§ *THE EARL OF WEMYSS
My Lords, in calling attention to the Ministerial military measures I would ask your Lordships' indulgence for a few moments, while I give the grounds on which I have ventured to put this notice on the Paper. My noble friend the Secretary of State for War, in the course of a discussion, upon military matters the other day, stated that I disapproved of every measure which had not been initiated by myself. On that occasion I thought I made it clear that all I did was not to initiate anything, but to take up a measure brought in, but subsequently dropped, by the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War for putting the machinery of the ballot, which is rusty and useless, in a proper workable state. What is the position of that measure now? The noble Marquess said—We have not changed our mind upon the question of the Militia Ballot Bill. We have laid a Bill on the Table in order that your Lordships might see the form it would take should legislation become necessary, but there never was any announcement of any intention with regard to that measure, and there never was, therefore, any abandonment of any intention.The fact is, this Bill, which was essential for an emergency, has been laid, as it were, a corpse for dissection on your Lordships' Table. So far from not approving of any measure not introduced by myself, I heartily approve of much that my noble friend has done with reference to Army matters. I think the measures of the Government must be divided into two categories; in one category I place those measures, which I think everybody must approve of, and in the other I place the measures which nobody can approve of 585 except my noble friend who brought them in. I feel sure, for instance, that we all approve of what the Government have done to increase the Army. We all approve of the creation of the Irish Guards in recognition of the splendid valour displayed by the Irish troops in South Africa. Personally, I should like to see a regiment of Colonial Guards, and also a regiment of Indian Guards; for what could be grander and more patriotic than the action of the Colonials in the present war and the feeling which has been shown in India? My noble friend is endeavouring to increase the infantry, the cavalry, and the artillery. I hope he will be successful, and that he will get men, not boys, and efficient officers to command them. Further, we are to have improved guns and a Volunteer Reserve, and transport alike for Volunteers and Militia. I presume the noble Marquess means guns up to date and equal to any in any other part of the world, or, if possible, better. I should like to know if he means big guns of position, the want of which was greatly felt in this war. It is not to the credit of the War Office that we were without guns of this kind, especially when we find that the Boers and the Chinese have them, and that we had them forty years ago. I am glad my noble friend is paying attention to the Volunteer artillery, for the treatment of the Volunteer artillery has been almost incredible. Years ago there were field batteries of artillery, but during the time General Lindsay was at the War Office they were abolished—for what reason I cannot understand. I am glad my noble friend sees the importance of giving artillery to the Volunteers, and I trust he will be successful. Then, again, our cavalry went out to South Africa with a carbine sighted only to 1,000 yards, while the Boer rifles were sighted up to 3,000 yards. It is something very much like murder to send men out with weapons of this kind. There would be no difficulty in substituting the long rifle for the carbine. It will be necessary in future to substitute a telescope for the comparatively useless binocular. A deerstalker would think himself insane if he went out with a binocular, but that is what most of our officers have been doing in South Africa. A binocular magnifies twelve or twenty times, but my old deerstalking telescope of thirty years ago magnifies thirty-five times; and I contend that 586 many of the Boers who have not been discovered by binoculars would have been discovered by good scouting and the use of the telescope. Having referred to the measures of the Government which we must all approve of, and pointed out those matters which seem to me not unworthy of the attention of my noble friend, I now come to the category in which I have placed the proposals of my noble friend which, I think, nobody except the officials at the War Office can approve of. The other day I ventured to say that the noble Marquess was putting our military system into the smelting-pot. He shook his head; but in answer to another noble Lord—on 26th July I think it was—he told the House—and I would ask your Lordships to note this—that the idea was to render the whole of the Militia force liable in time of war for service beyond the United Kingdom. That is entirely changing the constitution of the Militia force. My noble friend also proposed that every Volunteer battalion should have a company for foreign service. I can conceive nothing more fatal to the Volunteer force than to establish in it two descriptions of men, who will be called respectively the "Go-and-fights" and the "Stay-at-homes." This plan, however, was so unpopular and so contrary to the spirit of the Volunteer force that, thanks to the good sense of the House of Commons, that part of the measure has, I believe, been dropped. As regards Volunteers being thus turned to a wrong purpose, my feeling was so strong that I resigned the honorary colonelcy of my regiment, as a protest against the action of the Government and against the Volunteer forces' existence serving as an excuse for the non-enforcement of our military system. While approving of their patriotic zeal and admiring the enthusiasm which had led to their volunteering to serve, I could not but hold that, instead of going out as English Volunteers, they ought to have been made to resign their position in the Volunteer force and then constitute themselves Volunteers for South Africa. I am inclined to think that that is not an irrational or unreasonable view to take on this question. What my noble friend is doing is really taking away the foundation upon which our military system rests. I think that system is a very perfect system. It consists of three parts—firstly, of the 587 Army, which is voluntarily enlisted, paid, and bound at any time to go away; secondly, of the Militia force, also voluntarily enlisted and paid, and liable to be called out for home defence, bat whose foreign service depends upon their volunteering for it; and, thirdly, of the Volunteers. The noble Marquess has stated that he would like to see the constitution of the Militia so changed as to render Militiamen liable to be sent anywhere the Government choose without having the choice of volunteering. I understand that my noble friend intends to do away with the Militia Reserve. I do not think it is sound policy, or even common sense, to get rid of what was thought to be a great gain militarily to the Army. It ought to be called the Militia Army Reserve. It was established by General Peel, and the idea then was that for every man who volunteered for the Militia Army Reserve another should be raised for the Militia. In that case Militia officers would have no cause to