§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ *THE EARL OF WEMYSS
My Lords, some years ago I had the honour of dining at the Royal Academy, and a very distinguished literary man was called upon to respond to the toast of "Literature." He began by asking, "What is literature?" That rather alarmed his audience, but I hope your Lordships will not be alarmed if I also preface the remarks which I propose to make upon the Militia Ballot Bill of the Government by asking, "What is conscription?" It is absolutely necessary, in considering this question of the Militia Ballot, that we should come to a clear understanding as to what conscription means, because the word is constantly misapplied. Strange to say,, those whom one would think would understand this question best are often those who misapply it most, and it really looks, as if they do so purposely in order to give the Ballot a bad name, and make it stink. in the nostrils of the people.. Let me take my noble friend the Duke of Devonshire. He is head of the Defence Committee, and. is certainly a man who ought to know what conscription means, and yet at a, dinner in honour of Mr. Balfour he made a speech in which he said: "Lord Wemyss. 189 wishes the Government to bring in a drastic measure of conscription." Now, my Lords, the last thing in the world that I wish to see established is conscription in the rightful sense of the term. It is not conscription that I want, but the ballot. Then, again, the noble Duke spoke of a "drastic measure," but the Bill of the Government, the Second Reading of which I have the high privilege of moving, is, I consider, far too drastic, and, although I trust your Lordships will read it a second time, it will have to be considerably modified in Committee. What is conscription? Conscription means that every male inhabitant of a country is compulsorily obliged to join the army of that country, and is liable in youth and early manhood, and until well on in years, to be called to arms. It is said that this system is un-English, but that is not the case. So far from being un-English, conscription in the strongest and most complete sense of the word was the system by which in the early days of English history our armies were formed. It was a conscript army that won the glorious victories of Crecy and Poitiers in the time of Edward III. Therefore conscription is not un-English in reality, because it was, as I have said, a system by which our armies were raised in the early history of our country. This system, while it has fallen into desuetude in this country, has been taken up on the Continent. It was first taken up at the end of the Eighteenth Century in France, where, I believe, it was introduced by Marshal Jourdain, and now we see the system ruling throughout the Continent from the White Sea to the Mediterranean, and from the Ural Mountains to the Straits of Dover. Yes, to the Straits of Dover, and that makes all the difference. Were it not for what Cromwell called "that ditch," and what Mr. Gladstone called the "silver streak," every one of your Lordships must admit that we, too, in this country should, like our neighbours, be under a system of complete conscription. But this "ditch" is not absolutely to be trusted. Cromwell nearly 250 years ago warned the Englishmen of his day against trusting absolutely to it. He said, "Unless you can supplement your ships with men on horseback and men on foot you will not be safe." And 200 years later—fifty years ago—Lord Palmerston, speaking in the other House in favour of the resuscitation of 190 the Militia, used very much the same language. He spoke of the necessity of resuscitating the Militia in order that we should be strong at home and be able to prevent the landing of hostile troops upon our shores, and said it was madness to trust to the navy alone, and all history showed—especially our own—how readily countries could be invaded. Everyone must feel that we should have a strong force at home, though not through conscription. My noble friend the Prime Minister, is, I notice, rather amused when the word "conscription" is mentioned, and yet he is the only public man I know of who has advocated conscription. He may, perhaps, be surprised to hear me say so; but the noble Marquess told the Primrose League that we must have for the defence of this country rifle clubs on the Swiss model. Now, what is the Swiss model? It is the most stringent conscription of any in Europe. Every man there, from youth to old age, is conscribed, and has to take up arms whenever required. My noble friend would himself escape, but in advocating that system he is hard upon his colleagues, for under it even the noble Duke the head of the Defence Committee and the Secretary of State for War would have to shoulder their muskets, learn the goose step, and, as a result of this war, learn also to burrow like rats and rabbits in the earth. But if we have not conscription we have, thanks to that "ditch," a military system which I hold to be admirably suited to our insular and Imperial position; and the foundation of that system is the Militia, which, according to the law of the land which is annually suspended, is properly raised by compulsion. By means of the Militia Ballot the right of the Crown is exercised to the military service of its subjects for home defence. What I want to consider is, what is the view and what has been the action of the Government with reference to the Militia ballot, which, as I have said, is the main principle of our military system, and upon which the defence of this country is supposed to rest? In an excellent pamphlet which has been sent to me, called "A Strong Army in a Free State," written by Mr. Coulton, there is a quotation from a speech of my noble friend the Prime Minister, delivered on 20th February this year. My noble friend is supposed to have said, with reference to the Militia 191 ballot and the discussion in this House upon it, that "we were wandering on unknown ground"; and in the same chapter I find that the Under Secretary of State for War is quoted as having in another place alluded to "conscription and military ballot, and other such new devices." Let us for a moment survey the "unknown ground." to which my noble friend refers. It was on this "unknown ground "that our forefathers stood at the beginning of the nineteenth century, when the Militia and other Forces were gathered together to resist the invasion which was then threatening. Out of that "unknown ground" sprang those Militia regiments which my noble friend Lord Blythswood referred to as being of such great service in the early part of the century, and which were referred to by the Duke of Wellington—when backing up the Militia Bill of 1852—in the highest possible terms. So much for this "unknown ground" on which we are wandering. I now come to the "new devices." They were in full operation in the early part of the last century. They found a place in the Militia Act of 1852, and these "new devices" of the Under Secretary for War, namely, the ballot, formed an integral part of the army reform proposals of Lord Cardwell in 1870. But all this is a matter of history. Let us come down to the present time, and see what the action of the Secretary of State for War has