§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (The Marquess of LANSDOWNE)
My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill. The Bill which I ask the House to read a second time alters the law with regard to the Army Reserve and also with regard to the Militia. The House is aware that we have at this moment a Reserve of, in round numbers 80,000 men, formed in order that our home Army, which remains below its war strength in times of peace, may be expanded rapidly in time of war by bringing back to it trained soldiers who have already served in the ranks. Under the existing law we are not allowed to make use of the Reserve unless Parliament has declared that a national emergency has arisen. We are not allowed to touch it for minor emergencies, although these are, of course, of comparatively frequent occurrence. In our opinion it is desirable that we should, just as we are able to use the whole of the Army Reserve for a great emergency, be able to use a part of the Reserve for a smaller one. For this purpose we take the power to make a contract with a limited number of Army Reservists, a contract under which they will, during the first year of their service in the Reserve, be liable to be recalled for active service. We limit the number of men who shall be so liable to 5,000, and we propose that those 5,000 men should, in addition to their ordinary Reserve pay of 6d. a day, receive an additional 6d., or 1s. per day altogether. I may here remind your Lordships that in 1896 you passed a Bill drawn somewhat on the same lines, but differing from this Bill in that we then proposed to take compulsory powers over Reservists in their first year instead of, as in this Bill, making a voluntary contract with them, and this without offering them any addition to their ordinary Reserve pay. I hope I may be able to persuade your Lordships that our present proposal is, upon the fact of it, a reasonable one, whether you consider it by itself or whether you consider what other means are available for arriving at the object which we have in view. I should like to say a word as to one alternative solution of the difficulty which is frequently pressed upon us. I hear it said, "Why do you not, instead of recalling Reservists to the 166 colours, keep six or eight battalions at Aldershot at full war strength and ready to put on board ship at any moment?" My Lords, I do not hesitate to say that such an arrangement would be a very extravagant and unsatisfactory solution of the difficulty. We have, in the first place, to remember that every battalion must contain a certain number of men who, for one reason or another, could not be sent abroad with it if it were required at short notice for active service. There would be some young soldiers insufficiently trained or falling short of the age below which we do not send men out of the country, and there would always be a certain number medically unfit. In order to provide battalions of, say, 800 or 900 men fit to put on board ship at a moment's notice we should probably have to keep some 1,200 or 1,300 men with the colours, either with the battalion or elsewhere. The expense would be inordinately large, and even if we were to incur it we should get over our difficulties only in so far as the particular battalions so treated were concerned. Besides this, from the point of view of territorial recruiting nothing could be more objectionable than an arrangement under which a particular battalion or battalions would be raised at a given time to an abnormal strength and then allowed to shrink to the normal figure. You have to flood the battalion with recruits at one moment and cease recruiting at another—a most undesirable result. It comes to this, that if we are to make up our home battalions for service in the field without using Reservists there are only two conceivable ways of doing so. You must either fill them up with recruits, or you must strengthen them by means of drafts from other battalions. I do not think it requires any argument to show that both of these are inadmissible. Our object is to exclude young soldiers from the battalions which we send abroad, not to bring more recruits into them. As for drafts from other battalions, there is nothing which is more resented by the Army generally than what is often spoken of as "robbing Peter to pay Paul." We are at this moment endeavouring to keep the drafts which one unit has to supply to another within the narrowest possible limits, and we hope to be able by various measures 167 which, are now in course of adoption to protect batteries, battalions, and regiments from the kind of spoliation to which they have sometimes been exposed. At such a moment, when we are attempting to minimize the strain imposed upon those units which have to supply drafts, I should be sorry to admit that whenever a home battalion is required for service abroad we should rely upon drafts from other battalions for the purpose of raising it to the proper strength. I say, therefore, that as a means of rapidly expanding our home battalions for minor operations the plan of the Bill is, upon the face of it, the most reasonable which can be devised. I wish to say a word in regard to one or two of the objections which have been urged against our proposal. It is said that by allowing these men to accept this additional liability we shall diminish their chances of obtaining civil employment. As to this, I have explained that the liability will be assumed by 5,000 men only out of the 80,000 men in the Reserve, or, in other words, by one Reservist out of every 16. The liability will be voluntarily assumed, and will attach to this small number of men only during the first year of their service in the Reserve—that is, at the moment when they have just left the Army and when it is fair to assume that many of them will not have settled down permanently in civil life. During that time they will receive 1s. a day, a sum which will greatly help them to tide over the period of transition, and