HL Deb 28 June 1900 vol 84 cc1279-85

House in Committee (on re-commitment)(according to Order).

Clause agreed to.

Clause 2:—


said that after the debate which took place on the Second Reading of the Bill* it would only be necessary for him to summarise in a very few words the objections that were then taken to the proposal of the noble Marquess that Volunteers should subject * For Debate on Second Heading, see The Parliamentary Debates [Fourth Series], Vol. lxxxiii., page 1419. For proceedings in Committee, see page 577 of the present volume. themselves beforehand to the liability of foreign service whenever the Secretary of State thought fit to ask for their services. It was pointed out on that occasion by the noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition that in point of fact what the noble Marquess proposed to do by this clause was to turn a certain number of Volunteers into Army Reservists. In saying that, the noble Earl rather understated his case, because in the case of the Army Reservist certain circumstances had to occur before he could be called upon to rejoin the ranks, but according to this Bill the Volunteer was under the obligation to join the ranks and go to the front whenever the Secretary of State thought fit. The Volunteer, therefore, was in a worse position as regarded liability for foreign service than the ordinary Army Reservist. One objection which had been taken to the Bill was that it divided Volunteers into two perfectly distinct classes—namely, combatants and non-combatants He did not know whether he need labour the point as to the disadvantage of persons serving side by side as Volunteers in two different categories. The noble Marquess himself struck out the proviso that the Bill should only apply to Volunteers who entered after it had passed, on the ground that it was extremely undesirable that there should be two classes of Volunteers serving side by side. Another noble Lord (the Earl of Derby) mentioned the analogy of the Militia Reserve, and said that in his experience no friction whatever had arisen from Militia and Militia Reserve serving together. His information was entirely contrary. He was told that, in some battalions at all events, the Militia Reserve gave themselves perfectly intolerable airs of superiority, and that the esprit de corps to a certain extent suffered. One objection which he would urge had reference to recruits. It might very possibly be that public opinion would be in such a state that no young man would be able to join the Volunteers as a non-combatant, and therefore a number would probably refrain from joining at all. If the provisions of the Bill were carried into effect, the noble Marquess would not add one single willing recruit to the Army. Under present conditions a Volunteer who wanted to go to the front found it possible to do so. The noble Marquess said he wanted to know beforehand on how many men he could rely. But we did not generally send out Volunteers at the beginning of a campaign, and he should have thought that the noble Marquess would have had plenty of time to find out, when occasion arose, how many Volunteers he was likely to have at his disposal. It was impossible that the noble Marquess should know for certain on how many Volunteers he could rely, because a Volunteer could always get rid of his obligations at fourteen days notice. It had been said that a great many commanding officers of Volunteers had been consulted, and that they were mostly in favour of the change. There was, however, undoubtedly a great difference among commanding officers on this subject. He thought that in choosing a moment of popular excitement the Government had chosen a very unfortunate time for making a change in the constitution of the Volunteer forces.

Amendment moved— In Clause 2, page 1, lines 10 and 11, to leave out 'to one or both of the following liabilities.' "—(Lord Monkswell.)


I understood that the noble Lord was prevented by accident from moving his Amendment when this Bill was passing through the Committee stage, and I therefore very readily recommitted it in order to give him an opportunity of raising the point in which he is interested. But I am bound to say that his Amendment does seem to me to be one which is directed at the principle of the Bill. I do not mean to say that there is nothing in the Bill but this clause. But this is by far the most important provision of the Bill, and those of your Lordships who did me the honour of listening to my statement when I introduced the measure can scarcely have failed to see that it was to this provision of the Bill above all the rest that I attached importance. We think it most necessary that Volunteers should have the power of entering beforehand into an agreement to serve on occasion beyond the limits of the United Kingdom. I am almost ashamed to repeat the argument which I have used before in this House, but I must again remind the House of the inconvenience to which the War Office was put, and to which the Volunteers themselves were put upon a recent occasion when, at the last moment, a considerable number of members of the force signified their desire to accept service in South Africa. We know that some, at all events, of the Volunteers are anxious and ready to accept this liability; we know that in a great number of cases the commanding officers of Volunteer corps do not object to the men under their command accepting the liability, and we know that the arrangement is one which will relieve the War Office of pressure at a moment when pressure is already heavy. With regard to the attitude of commanding officers of Volunteer corps I have only to say that when this Bill was first under consideration we took steps to consult a considerable number of Volunteer colonels in different parts of the kingdom, and we gathered from them that they are not opposed to the principle of the clause which the noble Earl wishes to omit. I have within the last few days again consulted a number of Volunteer officers connected with that well-known institution, the Institute of Commanding Officers of Volunteers, and from them also I gather that they are in favour of this provision, provided always that care is taken not to organise this class of Volunteers into separate companies within their corps, or to give them any outward mark by which they would be distinguished from their comrades in arms. I cannot help thinking that the apprehension expressed by the noble Lord opposite is somewhat exaggerated. We are told that if there are two classes of Volunteers there will be jealousy, and that those who do not accept the wider liability will be looked askance upon by their comrades. During the last few months we have seen the Yeomanry provide a certain number of men for service in South Africa, but is it the case that the other Yeomen who did not offer themselves as volunteers but remained at home have been looked askance upon by their comrades? I have heard nothing of the sort, and I do not believe it. It seems to me the most natural tiring in the world that in a Volunteer corps there should be young men, unmarried and with, perhaps, no particular business occupation, who would be ready and glad to assume this liability, while their older comrades, perhaps married and settled down in life, with business ties, would not. I cannot conceive any practical inconvenience in estab- lishing a distinction of that kind, and I sincerely trust that your Lordships, who I certainly understood accepted this provision when the Bill was read a second time, will not strike it out of the measure now.


