HL Deb 08 July 1904 vol 137 cc1055-70

rose to call attention to the present Army Regulations in regard to staff and extra-regimental duties, the non-seconding of officers above the rank of captain in the artillery and cavalry, and the retention of officers in successive appointments on the staff for unlimited periods; and to move to resolve: "That, in the opinion of this House, the present system limits the number of officers duly qualified for staff appointments, is most unfair to regimental officers, and is prejudicial to the best interests of the Army. "He said: My Lords, in bringing this question again before the attention of your Lordships I do not propose to retraverse the whole ground, because the late Under-Secretary of State for War, in reply to me last year, did not attempt to answer any of the statements I then made, but simply entered a non possumus attitude on the part of the Secretary of State. I intend to-day to call your Lordships' attention to the very unsatisfactory reply given me last year, and which was entirely based on erroneous facts and figures. The questions which I asked your Lordships to consider last year were whether it was not advisable (1) that more officers should be allowed to pass through the Staff College for shorter periods; (2) that all officers on the staff should be seconded, especially in the cavalry and artillery, and (3) that there should be more frequent interchange of duties between regiments and the staff.

Now, my Lords, what was the reply that I received from the noble Earl, Lord Hardwicke, last year? He first of all said that as the whole Staff College question was under Sir Henry Hildyard's consideration he could say nothing, and I admit that that was a perfectly fair and reasonable reply. He then went on to say that they could not increase the number of staff officers as they would not have staff employment for them, and that though my Motion would, in the opinion of the military advisers of the War Office, very much increase the efficiency and discipline of the Army, the cost rendered it prohibitive. Now, my Lords, I desire to call your attention to facts and figures, all of which ought to have been known to the War Office at that time. First, I will deal with the question of the increase in the number of staff officers. The evidence of Lord Roberts and of other generals before the War Commission proved clearly three facts:—(1) That there were not sufficient staff officers; (2) that whilst some were efficient others did not know their work; and (3) that the regimental officers who were commandeered for the staff did their work very well, soon became efficient and were in no degree inferior to the general body of Staff College men. That, I think, is a very strong argument in favour of a greater interchange between the regiments and the staff, and of a larger number of officers being passed through the Staff College to qualify for staff work.

The Royal Commission considered the evidence of Lord Roberts of such importance that in Paragraph 95 of their Report, page 53, they gave his evidence textually. They state that after referring to an absence of a definite system of staff duties, leading sometimes to neglect of indispensable precautions, the gallant Field-Marshal went on to say that— Officers were often called upon to take up duties of which they had no previous knowledge; but whilst it was remarkable in the great majority of cases how quickly they became efficient, the mistakes that were made by the staff had most serious consequences. Many instances of indifferent staff work might be quoted, and it seems clear that the whole staff should be thoroughly trained, that a definite system of carrying out staff duties should be laid dawn, and that we should have enough trained staff officers to supply, in case of emergency, a large Army. That was precisely what I asked for in my Motion last year. The noble and gallant Field-Marshal went on to say— Staff officers cannot be improvised, nor can they learn their duties like the rank and file in a few weeks or months, for their duties are as varied as they are important. And the noble and gallant Earl further said— I am decidedly of opinion that we cannot have a first-rate Army unless we have a first-rate staff, well educated, constantly practised in manœuvres, and with wide experience. This was supplemented by Lord Kitchener, who said— The officers on the staff were very mixed. Some were excellent, whilst others had no staff training and had everything to learn. There was no reserve of qualified staff officers to fill vacancies. Now, my Lords, I will only quote one more passage from the evidence of Lord Roberts. It is in reference to regimental officers, who have come in for so much unmerited censure, and his opinion is amply endorsed by other general officers. Lord Roberts said— There were certain failures among them in South Africa, but, so far as my knowledge of history goes, the general standard of practical knowledge, of devotion to duty, and of readiness under difficulties, was at least as high as in any army which I have known or of which I have read…. It was seldom that they displayed any want of initiation, and their knowledge of their duties in the field left little to be desired. It requires no further words from me, after these quotations, to urge the importance of more staff officers; but I would further point out that both Lord Roberts and General Nicholson represented that there was no adequate body of staff officers trained in the work of intelligence, study of country, strategical or tactical dispositions, direction of movements of troops, choice of camps, water, and sanitary matters. I think your Lordships will agree with me and also with these gallant officers that these are matters of the highest importance, and matters that ought not to be left to be learnt after an Army is in the field.