been in reference to the question of the Militia ballot, this "new device." In 1898 the subject was under the consideration of your Lordships' House, and my noble friend said that, though the country was not prepared for the ballot, it was a valuable power to have in hand, having regard to possible emergencies, and one he would not readily part with. Then the noble Marquess went on to say that legislation would be necessary, for the system was obsolete, the machinery would not work, and required to be amended and brought, to use his own words, up to date. Then in the following year the Secretary of State for War brought in a Bill, the Second Reading of which I am about to move, to make the ballot available. In 1899 this Bill lay on the Table of the House, and, as the House was told in 1898, it was meant to meet emergencies. The year 1900 was an annus mirabilis of emergencies, and yet the Bill was left derelict by its author, the Secretary of 192 State for War. I found it comatose, a foundling, on the steps of the War Office, and I have simply substituted my name on the back of it for that of the Secretary of State for War. The Bill was brought in to meet emergencies, but the Government have done what I venture to think no Government to my knowledge ever did before. I have been in Parliament since 1841, and I recollect no precedent for the course the Government have followed in introducing a measure which they said was of vital importance, and then issuing a whip to secure its rejection. That is what Her Majesty's Government have done in this case. We have read during this war of President Steyn sjamboking Boers who would not fight, but here we have a case of the Government sjamboking their party in order to induce them to throw out their own Bill. This is a policy which the ordinary Cross Bench mind cannot exactly understand. Possibly my noble friend may say there is no emergency. Why, we hear of nothing else but "emergency." Every measure that is brought in is an "emergency measure." You have emergency armies and emergency expenditure. Emergency camps have been formed for Volunteers, with emergency allowances for the wives and children of Volunteers attending camp. While this is the position, I cannot but think that "evasion" more aptly than "emergency" describes the Government measures and actions; for, instead of doing what they should do, instead of enforcing the existing system, they evade it, and by a Bill which was brought before the House a few days ago they will do much to destroy the Volunteer force by dividing it into two classes. Men who went into the force for home defence simply are now invited to become a sort of appendage, a sort of tail, to the different regiments of the Army, and in the result, when the excitement is over and has passed away, it will be found that a great evil has been done to the Volunteer force by dividing it into two classes—into "go-and-fights" and "stay-at-homes." I am sorry that the noble Viscount the Commander-in-Chief is absent from the House, as he generally is when an Army Bill is under discussion. I do not like to refer to a man's words in his absence, but he was reported to have said a few days ago at a Volunteer dinner that he hoped that in future a company of Volunteers would be attached in time of 193 war to every regiment of the Line. I hope not. If they are, the Volunteer force will, I fear, cease to be a permanent institution in our military system such as it ought to be. The Government, instead of enforcing and perfecting the old military system, have thus, as regards the Volunteers, destroyed it. When my noble friend the Secretary of State for War laid his Bill on the Table in 1899 there was no emergency, all was quiet; but since then war has arisen, the "emergency" is there. Why then does he not proceed with his Militia Ballot "Emergency" Bill? The answer is plain—a dissolution, not in sight in 1899, is, we are told, not far distant now. There is nothing in what I am saying that should offend the Government, because we are perpetually reminded by them that the Militia Bill is most unpopular, and that the nation hates the idea of conscription and all that sort of thing. Now, my Lords, is this the case? The Government, in their emergency measures, are trading on the patriotism of Volunteers, begging them to become soldiers, but they absolutely ignore the patriotism of the country, and they say that the people of this country would not stand the existing law being put in force even for the defence of their hearths and homes. I am sure that is a libel on the people of this country, and that any Government which had the courage and manliness to speak out and submit this modified form of service for home defence only, would meet with ready response. I may be wrong, but that is my conviction. For nearly forty years I have been working and agitating this question, and wherever I have spoken in any public place of the desirability of having a modified form of compulsory service for home defence, I have met with unanimous support. Such was the view of a meeting of artisans on the Shaftesbury Estate, whom I addressed in 1875, on the occasion of their forming a Volunteer company. And how do we stand in the year 1900? What is the feeling on the subject at the present moment on the part of what I may call the intelligent portion of the community? Here I can speak with accurate data, for I hold in my hand a circular which was addressed to Lords Lieutenant, High Sheriffs, chairmen of quarter sessions, chairmen and vice-chairmen of county councils, mayors, provosts, and presi- 194 dents of chambers of commerce and of chambers of agriculture. This circular contained two questions, the first being as regards our present military system—Are you of opinion that such a state of things should be allowed to continue; and that the safety of the United Kingdom—and all that implies—should be dependent upon the patriotic, self-sacrificing action of a half-rained Volunteer force—held subject only to fourteen days' notice to quit?There were 353 replies to that question, in 75 per cent. of which the answer was. "no." The circular proceeded to explain what the Militia Ballot was and how it might be applied—not in the drastic form proposed in my noble friend's Bill, but in a modified form. It was suggested that the Ballot law would be sufficient for its purpose if modified, so that instead of applying to all men between eighteen and thirty-five (as the law now stands) it would be sufficient that once in a man's life, on attaining the age of nineteen or twenty, he should have to take his chance of the Ballot, and, if struck, serve for say two years in the Militia and say seven in the Militia Reserve. The second question asked was—Are you of opinion that such a modified form of compulsory service, with the above exemptions, for Home Defence only is right and reasonable, and ought to be readily accepted by the people?Out of the 353 replies the majority was two to one in favour of such modified form of compulsory service. Therefore I believe that all this talk about the unpopularity of the Militia Ballot for service at home is all rubbish. If we could only get a Government—I have not seen one yet—who had the courage to state their convictions, how much stronger they would be! I am perfectly certain that if your Lordships simply followed the dictates of your inner consciousness you could not but give a similar answer to that which has been given by all the authorities in the counties and towns of Great Britain to whom I have referred. I therefore trust that—sjambok or no sjambok—your Lordships will support the Second Reading of this Bill, and in supporting it remember this, that you are not voting for the application of the ballot. You are only voting for what the Secretary of State told us two years ago was essential—namely, that this Power, which has become obsolete and out of date, should be brought into working order. That is all this Bill does, and I dare denial on that point. 