasure of presenting to the House. What is this Bill which I ask your Lordships to read a second time? The Bill I have drawn up now is a mere transcript of the martial law ballot clauses in Mr. Caldwell's great scheme of Army reform. Your Lordships know what the history of that was. There was great opposition to purchase in the House of Commons, and Mr. Caldwell and Mr. Gladstone threw over what was the most important part of the Bill in order to pass the democratic clause for the abolition of purchase. It is under these circumstances that I bring forward this Bill, have printed it, and have laid it on the Table. I am very sorry there was some delay in the printing. I was abroad for two months, and when I came home I found that the Bill was not circulated. However, the Bill was circulated in plenty of time for the Government, if it had chosen, to take it up. You must feel that this is a question of such magnitude that it certainly ought not to be in the hands of any private Member. It is a great national question, affecting 765 the safety of our hearths and homes, and it ought to be dealt with by the Government, and the Government alone. Therefore it was that I ventured to put myself in communication with my noble Friend at the head of the Government and the Secretary of State for War. I asked them whether they would be inclined to take up this Bill, and take charge of it. The answer I got was that they were not in a position at all hostile to the Bill, but that at the present period of the Session the Government did not feel inclined to take it up. That is the whole history of this question, so far as I am concerned. I have given you the genesis of the Bill, and it is not necessary for me to trouble you with many further words. Before I sit down, I would ask your permission to say a few words upon the general question. I have referred to what the Secretary of State for War said with reference to an emergency—that he wished to have this power to meet an emergency. My honourable Friend failed to define what he meant by an emergency. But I think everyone of your Lordships connected in any way with public affairs, and knowing what has been going on in the world during the last two years, know that we have had emergencies in the near and distant East; we have had emergencies in Greece, in China, and in Africa, and that we have been, happily, through the ability of my noble Friend at the head of the Government, carried safely through these great emergencies, without, I venture to say, injury to the national interests or loss to the national honour. Well, my Lords, that is what we have passed through successfully; but who will say that an emergency might not arise of such a nature that, whatever the skill with which foreign affairs are handled, you will not pass safely through it. You might find yourselves at war with one, or possibly two, of the great Powers of Europe. My Lords, in such an untoward event, what would you require? Would you require legislative Measures? Would you require amending Acts? No; it would not be Measures, it would be men that would be wanted—men in abundance, men efficient and trained to meet the emergency 766 which had suddenly come upon you. And if you have not these men, why is it? It is because the Government—and I do not blame this Government more than any preceding Government of my time— have not had—what shall I say—the courage, or the belief in the necessity of enforcing the existing law of compulsory service for the home defence. That has not been done, and why? For two reasons. One reason was given by my noble Friend Lord Minto—a gallant soldier and an enthusiastic Volunteer, when speaking on the subject of the Ballot Law. He told us the enforcement of the Militia ballot would be "extremely unpopular." "Unpopular," my Lords! What has popularity got to do with the question? If needed, it should be, and must be, enforced, regardless of popularity. The other reason was given the other day in Scotland by my noble Friend behind me, the gallant Field-Marshall, Commander-in-Chief, Lord Wolseley, who, in presenting the prizes to a Volunteer corps in Dumfries, made a speech, in the course of which he said if it were not for the patriotism of the Volunteers we should now have had conscription in this country. Well, my Lords, I think it is greatly to be regretted that that should be the result of volunteering. I am speaking in presence of many of your Lordships who were among the very first in the Volunteer movement to come forward in the defence of your country at a time when it was believed a necessity for the nation. Now, I am going to say to your Lordships what I ventured to say a few weeks ago at the annual regimental dinner of the London Scottish. I ventured to say then what I said more than 20 years ago —that in volunteering as we did years ago we made a great mistake in the interests of our country. Why did I say this? For the reason given by my noble Friend, that, if we did not we would have had conscription. And what have you got? You have not got conscription, but you have hundreds of partially-drilled, as compared with the foreign troops they might have to meet. I do not think that is a state of things that ought to be allowed to continue. It is on these grounds that I venture to think that if you were to establish the old 767 constitutional law, you would not only not lose your Volunteer forces, but you would have a larger force of properly trained and disciplined men. You would have what you have not got—an effective Militia force, which is the foundation of the safety of your military system. It is on these grounds I have brought this matter before your Lordships' House, and ask your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading. It is, I admit, a feeble and halting, but yet a necessary, step towards an end so much to be desired—namely, the national safety and the safety of our hearths and homes. I do not ask this in any spirit of hostility to my noble Friend or to the Government. Quite the contrary. I simply ask you to endorse what my noble Friend said when he told us that the present Militia law was antiquated, and that it required revision.
*THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR
The noble Lord asks your Lordships to give a Second Reading to this Bill, and he has indicated, both in his speech and in a memorandum which he has circulated over his signature, that it would be agreeable to him if Her Majesty's Government would take that Bill off his hands, and make it their own. I am afraid I must, at any rate, answer both of those suggestions in the negative. It would obviously be impossible to pass a Bill of this length and this importance into law during the few remaining weeks of the Session; and I sin constrained to add that even if we had made up our minds to legislate in the direction indicated for us by the noble Earl, it would be quite impossible for us to accept this Bill. The noble Earl has told us frankly what the history of the Bill is. It is not his own Bill, though he has accepted the paternity of it; it is a Bill that is almost verbatim et literatim a part of a larger Measure introduced 27 years ago by Lord Cardwell, and abandoned by him in the House of Commons. Now the noble Earl, if I may say so, has taken up this infant, and laid it on the Table without having even taken the trouble of fitting it out with a new suit of clothes.
*THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR
A great many things have happened since 1871. The whole machinery of our system of local government has been remodelled, and the fact is that the provisions of the Bill of 1871, which were perfectly applicable to the state of things which existed at that time, with regard to local government, are quite inapplicable to the present condition of local government, altered as that condition has been by the establishment of county councils and parish and district councils in recent years. Now, my Lords, I will not take up the time of the House by going through the sections of the Bill one by one, in order to illustrate my meaning. I will simply take here and there one or two of the provisions and show your Lordships how entirely unsuitable they are to the existing state of the law. If your Lordships will look at clause 7 of the Bill you will, see that the noble Earl proposes to transfer the administration of the ballot from the deputy lieutenants to the justices of the peace in petty sessions. Well, now, the noble Earl must be aware that since 1871 the local administration of local business has passed from the justices of the peace to the county councils, and to the district councils. That part of the Bill, if it were to become law, would not work for a month. Then, in clause 9, which has reference to the definition of counties and to the divisions of counties, there again I find that nearly the whole of the detail is detail which is entirely obsolete, and that divisions and sub-divisions are referred to which have ceased 10 exist. Then there is the important clause which has reference to the classification, of the individuals who are to be liable for the ballot and to exemptions from the ballot. If the noble Earl will look at the clause he will see that Mr. Cardwell's Bill contained schedules, whereas his Bill has forgotten all about them. The result is that, in the words of the homely expression we used to employ, "our verses would neither scan nor construe." I am afraid the noble Earl's Bill will neither scan nor construe. I make these observations in order to justify us in refusing to accept the Bill of the noble Earl. I do not by any means wish to meet the suggestions he has made in a carping or contemptuous spirit. Nothing is further from my thoughts. He quoted me with. 769 absolute accuracy when he just now told the House that earlier in the present Session I made certain admissions which he greatly welcomed. What were those admissions? I admitted that it was to my mind perfectly conceivable that we might be driven some day or other to have recourse to compulsory service in this country. I think we are not quite so near compulsion as the noble Earl supposes. I think he greatly overrates the difficulty of obtaining the men whom we require for the Army by means other than compulsory means; and I think, judging from what fell from him, that he considerably underrates the aversion with which compulsion in any shape is regarded by the mass of the people of this country. The noble Earl said that the question was not whether compulsion was popular or unpopular. I am afraid that in these matters, I won't say popularity in the lowest sense of the term has to be considered, but you certainly have to consider whether your legislation is legislation which is acceptable to the country as a whole; and I certainly think the noble Earl is a little sanguine when he says that the people of this country are prepared to accept compulsion, even in the form of which he is an advocate. But, my Lords, I made the admission that I conceive that we might be driven to have resort to compulsion; I also made the admission that the present machinery of the ballot was to a great extent obsolete, and machinery which could not be put into force without great trouble and difficulty. And, my Lords, I am prepared to make a third admission, that if that machinery is to be recast the duty of recasting it is a duty which belongs to the Government of the day, and not to a private Member.
*THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR
Under those circumstances I make this offer to the noble Earl. I am ready to say that we shall, during the coming autumn, have that machinery very carefully examined and revised. It will be so much, at any rate, gained, if we have at the War Office ready to hand a carefully and thoroughly worked-out scheme for giving effect to the ballot should the ballot ever become in- 770 dispensable. But I wish to guard myself against being supposed by the noble Earl or by anyone else to undertake that Her Majesty's Government will next year, or at any particular moment, make a Bill for the introduction of the ballot, part of their programme of legislation. That is a pledge I am certainly not prepared to give. I should like to remind the noble Earl, as I ventured to do when he last brought this subject before the House, that even if a Ballot Act were in operation, unless it were to be put in force in time of peace, which I believe would be very greatly resented, it would not give you, when a sudden emergency arose, the men you require. It might give you a very large number of men, butt they would not be men who had been properly trained and disciplined. My Lords, I must say, to my mind, what is much more necessary at the present time is that we should increase our regular Army, that we should make it strong enough to meet the numerous requirements to which we are subjected, strong enough to support and maintain that portion of it which is serving out of the United Kingdom, and that, we should offer such inducements to the population from which we draw our recruits for the regular Army as will ensure our keeping the Army full. My Lords, your Lordships know that Her Majesty's Government have during the present Session, partly by legislative Measures and by administrative steps, endeavoured to meet the difficulty with which we are confronted. Those Measures have only been for some three months in operation, and it is altogether too soon to predict their success or failure. I am myself very hopeful of their ultimate success. I ask your Lordships to give those Measures a trial, and for the present, at any rate, to rely upon them rather than on what I for one conceive to be a premature application of the compulsory principle.
§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
After the speech of the noble Lord it would be idle for me to ask your Lordships to divide on the Bill. We are getting something by degrees; we are getting an admission, in fact, of the necessity of the ballot under certain circumstances of 771 emergency, and we also had from my noble Friend the admission that the present law is absolutely obsolete and useless and requires revision. My noble Friend has shown us that the Government, feeling this, are satisfied with what they are doing with reference to inducements to go into the Army, and that they are leaving the base on which everything rests—compulsory service for the home defence—untouched. I confess I do not see what it means. He tells us that they will have drawn up in the War Office some scheme which will obviate all the difficulties, which, will enable the ballot to be applied, if needs be, much more readily. I should imagine that it will be nothing of the kind. I am not in the secrets of the War Office; but, whatever they may have at the War Office, it is absolutely useless until it is sealed and endorsed by Parliament. Therefore we shall remain in this position, that they will have practically a Bill which they won't bring before Parliament until an emergency arises. I leave the country to imagine what the value of a Measure of that kind is—bringing in Bills when an emergency has arisen, when you want men and not Measures for the protection of the land. I beg to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.