I think it is clear, from what I have read to your Lordships, that more staff officers are required, and that, if given the opportunity, the general body of regi- mental officers would qualify for the staff. Why not give the opportunity to all those recommended, without competitive examinations, for one year's training in the Staff College, or even six months? There are many staff duties which do not require exceptional ability in languages or strategy. At the end of the year let there be a competitive examination, and retain specially good men for a second year. I will not trouble the House with any arguments as to unlimited service on the staff. It has become a by-word that staff officers once on the staff were always on the staff, notwithstanding the regulation that every officer was to go back to his regiment at the end of his five years term of service. But recently, during the period when Lord Roberts was Commander-in-Chief, I understand a new Order was issued enforcing that regulation, and, I believe, in many cases limiting the staff appointments to a term of three years. This will promote a greater interchange between the staff and regiments to the advantage of both and give more officers the opportunity of staff service and of becoming efficient.

Now, I come to the question of seconding, and to the reply which was given me last year by the noble Earl the then Under-Secretary that it would increase efficiency and discipline but that the cost was too great and the money could be better expended in other ways. I would venture to ask your Lordships in what better way can money be expended than in promoting the discipline and efficiency of our Army? Notwithstanding the non possumus attitude taken up by the Under-Secretary last year, events have marched along with very rapid strides, and the position is much altered. A new Order has been issued to the effect that officers joining the Staff College shall be seconded, and that commanding officers of regiments and seconds-in-command shall not go to the staff unless they resign their regimental appointments. Again, I am told that within the last few weeks it has been decided that artillery battery majors in future are to be seconded when employed on the staff; so that the only officers who will now be left un-seconded if they serve on the staff will be majors commanding cavalry squadrons. I ask why, when justice has been done to all the other majors, justice should not be done to majors commanding squadrons of cavalry?

There were during the war, and there are even at the present moment, large numbers of captains commanding cavalry squadrons who have never had major's rank or major's pay. At the time when Mr. Childers was Secretary of State for War there was a great change made in the cavalry. Up to that time the troop system had obtained in those regiments, with a captain and two subalterns, whilst the colonel, adjutant, and riding master bossed the show. But Mr. Childers brought about the squadron system. When that system was adopted, it was decided that the squadron should be under a major with a captain and three subalterns, and Mr. Childers considered that the officer commanding a cavalry squadron should have the rank, as he had the responsibilities, of a major. The major of a cavalry squadron is practically the commanding officer of his squadron, with an appeal to the colonel. He is entirely responsible for the pay, drill, mounting, uniform of men, saddlery, discipline, leave of men, and recommendations for promotion, and he is responsible to the colonel and to no one else for the efficiency of his squadron. Therefore, when a squadron major is taken away and placed upon the staff, a captain has to perform all those duties and take all those responsibilities without the rank or the pay of major.

It is a very small question at the present moment, but I would mention that when a major is removed to the Staff he gets his pay practically doubled. He has sometimes under £300 a year as a regimental major, but he gets from £600 to £700 a year the moment he goes on the staff. A staff captain receives £500 a year, but the captain who undertakes all the responsibilities of the major when the major is put on the staff only receives the pay he had before. The War Office and the late Commander-in-Chief have done a great deal to promote justice in regard to this matter, and I would ask the authorities, having swallowed the camel, not to strain at the gnat.

I have been careful to look through the number of officers who would be affected at the present moment if justice was done in this matter, and I find that it is only a question of a dozen captains, and the difference of pay, 2s. a day, would only amount to £36 10s. per annum. The sum of £500 would pay the lot and give them major's rank. I do not say that there are not more than a dozen majors on the staff, but the other majors are either students at the Staff College, in colonial employ, or they are majors who have been allowed to continue as adjutants of Yeomanry after they have been promoted, and, therefore, they do not come within the same category. Nor do I include vacancies of those who are seconded, but whose places are not filled. Those I have deducted. I conclude by moving my resolution and asking the noble Earl the Under-Secretary of State for War whether he can give the House any information with regard to the new Staff College regulations, with regard to the new rule about staff service and whether it is to be enforced, and with regard to the seconding of officers on the staff; and I would express the hope that since justice has been done to the artillery it will not now be withheld from cavalry captains in a like position.