195 Although the times may not be alarming they are anxious, and I will tell your Lordships why. When some six or eight months ago I was advocating and pressing upon my noble friend the Secretary of State for War the advisability of having a Volunteer Reserve—an ideal thing, which they have actually botched at the War Office by the way they have dealt with it—I received a letter from an English military attaché abroad. He said in his letter:—I am glad to see you are agitating for a Volunteer Reserve, for, believe me, it is essential that England should be invulnerable and strong in the month of November.The Paris Exhibition will then be over, and I have heard that the Naval authorities in the Mediterranean hold absolutely the same opinion. I pass from this military attaché to a greater authority, and I read in a remarkable speech, that was made not long ago, this sentence—It is not necessarily because in themselves they are more important, but if you look round you you will see that the elements and causes of menace and peril are, though slowly, accumulating, and may accumulate to such a point as to require our most earnest and active effort to repel them.Those are the words of the Prime Minister addressing the Primrose League. Then on 12th February my noble friend Lord Kimberley, who is so much respected in this House, and who always talks the very best and soundest sense, said—All around us there was a temper displayed by our neighbours which should make everyone pause and reflect upon the position in which we find ourselves.Therefore, you have these great authorities saying that if this is not a time of peril it is a time of anxiety; and no man with his eyes and ears open, and knowing anything of the state of things as regards our armaments, can fail to see that it is desirable that England should be strong at all times, because, if she is strong her Foreign Minister is powerful for good, and if weak he is not. I venture to hope that something will be done to strengthen our home defence, and I would appeal to the independence and patriotism of your Lordships to cast aside all personal and party considerations and vote for what you conscientiously believe to be right and necessary in this matter. If you think that our military system requires that the Bill should be passed I trust you will vote freely and boldly for it. The safety of the nation should be taken out 196 of the domain of party. Foreign affairs and Imperial questions are in the main so dealt with. But where would these be—where would the Empire itself be if it is weak at the heart and we are vulnerable at home?
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(The Earl of Wemyss.)
§ EARL COWPER
My Lords, I do not think my noble friend need have wasted any words in urging us to consider this question not from a party point of view, but from the point of view of the interests of the country. I am sure we shall all do that. For my own part, I have never, even in former days, been in any way taken with the idea of compulsory service, however small or however large. I will not stop to draw the line of difference between conscription and ballot and the present Bill; they each depend, to a larger or less degree, on compulsion, and we have always looked upon compulsion in this country as a thing not to be resorted to unless it can be proved to be absolutely necessary. If such has been my opinion till now, I cannot say that the events—the momentous events—of the past year—one of the most trying years we have ever gone through—have in the least degree altered my opinion. The one thing that is looked upon with most satisfaction at home, and which foreign nations cannot help admiring, is the magnificent way in which last December, when the country was in difficulties, and serious complications with foreign countries were possible, the whole nation rose to the occasion. All classes of the community volunteered for service, and it was felt that if ten times the number of Volunteers were wanted, ten times the number would be forthcoming. Not only the upper and the lower classes, who have always fought for their country, but also the great middle class, who are, generally speaking, left out in the cold because they furnish neither officers nor men, proved that they, too, were endowed with patriotic feeling and were ready to die for their country. With such an exhibition before us of the facilities for getting Volunteers whenever we want them there is less reason than ever for resorting to compulsion in order to fill up our ranks, and I think it would be almost a slight upon these gallant men to im- 197 mediately bring in a Bill for compulsion. My noble friend has endeavoured to draw a distinction between defensive and offensive operations. I do not think he would mind having conscription for all purposes, but he does not press for that; he only proposes conscription for the defence of the country. But is it for home defence that we are most likely to want men? In all that has been written and said on the defence of our shores in case of invasion, those have had the best of the argument who have affirmed that as long as we have the command of the sea—and we all admit that when we once lose the command of the sea we are altogether done for—or, at any rate, as long as no other country has command of the sea, it will be absolutely impossible to land an army of any appreciable size upon our chores. I will not press that point, because I know it is disputed, and it is said that we must have something else to fall back upon. Behind the Navy we have our troops and Militia at home, and an excellent and glorious force of Volunteers, which has now attained to such perfection and numbers—so many thousands of men—a force which the Government have expressed their intention of endeavouring, if possible, to increase and to bring to an even higher state of efficiency. That force must, on the whole—in spite of the Bill to which the noble Earl on the Cross Benches so much objected, and which I supported the other night and see no harm in—be a defensive force, because nine-tenths of the Volunteers have no intention whatever of ever going outside the country, and enlist entirely for purposes of defence. It appears to me that where we might be in difficulties is not in defending our own shores, but in defending our world-wide Empire beyond the seas. We may have to send troops at any moment to any part of the world; and in that matter this Bill will not help us in the smallest degree. If we are to have conscription, let us have it for what we want it for, and not for what we do not want it for. If the Government, after carefully considering the whole position, were to bring forward a scheme of this kind, I should say that we were bound to support it whatever our individual feelings may be. But the Government do not want this scheme, and for the House of Lords to try and force it upon them is preposterous. The only excuse there can be for passing 198 this Bill is that it does not much matter what opinion we express in the House of Lords; but I think we ought always to keep before ourselves the idea—the imaginary idea if you like to put it so—that if we vote for a thing it will have some effect. I consider that the only effect this would have, if acted upon, would be a bad effect, and, if not acted upon, it would bring the House into disrepute. I hope that my noble friend will not press for a division, but if he does I trust your Lordships will throw the Bill out by a substantial majority.