HL Deb 01 March 1900 vol 79 cc1355-62

My Lords, I rise to call attention to the great necessity there is that 10,000 more Volunteers be called upon at once to fill up the regiments now in South Africa with grown men fit for the arduous work of the war now in progress, especially as it takes some time to organise such reinforcements; and that all expenses should be met by the Government and not by private subscription. I make no apology for bringing this very important matter to the attention of your Lordships, but before entering into it I must congratulate the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War on the successful consummation of the arduous work he and his coadjutors at the War Office have been engaged in during the past four or five months. I congratulate him also on the fact that that gallant soldier, Lord Roberts, who left these shores at a time when most men would have been stricken down with sorrow, has within the short time he has been in South Africa not only reorganised the army but has organised victory. We should not relax our exertions to support the army in South Africa in the arduous work they have got before them, and I do not think it is too much to call upon the Volunteers, who as we know are ready, to come forward and emulate the noble deeds of our soldiers, and help them to bring this war to a speedy conclusion. The Volunteers are anxiously looking forward to the answer of the noble Marquess, and I should like to know what is being done with regard to the waiting companies, and whether any equipment has been given to them. I think it is very necessary that equipment should be given to the Volunteers as soon as possible, because it is evident that their services will be required before long. As everyone knows, there is nothing so expensive as haste, and I trust we shall take time by the forelock and place these men in a position to go out and join their comrades immediately they are wanted. All expenses connected with the equipment of Volunteers should be borne by the country. It is perfectly useless to try to run this war upon private subscriptions. You may just as well try to run the British Constitution upon voluntary effort and have no taxation at all. Voluntary effort has come forward in a marvellous manner during this war, upon which fact we may all feel proud. Voluntary effort has enough to do in looking after the widows and families of the brave men who go from our shores to uphold the Empire in its integrity, and in caring for the sick and wounded. I contend that voluntary effort should not be called upon to do that which the Government should do, and to provide money which should come out of the taxation of the country. Any person who looks down the subscription lists of any of our great towns will see that a certain number of people frequently contribute, and that there are a great many who never supply a single farthing towards any of these objects. I do not see why in the case of this war, which is a national matter, everyone should not be compelled to contribute towards the necessary expenditure.


My Lords, I cannot leave without a word of acknowledgment the sympathetic expressions which fell from my noble friend in the preface to his remarks. I feel sure that what he said of the good news which reached us to-day echoed the feelings present in the mind of every man and woman in this country and in the British Empire. The shadow of impending calamity, which has darkened our path for so long, is at last removed. We heard of the relief of Ladysmith, I think, with two feelings—one of intense satisfaction that we should have escaped that calamity; the other of admiration for the men who have done this thing for us. If we are to apportion that admiration, I do not know whether the larger portion of it should be given to the force which, under Sir George White, has held out with such conspicuous determination and gallantry during these weary weeks and months, or to the troops, who, under the command of Sir Redvers Buller, were undeterred by reverses and checks and by physical difficulties, the magnitude of which I doubt whether we even yet appreciate and understand; or last, but not least, to the Commander-in-Chief in South Africa, to whose splendid military instinct it is due that the pressure upon Natal should have been relieved by that vigorous and successful offensive movement in the Orange Free State of which we heard with such delight the day before yesterday. I shall certainly not differ from my noble friend when he tells us that this twofold success should not be made the pretext for any relaxation of our efforts. Those efforts will not be relaxed, and I recognise that the motion of my noble friend is germane to the subject, and that he is within his rights in calling our attention to it. I understand my noble friend to suggest that 10,000 additional Volunteers should be called upon at once to fill up the regiments now in South Africa, and I think it is clear from his observations that he referred to those battalions which have had added to them a company of Volunteers from this country. Of those Volunteers there are, either in or on their way to South Africa, a, little over 7,000 altogether; and, when it was decided that the Volunteers should be offered an opportunity of thus contributing to the strength of the field force, it was announced, in the Army order which was published, that an equal number of waiting companies might be maintained at home for the purpose of supplying the requirements of the companies in South Africa. The noble Lord tells us that we should make it our business to see that these waiting companies are thoroughly equipped and ready to start at short notice for the theatre of war. My Lords, there is one difficulty in the way, and it is rather a formidable one. It is this, that the waiting companies have not yet come forward to any great extent. For the original companies we required a total of sixty-seven companies. Of these we have obtained fifty-six. Of the waiting companies, four only have, I am sorry to say, up to the present time, been formed. And, of course, my noble friend knows that we have no power whatever to force Volunteers to enter either into the original companies or into the waiting companies. There are a certain number of men, I believe, ready to accept service in the waiting companies, and we have arranged that even if a whole company is not forthcoming, individual Volunteers who desire to accept the liability should be permitted to proceed to South Africa as drafts. Then my noble friend spoke upon the subject of the manner in which the expenses of raising these companies had been defrayed. He told us that it was wrong to attempt to run the war by private subscriptions, and I think he must have left on your Lordships' minds the impression that the greater part of the cost of those Volunteer battalions had fallen upon private, and not upon public, funds. Nothing could be further from the truth. These men are, of course, paid by the State; they receive all the usual allowances as soldiers. They receive camp equipment, their transport is paid for them, and they receive a capitation grant to cover the cost of clothing equipment of £12 per head. I may be told that that capitation grant is inadequate. The sum was arrived at by calculating the cost of the different articles necessary for the Volunteers at the price at which they would have been procured if they had been bought by the War Department, and then adding to it 10 per cent. to cover the difference between the cost of purchase by private agencies and the cost of the same things when procured by public Departments. This 10 per cent. was not considered sufficient, and we raised it to 20 per cent. The original grant was £9, and the capitation grant ultimately paid was £12 per head, and I am assured that that sum ought to be sufficient to supply the necessary equipment. Of course, we know that the friends of the Volunteers and of the Imperial Yeomanry desire that these soldiers, who deserve all possible consideration at our hands, should be given something more than that which is strictly necessary, and hence it has come to pass that funds have been subscribed to all over the country with very great generosity. But these funds are intended, not to make good deficiencies in the payments out of the public purse, but to provide various things not strictly indispensable, but which add to the comfort and convenience of the different corps. Therefore I do not think it is quite fair that it should be suggested to your Lordships that these Volunteer companies have been run by private subscriptions. My own impression is that, however much the payments from public funds were to be, we should find that the friends of the Volunteers desired to do something to show their sympathy and goodwill to the force. As my noble friend begged that we would not relax our efforts, and as the purport of his observations was to show that we were probably not doing quite enough to maintain the force in South Africa at a proper level, I would ask your Lordships' permission to tell you what reinforcements we are going to send out to South Africa during the next few weeks; and I cannot help thinking that when the figures are before the House your Lordships will see that there is not much risk of any part of the force suffering from inanition. In the week which will end on the 4th of this month eight ships are due carrying 4,700 men. In the week ending March 11 fifteen ships are due carrying 11,800 men; in the week ending March 18 eleven ships are due carrying 9,900 men; in the week ending March 25 nine ships are due carrying 8,900 men; and in the week ending April 1 six ships are due carrying 3,200 men, making in all the total of 38,817 men. And, over and above these, there are other troops about to proceed to South Africa, but not yet allotted to ships, who will arrive after the beginning of April, to the number of 17,880 men. They include 6,000 drafts for battalions of the Line and the infantry of the Eighth Division, numbering 9,500, all Regular troops. I trust, therefore, your Lordships will see from these figures that there is no prospect whatever of that stream of reinforcements of which I spoke the other evening running dry during the next few weeks.