Moved to resolve, "That, in the opinion of this House the present Army Regulations in regard to staff and extra-regimental duties, the non-seconding of officers above the rank of captain in the artillery and cavalry, and the retention of officers in successive appointments on the staff for unlimited periods limits the number of officers duly qualified for staff appointments, are most unfair to regimental officers, and are prejudicial to the best interests of the Army."—(Lord Heneage.)


My Lords, I desire to associate myself with the remarks which have fallen from the noble Lord who has just sat down, and, with your Lordships' permission, I would particularly like to point out the great deficiency in the trained staff of our Army as at present constituted. The fact is again brought to our minds that the War Office does not march with the times. Five years ago few, I think, would have suspected the latent power which lay in our Auxiliary Forces and in the untrained patriotic thousands in the country. There is hardly a Minister, to whatever Party he may belong, who, in after dinner speeches, has not congratulated the country on its extraordinary patriotism, but only one Minister has taken any trouble to see that that patriotism, if it is to be called upon again, is directed on proper lines. I refer to Mr. Brodrick. He is the only man who has brought forward a really workable scheme.

We in England have the smallest Regular Army of any European nation, but there is the certainty that if we called upon them we should have probably the largest number of Volunteers which any nation in Europe could produce. Yet we have got no means of working this body into anything which could be called an Army. We are in that position because we have no adequate staff. May I point out the actual number of trained staff officers we have in England at the present time. I am not including those who are already employed, nor those who are at the present moment in service abroad; neither am I including those who are first or second in command of their battalions, because they could not be taken away without seriously interfering with the efficiency of their regiments. In respect to the cavalry we have only two officers who are free, so to speak, to do staff work. We have on paper one cavalry brigade. The second cavalry brigade is on paper, but there are no names below it. Therefore, we should start, if we filled this second cavalry brigade, with a deficiency of cavalry staff officers. Again, when we come to the infantry, we have only seventeen majors and captains who are qualified —that is to say, we have only two officers in the cavalry and seventeen in the infantry who are ready at the present moment to take up staff appointments, a id this at a time when we ought to have thoroughly learned the lesson taught by the late war.

The inequality of the staff work in South Africa, as pointed out by many witnesses who gave evidence before Lord Elgin's Commission, arose from the fact that the majority of these officers were taken direct from the regiments without any staff education. We all know that before two divisions had left these islands for South Africa the Staff College men had run out. Messengers were sent to various regiments asking them to supply staff officers, and the officers supplied were sent at once to the front. What happened? The staff work was most inefficient at times of utmost crisis, and the work of the Army throughout was seriously hampered. I would like to point out the hardships which occur in regiments whose officers ale taken away in time of war. A regimental commanding officer is ordered to send out a couple of captains or majors for staff work. Naturally he does not send his best men, because he cannot afford to lose them. He sends in all probability the worst officers in the whole of his corps; but when these men return to their regiments, although they are not the best officers and were sent to the staff on that account, they will be for all time above the heads of better men and above the very men who were not sent to the staff because they were better men. That is not justice, and it spoils the work done by the brigade, because the second-class or third-class men sent by the regimental commanding officer for staff work are not up to their duties.

It is a well-known theory, laid down by Moltke and other writers on the subject of military work, that it is essential to have some consecutive pattern of ideas for staff work; but this is quite impossible if you get men in this haphazard manner. Now, with regard to the Auxilary Forces. The Imperial Yeomanry have two majors upon whom they can rely for the whole of their staff work, they had a captain a short time ago, but, unfortunately, he has gone to learn Japanese and has had to be struck off the list; so that at present there are only two staff officers for the whole of the Yeomanry— some 25,000 or 27,000 men. We cannot have our own Yeomanry officers for staff duties because they have not the knowledge. I command a Yeomanry unit, but I should not dream of sending one of my best officers away. It is unreasonable to expect us to do so simply because they do not take care at the War Office to have these things arranged in readiness for mobilisation in time of war.