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, I have sat for such a short time in this House that it may be thought unfitting that I should express astonishment at anything that occurs here; but I must own that I am filled not with astonishment but with amazement at the conduct of the noble Marquess, the Secretary of State for War. Last year the noble Marquess presented a Bill which was identically the same as the Bill brought in by my noble friend Lord Wemyss; he argued in favour of his Bill to the best of his ability, and now we are asked, I might almost say we are driven down to the House and ordered, to vote against it. I fancy I am not wrong in assuming that this is a very unusual circumstance in your Lordships' House. I do not know what arguments the noble Marquess is going to employ to-day, but if I chose I could adduce very strong arguments in favour of the Bill now being discussed by merely quoting from the noble Marquess's speech of last year. I will, however, content myself by saying that, having had an opportunity of considering the Government's proposals for home defence and the proposal which has been made by the noble Earl, I emphatically prefer the latter. I do not wish to do the noble Marquess any injustice, because I am sure everyone will admit that he has had the interests of his Department at heart as much as, if not more than, any of this predecessors. But the Government's proposals, for which he is responsible, are based upon conjecture, upon invitation, upon appeals, and upon the somewhat artless assumption that the present military enthusiasm will last indefinitely. Nothing new is suggested, except it be the suggestion of the Prime Minister that the ladies of the Primrose League should under take the defence of the country. At all events, the proposal of 199 the noble Earl has the merit of being a definite, a practical, and, to my mind, a sound proposal. There is, I presume, no doubt as to the value of our Militia. I take it that one of the lessons of the present war has been to demonstrate that after the Regular Army the Militia is much the most valuable asset we possess. Although considerably below its strength the Militia has been able to provide between 20,000 and 30,000 men for South Africa. Those battalions, if I mistake not, went out as separate units under their own officers. Could the other branches of the Auxiliary Forces have done the same? It is perfectly clear that they could have done nothing of the kind. The Volunteers cannot be compared to the Militia in regard to value, and under those circumstances one would have supposed that the Government would have welcomed any opportunity for increasing so valuable a force. Instead of that we are asked to vote against the rational and common-sense proposal of the noble Earl. This is not the first time that this proposal has been discussed during the present session, and we are familiar with the arguments made use of against it. The last time the subject was discussed the noble Marquess the Prime Minister said he had heard that there was a possibility of the youth of this country flying in shoals from our shores and taking refuge in America and elsewhere, where conscription did not prevail. The Secretary of State did not go so far as that. He held that it would be extremely unwise to make any radical changes in our military system until after the war was over; but the long and the short of those arguments was that the country would not stand such a measure. What steps have been taken to ascertain the opinion of the country in this respect? How can the noble Marquess or anyone else know that the country will not stand it? My firm belief is that if the proposal had been made when the House met it would not have been discounted by the electors, but would have been recognised as a more or less painful necessity. Of course if the proposals in this Bill are described in exaggerated language, and unfair comparisons with conscription as it prevails in foreign countries are made, it is not unnatural that the proposals should be unpopular; but the noble Earl does not suggest the expatriation of the 200 British youth to Wei-hai-wei, Fashoda, or the other side of the globe. His. proposal simply is that a limited portion of the population should ballot, and, if the worst comes to the worst, should be called upon to do some eight or nine months military training in the course of their lives. This extremely modified form of compulsion is generally denounced as "un-English." I have but a vague idea of the meaning of that word, but I suppose it means something discreditable-All I can say is that it is very much more discreditable that by far the greater portion of the able bodied men in this country should deliberately shirk their duty as citizens, and that of the male population between the ages of twenty-five and forty not one in ten should discharge the most elementary form of military duty. This is the result of strict adherence—I might almost say slavish adherence—to the Volunteer system. My chief objection to the Government emergency scheme is that it merely amplifies and exaggerates this unsatisfactory and antiquated system. The Government's proposals really amount to this, that the miserably small minority who are now taking the burden of national defence on their shoulders are to do double as much, treble as much, four times as much as they have in the past. I am not ashamed to admit that in common with the noble Earl I feel that one of the first duties of the citizen of a civilised state is to take some share in defending his home and property, and I would go as far as to say that in my view this obligation is almost as great as the obligation to pay rates and taxes. There is, at all events, one point on which both parties will agree, and that is that we ought to show to the world that there is nothing to be gained by attacking us; but we are doing precisely the reverse. Every day we see our responsibilities and our liabilities increase, although I believe that when Ministers come into office they are determined that, as far as they are concerned, not one inch shall be added to the Empire. I have no doubt that when he took office in 1880 Mr. Gladstone never, in his wildest dreams, thought that he would saddle this country with the occupation of Egypt and the Soudan. I doubt also whether the noble Marquess thought he would find it necessary to annex the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, or to enter upon a Chinese expedition. Yet this is what is happening. Every day we see 201 our Empire increasing, and the chance of hostilities with our neighbours increasing also. For my part I intend to support the Bill, because it seems to me to be contrary to common sense not to adjust our military system in accordance with the conditions of the times. I do not for a moment anticipate that the noble Earl will be successful, but I would urge upon him, although it is quite unnecessary for me to do so, that even if he should be defeated to-day, he should continue putting forward his project, in season and out of season, until more rational views prevail.
*THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (The Marquess of LANSDOWNE)
My Lords, I have had occasion to address your Lordships not infrequently upon this subject, and I think I can certainly trust my memory when I say that on no one of those occasions have I ever objected to the proposal of the noble Earl on the ground that there was anything un English about the ballot; nor was anything of the sort suggested by my noble friend who sits behind me. My noble friend recommended your Lordships not to vote for the motion, on the ground that it was inopportune at the present time; and the question is, are we justified, situated as we are at present, in adopting this proposal? It is, of course, for your Lordships to decide how you will deal with the measure; but, speaking on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, I claim that it is for us to say whether we think this Bill should be persevered with at the present time, and I trust that that issue will not be obscured by the eloquence and the epigrams of the noble Earl on the Cross Benches, The noble Earl gave to the House what purported to be an historical account of the origin of the Bill; but it was not a complete account. May I remind your Lordships of the origin of the Bill and of the manner in which the question has been dealt with by Her Majesty's Government? In the year 1898, when the noble Earl brought the matter to your Lordships' attention, I admitted to him and to your Lordships that, in my opinion, the existence of the Militia ballot was of vital importance to the military system of this country. I said that nothing would induce me to part with that great reserve of power; and I also added that the machinery of the ballot was, in my belief, of a more or 202 less obsolete character and required revision. I therefore promised to have that machinery examined, and if the result of that examination justified such a course, to introduce a Bill; but I remember distinctly saying—and that is the chapter of history the noble Earl left out—that her Majesty's Government were not to be understood as pledging themselves either to have recourse to the ballot or to pass a ballot Bill through the Houses of Parliament in that or any other session. I kept my promise. The machinery of the ballot was examined,, and the result of the examination went to show that it was by no means so obsolete or unintelligible as had been supposed; and in 1899 I introduced a Bill into your Lordships' House. It has been suggested by the noble Lord who spoke last that we have changed our minds. I say we have not changed, our minds. 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 an intention to pass that measure, and there consequently never was an abandonment of such an intention. Then, at the beginning of this session, in the month of February, the noble Earl came down to your Lordships' House and proclaimed the existence of an emergency and called upon us to introduce the ballot. It is true that on the very evening on which the discussion took place he altered the terms of his motion, but we all remember his speech. It proceeded much on the lines of that to which we have just listened, and it was clearly an appeal to the House to decide that for the purpose of meeting the immediate military necessities of this country we should resort to the ballot. On this occasion the noble Earl has appropriated our Bill, and has asked your Lordships to read it a second time, but he has done so with a remarkable expression of his own opinion. He has circulated a paper in which he tells us that enlightened, patriotic public opinion is prepared to accept—what? Not the Bill of Her Majesty's Government, which he is now moving, but another Bill enacting a, modified form of compulsory Militia service, as described in an accompanying Paper. When we turn to the accompanying Paper we find a measure sketched out entirely different from that introduced by Her Majesty's Government last year. It 203 is a measure based on the assumption that every man in this kingdom at the age of nineteen or twenty is to take his chance in the ballot to serve two years in the Militia, and perhaps seven years in the Militia Reserve. It is a totally different Bill.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Possibly—but it is totally different in principle. But that is not the only point on which the conduct of the noble Earl seems to be somewhat remarkable. The matter was, in his belief, one of extreme urgency in February last. We are now in July. During that long interval the noble Earl has been marking time, and now, after six months, he produces a Bill, not the Bill he would like to see in the statute book, but a Bill which, according to his own showing, does not meet the requirements of the situation. I submit there are two questions which, as practical men of business, we have to consider. The first is—is there the remotest chance of passing this Bill into law during the present session? I cannot conceive that any one will say there is any such chance. The other question is this—supposing that you were to press it through both Houses, would it help you in the least to meet that emergency upon the gravity of which the noble Earl has dwelt in such forcible terms? Your Lordships should clearly understand that the noble Earl advocates this Bill as an improvement upon, or as a substitute for, the emergency measures of Her Majesty's Government; and I say fearlessly that, if his measure or our measures deserve to be characterised by the epithet which he bestowed upon our measures the other evening, it is his measure and not the measures to which we have had recourse. How long would it take the noble Earl, supposing this Bill were to pass, to raise 20,000, or 30,000, or 40,000 men for the Militia? How long would it take him to arm them, to equip them, to provide them with the necessary officers, and to incorporate them in our military cadres? I venture to think that months would pass before a single man, under the measure which the noble Earl has advocated, would be fit to be placed in the fighting line. The noble Earl has ridiculed the measures of Her Majesty's 204 Government, and I do not think they were spoken of very respectfully by the noble Lord who spoke from the back benches (Lord Newton). The noble Earl suggested that everything depends upon the strength of our home defences. The noble Lord on the back benches said that all our measures have rested upon conjecture.