complain; they would have the regiments always full, and the nation would be the better for having a Militia Reserve. Happily, my noble friend cannot do away with the Militia Reserve without an Act of Parliament. I protest against all this tampering with our military system. It is, in fact, much more than tampering, because the Militia is the backbone of our military system. The step proposed is, therefore, a blow at the very foundation of that system. Why is this change proposed? Has the present system failed? Have you tried it? The answer is "No." And yet, without having tried it, you are going to revolutionise it, and take away its foundations. We all know why this is done. It is to avoid applying the existing law. I should like my noble friend to read an able article which appears in the current number of the United Service Magazine. It is written by Mr. T. Miller Maguire, M.A., LL.D., and is entitled "Compulsory Military Service in England. A Retrospect." In this article the writer shows that compulsory service, instead of being foreign to this nation, has been throughout the foundation of its military system. This is what he says—I do not propose to discuss the desirability of conscription just now, or its expediency, having regard to the peculiar condition of our world-wide Empire, or its economy as compared with voluntary enlistment. I 588 merely wish to prove by history and by references to writers of first antbority that obligatory military service is conformable to the 'best traditions of our race,' that it is in no way antagonistic to the genius of our Constitution; that it is as much part and parcel of our Constitution as trial by jury or the co-relation of representation and taxation.In a further passage Dr. Maguire says—It is true obligatory service was avoided during the Crimean War, but at a shameful price and at the risk of war with other Powers as well as Russia, because of the cowardice of our Government and the ineptitude of our War Office.How far these qualities are hereditary in the War Office I do not stop to consider. Dr. Maguire winds up his article by stating that—Until some answer to or explanation of the facts above given be forthcoming it will be quite misleading on the part of the opponents of obligatory military service to allege that it is contrary to our traditions or to the genius of British liberty.We are promised another article by the; same writer, in which he will, he says "try to prove that obligatory military service would be a blessing to all classes of our people." Much is heard of military reorganisation, but I venture to think that no reorganisation is necessary. What is wanted is firm and effective administration. My noble friend the Prime Minister in January last said he did not think the British Constitution, as at present worked, was a good fighting machine; but I do not accept this opinion 'that the machine is to blame. I believe the British Constitution, properly worked, is a good fighting machine. Our forefathers found it effective during the great Napoleonic wars, and I hope the result of all these discussions will be a more effective administration, and that the Government will see the necessity of a little courage, a little patriotism, and a little trust in the people in the matter of home defence.
§ Moved to resolve, "That any tampering with the foundation of our existing military system by changing the constitution and character of the Reserve forces is to be deprecated."—(The Earl of Wemyss.)
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, when I first saw the notice which the noble Earl put upon the Paper was, I confess, somewhat at a loss to know what particular subjects he in- 589 tended to bring before your Lordships this evening. He announced his intention of calling attention to the Ministerial military measures. That is a rather comprehensive formula, and would have included anything, from the composition of the field forces in South Africa to the brown holland hats lately issued to the troops at Aldershot. The noble Earl has, I think, made it clear that what he desired to criticise was not the temporary, or, as they are sometimes termed emergency, measures adopted by Her Majesty's Government, but the more permanent changes which have been either embodied in Bills introduced during the present session or sketched in speeches delivered by the representatives of the War Office as measures reserved for consideration, perhaps for favourable consideration, hereafter. I am bound to say that it gave me great pleasure to hear the noble Earl tell us that with some of our military proposals he was very much in accord. I understood him to say that he approved of our proposals to add permanently to the strength of the Army. He also spoke in terms of commendation of our intension to add to the artillery; and in speaking of artillery he asked me whether he might assume that it was our intention to; supply the artillery with guns of position. I very gladly answer that question in the affirmative. I think, with him, that one of the lessons of the present campaign is that a field force should have with it a certain number of guns heavier than ordinary field artillery. As I have said more than once in your Lordships' House, if we did not possess such an equipment at the outset of this war we certainly were not singular in that respect. There was no Continental army, I believe, which had as part of its equipment, for a mobile army in the field, heavy guns of the 4.7 type, which have done such good service during the present campaign. The noble Earl may take it from me that such guns will hereafter form part of our equipment. It is also the case that a large part of the Volunteer artillery, in which he expressed so warm an interest, will be armed with guns of that type, guns which will, I need not say, be guns of the most modern type. The noble Earl expressed a decided preference for the rifle over the carbine. That is a point upon which I feel that my opinion is worth very little, but he may rest perfectly assured that it is a point which will be carefully con- 590 sidered when we are in a position to put together and digest the experience that has been acquired during the war. I may say the same with regard to telescopes, but I am glad to be able to inform the noble Earl that at a very early stage in the present campaign we did send out a considerable supply of powerful telescopes to the troops in the field. I now come to what conceive to be the gist of the Noble Earl's motion—that part of it, namely, in which he asks this House to resolve that any tampering with the foundation of our existing military system is to be deprecated. The noble Earl told us what he meant when he spoke of tampering with the Reserve forces. He mentioned several points upon which he conceived that we had tampered both with the Volunteers and with the Militia. It is perfectly true, with regard to the Militia, that we have during the present war sent out of this country to South Africa and to the Mediterranean thirty-five battalions; and I must say it seems to me that, having these troops ready to our hand, knowing that we did went them outside of this country, and that there was no particular occasion for their services at home, we should have been greatly to blame had we not used such valuable material.