With regard to the Militia, we know that a large number of the junior officers are merely birds of passage, who only come in for a short time. It would be impossible for a Militia colonel to part with his senior officers. The discipline of the Militia is not such as to enable it to stand much knocking about. We had during the war orders and counter-orders. That may be all right in the case of Regular troop's, but Volunteers will not allow themselves to be messed about by men who do not know their work. I certainly think Mr. Brodrick's Army Corps scheme was a good one. It gave us a skeleton on which we could graft our various battalions, and in dropping that scheme we have, in my opinion, gone back. This scheme could only come into force if we had more staff officers. We have not got a sufficient staff, and surely now is the time to remedy that deficiency. Previously when the War Office took men for the Staff College they took them more or less in the dark, and were only able to judge of their capacity as the result of an examination, but here we are at the end of a war. We know who are the good men and who are the bad men; we know who were good staff officers in South Africa and who were bad staff officers. Surely now is the time to get hold of them, and to put them through the Staff College.

Why should we not at the present moment put 100 or 150 officers through the Staff College? They could be given one year's course, as the noble Lord who preceded me suggested, and this large number of trained men would constitute a reserve of staff officers on which you could rely in the event of mobilisation. The argument against this increase of staff officers is one of cost. Could anyone imagine that this cost, if ever we had a war again like we had in South Africa, would not be recovered over and over again if we had efficient staff work? You have only to read the Report of Lord Elgin's Commission to see how money was thrown away broadcast through inefficient staff work in South Africa. I think the extra cost of educating more men at the Staff College ought not to weigh at all in considering this matter. With regard to the argument that there will not be sufficient employ- ment for them, I would say that you want, in the first place, to get your staff in touch with the Auxiliary Forces. The whole question of concentration at a critical point is entirely a matter of the close study of distances, and the time that men will take to travel over distances; and if you have not got a staff capable of calculating this, how can any general be expected to do well or to get his men at critical points at the right time? Therefore, I think that if the principle of extra staff officers is admitted there would be plenty of work for them to do. They could be attached to the infantry and Yeomanry brigades, and would be most valuable in bringing the troops up to a greater state of efficiency.

Of course, a very large proportion of the staff, in case of mobilisation, will have to come from the Auxiliary Forces, but I think it will be admitted that it is absolutely essential that, at all events, a nucleus of a staff, as given by Mr. Brodrick's Army Corps scheme, should be there to point out the lines on which the Auxiliary staff would be able to work. There were at the end of the war three great lines of reform, and I venture to think this one of staff is quite equal to the other two. First of all, there was reform of the War Office, which His Majesty's Government have gone into in no half-hearted manner. Secondly, there was the question of the training of officers, which they have gone into by the appointment of an Education Committee; and, thirdly, they have this great question of the staff. I hope that His Majesty's Government will see their way to obtain a reserve of staff officers, so that if the nation has to fight again and to produce 300,000 men for defence, we shall at all events have some nucleus of a Staff who can be relied upon to educate the staff officers from the Auxiliary Forces who they will have to help them.


My Lords, the noble Lord who initiated this discussion made one general observation with which I should like to deal at once. It was to the effect that the figures produced by my noble friend behind me last year were entirely erroneous. I should have been very interested to know in what particular they were erroneous. I have still those figures. They were, I am sure, most carefully worked out at the War Office at the time, and I have not seen or heard any statement by the noble Lord seriously impugning them. We have a body of trained actuaries at the War Office whose one business it is to make calculations of this kind, and I think that without some very strong proof it is rather a sweeping statement to make to say off-hand that the calculations were inaccurate.


I took exception to the figures immediately after the noble Earl's speech. A great number of other subjects were brought in to make up the amounts which had nothing whatever to do with the pay of cavalry majors.


I have read last year's debates carefully, and the impression I got was that the noble Lord did not make it clear on the first occasion that he was not considering the case of all majors.