I think I made it very plain indeed that I objected, and I confess I am not in the least convinced by the arguments used by the noble Marquess. My objection is not based by any means principally upon the jealousy which may exist, or upon any feeling which may be created in the corps, but is a much broader one. I object to turning the Volunteer force into what in point of fact will be a part of the Regular military forces of this country. It was always the intention that the Volunteers should be used for the defence of the country, and that their first duty was, when in an emergency the larger part of the effective Regular military forces had to be sent out of the country, to supply their place. I also feel that sufficient attention has not been drawn to another change in the Bill, to which I do not object, but which, taken in conjunction with this particular sub-section, seems to me to be likely to have a very undesirable effect. The Bill alters the conditions upon which we may call out the Volunteers. Formerly it was in the case of actual or apprehended invasion. For reasons which I think are good ones, the Government have determined to alter these words and substitute for them "of imminent national danger or of great emergency." I think the reason given was a sound one—that in a case of serious national emergency it might not be desirable to make a solemn statement to the whole world that we were of opinion that we were in imminent danger of invasion. It is better that the Government should be entrusted with the power of calling out Volunteers when in their opinion a serious emergency arises. The Government of the day will be the judge of what is a great emergency. I cannot help thinking that, if we have this second body of Volunteers always liable to be called on for foreign service, great emergencies will arise very frequently, owing to the Government not having foreseen those emergencies, and provided a proper military force for dealing with them, and they would then fall back on the Volunteer force at a time when it was impossible for anybody to object to it. As regards the by no means weighty argument upon which the Government chiefly rely for this change—namely, the advantage of knowing how many Volunteers are likely to be available, it seems to me that it cannot be put in the balance against the many disadvantages there are in the clause. It is not, I suppose, the intention of the Government to rely in ordinary cases upon the Volunteer force. What I imagine is intended is this: that when an emergency has arisen, and the force required, as was the case in South Africa, is found to be far larger than the Government had calculated upon, the Government will avail themselves of the service of the Volunteers. But there ought not to be any immediate and pressing emergency so great that there is not time to find out whether the Volunteers will come forward or not. I have no doubt that at a time of real national emergency Volunteers will be willing to come forward, and that we shall get them just as well as by means of this Bill Indeed, I think the Bill would limit the number of men who would engage, because the men who had not engaged themselves to go abroad would feel somewhat relieved from the obligation to lend their aid. I see no possible advantage in the clause, but I see very serious disadvantages in it, and I object to it mainly on the ground that it is an attempt permanently to supply the deficiencies of our military system by enrolling a number of Volunteers for foreign service.


asked whether the Volunteers who were to be liable to be called out would still remain a part of the regiment to which they were attached, or would be supernumerary. If they were to remain on the strength of the regiment, the Volunteers, when these men were called out, would be in the same position as the Militia had been during the past six months—they would be deprived of a large portion of their very best men at a time when they were most wanted.


I do not think it would be possible to decide beforehand that these men should be supernumerary to the establishment. That would mean that the moment, let us say, fifty men in a corps accepted liability, the corps would have to raise another fifty men to take their place. I am under the belief, from what I have heard, that it would be distasteful to the Volunteer corps themselves that these men should be created into a sort of caste outside the organisation of the corps.

Bill reported without further amendment. The Report of Amendments made in Committee of the whole House and in the Standing Committee to be received To-morrow.