the House will observe that we provide expressly that any man who desires to be released from his obligation in order to obtain permanent employment of a civil kind may cancel his contract by giving three months' notice. I may perhaps here explain that although men recalled to the colours under this section will, under ordinary circumstances, remain with the colours only so long as military operations are in progress, it will be open to them, should they desire it, to serve on so as to complete a period of 12 years, at the end of which, again, they can if they please obtain a further extension and qualify for pension. Then there is the statement that the result of this Bill will be to swamp the battalions to which it is applied by pouring into their ranks 500, 600, or even 700 Reservists scraped 168 together from all parts of the Army, with the result that the battalion when it takes the field will contain an omnium gatherum of soldiers without discipline, cohesion, or knowledge of each other. I hope the House will not accept this caricature of the mode in which the Bill will operate. Under the new arrangement recently submitted to Parliament the establishment of each home battalion has been fixed at 800 rank and file, or 870 of all ranks. From this total would have to be deducted about 200 men who would be too young to take the field and, let us say, 50 men who would be medically unfit. There would thus be left about 600 of all ranks available for service, and it would require some 400 men from the outside in order to bring the battalion up to full field strength. For minor operations, however, such as those contemplated by this Bill, the military authorities would probably be satisfied to place battalions in the field 800 strong; and in that case an addition of about 200 Reservists to each battalion selected would be enough. I do not mean to say that at this moment it is not possible to point to battalions which would require the addition of a much larger number of Reservists in order to make them fit to take the field, but we are taking measures to improve them, and it is not likely that the military authorities would select for special service those battalions which were most below the average in point of strength. Then as to the heterogeneous composition of the battalion thus strengthened: it would, as a rule, probably be impossible to find the whole of the men from the special Reservists belonging to the regiment itself. There should, however, be no difficulty in strengthening a reasonable number of battalions in this way without an undue mixture of heterogeneous elements. The battalions to be strengthened would, in the first place, take all the special Reservists of its own regiment, and these would be supplemented from Reservists, of other regiments connected with it either locally or in some other manner. A Highland battalion would be made up from the Reservists of other Highland regiments, and a rifle battalion from the Reservists of other rifle regiments, and a north country or south country battalion from Reservists belonging to the 169 northern or southern counties. Of the clauses in the Bill which have reference to the Militia I need say very little. We have for some time been aware that the Militia desired to be given additional opportunities of taking a part with the Army of the Line in operations beyond the limits of this country, and we believe that by giving ourselves an opportunity of testing the willingness, I will not say of the whole force, but of a part of it, we shall increase its popularity and meet the wishes of many of its best officers. The effect of clause 2 of the Bill will be to enable us to make arrangements on the one hand with certain Militia battalions, and on the other with individual Militia men, under which they will be relieved from the operation of the clause of the Militia Act of 1882 which now restricts the employment of the force outside the United Kingdom. Under the existing law it can be employed outside the United Kingdom only in the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, Malta, and Gibraltar, and then only when the Militia has been embodied. We propose, as an additional means of strengthening a Line battalion suddenly required for service abroad in time of peace, to allow trained Militia men to serve with the Line battalions of their territorial regiment for a year, and to give them an additional bounty for accepting this liability. It will be observed that these men will be in a position entirely different from that of the ordinary Militia Reservists, who cannot be called up for service with the Line battalions of their regiment except when the Army Reserve has been mobilised. As to Militia battalions, the effect of the clause will be that a battalion, in which virtually the whole of the officers and men are prepared to accept such a liability, will become available as a whole for general service abroad; these battalions will receive extra training, and the men belonging to them will be given an extra bounty. A battalion having once accepted this liability, recruiting will be opened for it only to men ready to assume the same liability as their comrades. I may mention that a proposal of this kind was put forward three or four years ago by a member of this House, Lord Raglan, and discussed at a numerously attended meeting of the 170 United Service Institution, on which occasion the idea was, I believe, unanimously supported by the Militia officers present. We trust that these changes will be received by the Militia as an indication of our belief in the force and of our desire to afford it more opportunities than at present of showing its fitness to take its place side by side with the regular Army, with which it is our desire to connect it as closely as possible. The Bill, taken as a whole, will, we believe, give to our military system elements of elasticity which it does not now possess, and render better adapted to meet the varied requirements of the Empire.