My Question was on the Paper, and it distinctly stated that I was only dealing with cavalry and artillery majors.


I am quite prepared to accept that. The figures given by my noble friend Lord Hardwicke did include the infantry and my noble friend opposite did not, I think, say anything at that time which would convey the impression that he meant to exclude the infantry. But he did say a few days afterwards that that was his intention, and my noble friend then corrected the figures he gave on the first occasion. The noble Lord, in raising this question to-night, suggested a scheme by which we should take a larger number of men into the Staff College for one year and a smaller number for the two years course. I admit at once that that is a very alluring proposal; but the difficulty in the way is a practical one. The course at the Staff College is very carefully thought out, and that for the first year is very different from the course in the second. It is a different style of thing altogether. The first year's course deals with military history, artillery, and fortification, staff duties, military administration, and other subjects. The second year's course goes into bigger questions, what I might call general staff questions—questions of Imperial defence, practice in reconnaissance, practice in training of troops, and tours of inspection—and it is quite impossible to tell at the end of the first year whether a man will be any use at the things he is going to study in the second year until after he has entered on the second year's course. It would make things very much easier to pass a larger number of men through the one year course and a smaller number through the full two years; but I am afraid the system would not benefit the Army in the end, and we might lose the services of many men who might not be so good at the work in the first year, but who might turn out useful staff officers in general staff work.

I am entirely at one with the two noble Lords who have spoken as to the necessity of more staff officers for the Army; and I am glad to see that they recognise that the Staff College training is absolutely necessary in order to turn out efficient staff officers. The output of staff officers at the present moment is not anything like large enough for our requirements. Our requirements are growing every day. It is not quite germane to the subject, but it may interest your Lordships to know that in the organisation of the General Staff at the War Office we intend to employ sixty-five officers to do the work that has hitherto been done by thirty-two. That at once creates a large number of staff appointments of very great importance, for which we have got to find the very best candidates. In the Intelligence Branch, which is now under the Director of Military Operations, and in which we have hitherto employed twenty-seven officers, we shall find plenty of work for forty-three, and the remainder will be employed in the other branches of the department performing work for which only a very small staff has hitherto existed. This fact alone has vastly added to the necessity for turning out more staff officers, and we are fully alive to the fact that we have to meet these necessities.

Lord Tweedmouth made some strong remarks the other day as to the Government's unsettled convictions in this matter. He said that we were unable to make up our minds as to the reforms recommended by the Esher Committee. The noble Lord displayed an innocence of knowlege which did him infinite credit, bat I think the statement I have made will convince him that we are not moving so slowly as the outside world seems to imagine, because we do not always talk about what we are doing. With regard to the suggestion that we should enlarge nomination and pass a great many more men through the Staff College, I would point out that our experience is against too great an extension of the system of nomination. The late Commandant at the Staff College has said that when a limited number of officers were selected by nomination it was frequently found that amongst them were some of the best officers of the College, but that when a large number were selected it resulted in the whole falling below the normal. We are fully alive to the need for further staff officers, and the matter is being most seriously considered. Your Lordships have no doubt read the recent Army Order issued by Lord Kitchener. You will see that Lord Kitchener is contemplating the establishment of a Staff College in India; this matter is now the subject of discussion between the War Office and the India Office, and I hope a decision will be come to at an early date.

Now I come to the second point raised by Lord Heneage, as to the non-seconding of officers above the rank of captain in the artillery and cavalry. The noble Lord does not include the infantry, and, therefore, I will say nothing about them beyond stating that the case for the non-inclusion of the infantry is very strong. It has been decided that artillery majors extra-regimentally employed are to be seconded, that is to say, they are to be succeeded in their appointments by majors. The first objection of the noble Lord's therefore falls to the ground. The noble Lord's point I think is that an artillery major commands a unit — a battery — and therefore ought to be seconded on going to the staff, and that a cavalry major commands a unit—a squadron—and ought therefore to be also seconded. I should like to say first that it would be much more difficult to work in the cavalry with small regiments than in the artillery where there are a lot of officers. There are 1,100 officers in the the Horse and Field Artillery, and 900 in the Garrison Artillery. We cannot recognise that a squadron is exactly the same unit as a battery. The squadron is a third of the cavalry regiment, and the regiment is commanded by a colonel who has authority over the majors, which does not exist in the case of the artillery.