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I differ entirely. Take the Royal Reserve battalions. We have got at this moment over 20,000 men, whom I will not describe, but as to whom I should like to quote a sentence from a minute of the Commander-in-Chief. This is what the Commander-in-Chief says of the Royal Reserve battalions—As regards the conduct and bearing of those old soldiers who have responded to the Queen's appeal, I have just received reports from eight of the eleven general officers commanding districts in which they are quartered. These reports uniformly describe their bearing, appearance, and conduct as in every way satisfactory, and state that they are likely to be of good value for service at home.The Commander-in-Chief goes on to speak of them as—A force of about 24,000 disciplined and trained soldiers, whose presence in the country was and is an invaluable addition to its defensive strength.There is no conjecture about that. There is a certain amount of conjecture about the proposal of the noble Earl. These are soldiers whom we have got, and who are spoken of in these terms by the highest military authority in this country. In addition to those we have made very fair progress with the new permanent battalions which we are raising. We have about 5,000 men already. We have about 6,000 men in the newly-raised batteries of the Royal Artillery. I do not think there is any conjecture or imagination about them. As something was said with regard to our treatment of the Volunteers, I trust I may be pardoned if I quote a few words from the report of the Inspector-General of Auxiliary Forces, who has lately had occasion to inspect a large number of those emergency camps to which the noble Earl referred. This is what he says—I have this month inspected in camp four-teen Volunteer and nine Militia battalions. 205 The improvement which has taken place in both branches from being in camp for prolonged periods is very marked indeed. The behaviour of the men has been excellent. The Volunteers have for the first time been given an opportunity of making themselves really efficient, and they have readily grasped it. 202 battalions out of 217 have applied to come into special camp, exclusive of Volunteer Artillery and Engineers. The battalions of Volunteers which I have seen have come into camp in large numbers, and I have been greatly struck by the improvement which has taken place in every battalion at the end of its fourteen days in camp. The measure of bringing the Volunteers into camp has so far been a remarkable success.That, again, is a measure about which there is no conjecture, but a great deal of solid fact. With respect to the Militia, we are certainly not prepared to take any action which might be interpreted in the country as a suggestion that we look to the ballot as the proper means of meeting the exceptional military pressure to which we have been subjected this year; I earnestly hope, however, that your Lordships will not suppose that we desire to shirk what I would call the Militia problem. On the contrary, we regard the future of the Militia as, I would almost say, the most important of the questions of Army reorganisation with which it will be our duty to deal. If there had been any tendency on our part to treat that force with indifference I think the manner in which it has lately come forward would have made it impossible for us, even if we had desired to do so, to neglect its interests in the future. But noble Lords who are interested in the Militia may say to me, "If you have got a complete plan for dealing with the Militia why do you not disclose it in this House?" I trust your Lordships will think that I am not unreasonable when I say that it would be impossible for us at this time to present to Parliament a full and complete scheme for dealing with the Militia. The question of Militia organisation is so closely and intimately connected with that of Army organisation that it is impossible to deal thoroughly with the Militia question without touching upon those organic changes with which it is well understood that it is not our intention or our duty to proceed during the present session. The time of Parliament does not permit it, and there are distinguished soldiers now serving out of the country the benefit of whose experience we should endeavour to reap. Those are, 206 to my mind, sufficient reasons for not precipitately touching these problems of Army organisation; but I have no wish to adopt in regard to the Militia what might seem to your Lordships dilatory tactics. If I may, I should like to describe some of the measures affecting the Militia with regard to which our mind is made up and which we see our way to adopting in the immediate future, leaving for further discussion and consideration other measures, which, for the reasons I gave just now, must stand over for the present. I may remind your Lordships, in the first place, that we have already made certain concessions to the force which, I believe, have been well received. We have given the Militia messing allowance during training. We have appointed at the headquarters of the Army a high officer whose special duty is to attend to the Auxiliary forces, and who will be assisted in regard to Militia matters by an officer having experience of that force. We have given to the Militia battalions, for the first time, regimental transport to the extent of five vehicles per battalion and a certain number of horses. Then I come to the question of the clothing of the Militia. I am sorry that my noble friend the Duke of Bedford, who called attention to this matter so pointedly the other evening, is not here to-day. I promised the noble Duke that I would make inquiry into the subject, and I admit that as a result of the inquiries I have made I am satisfied that in the matter of clothing we have allowed what I suppose I might call considerations of frugality to prevail rather too much, and that clothing has sometimes been issued to the Militia which one could scarcely ask a British soldier to wear without some injury to his feelings of self-respect. I am prepared to say that action will betaken without loss of time to remedy that grievance, and although I would rather not go into matters of detail I will say that I will undertake that in the future clothing shall be issued to the force under conditions which will make it impossible for any colonel of Militia to make such a complaint as that which was made by the noble Duke the other evening. Then we have paid a good deal of attention to the instruction of Militia officers. We have prepared a scheme under which Militia officers will be given much more frequent opportunities of attending 207 courses of instruction, and that under conditions which will avoid their being put to any private expense during the course of their attendance. I hope we may also be able to do something to add to the efficiency of Militia non-commissioned officers, by which I do not mean the permanent staff, but those of non-commissioned officers who belong to the Militia. They require a larger amount of training than they get, and I