§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
Hear, hear !
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE: As to the tampering with the Volunteer force which the noble Earl alleges to have taken place when we sent out a certain number of Volunteer companies to South Africa, all I can say to that is that I believe no Minister of War and no Government would have ventured to refuse the offer made by the Volunteers of this country at the outset of this campaign. I will take upon myself to say that if the noble Earl himself, with all his long connection with the Volunteer force, with all the respect which the Volunteers feel for him, had gone into the City of London when the City Imperial Volunteers were welcomed by the Chief Magistrate of this city, and had told his audience that it was tampering with the constitution of the Volunteers to send any of them to South Africa, he would not have received a very respectful hearing. As to future tampering, which the noble Earl ap- 591 prehends, he has referred at considerable length to a proposal with regard to the Militia which I put before the House the other night as a sketch of a plan which had been submitted to me, and which I said seemed to me to be worthy of favourable consideration. I mentioned on that occasion that that proposal was supported by a great number of well-known Militia officers and by many very high authorities upon Army questions. Your Lordships will recollect what the proposal was. It was simply this: that we should allow the whole of the Militia force to accept the same liability for service beyond the limits of the United Kingdom as is now accepted by the Militia Reserve. I still think that that is a hopeful proposal, and we shall certainly examine it further during the corning autumn; but it is obviously a proposal for an organic change in the constitution of the Militia. It will need to be very carefully examined in detail by Her Majesty's Government, and it will require, as the noble Earl has told your Lordships, legislation to carry it into effect. I do venture to suggest to your Lordships that it is not very useful or practical to spend our time in discussing a Bill which has not yet been drafted, but which will, of course, in due time come before Parliament.
§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
I hope this discussion will prevent its coming before Parliament.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I am afraid I can give the noble Earl's hope no encouragement whatever. The only remaining case of tampering with the Auxiliary forces which he alleged was the Volunteers Bill, which has just come back to your Lordships from the House of Commons. In the few observations I made in asking your Lordships to agree with the Commons Amendments, I pointed out that the provision which the noble Earl so keenly objects to—the provision, I mean, under which it was proposed that we might accept offers from Volunteers to serve beyond the limits of the United Kingdom—has had to be abandoned in the face of somewhat formidable criticism and the approaching end of the session. Therefore, when the noble Earl condemns and criticises that instance of tampering he is slaying the slain. That provision is no longer alive, and the only clause the Volunteer Bill 592 now contains under which an additional liability can be imposed upon the Volunteer force is the clause under which we take power to agree with a certain number of Volunteers to do duty in fortresses and other important defensive positions in time of emergency without the necessity for a previous Proclamation. I submit that that use of the Volunteer force is entirely in accordance with the principle which the noble Karl has so often advocated—namely, that the Volunteer force is intended for the defence of these islands. The remainder of the noble Earl's observations were, I think, mainly directed to the now rather well-worn question of the Militia Ballot. That question has been fully and fairly discussed in the House. The noble Earl moved the Militia Ballot Bill which was rejected by a considerable majority, and I think he is hardly justified in calling upon us to reopen the discussion on that point. I am glad to find that the noble Earl does not entirely condemn the military measures which we have adopted. As for those which are yet to be considered, I must insist that we have a right to elaborate them without any interference from such a resolution as the one the noble Earl has asked your Lordships to agree to.
§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
I shall not, of course, press the motion. My object has been gained by the speech of my noble friend, who admits that, as far as he is now advised, he favours the digging up of the foundations of our military system. All I wish to do is to enter my protest against the digging up of the foundations of a system which has served us so well, and which, by a little courage on the part of those in office, would still serve us as in the past.
§ Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.