It is true, as the noble Lord has said, that since 1887 the major eommands the squadron, and that since that year his authority as squadron commander has been to a certain extent increased. In 1897, however, we added sixteen majors to the cavalry, with the result that promotion already in the cavalry is faster than it is in any other branch, and any alteration in the direction which the noble Lord suggested might very reasonably be argued to be unfair to the officers in other branches of the service. I now come to a point on which I really do lay stress. It is this, that we do now want the squadron majors away from their regiments and on the staff. We recognise that they are approaching the time when they will have to command the regiment, and we do not wish to encourage them to go away on the staff during those years. We want them to remain and get fully in touch with their regiments preparatory to assuming command a few years later. That is our great objection to seconding. There is a contention at the back of this that it is unfair that while the major is away the captain should do his work and not get full major's rank and pay.


That is my whole point.


My first answer to that is that we do all we can to prevent the majors going away, and the second is that though, in some cases, it may cause hardship, it is not an unknown thing in other walks of life for men to do the work of a higher post while occupying the lower one. Officers are glad of the opportunity of showing that they are capable of doing the higher work, and at the same time they gain experience which is bound to be of use to them in their future career. I do not wish to pretend that that entirely does away with any hardship, but, if I may use the expression, it materially gilds the pill. In conclusion, I would only repeat that the reason we cannot meet the noble Lord on this point is that we do claim that the main cavalry unit is the regiment and not the squadron.

I entirely agree with the noble Lord that after a period of staff service the officers should return to their regiments. There is an unwritten law at the War Office to this effect, and I have made careful inquiries and find that it is strictly enforced. There have, however, been exceptions during the last few years, but they were cases in which it was to the advantage of the Army that exceptions should be made; and although exceptions are always unpleasant things, we must have a free hand sometimes to dispense with rules. I can assure the noble Lord that there are no two opinions at the War Office that this rule ought to be enforced in every case where it is possible. I hope I have shown that in the main I am not antagonistic to the noble Lord, and I trust that in the circumstances he will not find it necessary to press his Motion to a division.


My Lords, I shall be very glad to withdraw my Motion after what I think is a very satisfactory explanation given by the noble Earl. I do not wish to say anything more with regard to the erroneous figures than that a lot of other calculations connected with the infantry were brought in last year by the noble Earl which largely increased the amount. With regard to the seconding of cavalry officers, I did not base my argument entirely on the question of a cavalry squadron being a unit. I do not see why cavalry majors should be the only majors in the whole service who are not seconded when they go away for staff work.


My Lords, I do not intend to rise to the fly thrown by the noble Earl the Under-Secretary and to state my opinions as to the convictions, settled or otherwise, of His Majesty's Government. But, plausible as the speech of the noble Earl was, he entirely failed to touch upon the most important point raised by the noble and gallant Lord behind me, Lord Lovat. My noble friend pointed out, I thought with great force, that from the fact of our having been at war for three years the War Office had attained very good and complete knowledge of the relative merits of the men who served on the staff throughout that long campaign—a campaign that involved the employment of a large number of men on the staff and a continual shifting of those men. The point my noble and gallant friend urged was this, that having got this information the War Office should make use of it, and not allow to drop back into obscurity those men who had proved themselves good staff officers Whatever arrangements may be made for securing a sufficient supply of men to serve in His Majesty's Army, we are obliged to keep ready a set of officers capable of taking charge of the men who come forward; and it does seem to me that we have a right to ask from His Majesty's Government some more definite answer than the Under-Secretary has given on the points raised by Lord Lovat. Most people who take any interest in the fortunes of the British Army recognise that a good supply of the very best class of officers, instructed in the latest methods of warfare, brought up to the highest state of efficiency, is one of the most pressing needs of the country. I hope His Majesty's Government will take note of my noble and gallant friend's speech, and may even now tell us they have ready at hand, some scheme for dealing with his suggestions.

Motion, by leave of the House, withdrawn.