My Lords, I desire to associate myself, and I am sure my noble friends near me also wish to do so, with what the noble Marquess has said with reference to the news which we have received to-day. It has, I am sure, given the utmost gratification, not only in this country, but throughout the whole Empire. The noble Marquess spoke, I thought, with great justice of the extraordinary difficulties with which the forces under General Buller have had to contend. These difficulties have evidently been of a most serious character, and we must recognise from the gallantry and the perseverance shown by the troops under circumstances of extreme difficulty and danger that there never was a time when the British soldier displayed more courage, perseverance, and endurance than he has on the present occasion. I need not allude to the brilliant success of Lord Roberts. That is appreciated by everyone; but I must mention in connection with it that I am quite certain that everyone in the country has heard with pleasure that it fell to the lot of our Canadian countrymen to perform most brilliant and effective service in the attack on the laager of General Cronje. It is not merely that we admire their bravery, but we recognise the fortunate circumstance that an occasion should have occurred to enable them to show that they are fully worthy to fight at the side of the best of our soldiers. I shall not attempt to enter into the question as to the Volunteers; but I may say that I have heard with great satisfaction the statement of the noble Marquess as to the number of reinforcements which either have been sent out or will be sent out, for of this I am convinced, that, although the cost may be great, and although the exertions necessary to collect the troops may be arduous, it would be far better that our preparations should be apparently larger than the occasion requires than that, if we should meet with unexpected difficulties, we should not be able to supply the force necessary to achieve success. Therefore, I say I welcome with great pleasure the statement of the noble Marquess, because I think it shows that the Government is fully alive to the necessities of the case, and is prepared to take every step to bring the war to a satisfactory conclusion.


I do not rise to add anything to what has been said by the noble Earl who has just sat down as to the pleasure with which we all received the news of the great success of British arms in South Africa, but to say that I am very glad to hear from the noble Marquess that the Government have agreed to raise the percentage to be paid towards the equipment of the Volunteers.


It was done some time ago.


I do not think the public are quite aware of it. I know it will be a great relief in many places whore equipment funds have been raised. The noble Marquess stated that the waiting companies had not been filled up.

That is an important matter, and I hope that as the conditions under which they are to go out are more known these companies will secure all the men required. Though I recognise the immense importance of reinforcements going out to South Africa, I think it is of equal importance that the force which in its inception was intended for defensive purposes in England should be thoroughly and completely filled up. I should like to know when the Government will be in a position to state the new conditions which they are going to offer to the Volunteer force. I understood from the noble Marquess the other day that new arrangements would be made to ensure efficiency and to assist the expenditure of Volunteer corps. I attach very great importance to an early intimation of those arrangements. In my own county there is a pause at the present moment with regard to getting more Volunteers until they know what the arrangements of the Government are to be. Therefore it is of great importance that the arrangements which the Government are going to make to assist the Volunteers and to consolidate that very important force should be notified as speedily as possible.


I rise to confirm the statement of the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War that the Government do supply the necessary expenses both of Volunteers and Yeomanry. It is so in those corps with which I am connected, and the subscriptions which have been raised have been applied to giving extra assistance to the men, and, what is a very sensible thing, in insuring their lives when they go to the front. I very much regret to hear that the additional Volunteer companies have not been coming forward in the numbers we had hoped, but I trust that very soon this will be the case.


I wish to ask the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War whether it is not the immemorial custom of this country, when a great victory is won, to celebrate the event by a salute of guns, and why this has not been observed on the present occasion.


I am afraid I am quite unable to answer that question. I do not know what the precedents are, or whether the present occasion is one which, according to immemorial usage, would be appropriate for firing salutes in the Park.