hope we shall be able to arrange that they shall receive that training and that the terms on which they will receive it will be such as to render them willing and ready to submit to it. I will say one word on a much vexed question, the question of the training of Militia recruits. I have discovered a very remarkable divergence of opinion with regard to that subject; it is one of those cases in which undoubtedly there is a very great deal to be said on both sides. The complaint, as I understand it, is this—that when the Militia recruit is taken to the depôt his training is neglected by the depôt staff, that he has too heavy fatigues imposed upon him, and, above all, that, owing to the practice of training these men at the depôt, a good deal of what may be conveniently described as poaching goes on—the man who goes to the depôt as a Militia recruit being annexed for the Line by the depôt officer. On the other hand there are certain advantages which the depôt undoubtedly possesses It is there to receive a man at any time and give him his training at the season of the year most convenient to himself, he can be clothed and equipped at once, and he has the advantage of instruction by a permanent staff which I should be inclined to say was better qualified than the permanent staff of the battalion. I can only indicate, in regard to this measure, the direction in which our mind is moving. I hope we shall be able to increase the length of the training undergone by the Militia recruits. These young men join at a time when they are not settled down in life, and probably the addition of two or three months to their period of training would not be regarded as a hardship. If that be done, as it probably will, it is our intention that that portion of the training which takes place with the battalion should be increased, while with regard to that portion of it which might still be undergone at the depôt, I think we might meet some of the complaints which have been made by 208 arranging that one or more Militia officers should be attached to the depôt for the purpose of watching over the interests of the men belonging to their own battalion. Those seem to me to be measures calculated to meet some of the objections to which we have listened. Then I wish to say one word in regard to the most important question of the conditions of service of the Militia and the bounties paid to the Militiamen. A scheme has been put before us and considered under which the whole of the Militia might be allowed to accept liability for service abroad, under which, in consideration of their assuming that liability, the bounties might be considerably increased, with the further condition that the Militia Reserve, which is so unpopular in the estimation of Militia officers, should be put an end to altogether, the whole force accepting, he same liability as that under which the Militia Reserve now serves. That is, I must say, a scheme which, to my mind, possesses a great many attractions, and I believe—we have reason to know it—that it is acceptable to a very large number of Militia officers. Whether it would be equally acceptable to the rank and file of the Militia is, perhaps, a matter of conjecture; we only know that the men are very ready to join the existing Militia Reserve, and it seems not unlikely that, in consideration of a higher bounty, they would be ready as a force to accept the same liability as that of the present Militia Reservists. I know that such a scheme has been advocated in this House by a noble Lord whoso knowledge of Army matters and whose caution in dealing with them will not be questioned—I mean Lord Northbrook. And I know that when Lord Northbrook made the suggestion he was followed by the noble Earl the leader of the Opposition, who expressed himself in decided terms against any proposal calculated to alter the conditions of service of the Militia force—I mean those conditions under which they are at present liable to serve only within the limits of the United Kingdom. That would, of course, be a very momentous and far-reaching change, and I am not ashamed to tell your Lordships that we must take time to consider it. I have gone into it rather fully for this reason, that it is very closely indeed connected with the question which has been raised by the noble Earl this evening. We none of us, 209 I think, have ever contemplated that there should be compulsion in any shape or form except for service within the limits of the United Kingdom, and it would follow that if the kind of change were made which I adumbrated just now, if the whole of the Militia were to be regarded as liable on an emergency to serve outside the limits of the United Kingdom, you would place the ballot in an infinitely more remote position in the background of military politics than it occupies at the present time. I trust, therefore, your Lordships do not think what I have said in regard to this proposal is irrelevant to the subject we are now discussing. While these matters are still under consideration I do not think we are unreasonable when we ask your Lordships not to proceed further with a Ballot Bill. If it is possible that the conditions of service for the whole force may be changed, if, again, it is possible that the removal of some of those grievances of which we have heard so much should have the result of again filling the ranks of the Militia, the necessity for the ballot will diminish or will disappear; and I therefore think that, far from being, as has been suggested by the noble Earl, illogical and inconsistent be- cause, having introduced this Bill last year, we do not press on with it at present, we are taking the only course which logic and consistency dictate for us. As to the argument of the noble Earl on the Cross Benches, there seem to me, if I may be allowed to say so, to be two weak points in his position. One of them is his inability to recognise any merit in any measures except those which he has him self initiated; the other weak point is this, I think he altogether underrates the dislike with which compulsion in any form, even in the modest form which he advocates, is regarded by the people of this country.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I know it, among other things, from this, that when I introduced this Bill last year- -and the Bill did 'not really bring us
§ a yard nearer to compulsion-I was inundated with remonstrances from all parts of the United Kingdom, proceeding from people who believed that even that short step carried them nearer to the thing they abhorred. This is felt very strongly, and I do not think the Prime Minister used language of exaggeration last year when he said that at this moment an attempt to revert to the ballot would create consternation in every cottage in this country. For these reasons I would say to your Lordships that while if it could be shown that resort to the ballot could be proved to be an absolute necessity we ought to sit here until Christmas in order to pass it, under present circumstances we shall only be creating a false impression and wasting the time of Parliament if we vote with the noble Earl for the Second Heading of this Bill. I propose to ask your Lordships, therefore, to vote on the previous question.