§ * LORD CHELMSFORD
My Lords, I do not rise with any idea of opposing the Second Reading of this Bill, because I feel that it is really the only alternative which presented itself to the War Office for enabling battalions from this country, as at present constituted, to take part, with any degree of efficiency, in any minor campaigns. But, my Lords, I do feel that it is only right that, as one of the oldest members of the military service in this House, I should point out that the necessity for this Bill shows clearly how very unsatisfactory the condition of the battalions in this country is as regards their fighting efficiency. Those who advocate the present system of territorial regiments have always confused numerical efficiency with fighting efficiency, but they are two very different things. As the noble Marquess the Secretary of Stats for War has just pointed out, there will be required at least some 350 or 300 men to make up a battalion to that proper strength which is requisite for it to go abroad. But, my Lords, we must look at the kind of men who will go out with those battalions. Are they men of the same calibre as those who have been fighting in India during the North-Western Frontier campaign? No. All the best men have been sent out to India and the Colonies already, and there are only remaining men of one or two years' service, and about 20 years of age. Those are not battalions which, when made up by the addition of so many men from the Reserve, a commanding officer would choose if he were asked to go into difficult and arduous service in the Soudan, South Africa, or elsewhere. Although I think this Bill is a good one 171 and one which I hope will pass, at the same time it does not do away with the necessity of looking closely into the present state of the battalions at home. The efficiency of our Army depends upon the efficiency of our battalions, and though the Army has been latterly improved by the strength of the battalions being raised to 800 men, yet, at the same time, the unfortunate system which the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War does not seem to appreciate—that of robbing Peter to pay Paul—goes on all the year round. Every battalion has to send its best men to make good the waste in the linked battalions abroad, and therefore the only possible way of keeping the battalions at home in a state of real efficiency is by encouraging as far as possible the re-engagement of men after they have done their seven years' service. That has been done to a certain extent, but not to the requisite extent to keep the battalions at home in a proper state of efficiency. I notice in the Bill that the only men who are allowed to be transferred are those whose character is good. I deprecate that condition altogether. It handicaps the Bill very much, because, no doubt, those men who have good characters will, in all probability, be able to find employment. It is not so much on their behalf as on behalf of those who have not got good characters that I speak. I know perfectly well that there are men in battalions whose conduct is not all that an officer might wish, but who still make good fighting material, and in moments of difficulty and danger often distinguish themselves. A man with whom I had most trouble when I commanded a battalion was a man who won the Victoria Cross in the Crimea, so I can speak from personal experience. I do not see why men who do not possess good characters should be excluded. If they are fit for the Reserve they are fit to re-engage and fight. They are the very men we do not want to turn on to the civil community, because they are not the men who are likely to get employment. If they remain with the battalion they remain under discipline and are kept in order; whereas if they are turned loose on society, and are unable to get employment, sixpence a day does not keep them, and they become a scandal to the regiment and a nuisance to society at large. Therefore I trust 172 that some consideration will be given to these men, and that no stipulation of the sort proposed will be inserted in the Bill. There is also another point I should like to refer to. I notice that under sub-section C a man shall not be liable to serve for more than 12 months. If it is merely a short campaign that is quite long enough, but if, as very often happens, the campaign is prolonged, extreme difficulty will be experienced by commanding officers as to what to do with the men whose time has expired and who claim their discharge. When in South Africa I found it extremely difficult to decide what to do with these men. I do not see any reason why, if a man is willing to render himself liable to serve, he should not be bound to serve for the whole campaign, with the stipulation, of course, that he would be sent back as soon as possible. I am very glad to see section 2, with regard to the Militia, the effect of which will be to bring the Militia more and more in touch with the Line regiments, and so to enable them to show what very good material they are made of, if only they are properly dealt with.
* THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN
My Lords, as an old officer of Militia, my object in rising is to say a few words upon that force, but before doing so I wish to make one remark on the first section of the Bill. I should not venture to make any remarks except to say that I feel sorry that the limit has been placed at 5,000 men. I do not think it would have caused any further expense to the country if the number had been increased, and the War Office could be relied upon not to call out more men than the special circumstances of the case required. I think it is just possible that 5,000 men may be too few for the purpose required. With regard to clause 2, I should like to thank the noble Marquess for the remarks he made with regard to his desire to give to the Militia more opportunities of serving their country abroad, and the desire of the War Office to bring them into closer contact with the Line battalions to which they are affiliated. The Bill, so far as it goes, is, in my opinion, an excellent 173 one. But it is not quite clear to me whether, under the Bill, it will be possible for the War Office to take advantage of the volunteering, so to speak, of a portion of the Militia. My experience of Militia regiments is that when they have been asked to volunteer for foreign service the War Office has been overwhelmed with requests, and the difficulty has been to make a selection without hurting the feelings of the others. My desire is to bring the Militia regiments and the Line regiments into closer contact, and I cannot imagine anything which would more effectually do this than by allowing part of the Militia regiments to volunteer for service with the Line battalions. It seems to me that if that system were once fairly gone into it might get over the difficulty which the noble Marquess tried to obviate in the first part of the Bill. If a Line battalion was too weak for foreign service, and 200 men were required to bring it up to its proper strength, why should not the Militia battalion of the same regiment be allowed to volunteer and send two companies to the front? There would then be no mixing up such as that which the noble Marquess has described as a possible difficulty, and I am sure nothing would give more satisfaction to the Militia than the adoption of such a course. There would be some difficulty, I have no doubt, in the matter of training, but one or two months' training in barracks or at Aldershot would be sufficient to make a Militia battalion efficient for service, and Line battalions would prefer to have officers and men from their linked Militia battalions rather than drafts from regiments with which they have no connection. I do not know whether the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War will be able to take this suggestion into consideration, but I am sure such a course will have a very great effect on the recruiting of the Militia, and be to the best interests of the Army generally. There is one other point which I do not quite understand, and that is whether the words in the Act of 1882 are cancelled by this clause. The words of the Act of 1882 provide that if "any part of the Militia" made a voluntary offer to extend their services it should be lawful to accept that offer. I rather think that 174 those words are cancelled, because this Bill now reads, "The employment of any member of the Militia," etc. If those words in the Act of 1882 are cancelled I rather deprecate it. I do not think the Militia would gain anything by individual members being allowed to volunteer for foreign service. The difficulty the Militia officers have at the present moment is in recruiting. In the days when I had the honour of commanding a battalion of Militia we had our own recruiting sergeants, and they managed to get good men; but now the recruiting sergeants practically do not recruit for the Militia, but, being under the command of the depot officer, for the Army. They recruit men of 18, 19, and 20 for the Militia, for the purpose of their going into the Army. The Militia battalions have all the trouble and difficulty of partly training them, but as soon as they are fit they go into the Army. That is a reason why the Militia battalions are so depleted at the present time. I have always contended that they should be compelled to serve one training in the Militia before passing into the Army. The Bill increases the difficulty we now feel rather than lessens it. I hope the noble Marquess will strike out the word "member" of the Militia, and reinstate the word "part." I am afraid I have detained your Lordships too long, but my only excuse is that I feel much interested in the subject.
§ LORD HERSCHELL
My Lords, the noble Marquess has dwelt on the danger that may be apprehended of the provisions of this Bill interfering with the chances, or being thought to interfere with the chances, of men obtaining civil employment. Obviously that is a matter of importance, and naturally he has desired so to frame the Bill that it should not interfere more than need be with the prospect of the men obtaining employment, and he has alluded to the provision inserted to enable the agreement under the section to be revoked by three months' notice. But I would submit that the provision, as framed, will not be effectual for the purpose. Supposing that a Reservist had a prospect of a 175 situation, and gave three months' notice in writing to revoke his agreement, he would, if the Reservists were called out after two months of that notice had expired, still be liable, notwithstanding that notice had been given, to serve for a year. So in a case of that kind he could not, by giving notice, tell the person who was proposing to employ him that he would be free to serve the employer at an earlier period than 14 months. I do not know whether it would be possible to shorten the period of notice, or in some way or other to increase the certainty of the Reservist being able to pledge himself to take employment. There is one other suggestion I would make with reference to what Lord Chelmsford said as to there being men who would not be described as of good character when leaving the Army, who, nevertheless, might be persons well fitted, under discipline, to serve when the Reservists were called out. I can quite understand that it is necessary to make some restriction, but I think it might be left to the military authorities to approve of a Reservist when he entered into such an agreement, even though his character were not described as good. That would give the military authorities full control in the matter. At the same time, if there were those who, notwithstanding that their character had been at times indifferent, would be well fitted to serve, they might be added to the numbers and form a useful part in the Reserve Force in the manner suggested by the noble Lord.
§ * THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
May I say one or two words in reply to the criticisms which have been offered? In the first place, the speech of the noble and gallant Lord [Lord Chelmsford] was, as far as I could follow the earlier portion of it, a severe animadversion upon our present system, and particularly upon the results of that system as it affects the battalions at home. I think the noble Lord suggested that, even with the addition of Reservists, the home battalions would be, in point of composition of a very weak and contemptible kind.
§ * LORD CHELMSFORD
I beg the noble Marquess's pardon. I did not say they would be of a weak and contemptible 176 kind. What I said was that they would not be satisfactory battalions for a commanding officer to take abroad.
§ * THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I am glad I misunderstood the noble Lord. In point of fact, these battalions, with he addition of a number of Reservists, every one of whom would be, in all probability, a man of 26 or 27 years of age—that is to say, in his first year of Reserve service—would compare favourably with any battalion which any foreign Army could put into the field. The noble Lord also commented upon the unfortunate results of the practice of taking men from one battalion to serve in another. The object of the Bill is to relieve us of the necessity of doing this; we wish to avoid taking drafts from one battalion in order to strengthen another, and for that purpose it is proposed to call the Reservists back to the colours. Therefore I claim the support of the noble and gallant Lord on that particular ground.
§ * LORD CHELMSFORD
I gave the noble Marquess my support on that ground. I only mentioned that the system of robbing Peter to pay Paul was going on every year by drafts being sent from one battalion to strengthen another.
§ * THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
But the noble Lord will admit that the Bill mitigates that evil by enabling us to depend much less than before on drafts.
§ * THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
As to the stipulation that the special Reservists are not to be admitted to the Reserve unless they are men of good character, this provision was not in the Bill when the Government introduced it. The provision was introduced in another place at the instance, I believe, of honourable Gentlemen who take a great interest in the affairs of the Army, and who represented to the authorities that unless this safeguard were inserted the effect of the Bill would be to bring into these battalions a number of Reservists who were out of employment because probably they were men of less good character. It was, therefore, in order to prevent the possibility of an influx of 177 men of doubtful character that the Government accepted the Amendment under which no man could be admitted to the special Reserve unless he bore a good character. I think that the interpretation of the words "good character" might be fairly left to the military authorities, and I trust they will not interpret the words in too pedantic a spirit. It was further suggested that the limit of numbers inserted in the Bill was rather too small. I should not be at all sorry to take a larger number, but the noble Lord must remember that these men are in excess of the men voted by Parliament, and it is felt that we could scarcely ask Parliament to grant more than the number which was thought to be strictly necessary for the purpose we had in view. Then my noble Friend made a suggestion that we might very well have allowed not only a whole battalion, but part of a battalion, to render itself liable for service beyond the United Kingdom. I am not quite sure whether my noble Friend exactly followed my explanation of the Bill. He will understand that, on the one hand, we take the power of allowing a whole Militia battalion to render itself liable for service outside the limits of the United Kingdom; and, in addition to that, we allow individual Militiamen to render themselves liable. There is no special restriction as to the number.
§ * THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Not as a company. I do not think my noble Friend and I are very far apart. He wishes to have a kind of half-way house between the Militia battalion and the group of individual Militiamen. I do not know whether that is an arrangement which would be possible. I will look into the matter, and perhaps confer with him about it. The noble and learned Lord opposite (Lord Herschell) thought that three months' notice, which we propose to allow a Reservist to give in the event of his desiring to be relieved from his obligation, was too long a notice. We considered that point very carefully. It is absolutely necessary, of course, that We should protect ourselves by insisting upon notice of reasonable length, and, 178 upon the whole, we thought three months not unreasonable. But I will take upon myself to say that, should a man who had joined the special Reserve, find some promising opening in civil life, and should his employer make it a sine quâ non that he should no longer remain in the Special Reserve, I have no doubt, unless hostilities were imminent, that the military authorities would relieve the man of the liability which he had assumed. I am glad to find that, upon the whole, the provisions of the Bill meet with your Lordships' approval, and I beg to move its Second Reading.
That the Bill be read a second time.
§ Agreed to.
§ Bill read the second time accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Friday next.