§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
Before your Lordships vote on this Bill I wish, in justice to myself, to put clearly before the House the question on which you are going to vote. I deny that my history, as my noble friend has suggested, was incomplete. The noble Marquess in 1898 said that the machinery of the ballot was obsolete at that time, and that if used at all it would have to be brought up to date. In 1899 my noble friend brought in this Bill, but it is not to impose the ballot, although I myself would be prepared to see that done to-morrow, because I believe we shall never have a satisfactory state of things in an emergency unless we have the courage to enforce the existing law. That, however, is not what we are going to vote on, but on the question that the obsolete machinery should be brought up to date. This is a vital question, and if I can get a teller I shall divide the House.
§ The previous Question was put, whether I the original Question be now put.
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 31; Not Contents, 90.211
|Abercorn M. (D. Abercorn.)||Hardwicke. E.||Hardinge, V.|
|Manvers, E.||Ardilaun, L.|
|Abingdon, E.||Sandwich, E.||Blythswood, L.|
|Carlisle, E.||Temple, E.||Crofton, L.|
|De L'Isle and Dudley, L.||Monckton, L. (V. Galway.)||Sherborne, L.|
|De Saumarez, L.||Mostyn, L.||Sinclair, L.|
|Fairlie, L. (E. Glasgow.)||Napier, L.||Stanmore, L.|
|Forester, L.||Newton, L.||Suffield, L.|
|Harlech, L.||Raglan, L.||Templemore, L.|
|Headley, L.||St. Levan, L.||Wemyss, L. (E. Wemyss.) [Teller]|
|Manners of Haddon, L. (M. Granby.) [Teller.]||Scarsdale, L.|
|Canterbury, L. Abp.||Morley, E.||Digby, L.|
|Halsbury, E. (L. Chancellor.)||Mount Edgcumbe, E.||Erskine, L.|
|Devonshire, D. (L. President.)||Onslow, E,||Farrer, L.|
|Cross, V. (L. Privy Seal.)||Powis, E.||Fermanagh, L. (E. Erne.)|
|Romney, E.||Glanusk, L.|
|Beaufort, D.||Rosse, E.||Grey de Ruthyn, L.|
|Grafton, D.||Shaftesbury, E.||Harris, L.|
|Northumberland, D.||Spencer, E.||Hawkesbury, L.|
|Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.)||Hay, L. (E. Kinnoul.)|
|Camden, M.||Waldegrave, E. [Teller.]||Herries, L.|
|Hertford, M.||Yarborough, E.||Hylton, L.|
|Lansdowne, M||James, L.|
|Salisbury, M.||Clancarty, V. (E. Clancarty.)||Kenmare, L. (E. Kenmare.)|
|Winchester, M.||Frankfort de Montmorency, V.||Kinnaird, L.|
|Gordon, V. (E. Aberdeen.)||Lawrence, L.|
|Pembroke and Montgomery, E. (L. Steward.)||Llandaff, V.||Leigh, L.|
|Portman, V.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Muncaster, L.|
|Chesterfield, E||Winchester, L. Bp.||Reay, L.|
|Clarendon, E.||Robertson, L.|
|Coventry, E.||Aberdare, L.||Russell of Killowen, L.|
|Cowper, E.||Alverstone, L.||Sandhurst, L.|
|Dartmouth, E.||Ashcombe, L.||Saye and Sele, L.|
|Denbigh, E.||Bagot, L.||Stewart of Garlies, L. (E. Galloway)|
|Egerton, E.||Brampton, L.|
|Feversham, E.||Brougham and Vaux, L.||Thring, L.|
|Haddington, E.||Calthorpe, L.||Tredegar, L.|
|Jersey, E.||Cheylesmore, L.||Wandsworth, L.|
|Kimberley, E.||Churchill, L. [Teller.]||Wantage, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Clonbrock, L.||Welby, L.|
|Lindsey, E.||Colchester, L.||Windsor, L.|
|Lucan, E.||Cranworth, L.||Wrottesley, L.|
|Mansfield, E.||De Mauley, L.|